What is the bureaucratic oligarchy of the Party? What place does it occupy in the structure of Soviet society? Why does it hold a privileged position? How does it govern the State and the population? The official view was and is that after the ‘liquidation of the kulaks as a class’, there effectively exist three nonantagonistic classes in Russia: the workers, the peasants of the kolhozes, and the employees of the State. In fact, these latter have never formed a homogeneous class. For on the one hand there are ordinary employees, members of the Party, who are not invested with any power, who govern nothing and nobody, who cannot give orders or make decisions which have the force of law. On the other hand, there are functionaries who are invested with authority and who rule enterprises, institutions, whole branches of the economy, politics, culture, daily life and the State itself in its internal and external relations—not to speak of the Party which directs and organizes all these. They can give orders and make decisions which have the force of law. They form the ruling stratum of this socialist society, which dominates every domain of life and monopolizes the totality of power. This bureaucratic oligarchy of the Party controls all the ‘levers’ of the Party apparatus and the government, and exercises supremacy over it. It seems to have been at the beginning of the thirties that this ruling group felt the need to institute a certain secrecy.

The function of this was in reality to draw a line of demarcation between the bureaucratic leadership of the Party and all the other groups in the population. Secrecy assured this leadership isolation from the external world and stability internally, so that its personnel could be sheltered from accidents, fluctuations or intrusions deriving from uncontrolled or unreliable elements outside. This privileged status of the dominant stratum found its expression in the revival of the Tsarist system of the nomenclatura—that is, the establishment of lists of selected individuals, invested with the supreme confidence of the Party, for whom were reserved all responsible positions in the Party and the State.

The members of the nomenclatura were thus given an institutionalized position of privilege over the toiling masses. The bureaucratic oligarchy of the Party thereby freed itself from the public opinion of the workers and became accustomed to despising them. Its activity unfolded within a separate and autonomous sphere, beyond the control of either society or the Party. This oligarchy naturally sought to affirm its unavowed juridical and material privileges, by a tacit use of goods which essentially belonged to the administration itself. Among the advantages which it thus enjoyed were high salaries, ‘envelopes’ passed from hand to hand, allocation of food unfindable in shops, private canteens, large and sometimes luxuriously appointed apartments, villas with gardens, flowers, tennis courts, swimming-pools, cars and personal chauffeurs, and sumptuous rest-houses.

Where are the deeper reasons to be found for the fact that the working masses of Russia, whom the Communist Party had swept along a particular road of transition to socialism unforeseen by Marxism, had in the years after Lenin’s death become so quickly subordinated to the unlimited power of the top group of the party bureaucracy, that the organizational principle of society, democratic centralism, laid down as it was in the statutes of cpsu(b), had not been developed further? Why did the centralism of the Party leadership devour democracy and preserve it only outwardly, purely formally?

The reasons lie in the ‘Russian path of transition to socialism’ which arose from the revolutionary situation of 1917. This enormous, economically backward country whose population in its overwhelming majority was peasant and petty bourgeois, had deposed its old rulers because of their degeneration and impotence which had brought about a condition of economic ruin, and was now confronted with incredible difficulties. In order quickly to restore and expand the economy, to subdue the resistance of the reactionary rural bourgeoisie, to hold out alone, encircled by powerful and dangerous capitalist countries, gigantic centralized and organized exertions as well as tremendous material resources were required. The short periods set for economic development in which the nation, amidst an extraordinary worsening of international relations, was to be saved from destruction, demanded such centralized organization that a long drawn-out process of education towards socialist democracy, as well as a ‘gradual integration of the kulaks with socialism’ was altogether precluded. In this respect Stalin was right in revising the plans of Lenin and Bukharin and in quickly abolishing nep. But it was exactly this which favoured the rapid creation of the Party and government hierarchy which in all the measures it took was extremely cruel and brutal.

This, however, was merely the inevitable system of levers of a centralized, administrative leadership; it was not only necessary to lead, but also to reconstruct anew the country’s economy. The reconstruction of industry, the creation of the army, and of the apparatus, were all costly. But even greater resources were needed for the transformation of agriculture, the founding of a great number of new branches of industry, and of new scientific institutes. As foreign credits were impossible to obtain, the means had to be found not merely by raising internal loans but by direct exploitation of the labour of workers, peasants and office employees. If the beginnings of capitalism required a ‘primitive accumulation’ then a corresponding period can be found in the beginnings of socialism in a devastated, backward country. In industry the state directly appropriated surplus value. In his pamphlet Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, Stalin was wrong when he claimed that in conditions of communism the law of value ceases to exist. By this he understood the ‘exchange value’ which is realized on the market. In reality, however, the value of a product, whatever form it takes, is always measured by the amount of labour power used in its production and represents therefore an absolutely objective relationship between labour and its material result.

In no event can surplus-value therefore disappear. If a communist society were to renounce all calculation of the cost of production of its output, it would sink into economic chaos. Not only the exchange value of products, but the surplus value generated in the process of production, subsists at all stages of social production. The more intellectual, scientific and technical labour is contained in productive labour, the more goods are produced whose price exceeds both the cost to the worker of replenishing his labour-power, and the costs of reproducing the capital of the socialist enterprise. If the product enjoys a corresponding demand in society, the nub of the problem is—in whose hands does the surplus value remain? In those of the worker himself (if he is a small producer), or those of the group of owners for whom he works—which may be an association of small producers, a large private enterprise in a bourgeois State, or a socialist State?