Settling the Nomads in Kirghizia

A. Mukhaidzi, Settling the Nomads in Kirghizia. 1933


Co-author Nazarevskii


Original Source: Revolutsiia i natsionalnosti, No. 12 (1933).

A Republican committee has been organized for the purpose of directing the settling of nomads in Kirghizia. Its plan provides for the settlement of approximately 40,000 households in 12 districts earmarked for that purpose by the summer of 1933 (10,000 in 1931 and 30,000 in 1932). At present settling proceeds in approximately 150 areas in 12 districts.

The principal efforts to settle nomads were made in the northern districts of Kirghizia … in the south only in the Alai-Gulch in district.

In 1931, 300,000 rubles for settling the nomads were assigned by the People’s Commissariat of Agriculture of the RSFSR, and 70,000 rubles were allotted in the budget of Kirghizia … An average of as much as 80 hectares of land suitable for agriculture was contemplated per household, allowing 63 hectares for pasture, 12 hectares for hay making and 5 hectares for tillage. This draft calculation, serving as a rough guide, was based on the fact that each household, under the approved norms, could have up to 12-20 head of livestock evaluated in standard cattle.

To fix such scales for each household means to allot for land utilization an area of approximately one million hectares, including also the agriculturally unsuitable lands such as rocks, steep precipices, stone deposits, clay beds, glaciers and so forth. Since an average of some 30 kopeks was all that was available per hectare, the organization of land utilization boiled down simply to instructions on land exploitation. These instructions were of very poor quality, especially as Kirghizia was, and still is, suffering from an acute shortage of cadres of organizers of land utilization (in the whole Republic only six of them had higher education). Moreover, the available cadres of organizers of land exploitation were utterly unprepared for tackling the most important tasks of preparing the territories and the sectors to be settled. In practice, poorly qualified land-organizing officials had to solve … questions such as the selection of economic centers and their internal organization, the parceling out of land plots, ameliorative work and so forth.

The insufficient study of the agricultural territories of Kirghizia, the lack of agricultural plans for the individual districts, and the actual absence of agronomists caused serious delays and reduced, in places, the effectiveness of the work of organizing land utilization.

As a result, the population was dissatisfied with what had been done. The defects in the organization of land utilization were at times exploited for anti-Soviet agitation by the beys and manaps. As an illustration of the tenseness of that agitation the example of the Atbash district may be quoted. The population which was settled there showed its dissatisfaction with the land demarcation by destroying the demarcation signs, so that the work had to be done anew.

In 1932, owing to the liquidation of the class enemy, and the correction, in a Bolshevik way, of the errors committed earlier in this sphere, the masses evinced considerable enthusiasm for settling. Unfortunately, the lack of material resources, the shortage of cadres, and the weak leadership in the center and in the districts made it impossible to draw fully on that enthusiasm. One of the biggest mistakes, in particular, was the attempt to service in 1932 the greatest possible number of households, without considering what material possibilities and cadres were available. A plan was adopted to transfer to a settled way of life 30,000 households instead of the 10,000 proposed by the People’s Commissariat of Agriculture of the RSFSR.

The Council of People’s Commissars of the Kirghiz ASSR, by decree of February 23, 1932, confirmed the following measures for settling the nomadic and semi-nomadic population:

1. In the first place to consolidate the settlements of 1931, by providing the people concerned with buildings for industrial, living, cultural and social purposes.

2. To settle 30,000 new households in 12 districts of the Republic in such a way that their needs were catered for by organizing land utilization, prospecting for amelioration, irrigation and road building, and preparing building for productive and dwelling purposes in regions where it would be facilitated by local conditions and the initiative of the settlers.

The operational plan for 1932 as confirmed by the Republican Nomad Settlement Committee amounted to 2 million rubles from the budget of the RSFSR (credits for settling purposes), 5 million rubles from the budget of Kirghizia (out of which sum 2,968,000 rubles were assigned directly for settling and the rest for cultural development), 2,024,200 rubles from the agricultural credit, 588,000 rubles from co-operative funds, and 9,531,000 rubles from the population’s own resources in cash and labor. The total amount of the operational plan, therefore, exceeded 19 million rubles.

On completion of the finance plan, it was discovered that there was a gap in the local budget section, which threatened to derange the work already in hand. In order to curtail the finance plan as painlessly as possible, the works of melioration and organizing land utilization were simplified.

