Gareth Jones

[bas relief by Oleh Lesiuk]

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The Daily Telegraph.  Wednesday 30 August 1933.

Corn Growing in Fields Where All the People Have Perished

By AN EXPERT OBSERVER

[Dr. Otto Schiller] 

WHAT strikes me in all the villages in this agricultural region is the small proportion of men.  They evident1y have less power of resistance than women, and die more quickly from the famine. 

The women who have children die sooner than the others; therefore single women predominate in the villages, which have suffered most severely.  In Kamiogradska the collective farms consist almost exclusively of women. 

The children’s refuges produce an especially painful impression.  Mothers unable to feed their children take them to these refuges; but as they also have little food, the children, already crippled by famine, are little by little succumbing to death by starvation. 

Since the statements of propaganda contrast so strikingly with reality, the Government has ceased to deluge the collectives with the exhortations that were so prolific in former years.  Endeavours to fan Bolshevist enthusiasm have been replaced by measures of brutal coercion.  Anybody 1eaving work without permission is arrested. 

PRISONERS LED TO FORCED LABOUR 

Groups of prisoners being led to forced labour by armed men, are a common sight in the villages. A special system has now been established by which compulsory labour is imposed on members of the collectives who, through physical weakness or unwillingness, do not make satisfactory progress with their allotted tasks 

But the food shortage is felt even by those in charge of the work.  I know cases in which agronomists sent from Rostov to direct the spring agricultural work in the villages were given nothing but a pound of bread a day.  As a result, some of these officials deserted. 

The progress of agricultural work in the North Caucasus is naturally greatly affected by the famine.  In the thinned populations of the villages there are enough men to do the work.  Considerable areas of arable land remain untilled.  In the district between Kropotkino and Krasnodar, the most fertile parts of the Kuban Province, only 25 percent of the arable land was sown by the beginning of May.  The sowing, however, was still continuing. 

WEEDS CHOKING THE SEEDED LAND 

In other places the situation was more or less the same, sometimes a little better, sometimes a little worse.  The stretches of land adjoining the Caucasian railway line were almost complete1y sown.

 It is probable that special efforts were applied to these two stretches of land, visible as they are to tourists travelling to the watering places.

 During last autumn’s agricultural work the population had not yet been reduced by famine.  Therefore the percentage of winter crops in the total area of tilled lands is unusually high.  Moreover, last winter was, especially favourable for winter crops.  The autumn sowing, undertaken in good time, was maintained satisfactorily, during the winter.  Certain results were even obtained from land which was sown belatedly and unsatisfactorily, and which in normal times would have yielded no crops under such conditions.

The spring sowing occupies a small area in comparison with the total area sown, being carried out only by the collectives, who generally received from the State a loan of seeds, mostly oats.  The individual peasants, in so far as they worked at all, usually sowed small quantities of maize and sunflower, and that very late on account of lack of draught animals. 

SHORTAGE OF LABOUR AND HORSES

Though only a part of the total area was sown, even that was not finished towards the middle of May.  The weather up till then had been quite favourable for the summer crops, frequent rains helping the growth even on badly tilled, lands, but weeds are already appearing on lands indifferently worked, and will soon overpower the seed the more so because of lack of workers with strength enough to do weeding. 

The State farms alone were in a position to fulfil to a certain extent the State programme of sowing.  But even on such show-farms as Gigant and Verblud, the sown fields are already becoming overgrown with weeds.

The State farms, too, are wondering how they will get harvesters this year, owing to the shrinkage of the neighbouring populations.  They will probably be obliged to bring men in from distant provinces.

FARM WORK BY SOLDIERS

The problem of obtaining enough horses is also formidable.  Tractors, in so far as they can be effectively used, are sufficient only for a small part of the field work. The number of horses dwindled during last winter and the ensuing spring to such an extent that there now remains nothing but a miserable remnant of the former number.  In Tishbeck, between March 1 and May 15 of this year 50 per cent, of the horses perished.  Those that remain are in such a deplorable state owing to lack of fodder, and such extreme efforts are demanded of them during the fieldwork that a further decrease in. their numbers is inevitable.

Cows are now used as draught animals, a thing, hitherto entirely unknown in the Northern Caucasus. The collectives gather in even cows not yet “collectivized” for purposes of fieldwork.  Naturally their physical condition and milk-yielding capacities rapidly deteriorate.

A large percentage of fields will remain untilled this year.  A larger number still have been worked casually and unsatisfactorily during the last few years, and as a result weeds -especially the more vicious kinds are rampant.  They form large group of prickly plants like hedges, which can be eliminated only by very intensive and regular weeding, for which men are no longer available.

As mortality from famine is bound to continue, and as the numbers of draught animals will also be further and further reduced, the problem will arise as to who will gather the harvests.  In villages where the land was tilled and sown last autumn, but where the inhabitants have since died out, the land is even now without a master.

It may be that more soldiers will be sent to these districts by the Government.  Even last year it was necessary to detail soldiers for work on State farms, the Northern Caucasus being among the areas assisted in this way.  This experiment evidently gave good results Voroshilov, the War Minister, reported its success to, the Congress of the Collectives last February.  In spite of military aid, however, the gathering of crops will be attended ‘with great difficulties on account of the lack of horses and machines.

The burial of the victims of famine is conducted in the most primitive fashion.  No trouble is taken to identify those found lying in the road, and the bodies are buried on the spot on which they are found. Even in the villages, very often no trouble is taken to convey the dead to the graveyard.  They are buried in the courtyard where they have lain.

PLAN OF PEASANT REPOPULATION 

One is struck in all the cemeteries by the great number of newly-made graves, and the grave-diggers seem to be always at work disposing of bodies.

In order to restore agriculture in those localities now decimated by famine it will be necessary to populate them anew.  It is reported that a plan of repopulation is already in existence.  It is proposed, for instance, to transfer peasants from the Voronesh Province to that of Kuban.  But such a process would hay, to continue for years before agriculture could be brought to a normal state.

Enormous agricultural riches have been wiped out by the destruction of huts, outbuildings, and agricultura1 implements, and by the weed-ridden state into which the fields have been allowed to degenerate.  A new population of peasants, without any resources of their own, would require such enormous expenditure on the part of the State for the supply of the necessities for production that the rehabilitation of these areas could only proceed extremely slowly.

* * * *

It. is possible that the number of people to be fed may dwindle during the coming months faster in proportion than the area of sown land; for, as I have pointed out, the autumn sowing were made when the population was much larger than it is now.  If the difficulties of gathering the crops can be overcome, it may be found that the famine has restored the food-balance. 

This, indeed, may be the solution of the agrarian crisis in Russia: that the balance between production and consumption may be restored, not by increasing production, but by the annihilation of millions of people who cannot be fed by ruined agriculture.

 THE END

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