Money and Plan
The Rehabilitation of the Ruble
The Stakhanov Movement
We have attempted to examine the Soviet regime in the cross-section of currency. These two problems, state and money, have a number of traits in common, for they both reduce themselves in the last analysis to the problem of problems: productivity of labor. State compulsion like money compulsion is an inheritance from the class society, which is incapable of defining the relations of man by man except in the form of fetishes, churchly or secular, after appointing to defend them the most alarming of all fetishes, the state, with a great knife between its teeth. In a communist society, the state and money will disappear. Their gradual dying away ought consequently to begin under socialism. We shall be able to speak of the actual triumph of socialism only at that historical moment when the state turns into a semi-state, and money begins to lose its magic power. This will mean that socialism, having freed itself from capitalist fetishes, is beginning to create a more lucid, free and worthy relation among men. Such characteristically anarchist demands as the “abolition” of money, “abolition” of wages, or “liquidation” of the state and family, possess interest merely as models of mechanical thinking. Money cannot be arbitrarily “abolished”, nor the state and the old family “liquidated.” They have to exhaust their historic mission, evaporate, and fall away. The deathblow to money fetishism will be struck only upon that stage when the steady growth of social wealth has made us bipeds forget our miserly attitude toward every excess minute of labor, and our humiliating fear about the size of our ration. Having lost its ability to bring happiness or trample men in the dust, money will turn into mere bookkeeping receipts for the convenience of statisticians and for planning purposes. In the still more distant future, probably these receipts will not be needed. But we can leave this question entirely to posterity, who will be more intelligent than we are.
The nationalization of the means of production and credit, the co-operative or state-izing of internal trade, the monopoly of foreign trade, the collectivization of agriculture, the law on inheritance – set strict limits upon the personal accumulation of money and hinder its conversion into private capital (usurious, commercial and industrial). These functions of money, however, bound up as they are with exploitation, are not liquidated at the beginning of a proletarian revolution, but in a modified form are transferred to the state, the universal merchant, creditor and industrialist. At the same time the more elementary functions of money, as measures of value, means of exchange and medium of payment, are not only preserved, but acquire a broader field of action than they had under capitalism.
Administrative planning has sufficiently revealed its power – but therewith also the limits of its power. An a priori economic plan – above all in a backward country with 170 million population, and a profound contradiction between city and country – is not a fixed gospel, but a rough working hypothesis which must be verified and reconstructed in the process of its fulfillment. We might indeed lay down a rule: the more “accurately” an administrative task is fulfilled, the worse is the economic leadership. For the regulation and application of plans two levers are needed: the political lever, in the form of a real participation in leadership of the interested masses themselves, a thing which is unthinkable without Soviet democracy; and a financial lever, in the form of a real testing out of a priori calculations with the help of a universal equivalent, a thing that is unthinkable without a stable money system.
The role of money in the Soviet economy is not only unfinished but, as we have said, still has a long growth ahead. The transitional epoch between capitalism and socialism taken as a whole does not mean a cutting down of trade, but, on the contrary, its extraordinary extension. All branches of industry transform themselves and grow. New ones continually arise, and all are compelled to define their relations to one another both quantitatively and qualitatively. The liquidation of the consummatory peasant economy, and at the same time of the shut-in family life, means a transfer to the sphere of social interchange, and ipso facto money circulation, of all the labor energy which was formerly expended within the limits of the peasant’s yard, or within the walls of his private dwelling. All products and services begin for the first time in history to be exchanged for one another.
