Have They Forgotten How to Work?
OPTIMISTS LOOK to the market and democratic pluralism as the motors for driving Russia, the great outsider, back into the fold of "normal" economic and political development. Seeking aid and investment from the West, President Boris Yeltsin and his economists point to Russia's vast natural resources as collateral for loans and capital. Little is said, however, of another critical factor: the Russian labor force. While the technology can be imported, the essential human element cannot.
In city and country alike workers exhibit a long-suffering passivity and what the labor newspaper Trud called "a psychology of permanent dependence." With little pride in their inadequately remunerated work, and for years aware that they were anything but masters of their own proletarian country, the resignation of Russia's workers leaves them ill-prepared for the rough-and-tumble free market. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said at this year's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, ''Without discipline and hard work we will achieve nothing. We cannot live as they live in the West and work as we work in Russia.'' For three generations a negative selection process systematically weeded out workers of the greatest drive, know-how and resilience, giving rise to a pervasive, cowed apathy and scheming work ethic, with the liveliest initiatives directed at seeking maximum personal gain with a minimum expenditure of effort.
Soviet communism has left a demoralized and dissatisfied Russian work force. What use will the world's poorest white workers make of new economic opportunities? Will they take advantage of novel freedoms and credits to hoist their country again to the respectable growth rates and vigor that it knew at the beginning of the century? Or will the Russian worker remain unproductive and unenterprising even in a democratic environment?
EVEN BEFORE the 1917 Bolshevik takeover Russia's rural and urban working classes were conditioned by a traditional collectivist mentality. Individual effort and achievement tended to be regarded with suspicion. The peasant mentality was molded by the "mir,"
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