Communists and Ploughshares. I
AMONG my many duties as foreign correspondent in Moscow, the one that gave me most entertainment was my daily call at the Anglo-American division of the Foreign Office. As the lift was out of order most of the time, I would climb hopefully to the sixth floor of Kuznetzki Most 5/15, — formerly the headquarters of the largest, insurance company in Russia, and now the seat of the Foreign Office, — and, panting, get myself into the little office. The secretary was an amiable and expansive fellow, with a bias for doubtful witticisms. After exchanging greetings, I would ask for the news. And invariably I would get the reply that there was nothing new; everything was as usual — quiet and fine. Russia was, at least, happy in this — it had no current history.
But occasionally something would happen to me personally. Either my mail would go astray and come back marked with the comments of half a dozen bureaus where it had been opened by mistake and examined, or my foreign newspapers would not arrive. Usually the difficulty lay in the fact that some official, or his subordinate, failed to show the required energy, or to take a little trouble to attend to the matter. One could quite patiently bear with these trifles; but once in a while, one could not resist the temptation to point out that a little more effort at the right time and place — a little more efficiency — would prevent most of the troubles and inconveniences. Strangely enough, such an innocent remark would be like fire to fuel. The director of the Anglo-American department would invariably get excited, and in a shrill, high-pitched voice would shout: ‘What do you expect? Everything cannot run smoothly. We are in the midst of revolution.'
The mental processes in Russia are still governed by the peculiar laws of revolutionary psychology, — or, if one prefers, pathology, — and any attempt to measure events and facts by the yardstick of normal times cannot but lead to complete failure of comprehension.
At the same time, the outsider who observes Russia to-day soon comes to the conclusion that this feeling of the Communists is the last smouldering spark of a dying blaze. Russia is not in the midst of revolution, but at the end of a revolution. The tempo of political, economic, and social life is slowing down to normal. The people are anxious to forget the past, and to discard the future for the possible enjoyments of the present. The feeling is asserting itself that an epoch has come to an end; that whatever it has brought in its trail is here to stay. To the outsider this feeling of the masses seems truer than the last spasms of Communist psychology. For it is clear that the unusual processes which began in March, 1917, came to an end in March, 1922, with the invitation to Genoa.
In these five years the fundamental purposes and the possibilities of the Russian Revolution have unfolded themselves to their logical end.
The next phase of Russian development is, therefore, predetermined. Russia is entering upon a period of slow reconstruction, in accordance with the principles, ideas, and interests for which the Revolution has cleared the ground. Destruction in Russia has been so thorough, that a political or economic restoration is out of the question. Whatever group or party comes into power in the near future will be able to maintain itself only by recognizing the tendencies of the Revolution and making room for their positive expression. The Communists realized this a year ago, and veered around at once, in order to keep themselves in the lead of the new development. It still remains to be seen whether the Communists are by temperament, tradition, and ideology capable of maintaining themselves in their new rôle.
As in the pre-war Russia, so in the new Russia, slowly and painfully rising out of the wreck of revolution, the tone of economic and social life will depend on the position of the peasant. Not only because the peasants still form, and will continue to form, the majority of the population, but also, and chiefly, because, regardless of the industrial bias of the Communists and of other parties, Russia is destined for a long time to come to centre her efforts on her agricultural resources. Not only the well-being of the people, but the international position of the country, will depend on the rapidity with which Russia again becomes the granary and source of raw materials for the rest of Europe. At the same time, the international policies of Russia will be largely determined by the interests of the agricultural population and the manner in which these interests are pursued. Even should the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat persist, it will have to derive its power and meaning from the consent and demands of the peasant. This has already gone far in the last few months, and is proceeding more rapidly every day. In other words, the reconstruction of Russia depends basically on the reconstruction of her agricultural industry and of the economic and social relationships in which this industry is to be carried on. An understanding of the Russia that is to be depends on a clear grasp of the agrarian changes which have already taken place, and of the direction in which these changes are likely to continue during the historically discernible period.
