Leader of the Left
by Molly Eastman, March, 1999
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Following the Revolution of 1917, Russia was left in turmoil. No set political structure had thus been formed, and various means of socialist organization were contended within the Bolshevik Party. Numerous theories were debated from diverse sides, but the two main opponents were the Left and Right of the Party. The Left strongly believed that industrialization of society needed to happen quickly, while the Right wanted to ease into socialism. Politician and economist Evgeny Preobrazhensky was a theoretician of the Left Bolshevik Party that advocated the principles of "New economics," industrialization and primitive socialist accumulation, in the advent of socialism to Russian society.
Evgeny Preobrazhensky was born in 1886 in Bolkhov, a small village located in the Orel province of southwestern Russia. His father was a priest that insisted on strict religious practice by his family. Young Evgeny felt pressured and rebelled, leaving his family in his teens. Never completing high school, it is amazing to realize that Preobrazhenskys political ideals and theories were entirely developed by his own thought process.
Soon after parting with his family, Preobrazhensky became involved with the Bolshevik Party when he was just seventeen years old. He was very extremist and militant, showing himself capable to assume a leadership role within the Party. After the 1917 Revolution, Preobrazhensky became a Bolshevik leader in Serbia and the Urals, working to gain Party favor. When the great split occurred, Preobrazhensky sided with the Left, insisting that a swift conversion of the economic system to socialism was crucial.
In 1919, Preobrazhensky co-authored the acclaimed book, The ABC of Communism, with his then political counterpart Nikolai Bukharin. This book was basically written for Party members, which essentially came to mean all citizens, as a method of explaining the purpose of the new Program of the Russian Communist Party. Today, Bukharin overshadows Preobrazhensky as the author of the book because Preobrazhensky remained loyal to Trotsky, a man that remains a disgrace to Russian society (Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, Heitman preface).
After the initial shock of War Communism, an immediate and total switch to a pure command economy following the revolution, Lenin found it necessary to instate a program to stimulate economic growth. War Communism had left the country in poverty and starving, and in 1920 Lenin defined the New Economic Policy (NEP) to ease the social problem. NEP was a partial return to the market economy, mainly of small and medium sized industries. Essentially, it created a mixed economy. The peasantry was able to invest some of its surplus to accumulate some wealth. NEP caused a major split in the Bolshevik Party. The Right favored NEP because it did not exploit the peasants. The Left insisted that NEP was really capitalism, and a command economy would be unable to survive the transition that NEP fabricated. Trotsky, along with his theorist Preobrazhensky stayed Left, while Bukharin sided with Stalin and the Right.
Preobrazhensky spent most of his energy in the 1920s establishing a winning argument for the Left stance. His book, The New economics, outlined his theories. He believed that it was necessary for the State to turn against the private sector and the peasants (for a short time) in order to complete the revolution and establish a fully Communist system. The conditions that forced this belief included unemployment surplus, many workers could work if there was adequate building and equipment for them, and military needs, a political defensive was desperately needed to protect Russia from non-socialist nations. Basically, the only way to achieve these goals was by gaining capital.
Preobrazhensky was a champion of primitive socialist accumulation. He stated the indispensability of peasants and the private sector in gaining capital in the short-term. Once the capital was acquired, a redistribution of wealth from the agricultural sector to the industrial sector could occur and the Soviet economy would boom. Preobrazhensky suggested many ways to accumulate, including foreign loans, restoring discipline in present factories, taxes, and price manipulation. He endorsed price manipulation as the best means of socialist accumulation (Erlich 53). Price manipulation was taxation through price, eliminating a tax collection body. The central planners would purposely set all prices high so that the government could accumulate wealth. This system was, to Preobrazhensky, seemingly fair to all in the society and did not offset the peasantry, who would bear the burden of a direct tax. Once primitive socialist accumulation was achieved, the Soviet system could gain capital and would no longer be inferior to the capitalist economies of the West. "The monopolistic techniques could then be dispensed with and further expansion would proceed exclusively on the basis of the surplus product originating within the socialized sector. This, in turn, would set the stage for an even more momentous change. The accumulation drive would have to recede into the background and give way to the satisfaction of the wants of the participants of collective production, as the guiding force of the economic policy. The cycle of transformation of the whole economy would therewith be completed," Soviet industrialization scholar Alexander Erlich stated (Erlich 52).
The Right was quick to point out the faults in the Lefts, or Preobrazhenskys, ideas. The Right maintained that the monopoly that high prices would create led to an incentive problem; hence, inferior goods would be produced. Another Right argument was the time that it would take to accumulate capital. Factories were already falling apart, and total state control would destruct them before new capital actually was acquired. These problems aside, the Right found the major downfall of primitive socialist accumulation in the exploitation of peasants. The inherent contradiction of raising prices to unheard of levels would affect and exploit the poor peasants the most. This disagreed with the Communism principle of equality in economy, yet Preobrazhensky advocated it. The Right simply wanted to use NEP to get the economy back on track, then invest in capital, and switch fully to Communism.
As Lenin became ill, Stalin moved to the Bolshevik foreground in 1928. As a member of the Right, Stalin and his colleagues had defeated the Left and gained command. Preobrazhensky was exiled in 1927 for trying to address the attacks on his "New Economic Policy." Ironically, Stalin moved to the Left shortly after coming to power and unleashed a movement against the peasants that Preobrazhensky himself could not have imagined. After admitting his wrongs, Preobrazhensky was re-admitted to the Party in 1931. He was unable to discuss his political and economic views openly for the rest of his lifetime. He died a victim of Stalins Great Purge, where Stalin killed all his past, present, and future enemies, in 1937.
In the aftermath of the Stalin era, it is interesting to re-evaluate Preobrazhenskys Leftist stance. "It is technically necessary to employ the increased labor force, now available, in making investment goods rather than consumption goods," an outstanding British theorist once remarked (Erlich 101-102). It appears, and Stalin later implemented the plan, that Preobrazhensky was correct in that it was necessary for the investment in capital to make the economy grow. As a Leftist ideologist that aimed to find a solution to the industrialization problem after the Revolution, Evgeny Preobrazhenskys view on primitive socialist accumulation, although not widely favored in Russia, offers the modern world a bit of interesting economic principle to study.