On the other hand, a successful socialist construction is unthinkable without including in the planned system the direct personal interests of the producer and consumer, their egoism, – which in its turn may reveal itself fruitfully only if it has in its service the customary reliable and flexible instrument, money. The raising of the productivity of labor and bettering of the quality of its products is quite unattainable without an accurate measure freely penetrating into all the cells of industry – that is, without a stable unit of currency. Hence it is clear that in the transitional economy, as also under capitalism, the sole authentic money is that based upon gold. All other money is only a substitute. To be sure, the Soviet state has in its hand at the same time the mass of commodities and the machinery for printing money. However, this does not change the situation. Administrative manipulations in the sphere of commodity prices do not in the slightest degree create, or replace, a stable money unit either for domestic or foreign trade. Deprived of an independent basis – that is, a gold basis – the money system of the Soviet Union, like that of a number of capitalist countries, has necessarily a shut-in character. For the world market the ruble does not exist. If the Soviet Union can endure the adverse aspects of this money system more easily than Germany and Italy, it is only in part due to the natural wealth of the country. Only this makes it possible not to struggle in the clutches of autarchy. The historic task, however, is not merely not avoid strangling, but to create face to face with the highest achievements of the world market a powerful economy, rational through and through, which will guarantee the greatest saving of time and consequently the highest flowering of culture.
The dynamic Soviet economy, passing as it does through continual technical revolutions and large-scale experiments, needs more than any other continual testing by means of a stable measure of value. Theoretically there cannot be the slightest doubt that if the Soviet economy had possessed a gold ruble, the result of the five-year plan would be incomparably more favorable than they are now. Of course you cannot “poss the impossible” [Ha nyet cuda nyet]. But you must not make a virtue of necessity, for that leads in turn to additional economic mistakes and losses.
The history of the Soviet currency is not only a history of economic difficulties, successes and failures, but also a history of the zigzags of bureaucratic thought.
The restoration of the ruble in 1922-24, in connection with the transfer to the NEP, was directly bound up with the restoration of the “norms of bourgeois right” in the distribution of objects of consumption. So long as the course toward the well-to-do farmer continued, the chervonetz was an object of governmental concern. During the first period of the five-year plan, on the contrary, all the sluices of inflation were opened. From 0.7 billion rubles at the beginning of 1925, the total issue of currency had arisen by the beginning of 1928 to the comparatively modest sum of 1.7 billions, which is approximately comparable to the paper money circulation of tzarist Russia on the eve of the war – but this, of course, without its former metallic basis. The subsequent curve of inflation from year to year is depicted in the following feverish series: 2.0 – 2.8 – 4.3 – 5.5 – 8.4! The final figure 8.4 billion rubles was reached at the beginning of 1933. After that came the years of reconsideration and retreat: 6.9 – 7.7 – 7.9 billion (1935). The ruble of 1924, equal in the official exchange to 13 francs, had been reduced in November 1935 to 3 francs – that is, to less than a fourth of its value, or almost as much as the French franc was reduced as a result of the war. Both parties, the old and the new, are very conditional in character; the purchasing power of the ruble in world prices now hardly equal 1.5 francs. Nevertheless the scale of devaluation shows with what dizzy speed the Soviet valuta was sliding downhill until 1934.
In the full flight of his economic adventurism, Stalin promised to send the NEP – that is, market relations – “to the devil.” The entire press wrote, as in 1918, about the final replacement of merchant sale by “direct socialist distribution”, the external sigh of which was the food card. At the same time, inflation was categorically rejected as a phenomenon inconsistent with the Soviet system.
“The stability of the Soviet valuta,” said Stalin in 1933, “is guaranteed primarily by the immense quantity of commodities in the hands of the state put in circulation at stable prices.”
Notwithstanding the fact that this enigmatical aphorism received neither development nor elucidation (partly indeed because of this), it became a fundamental law of the Soviet theory of money – or, more accurately, of that very inflation which it rejected. The chervonetz proved thereafter to be not a universal equivalent, but only the universal shadow of an “immense” quantity of commodities. And like all shadows, it possessed the right to shorten and lengthen itself. If this consoling doctrine made any sense at all, it was only this: the Soviet money has ceased to be money; it serves no longer as a measure of value; “stable prices” are designated by the state power; the chervonetz is only a conventional label of the planned economy – that is, a universal distribution card. In a word, socialism has triumphed “finally and irrevocably.”
