Russia Income Inequality = Greatest in the World? – Part VI

Dear Readers:

Today I continue this piece from Komsomolskaya Pravda.  Realistically, after today’s installment, I need still one more day to finish this piece, which turned out to be longer and more intricate than I thought.  Which means that I must put off my “month-closing” piece still one more day, to October 3.  I’ll give you a hint though:  My September stats are good, so that’s not the reason why I am procrastinating with their disclosure!

A Russian privatization voucher check

Anyhow, where we left off yesterday, author Elena Larina has been describing to Komsomolka reporter Evgeny Chernykh, the three step-process of the Grand Theft.  That was the one where a relatively small group of conspirators, starting in the mid-1980’s, plotted to steal the natural resources of the Soviet Union; launder the theft by changing the status of such assets from state-owned to privately-owned; and in the course of doing this, convert themselves from Communist Party functionaries and/or Criminals, into a new class of capitalist billionaires.  The 3 steps were:

  1. Dumping (of Russia’s minerals into Western Europe), using legal loopholes that permitted some state-owned or cooperative enterprises to conclude foreign trade agreements on their own.  The purpose of the dumping was to form relationships between European customers and new Russian elites; and also to accrue start-up capital for the middlemen, using semi-legal shell companies.
  2. Privatization of Soviet companies and enterprises.  Full-scale privatization required an actual political coup (Gorbachov-Yeltsin), the dissolution of the Soviet Union, marginalizing of the Communist Party, the re-creation of the Great Russian entity, and the switch of government from Soviets back to the capitalist Duma.  Hence, a complete reversal of Lenin’s April Theses, which had transferred government authority from the Duma to the Soviets.
  3. Vouchers, the most intriguing and also most mysterious component of this Grand Combination.  The vouchers destroyed the Soviet Union, in a way that all of Hitler’s armies never could.  We’ll discuss this scam more, below.

If Yeltsin’s Russia was a work of fiction, or a bad dream, then by rights it would be the final chapter of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Which the conspirators had probably read, not so much as a warning, as a how-to manual.  As in how-to re-cast themselves from Communist Pigs to Capitalist Pigs.

Trotsky: Also predicted Yeltsin

The natural assets owned by the Soviet Union (as a state and as a citizenry) included Russia’s vast natural resources:  especially the oil, gas and other mineral wealth.  In order for the scheme to be successful, the conspirators needed to bring about a social-economic counter-revolution, as well as a political counter-revolution, in which capitalism would be restored in its full bloom.  Not only would the bureaucrats and entrepreneurs get to own formerly public assets, they would even be able to (=the ultimate litmus test) pass it along to their golden offspring.  Specific individuals such as, for example, Nikita Belykh’s chubby son.  Elderly Slaves, meet your new young Massa!

Daughters of Russian millionaires become Party Queens

And this, by the way, also confirms Leon Trotsky’s status as a prophet of no less standing than Orwell.  In his main work, The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky made a specific Nostradamus-like prediction:  Namely that a layer of the Soviet Communist Party nomenklatura, would seek to legitimize their petty corruption; and gain legal ownership of that which they only currently managed, on behalf of the people.  Trotsky even predicted that the nomenklatura would plot with foreign imperialist entities. And thus it came to pass.  Trotsky dubbed the inter-Party process he witnessed “Thermidor“, named after the French counter-revolution, in which Robespierre and the other Radicals were executed.  Thermidor led to Napoleon; and Napoleon led to Bonapartism.

Trotsky’s favorite analogy was Stalin=Bonaparte.  Being badly burned by the Chinese events of 1927, Trotsky believed that his inter-party enemy, Iosif Dzugashvili, would be the guy who finally handed it all over, on a silver platter, to the West.  Trotsky might have been wrong about Stalin, but he was not wrong about the Soviet bureaucracy as a whole.  Nonetheless, those Stalinist ideologues who, to this day, still slime Trotsky as a traitor, have not read Trotsky and do not know the full story.  They don’t know that Trotsky sacrificed pretty much all his power and international standing, even suffering irreparable damage to the political party that he led (=The Fourth International), when it came to the principled issue of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.  Trotsky absolutely supported the Soviet leadership in concluding that pact; and in undertaking such a principled position, he lost half of his international followers, overnight.  Especially among his Jewish membership.

Governor Nikita Belykh: HIs kids were supposed to own Russia’s forests

Putting Trotsky aside for a minute, an even better analogy, in light of modern events, might be, in my view:  Putin=Bonaparte.  Putin was the guy who helped to put an end to the Soviet Union, who overthrew the Jacobins; who aided and abetted the conspirators; who then restored a modicum of order and drew the line at Khodorkovsky handing over hereditary rights to Russian oil (still in the ground) to greedy Western capitalists.

As a result of which, said capitalist pigs, having the juicy prize ripped from their trotters at the last second, took a grudge against Putin which lasts until this day.  Verify he became “The Great Shirtless Demon” to them.  They have never forgiven him for thwarting their hungry snouts in their greediest hour.

Judge Blinov: An honest heart beats underneath that robe.

And verily, in Putin’s Russia, the various schemes and “combinations” continue, just as in yesteryear.  Russia being so vast and so wealthy in natural resources, there is still a lot of stuff to steal.  Including even stuff that is nailed down.  Like trees.

Thus, history repeats itself, but often as a farce.  Case in point:  Alexei Navalny’s infamous “KirovLes” adventure.  In which Navalny attempted a combination worthy of his mentor and sometimes-boss, Khodorkovsky.  The targeted asset, in this case, being, not oil, but the vast Heartland of Russia:  Her Forests.  Trees that grow out of the soil and belong to everybody — were supposed to become the private property of a few families.  On the way, a bumbling Navalny ran into some ordinary Soviet-type people who had seen all of this before, and whose acute Ostapo-meters went off like fireworks.  These ordinary people blew the whistle on the carpetbagger.  His subsequent arrest and conviction prove that there still beat a few honest hearts, yea, even in the Heartland of Russia.

