Management and Bureaucracy In The Russian Factory

Management and Bureaucracy In The Russian Factory

A major legend of Soviet ideology has it that the rule over production in the USSR is qualitatively different from that of private capitalism. In Factory and Manager in the U.S.S.R., Professor Joseph Berliner of Syracuse University has written a most valuable study of the actual operating conditions in the Soviet factory; and the facts he advances show that, for many purposes, the similarities between modes of management at the plant level under private (Western) and state (Russian) capitalism are at least as important as the differences.

In preparing his book Professor Berliner made use of data derived from interviews with emigres who had once been managers and technicians in Soviet factories. Their ac• counts of their job experiences were then extensively supplemented and thus “controlled’ by information culled from Soviet journals—so that it is impossible to dismiss this material on the ground that it comes from “hostile” sources.

It is the similarities in managerial rule that are most striking, yet to understand them one has first to glance at some of the differences. Because of the scarcity of virtually all kinds of consumer goods as well as capital goods, selling products has not been a problem in Russia. The energies devoted in the United States to selling have in Russia largely gone into procurement, though similar techniques have been evolved for these different ends.

A second major difference between Soviet and, say, American conditions of management is the absence of autonomous worker organizations in Russia. The Russian trade unions being substantially company unions, management is seldom impeded by the claims of freely-operating organizations that parallel its own lines of decision in the productive process.

Thirdly, the Soviet manager, unlike his equivalent in the West, has functioned under close political and police surveillance. Within the factories there have systematically operated “parallel organizations” of the party and the police assigned to check on managerial performance and guard against “subversive,” i.e., independent, action by the workers.

Finally, the hierarchical rule of management in Russia is organized from the factory floor to the pinnacle of national power. It is as though the whole of an economy consisted of vast firms like General Motors, all of them controlled by the central office of a super firm whose management is finally found in the highest political body of the country.