A Program, Not a Plan
We are not dealing here with a “plan” in the true sense of the word. In a society where private property prevails, it is impossible for the government to direct economic life according to a “plan”. The document contains algebraic formulas but no arithmetic facts. In other words, it is a general program for governmental activity and not strictly speaking, a plan.
Unfortunately, the authors of the plan do not take into account the limits of governmental activity in a society where the means of production, including the land, are not nationalised. They have apparently taken the Five Year Plans of the USSR as a model and often use the same phraseology, without taking into account the fundamental differences in social structures. It is for this reason, as we shall see later, that the algebraic formulas are often a means for passing over the most burning questions of Mexican life while taking solace in perspectives borrowed from the reports and official statements of the USSR.
Reform of the State Machinery
The document starts off, in paragraph two, with a proposal for instituting “a technical body subordinate to the president” to carry out the Six Year Plan. This proposal, despite its rather secondary, administrative nature, seems to contain a fundamental error. Governmental action in carrying out the plan cannot develop within the scope of governmental action pure and simple. Superimposing on the government a “technical body”, whose task is neither more nor less than transforming the entire national economy, would mean creating a “supergovernment” alongside the regular government, i.e. administrative chaos.
A more realistic proposal, based on the experience of various countries during the war as well as on the experience of the USSR, would be to create a limited government committee composed of the heads of the ministries most directly involved in the plan and placed under the direction of the president or his immediate representative. In this case, general governmental activity along with the activity that concerns the plan would be concentrated in the same hands, and useless repetition – this bureaucratic scourge – would be minimised as far as possible.
Paragraph three proposes “functional participation of the organised sectors of the country’s population” in various organs of the government. This formulation is extremely vague and allows all sorts of possible interpretations. We hasten to point out first of all that this proposal threatens to incorporate a bureaucratic hierarchy of the unions, etc., without precise delimitation, into the bureaucratic hierarchy of the state (nearly impossible to accomplish in practice) thereby restraining the regular activity of the organs of state and creating an almost insurmountable state of confusion.
Mexico’s Foreign Policy
In this most important domain, the plan rests on generalities. It doesn’t name a single country, and even within the realm of generalities it points to a line of conduct that should be considered fundamentally wrong.
In the name of “democracy and liberty,” the plan proposes to improve the relations Mexico currently has with “Latin American nations and those nations on all continents that have a democratic form of government.” We immediately run into an obvious contradiction. For the Americas the policy is to enter into friendly relations with all nations, whatever the nature of their internal regimes, whiles for the other continents the prescription is for friendly relations exclusively with the so-called “democratic” countries. The plan does not indicate how to develop increasingly friendly relations with “democratic” England, which treats Mexico like a fief for its oil interests. Is it necessary to beg London’s pardon and immediately re-establish diplomatic relations in the name of “democracy and liberty”? Moreover, in the struggle developing at the present time between the “democratic” mother country of 45 million inhabitants and India, deprived of democracy but with a population of 370 million people, to which side should Mexico extend its positive friendship in order to solidly reinforce its world position? The organic weakness of the plan lies in dissolving the opposition between oppressor and oppressed nations into the abstract concept of democracy. This division is far more profound and bears far more weight than the division of the slaveholder’s camp into democratic and fascist nations.
The expropriation of the oil companies and the resolute attitude of the Mexican government toward England have greatly diminished “sympathy” toward Mexico in that capitalist “democracy”; but at the same time, these acts have enormously elevated Mexico’s prestige in India and in all the colonies and oppressed nations. The only conclusion to draw is that a semi-colonial country should not allow itself to be fooled by the democratic form of its actual or potential oppressors.
Mexico cannot safeguard and develop its independence and assure its future in any other way than by taking advantage of the antagonisms and conflicts between the imperialist slaveholders without identifying with one side or the other, and by assuring itself of the esteem and support of the enslaved nations and the oppressed masses in general.
