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The Morning Post. 5th June 1933


I.  The Five-Year Fiasco


Agony of the Unwanted Citizen 

Below we publish the first of four remarkable articles, on the present situation in Russia by Mr. Malcolm Muggeridge, who recently acted for eight months as the Moscow Correspondent of an English Liberal newspaper.

Mr. Muggeridge went to Russia a convinced and enthusiastic Communist.  He came away entirely disillusioned about the Soviet regime.  He has drawn a faithful and terrible picture of human suffering under existing conditions, and has described his own disillusionment in moving and memorable words. 


Future historians are likely to have some difficulty in accounting for the remarkable vogue of the Five-Year Plan.  How, they will wonder, did it come about that so fantastic, so elephantine, so patently inefficient and wasteful a project impressed, not merely simple-minded idealists, but also reputable economists, successful business men, particularly American, and serious politicians? 

To answer this question they will have to attempt to recreate the general character of the post-war period in which the Plan was floated - instability so great that any positive proposal, however extravagant, was received respectfully; size so worshipped that the (on paper) biggest of all big-business, socialist big-business, seemed wholly admirable because of its scale; statistics so profuse and so widely honoured that a project, when it was expounded statistically, was taken as having been achieved. 

The general conception, I imagine, of the Five-Year Plan is of something graphed and written down which is fulfilled as accurately and regularly as, in European countries other than Russia, trains fulfill their time-tables. 

In this sense, the Plan never had any existence.  In so far as there has been a Plan at all, it has been altered, and altered considerably, almost from day to day.  Its object was to industrialise the country rapidly and on a large scale, mainly with art eye to military preparedness.  In regard to this last, I am not competent to speak, but would refer those interested to one of the very few accurate and profound studies of Soviet Russia - “La Revolution Russe,” by Henry Rollin - where they will find the matter excellently discussed  and in great detail. 


It was not difficult for the Soviet Government, with the aid of highly-paid foreign engineers and by importing foreign machinery, to bring into existence a number of large and, in themselves, sufficiently impressive industrial enterprises. 

Food products and timber and oil and furs, dumped abroad, chiefly in England, at fabulously low prices, realised the necessary valuta; printing-presses made available an unlimited number of paper roubles; and with a ready supply of political prisoners to undertake - for no wages - the more arduous tasks, as for instance, digging canals, and, with a working-class so intimidated that the proletarian Pharaohs, like the Egyptian, need fear no labour troubles in building their pyramids, socialist construction seemed to booming.

Visiting Americans found the situation delectable; they stood in front of the “largest hydro-electric station in the world” with wonder and awe in their eves, and asked themselves whether, after all, Wall Street had not something to learn from Karl Marx.  Parties of Fabians and pacifists and promoters of cultural relations with the Soviet Union had pointed out to them by dainty ‘‘Intourist”‘ guides the sites of wonderful socialist cities, saw the very plans, and felt that at last their dreams had come true. 

It seems almost a pity that this Fabian fairyland, which, apart from the hundred-and-sixty million inhabitants of Russia, has given so much innocent pleasure to so many amiable people, provided the subject-matter for so many interesting articles in newspapers and periodicals, led to so much instructive lecturing in halls on the radio, should have proved unsubstantial. Such, however, is the fact. 

The industrial enterprises, admirable as to size, failed to produce anything that anyone wanted; Soviet industry was heavy rather than light, very heavy; the peasants, some 90 per cent, of the population, lacking class-consciousness and a proper appreciation of the advantages of a dictatorship of the proletariat, grew tired of provisioning and paying for socialist construction and starving themselves, and ate up their cattle and horses and neglected their fields, with the result that the factory-workers began to suffer from a food shortage and the Government from a valuta-shortage; the fecundity of the rouble - here at least production far exceeded the Plan’s estimates! - led to its heavy depreciation, and even the political prisoners, having no other means of protest, died most wastefully. 


To deal with this situation the Government has adopted a series of drastic and characteristic measures.  It has dismissed large numbers of factory-workers - in Kharkov, for instance, 20,000 and in Moscow at least 500,000 - and ruthlessly pruned all administrative offices.  It has suspended new industrial development and issued the most stringent regulations in regard to expenditure, which result, in many cases, in wages falling several months into arrears. 

