Ernest Germain

The USSR from the XXth
to the XXIst Congress of the CPSU

(January 1959)

From Fourth International [Amsterdam], No. 5, Winter 1959, pp. 18–24.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Three years have passed between the XXth and the XXIst Congresses of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Three years: one can scarce believe that so dramatic a succession of events as Khrushchev’s secret report denouncing Stalin’s crimes, the Polish and Hungarian revolutions, the shift from the “hundred flowers” to the “rectification campaign,” the new Jugoslav affair, the sale of the farm machines to the kolkhozes, the first measures associating the workers with the management of the plants in the USSR – that these constant upheavals in a society that some people declared to be congealed have taken place at so astounding a rhythm.

Granted, these upheavals were not all equivalent. They marked, here an advance, there a slowing-down, of destalinization. The leadership of the Soviet bureaucracy, frightened by the extent of the political revolutions that began in Hungary and Poland, tried to re-establish a stricter political and ideological discipline. That was the essential reason for the new “Jugoslav affair.” It was also the reason for a partial “rehabilitation” of Stalin himself. At the same time, the Khrushchev team carried out more vigorously than ever its policy of economic concessions to the workers and especially to the peasants, in order to wipe out the most acute material reasons for popular discontent.

The contradiction between these two elements of Khrushchev’s policy were not long in showing themselves. Though it has unquestionably succeeded in postponing the deadline of an explosion in the USSR itself, it has not succeeded in channeling the energy of the toiling people and the youth toward purely productivist goals and “material enjoyment.” The question of the management of the plants, the question of free access for the children of the people to knowledge at the university level, the controversies about freedom of cultural creation – these have harshly reminded the ruling strata as well as the mass of proletarians, that the most burning problems to be solved by Soviet society, if it wants to fulfill the grandiose promises that now appear tangible, are and remain political problems.

The Industrial Upsurge Continues – But at a Slightly Slower Rhythm

Since 1956 the industrial upsurge has been regularly shown by the annual increase in production and investments. An event, however, of capital importance, the interruption of the Sixth Five-Year Plan, now replaced by the 1959–1965 Seven-Year Plan, has shown that the rhythm of industrial progress has slightly slowed down, and that the goals foreseen for the Sixth Five-Year Plan would not have been reached in 1960.

It is amusing to observe the deep emotion that the publication of the goals of the Seven-Year Plan have caused in capitalist circles. These gentlemen had allowed themselves to be lulled, for several decades and thanks to “technicians” of various kidneys, by the contention that the Soviet economy’s rate of growth was explained by its “underdeveloped” character. And they would compare this rate of growth with that of the American economy between the War of Secession and the First World War, or with the Japanese economy between 1890 and 1938.

Unfortunately for these apologists of capital, Soviet industry continues to advance at a rhythm at least double that of the growth of the capitalist countries in the best situations – and it maintains this rhythm of growth even after it has reached the level of development of the world’s second industrial power. Struck by astonishment, the capitalists are now discovering the magic of geometric progression. It is one thing to increase production 50 to 60% every five years when it is a question of going from 4 to 6 million tons of steel, or even from 20 to 30 million tons. It is another thing to go, within a decade, from 45 to 90 million tons, then from 90 to 200 million tons, then ... It is dizzying. Such is, nevertheless, the irreversible dynamic of planned economy, even though braked by the bureaucracy.

To evaluate the prospects opened up to the USSR by the goals of the Seven-Year Plan, we may set out from the hypothesis that these goals will be reached. We may do so more surely in that these goals, like those of the last two years, are relatively more modest than the objectives of former times, and seem to have been chosen for the purpose of being able to be slightly overfulfilled.

There is no reason to consider these goals exceptional. We have already said that they imply rather a slight slowing down of the general rhythm of growth of Soviet industry. Are examples called for?

The Sixth Five-Year Plan forecast a steel production of 68 million tons in 1960; an annual increase of 8% would have led to 100 million tons in 1965. In fact, the Seven-Year Plan forecasts a production of only 86-91 million tons for 1965.

