Bitter Waters

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Gennady Andreev-Khomiakov's Bitter Waters provides a unique insight into the economic realities under the yoke of Stalin's planned economy. Andreev-Khomiakov presents a rare account of the Soviet work experience that illuminates the gap between the dictates of Communist economic planning and its actual results. "To the authorities we are faceless individuals merging into a mass, an indistinguishable crowd." (90) This statement is a telling indictment of the actuality of life under a regime that subordinated the interests of the individual to the interests of building Communism. The Soviet order demanded that individuals abandon their own interests, deferring them to the cause of building a socialist utopia. This order insisted that the Soviet worker was merely a cog in a wheel, a necessary but easily replaceable automaton that has no choice but to surrender those fiercely human qualities, namely creativity and originality, and comply with the faceless and often nonsensical dictates of the Soviet plan.

Andreev-Khomiakov's experience illustrates the failures and shortcomings of the Soviet system; it evinces the ironically chaotic nature of blindly adhering to an arbitrary plan that virtually ensured a gap between what is planned and what was actually achieved.

The nature of the gap between Communist economic planning and the reality described by Andreev-Khomiakov was caused by no single force, but instead by a combination of factors that ensured that the goals of the plan would not be realized. The Soviet system was an exceedingly complex bureaucracy with strict protocols and procedures with no tolerance for deviation. Strict adherence to complex bureaucratic procedure enacted a working environment where there was often little to do but wait for the next order from above.

All of the links in this chain are tightly intertwined, forming an essential, carefully structured ornament of the socialist façade. If some information or other is not available, then it has to be invented somehow out of thin air; God help you if it is omitted. The entire chain can be broken because of a single inadequate piece of information, and the thunder and lightning of orders, reproofs, and even arrests for "disruption of the accounting process" might shower down from on high. To avoid this, we had to keep three full-time employees who were bored to death from lack of work during the rest of the month. (83) In order for anything to be accomplished the system required total obedience to the workings of the bureaucracy. Needless to say, the prevalence of "down-time" has obvious implications on productivity. The enormity of the bureaucratic machine engendered a situation where supplies were scarce and the factories were never operating at total capacity.

Insufficient supplies and raw materials was a constant reality of Andreev-Khomiakov's experience at the lumber mill but such scarcity meant little to the powers that be. The regime expected total fulfillment of production quotas regardless of scarcity. "All Soviet industry operated by combining what was acquired "˜by the book' with what was obtained by hook or crook. It could not have been done any other way: Without personal initiative, it seems that even a socialist economy cannot exist if it wants to function and not merely to vegetate." (71) This passage highlights the incredible backwardness and contradictory nature characteristic of the Soviet system. The same system that had no tolerance for individuality and creativity demanded personal initiative in order to ensure that production goals were attained. Andreev-Khomiakov illustrates the negative consequences of the necessity of "scheming" quite succinctly.

In reality, it was impossible to get used to this situation. No matter how many times we were forced to resort to scheming, we could not get used to it. Just the opposite: We began inwardly to rebel. Why were we compelled to involve ourselves in forgeries and in unscrupulous business deals? What kind of diabolical need necessitated all this abominable trouble? Why weren't we given the chance to work like human beings, honestly, without demeaning trickery? We felt humiliated and insulted by this scheming, and at times it became unbearably loathsome. (97) The realities of the Soviet planned economy were altogether different from what the plan stipulated. The complex workings of the bureaucracy intended to minimize individuality and originality but the shortcomings of the bureaucracy ensured that personal initiative was patently necessary if the goals of the plan were to be attained. Bitter Waters emphasizes the backward and contradictory nature of the Soviet system; it is a unique and personal insight that highlights the conflicting nature of the Soviet way of life. Andreev-Khomiakov's perspective emphasizes how a plan, by definition orderly and precise, can enact chaos because it does not consider the fallible nature of human beings. The Soviet regime demanded total conformity and obedience to a system that ultimately (and ironically) needed nonconformity if the goals of Communist economic planning were to be realized.