The Crisis in Russia
Public Domain Books
The general principle of industrial conscription recognized by the Russian Constitution, section ii, chapter v, paragraph 18, which reads: “The Russian Socialist Federate Soviet Republic recognizes that work is an obligation on every citizen of the Republic,” and proclaims, “He who does not work shall not eat.” It is, however, one thing to proclaim such a principle and quite another to put it into action.
On December 17, 1919, the moment it became clear that there was a real possibility that the civil war was drawing to an end, Trotsky allowed the Pravda to print a memorandum of his, consisting of “theses” or reasoned notes about industrial conscription and the militia system. He points out that a Socialist State demands a general plan for the utilization of all the resources of a country, including its human energy. At the same time, “in the present economic chaos in which are mingled the broken fragments of the past and the beginnings of the future,” a sudden jump to a complete centralized economy of the country as a whole is impossible. Local initiative, local effort must not be sacrificed for the sake of a plan. At the same time industrial conscription is necessary for complete socialization. It cannot be regardless of individuality like military conscription. He suggests a subdivision of the State into territorial productive districts which should coincide with the territorial districts of the militia system which shall replace the regular army. Registration of labor necessary. Necessary also to coordinate military and industrial registration. At demobilization the cadres of regiments, divisions, etc., should form the fundamental cadres of the militia. Instruction to this end should be included in the courses for workers and peasants who are training to become officers in every district. Transition to the militia system must be carefully and gradually accomplished so as not for a moment to leave the Republic defenseless. While not losing sight of these ultimate aims, it is necessary to decide on immediate needs and to ascertain exactly what amount of labor is necessary for their limited realization. He suggests the registration of skilled labor in the army. He suggests that a Commission under general direction of the Council of Public Economy should work out a preliminary plan and then hand it over to the War Department, so that means should be worked out for using the military apparatus for this new industrial purpose.
Trotsky’s twenty-four theses or notes must have been written in odd moments, now here now there, on the way from one front to another. They do not form a connected whole. Contradictions jostle each other, and it is quite clear that Trotsky himself had no very definite plan in his head. But
his notes annoyed and stimulated so many other people that they did perhaps precisely the work they were intended to do. Pravada printed them with a note from the editor inviting discussion. The Ekonomitcheskaya Jizn printed letter after letter from workmen, officials and others, attacking, approving and bringing new suggestions. Larin, Semashko, Pyatakov, Bucharin all took a hand in the discussion. Larin saw in the proposals the beginning of the end of the revolution, being convinced that authority would pass from the democracy of the workers into the hands of the specialists. Rykov fell upon them with sturdy blows on behalf of the Trades Unions. All, however, agreed on the one point-that something of the sort was neccesary. On December 27th a Commission for studying the question of industrial conscription was formed under the presidency of Trotsky. This Commission included the People’s Commissars, or Ministers, of Labor, Ways of Communication, Supply, Agriculture, War, and the Presidents of the Central Council of the Trades Unions and of the Supreme Council of Public Economy. They compiled a list of the principal questions before them, and invited anybody interested to bring them suggestions and material for discussion.
But the discussion was not limited to the newspapers or to this Commission. The question was discussed in Soviets and Conferences of every kind all over the country. Thus, on January 1st an All-Russian Conference of local “departments for the registration and distribution of labor," after prolonged argument, contributed their views. They pointed out (1) the need of bringing to work numbers of persons who instead of doing the skilled labor for which they were qualified were engaged in petty profiteering, etc.; (2) that there evaporation of skilled labor into unproductive speculation could at least be checked by the introduction of labor books, which would give some sort of registration of each citizen’s work; (3) that workmen can be brought back from the villages only for enterprises which are supplied with provisions or are situated in districts where there is plenty. ("The opinion that, in the absence of these preliminary conditions, it will be possible to draw workmen from the villages by measures of compulsion or mobilization is profoundly mistaken.”) (4) that there should be a census of labor and that the Trades Unions should be invited to protect the interests of the conscripted. Finally, this Conference approved the idea of using the already existing military organization for carrying out a labor census of the Red Army, and for the turning over to labor of parts of the army during demobilization, but opposed the idea of giving the military organization the work of labor registration and industrial conscription in general.
On January 22, 1920, the Central Committee of the Communist Party, after prolonged discussion of Trotsky’s rough memorandum, finally adopted and published a new edition of the “theses,” expanded, altered, almost unrecognizable, a reasoned body of theory entirely different from the bundle of arrows loosed at a venture by Trotsky. They definitely accepted the principle of industrial conscription, pointing out the immediate reasons for it in the fact that Russia cannot look for much help from without and must somehow or other help herself.
