The Unknown Revolution, Book Two : Part 05, Chapter 02

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(1882 - 1945) ~ Bolshevik-Aligned Leader of the Russian Nabat Anarchists : March of 1920 saw him taken to Moscow, where he would remain prisoner until October, when he and many other anarchists were released by virtue of a treaty between the Soviet Union and Makhno's army. Voline then returned to Kharkov, resuming his old activities... (From : Rudolph Rocker Bio.)
• "As we know, there it was an authoritarian state communism (Bolshevism) that scored a stunning and rather easy victory in the events of 1917. Now, these days, nearly seventeen years on from that victory, not only is communism proving powerless to resist fascism abroad, but, where the regime within the USSR itself is concerned, the latter is more and more often being described more and more deliberately as 'red fascism'." (From : "The Unknown Revolution," by Voline.)
• "Yet there is consolation to be had. The masses learn through all too palpable first hand experience. And the experience is there." (From : "The Unknown Revolution," by Voline.)
• "Socialism, so mighty in Germany, Austria and Italy, has proved powerless. 'Communism', itself very strong, especially in Germany, has proved powerless. The trade unions have proved powerless. How are we to account for this?" (From : "The Unknown Revolution," by Voline.)


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Part 05, Chapter 02

Chapter 2. Situation of the Workers

Socially, the basis of the system in the domain ruled by Stalin lies in the following facts:

As in all other countries, the worker in the U.S.S.R. is an employee. But he is a State employee. The State is his only employer. Instead of having thousands of “choices”, as is the case in the nations where private capitalism prevails, in the U.S.S.R. (the U.S.C.R.) the worker has only one. Any change of employer is impossible there.

It is pretended that, this State being a “Workers’ State”, it is not an employer in the usual sense of the word. The profits it realizes from production of commodities do not go into the pockets of capitalists, [so the Stalin regime asserts], but in the last analysis, serve the interests of the workers, returning to them in forms other than money.

Subtle as it may sound, this reasoning is purely theoretical. The “workers’ State” is not directed[34] by the workers themselves, (workers can direct production themselves only in an entirely different social system, never in a modern centralized State), but by a very large stratum of functionaries in the pay of the Government, which itself forms the center of a solid group, detached from the masses of toilers, and acting on its own. It is said that it is “answerable” to the workers. This is another abstraction. The reality has nothing in common with the formulas.

Ask any worker in the U.S.S.R. — if he be a simple, real worker — in what form he gets any advantage out of the profits realized by the State above his wages. He won’t even understand you; he knows nothing about it. The only thing he knows is that he gets his meager wage, always inadequate, and that he has all the difficulty in the world in subsisting on it. He knows also that there are many people in the “Soviet” Union who live “agreeably” (as Stalin has said), richly, luxuriously.

Ask him if he can bring pressure to bear on those who are purportedly “answerable” to the workers, if he can criticize them, call them to order, eliminate them, replace them. He will understand you still less. What he knows is that he has only to carry out the orders of his chiefs “who know what they are doing”, and that the least criticism of them would cost him dearly. Those chiefs are imposed on him by the Government and are answerable only to it. As for the Government, it is infallible, and unassailable : its answerability is a myth.

Let us see a little of the real situation of the worker in the U.S.S.R. Does it differ essentially from that of the workers in the countries where private capitalism flourishes?

As everywhere else, the worker in Stalin’s domain is obliged to present himself, on payday, at the paymaster’s window in the establishment where he is employed, to get his wages. These wages are paid to him by a functionary, the paymaster of his only boss, the State.

That functionary makes up his payroll according to the wage scale decreed by the Government. He withholds from the wages whatever the State-employer considers it necessary to withhold: so much for Red Aid, so much for bonds (“free”, but compulsory, a Soviet sophism), so much for foreign propaganda, so much for the national lottery (another “free” but compulsory institution). He pays the worker exactly as does any other paymaster, employed in any other shop in any other country. Naturally the workers in the U.S.S.R. have no knowledge of what the State gains from his wages, nor what the State does with those gains. “That’s the Government’s business”, and the worker hasn’t the slightest intention of getting mixed up with that problem.

But in a country where private capitalism prevails, the worker, if he is dissatisfied, can quit his employer and look for another. He can change his shop, go where he likes, do what he pleases.

All this is impossible in the U.S.S.R.. where there is only one employer, owner of all the factories. Conforming to the latest laws, the worker hasn’t even the right to “ask for his time” and quit the factory where he is employed, on his own. For that he must have the authorization of the management. And this management is made up of functionaries who, for a long time, have replaced the factory committees. Thus the worker is attached to his place of work in the manner of a serf or a slave.[35]

If the Russian worker leaves a factory without a special authorization written on his compulsory identity card, or if he is fired, he cannot work anywhere else without re-authorization. No factory director, functionary of the same State-employer, can hire him, under pain of severe penalties.

