Arthur Ransome
The Crisis in Russia


So much for the organization, with its Communist Party, its system of meetings and counter-meetings, its adapted Trades Unions, its infinitely various propaganda, which is doing its best to make headway against ruin. I want now to describe however briefly, the methods it has adopted in tackling the worst of all Russia's problems-the non-productivity and absolute shortage of labor.

I find a sort of analogy between these methods and those which we used in England in tackling the similar cumulative problem of finding men for war. Just as we did not proceed at once to conscription, but began by a great propaganda of voluntary effort, so the Communists, faced with a need at least equally vital, did not turn at once to industrial conscription. It was understood from the beginning that the Communists themselves were to set an example of hard work, and I dare say a considerable proportion of them did so. Every factory had its little Communist Committee, which was supposed to leaven the factory with enthusiasm, just as similar groups of Communists drafted into the armies in moments of extreme danger did, on more than one occasion, as the non-Communist Commander-in-Chief admits, turn a rout into a stand and snatch victory from what looked perilously like defeat. But this was not enough, arrears of work accumulated, enthusiasm waned, productivity decreased, and some new move was obviously necessary. This first move in the direction of industrial conscription, although no one perceived its tendency at the time, was the inauguration of what have become known as "Saturdayings".

Early in 1919 the Central Committee of the Communist Party put out a circular letter, calling upon the Communists "to work revolutionally," to emulate in the rear the heroism of their brothers on the front, pointing out that nothing but the most determined efforts and an increase in the productivity of labor would enable Russia to win through her difficulties of transport, etc. Kolchak, to quote from English newspapers, was it "sweeping on to Moscow," and the situation was pretty threatening. As a direct result of this letter, on May 7th, a meeting of Communists in the sub-district of the Moscow-Kazan railway passed a resolution that, in view of the imminent danger to the Republic, Communists and their sympathizers should give up an hour a day of their leisure, and, lumping these hours together, do every Saturday six hours of manual labor; and, further, that these Communist "Saturdayings" should be continued "until complete victory over Kolchak should be assured." That decision of a local committee was the actual beginning of a movement which spread all over Russia, and though the complete victory over Kolchak was long ago obtained, is likely to continue so long as Soviet Russia is threatened by any one else.

The decision was put into effect on May 10th, when the first Communist "Saturdaying" in Russia took place on the Moscow-Kazan railway. The Commissar of the railway, Communist clerks from the offices, and every one else who wished to help, marched to work, 182 in all, and put in 1,012 hours of manual labor, in which they finished the repairs of four locomotives and sixteen wagons and loaded and unloaded 9,300 poods of engine and wagon parts and material. It was found that the productivity of labor in loading and unloading shown on this occasion was about 270 per cent. of the normal, and a similar superiority of effort was shown in the other kinds of work. This example was immediately copied on other railways. The Alexandrovsk railway had its first "Saturdaying" on May 17th. Ninety-eight persons worked for five hours, and here also did two or three times as much is the usual amount of work done in the same number of working hours under ordinary circumstances. One of the workmen, in giving an account of the performance, wrote: "The Comrades explain this by saying that in ordinary times the work was dull and they were sick of it, whereas this occasion they were working willingly and with excitement. But now it will be shameful in ordinary hours to do less than in the Communist 'Saturdaying.' " The hope implied in this last sentence has not been realized.

In Pravda of June 7th there is an article describing one of these early "Saturdayings," which gives a clear picture of the infectious character of the proceedings, telling how people who came out of curiosity to look on found themselves joining in the work, and how a soldier with an accordion after staring for a long time open-mouthed at these lunatics working on a Saturday afternoon put up a tune for them on his instrument, and, delighted by their delight, played on while the workers all sang together.

