Chapter 14


“Communist Saturdays”

During one of the intermissions between sessions of the Congress, while one of Zinoviev’s speeches was being translated, we asked Lozovsky about what we perceived to be a lack of enthusiasm for the communist regime among the people, and even more their lack of enthusiasm for the imposed organization of labor.

We supported our argument with the data from the charts that were displayed there, in the main hall where the Congress was being held and in the hallways that led to it. There were industries in which production had declined by sixty percent. We found this confusing.

It is true that this decline was explained by the migration of the workers, who did not want to remain in the factories. Life in the countryside was easier and less impoverished; so they emigrated to the countryside. But, even taking this factor into account, with respect to production as a whole, when one scrutinized the details—provided by the ubiquitous charts—one saw that the quantity of production or output per individual had also declined. Why?

We could only see one cause: the lack of enthusiasm, the absence of a sense of mutual understanding and voluntary agreement between the people and their rulers. And it was natural for us to arrive at this opinion.

Lozovsky, who was already familiar with our natural reservations concerning Bolshevik rationales, wanted to completely dispel our suspicions, and told us about the “Communist Saturdays”.

“Communist Saturdays” had only recently been organized. And even if the enthusiasm of its early stages had not completely disappeared, the communists themselves, due to statistical evidence that we shall publish at a later date, recognized that the program’s progress fell short of their expectations.

During our discussion with Lozovsky it occurred to him that the delegates should have an opportunity to see the results of the “Communist Saturday”.

The “Communist Saturday” was ultimately nothing more than the performance of voluntary labor without any compensation.

With the “English work week” in effect in Russia, it was thought advisable to take advantage of Saturday afternoon by attempting to interest the worker in some voluntary labor.

We accepted the proposal to see the “Communist Saturday” in operation, and since we also wanted to know just how much the workers generally were interested in increasing the output of a production system that was supposed to directly benefit them, we went to visit some workshops and factories where the “Communist Saturday” was in progress.

Somewhat suspicious with regard to any information we obtained through official channels, after everything we had seen, we wanted to know whether the disinterestedness, self-sacrifice and enthusiasm that we were told was exhibited by all the workers for the “Communist Saturday” was indeed the case.

Having become accustomed to noticing a marked divorce between the government decrees and the people who were supposed to abide by them, and since we were told that the establishment of “Communist Saturdays” was not an official government act, but a popular initiative, we thought that for once we would finally discover a point of agreement between those who ruled and those who had to obey.

Therefore, after the end of a session of the Congress, one Saturday morning, in the automobiles previously put at our disposal, we departed to visit a metal workshop.

We visited various departments of the workshop, and then we asked some questions.

Two hundred fifty workers normally worked in this workshop, but only seventy-five volunteered for “Communist Saturday”.

The output per worker on “Communist Saturdays”, compared to the output on normal workdays, was twenty-five percent higher on average.

We were shown the charts exhibiting these production statistics which, according to the manager of the workshops, precisely supported his claims.

On the following Saturday another visit was organized, this time to some docks where lumber was being unloaded from barges moored on the shores of the Moscow River.

Here, too, we were given an enthusiastic account of the “Communist Saturdays”. Persons who during the other days of the week contrived to avoid working, and sold things on the black market or did other things of that kind, worked with zeal on the “Communist Saturdays”. As proof, we were shown four or five persons who were working. It is true that these persons were registered at the Labor Center as unemployed, and always managed to find a way to remain in that status.

The enthusiasm of many of the foreign delegates to the Congress, after these tours, knew no bounds. The most pompous and emphatic adjectives were not enough to describe the enthusiasm of those who, charmed by the delights of the communist regime and the dictatorship of the proletariat, not only worked the forty-eight hours of the normal working week to increase production, but also devoted up to four hours of their Saturday afternoons, on their days off.

Any objections to this picture were considered heretical, and when faced with the enthusiasm of those who did not work but ate—instilled by those who hardly ate at all but worked—there was no other remedy except silence, if one did not want to be treated as an enemy of the revolution, or viewed as someone who could not understand the profound lesson that these things taught us.

It would have been a vain enterprise to attempt, even with so much information at our disposal, to make them understand the miserable reality of all this enthusiasm, for not even ten percent of the workers participated in “Communist Saturdays”, which proves their ineffectiveness. The Party comrades, riding the wave of their enthusiasm, did not want to understand anything.

Instead, we were the ones, with our objections, who saw and understood nothing. And even if they were to accept our argument concerning the insignificant number of workers who participated in “Communist Saturdays”, they would still support it—a concession that we were obliged to make—because it was still such a beautiful thing.

If participation in Communist Saturday, if working without pay for four hours, were to be the result of a freely accepted and absolutely disinterested initiative, who would deny that it was a satisfactory and sufficient demonstration of the mutual interpenetration of the workers and the Bolshevik government? Because we did not believe this to be true, we always had our doubts about the Communist Saturdays, and in discussions on this question we expressed these doubts.

We did not enjoy official favor, now that the officiousness of the guides that were always put at our disposal by the Third International had failed to prevent us from interviewing unofficial sources, and we asked questions we thought were relevant and important, without tedious prepared testimonies and pre-established formal presentations.

The initiative to introduce “Communist Saturdays” originated at a meeting of the Party in Moscow and had Lenin’s support. So it was not a popular initiative. But to avoid giving the impression that it was a Government program, the Party sought out some loyal communists and told them, off the record, that they were to propose in the factories where they worked that each worker should participate in “Communist Saturdays”, as if it was their own spontaneous and voluntary idea.

The Factory Committees in these factories, which had already been notified about the proposal, although they pretended they had not been notified in advance, gave their passionate support to the proposal and appealed to the workers of their factories and workshops to participate in the program.

The workers who were real communists, those who suffered all the setbacks of the regime without wanting to be commissars or anything like that, the workers who, not wanting honors, were always ready to make sacrifices for the party and the revolution, accepted the proposal with enthusiasm, with joy, with pleasure, desirous of helping the cause. But the rest of the workers rejected the proposal and the few of them who participated did so out of self-interest.

The Bolshevik Government, seeking to get the workers and the people in general interested in the initiative and to get the “Communist Saturdays” off to a good start, lavished praise upon it, devoted laudatory articles to it in newspapers and made long speeches about it.

A great deal of ink was used up, but production hardly increased at all.

Faced with the negative result of the program, since only communists, rather than everyone, had participated in these Saturdays, the Government resorted to another, more practical procedure: it distributed food and clothing to those who attended the “Communist Saturdays”. And this did make some difference; not much, however.

The Government distributed one pound of bread, or half a pound, depending on what was available; sometimes flour, or else a dried, salted fish. These bonuses attracted many workers. This was natural. A pound of bread was worth, in terms of rubles, a month’s wages.

But when they saw that the distributions were not continued, and that on one Saturday, after finishing work, they had to walk home without the promised bonus, they began to desert, and the number of workers enrolled in “Communist Saturdays” declined considerably.

For us, this was just one more vanished illusion; one more disenchantment to add to all those we had been experiencing on a daily basis.

The claims made by Lozovsky and his minions were inconsistent and incompatible with observed facts, because they were either based on the naïve confidence of an absolute faith in Bolsheviks policy or else resulted from their intention to make us swallow anything they told us.


Aug 24 2014 15:45
It is true that these persons were registered at the Labor Center as unemployed, and always managed to find a way to remain in that status.

Sounds a lot like workfare, I guess this means IDS and Lenin had a quite a bit in common.