Posts Tagged ‘Perestroika’

The Political Abuse of Anti-Semitism Accusations: Jeremy Corbyn, and the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia

July 3, 2016

I’ve put up a whole series of article attacking and debunking the accusations of anti-Semitism, which have been directed against the Labour party, and more specifically its leader, Jeremy Corbyn. As I’ve shown, these are all false, gross distortions of history and offensive personal smears of decent men and women. Ken Livingstone, for example, was entirely correct when he said that Hitler favoured at one time the emigration of Jews to Israel. He did. The Nazis, including Adolf Eichmann, one of the most notorious of those responsible for the Holocaust, aided people smugglers in getting Jews into Palestine, then under the British Mandate. They also supplied arms to the Haganah, the clandestine Jewish military organisation in Palestine, so that it could aid the British in suppressing the Arab rebellion against British rule – the First Intifada. This is documented in the work of the Jewish historian and passionate Zionist, David Cesarani, on the Holocaust and the origins of the Israel. Naz Shah, one of the others, who have been accused, has the support of her local synagogue. This surely provided good testimony that whatever faults she may have, anti-Semitism isn’t one of them. As for Jackie Smith, one of the others slandered with this accusation, she is a veteran anti-racism campaigner. Her mother was Black British civil rights activist, who was deported from America for her activism by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Her father was a Russian Jew, and her partner is also Jewish.

The source of these allegations lie in the Blairite wing of the Labour party, who are desperate to use any tactic to cling on to power, and the Israel lobby. These latter are determined to smear anybody and everybody, who objects to their oppression and maltreatment of the Palestinians, as an anti-Semite, even when these are other Jews, such as the head of Bernie Sander’s Jewish outreach department in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

I’ve also been struck by the way the anti-Semitism allegations recall earlier attempts to discredit left-wing political leaders, in fact and fiction. David English, the editor of the Daily Mail, believed Ken Livingstone was an anti-Semite, and continued to press the issue for about a year in the early 1980s. There was also a piece on the Going Underground news programme on RT, hosted by Afshin Rattansi, which compared the anti-Semitism smears with the plot of the 1980s novel and Channel 4 series, A Very British Coup, in which the media and opposition politicians manufacture false accusations of anti-Semitism to discredit a genuinely popular left-wing Labour Prime Minister.

And the Soviet Union under Brezhnev also used accusations of anti-Semitism in its campaign against the proposed democratisation of Communist Czechoslovakia under its leader, Anton Dubcek, in 1968. Dubcek wished to free his country from the rigid control of the Soviet Union. While remaining very much a Communist, he also planned on introducing platform of reforms aimed at liberalising the country, while retaining the Communist party’s privileged position as the country’s leading political authority. He was going to allow a certain degree of political freedom, in allowing non-Communist groups and voluntary societies to be formed. Inside the Communist party, the policy of ‘democratic centralism’ was to be replaced by democracy and the free discussion of ideas. The security services was to be made responsible solely for defending the Czechoslovakian nation, and not for protecting the Communist parties. The command economy was going to be weakened, to allow greater consumer choice. State enterprises were not going to be privatised, but were going to be freed from the constraints of following the plan, and allowed to manage their own affairs. He was also in favour of something like workers’ control, and the democratic election by the workers of the management committees. In many ways, it prefigures much of Gorbachev’s reforms in the Soviet Union during Perestroika.

All this was too much for Brezhnev’s USSR, which invaded. One of the reasons for the Soviet Union’s hostility to the reforms, according Hugh Lunghi, in his introduction to the book, Dubcek’s Blueprint for Freedom (London: William Kimber 1968) was the fear that the USSR’s covert operations manipulating and dominating its satellites would be revealed by Dubcek’s de-Stalinisation campaign. Dubcek was determined to go ahead with the investigation of Stalin’s terror and the rehabilitation of the old thug’s victims. This would almost certain produce evidence of the activities of the Soviet Union and its secret police in destroying the opposition to the imposition of Communism and those countries’ direct control by Moscow.

Dubcek was, however, genuinely popular amongst the peoples of Czechoslovakia. Surprisingly, he also had the backing of the Czechoslovak secret police. When the KGB tried to infiltrate the country disguised as Czechoslovak secret agents, their passports and documents were in such awful Czech that the country’s real agents had no trouble recognising them and rounding them up. They were then delivered to the Russian embassy with the explanation that their Czech was so terrible, they must obviously be American spies.