The Sixth Five-Year Plan forecast a production of 320,000 million kilowatt-hours for 1960. Now electric production has doubled or more than doubled during each five-year period. That would have given a production of about 600,000 to 650,000 million kilowatt-hours in 1965: the Seven-Year Plan forecasts only 500,000 to 520,000 million kilowatt-hours for that year.

As for coal production, the increase forecast for the whole seven-year period is of only 20–23%, which represents an annual increase of from 2.5 to 3%, a pronounced slow-down of expansion. This slow-down is doubtless partly voluntary: it forms part of a plan of power reconversion that puts the emphasis on electricity and heavy oils to replace coal.

It might be concluded that, though Soviet industry continues its momentum, the enormous advantages promised by Khrushchev, at the time of the reform in the management of industry and the creation of sovnarkhoses, have scarcely shown themselves in real life. In fact, though industrial decentralization has permitted wiping out the most redoubtable excesses of bureaucratic supercentralization, it has brought out stronger than ever the defects of local and regional particularism, and the individual interests of the bureaucrats considered as the main motive force for carrying out the plan. In the review Voprossi Ekonomiki (no. 7, 1958), there are enumerated a series of examples of arbitrary modification in the variety of production, carried out by the sovnarkhoses, which are quite comparable to the modifications in the same direction denounced by Malenkov at the XIXth Congress of the CPSU for the directors of factories, trusts (glavki), and industrial ministries.

One of the most disconcerting aspects of the new Seven-Year Plan is the increase forecast in labor productivity. Total manpower in industry will increase 20%, we are told; but industrial production will increase 80%. This implies an increase in labor productivity of 50%, i.e., an average of 6.5–7% per year – quite an average! At the same time, the working week will be reduced to 40 hours, and the 35-hour week will begin to be introduced in industries where work is heavy and exhausting. From this fact, therefore, the annual increase in labor productivity will reach 8–9% per year. It is true that the Seven-Year Plan puts the emphasis on partial or complete automation in- numerous industrial sectors; publications of a technical nature or of scientific popularization mention production-line methods for making machine-tools or completely automated ball-bearing manufacture.

It may be supposed, however, that a manpower shortage will become acute during the seven-year period, and that once again the achievement of the 1965 objectives will require the employment of a greater number of workers than originally foreseen. In this connection, Soviet agriculture furthermore contains enormous reserves of manpower, if it can be effectively rationalized. It is, however, unlikely that it will remain a source of abundant manpower able to be freed for industry; and the bureaucrats seem to be falling back rather on ... the young, from 15 to 18, considered as a source of “extra” manpower.

The vital question remains: to what extent Khrushchev’s claim – that 1965 Soviet production will reach the production level of the United States, and surpass European and approach US production per capita – was a serious one.

Concerning the United States, the Khrushchev prediction – misunderstood by the broad public, and misreported by the press – was in reality more modest than it seemed. Khrushchev did not say that the USSR would have attained the 1965 US production level; he said that the USSR would in 1965 reach a level close to that of 1958 US production! The difference between the two formulae is immediately grasped: to suppose them equal implies a forecast that American production will undergo seven years’ stagnation at a recession level. This hypothesis is obviously unreal.

In fact, the comparison should be made, not between the current production of the two countries, but between their per capita production capacity. Now for a series of basic sectors, this production capacity in the United States has undergone a continuous advance even in the recession period. Thus in 1958, despite the economic recession that caused nearly 40% of capacity of steel production to lie idle, that capacity was being simultaneously increased 4%. This is because the American bourgeoisie allows itself to be guided, no longer by economic criteria, but by political criteria about military capacity, in its investments in these key-sectors. The state makes up for the insufficiencies of private capitalists; and when the annual military budget reaches such lofty sums as 45, 50 or 55 thousands of millions of dollars, it is plain that 5 or 10% of these sums can be used to develop production capacity of basic sectors, in order to maintain a certain advance over the productive capacity of the Soviet Union.