Yeltsin Vouchers

But now it is time to turn back and finish Larina’s interview.  With this matter of the Vouchers.  The third and final step in the looting and pillaging of Russia.

Sergei Chernyshov ponders the meaning of a tennis ball.

Larina:  Let me introduce you to an author named Sergei Chernyshov.  He wrote an article called “Features of National Privatization”.  Chernyshov is an absolutely respectable, I would even say, mainstream, professional — a philosopher, an economist, a Professor at the Higher School of Economics, a man who helped to work out the first draft of Skolkovo and the Center of International Finances in Moscow.  Currently he serves as an advisor to the Russian government.  Here is a quote from his article:

An unambiguous bell went off in the course of the great “combination” involving the vouchers.  The new managers of the Russian state were playing the game of the free IPO, having issued to the population titles to all of the national wealth, in the form of Privatization checks.  Having sold the population on the PR of Privatization, they led the slack-jawed masses to believe that a voucher would buy two “Volgas” [brand of automobile].  Cash on the barrel, vulgarly speaking.  And the market cynically valued [each voucher check] as around $27.  Nobody put the brakes on the auctions, in the expectation that the market will change its mind and hand out a fat wad of greenbacks for each check.  On one end of the scales lay the main material assets of the nation; on the other — a mass of vouchers, bought up by the populace at a ridiculously low price.  What was supposed to happen?  The market knows how to do its sums.  Industrial giants were sold off for the price of a corner stand.  It is a well-established fact that, in the course of this madness, $1,496,000,000 [1 and a half trillion dollars] of the national wealth simply evaporated into thin air.  “They divide the slivers while the forest burns.” [Russian proverb:  American equivalent might be:  “They move the deck chairs around on the Titanic.”]
Somewhere between 1990 and 1994 a global catastrophe occurred, and nobody was there to hear the crash.  An invisible asteroid struck the world’s second largest economy, and 99.7% of its wealth simply evaporated.

Chernykh:  My neighbor was happy to sell his voucher for two bottles of vodka.  My own voucher got lost somewhere in the “Hermes” project…

Larina:  Some friends of mine had the opportunity, toward the end of the 1990’s, with the accession of the Primakov-Masliukov government, to get acquainted with actual archival documents of the State Assets agency (Госкомимущество), including decrees, internal memos and the like.  From these documents it can be seen that, just prior to the massive privatization and the voucher auctions, state assets were deliberately de-valued, to the tune of 12-15 times [less their actual worth].

This fact sheds light on one of the main puzzles of contemporary Russian history.  Why were the new [class of] private owners ditching heavy equipment, which at that time was mostly modern and contemporary; and converting, say, factories into furniture stores, trade centers, customs warehouses, and the like?

Chernykh:  That indeed is a riddle!

[to be continued]

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30 Responses to Russia Income Inequality = Greatest in the World? – Part VI

  1. Lyttenburgh says:

    “Trotsky believed that his inter-party enemy, Iosif Dzugashvili, would be the guy who finally handed it all over, on a silver platter, to the West.”

    Remind me again, what was Trotsky doing prior after the Civil War ended and before 1927? Oh, right – he headed the Concessions Commission. In that capacity he did “a lot”.

    1) On November 14, 1925, a concession was given for the development of the Lena goldfields (you know, the very same where one “incident” gave comrade Ulyanov his nickname Lenin) to the “Lena Goldfields Company”. The British banking consortium, which owned the “Lena Goldfields Company” and maintained ties with the American banking house “Kuhn, Loeb & Co” (also look up who was Jacob H. Schiff while you are it), received the right to mine gold there for 30 years. According to the contract, the concession area covered the territory from Yakutia to the eastern slopes of the Ural Mountains. The company obtained the right to mine not only gold, but also iron, lead, silver, copper, it got a huge complex of metallurgical enterprises, in particular Bisertsk, Seversk and Revdinsk metallurgical plants, Zyuzelsk and Degtyarsk copper deposits, Egorshinsk coal mines, Revdinsk iron mines (i.e. in the minerals rich Ural). According to the agreement on the division of production, the share of Soviet state in the extracted precious metals was only 7%. Thus, the company has been granted huge preferences, a huge territory and a significant number of enterprises.

    2) Trotsky stood up with A. Hammer, whose firm “Alamerica” was subjected to audit by the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Trade. It turned out that that firm had been writing off huge sums for personal expenses, transferred money to third parties, provided unreasonable discounts to its partners. In the same year of 1925, Trotsky put forward his industrialization plan, which was based on long-term imports of Western equipment, accounting for 40 to 50% of all capacities.

    Hmmm… Does it remind you anything? But – strange thing! There, indeed, was proto prikhvatizatsiya in 1920s, but done not be the bloody ghoul Stalin and his minions, but by shy and conscientious intelligent Trotsky and by those who were just yesterday fiery revolutionaries. Maybe Lev Davidovich was so knowledgeable about the prospects of greedy nomenklatura and its corruption, because HE was part of it and therefore a part of the problem? Maybe the process of the foreign plundering of the weakened state’s asset after this or that great social upheaval are common tropes and events, not tied in particular to Russia exclusively?

    “They don’t know that Trotsky sacrificed pretty much all his power and international standing, even suffering irreparable damage to the political party that he led (=The Fourth International), when it came to the principled issue of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Trotsky absolutely supported the Soviet leadership in concluding that pact; and in undertaking such a principled position, he lost half of his international followers, overnight. ”

    That’s only part of the story. On July 13, 1940, Trotsky personally handed over to the American consul in Mexico City a list of politicians and officials associated with the (pro-USSR and pro-Stalin) Communist Party in America. This included the list of our Soviet agents working in the USA (gee, how did Trosky get his hands on it, if he had NO agents of his own back in the USSR?!). There was also the most detailed description of activities of the head of New York based NKVD agents. Among other things, Lev Davidovich worked closely with the Commission on the Un-American Activities (aka Dies Committee) of the US House of Representatives.

