These Are the Russians
Behind the lines, in great collective farms and in roaring factories they work furiously to repel the Nazi invader
RUSSIA’S agricultural position was undoubtedly serious last winter and must have been desperate early this spring, but it would be hopeless by now had the Government not introduced science, machinery and planning under the Collectivized and State Farm systems. Some foreign observers told me that, due to the loss of the rich Ukraine, Kuban and other areas (roughly one fourth of the country’s total farm acreage), Russia would already have collapsed without Collectivization. This seemed to be a reasonable assumption inasmuch as the farm output of the Soviet Union increased between fifty and one hundred per cent since Government control went into effect. (The increase, of course, was more than offset by the German thrust through the Ukraine and Kuban.) Millions of new acres went into production in Siberia and Middle Asia as a result of soil conservation and irrigation schemes, and reports continually reached Moscow of new methods and new crops introduced by the famous agricultural expert, Lysenko.
The 1942 harvest was in full swing while I was in Russia. In the south peasants were cutting wheat almost within sight of tank battles. In the Stalingrad area they were working around the clock to bring in winter crops. Rye was being harvested in ten regions around Kuibyshev. Near Kalinin, women and children labored in flax fields. In the Molotov region, near Omsk, and on all sides of Novosibirsk, combines were cutting rye and oat crops.
In all the Republics Government officials were beseeching every able-bodied citizen not already engaged in vital industries to go into the fields. Collective and State Farms were holding meetings to teach workers how to get the harvest in faster. Thousands of crèches were opened where mothers could leave their children while they drove tractors. So families would not lose time going to and from their homes, dormitories were built on the largest Collective farms. The Assistant People’s Commissar for Agriculture said: “The most important
military and economic task for young Communist organizations, Collective Farms and machine tractor stations this year is the harvest.”
The response to the Government’s call was excellent. In the Ivanovo region twenty-five thousand people, including six thousand students, left towns for farm work. Nearly seventy-five thousand students in and around Moscow spent their summer vacations in the country and most of them worked every day from dawn to dusk. In the Kalinin Front region, freed from the invaders in the winter of 1941-42, twenty-one thousand acres of grain, nine thousand of flax and one thousand of potatoes were already harvested by August. These figures represented one hundred and seven per cent fulfillment of the Government quota.. Throughout the country most Collective Farms began sending grain to the “Red Army Fund” weeks before local agricultural officials announced minimum requirements.
The harvest was undoubtedly the best in many years, although few figures were available. Said
the Moscow News: “The Soviet countryside
succeeded not only in coping with the increased State plan for planting grain, vegetables and industrial crops, but also in topping it on a scale in excess of the most optimistic expectations.” It. was announced that in the Irkutsk region, for example, 108,000 acres were sown over and above the plan. Kitchen gardens in Moscow produced seventy thousand tons of onions, cucumbers, radishes, lettuce and other vegetables—enough to feed thousands of soldiers all winter.”
IN THE middle of the harvest season I visited a twenty-five-hundred-acre farm near Moscow. Called Thaelmann (after the German Communists by that name), it looked no different from the
hundreds of other farms I had driven past or flown over in the preceding weeks. Golden brown fields of hay, wheat, oats and rye rolled toward a river bed which was the northern boundary of the farm. Here and there the fields were broken by green splashes of vegetable gardens and to the east herds of cattle grazed lazily under the noonday sun.
In a valley near the centre of the farm lay the Collective Farm village of several hundred small cottages facing a broad dirt road. When the manager greeted me he was wearing a two-days’ growt h of whiskers. This fact helped to convince me that the authorities had gone to no special trouble to impress a foreigner.
The harvest was a good one, and women—plus the weather were mainly responsible for it. Of
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three hundred farmers (excluding children) all but about ten were women. In pre-war years the ratio was about fifty-fifty, but gradually the men joined the Red Army.
The estimated 1942 yield from the thirteen hundred acres under cultivation was two thousand tons of potatoes, a thousand tons of vegetables, two hundred ánd fifty tons of grain, six hundred of hay and six hundred of silage. In addition, seventy tons of milk and twenty thousand eggs were to be produced by the year’s end.