Such a development could not be carried on indefinitely without causing irreparable damage to the overall economic and monetary structure; but it remains quite likely for the next 7 to 15 years. And so, if it is granted that during this period American production capacity will increase an average 2.5 to 3% per year (which is slightly lower than the averages of the rearmament and war period, 1940–1958), we obtain the following table:















per capita

Petroleum (in millions of tons)







2.8 t

1.8 t

Steel (in millions of tons)







1.15 t

0.6 t

Electricity (in millions of kwh)









Cement (in millions of tons)









Apart from cement, the distance between American and Soviet per capita production will still remain very considerable for basic products, and it will be even greater for living levels. As for the countries of Western Europe, the comparison is more difficult, for it is hard to foresee a rhythm of regular growth of their production during the coming 10 to 12 years. Still, the hypothesis of a steel production of 28 million tons in Great Britain, of 32 million tons in West Germany, as well as of 8 million tons in Belgium, can be considered as realistic for 1965. [1] That would give us for the three countries a per capita production of 540, 600, and 900 kilos, respectively, compared to 410 kilos in the USSR for the same year. It would be the same for electricity and the greater part of durable consumers’ goods (automobiles, scooters, household electrical appliances, available housing, etc). It is, however, probable that the Soviet per capita production in textiles and the food industry will in 1965 surpass that of the principal countries of Western Europe. The level of industrialization and living standards in countries like Austria, Italy, and even the Netherlands might be already reached or approached in the USSR.

A Slow-Down in the Rise in Living Levels, but a Tendency to More Equal Distribution

In the matters of light industry and agricultural production, the goals of the Seven-Year Plan must be considered with far more reservations than those of heavy industry. It suffices to recall that the goal of 180 million tons of cereals, now set for 1965, had already been set for 1960 by the Sixth Five-Year Plan, and even for 1955 by the Fifth Plan, without being reached – far from it – during the last four years.

For sugar, Mikoyan had promised more than 7 million tons beginning in 1955 (Pravda, 25 October 1953), whereas the 1957 production reached only 4.5 million tons. Hence the figure of 9 to 10 million tons for 1965 leaves one skeptical. The production of cotton goods has in five years risen from 5.3 million metres to only 5.8 million metres, i.e., less than 10%! Must one expect that the increase of 50% predicted for the next seven years will be attained? As for durable consumers’ goods (motorcycles, ice-making refrigerators, sewing machines, washing machines, etc), about which Malenkov and Mikoyan made such sensational promises in 1953, exact goals for 1965 are no longer even stated! In general, the objectives set for 1955 had not yet been attained even in 1957:



Goals Set for 1955


1957 Production

Cotton goods

6,200,000 metres

5,600,000 metres

Leather shoes

318,000,000 pairs

315,000,000 pairs




Sewing machines



Ice-making refrigerators



The situation is still worse for certain agricultural products. As for butter, Mikoyan had promised a production of 560,000 tons in 1955 and 650,000 tons in 1956, without taking into account that part of the production eaten by the peasants themselves. Now production in 1955 reached only 459,000 tons, and that of 1956 530,000 tons. Even in 1958, according to Khrushchev’s report to the last meeting of the Central Committee (Pravda, 16 December 1958), butter production reached 622,000 tons and thus remains lower than the goal set for 1955!

As for meat, Khrushchev operates prudently with figures about “weight on the hoof,” and not production figures. Now Mikoyan had promised 3 million tons of meat plus 1 million tons of pork products for 1956; the figure of 5.4 million tons of “meat on the hoof” given by Khrushchev for 1958 is certainly lower than these two 1956 goals.

