William Henry Chamberlin | Soviet Russia: A Living Record and a History
"IN our state the most honorable title is the title of worker. To be a worker, to be a member of a trade-union, is to be a privileged citizen of the Soviet Union."
This declaration of M. P. Tomsky, President of the All-Union Trade-Union Council, before a recent Congress of the Soviet Trade-Unions, was more than an orator's effort to tickle the susceptibilities of his audience. It was, to a very large extent, a statement of actual fact. So far as legislation and intensive propaganda can achieve this end, labor is the aristocracy, the privileged class of the Soviet Union.
Nowhere else in the world is a trade-union card such a prized possession. The holder of such a card enjoys a whole series of benefits and preferences, ranging from free insurance to the right of first consideration for a vacant position. And, while office employees, teachers, doctors, and other brain workers are enrolled in their own unions, the industrial proletariat admittedly constitutes the favored class in the Soviet state. Factory workers and their children are preferred candidates for admission to the universities, for promotion in the state service. As has already been pointed out, there is a systematic effort to maintain a predominance of manual workers in the ranks of the ruling Communist Party.
This dictatorship of the proletariat finds expression in a hundred varied ways. The former Nobleman's Club in Moscow is now the Hall of the Trade-Unions, and a like transformation has probably occurred in the case of every similar institution in the country. A Grand Duke's villa in the former fashionable Crimean summer resort of Yalta is now a rest home for the Dockers' union. When a high Soviet official visits a provincial town his main speech is almost always delivered in the building of the largest local factory or railroad shop. In the course of a Soviet election delegations of workers visit one government office after another; and the Commissars for War and Foreign Affairs and Finance always find time to receive these delegations and answer their questions.
The transformation of social values in Russia is so complete as to be almost amusing. One never sees pictures of rich or socially fashionable people in the Soviet illustrated newspapers, except when there is some moral of class hatred or ridicule to be pointed; but factory life, which goes on almost ignored in other countries, receives a generous amount of attention in the shape of illustrations showing the workers at their machines or in their clubs and theatres. Whenever the phrase, "the social composition of such and such an institution requires improvement," is used in the Soviet press it implies as a matter of course that more workers should be brought into the given institution. I know of a case in which the son of a former general is working in a factory in order to acquire the "class standing" which is a prerequisite for entrance to the universities. As a worker he has a good chance of admission, unless someone is malicious enough to denounce him for his origin; as the son of a former general he would be forever disqualified from enjoying higher education, and also probably from holding any post in the state service.
Still another feature of the proletarian domination of the new Russian social order is the high proportion of ex workers in governmental and industrial executive posts. The President of the Moscow Soviet, Ukhanov, is a former worker in the large "Dynamo" motor factory. The majority of the Presidents of Provincial Soviet Executive Committees and of the managers of state factories are also of proletarian origin.
Of course, only a very small proportion of workers can hope to rise to the higher administrative posts. There can be only one ex-worker manager in a factory where two or five or ten thousand men and women are employed. Under what conditions does the actual factory worker in the Soviet Union live ?
During 1928 and 1929 I visited two proletarian centres, the textile settlement of Sobinka, in Vladimir Province, and the mining town of Shachti, in the Donetz Basin. Sobinka centred around a large textile factory, employing six or seven thousand workers, which had been renamed "Proletarian Van-guard" since the Revolution. Most of the workers lived in large, ill-smelling brick tenements, or barracks, as they are called in Russian; and these dwellings were badly overcrowded. One family to a room was the general rule; and one or two extra persons, usually unmarried women or girls, were stowed away in curious cubbyholes, built under the ceilings, somewhat in the fashion of upper berths of trains, and curtained off from the rest of the room. Communal kitchens, serving the needs of a whole floor, were the general rule. Even with the best will in the world it was difficult to maintain satisfactory sanitary conditions in the midst of such congestion; and an epidemic of measles was in full swing at the time of my visit.
A few hundred fortunate families have been removed from these tenements and placed in tolerably decent newly built two-room apartments; but the tenements remain the shelter of the majority. In the matter of provisioning the situation of the Sobinka workers also left much to be desired. Bread was sold in limited quantities, as was the rule all over Russia in the spring of 1929; and the workers complained of frequent short-ages of such products as meat and butter. Milk was expensive and hard to get; and this fact, together with the darkness and crowding of the tenements, helped to explain the pasty appearance of many of the children. In general, even apart from difficulties of supply which might prove temporary, the aver-age monthly wage of sixty rubles was not calculated to support a very high standard of living.
