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RUSSIA: Above & Below with Stalin

7 minute read

Much that only Soviet statesmen knew while the Moscow trials of Old Bolsheviks for “Trotskyism” were being prepared (TIME, Feb. 8 et ante) came out last week as the Russian Cabinet or Council of People’s Commissars issued its annual spring orders to the entire nation, a batch running to thousands of words.

The Commissars, for example, told the average Soviet freight train at what average speed it is going to run this year, decreed such things as how many gallons of milk per week the Cabinet plans that the average Russian cow shall give. On Jan. 1, 1937 there was nationwide Communist celebration of the State’s announcements that every producing commissariat except that for Timber had “overfulfilled its production quota for 1936″—this quota having been set under the Second Five-Year Plan, which now has only eight more months to run. Statistics released last week with the Cabinet’s new orders showed that the commissariats managed to “overfulfill” their total quotas in many cases by grossly underfulfilling certain subsidiary categories. The Commissariat for Food, for example, went over the top as a whole, while insufficiently supplying Russians with sugar, fruit, vegetables, butter and margarine. Coal, electricity and oil went statistically over the top. But last week the Cabinet sweepingly ordered all Soviet organizations to reduce their consumption of coal, electricity and oil by 10%. disclosing a breakdown of planning in the commissariat in which they are pigeonholed.

In any country it makes people who have tea and bread angry to find there is no sugar or even margarine to go round.

Sagacious Joseph Stalin showed in a speech made public last week that he knows what millions of Russians are thinking—namely that the Dictator and his Communist henchmen have been making too many mistakes. In a tactically sound proclamation J. Stalin gently beat his breast as he cried: “We should not think that if we are members of the Central Committee of People’s Commissars we possess all the knowledge necessary to give correct leadership. Rank in itself gives neither knowledge nor experience. We must listen attentively to the voice of the masses and of the rank and file of the party, to the voice of the so-called little people.

“We leaders see things, events and people from only one side—I should say, from above. Therefore our vision is more or less limited. The masses, on the other hand, see things, events and people from the other side—I should say, from below— and that makes their vision somewhat limited. “To arrive at a correct solution of the problem it is necessary to combine these two experiences. We the leaders should not be conceited. . . . Listen to the voice of the people. Do not sit in your offices and write orders.” This turning of the Dictator humbly toward Russia’s masses coincided last week with his Cabinet’s need of breaking what the official statistics showed to be a grave stoppage, perhaps a strike this spring among the peasantry. Under the State’s plan there were to have been sown 328,000,000 acres by last week, and the official figures showed 13,200,000 sown—a staggering “unfulfillment” of 314,800,000 acres. That something is seriously amiss appeared from the fact that Moscow higher-ups were not willing to accept last week the reasonable-sounding explanation of subordinate leaders in the provinces that “the late coming of our Russian spring this year accounts for the backwardness in sowing.” Instead of having the Soviet press print this alibi, the State turned the type-guns of its potent newsorgans upon the peasantry and local Communist leaders, fired inky broadsides denouncing their “lack of preparation and carelessness!” This was hardly “istening attentively to the voice of the masses,” as Dictator Stalin had just promised to do. It was an open question whether or not Comrade Stalin feared that the Russian peasantry are up to their old tricks of resisting Communist Dictatorship by agricultural sabotage—as they did in 1929-30 when angry peasants destroyed the astonishing but today official number of more than 60,000,000 Soviet farm animals. This week in Moscow the most drastic government shakeup of vice-Commissars and the official bureaucracy ever ordered by J. Stalin was in full swing. Simultaneously came the most sensational demotion in Russia since that of Trotsky eight years ago: dismissed from the Cabinet of Commissars with every indication that he is to be arrested and tried was enigmatic Genrikh (“Henry) Grigorivich Yagoda, who for ten years served as head of Stalin’s Ogpu, the dread secret police, and rose to be Commissar of Internal Affairs (TIME. July 23, 1934). If this close colleague of Stalin is now to spout confessions in court, the Dictator will have discovered an adherent of “Trotskyism” among the two or three men he most trusted.

There have been advance signs of this. Yagoda, without explanation, was suddenly demoted from potent Internal Commissar to mere Communications Commissar few months ago, presaging his ouster from the Cabinet last week. All Moscow signs pointed to Russia containing today so many “Trotskyists”—that is, critics of Stalin—that the Dictator must now (in addition to making popular appeals) attempt within the Communist hierarchy to win over by cajolery and threats as many “Trotskyists” as he can, and by executions wipe out the rest. Uncertain this week as to just who are friends, who foes, harassed J. Stalin made two opposite moves: 1) Admitting that “tens of thousands” of Russians have been expelled from the Communist Party on suspicion of “Trotskyism,” Stalin argued plaintively that there really cannot have been so many “Trotskyists,” because, he declared, in the Soviet election of 1927 there were only 4,000 votes for “Trotsky principles.” If when Trotsky was exiled in 1929, he had only the small following Stalin claims, then how came the Party to have to drop “Trotskyists” by the tens of thousands from its ranks, unless there was a mistake? Roundly Stalin affirmed last week that such mistakes have been made wholesale, admonished erring Communist local bosses that “because a man was once a Trotskyist or maintained friendly relations with an individual Trotskyist it does not mean that he cannot be a responsible Communist,” ordered them to “eliminate the heartless attitude toward individual Party members as regards expulsion. 2) Having issued this ban on “heartlessness” in cases where a “Trotskyist” can perhaps be persuaded into becoming a Stalinist, the Dictator turned upon the hundreds of Russians today actually in jail for “Trotskyism” and thus beyond the pale, although they have not yet been tried in court. “It is quite clear that these gentlemen* should be destroyed, exterminated mercilessly!” said Stalin. “This is clear and does not demand further interpretation.” Soviet censors freely passed an Associated Press dispatch that these words of J. Stalin are “a virtual death sentence for hundreds.” Getting on with Russia’s planned work for 1937, the Heavy Industry Commissariat issued blanket orders this week that the individual Russian worker’s standard daily output is to increase 19%. Since the individual will thus do |thus more work, officially announced the Heavy Industry Commissariat, it “expects to discharge many workers from over-manned plants, feeding them into enterprises that are undermanned, and thus reducing production costs.” This normal move by the Stalin State bureaucracy was again to treat workers as no employer in a Capitalist democracy would dare treat them today.

It impressed Moscow observers as showing clearly the strange jumble into which Communism has got itself in Russia.

”In the Soviet Union a term of contempt.

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