Monday, November 20, 2023

How a Russian factory is run (1956)

From the November 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

To those people who think that the status of the Soviet worker is different from that of hi British counterpart, or that the motive for production in the Soviet Union is not the same as in capitalist Britain, a recent article in the Soviet Weekly should dispel any illusions.

A certain Mr. Mick Akerman, chairman of the Finsbury Area Committee of the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers, asked the Soviet Weekly the question: “How is a Soviet clothing factory run?” And in the Soviet Weekly of September 20th, 1956, V. Segalov answered him. In his reply Segalov shows that, despite the fact that Russia is supposed to be a “Socialist” country, its factories are run on good, sound capitalist lines. Segalov gives as his example “ The Red Seamstress” clothing factory.

The Director
In the early days of the Soviet regime, in many factories the workers, through their “workers’ committees” or Soviets, appointed not only their foremen, but also their managers and directors. Even on ships of the Soviet Mercantile Marine the captain often took orders from the committee elected by the ship’s company. But within six months of the Revolution Lenin decreed that, there must be in every case a manager appointed by, and responsible to, the appropriate organ of the government. Still, for a long time the “workers’ committees” in the factories retained a large measure of control. Today the picture is a different one. As Segalov says: "The factory is managed by a director appointed by the Minister”; much in the same way as is done in nationalised industries elsewhere. The director’s duty, in a Soviet factory, is to fulfil the government’s production plan and to make the most effective use of the machinery and materials allocated to him.

The article by Segalov continues:
"He has complete control of the factory he is managing. He is the responsible head, and his orders are obligatory for the whole staff. He has two managerial assistants—the chief engineer and the assistant of business transactions."
Production Councils and Workers' Participation
The Production Council at the “Red Seamstress” factory is composed of seventeen people, chosen by the director from the engineers, technicians and foremen, and is headed by the chief engineer. Its main function is to examine technical problems, the introduction of new technology and mechanisation—and suggestions made by ordinary workers in the factory! And, says' Segalov, “On the basis of the council's recommendations the director makes a final decision in each case." The factory has three shops, each headed by a shop superintendent, who bears full responsibility for the fulfilment of the quota of goods that his shop must turn out during a given month.

The factory works in two shifts. Each shift in the main shops is headed by a chief foreman, and the foremen heading the different teams of between 25 and 40 workers are subordinate to their chief shift foreman.
“Before each shift the foreman holds a five-minute conference with his or her team, at which the workers are told about the day's quotas and production processes which should be the object of particular care.”
And if you think that the running of a Soviet factory is completely undemocratic, you are wrong. For the Soviet Weekly tells us that:
"The workers also have a say: they ask for clarifications or make their own suggestions." (!).
They also participate in regular production meetings arranged by the factory trade union committee in all shops. The object of these meetings is to get the workers to increase their productivity, and thereby to increase the profits.

Profits in the Soviet Factory
For those who think that the basis of production in the Soviet Union is a Socialist one—that is, production solely to satisfy human needs—be surprised to hear that u Profits make up an important factor in the production plan." And:
“Naturally,” writes Segalov, “the greater the economy in the consumption of textiles, the higher the labour efficiency, the better the management of the enterprise, the lower will be the production costs of each item and the higher the profits."
Part of the profits are turned over to the state budget and the balance remains at the manager’s disposal. “Out of the share of profits earmarked for the factory in 1955, many of the best workers and officials received bonuses." The article also tells us that the management paid for the accommodation of 400 workers in health and holiday centres—but does not tell us what proportion of the staff received these benefits.

The Function of the Trade Unions
Every year a collective agreement is negotiated between the management and the trade union. The draft agreement is discussed in the shops.
“After the draft has been discussed the factory trade union committee examines jointly with the management all the proposals made by the staff, and they draw up the final text, which is signed by the director and the chairman of the trade union committee."
But, of course, if the trade union or the workers themselves are not satisfied with the agreement, they cannot legally call a strike. Except for this, life in a Soviet factory is very much the same as it is in Britain or any other avowedly capitalist country, and has nothing in common with the administration of a factory—or anything else—in a Socialist society.
Peter E. Newell

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