And yet, despite all these obviously unfavorable conditions, an impartial observer would not, I think, carry away the impression that the workers of the "Proletarian Vanguard" were disaffected in their attitude toward the existing regime. In the first place, the element of relativity never must be forgotten in passing judgment on Russian conditions. Things which would be regarded as intolerably bad in America, England, or Germany are borne with more endurance in Russia because the workers never have known anything better.
The Soviet trade-union officials with whom I talked were quite ready to admit that Sobinka was far from being a workers' paradise. But they could point to various new developments which, however small and imperfect in themselves, were at least signs of improvement. The congested tenements were an inheritance from the pre-revolutionary past; and while only a minority of the workers have been provided with adequate housing, some progress in this direction was being registered from year to year, because 10 or 15 per cent of the profits of the Vladimir Textile Trust, which manages the factory, go into a fund for improving the living conditions of the workers.
A public nursery, functioning in two shifts and accommodating a number of small children whose mothers are at work, is another innovation of the present time. So is the factory club, with its library and reading room and "circles," or groups for the study of music, radio, and other subjects. So is the factory theatre, which was filled to its limited capacity for a performance of Rigoletto by a traveling company.
Still more important, perhaps, was the unmistakable fact that the active-minded worker has far more opportunities for self-expression than was the case before the Revolution. The manager of the clean and comfortable little house for transient visitors where I stayed was a former weaver in the factory. Besides her work with the house, she found a good deal of occupation in a commission for regulating and inspecting the state and cooperative stores.
The factory committee, which is supposed to represent the workers in their disputes with the management, attracts many of the more energetic workers into its various fields of activity: negotiations of wage differences, maintenance of safe and healthy conditions of labor, cultural work, etc.
Undoubtedly there are many workers, especially in the textile industry, which employs large numbers of women (usually less educated and literate than men in Russia), who take little interest in these new cultural and social activities and respond primarily to the stimulus of the full dinner pail or the full market basket. But the more active workers, who in other countries often become strike leaders and organizers of discontent, possess so many means of self-expression under the Soviet system of industrial management that very few of them, in the natural course of things, become permanent malcontents. This is a factor of no small importance in determining the strength of the grip of the Soviet system upon the working masses.
In Shachti, in the southeast corner of the great Donetz coal region, I gained impressions not dissimilar from those which I carried away from Sobinka. Living conditions in this sooty, cindery town are bleak and hard; the wages of sixty-five rubles a month are low; ventilation in the old mines is often bad. I happened to be in Shachti at a time when the pit committee of the large neighboring Vlasovka mine was being reelected; and this procedure was certainly calculated to dispel the impression that the Russian workers are inhibited from expressing grievances by the management, the Communist Party, or any other organization. The whole reelection was accompanied by brief, pungent speeches, most of which set forth complaints in the bluntest and most vigorous fashion.
"Why are a thousand of our workers outside the union ?" asked one speaker. "Not because they don't want to pay two per cent of their salary for dues, but because the union does not defend their interests. It just does what the management wants."
Another fiery orator shouted: -
"By law we should have a six-hour working day, but in practice it sometimes turns into a ten-hour day. The limitations on overtime work which the Commissariat for Labor prescribes are ignored. We don't want the extra pay for overtime hours; we want the shorter working day and our health."
But, while one could hear such complaints in open meetings and much grumbling about the high cost of food and clothing among the miners in their homes, a quick change of tone was perceptible as soon as one suggested a comparison of the present with the pre-revolutionary past. One of the more thoughtful miners (a non-Communist, incidentally) seemed to sum up the general mood when he addressed to me the following little impromptu speech: -
"Now we complain, and rightly, that there is too much over-time work, that the six-hour day which is supposed to exist for the more dangerous branches of underground work is seldom observed. But before the Revolution the working day of a Donetz miner was often twelve hours. Now we criticize our trade-union for not defending us vigorously enough, but formerly there was no trade-union at all.
"You, as a stranger, may see that some things do not go so smoothly here as they may in technically more advanced countries; but we, who have lived here all our lives, can see a great improvement over the old days. For instance, while we still have drunkenness and hooliganism, we also have real public sentiment against them; we now have our clubs and theatres and libraries; moreover, there is a new sense of self-respect that makes even the more backward miners realize that man was not made to work inhumanly long hours and then spend all his wages in a debauch.
"If we criticize our pit committees and trade-unions for their mistakes, still we made these organizations ourselves; their weaknesses and mistakes are very largely our own weaknesses and mistakes; and we should fight to maintain our organizations, if it ever should be necessary."
