WHEN the Soviet Government boldly adopted the Five Year Plan it had three aims in view: first, to bring about the rapid industrialization of Soviet Russia -- a natural desire for a government bent on socializing a peasant country; second, to liberate the country from foreign dependence and to make it economically self-sufficient; third, to increase the military strength of the Red Army. The Plan also had important international aims, and these constitute a further reason why no effort has been spared to carry it to fulfilment.[i]

In spite of many failures in both quality and quantity of achievement, the results of the Five Year Plan have as a whole been quite remarkable. To no small extent this has been due to the enthusiasm of the workers in the state factories. But the chief cause of what progress has been made is to be found in the drastic exploitation of the working class and in the pressure which has been put on all other classes. The methods applied by the Soviet Government in dealing with labor would be impossible in normal times in any civilized democratic country.

The system of piece-work wages has been introduced wherever possible. This system is contrary to all socialistic conceptions, but the Soviet rulers realized very well that here they had a powerful incentive with which to increase the productivity of labor, and an important means of swelling the profits of the employer, i.e. the state. A special order signed by the praesidium of the Central Council of Trades Unions and the Supreme Council of National Economy on December 13, 1930, seeks "to regulate wages by encouraging laborers to increase the quality and output of their labor, by means of the utmost possible application of piece-work wages and by forcing skilled laborers (or unskilled laborers where there is a lack of such) to remain in their respective factories."

Means like these stimulate the workers' zeal to increase production; on the other hand, the quality of production is lowered and the workers' health suffers. Overstrain is very noticeable among Soviet workmen and the administrative personnel.

In order to spur the workers on to still further efforts, special "shock brigades" of experienced communist workmen are sent on tours to the various factories. They work as foremen and "stimulate the enthusiasm" of the rest. Experienced and highly paid foreigners are also employed for the purpose of increasing the efficiency of the Soviet workmen. Competitions, too, are held in all factories, and special premiums, gifts and decorations are awarded to those who produce the most. The names of inefficient or delinquent workmen are exhibited on special blackboards or published in the newspapers for public derision.

Needless to say, such devices as these are condemned by all traditional trade-unionist practice.

The production of the Soviet factories has been greatly increased by the introduction of two measures which -- it should be noted -- were not foreseen at the time the Five Year Plan was inaugurated, namely, the abolition of Sundays and the adoption of the so-called uninterrupted working week, and the introduction of a seven-hour working day with two or three shifts. Thus the Soviet factories work three hundred and sixty days a year, and twenty-one hours (three shifts of seven hours each) a day. Under this system every laborer gets a day of rest after four days of toil, but the work at a factory never stops. It is interesting to note that under the present arrangement the Russian workman works on the average ten days more in the year than he did during the Tsarist régime, when Sundays and many holidays were observed and factories closed. With the introduction of the uninterrupted week, the clerical staff and employees in institutions were ordered to work one hour more than was the case before, viz. seven hours, and no increase of staff was allowed.

The seven-hour working day was introduced in October 1929 and will be applied to 92 percent of all workmen in state factories in 1931. It was a clever measure to increase the profits of the state factories, because three shifts of seven hours each insure a higher yield on capital investments and reduce the overhead charges. The main reason why the government added a third shift, however, was to absorb the large number of unemployed. On April 1, 1930, some 1,300,000 unemployed were registered, in comparison with a total number of workmen in all state factories of only 2,500,000. By adding a new shift the government achieved a considerable saving on the unemployment doles.

Nevertheless, the system has its dark spots. In particular, it entails the introduction of night work and, consequently, lower efficiency. A special investigation by the shock brigades of the Central Council of Trades Unions in the Moscow and Leningrad factories revealed an "absolutely inadmissible attitude of the night shifts of workmen towards their factories. The workmen arrive too late for work, the machines are kept idle, the workmen sleep during working hours, and such a state of affairs is now usual."[ii]

In order to eliminate the constant friction which existed between the factory managers and the Communist Party "cells" (which exist in each organization) or the trade unions, it has been ordered that henceforth all authority and responsibility within a factory shall rest exclusively with the manager, who is entrusted with the selection of the technical and administrative staff. "On appointing or discharging any worker, the management shall be bound to take into consideration the opinion of the Communist Party or the factory trade-union representatives, which in the event of disagreement concerning any appointment or dismissal shall be entitled to appeal to a higher body of the Party or trade union. But such a course shall not invalidate the enforcement of the management's decision." This principle of the independence of the factory management, adopted at the end of 1929, has since been applied with increasing rigor. One of the reasons for poor efficiency in the Donetz coal mines is stated to be that the principle of "one man power" has not been fully adopted there, and orders have been given that it is to be adhered to strictly in the future.[iii]