Long before the All-Russian Congress of the Communist Party approved the theses of the Committee, one form of industrial conscription was already being tested at work. Very early in January, when the discussion on the subject was at its height, the Soviet of the Third Army addressed itself to the Council of Defense of the Republic with an invitation to make use of this army (which at least for the moment had finished its military task) and to experiment with it as a labor army. The Council of Defense agreed. Representatives of the Commissariats of Supply, Agriculture, Ways and Communications, Labor and the Supreme Council of Public Economy were sent to assist the Army Soviet. The army was proudly re-named “The First Revolutionary Army of Labor,” and began to issue communiques from the Labor front,” precisely like the communiques of an army in the field. I translate as a curiosity the first communique issued by a Labor Army’s Soviet:
“Wood prepared in the districts of Ishim, Karatulskaya, Omutinskaya,
Zavodoutovskaya, Yalutorovska, Iushaly, Kamuishlovo, Turinsk, Altynai, Oshtchenkovo, Shadrinsk, 10,180 cubic sazhins. Working days, 52,651. Taken to the railway stations, 5,334 cubic sazhins. Working days on transport, 22,840. One hundred carpenters detailed for the Kizelovsk mines. One hundred carpenters detailed for the bridge at Ufa. One engineer specialist detailed to the Government Council of Public Economy for repairing the mills of Chelyabinsk Government. One instructor accountant detailed for auditing the accounts of the economic organizations of Kamuishlov. Repair of locomotives procceding in the works at Ekaterinburg. January 20, 1920, midnight.”
The Labor Army’s Soviet received a report on the state of the district covered by the army with regard to supply and needed work. By the end of January it had already carried out a labor census of the army, and found that it included over 50,000 laborers, of whom a considerable number were skilled. It decided on a general plan of work in reestablishing industry in the Urals, which suffered severely during the Kolchak regime and the ebb and flow of the civil war, and was considering a suggestion of one of its members that if the scheme worked well the army should be increased to 300,000 men by way of mobilization.
On January 23rd the Council of Defense of the Republic, encouraged to proceed further, decided to make use of the Reserve Army for the improvement of railway transport on the Moscow-Kazan railway, one of the chief arteries between eastern food districts and Moscow. The main object is to be the reestablishment of through traffic between Moscow and Ekaterinburg and the repair of the Kazan-Ekaterinburg line, which particularly suffered during the war. An attempt was to be made to rebuild the bridge over the Kama River before the ice melts. The Commander of the Reserve Army was appointed Commissar of the eastern part of the Moscow-Kazan railway, retaining his position as Commander of the Army. With a view of coordination between the Army Soviet and the railway authorities, a member of the Soviet was also appointed Commissar of the railway. On January 25th it was announced that a similar experiment was being made in the Ukraine. A month before the ice broke the first train
actually crossed the Kama River by the rebuilt bridge.
By April of this year the organization of industrial conscription had gone far beyond the original labor armies. A decree of February 5th had created a Chief Labor Committee, consisting of five members, Serebryakov and Danilov, from the Commissariat of War; Vasiliev, from the Commissariat of the Interior; Anikst, from the Commissariat of Labor; Dzerzhinsky, from the Commissariat of Internal Affairs. Dzerzhinsky was President, and his appointment was possibly made in the hope that the reputation he had won as President of the Extraordinary Committee for Fighting Counter-Revolution would frighten people into taking this Committee seriously. Throughout the country in each government or province similar committees, called “Troikas,” were created, each of three members, one from the Commissariat of War, one from the Department of Labor, one from the Department of Management, in each case from the local Commissariats and Departments attached to the local Soviet. Representatives of the Central Statistical Office and its local organs had a right to be present at the meeting of these committees of three, or “Troikas,” but had not the right to vote. An organization or a factory requiring labor, was to apply to the Labor Department of the local Soviet. This Department was supposed to do its best to satisfy demands upon it by voluntary methods first. If these proved insufficient they were to apply to the local “Troika," or Labor Conscription Committee. If this found that its resources also were insufficient, it was to refer back the request to the Labor Department of the Soviet, which was then to apply to its corresponding Department in the Government Soviet, which again, first voluntarily and then through the Government Committee of Labor Conscription, was to try to satisfy the demands. I fancy the object of this arrangement was to prevent local “Troikas” from referring to Government “Troikas,” and so directly to Dzerzhinsky’s Central Committee. If they had been able to do this there would obviously have been danger lest a new network of independent and powerful organizations should be formed. Experience with the overgrown and insuppressible Committees for Fighting Counter-Revolution had taught people how serious such a development might be.
Such was the main outline of the scheme for conscripting labor. A similar scheme was prepared for superintending and safeguarding labor when conscripted. In every factory of over 1,000 workmen, clerks, etc., there was formed a Commission (to distinguish it from the Committee) of Industrial Conscription. Smaller factories shared such Commissions or were joined for the purpose to larger factories near by. These Commissions were to be under the direct control of a Factory Committee, thereby preventing squabbles between conscripted and non-conscripted labor. They were to be elected for six months, but their members could be withdrawn and replaced by the Factory Committee with the approval of the local “Troika." These Commissions, like the “Troikas,” consisted of three members: (1) from the management of the factory, (2) from the Factory Committee, (3) from the Executive Committee of the workers. (It was suggested in the directions that one of these should be from the group which “has been organizing ’Saturdayings,’ that is to say that he or she should be a Communist.)The payment of conscripted workers was to be by production, with prizes for specially good work. Specially bad work was also foreseen in the detailed scheme of possible punishments. Offenders were to be brought before the “People’s Court” (equivalent to the ordinary Civil Court), or, in the case of repeated or very bad offenses, were to be brought before the far more dreaded Revolutionary Tribunals. Six categories of possible offenses were placed upon the new code:
(1)Avoiding registration, absenteeism, or desertion. (2)The preparation of false documents or the use of such. (3)Officials giving false information to facilitate these crimes. (4)Purposeful damage of instruments or material. (5)Uneconomical or careless work. (6)(Probably the most serious of all) Instigation to any of these actions.
