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John G. Wright

Stalin Extends
His Compulsory Labor Laws

Technicians, Stakhanovists No Longer Free
to Choose Their Place of Employment

(21 December 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 51, 21 December 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Sunday, October 20, will be remembered as Black Sunday by the entire Soviet technical and administrative personnel, and by all the skilled workers. Something had been brewing for weeks. Every engineer, white-collar specialist, Stakhanovist, every petty underling could tell this just by sniffing the air, or by adding up mentally the number purged in the last 24 hours. That Sunday, when they read the Pravda, they learned the news.

The June 26 laws had been extended to apply to them. They, too, like the ordinary workers, were henceforth to be shackled to their jobs in the enterprises and institutions which Stalin has converted into virtual penitentiaries. If the common workers were life-term prisoners, then they had become permanent supervisors, task-masters, turnkeys, guards, – trusties! – not only de facto, but de jure.

That could be perhaps endured, except by those in the provinces. But that was not all. They could no longer choose their place of employment, that would be decided for them, and was, in fact, already indicated in advance for many – the provinces, the Kuznetsk Basin, the Urals, Siberia and all points East. Still more directly involved were those who had at long last succeeded, by hook or crook, to locate themselves in Moscow, Leningrad, and other capital cities of the Soviet Union, i.e., those with cushiest jobs, in best lodgings, with best schools, best supply of food, of amusements, clubs, and all other good things in life.

The Sunday edition carried only the text of the ukase; the editorial was devoted to the marvels of Tadjik-Buryat-Mongol and other native arts. Comment was reserved for Monday. Stalin loves such week-end details.

Text of This Grim Ukase

Or it may be that comment was really superfluous. The ukase speaks for itself, curtly and to the point. The preamble reads:

“The task of assuring competent cadres in new factories, plants, shafts, mines, construction projects, transport, as well as in the enterprises shifting over to new forms of production [1]demands a correct allocation of engineers, technicians, master-workmen (foremen), employees, and skilled workers among the different enterprises; and necessitates the transfer of workers from industries already disposing of competent cadres into other industries which are in need of them.”

Article 1 of the ukase lists those affected:

“Engineers, constructors, technicians, master-workers (foremen), draftsmen, bookkeepers, economists, accountants, employees in the finance and plan departments, as well as skilled workers above, and including the sixth category.” Categories above and including the sixth include the Stakhanovists. All said persons are subject to compulsory transfer “from one enterprise or institution to another independently of the territorial location of said enterprises and institutions.”

Article 5 fixes the penalty:

“All persons guilty of failing to comply with, orders ... are considered as having left their enterprise or institution arbitrarily and are remitted to the courts on the charge of violating Article 5 of the June 26 ukase of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the USSR.”

The penalty is the GPU dungeon.

To dispel any illusions among those working on short-term contracts – which applies especially to the provinces – Article 6 abrogates “as of October 20, 1940 all short-term labor agreements” and empowers the authorities to “retain the above-specified engineers, employees and skilled workers in those enterprises and institutions in which they are now working on a contract basis.” (Pravda, October 20)

“As of October 20”! With Sunday as the deadline, even the most agile and nimble-witted could not possibly get in under the wire. The Kremlin knows its rascals.

Pravda Explains Why

Pravda’s belated Monday editorial clears up the little details and bears the modest, if wearisome, title: A MEASURE OF GREAT STATE IMPORTANCE.

Attempting to provide a rational explanation for this blow against its labor aristocracy, nurtured so long and so carefully, Pravda blurts out:

“In many new constructions, especially those far removed from the regional centers, a section of the specialists, employees and skilled workers enter into short-term labor agreements. An engineer or a worker arriving at a factory on a 1–2 year, contract feels not infrequently that he is only a temporary guest. In the Kuzbas mines such engineers and technicians were some time ago spoken of as people with a suitcase on their minds.’ The miners would say contemptuously: ‘This fellow is sitting on his suitcase ...’, in referring to those, who showed very little concern for the fate of the enterprise, as they bided the day of their quick departure. But the normal functioning, of a modern plant or mine requires a stable and competent cadre, and not prima donnas. It is necessary to have stable cadres who constantly perfect their knowledge, who become familiar with the enterprise in which they work.”

