Khristian Rakovsky

The Five Year Plan in Crisis
(Part 1)

Preliminary Remarks

The present article is an attempt to illustrate, through the use of concrete material, certain propositions that only a few months ago had frightened off certain people but today, under the impact of the rapidly unfolding events, have turned into indisputable truths. A second task is to build upon a certain analysis, in order modestly to advance our understanding of the essence of the processes now going on inside the country. Whatever there was to say “generally” about these themes has already been said. It has long been time to move away from general arguments, general repetitions of the fact that centrism leads to Thermidor, and debates over what the odds are that Thermidor is inevitable, and to analyze concretely by what means current policy is making it possible for Thermidor to triumph. This concrete study demands more work, greater reflection, and greater assiduousness than does political chatter about general themes and the endless repetition (with different variations) of commonplaces. But it is only through such study that we can advance towards a greater understanding of what is happening inside the country. I, more than anyone, am aware of the weak points in my work. I am no longer talking about the fact that we are nowhere near to having the materials that would be necessary for this type of undertaking. Even with the materials at hand this job is beyond the capacity of any one person. I know that not everything will be sufficiently convincing and that much will prove subject to debate. This is due both to my mistakes and to the need either totally to ignore many questions or, because they demand their own special study, to limit myself merely to a few observations; also it is due to the fact that I have often had to deal only with the economic side of certain issues. Least of all would I claim to have coped fully with the problem of making a concrete analysis or to have overcome all of the difficulties that such an analysis entails. My primary task as I see it is to explain concretely a number of questions for myself (and, I should hope, also for others), and I should like to think that this work will prod some comrades to direct their labours in the same direction.

Briefly on the Sixteenth Congress

About the Congress itself there is not much that one can say. The task that the Congress had before it was fulfilled 100 per cent. The Congress, it is true, not only did not resolve, but did not even pose a single one of the problems currently confronting the country and the revolution. However, it was not supposed to. The task of the Sixteenth Congress was to use its authority to bolster the organizational “achievements” of the Stalin fraction, to consolidate the apparatus above the Party, the Stalin group over the apparatus, and Stalin himself as the acknowledged leader who crowns the whole top-heavy apparatus that has settled itself comfortably around the Party’s neck. Hence the enormous gulf, the gaping scissors between what happened at the Congress and what is going on inside the country. The tasks of organizational mechanics shoved aside the political tasks. With such organizational mechanics as his starting point, Stalin could not pose a single one of the questions actually confronting the revolution. Proceeding from these same organizational mechanics, the Right did not dare to pose these questions. The Congress passed life by – this is the first conclusion, the first sensation experienced by anyone who reads the reports. Another conclusion is that this Congress was one of the most important steps towards the Party’s further ‘bonapartization’ (if that is still possible). It is not just the Party that finds itself removed from political decisions; not even a carefully filtered and selected Congress is entrusted with them. The after-the-fact, unqualified approval of a general line devoid of any concrete content can only mean one thing: the complete unqualified, a priori approval of any policy, of any turn in any direction. And a turn has to be made somewhere, and quickly, too! Foreseeing this, the Stalin group set itself the task at this Congress of untying its hands from both sides and of getting the Congress to grant it carte blanche. The apparatus is gaining even greater freedom of action with regard to the Party. About the Opposition they preferred for the most part to say nothing. Yaroslavsky [1], usually so free with his quotations, obviously could not produce a single quote even falsified, that would not have been a blow at the policy of centrism. For this reason they did not dare give an account, even in their own words, of the appeal by the Opposition leadership.

All the outer trappings harmonized totally with the ideological content of the Congress proceedings. When some future historian comes to write the history of mores in the epoch of reconstruction, he will take the protocols of the Sixteenth Congress as his principal illustration. This savage picture of bureaucrats and apparatchiki unrestrainedly vying with one another in howling down and humiliating an opponent already defenceless and with his back against the wall i.e., the Right, provides a fitting symbol of the present regime. Most detestable of all is the fact that this contest in vile behaviour towards an already prostrate sinner is the price that the bureaucrat must pay for his own well being: who is there so innocent that he can guarantee that tomorrow he, too, will not become an expiatory sacrifice to the cause of preserving the prestige of the general line? It is hard to say who suffers the greatest loss of personal dignity, those who, in the face of the whistling and the catcalls submissively bow their heads and ignore the insults in the hope for a better tomorrow, or chose, who likewise hoping for a better future, deliver the insults, knowing in advance that the opponent will give in. At the Fifteenth Congress [December 1927] the apparatchiki were still unable to allow themselves this. Over that Congress one could feel history breathing, one had a sense that something serious was taking place, and that the Party was living through some sort of tragedy. Now they have tried to do the same thing with the Right, but as always happens, the second time around is a banal farce. Contemplating the possible consequences of the centrists [2] struggle against the Right, L.D. [Trotsky] wrote: “Although practically it [the struggle against the Right – Kh.R.] might mean that the Party rids itself of the most outspoken elements of Ustryalovism [3] and puts a stop to or retards the downward slide or the degeneration, at the same time it will mean a further disorganization of the Party’s thinking, the further debasement of marxist method, and will in this way pave the way for new and even more dangerous and vexing stages in the Party’s development.”

