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John G. Wright

Stalin’s New Purge

The First Account Published Anywhere

Purges the Majority of Trade Unions’ Officials

Kremlin’s Henchmen, Living Like An Upper Class, Have Been Devouring
Workers’ Funds For Their Own Purposes

(21 September 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 38, 21 September 1940, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Stalin is now in the midst of a new mass purge.

The first to suffer are the Komsomol (Russian Communist Youth) and the Trade Unions. Already purged, according to official statistics, are 137,637. Of this number 29,637 are Komsomol officials (out of a reported total of 45,580, that is, the purge has hit a 65 per cent majority of the Komsomol apparatus); and a somewhat more modest majority of 53 per cent of the Trade Union apparatus, 108,000 officials out of a reported total of 203,821. A major operation, even for Stalin.

Whereas previous man-hunts were ostensibly conducted against “wreckers, diversionists, saboteurs, traitors, agents of the Mikado, agents of the Gestapo, agents of French, English and other imperialisms,” etc., in a word, against “Trotskyites”, this manhunt is termed one against darmoyedniki (scoundrels who eat bread that they haven’t earned) and bezdelniki (rascals who idle away their time).

In their milder moments, and of course under their breath, the Soviet masses must have doubtless applied these homely and colloquial epithets of darmoyednik and bezdelnik to many a bureaucrat. But to have used these terms in public meant an invitation to the cellars of the GPU and a bullet in the back of the head. Stalin is now, however, compelled to apply them, if not to the whole bureaucracy, at least to the purged section.

Stalin Must Expose His Imitators

Stalin today finds it necessary, as we shall describe, to reveal the true visage of his henchmen, their arbitrary rule, their parasitism, their vast padded staffs, embezzlements, petty grafts – even their complete isolation from the masses.

The bureaucratic summits of the Kremlin find it now necessary to indict the lesser and lower bureaucratic ranks for those very crimes and abominations which flourish below only as a pale reflection of the monstrosities at the top.

The majority of the Komsomol and the Trade Union officialdom has been charged with and has (naturally) pleaded guilty to: 1) lack of contact with the masses; 2) absence of a democratic regime; 3) failure to call not only membership meetings, ‘but even committee meetings; 4) the upkeep of a swollen apparatus by diversion of membership dues and even sums allotted to industry; 5) padding the payrolls with darmoyedniki and bezdelnikj and of similar practices, labelled, in the official double-talk, as “deficiencies.”

Cabled Stories Suppressed by Stalin

No correspondent has been permitted to cable this story from the Soviet Union as, likewise, the story of Stalin’s new anti-labor legislation which I described last week. Even the provisions of the new laws against labor, which of course were published in Pravda for the information of the bureaucrats, were deleted from press dispatches, as Gedye of the New York Times has just reported upon leaving the Soviet Union. Moreover, for months at a time it is impossible to secure abroad copies of Soviet newspapers. We are now, however, able to tell the story.

On July 26 Pravda carried an innocuous notice to the effect that the Tenth Plenum of the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions (C.C.T.U.) would convene on the next day, with only one point on the agenda: “The Elimination of Certain Deficiencies in the Trade Union Apparatus and the Improvement of the Functioning of the Trade Union Organs.” In point of understatement this notice can be matched only by the wording of the announcement of the Ninth Plenum of the C.C.T.U., held a month previously, which it turned out, demanded “in the name of the Soviet trade unionists” the passage of the new anti-labor legislation, but which was called, said the announcement, to consider “The Question of the 8 Hour Day.” The style is the regime.

The members of the Plenum were graciously greeted on July 27 with a special editorial in Pravda addressed to the Plenum and entitled: You Must Attract Broad Masses to Active Trade Union Work.

After an innocent and ritualistic introduction in which homage was paid to the achievements and importance of Trade Unions in Socialist Society and after affirming that “without their participation not a single serious economic or political measure is carried out,” the editorial suddenly interposed an ominous “BUT”.