Five years of revolution have revealed the mind of the Russian peasant, at least negatively. Not even the ghost of Marx, which has been made to stalk the Russian villages, could stir the Russian peasant to Hamletian doubts. He wants ‘to be,’ and in his own way, which is not at all the communistic way. The Communist party has had to recognize this fact — hence the law concerning the use of the land, passed this summer.
The Communists to-day are inclined to deny that they had entertained the idea of an immediate reorganization of Russian agriculture on a communistic basis, or that they had hoped to introduce Communism in industry. Forced by the stress of circumstance to change their policy, they are now trying to reinterpret the past, to make the break seem less discouraging. In this light the communistic measures of the years from 1918 to 1921, they say, are to be regarded as phases of ' military Communism,’ which was the result of civil war and foreign intervention. These measures were intended, not as steps toward Socialism, but as means of defense and military protection.
The psychology of this interpretation is understandable, and there is considerable retrospective truth in it. But it is out of harmony with the mental state of the first period of the Revolution. The fact that they have had to abandon that programme proves, not that they had not tried it in all sincerity, but that the conditions necessary for its success were lacking.
The efforts of the Communists to carry out their ideas in the villages were modified by several facts. In the first place, the Bolsheviki did not make the October Revolution single-handed, but in coalition with the various anarchist groups, and with the party of the Left Social Revolutionists. The Communists, who were more familiar with the problems of industry, practically left the agrarian problem in the hands of the Socialist-Revolutionists, who became the leading element in all the local land committees, and in the central committee, which was intrusted with the task of preparing the new land laws. The law on the Socialization of Land, prepared by this committee under the chairmanship of Marie Spiridonova, is imbued with the ideas and conceptions which for two generations had been advocated only by Populists and Social Revolutionists, not by Social Democrats and Communists.
Secondly, the Bolsheviki felt that their success depended upon unloosening as much as possible all the revolutionary instincts of the masses in city and village, even though they themselves could not, for the time being, control the exploding forces. Their first act was to declare all land expropriated for the State, and to tell the local land committees to seize all the private lands in their districts. Throughout the winter of 1917-18, they directly and indirectly encouraged the peasants to take hold of the former landlords’ estates and demesne lands. But they went one step further in the summer of 1918, after they had broken with the Left Social Revolutionists. They organized the so-called ‘committees of the poor peasants,’and inaugurated a merciless class-war in the village. The poor peasants were allowed and encouraged to expropriate the richer peasants, to force distributions and redistributions of land, and to terrorize the village politically. Under these circumstances, it was out of the question to attempt a systematic programme of reorganizat ion in the village.
Thirdly, the Communists soon became aware that, though the support of the poor peasants was valuable as a means of terrorizing the village, its economic value was doubtful. The poor peasants were not equipped for production, and whatever grain was produced came from the fields cultivated by the middle peasants. While the Communists did not hesitate to take from the middle peasants what they could, by force, — under the policy of requisition and state grain monopoly, — still they realized that such a policy was full of dangers, and that it was necessary for them to play for the favor of the large mass of middle peasants. That policy was recommended by the party at its eighth congress in March, 1919.
But, with all these limitations, the Communists made a decided effort, not only to preach Communism to the peasants, but to introduce as much of it as was possible in the country. Already, in the law on the Socialization of Land, which in its main features was not communistic, the Bolsheviki succeeded in putting through several articles creating a system of state farms and agricultural communes, and nationalizing the trade in agricultural implements and seeds. With the summer and fall of 1918, the Communists began a drive for the collective cultivation of the land. At the first All-Russian Congress of the Land Committees and Committees of Poor Peasants, held in December, 1918, Lenin said: ‘We are now passing to the task of true socialistic construction. . . . An energetic fight for the common cultivation of the land is now before us. . . . The war has caused so much destruction, that we have not enough cattle or implements to reëstablish individual small-farm economics. . . . The chief task of this conference is to prepare measures for the gradual transition from private economy to collective economy. . . . I repeat, we must accomplish this transition gradually. . . . The peasants will not accept it at once. . . . The middle peasant will be with us when he is convinced of the superior usefulness of collectivism . . . when he sees how well and successfully the state farms and the collective farms are conducted.’
