MARXIST INTERNET ARCHIVE | Martin Nicolaus

6  New Shoots

    The history of the USSR during the 1920s and 1930s was like a long march to reunite the workers with the means of production.

    It was a complex and protracted struggle to revoke the great historic divorce arising at the dawn of capitalism, between the peasant and the land, between the weaver and the loom. This schism, constantly reproduced and universalized by the capitalist order, creates and recreates on the one side the millions of empty-handed workers and on the other side the relative handful of owners of the means of production. On this separation are founded the twin markets in commodities that characterize the capitalist order and distinguish it from all others: the market in labor power between the capitalist and the worker, with the workers always the sellers and the capitalist in the buyer's role, and the market in means of production, with the capitalists buying and selling from each other. Once the basic schism is suspended, these markets lose their reason for being; labor power and means of production shed their commodity character and become transformed step by step into social property. Such, in broad outline, was the path of Soviet development toward socialism and in the socialist period.

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    What were some of the specific steps that were taken by the Soviet power to reunite the working class with the means of production? Certainly, the nationalization of the means of production by the workers' state was the political basis for the whole process. But had the process ceased with the signing of nationalization papers, it would have been a paper "socialism." In fact the nationalization decrees in many cases only legalized factory seizures taken by the workers on their own initiative; and from then on, wave after wave of mass initiatives and movements spurred on the socialist transformation of Soviet society and gave it life.

    One of the earliest of the innovative mass movements pioneered by the Soviet working class was the practice of subbotniks, or "Communist Saturdays." The first was organized on their own initiative by the workers at the chief repair shop of the Moscow-Kazan railway in May 1919. Working voluntarily and without pay after the regular shift had ended, the workers toiled out of political inspiration alone, in order to save and to strengthen the Soviet power against its foes during the Civil War. Despite end-of-the-week fatigue, the workers' productivity during the subbotniks regularly was two or three times higher than during regular hours.

    "Communist subbotniks are extraordinarily valuable as the actual beginning of communism," Lenin wrote, identifying the subbotniks as one of the "new shoots" pointing ahead of the then existing stage of social development toward the ultimate goal of a classless society. Following the first local initiatives, the party organized nationwide subbotniks with excellent results throughout the Civil War period, and the practice was revived again and again. In the late 1920s, a new form of the subbotnik arose, the voskresnik -- voluntary overtime work to raise funds for the great industrialization drive projected by the first five-year plan. Like the subbotniks, these initiatives also were quickly popularized by the party and government press, and mobilized millions of workers.

    The "shock-work team" movement, initiated in 1926 by the same railway workshop that had begun the subbotniks, was in part a drive to bring the subbotnik spirit into

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regular working hours. It laid emphasis at the same time on reorganizing the work, discarding the old patterns of division of labor inherited from capitalism and inventing new ones that promoted greater productivity. Led by the Komsomol (Communist youth league) activist Nikolai Nekrasov, the movement produced not only higher production but far greater enthusiasm by workers in participating in production meetings, where all aspects of the existing work methods were criticized and reshaped to bring out the workers' initiative. (Borisova et al., Outline History of the Soviet Working Class, pp. 121-124.)

    The Stakhanovite movement, beginning in 1935, was the successor of the shock-work teams. Like the latter, it emphasized reorganizing the division of labor, and developing teamwork to achieve higher output. But it contributed also a stress on quality output, and, above all, on improved work technique and technology. The redesign and innovation of machinery and machine processes by the workers themselves -- frequently, as Stalin pointed out in his "Economic Problems of Socialism" (1952, p. 28), over the objections of conservative engineers and technicians -- was the keynote of the movement. A bourgeois U.S. scholar, David Granick, in his study "The Red Executive" (1960), defended the movement against Western charges that it was mainly a form of speedup. "Primarily, it was aimed at motivating workers to use improved techniques on the job," he wrote, "and to innovate new ones. Its emphasis was thoroughly modern, being on rationalization rather than on sweating." (p. 213.) It too was popularized by the party, not without opposition from engineers and managers, and spread to large proportions of industry, mining and transport.

    Such mass initiative brought about extremely rapid increases in labor productivity. During the first five-year plan, beginning in 1929, labor productivity had risen 41 percent; during the second plan, when the Stakhanovite movement began, it leaped 82 percent; and it grew by another 33 percent on top of this higher base during the third plan period. (Borisova, p. 206.) By this time unemployment, the chief spur to greater worker effort (speedup) under capitalism, and also the chief result under

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capitalism of technological "rationalization," had ceased to exist in the USSR.

    An ingenious and telling form of mass initiative that arose during the first plan period was called the "public tugboat." According to Borisova's account, "it commenced in the Donets Basin on the initiative of the workers of the Artem mine. At one of the production meetings the discussion turned to a neighboring mine whose workers systematically failed to cope with the plan. A veteran worker-rationalizer found a way of helping them. Having once served in the navy he recalled that sometimes it was necessary to tug ships and barges which could not sail under their own steam, and proposed to do the same to the workers of the neighboring mine. . . .

