Is Russia Going Capitalist?
RHEA G. CLYMAN
Efficiency is succeeding slackness—power is passing from the worker—the new ruling class is regarded with envy
IF THE little band of communist reformers who, in the early years of the revolution, paraded the streets of Moscow stark naked with signs, “Down with bourgeois shame and the hypocrisy of clothes,” across their middle, had succeeded in getting their slogan generally adopted, the history of Soviet Russia would have been different. Lenin might not have had to retreat into the arms of the “NEP”—the New Economic Policy of 1921 which legalized private trade, and Stalin could perhaps have managed without his “NIP”—the New Industrial Policy. It is the struggle to obtain cheap manufactured goods that has determined many of the economic and political changes that have taken place in the past few years.
The Bolsheviks have no traditions. Power is concentrated in a few hands. Sweeping changes in economic and industrial policy can take place here without upsetting the equilibrium of the people, as might be the case in more democratic countries. Yet the French saying, Le plus ca change le plus ca reste le même holds as good now as ever before. There is no more talk of world revolution except among the very young and the very old, but the communist theologians continue to split Talmudic hairs and to wrangle about who is the communist missing link, the worker or the peasant.
No two observers agree as to what is really taking place in Soviet Russia now. Not even the communists themselves agree. To some Lenin’s NEP, which reintroduced private trade after a period of pure militant communism, was a confession that socialism could not be built up in one country. Trotzky held this view, and became anathema and was exiled for it. To others, Stalin’s NIP is the real confession of failure, for it brought back capitalist methods into Soviet industry. Whatever the past or the future may mean, there is now no doubt that Stalin has adopted the capitalist concept that industry must be run for profit. The old Marxian slogan, “He who does not work shall not eat,” is now replaced by the Stalin slogan, “He who cannot
produce more than he eats shall not work.”
Babushka, “grandmother,” close on to seventy, and whose mother, now well over ninety was given in marriage under serfdom, is convinced that she is now living through the days of Ivan the Terrible. She started working in a spinning mill as a girl of ten and has never stopjied.
Human Nature Unchanged
V\ TE WORKED hard in those days,” she is never tired ** of telling me, “but we had enough to eat. Look at us now ! We have a seven-hour day and a six-day week, and holidays have been abolished. No one does any work. It’s all talk and we have nothing.”
Nothing can persuade Babushka that her lot has been materially improved by the revolution. She is not religious, but she disapproves of pulling down churches and exiling priests. She does not believe in the Bolsheviks’ promises or their future achievements.
“There is no unemployment; it has been abolished on paper. My daughter is unemployed for almost a year. There is equality. We sleep twelve in a room, while others have whole apartments to themselves. We are all workers. My children are workers. Look at my hands and at their hands. Yet my grandchildren don’t see milk or butter from one six months to another, and we all work day and night.” Dyeda, “grandfather,” her husband, does not hold his wife’s subversive opinions. He was once a member of the communist party for five years and is now retired on a pension of twenty roubles ($10) a month. After a drink or two of vodka he is willing to argue that the communist millennium is at hand, and that only a woman’s inborn pig-headedness prevents his wife from understanding what is really going on. But when the House Committee - the Soviet landlords—threatened to evict his daughter for nonpayment of rent, and the financial inspectors came around to claim taxes on the money he earned by carpentering at home, Dyeda talked in a way that made the ears of his policeman son-in-law burn.
In Russia the revolution has not changed human nature very much. Despite what the communists would like to believe, there still exists here the guiding principle, “Get as much as you can for yourself, and see that your neighbor does not get more.” Communist propaganda has succeeded in inculcating the doctrine of equality, but that in turn has only increased the demand for everyday commodities, and to meet this demand the Bolsheviks are forced to abandon more and more of their communist ideals. The fact that they are reaping what they have sown does not make things any better.
The Kremlin is continually faced with the problem of from whom to take and to whom to give. There is not enough of everything to go round, and there will not lx; for generations to come. Demands, especially for every kind of manufactured article, increase daily, and the supply, do what they will, cannot keep pace. This alone has produced the system of class privilege which, in time of stress and artificially stimulated, becomes a class struggle. When engineers and brain workers are liquidated—which means anything from a few days arrest to exile for life —the factory workers think that they will get more housing space and better fcxxl rations. But when industry goes badly and goods become even more scarce, the engineers are released and given fifteen eggs apiece on Lenin’s anniversary, and generally are made to feel that they are the equal of any laborer.
Slackness Has Disappeared
IF THE Government wants to increase the output of coal, carloads of shoes and clothing are rushed off to the Donetz Basin and Moscow goes short. If the Dynamo automobile plant in Moscow falls behind the Plan, some of the shœs are brought back from the coal mines and thrown on the counters of the motor workers’ closed shop. This is the system practised for a gcxxi many years, and it has not been conducive to a normal and regular ratio of production.
