THE REVOLUTIONARY AGE November 23, 1918 The Origins of Worker Control of Industry In Russia HE capitalist press has diligently spread abroad all sorts of stories about the foolish conduct of the Russian industrial workers during the Revolution; of their extravagant demands, their ignorance, and the bruhlity with which they have treated manufacturers and technical experts. Tha. outside world has received the impression that the Russian workingman gets enormous wages, refuses to work, and that in short he has ruined Russian industry.
It is true that in Russia industry is at a low ebb. In the first place, coal was impossible to procure for a long time, beceuse Kaledins and his Cossacks had control of the Douets Basin, and after them the Germans; machinery has deteriorated, owing to the fact that no new parts have come from abroad for two long years and more, and the technical experts, engineers, etc. faithful to the capitalist class, at first refused to submit to the direction of the workmen committees; and last of all, the working class itself has been too hotly absorbed in politics, and in fighting the enemies of the Revolution from Kornilov to Kerensky, Kaledine, the Ukrainian Reds, Germeny, the Csecho Slovas and the Allies. But on the technical side, if Russian industry is ruined, it is the manufacturers and owners who are to blame they who tried to starve the Revolution by shutting down the factories and mines, by ruining organisation, wrecking the railroads, deliberately destroying the machinery of industry, and flooding the mines.
Many of the tales about extravagant la bor demands, of workmen control comm ittees which broke down, etc. are of course true. But the important thing is that till the November Revolution, the Russian workmen as e whole were still over worked, underpaid. except in certain special factories. and that at the same time there was growing up all over Russia a spontaneous industrial organization capable of being at least the promising frame work of e mew industrial order.
The three cardinal demands of the November Revolution were, Peace, Land to the Peasants, and Workers Control of Industry, and of these three the last point of Workers Control was perhaps the most important; because the tendency of new Russia is more and more toward the abolition of the political state, and the evolution of industrial democracy.
The history of labor organization in Russia is very brief.
Before the 1906 Revolution no labor unions, in the strict sense of the word, e stsd. The only recognised workmen representation was the election of a staroeta, or elder. much as the aterostss are elected in Russian villages. and even in Russian prisons, and with about as much power. In 1905, some 200, 000 workmen joined the unions.
persisted, but they were finally crushed, their funds seized, their leaders sent to Siberia. After that the unions existed half secretly, with a membership over all Russia of about 10, 000. During the war, however, all attempts at labor organisation were ruthlessly stamped out, and workmen discovered in any connection with labor organisations were sent to the front.
The Revolution released the workers partly from this bondage, snd pushed toward rapid organisation. After four months of the Revolution the first conference of the Professional Unions of All Russia was held 200 delegates representing more than 1, 400, 000 workers. Two months later the membership was calculated at more that 8, 000, 000, according to the report of Biasonov; it is now more th double that number.
Now these Professional Unions (Professionalne Soyuse)
were modelled on the French syndicata, with the addition of government eo operatiou suggested by the German labor union system. They were mainly concerned with the fight for shorter hours, higher wages in short, the routine business of labor unions everywhere. For instance, they established a system of Conciliation Chambers for the hearing of industrial disputes for industrial arbitration under government supervision. But their important work was the organisation of all the workers into great industrial unions, in the dissolution of all the petty mft organisations, merging them into the big unions. Thus in the Government gun factory at Sestroretsk, for example, all those who worked upon the manufacture of rifles the men who forged barrels, the machinist; who fitted the mechanism, the carpenters who mode the stock ell were members of the Metel Workcrs Union.
But the Professional Unions, in spite of their import.
ance, occupied a secondary position in the workers minds.
In the first place, the Soviets. half political, half economic.
absorbed their energies; in the second place, those unique organisations, spontaneously created by the Russisn Revolution, the Factory Shop Committees (Fabritchnoe Zavodski Comitiet) required their attention. These latter are the reel foundation of the Workers Control of Industry.
The Factory Committees originated in the government munitions factories. At the outbreak of the Revolution, most of the administrators of the government factories, chieflymiiitaryoflosrswhobrutalludtheworhsrawith Stolypin suppressed them. Some little unions.
By John Reed The following article was written when Reed arrived in Sweden in February loci, on his way from Russia, in mu to fats: stories being circulated by the copitalirt pres: about the management of Russ ion indium. Owing to a variety of dream tones: it has not hitherto been published and now appear: for the first lime.
all the privilege of military law, ran away. Unlike the private manufacturers, these government officials had no interest in the business. The workers, in order to prevent the closing down of the factory, had to take charge of the administration. In some places, as at Sesb aretzk, this meant taking charge of the town also. And these government plants were run with such inelhciency, so much corruption, that the Workers Committee, although it raised wages, shortened hours, and hired more hands, actually incressed production and reduced expenses at the same time completing new buildings begun by dishonest contractors, constructing a fine new hospital. and giving the town its first sewerage system. With these government plants the Factory Shop Committees had a comparatively sexy time. For a long time after the Revolution there was no authority to question the authority of the workers, and finally when the Kerensky government begun to interfere, the workers had complete control. Working as they were on munitions, with standing orders. there was no excuse for closing down, and in fuel and raw materials the government itself supplied them. Although many fimes under the ineflcient Kerensky government the government shops were in danger of closing down, end the Shop Committees had to send their delegates to Baku to buy oil, to Kharkov for con. and to Siberia for iron.