The most utopian views of the period of military communism were thus restored on a new economic basis – a little higher, to be sure, but alas still inadequate for the liquidation of money circulation. The ruling circles were completely possessed by the opinion that with a planned economy inflation is not to be feared. This means approximately that if you possess a compass there is no danger in a leaking ship. In reality, currency inflation, inevitably producing a credit inflation, entails a substitution of fictitious for real magnitudes, and corrodes the planned economy from within.
It is needless to say that inflation meant a dreadful tax upon the toiling masses. As for the advantages to socialism achieved with its help, they are more than dubious. Industry, to be sure, continued its rapid growth, but the economic efficiency of the grandiose construction was estimated statistically and not economically. Taking command of the ruble – giving it, that is, various arbitrary purchasing powers in different strata of the population and sectors of the economy – the bureaucracy deprived itself of the necessary instrument for objectively measuring its own successes and failures. The absence of correct accounting, disguised on paper by means of combinations with the “conventional ruble”, led in reality to a decline of personal interest, to a low productivity, and to a still lower quality of goods.
In the course of the first five-year plan, this evil assumed threatening proportions. In July 1931, Stalin came out with his famous “six conditions”, whose chief aim was to lower the production cost of industrial goods. These “conditions” (payment according to individual productivity of labor, production-cost accounting, etc.) contained nothing new. The “norms of bourgeois right” had been advanced at the dawn of the NEP, and developed at the 12th Congress of the party at the beginning of 1923. Stalin happened upon them only in 1931, under the influence of the declining efficiency of capital investments. During the following two years hardly an article appeared in the Soviet press without references to the salvation power of these “conditions.” Meanwhile, with inflation continuing, the diseases caused by it were naturally not getting cured. Severe measures of repression against wreckers and sabotagers did as little to help things forward.
The fact seems almost unbelievable now that in opening a struggle against “impersonality” and “equalization” – which means anonymous “average” labor and similar “average” pay for all – the bureaucracy was at the same time sending “to the devil” the NEP, which means the money evaluation of all goods, including labor power. Restoring “bourgeois norms” with one hand, they were destroying with the other the sole implement of any use under them. With the substitution of “closed distributors” for commerce, and with complete chaos in prices, all correspondence between individual labor and individual wages necessarily disappeared, and therewith disappeared the personal interestedness of the worker.
The strictest instructions in regard to economic accounting, quality, cost of production and productivity, were left hanging in the air. This did not prevent the leaders from declaring the cause of all economic difficulties to be the malicious unfulfillment of the six prescriptions of Stalin. The most cautious references to inflation they likened to a state crime. With similar conscientiousness the authorities on occassion have accused teachers of breaking the rules of school hygiene while at the same time forbidding them to mention the absence of soap.
The question of the fate of the chervonetz has occupied a prominent place in the struggle of factions in the Communist party. The platform of factions in the Communist party. The platform of the Opposition (1927) demanded “a guarantee of the unconditional stability of the money unit.” This demand became a leitmotif during the subsequent years. “Stop the process of inflation with an iron hand,” wrote the émigré organ of the Opposition in 1932, “and restore a stable unit of currency,” even at the price of “a bold cutting down of capital investments.” The defenders of the “tortoise tempo” and the superindustrializers had, it seemed, temporarily changed places. In answer to the boast that they would send the market “to the devil”, the Opposition recommended that the State Planning Commission hang up the motto: “Inflation is the syphilis of a planned economy.”
In the sphere of agriculture, inflation brought no less heavy consequences.
During the period when the peasant policy was still oriented upon the well-to-do farmer, it was assumed that the socialist transformation in agriculture, setting out upon the basis of the NEP, would be accomplished in the course of decades by means of the co-operatives. Assuming one after another purchasing, selling, and credit functions, the co-operatives should in the long run also socialize production itself. All this taken together was called “the co-operative plan of Lenin.” The actual development, as we know, followed a completely different and almost an opposite course – dekulakization by violence and integral collectivization. Of the gradual socialization of separate economic functions, in step with the preparation of the material and cultural conditions for it, nothing more was said. Collectivization was introduced as though it were the instantaneous realization of the communist regime in agriculture.
