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John G. Wright

Nazi Destruction of Soviet Economy

(February 1942)

From Fourth International, Vol.3 No.2, February 1942, pp.57-59.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It is of course far too early to draw the final balance sheet of the Soviet-Nazi war which has entered its eighth month. Nevertheless it is possible to make several important preliminary estimates especially in the vital sphere of the country’s economy.

What is happening to the achievements of the three Five Year Plans which the Stalinists used to palm off day in and day out in peacetime as “the irrevocable triumph of socialism”?

An important sector of the conquests of construction, industrialization and collectivization has either been reduced to smoldering ruins or remains under Nazi control. This is a sad fact, but true.

Soviet Losses

During the first five months of the war the Soviet Union lost almost 600,000 square miles of her most densely populated and most productive territories. The Kremlin has recently admitted that the German offensive had rolled to within 10 miles of Moscow itself. The Tula province together with the city of Tula, one of the key armament producing centers, had likewise suffered attack and had even fallen into German hands. This means the heart of European Russia has been ravaged by the war. The Nazis still hold the greater part of the Ukraine, Byelo-Russia and Crimea.

The “scorched earth” policy dictated by the circumstances of the struggle could naturally only add to the havoc of war. The Germans in retreating have supplemented the devastation by measures of their own. It can be said without any fear of exaggeration that the scope of the destruction on the battlefields of Russia is without precedent in history.

The Stalinist Lie

Prior to Soviet victories, the Stalinists dared not deny this. For example, last October William Z. Foster in his pamphlet The Soviet Union wrote,

“Let us remember Stalin’s warning that the Soviet Union faces a ‘grave danger.’ Hitler has overrun a large section of the USSR, he has ruined a considerable percentage of Soviet industry, and has caused heavy casualties in the Soviet’s armed forces.”

Meanwhile the Kremlin has been crawling out of its skin to minimize the terrible losses incurred under its leadership. Emboldened by the recent successes of the Red Army, Moscow has begun circulating the incredible claim that not a single basic industry has been lost to the Nazis. Not even so much as a single large-scale factory!

In a speech delivered by one Scherbakov in Moscow on the occasion of the eighteenth anniversary of Lenin’s death it is stated flatly:

“Even in districts which the Germans succeeded in temporarily occupying THEY FOUND NO LARGE SCALE FACTORIES BUT ALL THE BASIC INDUSTRIES IN THESE AREAS WERE EVACUATED IN GOOD TIME DEEP BEHIND THE LINES. Established in new cities they are operating successfully, providing the front with an increasing amount of output” (Daily Worker, Jan. 27, 1942).

Colonel T., a military expert in Stalin’s employ, tries to dismiss the losses brazenly as follows:

“The Germans got little except a lot of guerrilla-infested land to police. Much of what could be destroyed was destroyed. All that could be moved east was moved” (New Masses, Feb. 3, 1942, p.14).

Colonel T. no doubt wrote his article before Scherbakov made his speech. In the next issue of the New Masses the editors will be in position to correct the Colonel and to pass on this official report of Scherbakov to the effect that in the space of five months, while the enemy was advancing along a 2,000 mile front and penetrating 600 to 700 miles into the heart of the country, the Kremlin not only moved “all that could be moved” but evacuated “all the basic industries,” and in addition had them “operating successfully” deep in the interior.

The Bitter Truth

What did the Nazis get? “A lot of guerrilla-infested land.” What did the Soviet economy lose? To give an inkling of the losses, we cite another authority whose book is still being widely circulated by the Stalinists.

“Hitler covets the Ukraine,” wrote the Very Reverend Hewlett Johnson. “And understandably so. The land is surpassingly rich. The Ukraine is a granary to the Soviet Union, producing more than a fifth of the Soviet wheat, a third of Soviet barley, a quarter of Soviet maize, and nearly three-quarters of Soviet sugar-beet.... Not wheat alone attracted Hitler. He coveted the coal of the Donetz basin, 66,000 million tons of it; and the iron ore at Krivoi Rog, 800 million tons; the mercury at Nikatovka, the lead-zinc ores and gold, and the phosphorites and labradorites, marbles and dolomites” (Hewlett Johnson, The Soviet Power, p.260).

To this enormous natural wealth must be added the vast industrial plants, the power stations, the mines and railways, the ship-building industries and other technological equipment representing investments of hundreds of billions of rubles and almost two decades of untold sacrifice and toil. In terms of production, the losses in the occupied areas range from 30 to 50 per cent, and even more of the total Soviet output in the following branches of industry: electric power, all kinds of machinery (tractors, locomotives, railway cars, tanks, engines, planes, etc.), chemicals and dyes, salt mines, aluminum, coal, iron, steel, rolled steel, armored plate, manganese, etc., etc.

For years the Kremlin used to point precisely to the territories lost to the Nazis as the irrefutable proof of the building of “socialism in one country.” Today, they pretend that nothing substantial has really been lost. People who swallow this Stalinist lie should have no difficulty at all in accepting the less fantastic but no less fictitious reports from Moscow concerning the rehabilitation of the areas reoccupied by the Red Army.