From Sobinka and Shachti and from the factories which I have visited in such cities as Moscow, Leningrad, Kharkov, and Nizhni Novgorod(1) I gained two outstanding impressions:
that the Russian workers, as a general rule, live under harder and more primitive conditions than those which prevail in America and Western Europe, and
that there has been a distinct improvement in their lot, materially and morally, since the Revolution. This improvement finds expression in three fields: wages, hours, and conditions of labor.
Real wages of the Russian workers, according to a statement made to the writer in the winter of 1928-1929 by Mr. A. Dogadov, Secretary of the All-Union Trade-Union Council, are 22 per cent above the pre-war level.(2) They have risen steadily since the introduction of the New Economic Policy, although the rate of increase tends to decline from year to year, and during the winter of 1928-1929 the shortage of many food products and the increased prices of others probably offset the increase in money wages, at least so far as the diet of the workers was concerned.(3)
The problem of comparing the real wages of Russian workers, both with pre-war wage rates and with the scales which prevail in foreign countries, difficult at best, was made almost impossible by the widespread introduction of the system of rationing food products during 1929. In most countries money represents definite purchasing power; but in the Soviet Union this purchasing power at the present time is sharply limited. One may form some idea of the standard of living of Russian workers and employees by listing the allotments of various food products which were prevalent in Moscow in the autumn of 1929. Conditions in provincial cities and towns, so far as I could observe, varied with time and place; but on the whole supply was apt to be scantier and more irregular than was the case in Moscow.
It was usually possible to buy products in excess of these allotments on the open market; but prices were so high that only the very small minority of Soviet citizens who receive high incomes could derive much benefit from them. In Moscow, for instance, butter on the free market in the fall of 1929 was quoted as high as three rubles (nominally $1.50) a pound, and meat was one ruble and sixty kopecks (about eighty cents) a pound. With a monthly average wage level of seventy or eighty rubles for the Soviet Union and perhaps one hundred rubles for Moscow it is clear that the average worker's family could not afford to exceed very much the food consumption limits marked out by the rationing system.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that for the mass of the Soviet population the general introduction of the rationing system meant a distinct lowering of the standard of living, so far as food consumption is concerned; and so long as this system continues increases of money wages are obviously of rather limited significance.
The working day in industry, which before the Revolution was seldom less than nine hours and sometimes as long as twelve hours, was fixed at eight hours soon after the establishment of the Soviet power.(4) In 1927, in honor of the tenth anniversary of the Revolution, the All-Union Central Executive Committee decreed the gradual introduction of the seven-hour day. During the first year after the promulgation of this decree twenty-eight factories with 126,000 laborers went over to the seven-hour day; industrial workers are being placed on the seven-hour basis at the rate of 20 per cent a year, and the whole process, which usually requires the introduction of three shifts, so as not to lower the productive capacity of the factories, will be completed within the next few years. The six-hour day is supposed to exist for underground workers in the mines and for especially dangerous and harmful branches of other trades.(5) The labor in industry of children under the age of fourteen is entirely forbidden. Children between the ages of fourteen and sixteen may work four hours and between the ages of sixteen and eighteen eight hours.
Insurance and miscellaneous welfare expenditures on behalf of the workers are calculated at 32 per cent of the wage bill, as compared with 8 per cent before the War. The state provides free social insurance for workers and employees, the entire cost of this system, which exceeds a billion rubles a year, being met by contributions from the state or private enterprises. A per-son incapacitated by injury or sickness receives full salary or wages from the insurance funds in the event that his incapacitation is temporary. Should his disability be permanent he receives a pension, ranging from two thirds to a little less than one third of his regular compensation, depending upon the seriousness of the disability. A similar system prevails in regard to pensions granted to dependent widows, and a system of old-age retirement pensions is being introduced, but is still in a very early stage of development.
The state insurance funds provide the maternity benefits for women workers which are described more fully elsewhere.(See Chapter 17) It also makes it possible to send 70,000 or 80,000 sick trade-unionists to sanatoria every year, while hundreds of thousands of workers and employees spend their vacations in rest homes maintained by their trade-unions or by the social insurance organization.(6) Every worker and employee has a legal right to two weeks' annual vacation with pay, and for persons in unhealthful occupations, such as underground workers in mines, this term is extended to a month.
