1920s >> 1927 >> no-280-december-1927

The Class Struggle in Soviet Russia

Owing to the deplorable suppression of opinion and rigid censorship of news in Russia it is well nigh as difficult now to obtain reliable information as it was 10 years ago when the censorship was that erected by the Allied Governments. The policy of suppression is always deplorable and usually utterly useless for the end it has in view. Where there is smoke there is fire. Where there are the economic conditions for class conflict there will inevitably arise the discontent of the ruled class with the ruling class and its agents, followed by spontaneous attempts to organise for the removal of the cause of the discontent. It is impossible in the long run to prevent the individual members of a class with a grievance drawing the same general conclusions from the same set of facts. It is possible to delay the spread of ideas from one to another, but not to prohibit it for all time. In the last resort, if class demands are ignored or suppressed, there will inevitably arise organised movements to enforce them, peaceably if possible, but violently if need be. Suppression cannot prevent discontent, it can only direct it into secret and more destructive channels.

These elementary lessons of political history were forgotten in the turmoil following the Bolshevik seizure of power. Suppression of the voting rights, newspapers, and political organisations of the landowners and capitalists, led naturally to the similar treatment of every opponent and critic not only of the acts, but also of the persons of the governing party. The culminating point is the exclusion and threatened criminal prosecution of Trotsky and other once honoured revolutionaries. (One of the charges against Trotsky is the fatuous one of “insolence.”) This degradation into the methods of royalty, with their major crime of “lèse majesté,” is the normal course of all such suppression.

We are then compelled to seek for information about events in Russia, either in the columns of the official Communist Press (where it is naturally coloured in favour of the official point of view as against the critics), or else piece together the fragmentary reports smuggled out of Russia and reprinted (usually with exaggerations) in the opposition journals abroad or the capitalist newspapers.

For two years or more Trotsky has been the figurehead round whom various opposition groups have centred inside the Russian Communist Party. His main criticism appears to be based on his view of an old subject of controversy, that is whether it is possible to build up Socialism in Russia alone. Trotsky, like ourselves, says no. Russia, in his opinion, must aim at rapid industrialisation (with the aid of foreign capital but prohibiting, as far as possible, any foreign control), thus building up a numerous working class in Russia. At present the Russian workers represent at most 15 per cent. of the population, being hopelessly outnumbered by peasants, the great majority of whom are quite naturally more interested in maintaining and extending their private ownership of land than in Socialism. The development of Russian industry will, Trotsky argues, enable the Russian workers to withstand the reactionary pressure of the peasants until such time as the world working class come to their aid.

At present, so the opposition maintain, the trend of Government policy in Russia is steadily in favour of the peasants as against the workers. If this is so, then sooner or later working class discontent will manifest itself in organisation and attempted resistance, at least to the extent that the Russian workers understand their class position and have not been deceived by propaganda aimed at obscuring the fundamental conflict of interests between the workers, on the one side, and the peasants and capitalist traders and concessionaires, on the other. In justification of his view Trotsky maintains that the Russian workers and their trade unions are rapidly developing an attitude of hostility towards the Russian State, the relations with which being more and more clearly recognised as the normal capitalist relations between employers and employed.

The Manchester Guardian (November 15th) summarises a German translation of Trotsky’s programme which has been published in Hamburg. The following passages are taken from it and may help readers to understand the meaning of the present conflict. It is, of course, to be understood that this reproduction of Trotsky’s views is not an indication that we can guarantee the accuracy of his estimates of conditions, nor that we share all his views on policy :—

“A new bourgeoisie of bureaucrats and of private traders is emerging in the towns and of kulaks (wealthier peasants) in the country, while industrial labour is losing its share in the management both of the Communist party and of the workshops and factories. Since October, 1925, the upward movement of real wages has ceased, although the output per man has risen by no less than 15 per cent. At the same time the rights and privileges of the managements and of the administration have grown.

