Thomas Bell

Back Again in Russia

Source: The Communist, May 13, 1922.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

FOR anyone who has been absent from Russia for a time, the most interesting study is the operation of what is called The New Economic Policy. Especially for those who through the mere institution of proletarian dictatorship would realise Communism and give full fledged economic security to the industrial masses.

To see all the manifestations of capitalism appearing again: to witness not only free speculation and trading but small private industry, the opening of big multiple stores, with theatres, cafes, etc., and that in the heart of Red Moscow—is, to say the least, a cold douche for anyone who brings here romantic notions about the Revolution and its achievements.

This being my second visit to Moscow much of the romance naturally associated with the first proletarian revolution had been shed long ago. Accordingly, I have not been unduly influenced by the appearance of things.

Early last Spring I saw the shops still closed and barricaded. The new decree regaring open trade had not had time to operate. Before the summer ended many shops had been opened and a beginning made with the new policy. I had expected to see much more evidence of the return of the petty bourgeois shop-keeping class than actually obtains. Frankly, the efforts of the shop-keeping speculators are pathetic, when one remembers their pre-revolutionary presitige.

In the Factories

I began to make enquiries as to the attitude of the workers in the factories. In the last analysis it is these workers who count—at least in the big cities and industrial centres. In conversation with a responsible Communist Party official I learned that the Party were quite satisfied with the general attitude of the workers, who have in no way slackened in their revolutionary determination.

The disposition of large masses of the workers, he said, is to carry on the revolutionary struggle. The workers realise that all the concessions to the petty bourgeoisie and the accompanying paraphernalia in the shape of speculation and trading are only manifestations of the transition period to Communism and the fresh battles have yet to be fought before such forms of capitalism as yet remain are finally crushed.

This is the considered opinion arrived at after keen enquiries and investiagtions made on behalf of the Party. I have also spoken with workmen who, in their several stories, confirm this view. One workman to whom I was accidentally introduced the other day spoke with much enthusiasm about the general position. We talked about the reconstruction of industries; how the problem of over-staffing was being met, unemployment, wages payment, and general conditions of labour. With reference to over-staffing, at first, he said, it was natural that the petty bourgeois and intelligentzian elements should try to take hold of the staff jobs and find room for their friends who had been rendered unemployed by the revolution, or who, in order to get “pyock,” i.e. bread and clothes, had to find occupation. In this way many industries were ridiculously over-staffed. This problem, however, was now being successfully overcome, and he quoted cases to me where hundreds of so-called staff or clerical workers had been combed out. “And where do they go to?” I asked. “Oh,” he said, with a shrug of the shoulders, “these are the people who make up the speculators.”

As to my enquiries about the stories of unemployment among the working class, this workman told me it was true there were a number of unemployed in Moscow, but these were generally not the best elements among the workers. Where, however, there were genuine and regular workers who had been in industry for the last three years, or youths from 16 to 20 rendered idle on account of various circumstances, these received half of their wages on the basis of their last month’s rates, and, he said, with a touch of sarcasm, referring to those who had not been conscripted, a little taste of unemployment would do them no harm. In any case, he assured me there was no danger to the revolution on the score of unemployment.

In Private Enterprises

But what about private enterprises? How do the workers fare there?

Well, he said, with a chuckle, the position is quite all right. We make our own demands upon the employer, within reason, of course, and we do not do so bad. At first the employers went to the country and brought in labourers and tried to work them 14 to 15 hours a day. But now that 98 per cent employed in private enterprise are organised in the union, 8 hours is the regular day, and the conditions of State enterprise recognised.

Another comrade who lived in England a number of years, and who is a technical engineer, told me some vivid stories about the great work of reconstruction going on. He confirmed what I had heard about the combing out process and recited case after case where the staff had been reduced to numbers something proportionate to the requirements of the industry. The intelligensia and experts of the old regime, however, are a bit truculent. They seize on all the technical literature they can get their hands upon but don’t want to spread the information among the workmen. On the other hand, they do not favour importation of foreign capital, which they fear will bring in competitive expert labour, and so they are in a cleft stick.

Driven between the desire for monopoly in their technical knowledge, and the fear of foreign expert and technical labour, they are being forced to stand in with the Soviet Government. But their truculence has to be overcome and is yet a big difficulty, though rapid strides are being made in the direction of proper and efficient organisation.

That fervish speculation is indulged in and license take under of the new economic policy goes without saying. The petty bourgeois has only one god, and that is Gold! .s.d. is the only hold trinity he worships. Communists don’t need to be reminded about this.

And so when the lying journalists of the poisonous capitalist Press in England try to persuade their readers that Communism has failed, and incidentally to bring comfort to the tortured souls of the bourgeoisie who are seeing red at their own doorsteps, we can afford to smile. As the politicians say in the English Parliament: “The situation is well in hand.” The experience in Russia clearly demonstrates that the world revolution is not moving in a straight line.

The zig-zag manner in which events are forcing our Russian comrades to move may be puzzling to the comrades in other countries not yet in the throes of revolutionary action. We have read and heard of an army anxious to go into battle, but restrained by wise generalship. Retreats have been ordered even against the will of the rank and file eager to fight. The generalship of the Russian revolution and this new economic policy represents exactly such a situation.