The workers receive a number of supplementary benefits, varying with the circumstances of individual factories and including, in some cases, free housing, free supply of light and water, cheap tramcar tickets, etc. The management of every factory is bound to pay a comparatively small sum for the up-keep of the club and other cultural and recreational institutions.
Laws for the protection of labor are stricter now than was the case before the Revolution, and there is a much larger corps of inspectors, appointed by the Commissariat for Labor, to enforce them. While no exhaustive figures of comparison with pre-war times have been compiled, an official of the Commissariat for Labor with whom I talked made the claim that the number of fatal and serious accidents in Russian industry had been greatly reduced. He admitted that in some. cases the total number of accidents had increased, but attributed this to the fact that many minor injuries which never would have been noted in pre-war times are now registered and that the workers are now encouraged to ask for medical aid in the event of even slight disability. He argued that this policy was preferable, even from the standpoint of labor productivity, because many light cuts and bruises, receiving immediate treatment, were cured and not permitted to develop more serious complications.
At the same time it is generally testified that the number of accidents has been increasing during recent years. The news-paper Rabochaya Moskva, in its issue of January 13, 1929, pointed out that there were 140.1 accidents per thousand workers in the first three quarters of 1927-1928, as against 122.6 per thousand in the preceding year. Trud, the organ of the All-Union Trade-Union Council, in its issue of March 28, 1929, declares that the number of persons receiving pensions for total disability incurred in industrial accidents increased from 7100 to 23,700 during the last four years, while the number of families which lost their breadwinners in the same way during this time increased from 5000 to 12,200. Among the causes adduced for the increased number of accidents are the wearing out of machinery, the inflow of large numbers of untrained new workers, less careful and less experienced in handling them-selves, and the growing consumption of liquor. The complaint is also made that the sums allotted for protection of labor are not fully used up, and that the organs of the Labor Commissariat and the trade-unions which are supposed to supervise this department of work display a certain amount of carelessness and indifference. One is sometimes struck by the gulf between the Russian labor legislation, which compares favorably with that of industrially much more advanced countries, and the occasional laxness of its application. The Russian workers will get the full benefit of their labor-protection laws only when an improvement in the general educational level of the country makes it possible to supervise their enforcement more consistently and effectively. Even now, however, I should think there is little doubt that they are much better safeguarded than was the case before the War.
Although the private capitalist, as was shown in the preceding chapter, has been reduced to a negligible factor in the industrial life of the country, a certain conflict of interest between labor and the abstraction known as capital remains. The Russian workers desire very much the same things which attract workers in other countries: higher wages, easier conditions of labor, more social benefits. The new class of state managers, or "red directors" of factories, who have replaced the former capitalist owners, are mostly Communists and former workers. But by the very nature of their position they must look at industrial life from a rather different angle from that of the workers. Although they make no personal profit out of the enterprises which they manage, they are supposed to turn in a profit for the state. This means that they must insist on labor discipline and heightened productivity. They cannot consent to social expenditures which would threaten their ability to balance accounts at the end of the business year. Hence there is always the possibility of conflict; and to meet this possibility an elaborate machinery of adjustment and conciliation has been set up.
There are twenty-three trade-unions in the Soviet Union, with a total membership, on July 1, 1928, of 11,060,400.(7) Entering the trade-union elections as the sole united and organized force, the Communist Party controls and directs the activities of the unions in very much the same way as it controls and directs the activities of the Soviets. The presidents of the unions are Communists. So are the majority of their central committees, and of their responsible workers generally. So are the majority of the delegates at the biennial Trade-Union Congress. Under this system, while the unions enjoy autonomy in carrying out their special functions, they are bound, in all important questions of principle, to follow the line of the Communist Party.
Every year the representatives of each union meet representatives of the management of the industry, trade, or profession with which they are connected and work out the details of a new collective agreement, covering wages and conditions of labor. While the Communist Party lays down general principles as to how much wages may increase and how much productivity of labor must go up, stubborn bargaining is not unusual in the negotiation of these collective agreements. The last extremities of industrial warfare in other countries, the strike and the lockout, are usually averted, however, because Party discipline can always be invoked to knock the heads of too recalcitrant negotiators together. Once a collective agreement has been signed it is binding for management and workers alike during the ensuing year.
However, there is always the possibility of difference as to interpretation of the contract, or of the cropping up of points which might not have been foreseen when the contract was signed. Petty differences are settled by the wage-conflict commissions which exist in every factory, with representatives of the workers and of the management. More serious disputes are referred first to a conciliation committee, and, if this fails to bring about an acceptable settlement, to a court of arbitration, which consists of one representative of the workers, one of the management, and a president who may either be selected by agreement between the two sides or nominated by the Commissariat for Labor. The decision of this court of arbitration is compulsory, although an appeal may be lodged within a limited period of time with the local organ of the Commissariat for Labor.