The fulfilment of this programme as outlined by L.D. has proceeded in total and unmistakable conformity with the law of uneven development: if in regard to the first part of the prognosis the programme has been fulfilled no better than industry fulfils its qualitative indicators, with regard to the second part the programme visibly has been overfulfilled by a wide margin.

In the Country

Meanwhile, events in the country follow their own course. If the Congress found it possible to pass life by, then life is all the more justified in by-passing the official resolutions of the Congress. The farther one gets from the. Congress, the more one sees in all its unpleasantness everything that the centrists have so carefully slurred over and concealed and which the Right has not dared to speak of. If the Congress proved unable to draw the balance of the last two and a half years of centrist policy (and of the entire preceding policy of the Right-Centrist bloc), life, classes, and the Party (to what extent we still do not know) will draw it up instead. The main result of the balance is that the revolution has now come face to face with the impending, enormous historical retribution to be paid for seven years of opportunist policy. Politics, and not fate will decide whether this retribution turns into a decisive transfer of power into the hands of other classes. This in turn means no general phrases or devising and concocting general schemas (even if very leftish ones), but drawing up a concrete, clear programme of action for reducing as far as possible the consequences of this historical retribution and saving the dictatorship at any price. However, it is impossible to construct such a programme without making a full and sober reckoning of the concrete situation that the country now finds itself in. Before deciding what one must do, it is necessary to have a sound knowledge of what is. And before constructing a concrete programme, one must have a concrete conception of the initial assumptions on which one is going to build it.

Industry, Quantity, and Quality

There can be no debate that in quantitative terms output has grown substantially over the past year. For the first three quarters of the current year [4] the total value of gross output of large-scale industry has come to 11,705,700,000 rubles (at constant prices); this compares to a gross output of 9,137,400,000 rubles last year, or an increase of 27.4 per cent. Although the plan is 3.7 per cent below fulfilment, such growth is nevertheless exceptionally high. We would be lapsing into optimism, however, if we simply stated this fact without analyzing the factors and phenomena that have accompanied this rise in quantitative indicators. I have already had cause to point out that a rise in the quantitative indicators taken in and of itself is an inadequate criterion for judging not only the volume of real growth of the productive forces but also whether or not overall growth actually has taken place at all. [5] The real measures of growth of the productive forces, and hence also of the assurance that quantitative indicators will continue to rise in the future, are the following three factors: (1) the basis on which these quantitative indicators have been achieved; (2) the correlation between quantitative and qualitative indicators; and (3) the rate of accumulation and expansion of industrial capital.

Quantitative Increases in Production and Output

A rise in quantitative indicators can be of two basic kinds: (1) growth on the basis of an expansion of fixed capital, with which we usually associate a rise in the productivity of labour (in the sense in which Marx used the term, i.e., the increase in output per person that comes as industry moves to a higher stage of development); and (2) growth on the basis of the old fixed capital (hence also on the basis of the old technology by its more intensive utilization. In the latter case the rise in quantitative indicators is closely tied to an increasing intensity of labour and to a relatively sizable expansion of the work farce. In practice these two methods usually run parallel to one another, and it is then a question of determining the relative weight of each. No really precise calculation is possible here, at least not on the basis of the materials that I have available to me; and so we shall have to make use of a number of indirect indicators which, however, are sufficient in my view to give a general idea of what is going on. There is no doubt that last year [i.e., 1928/29] saw a certain expansion of industrial fixed capital, despite the fact that the plan for capital construction was underfulfilled and the amount set aside for depreciation was inadequate. Nor is there any doubt that this expansion of fixed capital has continued into the current year and has provided, at least to some extent, a basis for the rise in quantitative indicators. However, if we approach the problem from the other end the conviction is inescapable that the principal methods for raising quantitative indicators have been those in the second category. Primarily we see an enormous increase in the load being placed on old fixed capital through the introduction of continuous production and the increase in the number of shifts ...

