Soviet Trade Unions: Their Place in Soviet Labour Policy. Isaac Deutscher 1950

Chapter IV: Planned Economy

In the years 1925-27 the Soviets reaped the fruits of NEP; but the Bolshevik Party was divided by a bitter controversy, in which the trade unions were anything but disinterested spectators. Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev demanded that private enterprise should be curbed with a stronger hand than hitherto, and that the government should embark upon more rapid industrialisation and upon gradual collectivisation of farming. The opposition at the same time criticised the ‘bureaucratic centralism’ of the regime and demanded a return to ‘proletarian democracy’, in which the trade unions would once again be free to defend the workers against the managements.

In those years the ruling group in party and government still consisted of a coalition of the so-called right wing of the party, which was in principle opposed to the demands of the opposition, and of the centre, led by Stalin, which wavered between the opposed wings but for the time being stuck to the coalition with the right. The ruling circle favoured a continuation of NEP and was reluctant to embark upon rapid industrialisation and collectivisation. It is difficult to say exactly what was the attitude of the mass of trade unionists, since they never had the chance to speak their minds frankly. The whole dispute was conducted under immense administrative pressure against the opposition. The leadership of the trade unions, however, sided unequivocally with the right wing of the party and resisted demands for rapid industrialisation. Tomsky, still the most authoritative leader of the unions, was one of the three chiefs — the other two were Bukharin and Rykov — of the right-wing Bolsheviks. At the congresses of the trade unions which took place in this period the Trotskyist opposition (or the ‘Joint Opposition’ as it was officially called) still had its spokesmen, but the overwhelming majority of delegates, who may or may not have faithfully reflected the mood of the rank and file, voted for the official party line, as represented by Tomsky.

Transition to Planned Economy

This lack of enthusiasm for industrialisation displayed by the trade-union leadership may appear puzzling. The trade unions, so it might seem, should have grasped how much they stood to gain from a policy which promised to increase the numbers of industrial workers and, generally speaking, to add weight to the industrial and trade-unionist elements. Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev therefore charged the trade-union leadership with lack of imagination and ‘bureaucratic conservatism’, charges that are so often levelled by the political sections of the labour movements against the chiefs of the trade unions in other countries as well. And indeed, the economic policy advocated by the opposition, and later applied with extreme brutality by Stalin himself, did involve enormous uncertainties and risks, which a cautious, more or less honest but narrow-minded and already routine-ridden trade-union officialdom wished to avoid. But, altogether apart from this, Tomsky and his adherents had their specific reasons for viewing with anxiety the prospects of rapid industrialisation.

It was, or it must have been clear to them that this would be accompanied by a further considerable increase in the powers of the economic administration as against the trade unions. For all the readiness of the unions, and of Tomsky personally, to cooperate with and to submit to the government and the Supreme Council of National Economy, there was, as we saw, almost permanent friction between them, friction which was not necessarily harmful — it had in theory been accepted as part of the normal processes of proletarian democracy — and which was inevitable as long as the trade unions enjoyed a modicum of autonomy. The trade-union leadership clung to that modicum of autonomy.

Planned industrialisation implied direction of labour. When the issue was posed in the middle 1920s, it was a theoretical point only, in view of the large unemployment still existing. But it was not difficult to foresee that with expansion of industry unemployment would vanish, and that the next problem would be how to secure additional labour. The trade-union leaders must also have been aware that rapid industrialisation demanded the expansion of producers’ industries, in the first instance. The individual worker was immediately interested in the development of consumers’ industries, and the union leaders tended to voice his consumptionist bias. Apart from such strictly trade-unionist considerations, Tomsky and the right-wing Bolsheviks were apprehensive of the ruthlessness with which the new policy, if adopted, was likely to be sponsored.

Tomsky gave all these reasons for his opposition in a speech at the Eighth Congress of the Trade Unions (December 1928). Stalin had just fallen out with the right wing of the party and sponsored the First Five-Year Plan; and this was the last time that Tomsky appeared at a congress as the recognised leader of the trade unions. He revealed that industry had been troubled by many unofficial strikes which had been due to the ‘trade unions paying inadequate attention to the needs of the masses, to their being detached from the masses and showing contempt for the small matters of the workers’ life’. [1] He demanded real elections in the unions, implying that hitherto elections had been rigged. The rank and file, he went on, were afraid of speaking their minds, because critics were sure to be labelled Mensheviks or counter-revolutionaries. [2] The friction between the trade unions and the economic administration had been getting worse. The economic administration had been pressing down the level of wages and failing to observe collective agreements. It was the industrial managements rather than the unions that needed more discipline:

There should be no friendship [Tomsky said] between the economic administrator and the trade unionist, when it comes to carrying out the collective agreement — both sides must fulfil their commitments... Very often pathetic things are concealed behind planning. Planning is often understood in this way: ‘Talk according to plan, do not say a word which is not according to plan.’

Factory meetings were convened only three times a year; even so they were regarded as a nuisance by industrial managers. The resolutions of the party which had urged systematic education of workers in the administration of the national economy had not been honoured. Planned economy, Tomsky argued just as Trotsky had done some time earlier, could not properly function without some freedom of discussion, for only through discussion was it possible to correct mistakes and bring precision into the plans. He did not discard the productionist attitude in principle, and he repeated emphatically that the trade unions need not be ashamed of pressing workers for higher productivity, but this pressure ‘must take civilised forms... This means that you and we have left behind the period of military communism, when... in some trade unions they set up gaols [that is, for their undisciplined members]. This, of course, was no civilised form of action, when trade unions together with managers imposed disciplinary punishment upon the workers.’ [3] Tomsky was supported in the debate by other spokesmen, among them by the representative of the most important trade union, that of the metal workers, who spoke about the disregard shown for the needs of the consumers. [4]

The case for rapid industrialisation was made by Kuibyshev, Ordzhonikidze, Zhdanov and other leaders of the Stalinist group. Kuibyshev acquainted the congress with one of the early variants of the First Five-Year Plan and made a striking comparison between the productivity of the American and the Russian workers. He said that whereas the output of one American worker at the furnace was 3300 tons of steel per year, the output of the Russian worker was only 330 tons, exactly one-tenth. This comparison provided an index of Russian industrial backwardness. [5] The country could not overcome that backwardness as long as it was satisfied with industrialisation ‘at the snail’s pace’, advocated by right-wing Bolsheviks. According to another spokesman, the Five-Year Plan provided for a 95 per cent increase in productivity of labour, which in the case given by Kuibyshev would still have left Russian productivity at one-fifth of the American. The economic administration could not but press for higher output; and — this was the unspoken but obvious conclusion — it could not be very choosy about the forms of that pressure. [6]

Dramatic as was the controversy on the floor of the congress, the real fight took place not there but at a closed session of the Communist fraktsya, that is, at a conference of the Communist delegates to the congress. The fraktsya followed the Politbureau’s instruction not to re-elect Tomsky as chairman of the Central Council. The Stalinist group in the trade-union leadership was strengthened by the election of Kaganovich to the council — Kaganovich was the main driving power behind the subsequent purge in the unions. The nominal successor to Tomsky as chairman of the council was Shvernik, who was later to become present President of the USSR. Schmidt, the Commissar for Labour, who was inclined towards the right-wing Bolsheviks, announced at the congress his resignation from the commissariat. [7]

The Eighth Congress of the Trade Unions, and even more so the Sixteenth Conference of the party which took place four months later, in April 1929, opened a new chapter in the history of the trade unions and indeed of the Soviet regime at large. [8] A long series of controversies had been brought to an end. After the Trotskyist opposition, the group of Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky was silenced. Henceforth no open discussion of policy would be permitted. The totalitarian state with its rigid uniformity and absolute discipline, under a single leader, had taken final shape. True enough, the clauses of the old Leninist resolutions of 1921 and 1922, which guaranteed the trade unions their relative freedom, were never declared null and void, for the regime, professing a strict Leninist orthodoxy, could not openly discard a principle established by Lenin himself. But the relative autonomy of the trade unions could have no meaning when no institution and no organisation whatsoever could maintain even a shred of independence vis-à-vis the state. To be sure, the single-party system had been in existence at least since the end of the civil war — all opposition parties had been suppressed by then. Yet in the early 1920s the Bolshevik leaders were still inclined to regard that suppression as an emergency measure to be reversed as soon as the regime regained enough stability to tolerate organised opposition. And in those years Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries and other anti-Bolshevik groups still enjoyed some freedom of expression and organisation inside the trade unions, even though their parties had been banned. [9] In the middle 1920s the open controversies inside the ruling party continued to prevent the regime from acquiring the monolithic outlook. Thus, although the basis for the totalitarian state had been laid during and after the civil war, it took nearly a decade before the whole edifice grew up. In the course of that decade the trade unions availed themselves of such margins of freedom and relative independence as there were. Now, towards the end of the 1920s, those margins vanished.

