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Dwight Macdonald

Sparks in the News

(27 January 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 4, 27 January 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Pocket Money for Brenda

It costs a lot to keep a debutante in operation. It has been revealed, for example, that the upkeep and running expenses on Brenda Frazier will come to about $52,000 for the coming year. At least that is the amount which Surrogate James A. Foley has authorized Brenda’s mama to spend “for the support and maintenance” of her nineteen-year-old daughter next year. (Brenda is still a minor, hence her mother must get legal permission to spend any of her daughter’s income.) The $52,000 will be spent on “living expenses, entertainment, and social and charitable activities”. As Brenda’s mama explained to the surrogate, although Brenda is a minor in the eyes of the law, “she is in fact a grown woman moving in the society in which, because of her parents’ and grandparents' background, she has taken a definite place”. Very definite, in fact just $52,000 a year.

What Is Happening to the Soviet Economy?

The question of what is happening to Soviet production becomes more and more important. The military significance is clear. One reason for the remarkably effective resistance the Finns have put up to the Red Army is the comparatively vigorous and healthy state of Finland’s economy. (I am speaking, of course, in terms of production, not social relations.) According to the January 15 issue of the Cleveland Trust Company’s Business Bulletin, Finland’s record of industrial production since 1926 is internationally outstanding. Taking 1929 as 100, the index of production for Finland now stands at 162, and even in the depth of the depression it never went below 80. (The American index, on the other hand, sunk below 60 at the depth of the depression, and is now only about 90.) The difficulties Stalin has been having with the third Five Year Plan, on the other hand, are well known.

But the significance of the breakdown that seems to be more and more evident in Soviet production goes beyond its effect on the conduct of the war. The more acute becomes the contradiction between the interests of the bureaucracy and the nationalized economy and the more the latter is strangled by the bureaucratic clutch, then the greater becomes the need for Stalin to cement fast his alliance with Nazi Germany, which has the industrial machinery and technicians to prop up a while longer the collapsing Soviet industrial structure. The tightening of the Nazi-Soviet alliance may therefore be expected to keep equal pace with the mounting difficulties of Soviet production.

Since I do not read Russian, I am cut off from the chief sources of information on this subject. But the N.Y. Times has lately carried a few items of interest.

In a Moscow report dated January 17, it was stated that, although the State Planning Commission’s 1939 production figures claim a gain over 1938 they do not specify, as has hitherto been the case, what percentage of the Plan was fulfilled. This would seem to indicate that the Plan was not carried out.

There were several significant accounts of the blackout which has been attempted in Moscow. It seems that this was unsuccessful because of the fact that 90% of Moscow’s families have no window curtains because of the “acute textile shortage”, and cannot paste up black paper because there is also a paper shortage. The only alternative is to use blue electric light bulbs, but it seems there is also a shortage of blue electric light bulbs.

Another report, dated Dec. 10, states: “During the blackout, robberies and thefts have increased.” Theft is a social manifestation which can have only one origin: unequal distribution and scarcity of material goods.

In this connection, it is interesting to note Trotsky’s statement in a recent issue of Liberty: “In the USSR there are twelve to fifteen million privileged individuals who concentrate in their hands about one half of the national incomes, and who call this regime ‘Socialism’. On the other hand, there are about 160,000,000 people oppressed by the bureaucracy and caught in the grip of poverty.” If this is “socialism,” as the lying Stalinist press claims, then we have socialism over here right now – and even a more advanced stage of socialism, since, according to the National Resources Committee, the richest tenth of the nation’s families concentrate in their hands not half, but “only” 36% of the national income.

Finally, the Times of Jan. 19 carried a government report on exports of gasoline which showed that exports to the USSR jumped from 48,000 barrels in October to 318,500 in November and have remained at that level ever since. This increase, it is believed, is going not to Germany via Russia, but is being used by the Red Army in the Finnish invasion. Considering that oil is one thing the USSR is especially rich in, and that Germany hopes to get much of her oil supply from the USSR, this is startling news indeed. Apparently, Soviet oil production is in such a bad state that it is necessary to increase imports of American gasoline six times in order to supply the Red Army. (This may be due to a decline in crude oil production, but more probably it is due to the inability of Russian refineries to produce sufficient gasoline of high enough quality for airplane motors.) Russian crude oil exports, which were 7,000,000 tons in 1932, by 1938 had sunk to 1,000,000 tons. No wonder Stalin looks with increasing desperation to Hitler’s technicians and machinery to save the Kremlin bureaucracy from the economic impasse they are now in.

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