Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 17

The Predations of the Red Directors (Part 2)

By Albert Speransky


(This is the second of three articles)

The Psychology of the Hired Worker

The Soviet government spent a long time conducting experimentson human beings in an attempt to create a special "Communistbreed of people," and one must confess that it achieved quitea bit in this endeavor.

In his struggle for self-preservation, the Soviet working mandeveloped a certain flexibility of character. This flexibility,or, to put it more simply, lack of principle, is the mother ofmany human vices which surround us everywhere in our society:the inability to keep one’s word, inconsistency, the capacityfor betrayal. All of this comes from the fact that the workingman has had, over the course of many years, to play a humiliatinggame, to adapt, above all, to the whims of powerful people, ratherthan to the requirements of the law. His "breeders"tried to inculcate these negative character traits in him, tomake him more tractable.

Who Exploits the Worker’s Weaknesses?

The directors, as representatives of the totalitarian regime ofthe past, have a remarkable knowledge of their workers’ weaknesses,and are able to exploit them with skill. The democrats, in beginningtheir reforms, developed a "composite psychological portrait"of the hired worker, and built their programs on the basis ofthis "identikit" picture. Reality did not conform totheir ambitious plans, and their reforms "hung in midair."

The worker’s most dangerous enemies are his own fearfulness, passivity,readiness to give way before stronger, more powerful people, andhis complete legal and economic illiteracy. At the beginning ofprivatization, he elected people whom he never considered hisfriends, to represent his interests. They, in turn, sold him outand made him a hostage of the directors, and made him still moremiserable and dependent. If noble "Robin Hoods," genuinelyready to help the worker, are few in number, there are more thanenough agitators from the Communist propaganda machine in everylabor collective. These are, for the most part, retired partyand trade union activists–a Communist "fifth column"in our society. Now, these people are quite aggressive and spiteful,and the economic crisis has put good cards in their hands. Theyare high-handed and inexorable in their arguments. Such agitationparalyzes the workers’ will; people await reforms in fear andtrembling, as they would the Last Judgment. For public consumption,the Communist agitators say that they wholeheartedly support reforms,but in reality, they are fervent opponents of reforms, and incitethe workers against the people who set them in motion. They drumit into the workers’ heads that all their misfortunes are theresult of an evil plot on the part of the government, the Americans,the democrats, and the Jews.

Recently, the Communists and the national-patriots have begunto present themselves as the saviors of the nation, and its moralvalues. They argue that, with the beginning of reform, the deformationof the Russian national character began to take place, and itsmoral standards began to decline.

Of course, much has happened recently which is offensive to theworkers; their characters have been sorely tested. The extremesituation has forced these negative traits back into the foreground.The seeds of these traits were scattered liberally back in Soviettimes. Therefore, on many questions, I want to take the pre-reformyear of 1989 as my point of departure. At that time, I publishedan article in Literaturnaya gazeta, entitled "WhoSpeaks for the Workers?" I got a lot of letters back fromreaders. Clearly, I must have struck a responsive chord; peoplebegan to pour out their hearts to me. Their letters, for the mostpart, spoke of how totalitarianism had broken the character ofthe working man. The authors of these letters turned to me assomeone who shared their views and they strengthened my articlewith factual examples, which have allowed me, from time to time,to cite thoughts from these letters, which have become my ownas well.