The violent attack launched by Khrushchev against Malenkov on this occasion contains in particular the statement that Malenkov, at the XIXth Congress of the CPSU, seems to have given erroneous figures for the production of grain, by providing only those of the standing harvest, and not those of what was actually harvested. In fact this custom had been followed throughout the whole Stalinist period. Khrushchev himself, when he was responsible for Soviet agriculture, used the same method. It was corrected in 1953, just after Stalin’s death. The correction was made by Malenkov (Pravda, 9 August 1953); Khrushchev repeated it a month later [A], in his 3 September 1953 speech on agriculture before the Central Committee (Izvestia, 15 September 1953). It is therefore a bit out of place to dust off this old club to beat Malenkov with.

It must be recognized that Khrushchev’s wager on planting the “virgin lands” has not to date provided conclusive results. It ensures, on the average, one good harvest out of two, in strict correlation with the degree of drought in these regions. On the other hand, the sale of the farm machinery and the other measures tending rapidly to increase the peasants’ income will have lasting consequences for Soviet agriculture provided that adventuristic measures are not taken concerning prices.

The Seven-Year Plan forecasts a 40% increase in workers’ incomes, to which must be added the general reduction of the working week to 40 hours. If the increase in the lowest wages, which will be quite large, is taken into account, the average wage will go up only 26% (Pravda, 26 November 1958). This constitutes a considerable slowing down of the rise in the living levels of the workers, which was doubtless more than 50% in the 1952–1959 period. The annual average rise in living levels would be brought back to between 2.5 and 3%, which is lower than the trend in the last seven years in countries like France, Great Britain, Italy, West Germany, or Belgium.

On the other hand, the trend toward a certain leveling of remuneration, a lessening of too flagrant inequalities, already timidly announced at the XXth Congress and applied especially in the field of pensions, will now be carried out more boldly. The above-quoted article in Pravda pointed out in particular that the stretch between wages for manual workers will be henceforth reduced to 200%. It openly stated that it is necessary “to reduce the differences between the highest and lowest salaries.” It is true that it is simultaneously a question of increasing the income of certain bureaucrats. Nevertheless, the 60 to 70% increase in low wages during the coming seven years stands out against the average 26% increase in wages.

Let us nail right here the confession of the leaders of the bureaucracy that there are still millions of Soviet workers who earn between 270 and 350 rubles per month, i.e., according to generally accepted equivalences in purchasing power, from 11,000 to 14,000 French francs [$27 to $35, or £10 to £12/10 per month.] There is even talk of 7 to 8 million wage-earners who earn less than 350 rubles. Even if they enjoy free health services and very low rents, this is a poverty level unworthy of an industrially advanced country like the USSR today.

All these reservations being made, the fact nevertheless remains that during these last five years the people’s living standards have shown an absolutely sensational progress. To realize this, it suffices to add up the production of commonly used consumers’ goods, and to compare them with the number of families in the USSR. During the last five years there have been manufactured 20 million radio and television sets, close to 40 million wrist-watches, 18 million bicycles, 7½ million sewing machines, 4½ million cameras, 1 million washing machines. These figures may be multiplied roughly by two to obtain the production in the coming seven-year period. For ice-making refrigerators and washing machines, it is by 6 or 7 that we must multiply! That shows plainly that during this period the Soviet people will acquire the material basis for civilized living comparable to that of numerous countries of Central and Western Europe. To all this must be added an enormous effort in the matter of housing, which will create 7,000 million square feet of living space during the next seven years, thus raising the available per capita usable [2] surface in the cities to about 194 square feet, i.e., three times more than in 1928 and a figure comparable to those of Western Europe.

The Pressure of the Workers Toward Sharing in the Management of the Plants Is Growing

The most important change that has occurred in Soviet social reality since the XXth Congress is the appearance of tendencies with a view to limiting the omnipotence of the director within the plant, of the bureaucracy within the national economy. These tendencies are the inevitable result of destalinization and the denunciation of the “personality cult”; as early as 1953 we foresaw their appearance. It is a question here of a concession of historic importance that the Soviet bureaucracy has been obliged to make to the proletariat of its country. It is simultaneously a question of the only means it had at its disposal for delaying in the USSR the appearance of workers’ councils on the Jugoslav, Polish, or Hungarian model, workers’ councils which have been and still are the subject of discussions among the vanguard of the Soviet Communists and youth.