    And that’s not discussing Trotsky’s potential role as a stalking horse for British plans concerning USSR, where he’d be used as a “legitimate claimant”. Or how he purged the IV International of the dissenting elements TOTALLY unlike Stalin. Words and rhetoric are cheap – actions and deeds speak louder.

    “Putin was the guy who helped to put an end to the Soviet Union, who overthrew the Jacobins; who aided and abetted the conspirators; who then restored a modicum of order and drew the line at Khodorkovsky handing over hereditary rights to Russian oil (still in the ground) to greedy Western capitalists.”

    If you are going with this Bonaparte analogy, then, no – neither Putin nor him participated in “putting an end” to the previous “Regime”. Napoleon even remarked that Louise XVI was a weak fool, and that he, Jolly Bony, would have never bow down to the crowd. Which he demonstrated very aptly a few years later with a “whiff of grapeshot”.


    • yalensis says:

      Lyt, do you have a source for Trotsky rat-finking on Soviet foreign agents in 1940?
      I read a lot of material on Trotsky and the Fourth International, but never heard that allegation.


      • yalensis says:

        P.S. – on the NEP concessions to Arm&Hammer and the like…
        While those concessions might have been ill-formed and disadvantageous, there is still a difference between an amateurishly disadvantageous concession and an actual transfer of title.

        The economic concessions were desperate measures, on the same level as Lenin’s military concessions to the Germans, at Brest. Which the Russian faux-patriots and monarchists still adduce as his treachery and claim Lenin was a German agent.

        Neither Kuhn nor Schiff (nor their golden offspring) were allowed to inherit anything.
        Lenin, before his death, also supported making extraordinary concessions to the capitalists, that was why they started NEP.
        It was never intended to be a permanent thing.

        And you would have to find or quote anywhere in Trotsky’s works where he ideologically supported a return to capitalism, syphoning Soviet assets, or said that NEP was anything other than a temporary “concession” just for the new state to get by and survive another day.

        From what I understand, Lenin and Trotsky were both onboard with these economic concessions to international capitalists who were willing to trade with the Soviet Union, despite the blockade. On their own terms, of course.

        If the concessions were ill-formed, that just shows the amateurishness of the Bolsheviks, including Trotsky, when it came to dealing with cunning capitalists. Anti-Trotskyites claim that Trotsky was so slick and skillful when it came to schmoozing with international finance capitalists, but the reality shows the opposite. None of them knew how to negotiate a proper deal with these guys.

        See, with Yeltsin, he was open that he wanted to do away with communism. and restore capitalism.
        If Trotsky continued all his life to agitate for Marxism and proletarian revolutions and yet abetted capitalist restoration behind the scenes (which is what some people claim), then he would have had to be an extraordinary hypocrite.

        I’m just not buying it. Although I am still interested to see evidence that Trotsky rat-finked out Soviet agents in the U.S. That would indeed have been crossing a certain line.


        • Lyttenburgh says:

          “P.S. – on the NEP concessions to Arm&Hammer and the like…
          While those concessions might have been ill-formed and disadvantageous, there is still a difference between an amateurishly disadvantageous concession and an actual transfer of title.

          The economic concessions were desperate measures, on the same level as Lenin’s military concessions to the Germans, at Brest. Which the Russian faux-patriots and monarchists still adduce as his treachery and claim Lenin was a German agent…

          … If the concessions were ill-formed, that just shows the amateurishness of the Bolsheviks, including Trotsky, when it came to dealing with cunning capitalists.

          Sorry, but I found it extremely hard to believe that SUDDENLY people, for whom Marx&Engles works on (wait for it!) capitalism and its dirty tricks were bread and butter turned out to be “amateur” in this particular sphere of governance, while performing mostly adequate (and even superb) in other field. What kind of idiot you must be not to understand the implications of selling (“leasing as concessions”) for peanuts of the people’s property?

          As for the Hammer – his “love” to the bloody commies was because his company was used to repay “in the dark” the Czarist governmental debt, which the new Soviet state refused to recognize officially and the West responded with sanctions. Now we see the price tag for this “love” and who abetted and provided “protection” for him from inside the Soviet state.

          The comparison with the Brest-Litovsk peace does not fly. It was a temporary measure and the RSFSR ceded mostly the territories it did not control anyway, while fulfilling one of the promises of the October Revolution. The system of concessions as practiced under You Know Who was little better than a contract chattel slavery signed and agreed upon for a long-time. And, no – there couldn’t be some “da kunnin’ plan” to SUDDENLY re-nationalize everything and re-negotiate anew, because that would spook the foreign investors, who were to be relied upon for the future industrialization.

          While talking about “NEP and concessions were not meant to be permanent” the time line is everything, because planning for consequent 30 “fat” years in 1925 pretty soon proved to be a folly.

          “Neither Kuhn nor Schiff (nor their golden offspring) were allowed to inherit anything.”

          So what? Yes, the NEP system took several steps back. Petite bourgeoisie (e.g. kulaks) and small time domestic capitalists (NEPmen and bigger kulaks) were openly tolerated. But the niche of the big capital had been filled by foreign and international capitalists who had even less loyalty to the USSR as a country, and who were not so easy to wrangle with. These concessions were not made to Kuhn or Schiff, they were made to their whole jolly meshpokeh, their companies where (by pure coincidence!) their children also filled top-tier positions.

          Once again – Trotsky is hypocrite because he participated in the front rows in this “Thermidore” he’d spent so much time decrying. He and his group have no right to claim to be the “New Jacobins” here.


