Friday, January 22, 2016

Stalin's programs from The Dark Valley

 Lenin had become, in his final state, a weird embodiment of dialectical materialism: the corporeal phantom of revolution, the hollow incarnation of Bolshevism. But the ox-blood ziggurat was important less as a tomb for Lenin than as a platform for Stalin. From its polished eminence he presided over interminable parades in the vast asphalt amphitheatre of Red Square.
The campaign which Stalin launched six days after his fiftieth birthday, a campaign resisted so violently that only his inflated prestige enabled him to carry it through—and to survive. Having found that his plans to revolutionise industry were being jeopardised by a shortage of grain, Stalin determined to speed up his programme of forcing peasants (muzhiks) into collective farms and he announced a new policy of "liquidating the kulaks as a class." The kulaks (literally, grasping "fists"; metaphorically, rich peasants) were portrayed as a reactionary agricul-tural bourgeoisie intent on choking Communism with "the bony hand of famine." It is true that these more enterprising farmers had taken advan-tage of Lenin's New Economic Policy, introduced after his own attempt to squeeze grain out of the peasantry had led to widespread revolt and famine in 1921, to sell their surplus produce on the open market and acquire a few implements and animals. Moreover they preferred to hoard their grain or feed it to their livestock (meat and dairy products fetched higher prices than cereals) rather than dispose of it to the State. But these better-off peasants were anything but the greedy capitalists of Stalin's fantasies. As Zinoviev said, "We are fond of describing any peasant who has enough to eat as a kulak." Nevertheless Stalin decreed that the kulaks were class ene-mies. Their persecution would terrify the lesser peasants into joining collectives, which would in turn reap huge benefits from exploiting the kulaks' property. Thus socialism would come to the countryside and peas-ants would be transformed into proletarians. Huge agricultural factories would produce the food without which Russia must remain a backward nation; food itself became a State monopoly. In the Communist historical process the eradication of the kulaks was incidental to the elimination of private farming. Stalin quoted the Russian proverb: "When the head is cut off, one does not mourn for the hair. "33 So Stalin declared war on his own people—a class war to end class. In the first two months of 1930 perhaps a million kulaks, weakened by previ-ous victimisation, were stripped of their possessions and uprooted from their farmsteads. They were among the earliest of "over five million"34 souls deported during the next three years, most of whom perished. Brigades of workers conscripted from the towns, backed by contingents of the Red Army and the OGPU (which had replaced the Cheka), swept through the countryside "like raging beasts."35 They rounded up the best farmers and their families, banished them to the barren outskirts of their villages or drove them into the northern wastes. Often they shot the heads of households, cramming their dependents into "death trains"—a pro-longed process owing to a shortage of the blood-coloured cattle trucks known as "red cows." While they waited, women and children expired of cold, hunger and disease. Muscovites, at first shocked by glimpses of the terror being inflicted on the countryside, became inured to the sight of peasants being herded from one station to another at gunpoint. A witness wrote:
Trainloads of deported peasants left for the icy North, the forests, the steppes, the deserts. There were whole populations, denuded of every-thing; the old folk starved to death in mid-journey, new-born babies were buried on the banks of the roadside, and each wilderness had its crop of little crosses of boughs or white wood.36 The survivors of these ghastly odysseys were concentrated in primitive camps which they often had to scratch with their bare hands from taiga or tundra. They were then set to work at digging canals, lumbering and other projects, Stalin having recently been dazzled by the prospect of "construct-ing socialism through the use of prison labour."37 Whatever Stalin may have envisaged, the assault on the kulaks was less like a considered piece of social engineering than "a nation-wide pogrom." Often the urban cadres simply pillaged for private gain, eating the kulaks' food and drinking their vodka on the spot, donning their felt boots and clothes, right down to their woollen underwear. Moreover, the spoliation was marked by caprice and chaos since it was virtually impossible to decide which peasants were kulaks. Peasants of all sorts (including women) resisted, fighting back with anything from sporadic terror to full-scale revolt. There were major uprisings in Moldavia, the Ukraine, the Caucasus, Crimea, Azerbaijan, Soviet Central Asia and elsewhere. To quell them Stalin employed tanks and even military aircraft, unusual adjuncts to agrarian reform (though Lenin had also used poison gas).  Some tried to bribe their persecutors. Some committed suicide. Some appealed for mercy, of all Communist commodities the one in shortest supply. Like the troops, some Party members were indeed horrified at the vicious acts which they were called upon to perform. One exclaimed, "We are no longer people, we are animals." Many were brutes, official gangsters who revelled in licensed thuggery. Others carried out the persecutions for fear of join-ing the victims. Others belonged to the semi-Christian "tradition of social levelling stretching back to the peasant commune."  Still others were idealists of a different stamp, convinced that they were doing their "revolutionary duty."They had no time for what Trotsky had once called the "papist-Quaker babble about the sanctity of human life."According to Marx's iron laws of history, they shed the blood of the kulaks to achieve the dictatorship of the proletariat. Without this sacrifice the Soviet Union could not modernise and socialism could not survive. As one apparatchik expressed it: "When you are attacking there is no place for mercy; don't think of the kulak's hungry children; in the class struggle philanthropy is evil." This view, incidentally, was often shared by Western fellow-travellers. Upton Sinclair and A. J. P. Taylor both argued that to preserve the Workers' State the kulaks "had to be destroyed.