It was in December 1957 that important measures were taken with a view to increasing the powers of the trade unions within the plants and in the Soviet economy as a whole. In July 1958 a decree of the Supreme Soviet confirmed and further extended these powers. Lastly, the Xlth Plenum of the Central Council of the Trade Unions of the USSR blazed the trail toward a new extension of trade-union prerogatives (Trud, 22 October 1958). In this mass of decrees and ordinances, three currents can be distinguished:

  1. The increase of jurisdiction in the matter of managing social security, the institutions of social aid, etc. In practice the trade unions take in hand the management of the organisms of social security on the regional and local scales. They receive the right to control the distribution of lodgings, the provisioning of canteens, the management of communal public-service enterprises, etc. By this fact, the trade-union bureaucracy acquires a broad autonomous material base; it administers in fact funds that reach several tens of thousands of millions of rubles per year. Without any doubt, these measures are not greeted with much enthusiasm by the workers. Everywhere that they have been able to express their opinion freely (East Germany, 16–17 June 1953; Hungary, October–November 1956; Poland, October 1956–Summer 1957), they declared themselves to be opposed to the exercise of state functions by the trade unions; what they want is for the trade unions to defend them in their conflicts with the bureaucracy. Nevertheless, the broadening of trade-union autonomy, even under its bureaucratic aspect, opens the door to demands of revolutionary scope, such as for example the demand for the management of communal industry, or even all light industry, by the trade unions.
  2. “Productivist” measures that imply a right to control and take reprisals concerning the directors and “cadres” of the economy. This trend is visible above all in the decision of the XIth Plenum of the Central Council of the Trade-Unions, a document entirely centred around the growth of efficiency and productivity of labor, which will not arouse many favorable echos among the workers, but which, as means to attain these ends, involves in particular the extension of trade-union control over the administration of industry, the creation of squads of “controllers” who will go to make surprise inspections in the workshops, the obligation for directors to apply the measures proposed by these squads. It all culminates in a truly surprising formula: “The construction workplaces in metallurgy and chemistry must be subjected to the control of the trade union.”
  3. Modifications in hierarchic structure of the plants, and the increase of the powers of the trade unions within them. These prerogatives, it is true, are exercised by various more or less “representative” or “elected” organs, but never by the mass of the workers. Nevertheless, the transformation is deep-going; it constitutes in several ways an abolition of the reactionary “reforms” of the Stalinist period and- a return to the customs of the 1928–1933 period, when Soviet democracy was already abolished on the political plane, but important vestiges subsisted within the plants.

In this way, the apparatus of economic direction and the apparatus of the trade-union committee (its full-time functionaries) now jointly prepare the draft of the annual collective contract. The trade-union functionaries are generally associated at each stage of working up the plan. The trade-union committees, dominated by these bureaucrats, but within which the formal majority belongs to the rank-and-file workers – example: in a factory of 7,000 workers there are 21 members of the trade-union committee, of whom six are functionaries – receive the right of examination and control concerning the establishment of production norms and salaries, hiring and firing of workers, and decisions about the plan and the collective contract.

In addition, these committees have “the right to listen” (sic) to the reports of the directors and the chief engineers concerning the extent to which the plan is being carried out (Pravda, 16 July 1958), as well as the right to “give their opinion” about the designation of the leading personnel of the enterprise. Most important point: the trade-union committee now has the power of last resort in the matter of “small conflicts” within the plant. In each enterprise, special paritary commissions (half representatives of the direction, half representatives of the workers) examine these conflicts? If the parties do not reach agreement, the affair is sent before the factory trade-union committee (or, in certain cases, before the local trade-union committee). The decision of the trade-union organization is without appeal and its execution is obligatory for the administration.

Despite the predominance of trade-union bureaucrats within these committees, it is here a question of a reform that is greeted by the workers as an important step forward, for they have more of a grip and possibility of pressure on the trade-union functionaries than on the cadres of the economy.