No one is happy or completely satisfied. Some regard the system of piecework, bonuses and being paid according to qualifications, as a return to the capitalist system. Others think it is a recognition of their merits and gives them a better chance to get some of the things they produce. Seroia, my other neighbor, is a loyal Soviet citizen and a
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good father, but after fifteen years of having regarded himself as an indispensable custodian and backer of Soviet power, he is now on the street looking for a job. However, he still preserves the red banner he once carried in a street demonstration during Kerensky’s régime, and every Soviet anniversary he shuts off the remaining bit of light by hanging it out of the kitchen window.
The truth is that Seroja is not the same person since he was discharged from work for drunkenness. The iron has entered his soul. That a workers’ government should throw a man out of work passes his understanding. Nor can he forgive the Soviets for forcing him to remain idle, without unemployment pay or social insurance, because there is some dispute as to the real origin of an abscess on his thumb.
“I am a worker,” he declaims in his more lugubrious moments. “I’ve fought for the revolution”—forgetting to mention that his fighting was done on the home front. He was once manager of the House Committee, and distinguished himself by his active class war against his neighbors when he gave their apartments and furniture to his relatives and friends.
“I’m a skilled worker, a locksmith, and there are not many left now,” he says. “They put in machines and conveyers and throw us skilled workmen out like sucked lemons. It’s all piecework now, and we’re docked if the street cars don’t run. Lenin promised to look after us in sickness and old age, yet a snip of a young communist says I’m pretending and I don’t get any social insurance. This would not happen if Lenin were alive now.”
Certainly the glorious days of laissez faire have gone and a great many of the workers resent its passing. In the days before the NIP, Soviet trade unions still had some power and its members believed that they controlled and ran the industry. There was no piecework; every one got the same wage, and a little slackness did not matter. The management of the factory was in the hands of a committee, and the committee was in the hands of the workers. Labor discipline, if there was any, was a matter of honor. Every worker regarded himselt as a boss and overwork was not encouraged.
Up to 1928, before the Five Year Plan was adopted, there were no less than ten Soviet holidays besides the religious ones that the workers took anyway. Each
holiday was two days, one to get drunk in and the next to sober up. and as food was plentiful and drink more so, a third and fourth were sometimes necessary. No one minded. Industry was not operated for profit. The worker got his wages whether he came in or not, and lateness was no crime. Every one in Russia is always late, and why not a worker?
If there were time clocks in the factory, the timekeepers were always boorjooie, “bourgeois,” and they could not stand up against a mighty worker. Besides, the factory committee looked after all those things, and its members were only too glad to overlook a bit of backsliding on the part of a good companion and party worker. Then there were meetings. Shop committee meetings, communist party gatherings, trade union conferences, inspections, elections; everything, in fact, to make a worker feel an important adjunct of Soviet society and to keep him away from his machine. A man had nothing more to do than grab his portfolio—the insignia of members of the ruling class—from the peg to convince everyone that he was off to an important conference. Only his wife knew that he was not drunk with words when he came reeling home, but she did not give him away.
All this has gone now. No party or trade union work can be done in working hours. All meetings and conferences are now held after four o’clock, the factory closing time. There are no queues for vodka now. It is one of the few things that is sold freely.
Communist Ideals Abandoned
A SOURCE of constant irritation is the inflation of Soviet currency. In the early years of the revolution, when the Bolsheviks were fighting for their lives and struggling for their ideals, there was no currency. Every one gainfully employed in those days received rations of food, and a book of tickets which entitled them to a seat in the theatre or opera if they were open, and on a street car if one happened to be running. When the Soviet Government first introduced a system of money, no one thought that it would last. Gold and silver, diamonds and pearls had ceased to have any value. The famine had taught the Russian people that only such things as could be readily exchanged for bread and meat counted.
This, no doubt, is the origin of the nationalization of women. Although the communists now hotly deny it, there is no doubt but that in some remote Caucasian and Tartar villages it actually took place. When the decree for the confiscation of private wealth made its way into those remote parts, it was interpreted as an order to socialize their neighbors’ wives and daughters. Wealth to those people meant the number of women you could have, and to them, women were the only thing worth nationalizing. There is a standardized currency now for the whole of the Soviet Union, but its buying power is so debased that it has ceased to have any real value except to the privileged classes.
Foreigners, that is, members of the diplomatic corps, journalists, engineers and specialists, have special closed stores where food and clothing are sold for roubles at the rationed, or fixed, price. The O-GayPay-Oo (secret police), the army and the militia also have their own closed shops equally well-stocked with food and goods. The Kremlin, of course, has its own stores, restaurants and hospitals. The ordinary lay person has no chance to see how wellprovided these are, but, judging from appearances, the members of the Kremlin seem exceedingly well-fed and clothed. Important industries like the electrical and automobile plants also have closed stores for their workers and employees, but the show windows filled with wooden hams and cheese, and the models of frocks and suits made to fit pigmies and giants, only titillate the desire without satisfying it.
Volodka, my shock-brigadier floor polisher - he is only a polisher on his free days; in private life he is an automobile mechanic in
Dynamo, one of the largest motor plants here is all against receiving money for wages. The moment he removes his shoes and spits on his brush to make it stick to his foot better, and begins to polish, Volodka starts on his pet grievance.