Under these conditions, the State-employer can do with the worker what it likes. It treats him like a slave. The worker is obliged to accept everything that is thrust upon him: he has neither a choice of employer, nor means of defense (his labor union being in the hands of the government-employer and pretending not to understand that a union member can defend himself “against his own government”), nor any way of existing except at the end of his tether. Unless he “untangles” himself somehow.

And he cannot complain nor make himself heard, the press also being in the hands of “his government”, speech belonging to it, and meetings not being permitted except on official order. In a country as large as Russia, the best method of “getting untangled” has always been vagabondage. This practice has not changed. Thousands and thousands of ex-workers there, having quit their jobs “irregularly”, and finding themselves on the outs with the authorities, have revived the old tradition and have taken to the roads. They form a significant mass of unemployed of which the Soviet press naturally does not speak.

The laws in the U.S.S.R. concerning workers in general and factory work in particular are extremely harsh. Tens of thousands of toilers languish and perish in the prisons and places of exile for the sole reason of having broken them.

And the work is difficult. — Except in the large centers, the hygienic conditions in the shops are deplorable, the general surroundings impoverished. Nearly everywhere, too, there is hard labor at piece-work and the Taylor system is applied.

Prevalence of “stakhanovism” throughout the Soviet Union testifies to this. (The reader will find other testimonies and irrefutable proofs of what we say about labor conditions there in various other works.[36])

The truth about stakhanovism is not well enough known outside of the Russian domain. That term comes from the name of a miner, Alexei Stakhanov, chosen by the Bolshevik authorities for the purpose of a vast campaign to intensify the output of the workers. It was a question, for the magnates of “Soviet” neo-capitalism of applying in the U.S.S.R. the principle of the Taylor system [gleaned from the United States] without using the term and without the appearance of its having been instigated by the Government.

One day Stakhanov made, spontaneously, it was asserted, a sensational declaration to his bosses, claiming that he had discovered a new principle of organizing the work of mining coal which enabled the increasing of production by x times. Immediately the Government “became interested” in the discovery, found it useful, made a big stir about it, and undertook a far-flung campaign to introduce the new method everywhere in Russia.

In fact, however, Stakhanov, inspired and pushed by the Bolshevik Party, had only “discovered” America. His “new” method was only an old device which had just made its first appearance across the Atlantic: to be specific, the assembly line [the speed-up, as used in the Ford automobile and other industrial plants] adapted to Russian conditions. But the “stage setting” [given to Stakhanov’s prodigious daily output of coal] and the far-reaching publicity which it got made of it an extraordinary and fortunate discovery. The boneheads and the simpletons abroad took it all very seriously.

That “discovery” became the special business of the State-employer. It permitted it to hope for a general raising of the workers’ output. Then it impelled the Government to form a privileged stratum among the workers, a formation which was exceedingly helpful to governmental need for heightened production — the privileged ones being, generally, competent leaders of men, and thus could be used to facilitate manipulation of the toiling masses. And finally, in certain circles, it enhanced the prestige of the government-employer.

The new efficiency system was inaugurated by means of intense publicity in the press, on posters, and in speeches at public meetings. Stakhanov was proclaimed a “hero of labor”, rewarded, decorated. His system was applied in other branches of industry. Everywhere jealous “rivals” set about imitating him and even surpassing his output. All these individuals were ambitious to distinguish themselves, to “rise from the ranks”, to “arrive” — naturally to the detriment of the workers as a whole, they being forced to submit to a new speed-up, that is, to increased exploitation, under the supervision of the “heroes”. The latter rose on the backs of the others. They obtained advantages and privileges to the extent that they succeeded in applying the system and dragging along the masses. The “emulation” of the stakhanovists among themselves accordingly gave rise to superstakhanovism.

Soon the mass of workers understood the real meaning of the innovation. Powerless to oppose this “super-exploitation by any general movement, they manifested their discontent by numerous acts of sabotage and vengeance, even going so far as to assassinate over-zealous stakhanovists. It became necessary for the government to resort to extremely severe measures to repress the anti-stakhanovist movement. Moreover, the enterprise shortly ended in nothing. Once the bluff was seen through, all that remained was a sort of workers’ opportunism which no longer played a really effective role in production.

The “nationalized” worker in the U.S.S.R. is at least in principle a modern slave. On condition of being docile and zealous, he is fairly well maintained, insured by his “lord”, rewarded with a paid vacation, et cetera. Nevertheless this, in reality, is a matter here of only a tightly restricted part of the working class. That class is divided into several categories. The difference in their conditions of life ranges from ease to poverty, through all intermediary stages. The favors go only to the workers “worthy of them”. To be well-paid, to have vacations and other advantages it is necessary to deserve them, to detach oneself from the crowd, to “climb”.