Trade Unions and Planned Economy

Towards the end of 1928 the First Five-Year Plan was proclaimed. Unlike previous plans, emanating from the Gosplan, the central planning authority, which were no more than loose prognostications, this plan had the character of a ‘law’, enforced by the government upon the whole country. Planning included labour policy, and consequently the activity of the trade unions was now strictly confined within the limits set to it.

The problem with which the planners had to contend over the greater part of the period under discussion was the extreme shortage of industrial labour, especially of skilled. In the effort to overcome this, the government gradually worked out a very wide assortment of methods, in the application of which the trade unions played a crucial part.

As stated before, direction of labour was abolished in 1922; and up to the Second World War it was never nominally re-enacted. In actual fact, however, more and more elements of compulsory direction were introduced in the course of the three prewar Five-Year Plans. Moreover, some of the forms of direction of labour were much more drastic than any of those that had been associated with militarisation of labour during the civil war. The notorious mammoth forced-labour camps, which came into existence during the 1930s, are a case in point. From a legislative viewpoint, the fact that the Soviet government, in spite of such drastic and brutal practices, up to the Second World War never claimed for itself overall powers of direction of labour, represents a curious anomaly. For this the Leninist orthodoxy, to which Stalinism had committed itself, was responsible: Lenin, we remember, had dismissed compulsory direction of labour and the use of the trade unions for this purpose as unjustifiable in a socialist regime, under normal conditions. This principle came to be enshrined in the party tradition, and to it the Stalinist regime had to pay its tribute. In theory, labour remained ‘free’. Elements of direction were introduced on an increasing scale and ever more brutally, but in a way that should not openly clash with precept. This extreme discrepancy between precept and practice imparted to the Stalinist labour policy that strong streak of hypocrisy which was entirely lacking in the labour policy of military communism, including Trotsky’s militarisation of labour. Under military communism the powers of the government and the limits to which it went to enforce them were at least known, and they were the object of discussion and criticism. This alone provided a safeguard against gross abuses, a safeguard which has not been available to the Russian workers under the evasive policies of the 1930s and 1940s.

Given the purposes of national policy which the Soviet government had set itself when it embarked upon rapid industrialisation, a degree of direction of labour was practically inevitable. At the beginning of the First Five-Year Plan this need was in part revealed and in part veiled by the fact that, while industry was already experiencing an acute shortage of labour, the labour exchanges still registered more than a million of unemployed. In December 1929 the Central Committee of the party instructed the Central Council of the Trade Unions to find out ‘within the shortest possible time what were the needs for skilled labour in various branches of industry and transport and in the various regions of the country... and to find out what were the changes in the composition and training of labour caused by the reconstruction and rationalisation of industry’. The trade unions were also expected to help in the ‘... working out of a system of measures guaranteeing the timely and full supply of skilled labour...’. [10] The Commissariat of Labour and the trade unions were further instructed to check the registered unemployment and to find out how much of it was real and how much was illusory. In the course of 1930 unemployment virtually disappeared, and the government was confronted with a new problem: how to expand industry rapidly, while the actual industrial labour-force of the nation was already fully employed. There was, first and foremost, the question how to increase the total labour-force, and then — the more specific issue: how to increase the supply of skilled labour.

Industrial Recruitment: The solution to the first problem lay in transferring the surplus manpower of an overpopulated countryside into the old and new industrial centres. This had been, broadly speaking, the main source from which other countries in the process of industrialisation had drawn their manpower. But in those countries masses of migrant peasants were drawn into the laissez-faire mechanism of supply and demand on labour markets; and the unregulated, ‘spontaneous’ supply of labour dictated up to a point the rhythm of industrialisation. Other circumstances being equal, scarcity of labour slowed down industrialisation, whereas an over-abundant supply speeded it up, at the expense of the living standard of the working population. The Soviet government was determined itself to dictate the tempo of industrialisation, which it could not do unless it regulated the transfer of the rural surplus population into industry. This was arranged in the following way: industrial managements concluded annual agreements with the managements of collective farms, under which the latter were obliged to supply specified numbers of their ‘redundant members’ to the factories, mines, etc. Through this ‘organised intake’ of labour, industry received between 1.5 million and two million new workers annually, throughout the prewar Five-Year periods. Thus was made possible a phenomenal influx of the rural population into the cities and towns of the Soviet Union, an influx for which hardly a single historic precedent can be found — it involved 24 million people between 1926 and 1939. [11]

The contracts between factories and collective farms were to be strictly voluntary. This they were — in part. Rural overpopulation was only too real, and it became even more pronounced when the collective farms were mechanised and much more new labour was ‘set free’. That the great mass of raw peasants had no need to wander helplessly in search of work in remote cities, that it had no need to experience the lot of migrant peasants exposed to the horrors of early capitalist industrial revolutions, might have been of obvious social advantage. From this angle, the Soviet government could make a very strong case for the ‘organised recruitment’ of peasant labour. [12] On the other hand, there was massive compulsion. The individual peasant singled out as redundant by the chairman of the collective farm had no choice but to leave; he was as good as expropriated; and he had to go to the factory or mine to which he was directed, although once there he was, as a rule, free to change his job.

A much more rigid method of ‘organised intake’ was enforced shortly before the German invasion of Russia, when the government considered it necessary to increase even more rapidly than hitherto the reserves of industrial manpower. Under the decree on the State Labour Reserves, of 2 December 1940, chairmen of collective farms were obliged to call up for the labour reserves specified numbers of young men. The quotas were somewhat oddly fixed: 20 boys between 14 and 15 years and two between 16 and 17 for every 100 members of any collective farm aged between 14 and 55 years. [13] In proportion to the young members of the collective farms the number of those called up was, of course, very high; and the method of recruitment resembled the manner in which Russians had been called up for the army a hundred years before under Tsar Nicholas I.

In this ‘organised intake’ of peasant labour the trade unions played and still play an important auxiliary role. The contracts with the collective farms are signed by the industrial managements. But the trade union, or more strictly the factory committee — its basic unit — acts as a sort of recruiting agent. Like every recruiting agent, it tries to make the industrial job look as attractive as possible in the eyes of the recruit. But, unlike the recruiting agent of the early capitalist industrial revolution, it continues to watch and, within limits, protect the recruit at the factory. The trade union is in part or entirely responsible for inuring the newcomer to labour discipline and imparting to him the habits and rudimentary skills of the industrial worker. It sees to it that the wages of the recruit, however low he may be in the scale, should at any rate not be lower than those paid to any worker of no higher skill and diligence. Nominally, the trade unions are also jointly responsible for the housing of the new workers, which in most cases was and still is abominable; and they are actually responsible for such matters as the protection of their labour, social insurance, etc. By standards of old-time trade unionism the functions of the Russian trade unions are highly mixed. No self-respecting union in the capitalist countries would act as the recruiting agent for the industrial management; but, on the other hand, few trade unions have ever concerned themselves with the raw industrial recruit (as distinct from the skilled or half-skilled and settled worker) as the Soviet trade unions have.

The organised transfer of the rural surplus population to the industrial centres solved the one great problem, without which rapid industrialisation would have been impossible: it supplied industry with an almost automatically expanding reserve of manpower. But it did not solve another no less vital problem — it did not secure stability of employment. Over many years Soviet industry suffered from the so-called fluidity of labour, the real scourge of the Russian economy in the 1930s. Indeed, the effect of industrialisation was greatly diminished by that fluidity. Workers refused to stay on their jobs; they constantly shifted from mine to mine and from factory to factory. This peculiarly Soviet phenomenon affected, as we shall see later, skilled as well as unskilled labour, but it was most characteristic for the millions of peasants drawn into industry. The causes and effects of ‘fluidity’ and the problems which it created for the trade unions are not difficult to gauge. In general, the poor living conditions, and quite especially the desperate shortage of housing in the cities and towns, which had been unprepared for the formidable influx of a new population, made for instability of labour. Workers moved from place to place in search of better living conditions. There was also the lack of industrial tradition and discipline in the proletarianised peasantry. All the habits of settled industrial life, regulated by the factory siren, that had in other countries been imparted to the working class over generations, often with the help of ruthless legislation — all those habits were conspicuously lacking in Russia. The peasant, who had been accustomed to work in his field according to the rhythm of nature, to toil from sunrise to sunset in the summer and to sleep through most of the winter, had now to be forced and conditioned into an entirely new routine of work. Against that he revolted and restlessly shifted from place to place. The threat of unemployment, which so often prevents a worker from leaving even the most unsatisfactory job, was absent. The fears which the laissez-faire mechanism of supply and demand of labour normally produced and impressed upon the mind of the worker were not there to chain the Soviet worker to the bench; and new fears were not yet substituted for the old ones. On the other hand, the Soviet worker was not free to struggle for the improvement of his living conditions as the worker in other countries had struggled under the leadership of the trade unions: he could not strike. The Soviet trade union firmly discouraged strikes, and behind the union stood the political police. Fluidity of labour was the substitute for strikes. The workers did not now coalesce to down tools. Instead, the individual worker or millions of workers individually downed tools and left their places of work to hire themselves elsewhere.