Strikes are not formally illegal in Russia; but in practice they are made extremely difficult and, when they occur, are usually of limited extent and short duration.(8) It is not, of course, the policy of the Communist Party to encourage strikes in state industries, and therefore the trade-unions, under Communist leadership, instead of urging the workers to strike when any grievance comes up, throw all the weight of their organization and influence on the side of a peaceful settlement of the dispute, Such strikes as do take place are not organized, concerted movements, but flare-ups of indignation over some local grievance, usually involving a small number of workers and quickly settled through the mediation of the trade-union. These observations apply to strikes in the state factories. The trade-unions have no scruples about calling strikes against private employers, and such strikes usually turn out in favor of the workers. Concession enterprises occupy rather an intermediate position; in the case of these foreign capitalist factories the trade-unions do not feel bound to cooperate in raising labor productivity, as they do in state factories; but they show more restraint in calling strikes against concessionaires than they would feel bound to display in regard to Russian private capitalists.
The question naturally arises: How far do these Soviet trade-unions, which discourage strikes instead of inciting them and are bound to follow out the policies of the governing political party, give adequate representation to the everyday demands and grievances of the rank-and-file workers ? It cannot be denied, and is indeed freely noted in the Soviet press, that from time to time individual trade-union leaders and departments become bureaucratically alienated from the masses, and this is partially due to the fact that a trade-union official is more certain of dismissal if he disregards the orders of the Communist Party than if he is indifferent to the needs of his trade-union members. This occasional spirit of antipathy between the bureaucratized Communist trade-union official and the non-party worker found amusing expression at a workers' meeting in the Murminsk factory, in Ryazan Province, where a Communist working woman, Kurzyaeva, blurted out: -
"Although I am a Communist, still I am for the workers." (9)
But the general view of Social Democratic and Anarchist critics of the Soviet regime, that there is a deep rift between a few Communist officeholders at the top and the working masses at the bottom, is, in my opinion, distorted, exaggerated, and quite at variance with the actual facts of the Russian situation. In the first place, it cannot be too strongly emphasized that there is extremely little conscious political opposition to the Communist regime among the Russian workers. A few workers may vaguely remember belonging to the Menshevik or Social Revolutionary parties before and during the Revolution; a few others may cherish secret sympathy with the heretical views of Trotzky, or of some of the other leaders of dissident groups which have been expelled from the Communist Party. But the overwhelming majority of the workers accept the Soviet system and the dominant role of the Communist Party in it as some-thing which, if not perfect, is at least far better than anything they experienced under the Tsar. Such knowledge as they have of the condition of workers in countries where progressive capitalism and political democracy have given the masses far higher living standards than those which prevailed in pre-revolutionary Russia is obtained, as a rule, from the Soviet press, which consistently emphasizes only the unfavorable sides of life under capitalism, such as strikes, clashes with the police, unemployment, real or alleged persecution of, workers; and from foreign labor delegations, usually recruited from the Communist wing of the trade-union movement and conveying similar impressions in their speeches.
Moreover, the trade-union officialdom, especially in its lower ranks, is constantly being changed and strengthened with the infusion of fresh blood. The dissatisfied worker who voices some grievance to-day may to-morrow be elected to the factory committee or promoted to some other responsible post where he most probably will find that it is easier to criticize than to administer to everyone's satisfaction. The practice of vidvizhentsvo, of having the trade-unions recommend and promote their more promising members to responsible posts in state, trade-union, and other organizations, has its defects: it leads to much bungling through the entrusting of more or less important functions to inexperienced hands. But it is a source of unmistakable strength to the existing social order because it provides the outlet of opportunity for the more energetic and ambitious workers. In just the same way in America the frequent election of men of humble origin and scanty education to high political office may not always conduce to maximum efficiency, but does provide the necessary stimulus for the sense of social equality that has always, to a certain extent, distinguished America from Europe.
Although strikes are almost completely eliminated in the Russian state industries, it cannot be said that the problem of labor discipline has been solved altogether satisfactorily. During the latter part of 1928 and 1929 serious defects in this field were noted in the Soviet press, the newspaper Economic Life writing on one occasion: -
"Absence from work, beating and insulting the administrative and technical personnel, drunkenness in the works, spoiling of tools, sleeping during working hours, leaving work without permission, etc., these are characteristic manifestations of a loosening of discipline that inflicts enormous injury upon production."
