Hal Draper

East Europe Roundup

Economic Snags and Purges
Haunt Stalinist Power
Behind Iron Curtain

(10 October 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 41, 10 October 1949, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Recently some Komsomol (Young Communist League) members sent the. following question to a Russian newspaper: “We are told that the USSR has entered the phase of communism. Can you give us chapter and verse for this assertion?”

The paper replied that the proof was that “our workers are working more and better than workers in capitalist countries.”

No doubt workers under the Stalinist heel are working “more” (and harder) than even in many capitalist countries – and that goes not only for the workers in the slave labor camps but also fox those who work under the whip in the city factories. But even for the soft-headed or ignorant people who think Russia is moving toward socialism (or communism), this should be sufficient proof that at any rate it is not even within telescopic-sighting distance of the goal. The fruits of a developed socialist or communist society (in the Marxist sense) are possible only when the level of production is so high that human beings have to spend less time satisfying their economic needs and grubbing for the elementary necessities.

Actually the above quotation proves that the Russian system has nothing in common with socialism and its aims, that far from even going in the direction of socialism it is pointed toward its own form of labor exploitation and oppression. It is only in the eyes of a ruling class living on the workers’ labor that “working more” is a historic sign of “progress” – their own progress as an exploiting class.

Chutkikh vs. Stakhanov

When the Stalinist answer, cited above, claims that workers under the GPU whip work “better,” we have something else again. It would be interesting if true. It is even more interesting when the truth is just the reverse.

Planned economy is, in the abstract, a powerful economic weapon for raising industrial production. The concrete reality in Stalinland is, however, planned economy under totalitarianism. And the central contradiction under the Stalinist system is precisely the contradiction between economic planning and totalitarian terrorism.

One aspect of this – one only – is the effect of totalitarianism on quality production, efficiency and machinery.

In Russia “wholesale production of rejects” has become a standard joke. A textile worker named Chutkikh has inaugurated a movement for quality production. At present he is as much publicised as Stakhanov, under whose name the state masters pushed the drive for speedup (quantity production). But whereas the whip can make a worker move his elbow twice as fast. It does not make the hand more efficient – on the contrary. Chutkikh versus Stakhanov is an aspect of the inherent contradiction of Stalinist labor.

In Poland the quality of coal has considerably deteriorated. In 1948, of 67 million tons of coal 1,100,000 tons were stones. In 1949, the percentage of stones in the Polish coal output reached 5 per cent. In Yugoslavia, Tito has rebuked coal miners and estimated the number of trains wasted on transporting stones. Czechoslovakia has suffered serious losses in 1948 and 1949 because a sizable proportion of her exports was returned as “not up to standard.”

Planned Breakdown

In Bulgaria the quality of utility goods has so badly deteriorated that the ministry of industry had to set up a special department to foster quality production. This is typical of the bureaucratic reaction to a problem. They will plead and they will threaten; the pleas will be useless because the workers do not feel they are working for their own state; the threats will increase. And the threats and executions of threats will only intensify the underlying difficulty.

For example, in Czechoslovakia the chairman of the Central Harvesting Committee has said that the agricultural machinery of the state tractor stations is being ruined because the drivers, anxious to attain their targets, pay no attention to lubrication. (Since in addition the machinery was not made of first-rate materials in the first place, breakdowns began to affect the harvest.)

In the polish coal mines, machinery has very much deteriorated. Breakdowns have taken on such proportions that in 1948 eight managing directors and 1,000 employees and workers were sentenced for sabotage. In Rumania the trucks of the State Automobile Transport Company must run 40,000 kilometers without a general overhaul instead of 25,000 kilometers. A target has been set by the all-wise bureaucratic planners and it is less risky to try to show “fulfilment of the plan” at any cost than it is to tell the planners that they are cock-eyed. That isn’t done by subordinates in the Stalinist prison society.


Bulgarian Freeze

So totalitarianism and terror intensifies, as the only reply the bureaucrats know.

On August 19 the Sofia (Bulgaria) radio reported that the Labor Directorate had decided that the workers “have no more right to leave their working places without permission” of the factory administration. Permission to employ or to dismiss will be granted only in accordance with the needs of production. Workers who leave their employment without permission of the Labor Directorate must be sent back to their original jobs, in accordance with Cabinet Decree No. 7. If they do not return voluntarily, they can be called up by the branch labor office (that is, assigned to compulsory labor groups).

This is not news with respect to working conditions within Russia itself but the Eastern European spawn of bureaucratic collectivism have to follow suit.

According to reports last month, early in September Czechoslovakia was due for a tour by Alexei Stakhanov himself for the purpose of kindling “working enthusiasm” among the “slack Czechoslovak workers.”


Art à la Carte

If the economy itself reels under the whip, art and culture curl up and die. We put the spotlight on a sentence which ought to serve as a classic example of the bureaucratic approach toward artists.

