Joseph Fineberg

Where Labour Rules

Source: The Communist Review, Volume 4, July 1923, No. 3
Transcription/HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

THERE has just concluded in Moscow a competition which for its character is unique. It was a competition in which workmen publicly passed judgment on their factory managers. Such a competition could only take place in a land where labour rules.

Sometime ago Pravda, the official organ of the Russian Communist Party, announced an essay competition on the best and worst factory managers. The workers in factories all over Russia were invited to submit essays describing the abilities or the defects of the managers of their respective factories; their achievements in improving the organisation and output of the particular factory, their attitude to the workmen, and what they had done to improve their conditions.

A panel of judges was appointed consisting of a representative of the Supreme Economic Council, one representative of the All-Russian Council of Trade Unions, two representatives of Pravda, one representative of Ekonomitcheskaya Zhizn, the official organ of the Council of Labour and Defence, two representatives of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party, and also one from its Moscow Committee. In addition there were three workers representing an engineering works, a textile mill, and a wood works respectively. The terms of reference to the judges were: to indicate the factory managers that were worthy of bearing the honourable distinction of being the best, and those deserving the unenviable distinction of being the worst factory managers in the country.

The competition met with an immediate response and roused interest all over the country. Essays came streaming in from all the industrial districts—Moscow, Petrograd, Ivanovo-Voinesensk, Tula, the Don, Kharkoff, and from the remote Urals. During the course of several months a whole page of Pravda was devoted everyday to the publication of these essays. Some were signed by individuals or groups of individuals, some by works’ committees endorsed by the Communist nuclei, while others had been submitted to general meetings of the workers and bore their collective endorsements.

Many of these essays gave rise to discussions in the columns of Pravda. Objection would be made to the fact that the virtues of a particular manager had been exaggerated. Others would point out that while what was said in praise was true, the bad points of the man had not been referred to, and, therefore, his character had not been presented in a true light. Letters would appear from unfortunate bad managers who had been dragged into the light, or from their friends repudiating the charges made against them.

Of course, it could not be expected in such a competition that every essay would be entirely free from error, or even interested bias. Perhaps some found it a ready means of settling some private account with someone of whom they had fallen foul. But every disputed case was investigated and the opinion of the judges as to the correctness of the statements made was published.

This competition was a review of the officers—the “captains” of industry—by the troops!

It was more. The guardians of the economy of the republic were called upon to render an account of their trust before the Tribunal of Labour.

This could only take place in a State where the purpose and method of organising industry is other than that prevailing in capitalist countries. Where the industries belong to the nation, those who have been placed in charge of them are the servants of the nation. And where labour rules, the workers themselves are vitally interested in the good management and development of the factories in which they work. This is the case in Russia.

Industry in Russia is owned by the Labour State and is run for the purpose of satisfying the needs of the producers. Every factory kept going, every new factory opened, any increase in output, and improvement in transport and distribution, means an increase of the national wealth, which will be shared by those who have helped to produce it.

This has been demonstrated, objectively, to the workers in Russia. During the civil war industry was brought almost to a standstill, and the conditions of the workers were appalling. During the brief respite industry has been gradually set going, and already the workers’ conditions are approaching the normal. With the exertion of the best efforts and the best employment of resources, that point will be reached, and then will commence the striving towards a higher economic and cultural level. Hence the interest in this competition.

In passing, the competition gives us an insight into the economic and social life of Russia to-day.

One hundred and thirty-two essays were sent in. The great majority of the men described were former workmen at the bench. These had fought in the class war before the revolution. Many of them had fought and risen to commanding positions in the revolutionary army. The results of their abilities there, we know. On the coming of peace and the period of construction they had been given commanding positions on the economic front. There they have shown organising ability, initiative and resource more than equal to that of the former capitalist specialist. There are, it is true, exceptions. These have been dragged into the fierce glare of public criticism. Among these workmen managers are Communists and non-party men, but the “good” non-party manager is not inferior to the “good” Communist manager; both loyally serve their class. The list includes former specialists, the “spenz” as they are called. Some of these are just hanging on—waiting, waiting—far what? Others have broken with the past and either out of loyalty to the republic or sheer disinterested devotion to their work, are giving of their best. Also there are former owners of enterprises who have managed to secure positions as managers in the enterprises they formerly owned. These are invariably bad. Below we give a brief summary of a few of the essays sent in:—

S. J. Podanitzin: Liseva Mechanical Works, in the Urals. Elementary education, factory worker. Took active part in the working class movement prior to the revolution. Joined Russian Communist Party in 1917, was elected to workers’ factory committee in 1918, and subsequently appointed to Board of Management of factory. Here he revealed considerable organising ability and was subsequently appointed chairman of the board.