The execution of the Five Year Plan involves an enormous investment of capital. The necessary funds are accumulated by means of high taxation, compulsory loans and artificially high profits in state enterprises. The state factories are monopolistic. The prices of manufactured goods are kept at a very high level (computed at about 250 percent of the prices prevailing in the international market[iv]), while wages and salaries are low. The average wage of a workman in a Russian factory today amounts to 3 rubles 10 kopeks a day. This is nominally about $1.60, but the purchasing capacity is much smaller; according to the computation of a German economist, it is equivalent to about 3.50 Reichsmarks, or 87 cents a day.[v]

The great pressure exercised to increase production, the low wages, the inadequate and unbalanced food supply and the bad housing conditions resulted in 1930 in a "catastrophic" flight of workmen from the factories. During the three summer months of last year the Leningrad factories engaged 225,000 new workmen and during the same period 134,000 workmen left. In some cases the turnover reached 125 percent. Not only workmen, but engineers and technicians began to leave the factories.

The government ordered drastic measures against all these "deserters." A general mobilization of specialists has now been proclaimed: engineers who do not remain at work or do not accept positions offered by the state are to be criminally prosecuted.[vi] Mobilizations of this kind, which hardly differ from mobilization in time of war, have been applied many times lately to engineers, teachers, railroad workers and students. By an order of October 4, 1930, not less than 50 percent of the students in all mining schools were commandeered for work in the Donetz mines, and their period of study has consequently been prolonged for one year. On January 29, 1931, all students in agricultural institutes and schools were mobilized for the spring sowing campaign.

The latest and most drastic mobilization was that of all railroad workers in January 1931: all who were ever employed in any sort of railroad service, including porters, have to appear before the labor boards for assignment to railway work. Criminal proceedings will be taken against defaulters and against employers who conceal such workers. Also, the Central Government Board of Collective Farms has recently given orders (January 1931) that the collective farms shall send laborers regularly to industry and threatens defaulters with criminal prosecution. Moreover, the government proclaimed a series of coercive measures designed to prevent the large labor "turnover" and to punish those who refuse the jobs offered to them. In the aggregate, these various measures amount to the introduction of forced labor. All unemployment doles have been abolished since October 1, 1930. Instead of labor exchanges, special boards for recruiting workmen have been organized.

The government has also attacked the labor problem from other angles. A law passed on December 15, 1930, prescribes: 1, factories are allowed to engage workmen or clerical employees only through the governmental boards whose duty it is to recruit and assign labor; 2, skilled laborers and specialists engaged in occupations alien to their qualifications are to be employed in the work for which they are fitted; 3, wilful disorganizers of production, i.e. those who leave their jobs without permission and for no reasonable cause, shall not be assigned new jobs in industry or transport for six months (which means that they will be unable to get work for that period); 4, registered candidates who refuse a job which is offered them, without giving a reasonable excuse, are to be suspended from the register for a period of not more than six months (which means that during this time they are prevented from getting a job); 5, directors who employ laborers irregularly, or in excessive numbers, or offer higher wages than prescribed, or entice laborers from other undertakings, or resist the orders of labor boards with reference to the transference of employees to other places, shall be punished by their respective authorities or the labor boards; 6, workers in the mining, metal, chemical, textile and building materials industries, in transport, and in important new construction undertakings, who have worked not less than two years, beginning on November 1, 1930, shall receive for each year an additional leave of three days or an equivalent remuneration in cash.

In the new regulations issued by the Labor Commissariat, workmen and other employees who systematically disregard discipline are to be dismissed without warning and without payment of the regular two weeks' dismissal compensation; moreover, it is forbidden to employ them in industry or transport for the next six months. And not only shall wilful disorganizers of discipline be dismissed, but a criminal prosecution shall be started against them. The administration is given the right to fine a delinquent workman or to withhold his wages either for the time lost or to compensate for spoilage of materials or for using raw materials which are defective if he has not informed the administration beforehand about them. Workmen leaving a factory or dismissed before the lapse of a year shall have their wages cut for each day of leave they enjoyed during the year.[vii] Wilful disorganizers include men who leave a factory without waiting for the appointment of a substitute.