The day I was there twenty-five barefooted women had one man helping them thresh rye. He was Ivan Ivanovich Zukov, a young, sober-faced Red Army private, sent home to recover from a bullet wound in the left hand. All day long Ivan, wearing khaki battle dress and Army cap, fed sheaves of rye into the threshing machine as fast as half a dozen women could pass them to him.
Every few minutes bombers and fighters of the Red Air Force, landing or taking off from an airfield a few miles away, zoomed low over the fields. Among the grain stacks and in the vegetable gardens, pieces of wreckage were still visible—the remains of airplanes shot down in day and night battles in the autumn of 1941, when the Germans drove toward the Soviet capital. The farm women thought that the German bombers would come back again. That is why they preferred to keep their babies at home with babushka (grandmother) instead of at the farm crèche.
I STOPPED to talk for a minute with one of the women workers who was sweeping chaff from grain with a long birch broom. Broad of face and hips, she wore a plain grey calico dress that hung well below her knees and, like all the others, her head, feet and legs were bare. She told me that she went to the fields after her two sons and a daughter had gone to the front. She was forty-seven years old and her name was Evdokia Pavlovna Petkin.
I wanted to talk longer with her and she seemed willing but I knew that every minute her broom was idle someone was denied a piece of much-needed bread. In Russia one is so acutely conscious both of the shortages of consumer goods and of the tremendous effort that the people put into their work that one is instinctively careful not to take too much of another’s time.
But at noon, when I learned that the women left the fields for an hour to eat and rest, I asked the farm manager if we could call on Evdokia at her home. He at once agreed to show us the way.
Her house was near the edge of the village, about a mile and a half from the rye field that was being threshed. It was a small, brown onestory dwelling, built of logs from which the bark had been peeled.
When Evdokia answered our knock she greeted us warmly and invited us to come in.
She led us into the parlor at the front of the house, which was also used as her bedroom. It was a medium-sized room—about fifteen feet square—with unpainted wooden floors covered with small rag rugs. There were three spotlessly clean windows with handmade lace curtains. Against one wall stood an old wooden dresser on the top of which rested several empty bottles of toilet water, a much-handled cardboard powder box and a small cotton figure of Father Christmas. The walls above the dresser were covered with portraits of all the living members of Evdokia’s family as well as many of her ancestors. The furniture consisted of four or five ordinary wooden chairs and one old leathercovered easy chair which Evdokia insisted I must occupy.
One by one the rest of the family came in to greet us. There were her
BACK THE ATTACK BUY VICTORY BONDS
husband, her aged father, the two wives of the sons at the Front, and three grandchildren. All worked on the farm except her father and one grandchild, who was only a few months old. While I held the baby girl Evdokia showed me the last letter she received from the child’s father, Michael, her eldest son, who was a tank mechanic on the Western Front. Judging by the letter’s frayed and worn appearance, I gathered that Evdokia had handled it hundreds of times in the two months since it came.
Michael did not write much about the war, but wanted to know all about the farm, his baby and his other child. I asked Evdokia what she thought about the war. “I am sure Russia is strong enough to win alone,” she said after a few seconds, “but I wish America and England would open a Second Front, so that the war could be over sooner.” Evdokia hadn’t heard from her other son or her daughter for three or four months, but if she was worried about them she didn’t show it.
Before we left her home we looked at the other rooms, two bedrooms and a kitchen, which were separated from one another by thin partitions that reached to within two or three feet of the ceiling. All were just as neat and clean as the parlor. Then we went out the back door into a shed which housed the family cow and through another door into the garden. The milk from the cow and all the produce of the garden—strawberries, potatoes, lettuce, cabbages, beets and carrots—belonged entirely to the family.
Evdokia’s garden was only one of hundreds that were planted behind
all the houses in the village and, like I hers, they belonged entirely to the 1 villagers. The only restrictions j placed on them was that they must I not neglect the Collectivized Farm j work to devote more time to their own gardens. I noticed that most of the gardens were much in need of weeding, owing no doubt to the fact that the harvest season was at its j height.
“The Land Belongs To Us”
IT WAS a great surprise to me that Russian peasants were still allowed to retain soil which they could till for their own use. But I was much more surprised to discover that the farmers also owned their own houses. And this is true on Collective Farms all over the Soviet Union. As far as I could learn no other private property exists in Russia.