There seem to have been three main causes for this deterioration of discipline. Increased drinking of vodka unquestionably has been responsible for much rowdyism and absence from work. The inflow of new workers from the village, less thoroughly saturated with Communist propaganda and less amenable to discipline, is another factor, while the spectacular trial of fifty engineers and technical specialists accused of sabotage in the Shachti district of the Donetz Coal Basin unquestionably worsened the relations between the workers and the old technical specialists, relations which are apt to be strained in any event.
With a view to restoring discipline, the powers of the factory management have been more clearly defined and extended. Formerly a worker could not be dismissed without the consent of the factory committee; now the management may dismiss him independently, although the worker who feels that he was unjustly discharged may appeal to the wage-conflict commission. The factory management is also freed from some of the regulations which formerly hampered the summary discharge of workers guilty of very serious breaches of discipline, endangering the lives of their fellows or the property of the factory. Despite the admitted slackness in the field of discipline, labor productivity is above the low pre-war level; this is probably due partly to technical improvements in factory equipment, partly to the general introduction of piecework as the basis for calculating wage rates.(10)
Under the Soviet system, as under capitalism, unemployment remains the bane of the wage worker. On October 1, 1928, there were 1,344,000 persons registered on the labor exchanges of the Soviet Union, a high figure if one considers that the peasants, who constitute about four fifths of the population, are seldom reckoned among the unemployed, so long as they farm their bits of land. In round numbers, 350,000 of the unemployed are persons seeking work for the first time, 400,000 are unskilled laborers, 300,000 clerical and other employees, 100,000 building workers, and 200,000 skilled and semi-skilled workers.
This classification alone shows that unemployment in Russia has rather different roots from unemployment in the more industrialized Western countries. The skilled worker is seldom obliged to look for a job, and the purely factory or mining centre is not the place where unemployment is most prevalent. The Russian unemployed are recruited, in the main, from three classes: young people who cannot find openings in trade and industry, employees who have been discharged as a result of the campaign for economy in the state offices, and unskilled peasant laborers who cannot maintain themselves in their native villages and flock into the cities looking for work. In short, the fundamental causes of unemployment in Russia are agrarian rather than industrial; and this explains the apparently paradoxical fact that unemployment persists and increases while the industries are increasing production at an average annual rate of 20 per cent.'
About half of the unemployed receive allowances from the state insurance funds, varying from twelve to thirty rubles a month, according to their skill, former salary, and place of residence, the cost of living being taken into account in fixing the allowance. In trade and handicraft cooperatives 133,000 are enrolled, and 46,000 are employed on public works. Inasmuch as the surplus hands from the villages constantly swell the ranks of the Russian unemployed and the peasant population is increasing at a rapid rate, there seems little likelihood of any substantial diminution of unemployment until one or both of two conditions are fulfilled: (a) a sweeping expansion of industry, requiring the employment of greatly increased numbers of workers, and (b) a development of more intensified forms of agriculture, which would make it possible for the land to sup-port profitably a larger population. Birth control would probably in time make the problem of unemployment more manageable, but the Communists are not Malthusians, and it is very unlikely that contraceptive measures will acquire any wide currency where they would be most effective, among the vast masses of the peasantry.
The trade-unions in Russia, according to an often-quoted phrase of Lenin, should function as schools of Communism. They certainly supervise an enormous amount of educational, propagandist, and recreational activity. The workers' clubs, of which there were 3776 on April 1, 1928, represent an important
As a result of the strong movement for rationalization in Soviet industry the number of workers increases much more slowly than the amount of industrial output. agency in this connection. The club is the chief centre of cultural life in the factory. Its management organizes the musical, dramatic, and moving-picture performances, of which there were 54,000 before workers' audiences in the first quarter of 1928.(11) Around the club develop the groups of workers interested in music, radio, amateur theatricals, and other subjects. The clubs are still unable to cope adequately with the demand of the workers for recreation; many small factories are without them, and very often the club buildings, which are sometimes former churches, are unsuitable for use and usually over-crowded. The technique of organized popular entertainment has not always been sufficiently developed, and one sometimes hears complaints that some clubs attract a relatively small number of workers. But, with all their defects, they represent a great stride forward in comparison with pre-war times, when the state vodka-shop was frequently the worker's sole resort for recreation.