The “Troikas” have the right to deal administratively with the less important crimes by deprival of freedom for not more than two weeks. No one can be brought to trial except by the Committee for Industrial Conscription on the initiative of the responsible director of work, and with the approval either of the local labor inspection authorities or with that of the local Executive Committee.
No one with the slightest knowledge of Russia will suppose for a moment that this elaborate mechanism sprang suddenly into existence when the decree was signed. On the contrary, all stages of industrial conscription exist simultaneously even today, and it would be possible by going from one part of Russia to another to collect a series of specimens of industrial conscription at every stage of evolution, just as one can collect all stages of man from a baboon to a company director or a Communist. Some of the more primitive kinds of conscription were not among the least successful. For example, at the time(in the spring of the year)when the Russians still hoped that the Poles would be content with the huge area of non-Polish territory they had already seized, the army on the western front was without any elaborate system of decrees being turned into a labor army. The work done was at first ordinary country work, mainly woodcutting. They tried to collaborate with the local “Troikas,” sending help when these Committees asked for it. This, however, proved unsatisfactory, so, disregarding the “Troikas,” they organized things for themselves in the whole area immediately behind the front. They divided up the forests into definite districts, and they worked these with soldiers and with deserters. Gradually their work developed, and they built themselves narrow-gauge railways for the transport of the wood. Then they needed wagons and locomotives, and of course immediately found themselves at loggerheads with the railway authorities. Finally, they struck a bargain with the railwaymen, and were allowed to take broken-down wagons which the railway people were not in a position to mend. Using such skilled labor as they had, they mended such wagons as were given them, and later made a practice of going to the railway yards and in inspecting “sick” wagons for themselves, taking out any that they thought had a chance even of temporary convalescence. Incidentally they caused great scandal by finding in the Smolensk sidings among the locomotives and wagons supposed to be sick six good locomotives and seventy perfectly healthy wagons. Then they began to improve the feeding of their army by sending the wood they
had cut, in the trains they had mended, to people who wanted wood and could give them provisions. One such train went to Turkestan and back from the army near Smolensk. Their work continually increased, and since they had to remember that they were an army and not merely a sort of nomadic factory, they began themselves to mobilize, exclusively for purposes of work, sections of the civil population. I asked Unshlicht, who had much to do with this organization, if the peasants came willingly. He said, “Not very,” but added that they did not mind when they found that they got well fed and were given packets of salt as prizes for good work. “The peasants,” he said, “do not grumble against the Government when it shows the sort of common sense that they themselves can understand. We found that when we said definitely how many carts and men a village must provide, and used them without delay for a definite purpose, they were perfectly satisfied and considered it right and proper. In every case, however, when they saw people being mobilized and sent thither without obvious purpose or result, they became hostile at once.” I asked Unshlicht how it was that their army still contained skilled workmen when one of the objects of industrial conscription was to get the skilled workmen back into the factories. He said: “We have an accurate census of the army, and when we get asked for skilled workmen for such and such a factory, they go there knowing that they still belong to the army.”
That, of course, is the army point of view, and indicates one of the main squabbles which industrial conscription has produced. Trotsky would like the various armies to turn into units of a territorial militia, and at the same time to be an important part of the labor organization of each district. His opponents do not regard the labor armies as a permanent manifestation, and many have gone so far as to say that the productivity of labor in one of these armies is lower than among ordinary workmen. Both sides produce figures on this point, and Trotsky goes so far as to say that if his opponents are right, then not only are labor armies damned, but also the whole principle of industrial conscription. “If compulsory labor-independently of social condition-is unproductive, that is a condemnation not of the labor
armies, but of industrial conscription in general, and with it of the whole Soviet system, the further development of which is unthinkable except on a basis of universal industrial conscription.”