This part of the program, the most important part for Mexican life, is based not on an analysis of the needs of the country, but rather on some general formula borrowed from the vocabulary of the USSR and very badly adapted to national realities.
Paragraph eight states: “Restitutions, grants, and extensions of land to the peasant communities will proceed at a rate not slower than that of the years 1935-8.” At the same time, point (c) of paragraph thirteen states: “Organisation of the collective exploitation of all common public lands” for the next six years. These two dimensions of the program are not at all co-ordinated. They are simply superimposed, one upon the other.
What is the main question in Mexico today? Agrarian reform, or the democratic agrarian revolution; that is, the life of the peasants is characterised by a massive accumulation of the holdovers of feudal property forms and the relations and traditions of slavery. It is necessary to courageously and definitively liquidate these holdovers from medieval barbarism with the aid of the peasants themselves. The large parasitic or semi-parasitic landed proprietors, the economic and political domination of the landowners over the peasants, forced agricultural labour, the quasi-patriarchal sharecropping system, which is fundamentally equivalent to slavery – these are the things that must be definitively liquidated in the shortest possible time. Now, the program does not even call for the completion of this task, which is essential to the democratic revolution, within the next six years; but at the same time it does call for the complete collectivisation of the common lands in the same period of time. This is complete inconsistency, which can lead to the most dire consequences, economic, social, and political.
A. Collectivisation means the replacement of small-scale rural agriculture by large-scale agriculture. This change is only advantageous if highly developed technology adequate to the tasks of large-scale agriculture exists. This means that the proposed rate of collectivisation should be adapted to the development of industry, of production of farm machinery, fertilizer etc.
B. But technology alone is not sufficient. The peasants themselves must accept collectivisation, that is, they must understand the advantages on the basis of their own experience or that of others.
C. Finally, the human material, or at least a large part of it, must be educated and prepared for the economic and technical management of the common lands.
The plan itself says in paragraph fifteen that it is necessary to count on “peasants who are properly educated” and calls for the creation of a sufficient number of schools, especially agricultural schools. If we allow that such schools will be established in sufficient number during the next six years, it is clear that the necessary personnel will not be ready till quite some time later. Collectivising ignorance and misery by means of state compulsion would not mean advancing agriculture, but would rather inevitably lead to forcing the peasants into the camp of reaction.
The agrarian revolution must be completed within six years in order for the country to be in a position to advance toward the goal of collectivisation on this foundation, very carefully, without compulsion, and with a very sympathetic attitude towards the peasantry.
The example of the USSR
The USSR went through not only a bourgeois democratic revolution, but a proletarian revolution as well. The Russian peasants, although very poor, were not as poor as the Mexican peasants. Soviet industry was considerably more developed. Nevertheless, after the nationalisation of the land, i.e. the complete agrarian democratic revolution, for many long years the collectivised sector of agriculture formed only a tiny percentage of the agricultural economy in relation to the individual peasant economy. It is true that twelve years after the abolition of the latifundia, etc., the ruling bureaucracy passed over to “complete collectivisation” for reasons that we do not need to go into here. The results are well known. Agricultural production fell off by half, the peasants revolted, tens of millions died as the result of terrible famines. The bureaucracy was forced to partially re-establish private agriculture. Nationalised industry had to produce hundreds of thousands of tractors and farm machines for the kolkhozes to begin making progress. Imitating these methods in Mexico would mean heading for disaster. It is necessary to complete the democratic revolution by giving the land, all the land to the peasants. On the basis of this established conquest the peasants must be given an unlimited period to reflect, compare, experiment, with different methods of agriculture. They must be aided, technically and financially, but not compelled. In short, it is necessary to finish the work of Emiliano Zapata and not to superimpose on him the methods of Joseph Stalin.