From Sestroretzk the Shop Committee spread like wildfire to other government shops then to private establishA MISTAKE MADE BY BOLSEEVIK. Fro Tho Sedan savolar. Novsusbas 11, 191. One of the mistakes made by the Boisheviki iu Russiawas failure after they git in power to keefiumanaging brains in charge of ainesses.
y assumed that owner gr of properties conferred upon them special magi powers which would eneble them to operate businesses emciently, Ifwemagbeliovethedarkreportsthatcomefrom Russia, an there name to be reason for doubting them, business has been paralysed, are closed down and workers are everywhere down and workers are everywhere idle.
The new rules. would have done better had they tried to says what the? could of the old industrial machine, and had I: it for their own purposes.
Instead, they turned the former owners out, scra pod the managing brains, and all the wheels stopped.
Killing the persons who possessed the knowledge which enabled them to compel the geese to lay golden eggs has proved to be bad.
Power without specialized knowledge and dis!
ciplined workers is practically useless.
ments working on government orders, then to private industries, and finally to the factories which were closed down at the beginning of the Revolution. First the movement was confined to Petrograd, but soon it began to spread over all Russia, and just before the November revolution took place the first All Russian Congress of ctory Shop Committees. At. the present time, reproseutetives of the Factory Shop Committees and representatives of the Professional Unions make up the Department of labor of the new govemmsat, and compose the Council of Workers Control.
The first Committees in the private factories were vainly engaged in keeping the industry going, in the face of lack of coal, of raw materials, and especially, the sabotage of the owners and the administrative force, who wanted to shut down. It was a question of life and death to the workers. The newly formed Shop Committees were forced to find out how many orders the factory had, how much fuel and raw material were on hand, what was the income from the business in order to determine the wages that could be paid and to control itself discipline of the workers, and the hiring end discharging of men. In factories which the owners insisted could not keep open. the workers were forced to take charge themselves, and run the business as well as they could.
Some of the experiments were very interesting. For example, there was a cotton factory in Novgorod which was abandoned by its owners The workers inexperienced in sdmiuistration, took charge. The first thing they did was to manufacture enough cloth for their own needs, and then for the needs of the other workers in Novgorod.
After that the Shop Committee sent men out to factories in other cities, offering to exchange cotton cloth for other articles they needed shoes, implements; they exchanged cloth for bread with the peasant; and finally they began to take orders from commercial houses. For their raw material thayhadtoseudmen souflitotheeottonqrowing country, and then with the railroad employees union they had to pay with cloth for the transporhtion of the cotton. Sowith fuel from the coelmines of the Don.
In the great private industries which remained open, the Factory Shop Committees appointed delegates to confer with the administration about getting fuel, raw material, and even orders. They had to keep account of all that came into the factory, and all that want out. They made a valuation of the entire plant, so as to find out how much the factory was worth, how much stock was held, what the profits were. Everywhere the workers greatest difficulty was with the owners, who concealed profits, refused orders, and tried in every way to destroy the eflcie ncy of the plant, so as to discredit the workers organisations.
All counter revolutionary or anti demoEratic engineers, clerks, foremen, etc. were discharged by the Factory Shop Committees, nor could they enter any other rectory without the recommendsrtion of the Fectory Shop Committee of their preceding place of employment. Workers were required to join the union before they were hired, and the Factory Shop Committee supervised the carrying out of all union scales and regulations.
The fight by the espitelists against these Factory Shop Committees was extremely bitter. Their work was hindered st every step. The most extravagant lies have been published in the capitalist press about lazy workmen who spent all their time in talking when they should be working while as a matter of fact the Factory Shop Committees usually had to work eighteen hours a day; about the enormous size of the Committees while for example at Putiiov Works, the largest factory in Petrogred, employing about 40, 000 men, the Central Factory Shop Committee, representing eleven departments and 46 shops, consisted of twenty two men. Even Skobelev. Socialist Minister of Labor under the Kerensky government, issued an order in the first part of September that the Factory Shop Committee; should only meet after workingvllours. and no longer receive wages for their time on Committee business. As a matter of fact, the Fictory Shop Committees were all that kept Russian industry from»
complete disintegration during the days of the Coalition government. Thus the new Russian industrial odor was born of necessity.
Each Factory Shop Committee has five departments: Production and Disbibution, Fuel. Raw Materials, Technical Organisation of the Industry, and Domain setion(orchangingfromewartoapeacebeais. In each district, all the factories of one industry combined to send two delegates to a district council, and each district council sent one delegate to the city council which in turn had its delegates in the All Russian Council, in the Central Committee of the Professional Unions and in the Soviet.
Not all workmen are union workmen in Russia; but every fsctory worker must be represented in the Factory Shop Committee. And the Factory Shop Committee supplements end compiem the work of the Professional Unions, and absolutely controls production at its very source.
This method of controlling production by the workers, sprung spontaneously from the Russian revolution. has just been legalized by the new Workmen and Peasants Government of the Russian Republic. Also it has become possible, through the power of the government. for the workmen themselves to take over and operate all plants whose owners cannot keep them open. With unlimited. credit behind them, and the huge, organised force of the government, there is no reason why the workers cannot hire engineers and technical stafl, or why, with such training, they may not be able, in a few years, to take over the greater part of Russian industrial enterprise. With the eouml of the means of production and distribution in the hands of the popular government, the main obstacle to the achievement of industrial democracy has vanished.
If Elihu Boot a activities in the reorganisation of the National Security league into the Predatory Interests Security Ileegue will keep him so busy that he will be unable to sttend the Peace Conference the continuance of that body may well prove to be a blessing in disguise.
George Bernard Shaw will doubtless feel grateful to the American press for its efforts to make his prediction, that the side that come out on top in this war would skin the other side alive, come true.
While all this talk about reconstruction is going on it might be well to appoint a committee to reconstruct the so ealled Public Liberies that volunteer public consort have looted in the name of patriotism.