Aggressive Dependence

Hired workers today have absolutely no idea what is going on withproperty, where the country is headed, or where they are beingdriven like a herd of sheep. These naive people, not long ago,sincerely believed that reforms would be accomplished "fromthe top down". Long habit made them fear responsibility formaking decisions, hide behind each other’s backs, and look fora "kamikaze" to take the risk for them. If they founda conscientious, selfless person in the collective, they would"cry on his shoulder," complain about how bad thingswere, supply him with information, bring him wild rumors of violationscommitted by the administration. Step by step, they would encouragehim to step forward to defend his co-workers. And such a "loverof truth" would quickly fall out of management’s good graces.In front of everyone, they would begin to humiliate and destroyhim. And no one would come to his aid. I myself, working in afactory, have gotten into this kind of situation many times. Ihave felt the effect of this machine of suppression, which isbuilt into the structure of every labor collective, with my ownskin. It was on the basis of personal experience that I wrotein my mutinous article: "A whole army would be amassed againstthis poor "lover of truth" at his factory: the tradeunion committee, a hired lawyer, and the State, in the form ofthe judge’s bench, adorned with the national seal. The administrationitself picked assistants, the so-called "collective authority"which would carry out any of its master’s requests, and servedas his hands and fingers, to strangle any dissent." To bearthis out, I will cite one of the examples sent to me.

"My foreman defended workers’ rights single-handedly. Hewas the one the workers would go to for help. The bosses decidedto stop the ‘troublemaker.’ They began to make a trumped-up caseagainst him. People from the administration with an ax to grindostensibly ‘caught him drunk during working hours.’ But it wasstrange: nobody went to his supervisor. Nobody told him that hewas violating work discipline. Nobody forced him, while he wasstill drunk, to undergo a medical examination. After finishinghis shift, the foreman walked out quietly through the gate, andthe guards didn’t notice anything strange in his behavior. Andthen, the very next day, like a bolt from the blue, a directiveappeared, which accused him of having been drunk on the job. Theday of his supposed drunkenness was counted as ‘unexcused absence.’He was deprived of his bonus (one thirteenth of his annual salary),sent to work on a lower paying job for three months. On top ofthat, he was sent to work on a construction site for a month.They rescheduled his vacation for the winter. He was the chairmanof the Council of Foremen–they removed him. He was a member ofthe Labor Council–they removed him without even holding a meetingfirst. In a word, they dragged his name through the mud. Thosewhom he protected and defended, seeing the outrage that was beingcommitted against this man, remained criminally silent, and avoidedlooking him in the eye."

This letter was written by lathe operator Merzlyakov, from Izhevsk.There was a return address on the letter, but no first name. Clearlyhe was afraid to go through with it, to reveal himself completely.

This example shows the labor collective acts as a "provocateur,"exploiting the courage of an individual until the administrationdecides to punish him. Then, everyone turns away from their "savior."One may call this group dependence. This benefits the bosses mostof all, because it helps them single out and annihilate individualleaders.

The story about the foreman from Izhevsk, who was shunned likethe plague by his co-workers in his hour of need and left to betorn apart by the administration — took place back in 1989. Now,that seems like a completely different epoch. Seven years havegone by since then. What has changed in the character and thementality of the working man? The following incident took placeat the construction site of the Zeya Hydroelectric Plant in thefall of 1995. The workers had not been paid in four months. Afterexhausting all other means of influencing the administration,in an emergency meeting of the labor collective, 19 people wroteout a statement that, being of sound mind, they would begin ahunger strike until all the workers at the site received theirback pay. The collective gave them the go-ahead and applaudedthem as heroes and their defenders. But the very next day, theyunexpectedly began to distance themselves from their "heroes."Each worker, individually, feared appearing on the bosses’ listof "malcontents." Only after a week, when most of thehunger strikers could no longer lift themselves from their beds,did they begin to gather signatures on a petition to support them.

The bosses took these psychological nuances into account, andat the proper time, drove in a wedge between the strikers andthe rest of the collective. For a long time, the strikers didn’tgive in; they held on, sacrificing their health, for the sakeof the collective. But when they finally understood that theyhad been betrayed and left to face the administration alone, onthe 14th day of their strike, they gave in and agreed to receiveback pay only for themselves, and called off the hunger strike,and the 4,500 other workers on the site were left with nothing.In their desire to "hedge their bets," the workers hadonly deceived themselves. But now they look at the protesterswith resentment, holding them to blame for their lost back pay.Such incidents take place time and time again in the labor collectives.That’s what the Communists’ vaunted "collectivism" reallymeans in practice.