... Pravda thus corroborates the fact that the real brake on productivity of labor is not the inadequacy or backwardness of the mass of the Russian workers but the character of the technical-administrative staffs. Prima donnas, cheats, chiselers, and careerists bred by the fatal regime itself are to be transformed into devoted and competent cadres by the magic of shackles and the whip – if only the Ukase is “fulfilled honestly and to the letter,” promises Pravda.

Why Stalin Uses Compulsion

Up to new, explains the editorial, very little success has been attained in “transferring engineers, employees and skilled workers in adequate numbers from one enterprise to another. A section of the workers has shown no concern for the interests of the state and has refused to transfer. A number of employees and specialists, from among the reduced central apparatuses in Moscow, have tried to settle down in the same old place instead of leaving for the periphery where they could benefit the country greatly.” (Pravda, October 21).

The seemingly casual phrase underscored by us in the above passage discloses that the October 19 ukase is only the consummation of a whole series of steps already taken by the Kremlin in its campaign to make over and discipline the lower ranks after the dismal failure of Stakhanovism. A silent purge had taken place in the central apparatuses. But the “reduction” failed to produce the desired results, and has been supplemented by state-police action. It will fail as dismally.

Pravda cautiously computes that the concentration of “competent cadres” in the “periphery” i.e., the provinces – is about one-quarter of the concentration in Moscow, Leningrad, and other capital cities. The inference is obvious. While the apparatus swells to monstrous proportions in places where life is “easiest and merriest,” the outlying regions suffer more and more from an acute shortage of necessities and of men, for example, the vast industry of the Kuznetsk Basin. “The same situation exists in a number of other enterprises, especially in Siberia, in the East.” The stress placed by the Kremlin on the Far East is unquestionably connected with feverish war preparations.

“At the same time,” PRAVDA continues with its murderous self-indictment, “there is a surplus of engineers and technical workers in many old enterprises especially, in the industrial centers andi in the cities, above all places like Moscow and Leningrad. The transition to the 8-hour day and 7-day week has likewise freed a section of the skilled workers. The whole task is to transfer them in an ORGANIZED WAY to these enterprises which need competent cadres.” (Emphasis in the original)

“Enormous” Numbers Affected

While the exact number of those slated for transfer from the centers to the provinces cannot be computed, it obviously runs into hundreds of thousands. Approximately one-half of those now in the “old enterprises” must be shifted to correct the officially acknowledged disproportion.

Unable to blame the regime itself for this catastrophic condition, Pravda, nonetheless, brazenly enough, fixes the blame in part on the June 26th laws:

“Prior to the June 26 Ukase ... when there used to exist an ENORMOUS TURNOVER OF LABOR IN INDUSTRY, the new enterprises would obtain a part of their labor force spontaneously. Most often these were not stable cadres because many workers and employes moved on to other enterprises. Nonetheless a certain section of the workers did settle down. Today when a decisive struggle is being waged against labor migration, today when the self-willed departure of workers and employees from enterprises and institutions has been prohibited, it is impossible to count upon adequately filling the staff of the new enterprises on the basis of a spontaneous flow ... This means that the new enterprises and those assimilating new types of production must have an ORGANIZED flow of qualified workers.”

What a picture of chaotic conditions in industry!

The Kremlin foresees nothing, not even the consequences of its own laws. In addition, Pravda gives itself the lie direct. For weeks it has been swearing that the June laws were aimed at a very small section of the working class, not more than 3–4 per cent. Now comes an official declaration that the “decisive struggle” is being directed against an “enormous” section, skilled as unskilled, bookkeepers as well as engineers and technicians, all of whom participated in an “enormous turnover of labor in industry.” The “Stakhanovist” in the Kremlin produces decrees at such record, breaking speed that it is impossible not only to prepare for them politically, but even to reconcile today’s explanations with those of yesterday, to say nothing of tomorrow.