Bulgaria has been holding a competition for a monument in honor of the Russian army. On July 25 the decision was announced: the competition was closed “without result.” No winner. The announcement complained:

“Despite clearly defined instructions, the entries have not expressed the idea behind the monument.”

Maybe all the artists in Bulgaria are cosmopolitan saboteurs, but in any case the very idea that an art work can be produced according to “clearly defined instruction” by a planning commission opens a wide window on the bureaucratic class mentality.

The individual initiative of an artist and the initiative required of a skilled worker in modern industry are quite different in quality, but the living germ in both withers under terror.


Trouble in Estonia

Since the three Baltic states – Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia – were swallowed up by Russia and incorporated, they have also been almost as completely swallowed up from public notice. But the rumblings in the pseudo-independent satellites are not without their duplicates in these newly Stalinized lands.

Behind recent purges in these countries, particularly in Estonia, lie familiar facts. As the weekly East Europe (August 25) reports:

“On May Day, 1949, President Pall said that one peasant family of seven had earned 5,892 kilograms of grain, 1,474 kilograms of potatoes, 12 tons of cattle fodder and 7,271 rubles in cash. One family of two had earned over 3 tons of grain, 4 tons of potatoes and about 4,000 rubles in cash. Both families had fulfilled their norms, as together they had worked 675 norm days.

Before the war an Estonian farmhand could buy 16 kilograms of wheat per day with his earnings, over and above his board and lodging. This means that the two families, held up as examples to kolkhoz workers, had half the income of pre-war farmhands.”

In all three countries the strenuous collectivization drive has resulted not only in the deportation of recalcitrant elements but also in an extensive purge of the Estonian, Lithuanian and Latvian CPs. When the plans for collectivization were presented to their leaders in 1949, some of them reportedly protested against the methods to be used and otherwise showed resentment. In any case, the first victim of the purge in Estonia has been the chairman of the State Planning Commission, O. Septre.

The first president of “Soviet Estonia,” J. Vares, committed suicide some time ago. Among the purgees are: N. Andresen, the former minister of foreign affairs and deputy premier; and J. Semper, the former minister of education. More recently a group of Estonian Stalinist writers shared their fate.

The first secretary of the Estonian Communist Party, N. Karotamm, has been noticeably absent from recent celebrations. It is said that his place is being taken by the second secretary, V. Kedrov, who is a Russian, because Karotamm has shown signs of “national deviationism.”


Czech Base Narrows

Purges, of course, are the symptom of Stalinism’s chronic diseases. Czechoslovakia has not yet had a top-level purge like most of the other satellites but the witches’ brew is bubbling there.

At the end of July a delegate of the Czechoslovak ministry of the interior toured the country. Summing up his impressions, he wrote on July 31 that the “National Committees” had become “estranged from the masses” and had “lost touch with the people.” This does not exactly come to anti-Stalinists as hot news, but the CP’s solution was to set up ... still another bureaucratic top agency of control, to be known as Committees of Workers’ Patronage, vested with control over the National Committees.

This does not mean that the Stalinists have “lost control” over the National Committees in any police sense, but merely that they cannot rely upon these agencies and have to narrow their bases of disciplinary control.

During 1948 and the first half of 1949 the Czech CP underwent an intensive purge, in which a quarter million members were expelled for being “alien to the working class and to Communist ideology.” Yet on July 31 Rude Pravo published the news that only 45 per cent of the CP members were workers or working peasants. This contrasts with the 57 per cent formed by these class elements up to the CP coup in February 1948. And this is after the latest purge.

The Stalinist apparatus develops away from the people, and the people keep away from the party apparatus.

Meanwhile there has been a rash of complaints by farmers that many pilots have made forced landings on their fields, haying run out of gas. Is it because flyers are given only very limited supplies of fuel, to prevent them from flying off to the west? That is what is being said.

The purges strike in all directions. In Bulgaria, where top man Kostov was purged some time ago, another member of the CP Central Committee, N. Pavlov, was expelled from the party on August 16 “for insincerity in connection with the explanation of his relations with T. Kostov.” In Hungary, the former chief of the political police, G. Péter, committed suicide in his cell – so reports Tito’s newspaper Borba on August 5. Apparently he wasn’t good material for the Rajk trial.


And a Trojan Built Rome

These are scattered notes and do not require a conclusion, but there is a text for a closing note suggested by a recent passage from a Russian periodical. It is about another of those claims for the all-embracing inventiveness of the Russian genius:

“Achilles owed his success in battle to the fact that his iron armor, forged in Russian workshops, was superior to the bronze armor of the Trojans. The figure of Achilles, which for 3,000 years has captivated mankind, is the figure of a proto-Russian, one of our great heroic forebears.”

Didn’t this Stalinist braggart ever hear of Achilles’ heel?

Last updated on 28 August 2021