Whether facing expropriation and exile or collectivisation and servi-tude, masses of peasants retaliated by smashing their implements and killing their animals—live beasts would have to be handed over to the col-lectives whereas meat and hides could be respectively consumed and concealed. A quarter of the nation's livestock perished- a loss not made up until the 1960's.
*
 Now, thanks to Stalin, the pall had lifted and the reign of terror had ceased. It was a false dawn. Stalin was retreating the better to advance. The only Bolshevik leader whose parents had been serfs, he knew the peasants and regarded them as the scum of the earth. Not for him the romanticism of a Tolstoy, who saw the muzhik as a spontaneous child of nature. Rather, Stalin agreed with Maxim Gorky who wrote that "the fundamental obstacle on the path of Russia's progress towards Europeanisation and culture" was "the overwhelming predominance of the illiterate countryside over the town, the zoological individualism of the peasantry and its almost total lack of social feelings."47 Known as thorny narod, "the dark people," the peasants were indeed brutal and obscurantist. Scattered in 600,000 villages and other small settlements over the interminable steppe, they dwelt in fly-ridden, cockroach-infested hovels with thatched roofs and mud floors, sharing the space, as often as not, with their animals. Thrashing their lean oxen or their gaunt women, millions tilled the soil with wooden ploughs "at least as old as the Pharaohs."48 More like the coolies of Asia than the farmers of Europe, the muzhiks knew nothing but poverty. Indeed, they had kept hunger at bay only since the mid-1920s. Bundled into putrid layers of ragged homespun (though some factory-made garments were appearing), they huddled around their stoves during the long dark winters, gossiping and brawling just as Chekhov had described in his classic story "Peasants." They saw their children and animals die and their huts go up in flames—"the red cockerel" devoured 400,000 homes a year. They resisted outside authority and visited barbarous punishments of their own on wrongdoers within the community. They smoked home-cured tobacco rolled up in newspaper. Otherwise their anodynes were religion, sex and drink. Smoke-blackened icons filled their houses, portents of heavenly recompense for lives nasty, brutish and short. Promiscuity was almost universal and the "most daring familiarities" took place in public, while the "usual talk was a running fire of obscenities and the gestures were as bad as the language." Drunkenness was such a "normal phenomenon" that Party members themselves defended it as "necessary for the worker in view of the hard conditions of his life"; so they could scarcely blame the peasant for drowning his sorrows in vodka. Stalin, however, though not averse to binges of his own, was determined to subject the muzhik to socialist discipline, to change his character by continuing the revolutionary change in his circumstances. In the autumn of 1930 he resumed the policy of forcible collectivisation. Peasant anguish was fed by rumours that women would be socialised, that unproductive old people would be prematurely cremated and that children were to be sent to creches in China. Such fears did not seem extravagant, for the authorities were themselves offering peasants apocalyptic inducements to join the collectives: "They promised golden mountains . . . They said that women would be freed from doing the washing, from milking and clean-ing the animals, weeding the garden, etc. Electricity can do that, they said." Under the hammer and sickle all things would be made new In 1930, Year XIII of the Communist era, a new calendar was intro-duced. It began the year on 1 November and established a five-day week: Sundays were abolished and rest days rotated so that work could be con-tinuous. The anti-God crusade became more vicious and the church was portrayed as the "kulaks' agitprop [agitation and propaganda agency]."5' Priests were persecuted. Icons were burned and replaced with portraits of Stalin. The bells of basilicas were silenced, many being melted down for the metal. Monasteries were demolished or turned into prison camps. Abbeys and convents were smashed to pieces and factories rose on their ruins. Churches were destroyed, scores in Moscow itself. Chief among them was the gold-domed Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer, Russia's largest place of worship and (according to the League of Militant Atheists) "the ideological fortress of the accursed old world,"52 which was dyna-mited to make way for the Palace of Soviets on 5 December 1931. Stalin was unprepared for the explosion and asked tremulously, "Where's the bombardment?"53 The new Russian orthodoxy was instilled through everything from schools in which pupils learned to chant thanks to Comrade Stalin for their happy childhood to libraries purged of "harmful literature," from atheistic playing-cards to ideologically sound performances by circus clowns. An early signal that the Party was becoming the arbiter of all intel-lectual life was the suicide of Vladimir Mayakovsky: he was tormented by having turned himself into a poetry factory; he had stepped "on the throat of my own song."54 (Even so he became a posthumous propagandist: as Pasternak wrote, "Mayakovsky began to be introduced