Another regulation (published December 1, 1930) binds to their respective jobs all building laborers engaged in construction work. Labor deserters, "fliers" and "graspers" (those demanding excessive wages) are not to be allowed to take up construction work or work in factories preparing building materials, but should be sent for six months for "physical mass work" (i.e. unloading, wood cutting, etc.); in case of their refusal to do such work, their names must be erased from the registers of the labor boards. This means they will not be allowed to get other jobs. Further, the authorities threaten workers who decline assignments with eviction from their homes -- a severe threat indeed, considering the acute housing shortage in the cities.

In order to prevent "flying" from work, other drastic measures have been proclaimed. These include the introduction of black lists in all the principal factories as a means of preventing workmen who have left one factory from getting work in another,[viii] and the expulsion of delinquent workers from the trade unions -- a very severe measure, depriving the worker and his family of many civic rights. Those who remain at work receive special premiums and privileges, such as the admittance of their children to the universities, better housing, etc. For example, in order to induce miners in the Donetz region to stay on the job, the government promised to give each a special premium of thirteen pounds of wheat flour a month on condition that he maintained a normal output. Members of the Communist Party or Communist Youth organization, as well as peasant laborers, are from time to time "mobilized" and sent to the factories to replace "fliers." Labor Commissar Tsikhon is now urging the introduction of "behavior passports" for workmen, these to be produced whenever a man seeks employment.[ix]

Railway workmen must submit to an even more drastic rule. According to a law passed on November 3, 1930, they may be punished for breaches of discipline by reprimand, by imprisonment for not more than three months with or without the deduction of 50 percent of their wages, by reduction in rank, or by dismissal. These various forms of punishment are meted out to them by their respective chiefs and are executed by the G. P. U. The law expressly provides that protests shall not postpone the execution of the sentence. It should be noted that a special tribunal exists for dealing with serious delinquencies on the railways.

The new military conscription law of August 13, 1930, provides that military service for the usual two-year period may be performed in factories, and military instruction is given to such recruits during their employment. On occasion they may remain voluntarily for further work after the two years are up, serving as military instructors. On the other hand, recruits who by reason of their class status are deprived of the right to serve "with arms" in the Red Army (traders, clergymen, etc., and members of their families) are to be assigned compulsory work for two years under the direction of the labor boards.

Extensive use is now being made of compulsory work in order to maintain the supply of different commodities. Wherever necessary, the population, chiefly peasants, are compelled to appear for work with horses and vehicles. This procedure is followed, for instance, in the transportation of timber, wood for fuel,[x] hay, rafting, and so on.[xi]

It should be borne in mind also that the Soviet Government uses another powerful weapon to compel the population of certain districts to do "prescribed work," namely the threat not to supply the district with manufactured goods or with necessities such as salt and sugar. All railways and other means of transportation are in the hands of the government, and no private automobiles exist; outside supplies therefore depend entirely on the government. In this way the government is able to force the population into submission without having actually to send military detachments to enforce its orders.

The most severe pressure, however, is that which springs from fear. Intimidation takes every conceivable form. Every official knows that if any government plan or order is not fulfilled he may be held responsible, whether or not he is directly to blame. Officials very often are simply scapegoats for the governmental blunders. Nobody is safe in this respect, and for the slightest misadventure people directly or indirectly responsible are shot, imprisoned, exiled, starved or humiliated. There is no redress, and of course escape by emigration is impossible. By ordinary standards this amounts to a refined system of slavery.

In the matter of grain collection, all well-to-do peasants (as a rule, those whose produce is valued at over $300 a year are considered kulaks) receive orders every year as to the amount of grain and other agricultural products which they are to turn over to the government. This is in addition to the regular heavy taxes which they have to pay. In case they do not fulfil the requirements they undergo very severe punishment. The following item is taken from a list of innumerable similar cases related in Izvestia on October 30, 1930:

"In the village of Denissovka three kulaks who wilfully withheld their assignments of grain have been sentenced to three, five and ten years in jail, in addition to being fined. In the Lebedinsky district several kulaks have been fined. In the Gadiach district the local Soviet has confiscated the property of several kulaks who did not surrender grain."

It might be noted at this point that for murder of father or mother the highest penalty in Soviet Russia is ten years' imprisonment. For withholding grain the punishment may be more severe: in addition to ten years in jail the delinquent may be sentenced to a heavy fine and have his property confiscated.

