Victor Serge

In Soviet Russia

The Worst Counter-Revolution

(7 December 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 108, 7 December 1922, pp. 888–889.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A very cunning play on words. “Do you know what V.S.N.Kh. means?”, you are asked. In Russia this is the abbreviation for the Supreme Economic Council. But a little phrase has been adapted to these initials, which means: “Steal without tear, there is no master!” The worst kind of counter-revolution has sometimes adopted this as its slogan. But in one thing this counter-revolution errs. The Revolutionary State which they believed would be overthrown, has survived and now demands an accounting as often as possible.

The Revolutionary Tribunal of Moscow has just tried (from October 26th to November 3rd) a frightful case of economic counter-revolution, at the textile factories of Orekhovo-Zonev. The managers of one of the State trusts of the textile industry, had to answer to the charge of “systematic embezzlement of the State’s resources in connection with the stock of the Orekhovo-Zonev trust with a view to creating private capitalist enterprises.”

Let us review the facts of the case. The Commercial Bureau of the trust confided the sale of its products, to business men and to private enterprises (Prodextile, Russobalte, Mutualité, Mercure, illegal firms in which certain administrators of the trust were personally interested). The trust turned over to them the materials at prices below that of replacement which they simply neglected to calculate. The merchandise was delivered by preference to the villainous speculators swarming around the trust, on the eve of rises in prices, which were very easy to foresee ... In order to restock the factory, contracts were concluded with big contractors, who were shrewd thieves, and who were paid in kind. One of these men, named Wells, had begun his operations without a cent, and finished by owing the trust four trillions of roubles (1921 issue), or more than 600,000 measures of cloth.

The result? The accounts of the trust revealed a deficit of seven figures: 1,385,885 gold rubles. In reality, the deficit is even greater: for some debts of the trust, not recoverable, such as the debts of citizen Wells, are carried as assets ...

27 defendants have to answer for this outrage. Among them are two Communists, Serebriakov, the ex-president of the trust, and Bogatov. The others are department heads, engineers, directors, all men provided with a professional education possessing the fatal “business experience” of the old regime But let us consider for a moment the two Communists. The ex-president of the trust, Serebriakov, is twenty-four years old. At 22, a militant formed by the civil war, he took over the management of an enormous industrial enterprise. But he stole nothing, he neither plotted nor conspired. But he assumed his responsibilities without being able to manage himself any better than he could take charge of others. He was merely a tool. he lacked energy and cleverness. He sometimes interpreted decrees without any respect for the legal text. In truth, this young revolutionary, promoted to the office of President of an industrial council of administration, at a period of a new economic policy, was overcome by circumstances and duped by scoundrels, that is, old exponents of the good old business methods. The Communist Bogatov, too, has neither stolen, nor become enriched. He too, was a victim of conditions. He permitted circumstances and men to take their course without interfering.

What a contrast to these, is the old engineer Petrov, a member of the factory for 24 years, who boldly signed contracts without dates, in which the figures were not fully expressed, and who ignored purposely the abuses committed outside of his own department ...

The chief defendant, Semionov, is a sharp businessman, who explains all his actions with shrewdness. If he did sell under bad conditions, it was because he had to realize money quickly in order to pay off salaries. He admits only one wrong contrary to the decrees regulating State trusts, he sold preferably to private individuals and not to the nationalized enterprises. If the latter wished to obtain any materials from the Orekhovo-Zonev factories, they had to start in motion the central administration at Moscow, a tedious process, or in older to quicken matters, to pay “tips”. Semionov received from the private company “Mercure”, of which his wife was a member, large dividends evidently well earned.

Thus a gang of rascals organized into commercial associations is ravaging the nationalized industries. They pretend to place themselves at the service of the Communist State. But above all are only exploiting it for their own ends. The must was being undermined and spied upon by men belonging to the old bourgeois regime, who only entered into the enterprise in order to pillage it.

One important fact to be noted: the technicians who may really be so-called, who are fairly numerous at the Orekhovo-Zonev factories, are working there with a real devotion; they are totally ignorant of the whole dirty business. It is in the administrative department of the large enterprise, in the managing office that the enemy crept in.

The Revolutionary Tribunal has sentenced thus: for sabotage and economic counter-revolution, nine of the principal defendants, including Simionov, have been sentenced to death. Three others whom we have mentioned, Serebriakov, Bogatov and Petrov, likewise condemned to death, but for criminal negligence, have had their sentenced commuted to ten years imprisonment. “We know”, – so writes the correspondent of the Pravda V. Douborskoi, à propos of this verdict, – that the severest measures will extirpate neither theft nor corruption, and that they must be combatted by good organization in our enterprises. We do not doubt this. But we cannot wait until we are completely robbed, before being able to place our affairs in order. Which might well be ... If we are surrounded by brigands let us tight them with all the power of the Soviet state. It is tremendously useful ...

In another article in the Pravda, Bukharin compares the penetration of our class-enemy into the Orekhovo-Zonev, to an episode in the civil war. The Whites at one time succeeded in creating, right in Moscow, a Soviet Military School, whose students were all old officers, affiliated with counter-revolutionary organizations, and the director of which belonged to the association of the Aigle Bicephale. This little crowd was armed, equipped, fed, supplied with legal papers, at the expense of the Soviets. And if the Tcheka had not intervened, they would undoubtedly have wrung the neck of the Soviets who were fostering them. “The class-enemy”, writes Bukharin, has recourse once again to camouflage. Under the Soviet guise of a socialized industry, capitalist business men are calling on all their strength and wiliness in order to destroy the first beginnings of Communism”. And against them we are carrying on “an economic war in which the fate of the Revolution will be decided”. Nothing is more true.

Do the workers of other countries doubt the tremendous difficulties which their brothers in Russia are encountering in the organization of socialized industry under conditions polluted and rotted by capitalist customs? Do they really know what the proletarian revolution is made up of – and of what the economic counter-revolution is composed? In this struggle too, the Russians need material and moral support, and their unhappy experience should be carefully studied, in order that, in the social battles of the future, the economic counter-revolution may feel immediately the presence of a prepared enemy, resolute to punish strongly, knowing how to punish justly.

Last updated on 4 January 2021