It should also be noted that broader organisms, such as “the active members of the union” or “assemblies of producers” (which, however, in any case, group only a few percent of the workers in the big factories) are also associated with the discussion about working up and carrying out the plan, but this is only with purely consultative powers and without rights of decision.

Without reaching a form of workers’ management as developed as is the case in Jugoslavia, or as was the case in Hungary (23 October–November 1956) or in Poland (October 1956–Summer 1957), this growth in trade-union prerogatives in the USSR increases the rights of the toilers and especially those of that most “modest” and “worker” part of the bureaucracy, which is the most linked with the proletariat. The more workers’ pressure increases in the USSR, and the more this fraction of the bureaucracy is used as a “transmission belt,” then the more it will play this role in both directions: on the one hand receiving from the higher strata of the bureaucracy the directives to be imposed on the workers in exchange for increased rights; on the other hand transmitting to the higher strata of the bureaucracy the workers’ demands that it must in part itself adopt in order to be able to act as a guarantor of “socialist labor discipline.”

School Reform and Judicial Reform

Economic and social transformations, the raising of the living level, the sale of farm machinery to the kolkhozes, the beginning of the participation of the workers in the management of the plants – have all these reforms created a “reformist” climate in the Soviet Union? And Khrushchev’s attempt to carry out destalinization while depoliticizing it and thereby maintaining the command posts and the privileges of the bureaucracy – has this succeeded?

It is normal that the raising of the living level and the removal of general insecurity, of the reign of the secret police, have reduced tension in the USSR; the comparison that forces itself on us is that of 1900 Germany compared to the Germany of the “law against socialism,” or France at the beginning of the XXth century compared to France under Napoleon III – all due allowances being made. It is true that in these cases the reforms were not only economic and social but also political. Khrushchev’s wager consists precisely in supposing that political demands themselves will lose their sharpness with the improvement in economic and social conditions.

No sensible person can deny that this wager is in part realistic – even though there must be added to the causes of the present “reformism” of the masses in the USSR and in certain people’s democracies the experience of the Hungarian revolution and the continuance of international tension. It was workers who were desperate and at the end of their patience who went into the streets on June 16th and 17th 1953 in Berlin, and on October 23rd in Budapest – not to mention the rebels of Vorkuta and other forced-labor camps. Among the great mass of Soviet workers there no longer reign today the despair, insecurity, and poverty which threaten to make the cup overflow. They have, on the contrary, the hope of a steady and sure improvement in their lot – except in case of war.

But it is just this improvement in their standard of living that permits them to be more interested in political problems. These perhaps take on an immediately less explosive aspect than during the 1952–56 period, but it is nonetheless a real aspect. The more the living level of the Soviet people rises, the more the problems of attaining Soviet democracy as quickly as possible on all levels of social life present themselves in an imperious way. The Soviet bureaucracy cannot have any illusions on this subject. Its attitude toward educational and judicial reform shows this.

The causes of the reform in schooling have been clearly set forth by the Soviet leaders themselves. At the XXth Congress of the CPSU, it was promised to generalize middle schooling for all Soviet youth, i.e., to have all Soviet youth go on to a “middle polytechnic” school until the age of 17 (ten years of schooling). But experience showed that the gradual generalization of the system – which was never applied to all of the youth – caused sharp contradictions. On the one hand, with the growth in the number of students who finished their middle schooling and obtained the baccalaureat [3], the number of applicants for the universities increased; but the places available therein remained far fewer than the requests. In Khrushchev’s memorandum on the reform of schooling, published in the Izvestia of 21 September 1958, there was quoted the figure of over 800,000 students who had finished their middle studies without being able to enter the universities. This represents about two-thirds of the total of students who had completed their middle studies. [4] It can well be imagined under these circumstances how fierce are the struggles to obtain a place in the university!

What is more, these 800,000 youths – more than 2 million if we take the overall figures for the last three years – are thrown into productive life without any practical preparation, since middle schooling serves especially for preparing for the university.