The idea of the "Saturdayings" spread quickly from railways to factories, and by the middle of the summer reports of similar efforts were coming from all over Russia. Then Lenin became interested, seeing in these "Saturdayings" not only a special effort in the face of common danger, but an actual beginning of Communism and a sign that Socialism could bring about a greater productivity of labor than could be obtained under Capitalism. He wrote: "This is a work of great difficulty and requiring much time, but it has begun, and that is the main thing. If in hungry Moscow in the summer of 1919 hungry workmen who have lived through the difficult four years of the Imperialistic war, and then the year and a half of the still more difficult civil war, have been able to begin this great work, what will not be its further development when we conquer in the civil war and win peace." He sees in it a promise of work being done not for the sake of individual gain, but because of a recognition that such work is necessary for the general good, and in all he wrote and spoke about it he emphasized the fact that people worked better and harder when working thus than under any of the conditions (piece-work, premiums for good work, etc.) imposed by the revolution in its desperate attempts to raise the productivity of labor. For this reason alone, he wrote, the first "Saturdaying" on the Moscow-Kazan railway was an event of historical significance, and not for Russia alone.

Whether Lenin was right or wrong in so thinking, "Saturdayings" became a regular institution, like Dorcas meetings in Victorian England, like the thousands of collective working parties instituted in England during the war with Germany. It remains to be seen how long they will continue, and if they will survive peace when that comes. At present the most interesting point about them is the large proportion of non-Communists who take an enthusiastic part in them. In many cases not more than ten per cent. of Communists are concerned, though they take the iniative in organizing the parties and in finding the work to be done. The movement spread like fire in dry grass, like the craze for roller-skating swept over England some years ago, and efforts were made to control it, so that the fullest use might be made of it. In Moscow it was found worth while to set up a special Bureau for "Saturdayings." Hospitals, railways, factories, or any other concerns working for the public good, notify this bureau that they need the sort of work a "Saturdaying" provides. The bureau informs the local Communists where their services are required, and thus there is a minimum of wasted energy. The local Communists arrange the "Saturdayings," and any one else joins in who wants. These "Saturdayings" are a hardship to none because they are voluntary, except for members of the Communist Party, who are considered to have broken the party discipline if they refrain. But they can avoid the "Saturdayings" if they wish to by leaving the party. Indeed, Lenin points, out that the "Saturdayings" are likely to assist in clearing out of the party those elements which joined it with the hope of personal gain. He points out that the privileges of a Communists now consist in doing more work than other people in the rear, and, on the front, in having the certainty of being killed when other folk are merely taken prisoners.

The following are a few examples of the sort of work done in the "Saturdayings." Briansk hospitals were improperly heated because of lack of the local transport necessary to bring them wood. The Communists organized a "Saturdaying," in which 900 persons took part, including military specialists (officers of the old army serving in the new), soldiers, a chief of staff, workmen and women. Having no horses, they harnessed themselves to sledges in groups of ten, and brought in the wood required. At Nijni 800 persons spent their Saturday afternoon in unloading barges. In the Basman district of Moscow there was a gigantic "Saturdaying" and "Sundaying" in which 2,000 persons (in this case all but a little over 500 being Communists) worked in the heavy artillery shops, shifting materials, cleaning tramlines for bringing in fuel, etc. Then there was a "Saturdaying" the main object of which was a general autumn cleaning of the hospitals for the wounded. One form of "Saturdaying" for women is going to the hospitals, talking with the wounded and writing letters for them, mending their clothes, washing sheets, etc. The majority of "Saturdayings" at present are concerned with transport work and with getting and shifting wood, because at the moment these are the chief difficulties. I have talked to many "Saturdayers," Communist and non-Communist, and all alike spoke of these Saturday afternoons of as kind of picnic. On the other hand, I have met Communists who were accustomed to use every kind off ingenuity to find excuses not to take part in them and yet to preserve the good opinion of their local committee.

But even if the whole of the Communist Party did actually indulge in a working picnic once a week, it would not suffice to meet Russia's tremendous needs. And, as I pointed out in the chapter specially devoted to the shortage of labor, the most serious need at present is to keep skilled workers at their jobs instead of letting them drift away into non-productive labor. No amount of Saturday picnics could do that, and it was obvious long ago that some other means, would have to be devised.