Unable to find anyone willing to collaborate with them in a puppet government to replace Dubcek and his supporters, the Soviet authorities tried instead to grind him down by stalling his reforms and trying discredit Dubcek and his supporters. One of the ways they tried to do this was through entirely spurious accusations of anti-Semitism. Lunghi writes:

About a month later, on October 11th, Dubcek repeated [not to introduce a secret police terror campaign] in a major speech in which he explained why the Czechoslovak leadership had refused to authorise a programme of unjustified arrests and dismissals which “some Communists” (he did not specify in which country) demanded for anti-Semitic and other reasons. “Some individuals,” said Dubcek, “think this is now the time to move towards excesses similar to those of the ‘fifties, that this is a time to return to the deformities of sectarian non-Leninist methods.” Communists should understand, continued Dubcek, that “”socialist thought in our country is not deformed, for example, by anti-Semitism…” (p. 29, emphasis Lunghi’s). Several of those forced out of office on the orders of the Russians were the victims of anti-Semitism. These included Dr. Frantisek Kriegel, who was accused of being a ‘Zionist’. (p. 30). Which sort of prefigures the accusations of anti-Semitism against Jackie Smith, who’s half-Jewish, has a Jewish partner, and is a dedicated campaigner against racism. Or against Rhea Wolfson, who, despite being Jewish, was dropped as a candidate for the NEC by her constituency party on the advice of Jim Murphy, because she was connected with Momentum, which was an anti-Semitic organisation.

It seems the Blairites and their allies are following a very old pattern of using allegations of anti-Semitism to smear left-wing opponents. Well, the joke in Private Eye about Gordon Brown had him as a Stalinist apparatchik, issuing diktats, decrees and party purges like the thug himself.

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Aganbegyan on Perestroika and Workers’ Control

June 29, 2016

Earlier this week I put up a translation of an Austrian governmental pamphlet from the 1980s on the system of factory councils and workers’ representation in industry. Over the in Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet Communist president, advocated a system of workers’ control and the transformation of state enterprises into co-operatives, in order to reform and invigorate the moribund Soviet economy and political system. It was also intended as part of a wider series of measures, like free speech and elections, which were to transform the USSR into a Socialist democracy. I’ve posted up pieces from Gorbachev himself in his book, Perestroika, about the new thinking, and from Ken Livingstone, who was deeply impressed with this aspect of the Soviet experiment. Gorbachev’s chief economist, Abel Aganbegyan, also discusses the importance of industrial democracy in his The Challenge: Economics of Perestroika (London: CenturyHutchinson 1988).

Aganbegyan states that the importance of co-operatives in the Soviet economy was recognised by Lenin, and that Gorbachev was returning to this earlier Soviet ideal. He wrote:

The development of cooperatives and self-employment is not a departure from Socialist principles of economic management. In Soviet conditions a cooperative is a socialist form of economic management, foreseen by Lenin in one of his last articles “On Co-operatives”. As is well known, Lenin’s last articles were dictated by him. He was extremely ill and sensed his imminent death; these articles are rightly seen as his last will. It is symbolic that among the various questions to which Lenin wished to draw society’s attention, was the question of cooperatives as an important form of socialist economic management. Lenin fully understood that a socialist society could not be developed solely on enthusiasm and on the application of administrative measures. He wrote about the need to employ the principles of material self-interest, self-financing, financial accountability (Khozraschet) and material responsibility. The cooperative form of economic management is indeed a form which ensures greater material incentive in work, more responsibility and the ability to pay one’s way. At the same time it is a democratic form since it is voluntary. Lenin attached fundamental importance to the voluntary nature of the cooperative. Cooperatives are self-managing organisations, where the collective itself decides everything and things are not fixed from above by an official. Thus the potential advantages of cooperatives within our society are far from exhausted. And we know from economic history, no economic form will disappear if it contains within it potential for self-development. The development of self-employment has also to be approached as a way of strengthening the material interest of individuals in creative labour.

The aim of socialist development in the final analysis lies in meeting the needs of all members of society more fully. Cooperatives and self-employment contribute to this end and therefore reinforce our socialist principles. They completely correspond to Gorbachev’s slogan for prestroika, ‘Give us more socialism!’ (p. 30).

The Cooperatives and Democratisation

Aganbegyan also makes it very clear in the book that the creation of the co-operatives was part of the wider process of democratising the USSR.

Democratisation of the whole of our society including the development of glasnost is an important aspect of perestroika. As it applies to the economy, debate is proceeding on an increased role in workers’ collectives in the resolution of economic questions, and in the transition to self-management. In the Law on Socialist Enterprises, workers’ collectives have been granted extensive rights in framing the plan of economic development for their enterprise, deciding on the way incentives should be offered, on work conditions and salaries, and the social development of their collective.

Of particular significance is the right of workers’ collectives choose their economic leaders, at brigade, enterprise and association level. Earlier, under the administrative system, directives on the conduct of the plan, even the smallest details, were handed down from above. Now, with full economic independence and self-accounting, the welfare of the collective depends above all on work organisation and levels of productivity. Its leader, as head of the working collective, must take the lead in striving for higher efficiency and productivity. (P. 31).

The Workers’ Democracy in Action

Aganbegyan also describes the new system of industrial democracy at work, and how it was introduced by a number of firms, so that managers had to compete for their positions. As a result of this, 8 per cent of the most inefficient were weeded out.