But one must admit that a certain sort of collectivism is presentin Russian society, and was carefully nourished. It is what Iwould call "aggressive collectivism," when people gettogether behind a force in order to settle accounts with theirenemies. This requires the constant presence of "enemies."If there are none, as the adage goes, they have to be invented.Soviet society needed enemies in order to function normally. Thestrong usually harassed the weak. A special part of society, thelabor collective, was set aside for this purpose. Ordinary peoplewere afraid to be among the "weak," or even worse, "alone,"in their opinions. In the best case, they kept silent, but ingeneral, they tried as hard as they could to curry favor withthe "strong." This proceeded from a deep-seated terrorof those in power. In every labor collective, there was an armyof sycophants which could be set against the necessary objectif the need arose. Nowadays, they use these tactics to fight againstfree trade unions, which are still weak and in the embryonic state.The directors continue to use the ideology of Communist society,and cleverly exploit this aggressive collectivism.

The psychology of the workers has not yet changed. And in alllikelihood, it will not change until the structure of the collectiveitself changes, until the socialist system of suppression withinit is destroyed.

The Workers’ Leaders

Whom can the workers rely on in the labor collective? The leaders,whose authority in the collective was formed in former times,are now about 40 years old. They have families, and are alreadyestablished specialists. But unfortunately, most of them are productsof the Communist party, albeit not from its most fanatical core.The ideas of Communist ideologues have taken root in their souls.The party tried especially hard to recruit people who had organizationalskills, who were trusted in the collective. And people who hadthese talents were forced to join the party. Only there couldthey find a way to use these talents. The old, Soviet, methodof [trade union work] was drummed into their heads: "talkmore, do less."

Such people keep their cards to their chests, and always havea "plan B" in reserve in case things don’t work out,which could prove ruinous to those who trust them. After organizingthe workers into a protest action, the leader often begins to"maneuver," to become a buffer between the labor collectiveand the administration. Such a leader will deliberately drag thingsout, and wait until people cool down and understand that thereis no future in acting against the administration. He sits, asit were, on two chairs: he doesn’t want to lose his authoritywith the workers, tries to guide their mood, and at the same time,is in no hurry to quarrel with the administration. But in spiteof all these "minuses," you still have to rely on suchleaders. There isn’t much of a choice: there is as yet no "newwave" of organizers in the factories. Young people have almoststopped working in these enterprises; it is almost impossibleto persuade them to work there. And the old "malcontents,"who didn’t want to live under the party’s thumb, those who acted,in spite of the risk and their own fear, have been rooted out.Just like that foreman from Izhevsk. As they used to say: "Hewho is not with us is against us."

But if you look hard, you will still find some democratically-inclinedleaders in the collective. True, they aren’t always ready to takeactive measures, for they know that such steps will be fruitlessin the present situation. There is no legal support for theseactivists and their ideas. The labor legislation hardly worksat all. And without firm guarantees of security, who will supportthem in the collective?

Feeling no "feedback," these leaders have begun to leavethe industrial enterprises. These workers, who have great creativepotential, do not want to get stuck in socialist-style serfdom.They set off, one by one, for a new life, in private commercialstructures. As a result, most independent workers’ groups, whichstrove for a reorganization of our enterprises into civilizedmarket structures, have begun to disintegrate. The collectivesare thus deprived of the people who could unite people behindthem and generate ideas. Most of those who remain are unskilledworkers, members of the lumpenproletariat, who, by their verynature, are not creators, but destroyers and extremists. Thereare also many leaders in this lower stratum, who, for the mostpart, fight for equal pay for everyone [uranilovka]. Theyare easily susceptible to the Communists’ calls for riots or revolution.

These leaders also come from the socialist past. Every shop, everyconstruction site, every crew has at least one such semi-anarchist.You can call them "loudmouths." They have learned thatthey can get what they want this way, not only for themselves,but also for the weaker ones whom they have taken under theirwing. The bosses tolerate these anarchists because they are usefulto them; with their shouting and illogical actions, they wipeout the first shoots of democratic sentiment among the workers.