          • yalensis says:

            You assume bad or corrupt motives instead of honest debate how to solve a pressing problem within the Soviet economy. The core issue was the need for industrialization and the accumulation of national capital.

            This book makes some interesting points, although I don’t necessarily agree with all the conclusions.

            An interesting quote (p. 133, unfortunately I can’t copy/paste as it’s a PDF).
            The context is the debate between Stalin and Trotsky regarding concessions. In hindsight, Stalin was probably more right in this inter-party debate. But naturally one must ascribe horrific and dishonest motives to anyone who cherished an opinion counter to Stalin’s.

            From Stalin such comments were to be expected. The theory of Socialism in one country assumed that industrial investments could be conjured out of nothing. Trotsky was more concerned with the problem Sololnikov had raised: how was industrialization to be financed? As he told the German delegation:

            “The question of concessions assumes a particular significance for us now when we have arrived in earnest at the task of renewing our basic capital. We have succeeded in securing a notable accumulation … but our savings are not large enough to carry through to the end the renewal and expansion of our factories by our own resources. We are in need of credit, and we need concessions as well in order to speed up our economic growth and thereby to increase the well-being of the masses.”

            That was in 1925. I imagine you would have expected Bronstein to use the pronouns “they” and “them” instead of ‘we and “us”. As in “that country” as opposed to “our country”.

            I also imagine the Jew Bronstein was being extremely deceitful in pretending to care about the Soviet Union and its masses, when his real aim was to restore capitalism and hand it all over to his Zionist-Globalist Wall Street banker friends. [channeling Kirill there — sarc]


            • Lyttenburgh says:

              yalensis, no need to “channel kirill” or other forms of strawmanning. There’s only me here. Well, and Ryan. 🙂

              What I’m saying is that this method of acquiring hard cash, either you call it “concessions” or “de-nationalization of the state enterprises” is nothing new really, and it’s also not unique to Russia. While this method undoubtedly provides you with the dough and even integrates you into the international (capitalist) economic system, works out in a long-term, it also has several crucial drawbacks.

              Yes, Russia was in need of money for rapid industrialization. Concessions/de-nationalization was one such principle way. But there was another – the export of the strategically important resources paid for with the hard currency. You know – the grain. Add to that one important fact – the USSR even during the NEP did NOT proclaim the return to the capitalist system. It’s been to remain a socialist economy.


            • yalensis says:

              Exactly. That was my point too.

              In 1930’s, the necessary capital was eventually accumulated, like you say, from grain exports and the like.
              But a decade earlier, especially during NEP, it was considered a terrific victory to get at least some foreign capitalists to break the blockade, even if in their own, greedy interests.

              Whatever concessions were made to foreign capitalists, and any number of decisions, both good and bad, none of the major players had ANY intention whatsoever, of restoring capitalism or creating a compradore class of Russian bourgeoisie.
              That joyful event had to wait until Gorbachov-Yeltsin era.

              Neither Zinoviev, nor Stalin, nor Trotsky, not even Bukharin, desired to restore capitalism in Russia. But each had a different idea how to solve the problem at hand.
              And, forgive me, but I am just so sick of arguing these basic points and defending these Old Bolsheviks when they are accused, left and right, of being German spies, regicides, traitors and monsters, and worse, and deserving of ice-picks and the like.

              How are we as humans supposed to learn from the past and go forward, trying to build a new socialism, when there is so much malevolence and ignorance, and all these calls for violence?
              Frankly, I was astonished that even the mild-mannered capitalist Ryan came out of the closet as a supporter of targeted assassinations of political opponents.


            • Lyttenburgh says:

              I guess we’ll just have to put on a pause (for a time being) this discussion. Points are made, positions are clarified. Foreign concessions vs domestic capitalism are not the same thing, yes. They are both capitalist though. Oh, and the creation of the symbiosis between the state officials responsible for the foreign investments and the foreign capitalist element, is anything but good for the socialism.

              That’s not my specialty, the economic history of the USSR in 20-30. So I don’t know the details about the exploitation of the workers on the foreigners owned enterprises, the conditions of work (and life), or whether they even had an opportunity to form a union.

              “How are we as humans supposed to learn from the past and go forward, trying to build a new socialism, when there is so much malevolence and ignorance, and all these calls for violence?

              Frankly, I was astonished that even the mild-mannered capitalist Ryan came out of the closet as a supporter of targeted assassinations of political opponents.”

              Under certain circumstances, the security apparatus should (and must, in fact) do its utmost to punish traitors, who either seek to harm their country, or already did. Pour l’encouragement des autres. Is it legal from the international law standpoint? No, absolutely no. But spycraft and work of intelligence agencies already skims on border of legality, often crossing this line.


            • Ryan Ward says:

              Just wanted to clarify one point about targeted assassinations. Normally I wouldn’t support that sort of thing, but there were some special circumstances in Vietnam at the time that make the question appear different in that context. The first is that the Viet Minh weren’t just one of a number of competing revolutionary groups. They were the rightful government of Vietnam. It was the Viet Minh that declared Vietnam’s independence in 1945 after expelling the Japanese, and that carried out the negotiations leading to the return of the French (based on promises, almost immediately broken, of broad autonomy). The second is that, apart from questions of legitimacy, the Viet Minh were the only force capable of offering any substantive resistance to the French, and by virtue of their success, became more or less synonymous with Vietnamese independence. For both these reasons, Trotskyist sectarianism in Vietnam wasn’t just a matter of political dissent or factional infighting. It was treason against the body that was the rightful government and the only effective force for Vietnamese independence. The Vietnamese Trotskyists were criminals, which of course means that, ideally, they would have been arrested and brought to trial. But given that the Trotskyist leadership was based where the Viet Minh were weakest, in the urban south, there was no practical way to do that. Given those circumstances, assassinations were the only alternative to allowing open treason to go unpunished, and to allowing the war effort to be critically weakened in the South, where it was already most vulnerable.