In the new system of economic management the rights of working collectives have been greatly expanded by the Law on Social Enterprises passed in June 1987. The working collective now determines the development policy of the enterprise. It also establishes the plan of development for its enterprise, including the plan for the five-year period. Plans set by the collective are final and are not subject to the approval of any higher authorities. The collective determines the way the enterprise uses the self-accounting income which it has earned. it scrutinises particularly the way the enterprise’s funds are used in the technological research and development fund, the social development fund and the financial incentives fund.

The working collective carries out its f8unctions both directly at meetings of the whole working collective and through democratically elected Councils to represent its interests. The decision to broaden the rights of the working collective was not taken dogmatically, but on the basis of generalisation of the experience accumulated at individual enterprises in the Soviet Union. At the Kaluga Turbine Factory, fore example, a council of brigade leaders, representing the working collective’s interests, has been operating effectively for many years. The fact is that here collective labour brigades were genuinely organised. Each brigade elects its brigade leader, so that the brigade leaders’ council is a democratically elected body. The factory has major productive and social results to its credit and, moreover, the long-term development policy of the enterprise is in the main the responsibility of the brigade leaders’ council.

For the first time working collectives are being given extensive rights such as the right to elect the manager. This affects the election of managers of all ranks: the brigade elects the brigadier, the workers and section foremen the section head, the working collective of the factory elects the director of the factory, and the whole working collective of the association elects the General Director. These elections are planned as a creative process. They must be preceded by public competition for managerial posts, with a preliminary selection made by, say, the working collective council. Each candidate then meets with the workers in the sections, departments and enterprises, attends meetings and meets with representatives of public organisations. Each candidate for the post of manager draws up a programme of actions and presents it to the working collective. Secret elections then take place with votes cast for a specific person, whose particulars and potential are known, and for a definite development programme for the enterprise.

The idea of appointing managers by election has already been taken up by many working collectives. Even before the official acceptance of the Law on Enterprises these elections were being organised independently in many places. Interesting events occurred for example at the Riga Car Factory. This factory produces the RAF microbuses which gained popularity in their day, but had eventually ceased to meet the increasingly sophisticated demands as needs changed and technology developed. The factory was in a deep crisis and stopped fulfilling the plan. A new leader was needed. Under the aegis of the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda a nationwide competition was held for the post of director of the factory. A total of four thousand applications was received from all corners of the country and a commission was specially created composed of car construction specialists (from the Ministry of Car Industry), from the factory and from local bodies. About thirty candidates were shortlisted. They studied the factory and made their proposals for it. One the basis of a detailed examination of these more concrete data the list of candidates was further reduced to eight. They came to the factory, familiarized themselves with the work, stated their views on how to improve the situation and finally the working collective in a secret ballot selected its factory director. This turned out to be V.L. Bossert, an energetic young manager, 35 years of age, who up to then was working as the manager of the Omsk Factory, a major producer of gear-boxes for the Moskvich car. The collective supported the candidacy of this new director and gave its views on his programme for the full reconstruction of the factory and the design of a new model of microbus which would be on a par with world standards. Having elected the director, the collective began to work intensively and soon fulfilled the plan. The number of claims for replacement of defective goods was reduced. The financial situation of the enterprise improved, people started to receive prizes and work motivation grew. Parallel to this, work continues on designing a new car and reconstructing the factory.

This experience has proved to be successful and it has caught on. Based on the RAF factory’s example, tens and even hundreds of other enterprises have organised elections for directors. Success is assured wherever this is carried out not as a mere formality, but where competition is guaranteed, where time is given and conditions are created for the preparation of imaginative programmes of development of the working collective, and where people really feel they are participating in the advancement of their enterprise at management level. In discussing the question of appointment of leaders by election, we have studied attentively the experience of other socialist countries, Bulgaria and Hungary. In Hungary in particular, the democratic mechanism has been very effective. In re-election for the post of direct 8% of former directors were voted out, but 92% had their competence at management confirmed by the collective. IN this way the quality of managers has been improved.(Pp. 197-9).

Unfortunately, this experiment was abandoned. The cooperatives throughout the eastern bloc were transformed into bog-standard capitalist enterprises through the voucher system. Yeltsin recklessly privatised everything he could lay his hands on, with the result that the Russian economy went into meltdown. And the end result of this has been the rise of Putin and the oligarchs. It is a great pity, as if this experiment had succeeded, Russia could have been the first and greatest genuinely democratic, socialist country, and undoubtedly the benefits this gave its working people would have been taken up and copied around the world.

Ken Livingstone on Perestroika and Industrial Democracy

May 31, 2016

This morning I put up a piece about how Mikhail Gorbachev, the very last president of the Soviet Union, attempted to regenerate Soviet Communism by introducing industrial democracy and strengthening trade unions as part of Perestroika. Ken Livingstone devotes an entire chapter of his book, Livingstone’s Labour, on Perestroika, including a few paragraphs on worker’s control. He writes

So far the reformers around Gorbachev such as Aganbegyan have stressed that as the economy is modernised the workers must be protected from cuts in their standard of living. that is why he emphasises the strengthening of social provision such as housing, health and education. He has also spelt out the intention to keep rents low and to ensure that when price reform comes there must be compensation to protect living standards. He argues that there must be increased investment in new technology but makes the following innovative condition:

The distinctive feature of this reform is industrial democracy moving towards self-management … this will involved [workers] in determining the enterprise plan, the allocation of resources and the election of managers. It is a revolutionary programme. There will be much opposition, especially from management… This can only be overcome because the … driving force is political openness and democratisation.