“What is the good of giving us money? I can’t buy anything with it. To you roubles mean something. You’ve a closed shop where you can get everything”—a slight exaggeration “in ours there’s absolutely nothing. If there is something one day. the news spreads like wildfire and in a few moments it's all gone.”
Volodka admits that there may be something in the fact that the years of famine are so present in the Russian consciousness that it makes them buy frantically everything they see whether they need it or not, and this diminishes the supply. But he does not think that is the whole explanation.
"We started to run before we learned to w^alk. We spend all our money on machines and we don’t know how to run them.” Inhaling one of my cigarettes—he always takes two, one to smoke with me and another to show to his comrades, he remarked: “Can’t get anything like this in my store. I don't care who gets the things, whether it’s you foreigners or the Kremlin. What I want to know is w'hen we are going to get something?”
It is the answer to this last question—a cry from millions of goods-starved people —that has forced the Kremlin to throw its communist ideals overboard and adopt the present form of State capitalism. Faced with the growing demand for cheap manufactured goods on the one hand, a direct result of communist propaganda of equality, and a steady decline in output and increase in cost of production on the other because of communist practices in industry, the Bolsheviks were in the same position as the man in a capsizing boat who has to choose between his wife and child to bring ashore safely.
The child won with the Soviets. The past and the present are sacrificed for the future.
“If communist ideals and Marxian principles are not enough incentive for Russian workers, then let us try capitalist methods,” said the communist leaders. “We must produce a surplus and our industries must run at a profit. We must stop coddling the workers and make them buckle down.”
Soviet labor laws are now stricter than those of Canada or the United States. Nearly all the factory workers and a great many of the office employees are on piecework. All punch clocks and are fined if late. As unemployment has been abolished by the Government, the trade unions do not pay any unemployment relief. You may not stay away from work unless you are ill, and even then you must produce a doctor’s certificate to show that your temperature was over 99.5. In the cases of those habitually suffering from malaria or fever, a high temperature is not taken into account. If you infringe on the labor discipline or are found slacking at work you are fired, and as here there is only one employer, the State, you cannot offer your services to any one else.
Engineers, technicians and shop foremen, under a decree just passed are paid according to their qualifications. If they do not produce their quota of the Plan or their norm, they are not only fined and demoted but also arrested and sometimes shot. Factory managers are not allowed credits by the banks unless they show a net profit or surplus over expenses, and no branch of industry is now allowed to operate at a loss. Factory committees, except for social activities, have been abolished, and the
control and management are now in the hands of a one-man director—usually a communist but not necessarily so. He cannot pass the buck now. If things go badly, he answers with his head.
Production has not increased at the rate that the Kremlin expected, and the opponents of the NIP may still be sitting with their tongues in their cheeks. But the improvement in working discipline in the past few months is remarkable. In Soviet factories I have seen young men and women work intently for hours at a stretch without getting up to light a cigarette. I have seen them work overtime without the time-anda-half or free supper that Ontario law requires, just in order to finish the job on hand—an unheard-of procedure a few years back. I have seen workers rush along madly to get inside the factory gates before the last whistle blew, just as may be seen in any factory town in Canada. I have seen them hurrying at their work and impatient when their machine broke down. The NIP is responsible for that.
The younger generation, the ones who have grown up since the revolution, have taken to the present changes quite readily. They have never lived or worked under any other conditions and thus have no basis for comparison. When the management and control of industry were taken out of their hands and a one-man director was put in charge, it was a severe blow to their selfesteem. But the young men and women are callous. Besides, they also hope to become managers and directors themselves some day. It is the older worker that has been the hardest hit. The introduction of capitalist methods in Soviet industry means that he now has the same fear of losing his job hanging over his head as he did in the old days.
Thus, if the little band of naked reformers had had their way, Russia might now be a country in w’hich unadulterated communism would be lived and practised. But fifteen years of experiments have shown that it is easier to run agriculture along socialist lines than industry, and that it is easier to share everything when you have not got anything than when you have. Molotov, the President of the People’s Commissars (Premier), when speaking before the Seventeenth Communist Party Conference, stated that when the next Five Year Plan came into force there would be no more class war because there was now only one class in Soviet Russia, the working class. But if the NIP is to produce results it will entrench class privilege more and more.
A young worker who stood beside me in the queue waiting for a bus for an hour did not voice Molotov’s pacific class statements. As he stood, stamping his feet, waving his arms and blowing his nose, he suddenly stopped stock still as if paralyzed when a blue-upholstered limousine, with a young, clean-shaven man lolling inside, halted to wait for the traffic signal. The eyes of the man in the limousine met the eyes of the man waiting for the bus, and the latter nodded slightly.
“There goes a clever man.” the \Vorker remarked when the car passed on. “We worked at the same bench a few years ago. He joined the Party and is a director now. He has a chauffeur and a car, while I, fool, stand shivering an hour for a bus.”
If envy had not been at the root of the last social upheaval, the worker’s remarks might not have any significance for the future. As it is. the grunts from the other waiters that greeted his remarks showed that there still is a great chasm between the worker and the director, and how to bridge that chasm remains for the future generation to decide.