            • yalensis says:

              Thank you for clarifying that point, Ryan.
              Who exactly were the Vietnamese Trotskyists? What was the name of their party, what was their connection with Trotsky and the Fourth International, and what was their position, for example, vis a vis the French occupiers?
              This sounds like an interesting bit of history that I am not familiar with.

              I am only familiar with Russian and American Trotskyite history.
              The American Trotskyists (Socialist Workers Party) were directly and personally connected with Trotsky and acted as sort of the flagship of his international movement.
              While Trotsky was still alive, and even for 2 decades after his death, the SWP actually maintained principled anti-imperialist positions, supported Molotov-Ribbentrop, supported the Viet Minh, for example, and the Vietnamese side (even militarily) against the American imperialists.
              It was not until the late 1960’s that the SWP began to decay and devolve into bourgeois liberals. The Communist Party USA had already travelled this path 2 decades earlier, had become badly decayed under Browder’s leadership.

              Ironically enough, it was the Vietnam anti-war movement which served as the catalyst of the SWP decay. For the first time in American history there was a large anti-imperialist pool of student activists. The SWP started to become more popular and simply could not resist forming Popular Fronts with anti-war Liberal Democrats. They would organize huge anti-war rallies in Washington DC which basically did nothing except recruit ever more liberal activists into the SWP’s ranks, people who knew nothing of Marxism-Leninism but provided warm bodies and membership dues to support the “professional revolutionaries” of the party leadership.

              And this is how originally Marxist-Leninist parties decay, IMHO, it happens to both Stalinists and Trotskyists without distinction. The decay is brought about by poor cadre selection, and the practice of party leaders being “professionals” and reliant on membership dues. To prevent this happening in the future, there should be a rule that even top party leaders need to hold down a job, not be financially dependent on the membership, and be revolutionaries only in their spare time. Hey, it worked for Robespierre!


            • Ryan Ward says:

              The Vietnamese Trotskyists were pretty fissiparous, and often splintered into a variety of different groups. However, the two main (and most long-lasting) ones were the “Struggle” group and the “October” group. The October group never cooperated with any other groups, and verged on self-parody in the extent of their sectarianism. The Struggle group, on the other hand, was officially affiliated with the Fourth International, and cooperated with the Viet Minh until WW2, when they were almost completely destroyed by the French. The main point of difference between Struggle and the Viet Minh was in their attitude to the Popular Front government in France under Leon Blum. Although the French government made only cosmetic changes to its colonial policy, the Viet Minh favoured a primarily legal (or at least semi-legal) approach to firm up support among the population by pointing out the hypocrisy of the French government and building up its organization in the countryside, whereas the Struggle group was more impatient to foment immediate unrest among the workers of Saigon. The Struggle group was always unruly and somewhat divisive, but not to the extent that they couldn’t maintain basic cooperation with the Viet Minh.
              After the Trotskyists were nearly destroyed in WW2, they started to re-form their organizations. However, by this point, the Viet Minh were much more powerful, and were able to establish control even in Saigon. The Struggle group decided to try cooperating again, but the wartime atmosphere of WW2 and the war with the French that followed almost immediately after meant that the Viet Minh were determined to establish a greater degree of discipline than had existed prior to the war. As the French were moving in to retake Saigon, retreating Viet Minh soldiers assassinated the Trotskyist leaders before leaving the city.
              There was a bit of an epilogue to the story, as the leader of the Struggle group, Ta Thu Thau, was not in Saigon while these events were happening. He had traveled north to try to set up a Trotskyist group among the workers there. He was tried and acquitted, but was then re-arrested and summarily executed on his way back South.
              Overall (as I’ve said), I think the killings of the Trotskyist leaders were justified. In a wartime situation, a group like the October group was clearly treasonous, and I think the Struggle group failed to accept that the times had changed, and a degree of dissent that might be acceptable in peacetime wasn’t any longer. In the wartime context, the Trotskyists could have continued to exist as a specific group within the Viet Minh coalition. Other groups that weren’t even communist at all were able to do so. However, to expect to be able to continue as an independent group, and to take actions unilaterally against the interests and strategy of the Viet Minh, wasn’t a reasonable expectation in wartime. The Struggle group wanted to be free to act as friends of the Viet Minh most of the time, but enemies when it suited them, without being treated as enemies.
              The one exception, I think, is the execution of Ta Thu Thau, which was definitely a black mark on the Viet Minh. As he was in the North, it was possible to try him, and he was acquitted. Even if he couldn’t continue to hold any official position, there was no justification for killing him. Ho Chi Minh himself seems to have recognized this on some level. When interviewed about the execution of Ta Thu Thau, he originally claimed that it was an initiative of the local government with no central authorization. At a later interview, he accepted responsibility for the killing, and said, “He was a great patriot, and we mourn him….but all those who do not follow the line we have laid down will be broken.” What’s interesting about that statement is that the interviewer (Daniel Guerin) claimed that Ho became visibly emotional after saying “and we mourn him” (which was extremely unusual for Ho, who almost never showed strong emotion in public). Ho Chi Minh was never a dictator, and collective decision-making was always a key principle of the Vietnamese Communist Party. My suspicion (which of course can’t be verified, since the deliberations were not recorded) is that he personally opposed the execution, but decided to back down when it was clear the majority wanted to move forward with it. That would fit the general pattern of the internal disputes within the VCP that we know about, in which Ho was almost always on the more “dovish” side of the question at hand.


            • yalensis says:

              Thank you, Ryan, that was an interesting and informative comment.
              I wonder if you would consider writing a book or thesis on this topic.
              Having said that, I don’t remember if you ever said what your thesis topic was to be?


