The Katushka affair and the left turn - Stepan

Translation of a letter from the Decist opposition.


Dear friend, when I read your letter with a description of what is happening in your plant (with the rates, with the persecution of workers who dare to speak out against the authorities - coverall, trade union or party - it does not matter, because you are entirely correct to say that they are one issue, about the ever-increasing discontent of workers, which does not appear at meetings, but which abounds in conversations, etc.) - I remembered in Smolensk the factory "Katushka"1. In Pravda of May 12 [1928] was placed a lengthy article titled "Smolensk abscess." So in it was also talked about this same factory "Katushka" (do not know if you've read this article): "The factory has more than five hundred workers, including 200 communists and 80 members of the Komsomol." A percentage of communists, as we see, almost unheard of. And so here in a company that was supposed to be a model, there are such wild things. Foremen spread morals absolutely incredible for socialist enterprises. Korolkov, an assistant chief engineer, demands bribes from workers with vodka, snacks, money, and in case of women workers... with body. Timofeev, a foreman, also urges women workers to cohabitation, extorts bribes, keeping workers under threat of dismissal. "In the factory reigned an atmosphere of unprecedented intimidation and terror. Complaints and appeals of workers - non-party and party - just are not given importance. Masters also immediately dealt with the complainers. The workers eventually gave way [lit.: dropped the hands]."

As you can see, the author of the article, describing the situation in "Katushka," keeps repeating: incredible, unheard, unseen. Cowardly hypocrisy! Does it, about which he tells, really appear for plants and factories of our Union as rare exceptions, incredible and unprecedented? Nothing of the sort. After all, what you write about your plant is very similar to what occurred in "Katushka." And how much we read notes - even in the official press - which reveal the same facts. And each time they are referred to as exceptions and they are called unparalleled, incredible, unheard. But go properly - and encounter in one or another form, in one or another degree at any factory, at any plant, at any enterprise.

Remember when the so-called "left course" was declared and when Stalin in his speech at the Moscow active spoke about self-criticism, calling for it, praising it, you in your letter to me wrote: "But is this not the beginning of a real change of course, is this not the beginning of a genuine turn - as you put it, - towards workers?" And now you even don't remember about this "left course."

Yesterday one of our Moscow workers told me that with them at the plant, when someone starts to shoot the breeze, then workers who are older and more serious, tell him: "Hey, you, self-criticism!" Yes, now already no one gives it any importance, laughing at it, waves the hand, when you talk about it.

Each worker now knows from experience that the "left course" - if it took place in reality, it would primarily affect workers - has not brought in his position absolutely any change. On the contrary, for the past few months that have elapsed since the announcement of the "left turn," the workers became even more convinced of how non-proletarian, hostile to workers is the policy, which the present regime conducts under the name of "left course."

During this time, workers have experienced ever-increasing pressure on them through a rapid increase in labor productivity at almost stable wages, and now the whole press is full of notes that recent productivity growth was too small, therefore all measures must be taken to ensure that over the coming months it will be strengthened.

And this represents [by itself] even greater pressure on the workers. The arbitrariness on the part of the administration in factories during the "left course" has not lessened one iota. As before, all actions of the administration are covered and unlimited mka violations are found, disregard of trade union democracy has twined itself already a solid nest?Noa Rodman" href="#footnote2_3uucjpe">2

And how many oppositionist workers - and still recently - were subjected and are subjected to repression for struggle in defense of trade union democracy? "Such a policy of trade unions - continues the appeal - in which trade unions not in any case for a single moment lost sight of their special and specific tasks, which differ from the direct tasks of economic organs." Also not too bad spoken. But this is only the recognition of [...] one of the main opposition claims that trade unions actually forget, ignore their special and specific tasks and are increasingly becoming mere appendage econorgans.

How much furious malice, how much hatred was shown by the authors of the present appeal towards that statement which we put forward in a number of our opposition documents. In order not to protract and thus extend the size of the letter, I will not linger and proceed to the next excerpts of the appeal. As you can see, all of it is an indirect confirmation of the correctness of a number of proposals put forward by us, the opposition, still a long time ago. But is there however, in this appeal at least one such item, at least one such position, at least one such thesis, which would not have been recorded in the previously adopted resolutions at party and trade union congresses or plena of the Central Committee? No. Any item of the appeal has already been adopted, was already recorded in one form or another, in a different formulation in a number of previous official documents. These are all the old, very familiar to us songs.

But each time, making a resolution about democracy, about the fight against bureaucracy and so forth., the Central Committee of the VKP(b) consistently pounces repression against the proletarian vanguard of the party, thereby strengthening the right-wing elements of the party, that reject all these solutions, disrupt them. And now, announcing the "left course" and having issued an appeal, the Central Committee did not mention the abolition of these repressions, and in fact now they have taken such a size and shape which they hitherto did not have.

