Gareth Jones

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The Times, October 15th 1931



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 From a Correspondent (Gareth Jones)

Bread is not the only produce of the collective farm.  Labour is almost of equal importance at a time when there is a grave shortage of worker menacing the fulfillment of the Five Years Plan.  The collective farm has the duty of supplying the factories not only with grain but also with men.  The urgent necessity of obtaining labour supply from the collective farms was the first point in Stalin’s speech on June 23.  The use of machinery and the better organization of work upon the farms will, it is argued, liberate for the factories many millions of workers who will not be needed in an agriculture so mechanized as to cut down the number of hands required.  These surplus peasants (otkhodniki) are to be recruited for the industrial areas.  To some factories the peasants go willingly, eager for travel and new experiences.  But such districts as the Donetz Basin, where living conditions are pitiable, where there are insufficient houses, and where epidemics are rife, have an evil reputation in the villages. 

Strengthened by supplies of bread and labour from collective farms the Government, assured of stability, has fair greater chance of success in the field of industrialization than it had when the central figure in Russian agriculture was the individual farmer.  The “Third Decisive Year of the Five Years Plan” has seen great progress in many branches of industry.  There is a distinct increase in time quantity of goods produced and a large number of new factories are scheduled to open this year.  The oil industry is making rapid strides and Soviet Russia has become the second oil producing country of the world.  The exports of grain last winter, although they were less than one-half the average pre-War exports, far surpassed the figure expected.  The Soviet Union has become a cotton-growing country.  New mineral and chemical resources are being continually discovered beneath the rich Russian soil and will be rapidly exploited by the construction of new metallurgical bases in the Ural-Kuznetzk, area in Magnitogorsk and in Central Asia. Vast works, such as the Stalingrad and the Kharkov tractor factories, the Autostroy in Nizhni-Novgorod, which is to produce 140,000 motor cars and lorries annually and the Dnieprostroy, area which will provide power for a industrial area of a million inhabitants are being built under the supervision of foreign engineers.  New housing schemes, including  “Socialist cities,” are being executed.  Russian industry is moving eastward with the opening up of Siberia.  Excellent new roads are being constructed in the leading towns, and the streets of Moscow have improved beyond recognition.  These are indeed achievements, although attained at the expense of profound suffering.  Most striking of all is the absence of unemployment.  In Russia the beggars who plead for alms are all of a dying generation and are a striking contrast, to time workless youths who beg in the streets of Berlin and other capitals. 


            Nevertheless, there are grave difficulties confronting the Plan of Industrialization.  First and foremost are the strain of living conditions and the disillusionment of the workers.  While the proletarians have benefited by shorter working hours, by the setting up of clubs, by educational facilities and by longer holidays there is yet grave dissatisfaction at the shortage of food and of goods and at the lack of liberty.  The workers who are not politically minded and they form as in all countries, the great majority, state that before the revolution everything could be bought at cheap prices, whereas, now the cooperative shops do not provide enough for a man to live.  They are forced, they complain to buy on the private market at exorbitant, prices and even then they remain hungry.  Among the general workers there is little of that faith in the future, which is so striking in the Communist.  Disbelief in the newspapers and in propaganda is widespread.  On being confronted by some figures showing that the Five Years Plan was being completed in two and half years, one factory worker replied: “You cannot eat figures.  The Five Years Plan is on paper.  You see that tree over there; it is no apple tree, is it?  But the Communists say.  ‘Tomorrow that tree has to grow apples.’” 

            To mention the word “voluntary” must rouse the anger of the average Russian.  A young Moscow factory worker surrounded by three of his fellows, best expressed the Soviet significance of the word.  “In our factory we cannot say a single thing.  They say that everything is voluntary.  Voluntary indeed!  The party cell decides everything before hand arranges a meeting, where resolutions are passed unanimously by the questions being put, ‘Who is against?’  Nobody, of course, wishes to get into trouble and put his hand up for fear he might disappear, as many have disappeared.”  Another Moscow factory worker, who was indignant against the Soviet government for sending food abroad, expressed the wish, “If only we could vote secretly.”  The way in which workers were ‘voluntarily’ obliged to pay on month’s wages to the various loans, such as the “Third Decisive Year Loan,” has also left bitterness among the population.  The practice of obliging workers from one factory to devote ‘voluntarily’ their free day to labour as ‘subbotniki’ in another factory or in constructive work, or in road building, deprives factory hands, clerks, teachers and others of their holiday.  But it is, above all, the nervous strain caused by under-nourishment and over-crowding that makes the life of the average Russian a misery.  He blames not only the export of food, but also the bad distribution and delays, which result in the food supplies arriving in a decayed state. 