It is not only academic economists who talk like this. I was struck by the enthusiasm and pleasure with which Vadim Zagladin, the Head of the International Department of the Central Committee, described how a Siberian shoe factory, which had been facing closure, had been taken over by the workers. The products of the factory were notorious for falling apart within days of purchase but the Central Committee had agreed to give the workers a last chance to improve their shoes before closure. Once the workers took control their first act was to sack the incompetent managers. They then turned the business into a dramatic success within two years. Now the factory is expanding and their shoes are in demand all over the USSR. Even more innovative is the workers’ proposal to issue ‘shares’ in factory-not to investors, but to their customers who would then be in a position to exercise real consumer power. (Pp. 205-6).

Livingstone also explains that the Perestroika movement was divided into two camps, with a right-wing that favoured something like Thatcherism, and a left, which included Gorby himself, that wanted to protect the workers as much as possible. He stated

In the first place, the perestroika movement is split into two quite distinct camps (it is the failure to understand this which has led so many We3stern observers to talk so inaccurately about the reintroduction of capitalism). there are those like Nikolai Shmelev and the technocrats Lisichkin and Popov whose arguments are similar to those of Thatcher that the economy can be reformed by the creation of a poll of unemployment which will act as a spur to increase productivity. They argue that Soviet society must be led by an elite and that the welfare state is a ‘survival of feudalism’.

The other faction inside the perestroika movement is that of the democratisers. Typified by the economists Aganbegyan and Zaslavskaya, this faction believes that the economy can only be modernised by democratising Soviet society from the grass roots upwards. Most important of all, they see the way to improve the economic performance of the USSR is by introducing democratic rights at work so that the workers elect their managers. At every stage Gorbachev has thrown his weight behind the democratisers and against the elitists. As he wrote in his book Perestroika (1987)’There was opinion…that we ought to give up planned economy and sanction unemployment. We cannot permit this… since we aim to strengthen socialism, not replace it with a different system … Furthermore, a work collective must have the right to elect its manager.’ (P. 204).

Livingstone was aware how radical Gorbachev’s reforms were, and that there were many who wished them to fail so that they could introduce unemployment:

The excitement with which progressive Central Committee members like Zagladin recount each successful experiment in workers democracy is an indication of just how much is riding on the hopes of the reformers that democracy from below will be the key to the modernisation of the Soviet economy. If they fail the conservatives will be waiting in the wings to try the ‘spur’ of unemployment.(p. 206).

By ‘Conservatives’, Livingstone means the traditional managerial class of party functionaries and civil servants.

This passage is interesting, as it shows how well-informed Red Ken was about the Soviet Union and perestroika. He was well aware, for example, that the restructuring of the Soviet economy would result in 16 million jobs being lost, and acknowledged that this would present a serious problem. In the event, Gorbachev’s radical proposal to transform Soviet industry into co-operatives was abandoned, and they were transformed through the voucher system into straightforward capitalist enterprises. The result was chaos and the complete meltdown of the country’s economy under Boris Yeltsin, a drunk, corrupt incompetent, who was useful as a stooge to the Neo-Cons and Neo-Libs then in the White House and Downing Street.

This also explains one of the quotes the Scum attributed to Red Ken in their campaign against Labour in the 1987 general election. The rag produced a page of photos of various Labour MPs and activists, with a radical quote from each underneath the photo to scare people. Under Diane Abbott they placed the words, ‘All White people are racist’. With Red Ken they placed a line about how he wasn’t in favour of the army, but a corps of soldiers to defend the factories. Looking back now, it seems quite unlikely that those quotes were even true, especially Ken’s, except perhaps at a time in his early career when he, like many left-wingers, was far more radical. But his interest in perestroika, and the reintroduction of industrial democracy, also showed how much of a threat he was to Thatcher and her programme of grinding the workers down any way she could.

Mikhail Gorbachev on Worker’s Control in Perestroika

May 31, 2016

One of the most interesting aspects of Gorbachev’s plan to restructure the Communist system in Perestroika was the re-introduction of workers’ control. Lenin briefly introduced this after the Bolshevik coup of 1917, but it was reversed when it was found that, contrary to Bolshevik expectations and dogma, the workers couldn’t manage industry on their own. Lenin himself was fiercely autocratic and intolerant, and the Bolshevik monopolization of power offended not only liberal democrats, but also other committed Marists, like Karl Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg, who wrote articles denouncing it. Much of the intolerance and oppressive nature of the Soviet system came directly from Lenin and his doctrine of ‘democratic centralism’. This was the dogma that once the leaders of the Communist party had made a decision, no further discussion was permissible, and their commands should be carried out with any further debate or protest. Nevertheless, Gorbachev harkened back to Lenin and his supposed espousal of democracy in order to invigorate the moribund and sclerotic Soviet system. The reintroduction of workers’ control was part Gorby’s wider programme of democratizing Soviet society.