But, of course, the question of the permanence of the labor armies is not so important as the question of getting the skilled workers back to the factories. The comparative success or failure of soldiers or mobilized peasants in cutting wood is quite irrelevant to this recovery of the vanished workmen. And that recovery will take time, and will be entirely useless unless it is possible to feed these workers when they have been collected. There have already been several attempts, not wholly successful, to collect the straying workers of particular industries. Thus, after the freeing of the oil-wells from the Whites, there was a general mobilization of naphtha workers. Many of these had bolted on or after the arrival of Krasnov or Denikin and gone far into Central Russia, settling where they could. So months passed before the Red Army definitely pushed the area of civil war beyond the oil-wells, that many of these refugees had taken new root and were unwilling to return. I believe, that in spite of the mobilization, the oil-wells are still short of men. In the coal districts also, which have passed through similar experiences, the proportion of skilled to unskilled labor is very much smaller than it was before the war. There have also been two mobilizations of railway workers, and these, I think, may be partly responsible for the undoubted improvement noticeable during the year, although this is partly at least due to other things beside conscription. In the first place Trotsky carried with him into the Commissariat of Transport the same ferocious energy that he has shown in the Commissariat of War, together with the prestige that he had gained there. Further, he was well able in the councils of the Republic to defend the needs of his particular Commissariat against those of all others. He was, for example able to persuade the Communist Party to treat the transport crisis precisely as they had treated each crisis on the front-that is to say, to mobilize great numbers of professed Communists to meet it, giving them in this case the especial task of getting engines mended and, somehow or other, of keeping trains on the
But neither the bridges mended and the wood cut by the labor armies, nor the improvement in transport, are any final proof of the success of industrial conscription. Industrial conscription in the proper sense of the words is impossible until a Government knows what it has to conscript. A beginning was made early this year by the introduction of labor books, showing what work people were doing and where, and serving as a kind of industrial passports. But in April this year these had not yet become general in Moscow although the less unwieldy population of Petrograd was already supplied with them. It will be long even if it is possible at all, before any considerable proportion of the people not living in these two cities are registered in this way. A more useful step was taken at the end of August, in a general census throughout Russia. There has been no Russian census since 1897. There was to have been another about the time the war began. It was postponed for obvious reasons. If the Communists carry through the census with even moderate success (they will of course have to meet every kind of evasion), they will at least get some of the information without which industrial conscription on a national scale must be little more than a farce. The census should show them where the skilled workers are. Industrial conscription should enable them to collect them and put them at their own skilled work. Then if, besides transplanting them, they are able to feed them, it will be possible to judge of the success or failure of a scheme which in most countries would bring a Government toppling to the ground.
“In most countries"; yes, but then the economic crisis has gone further in Russia than in most countries. There is talk of introducing industrial conscription (one year’s service) in Germany, where things have not gone nearly so far. And perhaps industrial conscription, like Communism itself, becomes a thing of desperate hope only in a country actually face to face with ruin. I remember saying to Trotsky, when talking of possible opposition, that I, as an Englishman, with the tendencies to practical anarchism belonging to my race,
should certainly object most strongly if I were mobilized and set to work in a particular factory, and might even want to work in some other factory just for the sake of not doing what I was forced to do. Trotsky replied: “You would now. But you would not if you had been through a revolution, and seen your country in such a state that only the united, concentrated effort of everybody could possibly reestablish it. That is the position here. Everybody knows the position and that there is no other way.”
WHAT THE COMMUNISTS ARE TRYING TO DO IN RUSSIA
We come now to the Communist plans for reconstruction. We have seen, in the first two chapters, something of the appalling paralysis which is the most striking factor in the economic problem to-day. We have seen how Russia is suffering from a lack of things and from a lack of labor, how these two shortages react on each other, and how nothing but a vast improvement in transport can again set in motion what was one of the great food-producing machines of the world. We have also seen something of the political organization which, with far wider ambitions before it, is at present struggling to prevent temporary paralysis from turning into permanent atrophy. We have seen that it consists of a political party so far dominant that the Trades Unions and all that is articulate in the country may be considered as part of a machinery of propaganda, for getting those things done which that political party considers should be done. In a country fighting, literally, for its life, no man can call his soul his own, and we have seen how this fact-a fact that has become obvious again and again in the history of the world, whenever a nation has had its back to the wall-is expressed in Russia in terms of industrial conscription; in measures, that is to say, which would be impossible in any country not reduced to such extremities; in measures which may prove to be the inevitable accompaniment of national crisis, when such crisis is
economic rather than military. Let us now see what the Russians, with that machinery at their disposal are trying to do.
