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John G. Wright

Soviet Union Notes

Purge Reflects Economic Crisis – Coal Piles Up At Mines – Tractor Failures Slow Down Harvest

(12 February 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 7, 12 February 1938, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

New Crisis in Soviet Economy

There is a clear connection between the current reign of terror and the economic difficulties in which Stalin’s regime of self-proclaimed “victorious socialism” finds itself at the beginning of the Third Five Year Plan. Thousands of technicians, engineers and plant administrators are being made scapegoats for failings which are inherent in the Stalinist management and operation of Soviet industries.

Soviet railways, long a weak spot in industrial life, are again in serious straits, The basic equipment of the railways, like that of the majority of vital plants, has been seriously undermined in the reckless drive for records. Despite vast sums poured into transportation in recent years under the direction of L.M. Kaganovich, the railroads are functioning poorly. Wrecks and accidents show no signs of decreasing. Car loadings have been dropping at an alarming rate, thus nullifying the recent “successes” in metallurgy and mining.

In the latter industries, production has been temporarily restored to the levels attained towards the end of 1935, at the beginning of Stakhanovism. For example, coal production in the Donbas region is averaging 225,000 tons per day (daily production in December 1935 – 229,000) as against the previous levels of below 200.000 tons daily. But the additional coal is simply piling up at the mines.

Coal Stocks Pile Up at Pits

So grave is the situation that Pravda on January 15, devoted to the First Session of the Supreme Council, had to allot space to the “disgraceful condition” of the Donbas railways. Pravda reports that in the first ten days of January the coal stocks at the mine pits “more than doubled.” “More than 600,000 tons of coal” piled up, and the reserve keeps increasing. Meanwhile, according to Pravda,

“The North Donetz and South Donetz railways fall behind, failing to load daily from 25 to 30 thousand tons ... On the North Donetz.Railway only one-half of the trains start on schedule and only one-third keep to the schedule.”

This affects not only the work of the coal mines but of other plants as well, in particular the metallurgy industry. “Tens of thousands tons of production remain lying in metallurgical and other plants of the Donbas for the same reason.” (Pravda, January 15)

Pravda for Jan. 24 devotes its leading article to the railways crisis. Here is the opening paragraph:

“The work of the railway transport has steadily worsened in the recent period. The magnificent position which the railwaymen occupied in, the summer of 1937 has now been lost by them. Daily, the transport system fails to fulfil the plan by 10 to 20 per cent. The most important freight for the life of the country – metal, oil, and bread – is being held up for long periods at the key stations. The debt of the transport system to the country is growing with every passing day.”

Continues Pravda: “The railwaymen have no objective, external reasons whatsoever for the lag.” The solution for the difficulty is: “To raise the discipline among the railwaymen,” in other words, to pile repressions upon repressions. That is the only solution Stalin has to offer. The condition of the transport is especially grave in views of the fact that the country’s resources are being strained to match the armament race for the coming conflict.

The Crisis in Spring Sowing

Despite the Stalinist boasts of a record crop last year and forecasts of even a greater crop in the coming season, it is quite apparent that serious difficulties are being encountered in agriculture, especially in spring sowing. Seeds have not been prepared; the tractors are not ready; the plan is not being fulfilled. Emergency measures are being resorted to. “Volunteer” brigades are being recruited to go into the country and repair the tractors. The entire Komsomol (Young Communist League) has been mobilized to fulfill the plan in repairing tractors and “prepare the sowing campaign.”

On January 18 Eikhe, the new Commissar for Agriculture, delivered a report on the “Plan for 1938 in Agriculture” at a plenary session of the Central Committee of the C.P.S.U. He painted a dismal picture of the conditions in agriculture. His report might as well have been entitled “the work of wreckers in the agricultural organs.” “Wreckers” are to blame for everything. In the meantime, according to Eikhe, the plan for repairing tractors has been fulfilled only 30 per cent. Gasoline supplies are lacking, seed has not been prepared. (Pravda, January 22)

Dispatches appearing in the Soviet press present even a more dismal picture. In the Ukraine (Chernigov) tractors are not being repaired. In 14 tractor stations there are no head mechanics. (Pravda, January 19) In the Maryansk region in Kuban, at the tractor station there, on January 1, out of 26 tractors requiring major repairs only 8 were ready; out of 30 tractors requiring “average” repairs only 10 were ready. In Maryansk, 1,400 tons of gasoline were needed, only 6 tons were stored. In Novo-Myshastovsk out of 1,860 tons needed, only 71 tons were ready. (Pravda, January 17) The Georgievsk tractor station (Ordjonikidze province) had not produced a single tractor by January 1. (Pravda, January 24) Things are bad in Bashkiria and worse in Tadjikistan. The Commissar for Agriculture in the latter region, Selivanov, is “not to be trusted.”

In its leading article on January 3, Pravda declared:

“On December 20, 1937, the plan for repairing tractors had been fulfilled only 13 per cent for the Union as a whole. In point of fact, the plan for the fourth quarter has collapsed.”

Havoc Caused by Purge

The havoc caused by the purge accounts in part for this, condition. Thus Pravda (January 24) reports that in Bashkiria alone for the last three months 37 agricultural heads and 46 directors of tractor stations have been removed, together with their deputies and “scores of mechanics.” Eikhe reported that out of 200 tractor stations in White Russia only 144 had directors. He added: “We have the same picture in Omsk, Orenburg, Sverdlovsk and a number of other regions.” (Pravda, January 22.) Remedy? It is provided in the leading editorial of the same issue of Pravda which declared that in the recent order of the Central Committee to “suspend” the purge, the party has “a new sharp weapon against the enemies of the people.”

Purge in the Commissariat of Heavy Industry

Among those made scapegoats for the latest economic crisis were all three deputies of Lazar Kaganovich, Commissar for Heavy Industry (who replaced – on August 22, 1937 – the purged Mezhlauk, successor of the deceased Ordjonikidze). In the early part of January, they all “disappeared.” Among them was Zavenyagin, candidate to the Central Committee, decorated with the highest orders for successful construction of the Magnitogorsk combine and director of Magnitogorsk plants, and appointed as deputy by Kaganovich himself on September 17, 1937. The fate of Zavenyagin and his colleagues became known when Pravda and Izvestia for January 8 printed terse notices of the appointment of three new deputies: Butenko, Kuzmin and Pervukhin.

Last updated: 30 July 2015