The effect of fluidity was to hamper the acquisition of industrial skill by the new worker, to disturb the functioning of industry and to make the very basis of planning uncertain. The fact that throughout the 1930s fluidity was the central point of every discussion on labour policy, the subject of innumerable exhortations, instructions and decrees, shows to what extent this spontaneous and unforeseen process obstructed the working of the planned economy. The resulting confusion was up to a point inevitable in the circumstances, but it was made even worse than it need have been by inconsistencies of policy and a neglect of consumers’ needs, which only an autocratic administration could afford.

Direction of labour was at first confined to the initial stage of supplying labour to industry, that is, to the transfer of people from the countryside to the industrial centres. At the next stage direction ceased, or at any rate ceased to be effective.

A brief survey of the measures taken by the government and the trade unions to overcome fluidity will perhaps not be out of place here. The government was first alarmed by this development in the latter part of 1930. On 3 September, the Central Committee of the party dealt with it in its message on the third year of the First Five-Year Plan. [14] It appealed to the trade unions (and to other organisations) to take specific measures against fluidity. It proposed that workers drafted into industry should accept the obligation to remain in their factories for specified periods, that special incentives be offered to those who honoured the obligation, and that notorious ‘deserters from production’ be placed under boycott by the trade unions and other bodies. At the same time it was decided to abolish the labour exchanges which had apparently facilitated ‘desertion’, by enabling any worker who had left his job to register for unemployment assistance and to find a new job.

A few weeks later, in October 1930, the Central Committee, realising that exhortation was not enough, proposed specific incentives and deterrents calculated to ensure stability of labour. Workers who stayed on the same job for two years were to receive somewhat longer holidays than others; and the penalty imposed on ‘deserters’ and absentees was the loss of the right to industrial employment for six months. [15] The incentives were still feeble. The deterrents would have been all too powerful had it not been for the endemic character of fluidity; industrial managers, chronically short of labour and desperately anxious to reach their targets of output, were certain to disregard the sanctions decreed and to give a job to any ‘deserter’ from another factory who applied for one. Incidentally, the same instruction by which ‘deserters’ were deprived of the right of employment urged the Central Council of Trade Unions to see that no administrative pressure or compulsion should be exerted in order to make workers enter into obligations for long-term employment. This injunction once again illustrated the dilemmas of an administration which was compelled by policy and circumstance to resort to direction of labour and yet was anxious to maintain the appearance that it was not doing so.

At the beginning of the Second Five-Year Plan (1933) fluidity of labour was as widespread and severe as ever, even though sanctions introduced in the meantime included the denial to ‘deserters’ of ration cards, living quarters, and so on. A resolution issued under the joint authority of government and party, and signed by Molotov and Stalin on 8 April 1933, indicated the extent of the trouble in the coal industry of the Donets Basin, on whose output depended the fulfilment or non-fulfilment of the Five-Year Plan. The resolution stated that:

... according to the information of the statistical offices, 423,000 workers and employees left the mines in 1932. During the same period 458,000 workers and employees entered employment. In January 1933 alone, 32,000 left and 35,000 workers and employees entered employment. This means that a considerable part of workers and employees, if not the majority, drifts restlessly from mine to mine, from the mines into the countryside, and from the countryside into the mines rather than work... It goes without saying that in view of such fluidity it is impossible to assimilate, if only in a half-satisfactory manner, the new technique and to master the new machines. Yet the mastery of the new technique is the key to the rise of the entire coal industry of the Donbas... [The disorder indicated]... would not have taken place, if the managers of the pits... had given effect to the law against loiterers and absentees and deprived them of their ration cards and the right to living quarters... [16]

Five years later, at the beginning of the Third Five-Year Plan (1938), the same disorder was still plaguing Soviet industry. New and more drastic measures were taken to tie the worker to his workshop, and these were enforced directly by the trade unions. The whole system of social insurance was remodelled so as to help to promote stability of labour; and, as the trade unions had (in 1933) been made responsible for the administration of the social insurance funds, they were the chief executors of the new policy.

A decree of 28 December 1938, signed by Stalin (for the party), Molotov (for the government), and Shvernik (for the trade unions) embodied the following provisions. [17]

The worker’s right to a holiday with pay after five and a half months’ employment was abolished — henceforth holidays were to be granted only after 11 months of uninterrupted work. Notorious ‘loiterers’ and absentees were to be unconditionally dismissed from jobs.

A worker or employee guilty of coming late to work without a valid reason, of leaving for lunch too early or returning too late, of leaving the factory or office before time or idling during working hours is liable to administrative prosecution: to be rebuked or rebuked with notice of dismissal; to be transferred to a job with less pay for three months; or to be altogether transferred to a lower grade. A worker or employee guilty of committing three such offences in one month, or four in two consecutive months, is dismissed as... an offender against the law of labour and labour discipline. [18]

Industrial managers failing to impose the prescribed punishments were themselves made liable to dismissal or prosecution.

The payment of insurance allowances to workers temporarily incapacitated was, under the same decree, made dependent on the length of time during which the person concerned stayed in his or her job. [19] Only after six years of permanent employment was 100 per cent of the wage or salary to be paid to the incapacitated; 80 per cent was paid after three to six years; 60 per cent after two to three years; and only 50 per cent if the worker or employee had stayed in his job less than two years. [20] (These allowances were paid to members of trade unions. Non-members received only 50 per cent of the appropriate rates. Thus, although membership of the trade unions was, in accordance with the Leninist principle, nominally voluntary, it carried with it substantial material benefits, and non-membership entailed equally substantial loss.)

Pensions for permanent invalids were also graded in relation to the length of employment. In addition to the basic pension, bonuses were granted to invalids with satisfactory employment records. To give one example, invalids of the ‘first category’ (that is, those who had been employed in mines, underground, or in harmful occupations) received 10 per cent over and above the pension after three to five years of permanent employment in one concern, 20 per cent after five to 10 years, and 25 per cent after more than 10 years. [21] Since all these measures were certain not only to reduce fluidity of labour, but also to reduce the sum total of pensions paid out by the trade unions, the latter were instructed to use the saved money for building additional houses for workers.

Perhaps the most drastic provision of the decree was that people who had left their jobs without permission or been guilty of grave offences against labour discipline were ‘liable to compulsory administrative eviction’ from their dwellings ‘within 10 days, without any living quarters being provided for them’. [22] Since houses, as a rule, belonged to municipalities or other public corporations, the evicted offender had practically no chance to obtain new quarters. Often this entailed deportation to a forced-labour camp. The fear of the forced-labour camp came now to play the role that the fear of unemployment had played under capitalism — it maintained labour discipline. This stage, however, was reached only in the latter part of the 1930s, when mass deportation of political suspects, too, became a normal practice. Yet even now the slender pretence that workers were not tied to their workshops was still kept up. The decree just quoted states inter alia that workers desiring to leave their jobs ought to give one month’s notice of their intention, as if they had still been free to carry out such an intention. More curiously still, some of these legislative measures were introduced by the government allegedly in response to demands from the trade unions themselves.

Training of Labour: With the progress of industrialisation and the enforcement of Draconic legislation, fluidity of labour tended to weaken, if not to disappear altogether. In the late 1930s complaints about fluidity became less frequent, and after the Second World War they became rare. A considerable proportion of the 20 million or so of the industrial proletariat already consisted of people who had acquired, if only recently, the habits and outlook of industrial workers, and were capable of imparting these to newcomers from the countryside. [23] Government, industry and trade unions had also acquired considerable experience in handling the influx of new and raw labour. In addition, the recruits now drafted into industry were no longer quite the same raw, backward muzhiks of the early 1930s, who had never handled a machine. The mechanised collective farm became the first training ground for industrial workers. Thus the most painful phase of the industrial revolution, and some of its ugliest repercussions in labour policy, should have been largely left behind.

For the history of the Soviet trade unions and labour policy the period of the initial accumulation of industrial skill in the rapidly growing working class presents enormous interest. The problem was first tackled on a fairly large scale towards the end of 1929, when the trade unions, jointly with the Supreme Council of National Economy and the Commissariat of Education, started experimental factory schools, where cadres of skilled workers were trained without interrupting normal work at the bench. From this developed the system of fabzavuchi, the factory school which played an important role in later years. At the same time, the Central Committee of the party decreed that the technical colleges and schools should have at least 70 per cent of workers among their pupils. [24] The Central Council of Trade Unions organised general educational courses — it was essential for industrialisation that the general standards of education be raised. The cost of those courses was borne by the trade unions, whose revenue was assured — the economic administration deducted two per cent of workers’ wages as membership fees for the unions. [25] The trade unions were also responsible for choosing from among the workers candidates for technical schools of all grades. They distributed scholarships among their advanced members who had shown diligence and technical ability and displayed initiative at so-called factory production meetings. As the rapidly expanding industry badly needed managerial personnel the Central Council of the Trade Unions was also asked to submit a list of 1500 to 2000 of its ablest organisers for promotion to managerial posts.