These objective givens of the problem are greatly complicated by subjective factors arising from the situation of social inequality that reigns in the USSR. Khrushchev, in his memorandum quoted above, makes spirited reproaches to different strata of the Soviet population, that they “look down on” manual work, that they will do anything to hew a path to the university for their children, that “contacts,” pressures (especially on the part of bureaucrats), and even bribery, play a preponderant role in this “selection.” He explains these phenomena by “the lack of communist consciousness.” He would have done better to understand that consciousness is a product of social existence. If all parents want a university degree for their sons and daughters, it is because in the USSR the income and the standing of “intellectuals” far surpasses that of manual workers. Under these conditions, it is normal and inevitable that people consider the entry of their children in the university to be the principal means of social advancement! And in fact any contact with Soviet society confirms this diagnosis: the universal thirst for knowledge and culture that reigns in the USSR finds a common catalyst: the desire to engage in higher studies.

Khrushchev reveals that at present the children of the bureaucracy compose from 60 to 70% of the students at the University of Moscow! Demagogically, he affirms that this abnormal situation must be changed. In practice, however, the school reform such as it was finally adopted by the CC of the CPSU (Pravda, 16 November 1958) makes entry into the university even more difficult rather than easier for the children of workers and peasants. Everything takes place as if the bureaucracy, observing the imbalance between supply and demand for places in the university, adapted, not supply to demand, but demand to supply, i.e., it ruthlessly blocked the path to higher education to an important fraction of Soviet youth.

Indeed, in place of ten years of schooling, there is now eight years of generalized schooling (school will be obligatory to the age of 15) [5]; children at 15 can follow two paths: that of labor combined with night school (with possibly one or two working days per week free); and that of the polytechnic schools of general culture, which look forward among other things to practical exercises in production. That means that the selection, which for the moment is delayed till the age of 17-18, is now to be advanced to the age of 15-16. And universal experience has shown that the earlier professional selection is made among children, the more those are favored who, on account of the living conditions and culture of their parents, are the best prepared for intellectual work. In this sense, it is certain that the school reform is by its nature anti-democratic and anti-egalitarian.

The “labor” of several million young people in the factory for six hours a day, under conditions not very conducive to productivity [6], will not contribute much to the Soviet economy in the immediate future. On the other hand, for the young people condemned to this” labor, finding entrance to the university will be in practice very difficult. To engage in studies preparing for the baccalaureat, in addition to 30 hours of physical labor per week, requires exhausting efforts. Soviet statistics show that less than 15% of the students who follow evening courses under these conditions succeed in their baccalaureat. Those who are obliged to combine labor with university studies have still less favorable conditions. They are, in practice, incapable of studying the physical and mathematical sciences, the sciences of the future; the Soviet cultural manual indicates that university teaching by evening courses or by correspondence formed in 1955 514,000 university graduates in the branches of general culture, of human, pedagogical, and biological sciences, and only ... 6,100 scientific technologists.

This is true to such an extent that – after the publication of Khrushchev’s “memorandum,” which proposed to generalize for practically the entire youth the obligation for those between 15 and 18 to work 25 to 30 hours a week in factory or field, as well as the obligation for university students to work in factories – the principal Soviet scientists intervened in the discussion, stating, in measured but nonetheless clear terms, that such reforms ran the risk of destroying the bases of the upsurge of Soviet science. The Academician Semzhonov stated in the Pravda of 17 October 1958 that it was vital that the great majority of students come directly from the middle schools to the university without interrupting their studies, for this is essential for developing to the maximum extent the students’ intellectual and creative capacities. He also specified that it is necessary that university students do practical work in the creative sense of the term (laboratory work in research and production), and not common manual labor, which is in fact a pure loss for both the economy and themselves.

