[bas relief by Oleh Lesiuk]
The Manchester Guardian. Monday 27 March 1933. (Pages 9 & 10).
[Anonymously written by Malcolm Muggeridge]
THE SOVIET AND THE PEASANTRY
An Observer's Notes
HUNGER IN THE UKRAINE
[This is the second of three articles by an observer who recently visited the North Caucasus and the Ukraine in order to see how the collectivisation of agriculture in Soviet Russia was affecting the lives of the peasants. The first article appeared on Saturday and the third will be published to-morrow]
(From a Correspondent in Russia.)
My train reached Rostov-on-Don - fairly large town, capital of the North Caucasus—in the early morning before it was even light. I had been travelling “hard” and trying to find out from some of the peasants in a crowded compartment where they were going and why. Many appeared to have no particular object in view; just a vague hope that things might be better somewhere else, In Russia, as in most other parts of the world, there is much aimless movement just now from one place to another. One peasant, however, had a specific object; he wanted to join the army because, he said, one was fed in the army. On the platform a group of peasants were standing in military formation five soldiers armed with rifles guarding them. There were men and women, each carrying a bundle. Somehow, lining them up in military formation made the thing grotesque—wretched looking peasants, half-starved, tattered clothes, frightened faces, standing to attention.
These may be kulaks, I thought, but if so they have made a mighty poor thing of exploiting their fellows. I hung about looking on curiously, wanting to ask where they were to be sent—to the north to cut timber, somewhere else to dig canals—until one of the guards told me sharply to take myself off.
In Rostov I had a letter of introduction, which I presented, and found myself in a large car with a guide. “There we’re building new Government offices, eight stories high; there a new theatre and opera house to seat 3,000, living quarters behind for the actors; here’s a new factory that three years ago didn’t exist, blocks of flats for the, workers, latest machinery and sanitation.” I began to forget the desolation the North Caucasus and the group of peasants being lined up in military formation on a cold railway platform in the very early morning.
Showmanship the most characteristic product of the age—worked its magic. “Have you got bread here in Rostov?” I asked weakly. “Bread, of course we’ve got bread; as much as we can eat.” It was not true; but they had a certain amount of bread. One might go all over Russia like this I thought on a wave of showmanship. It explained something that has often puzzled me.
A FUNDAMENTAL FACT
How is it that so many obvious and fundamental facts about Russia are not noticed even by serious and intelligent visitors? Take, for instance, the most obvious and fundamental fact of all. There is not 5 per cent of the population whose standard of life is equal to, or nearly equal to, that of the unemployed in England who are on the lowest scale of relief. I make this statement advisedly, having checked it on a basis of the family budgets in Mr. Fenner Brockway’s recent book “Hungry England,” which certainly do not err on the side of being too optimistic.
In the evening I joined a crowd in a street. It was drifting up and down while a policeman blew his whistle; dispersing just where he was, then reforming again behind him. Some of the people in the crowd were holding fragments of food inconsiderable fragments that in the ordinary way a housewife would throw away or give to the cat. Others were examining these fragments of food. Every now and then an exchange took place. Often, as in the little market town, what was bought was at once consumed. I turned into a nearby church. It was crowded. A service was proceeding; priests in vestments and with long hair were chanting prayers, little candle flames lighting the darkness incense rising. How to understand? How to form an opinion? What did it mean? What was its significance? The voices of the priests were dim, like echoes, and the congregation curiously quiet, curiously still.
I dined with a number of Communists They were so friendly and sincere. “About this peasant business?" I asked. They smiled, having an answer all ready “As the factories were in 1920 so now the farms. We’ve built up heavy industry; the next task is agriculture. Fifteen collective farm workers have gone to Moscow to a conference. Comrade Stalin will address them. This year we plan to plant so many hectares which will produce so many poods of grain. Then next year ...”
“Are you quite sure,” I wanted to ask “that the parallel is correct— factories and land? Isn't agriculture somehow more sensitive, lending itself less to statistical treatment? Will people torn up by the roots make things grow, even if you drive them into the fields at the end of a rifle?” It is as impossible, however, to argue against a General Idea as an algebraic formula.