This kind of ‘simplification’ is wholly inadmissible, but it mitigated, to some extent, the consequences of the gap. However, owing to the fact that funds allocated by the RSFSR were short of 150,000 rubles, the reduced plan was not fulfilled either.

The following table illustrates the fulfillment of the plan for settling the nomadic and semi-nomadic population in 1932 as reflected by the expenditure on some measures:

Description of the measures Total cost

Organization of land utilization 1,526,184
Melioration 397,428
Irrigation 145,440
Road building 544,308
Housing 6,847,200
Construction of buildings for productive purposes 2,327,550
Hospital building 325,950
School building 1,838,005
Co-operative development 36,800
Training of cadres 32,000
Scientific research work:
(a) the issue of an agricultural map and investigation of land resources 97,000
(b) making inventories of fodder land 21,500
Expenses for economic administration:
(a) wages for work in connection with agricultural settlement 14,140
(b) expenses on economic organization 16,899
(c) inspection travels by various people, apart from the apparatus for work in connection with agricultural settlement 13,295
(d) other expenses 17,912
(e) credits closed owing to the fault of the Kirghiz State Bank 47,182
Organization of land utilization and the apportioning of land by settlement 3,721
The surveying of territory in connection with the organization of land utilization by the settlers 20,000

Total 14,822,515

… It is significant that almost half of the total of all these measures went for housing. The bulk of this expenditure was covered by the population, i.e. 6,105,000 rubles out of a total of 6,847,000 rubles; the remainder was provided in the budget of the RSFSR and the budget of Kirghizia. The construction for productive purposes was financed by agricultural credits and the resources of the population. Schools were built at the expense of the Kirghiz budget and by means of labor supplied by the population, in some places the whole of the construction cost being covered by the latter (for example, the Atbash district).

The organization of land utilization was mostly covered by the budget resources of the RSFSR and the Kirghiz Autonomous Socialist Republic.

Road-building costs were borne mainly by the population, which provided 483,000 rubles out of a total of 544,000 rubles.

Meliorative and irrigation works were largely covered by budget provision, although the population too had a share in melioration costs (approximately 50 per cent of the total).

Hospital building proceeded solely at the expense of the budget resources of the Republic …

We see an immense gap between plan and fulfillment.

It is significant that the committee in charge of settling the nomads was not even able to mobilize agricultural credit. This but shows that the committee failed to secure the active participation of the organizations whose job is to provide direct services to the agricultural population, and which have financial resources required for it (for example, the Agricultural Bank and the co-operative movement).

The negative features, which could have been avoided had the committee been better organized and shown greater activity, include:

1. A failure to allocate from the budget of the Kirghiz Republic more than 2 and 1/2 million rubles out of the 5 million rubles provided by the plan for settling purposes. Moreover the existing method of paying out the budget sums was such that each district, instead of receiving cash, had to obtain by and for itself the funds for school and hospital construction from local taxation, charging these funds to the account of the People’s Commissariat of Finance of the Republic. As a result, these funds came in so irregularly that in some places work defined in the plan as obligatory was frustrated.

2. A lack of building materials for constructions connected with the settling process and a failure to assure in the plan the provision of materials in short supply. This made it necessary to obtain through the co-operatives building materials in short supply on account of consumers’ goods, and prevented the settlers from receiving sufficient window panes. Nor did the Nomad Settlement Committee do enough to counter the squandering of building materials in short supply which were delivered to the district. Hence most of the buildings remained half-finished and unsuitable for occupation.

3. The muddle in the work of the People’s Commissariat of Finance and the People’s Commissariat of Agriculture of Kirghizia. Since the budget funds for settling purposes, which were allocated from the budget of the RSFSR, were handed out by the People’s Commissariat of Finance, without making anyone responsible for their proper use, they were used for purposes other than those intended. That is why money regularly arriving from Moscow was held up in the till of the People’s Commissariat of Agriculture of the Republic, instead of being sent to the districts of settlement.

4. The unsatisfactory work of the Central Administration for kolkhozes, as shown up by the ill-conceived selection of officials-building technicians, foremen and so forth.

5. The slackness in serving the districts of settlement on the part of the People’s Commissariats of Food and Health, the Central Administration for kolkhozes, and most of the central institutions of the Kirghiz Republic. The decree of the Council of People’s Commissars of Kirghizia of January 23, 1933, which made it obligatory to supply the settlers’ households with manufactured goods, has not been complied with. The Commissariat of Health, instead of fulfilling the plan tasks of hospital construction to the amount of 1,200,000 rubles, spent only 325,000 rubles on new hospitals in 1932. The Central Administration for kolkhozes has completely failed to provide agronomical services for the kolkhozes formed by the settlers. Nor has the Central Tractor Administration of Kirghizia hitherto done anything in this respect, apparently because of its failure to realize the great political importance of the settlement.