    "His proposal was approved and shortly afterwards the first 'tugboat team' arrived at the backward mine, only to receive a hostile welcome: 'You've no business to be here. We can get along without your help. So turn around and head for home.'

    "'We've come here not to chitchat, but to extend comradely assistance,' the Artem miners replied. 'And we shall stay here until we have fulfilled our assignment.'

    "Assisted by the party organization they grouped the foremost workers around themselves and got the socialist competition going. Within a short space of time the backward mine caught up with the plan. At the end of the five-year plan period public 'tugboat teams' were operating at many industrial enterprises." (p. 148.)

    A more thoroughgoing form of mass initiative was the participation of workers in criticizing the five-year plan and drawing up revised plans of their own. This was called "counterplanning." Borisova writes that "it was first advanced in the summer of 1930 by the shock-workers of the Karl Marx Works in Leningrad. This was done in response to the address of the shock-workers of the Znamya Truda Factory to the Leningrad shock-workers. The address was published in the Leningradskaya Pravda on April 9, 1930 under the heading, 'Znamya Truda Shock-Workers Are Drawing Up an Extended Counter Industrial and Financial Plan.' At the time the workers of the Elektrozavod Factory in Moscow were devising

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counterplans for the enterprise as a whole and for each of its shops and lathes. Through their participation in the elaboration of counterplans thousands of workers became acquainted with the organization and management of production. Many of them acquired an inclination for planning and enrolled at higher educational institutions offering specialized training in this field." (p. 147.)

    Counterplanning, even more than the Stakhanovite movement, frequently upset those engineers and managers who had retained or acquired a basically bourgeois outlook. Numbers of them fled to the capitalist countries, where intelligence services and scholars would pump them for inside information on Soviet conditions. One such scholar, Joseph Berliner, gave the following transcript (in his 1957 study, "Factory and Manager in the USSR") of an account of counterplanning by a renegade plant manager:

    "All the workers, all are called to the production conference. And then begins the so-called 'counterplanning,' in a very crude form, which quickly ends in a fiasco. They read off the plan. Here, our chief administration has given us such and such information, such and such indices, of course we have to meet them, we all understand that this has to be done. Thus, the agitation proceeds further. This we have to do, we have to fulfill and overfulfill. 'I hope that some of the workers -- this is said by some engineer or a representative of the party organization -- will bring forth counterproposals.' Now everyone wants to manifest his 'activity.' Some 'butterfly,' some milkmaid gets up in her place and says 'I think we should promise Comrade Stalin to overfulfill by 100 percent.' She takes no account of materials, no account of supply. Then a second stands up and says 'We should all promise 100 percent and I personally promise 150 percent" In short, it piles up higher and higher, and the engineers and economists scratch their heads. Nevertheless, this is called 'counterplanning,' a manifestation of the new socialist morality and higher socialist enthusiasm. All this goes to the top and there, you understand, there is confusion, downright confusion, a complete muddle." (p. 275.)

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    Dripping with chauvinism, contempt and sarcasm, such a factory manager as the one who furnished this account naturally saw the workers' enthusiasm as contradictory to "efficiency" and "rationality." What about materials, what about supply? It did not occur to such bourgeois minds that if the enthusiasm were to spread to the other factories producing materials and supplies for this factory, and so on in a chain reaction, then a forward leap in production might very well be achieved all around.

    This narrow bureaucratic spirit also had its partisans in the office of Gosplan, the central state planning bureau, as the bourgeois Sovietologist M. Lewin, in his 1968 "Russian Peasants and Soviet Power," recounts. "At the outset," Lewin wrote, "Gosplan in a body tried to stem the flood of unreasonable demands. . ." which reached them from the factories below and the Central Committee above -- demands for vastly increased production. But the party leadership had little tolerance for this footdragging. An "atmosphere" was created within Gosplan, Lewin recounts, "such that it would have been an act of 'civic courage' on the part of the planners to insist that there were sectors on which the brake should be applied. . . . The planners were aware of the risks involved in arguing too much, or raising objections on technical or other grounds. In the privacy of their own offices, they remarked that it was 'better to comply with the demand for rapid growth rates than to go to prison for having advocated more moderate ones.'" (p. 346.)

    The party leadership, in purging from Gosplan the most outspoken of these "brakemen," sided squarely with the so-called "butterflies" and "milkmaids" who were engaged in counterplanning at the point of production. When the shock-worker team at a Lugansk factory, drawing out the implications of counterplanning for the whole economy, raised up the call to "finish the five-year plan in four years," the Central Committee picked it up and broadcast it throughout the country.

    Thanks to such worker initiatives, generalized and popularized by the party leadership, the phenomenal development of the productive forces projected by the first five-year plan was achieved in four years and three

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months. It was a triumph that still has bourgeois political economists and historians scratching their heads, and it was followed by further, almost equally spectacular advances.

    But there was really no mystery about it. Such advances in the development of the forces of social production were the fruit of the reunion between the working class and the means of production. The mass initiatives and movements both reflected and deepened this profoundly new relationship of production, whose political precondition was the dictatorship of the proletariat.

    However, not all the elements in Soviet society were as cheered and gratified by the triumphs of socialism as was by all accounts, the great majority of working people and party cadre.