The fight for self management in Soviet industry

Wednesday, June 19, 1991

Interview by Jim Percy and Renfrey Clarke

A senior Soviet economist and leader of the left wing of the Social Democratic Party, Galina Rakitskaya is also playing an important role in developing the movement for people's self-management in the USSR. She was interviewed in Moscow for Green Left by Jim Percy and Renfrey Clarke. In this, the second part of the interview, Rakitskaya discusses the issue of self-management and the organisations that have arisen around it.

You mentioned that you've become a member of an initiative committee for the formation of a Party of People's Self-Management. Is this project bearing fruit?

A draft program and statement have already been prepared, and we're in the process of establishing the party. The ideas of the party are very closely aligned with those of the workers' collectives which are its social base.

What can you tell us about these workers' collectives? How did they arise?

The key organisation involved has been the Union of Labor Collectives.

In 1987 a Law on the State Enterprise was adopted. Under this law, Councils of Labor Collectives were established for the first time. These councils represented everybody, not just production workers but the whole collective, including white-collar workers and engineers.

The same law made enterprise directors subject to election by the collectives. But a great many of the Councils of Labor Collectives had no more than a formal existence. We were still living under barracks socialism.

On June 4, 1990, another law was issued which abolished all these structures. The law established new mechanisms; enterprises are now administered by another organ in which more than half of the posts are held by managers and by functionaries appointed by the state. The Councils of Labor Collectives were outraged. But they didn't do anything in particular, and power was taken away from the workers. Moreover, it was taken away at precisely the time when the question was arising of how the property of the enterprises should be divided up.

Then, in September, in the city of Togliatti, a conference was convened of the representatives of these Councils of Labor Collectives. There were also people from the workers' collectives and strike committees, about 200 in all.The consensus at this

conference was that the owners of the enterprises should be the labor collectives.

In December the founding congress was held of the Union of Labor Collectives, which was intended to unite everyone who held to these positions. Representatives were there from about 600 enterprises, employing more than 7 million people. As far as possible, all the potential participants were informed, but it was extremely difficult to distribute information. Both the nomenklatura and the right-wing democrats did their best to hush up any news of this congress.

We succeeded in forcing the Russian parliament to adopt a law on enterprises that was better than the all-union law. Now the members of the Russian parliament are boasting that their law is superior. They don't mention the pressure they had to be subjected to.

Under the Russian law, the labor collectives in state-owned enterprises have somewhat greater rights. The mechanisms administering the enterprise are the Conference of the Labor Collective and the Council of the Labor Collective. The director is appointed jointly by the labor collective and the state. The director is nominated by the owner, that is, the state, and the labor collective has to agree to the appointment. We of course demand that in state enterprises it should be the labor collective that appoints the director.

How does the Union of Labor Collectives address the question of privatisation?

The self-management movement understands privatisation as the transfer of property from state to collective ownership. One of the terms we are now hearing is "de-statisation". Fine — let's "de-statise". But what should this mean in practice? In the enterprise, the representative of the people should be the labor collective; it should have control. And it shouldn't be forced to buy out the enterprise; ownership should simply be handed over to it.

Alternatively, enterprises should remain government property. But control should be in the hands of the collective.