In accordance with these ideas, the Communists tried hard to organize state farms and agricultural communes. Between February, 1919, and October, 1921, the number of Soviet economies, or state farms, increased from 35, with 12,000 dessiatins1 to 3100 farms, with 1,700,660 dessiatins; the number of collective farms increased to 11,000, with 760,000 dessiatins, of which about 2000 were agricultural communes. The Commissariat of Agriculture published leaflets and pamphlets — how to organize state farms, artels, and communes.
But the movement did not take root, and whatever development it had was artificially stimulated. The commune became an example, not of higher technical methods, but of inefficiency and mismanagement. The Communists themselves realized this after a while, and tried to explain the situation by the fact that they had been unable to attract the better peasants to the state farms, and also that the Government, harassed by civil war, had neither the time nor the means to put these farms on a model basis.
Whatever the cause, the wretched condition of these farms was brought home to me when, in August, 1921, I had occasion to visit one. It was an agricultural commune, organized according to the by-laws of the Commissariat of Agriculture. It consisted of several hundred acres of land about ten miles from Tsaritsin up the Volga. I was invited to see this commune by Kalinin, the President of the Soviet Republic, whom I was permitted to accompany on his tour of the famine districts. We landed at a point where the river was low, and after taking a swim in the Volga — it was a very hot day — we climbed uphill about a mile and a half toward the farm. The land had evidently belonged to some large estate, and had been used partly as a summer resort, partly as a truck farm. At the time we visited it, it was a communistic farm, where over two hundred men, women, and children lived in a common house, ate in common, and worked the land in common. The elected managers of the commune met us gladly, and proudly showed us around the lands, which were planted with melons, cabbages, potatoes, and the like. There were but a few acres of rye and wheat. Of the two hundred acres, only forty had been planted. As compared with the usual Russian field, the land looked fairly well kept, and the melons had grown to considerable size. Kalinin was especially pleased with the large cucumbers that he picked, and each one of us was presented with the largest cucumber he could see.
As we walked back toward the main buildings, the women, some of whom were about to become mothers, complained that they had to work very hard all day long. A meal was served for all — cabbage soup, black bread, and kasha: there were the usual wooden and tin spoons and dishes.
After the meal, the children gathered in the large room of the main building, in which a piano was all that remained of the former glory, and sang the Internationale. The children were in ragged dresses and trousers, and looked sickly. Many of them seemed to have malaria, from bathing in the so-called ‘pond,’which was really a stagnant mud-puddle. The water, hauled from a well, was also bad. There was no doctor in the commune, and the girl who was in charge of the education of the children seemed too underfed and too disheartened to do much teaching. There was the lack of harmony which comes of too close living together.
Kalinin and his associates were highly pleased with their visit, and were disappointed that their foreign guests did not share their enthusiasm for this model of communist life. However, the best that could have been said for this commune was that it was not much worse than the average peasant household in the poorer Russian villages. At that time it offered security to two hundred people, who might have swelled the ranks of the famine-stricken.
By the end of 1919, the Communists themselves realized that they were not on the road to winning the middle peasant, and since 1920, they have overhauled their entire agrarian programme. The idea of a communistic agriculture in Russia in the near future is no longer entertained.
Having failed in their own programme, the Communists are deriving consolation from the fact that the peasants, too, have not lived up to the hopes and expectations of the PopulistSocialists. ‘Life has rejected as an empty shell the reactionary Utopias of the Socialist-Revolutionist’ — writes Kuraev.
