[bas relief by Oleh Lesiuk]
The Manchester Guardian. Tuesday 28 March 1933. (Pages 9 & 10).
[Anonymously written by Malcolm Muggeridge]
THE SOVIET AND THE PEASANTRY
An Observer's Notes
POOR HARVEST IN PROSPECT.
Stalin’s New Slogan
[This is the last 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 second yesterday.]
(From a Correspondent in Russia.)
All the available evidence goes to show that conditions in the Upper, Middle, and Lower Volga districts are as bad as in the North Caucasus and the Ukraine; in Western Siberia they are little, if at all, better. No one knows what supplies of grain the Government has at its disposal, but, as I have already pointed out, the food situation cannot improve before the summer and is likely to deteriorate. The spring sowing will be a critical time; all the resources of the Government and of the Communist party are to be used to make it a success. Already intensive propaganda is being carried on; and “political department’s,” manned chiefly by the military and members of the G.P.U., have been brought into existence in all parts of the country. These will be responsible for executing the Government’s policy and of course vigorously carrying on the class war.
Even so, will it suffice? Will it suffice, even assuming the best possible conditions — good weather; the peasants propagandised and cajoled and coerced into working well; sufficient tractors repaired and properly handled, to make good to some extent the loss of horses; everyone including town populations, mobilised for clearing weeds; enough seed made available, and so on? As one says complacently of so much else in Russia, it will be an interesting experiment— interesting, that is, for the onlooker: for the actual participators often more disagreeable than interesting. In any case, it is certainly true that unless the decay of agriculture that began when the collectivisation policy was first started and that has gone on at an increasing rate ever since is stopped, unless, that is to say, the Government is able to produce a better crop this year than last, there will be famine not merely in certain districts but throughout the country.
A CURIOUS TYRANNY
It was strange in a way to return to Moscow, where the General Idea reigns supreme and where you have no alternative but to take it, for granted. There can seldom have been in the history of the world a more curious tyranny than the Soviet regime—not just personal, based on an individual's or a group of individuals’ appetite for absolute power; not an autocracy like, for instance the British Raj in India, based, on expediency, on there being no other way of dealing with a particularly confused act of social circumstances; a tyranny that developed inevitably out of a General Idea and that can, by its very nature, only become more and more absolute. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat has come to mean the Dictatorship of the Communist party; and the Dictatorship of the Communist party has come to mean the Dictatorship of the PolitBureau; and the Dictatorship of the Polit-Bureau has come to mean the Dictatorship, of Stalin; and the Dictatorship of Stalin has come to mean the Dictatorship of the General Idea with which he is obsessed. If the General Idea is fulfilled it can only be by bringing into existence a slave State.
The tendency in Russia is towards a. slave State. First, the old aristocracy and bourgeoisie were enslaved. Who cared about that? They had had their day, abused their privileges, and it was fitting that they should cut timber and dig canals for the proletariat over whom they had so long tyrannised. But when the old aristocracy and bourgeoisie had been enslaved the General Idea was as far from fulfilment as ever. It can only be fulfilled when it dominates the lives of the whole population. And since the vast majority of men resist such a domination they must be forced to submit. Fear forces them— fear of losing their bread rations; fear of being driven from where they live, fear of being informed against to the police. The present battle is between the General Idea and the peasants.
I arrived back in Moscow to find the newspapers, full of reports of speeches by various members of the Government about the agricultural situation that had been delivered to a conference of Collective Farm Shock-Brigade Workers. It is impossible, through the censorship, to comment on these speeches, which bear no relation at all to the realities of the situation. To say that there is famine in some of the most fertile parts of Russia is to say much less than the truth; there is not only famine but—in the case of the North Caucasus at least—a state of war, a military occupation. In both the Ukraine and the North Caucasus the grain collection has been carried out with such thoroughness and brutality that the peasants are now quite without bread. Thousands of them have been exiled; in certain cases whole villages have been sent to the North for forced labour; even now it is a common sight to see parties of wretched men and women, labelled kulaks, being marched away under an armed guard.
The fields are neglected and full of weeds; no cattle are to be seen anywhere, and few horses; only the military and the G.P.U. are well fed, the rest of the population obviously starving, obviously terrorised. There is no hope - at least until the summer - of conditions improving. In fact, they must get worse. The winter sowing has been neglected. Only a small area has been sown at all, and that badly. The general condition of the land and the lack of transport make it unlikely, whatever efforts the Government may make, that the spring sowing will be much better.
At the Conference there were violent outbursts against the kulaks. Where failure existed they were responsible they had falsified the accounts, hidden grain, broken machines, organised sabotage and passive resistance against the Government But for them the peasants would have faithfully yielded up all that they produced and then have waited patiently through the winter, with little or nothing to eat, to do the same thing again this year. Our new slogan, Stalin said, must be to make every collective farm worker well-to-do. It is an admirable slogan; to judge however, by the facts of the case, ‘the Government’s slogan would seem to have been hitherto to take from every collective farm worker everything he had, even the minimum amount of food required for his own and his family's consumption.
The much-discussed change from the grain collection system to a tax-inkind is unlikely, in practice, to make much difference. In the first place, the peasants do not believe that they will be left in possession of whatever grain remains after paying the tax-in-kind; in the second place, the tax has been assessed on a basis of estimates that, in view of existing conditions, ace wildly optimistic; in the third place, there is some doubt as to whether the Government really intends to allow the peasants to sell grain in the open market at open market rates. There is talk of “purchasing committees” which will buy at nominal rates and which will have the first claim on whatever grain remains alter the tax-in-kind has been delivered.
In any case, the Government’s policy is based not on persuasion or concession but on force. “Political departments,” manned chiefly by military and G.P.U., have been set up all over the country, and these will be responsible for raising and collecting a harvest. They will drive the peasants into the fields; they will make them work; they will collect most of what they produce. If necessary, they will mobilise town populations for work on the land, as by a decree published in an Archangel newspaper, the whole population in that district was mobilised to cut timber because the export quota was unfulfilled. The spring sowing will be carried out, if at all, as a result of coercion. The Government realises at last how serious the situation is, and, to deal with it employs its familiar tactics—speeches, slogans, enthusiastic conferences in Moscow-in the villages, ruthless, organised force.
[An article by the same correspondent discussing the recent Soviet decree ordering workers of every description in the Northern Region to take part in a great timber-cutting campaign in order to double the output will be published tomorrow.]
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