According to the Control Figures [6] the rise in output per worker was “to have been based only to a very small degree on increasing the intensity of labour”. Practice has proven otherwise. Already for the first six months of this year the number of workers has risen 14.3 per cent over the same period last year, more than four times the increase assumed by the plan. As for output per worker, this has gone up by approximately 18 to 19 per cent during the first half year against a planned figure of 25.3 per cent. Were we able to ascertain just how much of this rise in output was due to the greater application of technology and how much was due to an increase in the intensity of labour, we would be able to shed some additional light on what the basis has been for the rise in quantitative indicators. Here, however, we can make only a very rough estimate on the basis of the above figures. Just on its own, the introduction of the continuous working week [7] means an increase in the running time of equipment of one sixth, or 16.6 per cent. Since during these three quarters [October 1929-June 1930] approximately fifty per cent of the workers, or roughly half of industry, have gone over to an uninterrupted work week, this increased running of fixed capital in and of itself should account for a boost in output of eight or nine per cent. The increased number of shifts per day should have raised output by a further one or two per cent. The rise in the number of workers will have had a similar effect: since a considerable portion of this increase has been amongst auxiliary workers, there has been greater opportunity for skilled workers to operate equipment. Finally, if we take into account that the shift to continuous production means automatically doing away with a number of strictly technical equipment stoppages, we shall probably be very close to the truth if we say that of the growth in output, approximately 15 percentage points are due to the transfer to the continuous working week, the increase in the number of shifts, and the rise in the number of workers – in other words, have come at the expense of raising the intensity of equipment utilization. [8]

The remaining 12 per cent come from the rise in labour productivity, the greater intensity of labour, and the expansion of fixed capital. As we shall see below, the lions share here belongs to the intensification of labour, which correspondingly lowers the influence of the other two factors in raising the quantitative indicators. I repeat, this calculation – a number of whose details I have missed out – is extremely approximate; however, it is more than adequate for drawing our first, basic conclusion about the growth of the quantitative indicators: The decisive factor in this growth has not been the increase of fixed capital or the expansion of industry’s technological base, but the more intensive utilization of old fixed capital which comes, on the one hand, from the rise in the number of workers, and on the other hand, from the greater intensification of labour. This method of raising quantitative indicators creates the conditions of its own collapse – not to mention the fact that it does nothing to guarantee the quantitative growth of industry in the future. It is a method that rapidly comes up against its own natural limits: neither the more intensive utilization of machinery nor the intensification of labour can go on indefinitely. This method still makes sense – although even here only from an economic point of view – if applied over a short period during which it is possible rapidly to lay down a material base, that is, new fixed capital. [9] The very fact that it was necessary to resort to this method and turn it into a system is an eloquent indication of just how far behind we are in creating this material base. The extent of the pressure on the working class, by which means centrism hopes to overcome this lag, to a certain extent serves as a measure of this lag. What is absolutely basic, what leaves its mark on the current situation is this: it has already been proven beyond any doubt that it will be impossible to eliminate this lag in a short time on the basis of the country’s own internal resources. Before proceeding to consider this question I shall deal with three factors that from different sides and in different ways testify to the fact that we have already reached the limit beyond which we cannot possibly raise the quantitative indicators on their existing base.

The Question of Product Quality

The first and most important factor is product quality. It is enough to open any number of any newspaper to be convinced that matters here are truly catastrophic. No agitational, administrative, or legal measures can halt this steady deterioration of quality. The facts are so well known that I can limit myself to presenting just a few of the most striking examples. Below we give the levels of defective production [brak] for the following factories and types of output [10]:



% brak

im. Dzerzhinskogo

boiler iron


im. Dzerzhinskogo &
im. Petrovskogo

steel semi-finished products

as much as 40




roofing iron



high grade steel


im. Marti



This list could be multiplied many times over. Therefore we are dealing not with individual defects, but with the systematic production of defective products (brak). The ash content of coal has been rising sharply, in some cases reaching 18 per cent. Only twenty per cent of bricks will support the established load norms. The situation in light industry is even worse, where the textile industry has set a record. According to frequently quoted data, brak among “clean” products (i.e., those that have slipped through quality control) averages fifty per cent for the various [textile] trusts. The press, too, has been producing figures showing losses in the millions connected with this deterioration in quality. It is characteristic that when it comes to brak the new factories are just as bad. The weaving factory now being built as part of the melange yarn kombinat produced 93.8 percent (!) brak in April and 92.37 per cent in May. According to data of the People’s Commissariat of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection, brak in the sewing industry is 30 per cent this year as against 10 per cent last year. Brak on galoshes is running as high as 14 per cent, on footwear 13 per cent. There literally is not a single industry where quality is not in a wretched state; there is hardly an industry where the current year has not seen the decline continue. It is clear in such a situation that wherever the product passes through several stages of manufacture or through several branches of industry, poor quality in one branch becomes multiplied by the poor quality of all the others. To what conclusions does this analysts of quality lead us?

(1) The worsening of product quality means that the quantitative indicators are more or less fictitious. Even Kuibyshev [11] had to admit this at a meeting of the Praesidium of the Supreme Council of the National Economy [VSNKh]. where he declared: “The figures for the enormous growth of industry, become relative if we take qualitative changes into account.” (Ekonomcheskaya zhizn’, 22 May [1930].) Za industrializatsiyu expressed it even more energetically when on 18 July it declared, “our quantitative achievements are not worth a brass farthing”. Here is a concrete example taken from real life (one of thousands), quoted by Rafalovsky in Za industrializatsiyu of 16 July. “If eight thousand single-spindle drilling machines work with rapid-cutting drills at a cutting speed of 30 mm. per minute and a feed of 0.4 mm. per revolution, drills of inferior quality, whose cutting speed was 20 mm. a minute with a feed of 0.28 mm. per revolution, would require 17 thousand machines together with the servicing that goes with them”. Under these conditions, what benefits the nation’s economy the most, a given number of top quality drills or twice as many second grade ones? Clearly the first, for here doubling the number of drills we turn out would mean doubling output. We could apply this reasoning to any other product, from tractors to galoshes. In a number of cases, the deterioration in quality not only has nullified quantitative achievements, it has actually turned them into losses. Thus we read in a survey of the work of the textile industry for the first half year (Za industrializatsiyu, 20 April): “In many enterprises the quantitative plan is. being fulfilled at the expense of a rise in production losses and in brak, for both finished and semi-finished products. The effect has been to reduce quantitative results to zero, bringing losses both to the textile industry and to the national economy as a whole. As a result, for individual classes of commodities to an enormous degree costs of production are not being covered, not to mention there being any accumulation:” This is the other side of high rates of growth in output.

It is impossible to make any judgement about quantitative indicators without comparing them to the indices for quality. In the absence of any calculation of the quality of output its quantitative indicators will be a statistical fiction, bearing no relation to the actual state of affairs. It is obvious that quantitative indices can provide a picture that corresponds to reality only if they are divided by a coefficient for quality, and that this picture would be fundamentally different from the one the official press depicts in its frivolous articles. Regrettably until now there have been no such indices that would allow us to express the level of product quality, and hence also the real level of quantitative growth. This, then, is our first conclusion.

(2) Quality indicators reveal not only how relative our quantitative indicators are at present, but also how they might change in the future. At the same time, quality indicators provide an indirect measure of the degree of labour intensity, since the two are closely related. The intensity of labour has now reached the point where the worker, to turn out the quantity demanded of him, cannot pay any heed to quality. All the data testify to the fact (and I shall return to this below) that with our existing technological bate, we can no longer boost quantity by increasing the intensity of labour except at the expense of a deterioration in quality. The quality of output is a signal that to raise quantity by such a path is now impossible.

Shortage of Skilled Workers

If the quality of output signals the limit when it comes to raising the intensity of the worker’s labour, the limit to increasing the intensity of equipment utilization is set by the number of skilled personnel (kadry). So far as placing a greater load on old fixed capital is concerned, there are still large reserves to be tapped by increasing the number of shifts and going over to round-the-clock work. It is not part of my task to expound on the question of personnel, but anyone who follows the problem must know that it cannot be resolved in the immediate future and that hence it is only to a very limited extent that reserves can be tapped by increasing the number of shifts. The issue of personnel is tied, of course, to the question of servicing new enterprises, but this aspect of the problem does not concern us here. What is important for our purposes is to point out that the shortage of personnel at a time when it is impossible to place any further load on the existing work force places a limit on any future increase in quantitative indicators from this end as well.

