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Chapter 13

13

At the Commissariat of Labor

The Commissariat of Labor was located on the top floor of a large department store in Chinatown, confiscated, like so many other buildings, by the Bolsheviks.

We were introduced by our “cicerone” and interpreter to the comrade commissar who, already informed of our impending visit, gave us a warm reception.

We must start by saying that, in order not to mislead anyone who reads this chapter with the hope of learning the great lessons that one might expect to learn from a regime that calls itself communist, the information provided by the Commissariat of Labor revealed nothing new. Almost all, not to say all, of the information they provided us that was of any interest, was already known by us. That having been said, we shall resume our account.

We received a very dubious impression of the usefulness or importance of the role assigned to the Commissariat of Labor.

We believe, and we shall express it without any euphemisms, that it was an institution whose purpose was secondary. This impression would soon be fully confirmed.

With regard to the basic issues of labor, its intervention was limited at best, and non-existent at worst.

The rail transport question was outside the purview of the Commissariat. The same was true of Agriculture. Its activity was restricted to industrial labor properly speaking. Even in that domain, however, its action, as a principal or exclusive element, was extremely restricted by the scope of action reserved by the activities or functions of the Council of National Economy.

Not only was the mission that should have been performed by the Commissariat of Labor thus circumscribed and diluted among various institutions; its powers must be further qualified by subtracting the influence of the General Confederation of Labor and the Third International.

Many of the questions that affected the Trade Unions and labor were addressed, debated and resolved in principle, without the Commissariat of Labor ever playing any role at all.

It is true that, afterwards, in order to confer upon such decisions a legal patina, the rubber stamp and acquiescence of the Commissariat of Labor was required; but its seal of approval was only sought long after the issue in question was a total fait accompli.

This is why our visit was such a brief one; they only provided us with statistics, which we shall not recount due to their purely internal, ephemeral or circumstantial interest.

As a general rule, these statistics provided the unemployment figures for various times of the year; their rise or fall; subsidies granted to the unemployed and the elderly; occupational accidents and other similar things.

Among the information they gave us, our attention was drawn to the fact that, although there was a recognized retirement age, it was necessary to obtain a detailed medical report that proves the applicant’s complete disability, or else the Commissariat of Labor would assign the elderly person to some other kind of work that was compatible with his degree of disability as set forth on the medical report.

Taking advantage of our visit, we thought we would clarify a doubtful issue. We had in our possession a copy of the Labor Code—a draconian and brutal Code, which imposes duties on the workers but grants them no rights in return—and we wanted to know what contributions were made in its elaboration by the Trade Unions and what role the Commissariat played in its framing.

It seemed incredible, and it still does, that a Commissariat whose duty was to defend the interests of the workers and which proclaims that it is run by the workers, would have subscribed to such a Code.

The more information we obtained about this issue, the more we were compelled to draw the conclusion that we had already assumed: the Russian Labor Code was the work of the Communist Party and its elements, which includes the Commissariat.

When they spoke to us about the “dictatorship of the proletariat” in order to justify the unjustifiable and we had the famous Russian Labor Code before our eyes, we were put into the difficult position of having to ask whether all the Russian proletarians, or their representatives, were crazy for having approved of that document. In no country with a capitalist regime was there such a rigid law that was so contrary to the interests of the working class.

Anyone who undertakes to translate this Code will be providing Spanish-speaking workers with the most damning case against the Bolshevik regime.

The Bolsheviks, who are ordinarily so assiduous in disseminating their literature and their politics, clam up and have nothing to say about their economic literature and economic legislation. They interpret Marx according to their tastes.

The warriors of historical materialism, the drum-beaters of the class struggle who reduce all the aspirations of the people to the chemical processes of the stomach, those who say that it is their vocation to redeem the people from their economic dependence, and exercise the proletarian dictatorship in order to achieve this, inexplicably remain silent concerning the greater part of their regulations on compulsory labor.

Their propaganda says nothing about the famous Labor Code; they have also silenced everything that refers to the militarization of labor; it would seem that they feel that none of these things concern the world proletariat. To us, on the other hand, it seems to be of the utmost concern to the world proletariat. Even more importantly, we believe that the heart of the revolution is revealed in this domain, in the laws and decrees that guarantee and assure the full freedom of the workers; in the way labor is organized; in the social structure that renders the exploitation of man by man and the subjection of one class by another impossible.

What, after all, is the real situation of the Russian worker in the face of Bolshevik legislation and, consequently, of the militarization of labor? The situation of a slave, that of a man upon whom duties are imposed without being granted any rights. It is true that these duties are disguised with the paradox of being imposed for his benefit and in his name; but the reality is more unpleasant than the Bolshevik hair-splitting and fantasies, once the deception is unmasked and the decoy is revealed for what it is.

Dictatorship of the proletariat? Let us see.

Once the worker has been enrolled in the section of his trade in the Labor Center, he is entirely at the disposal of the Ministry of Labor.