            The food and housing conditions have had a serious effect upon the industrialisation schemes.  Not only are the workers unable to devote all their energies to their machines, for they suffer from a great dearth of fats, but they fly from one town to another in search of better food and better houses.  The labour turn over has thus become alarming and no factory has a stable number of hands.  The exodus from the Donetz Basin has led to crowded stations and disorganised transport and coal plans and to countless miseries for the masses who flee from the hunger and disease of that ill-famed district. 

            Bewildered by the fight of workers factory manager find their plans also menaced by the dearth of skilled workmen and of engineers.  The problem of the future is how to prepare the technical specialists in sufficient numbers to run the factories, which are now being constructed.  The reliable works manager and the foreman with authority and initiative are also lacking, for it is difficult to produce such men under a system where freedom plays no part.  This shortage of labour, of skilled mechanics and of foremen with initiative does not augur well for the future.  Organisation has been extremely weak and there are few countries in the world where ‘muddling through’ as been as common as in Russia. 

            The system of dictatorship of one party has lead to many defects in the running of industry.  There has been a tendency to concentrate the leading industrial positions in the hands of the Communist members and although there are many outstanding posts in the Soviet factories, mines, works and ships which are held by non-party men, politics have too often entered into the purely economic sphere.  The desire of party members to obtain triumphs and victories, to claim for their factories a ‘Bolshevist tempo’ or to beat their rival factories in Socialist competition has lead to high figures being obtained at the expense of quality.  A childish wish to break records leads to the construction of giant machines, whose size makes a dazzling impression in the newspapers, rather than some small essential part whose dimensions may be insignificant but which is none the less vital for production. 

             The inferior position of the engineers of the old school has until now been prevented them from interfering with hotheaded schemes of party enthusiasts.  The fear with which they were inspired throughout last winter, when many were arrested for sabotage and many were shot had a serious effect upon their work.  Some preferred to escape their responsibilities and to join the ranks of the common workers, lest they should be arrested later for mistakes, which might have occurred.  They were treated as a class apart, as bourgeois and although their salaries were high it was difficult for them to obtain as much as the ordinary unskilled worker, for the latter was in the second category.  The privileges, which were given to the children of workers, were denied to the children of the bourgeois engineers. 

            The result of these conditions has been a serious situation in the three basic points of Soviet economic life, coal, iron and steel, and transport, which will affect, other parts of the Plan.  There are breaches in the coal plan and many factories will have to remain idle on account of lack of fuel.  The situation in the coalfields was the subject of a decree issued by the executive committee of the Communist Party on August 15th.  This stated that, despite its growth, the coal industry was lagging behind and that the non-fulfillment of its plan created a menace to the pig-iron programme.  Today the coal problem occupies the same position as the grain problem a few years ago, and has become the most important task before the country. A new mechanisation scheme was proposed and the plan of coal production was raised to 14,000,000 tons for the year 1933. 

            On September 8th Izvestia published a decree of the Supreme Economic Council upon the grave situation of the iron and steel industry.  It drew attention to the extremely unsatisfactory fulfillment of the Plan, to bad economic and technical direction, to the neglect of the factories, to the rubbish and dirt scattered in the courtyards, to the deplorable shortage of labour, to the intolerable equalisation of wages and the absence of piecework.  Drastic changes were proposed to improve the situation.  It is, above all, in transport that progress of the Five-Years Plan is being checked.  Transport has become a danger spot in the whole Plan.  Large quantities of ore, grain, food and other supplies are lying idle because of the disorganisation on the railways. 

            These defects in the basic industries are common to most Soviet factories.  They call for a drastic remedy and for a change in policy if the Five-Years Plan is to progress.  This remedy and this change in policy are to be found in Stalin’s speech of June 23rd, which now guides the economic policy of the Soviet Union.  Its six points are daily being drummed into the public mind by newspapers and wireless. 


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