Chapter 5


Crime rate in USSR rises. Symptom of decay and social tension. A decline in "white collar" crimes? No, just a failure to report them. Private cooperatives and trade a haven for criminals. Lenin's view of accounting and control done by masses. Gorbachev's "democratization" leads to fewer inspectors. The Soviet state and "bourgeois right." Laws on white collar crime are softened. Marxism on crime as an outgrowth of class society.

Muhammed Ali, the popular and world-famous champion prizefighter, and one of those who resisted the military draft during the Vietnam war, made an extensive tour of the USSR in the middle 1970s at the invitation of the Soviet government. Many features impressed Ali, but none so much as the contrast between the large metropolitan cities of the USSR and those in the U.S.

Ali liked to take long walks, sometimes very late at night. He was struck by the fact that there was so little fear and anxiety concerning crime in the streets, a remarkable phenomenon which had been taken note of by many U.S. visitors but was rarely made much of in the U.S. press.

How are things now, in the fourth year of the Gorbachev administration? The overall crime rate in the USSR has risen, according to an article in Pravda of March 23, 1989. The article quoted USSR Deputy Prosecutor General A. Katusev as revealing that "the number of murders increased by 14% for the year, instances of open stealing and assault with intent to rob by more than over 40%, and cases of secret stealing by 33%. Behind all this is an increase in criminal professionalism and organization. . . . Underground millionaires and policemen, thieves and prosecutors, judges and speculators, Party workers and `godfathers' frequently wind up on the same side of the fence." Thus we have the disappointing return of a very old phenomenon.

It has been widely hoped that the economic reforms would improve and indeed revolutionize social relations. The last thing one would have expected was a remarkable increase in crime, which was a characteristic feature of the old Russia--bourgeois, czarist Russia--and still flourishes in all the capitalist countries today. Its recurrence now in the USSR is an invariable symptom of decay and social tension between a privileged stratum and the broad masses of the people and reveals the existence of misery and poverty. These are the relics, continuing and now even expanding, of the social antagonisms of an earlier period.

There are many categories of crime. What most concerns us with respect to the restructuring are economic crimes, or what are known as "white collar" crimes. They are a very significant indicator of the general evolution of Gorbachev's schemes. What is happening in this sphere?

The Pravda report at first makes it seem that there has been a decline in this type of crime. "Last year the number of identified thefts of state and public property committed through misappropriation, embezzlement and abuse of office decreased by 10%--in certain provinces and republics, by almost 50%," it says.

Wouldn't you think an announcement like this would receive wide publicity, perhaps a TV press conference by Gorbachev himself? Doesn't it show that Gorbachev's innovation in sponsoring the private cooperatives and relaxing the restrictions on trade and commerce has resulted in a diminution of crime as it relates to socialist property? 1

Why is it that these crime statistics, which seem to cast a favorable light on the reforms, are not receiving wide publicity but instead were almost lost in this long interview with the state prosecutor?

Because, instead of a decrease in thefts of socialist property, what has happened is that there have been reductions in the staffs assigned to investigate economic crimes. For this and other reasons, there has been a failure to report many of these crimes, which in fact appear to be increasing, as the Pravda article goes on to reveal. Says the article, ". . . studies conducted by the Research Institute of the USSR Prosecutor's Office and the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs show that it is these types of crime that have become especially widespread recently, that it is here that organized crime and corruption are becoming consolidated and mercenary economic crime and run-of-the-mill crime are fusing."

The Pravda article adds, "In many cases, staff reductions in ministries and departments are being carried out by cutting the control-and-inspection apparatus, which could even lead to its complete elimination. For example, only 1,800 of 3,700 inspectors are now left in the system of the USSR Ministry of Trade--although we know very well how bad the situation is in that branch. After all, the embezzlement that is found out and traced to guilty parties in state and cooperative trade alone comes to at least 200 million rubles each year. Output and commodities worth over 1.2 billion rubles are written off as natural losses.ÿ . . ."