What the “Trade Unions” Really Are

“But,” snarled Pravda, “many leading workers in the Trade Unions forget the main thing; they forget mass work; they forget to maintain constant contact with the masses; they take to the road of functioning in an office-bureaucratic manner through an enormous paid apparatus; and not infrequently they transform the trade union into a poorly functioning departmental bureau. These deficiencies are glaringly revealed in countless instances of a swollen paid trade union apparatus in individual enterprises, in departments as well as in regional committees and in Central Committees of the Trade Unions.” (Pravda, July 27)

To its horror and indignation, Pravda had suddenly discovered that the Moscow Auto Plant alone supports 931 paid trade union officials. The Gorki Auto Plant is in an equally insufferable position with 648. “It is instructive,” continues Stalin’s official organ, “that the paid staff of certain trade unions does not decrease but on the contrary is increasing from year to year.” For example, the State Trade Workers Union had 2,807 officials in 1938; it was then split up into six independent unions and the paid staff increased to 3,546.

Squandering the Workers’ Dues

Pravda immediately trumps that (by citing no less instructive instances of how cultural educational work is carried on. The workers in the Moscow Auto Plant, it appears, got together and organized a chorus and a dramatic circle. No sooner did the Trade Union learn of this than it appointed: One Chorus Leader, salary 800 roubles; one Assistant Chorus Leader, salary 500 roubles; one Art Director, 1,000 roubles; one Chief Concertmaster, 600 roubles; one Theatre Manager, 750 roubles ... Pravda cuts its description of this payroll short with a modest though mysterious “Etcetera” and goes on:

“Facts of this kind, and they are by no means isolated ones, bear witness to the fact that many trade unions are squandering the income of the trade unions, maintaining at the expense of this income a swollen paid apparatus, in some cases, plain Darmoyedniki and Bezdelniki.”

After this discovery, Pravda is ready to tell the Plenum just how to attract the masses:

“This situation can no longer be tolerated ... The main portion of the funds accruing from membership dues must be expended not on the upkeep of a paid apparatus but to provide cultural-educational service to union members and to render them material aid.”

The Tenth Trade Union Plenum was well attended by the Chairmen and Secretaries of the Central Committees of the various Trade Unions as well as by “several hundred Moscow trade union activists (read: the G.P.U. – JGW).”

Shvernik in the Confessional

The reporter to the Plenum was Shvernik, Tomsky’s successor as Chairman of the C.C.T.U. The account in Pravda gives only the high lights from his speech.

Following the line laid down by Pravda, he began by pointing out the achievements and importance of the Trade Unions, especially “on the threshold of Communism”. The main source of trade union strength, said Shvernik, consists of ties with the masses. But unfortunately, he had to report that the Soviet Trade Unions “have still very weak ties with the masses.” Why? Because of the “swollen apparatus of the trade union organizations.”

“The paid apparatus devours the major part of the membership dues which should provide the means for carrying on cultural mass work and rendering material aid to union members and which are used instead by the trade union organs to maintain not a few Darmoyedniki and Bezdelniki.” (Pravda, July 28)

Who should know if not Shvernik?

At this point, however, Shvernik digressed to make it clear that this “deficiency” was discovered not by him, nor by the C.C.T.U., nor by the various trade union organizations, not even by Pravda but only by the Central Committee of the Party (i.e., Stalin).

The Scope of the Purge

After a proper pause, Shvernik announced to the assembled audience that it was now crystal clear that the paid staff could easily be cut one-half, even two-thirds. As a matter of fact, a Commission which had already studied the problem found it “possible to drop 108,000 paid workers from 169 trade union bodies.”

“After their staffs are reduced,” predicted Shvernik, “the Trade Unions will have the untrammelled opportunity of carrying on their work on the income derived from membership dues, and our state will obtain several hundred million roubles to use for further strengthening the economic power of our socialist fatherland.”

In closing he promised a new regime. “It is necessary to call general membership meetings of the trade unions regularly.”

The discussion which ensued was summed up by Pravda as follows:

“The speakers cited a great number of instances which illustrate the urgent need of liquidating the deficiencies in trade union work, paring down the swollen staffs and attracting the activists.”

Moisseyev, Chairman of the Central Committee, of the Central Construction Workers Union, announced to the Plenum that the paid personnel of his Union had already been cut “70 per cent, a saving of about 11 million roubles.”

Meshakin, Chairman of the Flour Mill and Grain Elevator Workers Union, was able to announce a reduction of 59.5 per cent.

But the speakers really warmed up to their task only during the next day’s discussion, which Pravda summed up with satisfaction as follows:

“Every one who took the floor spoke of the excessively swollen apparatus which devours hundreds of millions of roubles and obstructs the advancement of trade union activists” (Pravda, July 30).