These leaders are alive and well today, and are the main ringleadersin any extremist actions. There are quite a few of them. Manyhave already appeared, and others are biding their time. Theirmost distinctive trait is their ability to stir up the passionsof a mob.

For example, this is what happened at the Kimry machine tool factoryin the Tver oblast. The "old" trade union had long ceasedto represent the workers, and did not even react to their criesof alarm. Salaries were not being paid, while there was enoughmoney in the factory’s coffers to continue construction on cottagesfor the director and his close associates. The workers were furious,they cursed, but only in dark corridors and smoking rooms. Butone day, they started grumbling right on the shop floor. One byone, the workers left their posts, and gathered together in onecontentious crowd. The crowd grew, and an angry meeting began.Nobody knew of a way to make things better, either at the factory,or in the country. Passions heated up. And then, from one of theback rows, someone cried out: "Let’s grab them right now,when they’re not expecting it, right in their offices." Thatwas enough. The crowd began to arm itself with iron rods and sticks.About 300 people were ready to take over not only the factoryadministration offices, but the whole city. Only a miracle stoppedthe rabid crowd. A few workers blocked their way, and began totalk them out of it. But they weren’t able to talk them out ofit completely; that night, some unknown "heroes" stillset fire to the director’s cottage.

Can there be anything more terrifying than that uncontrollablecrowd? The absence of a consistent, civilized effort to defendthe workers’ interests will lead to just such elemental outbreaksof emotion, to such riots in the collective, and to situationswhere the workers will listen to anyone. The departure of democraticleaders from the collectives greatly increases the chances ofsuch riots. This has been a gift to the Communists, incendiarymaterial in their hands, which they know quite well how to use.

Reforms and the Hired Worker

Reforms in our country have become distorted. And can it reallybe any other way in a society with so many psychological complexesand with such a deep-rooted system of feudal subordination?

A very interesting situation has taken shape in the productionsphere. The directors have abandoned their socialist way of life.They have become proprietors, but at the same time, they are tryingto keep their employees captivated by the socialist mirage. Thisenables the directors to act on their employees through the laborcollective, to direct them, as it were, through the "serfcommunity," and prevent them from becoming psychologicallyready for a market economy. At the same time, the directors canbe the "guardians" of their "underage children"(labor collectives, hired employees). And while these "children"are still "maturing," property remains uncontrolled;it can be stolen, or simply gradually appropriated.

Nowadays, many enterprises, and entire branches of industry, aregoing to pieces. Directors have stopped managing production andhave become shopkeepers. They sell off buildings, equipment, and"sell" the production of their enterprise to other directors,knowing full well that no payment will ever be made. (This wasdiscussed in the first part of this article.) The true producers,the hired workers, have been deprived of a great deal of public(state) property. This economic policy of ignoring an enterprise’sfuture for the sake of short-term profit has left many workersunemployed. Many of them, now on "compulsory furloughs"still have the faint hope that their jobs will be there when theycome back. Others have nothing left to hope for–they have nochance of getting their jobs back. People are afraid of losingtheir jobs. But how could it be otherwise? The old enterprisesare closing down, and no new ones have appeared. People are hangingonto their jobs by their teeth, groveling before their bosses,voluntarily renouncing any human rights, and half-starving, heroicallyendure delays in their wages.

"If the director needs to have his apartment repaired–wego. If we have to build the boss a new garage–we go. If we’renot slaves, who is?" Dmitri Karpov, locksmith and mechanic,Krasnodar.

This is the most infuriating consequence of the half-hearted reformsin our economy, which the Communists and nationalist play on likestrings. And quite successfully. The recent elections to the StateDuma attest to this.

Perhaps the workers are also to blame for not putting up a fightduring privatization, but nobody even tried to get them involvedor organize them. The reformers themselves trusted the directors.As a result, strong, powerful people, manipulating our imperfectlaws before the eyes of innocent people, promising them mountainsof gold under privatization, have left the workers holding thebag. Whose blame is that? They wanted to transfer property toprivate owners as soon as possible, to crush the state’s monopoly.But they paid for it by losing the trust of the common people,making them their ideological opponents. It will cost a lot nowto regain their trust.