In his 1987 book, Perestroika: New Thinking for our Country and the World (London: Collins) Gorby writes

We are taking a new view of the correlation between one-man management and the participation of work collectives in handling production tasks. this is a topical issue. There will be no progress without workers’ involvement in management through the corresponding mechanisms – at the work team, factory shop, plant and integrated works level. Furthermore, a work collective must have the right to elect its manager. And the latter receives the right to one-man rule on behalf of the collective, uniting everybody by his willpower.

Elections of economic managers are direct democracy in action. Initially people were frightened by this, claiming that we had gone too far, that things could come to a bad end. But those who reason that way forget the main point, that common sense always prevails. Group interests, a practice of covering up for one another, will somewhere make themselves felt. But basically everyone wants his work team, factory shop, enterprise, collective or state farm to be headed by dependable, intelligent managers capable of leadership, of opening up vistas for improving production and life. Our people understand this, and they certainly do not need weak management. They need people who are talented, considerate, yet demanding in a fair way.

People want to see changed attitudes on the part of the plant manager, shop superintendent and foreman. People expect a moral example and they expect it particularly from their superiors. There are several such examples. Where there is a good manager, there is success. He takes care of people. Everyone wants to talk with him. He need not raise his voice in giving out orders. He may look quite ordinary, but he sees and can explain everything. It is now extremely important to be able to explain the situation. People will agree to wait if they see why some of their demands cannot be satisfied fully right away. (Pp. 103-4).

The former General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party also wanted to restore greater powers to the trade unions. These did not have the same roles and responsibilities as western trade unions. As the Soviet Union was a workers’ state, the Communists reasoned that trade unions should have no power to block or interfere with the authorities, who were the workers’ representatives. Nevertheless, the Soviet system granted them vast powers. The were to be consulted on economic planning, and the sacking of employees was only legal if the union had been consulted. The trade unions were also given the responsibility for running the health, medical and leisure programmes in Soviet plants, factories and industry. Gorbachev was concerned that the trade unions were acquiescing too much to the demands of management. He wished to alter this situation by giving them the power to represent the workers’ interests against management as well as improving healthcare and leisure at Soviet workplaces. He wrote

What our country is undertaking and the issues it is tackling implies a re-evaluation of the role of trade unions in social affairs.

It should be said first and foremost that our unions are a formidable force. No labour law can be drafted unless endorsed by the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions. On all questions concerning labour laws, their enforcement and the safeguarding of the working people’s right the trade unions have the final say. If a manager fires a worker without asking the union for approval, a court of law automatically makes the decision invalid without any deliberation, inasmuch as the trade union has not been consulted for its opinion. No economic development plan, for one year or five years, is submitted to the Supreme Soviet unless approved by the trade unions. When the plans are in the making, the trade unions participate as well at all levels.

Social insurance, the running of sanatoriums and recreation resorts, tourism, physical training and sports, and the rest and recreation of children are all the responsibility of the trade unions. Consequently, they wield real power. But, all, over the past few years there has been less trade union activity. On some issues, they have yielded their prerogatives to economic managers, while not enjoying some rights effectively enough.

So, having set about restructuring, we saw that the work of the trade unions could not be termed satisfactory. During my trip to the Kuban region, I reproached trade union leaders for pandering to managers, sometimes going so far as dancing to their tune. I asked them whether it was not high time they took a position of principle, and stood up for working people?

The new role of the trade unions in conditions of perestroika should consist primarily of giving a stronger social orientation to economic decisions, offsetting technocratic encroachments which have become widespread in the economy in the last few years. this means that the trade unions should be more active in elaborating the social sections of economic plans, and, if need be, setting forth and upholding their own alternative proposals.

Trade union committees should have teeth, and not be convenient partners for management. Bad working conditions at some enterprises, a poor health service, substandard locker rooms- trade union organisations have got used to all this. but Soviet trade unions have the right to monitor managerial compliance with labour contracts, the right to criticise management, and even the right to demand that director who fails to comply with the legitimate interests of the working people be removed from office.

It would be wrong to think that under socialism the working people do not need any protection. They should be protected even more, for socialism is a system for the working people. Hence the tremendous responsibility of the trade unions. All Soviet society is vitally interested in more vigorous work being undertaken by the trade unions. (Pp. 113-4).

All this was discarded during Yeltsin’s administration, when the economy was privatised and the voucher system introduced, which transformed the co-operatives Gorby had been setting up into bog standard capitalist enterprises. If Gorbachev had been successful, he would have created a democratic Socialist state, very close to the vision of the ownership of the means of production by the workers themselves that motivated Socialists as far back as the Owenite John Francis Bray in the 19th century. While not demanding the abolition of capitalism, Ha-Joon Chang states in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, that in countries where there is state interest in industry, or workers’ representatives on the boardroom, firms actually do better than when left simply to managers and shareholders. But unfortunately, that it what we are left with after thirty years of Thatcherism. And its continuing and accelerating under Cameron.

