Gareth Jones

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The Western Mail, April 10th, 1931


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“Why can’t they give us workers enough to eat?” suddenly burst out the Red-faced Russian miner in the corner of the carriage  “Their Five-Year Plan indeed!  All they do is to promise us sausages and boots in a few years time!  Let them give them to us now.  We can’t stick it, any longer.  A revolution is sure to come.” 


There was no meat to be had in the Co-operative Restaurant in Rostoff.  The sausages had been sold out since nine o’clock in the morning.  There were a few bars of chocolate (about a 6d. size ) at 12s. per bar.  There was no butter to be had except in the private market at 10s. per lb.  There was a long queue of nervy people in the restaurant.  “Anybody got any silver - there’s no small change?’’  each other asked.  There were grumblings and cursings.  A young worker, slightly drunk, sidled up to me and said:  “That’s what they are doing to us in Soviet Russia.  The Communists are killing us workers and peasants.  Everything’s bad, bad, bad.  We can’t get boots and we can’t get clothes.  We can’t get food, except bread.  How can we work all day with our bellies empty.  There’s nothing in Russia.  The Five-Year Plan?  It’s all lies, lies, lies !” 

Two peasants, in their rough sheepskin coats, were furious.  The train rattled along across the North Caucasian steppes.  We were talking about the Soviet policy of making the peasants give up their land and join collective farms.  “It’s a dog’s life,” they said.  “ It would be better to be under the earth than to live now.  They force us to join collective farms.  The very best, those who worked day and night, were sent to Siberia and the Urals, and their houses were taken from them.  They won’t let us keep more than one cow.  What’s the use of working? It’s terrible.”


These glimpses of life in Soviet Russia show that the Communists are not having all their own way with the Five-Year Plan.  The difficulties are formidable and they are putting a serious brake on the progress of the Plan.  There are industrial difficulties, there are agricultural difficulties and there are human difficulties. 

What are the industrial difficulties?  The first is the weakness of workers from lack of nearly all foods except bread.  Meat is exceedingly scarce.  All fats are almost impossible to obtain unless one is a manual worker or a member of the Communist party.  Even a manual worker is rarely able to get enough.  The bad quality of the goods produced under the Five-Year Plan is another drawback.  The Soviet press publishes frank letters stating that clothes often fall to pieces in not much more than a month after purchase.  Tractors often break within a few hours of use.  This is easily understood.  A factory is told to produce 1,000 tractors by a certain date under the Five-Year Plan.  The manager may be arrested, perhaps shot or his bread-card may be taken away from him if the order is not carried out.  Hence those 1,000 tractors are turned out regardless of quality. 


The ever-growing lack of engineers and of skilled labour is going to be a serious barrier to the success of the Plan.  It is impossible to train engineers and mechanics in a year.  Often a generation ion or more is needed to provide a trained body of workers.  A South Wales collier cannot be made in six months.  He is the skilled result of generations of experience.  The Soviet Government is setting up industrial and engineering schools everywhere but they will find out that they can not run an industrialised State on unskilled and untrained engineers mechanics, and workers. 

The railways of the U.S.S.R. are now in a state of confusion.  Terrible mistakes have been made.  Men have been shot for muddling the transport organisation.  A millions tons of coal was left standing idle in the Donetz Basin this year because there were not enough wagons and locomotives to carry it away.  Unless transport is improved and unless the railways planned a are built in time, and, what is more, in built well, then Five-Year Plan will be in grave danger of failing. 

It has been difficult for the Soviet authorities recently to keep the workers in the factories.  They have been leaving one district for another or returning hungry from the towns to their villages where they have parents or brothers or cousins.  The flight of workers was most marked in the Donetz Basin, the coal, iron and steel district where 93,000 workers fled last summer.  The Soviet Government has had to make regulations which amount to the tying of workers to their factories or mines and to the tightening of the grip of the State over the life of each citizen. 


Failure in supplying factories with raw material such as cotton or flax, &c., the famine in fuel which caused so much suffering this winter, the disappointing results of the co-operative movement all these have put a brake on the fulfilment of the Plan.  In agriculture the Government have had to face the opposition of masses of the peasants. There are probably at this moment many Communists being murdered in the villages by peasants want to at stick to their land.  The wholesale massacre of cattle and pigs which followed upon the violent campaign of collectivisation a year ago has caused a shortage of live-stock which will affect Russia for several years.  By the class-warfare in the villages and extermination of the richer peasants (the Kulaks) by exile, confiscation, or sometimes by shooting, the Communists are depriving Russian agriculture of its hardest workers. 


There are, finally, serious human drawbacks which will prevent the five-Year Plan making Russia into a happy prosperous country.  There is, first, the clinging of average human being to property.  Secondly, managers of factories and directors of trusts and many people in good positions are afraid of taking responsibility.  It has been dangerous.  During the last winter hundreds of men have been shot for failures in the branches of industry in which they had leading posts.  When your actions are dictated according to a set plan and when failure may bring about death, your feeling of initiative is sure to suffer. Another human drawback is the stress which is laid upon political keenness and on orthodoxy rather than on practical ability.  If you are a Communist then you have a far better chance of becoming the director of a factory than a non-Communist.  A good street-corner orator is not necessarily a good organiser.  There is thus waste of brain-power. 

The building up of an ideal State is going to be handicapped by the lack of freedom of expression which is an obstacle to the thinker, the artist, the writer, the politician, and to the man in the street.  Finally the disillusionment which is spreading through the ranks of workers and peasants and which contrasts so violently with the optimism of the Communists and of youth has shattered the first fine careless rapture of the Plan 

Such are the forces fighting against the success of the Plan.  What have been the results so far?  And what are the prospects for the future?  These will be dealt with in the next and final article.


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