The Present Government and the Hired Worker

The present government, which calls itself democratic, was formedout of "bricks" from the former nomenklatura, of thesame well-known officials who, not long ago, had tried to build"socialism with a human face." These people have closefriendship, and kinship, ties. As soon as one of them reachesthe top, he starts trying to pull up the whole "nomenklaturachain." This is how elites are formed in this country tothe tune of democratic slogans. No matter how we curse them, nomatter how we annihilate them with words, they are still thereat the top. They are a ruling caste, which will not turn the stateover to anybody else. The working man, and his long-sufferingexistence means no more to them than a Sunday game of tennis.

And the spectacle of the President ("elected by nationwidevote") "going to the people in search of truth,"looks funny and staged. The fact is that the President’s "truth"is prepared for him by his entourage and by local officials; thevery same nomenklatura stratum hand-picks the people allowed totalk to him. When Yeltsin visited the Rostselmash factoryin Rostov, the factory administration simply barred free tradeunion representative Vladimir Borisov from entering the plantfor his shift. He only managed to get in after the meeting inwhich Yeltsin participated was over and the president had beentold the "director’s truth," and not the "workers’truth." The "two truths" differ significantly.The "director’s truth" is often detrimental to the country;it destroys it. This is clear from the results of the recent reforms.

But where can new politicians be found, who would be able to carefor ordinary people? There are no new leaders on the politicalOlympus, just as they are absent from the labor collective. Mustwe endlessly await the nomenklatura’s mercy? The necessary lawscould be passed, but there is no one to see that they are enforced.Only social processes can bring new people to the top. And theseprocesses must begin from the grass roots. People who are nowafraid to organize must think, above all, for their children andgrandchildren. If they don’t act, they will doom their childrento a bad life for many years to come. If workers learn how todefend themselves, and get protection in the form of independenttrade unions, then their psychology will begin to change as well.They will build a new moral house, in which their children andgrandchildren will live in the future. The worker today is upset,because he feels alone, driven into a corner, and has no one totrust. With his family and friends around him, he unwinds, becomescompletely different, but as soon as he goes back to work, heis once again without rights, and therefore, bitter.

As difficult as it may be, it is necessary to persuade this manthat democracy in any country begins on the shop floor. And nomatter how hard we try, we won’t be able to build the Americanform of democracy on the basis of our labor collectives. We mustbe bold enough to demolish these fortresses of feudalism.

So far, the working man has experienced only one form of democracy– the ballot. With that ballot, he has become a "fighterby correspondence." The desire to solve problems at the workplace,to take revenge on those who insult him, i.e., the directors,with the ballot could lead to a return to the charms of the totalitarianregime, in one of its many guises — fascism. The "iron hands"which the workers are calling on to impose order won’t stand onceremony. They will impose order. And they will snatch the ballotout of the unreliable hands of the hired worker, or at the veryleast, will make it not worth the paper on which it is printed.

So that’s what our working man is like. A great man once said:"Don’t fear your friend: a friend can only betray you. Don’tfear your enemy: he can only kill you. Be afraid of the indifferentman: he can betray you, or sell you, or kill you, for his waysare unfathomable."

But to change his ways, the worker needs to believe in something,see something ahead of him, and enjoy certain guarantees. Unfortunately,nobody gave him such faith when the reforms were launched. Generalstatements about market transformations and financial stabilizationdo not touch his heart. The hired worker, from his own bitterexperience, knows what such declarations are worth. Reshufflingat the top in the search for guilty parties is nothing but a "king’ssport." In the production sphere, a more serious hunt istaking place — and the worker is the quarry.

The new labor relations are incompatible with the old style ofmanagement. A new model is needed.

Translated by Aleksandr Kondorsky and Mark Eckert.