In December, 1918, the district was captured by Kolchak. Podanitzin escaped and joined the red army.

After the defeat of Kolchak he returned to Liseva. The works were in a state of ruin. The best machinery had been carried off by Kolchak. Not a single engineer was on the place. He set to work to re-organise works; recruited the staff; drew up the programme of output. All this was done amidst the, difficulties caused by shortage of funds and food. Yet he managed to stock enough raw materials and fuel for the whole of 1922 and 1923. Now production approaches to pre-war standard and works employ 3,140 workers.

His attitude to the workers is that of a comrade. He organised technical schools at the works, helped to publish and edited local newspapers, organised co-operative stores, clubs, schools, etc.

This essay concludes: There will be no need to surrender the Liseva works to the capitalist sharks. It will be protected by the workers themselves under the guidance of their Red manager, comrade Podanitzin.

A. V. Arkhangelsky: (Prizeman) Mikhailovsk Textile Mills, Moscow. Mills almost at a standstill during years of revolution. Arkhangelsky was appointed manager and within ten months, by precept and example, “inspired” the workers to bring output to 121 per cent. pre-war. At the same time he improved conditions of the workers, repaired workers’ quarters, constructed baths, etc. He allocates considerable sums for educational work, and himself lectures on industrial and technical subjects. He is a Communist, and spent most of his life from the age of 17 in Czarist prisons.

R. K. Aichmann: (Prizeman) Derbanovsk Dye Works (the largest in Russia). Specialist, university education, non-party. He concentrated his attention on perfecting production. Introduced the production of phenol in Soviet Russia. Brought works to pre-war capacity. Under his management the works have always fulfilled the output programme and has continually expanded production. He maintains good conditions of labour, and devoted considerable time and means to cultural work among the workers.

Onufriev: Manager, Tzaritzin Section, South Eastern Railway (one of the worst). Was manager prior to the revolution, but was hounded out by the workers on the outbreak of the revolution on account of his brutal conduct towards them. When specialists were invited by the Government to return to work he came back to his former post. He found pretexts for dismissing those who had taken part in his expulsion and resumed his former attitude to the workers. Since his reinstatement the working of his section of the line has deteriorated. Excess of fuel consumed amounts to nearly 3,000 tons, and the number of sound engines has been reduced 25 per cent.

The competition is now over. Of course, not all the economic administrators of the Proletarian State passed under review, but a sufficient number did so to give us an idea in whose hands the economic future of the country lies. On the whole, the picture is encouraging. Labour is managing industry, and labour is interested in managing it well.

Of the “good” managers the judges selected twelve as deserving the distinction of being described as the “best factory managers.” Pravda is making application to the All-Russian Executive Council to award these men the Order of the Red Flag, the award given for distinguished service on the military and economic fronts. These men will stand out as examples to be emulated by all those who are loyally striving to raise the economic level of the country. In addition, 23 others were marked out for special mention.

Of the bad ones, three were branded as the “worst.” These, too, will get the award they deserve. Incompetence and malicious sabotage is as fatal on the economic front as on the military front, and those found guilty of this must, and will, be removed.

Thus we get a sidelight on the working. of proletarian democracy. Freedom and scope for initiative are given to those who are given a certain task to perform. But they must achieve results; they must make some contribution to the well-being of the State. With ability and goodwill they can secure the co-operation of all those whose labours they have to guide; for all are interested in achieving the goal.

Those who place self-interest above that of the whole, may for a time feather their nests; but ultimately the glaring searchlight of proletarian vigilance picks them out, and their alight of gladness comes to an end.

Thus does Labour’s will prevail where Labour rules.