We need a change. British trade unionism needs to be revitalised, and we do need workers’ representatives in our boardrooms. As for Thatcher, her ideas were always bankrupt. They should have been thrown out before she ever took office.

Iain Duncan Smith and the Russian Ripper: Killers with Friends in Government

June 9, 2014

Chikitilo pic

Police photograph of the paedophile cannibal Andrei Chikatilo at his arrest

One of the most horrifying stories that emerged from the Soviet Union in its last days was that of Andrei Chikatilo, a serial killed dubbed ‘the Russian Ripper’. Chikatilo had been traumatised by his brother’s murder during the Stalinist famines of the 1930s, when the lad was killed and eaten. A former school teacher and paedophile, Chikatilo then went on to rape, kill and eat 53 people in a twelve year long career before he was finally arrested in 1991. The detective, who doggedly pursued him for six years was Chief Inspector Issa Kostoev, head of the Soviet Union’s Department for Crimes of Special Importance. Kostoev was Ingush, a Muslim people from the Caucasus, who had been deported from the homeland in the former Soviet republic of Chechen-Ingushetia by Stalin from fears they would collaborate with the invading Germans. Conscientious and determined, Kostoev began his career in a police department notorious for drunkenness and apathy through low pay. Through honesty and skilled investigation, Kostoev worked his way to capture some of the vilest monsters preying on the poor, the unfortunate and innocent in former Soviet state.

Chikatilo’s case even reached the western press, and a book was published in 1993 by Richard Lourie, Hunting the Devil: The Search for the Russian Ripper. Chikatilo and his crimes emerged at during the 1990s, when Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika and the fall of Communist had opened up eastern Europe. Russia was no longer quite the closed society it had been under the Soviet system, and there was a flood of information as journalists, writers, politicians and ordinary people from both sides of the former Iron Curtain began to explore and describe the momentous events transforming the country. It was also a decade characterised by the fad for stories about serial killers that began with Hannibal Lecter in the Silence of the Lambs, and which continues today. Chikatilo was grimly fascinating because he was Lecter’s Soviet counterpart, though horrifically all too real. Chikatilo had also been a member of the Communist party, and it was his political connections that allowed him to escape justice for so long.

There’s a parallel here with Britain’s own Iain Duncan Smith. Smith has not personally murdered anyone, nor has he ever committed crimes against children. Nevertheless, Smith has presided over a system that is responsible for the deaths of hundred, if not thousands, through poverty, starvation and despair. The system of sanctions he has introduced into Jobseekers Allowance, as well as the fraudulent rigour of the disability assessments, has left thousands without sufficient money on which to live. Tens of thousands have been forced to turn to food banks. And many others have died through hunger and, in despair, have taken their own lives. The precise number of deaths is unknown. Mike over at Vox Political and the other bloggers and activists, like Jayne Linney, have been unable to obtain the precise figures. Attempts to obtain them under the FOI have been refused, and denounced as ‘vexatious’. The government’s deliberate withholding of information on other, malign aspects of its welfare policies and its professed reasons for doing so reveal why this information is similarly being kept back. Joyhnny Void reported that requests for the government to reveal what firms were involved in it’s ‘welfare to work’ schemes were refused on the grounds that such information would leave the policy open to criticism, and prevent its implementation. In other words, it doesn’t want the public to know, because if the public did, it would try to stop them. This is a government that has no conscience, and is completely out of control.

And Iain Duncan Smith, Mike Penning and McVey in the DWP clearly represent this. Organisations take on the personality of their founders and leaders. Under Stalin, the Soviet system was viciously oppressive, engaging in mass murder and deportation on a colossal scale. Millions were killed, deported or incarcerated in the gulags, because Stalin himself was a vicious, paranoid thug. Smith, Penning and McVey all share aspects of his personality. There is a vicious contempt for the poor, which manifests itself in the cruelty and bullying of the DWP staff from the top down, as Smith, Penning and McVey all loudly trumpet they will be hard on benefit cheats, while claiming that they are actually helping the disabled and unemployed into work. RTU himself has absolutely no personal morals. When a Dutch lady, who has lived in this country for decades, came to him with problems about claiming her husband’s rightful benefits, Smith privately tried to have her deported. Others, who have also tried to consult him as their local MP have also seen him attempt to deprive them still further of their rightful benefits. He is untrustworthy, with absolute no morals, only an apparent burning need to humiliate, degrade and persecute those less fortunate than himself. And this has led him and his colleagues – Penning and McVey – to kill hundreds and reduce tens of thousands of others to grinding poverty.

And all the while, he has been protected by a government determined that the true scale of his crimes, the number of people, who have been killed because of his policies, remain secret for the public. Well, it’s time we had a good investigator break this wall of silence wide open, and throw Smith, Penning and McVey out of power forever, before any more people die through their criminal administration.