Levine, Secretary of the Central Committee of the Ural and West Siberian Industrial Construction Workers Union confessed that: “We reduced our staff 15–18 per cent last February. But it became immediately clear to us that this was not enough. We have now dropped 876 out of 1,401 on our staff.”

An Astounding Admission

Moskatov, one of the Secretaries of the C.C.T.U., displayed exemplary zeal: “Suffice it to state that 25 Central Committees of the Trade Unions spent from 100 to 134 per cent of the total membership dues collected in order to maintain their apparatus.” He also singled out one Central Committee which contrived to expend on its apparatus “1,820,000 roubles while receiving dues to the sum of 1,350,000. Not so much as a kopek of the membership dues was spent on cultural work. More than that, the salaries of the trade union workers swallowed up in addition funds assigned to industrial organs.” If so much is admitted, what must be the whole truth?

In his book The Revolution Betrayed Trotsky refers to a scandal which broke in 1930 when it was revealed that “out of the budget of the trade unions, amounting to 400,000,000 roubles 80,000,000 go for the support of the personnel.” That was 20 per cent of the dues.

In 1940, admissions are blithely made of 100 to 134 per cent of the dues expended for the support of darmoyedniki and bezdelniki. Here is a slight measure of the degeneration of the bureaucracy since 1930.

The Income of the Bureaucracy

Vladimirov, with the preservation of his own skin and salary uppermost in his mind, blurted out that at the beginning of 1940 the Frozen-Meat Workers Union carried 1,354 officials whose salaries totaled “more than 6 million roubles.” The personnel was now cut 70 per cent, saving “many millions”. The average annual wage of the bureaucrats in this union, therefore, was in excess of 4,400 roubles. This sum does not include, of course, the special privileges enjoyed by the darmoyedniki and bezdelniki, namely, choice city apartments, country homes, vacation tours, sanatoria, private use of cars, etc. The average annual wage in the Soviet Union was officially put at 3,467 roubles (1938). For the mass of Soviet workers 1,800 roubles a year is a high wage. For the first time, we have an “official” gauge of the portion of the national income devoured by these self-admitted sloths and idlers.

But the most revealing data was cited by K. Nikolayeva, another of the Secretaries of the C.C.T.U., who in her anxiety not to be outdone, became overzealous and said the following:

“The swelling of the apparatus was noticed neither by the leaders of the Central Committees of the Trade Unions nor even (!) by us, the members of the Presidium of the C.C.T.U. We were under the impression that our paid staff was a trifle over 150,000 and now it turns out that in 1939 there were 194,434 paid workers in 179 trade unions, while in 1940 there were 203,821. The sum spent on them amounted to 1,025,385,600 roubles.”

With the above figures as a basis, the average annual wage of a trade union bureaucrat rises above 5,100 roubles.

And These Are the Smaller Leeches!

The total annual wage fund for the whole USSR was officially given as 34.95 billion in 1933 and 96.4 billion roubles in 1938. If a single one of the feebler branches of the bureaucracy swallowed up 1.02 billion a year, then how much was devoured by the assassins of the GPU, the leeches in the government apparatus and other more powerful branches up to the Supreme Gang in the Kremlin itself?

The discussion closed with a rabid attack on Trud, the official organ of the Trade Unions. The Trud is conducting “a poor fight in the struggle to eliminate deficiencies”. Even the editors of Trud do not relish apparently the prospect of losing 70 per cent and more of their subscribers.

Naturally, there is an intimate connection between this purge in July and the resistance of the masses to the June anti-labor legislation. The press has already been compelled to report thousands of violations.

Why Stalin’s New Scapegoats

Stalin must have new scapegoats; once again he has to resort to preventive measures. The familiar pattern of the purge reappears, but this time with significant alterations.

The preventive character of the purge finds its expression in the fact that the fire is levelled first against those sections of the bureaucracy which are most directly subject to mass pressure. The Youth and the Trade Unions must be discredited, and above all rendered immune to pressure from below. At the same time, as a sop to the masses, a section of the bureaucracy is sacrificed. Stalin undoubtedly aims to limit the purge. But like all its predecessors, this purge has a logic of its own and must penetrate every nook and cranny of the regime. The masses will respond warmly and in their own way to such slogans as:

“Down with All Darmoyedniki and Bezdelniki, with Stalin at Their Head!”.

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Last updated: 17 August 2018