The land law, drafted mainly by the Socialist-Revolutionists, which went into effect in September, 1918, was based on the idea of socialization. Negatively, the law abolished all private rights in land and other natural resources, and expropriated, not only the land, but also the live stock and farmequipment of the landlords and of all private nonpeasant landholders. Constructively, the law aimed at three things. First: to apportion the agricultural land equally among the peasants. The basis of division was both productive and consumptive, namely — each peasant family was to obtain as much land as it could itself till without hiring labor, and at the same time sufficient to secure the local standard of living. Second: to decentralize the administration of the land law. The local land departments were given the power to distribute the land, to create a land fund, to regulate migration, and so on. Third: the law was to establish the idea that the only right to the use of the land was derived from labor. He who worked the land under the conditions laid down by the state, which were necessary to ensure efficiency, had a right to its use. But this right was not transferable by sale or by bequest, or in any other way. The land thus was to remain under the continuous jurisdiction of the local and central land committees, which could always distribute and redistribute it in accordance with the law. Under such provisions, private property in land was abolished; every person willing to work the land was supposed to be guaranteed access to it; and yet the centralized and bureaucratic control of the land, which might result from nationalization, was supposed to have been forestalled.
In the mind of the Socialist-Revolutionists, this law was the culmination of the century-long efforts of the Russian peasant to regain the land, and to lay the foundations of a just system of life in the village, which would be a stepping-stone to a coöperative socialist agriculture. But, as the Communists correctly point out, these hopes have not been realized. From the very beginning of the revolution, the agrarian movement got out of the hands of the parties that wanted to direct it. The local land departments and committees stood helpless in the face of a general land-grab. The old peasants’ saying, that ' the land is God’s and not man’s,’ evidently had been a subconscious fighting-motto against the landlord. The peasant felt that he himself had a right to the land by the grace of God.
To the extent that the mist of chaos enveloping the movements of 1917-18 has been lifted, three main tendencies can be seen. In some places, the peasants threw all the lands of the village, or volost (county), — those formerly belonging to the landlords, or other private owners, as well as their own, — into a common lot, and redivided them all. The peasants gave full gratification to their century-old craving for a ‘ black redistribution,’and each family received an allotment of land according to its number of ‘eaters.’ This took place chiefly in the northern and central black-earth districts — those that had suffered most from over-population, and where the agrarian movement had for years been bitterest. In other parts of Russia, the movement was more limited. All that the peasants did was to try to equalize land-holdings by increasing the allotments of the landless and the small holders at the expense of those who had large holdings. In such cases, the middle peasants remained unaffected by the process, keeping their farm-holdings unaltered. But the more common procedure, followed over a wider area, was to seize all private and landlords’ estates, and to divide them among the peasant families with as near an approach to equality as was possible under the circumstances.
The chief gainer from this general land-grab during its first phase was the middle peasant. Having a fair equipment and a sufficient number of farm animals, he was able to claim an additional allotment, on the plea of productive capacity, and thus to round out his holdings. The discontent of the poorer peasants aroused by this result was utilized by the Bolsheviki in the summer of 1918 to organize the ‘committees of the poor,’ which let loose a second agrarian movement. This lasted intermittently throughout 1919 and 1920. In the villages that I visited in the summer of 1921, I found lingering traces of these committees. But the policy of the Communists had changed, and the poor peasants were now out of favor. But while the movement lasted, it was effective in helping a number of poorer peasants to equip themselves with implements and working animals at the expense of the richer peasants. Though the poor peasants did not entirely disappear from the villages, the leveling had taken a wider sweep.
With the subsidence of the revolutionary wave, it became clear that the small and middle peasants were the prevailing element in the village. None the less, differences in land-holding have not disappeared. The so-called kulak, or rich peasant, can still be found everywhere. The poor also are still there. Besides, the leveling movement in land-holding is being counterbalanced by a process of differentiation, which is breaking up the village into marked groups, and which is based on the ownership of working capital. Large numbers of peasants are finding that the allotment of additional land avails them little, because they are unable to obtain, or to hold, the means of working the land. As a result, there persists the time-old distinction of peasants without sowed land, without cows, and without working animals.
Although, in the general redistribution of 1918, it was everywhere said that the division of the land would be temporary until a more equalized disposition could be arranged, the peasants now regard with reluctance the idea of an early redistribution.