It is obvious that since this machinery is dominated by a political party, it will be impossible to understand the Russian plans, without understanding that particular political party’s estimate of the situation in general. It is obvious that the Communist plans for Russia must be largely affected by their view of Europe as a whole. This view is gloomy in the extreme. The Communists believe that Europe is steadily shaking itself to pieces. They believe that this process has already gone so far that, even given good will on the part of European Governments, the manufacturers of Western countries are already incapable of supplying them with all the things which Russia was importing before the war, still less make up the enormous arrears which have resulted from six years of blockade. They do not agree with M. Clemenceau that “revolution is a disease attacking defeated countries only.” Or, to put it as I have heard it stated in Moscow, they believe that President Wilson’s aspiration towards a peace in which should be neither conqueror nor conquered has been at least partially realized in the sense that every country ended the struggle economically defeated, with the possible exception of America, whose signature, after all, is still to be ratified. They believe that even in seemingly prosperous countries the seeds of economic disaster are already fertilized. They think that the demands of labor will become greater and more difficult to fulfill until at last they become incompatible with a continuance of the capitalist system. They think that strike after strike, irrespective of whether it is successful or not, will gradually widen the cracks and flaws already apparent in the damaged economic structure of Western Europe. They believe that conflicting interests will involve our nations in new national wars, and that each of these will deepen the cleavage between capital and labor. They think that even if exhaustion makes mutual warfare on a large scale impossible, these conflicting interests will produce such economic conflicts, such refusals of cooperation, as will turn exhaustion to despair. They believe, to put it briefly, that Russia has passed through the worst stages of a process to which every country in Europe will be submitted in turn by
its desperate and embittered inhabitants. We may disagree with them, but we shall not understand them if we refuse to take that belief into account. If, as they imagine, the next five years are to be years of disturbance and growing resolution, Russia will get very little from abroad. If, for example, there is to be a serious struggle in England, Russia will get practically nothing. They not only believe that these things are going to be, but make the logical deductions as to the effect of such disturbances on their own chances of importing what they need. For example, Lenin said to me that “the shock of revolution in England would ensure the final defeat of capitalism,” but he said at the same time that it would be felt at once throughout the world and cause such reverberations as would paralyze industry everywhere. And that is why, although Russia is an agricultural country, the Communist plans for her reconstruction are concerned first of all not with agriculture, but with industry. In their schemes for the future of the world, Russia’s part is that of a gigantic farm, but in their schemes for the immediate future of Russia, their eyes are fixed continually on the nearer object of making her so far self-supporting that, even if Western Europe is unable to help them, they may be able to crawl out of their economic difficulties, as Krassin put it to me before he left Moscow, “if necessary on all fours, but somehow or other, crawl out.”
Some idea of the larger ambitions of the Communists with regard to the development of Russia are given in a conversation with Rykov, which follows this chapter. The most important characteristic of them is that they are ambitions which cannot but find an echo in Russians of any kind, quite regardless of their political convictions. The old anomalies of Russian industry, for example, the distances of the industrial districts from their sources of fuel and raw material are to be done away with. These anomalies were largely due to historical accidents, such as the caprice of Peter the Great, and not to any economic reasons. The revolution, destructive as it has been, has at least cleaned the slate and made it possible, if it is possible to rebuild at all, to rebuild Russia on foundations laid by common sense. It may be said that the Communists are merely doing flamboyantly and with a lot of flag-waving,
what any other Russian Government would be doing in their place. And without the flamboyance and the flag-waving, it is doubtful whether in an exhausted country, it would be possible to get anything done at all. The result of this is that in their work of economic reconstruction the Communists get the support of most of the best engineers and other technicians in the country, men who take no interest whatsoever in the ideas of Karl Marx, but have a professional interest in doing the best they can with their knowledge, and a patriotic satisfaction in using that knowledge for Russia. These men, caring not at all about Communism, want to make Russia once more a comfortably habitable place, no matter under what Government. Their attitude is precisely comparable to that of the officers of the old army who have contributed so much to the success of the new. These officers were not Communists, but they disliked civil war, and fought to put an end of it. As Sergei Kamenev, the Commander-in-Chief, and not a Communist, said to me, “I have not looked on the civil war as on a struggle between two political ideas, for the Whites have no definite idea. I have considered it simply as a struggle between the Russian Government and a number of mutineers.” Precisely so do these “bourgeois” technicians now working throughout Russia regard the task before them. It will be small satisfaction to them if famine makes the position of any Government impossible. For them the struggle is quite simply a struggle between Russia and the economic forces tending towards a complete collapse of civilization.
The Communists have thus practically the whole intelligence of the country to help them in their task of reconstruction, or of salvage. But the educated classes alone cannot save a nation. Muscle is wanted besides brain, and the great bulk of those who can provide muscle are difficult to move to enthusiasm by any broad schemes of economic rearrangement that do not promise immediate improvement in their own material conditions. Industrial conscription cannot be enforced in Russia unless there is among the conscripted themselves an understanding, although a resentful understanding, of its necessity. The Russians have not got an army of Martians to enforce effort on an alien
people. The army and the people are one. “We are bound to admit,” says Trotsky, “that no wide industrial mobilization will succeed, if we do not capture all that is honorable, spiritual in the peasant working masses in explaining our plan.” And the plan that he referred to was not the grandiose (but obviously sensible) plan for the eventual electrification of all Russia, but a programme of the struggle before them in actually getting their feet clear of the morass of industrial decay in which they are at present involved. Such a programme has actually been decided upon-a programme the definite object of which is to reconcile the workers to work not simply hand to mouth, each for himself, but to concentrate first on those labors which will eventually bring their reward in making other labors easier and improving the position as a whole.