It is a well-known law of psychology that if a person is told something about himself often and insistently enough he is quite likely to begin to believe it. The same observation holds good for a class; and ever since the Revolution the Russian working class, by every resource known to propaganda, has been indoctrinated with the ideas that it is the salt of the earth, the ruling power in the country, and the vanguard of the inter-national revolutionary movement. This is a fact of enormous significance in attempting to estimate the hold of the Communist leadership on the proletarian masses.
One can scarcely pick up a Soviet newspaper without seeing some new demonstration of this ceaseless propaganda. Here is a picture with the caption: "Leningrad working women consider the five-year plan of national economic development." Now this five-year plan, which was referred to in the preceding chapter, is a most complicated and ambitious effort, calculated to tax the understanding of the greatest economic experts of the country; it is very unlikely that the Leningrad working women were able to "consider" it in the sense of discussing and offering serious criticism or suggestions for a change. But the picture doubtless produced the desired impression upon the proletarian readers of the newspaper: the five-year plan, like everything else in the country, was subject to the authority of the sovereign proletariat. And there is educational as well as propagandist value in this method; one would certainly be more likely to find an elementary knowledge of political and economic ideas and institutions in the worker of to-day than in the worker of Tsarist times.
Class hatred is a powerful factor in cementing the Soviet regime. The elaborate series of discriminations worked out against the so-called "non-toiling classes" strengthen the worker's sense of superiority and power. He is always the preferred citizen of the first rank, even if the preference may only assume the form of giving him the right to the exclusive purchase of the sour, heavy rye bread which is a staple food of the Russian masses when there is a shortage of supply.
"Hatred for the barin, the gentleman, was the strongest force holding the Red Army together.'." This was the opinion ex-pressed to me by a man who had been mobilized into the Red Army without feeling any great partisan preference for either side and looked back on the civil war through the eyes of a neutral observer. One could readily believe this after looking at a collection of civil-war posters, where bitter caricatures of the barin, of the landlord, capitalist, and general constituted a striking feature. And a little incident which I witnessed on a train showed that this sense of proletarian class hatred still persists. A drunkard had made his way into the car; and a number of passengers engaged in a typically Russian prolonged discussion as to who was responsible for letting him in and what should be done with him. The argument quickly subsided when one of the participants, who looked like a worker, turned to another, a woman who read a French book and spoke with a cultivated accent, and with measured bitterness said to her: -
"Citizeness, you 're a barishna (gentlewoman), that's what you are."
"Ye that are nothing shall become everything." This promise of the Communist hymn, the "Internationale," is like strong wine to the head of many a worker whose grandfather has been a serf, who has himself tasted the bitterness of being a worker in the Tsarist factory and a common soldier in the Tsarist army. Class consciousness, class pride, class hatred - these psychological forces, even more than the material gains which the industrial proletariat unquestionably has obtained as a result of the Revolution, constitute a guaranty that at any moment of crisis the Russian workers will rally and fight in defense of a social order which the more active-minded of them, not without reason, regard as their own.
(1) The question naturally arises whether Sobinka and Shachti should be considered representative industrial centres. I think they give a fair cross section of the everyday life of two large groups of Russian workers, the miners and the textile workers, at least of those who live outside the largest cities. The workers of Moscow and Leningrad receive higher wages and enjoy better club and educational facilities than those in the provinces; but in those cities also the housing situation is quite sharp. Then there are many out-of-the-way little factory settlements which are more backward than Sobinka and Shachti. D. Schwartzman, a trade-union official, writing in Izvestia for April 2, 1929, on "Living Conditions and Productivity of Labor," points out that, while some progress has been made in improving the workers' housing (during 1927-1928 more than 50,000,000 rubles was deducted from the profits of industry for improving the living conditions of the workers), much still remains to be done, especially as many new industrial enterprises develop outside the large cities, where everything has to be built up afresh. Mr. Schwartzman writes that while the Soviet industrial workers in general possess a housing space allotment of 4.75 square metres per person, the allotment of the textile workers is 4.15 square metres and that of the miners 3.70 square metres.
(2) During 1927-1928 the average wage for all Soviet industry was 66.90 rubles a month. The best paid class of workers were the printers, with a monthly average wage of 90.37 rubles, and the worst paid were the textile workers, with 55.87 rubles. All workers and state employees in Russia are divided into categories and paid wages and salaries according to skill, productivity, and the responsibility of their work. Indus-trial workers are divided into eight categories, the most highly skilled receiving three times the wages of the most inexperienced, while office workers are divided into sixteen categories, of which the highest is paid eight times the salary scale of the lowest. (For these and other details of Soviet wage regulation see the book, Soviet Trade-Unions, 1926-1928. The Report of the Trade-Union Council to the Eighth Congress of Trade-Unions," pp. 312-325.)
