Personal Letter from Magnitogorsk

Young Leningrad Worker, Personal letter from Magnitogorsk. June 1931

Original Source: GARF, f. 7952, op. 5, d. 172, ll.59-60. Typed copy.

Hello, Uncle Fedya. Greetings from Magnitogorsk. Uncle Fedya, we arrived at the place here safe and sound. They did a poor job of meeting us at Magnitogorsk. We sat and waited a very long time for the bus to take us to the place we were going. Toward evening the bus came for us. Brought us to open country and left us. They showed us a tent in which there was nothing except the tent itself. The first night we slept on the bare ground, for the second they made sawhorses and paneling for us. We slept on the bare boards. The third day they sort of knocked together a floor in the tent for us out of boards. They handed us blankets and empty mattress cases, gave us straw, and we stuffed the mattresses. So began our camp life.

Uncle Fedya, here dinners in the cafeteria are eighty kopecks and a ruble ten kopecks and they’re no good at all, so we have to go hungry, and there’s nowhere else to get food. Uncle Fedya, they don’t give us work by specialty since nobody knows when the machine installation will begin. Four days we did nothing, or sat in tents, or walked around looking for the bosses. Finally, they gave us something to do: building temporary housing. We raised a fuss and handed to the employment office a request to have our agreement annulled, but they came back to us with time conditions: if by 10 June they didn’t give us work by trade and did not lodge us in temporary housing and did not distribute overalls to us, then on the eleventh the agreement would be voided. We’re waiting until 15 June, and no matter what I’m coming back to Leningrad. So we’ve fallen into a trap. No matter how hard you try, you can’t find a way out. Right now we’re building temporary housing. But you can understand yourself what sort of carpenters we are. But otherwise there’s no work. A large number of workers leave to go back to where they came from every day, but it’s very hard to get out of here. They won’t let you out for anything, but no matter what I’m coming back since life here is impossible: first of all, there’s no work by trade, they don’t give you overalls, the chow is awful, we’re living in tents, and the weather is cold and rainy all the time. The tents always leak and after a rain everything is soggy. Strong cold winds come down from the mountains so it’s very cold to live in the tents, we’re freezing, and the bosses don’t give a damn. Now when we were being sent off, we heard pretty, sweet words. You’re going, they said, to a shock construction project. They’re waiting for you. The project (installation of machinery) can’t proceed without you, they said. But in fact this is what is actually the case: we are not needed at all since there are many workers here and we’re putting up temporary housing.

Uncle Fedya, there is such a mess here that you wouldn’t be able to make head or tail of it. Our big shots here are nothing but bureaucrats, there’s complete confusion, you can’t find anything anywhere.

Uncle Fedya, I’m going to stop writing for now. I’ll write more later.

Source: Lewis Siegelbaum and Andrei Sokolov, eds., Stalinism as a Way of Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 33.

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