A year later, in 1930, economic development was so severely impeded by the shortage of skilled labour that trade unions were ordered to prepare, within 20 days, a practical plan for the training of labour in 1931. It was estimated that the additional demand for skilled labour in the basic industries alone would amount to 1.3 million men in the course of that year. These were trained in the fabzavuchi and technical schools in a manner which was of necessity extremely hasty and superficial. At the same time the trade unions helped the Commissariat of Labour to comb out inessential industries for skilled labour, which was to be directed to essential industries. The trade unions further established a permanent register of skilled workers which enabled them to respond instantaneously to the demands of the economic administration for labour. The pressure under which industry was working was illustrated by the fact that the Central Committee of the party now prohibited the promotion of skilled workers to administrative posts, the prohibition being valid for two years. Industrial managers were made liable to prosecution for obstructing or delaying the transfer of skilled workers, for the improper use of skilled labour, for luring workers and technicians from other undertakings by offers of higher wages, and for employing more workers than was allowed by governmentally-fixed standards. [26]

Along these and similar lines the programme for training labour developed throughout the 1930s. It culminated in the 1940 decree on State Labour Reserves which ordered inter alia that a high proportion of those called up for industrial labour be directed to training schools. In the same year were opened 1500 such schools, training 800,000 pupils; and for the following years the programme provided for the training of one million apprentices annually. This system worked throughout the war. It will be remembered that the State Labour Reserves consisted of boys in their middle teens. When war broke out the following year, these were too young to be called up for the forces, but vast numbers of them had already received sufficient training to fill gaps in industrial manpower caused by the mobilisation of the older age-groups. It was to a large extent with the help of that juvenile labour that Soviet industry kept its wheels turning during the war.

Socialist Emulation’: In its striving for higher efficiency Soviet industry gradually came to rely upon ‘socialist emulation’ and upon an elaborate system of incentive wages.

At the beginning of 1929 the Sixteenth Party Conference initiated ‘socialist emulation’ en masse. The idea dated back to the first years of the Soviet regime. The Sixteenth Conference in fact recalled the following words from a resolution adopted by the Ninth Congress of the party (1920):

Every social system... has had its own methods and ways of labour compulsion and education for labour in the interest of the exploiting classes.

The Soviet order is confronted with the task... of developing its own methods, designed to raise the intensity and efficiency of labour on the basis of a socialised economy and in the interests of the whole people.

On a par with the propaganda of ideas, which should influence the mind of the toiling masses, and with repressive measures, used against deliberate idlers, drones and disorganisers, emulation is the most powerful means towards raising productivity of labour.

In capitalist society emulation had had the character of competition and had led to the exploitation of man by man. In a society in which the means of production have been nationalised, emulation in labour ought, without impinging upon the solidarity [of workers] only to raise the sum total of the products of labour.

Emulation between factories, regions, shops, workshops and individual workers should be the object of careful organisation and attentive research on the part of the trade unions and the economic administration. [27]

A serious ideological dilemma was implicit in this idea of emulation. It will be noted that the resolution just quoted stressed that the workers’ emulation in production should not ‘impinge upon their solidarity’. This proviso implicitly referred back to Marx’s theory of the development of the modern industrial working class, given in his Misère de la Philosophie and in other writings. Marx distinguished two historic stages, not strictly separated from one another but rather overlapping, in the evolution of the proletariat. In the first, the outlook of the working class is characterised primarily by individualistic competition between its members. In the workshop and factory members of an immature working class compete with one another for jobs, better wages, etc. They have not yet learned to act in solidarity. They are still opposed to one another and only individually opposed to their employers. In the next phase, marked by the emergence of trade unions and other class organisations, competition between individual members of the working class tends to give place to their solidarity vis-à-vis the capitalists. This supersession of competition by solidarity reflects the growing maturity of the proletariat, enables it to overcome centrifugal tendencies in its own midst and to act as a class. This broad view of the evolution of the working class, which became part and parcel of the socialist and communist outlook, presupposed, of course, that in a socialist regime competition between individual members of the working class would tend to disappear, making room for full solidarity first of the workers and then of all members of a classless society.

No wonder that in the first Bolshevik appeals for socialist emulation mental reservations could be read between the lines. Emulation was ‘not to impinge upon solidarity’. Emulation may take various forms: there ought to be emulation between factories, regions, shops and workshops; that is, between collectives; but — in the last instance — it should also develop between individual workers. Its purpose was to be ‘only to raise the sum total of the products of labour’. Who will produce more and better? But already behind these first appeals there loomed the tricky question whether those who produce more and better should also receive higher rewards? At first the dilemma presented itself in the dimmest of forms; and the answers were tentative and at times self-contradictory. One answer, formulated by Lenin, was that if there was to be competition, that is, inequality in production (if some people were to produce more than others), then there must also be inequality in consumption. Otherwise there would be no incentive to higher production. The levellers (among whom Trotsky might be classed only with the strongest of qualifications) argued in favour of ‘shock methods’ in production and equality in consumption. But in those early years all Bolshevik leaders were levellers in the sense that, even when they admitted the need for differential wages in the period of transition to socialism, they still saw in the gradual equalisation of wages the sine qua non of socialist labour policy.

This egalitarian frame of mind was still very strong when, in 1929, the Sixteenth Party Conference, already under Stalin’s exclusive leadership, launched its full-scale campaign for ‘socialist emulation’. The conference still appealed, mainly if not exclusively, to the communist idealism of the working masses rather than to their immediate interests. It stated that ‘the trade unions and the economic organs ought to adopt a broad system of incentives’. [28] But the incentives proposed were mainly of a moral character, designed to spur the worker’s ambition and to stir his imagination:

The names of the best workers, best specialists, best economic administrators and agronomists, the names of factories and mines and of the best Soviet and collective farms ought to become known to the entire country... The heroic traditions of the past years have been preserved and enriched by the working class of our country. The Leninist idea of ‘the organisation of emulation on socialist principles’ finds an ever more practical realisation. The principles of a communist attitude towards labour begin to strike ever deeper roots [etc, etc]. [29]

The emphasis so far was on emulation between collective bodies rather than individual workers. Material rewards were to be given primarily to collective bodies, factories, regions, and so on. The emulation took the form of factories challenging one another to raise and improve output. These practices tended all too quickly to become stale routine or unproductive pageantry, and the trade unions were urged to take care of the economic realities behind the reports on emulation.

In 1930-31 the emphasis shifted to emulation between individual workers and to individual material rewards for records achieved in production. The shock-worker, the industrial record-man, became in a sense the central figure of Russian society. The trade unions proclaimed an All-Union Day of the Shock-Worker (or the udarnik) on 1 October 1930. In this movement there was undoubtedly a strong streak of idealism. The young worker was encouraged in the hope that a few years of unsparing exertion on his part would transform the whole country, modernise it, and make it into a ‘Socialist America’. The trade unions displayed much initiative and shrewd propagandist techniques in promoting emulation. At the same time the shock-worker was given a privileged position. In the factories special canteens and restaurants were opened exclusively for the udarniki; and they were immeasurably better supplied than the canteens for ordinary workers. Better living quarters, facilities for education and rest, better supplies of rare consumer goods and so on were reserved for shock-workers and their families. Socialist emulation began most drastically to ‘impinge upon solidarity'; and soon a radical revision of wages policy followed.

Wages Policy: Very early in the NEP period the Soviet government enunciated the principle that the national wages bill must be closely related to the size of the national income, or rather, to its most important co-determinant — efficiency of labour. This rule was in general terms laid down by the Twelfth Congress of the party (1923). In a more specific and emphatic form it was reiterated by a plenary conference of the party’s Central Committee in August 1924, in connexion with a curious situation that had arisen in Russian industry. According to a statistical calculation, the correctness of which was not generally accepted, industrial wages had risen by 90 per cent between October 1922 and January 1924. During the same period output per man-day had risen only by 23 per cent. As, in consequence of the civil war, the standard of living of the Russian workers had been depressed far below any essential minimum, the Central Committee put up with this disproportion between the rise of wages and improvement in industrial efficiency. But with the evident, if still incomplete, normalisation of the economy, this state of affairs could not continue. Henceforth, it was stated, productivity of labour must rise quicker than wages.

It is not possible to make any precise comparison between the trends in wages and industrial efficiency during subsequent years. The official statistical indices were not very reliable and were hotly disputed. In the middle 1920s the Trotskyist opposition asserted that, while the government claimed that industrial wages had risen to the prewar level, real wages were actually less than two-thirds of what they had been before 1914. The opposition concluded that the wages policy of 1924 should be reversed, and that wages should be increased at least at the same rate at which productivity of labour was rising. Against this, the official spokesmen advanced the argument, which has since become something of an axiom, that, if industry was to expand, productivity of labour must rise more quickly than wages so as to create a sufficiently wide margin of resources for capital investment. [30]

The entire wages policy of the prewar plans was based on this principle, which did not, of course, meet with any open criticism or opposition on the part of the trade unions. The Sixteenth Party Conference, when it launched the First Five-Year Plan, foreshadowed an overall rise in the productivity of industrial labour by 110 per cent. Wages were to rise by 71 per cent over the same five-year period. [31] In 1930 alone the increase in productivity was planned to be 25 per cent, while the rise in nominal wages was to amount to nine per cent and in real wages to 12 per cent. Similar proportions were characteristic for all prewar plans. The first postwar Five-Year Plan, however, provided for an increase in wages by 48 per cent and in productivity by only 36 per cent above the 1940 levels.

