Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Suerskoye village (part 1)

Turns of destiny and tyranny
Book 2 . Part 8. Chapter 3

Short description:
The "complete collectivization". Discussions with V.M. Smirnov
Meeting of a group of military men with Trotsky at the beginning of 1926 who offered to arrest Stalin and all his protégés in the Central Committee and GPU. Very strange Trotsky’s position.
The prosecutor of Tumen carries on collectivization. V.M. Smirnov and I come forward in defense of peasants.
I telegraph to the general prosecutor of RSFSR, the peasants are set free.

I remember very well the period of life in Siberian village. That was the first time in my life when I lived so close to the land, among the hereditary agricultural workers, for whom the work on the land was the meaning of life and the sole source of living. There were some original and freedom-loving people between them. I could see how brutal “the complete collectivization” was conducted; which led the country into social and economical abyss. The process was catastrophic: the basis of the peasant economy was destroyed and the most active, hard-working and initiative part of the agricultural population of the country, that before revolution provided Russia and Europe with agricultural products, was being destroyed.

The sledge drove us to a hut where a tall man in a greatcoat and with a revolver was waiting for us. My escort passed me and the packet to this man. He was the authorized representative of Suerskoye village. He told me that I would live in the village, I could find a flat, and I had no right to go more than 10 kilometers out of the village. I entered the hut and was happy to see Vladimir Mikhailovich Smirnov and his wife Varvara Alexandrovna, who would also live here. We shook hands, embraced and kissed each other. Even Siberian dog Chung pulled my sleeve, recognizing an old acquaintance from Tobolsk. We spoke till late at night. The landlady put hay on the floor, and we lied down. We slept soundly without dreams.

We got up in the morning, washed ourselves and after tea went to find flats for rent. The peasants left their houses, looked at us with curiosity, even bowed low, they probably took us for some significant persons from town. We stopped, spoke with them, asked where we could find rooms. When they understood that we were exiled, old men and women shouted: “Such people as you are, everybody would gladly take to his house”. They showed us two wooden houses. We settled very close to each other: I was given a small room, Smirnovs a bigger one. I settled in the house of Stepanida Ivanovna Krylov, her house consisted of two rooms and she gave me the small one. The rent was 5 roubles a month. Stepanida {Stesha) was a widow: her husband was killed at war in 1915. She raised a son and a daughter; they already helped her in farming. She had a small yard divided by a wooden fence for a cow and a horse. Her piece of land was 10 kilometers far from the village.

In my room there was a big bed with a feather mattress and two pillows, near the window looking on a big street, stood a small table. Over the bed a portrait of the late Stesha’s husband hung, he was an artillery man with a clever and energetic face. Stesha spoke of him wiping her tears. A girl of 16, Nastya, quickly washed the floor and wiped dust from the window-sill and table in my room. Stesha’s son came in, he was a boy of about 17, thin, pale with blond hair. He was the main worker in the family. Neighbors came to meet me; they looked at me with curiosity.

The peasants, interrupting each other, told me the history of the village and its habits and called names of men and women, whom I did not know, but I learned a lot of interesting facts. During the Civil war when the food detachments emptied out all the “surplus food” from barns the peasants suffered from hunger, they had not enough food for children, many children died and there was a great loss of cattle. The peasants were driven to despair and decided to rise in rebellion. An old woman said: “What had we to do, my dear, to die in this case and in that case”. Suerskoye was the centre of rebellion of the whole Yalutorovsky region; many Siberian villages joined the rebellion. They constantly struck the bells and appealed not to submit authorities, attacked the food detachments and killed the “activists”. The rebellion was suppressed, the men were deported to the North, and some of them were shot. Therefore few men remained in the village, mostly women and teenagers.

Stepanida told me of this severe time in details, wiping tears with her handkerchief. “In these years we were saved only thanks to fishing in Tobol, we ate fish without bread and salt. Since then my children are ill.” Stepanida baked in the big stove a loaf of bread, there was a fish baked inside the loaf. Mitya, her son, did the fishing. When the peasants learned that Smirnov and I were political exiles, they felt sympathy to us, they asked why communists put into prison and exile other communists. A woman of 60, Agraphpena Podkovyrkina asked especially many questions. I was interested in her and asked peasants about her. They said that at the beginning of 20-eth Agraphena was the head of rebellion in the village. She climbed the bell tower and struck the bells. When all the peasants met, she appealed to them to begin struggle with the food detachments. The peasants responded to the call, attacked the regiments and there were victims in both sides. The rebellion was suppressed, Agraphena and other instigators were put to prison, but in 1923 they were discharged.

Once, Agraphena invited me to tea. I met her son Afanasy, strongly built, with big grey eyes, a big forehead and black hair. Being a young man he went with a group of peasants to the river Lena mines and there in1912 took part in a strike. Afterwards he was sent to his village under police surveillance. In the World War 1 he was rewarded with two Georgy crosses, in the Civil War fought against Kolchak. At that time his farm was destroyed, his son died from inflammation of the lungs and only a daughter remained. When he returned home, Afanasy built a new house, bought a horse and a cow. The period of NEP (new economical politics) was quiet. Afanasy was interested in politics, regularly read news-papers. He read some works by Lenin and Trotsky. He asked me many questions: “Why they are going to abolish NEP? Why was Trotsky expelled from the party? Wherefrom came the Georgian that took Lenin’s place? Why the communists are exiled to Siberia?” Then a friend of Afanasy came in, a tall bold man with a red beard. He listened to our conversation and said: “The Bolshevics deceived the peasants, they promised to give them land, but did not. Now they forbid every step, control everything, write down peasants’ farming, and write down how many cows, horses, sheep and even hens they have. For what reason?“ It was very difficult for me to answer all these questions, I tried to explain something in simple words, but I saw that the peasants did not understand.