The increase in employment stopped this year, and there has been a big and rapid increase in unemployment. For two years the prices of industrial products have been nominally stable, but in reality they are rising, for the quality of the goods (especially manufactured goods) has conspicuously deteriorated. Wholesale prices have risen steadily since July, 1925, while the quality of wholesale articles has likewise deteriorated. Retail prices sank in 1924 and 1925, but rose again in 1926, and are now (if the inferior quality is considered) roughly as they were in 1923.

The increased output of Russian industry has been accompanied by a deterioration of plant and machinery, and a steady increase in the number of accidents in the factories has resulted.

Although wages are not rising, the so-called intensification of labour is being steadily forced by the authorities. The maximum output of the most efficient workman is being made the standard for all. The sifting out and rejection of the more inefficient men is going on with ever-growing rigour, while the wages for piece work are not rising, and in some cases are sinking. Wages are at best no higher than they were before the war. Industry is worse equipped now than it was then, but the output per man is considerably greater.

Thus the wear and tear on the health and constitution of the individual workman is very great. Low wages do not allow workmen to enjoy tolerable housing. The amount of room space, allowed to each family is steadily diminishing. The reintroduction of 40 per cent. vodka has injured the health of the working classes, especially of the younger generation, and has increased the number of accidents. State revenues from the sale of alcohol are being won at heavy cost in human misery.

Economy in the factories is being enforced with growing severity. A system of penalties has been introduced under which a workman is dismissed if he arrives a minute late. Men who report sick are now assigned to so-called light labour and health insurance benefit is refused on the slightest pretext. Overtime is increasing in spite of the vast unemployment. Special labour is growing more frequent. Regular workers who cannot legally be dismissed without a fortnight’s notice are got rid of by being dismissed and then being re-engaged as casual workers after which they can be dismissed at one, two, or three day’s notice.

The power of the management is steadily growing. It has the exclusive right of dismissal for default or misdemeanours, and no appeal is possible. Men are also engaged by the management, the function of the factory Soviets being limited to mere registration. The workmen no longer share in the control and management of these factories. Their opinion and criticism are disregarded more and more. Conditions in the factories are again approaching what they were in Tsarist times.

The workmen are becoming indifferent or even hostile to the trade unions. Meetings are poorly attended, embryonic illegal unions have come into existence when illegal strike committees are formed (that is to say, when there is a strike, the men having lost confidence in the official! Communist trade union organisations, form a secret strike committee of their own). The struggle of Russian labour for better conditions is being conducted either in disregard of the trade unions and of the Communist party, or sometimes even against them. The election of trade union officials has become a mere formality; workmen join these unions because they cannot obtain employment without a membership card.

The Soviet State and system is undemocratic. Members of the Government and of the administration are not elected but selected. The electorate is denied the right to recall its delegate whilst the Communist bureaucracy has the right to get rid of any delegate whom it does not like without regard for the opinion of those who voted for him, nor are the delegates themselves in the least responsible to the electorate. For the working-class balloting has become an empty formality and an irksome obligation.

The prestige of the Soviet has sunk so low in the eyes of Russian Labour, that the authorities sometimes use compulsion so as to make the workmen vote at all.

The “Proletariat Opposition” within the party is being expelled. In the factory “cells” only favoured persons receive promotion, and those in disfavour are degraded or even dismissed. There is a growing army of Oppositional unemployed. Dissatisfaction is being suppressed and hushed up, and there has been an epidemic of suicides.

The broad Communist masses are excluded from some of the most vital discussions of the party leaders. The Communist bureaucracy exercises an uncontrolled and irresponsible domination.

Relations between the workmen and the management are becoming more and more what they were before the revolution.”

The ManchesterGuardian’s correspondent states that the memorandum goes on to give a similar analysis of conditions in the rural areas, where the poorer peasants and the agricultural labourers are exploited by the wealthier peasants, whose power is increasing.

Among the points in Trotsky’s programme, the most important is the restoration of democracy within the Communist Party, which would, among other things, make impossible the suppression of such a document as the one quoted above.

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