Petrograd Soviet Economic Department Programme, adopted
by the Petrograd Soviet
16 May 1917.
As recalled by N N Sukhanov
Translator's note: This is the basic outline programme for regulating and controlling the Russian economy devised by the Petrograd Soviet's Economic Department (leading members included the Mensheviks V G Groman and N N Sukhanov and the social-democrat internationalist V A Bazarov) and adopted by the Petrograd Soviet in May 1917. It was intended to tackle the ever-worsening dislocation of the Russian economy brought about by the war, by means of state and soviet control. The economic assumptions underlying this programme - that only state regulation along the lines of the German wartime economy could prevent catastrophe - were widely shared across the Russian political spectrum - including by the Bolsheviks, whose economic policies after taking power owed much to the Petrograd Soviet programme. Indeed, the assumptions and approach of wartime economics continued to underpin Soviet economic thinking long after the end of the war, and the aim of "planned regulation of economic life" remained state policy until 1991. - FK
The programme of the Economic Department was adopted (by what majority, I do not recall). The Soviet had taken a substantial step forward. The document on which the Executive Committee voted is, in my opinion, highly interesting, and I reproduce it here almost in full. It says:
The coalition Provisional Government, which expresses the thoughts and will of the revolutionary democracy, cannot avoid the task posed by the war and its consequences. This task is to plan the organisation of the economy and labour. The old regime fell as a result of its failure to do this. These tasks should be fulfilled along two parallel paths: 1) by creating bodies to elucidate the economic situation as a whole, and 2) by creating executive bodies to regulate economic life in a planned way. This regulatory work should not be done by institutions in isolation from one another, as this would be doomed to failure. It should be a complete system of measures, carried out under the direction of a unified state body.
The consultative bodies, both centrally and locally, should consist of representatives of Soviet, class, and scientific organisations, 'with the participation of government institutions'. The central executive body should be be attached to the Provisional Government.
All economic activity concerned with the production, acquisition and distribution of foodstuffs for the army and the people, both monopolised and subject to regulation, should be concentrated in the hands of a supply committee, made up of the Minister of Food and all those bodies involved with acquiring and distributing foodstuffs... The time has come to move away from anarchic production and private syndicates, to an economic organism working at the behest of the state, under its control or even its immediate direction. Private entrepreneurs and traders should be subject to constraint, both in terms of the profits they make and in the areas in which they conduct their private economic activity. For many branches of production the time is ripe for a state trading monopoly (in bread, meat, salt, and leather). For others the conditions are ready for the formation of state-regulated trusts (in coal, oil, metals, sugar and paper). Finally, in almost all sectors of industry the present situation demands a regulating role for the state in the distribution of raw materials and of the products of those industries, as well as in setting prices...
...At the same time all credit institutions should be placed under state and social control... All dealings in foreign currencies should be under the control of the state. All issues of shares and loans by trading and industrial societies can be permitted only by agreement with the central economic body.
Having developed a corresponding financial programme, crowned with an obligatory loan, the Executive Committee moves on to measures for the organisation of labour, setting them out as follows:
The state regulation of labour, given a developed system of economic policies, should not only defend the interests of the workers, but should pursue the task of rationally distributing the country's labour force. The Ministry of Labour should be closely linked with the mobilisation department of the War Ministry, and all further call-ups to the army should be reexamined, both in terms of the composition of the forces sent to the front and even their numbers. At the same time the lists of those exempted from service should be reexamined, in order to catch all those dodging service. The most decisive measures should be taken to combat idleness, up to and including the introduction of an obligation to work.
Source: N N Sukhanov, Zapiski o revolyutsii t. 2. Moscow, Izdatel'stvo politicheskoy literatury 1991. pp. 215-216.