We thus see that in precisely those two areas of restructuring which tend in the direction of bourgeois property, the private cooperatives and trade, they are inescapably becoming infiltrated not only by thoroughly bourgeois, self-seeking, anti-socialist elements, but by outright criminals, and on a mass scale. The success of "self-financing," a Gorbachev innovation, is shown in the increase of embezzlement, misappropriation, bribery, etc.

Further confirmation of this trend was reported in a New York Times article from Moscow of June 14, 1989, headlined "Soviets Find Organized Crime Gaining Hold." It described a press conference held by specialists of the Ministry of Internal Affairs who urged the creation of a special state anti-crime commission and said "increasingly sophisticated gangs had begun to penetrate one of the primary parts of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's economic program, joint business ventures with foreign nations."

When economic crimes, crimes against socialist property, are on the increase, this tends to erode the entire social system, the very fabric of socialist society. How does all this relate to Lenin's conceptions on the role of the state in the period of transition from capitalism to communism?

The question of criminality was not taken lightly by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Rather, the need to deal with it, in view of the growth of bureaucracy and the infiltration of anti-socialist and criminal elements into the state apparatus, was one of the fundamental pillars of his conception of the state. One of Lenin's last struggles before he died was precisely over how to make more effective his conception of accounting and control. This was centered on implementing the Workers' and Peasants' Inspection, which, unlike what in the U.S. are called watchdog committees, had a broad mass base. They were to supervise the functioning of the state in the first phase of communism.

As a result of the watering down of this idea over the decades, however, what was once a way for the masses to oversee that socialist property is used honestly and properly has been reduced to having inspectors attached to the various departments.

In "How to Organize Competition," written in December 1917 shortly after the Revolution, Lenin used the most pungent language to describe the problem:

Accounting and control--this is the main economic task of every Soviet of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies, of every consumers' society, of every union or committee of supplies, of every factory committee or organ of workers' control in general. . . . Accounting and control . . . is the essence of socialist transformation, once the political rule of the proletariat has been established and secured. . . . The accounting and control essential for the transition to socialism can be exercised only by the people. Only the voluntary and conscientious cooperation of the mass of the workers and peasants in accounting and controlling the rich, the rogues, the idlers and the rowdies, a cooperation marked by revolutionary enthusiasm, can conquer these survivals of accursed capitalist society, these dregs of humanity, these hopelessly decayed and atrophied limbs, this contagion, this plague, this ulcer that socialism has inherited from capitalism.2 [Emphases in original.]

In Lenin's writings of this period, especially in the years 1920-21, there are many references to the tasks of the Workers' and Peasants' Inspection, the Workers' Food Inspection, mobile groups of inspectors to oversee the nationalization of the banks, committees of supplies, and other popular organs of accounting and control. Lenin called on the population to "ensure the strictest control over the production and accounting of products." All this was seen within the framework of the struggle for communism and the ultimate disappearance of the state.

And what about today? One would think that stimulating greater democratization of the economic institutions would mean giving the masses more authority to inspect and scrutinize what was going on, which is what Lenin wanted. This would entail not reducing but increasing the number of inspectors. All this becomes especially relevant at a time when the development of so-called entrepreneurial initiatives, the establishment of private cooperatives and of joint ventures with the capitalist world, give wider opportunities for greed, personal enrichment at the expense of the state, and downright crime. But Gorbachev, instead of widening the participation of the workers in the areas of accounting and control, is actually cutting down the number of inspectors and giving freer rein to bourgeois enterprise, in the name of democratization.

The way in which the Gorbachev group approaches the problem of inspection shows that they view the state within a bourgeois theoretical framework. They don't see the state as a social category on the way out, dissolving, withering away, as something that will be eliminated as its functions are taken up by the mass of the people. Rather they see it as a permanent social feature that is growing stronger.