            • Ryan Ward says:

              My program is focused on current affairs and policy issues, so my thesis (to be more precise “major research paper” is looking at events now rather than historically. I’m looking at the influence of Russia in Southeast Asia and Russia’s relations with the states in the region, as well as with ASEAN collectively. To be honest, I haven’t done much work on it yet, because I’ve mainly been focused on my course work so far, but my broad working hypothesis is that Russia is primarily acting as a “spoiler” in the region, trying to break up the more ambitious plans of other powers like China and America, and to establish itself as one of the big power brokers in the region, but without extensive ambitions beyond having a “seat at the table” in regional issues. There’s not a lot of writing on this issue, but it seems like the main view in the writing so far is that Russia has no political ambitions in the region at all, and is merely engaging in opportunistic contacts for purely economic reasons. So, from what I’ve seen so far, I think I’m being a little contrarian in arguing that Russia has a political agenda. Who knows though, maybe I’ll change my mind before I’m done 😉 One thing I’ll have to keep in mind is to be more careful and precise in my wording than I’ve been here 😉 I just noticed that in my last post I referred to the Viet Minh in the 1930’s, whereas the Viet Minh didn’t technically exist until WW2. I should have said the Indochinese Communist Party for the earlier period. Although given the fact that the formation of the Viet Minh coalition under ICP leadership had no effect on relations between the ICP and the Trotskyists, maybe I can be forgiven a bit of imprecision in this context. 😉


            • yalensis says:

              Thanks for the reply, Ryan. Your topic sounds interesting, I don’t know enough to have an opinion on Russia’s current role in that region, but, like you say, you might change your mind as you go.
              The important thing for a historian is to be completely honest and not let any “working hypotheses” get in the way of what they actually find in the data.
              Also, seems like blogging and commenting are a good exercise, helps you to hone your language skills and keep the wording precise!


      • Lyttenburgh says:

        “Lyt, do you have a source for Trotsky rat-finking on Soviet foreign agents in 1940?”

        Yes, I do. Why, I thought it was a common knowledge. Nothing new here. And the funniest part of all – it was actually pro-Trotsky anti-Stalinist who blew the cover. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome – William J. Chase, University of Pittsburgh, Department of History. Below his portrait on the right there is a pdf file listing the works he authored. Even the titles themselves should give you enough.

        [Take two guess how does he view modern Russia]

        It was he who exposed the nitty-gritty details of Trotsky’s (and Rivera’s, in whose house he lived and whose wife he boinked) ratting out of the Soviet agent and pro USSR activists to the Americans.

        He done it in this well known in Russia article “Trotsky in Mexico: Toward a History of His Informal Contacts with the U.S. Government, 1937-1940 ” (1995) (parts 1, 2 and 3). Sources and literature that he cites are numerous and legit.

        tl;dr version for non-Russian speakers. On July 13, 1940, Lev Davidovich personally handed over a list of Mexican publications, politicians, trade unionists and government employees associated with the Communist Party (as well as Soviet agents operating in Mexico) to Robert McGregor of the US Consulate in Mexico City. In particular, it was precisely Trotsky who ratted out the founding agent of the Comintern, Vittorio Vidali (who changed his name in Mexico to Carlos Contreras). Five days later (July 18) another consular worker, George Shaw, received a new note from Trotsky’s secretary Charles Cornell. In it, Lev Davydovich described in detail the activities in Mexico of the New York’s chief resident of the NKVD Enrique Martinez Rica. Composed by Trotsky (goes without saying – beforehand) list of Soviet agents operating in Mexico, the United States and France, had been sent to a consulate from the American Trotskyist George Hansen in September 1940, after the murder of Trotsky.

        The thing is – Trotsky wanted to get into the USA. He wanted to get there thinking that only there he could be safe. In order to achieve that he resorted to anything, just to earn the trust of Uncle Sam. It’s clear where the sympathies of professor Chase lie here. No big deal, to betray This Country – right?


        • yalensis says:

          Lyt, that first link doesn’t work, it just goes to WordPress (?)
          Parts I, II, and III work, though.
          I might do a post on this, but it would silly to translate from Russian, if the original is in English.
          I assume this is Russian translation of English source?


          • yalensis says:

            P.S. – I really need the Chase source in English.


          • Lyttenburgh says:

            “I might do a post on this, but it would silly to translate from Russian, if the original is in English.”

            AFAIK – IT IS the original. Professor Chase published his article in Russian in the first place. There is no electornic vertion of his English language manuscrip that I’m aware of.


  2. Ryan Ward says:

    I think a lot of what Trotsky did makes more sense when you keep in mind that what Trotsky served first, last and always was his own vanity. He’s gained an undeserved reputation as the “principled opponent” of those villains in Moscow, but he gained a lot of that “principle” only after he had already lost the factional struggles and needed to make up for his defeat by finding nasty words to hurl at the winners. “Trotskyism” is supposedly formed of “leftism” in domestic matters (opposition to capitalistic elements, an emphasis on the “democratic” side of democratic centralism) and ambitious programs to spread socialism in the international arena. The trouble is that Trotsky only adopted any of those positions when it suited him to get at someone he disliked. When Zinoviev was working at the Comintern implementing exactly the kind of policies that Trotsky would later espouse, Trotsky mocked him for it. But when Stalin pushed for “socialism in one country”, Trotsky suddenly discovered that Zinoviev had been right all along. Trotsky was always at least relatively leftist when it came to economic policy, but his emphasis on democracy and opposition to bureaucratization were nowhere in evidence when he actually held power himself. Engaging in a bit of psychological speculation, I don’t think Trotsky was ever a conscious or semi-conscious hypocrite. I think he was just so in love with himself that he could convince himself of the obvious truth of anything that seemed to be to his advantage or that inflated his sense of self-importance. So then it follows that if the Americans can help the semi-divine, messianic Trotsky, they obviously can’t be so bad after all, especially if all you have to do to appease them is throw them a few dirty Stalinists anyway.