The immediate consequence was not only an extermination of more than half of the livestock, but, more important, a complete indifference of the members of the collective farms to the socialized property and the results of their own labor. The government was compelled to make a disorderly retreat. They again supplied the peasants with chickens, pigs, sheep, and cows as personal property. They gave them private lots adjoining the farmsteads. The film of collectivization began to be run off backwards.
In thus restoring small personal farm holdings, the state adopted a compromise, trying to buy off, as it were, the individualistic tendencies of the peasant. The collective farms were retained, and at first glance, therefore, the retreat might seem of secondary importance. In reality, its significance could hardly be overestimated. If you leave aside the collective farm aristocracy, the daily needs of the average peasant are still met to a greater degree by his work “on his own”, than by his participation in the collective. A peasant’s income from individual enterprises, especially when he takes up technical culture, fruit, or stock farming, amounts frequently to three times as much as the earnings of the same peasant in the collective economy. This fact, testified to in the Soviet press itself, very clearly reveals on the one hand a completely barbarous squandering of tens of million of human forces, especially those of women, in midget enterprises, and, on the other, the still extremely low productivity of labor in the collective farms.
In order to raise the standard of large-scale collective agriculture, it was necessary again to talk to the peasant in the language he understands – that is, to resurrect the markets and return from taxes in kind to trade – in a word, to ask back from Satan the NEP which had been prematurely sent to him. The transition to a more or less stable money accounting thus became a necessary condition for the further development of agriculture.
The owl of wisdom flies, as is well known, after sunset. Thus the theory of a “socialist” system of money and prices was developed only after the twilight of inflationist illusions. In developing the above enigmatical words of Stalin, the obedient professors managed to create an entire theory according to which the Soviet price, in contrast to the market price, has an exclusively planning or directive character. That is, it is not an economic, but an administrative category, and thus serves the better for the redistribution of the people’s income in the interests of socialism. The professors forgot to explain how you can estimate real costs if all prices express the will of a bureaucracy and not the amount of socially necessary labor expended. In reality, for the redistribution of the people’s income the government has in its hands such mighty levers as taxes, the state budget of expenditures for 1936, over 37.6 billion rubles are allotted directly, and many billions indirectly, to financing the various branches of economy. The budget and credit mechanism is wholly adequate for a planned distribution of the national income. And as to prices, they will serve the cause of socialism better, the more honestly they being to express the real economic relations of the present day.
Experience has managed to say its decisive word on this subject. “Directive” prices were less impressive in real life than in the books of scholars. On one and the same commodity, prices of different categories were established. In the broad cracks between these categories, all kinds of speculation, favoritism, parasitism, and other vices found room, and this rather as the rule than the exception. At the same time, the chervonetz, which ought to have been the steady shadow of stable prices, became in reality nothing but its own shadow.
It was again necessary to make a sharp change of course – this time as a result of difficulties which grew out of the economic successes. Nineteen-thirty-five opened with the abolition of bread cards. By October, cards for other food products were liquidated. By January 1936, cards for industrial products of general consumption were abolished. The economic relations of the city and the country to the state, and to each other, were translated into the language of money. The ruble is an instrument for the influence of the population upon economic plans, beginning with the quantity and quality of the objects of consumption. In no other manner is it possible to rationalize the Soviet economy.
The president of the State Planning Commission announced in December 1935:
“The present system of mutual relations between the banks and industry must be revised, and the banks must seriously realize control by the ruble.”
Thus the superstition of administrative plan and the illusion of administrative prices were shipwrecked. If the approach to socialism means in the fiscal sphere the approach of the ruble to a distribution card, then the reforms of 1935 would have to be regarded as a departure from socialism. In reality, however, such an appraisal would be a crude mistake. The replacement of the card by the ruble is merely a rejection of fictions, and an open acknowledgment of the necessity of creating the premises for socialism by means of a return to bourgeois methods of distribution.