Two weeks after the liberation of the Kerch peninsula in Crimea, the Kremlin announced:

“The Kerch port... was nothing but a heap of ruins.... Not one building or installation survived ... The electric plants have resumed operation, the tramline functions, regular studies have been resumed, all the shops, flour mills, bakeries, etc., are open. Kerch industry is coming back to normal.” (Daily Worker, Jan. 22, 1942)

Similar claims concerning other regions have been adduced to any number.

Grave Labor Shortage

At the same time, the Kremlin has to acknowledge an acute labor shortage. This is understandable. Even prior to the outbreak of hostilities, Soviet industry suffered so acutely from lack of manpower that Stalin by ukase introduced child labor. The loss of almost 70,000,000 inhabitants in the Nazi-occupied territories, the demands of the front, the enormous casualties suffered, have monstrously sharpened this already aggravated condition.

A Kuibyshev dispatch dealing with the conditions in the reoccupied territories reported that “most of the work is performed by women since practically all the men are fighting with the Red Army or guerrilla detachments” (Daily Worker, Jan. 20, 1942).

One week after the outbreak of the war, Pravda stated officially that “more than 11,000,000 women are working in enterprises and offices, and more than 19,000,000 are working in collective farm fields” (Pravda, June 29, 1941).

Scherbakov, in the speech that we have already cited, devoted special attention to the role of women:

“Special note should be made of the part played in the struggle against the enemy by Soviet women patriots. Many women have today entered industry and many thousands have mastered new professions and are successfully replacing the men serving the colors. Thousands and thousands of village girls have become tractor drivers and harvest combine operators.” (Daily Worker, Jan. 27, 1942)

The Stalinist Solution

But this mobilization of women into industry and agriculture has far from solved the labor shortage. In July, 1941, i. e., the first month of the war, it was decided to employ child labor below the age of fourteen. With its habitual hypocrisy, Moscow has tried to represent this move as having originated spontaneously with the school children themselves.

“Collective farm children have started a movement for children to work on state and collective farms. They have been joined by tens of thousands of city children, including those who have been evacuated from cities.” (Daily Worker, July 20, 1941)

These “tens of thousands” of children worked in harvesting last year’s crops and a far broader mobilization is scheduled for the current year. Eric McLoughlin, correspondent of The Sydney Morning Herald was permitted to report this in a censored dispatch form Kuibyshev.

“School children,” he wrote, “participated in the harvest just completed .... Worked out jointly by educational authorities and officials of the Agricultural Commissariat, the scheme envisages ... practical training weekly for every child of school age. The younger children will be taught the cultivation of vegetable, berry and fruit plots. Boys and girls of 12 to 14 will learn how to handle tools and care for stock while youths from 14 up ... will undergo a course of tractor and combine operation” (NY Times, Jan. 7, 1942).

To spur the children in the performance of these adult tasks, they will be paid the same wage as adults.

“When the children,” reported McLoughlin, “start work – probably when the Spring sowing begins – they will be paid on the same basis as other agricultural labor.” (idem)

If we leave all other considerations aside, the question still remains: Can children successfully operate modern, large-scale, mechanized farming? To ask this question is to answer it. The measure is clearly one of desperation.

But to believe the Stalinists, children are capable of operating not only modern agriculture but also modern industry. Great successes are being claimed by Moscow in the employment of kids of fourteen and over in industry. They were drafted into “labor schools” in October 1940 and it is now announced “have become component parts of the national war effort” (Daily Worker, Jan. 24, 1942). The same report declares that many of them “are now real Stakhanovites at their jobs.” The Russian press is tireless in reporting overfulfilments of norms by 200 per cent, 300 per cent, etc., by school children. These claims testify not to the fact that children are capable of running large-scale plants but on the contrary to the fact that the productivity of labor remains on such low levels in the USSR that even children can in certain exceptional instances match and surpass the norms for adults.

The Low Productivity of Labor

The Achilles heel of Soviet industry is its low productivity of labor. Despite the most modern equipment, it takes two, three and in many cases even ten Soviet workers to attain the output of a single individual in the advanced capitalist countries. This is what renders the problem of labor force so acute.

The greatest obstacle in the struggle to raise the productivity of labor was and remains the bureaucracy and the regime it imposes on Soviet society in general and Soviet economy in particular. Years ago, Leon Trotsky pointed out:

“Any hundred Soviet workers transferred into the conditions, let us say, of American industry, after a few months, and even weeks, would probably not fall behind the American workers of a corresponding category. The difficulty lies in the general organization of labor. The Soviet administrative personnel is, as a general rule, far less equal to the new productive tasks than the worker.”

It is unquestionable that the Soviet workers are straining all their energies to provide the necessary armaments. They are not sparing themselves and have accepted the prolongation of working hours without any complaints. But as against this there remain the inefficiency, ineptness, arbitrariness of the administrative staff. The Pravda itself has been compelled to admit that vital defense orders have been sidetracked by factory directors merely out of personal considerations.

