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Dwight Macdonald

Sparks in the News

(4 July 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 47, 4 July 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Information, Please

For some time now we have been told by the press of the Socialist Workers Party that the fate of the workers of the world turns to a large extent on how the crucial situation in France develops. I agree entirely. But I have been, to put it mildly, disappointed with the way the S.W.P. press has covered the French front. The recent developments in the P.S.O.P. and the relation of the P.O.I., the London Bureau and the Fourth International, to them – this most central of all themes has been touched on only in the most gingerly way. The cut-and-dried account of the P.S.O.P. congress which was printed in the Appeal of June 23 – the entire story being told, in the most unenlightening and perfunctory way, in about 500 words – this is a recent case in point. I don’t see why the Appeal can’t find a Paris correspondent who will send in regular articles interpreting such things as the Stalinists’ attitude toward the Daladier regime, the latest tendencies in the P.S.O.P., the rumored right-wing split in the French C.P., and so on. I realize that the French situation, from the standpoint of the Fourth International, is at present both delicate and complex. But that seems to me all the more reason why it should be fully discussed in the Appeal. Ostriches, not revolutionists, hide their heads in the sand.

Add: Kremlin Kultur

There have been objections to my inclusion of Eisenstein, Shostakovich and Meyerhold in last week’s “agony column” on the grounds that, since the date of the news stories I quoted, all three of these artists have been taken back into official favor. As for the first two, the price they have paid for reinstatement in the Kremlin’s good graces is the abandonment of their experimental techniques in order to turn out the most banal and conservative work (Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky; Shostakovich’s latest symphony), utterly lacking in the qualities that made them world-famous. As for Meyerhold, I quote from today’s N.Y. Times:

“MOSCOW, June 23 – Vsevolod Meyerhold ... was taken from his Moscow home by secret police night before last and locked in a cell at Lubyanka prison. ... His arrest surprised Soviet stage and literary circles because recently he seemed to be coming back gradually into favor.”

“Egyptian Socialism”

In the May issue of Jewish Frontier there is an extremely interesting article by Salomon Schwartz on Social Legislation in the Soviet Union. Schwartz begins, with a point which fits neatly into the thesis of Trotsky’s recent article in the New International: namely, that the Soviet bureaucracy which used to masquerade as part of the working class, in the last year has openly asserted its differentiation from the workers. They don’t, of course, call themselves “bureaucrats”. No, the term the press now uses for these gentlemen is – “the intelligentsia”!

“Under the banner of the ‘intelligentsia’,” writes Schwartz, “there is being consummated a process which has practically nothing to do with that name. That process is the social self-assertion of the upper stratum of the Party and Soviet bureaucracy and its ‘liberation’ from the intimate ties of the proletarian ideology.”

Early last December the press began printing scores of letters from Stakhonovites, Udarniks, straw bosses, and, of course, ‘intelligentsia’, ‘exposing’ lax discipline and low production in the factories and ‘demanding’ strict laws be passed to remedy this. In the Ural machine plant, for instance, where this ‘spontaneous’ movement of protest began, Pravda indignantly reported that in the eleven months up to last December, there had been no less than 7,978 cases of unexcused absences from work. Schwartz points out, however, that actually this represents only an average absence per worker of one-half day a year.

These letters got action at once. (The pen is mightier than the sword!) Without consulting the much-publicized Soviet parliament, a flat violation of the much-publicized Soviet constitution, the Kremlin in quick succession put through a series of labor regulations of unprecedented severity. On December 20 it decreed the introduction of the “work passport”, that ultimate in control of the working class, first introduced by Napoleon III in 1854 as the “livret ouvrier”, and the very same sort of “fink book” as the New Deal’s Maritime Commission, backed up by the Kremlin’s American agents, is now trying to impose on American seamen. Hitler re-introduced it into Germany in 1935. During the whole campaign of letters-to-the-editor, by the way, no one dared suggest this work-book idea, and it was only after the Kremlin had issued its decree that its “innumerable spokesmen began to vie with each other in glorifying the new regulation.”

More edicts were issued on December 28 last, again without consulting any one – parliament, trade unions, even the Party – outside the top ranks of the Kremlin bureaucracy. These greatly extended the time a worker must be employed in a plant before he becomes eligible for sick benefits, cut down the period expectant mothers were given time off with pay from eight weeks before and eight weeks after the birth to five weeks before and four weeks after, required workers to give one month’s (instead of one day’s) notice before quitting a job, and ordered heads of factories, on pain of severe punishment, to discharge at once any worker who, without valid excuse, is either absent from work or over twenty-minutes late at any time. Finally, all workers who give up their jobs, whether they are fired or whether they leave of their own free will, are to be automatically dispossessed from their homes within ten days, regardless of whether the Housing Bureau has provided another dwelling for them. Thus the Soviet worker is shackled hand and foot to his job, a cog in the apparatus of Soviet production. The “socialism” Stalin is building in one country is coming to have an increasingly Egyptian flavor to it.

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