Saturday, June 15, 2013


What were, and how did Stalin utilize, the threats mentioned in “The Tasks of Business Execuives”?
       Josef Stalin spoke at the “First All-Union Conference of Leading Personnel of Socialist Industry” on February 4th, 1931, about the need for rapid industrialization, how earlier programs had not met their quotas, and the conditions needed for fulfillment. The talk, entitled “The Tasks of Business Executives,” was filled with self-praise and minor self-criticism. When it comes to the ability to utilize Soviet power, however, Stalin states “Unfortunately, not everything is in order here.” Stalin was determined at any cost to proceed with industrialization, and he was ready and willing to use the secret police to be rid of those that stood in his way – whether the threat was real or imagined. Two particular incidents are mentioned that, according to him, are examples of bourgeois counterrevolutionary activity by the intelligentsia as a direct result of class struggle. He accuses those that were in charge of economic planning and engineering of lacking “revolutionary vigilance.” These incidents are the Shakhty Affair and Trial, as well as the Industrial Party Trial – show trials that would precede the Moscow Trials and purges of the late 1930s.
       The Shakhty Affair occurred in 1928, an incident that – according to Stalin – was a “counter-revolutionary group of bourgeois experts carried on their work for five years, receiving instructions from the anti-Soviet organisations of international capital.” Stalin spoke as though the affair “came out of the blue,” a complete surprise for the Bolsheviks, who were then still in the final years of the NEP (Stalin, “Work”). The namesake of the affair is the Shakhty coal mines, and accused engineers within of engaging in both sabotage and treason. The accusations read like a list of White Army heresies, from the singing of the tsarist anthem, to rude treatment of workers, to intentional delays and siding with foreigners (Kuromiya 15). These engineers, for their alleged sabotage, would come to be known as “wreckers.” On a purely objective basis, it is unclear whether or not the affair was a setup by Stalin against his critics; much like the assassination of Sergei Kirov, Stalin would use the incident as a political pretext in achieving his own goals (Kuromiya 15). In “The Tasks of Business Executives,” Stalin gives a damning indictment of centrism. “We, too, in the centre, are also to blame. About ten years ago a slogan was issued: 'Since Communists do not yet properly understand the technique of production, since they have yet to learn the art of management, let the old technicians and engineers — the experts — carry on production...'” Stalin states that in allowing others to lead the way, with true Bolsheviks only “signing the papers” rather than becoming experts, the Bolsheviks had left themselves vulnerable. “Some of the old engineers and technicians, working without supervision, rather easily go over to wrecking activities, especially as they are constantly being besieged by "offers" from our enemies abroad.” The Shakhty Affair marked the essentially official shift from the class-conciliatory NEP, to class warfare against what Stalin saw as a bourgeois intelligentsia. Five engineers were sentenced to death, with another fourty-four sent to prison (“Shakhty Trial”).
       The next stage of Stalin's persecution came with the Industrial Party – in essence, a continuation of the Shakhty Trial, and a precursor to the Moscow Trials. The “wreckers” as they had been called were accused of trying form an anti-Soviet union, or “Industrial Party” (Graham 163). The defendants were accused of plotting a coup, guided by foreign capitalist powers. The prosecution alleged that the wreckers moved beyond simple sabotage, which encompassed the majority of earlier allegations, to concealed wrecking. Essentially, the wreckers were now scapegoats for economic woes (“Industrial Party”). Although this had been expressed earlier to a lesser extent in the Shakhty Trial, with workers who had apparently not been producing as much enduring the accusation of co-conspiracy, this was a step beyond. The wreckers had been accused of shifting from such minimalist, small means to maximal destruction, something that was only capable of happening under the old policies. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia lists the accusations. “The members of the organization held a number of responsible positions in Vesenkha (Supreme Council on the National Economy) and Gosplan (State Planning Committee)... created disproportions among the different branches of the national economy, “froze” capital funds, and disrupted the supply process... The ultimate aim of the anti-Soviet underground was the overthrow of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the USSR and the restoration of capitalism.”
       According to Stalin, the old intelligentsia must not only be converted – but instead, in the place of these bourgeois intelligentsia, a strong Bolshevik intelligentsia must rise. No more of Bolsheviks simply signing away the papers – they must become experts, themselves. Stalin had tamed whatever threat that Soviet economists and engineers may have offered to his regime, while simultaneously discrediting moderates in the Bolshevik Party with the accusation that they had been partially responsible for allowing the situation to unfold. Against individuals like Bukharin, it was doubly effective as some of them had been engaged in technocratic discussion – absent Marxist ideology – with some of the accused wreckers (Graham 165). A new era was beginning. Gone was Lenin's New Economic Policy of state-capitalism, and to replace it was forced collectivization. Equally as important, this new class war would also include Stalin's “cultural revolution,” during which Marxist science was a staple of academic thought so that incidents like the Shakhty Affair and Industrial Party Trial could be avoided in the future.
Sources cited:
Graham, Loren. “Science in Russia and the Soviet Union.” Print. [], preview accessed 15 Nov. 2012.

“Industrial Party.” Web. [], accessed 15 Nov. 2012.

Kuromiya, Hiraki. “Stalin's Industrial Revolution: Politics and Workers, 1928-1931.” [], preview accessed 15 Nov. 2012.

“Shakhty Trial.” Web. [], accessed 15 Nov. 2012.

Stalin, Josef. “The Tasks of Business Executives.” 4 Feb. 1931. Web. 2008. [], accessed 15 Nov. 2012.

Stalin, Josef. “The Work of the April Joint Plenum of the Central Committee and Central Control Commission.” 13 Apr. 1928. Web. 2008. [], accessed 15 Nov. 2012.

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