The Ukraine is more a separate country than the North Caucasus. It has a language of its own; southern rather than eastern; with white, good houses and easy-going people. Even now you can see that it has been used to abundance. There is nothing pinchbeck about the place; only, as in the North Caucasus, the population is starving. “Hunger” was the word I heard most. Peasants begged a lift on the train from one station to another sometimes their bodies swollen up—a disagreeable sight—from lack of food. There were fewer signs of military terrorism than in the North Caucasus, though I saw another party of, presumably, kulaks being marched away under an armed guard at Dniepropetrovsk; the little towns and villages seemed just numb and the people in too desperate a condition even actively to resent what had happened.
Otherwise, it was the same story — cattle and horses dead; fields, neglected: meagre harvest despite moderately good climatic conditions; all the grain that was produced taken by the Government; now no bread at all, no bread anywhere, nothing much else either; despair and bewilderment. The Ukraine was before the Revolution one of the world’s great wheat-producing areas, and even Communists admit that its population, including the poor peasants, enjoyed a tolerably comfortable standard of life; now it would he necessary to go to Arabia to find cultivators in more wretched circumstances. Here, too, there are new factories, a huge new power station at Dnieprostroi, a huge new square at Kharkov with huge Government buildings—and food being exported from Odessa.
A KOLHOZNIK’S LIFE
In a village about 25 kilometres from Kiev (old capital of the Ukraine; enchanting town! Now Kharkov is the capital). I visited a collective farm worker, or kolhoznik. His wife was in the outer room of their cottage sifting millet. There were also three chickens in the outer room, and on the wall two icons and a bouquet made of coloured paper and a wedding group, very gay.
“How are things?” I asked.
‘Bad,” she answered.
“Only potatoes and millet to eat since August.”
“No bread or meat?”
“Were things better before you joined the collective farm?”
“Why did you join, then?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
She opened a door leading to an inner room to call her husband, He was lying on the stove, but got up when she called and came in to us carrying one child and with another following him. Both children were obviously undernourished. I told the man that I was interested in Collective farms, and he was ready to talk. “I was a poor peasant,” he said, “with a hectare and a half of land. I thought that things would be better for me on the collective farm.”
“Well, were they?”
He laughed. “Not at all, much worse.”
“Worse than before the Revolution?"
He laughed again. “Much, much worse. Before the Revolution we had a cow and something to feed it with; plenty of bread, meat sometimes. Now nothing but potatoes and millet.”
‘What’s happened, then? Why is there no bread in the Ukraine?”
“Bad organisation. They send people from Moscow who know nothing ordered us there to grow vegetables instead of wheat. We didn’t know how to grow vegetables, and they couldn’t show us. Then we were told that we must put our cows all together and there’d be plenty of milk for our children, but the expert who advised this forgot to provide a cowshed, so we had to put our cows in the sheds of the rich peasants, who, of course, let them starve.”
“I thought you’d got rid of all the rich peasants?
“We did, but their agents remain.’
“What about the winter sowing?”
“Again bad organisation. People lost heart and stopped working Weeds everywhere, and, with the cattle dead, no manure; no horses to transport fertiliser even if it was available.” He hushed his voice. “There are enemies even on the Council of the collective farm. Now they wouldn’t elect me on to the Council.”
“Some grain must have been produced. What happened to it?"
“All taken by the Government,”
“It’ll be better in that respect this year. You’ll only have to pay a tax in kind—so much per hectare—and not deliver a quota for the whole district. When you’ve paid the tax in kind you’ll have about two-thirds of the crop left for yourselves.”
If we get as big a crop as they estimate. But we shan’t—not with the land in such bad condition and with no horses. They’ll take everything again.” He showed me his time-book. His pay was seventy-five kopeks a day. At open market prices seventy-five kopeks would buy half a slice of bread. He said that for the most part he spent the money on fuel. Sometimes he bought a little tobacco. Nothing else. No clothes, of course, or boots or anything like that.
“What about the future?” I asked. He put on a characteristic peasant look; half resignation and half cunning. “We shall see.”
When I got back to Moscow I found that Stalin had delivered himself of this opinion to a conference of collective farm shock brigade workers :—
By developing Collective farming we succeeded in drawing this entire mass of poor peasants into collective farms, In giving them security and raising them to the level of middle peasants. ...What does this mean? It means that no less than 20,000,000 of the peasant population have been saved from poverty and ruin, from kulak slavery, and converted, thanks to the collective farms, into people assured of a livelihood. This is a great achievement comrades. This is such an achievement as the world has never yet known and such as not a single state in the world has ever before secured.
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