The overwhelming majority of the workers in the Soviet Union endure a miserable existence — especially the unskilled, the day-laborers, the domestics, the small employes, and, in general, the mass of average workers. Others, skilled and specialized, privileged slaves, have a relatively “good” life, and form a sort of “workers’ aristocracy”.

Most frequently, the latter distrust and repulse their unfortunate class comrades. The struggle for existence is bitter in the U.S.S.R. So much the worse for the victims. Let them take care of themselves. If one concerns himself with them, he soon becomes a victim himself. But the skilled and privileged worker, the true stakhanovist — worthy disciple of the famous Stakhanov, first worker-careerist — is ambitious for higher and higher positions. He has hopes of rising, some day, out of the ranks of the slaves, to become himself a functionary, some kind of a chief, perhaps a director.

He must do everything possible to rise He demeans himself; he does four men’s work; he trains the youths who will replace him in the shop; he makes himself noticed everywhere he can; he is always in agreement with the authorities and he emphasizes that; he is a candidate for the Party; he flatters and curries favor here, he covers himself there. But, ahead of everything else, it is necessary that he never become involved with those below him, nor with those on his own level. The struggle is hard in the Soviet Union.

The stakhanovist workers are primarily “pace-setters”, whose role is to demonstrate by example to the mass of workers that it is possible to intensify production. They are highly paid and are given advancements, especially the superstakhanovists, who are the “aces” of stakhanovism. Their role is to show the proletarian masses that if they work well they can “attain” a comfortable and even “agreeable” life. (Again, Stalin’s word).

In the majority of instances, once a new output-record has been established in a factory, it is impossible for a stakhanovist to remain there; the other workers will not let him live. Generally the authorities take care of such a faithful servant. Usually he is sent to a sanatorium, where he sojourns “comfortably” for several months — after which he is called to an administrative post in Moscow or some other large city, where he has a stylish villa at his disposal and where he lives an “agreeable” life, getting a salary and enjoying prerogatives in proportion to the services he has rendered. His career is made. He is now a functionary. He has risen from the ranks. He has “arrived”.

By all such procedures — stakhanovism, superstakhanovism, classification in various categories of wages, et cetera — the “Communist” government manages effectively to divide and control the working masses. It creates, at the same time, a privileged stratum which is obsequiously devoted to it, which keeps the “herd” on the alert, and which serves as a buffer between the masters and the slaves.

Thus the practices employed by the new masters — the “Communists” — toward the working class remain what they always were: to divide and dominate. And the consoling word spoken by the master to the “herd” also is eternal: “Workers, do you want to get ahead? Well, that depends solely on yourselves, for any capable man, who is diligent and applies himself, can become ‘someone’. Those who do not succeed, the failures, have only themselves to blame.”

According to the meticulous and objective calculations of the economist E. Yurievsky, taken from the statistics of the Government of the U.S.S.R., out of some 18,000,000 workers in 1938, there were about 1,500,000 (8 percent) of ex-workers and privileged workers: stakhanovists and superstakhanovists, et al.

It is of course understandable that the Government should encourage and reward this careerism from which it gains such huge profits and which, incidentally, it never calls by that name. Instead the competition in speed-up is lauded as “noble emulation”, “honorable zeal in the service of the proletariat”, and the like. There is a decoration “for zeal”. And there is even a whole stratum of “decorated workers” — ordenonostsi. From the most “worthy” of these elements, the Government creates a sort of new “Soviet” nobility, and also a new State-capitalist bourgeoisie: determined and solid supporters of the regime in the Kremlin.

And it is to all such climbers that Stalin, their supreme chief, refers, when he says in some of his speeches: “Life among us becomes always more agreeable, more cheerful.”

The herd in the Soviet Union remains the herd, as everywhere else. And as elsewhere, the Government possesses “sufficient means to keep it at its mercy, tranquil and subdued”.

It is contended that its methods prepare the ground for “real Communism”.

We have asked ourselves whether the lot of the worker in the U.S.S.R. is preferable to that of the worker in the countries where private capitalism continues. But the real problem is not that. It is more precisely this: Is such a state of affairs compatible with Socialism? Or is this, at least, the dawn of it? Can such an organization, such a social background, lead us there?

The reader is invited to answer these questions himself — and others as well — when he reaches the end of this book.

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November 30, 1920 :
Part 05, Chapter 02 -- Publication.

February 22, 2017 19:32:49 :
Part 05, Chapter 02 -- Added to

January 16, 2020 15:22:33 :
Part 05, Chapter 02 -- Last Updated on


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