(3) Discussing this rise in prices, Izvestia for March 29, 1929, says: "The menu of the average worker's family has scarcely changed appreciably during the last years, not-withstanding the unquestionable growth of real wages. And if the growth of retail prices evoked quite unanimous and energetic protest in the press, it was not because sardines increased in price by 15 per cent and because the price of cocoa went up, but because prices for herrings rose by 8.2 per cent, salt 2.6 per cent, onions 5.2 per cent, potatoes 6.2 per cent, oil-seeds butter 2.3 per cent, not to mention products less accessible to the worker, such as butter (12.7 per cent), milk (21.7 per cent), eggs (20 per cent)."
Money wages of the Russian workers increased by about 10 per cent during 1928-1929. During this period, however, there was such a sharp rise in the cost of living that it is questionable whether the real wages of the workers increased. Officially a growth of 2 per cent or 3 per cent in real wages for the year is claimed.
(4) As a matter of practice the eight-hour day was quite generally introduced under the Kerensky Government, as a result of the initiative of the trade-unions, Soviets, and other workers' organizations immediately after the overthrow of Tsarism.
(5) vertime work is permitted in the event of special emergencies such-as accidents requiring urgent repairs, and also in other cases, provided that the consent of the local representative of the Commissariat for Labor is obtained. According to the data of the Central Statistical Department, the proportion of workers who worked overtime hours varied from 15 per cent to 20.5 per cent during the first three quarters of the business year 1927-1928. Overtime is prevalent in the mining industry, where the number of laborers on overtime work amounted to 40 per cent during the same period. Overtime work is paid on the basis of time and a half for the first two hours and double pay for subsequent hours.
(6) The distinction between a sanatorium and a rest home lies in the fact that the Former is adapted to the cure of invalidism, while the latter is simply a vacation resort for healthy people.
(7) This figure seems extremely high, if one considers that the whole urban population of the Soviet Union, according to the census of 1926, was 25,775,000. However, it must be remembered that, because of the benefits and privileges accruing from the possession of a trade-union card, every adult worker, from the ballet dancer in the State Opera House to the peasant casual laborer, is extremely anxious to be enrolled. Eleven unions of industrial workers number 3,783,600 members, and there are 1,139,400 rail-road workers. (See Soviet Trade-Unions, 1926-1928, p. 27.)
(8) In 1926 there were 337 strikes in the Soviet Union, with 43,200 participants, involving a loss of 140,056 working days. Of these strikes 202 were in state, 114 in private, 14 in cooperative, and 7 in concession enterprises. In 1927 the number of strikes increased to 396, but the number of participants declined to 25,400 and the number of days lost to 48,597. During the first six months of 1928 there were 90 strikes with 9,700 participants. Less than one per cent of the strikes in state enterprises in 1927 lasted more than five days. Only two per cent of the strikes during 1926 and 1927 were called with trade-union sanction. (See Soviet Trade-Unions, pp. 358-360.)
(9) This incident is reported in Rabochaya Gazetafor April 3, 1929. The newspaper proceeds to read Kurzyaeva a lecture to the following effect: "Can a Communist really not be for the workers ? By her statement the working woman Kurzyaeva apparently wanted to flatter the sentiment of the backward part of the workers. Such Communists consciously or unconsciously help our class enemy." Of course, if one accepts unreservedly the Communist view that the Soviet state is fundamentally a workers' state and that the Communist Party has no objective but the welfare of the workers, no real contradiction between the interests of the Communists and those of the masses of the workers can exist. But a considerable number of workers have not yet been so thoroughly indoctrinated in Communist theory that they are willing to forego without grumbling their immediate interest in the highest possible wages and the least burden-some conditions of labor, even though the Communists may argue convincingly that the state has no unlimited wage fund and requires intensified productivity of labor.
(10) In May 1928, 60.4 per cent of all the hours of work in Soviet industry were paid on a piecework basis. In separate industries the amount of piecework varies from 85.2 per cent in the sewing industry to 17.4 per cent in the electrical stations. See Soviet Trade-Unions, 1926-1928, p. 323.
(11) A detailed survey of the club and educational work of the trade-unions is to be found in Soviet Trade-Unions, 1926-1928, pp. 191-312.