Lenin specifically warned about this in The State and Revolution, when he wrote that "Until the `higher' phase of communism arrives, the socialists demand the strictest control by society and by the state over the measure of labor and the measure of consumption; but this control must start with the expropriation of the capitalists, with the establishment of workers' control over the capitalists, and must be exercised not by a state of bureaucrats, but by a state of armed workers." 3 (Emphases in original.)

But later in the same section he explained, "In its first phase, or first stage, communism cannot as yet be fully mature economically and entirely free from traditions or vestiges of capitalism. Hence the interesting phenomenon that communism in its first phase retains `the narrow horizon of bourgeois right.' [Here Lenin quotes from Marx's Critique of the Gotha Program.] Of course, bourgeois right in regard to the distribution of consumer goods inevitably presupposes the existence of the bourgeois state, for right is nothing without an apparatus capable of enforcing the observance of the standards of right.

"It follows that under communism there remains for a time not only bourgeois right, but even the bourgeois state, without the bourgeoisie!" 4 (Emphases in original.)

A bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie--what did Lenin mean by that, and what does it mean today? He means it in two ways. After the revolution, the proletariat had to bring back into the state apparatus many technicians, experts and so on because of their skills and experience. For example, if the head of a sanitation department had abandoned his post because of opposition to the revolution, the Soviet government might have called him back since they needed his expertise. This was true in many areas of life.

Lenin also meant "a bourgeois state" in another sense, however. The workers' government had to carry out many bourgeois functions because the state was the distributor of the national income, and in the first phase of communism, as he said, that had to be done according to the bourgeois norm of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his work" instead of according to need. So, in that sense also, the state was bourgeois.

Now, however, it is 70 years later. That the general secretary of the Party and leader of the Soviets should promote widening and deepening bourgeois norms, rather than restricting them and promoting socialist norms, is indeed to make a caricature of Marxism!

What Lenin wanted most of all was to get honest, dedicated, conscientious people who could investigate the operations of the bureaucracy and of the economy so as to make it conform to his conception of accounting and control. He explained this in The State and Revolution in the section where he elaborated on Marx's view on the two stages of communism.

Accounting and control--that is mainly what is needed for the "smooth working," for the proper functioning, of the first phase of communist society. All citizens are transformed into hired employees of the state, which consists of the armed workers. All citizens become employees and workers of a single country-wide state "syndicate." All that is required is that they should work equally, do their proper share of work, and get equal pay. The accounting and control necessary for this have been simplified by capitalism to the utmost and reduced to the extraordinarily simple operations--which any literate person can perform--of supervising and recording, knowledge of the four rules of arithmetic, and issuing appropriate receipts.5 [Emphases in original.]

Shouldn't this be even more true today? Shouldn't the use of computers for accounting, inventory control, spreadsheets and projections further simplify accounting and control?

Today the Soviet law enforcement agencies, rather than the masses, are entrusted with the authority to watch over the simple operations of control and accounting. What is left of Lenin's approach--having mass inspection, mass accounting and control? It has been reduced to an inspection apparatus under the jurisdiction of the criminal division of the state. And now even this is being whittled down. This would be fine, of course, if these inspectors were to be replaced by mass supervision and control, but such is not the case.

Moreover, according to the Pravda article, the courts show the greatest leniency toward economic crime, that is, crime involving white-collar, bourgeois elements who are engaged in trade and cooperatives and carry out forms of activity which undermine the socialist economy.6

The claim that there has been a drop in the statistics for economic crime is a deception, one which even lacks originality, as this is what goes on in most of the capitalist governments with respect to criminal investigation. Furthermore, as the prosecutor cited in the Pravda article states, there are new legal definitions of such economic crimes as embezzlement, misappropriation, bribery and so on which have confused the situation. There has been a wholesale statutory softening toward the very crimes that have supposedly diminished--but have in reality ballooned.