The Relationship between Industrial Backwardness and Agriculture

The third factor lies outside the borders of industry proper, but is nevertheless connected with it. We are talking here about the shortage of agricultural raw materials for light industry. Because of this shortage the volume of production in light industry fell by nearly 30 per cent in May and June. In these two months the plan was little more than 50 per cent fulfilled. The fat industry cut production by 15.5 per cent in April, 15.7 per cent in May, and down to 38.6 per cent of the May level in June, i.e., production practically came to a standstill. The foodstuffs industry cut production by 15.5 per cent in April, by 12.9 per cent in May, and by 23.7 per cent in June. The situation in the sugar industry is absolutely catastrophic, and in June it virtually halted production. During the last year production capacity in the sugar industry was only 42.8 per cent utilized. Even from these figures it is obvious that we are not dealing with individual stoppages in isolated industries, but with a sharp fall off in production virtually throughout light industry, with some industries coming to a total halt. Even if industry was completely blameless for this state of affairs it would still be a fact to be reckoned with. But the fact is that industry is not completely blameless. We are merely seeing the effect of something we have warned about many times: the tardy development of industry has become in turn a factor holding up the development of agriculture.

One of the articles to which we have referred correctly discerns the basic reasons for the shortage of agricultural raw materials. These are: (1) an incorrect prices policy; (2) incorrect regulation of the supply of industrial commodities to the producers of agricultural raw materials; (3) the backwardness of those industries that produce fertilizers (the demand for fertilizers this year has been only 25 percent satisfied); and (4) a severe shortage of machinery for cultivating technical crops and a near total absence of harvesters – thanks to which for the majority of technical crops the work of looking after the sowing and initial cultivation is being carried out by primitive, manual methods.

These are all direct consequences of the backwardness of industry.

Analyzing the question of quantitative indicators in the context of the above-mentioned factors leads us to the following basic conclusions. (1) The official figures for quantitative growth are a fiction, because they have failed to take into account the quality of output. Once we take quality into account the quantitative figures become relative. (2) To the exent that there really has been quantitative growth, the decisive factors have been the more intensive employment of the workforce and the greater intensity of labour. (3) By utilizing this method of quantitative growth – which by itself creates the conditions for its own collapse and in no way assures quantitative growth in the future – we have clearly reached the limit beyond which its further application can have only negative consequences for the national economy. This method has exhausted itself. (4) The question of any future growth of quantitative indicators, or even of maintaining what has already been achieved, depends directly on laying a new material-technical base for industry.

This latter question is decided by the volume of accumulation and the amount of capital construction.

Accumulation and Its Sources: Capital Construction

At the end of last year, when the necessity of industrialization became obvious even to the blind and its significance had finally sunk in after an enormous delay, centrism flung itself headlong down the path of forced tempos, hoping at a single stroke to bridge the gap created by the whole of previous policy. The plans that were drawn up were truly grandiose, sharply exceeding the drafts of the Five Year Plan [pyatiletka]. Total volume of capital investment for this year was to be 3,423 million rubles, with another 117 million coming from a four per cent deduction from the capital construction of other branches – a total of 3,540 million rubles, compared to 1,600 million rubles last year and 2,331 million in the Draft Five Year Plan. These figures then were increased to 3,583 million rubles and set finally at 3,923 million rubles by the Council of People’s Commissars [Sovnarkom] decree of 12 April 1930. Where was this colossal sum to come from? So far as the initial sum was concerned, six sevenths of it (2,980 million) was to come from within industry itself (550 million from amortization and 2,430 million from profits). The remainder was to come from the four per cent deduction from the other branches of the socialized sector, from budget financing, and from bank credits. This left 221 million not, covered in the Industrial-Financial Plan [promfinplan]. If we deduct the 550 million amortization (which represents no new investment) from the total investment figure of 3,540 million listed by the Control Figures, we find that there is to be 2,990 million rubles in new investment, of which 2,430 is to come from industry’s own profits.

To grasp the significance of profits of this size, one must bear in mind that this year’s profits are to be more than 220 per cent of last year and yield an additional 1,200 to 1,300 million rubles. The share of profits in the prices [value] of output was to rise this year to 21 per cent, from 11.6 per cent last year. What were to be the sources of such an enormous absolute and relative rise in the volume of profits? The smallest source was to be the expansion of production. As the Control Figures indicate, wherever extra profits might come from this direction would be eaten up first by the greater proportion in the total assumed by less profitable heavy industry (Group “A”), and second by the rise in industrial exports, which frequently show a loss. According to these same Control Figures (p. 100), the main source of this huge accumulation of profits is to be an 11 per cent fall in production costs, projected as an average for industry as a whole.