Gorbachev and the Introduction of Co-operatives in Perestroika

May 7, 2014

Aganbegyan Pic

Abel Aganbegyan, leading economist of Perestroika

One of the ways the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, attempted to reinvigorate the country’s economy was through the establishment and transformation of state industries into workers’ co-operatives. They were also intended to create jobs for workers, who had been made unemployed through Gorby’s other reforms aimed at making the country’s industries more efficient. This started with 1986 Law on Economic Activity, which permitted a very limited amount of private enterprise. The only people permitted to work for themselves, either as self-employed or in co-operatives, were pensioners, students and employees working after hours. The materials they used had to be surplus to those of the state industries. The co-ops were restricted to a list of 29 permitted activities, such as taxi-driving and dress-making. This effectively legalised what many Russians were already doing any way. In March 1988 the restrictions were further lifted, so that the co-ops were allowed to pay staff and do business with foreign nationals. A further law in August 1990 allowed the co-ops near total freedom. By the end of 1990 there were nearly 260,000 co-operatives employing 6.2 million people, including those with other jobs. They produced 70 billion roubles’ worth of goods and services. 10 billion roubles were for the Soviet population. The co-ops were originally envisaged as small firms, but three-fifths of the new enterprises were in the former large state industries.

However, the impact of the co-operatives on the retail market was much smaller. Co-operatively managed garages, home decoration, household repairs, tailoring and dressmaking, catering, small manufacturing and retail only accounted for 2 per cent of the products bought by Russian consumers. Many of the new co-operatives also became more-or-less ordinary capitalist industries by a law which allowed profits to be drawn on investment, rather than the amount of work put in. See ‘Co-operative’ in Andrew Wilson and Nina Bachkatov, Russia Revised: An Alphabetical Key to the Soviet Collapse and the New Republics (London: Andre Deutsch 1992) pp. 49-50.

Abel Aganbegyan, the Soviet economist and chief architect of perestroika, describes the reasons behind the establishment of the co-operatives and the experiments in setting up the system in his book, The Challenge: Economics of Perestroika (London: Hutchinson 1988) pp. 196-9. He states that they were set up to give Soviet workers a sense of responsibility as co-owners, describes the co-operative’s management system, including the election of brigade officials and directors. There was even a nationwide competition to find the new manager for the Riga car factory, organised by Komsomolskaya Pravda, the newspaper of the party’s youth group. Describing the election of managers and officials, he writes:

The working collective carries out its functions both directly at meetings of the whole working collective and through democratically elected Councils to represent its interests. The decision to broaden the rights of the working collective was not taken dogmatically, but out on the basis of generalisation of the experience accumulated at individual enterprises in the Soviet Union. At the Kaluga Turbine Factory, for example, a council of brigade leaders, representing the working collective’s interests, has been operating effectively for many years. The fact is that here collective labour brigades were genuinely organised. Each brigade elects its brigade leader, so that the brigade leaders’ council is a democratically elected body. The factory has major productive and social results to its credit and, moreover, the long-term development policy of the enterprise is in the main the responsibility of the brigade leaders’ council.

For the first time working collectives are being given extensive rights such as the right to elect the manager. This affects the election of managers of all ranks: the brigade elects the brigadier, the workers and section foremen the section head, the working collective of the factory elects the director of the factory, and the whole working collective of the association elects the General Director. These elections are planned as a creative process. They must be preceded by public competition for managerial posts, with a preliminary selection made by, say, the working council. Each candidate then meets with the workers in the sections, departments and enterprises, attends meetings and meets with representatives of public organisations. Each candidate for the post of manager draws up a programme of action and presents it to the working collective. Secret elections then take place with votes cast for a specific person, whose particulars and potential are known, and for a definite development programme for the enterprise. (pp. 197-8).

He then proceeds to describe the election run by Komsomolskaya Pravda for the ailing Riga Car Factory.

This factory produces the RAF microbuses which gained popularity in their day, but had eventually ceased to meet the increasingly sophisticated demands as needs changed and technology developed. The factory was in a deep crisis and stopped fulfilling the plan. A new leader was needed. Under the aegis of the newspapers Komsomolskaya Pravda a nationwide competition was held for the post of director of the factory. A total of four thousand applications was received from all corners of the country and a commission was specially created composed of car construction specialists (from the Ministry of Car Industry), from the factory and from local bodies. About thirty candidates were shortlisted. They studied the factory and made their proposals for it. One the basis of a detailed examination of these more concrete data the list of candidates was further reduced to eight. They came to the factory, familiarized themselves with the work, stated their views on how to improve the situation and finally the working collective in a secret ballot selected its factory director. This turned out to be V.L. Bossert, an energetic young manager, 35 years of age, who up to them was working as the manager of the Omsk Factory, a major producer of gear boxes for the Moskvich car. The collective supported the candidacy of this new director and gave its views on his programme for the full reconstruction of the factory and the design of a new model of microbus which would be on a par with world standards. Having elected the director, the collective began to work intensively and soon fulfilled the plan. The number of claims for replacement of defective goods was reduced. The financial situation of the enterprise improved, people started to receive prizes and work motivation grew. Parallel to this, work continues on designing a new car and reconstructing the factory.