The size of the national wages bill was and still is as strictly planned as were the targets of output, the rates of capital investment, the proportions of expansion between heavy and light industry, and so on. Theoretically, the planned wages bill represents only another name for the mass of consumer goods which the plan allocates to the industrial population — this is the real wages bill. An increase in the national wages bill without a corresponding increase in the volume of consumer goods must, of course, lead to inflation. The Soviet trade unions understood and accepted this maxim from their earliest years — they had learnt their lesson from the depreciation of the rouble in the First World War, during the revolution, the civil war and the early 1920s. As, under the Five-Year Plans, the output of consumer industries was rigidly fixed in advance, the trade unions were left with no scope for bargaining over the national wages bill, even if they had wanted to bargain.

This statement needs perhaps to be qualified. In theory, the trade unions exercise their influence at the very top of the governmental pyramid, at the stage when the Politbureau, the government and the planning authorities still discuss the main features of any Five-Year Plan. It is impossible to say whether or to what extent they have ever pressed for higher wages (that is, for an increase in the targets of output set for consumer industries) before any plan has been accepted. We do not know, in other words, to what extent the trade unions have ever acted as a pressure group on the highest level of the administration. What is certain is that they could not act as pressure groups or bargain at the medium and lower levels. Once the national plan had been adopted and broken down into regional plans the trade unions could not and would not ask for any revision of those of its features which dealt with wages and conditions of labour. No trade unionist would take upon himself the odium of trying to upset the plan.

This is not to say that wages policy has always worked smoothly and efficiently, ‘according to plan’. We have seen how the fluidity of labour threatened to disturb the working of the planned economy. Other spontaneous reactions on the part of this or that section of the population to certain features of governmental policy had similar upsetting effects. The entire wages policy of the First Five-Year Plan, for instance, was based on an anticipation of a cheapening of consumer goods. Hence the rises in nominal wages were as a rule planned to be lower than those in real wages. (For instance, in 1930 nominal wages were to rise by nine per cent and real wages by 12 per cent.) This anticipation did not come true. The revolt of vast sections of the peasantry against collectivisation, the mass slaughter of cattle and the resulting scarcity of goods caused a steep rise in the prices of nearly all unrationed goods and often made it impossible for the government to supply the rationed goods. Thus, whatever the rise in the nominal wages, real wages went down, although it is not easy to say by just how much. The fact is that throughout the First Five-Year Plan the ‘scissors’ between the ever-rising nominal wages and the declining real wages grew ever wider. The gap was considerably narrowed in the Second and Third Five-Year Plans, when the supply of food and other consumer goods became more abundant.

So far we have seen how the national wages bill has been related to national efficiency. The next step was to correlate individual wages and individual efficiency.

Before the period of planned economy, in the 1920s, two major reforms of wages policy had been carried out. The first, based on resolutions of the Fourth Congress of the Trade Unions, took place in 1921-22. The scale of wages then introduced comprised 17 grades, nine for manual workers and eight for clerical employees. The proportion of the lowest to the highest wage was 1:3.5. The main differentiation was between the two broad categories of skilled and unskilled labour. The differences in wage rates paid for various grades of skill were relatively slight; and additional rewards showed a decreasing progression in the higher grades. Thus, for instance, while a man in the third grade of skill earned 25 per cent more than one in the second grade, the worker of the eighth category earned only 10.5 per cent more than his colleague in the seventh grade. This decreasing scale of additional rewards is now retrospectively denounced as a manifestation of uravnilovka, the condemned egalitarian heresy. Yet throughout the 1920s this scale of wages was considered to be an excess of bourgeois inequality surviving in the proletarian state. The leadership of the trade unions was on this ground denounced as the mouthpiece of a new labour aristocracy by the Trotskyist opposition; and it met the opposition’s criticisms with shamefaced embarrassment, admitting that the differences in wages were too great and ought to be reduced. At the Seventh Congress of the Trade Unions, in December 1926, Tomsky, then still an all-powerful member of the Politbureau, on the one hand opposed the demands of his critics for a general rise in wages but, on the other, conceded the need for equalisation. [32] In the middle 1920s the discrepancies in wages were in fact slightly reduced. [33]

The second tariff reform, carried out in 1927-28, was calculated to give further satisfaction to the demand for more equality. Gradations between the earnings of the skilled and unskilled workers were lessened. ‘The higher the tariff grade of the worker the smaller was his additional reward’, says a recent critic of the reform. An attempt was also made to limit the application of piece-rates.

It is interesting to note that the egalitarian trend found a consistent and early critic in Stalin himself, who already in 1925 admonished the Fourteenth Congress of the party: ‘We must not play with the phrase about equality. This is playing with fire.’ [34] But a drastic practical reaction against the egalitarian trend was initiated by Stalin only in the middle of 1931, in one of his famous speeches to industrial managers. ‘In a number of enterprises’, Stalin then said, ‘the wage rates have been fixed in such a way that there is almost no difference between skilled and unskilled labour, between heavy and light labour. This levelling causes the unskilled worker to be disinterested in the acquisition of skill.’ [35] He blamed the fluidity of labour on the 1927-28 wage scales, saying that there would have been little of it if workers had been given the chance to improve their skills and raise their wages by staying in their jobs.

Soon afterwards the national wage structure was radically remade. A many-sided differentiation of wage rates was introduced, as between entire industries, geographical regions, and categories of skill. The differentiation as between industries was calculated to promote heavy industry. Thus, coal-miners, who under the old scale held the fourteenth place with regard to rates, were promoted to the fourth place in 1935, and to the second in 1937. Oil workers moved from the eighth to the first place; iron and steel workers from the ninth to the fifth, and so on. The light industries were put at the bottom of the scale. Geographical differentiation of wages was designed to encourage the migration of workers to new industrial centres in the Urals and beyond, where they could get higher wages than elsewhere. In this way the wages policy was turned into a direct instrument of national policy aiming at the development of heavy industry and the industrialisation of the eastern provinces. [36] The nationally planned demand for certain categories of goods led to a deliberate raising of wages in the industries producing those goods. Planning thus performed ‘in an organised manner’ the function which the mechanism of wages performed ‘blindly and spontaneously’ in a laissez-faire economy, where, too, the demand for goods co-determined the level of wages and its fluctuations.

The central feature of the reform initiated in 1931 consisted, however, in the differentiation of individual wages. It is significant that since that reform no comprehensive statistics of wages have been published, except for claims about periodic rises in the national bill of nominal wages and in the average wage, claims which cannot be translated into terms of real wages because the publication of price indices has also been discontinued. In the total of the national wages bill the earnings of industrial workers and of office employees are lumped together. The distribution of incomes between these two categories has not been disclosed. The withholding of these statistical data from publication is primarily a matter of social policy; although the regime has openly conducted a systematic campaign against ‘levellers’, a frank disclosure of the real differences between the earnings of various categories of workers and employees would almost certainly have caused considerable ideological embarrassment — it would show how far the pendulum had now swung in the direction of inequality.

Another guiding principle of the new policy was to extend piece-work to as wide a field of industry as possible. This met with some opposition, ineffective, of course, in the trade unions, already purged from Trotskyist and Tomskyist elements. Even the Commissariat of Labour had its hesitations; and its organ Voprosy Truda stated that ‘the development of technique, the increasing role of transport and electricity... narrow the field of industry where piece-rates are applicable’. [37] Through a number of instructions from the Central Committee of the party the new policy was, however, enforced. Thus, a resolution of 7 July 1931 instructed the Central Committee of the Miners’ Trade Union and the managers of the coal mines of the Donets to do away ‘within two months’ with the equalisation of wages and to transfer 85 to 90 per cent of the underground staffs and 70 per cent of all other workers to piece-rates. The trade unions were rudely reminded that they had merely a consultative voice in fixing new wage scales: the same instruction stated that the Norms and Conflicts Commissions (RKK), which were to fix the new rates, should be placed under the leadership of the pit managers. Similar instructions were issued to every major branch of industry with the result that, whereas before the reform 57 per cent of the total of man-hours worked were paid in piece-rates, the percentage of man-hours so paid rose to 75 in 1937. [38]

Simple piece-rates were, however, not considered to be powerful enough as incentives to higher production; and so-called progressive rates were introduced. Simple — that is, equal — piece-rates were paid for output up to fixed norms. Output above the norms was paid according to a new scale of rates increasing with the output. Thus an instruction of 29 March 1940 on wages in the Donets coal mines, signed by Stalin and Molotov, ordered, apart from a 100 per cent increase in normal rates for coal-getters, the following progressive piece-rates: a coal-getter who produced 10 per cent more than his norm received double the normal rate for output above the norm. One who produced, say, 20 per cent above the norm was paid treble rates for output above the norm. [39] Where the introduction of piece-rates was technically impossible, time bonuses served to stimulate intensity of labour. ‘Brigade piece-rates’ were a special form of payment introduced in industries where the output of the individual worker could not be measured in piece-rates but the output of a whole team lent itself to such measurement. The total output of the team was paid in piece-rates; and then the members of the team divided the collective wage among themselves according to their qualifications and the time worked by every member. This form of payment was not encouraged, however, because it was found that the teams of workers showed a ‘deplorable’ bias towards egalitarianism. [40]

The eventual result of these many-sided and thoroughgoing changes in the national structure of wages, carried out through the trade unions, can be seen from the following figures: on 1 January 1938 43 per cent of all Soviet workers and employees were paid simple piece-rates. Progressive piece-rates were received by 32 per cent. Of the 25 per cent who were still paid time-rates, nine per cent received bonuses in addition to their basic wages. Only 16 per cent of all workers and employees continued to receive old-fashioned, ordinary time-wages.