In my travels through the Russian countryside in the summer of 1921 and the spring of 1922, I came in contact with peasants from all parts of Russia. The predominant state of the peasant-mind seemed to me to be uncertainty. Everything had happened so quickly, and had swept over his head in such a tumult, that he could not feel certain of anything. But the undercurrent of feeling and thinking in the village was to hold fast to whatever one had got as a result of revolution. The more fortunate peasants of the southwest were not any too eager to share their good harvest with the starving peasants of the Volga. The peasants with larger allotments and more working animals no longer saw any reason for dividing up with their poorer neighbors.
The Revolution has thus disappointed, also, the Socialist-Revolutionists. It brought into being, not ‘a just socialism,’ but a class of small and medium landholders, who, under a nominal law of nationalization and socialization, regard the land as inalienably theirs, and who in every other way show a marked spirit of economic individualism.
Summing up the results of the redistribution of land among the peasants, Scheffler, one of the leading Soviet agricultural experts, is forced to conclude that ‘it has not solved the agrarian crisis.’ One more of the century-old illusions, shared by all brands of revolutionists, shattered by the experience of the last three years!
Had the agrarian movement been less radical, it might have been said that the new situation was the result of half-measures. But, as a matter of fact, the peasants have appropriated, as a result of the seizures in 1917 and 1918, practically all the private lands and estates. In the thirty-six provinces as to which information is available, the peasants have divided among themselves 21,407,000 dessiatins out of a total of 22,848,000 which had belonged to noble landlords or nonpeasant private owners. In these thirty-six provinces, the peasants have increased the area of usable land in their possession from 80 to 96.8 per cent of the total available. In other words, the peasants have realized their long-cherished desire of driving the landlord from the land. At last they are in sole possession of practically all the available land under cultivation.
But the striking fact is that the amount of additional land per capita which the peasant population received as a result of the Revolution is very small indeed. In twenty-nine provinces for which figures are available, the per capita amount of land in the hands of the peasants has increased from 1.87 dessiatins before the Revolution to 2.26 dessiatins after. But this average conceals the variety in per capita distribution, — one of the characteristic features of the situation,— which varies from 125 square feet to nearly two acres.
As a result of the disintegration that has come in the wake of war and revolution, there is, at the present moment, enough idle land for anyone who has the means and the desire to work it. But as soon as agriculture is restored to a normal condition, the inadequacy of the quantitative gains will become evident.
In another respect, also, the agrarian movement has not led to any definite results. The violent seizures of land and the subsequent redistributions were made in accordance — not with any specific conception of the needs of a higher agricultural economy, but with local ideas and conditions.
As a result, the village has come out of the Revolution in a state of confusion as to forms of land-holdings. The tendencies inaugurated in the decade before the Revolution by the reforms of Stolypin continue in unregulated form. In some villages, the peasants are trying to get their strips of land allotted to them all in one place. In other villages, homesteads are in favor. Still elsewhere, the majority of the peasants hold tenaciously to the ‘village commune,’ with its accompanying features of periodic redistributions and compulsory three-field system. In addition to this, the division of the meadows and pastures has not been carried out, and there is much misunderstanding as to their use.
The strips of land held by the peasants have, as a result of the desire to equalize, become narrower than before. They are more widely scattered, making the distance between the peasant’s home and his land greater. The land departments are swamped with complaints about the land, and the villages are in continuous excitement as a result of quarrels as to the proper delimitation of land-holdings and fields.
All these difficulties were admitted by Ossinski, the Commissar of Agriculture, in his report to the ninth All-Russian Congress of Soviets, held in 1921. What Ossinski said then is now accepted generally. There are few who do not realize now that the old agrarian problems were not washed away, but have been carried by the tide of revolution to the shores of post-Revolutionary Russia.
The opinion prevailed in Russia for a while — and is held by some even today — that the Russian peasant gained in wealth and comforts as a result of the Revolution.