I organized some kind of counseling for school-children in the village club: helped them to solve arithmetic problems and use a map, read with them “Russian speech”. Sometimes we went out, where I explained the origin of clouds, snow and rain and spoke of landscapes. In the club I gave three popular lectures of the origin of the Universe. In the small village library I found “Don Quxote” by Servantes. I began to read it aloud in Podkovyrkin house; their neighbors also came to listen. I explained what I read, spoke of Spain. After this book we were reading Nekrasov’s poems, I read “Russian women” in the club. Many people came. I spoke of the December rebel in 1825, of execution of Pestel, Ryleyev, Kakhovsky, Muravjev-Apostol and Bestuzhev-Rumin. My listeners were surprised to learn that near their village in Yalutorovsk 7 Dekabrists were exiled, between them Pushkin’s friends Kukhelbeker and Puschin and princesses Trubetskaya and Volkonskaya rode via Tumen and Yalutorovsk when they followed their husbands sent to penal servitude. Tzar Nicolay the first threatened them by depriving of nobility. Their relatives spoke of severe conditions of life in Siberia. Nothing could stop these courageous women. I noticed that the Dekabrists were rich, were close to tsar court, but they rebelled for better life for the simple people. I read Pushkin’s verse dedicated to Dekabrists. Everybody was silent; they were impressed by Nekrasov’s and Pushkin’s verses.

Among my pupils there was a younger sister of Afanasy Podkovyrkin Ksenia, a girl of 18. Being a child she was hurt with a cart wheel and limped. After 3 months of studies, Ksenia learned algebra, logarithms and geometry, learned by heart many verses by Pushkin, Lermontov and Nekrasov. I realized that in favorable conditions a person’s abilities can unexpectedly be revealed. Later I invited Ksenia to Leningrad.

There were rumors in the village of repressions against “Kulaks” and “complete collectivization.” The peasants were worried; groups gathered in houses, they said that this was the end of their free life. They came to Smirnov and me asking to explain the situation. During military communism the village was utterly destroyed. In the period of NEP the economy was restored and they lived as usual, only many men went to town in winter to search a living. There were no “kulaks” in Suerskoye. Smirnov and I collected interesting facts. The richest peasants had two cows and two horses. 95% of peasants had one horse and one cow. A small group of peasants had no horses and cows. They wanted to go to a collective farm. Smirnov and I established that these peasants were lazy workers, drank vodka and often made rows. By the way, in Russia before the revolution there were few “kulaks”, rich peasants like American farmers. The reason was a backward economy of Russian village. A question arises: wherefrom suddenly “kulaks’ came to the Soviet state? In reality it was a result of cowardly imagination of ignorant politicians in the ruling party, they were afraid of the growth of political strength in villages. Class struggle in Russian village was a myth. But slogans “Abolition of “kulaks” as a class” and “complete collectivization” gave an instrument of unlimited tyranny to local authorities. The “extremes” in the village were dictated by Moscow, they were part of criminal politics of Stalin’s Central Committee. The natural stages of development of agricultural economy were broken. Suerakoye was a cell of social body. What was going on in the cell was going on in the body. Collectivization and industrialization were two sides of one historical process of suppressing people’s power and establishing of serfdom relations both in the village and in town. The state was everything, the people was nothing! As a result millions perished. Smirnov and I asked the peasants: 90% did not want to go to a collective farm. When a commission arrived from Tumen to count the cattle and agricultural implements, the peasants were terrified. As soon as the commission left, they began to slaughter the cattle. I woke up by night from the roar of cows and horses, bleating of sheep and squeal of pigs. The meat of the slaughtered animals was salted in barrels, which were buried in yards and in the field. During one winter in1929 the village changed its look, the people who were active earlier now were mostly seating at home, hungry and pale children wandered about, and beggars appeared. The life in the village came to a standstill, everybody was waiting for something. Young men stopped to go to dances, old women were wandering like shadows. The peasants stopped to clean streets, rubbish heaps appeared, and there were snow-drifts beside the gates. When I asked from my hostess a spade to clean in the yard, she said: “There is no will to do anything, again no peace, we rested a little from commune, and now they are after us again… Oh God, when will they leave us alone.” I felt depressed but I only could say:”Everything passes, we have to hope for better time.” She was silent and wiped tears with her handkerchief. Smirnov and I tried to understand what was going on. We had books sent by D.B. Ryasanov from Moscow. Ryasanov was the most well-known specialist of Marx’s works. We had also “Economic Tables” by Keney in French. Smirnov translated this book. In these books the principle of free trade was considered, the authors spoke against feudalism and serfdom. We were convinced they were right considering what was going in Suerskye. After the appearance of the commission for calculations of the cattle and agricultural implements the village was on the verge of catastrophe. What the economists understood in the XV111-th century, the “wise men” of Stalin’s Central Committee absolutely did not understand. In the Siberian exile the books helped us realize the inevitability of catastrophic consequences of what was going on in the village at the end of 20-eth.

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