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John G. Wright

Child Labor in USSR

Stalin Issues Decree Driving Soviet Children from School
in Order to Create Larger Labor Reserve; Decree Retroactive

(30 November 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 48, 30 November 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

By ukase of October 2, Soviet children 14 years of age and over are immediately subject to draft into a conscript labor force; the right to education so solemnly “guaranteed” by the Stalin Constitution, has been abolished, without a formal constitutional amendment, or consultation of the Supreme Council of the USSR. The doors of secondary schools and universities have been slammed shut in the faces of the Soviet youth.

Retroactive Law

The retroactive law passed by People’s Commissars introduces “payment for instruction, from September 1, in the eighth, ninth and tenth grades of secondary schools, and in universities.” (Pravda, October 3, 1940. Our emphasis)

In Moscow, Leningrad and capital cities of the Soviet Republics, the tuition in secondary schools is set at 200 roubles a year; “In all other cities and villages – 150 roubles a year.” Tuition in universities is 400 roubles a year in Moscow, Leningrad and capital cities of the Soviet Federation; 300 roubles in other cities (where universities are few and far between). Art schools – fine arts, drama, music and other highest paid professions – 500 roubles. State subsidies to university students have been withdrawn, except for the “best students.” The rest, and this means approximately 98 per cent, will have to support themselves. The supply of Soviet scientists, engineers, technicians, already meager, is thus further reduced at the very source. Even in secondary schools education is no longer free.

School Inaccessible to Poor

The average wage of a Soviet worker is below 200 roubles a month; the mass of the peasantry earns far less. Secondary schooling is therefore inaccessible to the sons and daughters of workers and peasants, and within reach only of the privileged progeny of governmental, party and trade union bureaucrats, functionaries of the GPU, labor aristocracy (Stakhanovists), factory directors and administrators, engineers, doctors, and so on. Thousands of children who had already started the current school year must now leave the, secondary schools, not to mention those poor students still able to penetrate into the universities and technological institutes.

American Press Silent

Not a word of this has been allowed to leak out in the American press. In the last of a series of articles purportedly devoted to the “cultural and economical well-being of the people of the USSR,” featured by the Daily Worker, one G. Stanley writes. “After the Revolution the doors of universities were thrown wide open to all the working people.” (Daily Worker, November 16)

He forgets to mention a trifle newly added by Stalin: tuitions. This article is dated, Moscow, November 15, six weeks after the publication of the. above decrees, six weeks after “all the working people” were kicked out through the wide open doors. Mr. Stanley is under orders to suppress the fate of one of the remaining conquests of the October revolution. As for the capitalist press, the editors are well informed but keep silent lest the diplomatic negotiations between Washington and Moscow be hindered unnecessarily.

Stalinist Boast

What about other educational facilities so precious to all the “Friends of the Soviet Union?” The same Stanley in the same article still boasts brazenly: “But the network of educational institutions is not limited to ordinary schools. There is also a wide network of correspondence courses available to all Soviet citizens. Thus, while continuing to work in the factory, office or on the collective farm, one may qualify tor the degree of engineer, teacher, agronomist etc.”

Stalin’s pen-prostitute again obeys orders. The readers of the Daily Worker must not learn that correspondence courses are henceforth restricted likewise to those who have the cash in their pockets to pay – one-half of the respective school and university fees. The Soviet press is even conducting a campaign to place lectures at clubs, enterprises, collective farms on a paid admission basis. People, it appears, don’t like free lectures.

The official motivation of the cultural expropriation of the Soviet youth follows:

“After duly considering the higher level of material welfare of the toilers and the considerable sums expended by the Soviet government on constructing, equipping and maintaining the incessantly expanding network of secondary and highest educational institutions, the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR finds it necessary to place a share of the educational expenditures in secondary schools and universities in the USSR upon the toilers themselves, and has in this connection decided ... to introduce the above-listed tuitions.” (Pravda, October 3)

To believe the Kremlin, the toilers are now so well off that their children need no longer go to school.

Real Motive

The real motive for the cultural expropriation of the youth lies in the child-labor decrees promulgated on the same day. The Pravda, in an editorial hailing these “historic decrees of October 2” – incidentally, no comment has yet appeared in any Soviet paper on the equally “historic” abrogation of free education – declares openly that child labor was made necessary by the scarcity of labor which, In turn, was primarily due to the refusal of peasants to leave the land.

“In pre-revolutionary Russian villages ... millions of poor peasants would leave each year to hire themselves out in cities ... In the USSR... the collective farmers lead a secure life. But for this very reason the old sources which assured a spontaneous influx of labor forces into industry have been shut off, have disappeared.” (Pravda, October 3)

Preferred the Land

During the first two Five Year Plans more than 15-million peasants swarmed into the cities, where conditions were better than in the country. As the housing, living and working conditions grew more and more intolerable, the peasants preferred to remain on the land. With the inception of the Third Five Year Plan (1938), the flow of peasants was reduced to a trickle. The passage of the June laws has evidently shut off even this trickle. The acute shortage of labor was further aggravated by the mobilization of vast armies.

