After Stalin, the leadership of the Soviet Union utilized bureaucracy in a manner that took hold of the nation and helped turn the working class onto the road of capitalism, away from socialist development that had previously taken place extensively between the rule of Lenin and Stalin. But, Marxism-Leninism does not believe bureaucracy itself was the basis that exploited the working class of the Soviet Union. Bureaucratic states have a risk of degenerating since they do not have direct relation to the proletariat, but the bureaucracy of the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin was not in this manner; it did not become policy and culture until the late 1950s. The entire issue of bureaucracy is primarily a buzzword used by left leaning communists, who exaggerate their charges greatly. Bureaucracy surely existed in the Soviet Union and Lenin is noted for saying:
“It will take decades to overcome the evils of bureaucracy. It is a very difficult struggle, and anyone who says we can rid ourselves of bureaucratic practices overnight by adopting anti-bureaucratic platforms is nothing but a quack with a bent for fine words.”
Such a statement was meant as a criticism against the left-leaning communists such as the pro-Trotsky factions of the Party who denounced every single item they lumped in with bureaucracy. A nation as gigantic as the Soviet Union was inevitably bound to have bureaucratic tendencies, but they took on different character under each leader. Lenin and Stalin conformed bureaucracy to work in favor of socialism and in favor of the Party-Line. Collectivization had elements of bureaucracy working towards socialism, for example, and yet, this bureaucracy was still combated against so that it would not grow overwhelming. For example, more than 25,000 people were called to volunteer to educate the peasantry directly and all of them ended up doing just that. Khrushchev and onward used bureaucratic tactics to establish privileged capitalistic classes and monopoly capitalism, a key difference between Lenin and Stalin. However, it is true that the majority of bureaucracy that had existed under Stalin was simply carried over by Khrushchev, but used in a vastly different manner. Still, it would be anti-Marxist to assert that each of these leaders carried the entire bureaucracy themselves. Due to the economic nature of the post-Stalin state, it would however be true to say these leaders carried more, due to their policies, however.
But then, what was Stalin’s position on the matter of bureaucracy?
“Bureaucracy is one of the worst enemies of our progress. It exists in all our organizations.” (J.V. Stalin, Speech delivered at the Eighth Congress of the All-Union of the Leninist Young Communist League, 1927)
“Bureaucracy in our organizations must not be regarded merely as routine and red tape. Bureaucracy is a manifestation of bourgeois influence on our organizations. With all the more persistence, therefore, must the struggle against bureaucracy in our organizations be waged, if we really want to develop self-criticism and rid ourselves of the maladies in our constructive work.” (J.V. Stalin, “Against the Vulgarizing of the Slogan of Self-Criticism”, 1928).
“The surest remedy for bureaucracy is raising the cultural level of the workers and peasants. One can curse and denounce bureaucracy in the state apparatus, one can stigmatize and pillory bureaucracy in our practical work, but unless the masses of the workers reach a certain level of culture, which will create the possibility, the desire, the ability to control the state apparatus from below, by the masses of the workers themselves, bureaucracy will continue to exist in spite of everything. Therefore, the cultural development of the working class and of the masses of the working peasantry, not only the development of literacy, although literacy is the basis of all culture, but primarily the cultivation of the ability to take part in the administration of the country, is the chief lever for improving the state and every other apparatus. This is the sense and significance of Lenin’s slogan about the cultural revolution.” (J.V. Stalin, The 15th Congress of the CPSU, December 2-19, 1927).
“The principle of election must be applied in practice to all Party bodies and official posts, if there are no insuperable obstacles to this such as lack of the necessary Party standing, and so forth. We must eliminate the practice of ignoring the will of the majority of the organizations in promoting comrades to responsible Party posts, and we must see to it that the principle of election is actually applied.” (J. V. Stalin, Stalin, The 15th Congress of the CPSU, December 2-19, 1927).
“Precisely in order to develop self-criticism and not extinguish it, we must listen attentively to all criticism coming from Soviet people, even if sometimes it may not be correct to the full and in all details. Only then can the masses have the assurance that they will not get into “hot water” if their criticism is not perfect, that they will not be made a “laughing-stock” if there should be errors in their criticism. Only then can self-criticism acquire a truly mass character and meet with a truly mass response.” (J.V. Stalin, Report to the 17th Party Congress of the Work of the C.C. of the CPSU, Pravda, No. 27, Jan. 28, 1934).
Stalin wished to combat bureaucracy primarily through education. Schools were established and funded, literacy rates dramatically improved, newspaper circulation increased, self-criticism occurred, and debates as well. The number of students of working class background increased, people previously living as peasants were able to move to the cities and gain education, and the working class was, to degree, able to enter the ranks of Bolsheviks. Committees established by the workers and peasants also worked to check local authority figures and report any of their misdeed and blunders to the government. The Party itself was subject to changes in leadership as well to remove bureaucratic tenancy.
Overall, the nature of bureaucracy taken during the Lenin and Stalin years of the Soviet Union is greatly exaggerated. While Marxist-Leninists do not regard the USSR as the ideal socialist state per se, it is evident to us that socialism was being constructed and developed effectively and that Lenin and Stalin were on proper paths, despite their own blunders, and despite the charges that the USSR was a bureaucratic state.
Suggested Reading List:
-The Restoration of Capitalism in the USSR by Bland
-Stalin and the Struggle for Democratic Reform by Furr
-Democracy and Dictatorship by Lenin
-Economic Problems of the USSR by Stalin
-The Khrushchevites by Hoxha