At the projected volume of output, each percentage fall in production costs would yield approximately 130 million rubles, so that the entire drop in production costs would give roughly 1,400 million rubles, or a sum exceeding the planned growth in profits. The other side of this reduction of production costs is the planned rise in output per worker of 25 per cent compared to 15-16 per cent in 1928/29. Below we analyze what were to be the sources for lowering production costs and raising output, as well as what actually happened in practice.

According to available data, the fall in production costs in eight months [October 1929 – May 1930] was only 6.4 per cent (7.1 per cent for Group “A” and 5.8 per cent in Group “B”), i.e., little more than half the planned fall of 11.5 per cent (Za industrializatsiyu, 18 July). In the first six months [October 1929 – March 1930] output per worker was 18 per cent higher than the same period last year (more recent data is not available). Both the degree of plan fulfilment (in absolute terms) for these two indicators and their comparison confront us with a number of questions: (1) how real can we consider these official results; (2) why was the plan not fulfilled; and (3) what were the sources for achieving the results actually obtained?

Falls in Production Costs and Product Quality

It is enough just to pose the first question to answer it. The measurement of changes in production costs makes sense only if one is comparing products of identical quality. However, if the fall in production costs takes place while quality is worsening, one can only decide if costs really have gone down by comparing this drop in costs against the degree of quality deterioration. If, let us say, a pair of galoshes now lasts 11 months instead of 12, there will have been a deterioration of quality of just over eight per cent (1/12). If at the same time production costs formally have fallen by eight per cent there in fact will not have been any real saving. Yet who can doubt but that the percentage deterioration in quality (if only it could be measured) has been hardly less than the fall in production costs? [12] This means that the future for the drop in production costs is even more fictitious than that for the growth of the quantitative indices. Does this mean that production costs have not declined at all? From the point of view of the national economy, they have not. Here we have one of the great paradoxes, or more accurately, one of the greatest stupidities of centrist methods of industrialization: all the factors that work to bring down production costs – in the first instance the intensification of labour – are “on hand”, and yet in the final accounting they yield no savings from the point of view of the national economy.

One can produce any figures one likes, but this will not increase the amount of real values. A rail is a rail; and if, let us say, its formal production cost goes down by several per cent, this does not mean that the economy has benefited by this same amount. The fact that this rail looks outwardly just like a pre-war rail deceives no one; nor does it eliminate the fact that our contemporary rail lasts not even five years, while a pre-war rail lasted forty. And this is happening not only with rails. Whole factories are being erected out of defective construction materials and equipped with machines made from defective metal. Today’s decline in production costs will turn into tomorrow’s (and tomorrow is already upon us) colossal losses for the national economy.

This all points inexorably to the fact that there is something wrong with the very methods of lowering production costs.

Increasing the Intensity of Labour

The Control Figures gave a rough outline of from what sources the fall in production costs was to come. In an article in Na planovom fronte (No. 9–10), Buretsky lists the same sources for the fall in production costs that nominally has been achieved. These he enumerates in the following table: [13]


Planned Fall in
Production Costs

Achieved Fall in
Production Costs
(6 mos.)

1. Technical norms
for utilization of
raw materials



2. Labour power
(productivity of
labour & wages)



3. Growth of
physical volume
of production



4. Prices:
a) For industrial raw
materials & supplies
b) For agricultural
raw materials








A glance at the table tells us that something is wrong with this calculation. Let us assume that items 1, 3, and 4 were calculated correctly, and let us consider item 2. It would seem that wages and increase in output resulting from the greater intensity and productivity of labour (in Marx’s sense of the word) have given a total reduction in production costs of 1.6 per cent, in other words, there has been a saving of approximately 200 million rubles. Yet we know that in the first half year the plan for nominal wages was underfulfilled by three per cent, which by itself yields a “saving” of almost the same amount, i.e., 200 million. Some authors have pointed to this “saving” as the sole positive development of the first six months.

The intensity of labour is responsible for about one per cent (or just over) of the drop in production costs; in other words, the greater intensity of labour is providing an annual saving of between 130 and 150 million rubles, or 65 to 75 million rubles for six months. This naturally raises a number of questions. Has it been worth launching such a furious agitational campaign, has it been worth declaring competition and shock work [udarnichestvo] the basic pillars of industrialization for a measly 75, 150, or even 200 million rubles out of a budget of 13 billion and an industrial investment of four billion? For the sake of such a relatively paltry sum, has it been worth entering into pitched battle with the working class? Secondly, is it possible that all this unbridled persecution of the working class (which goes under the name of struggle for the industrial-financial plan), all the vicious pressure on it, and all the draconian measures taken against it, could have yielded such insignificant results?