The final draft adopted by the CC takes these criticisms into account to a large extent – an indeed sensational innovation for which there is no parallel in Soviet history for the past 25 years. But it corrects that initial draft of Khrushchev in a still more anti-democratic direction, by deepening the gulf between the two kinds of upper middle schools. The fact that “social organizations” (party, trade unions, etc) are associated in the selection of university students is not a measure for reducing the pressure of the bureaucracy – indeed, quite the contrary.

The example of schooling shows clearly how the bureaucratic dictatorship runs up against both the progressive aspirations of the people and the needs of the Soviet economy and society. The judicial reform, finally carried through – five years after the announcement that it was being undertaken! – in the same way confirms the democratic demands of the Soviet people and the limits within which the bureaucracy can meet them.

The new penal code contains a series of advances, important and indeed sensational if they are compared with the “judicial” jungle of the Stalinist period. Confession is no longer considered sufficient proof; the accused is considered innocent until his crime is proved – he no longer has himself to prove his innocence; the principle of crime by analogy is suppressed – return is made to the democratic principle “which the revolutionary bourgeoisie had inscribed on its banner” (Sovietskoie Gossudarstvo i Pravo, no. 12, 1957): nullum crimen (and therefore: nulla poena) sine lege (no crime, hence no punishment, without written law), which has previously defined as such the act under judgment; rights for the defense are highly increased; punishments are generally reduced (deportation for example is limited to five years); etc.

On the other hand, in this “classless society,” 41 years after the October Revolution that began by abolishing the death penalty (re-introducing it only exceptionally under civil-war conditions), the death penalty is maintained for political crimes, “formation of gangs” (Soviet jurisprudence designates under this term any political organization other than the bureaucratized CP), and high treason. And though the new penal code does not contain the word “enemy of the people,” this was used by USSR Attorney-General Rudenko in the very session of the Supreme Soviet that adopted the code.

All these reasons lead us to the conclusion that though a certain “reformist” tendency is unquestionably showing itself today in the USSR, it will end up sooner or later by political demands that will bring into question the very essence of the bureaucratic dictatorship, by a direct preparation of the political revolution.

It becomes essential, in this transitional phase, to work up a minimum programme, adapted to the concrete conditions of the USSR, a programme of vigorous democratization and equalization in all spheres of public life, a programme that would objectively play the same role as the Transitional Programme: to lead the Soviet workers by their own experience to the consciousness of the need for an organized political struggle against the bureaucracy, for the reesta-blishment and extension of soviet democracy at a level of which the founders of the USSR could only dream.

15 January 1959


A. In the printed version the preceding sentence and a half read: “Khrushchev himself, when he was responsible for Soviet agriculture, used the same method. It was employed by Malenkov (Pravda, 9 August 1953); Khrushchev repeated it a month later,” – this was corrected in the following issue: Correction, Fourth International, No. 6, Sprinng 1959, p. 27. (Note by MIA)

1. In 1957, the respective production capacity of these countries was of 23, 27, and 7 million tons.

2. “Usable” rather than “habitable” because “usable” space includes toilets, bathrooms, kitchens, corridors, balconies, etc.

Statistics about “usable” space in the West are not very specific. If the habitable surface per room is counted as 172 square feet on the average, and this figure is increased 25% for usable space (this being the method generally used by the specialists), then the figures per capita for 1955–57 would work out as follows: 172 square feet in Italy; 194 in Western Germany and France; 237 in Holland; 280 in Great Britain and Belgium; 302 in the USA.

3. Not to be confused with the British and US baccalaureate, the degree of Bachelor of Arts conferred on leaving a university, the continental baccalaureat is, technically, the equivalent of the US high-school diploma or the British school-leaving certificate, enabling the student to enter a university (in scholastic level, it is in practice usually rather higher ).

4. The Pravda of 16 November 1958 estimates new admissions to the universities at 450,000.

5. Khrushchev revealed that in 1958 20% of Soviet children do not continue schooling to the age of 14.

6. Khrushchev reveals that the majority of plant directors do not want to hire young people. It appears that for some years now considerable unemployment exists among those under 18.


Last updated on 29 January 2016