  3. Ryan Ward says:

    As another note, Trotsky’s self-promotion and showmanship made it difficult to work with him, which is a trait he managed to pass on to his followers. Trotskyists were consistent thorns in the side of attempts to build united fronts, and tended to quixotically court the working classes, however small and insignificant, while neglecting the peasantry, which in many situations was the exact opposite strategy from what was necessary to actually have a chance at gaining power. The effect of Trotskyism has always been to establish small and exclusive cliques that are totally unsuited to actually taking power, and have no knack for cooperating with those who do.


    • yalensis says:

      Ryan: Here it is very necessary to define exactly what is “United Front”.
      Strict Trotskyists claim that “United Front” means alliance of ONLY working-class (=Labor) Parties and no Bourgeois parties.
      Stalinists on the other hand (according to Trotskyists) fudge the difference between United Fronts and Popular Fronts.
      Strict definitions: A United Front is an alliance of workers-peasants-labor parties which EXCLUDE bourgeois political parties.
      Popular Front=alliance of workers, peasants, AND so-called “progressive” bourgeoisie parties.
      Example: Chinese Communist Party allying with Kuomingtan is technically a POPULAR Front, not a United Front.
      Other example: Communist Party USA (CPUSA) supporitng Left-Liberal candidates of the Democratic Party is a POPULAR Front.
      Under Stalin’s Comintern, Communist parties were very much into building POPULAR fronts with left-wing bourgeois parties. Examples: China, Spain, also supporting FDR in American elections.
      Technically, Trotskyists would not form alliances with liberal bourgeoisie. This is what gave them the reputation of being narrow sectarians who could not get along with anybody.

      All of this changed, of course, in the 1960’s, when Trotskyist parties began to relax their ideology and formed Popular Fronts with bourgeois parties. For example, in the U.S., forming alliances with lett-wing of Democratic Party that opposed the war in Vietnam.


      • yalensis says:

        P.S. Ryan: Surprisingly, I agree with you about Trotsky’s egotism. That is one of the things that I never liked about him, and is in contrast with Lenin’s basic modesty.
        But ironically, I know that you are not fond of Lenin either, whereas I am!

        In retrospect, once Trotsky lost the inter-party faction fight, he should have just retired and gone on to other things. Sometimes it is time to just move on. As Krupskaya learned.


        • Ryan Ward says:

          “Fond” is a somewhat relative term. I think Lenin was an effective anti-colonial theorist, and had a positive impact on history by means of his influence on the Vietnamese, Lao, South African and Israeli Communist parties. On the other hand, Trotsky’s only redeeming feature was that he had a cool goatee 😉


        • Ryan Ward says:

          That said, I think that although Trotsky often lacked much standing for his criticisms of Stalin and the Soviet bureaucracy, the criticisms themselves are insightful. As you note, Trotsky showed an uncanny ability to foretell the path the Soviet Union would take. In the rhetorical war between Trotsky and Stalin, I’m reminded of Bakunin’s comment on his rivalry with Marx, “He called me a sentimental idealist, and he was right. I called him vain, perfidious and sly, and I was right too.


          • yalensis says:

            Other difference being that neither man, Marx nor Bakunin, put an ice pick in the other’s head.
            The icepick being the universal conversation-stopper when it comes to these types of debates on communist history.


      • Ryan Ward says:

        One problem though is that “bourgeois” parties were defined so widely that pretty much the only parties left were Communists. To say that the Trotskyists were willing to join “United Fronts” really only means that they were occasionally willing to cooperate with mainline Communist parties. Similarly, their claim to represent the workers and the peasants tended to just mean that they were willing to let peasants act as auxiliaries (cannon fodder?) while paying little attention to their concerns. Vietnam was the best example of a country that had significant Trotskyist and mainline Communist elements functioning in a revolutionary situation. The Trotskyists fell out with the mainline Communists because they refused to work with even socialist parties, then were decimated during World War 2 because they had almost no support in the countryside, and French repression was more effective in the cities. After the war, the Trotskyists were so weakened that Ho Chi Minh was able to eliminate them with just a few targeted assassinations. And HCM was entirely right to do so, as if the movement had been allowed to survive, it would have tried to drive apart the Viet Minh coalition, just as the Trotskyists had done before the war.


        • yalensis says:

          Dear Ryan: Well, I would have to cede to you on Vietnamese history, about which I know very little. Frankly, I didn’t even know that there was a Trotskyist party in Vietnam.
          My knowledge of European/American Marxist history is somewhat better, albeit on an amateur footing. (Not being trained in historical methods.)

          Frankly, it surprises me that you are pro-Viet Minh, but yet you continue to surprise me.
          Anyhow, the definition of a “bourgeois” party is not all that complicated, and I think both the Stalinists and the Trotskyists of that era understood who was who, in that regard.

          The difference between Stalinists and Trotskyists, other than which leader they supported, frequently hinged on issues of tactical allliances and United Front vs. Popular Front.
          To outsiders, this seemed like debates on whether a egg is cooked upside down or downside up. But to people in the middle of vast demonstrations and mass strikes, for example, these political differences had a lot of meaning, the composition of a new government could hinge on the result.
          Frequently the Stalinist parties would “modestly” step aside to let the capitalists win. In a sort of left-handed salute to Zinoviev-Kamenev’s 1917 theory that the Tsar had to be replaced by capitalist parties and not Soviets, because that was the rule of “classical” Marxism, whereby the procession of classes had to arrive in a certain order.

          In the 1930’s and 1940’s, Stalin’s “socialism in one country” mantra led to precisely these types of situations. Local communist parties and the Comintern in general were expected to act as arms of the Soviet Foreign Ministry rather than actually try to come into the government themselves. The Communist Party USA was a prime example, and was already degenerating very badly under Browder.
          In other countries, for example, Italy, where commies actually had a shot, they were expected to enter the government so as part of a “coalition” with bourgeois parties. Just get certain cabinets, and not get greedy and take the whole thing.