There can be no doubt that convict labor exists, particularly in the northern timber districts of European Russia, but it is extremely difficult to get reliable details. However, Sir Hilton Young, M. P., recently published [xii] the story of three Russian prisoners who escaped from the Archangel timber camps and who described the appalling conditions under which the prisoners work there. In a letter in the London Times on December 31, 1930, these reports were confirmed by an English eyewitness. "These men," he remarks, "are certainly not convicts as civilized people understand the word, nor are they of convict type. They are slaves pure and simple."

Persons sentenced to forced labor have been used in lumber and forestry work since 1929. This is confirmed by the Soviets themselves in an Order, issued June 1, 1929, by the Commissariat of Agriculture (from which the following paragraph is taken), quoted in the recent British Blue Book[xiii] on the subject:

"The present instructions are the first attempt to utilize on timber and improvement work the labor of persons sentenced to forced labor without detention under guard. Considering this experiment of exceptionally great importance, the People's Commissariat of Agriculture instructs all agricultural organizations to begin forthwith from the current season to explore all existing possibilities of utilizing the labor of persons sentenced to forced labor for forestry and improvement work of a mass character and to establish for this purpose permanent relations with the Bureau of Forced Labor."

The whole economic system of Soviet Russia today is based on pressure and forced labor. No doubt great masses of workmen earnestly believe, or are made to believe, that they will achieve a true and happier socialistic state in the near future. Present sufferings are always described as temporary and it is promised that the Communist Golden Age will dawn on that not-distant day when the capitalist régimes existing in the rest of the world fall in hopeless disaster. But there is no victory of socialistic methods of "planned economy" over the "chaotic system" of capitalist production. There is merely a display of fanatical brute force.

[i] Cf. my recent book, "The Economic Policy of Soviet Russia," published in English by P. S. King and Son, London, 1930, 200 pp., and in German by J. C. B. Mohr, Tübingen, 1930, under the title "Die Wirtschaftspolitik Sowjetrusslands."

[ii] Izvestia, October 20, 1930.

[iii] Izvestia, December 17, 1930.

[iv] See Kontrolniye Ziffri, 1928-29, Moscow 1929, p. 280.

[v] Cf. Berkenkopf, in Schmoller's Jahrbuch, August 1930, p. 35. Soviet leaders frequently emphasize the government's expenditure of large sums for "welfare" projects. A large item is the expenditure for creating new dwellings, which represents ordinary investment (it is ridiculous to count capital invested in workmen's dwellings in the wages' fund). Workmen do not get free housing; they spend on the average about 14 percent of their wages on housing, heating and light.

[vi] See the official Soviet paper Za Industrializatsiyu, September 25, 1930.

[vii] Every workman has the right to a two weeks' leave once a year.

[viii] This became necessary partly because some skilled workmen left their factories and reappeared elsewhere as unskilled workmen.

[ix] Izvestia, January 4, 1931.

[x] The Izvestia of December 17, 1930, describes the "catastrophic situation" in wood cutting in central Russia. The reports blame the kulaks (well-to-do peasants) who "in many districts scarcely get any 'hard assignments' (in wood cutting and transportation) and become so insolent that they beat and kill poor wood cutters." It is urged that the kulaks be given "hard assignments" wherever this has not yet been done and that no mercy be shown in dealing with them.

[xi] Cf. the decree issued by the Council of Labor and Defense on September 21, 1930, on hay collecting. In October 1930 the situation with regard to wood rafting became critical. The government issued orders "to bind" (zakrepitj) all laborers engaged in this work till the end of the rafting season; to engage as helpers, by means of "compulsory paid work," all the able-bodied population along the rivers where wood rafting is done; and to insist on the "utmost discipline" in dealing with absenteeism. The administration was charged "with full responsibility" and the G. P. U. was directed to help the management (Izvestia, October 6, 1930).

[xii] The Times and Daily Telegraph, December 16, 1930. Conditions in the Soviet concentration camps were described by a former G. P. U. official in the New York Times, January 31, 1931. The number of prisoners in these camps was given as 662,200.

[xiii] "Russia No. 1 (1931): A Selection of Documents Relative to the Labour Legislation in Force in the U. S. S. R." Cmd. 3775.

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  • PAUL HAENSEL, for twenty-five years Professor of Public Finance at the University of Moscow; under the Soviet régime, President of the Financial Section of the Institute of Economic Research; now Professor at Northwestern University
  • More By Paul Haensel