From Odessa, Cherson, Nikolaev, Kiev, and other famine-stricken places, people were carrying money, clothes, kitchen utensils, articles of luxury, — everything and anything that they had, — to the Volynian and Podolian villages, to exchange for bread. The peasants of those provinces were clearly enjoying prosperity and comforts they had never known before. In some of the other provinces also, where the harvests had been good, the peasants had improved their condition — eating more and better, acquiring things, and hoarding money. The peasants of the villages near Moscow, for instance, were better off than before, as the improved condition of their houses testified, and the many articles of comfort which they continually carried home from the city, after selling their milk or potatoes.
But these are mere islands in the vast sea of misery which has enveloped the Russian village. Without exaggeration, the present agricultural crisis has no parallel in modern history.
The most striking evidence of this crisis for the world to see is the terrible famine of 1921-22, the horrors of which have been sufficiently depicted. I visited the famine districts of the Volga in August and September, 1921, just when the bony hand of hunger was seen outstretched toward its victims. I spent two weeks in the famine-stricken districts of the south — Odessa, Cherson — in February, 1922, when the grip of that bony hand had tightened fast on the miserable population, and was strewing the land with the dead. Nothing that can be said about it will ever convey the horrors of the scene. For the greatest horror of famine is the passive shrinking of human beings into lifeless strips of flesh and bone.
But the extent of the agricultural crisis in Russia is not fully measured, even by the famine. For, in addition to the eight millions of starving, who are fed by various relief organizations, many more millions are barely managing to keep body and soul together. The entire nation is underfed.
To measure this crisis more concretely, one must resort to comparative figures. Before the war, Russia had an average production of 4,500,000,000 poods of grain. In 1921, the whole country, including the Ukraine, Siberia, and Turkestan, gathered a total of 2,170,000,000 poods or less than 50 per cent of the pre-war amount. The drought which struck the Volga region, the northern Caucasus, and other parts of the country, was responsible for the loss of 400,000,000 poods. The far greater loss of two billion poods is due to the disintegration of the agricultural industry in Russia.
The immediate causes of this extraordinary fall in output are the decrease in the area of sowed land and the fall in the yield per dessiatin. Conservatively estimated, the area of sowed land in Russia between 1913 and 1921 decreased, on an average, about forty per cent, varying from seventeen per cent in the southwest to fifty per cent and more in the southeast.
The decrease in the area of sowed land has been accompanied by a steady fall in the yield per dessiatin. Russia has always stood low in productivity, but the war and revolution have aggravated the situation. Only in Siberia is the situation reversed, showing an increase. In 1921 the yield fell more strikingly, as a result of drought and locusts.
The decline in productivity has been determined by several conditions. Russia has suffered a terrible loss in working animals and farm animals. The loss is especially great in the famine-stricken regions, where the population slaughtered the farm animals for food. From many parts of Russia come reports that peasants had to harness themselves bodily to pull a plough; and the population in some districts is so exhausted by famine and continued underfeeding, that it takes a dozen and more to pull one plough.
The loss in animals resulted in a great decrease of manure,— from twenty-five to fifty per cent, — in no way compensated by increase in artificial fertilizers.
In addition, the exhaustion of the soil was aggravated by the lack or deterioration of seeds, by the destructive effects of locusts, grasshoppers, and other insects, and by the deterioration of, and reduction in, the supply of farm implements and machinery. Between 1917 and 1920, the loss in ploughs was eighteen per cent; in sowers, thirty-one per cent; in mowers, fifteen per cent; in threshers, twenty-one per cent. The implements used all over Russia are in a frightful condition. It is quite common to see primitive methods of sowing by hand, of using a stick instead of a plough, and so on.
In this picture of Russian agriculture, another feature must be noted: that is, the decline of specialized cultures and of the industries closely allied with agriculture and animal husbandry. For instance, areas planted to cotton in Turkestan fell from about 900,000 dessiatins before the war to 110,000 dessiatins in 1920, and the harvest from 12,000,000 poods to about 1,500,000 poods. A similar decline took place in the area planted, and in the yield per dessiatin of flax, hemp, sugar, beets, potatoes, clover, alfalfa, and other crops. In addition to this, the decline in animal husbandry has resulted in decreased production of hides and bristles, and in the deterioration of the dairy industry.
