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The Western Mail, April 8th, 1933


- - - 

Peasants Subsisting On Potatoes and Cattle Fodder


Famine, far greater than the famine of 1921, is now visiting Russia.  The hunger of twelve years ago was only prevalent in the Volga and in some other regions, but today the hunger has attacked the Ukraine, the North Caucasus, the Volga district, Central Asia, Siberia - indeed, every part of Russia.  I have spoken to peasants or to eye-witnesses from every one of those districts and their story is the same.  There is hardly any bread left, the peasants either exist on potatoes and cattle fodder, or, if they have none of these, die off.

In the three agricultural districts which I visited, namely, the Moscow region, the Central Black Earth district, and North Ukraine, there was no bread left in any village out of the total twenty villages to which I went.  In almost every village peasants had died of hunger.

Even twenty miles away from Moscow there was no bread.  When I travelled through these Moscow villages the inhabitants said: “It is terrible.  We have no bread. We have to go all the way. to Moscow for bread, and then they will only give us four pounds, for which we have to pay three roubles a kilo (i.e., nominally nearly  3s. a pound).  How can a poor family live on that?” 


A little further on the road a woman started crying when telling me of the hunger, and said: “They’re killing us.  We have no bread.  We have no potatoes left.  In this village there used to be 300 cows and now there are only 30.  The horses have died.  We shall starve.”  Many  people, especially in the Ukraine, have been existing for a week or more on salt and water, but most of them on beet, which was once given to cattle.

Last year, the weather was ideal.  Climatic conditions have in the past few years, blessed the Soviet Government.  Then why the catastrophe?  In the first place, the land has been taken away from 70 per cent. of the peasantry, and all incentive to work has disappeared.  Anyone with the blood of Welsh farmers in his veins will understand what it means to a farmer or a peasant to have his own land taken away from him.  Last year nearly all the crops of the peasants were violently seized, and the peasant was left almost nothing for himself.  Under the five Year Plan the Soviet Government aimed at setting up big collective farms, where the land would be owned in common and run by tractors.  But the Russian peasant in one respect is no different from the Welsh farmer.  He wants his own land, and if his land is taken away from him he will not work.  The passive resistance of the peasant has been a stronger factor than all the speeches of Stalin. 


In the second place, the cow was taken away from the peasant.  Imagine what would happen in the Vale of Glamorgan or in Cardiganshire if the county councils took away the cows of the farmers!  The cattle were to be owned in common, and cared for in common by the collective farms.  Many of the cattle were seized and, put into vast State cattle factories.

The result of this policy was a widespread massacre of cattle by the peasants, who did not wish to sacrifice their property for nothing.  Another result was that on these State cattle factories, which were entirely unprepared and had not enough sheds, innumerable live-stock died of exposure and epidemics.  Horses died from lack of fodder.  The live-stock of the Soviet Union has now been so depleted that not until 1945 can it reach the level of 1928.  And that is provided all the plans for the import of cattle succeed, provided there is no disease, and provided there is fodder.  That date 1945 was given me by one of the most reliable foreign experts in Moscow. 

In the third place, six or seven millions of the best farmers (i.e., the Kulaks) in Russia have been uprooted and have been exiled with a barbarity which is not realised in Britain.  Although two years ago the Soviet Government claimed that the Kulak had been, destroyed, the savage drive against the better peasant continued with increased violence last winter.  It was the aim of the Bolsheviks to destroy the Kulaks as a class, because they were “the capitalists of the village.” 


A peasant woman in the Moscow district said to me, “Look at what they call Kulaks!  They are just ordinary peasants who have a cow or two.  They’re murdering the peasants and, sending them away everywhere.  It’s oppression, oppression, oppression.”  I saw near Moscow a group of hungry looking, miserable peasants being driven along by a Red Army soldier with his bayonet fixed, on his rifle.  The treatment of the other peasants has been equally cruel.  Their land and, livestock taken away from them, they have been condemned to the status of starving, landless serfs.

The final reason for the famine in Soviet Russia has been the Soviet export of food stuffs.  So anxious has the Soviet Government been to meet its obligations abroad that it has exported grain, butter, and eggs in order to buy machinery while the population was starving at home.  In this respect the Soviet Government has followed the example of the Tsarist Government, which used to export grain even in a year of food shortage.  There was never in Tsarist Russia, however, a famine which hit every part of Russia as today.  To export food at such a period has aggravated the hunger, and although the Soviet Government deserves praise for its habit of paying punctually it has by its policy harmed the health and endangered the life of a considerable section of its population. 

The taking of the land away from the peasant, the massacre of the cattle, the exile of the most hard-working peasants, and the export of food-those are the four main reasons why there is famine in Russia to-day. 


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