The text of the ukase restoring child-labor reads:

“In our country unemployment has been destroyed, poverty and pauperization in city and country forever abolished, and in view of all this we haven’t got people who would be compelled to knock at factory gates and beg admission into the factories, thus spontaneously forming a constant reserve of labor power for industry.”

All “spontaneous” sources of adult labor supply have been “shut off” by the fatal regime of the bureaucracy. But if adults cannot be compelled “to knock at. factory gates and beg admission,” there still remains the youth. Unable to get adult workers, the Kremlin proposes to tap the reservoir of child labor, to create by ukase hereditary industrial serfs.

Driven Out of Schools

The chairmen of collective farms are instructed by law to “designate two (children) for every 100 members of the collective farm.” Smaller collectives, at least one. In the urban centers, the city soviets will do the “designating” with this difference, that city quotas are not fixed in advance. In other words, the urban youth will be driven into industry at a speed depending upon the circumstances. But this child labor itself must have a “reserve.” In order to create such a “spontaneous” reserve it was indispensable to drive the children of workers and peasants, the overwhelming majority of’ the Soviet children, out of schools. And so they were driven.

Child labor cannot operate modern industry. This, by the way, was one of the reasons the bourgeoisie was amenable, under working class pressure in advanced countries, to legislating child labor out of the basic industry. One is almost embarrassed to repeat this elementary fact. Yet Stalin not only reintroduces – on the very eve of the Twenty-third Anniversary of October – this bestial relic of barbarism but envisages it as the only available reservoir of labor power for Soviet industry. The irreconcilable conflict between the further rule of the bureaucracy and the further economic, cultural and social advancement of the Soviet masses dictates the logic of Moloch-Stalin’s decrees.

Window Dressing

But will not the children first go to “trade schools”? Doesn’t the law provide for 1–2 years’ training at “government expense”? Won’t they serve only as apprentices?

All this is window-dressing, for the consumption of the gullible faithful abroad, and the venal apologists of the G.P.U. The decrees provide that the Council of People’s Commissars, through a specially appointed board, has sole and complete jurisdiction over the “disposal of the labor reserve.” This ominous clause invalidates in and of itself any and all other provisions, assuming of course that the gang in the Kremlin feels itself in any way bound by the scraps of paper it labels “laws.” There are no facilities for housing let alone training. If any further verification of the real aims of these decrees is required, we cite the date set for the induction of child labor into basic industries – coal mines, ferrous and non-ferrous mines, iron and steel, non-ferrous metallurgy, oil industry, building trades: It is six months. That is, approximately the time it will actually take to fully organize the draft.

Enslaving Youth

The bureaucracy avows, in so many words, that it cannot operate Soviet industry today and has no prospect of operating Soviet industry in the future except by enslaving the youth of the country, by chaining them to industry just as it has sought to chain the adult workers. That is its program “on the threshold of Communism.”

It may be argued that by employing child labor the bureaucracy will be able to alleviate at least partially the crisis now convulsing Soviet industry. In any case, succeed in smashing the resistance of the workers to the June laws. Moscow fervently hopes so. But other and much more immediate consequences must flow from this ruthless attempt to enslave the youth. It is as if Stalin was deliberately bent on convincing every child in the Soviet Union that his regime is the mortal enemy of the youth whom he has now expropriated not only politically, but culturally and socially.

Driven into Blind Alley

Except for a thin layer of privileged and exempt children, the mass of the Soviet youth can no longer cherish any illusions about their future. In the period of the first two Five Year Plans, these illusions – “Wait till we finish the Second Five Year Plan and enter Communism!” – played an enormous role in stabilizing the regime. Driven into a blind alley the youth has no perspective, no alternative other than to engage in an open struggle for self- preservation. Stalin has lit the fuse to a charge with the greatest explosive power.

The first steps in this struggle have already been taken by the younger workers in their resistance to the June 26 laws. The October 2 legislation will not reduce but intensify tenfold this resistance. They have acquired a powerful ally in the youth of the land, especially the sons and daughter of the millions recently incorporated into the Soviet Federation.

Bureaucracy Sees Danger

Nor is the bureaucracy blind to the danger. But it deludes itself with the assurance that the totalitarian machine of repressions will again see it through. All the gears of the apparatus are grinding overtime. The party and the Komsomol (Russia YCL) have orders to “engage in vast politicalmass activities which will insure the fulfillment of the ukase, and in particular obtain a considerable flood of voluntary declarations of enrollment in the schools” (read: child labor army). All campaigns in the press have been sidetracked in favor of this latest one. Newspapers shriek hysterically about the “unanimous approbation of these great historic decrees;” rave about the great uplift of alleged factory mass meetings all equally unanimous; and, above all, greet/ecstatically the least rumor of “voluntary enrollments.” It is as if Stalin intended to leave nothing undone in exposing to every child in the Soviet Union the methods and inner-mechanics of his rule.

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