Stakhanovism: ‘Socialist emulation’ thus became uninhibited competition between individual workers for higher output and higher wages. The trade unions spurred on that competition. In the early 1930s the form of emulation they favoured was udarnichestvo or shock-work. Since 1935 Stakhanovism has taken its place.

The difference between the two ‘movements’ is one of degree. The emulation in output associated with the Stakhanov method has been more intense and brutal than the older system of shock-work. It has also spread over a wider field of industry. It was with the development of Stakhanovism that the differentiation of wages was greatly intensified and made common.

The transition from the one method to the other was connected primarily with the abolition of food rationing in 1934 and with the government’s attempt to stabilise the rouble. In the first years of the planned economy, up to 1934, money wages were of little significance, because the rouble had been depreciated. The industrial system was based mainly on wages in kind; and the differentiation of wages expressed itself, as under military communism, primarily in a differential rationing system. This included various categories of canteens, restaurants and shops for the various categories of workers. The differences between the nominal piece-rates were not very great. High rates paid in worthless currency were poor incentives to higher production. The shock-worker was not interested in saving money for future purchases. All this changed at a stroke with the abolition of rationing and the stabilisation of the rouble. The nominal piece-rates acquired real value; and the progressively growing rates paid for output above norm represented steep increases in the purchasing power of the worker who had earned them.

The scope for differentiation of wages now became incomparably wider than hitherto. As long as wages in kind predominated it was very difficult to give different rations to unskilled and semi-skilled workers, or to devise any elastic system of rewards for various categories of skilled workers. A differential rationing system may comprise five, six or, at the most, seven categories of rations; the gradations in skill and productivity are much more numerous — no rationing system can do full justice to their subtlety and variety.

Even differential rationing has, therefore, a faint flavour of uravnilovka, the egalitarian heresy, while the piece-wage paid in stable money is completely free from it. To quote Karl Marx, ‘since the quality and intensity of the work are here controlled by the form of the wage itself’, the piece-wage automatically registers the slightest difference in the quality and intensity of the work performed:

... the wider scope that piece-wages gives to individuality [Marx goes on to say] tends to develop on the one hand that individuality, and with it the sense of liberty, independence and self-control of the labourers, on the other their competition one with another. Piece-work has, therefore, a tendency, while raising individual wages above the average, to lower this average itself... Piece-wages is the form of wages most in harmony with the capitalist mode of production. [41]

Marx held that the ‘sense of liberty and independence’ which piece-work gave to the workers was largely illusory — the competition between them was more real. This, however, has not prevented the Soviet government and the Soviet trade unions from hailing piece-wages as the form of payment most in harmony with the socialist mode of production. It is in Stakhanovism that the piece-wage has achieved its supreme triumph.

The origin of that ‘movement’ goes back to a production record achieved by a coal-getter named Alexei Stakhanov, who was reported to have produced 102 tons of coal in one shift, 14 times as much as the norm, on 31 August 1935. The limelight of trade-union propaganda was at once turned upon him. Workers all over the country were called on to imitate him. The fact, however, that Stakhanov gave his name to this ‘movement’ was as much accidental as the ‘movement’ itself was carefully staged.

The actual achievements of Stakhanovism have been the subject of much controversy. While Soviet propagandists have proclaimed Stakhanovism to be a peculiar feature of socialist organisation of labour, many critics have dismissed it as sheer bluff. As far as one can judge from Soviet reports and eye-witness accounts of independent foreigners, Stakhanovism has greatly helped to raise industrial efficiency from the extremely low level at which it stood when the experiment was started. It seems that the Central Committee of the party was essentially right when, in December 1935, it stated that:

The Stakhanov movement signifies a new organisation of labour, the rationalisation of technological processes, the correct distribution of labour in production, the freeing of skilled workers from second-rate preparatory work, the better organisation of work sites, the securing of the rapid increase of labour productivity and of a considerable growth in the wages and salaries of workers and employees. [42]

This statement implicitly explains how the production records were achieved and it also allows us to distinguish between the startling façade of Stakhanovism and the reality behind it. By the middle 1930s, it will be remembered, the technical equipment of Russian industry had been modernised and greatly expanded. Yet, because of obsolete methods of work and extreme shortage of industrial skill, the coefficient of utilisation of the new equipment was still extremely low. Moderate improvements in the organisation of labour were able to yield and did yield quite abnormal, spectacular rises in productivity. This was the indubitably progressive facet of Stakhanovism. The records of individuals were usually followed by a general raising of the average norms of output, endorsed by the trade unions; and the new norms were fixed halfway between the old ones and the Stakhanovite records.[43]

In part, however, the production records claimed were publicity stunts. The old norms of output made allowance for the time which the worker spent on the maintenance of his tools, on the preparation of the work site, and other auxiliary functions. The Stakhanovite was as a rule freed from all auxiliary work, which other people had to do for him so that he might concentrate on the actual output. This was, of course, part of the ‘correct distribution of labour’, which demanded that the skilled worker should not waste his time on jobs requiring no skill. But the final production record resulted most often from the work of a whole team and not of the individual Stakhanovite, who as a rule claimed it for himself.

It is often asked just how great has been the inequality to which Stakhanovism has led. How does that inequality compare with differences in incomes in other countries? Only a very general answer to these questions can be given, because of the fragmentary character of the information available. In spite of the sustained campaign against ‘levellers’, which has been going on since 1931, the inequality of incomes in the Soviet Union has hardly achieved anything like the discrepancy between the incomes of, say, big shareholders and unskilled labourers in any other country. Briefly, the inequality between classes is less than elsewhere. But the inequality inside the working class, between various groups of workers, has certainly been much greater than in any other country. This contention can be illustrated by the following data given by Pravda towards the end of 1935, shortly after Stakhanovism had been launched. An ordinary non-Stakhanovite coal-miner doing auxiliary work underground earned 170 roubles per month. The wage of a non-Stakhanovite coal-getter was 400 to 500 roubles. The monthly earnings of a Stakhanovite were more than 1600 roubles. [44] It will be interesting to compare these figures with data obtained in 1948 by a delegation of foreign trade unionists on a visit to Russia. Thus in 1948 the basic pay of a coal-getter amounted to as much as 2000 roubles per month, that of an auxiliary above-ground worker was 250 roubles, one-eighth of the coal-getter’s wage. Since the early 1930s wages policy in the coal industry has fluctuated, now reducing the discrepancy and now widening it even more; but on balance the trend has been towards more and not less inequality. In 1948 there were 12 categories of wages in the iron and steel industry, eight in machine building, but only six in industries producing consumer goods. In addition to higher wages Stakhanovites enjoy important privileges: free sojourns in rest homes and sanatoria owned by the trade unions; the right to have home tutors for their children without payment, free medical help at the Stakhanovite’s home, and a number of other services which have raised the Stakhanovite’s standard of living far above that of the ordinary worker. [45] Stakhanovism has made of Russia an almost classical country of a labour aristocracy; and the trade unions, in so far as they play any role as a labour organisation, have been converted into strongholds of that workers’ aristocracy.

In its first years Stakhanovism met with considerable resistance on the part of the lower ranks of trade-union officials, who willy-nilly became the mouthpieces of discontent among the rank and file. This opposition could not become vocal, but it was widespread, intense and, for a time, dangerously effective.

This is not to say that the workers’ reaction to Stakhanovism was uniformly or even predominantly hostile. It was mixed. Some sections of the working class received with satisfaction the opportunity of improving their lot through better and more diligent work. The appeal to the worker’s individualism was especially effective because an inherited peasant individualism was still strong in the Soviet working class. [46] But, as in any competitive system, so in Stakhanovism the number of those who were beaten at the competition was greater than the number of those who benefited from it. Those who suffered from Stakhanovite methods were, of course, opposed to them, and they were branded as ‘backward elements’ by their own trade unions. No doubt there was no lack of such ‘backward elements’ opposed to technical innovations and rational organisation of labour. But among the discontented were also workers whom ill-health or age had made unfit for the exertion now required to earn a minimum wage. Among those opposed to Stakhanovism was the cadre of industrial workers who had been brought up in class consciousness and class solidarity and taught to regard equality as the ultimate goal of socialism — the good Communists of the preceding era, now denounced as ‘petty-bourgeois’ levellers. This last category of workers was strongly represented among the lower and middle officials of the trade unions.