6. The insufficient organization of scientific research in aid of the settlement, despite the fact that many problems of the greatest importance for the settlers are still obscure, and although Kirghizia has a scientific research institute for cattle-breeding, which could have given a start to the study of these problems.

It must be noted that the central Nomad Settlement Committee has still not understood what important services the scientific research institute could render.

7. Finally, the lack of coordination between the work of nomad settlement and sovkhoz construction and the failure to make use of the experience of sovkhozes in the sphere of cattle-breeding.

The socialist reconstruction of the economy of the former nomads which arises from their new settled way of life requires a scientific foundation. Yet problems which are of the greatest importance in nomad settlement and which could further its accomplishment have not yet been clarified. In cattle-breeding–which, according to the instructions of the leading organs, is basic to the settlers’ households–even such important questions are still unclear as, for example, the problem of how to organize the fodder base; the problem of the rational upkeep of cattle during different seasons, arising from the transition from a nomadic to a settled way of life; the problem of how to increase the productivity of cattle-breeding; of how to reduce production costs and so forth.

Scientific research work is particularly urgent in regard to setting up the fodder base.

In former times, the cattle herds were provided with the necessary fodder by driving them to new territory when the grass was eaten up in the places where they had roamed before. For every season there was a definite sector of grazing land. In winter, the cattle were kept in the valleys free from, or with very little, snow. In the spring and summer, the cattle gradually climbed higher into the mountains under the snow line. In this way, during the whole summer, the beasts had access to the young, freshly growing grass. In the autumn, seeking protection from the bad weather, the cattle started on the descent again, so as to spend the winter in the sheltered valleys, on the so-called winter grazing lands. Such a regime, however, subjects the cattle to the permanent threat of fodder shortage and dzhut, i.e. the threat of mass extinction.

From the standpoint of the struggle for socialist cattle-breeding, such fodder resources cannot be regarded as satisfactory. It becomes imperative to assist the population-apart from introducing a rational use of natural pastures-in establishing also artificial fodder resources (fodder gathered from the threshing floor, fodder concentrates, silage and dried meadow fodder, fodder roots and so forth).

Up to the present, the absence of a clear and well-considered plan for the use of natural pastures in the event of large herds being driven to the grazing lands has, in particular, led to a gross over-exploitation of some sectors of the grazing land. The result was that the cattle not only grazed the grass down to the ground, but stamped it out altogether. Large bald patches of 0.5 hectares or more appeared. Such a way of exploiting pastures is, of course, incompatible with properly organized cattle-breeding.

Yet-apart from individual attempts such as, for example, that made by the kolkhoz Ak-dzhdar in the Atbash district-the kolkhozes have not yet realized that there is such a problem as the correct organization of the use of fodder resources.

This is the main reason why the steady numerical increase of the cattle is accompanied by a deterioration in quality in some districts, although these districts are enjoying preferential treatment.

The enthusiasm shown by some district officials for an excessive extension of the grain-growing area is another impediment to the establishment of a rational fodder basis and the consolidation of cattle-breeding. The error inherent in such a deviation is underlined by the fact that, according to the directives from the party and the government, these are basically cattle-breeding districts.

Practical tests have shown beyond doubt that it is possible to increase considerably the productivity of the local cattle, even with the simplest improvements in its upkeep. But to introduce-as some utopians recommend-trough feeding into the settlers’ kolkhozes, although good natural pastures are available, would obviously be inexpedient, for it would cause a sharp rise in production costs. However, it would be equally inexpedient to retain the present methods of driving the cattle to grazing land, allowing them to roam the whole year under the open sky without getting additional fodder.

The establishment of proper conditions for the upkeep of cattle appropriate to settled households would have a great effect on the numerical increase of the cattle, and even more so on its quality and productivity.

The increase in the productivity of cattle cannot be discussed without reference to the question of cross-breeding.

Despite many most valuable achievements in the cross-breeding of Kirghiz cattle with Shvyz bulls in the Alamed sovkhoz, the possibility of improving the quality of the bulk of the cattle by cross-breeding has not yet been fully explored. The same applies to the question of cross-breeding Yaks with Shvyz bulls.