The entire agrarian part of the program is deformed by a false perspective that tries to take the third or fourth step before the first step is completed. This deformation of perspective is particularly flagrant with regard to the question of credit. Paragraph sixteen, point (d) calls for all agricultural credit to be extended to the common lands “abandoning the aim of maintaining the economy of small agricultural property.” That the state should afford financial privileges to voluntary collectives goes without saying. But proportions must be maintained. The collective enterprises must be kept viable, but the small individual farms must continue to survive and grow as well during the historical period necessary to accomplish “complete collectivisation”; and this period may entail several decades.
If methods of compulsion are used, this will only produce collectives that exist at state expense, while lowering the general level of agriculture and impoverishing the country.
The Industrialisation of the Country
In this area the program becomes extremely vague and abstract. In order to collectivise the common lands in six years an enormous outlay for the production of farm machinery, fertiliser, railroads, and industry in general would be necessary. And all of this immediately, because a certain technological development, at least on an elementary level, should precede collectivisation, and not follow it. Where will the necessary means come from? The plan is silent on this point except for a few sentences about the advantages of domestic loans over foreign loans. But the country is poor. It needs foreign capital. This thorny problem is treated only to the extent that the program does not insist on the cancellation of the foreign debt and that is all.
It is true that the realisation of the democratic agrarianrevolution, i.e., handing over all the arable land to the peasantry, would increase the capacity of the domestic market in a relatively short time; but despite all that, the rate of industrialisation would be very slow. Considerable international capital is seeking areas of investment at the present time, even where only a modest (but sure) return is possible. Turning one’s back on foreign capital and speaking of collectivisation and industrialisation is mere intoxication with words.
The reactionaries are wrong when they say that the expropriation of the oil companies has made the influx of new capital impossible. The government defends the vital resources of the country, but at the same time it can grant industrial concessions, above all in the form of mixed corporations, i.e. enterprises in which the government participates (holding 10 percent, 25 percent, 51 percent of the stock, according to the circumstances) and writes into the contracts the option of buying out the rest of the stock after a certain period of time. This government participationwould have the advantage of educating native technical and administrative personnel in collaboration with the best engineers and organisers of other countries. The period fixed in the contract before the optional buying out of the enterprise would create the necessary confidence among capital investors. The rate of industrialisation would be accelerated.
The authors of the program wish to completely construct state capitalism within a period of six years. But nationalising existing enterprises is one thing; creating new ones with limited means on virgin soil is another.
History knows only one example of an industry created under state supervision – the USSR. But,
a) a socialist revolution was necessary;
b) the industrial heritage of the past played an important role
c) the public debt was cancelled (1.5 billion pesos a year).
Despite all these advantages the industrial reconstruction of the country was begubn with the granting of concessions. Lenin accorded great importance to these concessions for the economic development of the country and for the technical and administrative education of Soviet personnel. There has been no socialist revolution in Mexico. The international situation does not even allow for the cancellation of the public debt. The country we repeat is poor. Under such conditions it would be almost suicidal to close the doors to foreign capital. T construct state capitalism, capital is necessary.
Paragraph ninety-six speaks quite correctly about the necessity to “protect the working class more effectively than is the case today.” It would be necessary to add: “It is necessary to protect the working class not only against the excesses of capitalist exploitation but against the abuses of the labour bureaucracy as well.”
The program has a lot to say about democracy and the workers organisations, which are the essential base of this democracy. This would be absolutely correct if the unions were themselves democratic and not totalitarian. A democratic regime in the union should assure the workers control over their own bureaucracy and thus eliminate the most flagrant abuses. The strictest accountability of the unions should be a public affair.
These notes may seem embued with a very moderate, almost conservative spirit in comparison to the high-flown, but, alas, empty, formulations of the program. We believe, however, that our point of view is more realistic and at the same time more revolutionary. The central point of the program is the agrarian question. It is a thousand times easier to preach total collectivisation in a vacuum than to carry out with an iron hand the total elimination of feudal remnants in the countryside. This cleansing operation would truly be an excellent program for the next six years. The peasantry would understand such a program, set down in ten lines, and accept it much more warmly than this vague and verbose translation of the official documents of the Kremlin.
Leon Trotsky March 14, 1939