forcibly, like pota-toes under Catherine the Great. This was his second death. He had no hand in it.") 55 Of more concern to the average Soviet citizen was the social-ist transformation of everyday life: the final elimination of small traders and private businessmen, the establishment of communal kitchens and lavatories, the direction of labour, the proliferation of informers (a marble monument was raised to Pavel Morozov, who supposedly denounced his father as a kulak), the purging of "wreckers" and the attempt to impose "iron discipline" 56 at every level. Stalin called for an increase in the power of the State to assist in its withering away. Like Peter the Great, he would bend Russia to his will even if he had to decimate the inhabitants as he had once presciently observed, "full conformity of views can be achieved only at a cemetery." Destroying the nation's best farmers, disrupting the agricultural system and extracting grain from a famished countryside to export in return for Western technology—all this had a fatal impact on the Soviet standard of living. By 1930 bread and other foodstuffs were rationed, as were staple goods such as soap. But even rations were hard to get: sugar, for example, had "ceased to exist as a commodity." The cooperative shops were gener-ally empty, though gathering dust on their shelves were items that no one wanted, among them French horns and hockey sticks. There were also "tantalisingly realistic and mouth-watering"  wooden cheeses, dummy hams, enamelled cakes and other fake promises of future abundance. On the black market bread cost 45 roubles a kilo while the average collective farmer earned 3 roubles a day.6° Some Muscovite workers shortened the slogan "pobeda"(victory) to "obeda"(food), or even to "beda"(misfortune).6' In response to such scarcity the Communist urge to acquire private property was rampant. Rubbish was not thrown away but traded. Queue-ing was universal and people often joined lines without knowing what commodity they were waiting for. They began to gather outside butchers' shops in the capital at 2:00 A.M. But they were philosophical about it, jok-ing that in Russia freedom consisted of being able to join another queue. (It was possible to get a permit to buy railway tickets without queueing, but when a foreign journalist tried to use one he found himself joining a queue of other such permit holders.) Muscovites lived mainly on sour black bread; grey, cardboard-like macaroni; vegetables such as beetroot and cabbage; salted smoked Arctic fish which made their gums bleed and a sausage known as "Budenny's First Cavalry." All the restaurants were now under socialist control and their offerings were revolting. Works can-teens dispensed dishwater soup or (like the one at the Dnepostroi hydro-electric plant) a "bluish swill that stinks like a corpse and a cesspool." It was possible to acquire better food from semi-legal bazaars (often by barter) and from some government shops. These were known, because of their displays of rare luxury goods, as "Stalin museums." Buyers could obtain delicacies such as radishes ("Stalin lard") and rabbits ("Stalin cows")—in fact Stalin did support rabbit farms and an institute to pro-mote the "Rabbitization of Russia" was set up outside Moscow in 1932, followed shortly by the first trial of "rabbit-wreckers."64 Best stocked of all were the hard-currency Torgsin shops (opened in 1931) where some cus-tomers literally paid with the gold fillings from their teeth. Russian life was everywhere crumbling under the iron heel of Stalin's socialism. Moscow, an Asiatic sprawl of zigzag streets, squat wooden houses and multicoloured cupolas, seemed like a city at war. Gone were the garish signs of the bearded, long-mantled free traders who had loved to drink vodka and eat cucumbers in Slovanski Bazaar. Gone were fur-coated women on the pavements. Going were horse-cabs in the streets, along with their blue-robed peasant drivers. Instead, wrote Eugene Lyons, "Viscous ooze of swarming dung-coloured people, not ugly but incredibly soiled, patched, drab; the odour and colour of ingrained poverty, fetid bundles, stale clothes."65 Visitors were especially struck by the unmistak-able smell of Moscow. It was a compound of sheepskin, sawdust, vodka, black bread, drains, disinfectant, cheap perfume and unwashed humanity which stank (according to Henry Luce) of "rotten eggs in a damp cellar."66 With accommodation for one million people, Moscow housed over three million. The overcrowding was so oppressive that those who had permanent titles to apartments stayed put even if they were in danger of being arrested—a danger increased by jealous neighbours who sometimes denounced them in the hope of succeeding to their homes. Such was the medieval squalor of the capital that Frank Lloyd Wright proposed razing it to the ground and building a new garden city on its foundations. Le Cor-busier, who scoffed that Moscow's layout was based on donkey tracks, put forward an equally devastating plan. Utopian socialists, too, visualised the withering away of the metropolis. It should be assisted, according to archi-tect Konstantia Melnikov, by a "Laboratory of Sleep" which would nightly submerge citizens in sounds and smells scientifically chosen to induce a rural, collectivist mentality.

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