Early this year a comparatively unknown Bolshevik called Gusev, to whom nobody had attributed any particular intelligence, wrote, while busy on the staff of an army on the southeast front, which was at the time being used partly as a labor army, a pamphlet which has had an extraordinary influence in getting such a programme drawn up. The pamphlet is based on Gusev’s personal observation both of a labor army at work and of the attitude of the peasant towards industrial conscription. It was extremely frank, and contained so much that might have been used by hostile critics, that it was not published in the ordinary way but printed at the army press on the Caucasian front and issued exclusively to members of the Communist Party. I got hold of a copy of this pamphlet through a friend. It is called “Urgent Questions of Economic Construction."Gusev sets out in detail the sort of opposition he had met, and says: “The Anarchists, Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks have a clear, simple economic plan which the great masses can understand: ’Go about your own business and work freely for yourself in your own place.’ They have a criticism of labor mobilizations equally clear for the masses. They say to them, ’They are putting Simeon in Peter’s place, and Peter in Simeon’s. They are sending the men of Saratov to dig the ground in the Government of Stavropol, and the Stavropol men to the Saratov Government for the same purpose.’ Then besides that there is ’nonparty’ criticism:
’When it is time to sow they will be shifting muck, and when it is time to reap they will be told to cut timber.’ That is a particularly clear expression of the peasants’ disbelief in our ability to draw up a proper economic plan. This belief is clearly at the bottom of such questions as, ’Comrade Gusev, have you ever done any plowing?’ or ’Comrade Orator, do you know anything about peasant work?’ Disbelief in the townsman who understands nothing about peasants is natural to the peasant, and we shall have to conquer it, to get through it, to get rid of it by showing the peasant, with a clear plan in our hands that he can understand, that we are not altogether fools in this matter and that we understand more than he does.” He then sets out the argument which he himself had found successful in persuading the peasants to do things the reward for which would not be obvious the moment they were done. He says, “I compared our State economy to a colossal building with scores of stories and tens of thousands of rooms. The whole building has been half smashed; in places the roof has tumbled down, the beams have rotted, the ceilings are tumbling, the drains and water pipes are burst; the stoves are falling to pieces, the partitions are shattered, and, finally, the walls and foundations are unsafe and the whole building is threatened with collapse. I asked, how, must one set about the repair of this building? With what kind of economic plan? To this question the inhabitants of different stories, and even of different rooms on one and the same story will reply variously. Those who live on the top floor will shout that the rafters are rotten and the roof falling; that it is impossible to live, there any longer, and that it is immediately necessary, first of all, to put up new beams and to repair the roof. And from their point of view they will be perfectly right. Certainly it is not possible to live any longer on that floor. Certainly the repair of the roof is necessary. The inhabitants of one of the lower stories in which the water pipes have burst will cry out that it is impossible to live without water, and therefore, first of all, the water pipes must be mended. And they, from their point of view, will be perfectly right, since it certainly is impossible to live without water. The inhabitants of the floor where the stoves have fallen to pieces will insist on an immediate mending of the stoves, since they and their children are dying of cold because there is nothing on which they can heat up water or
boil kasha for the children; and they, too, will be quite right. But in spite of all these just demands, which arrive in thousands from all sides, it is impossible to forget the most important of all, that the foundation is shattered and that the building is threatened with a collapse which will bury all the inhabitants of the house together, and that, therefore, the only immediate task is the strengthening of the foundation and the walls. Extraordinary firmness, extraordinary courage is necessary, not only not to listen to the cries and groans of old men, women, children and sick, coming from every floor, but also to decide on taking from the inhabitants of all floors the instruments and materials necessary for the strengthening of the foundations and walls, and to force them to leave their corners and hearths, which they are doing the best they can to make habitable, in order to drive them to work on the strengthening of the walls and foundations.”
Gusev’s main idea was that the Communists were asking new sacrifices from a weary and exhausted people, that without such sacrifices these people would presently find themselves in even worse conditions, and that, to persuade them to make the effort necessary to save themselves, it was necessary to have a perfectly clear and easily understandable plan which could be dinned into the whole nation and silence the criticism of all possible opponents. Copies of his little book came to Moscow. Lenin read it and caused excruciating jealousy in the minds of several other Communists, who had also been trying to find the philosopher’s stone that should turn discouragement into hope, by singling out Gusev for his special praise and insisting that his plans should be fully discussed at the Supreme Council in the Kremlin. Trotsky followed Lenin’s lead, and in the end a general programme for Russian reconstruction was drawn up, differing only slightly from that which Gusev had proposed. I give this scheme in Trotsky’s words, because they are a little fuller than those of others, and knowledge of this plan will explain not only what the Communists are trying to do in Russia, but what they would like to get from us today and what they will want to get tomorrow. Trotsky says:-
“The fundamental task at this moment is improvement in the condition of our transport, prevention of its further deterioration and preparation of the most elementary stores of food, raw material and fuel. The whole of the first period of our reconstruction will be completely occupied in the concentration of labor on the solution of these problems, which is a condition of further progress.
“The second period (it will be difficult to say now whether it will be measured in months or years, since that depends on many factors beginning with the international situation and ending with the unanimity or the lack of it in our own party) will be a period occupied in the building of machines in the interest of transport, and the getting of raw materials and provisions.
“The third period will be occupied in building machinery, with a view to the production of articles in general demand, and, finally, the fourth period will be that in which we are able to produce these articles.”
