1930s >> 1933 >> no-345-may-1933

Russia: The land that did not abolish unemployment

Up to 1930 the existence of a large body of unemployed was officially admitted by the Russian Government, and particulars of the numbers out of work and of the small relief payments made to them were published in the Soviet Union Year Books. Then, in 1930, it was claimed that the building of factories and railroads, etc., had absorbed the unemployed workers and had, in fact, created a scarcity. Communists blazoned forth the tidings that Russia was “ the land without unemployment.” Superficial observers like Lord Passfield and G. B. Shaw were so overjoyed when they found a government trying to run capitalism on Fabian “strait-jacket” principles that they accepted the Russian claim and hastened back to tell Europe and America how to solve their problems by copying the Bolshevists. The S.P.G.B. was, it seems, entirely alone in refusing to accept the claim. We did not deny that Russia, or any other capitalist country, could show a comparatively small amount of unemployment during a period of great capital expansion. In that respect, Russia’s experience is one which every country has shared at some time or other. What we did deny was that Russia could permanently escape the consequences of being part and parcel of world capitalism. Just as in 1918 the S.P.G.B. pointed out that economic conditions and the backwardness of the population utterly ruled out any possibility of Socialism being established in Russia at that time, or in the near future, so in 1930 we said with equal certainty that the world crisis would, in due course, upset the attempt at segregating Russian capitalism from the rest of the world. Russia could not and cannot do without the outside world. Hence, the impossibility of carrying out planned production and distribution. The Bolshevists planned to export certain commodities (oil, for example) and to import machinery, trained engineers, etc. The drastic fall in raw material prices and the curtailment of purchases of Russian exports inevitably deranged the plans. Faced with the need to meet its obligations abroad, the Russian Government had to curtail imports and cut its expenditure. The method followed was the usual one of reducing staffs. In February (see Times, February 26th) orders were issued for the dismissal of large numbers of employees in the State enterprises, and for the strict enforcement of the rule that wages must not exceed the planned total amount. The result has been an increase in the number of unemployed till it has reached large figures—how large it is difficult to say in the absence of official statistics. The correspondent in Russia of the Manchester Guardian (March 29th) states that the recently introduced Passport System , (under which nobody is allowed to live in Moscow and other big cities without a passport) had already resulted in 750,000 people being refused passports in Moscow alone, with the probability that the figure would rise to 1,000,000. The correspondent says that passports are refused to all unemployed persons, but he does not know how many of the 750,000 are unemployed, beyond the statement that in the towns the number of unemployed is “considerable.” For those driven out of the towns the prospect, he says, is starvation, “since everyone knows that outside the cities famine conditions prevail.”

Mr. Gareth Jones, formerly foreign adviser to Mr. Lloyd George, who has just returned from an extended tour of investigation, states that the economy drive in the factories has often resulted in the dismissal of from 25 per cent. to 40 per cent. of the staffs. (Daily Express, April 8th.) There has, so far, been no re-introduction of unemployment pay, but doubtless Russia will, sooner or later, have to make some provision for its “industrial reserve army of unemployed,” just like the other capitalist countries.

So Russia joins the long line of countries on behalf of which, at different times, it has been claimed that unemployment has been abolished without abolishing capitalism: Canada and Australia, France, Italy, America, the Scandinavian countries, Germany, and now Russia. Can we now hope that the I.L.P., the Communists and the Labour Party will be unable to put over any more hoaxes of this kind?

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, May 1933)

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