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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 16, July 12, 1976.

Soviet Rulers a Caste

Soviet Rulers a Caste

Production in Russia is controlled by the government, through conscious planning, and not subject to the anarchy of the capitalist market. Such characteristics of capitalism as unemployment and inflation do not feature in the Soviet Union.

Furthermore, the Russian bureaucrats have no stocks or bonds, and cannot pass on their powers to their heirs. Compare that to the Rockefellers and Fords!

It makes more sense to describe the rulers of the Soviet Union as a "bureaucracy" (as Auld does in many places) rather than a "ruling class". That is, not simply a government administration, but an administration whose power and privilege have become ends in themselves. The Soviet bureaucrats are privileged in relation to the living standards of the working people: for example, they have access to (and can afford) luxury goods that the mass of the population can only look at through shop windows.

But the existence of this privileged ruling social group does not date merely from the 1950s, or from when Khrusehev criticised Stalin. Its features have been analysed ever since they first appeared in the 1920s and 1930s, most notably by the Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky, in his book The Revolution Betrayed : What is the Soviet Union and Where is it Going?, published in 1936.


Trotsky criticised the bureaucracy's privileges: "since the soviet cadres (key decision-makers) come forward under a socialist banner, they demand an almost divine veneration and a continually rising salary... (The bureaucrats) occupy lordly apartments, enjoy several summer houses in various parts of the country, have the best automobiles at their disposal, and have long ago forgotten how to shine their shoes."

He also dealt with the argument, which was even then being raised, that the bureaucracy was a "ruling class" in the Marxist sense. The bureaucrats do not derive their wealth from ownership of shares he says, but "The bureaucracy enjoys its privileges under the form of an abuse of power."

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The Soviet bureaucracy was not discovered by Trotsky, but was a problem discussed by Lenin, who died in 1924, shortly after the Russian revolution For instance, in his Political Report to the Eleventh Party Congress (Collected Works, Vol 33) he talked of the Moscow government apparatus as "that huge bureaucratic machine, that gigantic heap" and advocated the establishment of a special body, the "Workers and Peasants Inspection", as a means of checking the bureaucracy.

What Trotsky saw in later years was that under Stalin this bureaucracy had become a hardened, quite distinct, privileged social layer, which he described as a "caste". This bureaucracy was, and still is, not merely characterised by its privileged position, but by its political conservatism, its desire to maintain the status quo both internally and internationally This was reflected in the Soviet regime's policy of "Socialism in one country" - or in today's terminology "peaceful coexistence" or "detente" with imperialism.

The bureaucrats also introduced rigid control of political discussion and expression. What the Soviet regime viewed as "Marxism" became a sort of official religion, instead of a system of critical thought as Marx had intended. Any dissidents were cracked down on severly, and this process led in the 1930s and later decades to wholesale imprisonment and executions of socialists, under Stalin's rule.