6. Resistance Grows

Resistance Grows

"Piece-wage is the form of wages most in harmony with the capitalist mode of production ... it served as a lever for lengthening the working day and the lowering of wages."
K. Marx, Capital (1867).

"It has been the iron principle of the National Socialist leadership not to permit any rise in the hourly wage rates but to raise income solely by an increase in performance."
A. Hitler, speaking at the Party Congress of Honour.

"Piece-work is a revolutionary system that eliminates inertia and makes the labourer hustle. Under the capitalist system loafing and laziness are fostered. But now, everyone has a chance to work harder and earn more."
Scanteia [Rumanian Communist daily]. January 13, 1949.

The 'chance to work harder' - through piece-work - was introduced into Hungary on an unprecedented scale. Piece-work appeals to the baser instincts of man. This is apparent in our own society. Piece-work is much praised by those who rule us. For the managers of the people, here or abroad, it is an important means of controlling, manipulating, and dominating the workers. Piece-work helps break up their natural tendency to unite and cooperate. It is a valuable weapon in the hands of those who wish to demoralize and atomize the working class.

The whole piece-work system depends upon basic wages being kept at a low level. In Poland, for example, because of the extent of piece-work, basic wages almost disappeared. The system was bolstered by the Russian-style Stakhanovites. These were the piece-workers, par excellence. The type exists in British factories and they are usually disliked. The workers in Eastern Europe were quite hostile to them. The Stakhanovites themselves continually complained of this hostility. The official party organs deplored it as an "attack on Stakhanovites by politically immature workers". In fact, the 9th congress of the Czechoslovak Communist Party called for measures against these workers "who run down the work of the Stakhanovites and who even try to put a spoke in their wheel."

In Hungary, not only the workers, but even some Party members, were trying to put a spoke in the wheel of the whole piece-work system. In a speech on November 27, 1948, Rakosi referred to this and to various 'go-slow' movements among the workers when he said: "... the factory directors are capitulating to the lazy workers. The production quotas are too low". But although the 'lazy workers' were being continually threatened, they did not mend their ways. In June, 1950, Erno Gerö, in his report to the Party's Central Committee, declared: "wage and norm swindling have spread among the masses. They can be attributed, to a great degree, to the underground work of right-wing social-democratic elements and their allies, the clerical reactionaries. That such an unsavoury situation in the field of norms could arise is partly because, in many cases, the economic leaders of the factories, Party functionaries and trade union members, are among those who slacken the norms ... In more than one case they go so far as to protect and support the wage swindlers". Having virtually stated that Party members were in league with 'right-wing Social Democrats', Gerö arranged for a big increase in the basic norm.

Conditions in the factories worsened. On January 9, 1950, the Hungarian Government issued a decree prohibiting workers from leaving their place of work without permission. Penalties for disobeying were severe. [35]

Increasing alienation and exploitation in any country in the world are invariably met by increasing resistance. Sabotage becomes widespread. This is one of the economic facts of life. It is well known to all industrial sociologists and is openly discussed by those of them who are not directly in the pay of the giant corporations. [36]

That Hungarian workers were resisting became even clearer through the utterances of their 'leaders'. Speaking at Debrecen on December 6, 1948, the Hungarian Minister of Industry, Istvan Kossa, [37] said: "The workers have assumed a terrorist attitude towards the directors of the nationalized industries". He added that if they didn't change their attitude, a spell of forced labour might help. Workers who didn't seem to be in love with their work were often denounced by the leaders as 'capitalist agents'.

Despite police terror, workers found several ways of resisting. The two most important were absenteeism and turning out work of poor quality. On August 31, 1949, Rakosi stated that production had fallen "by 10-15% in the last few months". He also claimed that the number of days lost due to workers going sick was 2 to 3 times higher than before the war. [38] The Times (September 5, 1949) carried a report from its Budapest correspondent on the Conference of the Communist Party of Greater Budapest (an area comprising over 60% of Hungary's industry): "The Conference report says that productivity is stagnant in most industries and declining in some. Between February and July, it fell throughout the manufacturing industry by 17% ... Far too many workers were applying for sick relief - in a recent week, in one factory: 11%. In another: 12%. Instances are given of self-inflicted wounds."

Referring to the decline in the quality of the goods produced, Rakosi also stated (August 31, 1949) that "waste in the Manfred Weiss iron foundry (Hungary's second largest factory) had risen from 10.4% to 23.5%."

On paper many workers still remained in the Party. Well, what would you do? To leave would have meant the risk of being dubbed a 'fascist spy'. There was plenty of evidence of this. It made the incentive to stay in particularly attractive. Some proof of the crisis of conscience Party members were going through was shown by Jozsef Revai - the Party theoretician. In October 1948, he complained that Szabad Nep, the Party daily of which he was editor, was read by only 12% of Party members.

* * *

Meanwhile a few leading members of the Communist parties of Eastern Europe had become audacious. They had begun to think for themselves. Their thoughts were subversive of the established order. Party purges became popular.

Between 1948 and 1950, the Communist parties expelled: in Czechoslovakia over 250,000 members; in Bulgaria 92,500 - about a fifth of the membership; in Rumania 192,000 - over a fifth of the membership. In Hungary, 483,000 Party members were expelled.

This was the period of the big Tito-Stalin explosion. The 'fallout' contaminated Communist parties throughout the world. The sickness was, of course, most prevalent in Eastern Europe, where hunting Titoists became a fashionable sport for the various leaderships. Large numbers of people were arrested and thrown into prison. Show trials were held. Thousands of erstwhile 'good Stalinists' were found guilty on clearly trumped-up charges. Many hundreds were executed. Among the leaders themselves, Slansky and Clementis in Czechoslovakia. Koci Xoxi in Albania, Kostov in Bulgaria, and Rajk in Hungary, all paid the supreme penalty. One of Kostov's most 'serious' crimes was revealed by the Prosecution in dead-pan-comedian style. Kostov was charged with having been a friend of Bela Kun who, it had been 'proved', was a 'Trotskyist fascist.'

The most truly frightening thing was Rajk's 'confession'. He was arrested in May, 1949, and his trial began on September 16, Rajk pleaded guilty to all the Prosecution's charges and to a number of others besides. That he could not possibly have been guilty of these charges, must have been quite obvious to those who knew him. Rajk and the others were sacrificed to bolster up the tottering authority of the Party leadership. These 'victorious' Stalinists intended the trials to be shocking and frightening examples of their ruthlessness. They were. Through these judicial murders, Stalin, as chief spokesman for the bureaucracy, was saying to all: "Think twice before you question our infallibility." In Eastern Europe at this time, people might well have thought that Orwell's prophesy had been brought forward by several decades. But here again resistance was growing.