The answer to these questions will differ, depending on the vantage point from which one approaches them. If one adopts the standpoint of the national economy, then, as we have already seen, there have been not even these insignificant results. If we look at it from the point of view of the workers, more has been extracted from them than can be judged from the official figures. In precisely this consists the sheer economic absurdity that has been the fulcrum of centrist industrialization. How so? Unfortunately, it is not possible to illustrate this paradox with figures. However, we can gain a general idea of what is happening from the following hypothetical example. The final figure for production costs gives a remainder, i.e., a difference between those factors that act to raise costs (deterioration of quality, losses from stoppages, breakdowns, etc.) and those that reduce them. Let us imagine, for instance, that the loss-bearing factors cause production costs to go up by six per cent of the value of total output. Let us assume further that net production costs go down, also by six per cent. This means that the positive factors would have to cut production costs by 12 per cent – i.e., they first have to compensate for losses of six per cent and then on top of this lower costs by six per cent. If we assume that the factors other than labour power together produce a 4.4 per cent fall in production costs for the first half year, then labour power itself is reducing costs not by 1.6 per cent, but by 7.6 per cent. Let me repeat that this example is only hypothetical, but it does make it possible to explain the true state of affairs. If this explanation is correct (and it would be impossible to come up with another one, especially since it is supported by the facts) it means that the intensification of labour is producing a substantial saving, but this saving is being in large part, if not totally cancelled out by losses in other areas that the workers have nothing to do with. This in turn means that the intensification of labour is the only area in which the plan is being fulfilled and overfulfilled. The fact that this has been gobbled up by other factors and that production costs have not fallen is eloquent testimony both to the policy of industrialization and to centrism’s policy towards the workers. It is characteristic that whenever there is any genuine attempt to analyze the basic reasons why the plan for production costs is not fulfilled, the explanations offered are essentially correct, but as soon as we enter the realm of “generalizations” and practical conclusions, it is the workers who get the blame and the opprobrium.

In concrete analyses of plan underfulfilment there is never any question of blaming the workers, since it is the workers – and only the workers – who cover over the extremely dangerous technological primitivism by increasing the intensity of their labour; and if this makes it impossible for them to pay attention to quality, this is not their fault – either the norm or quality, it is physically impossible to give both. However, as soon as it comes to drawing conclusions, the workers turn out to be the culprits. In the Urals they organize the wives of workers to hold their husbands “in disgrace” for not fulfilling their norms. To the strains of Barynya [a folk song] the women adorn the entrances to the pits with brooms and coal shovels as a symbol of their contempt for “slackers”, and even threaten methods of coercion à la “Lysistrata”. As gratitude for the workers driving themselves into exhaustion, the apparatchiki humiliate them in most refined fashion. An article on the general situation comes to. the basic conclusion that “in collaboration with the trade union organizations, industry must actively launch a revision of output norms” (Za industrializatsiyu, 24 April). Here lies salvation! And the trade union organizations echo the appeal: Trud [the trade union daily – D.F.] prints banner headlines about how “raising output norms is one of the most important sources of industrialization”. And the Control Figures had promised that “thanks to the more intensive supply of energy [energovooruzhennort’], the increase in fixed capital, and the latter’s higher quality owing to new and improved equipment, the growth of labour productivity in 1929/ 1930 will rely only to a very small degree on an increase in the intensity of labour” (Control Figures, p.293) ...

