The Progress of Russia
A correspondent (W. T. Fielding, Shrewsbury) asks us to comment on an issue of the News Bulletin of the Anglo-Russian Parliamentary Committee. The issue in question (September 10th, 1938) is devoted largely to information and statistics about the progress of Russian industry and services, given in the speeches of the Commissar for Finance, A. G. Zverev, and others. Much of the speeches consisted of figures of State expenditure. The more interesting statements include the following : —
“He stated further that over 80 per cent. of the output of the industry in the U.S.S.R. is being manufactured in enterprises newly built or completely reconstructed during the last ten years. By 1937, the total output of Socialist industry exceeded the pre-War level eightfold. Tsarist Russia occupied fifth place in the world and fourth place in Europe in industrial output; the Soviet Union now holds first place in Europe and second in the world for industrial output.
The continuous progress of the national economy, together with price reductions on consumers’ goods, had resulted in a further considerable rise in the well-being of the people in the Soviet Union; this is shown, for instance, bv the projected rise in the total wages of workers and offices employees from 82,000,000,000 roubles in 1937 to 94,000,000,000 roubles in 1938.”
Regarding educational progress, it was stated that there are now 33,000,000 pupils at elementary and secondary schools, and that the number of pupils in higher educational establishments considerably exceeds the number in the higher schools of Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan taken together.
Much information was given about agricultural developments, mechanisation, etc. : —
“According to the 1910 census, the peasant farms of Russia had 7,800,000 primitive wooden ploughs, 2,200,000 improved wooden ploughs, 4,200,000 iron ploughs and 17,700,000 wooden harrows.
Now we have 6,158 machine tractor stations, in vehicles, and 104,323 modern threshing-machines, including the latest types. Some 500,000 tractors are working on our Soviet fields.
We now have in our villages our own Soviet skilled workers. We have in the villages of the U.S.S.R. 734,000 tractor drivers, 165,000 combine operators, 124,000 truck drivers, etc.
The peasant from time immemorial dreamed about the land, but he could receive that land only after the victory of the Socialist Revolution. Prior to the Revolution the greatest part of the land belonged to the landlords, monasteries, kulaks, and other exploiters. . . . About two-thirds of the peasants had iess than three dessiatines each.
Of the total peasant farms in Tsarist Russia, 30 per cent. had no horses, 34 per cent. had practically no agricultural implements, 15 per cent. cultivated no land.
Now we have in the Soviet Union 243,000 collective farms, uniting over 18,000,000 peasant households (93 per cent. of the total) and embracing 99 per cent. of the total area cultivated by peasant farms.
Prior to the Revolution the landlords and kulaks had 72 per cent. of all the marketable grain. To-day 97 per cent. of the marketable grain is produced by the State and collective farms.
Tsarist Russia harvested annually, on an average, between 4,000 and 5,000 million poods of grain. Our Socialist agriculture already in 1937 produced 7,000 million poods of grain. The number of cattle is increasing year by year in our country. The well-being and culture of the collective farmers are steadilyrising.”
The various figures of output, etc., must be considered in relation to Russia’s huge population, of about 170 million people, and in relation to the quality of the products.
Russia claims to occupy second place in world industrial output, U.S.A. holding first place, but the population of the U.S.A. is about 30 million less than that of Russia and it is not seriously disputed that the average quality of American industrial products is higher than that of Russia’s industries, many of which are relatively in their infancy.
The claim regarding the number of students in higher educational establishments is much more impressive because Russia’s population is about 130 million less than the total population of the countries with which comparison is made.
The final test of production is, of course, the standard of living of the mass of the population, and in spite of the rising level, no responsible authority in Russia, as far as we know, claims that it is high by comparison with, say, the standard of living in England or U.S.A. An example is the production of boots and shoes. The U.S.S.R. Handbook (1936) states that in 1934 Russia produced 69 million pairs of leather boots and shoes, and 65 million pairs of rubber boots and shoes. This means that it takes Russia about 2½ years to produce enough leather boots and shoes to provide one pair per head of the population. Production and sales of boots and shoes in Great Britain are about double the 1934 production in Russia, yet the population is only about one-quarter as large. Russian production will have increased considerably since 1934, though it may be mentioned that the production of leather boots and shoes in that year represented a big decline on 1933.
The statements about the progress of Russian agriculture must also be set against the admitted enormous decline in the number of horses, cattle and sheep that took place after 1929, due to deliberate slaughter by rich peasants who were opposed to the collective farms policy. This loss has not been made good.
Avowed opponents of the Russian Government, such as The Times, various oppositionists living in Russia, some visitors to Russia and former Communists who have become disillusioned, allege that the increased quantity of industrial products has been obtained at the cost of quality, for example, by using lower-grade coal and iron ore, poorer quality textiles, etc. Such allegations must be viewed in the light of the source from which they come, but so must the claims of the Russian dictatorship. Until such time as it is made possible for Russian workers freely to organise and to publish their own criticisms of the acts of the Government, the claims of that Government will be open to the charge that they are coloured to suit the interests of the governing clique. Indeed the authorities themselves have publicly admitted that their statistics have been faked by those responsible for compiling them, this being one of the charges against persons tried for alleged “Trotskyism.” A census of the population has just had to be taken again because the first lot of figures were found to be totally unreliable.
On the other hand, reliable testimony about the quality of some Russian factory products is provided by Mr. J. C. Little, President of the A.E.U., and a delegation of working engineers who visited Russia early in 1937. They say that in works they visited the work “equalled in skill and excellence the engineering products of heavy engineering in this country.” (The Times, November 10th, 1938.) It is probable that visitors are shown the more up-to-date works rather than an average selection, a practice not confined to Russia.
One last point is that no defender of the Russian system has been able to explain away the enormous and growing disparity of income between the mass of workers and the favoured group of specialists, officials, writers, bondholders, etc.