Does it not occur, even to the most casual reader, that there is very little politics in that program, and that, no matter what kind of Government should be in Russia, it would have to endorse that programme word for word? I would ask any who doubt this to turn again to my first two chapters describing the nature of the economic crisis in Russia, and to remind themselves how, not only the lack of things but the lack of men, is intimately connected with the lack of transport, which keeps laborers ill fed, factories ill supplied with material, and in this way keeps the towns incapable of supplying the needs of the country, with the result that the country is most unwilling to supply the needs of the town. No Russian Government unwilling to allow Russia to subside definitely to a lower level of civilization can do otherwise than to concentrate upon the improvement of transport. Labor in Russia must be used first of all for that, in order to increase its own productivity. And, if purchase of help from abroad is to be allowed, Russia must “control" the outflow of her limited assets, so that, by healing transport first of all, she may increase her power of making new assets. She must spend in such a way as eventually to increase her power of spending. She must prevent the frittering away of her small purse on things which, profitable to the vendor and doubtless desirable by the purchaser, satisfy only individual needs and do not raise the producing power of the community as a whole.
RYKOV ON ECONOMIC PLANS AND ON THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY
Alexei Rykov, the President of the Supreme Council of Public Economy, is one of the hardest worked men in Russia, and the only time I was able to have a long talk with him (although more than once he snatched moments to answer particular questions) was on a holiday, when the old Siberian Hotel, now the offices of the Council, was deserted, and I walked through empty corridors until I found the President and his secretary at work as usual.
After telling of the building of the new railway from Alexandrovsk Gai to the Emba, the prospects of developing the oil industry in that district, the relative values of those deposits and of those at Baku, and the possible decreasing significance of Baku in Russian industry generally, we passed to broader perspectives. I asked him what he thought of the relations between agriculture and industry in Russia, and supposed that he did not imagine that Russia would ever become a great industrial country. His answer was characteristic of the tremendous hopes that nerve these people in their almost impossible task, and I set it down as nearly as I can in his own words. For him, of course, the economic problem was the first, and he spoke of it as the director of a huge trust might have spoken. But, as he passed on to talk of what he thought would result from the Communist method of tackling that problem, and spoke of the eventual disappearance of political parties, I felt I was trying to read a kind of palimpsest of the Economist and
News from Nowhere, or listening to a strange compound of William Morris and, for example, Sir Eric Geddes. He said: “We may have to wait a long time before the inevitable arrives and there is a Supreme Economic Council dealing with Europe as with a single economic whole. If that should come about we should, of course, from the very nature of our country, be called upon in the first place to provide food for Europe, and we should hope enormously to improve our agriculture, working on a larger and larger scale, using mechanical plows and tractors, which would be supplied us by the West. But in the meantime we have to face the fact that events may cause us to be, for all practical purposes, in a state of blockade for perhaps a score of years, and, so far as we can, we must be ready to depend on ourselves alone. For example, we want mechanical plows which could be procured abroad. We have had to start making them ourselves. The first electric plow made in Russia and used in Russia started work last year, and this year we shall have a number of such plows made in our country, not because it is economic so to make them, but because we could get them in no other way. In so far as is possible, we shall have to make ourselves self-supporting, so as somehow or other to get along even if the blockade, formal or perhaps willy-nilly (imposed by the inability of the West to supply us), compels us to postpone cooperation with the rest of Europe. Every day of such postponement is one in which the resources of Europe are not being used in the most efficient manner to supply the needs not only of our own country but of all.”
I referred to what he had told me last year about the intended electrification of Moscow by a station using turf fuel.
“That,” he said, “is one of the plans which, in spite of the war, has gone a very long way towards completion. We have built the station in the Ryezan Government, on the Shadul peat mosses, about 110 versts from Moscow. Before the end of May that station should be actually at work. (It was completed, opened and partially destroyed by a gigantic fire.) Another station at Kashira in the Tula
Government (on the Oka), using the small coal produced in the Moscow coalfields, will be at work before the autumn. This year similar stations are being built at Ivano-Voznesensk and at Nijni-Novgorod. Also, with a view to making the most economic use of what we already possess, we have finished both in Petrograd and in Moscow a general unification of all the private power-stations, which now supply their current to a single main cable. Similar unification is nearly finished at Tula and at Kostroma. The big water-power station on the rapids of the Volkhov is finished in so far as land construction goes, but we can proceed no further until we have obtained the turbines, which we hope to get from abroad. As you know, we are basing our plans in general on the assumption that in course of time we shall supply the whole of Russian industry with electricity, of which we also hope to make great use in agriculture. That, of course, will take a great number of years.”