The opposition to Stakhanovism, with all the mixed motives behind it, formed the background to the violent campaigns against ‘saboteurs and wreckers’ which were conducted in the middle 1930s. Press reports in 1935 and 1936, abounding in much realistic detail and circumstantial evidence, offered some insight into the character of that ‘sabotage’. Contrary to later claims, made during the famous purge trials of the old Bolshevik guard, these reports presented the ‘wrecking’ and ‘sabotage’ not as the result of any political plot, but as the spontaneous and, at times, Luddite-like resistance of workers to new methods of labour. Attacks by workers on Stakhanovites, attempts to intimidate them and prevent them from assisting the industrial managers in raising average norms of output, occurred quite frequently. Lower trade-union officials were sometimes implicated in such attempts. [47] In some cases Stakhanovites were assassinated. Much more often workers damaged, put out of order, or concealed the Stakhanovite’s tools so as to disorganise or delay his work.

The party’s reaction to this resistance was determined but not immediately effective. ‘In some enterprises’, so Zhdanov stated in November 1935, ‘the Stakhanov movement has met with resistance... The party will not shrink from any measures that will help it to sweep away all the resisters from the victorious path of the Stakhanovite movement.’ [48] But in the following year and even the year after innumerable resolutions acknowledged the continuance of the opposition to Stakhanovism and the ambiguous attitude of the trade unions on the spot. A typical resolution of April 1937, signed by Stalin and Molotov, asserted that previous instructions on Stakhanovism had not been obeyed, that differential wage rates had not been introduced, and that trade unions and even party committees had refused to expose ‘wreckers’. [49] Nevertheless, Zhdanov’s threat that the ‘party will sweep away all the resisters’ was eventually carried out. During the great purges of 1937-38 the trade unions were among the chief victims. After the purges were over, in March 1939, Shvernik announced at the Eighteenth Congress of the party that ‘the composition of the trade-union committees in factories and other establishments was changed to the extent of 70 to 80 per cent and of the central committees to the extent of 96 per cent’. [50] The opposition to Stakhanovism seems to have been largely overcome since then, and Stakhanovism, that mixture of progressive rationalisation and old-time sweated labour, has come to be accepted as the peculiarly Soviet style of labour.

Trade Unions and Social Insurance: As the trade unions, unable or unwilling to defend the workers, tended to become merely vestigial institutions, new functions were transferred to them, presumably in order to justify their continued existence. In 1933 the Commissariat of Labour was officially abolished and its functions and funds were transferred to the trade unions. The main consequence of this reform was that the trade unions were charged with the administration of social insurance. [51] The Department of Social Insurance in the Central Council of Trade Unions was the body directly responsible for this new and vast field of work and for the utilisation of social insurance funds. Branches of that department were set up at every level of the trade-union machinery. Every factory committee formed its council for social insurance; and at the lowest level special insurance delegates were attached to every shop committee. In 1948 altogether about one million active trade unionists performed the functions of insurance delegates. Their task has been to regulate locally all matters concerning invalid pensions, sickness benefits, etc. The trade unions also took over the management of holiday resorts, sanatoria and rest homes. Before the Second World War they owned 853 sanatoria and rest homes capable of accommodating 161,000 persons. Many of these establishments were destroyed during the Nazi invasion. The present Five-Year Plan provides for their reconstruction and expansion — in 1950 the sanatoria and rest homes should be able to accommodate 185,000 persons.

This transformation of the trade unions into a social insurance organisation has had its undoubted advantages. It has given a very broad basis to the entire system of social insurance. The voluntary unpaid work of one million insurance delegates in factories and workshops must have lowered the cost of social insurance and brought its administration closer to the working masses. On the other hand, the entire system of the social services has been used as an instrument for raising the productivity of labour. We have seen how the rates of sickness benefits and invalid pensions were graded so as to serve that purpose. The number of sanatoria, rest homes and similar establishments has been rather limited in relation to needs, and so practically they have been accessible in the main only to the high administrative and technical personnel and to Stakhanovites.

These two purposes of the 1933 reform, that of giving the system of social insurance a broad unbureaucratic base in the trade unions and that of harnessing the entire system to the government’s economic policy, have not always been compatible. The insurance delegates in the factories were not always inclined to give the Stakhanovites priority in the benefits and the facilities which they, the insurance delegates, administered. Here, too, the government, assisted by the Central Council of Trade Unions, waged a stubborn fight against the instinctive egalitarianism of rank-and-file trade unionists. In April 1939 the seventh plenary session of the Central Council of Trade Unions adopted the following characteristic resolution:

The most important means towards strengthening labour discipline has been the improvement in the functioning of state social insurance and the elimination of abuses in that field. Yet many factories and local committees have offended against the decision of the government, the Central Committee of the Party and the Central Council of Trade Unions... by the incorrect allocation of relief for temporarily incapacitated workers... The factory committees have not paid attention to the entries in the labour cards, on the basis of which they should ascertain how long the applicant for relief has been permanently employed at a given factory or institution. The plenary session condemns these anti-state activities of the factory and local committees which offend against the decision of 28 December 1938, fixing the rates of relief under the social insurance scheme.

The central committees of the trade unions are hereby reminded of their duty to improve the work of the councils and commissions of social insurance, to establish permanent control over the correctness of the allocation and payment of allowances to temporarily incapacitated workers and to charge with responsibility those guilty of offending against the scales of allowances fixed by the government, the Central Committee of the Party and the Central Council of the Trade Unions...

The Praesidium of the Central Council of Trade Unions is instructed to consult the People’s Commissar for Health of the USSR about further improvements in medical services for workers and employees and about the measures that are being taken by the People’s Commissar for Health against doctors who admit idlers and malingerers to hospitals. [52]

Since 1933 the trade unions have also been responsible for protection of labour. The central committees of the trade unions maintain technical inspectorates which employ several thousand full-time industrial inspectors. In addition, part-time voluntary workers act as inspectors in factories and shops. They check, at least in precept, how the industrial managements utilise governmental funds allocated for labour protection. [53] The manner in which these funds are to be used is the subject of special agreements periodically concluded between industrial managements and factory committees. At the lowest level, in the shops, one worker in every group of trade unionists is the inspector responsible for protection of female and juvenile labour and for observing the length of the working day, [54] for arranging holidays, etc.

The trade unions have also been made responsible for welfare and a number of auxiliary functions designed to improve the workers’ standard of living within the limits set by the plan and the fixed fund of wages. It is in these fields that the unions have found some compensation for the loss of their bargaining power over wages. Since the grave food crises of the early 1930s it has been a common practice of Soviet factories to develop their own auxiliary farms and vegetable gardens. This practice was further developed during the Second World War, and it then helped to keep the industrial population supplied with food. The trade unions have assisted in the organisation and running of the auxiliary farms. They have also controlled the work of the so-called Workers’ Supply Departments, factory canteens and cooperative shops. One of many characteristic resolutions states, for instance, that the chairman of any factory committee (that is, the chief trade-union organiser on the spot) is personally responsible for any malpractices in the cooperatives and food supply centres: ‘The trade-union officials who carry out this control ought to have some knowledge of bookkeeping and to be able to analyse the calculation of prices so as to know how and where malpractices occur.’ [55] Similarly, the trade unions check how funds allocated for housing of workers are used, what is the quality of the houses built, and so on. Since the Second World War letters and articles by trade unionists have frequently appeared in the press censuring industrial managers and even ministers for neglecting to carry out housing programmes.

Finally, the trade unions have taken an active part in Osoaviakhim and other paramilitary organisations; and the very strong sports organisations of the trade unions have been useful auxiliaries of the Armed Forces. [56]


1. VIII Vserossiiskii Syezd Profsoyuzov (Eighth All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions, Moscow, 1929), p 24 and passim.

2. VIII Vserossiiskii Syezd Profsoyuzov (Eighth All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions, Moscow, 1929), p 38.

3. VIII Vserossiiskii Syezd Profsoyuzov (Eighth All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions, Moscow, 1929), pp 42, 44, and passim. It is surprising to see that the Webbs attributed to Tomsky the view that ‘it was not for the trade unions to press for improvements in factory technique, even if these would lead to increased productivity’, and to describe him as an advocate of an ‘anarchic scramble after rises in wages... irrespective of their effect on the required universal increase of industrial productivity...’ (Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Soviet Communism (London, 1944), p 131). This is, of course, an uncritical repetition of the official distortions and charges directed against Tomsky. Another echo of an official legend is the Webbs’ assertion (ibid) that the purpose of the anti-Tomsky purge in the trade unions was to remove uncooperative persons ‘not sprung from the manual labour class’. Whether any of the disputants was of working-class origin was completely irrelevant to this controversy, but what the Webbs apparently did not know is that for many years Tomsky had been the only authentic worker among the members of the Politbureau.