A change in the regime is an indispensable condition for raising the production of Soviet industry. The further conduct of the war depends upon an enormous expansion in production. Under the most favorable conditions, child labor can play merely the role of an auxiliary force. Instead of raising the productivity of labor the attempt to introduce children into industry as a “component part of the national war effort” can only result in lowering it still further.

The Stalinist “Increase”

“In order to achieve complete victory,” said Scherbakov, “we shall have to double and triple our efforts.” One can readily agree with this estimate that the output of industry must be doubled, trebled and even quadrupled in the immediate period ahead. But what has been actually accomplished in the eight months of the war effort? Amid great fanfare the Kremlin has just announced that Soviet production in January 1942 had increased 40 per cent over the total for... June 1940! By next spring, this increase, it is predicted “will have jumped to 60 per cent.” The Reuters dispatch which broadcasts this news contains the following comment: “There are no ifs or buts about this figure. It is the total Russian production, not just a local increase for the Urals” (NY Times, Feb. 2, 1942).

Let us analyze this report a bit more closely. We begin by taking the Stalinist “statistics” at their face value. The 40 per cent increase is still far below the levels of production which are officially acknowledged as indispensable. Doubling and trebling production, in terms of percentages, means increases of 100 and 200 per cent. In other words, Soviet industry is now operating from 60 to 160 per cent below the necessary levels. At the reported rate of increase these levels (doubled and trebled output) will not be achieved in 1942 in time, either for the envisaged German offensive in the spring or the military activities in the summer and autumn of this year. Translated into ordinary language this signifies that the Kremlin itself has no hopes of attaining “complete victory” in 1942.

But what is the real meaning of an increase of 40 per cent over the output of June 1940? As we shall see* it really denotes a grave condition of Soviet industry.

In June 1940 and throughout the subsequent months up to June 22, 1941, the Soviet industry was operating under the Third Five Year Plan. Most of the plants were not at the time producing armaments as they are today. Since the outbreak of hostilities the greater part of industry has been – or should have been – switched over to war production. Because of the centralized character of Soviet economy this switch from planned production in peacetime to all-out war production can be and should have been achieved far more quickly and efficiently than in any capitalist country. Yet in eight months time, despite this shift in production, the Kremlin cannot claim more than a 40 per cent increase in armaments.

But that is not all. How was Soviet industry operating in June 1940? The answer to this question exposes the typical Stalinist fraud in manipulating statistics. In June 1940, Soviet production had declined to catastrophic levels. At the Eighteenth Party Conference in February 1941 it was officially revealed that Soviet plants had been operating at two-

thirds, one-half of their capacity, and even lower. As a matter of fact, the keynote of Malenko’s report at this conference was: “The impermissible utilization of the productive capacities of our enterprises” (Pravda, Feb. 16, 1941). (For a detailed analysis of the situation I refer the reader to my article, How Stalin Cleared the Road for Hitler, in the November 1941 issue of the Fourth International.)

The Real Situation

What could a 100 per cent increase in January 1942 in output mean for a Soviet plant which operated in 1940, say, at 50 per cent of its capacity? It would mean that such a plant would still be operating today only at its normal peacetime capacity. At first sight this may appear inexplicable. Percentages can easily be manipulated to confuse people, and this, incidentally, is the reason why the Stalinists resort to them. But the matter is really very simple. A plant operating at one-half (or 50 per cent) of its capacity would have to double its output in order to attain full capacity (or 100 per cent). Now in terms of percentage such a doubled output would likewise read as an increase of 100 per cent. So that if the Kremlin had been able to report in 1942 that 100 per cent increase had been achieved over the 1940 output this particular plant would now be operating at its full capacity, while those plants which had been producing at less than one-half capacity (i.e. 40 per cent, 30 per cent, etc.) would still be operating below their full capacity, despite even a “100 per cent increase.” But the Kremlin itself does not dare report 100 per cent increase, not even over the 1940 output. And we may rest assured that they deliberately chose the month in the past which had the lowest production (June 1940) and the month since the outbreak of the war with the highest production (January 1942) in order to obtain the most imposing figure possible (40 per cent). So that the reported increase of 40 per cent over June 1940 production denotes that Soviet plants are still operating at far below their full capacity. Only a Kremlin bureaucrat could try to pass this off as an achievement.

The first workers’ state has already paid a staggering price in terms of disproportionate losses of manpower and economic resources during the eight months of isolated struggle it has been compelled to conduct under the leadership of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

Obviously, the Stalinist regime intends to pursue throughout the war the very same methods which disrupted Soviet economy in times of peace. But every difficulty, every contradiction in economic life finds today its repercussion on the military arena. Eight months of warfare have already placed a far greater strain on Soviet industry and agriculture than on those of any other major warring power. Greater strain lies ahead. The danger of an attack by Japan on the east is increased by the Japanese successes in the Pacific.

To be sure, because of its socialist foundations, the USSR can withstand far greater burdens than any of the most advanced capitalist countries. But this superiority is not at all absolute. Far from being inexhaustible the resources of the Soviet Union can be drained. Unless the Stalinist regime is removed in time and replaced by the resurgent Soviets of Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, a protracted isolated struggle threatens complete economic collapse.

Last updated: 18.8.2008