Extirpating bureaucracy with a red-hot iron

The speeches from the fifteenth congress of 1927 would have to be one of Stalin’s rhetorical triumphs. Stylistically, it runs through the calm methodical style he had developed for such occasions, deploying his famous catechetics, to subtle sentences, stories, and biblical resonances. As for subject matter, the massive economic growth of the 1920s becomes clear, making even more recent Chinese growth pale by comparison. So also does the growing structural tension produced between industry and agriculture, a tension that would lead to the collectivisation drive in an effort to get agriculture to catch up to runaway industrial growth. The fifteenth congress was, after all, the (in)famous collectivisation congress. On that subject, Stalin begins to develop what Ernst Bloch would soon call the simultaneity of non-simultaneity. The congress also marks the beginning of systematic self-criticism, with some intriguing definitions as to what constitutes improper (international bourgeois press and Trotsky’s opposition) and proper criticism. In a moment, I quote from an eloquent section that attacks bureaucracy, the double curse inherited from tsarist Russia, but it is worth nothing that Stalin criticises the USSR for not doing enough to root out anti-Semitism:

We have some manifestations of anti-Semitism, not only among certain circles of the middle strata of the population, but also among a certain section of the workers, and even in some quarters in our Party. This evil must be combated, comrades, with all ruthlessness (Works, volume 10, p. 332).

Now for the storyteller, illustrating defects of bureaucracy:

I shall not dilate on those defects in our state apparatus that are glaring enough as it is. I have in mind, primarily, “Mother Red Tape.” I have at hand a heap of materials on the matter of red tape, exposing the criminal negligence of a number of judicial, administrative, insurance, co-operative and other organisations.

Here is a peasant who went to a certain insurance office twenty-one times to get some matter put right, and even then failed to get any result.

Here is another peasant, an old man of sixty-six, who walked 600 versts to get his case cleared up at an Uyezd Social Maintenance Office, and even then failed to get any result.

Here is an old peasant woman, fifty-six years old, who, in response to a summons by a people’s court, walked 500 versts and travelled over 600 versts by horse and cart, and even then failed to get justice done.

A multitude of such facts could be quoted. It is not worth while enumerating them. But this is a disgrace to us, comrades! How can such outrageous things be tolerated?

Lastly, facts about “demoting.” It appears, that in addition to workers who are promoted, there are also such as are “demoted,” who are pushed into the background by their own comrades, not because they are incapable or inefficient, but because they are conscientious and honest in their work.

Here is a worker, a tool-maker, who was promoted to a managerial post at his plant because he was a capable and incorruptible man. He worked for a couple of years, worked honestly, introduced order, put a stop to inefficiency and waste. But, working in this way, he trod on the toes of a gang of so-called “Communists,” he disturbed their peace and quiet. And what happened? This gang of “Communists” put a spoke in his wheel and thus compelled him to “demote himself,” as much as to say: “You wanted to be smarter than us, you won’t let us live and make a bit in quiet—so take a back seat, brother.”

Here is another worker, also a tool-maker, an adjuster of bolt-cutting machines, who was promoted to a managerial post at his factory. He worked zealously and honestly. But, working in this way, he disturbed somebody’s peace and quiet. And what happened? A pretext was found and they got rid of this “troublesome” comrade. How did this promoted comrade leave, what were his feelings? Like this: “In whatever post I was appointed to I tried to justify the confidence that was placed in me. But this promotion played a dirty trick on me and I shall never forget it. They threw mud at me. My wish to bring everything into the light of day remained a mere wish. Neither the works committee, nor the management, nor the Party unit would listen to me. I am finished with promotion, I would not take another managerial post even if offered my weight in gold” (Trud,81 No. 128, June 9, 1927).

But this is a disgrace to us, comrades! How can such outrageous things be tolerated?

The Partys task is, in fighting against bureaucracy and for the improvement of the state apparatus, to extirpate with a red-hot iron such outrageous things in our practical work as those I have just spoken about. (Works, volume 10, pp. 328-30).

Long Live Soviet Physical Culture, 1934 (210x320)