At a session of the Central Executive Committee in January 1936, the People’s Commissar of Finance announced: “The Soviet ruble is stable as is not other valuta in the world.” It would be wrong to read this announcement as sheer boasting. The state budget of the Soviet Union is balanced with a yearly increase of income over expenses. Foreign trade, to be sure, although insignificant in itself, gives an active balance. The gold reserve of the State Bank, which amount in 1926 to 164 million rubles, in now more than a billion. The output of gold in the country is rising rapidly. In 1936, this branch of industry is calculated to take first place in the world. The growth of commodity circulation under the restored market has become very rapid. Paper-money inflation was actually stopped in 1934. The elements of a certain stabilization of the ruble exist. Nevertheless, the announcement of the People’s Commissar of Finance must be explained to a considerable extent by an inflation of optimism. If the Soviet ruble possesses a mighty support in the general rise of industry, still its Achilles heel is the intolerably high cost of production. The ruble will become the most stable valuta only from that moment when the Soviet productivity of labor exceeds that of the rest of the world, and when, consequently, the ruble itself will be mediating on its final hour.
From a technically fiscal point of view, the ruble can still less lay claim to superiority. With a gold reserve of over a billion, about 8 billions of of bank notes are in circulation in the country. The coverage, therefore, amounts to only 12.5 per cent. The gold in the State Bank is still considerably more in the nature of an inviolate reserve for the purposes of war, than the basis of a currency. Theoretically, to be sure, it is not impossible that at a higher stage of development the Soviets will resort to a gold currency, in order to make domestic economic plans precise and simplify economic relations with foreign countries. Thus, before giving up the ghost, the currency might once more flare up with the gleam of pure gold. But this in any case is not a problem of the immediate future.
In the period to come, there can be no talk of going over to the gold standard. Insofar, however, as the government, by increasing the gold reserve, is trying to raise the percentage even of a purely theoretical coverage; insofar as the limits of banknote emission are objectively determined and not dependent upon the will of the bureaucracy, to that extent the Soviet ruble may achieve at least a relative stability. That alone would be of enormous benefit. With a firm rejection of inflation in the future, the currency, although deprived of the advantage of the gold standard, could indubitably help to cure the many deep wounds inflicted upon the economy by the bureaucratic subjectivism of the preceding years.
“All economy,” said Marx, – and that means all human struggle with nature at all stages of civilization – “comes down in the last analysis to an economy of time.” Reduced to its primary basis, history is nothing but a struggle for an economy of working time. Socialism could not be justified by the abolition of exploitation alone; it must guarantee to society a higher economy of time than is guaranteed by capitalism. Without the realization of this condition, the mere removal of exploitation would be but a dramatic episode without a future. The first historical experiment in the application of socialist methods has revealed the great possibilities contained in them. But the Soviet economy is still far from learning to make use of time, that most precious raw material of culture. The imported technique, the chief implement for the economy of time, still fails to produce on the Soviet soil those results which are normal in its capitalist fatherlands. In that sense, decisive for all civilization, socialism has not yet triumphed. It has shown that it can and should triumph. But it has not yet triumphed. All assertions to the contrary are the fruit of ignorance and charlatanism.
Molotov, who sometimes – to do him justice – reveals a little more freedom from the ritual phrase than other Soviet leaders, declared in January 1936 at a session of the Central Executive Committee:
“Our average level of productivity of labor ... is still considerably below that of America and Europe.”
It would be well to make these words precise approximately thus: three, five, and sometimes even 10 times as low as that of Europe and America, and our cost of production is correspondingly considerably higher. In the same speech, Molotov made a more general confession:
“The average level of culture of our workers still stands below the corresponding level of the workers of a number of capitalist countries.”
To this should be added: also the average standard of living. There is no need of explaining how mercilessly these sober words, spoken in passing, refute the boastful announcements of the innumerable official authorities, and the honeyed outpourings of the foreign “friends”!