This is true also of cross-breeding of sheep by infusing fine-fleeced breeds, as practiced, for example, in the Tamchi sovkhoz in the Balykchi district. But the usefulness of introducing this method, instead of importing into Kirghizia Merino sheep of the new Caucasian type, requires a most thorough investigation of its economic effectiveness.

As regards other branches of agriculture for consumption purposes, such as the introduction of grain, vegetable and garden crops, it is necessary to ascertain the concrete possibilities of implanting them in the settlers’ kolkhozes, for it would be undesirable and even impossible to base the latter solely on cattle-breeding.

Unfortunately the planning authorities of the Kirghiz ASSR are paying little attention to this problem, although the settlers themselves are showing the desire to cultivate such crops.

Thus, in the Atbash district the population received no seed potatoes at all. Even the Ak-dzhar kolkhoz, which is considered a model, had great difficulty in getting a small quantity of onion seeds for demonstrative sowing.

In the Naryn district, too, there is still skepticism in regard to vegetable cultivation, although the subsidiary farms of the Administration of the OGPU are growing cabbage heads weighing approximately 16 kg. each and potato tubers weighing about 2 kg. each.

One could cite many such instances. But those mentioned are quite sufficient to demonstrate the need to study the whole complex of problems facing the former nomads in connection with their new settled life and their transition to a higher stage of economic development. ………

The needs of the settlers are attended to in the districts by the district settlement committees, set up by decree of the Council of People’s Commissars of Kirghizia, of December 17, 1931, and attached to the District Executive Committee. They are directed by the deputy chairman of the District Executive Committee, in cooperation with the appropriate district organizations (the land, water and other departments).

… The district settlement committees are limiting their work to a formal application of party and government directives. There were cases when the basic tasks of the settling process were ignored. Not enough is done to struggle, as Bolsheviks should, against the pilfering and misuse of building materials in short supply sent to cover the needs of the settlers. It happens, too, that the committees slur over the struggle against the misdeeds of the wreckers (for instance, in the Stalin district).

There is no systematic plan for the organization of building for housing and agricultural needs, for economic reconstruction in the districts of settlement, melioration, irrigation, the organization of land utilization and so forth. Thanks to the great enthusiasm of the population, the work is taking its own course. That is why, though good in places, it is mostly unsatisfactory.

The scales of the standard plan for living houses, as laid down by the central Settlement Committee of Kirghizia, do not always satisfy the population. Instead of fixing a building standard in accordance with local conditions, the district leadership allowed the matter to drift. The result is not only that the houses differ in size, but also-and this is the main thing-in building technique, with a general tendency to fall below the norm. Almost no attempt was made to establish a close link with the settlers by giving them the necessary guidance. This naturally gave the class enemy an opportunity for agitation against the settling of nomads especially in the first stage of the work (the Atbash, Naryn and Stalin districts) …

During the first stage of the work, the district settlement committees also failed to see to it that the kolkhozes should be supplied with basic building materials (timber, nails, glass) and the simplest building tools (axes, cross-saws and so forth). These simple tools are still lacking in some of the settling places. Since the nomads did not know how to use these tools, it was sometimes necessary to organize special courses to train the indigenous population in the use of the axe, the saw or the plane. The kolkhoz settlers are showing great interest in this training and are displaying great abilities. If the work of the district settlement committees were as it should be, we should have already had considerable cadres of relatively well-trained builders from the indigenous Kirghiz population.

The district settlement committees failed to assist the settlers in forming their own building cadres and made no efforts to organize the technical management; the available specialists were ignored. All this accounts for the bad quality of many buildings in all the places of settlement.

Many of the newly built houses had cracks and faults in the incline of their walls. The foundation was often only 15 cm. deep, instead of 70 cm.; sometimes there was no foundation at all; and so forth. Another cause of the building defects was, of course, a lack of energy on the part of those doing the work, who failed, for example, to oppose the illegal instructions of the local managers, who were trying to build the greatest possible number of houses at the expense of quality.

In this respect one ought to mention a feature which is highly characteristic of the attitude taken up by leading district officials to the settling of nomads. Lacking a proper understanding of the whole political and economic importance of this process, many leading officials tried to embellish the real state of affairs, instead of honestly revealing all the shortcomings and fighting for their elimination, as would befit Bolsheviks.