The heavy economic losses described above do not measure all the costs of war and revolution. One must add the social and cultural costs. I had occasion to observe some of these during my trip into the heart of Russia in the fall of 1921, when I visited the district between Moscow and Samara and then went down the Volga as far as Astrakhan. We were on a special train, which was in charge of Kalinin, the President of the Soviet Republic, who, in the company of some sixty experts and of as many Red Army men, armed with rifles and a machine-gun, was on an inspection tour of the famine region.
Our train was called ’The Train of the October Revolution.’ It consisted of fourteen cars, specially fitted up with large and comfortable coupés, in which were desks, wardrobes, electric drop-lights, connecting telephones, and other conveniences for work and travel. One of the cars was equipped with printing-presses; another with an apparatus for receiving radiotelegrams. The outside of each car was painted, in somewhat futuristic style, with drawings which told the story of the October Revolution and what it aimed at. On one car was a picture of a large, fat, coarse village kulak, in the act of being kicked out of his privileged position by the rising and hard-working small peasants. On another was a picture of a future idyll— a tall, welldressed peasant companioned in a neat and comfortable home by his wife and two little children (a boy and a girl), who were listening with delight to the telephone conversation carried on by the father. On still another there were scenes showing the village of to-morrow working in common in the fields, using electric ploughs and the latest mechanical appliances. On still another there was painted the scene of a model village school—neatly dressed children taught by an intelligent, friendly teacher.
At every station where our train stopped, old and young would crowd about the cars, to look at the pictures and to read the inscriptions which clinched their moral. But even greater crowds would form at the car which was fitted up as a combined library and bookstore. This car carried a large stock of newspapers. Besides, a special paper was set up, printed, and published on our train, in one of the cars fitted up for the purpose. The paper was called Toward Victory. It gave a summary of the news of the day received by radio; but its chief purpose was to relate what had been done by Kalinin and his expedition to relieve the famine situation. The editor and writers who were on the train tried to cheer the peasants, and to stir up hope of something better in the near future. This paper was also distributed in large numbers from the library car to the crowds standing in line, or was thrown out through the windows at the smaller stations, which our train passed without stopping. It was touching to see the hands outstretched for a newspaper, or the barefoot, barely covered youngsters at the wayside stations running after the car to catch the paper thrown to them.
‘How these people must be starved for news, for some word from the outside world!’ I remarked to the girls in charge of the library car.
They smiled, and one of them said; ‘Yes, they are eager for the paper. They are so starved for something to roll their machorka in.’ (Machorka is a cheap, bitter weed, which the peasants smoke instead of expensive tobacco.)
As I traveled through the country, I realized the full force of that somewhat cynical remark. The thousands of refugees who fled from famine and crowded the railway stations, thestreets, the banks of the river, and any open space where they could congregate, had no thought for anything except finding food for the day and getting on a train which might take them to districts where bread, according to rumor, was more abundant. There could be still less interest in anything but food in the villages, where those who remained felt shut up and doomed to a slow death by starvation. But what struck me most, as I went through the villages, was the fact that the young generation — the boys and girls under sixteen and even up to eighteen — were mostly illiterate. I could not quite believe that the Revolution had not given the people what was their most elementary demand. But the more I questioned the people, the more I realized that it was so. As a result of revolution, civil war, famine, and all the other evils, a generation was growing up in those villages that had not seen the inside of a school. Throughout the entire country, — in the cities as well as in the villages, but especially in the latter, — the schools have perhaps suffered most from the turmoil. Millions of children of school age are without schooling.
A clear picture of the condition in which the Russian village finds itself to-day is given in the letters which are regularly published in the Soviet papers. As these papers are all published under the auspices of the Government, there can be no question as to bias.