The struggle to raise the productivity of labor, together with concern about defense, is the fundamental content of the activity of the Soviet government. At various stages in the evolution of the Union this struggle has assumed various characters. The methods applied during the years of the first five-year plan and the beginning of the second, the methods of “shock brigade-ism” were based upon agricultural, personal example, administrative pressure and all kinds of group encouragements and privileges. The attempt to introduce a kind of piecework payment, on the basis of the “six conditions” of 1931, came to grief against the spectral character of the valuta and the heterogeneity of prices. The system of state distribution of products had replaced the flexible differential valuation of labor with a so-called “premium system” which meant, in essence, bureaucratic caprice. In the strife for copious privileges, there appeared in the ranks of shock brigades an increasing number of chiselers with special pull. In the long run, the whole system came into complete opposition with its own aims.
Only the abolition of the card system, the beginning of stabilization and the unification of prices, created the condition for the application of piecework payment. Upon this basis, shock brigade-ism was replaced with the so-called Stakhanov movement. In the chase after the ruble, which had now acquired a very real meaning, the workers began to concern themselves more about their machines, and make a more careful use of their working time. The Stakhanov movement to a degree comes down to an intensification of labor, and even to a lengthening of the working day. During the so-called “non-working” time, the Stakhanovists put their benches and tools in order and sort their raw material, the brigadiers instruct their brigades, etc. Of the seven-hour working day there thus remains nothing but the name.
It was not the Soviet administrators who invented the secret of piecework payment. That system, which strains the nerves without visible external compulsion, Marx considered “the most suitable to capitalistic methods of production.” The workers greeted this innovation not only without sympathy, but with hostility. It would have been unnatural to expect anything else of them. The participation in the Stakhanov movement of the genuine enthusiasts of socialism is indubitable. To what extent they exceed the number of mere careerists and cheaters, especially in the sphere of administration, it would be hard to say. But the main mass of the workers approaches the new mode of payment from the point of view of the ruble, and is often compelled to perceive that it is getting shorter.
Although at first glance the return of the Soviet government, after “the final and irrevocable triumph of socialism”, to piecework payment might seem a retreat to capitalist relations, in reality it is necessary to repeat here what was said about the rehabilitation of the ruble: It is not a question of renouncing socialism, but merely of abandoning crude illusions. The form of wage payment is simply brought into better correspondence with the real resources of the country. “Law can never be higher than the economic structure.”
However, the ruling stratum of the Soviet Union cannot yet get along without a social disguise. In a report to the Central Executive Committee in January 1936, the president of the State Planning Commission, Mezhlauk, said:
“The ruble is becoming the sole real means for the realization of a socialist (!) principle of payment for labor.”
Although in the old monarchy everything, even down to the public pissiors, was called royal, this does not mean that in a workers’ state everything automatically becomes socialist. The ruble is the “sole real means” for the realization of a capitalist principle of payment for labor, even though on a basis of socialist forms of property. This contradiction is already familiar to us. In instituting the new myth of a “socialist” piecework payment, Mezhlauk added:
“The fundamental principle of socialism is that each one works according to his abilities and receives payment according to the labor performed by him.”
Those gentlemen are certainly not diffident in manipulating theories! When the rhythm of labor is determined by the chase after the ruble, then people do not expend themselves “according to ability” – that is, according to the condition of their nerves and muscles – but in violation of themselves. This method can only be justified conditionally and by reference to stern necessity. To declare it “the fundamental principle of socialism” means cynically to trample the idea of a new and higher culture in the familiar filth of capitalism.