Anyone saying that the intensity of labour is the main pressure point gets labelled a “Trotskyist”, yet when it comes to practical policy raising the norms of output becomes one of the most important sources of industrialization. It is not part of our object here to clarify the question of the material situation of the working class (this would require a separate article); concerning this topic I consider it necessary merely to point out that one of the methods of putting pressure on the intensity of labour is to cut wages and hold up their payment. Za industrializatsiyu openly proposes holding up wages in the future as a lever for applying pressure. “The plan for nominal wages”, writes the newspaper, “will be 100 per cent fulfilled, but the fact that we still have certain reserves in this area makes it possible to tie the implementation of this directive to an improvement in the indicators for labour productivity”. Judging from the overall situation, centrism intends to tread this path from now on; however, to fulfil the annual plan it now will have to double the pressure: to fulfil the annual plan for reduction in production costs the fall in the fourth quarter will have to be more than 20 per cent, instead of just 11 per cent. Yet economically this avenue has already been shut off. As I have tried to show, the intensity of labour has reached its physical limit given the existing level of technology. The best proof of this is the quality of production. However strange it may seem, the decline in labour discipline, the growth of absenteeism [progul], and the need to raise the number of workers beyond planned levels are all evidence of the same thing. The official explanations turn all these questions on their head. It is not because of the rise in absenteeism the decline in labour discipline, and the above-plan increase in the number of workers that the plan for reducing production costs is underfulfilled, but to the contrary, absenteeism is going up, labour discipline is falling, and the number of workers has to swell because the workers are physically unable to sustain the impossible work load.

Therefore, concerning results of the plan for lowering production costs and the sources for this reduction we arrive at the following conclusions: (1) The rise in the intensity of labour has surpassed all the assumptions of the plan and has reached its physical limit; (2) this rise in the intensity of labour has been the basic means by which losses were cancelled out and output boosted; (3) despite the enormous increase in labour intensity, production costs have not fallen – the official figure for the drop in production costs is fictitious; (4) for these reasons the real imbalance in the financial plan is greater than it appears in the official figures; (5) for these same reasons any attempt to look for resources for industrialization from this quarter it doomed to failure in advance. Even from a purely economic point of view – that is, leaving aside the political consequences of intensifying the pressure on the working class – the results of such pressure can only be negative.


1. Emelyan Yarovslavsky (1878–1943) – Described by Trotsky as “the official historiographer of the Stalin faction” also made up for his lack of scientific rigour and knowledge by “his complete willingness to rewrite all history including that of ancient Egypt, according to the demands of the bureaucratic faction led by Stalin. “ See Writings of Leon Trotsky 1932, pp. 33, 40, 41.

2. [Editor’s note: The Left Opposition always referred to the Stalin group as “centrists”, placed between the Right headed by Bukharin and the Left headed by Trotsky.].

3. [Editor’s note: Ustryalov was an emigré who supported the Soviet regime, arguing that the New Economic Policy would result in the defeat of communism and the replacement of revolution by evolution and moderation.]

4. [Editor’s note: The economic year 1929/30 was from 1 October 1929 to 30 September 1930.]

5. [Translator’s note: For an illustration of this point see the declaration by Rakovsky, Kosior, Muralov, and Kasparova of April 1930 (Bulletin of the Opposition, No. 17–18, p. 11–19.), where the authors cite the example of galoshes production: “The extent to which the quantitative balances are inflated can be judged from the following, officially-cited fact: output of galoshes in 1928 was 48 per cent higher than in 1913 (41.5 million pair as opposed to 28 million). If we take into account the deterioration in quality, real output comes to only 74 per cent of the pre-war level.” (Bulletin of the Opposition, No. 17–18, p. 14.)]

6. [Editor’s note: The annual Control Figures of the National Economy, prepared by the State Planning Commission (Gosplan), were the equivalent of the annual economic plan and were published as a separate volume; the 1929/30 control figures referred to by Rakovsky were approved by the Soviet government at the end of 1929 and published early in 1930 as Kontrol’nye trifry narodnogo khozyairtva SSSR na 1929/30 god (1930).]

7. [Editor’s note: With the continuous working week, each worker had four days on and one day off, with different groups of workers having different days off; plant and machinery could thus be used every day of the week. The system was later abandoned.]

8. Scattered data for individual enterprises and industries indicates that the real figures are considerably higher.

9. This method also can be dictated, for instance, by military circumstances, when questions of expanded reproduction become relegated totally to the background.

10. The data are from various numbers of Za industrializatriyu [“For Industrialization”] – the industry newspaper – and Ekonomicherkaya zhizn’ [“Economic Life”] at the end of the half year [i.e., October 1929-March 1930]. Any changes that might have taken place since then would only have been for the worse.

11. Valerian V. Kuibyshev (1888–1935) – made chairman of the Supreme Council of National Economy (1926), a dedicated Stalinist who nevertheless died in mysterious circumstances.

12. In a speech to the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the National Economy, Kraval’ openly declared “over the last two years the growth in defective output [brak] has outstripped the decline in production costs”. (Ekonomicheskaya zhizn’, 22 May [1930].)

13. Judging from the general data for the first three quarters, it is clear that no change took place in the third quarter.

Last updated on 18.10.2011