[Nothing could have been much more artificial than the industrial geography of old Russia. The caprice of history had planted great industrial centers literally at the greatest possible distance from the sources of their raw materials. There was Moscow bringing its coal from Donetz, and Petrograd, still further away, having to eke out a living by importing coal from England. The difficulty of transport alone must have forced the Russians to consider how they could do away with such anomalies. Their main idea is that the transport of coal in a modern State is an almost inexcusable barbarism. They have set themselves, these ragged engineers, working in rooms which they can hardly keep above freezing-point and walking home through the snow in boots without soles, no less a task than the electrification of the whole of Russia. There is a State Committee presided over by an extraordinary optimist called Krzhizhanovsky, entrusted by the Supreme Council of Public Economy and Commissariat of Agriculture with the working out of a general plan. This Committee includes, besides a number of well-known practical engineers, Professors Latsinsky, Klassen, Dreier, Alexandrov, Tcharnovsky, Dend and Pavlov. They are investigating the water power available in different districts in Russia, the
possibilities of using turf, and a dozen similar questions including, perhaps not the least important, investigation to discover where they can do most with least dependence on help from abroad.]
Considering the question of the import of machinery from abroad, I asked him whether in existing conditions of transport Russia was actually in a position to export the raw materials with which alone the Russians could hope to buy what they want. He said:
“Actually we have in hand about two million poods (a pood is a little over thirty-six English pounds) of flax, and any quantity of light leather (goat, etc.), but the main districts where we have raw material for ourselves or for export are far away. Hides, for example, we have in great quantities in Siberia, in the districts of Orenburg and the Ural River and in Tashkent. I have myself made the suggestion that we should offer to sell this stuff where it is, that is to say not delivered at a seaport, and that the buyers should provide their own trains, which we should eventually buy from them with the raw material itself, so that after a certain number of journeys the trains should become ours. In the same districts we have any quantity of wool, and in some of these districts corn. We cannot, in the present condition of our transport, even get this corn for ourselves. In the same way we have great quantities of rice in Turkestan, and actually are being offered rice from Sweden, because we cannot transport our own. Then we have over a million poods of copper, ready for export on the same conditions. But it is clear that if the Western countries are unable to help in the transport, they cannot expect to get raw materials from us.”
I asked about platinum. He laughed.
“That is a different matter. In platinum we have a world monopoly, and can consequently afford to wait. Diamonds and gold, they can have as much as they want of
such rubbish; but platinum is different, and we are in no hurry to part with it. But diamonds and gold ornaments, the jewelry of the Tsars, we are ready to give to any king in Europe who fancies them, if he can give us some less ornamental but more useful locomotives instead.”
I asked if Kolchak had damaged the platinum mines. He replied, “Not at all. On the contrary, he was promising platinum to everybody who wanted it, and he set the mines going, so we arrived to find them in good condition, with a considerable yield of platinum ready for use.”
(I am inclined to think that in spite of Rykov’s rather intransigent attitude on the question, the Russians would none the less be willing to export platinum, if only on account of the fact in comparison with its great value it requires little transport, and so would make possible for them an immediate bargain with some of the machinery they most urgently need.)
Finally we talked of the growing importance of the Council of Public Economy. Rykov was of opinion that it would eventually become the centre of the whole State organism, “it and Trades Unions organizing the actual producers in each branch.”
“Then you think that as your further plans develop, with the creation of more and more industrial centres, with special productive populations concentrated round them, the
Councils of the Trades Unions will tend to become identical with the Soviets elected in the same districts by the same industrial units?”
“Precisely,” said Rykov, “and in that way the Soviets, useful during the period of transition as an instrument of struggle and dictatorship, will be merged with the Unions.” (One
important factor, as Lenin pointed out when considering the same question, is here left out of count, namely the political development of the enormous agricultural as opposed to industrial population.)
“But if this merging of political Soviets with productive Unions occurs, the questions that concern people will cease to be political questions, but will be purely questions of economics.”
“Certainly. And we shall see the disappearance of political parties. That process is already apparent. In the present huge Trade Union Conference there are only sixty Mensheviks. The Communists are swallowing one party after another. Those who were not drawn over to us during the period of struggle are now joining us during the process of construction, and we find that our differences now are not political at all, but concerned only with the practical details of construction.” He illustrated this by pointing out the present constitution of the Supreme Council of Public Economy. There are under it fifty-three Departments or Centres (Textile, Soap, Wool, Timber, Flax, etc.), each controlled by a “College” of three or more persons. There are 232 members of these Colleges or Boards in all, and of them 83 are workmen, 79 are engineers, 1 was an ex-director, 50 were from the clerical staff, and 19 unclassified. Politically 115 were Communists, 105 were “non-party," and 12 were of non-Communist parties. He continued, “Further, in swallowing the other parties, the Communists themselves will cease to exist as a political party. Think only that youths coming to their manhood during this year in Russia and in the future will not be able to confirm from their own experience the reasoning of Karl Marx, because they will have had no experience of a capitalist country. What can they make of the class struggle? The class struggle here is already over, and the distinctions of class have already gone altogether. In the old days, members of our party were men who had read, or tried to read, Marx’s “Capital,” who knew the “Communist Manifesto” by heart, and were occupied in continual criticism of the basis of capitalist society. Look at the new
members of our party. Marx is quite unnecessary to them. They join us, not for struggle in the interests of an oppressed class, but simply because they understand our aims in constructive work. And, as this process continues, we old social democrats shall disappear, and our places will be filled by people of entirely different character grown up under entirely new conditions.”