A writer in the Pravda of January 27, 1922, whose style betrays a peasant, and who signs himself ‘nonpartisan,’ complains of the ignorance still prevailing in the villages. ‘Is it not remarkable that, in the course of four years of revolution, you urban people could not realize that ninety-five per cent of the villages did not see a single newspaper in the course of the year? The paper Poverty has a circulation of 600,000 copies; but have these copies really reached the peasants? The editors of Poverty themselves sadly state that no more than five per cent of their papers reach the mass of the people. In my opinion, not even that proportion. At best, the paper is sent to the executive committees of the volosts, and there it is thrown, together with letters from Red Army men, on the window.’
The most frequent complaint in these letters is about the younger people, who, left without schooling, are abandoning themselves to rowdyism, thievery, drunkenness.
From the Province of Ivanovo-Voznesensk, a correspondent of Poverty writes, on February 23, 1922: ‘Our province is considered one of the most revolutionary — a Red province. This is all true. . . . But it is also true that it is one of the most backward culturally, one of the poorest in spiritual life. In one of the largest factories, formerly Kuvaev, out of every hundred women, seventy-five can neither write nor read, and out of every hundred men, forty-three are illiterate. The union of leather-workers reports that sixty per cent of the members are illiterate; in the union of paper-workers, sixty per cent are illiterate; in the union of land and forest workers, fifty per cent; in the union of miners, forty per cent. This condition,’ continues the writer, ‘exists in the city, in the heart of the Red province. What then is the condition in the village? Profound, impenetrable, hopeless darkness.’
One of the staff correspondents of the Izvestia, Neradov, complains that ‘since the new economic policy, not a book or a newspaper finds its way into the village. People read nothing.
‘Everything in the village is as before. Nothing changed.’ Such is the pessimistic refrain of Communists and other revolutionists, who not only are discouraged by the conditions described above, but are especially disheartened by the trend which has set in since the inauguration of the new policy. But this pessimism, which to-day denies all gain from the revolution, is as unfounded as the optimism of yesterday.
The fact is that the Russian Revolution has achieved as much as any revolution ever can. It has let all the combustible and inflammable social material accumulated in the course of centuries burn itself out in a blinding blaze of fury and glory. Basically, the revolutionary fire swept the ground clear for future work.
Applying this idea more completely to what has happened in the Russian village, one of the most important results of the Revolution is the elimination of the last vestiges of feudalism. The great majority of Russian landlords had lost all economic raison d’être long before the Revolution. Not only immediately after the Act of 1861, but to the very last days the Russian noble landowners displayed no capacity for directing agricultural industry.
In sweeping away this condition, the Revolution transferred to the peasant class a considerable amount of actual and potential wealth. It has been estimated that five billion gold roubles would have been required to buy out the land which the peasants have seized in a revolutionary way. The peasants, as a class, have, as a result of the Revolution, wiped out the interest charges and the rents which the private ownership of this land imposed on them. For the time being, the actual value of the transfer to the peasants is counterbalanced by the losses which have been caused by revolution as described above. But the potentialities of the acquired wealth are there, and in time cannot but serve as a basis for a more prosperous peasant economy.
But the most important result is the change in psychology which all this implies. Having expelled the landlord, the peasant can no longer blame him for his own economic troubles. Having appropriated practically all the land, the peasant can no longer look longingly at the private estate of the landlord as the solution of all his difficulties. Having discovered that the division of the estates can add only a few dessiatins to his allotment, the peasant cannot but begin to reconsider the whole question of‘landlessness,’ upon which his thoughts have run for centuries.
In other words, the Revolution has swept away the foundations on which rested the economic backwardness of Russian agriculture. A new line of thought and action must be sought by the peasant. Not more land, but better cultivation of land already his. Not extension, but intensification.
Of course, the meaning of this change is only beginning to dawn upon the peasant. But it must become the central point of his economic thinking, as the implications of the revolutionary change become explicit. Even though this generation may have to die in ignorance and squalor, the minds of the younger generation have been thoroughly shaken up. When the wave of rowdyism and unsettlement subsides, — as it must, — there will be found a new mental attitude, which will reap the fruits of the Revolution and will put to good use all that has been learned in pain and upheaval.
- A dessiatin is equivalent to 2.70 acres.↩