4. VIII Vserossiiskii Syezd Profsoyuzov (Eighth All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions, Moscow, 1929), p 96.

5. VIII Vserossiiskii Syezd Profsoyuzov (Eighth All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions, Moscow, 1929), p 373 and passim.

6. Kuibyshev denied the statement made by Tomsky’s adherents that the government had started the new policy of industrialisation with a cut in the social services.

7. It was during this debate that A Zhdanov, then known only as one of the leaders of Communist Youth, moved into the limelight. He was ‘in the front line’ of the attack against the right-wing Bolsheviks. It was he who from the floor of the congress demanded Tomsky’s dismissal. Yaglom, the editor of Trud, the official organ of the trade unions, in the course of a turbulent exchange spoke about Zhdanov’s ‘Hottentot morals’, while Tomsky spoke of Zhdanov as a ‘good but superficial man’ wasting his considerable talents in the wrong causes (VIII Vserossiiskii Syezd Profsoyuzov (Eighth All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions, Moscow, 1929), p 177).

8. A resolution of the Sixteenth Conference stated inter alia: ‘... in trade-union problems Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky are prepared to oppose in the most dangerous fashion the trade unions to the party, actually aiming at the weakening of party leadership in the unions, blurring defects in the work of the unions, defending craft trends and the manifestations of bureaucratic ossification in parts of the trade-union machinery, and presenting the party’s struggle against these defects as a Trotskyist “shake up” of the trade unions...’ Referring to Tomsky’s demand for freedom of expression, the resolution stated: ‘The party... rejects with determination such “freedom” of criticism which the right elements demand in order to defend their anti-Leninist political line.’ (VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), p 389).

9. Thus, for instance, the compositors’ and printers’ union in Moscow was led by the Mensheviks as late as 1923.

10. VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), pp 459-68.

11. The total growth of the urban population in the same period, including the normal increase in the town-dwelling population, amounted to nearly 30 million.

12. This does not apply, of course, to the forced-labour camps, among the inmates of which political offenders or suspects formed a very high, perhaps the highest, proportion. But the forced-labour camp is a monstrous excess, not the typical form of Soviet direction of labour. The typical form is precisely this ‘organised intake’ of peasant labour, on the basis of contracts between the industrial concerns and collective farms.

13. Pravda, 3 October 1940.

14. VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), p 506.

15. VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), p 516.

16. VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), pp 545-47.

17. VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), pp 594-601.

18. VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), p 596.

19. The sanctions did not, of course, apply to workers who changed jobs by order or permission of their superiors.

20. In the coal industry allowances were more liberal. Coal-getters received 100 per cent after two years, and 60 per cent after less than two years of permanent employment.

21. For a more detailed scale of bonuses see VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), p 599.

22. VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), p 598.

23. The total number of workers and employees was approaching 30 million before the Second World War (it was about 33 million in 1949), but it has never been stated how many of these were manual workers and how many were office employees. Indirect indications suggest that industrial workers formed about two-thirds or slightly more of the total.

24. VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), p 450.

25. In the late 1930s the membership fee was reduced to one per cent of wages.

26. VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), p 515.

27. VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), p 414. The author of this resolution was Trotsky, although the same idea was frequently expounded also by Lenin. There was a touch of irony in the fact that Trotsky’s words, without the authorship being mentioned, were approvingly quoted in the solemn message of the Sixteenth Party Conference only a few weeks after the Politbureau had expelled Trotsky from Russia.

28. VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), p 415.

29. VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), pp 415-16.

30. The validity of this argument is, of course, relative only. Whether an increase in wages corresponding to the rise in industrial efficiency is compatible with a large expansion in capital investment depends on a great variety of specific circumstances. Very often the two things are not incompatible. Any rise in efficiency of labour is normally expressed in the additional output of a given factory, industry or of the national industry as a whole. A given capital outlay which used to produce 100 units may, because of the rise in efficiency, produce, say, 120, 20 per cent more. Wages form only part of the capital outlay. An increase in wages by 20 per cent need not necessarily absorb the major part of the additional product. In Russian industry in the middle 1920s wages amounted to slightly more than 50 per cent of the total cost of production. The annual increase in industrial output was in fact of the order of 20 per cent in every year from 1926 to 1929. A 20 per cent increase in wages would have left about half of the value of the additional product for new investment. In the late 1930s wages were only 25 per cent of the total cost of production in Russian industry. This reflected the change in the ‘organic structure of capital’ due to modernisation and expansion of plant. At this more advanced stage an annual 20 per cent increase in wages, assuming a 20 per cent increase in the gross industrial output, should, ceteris paribus, still have left as much as three-quarters of the value of the additional product for new investment. While rises in wages keeping pace with rises in efficiency may slow down capital expansion in some cases, this does not seem to be the rule in Russian or in any other industry. (For the data given here see Kuibyshev’s speech in VIII Vserossiiskii Syezd Profsoyuzov (Eighth All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions, Moscow, 1929), p 373 and Bolshaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya SSSR (Moscow, 1948), p 1096.)

31. VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), pp 393-95.

32. VII Vserossiiskii Syezd Profsoyuzov (Seventh All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions, Moscow, 1927), p 49 and passim. Tomsky told the congress that well-wishing foreign visitors had been shocked by the differences between the earnings of skilled and unskilled workers in Russia. At that time such criticisms coming from foreign visitors, mostly Communists, still made their impression on the Russian Communist Party.

33. See Dogadov’s statement in VIII Vserossiiskii Syezd Profsoyuzov (Eighth All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions, Moscow, 1929), p 87. In 1926 the highest wage paid, say, in railway workshops, was only 53 per cent above the lowest, while in engineering the highest wage was 128 per cent above the lowest.

34. JV Stalin, Sochinenia, Volume 7 (Moscow, in progress), p 376.

35. JV Stalin, Voprosy Leninizma (Problems of Leninism, eleventh edition), p 334.

36. In June 1931 the Railwaymen’s Trade Union was ordered to work out, in cooperation with the Commissariat of Transport, special wage rates for railwaymen employed on the eastern and far northern lines (VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), pp 534-51).

37. Quoted from Pravda of 7 July 1931 which attacked the Commissariat of Labour for this statement.

38. Bolshaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya, SSSR (Moscow, 1948), p 1117.

39. VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), pp 654-65. John Scott in his Behind the Urals (London, 1942), p 117, gives the following scale of progressive rates for metal workers in Magnitogorsk in the middle 1930s:

Production in Percentages of the Plan per Month Payment in Percentages of Basic Rates
First Group Second Group
Less than 100 75 75
100 100 100
101-120 130 120
121-130 170 150
131-150 200 180
151 and upwards 300 250

To the first group belonged the highly skilled technical personnel, while the second comprised foremen and skilled personnel of a lower category.

40. Bolshaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya, SSSR (Moscow, 1948), p 1115.

41. Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1, Chapter XXI.

42. VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), p 579.

43. The new norms were fixed by industrial managers and technicians to the exclusion of the factory committees and the trade unions who now acted as mere publicity agents for Stakhanovism (VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), pp 581, 583-88 and passim). This can be seen, inter alia, from the instructions of the Central Committee of the party, issued in December 1935, about the revision of norms that was to be carried out in all industries in 1936. The instructions contained detailed descriptions of production conferences called for this purpose. In every case the participants mentioned were only ‘managers, chief engineers, shop managers, foremen and prominent Stakhanovites’ — no representatives of trade unions or factory committees were included.

44. Pravda, 16 November 1935.

45. Trud, 1 and 2 November 1935.

46. The biographies of Stakhanov himself and of other celebrated Stakhanovites are highly instructive. Most Stakhanovites were young workers in their twenties or early thirties who had left the countryside only a few years before.

47. Trud, 3 November 1935.

48. Pravda, 13 November 1935.

49. VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), pp 590-93.

50. See his statement in The Land of Socialism (Moscow, 1939), p 405.

51. The trade unions thereby came into possession of very considerable assets. The funds of social insurance amounted to 10.4 milliard roubles under the First Five-Year Plan and to 32.5 milliard under the Second. They amount to 61.6 milliard roubles under the postwar Five-Year Plan.

52. See Appendix in N Shvernik, O Rabote Profsoyuzov v Svyazi s Resheniyami XVIII Syezda VKP (b) (Trade Union Activities in Connexion with the Decisions Taken by the Eighteenth Congress of the All-Union Communist Party, Moscow, 1939), pp 90-91.

53. In the current Five-Year Plan about five milliard roubles have been allocated for labour protection.

54. The working day was seven hours before the war and was raised to eight in 1940.

55. VKP (b) o Profsoyuzakh (All-Union Communist Party on Trade Unions, second edition, Moscow, 1940), p 577.

56. It is claimed, for instance, that in the Second World War the trade unions trained two million skiers for the Red Army.