The Thaelmann Farm, collectivized in 1928, at first comprised only twenty-nine farms but before long it
was enlarged to two hundred and seventy. According to the manager, the total 1942 yield under collectivization would be about double the 1928 figure, but part of the increase was obviously due to the introduction of j machines.
There were one hundred and fortysix cows in the “collectivized” herd. Each had a name (Gaza, Villa, Dacha, Dama), and every time one was milked, a head maid measured the amount and recorded it in a book. Eight women, working in two shifts, did nothing but milk cows.
An average of sixty-five per cent of everything produced on the Collectivized farm went to the Government. This included a percentage (ten in the case of rye) taken by the Machine Tractor Station which supplied all the machinery for the farm. The remaining thirty-five per cent was divided among the three hundred farmers whose shares were based on the number of “labor days” they had to their credit.
Records of labor days were kept by “brigadiers” in charge of workers for various sections of the farm. The amount and nature of the work were the two factors which determined the labor days.
Payment was usually in kind, with peasants having a choice of products. The amount paid per labor day depended entirely on the size of the harvest. In 1942, for example, it was eleven pounds of potatoes, or twentyone pounds of hay, or six and a half pounds of vegetables, or one and a half pounds of bread. Occasionally, the farm sold some of the peasants’ share of products, in which case they received two and a half roubles (50c.) per labor day.
Since the war all brigadiers have been women. Typical was short, dark-haired Tanya Bukotiny, boss of the Vegetable Brigade. For years an ordinary worker like the others, she was promoted after putting in five hundred labor days in a year and was given a thousand rouble ($200) bonus. Of her brigade of fifty, only five were women and one was a man; the rest were youngsters between the ages of seven and fourteen, lovely, apple-cheeked specimens of Russian youth.
Before Collectivization Tanya and her husband owned their farm. I asked her how she liked the new .system. “In the old days,” she replied, “we never knew from one year to the next whether we would live or starve. We didn’t have any machinery then, or any electricity, and often we almost had to give our crops away. Here on the big farm things are much better. Working together this way, with modern equipment, we can grow much more than in the old days—and it’s a good thing, too, because our boys and girls at the front need bread.” When I asked her whether in spite of improved conditions she didn’t regret not having land she could call her own, she answered: “But all the land belongs to us.”
The Thaelmann Farm was organized by Ivan Ignatievich Klenov, who was himself a local farmer before 1928, and has managed the big farm ever since. Black-haired and fortyfive, he looked just like the other villagers, except that he wore a pair of tall black boots. He lived, like the other villagers, in a simple cottage. When he was not supervising the work in the fields he sat at a small desk in the office. Looking up, he could see a colored portrait of Ernst Thaelmann. Looking outside the window, he could see a bust of Lenin gazing toward the white church on the hill where villagers still went to worship God and to pray for Hitler’s doom.
NOW, how would you like to see our Rostov factory?” asked the manager of a munitions plant on the edge of Moscow. Either this man was pulling my leg, I thought, or he was momentarily out of his mind. Rostov, the great manufacturing centre on the Don River, had just fallen to the Nazis for the second time, and even if it hadn’t there was little chance that a plant manager could make such an offer.
After a moment’s thought I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I’ll show you. Just follow me.”
We walked across a cement courtyard into a big rambling brick building. It was not very light inside, but I could see hundreds of shadowy figures pouring cement, working on cranes, carrying tools, swinging hammers and shoving machines into place. Some of the laborers were men and some were women, but all wrore black uniforms. They were far too busy to pay any attention to us.
“This,” said the plant manager, “is our Rostov plant. Two weeks ago these machines were making automobile connecting rods in Rostov. Before the Germans came they had to be moved. They were
loaded onto freight cars and shipped up here. Most of the workers came with them. We guaranteed the Government that fifteen days after the arrival of the equipment we would start production. Actually, we will cut that time by three days.” The whole thing seemed incredible, yet there it was before my eyes. There must have been fifty or seventy-five machines in all, huge, black and Russian-made. Some were still coated with dust they had acquired on the trip north through the steppes, but all were already imbedded in concrete. (The floor of the factory was black, hard earth.) Stocks of raw materials for the machines were heaped in the aisles.