If, due to real or fictitious necessities, since the worker is entitled to no explanations, the Ministry decides that he must be transferred to work in Odessa, although he normally lives in Moscow, and has his family in Moscow, the worker must go without any right to appeal the order he has received.

He is a worker mobilized in the name of the dictatorship of the proletariat, for which reason the latter can dispose of him at its whim.

If, once the worker has arrived in Odessa, the Ministry decides that he must go to work in Tobolsk, or any other Siberian town, he must depart immediately, on the day and at the time the Ministry indicates.

Under these conditions the worker is a mechanical toy in the hands of the Communist Party. The latter can do with him what it will, when it wants and in any way that it wants.

We thoroughly discussed this problem in our conversation with the comrade Commissar of Labor. And when we told him that we thought that the militarization of labor was absurd and arbitrary, and that even if one had to admit that on certain occasions and for certain trades it was necessary, it was a cruel system, he replied that without it the victory of the revolution would have been impossible, since so many workers had refused to work in one or another trade, and preferred to work in a different one, which caused an imbalance in the national economy.

We admitted he had a case; but we rejected the premises upon which his case was constructed. We said that it seemed to be a more rational procedure to convince the specialized worker or workers in a trade who are required in another location other than their hometown, that their attendance elsewhere was necessary and that they should go there to work, although temporarily. But we did not understand why a general and rigorous measure should be applied.

“In that way the Government, which must be the sole authorized agent for organizing the political and economic life of the country in the name of the Revolution, has more freedom to run things, and need not provide any explanations. In such a case,” he claimed, “it needs the most blind, the most complete and absolute obedience to all the decrees of the workers State. If it had to follow the procedure you suggested, it would never be able to achieve this result.”

“That may be true,” we objected, “but the worker would have more freedom, he would feel like he was playing a more active role in the consolidation of the revolution, he would take a more active part in it, since his participation would be requested rather than imposed, he would not be compelled to provide it.”

“In dangerous situations,” we claimed, “it would be a rare case, indeed one could consider it abnormal, for an individual to refuse to cooperate in the labor of popular liberation, which would also be, after all, his own liberation.”

“Did you perhaps forget,” he responded, “that the counterrevolution is constantly on the offensive; that the expropriated bourgeoisie is engaged in conspiracies on a daily basis to return to the past; that all the forces opposed to the dictatorship are united in their opposition to the Communist Party and that the Party has to confront them with all the means at its disposal?”

“So, then,” we replied, “the militarization of labor, instead of an economic measure for organizing the life of the country, is a political measure directed against the political parties or sectors that do not accept the communist points of view?”

“Oh, no! Not at all. The militarization of labor affects everyone, and everyone must submit to it. The communists in the Party just like everyone else. There are no exceptions.”

We laughed at this statement and said, “Well done”.

“We would like to know,” we said, “what is the official position of the Commissariat of Labor with regard to Trotsky’s proposal to organize production in Russia by utilizing the military form of organization.”

According to reports that had come to our attention, Trotsky proposed to divide Russia into ten military regions, within which labor would also be included. Under this system, the soldier and the worker would be subject to the same organization, although naturally performing different roles.

“We are completely in agreement with it if the Party should grant its approval.”

“Then the Commissariat of Labor, in its multiple and varied activities, follows the line laid down by the Communist Party. And just as in the case of the General Confederation of Labor, the worker cannot, in the regime of his dictatorship, do what he will, but only what the Party wills. This entire business seems somewhat paradoxical to us.”

“Because you have not lived in Russia, you are unaware of the fact that here the Communist organization and the Communist Party are one and the same. I myself,” said the Commissar of Labor, “although I am a member of the Party, was not appointed to my position in this Commissariat by the Party, but by the General Confederation of Labor.”

“When this Commissariat was created, the Party asked the Trade Union organization to assume responsibility for appointing the individual who should run it, and in its name and representing it I am here.”

“Which is all the more reason why these decrees concerning labor seem so strange to us.”

“The militarization of labor, the Labor Code and all the other measures implemented to organize production, and which we consider to be contrary to the collective interests of the workers—we do not think they would have been undertaken if there was freedom of choice. But since it is this freedom that seems to us to be lacking, we assume all the rest follows from it.”

“We are going through difficult circumstances and cannot grant this freedom of choice to which you refer.”

“But,” we objected, “by violating the will of the workers, you will not be able to harmonize their aspirations with the work of the Government, and even much less so with the spirit of the revolution. The effects of this policy of violent compulsion will be negative.”

“To each act of moral or physical violence committed by the Government against the proletariat, imposing laws in whose preparation and adoption the proletariat did not participate, the proletariat will respond with a greater degree of passive resistance, when it is not violent resistance, and the divorce between the Communist Power and the worker will become more acute with each passing day.”

“No; because our policy will prevail.”

We made our exit. Our disillusionment had no limits. We left convinced of the uselessness of the institution that we had just visited.