Factory discipline has been tightened up by taking food distribution out of the hands of the co-operatives, over which the consumers had some measure of control, and putting it in the hands of the factory managements with instructions to punish slackness, even missing one day’s work without a medical certificate - incidentally, almost unobtainable owing to the shortage of doctors - or unpunctuality, by the withdrawal of ration cards, that is, by starvation. 

This programme or retrenchment has naturally led to unemployment. The dictatorship of the proletariat’s method of dealing with an unemployment problem is particularly illuminating. In the smaller Soviet Encyclopædia a passport is defined as

“the most important tool in the hands of the police in a so-called police state. The passport system operated in pre-Revolutionary Russia….Soviet law knows no passport system….” 

Despite the fact, however, that “Soviet law knows no passport system,” by the terms of a recently published decree, only persons issued with passports by the G.P.U. are allowed to live in the larger cities; all others have to leave with their families and their belongings on ten days’ notice for a famished countryside.

The decree is aimed ostensibly against “class-enemies,” a loose term signifying anyone of whom the authorities for any reason disapprove; actually, its object is to rid the towns of unemployed. Imagine what it means! Imagine the horror and terror it spread through, for instance, Moscow, where it was known that the G.P.U. had instructions to refuse passports to at least a million applicants!

Imagine the queues of unfortunates waiting to plead for a reconsideration of their cases when they knew in their hearts it would be fruitless! Imagine the scene on the railway stations—waiting-rooms crowded night and day; families with their meagre belongings, wretched looking, not knowing where to make for, only knowing that to stay where they were would be to fall into the hands of the G.P.U., and that wherever they went, they would find at their destination famine, peasants with swollen bodies, a desert!


This “Short Way, With Unemploy­ment,” though it will enable Mr. Bernard Shaw to continue to contend that there are no unemployed in Russia, is unlikely to recommend to working-class opinion in civilised countries. 

Besides “liquidating” unemployment by “liquidating” the unemployed, the Soviet Government has found an ingenious means of capilalising want and starvation. Despite the efforts, not inconsiderable or squeamish, of the G.P.U., a certain amount of gold and silver, a certain number of Tsarist coins, still remain uncollected. In view of the falling off of exports in value and in quantity, these are necessary for socialist construction.

The Government has, therefore, estab­lished Torgsin shops whose windows dis­play to the starving population of Russia such delicacies as butter and sugar and fruit and tea which are otherwise unobtainable except, in the open market at prohibitive prices, and where only precious metals and foreign currency, not Soviet roubles, are accepted as payment.

The Soviet citizen who has hidden away, say, a few Tsarist gold roubles is in a terrible dilemma. The roubles will buy what he so sorely needs; on the other hand, if he presents himself at a Torgsin shop with them, he may be arrested by agents of the G.P.U., who are, of course, in attendance there as everywhere, for having hoarded gold. Hunger and fear fight in him until hunger wins. Then he either loses his Tsarist roubles and does a spell of forced labour, or is allowed to buy with them foodstuffs at from three to four times the prices in gold at which they were, until recently, dumped on the London market.


Not only foodstuffs. He can buy, for instance, a pair of boots imported from the Co-operative Wholesale Society, and retailed to him by the dictatorship of the proletariat at a profit of about three hundred per cent,

This diabolical arrangement, which could only have been thought of by a Bolshevik-Jew, has lately been, extended to a kind of traffic in human beings. The following advertisement appeared several times in "Isvestia":

The Intourist Company announces that it will undertake the preparation of documents for Soviet citizens wishing to go abroad for good on receipt of applicant’s authorisation to obtain foreign currency from outside the Soviet Union. The price of a passport is 500 gold roubles (about £80) for the toiling masses and 1,000 gold roubles for citizens belonging to other Classes.”

The reason, of course, that the money has to he sent in from outside is that only so is it clear gain for the Government, which has, as I have explained much simpler and more direct ways of laying hands on money that is actually in the country.

(To be continued.)


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