          The Viet Minh situation was obviously different, since the Communists did actually take the entire government, and not in coalition with capitalist parties.
          Maybe that was just an artifact of the imperialist war that waged against them, not sure.
          Again, need to read more history on that.
          Thanks for comment, though. Once again, you always surprise me!


  4. yalensis says:

    Dear Lyttenburgh, continuing NEP thread from above:

    Yes, it was a good discussion, many points clarified on both sides.
    The transition from NEP to full-on industrialization was a turning-point in early Soviet history and most likely the trigger for the extreme inter-party disputes which led, eventually, to the expulsions and arrests of most members of Lenin’s Central Committee.

    At one time I did read several books about this period, but unfortunately some of them were written by anti-Red ideologues, like Conquest, which I tossed away in disgust. There were others, though, written by less-tendentious historians, and I gleaned what knowledge I could.

    The 1930’s was a different era from the 1920’s, almost like a different universe. After Lenin’s death, the Party floundered badly, trying to figure out how the country can survive and rebuild.
    During 1920’s the Soviet government was thrilled to snag any capitalists who were willing to invest in the Soviet Union. This is why people like Hammer were courted like royalty. When you read Ilf/Petrov there are funny scenes of American capitalists being wined and dined, they meet up with Ostap Bender and his gang, only it turns out they are just hunting for an old samogon recipe!

    In courting capitalists, in retrospect this was a mistake, too many concessions were made; yet there was no bad intention there, the entire Party was onboard with this, after the ideological defeat of the anti-NEP faction.

    Also, if you read Day’s book:
    Around 1925, when Trotsky was put in charge of concessions, at that time he was already on the outs and had very much declining influence in the Central Committee. It was only 4 more years before he was to be exiled, against his will, to Turkey.

    In fact, even by 1925, Stalin was already in charge of the nomenklatura and pretty much making key decisions about cadre assignments. Putting Trotsky on Concessions was one way of getting this pesky gadfly away from the main circle of power, plus I imagine that Stalin felt that Trotsky could actually be useful in such a position. Stalin actually had a good eye for talent, I have to give him that.

    The thinking was: Given that Trotsky is a Jew, Jews are usually good with money, and Trotsky has these connections from the past, he probably knows a lot of capitalists from his time spent in New York, etc. That was probably some of the reasoning there. All the Old Bolsheviks, including Lenin and Stalin, had shady connections from their underground pasts. It didn’t mean any of these men were dissembling and pretending, for decades, to be socialists they really were not. It just meant they had lived colorful lives and met many colorful people. Remember: to this day there are some Trotskyites who believe that Stalin spent his youth as a bank-robber and also spied on behalf of the Tsar’s secret police. They even claim that the Stalin Purges were Stalin’s little way of cleaning out his dubious past from the archives and killing off the sole remaining witnesses. Should I believe that conspiracy theory? No, I should not, and i never did.

    Over the past, debates with various people, even, say, kovane, not to mention yourself, caused me to modify or attenuate some of my earlier negative opinions about Stalin, and have a more favorable attitude about him. Not that i ever believed the bourgeois lies, that he murdered MILLIONS or ate kulak babies for breakfast, etc. My primary beef against him was the inter-party stuff and his controlled devolution of a democratic-centralist party into a more authoritarian model.

    No, I have been willing to meet the pro-Stalin crowd halfway and concede that Stalin was an honest Bolshevik and a great national leader during the war years. Unfortunately, the pro-Stalin crowd are unbudging when it comes to their opinions of the other side, those with whom Stalin clashed in inter-party factional strife. These people will never move their opinions one iota, they will never concede that Stalin’s opponents had honest motives too.

    Like I said above, their recipe for restoring socialism goes something like: “Stalin will return from the dead and restore order.”
    Not exactly a practical political platform, I doubt if even Ziuganov follows such a childish line!

    There, I have said my piece.
    I will allow you the final word, if you wish, and I promise to keep my mouth shut until my next post!
    Which will probably just be something innocuous, like an opera review.


  5. Lyttenburgh says:

    “There, I have said my piece.

    I will allow you the final word, if you wish, and I promise to keep my mouth shut until my next post!”

    I’d like to thank our Owner and Proprietor of the AwAv blog yalensis for this beau geste, so rare in our Dark Age of hateful communications over the Net. I’ve spent entire day brainstorming (it was Thursday – Day of Artistic Intelligentsia and obligatory “чад кутежа” with backgammon and civil rights activistesses) pondering, how to utilize this sudden opportunity to have the last “алаверды”

    In the end, I decided to resort to the “And Now For Something Completely Different” methodology and present all low and sundry with the following article from the Vzgliad, which already supplies you with a lot of material for re-translation into your blog:

    Concerning one war, which we won without even noticing it.

    “К презентации полагался фуршет – но не стоя, как у тонконогих прожор-либералов, а по-русски, сидя за составленными столами. Седовласые мужчины с прямыми спинами смотрели ясно и строго, говорили тяжело, редко, как двухпудовые гири на пол ставили.
    Водочка на столах была. Я расчувствовался и под конец беседы взял слово.

    – Уважаемые друзья! – прочирикал я. – Вот мы тут сидим, такие строгие, серьезные и немножко одинокие. Я всей душой за вас. Но мне кажется, для успеха вашего-нашего дела сегодня (на дворе был две тыщи второй-третий год) нужно немного другое.

    Нужно быть… веселее. Мы говорим о вражеской угрозе со скорбью, а я предлагаю над ней смеяться! Люди любят смеяться. Смех привлечет людей на нашу сторону.

    Ветераны посмотрели на меня долго и молча. Я застеснялся, сел. Что ж, пук в лужу, привычный жанр…

    А через пару лет возник Лев Натаныч Щаранский.”

    ТакЪ победимЪ!


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