Victor Serge

In Soviet Russia

Episodes in the Economic

(3 November 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 95, 3 November 1922, pp. 737–738.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The judicial chronicle of the Soviet Republic is fertile in lessons for the revolutionary. We have not yet forgotten the curious Nobel affair, when we saw how Mr. Nobel, thanks to the numerous technicians who acted as accomplices, managed to retain the superintendence and, in fact, the management of his former petroleum establishments, which had been nationalized. We wrote at the time that episodes of this sort, showing the nefarious rifle of the petty-bourgeois elements in the State, their penetration, (peaceful, and hence more dangerous), into organs of socialized industry, were only too numerous.

Now we have received new information on the same subject. It was the humorist Demian Biedny who, in the Pravda of September 13th, severely criticized the imbeciles placed at the head of our administrations (and who are much more probably evil-doers belonging to the enemy) for having purchased, for the network of railways from Moscow to Petrograd, 3,000 non-existent bricks; while three swindlers contracted to furnish the Commissariat of Public Health, 3,000 poods of sterilized cotton per month, obtained an advance on the payments due, and received through the Moscow Council of Economy 445 poods of raw material!

On September 19, another case, still more typical, was argued before the Revolutionary Court of Moscow, – that of a swindler, M.I. Trauber, manufacturer of optical instruments. The matter is interesting because it constitutes clearly (and that is the opinion of Izvestia) an episode of the economic counter-revolution.

On March 31, 1918, when the storm of the revolution was at its height, Trauber bought out from capitalists on the verge of bankruptcy, the firm B.S. Chversev and Co. optical instruments. He removed the equipment, tools, machinery to another section, adapted himself to circumstances, founded the Optical Society of the Nevsky, on the basis, naturally, of collective labor. Of course without exploitation! Trauber is a petty producer altogether sympathetic.

And for four years – 1918–1921 – Trauber tried to extricate himself, set the most varied influences to work, sent well-intentioned little gifts, and applying himself more and more, better and better, succeeded in preventing the nationalization of his enterprise, despite the famous discipline of War-Communism.

That is not an easy matter. The Economic Councils of the Soviets cover entire Russia with their network of organizations. The Tcheka exercises no lenity towards petty and average manufacturers. But nothing disconcerted Trauber. He had friends of his class and his mentality everywhere. The regime will not last, they thought; the main thing is to last oneself.

Furthermore, the factory of optical instruments belonging to Trauber is the only in operation, it has a monopoly on the orders of the State. Every time a Commissariat needs his services the crafty proprietor imposes these conditions: that he be given an advance, that raw materials be produced for him, that he receive aid in renewing his machinery. Thus he obtained the tools of several nationalized factories. He obtained all the advantages of a monopolistic enterprise recognized as a public utility to which nothing could be refused. The paiki (food-rations) piled up in his bureau. When he receives orders, it is as a totally independent proprietor; when he needs food, machinery, money, raw materials, he is only the manager of a “nationalized” factory – except for a few formalities working for the State, it is understood ...

Influential and important co workers of the Supreme Council of National Economy, professors, noted technicians, without whose complicity these brilliant operations could not have been possible, arc prosecuted together with Trauber. It will be worth while mentioning their status. Amongst them are M.J. Ochanin former director of the Works’ Committee of the railroads of the North-West (in construction); a processor. V.S. Chvestov, a member of the college of the Glass Center (and shareholder in the Trauber firm), a representative of tire Glass Center, A.F. Karavin, formerly director of the Section for Raw Materials of the sicicate industry.

Finding the case much more complicated than had at first appeared, the Revolutionary Tribunal of Moscow has decided to obtain additional information.

That is merely a clever bit of swindling, one might think. No. These cases are innumerable, and the frauds are often perpetrated, by honorable bourgeois or petty-bourgeois business men. The great majority of them regarded the revolution as an evil moment that would pass, and the Proletarian State as an enemy against whom everything was permitted. In 1918–19 these elements actively supported armed counter-revolution. When that was crushed, they adapted themselves, entered into Soviet administrations, metalled themselves therein, turned them into bureaucracies – in a word, profited by the revolution.

The cases of these people are, then, episodes in the economic counter-revolution; the most dangerous perhaps; the ones to which the revolutionist ought today to pay the greatest attention.

Last updated on 4 January 2021