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John G. Wright

Soviet Union Notes

Duranty “Explains” USSR Economic Crisis Like Purges – by Concealing Facts and Belittling Seriousness

(19 February 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 8, 19 February 1938, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Walter (Dostoievsky) Duranty Reports for Duty

In recent years Duranty’s journeys to Moscow coincided with sensational developments there. When the monstrous Moscow frame-ups were staged, Duranty just happened to be there, with handy references to Dostoievsky to explain everything. Duranty’s latest appearance in Moscow is providing him with an opportunity to do more “explaining” in the field of Vyshinsky’s “justice,” involving, this time, the Robinson-Rubens enigma – regarding which, incidentally, his reticence for two whole months was as mysterious as that of the G.P.U.

Duranty Tries to Minimize the Crisis

To account for a grave decline in such key industries as steel, coal, and transportation, Duranty begins by qualifying it merely as a “recession” and a government reduction of “daily production norms”, a procedure, if you were to believe Duranty, that is “not unprecedented” but only “sufficiently unusual to merit attention.” Nothing serious, you understand. In point of fact, “objectively speaking,” it is a species of growing pains. For, according to optimistic Walter, one of the prime reasons for the decline is ‘’the vast extent of industrialization and the speed at which it is being carried on” (N.Y. Times, February 9) Has the basic equipment of industries been undermined, as we have reported in the Socialist Appeal, and as is apparent from even a cursory reading of the Soviet Press? Pish and piffle, implies Duranty. The lathes and machines have merely “aged.” And adds: “In the circumstances it is not surprising that they have aged rapidly – the wonder is that they stand up at all.”

From Duranty’s own report it appears that imports of machinery from abroad have had to be resumed “in a big way” in an attempt to remedy this grave condition. The population is suffering, among other things, from a shortage of butter, which is being exported to pay for machinery. “The Russians are grumbling ... from Leningrad to Rostov and from Moscow to Sverdlovsk.”

But Duranty has a simple formula with which to dismiss this “trifle.” Says he: “The answer is simple – the Bolsheviki prefer machines to butter.” Duranty, you will observe, is as “simple” in his explanations as fascists like Goering, who also speak for the preferences of the German people, declaring they, for their part, prefer guns to butter.

Duranty Falsifies Statistics

Against this background of facile and dishonest explanations, Duranty proceeds to juggle with official statistics, and as a result conveys the impression that the actual drop was not so serious after all. For instance, he reports the cut in norms for steel as being from 57,900 tons daily in December to 57,000 tons in January; and in coal a cut from 403,500 to 385,200 tons. All he “forgets” to do is to report that there were two cuts in January, and that the figures he cites were maintained only for the first few days in that month. For the greater part of January the official norm for coal was set at 384,000 tons, while for steel the norm was cut to 54,700 tons, i.e., almost four times the cut reported by Duranty.

But the slickest stunt Duranty pulls is in “reporting” the actual output attained. In this sphere he prefers to use “percentages,” and glibly reports an “average production of 90 per cent.” After all, you see, all that is involved here is a mere lag of “10 percent.” According to official Soviet figures the production in steel has been averaging only 50,000 tons daily; in coal 360,000; and in car loadings around 75,000 (as against the original plan of 95,000).

The decline has been most catastrophic in railways. Duranty prefers to overlook this item as due to “seasonal” factors,” although the Soviet press has been filled with “alarm signals” over the situation. We have already cited in this column numerous passages from Pravda in this connection. We limit ourselves to one additional quotation from that paper, which prints a dispatch relating to the breakdown of the important Stalinsk railway and charges that the failure of the key station on that road has practically closed down the metallurgic plants in the South. According to this dispatch: “No one here even bothers to consider the fact that because of the poor functioning of the station the furnaces are not operating and entire branches of metallurgical plants are not working at full capacity.” (Pravda, January 31)

Crisis Sharper Than Officials Admit

On the basis of Duranty’s dispatch we can state with certainty that the economic crisis is far graver than could have been gathered from the official statistics, even taking into consideration their notoriously falsified character. For one thing this can be established from the fact that Duranty evades mentioning those aspects which the Soviet press itself has been drumming on. (He does not even breathe a word about the difficulties in spring sowing!) On the other hand, Duranty implies that even further cuts are to be expected. He states that the import of machines and equipment will be increased in the future, and indicates that Soviet industry is almost entirely without reserves “to cover breakage repairs and replacements – for which they are now paying the price.” Ominous words indeed! Furthermore, his dispatch makes public a crisis in precisely those key industries – oil and steel – in which the official press has been claiming “successes” of late. If Duranty has been permitted to prick the bubble of Stalinist claims on the eve of the third Five-Year Plan, it is only because the ruling clique seeks to prepare public opinion for a slight “recession.” The job of Stalin’s ace foreign correspondent is precisely to cover up the full extent of the crisis by admissions of “minor” and “temporary” difficulties.

Other Soviet Dispatches Equally “Colored”

The tendentious nature of reports from Russia that have recently appeared in the N.Y. Times extends to other fields as well. Thus, on February 10, the Times printed a dispatch on the current purge, without Duranty’s by-line, but with a familiar note. The idea the “dispatch” tries to sell is that the current purge is also neither “unprecedented” nor so very extensive. The anonymous correspondent has the gall to state that under Lenin there were “bigger and better” purges. We reproduce this piece of falsification verbatim: “Numerically, as great as such expulsions have been, they do not compare with the great purge of 1921, when, it was estimated, one-third of the party were expelled or placed on probation.” The 1921 “purge” took place at the close of the Civil War, when the party membership did not number more than 1,500,000 (as against four million at the beginning of Stalin’s purge), when tens of thousands of Bolsheviks had fallen on the field of battle, and when, after the victory, shady elements and careerists were attempting to flood the ranks of the party. The purge then was directed against this scum, and not against those in any way connected with the October revolution, as is the case at present. By printing these and similar falsifications – with which we shall deal in future issues – the N.Y. Times is repeating its record of the early days of the October Revolution; when its columns were open to every conceivable kind of anti-Bolshevik rumor and slander. Isn’t it a little premature for the Times’ editors to drop their pretence of carrying only news that’s “fit to print?”

Last updated: 30 July 2015