This experience has proved to be successful and it has caught on. Based on the RAF factory’s example, tens and even h7undreds of other enterprises have organised elections for directors. Success is assured wherever this is carried out not as a mere formality, but were competition is guaranteed, where time is given and conditions are created for the preparation of imaginative programmes of development for the working collective, and where people really feel they are participating in the advancement of their enterprise at management level. In discussing the question of appointment of leaders by election, we have studied attentively the experience of other socialist countries, Bulgaria and Hungary. In Hungary in particular, this democratic mechanism has been very effective. In re-election for the post of direct 8 % of former directors were voted out, but 92% had their competence at management confirmed by the collective. In this was the quality of managers has been improved. pp. 198-9).

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The Apprentice’s Sir Alan Sugar: Now imagine someone in overalls and work boots saying to their boss ‘You’re fired!’

The competition sounds like a radical Socialist version of Top Gear or Dragon’s Den. Certainly it would have been interesting to see Clarkson covering the election by car factory workers of their manager, all the while careering round Moscow or, in this case, Riga, while making sneering comments about the condition of the roads and Soviet era cars. As for Dragon’s Den, it might be a bit too dangerously subversive for the Dragons. After all, it turns the class system on it’s head by empowering the workers to sack incompetent bosses. Which might actually make it perfect as a kind of anti-Apprentice. After all, how many of the more pompous captains of industry, priding themselves on their ability to make ‘tough decisions’ to close down factories and throw thousands out on the streets for their profit and that of the shareholders, would welcome standing in front of committee of proles and being told ‘You’re fired’. Now that really is an idea for a TV show.

Lenin and Workers’ Control of Industry

March 17, 2014

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Lenin: Leader of the Russian Communist Party

One of the motives of the workers joining and leading the February 1917 revolution, which established the duma – the Russian parliament – and which overthrew the Tsar was for the control of industry by the workers themselves. The system of soviets – workers’, soldiers’ and sailors’ councils set up during the Revolution organised the control of industry, including the railways, factories and other services. Lenin initially supported and looked forward to the management of industry by the workers themselves through elected councils, with the managers merely their paid officials. He wrote

We the workers, shall organise large-scale production on the basis of what capitalism has already created, relying on our own experience as workers, establishing strict, iron discipline backed up by the state power of the armed workers. We shall reduce the role of state officials to that of simply carrying out our instructions as responsible, revocable, modestly paid ‘foremen and accountants’… This is our proletarian task, this is what we can and must start with in accomplishing the proletarian revolution. Such a beginning, on the basis of large-scale production, will of itself lead to the gradual ‘withering away’ of all bureaucracy, to the gradual creation of an order … under which the functions of control and accounting, becoming more and more simple, will be performed by each in turn, will then become a habit and will finally die out as the special functions of a special section of the population.

From: Anthony Wright, Socialisms – Why Socialists Disagree – and What They Disagree About (Oxford: OUP 1987) 85-6.

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Russian Revolutionary Poster: the slogan on the banner says ‘All Power to the Soviets’.

This led to the Decree on Workers’ Control, issued on the 14th November 1917. This stated:

1. In the interests of a systematic regulation of national economy, Workers’ Control is introduced in all industrial, commercial, agricultural (and similar) enterprises which are hiring people to work for them in their shops or which are giving them work to take home. This control is to extend of the production, storing, buying and selling of raw materials and finished products as well as over the finances of the enterprise.

2. The workers will exercise this control through their elected organizations, such as factory and shop committees, soviets of elders, etc. The office employees and the technical personnel are also to have representation in these committees.

3. Every large city, province and industrial area is to have its own Soviet of Workers’ Control, which, being an organ of the S(oviet) of W(orkers’) S(oldiers’), and P(easants’) D(eputies’), must be composed of representatives of trade-unions, factory, shop and other workers’ committees and workers’ co-operatives…

6. The organs of Workers’ Control have the right to supervise production, fix the minimum of output, and determine the cost of production.

7. The organs of Workers’ Control have the right to control all the business correspondence of an enterprise. Owners of enterprises are legally responsible for all correspondence kept secret. Commercial secrets are abolished. The owners have to show to the organs of Workers’ Control all their books and statements for the current year and for the past years.

8. the rulings of the organs of Workers’ Control are binding on the owners of enterprises and can be annulled only by decisions of the higher organs of Workers’ Control.

From Robert V. Daniels, A Documentary History of Communism, Vol.1: Communism in Russia (London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd 1987) 89.

Lenin eventually abandoned workers’ control of industry, as contrary to his expectations the workers were largely unable to run it efficiently. Nevertheless, it later influenced the Yugoslavs and other Communists to develop similar systems. Gorbachev was also planning to introduce it into Russian factories under perestroika to transform them into co-operatives.