Stalin has taken one more step upon this road, presenting the Stakhanov movement as a “preparation of the conditions for the transition from socialism to communism.” The reader will see now how important it may be to give a scientific definition to those notions which are employed in the Soviet Union according to administrative convenience. Socialism, or the lowest stage of communism, demands, to be sure, a strict control of the amount of labor and the amount of consumption, but it assumes in any case more humane forms of control than those invented by the exploitive genius of capital. In the Soviet Union, however, there is now taking place a ruthlessly sever fitting in of backward human material to the technique borrowed from capitalism. In the struggle to achieve European and American standards, the classic methods of exploitation, such as piecework payment, are applied in such naked and crude forms as would not be permitted even by reformist trade unions in bourgeois countries. The consideration that in the Soviet Union the workers work “for themselves” is true only in historical perspective, and only on condition – we will anticipate ourselves to say – that the workers do not submit to the saddle of an autocratic bureaucracy. In any case, state ownership of the means of production does not turn manure into gold, and does not surround with a halo of sanctity the sweatshop system, which wears out the greatest of all productive forces: man. As to the preparation of a “transition from socialism to communism” that will begin at the exactly opposite end – not with the introduction of piecework payment, but with its abolition as a relic of barbarism.
It is still early to cast the balance of the Stakhanov movement, but it is already possible to distinguish certain traits characteristic not only of the movement, but of the regime as a whole. Certain achievements of individual workers are undoubtedly extremely interesting as evidence of the possibilities open only to socialism. However, from these possibilities to their realization on the scale of the whole economy, is a long road. With the close dependence of one productive process upon another, a continual high output cannot be the result of mere personal efforts. The elevation of the average productivity cannot be achieved without a reorganization of production both in the separate factory and in the relations between enterprises. Moreover, to raise millions to a small degree of technical skill is immeasurably harder than to spur on a few thousand champions.
The leaders themselves, as we have heard, complain at times that the Soviet workers lack skill. However, that is only half of the truth, and the smaller half. The Russian worker is enterprising, ingenious, and gifted. Any hundred Soviet workers transferred into the conditions, let us say, of American industry, after a few months, and even weeks, would probably not fall behind the American workers of a corresponding category. The difficulty lies in the general organization of labor. The Soviet administrative personnel is, as a general rule, far less equal to the new productive tasks than the worker.
With a new technique, piecework payment should inevitably lead to a systematic raising of the now very low productivity of labor. But the creation of the necessary elementary conditions for this demands a raising of the level of administration itself, from the shop foreman to the leaders in the Kremlin. The Stakhanov movement only in a very small degree meets this demand. The bureaucracy tries fatally to leap over difficulties which it cannot surmount. Since piecework payment of itself does not give the immediate miracles expected of it, a furious administrative pressure rushes to its help, with premiums and ballyhoos on the one side, and penalties on the other.
The first steps of the movement were signalized with mass repressions against the technical engineering personnel and the workers accused of resistance, sabotage and, in some cases, even of the murder of Stakhanovists. The severity of repressions testifies to the strength of the resistance. The bosses explained this so-called “sabotage” as a political opposition. In reality, it was most often rooted in technical, economic, and cultural difficulties, a considerable portion of which found their source in the bureaucracy itself. The “sabotage” was soon apparently broken. The discontented were frightened; the perspicuous were silenced. Telegrams flew around about unheard-of achievements. And in reality so long as it was a question of individual pioneers, the local administrations, obedient to orders, arranged their work with extraordinary forethought, although at the expense of the other workers in the mine or guild. But when hundreds and thousands of workers are suddenly numbered among “Stakhanovists”, the administration gets into utter confusion. Not knowing how, and not being objectively able, to put the regime of production in order in a short space of time, it tries to violate both labor power and technique. When the clockworks slow down, it pokes the little wheels with a nail. As a result of the “Stakhanovist” days and ten-day periods, complete chaos was introduced into many enterprises. This explains the fact, at first glance astonishing, that a growth in the number of Stakhanovists is frequently accompanied, not with an increase, but a decrease of the general productivity of the enterprise.
At present, the “heroic” period of the movement is apparently past. The everyday grind begins. It is necessary to learn. Those especially have much to learn who teach others. But they are just the ones who least of all wish to learn. The name of that social guild which holds back and paralyzes all the guilds of the Soviet economy is – the bureaucracy.
Last updated on: 19.3.2007