The other part of the plant was almost equally impressive. A medium-sized tractor works before the war, it was quickly converted into a munitions plant for making mortars and small arms parts. But before production ever started all the equipment was moved to the Urals—probably because of the speed of the German advance on Moscow. Later new equipment was installed to make the same things, as well as automobile pistons.
There were fifteen hundred employees of whom half were women. They worked in two shifts of twelve hours each, with an hour off for meals. Thus each employee put in seventy-seven hours a week. The pay for a normal forty-eight-hour week was computed on a piece basis, while both piece and hourly wages were given for the other twenty-nine hours which were considered overtime. Average monthly earnings ran to about six hundred and fifty roubles—$130—but workers got free medical and dental services thrown in. In addition, the plant maintained nurseries for children under three and kindergartens for older children.
About a third of the employees were Stakhanovites, and it was largely through their efforts that the plant was exceeding its production quota by fifteen per cent. I talked with one Stakhanovka who happened to pass us during our tour. Her name was Dusya Slepova. Aged twenty-six, small, chestnut-haired and blue-eyed, she was once a pretty girl. But seventy-seven hours a week examining pistons had lined her brow and dulled her eyes. Dusya was sad too. At the war’s start she lived near the Polish border. When the Germans came she, as a factory worker, was evacuated but her parents had to stay behind. Dusya didn’t know what happened to them. “I am working to help win the war and to beat Fascism,” she said.
Dusya did the work that would normally have been expected of three, and made eight hundred roubles a month. Her room, which the factory management found for her, cost twenty-five roubles—$5. On her offevenings, when she wasn’t too tired, she attended the opera or ballet.
The plant superintendent was Ivan Ivanovich Shleniev, a quiet, greyeyed man of forty-six who wore a blue and white Russian blouse under his grey double-breasted suit. 1 he father of two, he began work as a locksmith, attended engineering school, then worked his way to the top in the tractor works. For the rapid conver-
sion of the plant to war production he was awarded “Labor’s Red Banner” which he proudly wore on his left lapel. Shleniev was a member of the Communist Party. His factory slogan, emblazoned all over the walls, was “By day and by night forge munitions for the Red Army.”
ANOTHER day I told the authorities that I wanted to see “something big.” I said I didn’t care whether the plant made munitions or ball bearings, just so it was big. My request was granted immediately, and I was taken to one of the largest and most modern machine tool plants in the country. It was named the Krasny Ploterarny, which means Red Proletarian.
Before the Revolution it was an old-fashioned factory, owned and operated by two brothers. By 1928 the Government had rebuilt it completely and, when I was there, was employing ten times as many people as in pre-Revolutionary days. Nearly all the tools were sent to the automobile and munition industries.
The exact number of people on the payroll was a military secret but certainly it exceeded five thousand. Since the war the figure increased twenty per cent while production jumped one hundred per cent. Working hours, however, remained the same. The director said output was boosted (a) because of technical improvements and (b) because “we are working like fiends to beat the Fascists.”
The work that women were doing was the most impressive thing in the factory. They operated cranes, swung sledge hammers, carried heavy pieces of steel and shoved equipment around in box cars. I saw half a dozen, aged about sixty-five, with grey hair, laboring right inside the machine tools. When they emerged their hands and faces were coated with oil.
The manager of this great works was Fiodorovich Taranichev, a tall handsome man of thirty-eight who wore black riding breeches, black boots and a black “Stalin” shirt that buttoned to the neck. His left breast was decorated with the red and silver Order of Lenin and the U.S.S.R. “Honorable” award given to him for the factory’s high record of output. Taranichev worked up from a toolmaker’s job in the factory he now runs. Several years ago he came to the United States to study American methods.
When the Germans were near Moscow in the winter of 1941 he organized a Workers’ Battalion to defend the factory and to fight in the neighboring streets. He also had full plans worked out for evacuating the machinery and dynamiting the building. I asked him if he ever thought he’d have to use the plans in the future.
“We’ve sent them to Berlin,” he replied. “Hitler has a much greater need for them.”