What, however, gave rise to this appeal, what explains its manifestation exactly at the moment? As you well know for your factory - and how it is undoubtedly confirmed by data from many factories - everywhere comes ever-increasing growth of the workers' dissatisfaction.

"Left course" and the slogan of "self-criticism" have been unable to halt the growth of discontent. This task must now, according to its authors, fulfill the appeal. Vain hope. The best appeal will not and can not make any changes to our reality. One secretary of a major factory party-collective, having read the appeal, said, "Whistlers, there are no fools! If we also write regarding democracy etc. things that might have been, but in fact presuppose the Central Committee will not permit to criticize itself, why are we going to permit workers to untie their tongues?" This phrase perfectly reflected how the party members perceived, and at the same time the trade unionists and state-apparatus bureaucrats, the directives emanating from the C.C. of the VKP(b), when these directives run counter to the so firmly established with us regime.

And indeed, that secretary is on his own right. Can one take seriously the directive about workers' democracy, about self-criticism etc. the good things, when it comes from those, who brought down the most severe repression (arrests, exile) on the head of thousands of proletarian revolutionaries, who, when pursuing a clearly harmful, clearly anti-proletarian politics, answered the slightest criticism of this policy with the terrible shout "do not you dare criticize" and then this response was reinforced with actions of the state apparatus.

No, the appeal of the C.C. will not bring anything in our reality. However, from what I have said you could get the impression that I, having treated in this way the appeal and given full account that in the conditions of our regime it will not be enforced, will not be realized, that it will suffer the fate of all previous similar to it appeals and resolutions, - I think, that we should not show any interest to it, not remind about it, not say anything about it like that.

Yet, the question of our attitude to the appeal is connected, in my opinion, to a more general question, on which allow me, though very short, with a few words, to dwell. The author of the article, excerpts from which I quoted in the beginning of the letter, wrote: "The workers eventually gave way." Yes, the worker in the face of all that he meets, with what he encounters, often does give way. And this passivity, this lack of strength, energy is one of the main obstacles, one of the main obstacles in the implementation of the tasks standing before the working class. That is why, it seems to me, we need to lead a most resolute struggle with these sentiments of wane, disappointment, indifference. I think now each of us must quite firmly say to oneself: more activity, less indifference, I must not be a single minute at the plant passive, I will awaken activity in each worker, raise his interest in everything around him at the factory, indefatigably wake his interest to everything that is done outside his factory. Be yourself (call for this also others) a lively participant of workers' meetings. Speak on record of factory organizations, expose in each case their anti-proletarian action, you will thereby help the working class to raise class consciousness.

Be a lively participant, showing this example to other workers, under all elections (in the factory committee, in the control commission, of representatives) in an effort to ensure that everywhere there are not bureaucrats, capable only of acting on the instructions of the business executive, the administrator, the "higher-up," but workers, capable of defending the real interests of the workers. In short, in my opinion, one must declare a determined struggle against all those sentiments, which, differently manifested, in general, lead to the kind of reasoning that it is supposedly none of my business. That is why in relation to the appeal, to which there should be no illusions, one can not, in my opinion, stand in the position of an indifferent devil-may-care attitude. On the contrary, it is necessary to call upon the workers to ensure that they demanded the carrying out of the appeal in life, mercilessly exposing all cases of resistance, demanding the removal and prosecution of all who impede it. It is necessary that the very fact of the emergence of a promising appeal is used by us in order to expose the hypocrisy of its authors, in order to expose the system, which will render fierce resistance to any attempt to implement it, in order to mobilize the attention and interest of the broad proletarian masses to the questions raised by the appeal. These are the thoughts I wanted to share with you in this letter.


Source: Collection of documents on the Decists. (Stephen Shenfield)

More on the Decist opposition:

  • 1. A local woodworking factory. On this affair cf. The Making of the Soviet State Apparatus (168-173 p.), Olga Narkiewicz.
  • 2. Difficult sentence to translate. Perhaps "mka" is a sort of abbreviation or just a typo. The question mark at the end also seems odd. - Noa Rodman

Posted By

Noa Rodman
Dec 25 2014 19:19


Attached files


Dec 26 2014 10:14

Hey, happy Christmas! Do you know the date, or approximate date of this letter? If so it would be good to put that in the intro box

Noa Rodman
Dec 27 2014 09:10

A few months after the announcement of Stalin's left turn, I guess late 1928.

btw, Narkiewicz writes that the C.C. used the Katushka affair as an excuse for a major purge:

Dec 29 2014 18:49
Difficult sentence to translate. Perhaps "mka" is a sort of abbreviation or just a typo. The question mark at the end also seems odd. - Noa Rodman

There must be some words missing around "mka". The words before and the words after "mka" are from two different sentences.