What does all this show from the viewpoint of Marxist, socialist theory? Even before Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto, he explained in The Poverty of Philosophy that laws can never rise above the social structure, that they merely reflect what is. The economic changes, the bourgeois reforms extended by the Gorbachev administration, no longer fit the old laws, which were more severe in cases of large property theft, that is, so-called white-collar crime by the privileged ruling group. Now all this is being changed, so that the laws themselves have to be changed in the direction of softening the penalties. In some cases the new legislation being rushed in is so vague that criminal prosecution becomes impossible, making it inevitable that the judges remand the cases back for more investigation without prosecution.

All this is part of the so-called democratization process, and the well-off, the rich, the self-seekers, the avaricious profiteers are the first to take advantage of it. Certainly, a democratization process that increased popular rights, especially workers' rights, would be welcome. But look at the reality. Look at the economics of it, which in turn decides the politics. One gets an entirely different picture of the reforms and which social groupings can take advantage of them.

The answer of the prosecutor in this case to the growth in the crime rate differs in no fundamental respect from any bourgeois prosecutor. His answer on how to fight crime amounts to the need for "additional labor and material resources and prompt changes in legislation. . . . It is impossible to get along without up-to-date equipment.ÿ. . ." Precisely what the repressive apparatus in bourgeois countries keeps demanding! This is as far from Marxism as heaven is from earth.

Marxism teaches that crime arose as a social phenomenon with the development of class antagonisms, that it was thoroughly unknown on a vast scale in pre-class society. There were no special bodies of armed men for purposes of repression in these ancient societies. There were no prisons, no permanent police forces. Those who violated the norms of social conduct were ostracized or exiled and, in unusual cases, were punished by death. It is the growth of private property and the development of the class struggle of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat which has brought about poverty, hunger and all the other social ills which prevail in capitalist society. This was ABC for Marxists, and especially for Leninists in the early period of the Soviet republic. Force alone, repression, does not solve the social problems.

The existence of crime on a vast scale is an ulcerous condition on the body politic. It is enhanced by the growth of social inequality. And nothing does more to widen and deepen social inequality than the Gorbachev economic reforms. True, the opening up of the political system gives the proletariat, the revolutionary forces, an opportunity to come out on a revolutionary, working class basis. But this has not yet happened, and in the meantime the bourgeois elements are utilizing the new democratic process to strengthen their own position.

Democracy is only a form of state. Under bourgeois rule, democracy thrived as the economic strength of the bourgeoisie grew. It never opened up the democratic process to the workers, except under extreme pressure and in times of revolutionary struggle.

Engels remarked in his The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State that bourgeois democracy was best suited for the bourgeoisie in its exploitation of the proletariat.7 The Gorbachev administration, as evidenced particularly in this dark corner of the economy, is promoting "democracy" in the establishment of private cooperatives, the entrepreneurial bourgeois elements and in trade, where commodity circulation begets speculation and wholesale robbery along with it.

However, the proletariat is beginning to catch on to this. It is recognizing the reactionary significance of these innovations.

Now the time is ripening for the proletariat to assert its democracy, which is in harmony with the class foundations of Soviet society, and to get rid of the corroding superstructural elements which are a brake on socialist development and which tend to move ever faster toward the reconstitution of bourgeois relations.


1. At a public appearance in Krasnoyarsk on September 16, 1988, it was called to Gorbachev's attention that the private cooperatives were becoming veritable nests for embezzlement, misappropriation of funds and bribery. "We are watching it," he said at that time. Quoted in Pravda, September 18, 1988.

2. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964), Vol. 26, p. 410.

3. "The State and Revolution," Collected Works, Vol. 25, p. 470.

4. Ibid., p. 471.

5. Ibid., p. 473.

6. In Article 20 of this book, we take up Lenin's view of cooperatives and show that, at a time when everything aside from the basic industries was still in private hands, he proposed taking a step forward by stimulating a cooperative movement, carried out under socialist state control. But it really didn't materialize because the hostile, anti-working class elements were opposed to it.

7. In Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1970), Vol. 3, p. 329.

Main menu Book menu