The bureaucratic summits are becoming more and more isolated not only from the mass of the population but from the lower ranks of the bureaucracy as well.

Rattle for Privileges

Within the lower ranks a muffled nationwide battle is now raging: Those in the provinces are pitted against those in the centers, engineer is pitted against engineer, Stakhanovist against Stakhanovist, one white-collar functionary against another, and so on down the bureaucratic ladder. The methods and weapons utilized in such a struggle transcend description. The arena of combat extends into the ranks of the party, for a great number of the combatants whose vital interests are affected by the ukase, are party members, together with their wives and relatives, and hold various party posts. Those able to exert special pull will remain with the fleshpots in the center. The vanquished will either go to jail, or to the Kuzbas, the Urals, Siberia, and all points East, all expenses paid.

It is too early to predict the course that the conflict between these discontented lower layers and the capricious irremovable tops will take. Sections closest to the workers may quickly feel the impulsion to draw nearer to the mass. But between the mass and the main tiers of the technical and administrational machine there still remains an enormous gulf. Nevertheless one fact is already indisputable: The interneline strife must shatter beyond repair an important section of the repressive apparatus.

Backed by New Frameup Trials

Within four days of the publication of the October 19 ukase, Stalin, in order to keep the conflict from reaching dangerous proportions, and to curb the discontent, has been forced to apply his sharpest methods: frame-up trials. And with them has been revived the threat of another blood-bath.

On October 24, the Soviet press began featuring day by day the trial of three defendants in the Moscow City Court. All three defendants are technicians. This establishes the audience for whose particular benefit the frame-up is staged. The GPU gets explicit orders on such items. A.D. Mityasov, the first defendant, is described as “former head of the Central Directing Bureau of ferrous metallurgy of the South and the Center”; T.P. Pervushina, a woman, is “an engineer-geologist”; and the third defendant, A.I. Karpushin – “an engineer employed by. the Leningrad Institute Mekhanobor.” All three are charged with being members of a “wrecking crew of slanderers who not only traduced honest Communists but took under their protection acknowledged enemies of the people.” All three of course confessed. (Pravda, October 24, 25, 26)

The technique of the incumbent head of the GPU, Berya, is as primitive as that of his predecessors. The fraud is self-apparent. The criminal activity of the defendants is dated back to 1935, that is, one full year prior to the staging of the Zinoviev-Kamenev Trial of August, 1936. The defendants are charged with having slandered literally hundreds in the period of 1935–40. Among their very first victims were “37 students of the Leningrad Mining Institute who were accused of Trotskyite activity.” And yet, in the same breath, we are told that: “Their reports were carefully checked and each time (in five years! – JGW) the slanderous character of these reports was revealed. And as a logical consummation of their slander activity, there they sit in the prisoner’s dock ...” (Pravda, Oct. 24) That is, the defendants “slandered” and were exposed as slanderers not only under Yagoda (who was shot) and Yezhov (who was purged), but also under Berya, but they were not brought to trial – until October 1940! Such is Pravda’s logic.

A New Witch-Hunt Begins

The purpose of this frame-up really lies in the “confession” of the defendants that they shielded:

“... enemies of the people ... in particular, a woman Trotskyite, D., who was exposed by the Leningrad, party organization.

“‘How are we to explain the fact that you took upon yourself the defense of D.?’ the defendant is asked by Prosecutor Khabarov.

“‘It was my mistake’, softly answered Pervushna.” (Pravda, October 26, our emphasis)

The hunt is on again for the “enemies of the people.” In the Leningrad organization of the party, the GPU uncovers a “woman Trotskyite, D”. The Prosecutor dares not mention her full name. More significant is the fact that the term “Trotskyite” has reappeared in the columns of Stalin’s press two months after he had Trotsky murdered.

* * *


1. This guarded formula refers to the conversion of many plants into armament and munitions factories, not foreseen by the Third Five Year Plan but made necessary by the Finnish experience and the growing war danger.

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