Carried away by their enthusiasm for house-building, the district settlement committees did not give the population enough aid in the construction of farm buildings. That is why, in places, the cattle had to spend the winter in the open fields, for even simple enclosures were lacking (the Atbash, Naryn and Stalin districts).

But in some districts, such as Karakul, where the settling process has extended over a longer period and where it benefits from the experience of neighboring European settlements, there are buildings for the cattle. Many of the stables built in the Kirghiz kolkhozes of that district are so good that they could serve as models even for the kolkhozes of Moscow province (for instance, in the Zyndan, Chon-Dzharges, Isaev, Urazbekov kolkhozes and others).

It is significant that the Chon-Dzharges kolkhoz should now wish to rebuild the first living houses of the settlers, which had been constructed in 1924, as they no longer meet the growing cultural requirements of the population. But before improving its living houses the kolkhoz built, in the first place, very good stables for the kolkhoz: horses. This shows, in some places, a growing understanding among the settling Kirghiz population of the importance of improving the care of the animals as a pre-condition of raising its productivity. It is necessary that these tasks should be generally understood and duly supported also by the leading officials in charge of settling the nomads.

As a rule, nothing is done by way of melioration in the settling places. Failing to grasp the importance of melioration, district officials did not try to obtain the funds required for it either through budget allocation or through agricultural credit. The need for it is immense, and at times melioration works at relatively low cost could greatly increase productivity.

The organization of land utilization was unsatisfactory mainly because of the shortage of cadres and the immensity of the tasks placed on the officials in this field.

The hurried organization of land utilization in the Atbash district in 1931 had to be almost completely changed in the subsequent years. According to the candid admission of the very organizers of land utilization, the work undertaken there in 1932-33 was not of much use, for although the land was cut into strips, the kolkhoz members did not apply crop rotation …

The selection of bad sectors can have serious effects on cattle raised in the settlers’ kolkhozes, and endangers the very idea of nomad settlement. A correct distribution of their cattle requires very thorough scientific research. The work of organizing land utilization is impeded also by causes which are relatively easy to remove, if only the district leaders paid greater attention to the matter. These causes include: (1) the absence of permanent workers-the kolkhozes are always allotting new people, and their training takes time; (2) shortage of horses; (3) irregular allocation of money to the organizers of land utilization (delays of several months have become the rule); (4) irregular supply of food for specialists and workers.

We have already mentioned errors in the selection of settling places from the point of view of the comfort of the settlers. The greatest shortcoming in this respect was the lack of water for irrigation and even drinking. Such a state of affairs causes justified discontent among the settling kolkhoz members and discredits amongst the population the idea of settling the nomads. That is why the irrigation and water supply of these places ought to have been introduced as a matter of special urgency … ………….

… The above facts show that a great deal of work has still to be done in the settlers’ kolkhozes so as to provide them with a firm material basis: cadres, building materials, means of transport and appropriate funds …

The organization of labor in the settlers’ kolkhozes, which still retains many survivals of the former nomadic system, is not yet properly established. The accounting of the work performed is extremely bad. There are no cadres of reliable workers. The available kolkhoz aktiv requires a thorough check from the point of view of class attitudes.

There is still an acute need for educational work and the diffusion of culture and enlightenment among the kolkhoz members and particularly among the kolkhoz aktiv. It is also necessary to introduce into agriculture technical skill and up-to-date methods of cattle-breeding under kolkhoz conditions.

As for housing in the settling places which we have investigated, it must be recognized that, despite the various shortcomings mentioned, it is nevertheless in the process of improvement. Already the planning of the settlements, where the houses are built in regular rows and, sometimes, with trees planted along the broad streets, represents a great achievement. It is an achievement not only in comparison with the Kirghiz winter camps in the mountain districts, but even with the Asian cities in the valleys, with their narrow streets between houses clinging tightly to one another. The schools, clubs, hospitals and bath-houses already built in many settling places are causing a radical break in the cultural and day-to-day life of the Kirghiz nomads.

When discussing the growing economic power of the settlers’ kolkhozes, it is necessary to bear in mind that a radical reorganization of the entire agriculture has taken place in the Atbash district during the last few years. For example, land tillage, which covered a grain area of only 300 hectares in 1927, had 15,600 hectares under grain cultivation in 1933. It is interesting, moreover, that the Atbash district shows not only a quantitative increase in the sowing area but also a radical change in agricultural technique. Thus, two years ago, the archaic omach was in general use. But now it has been completely displaced by the plough.

Side by side with the expanding grain crops, vegetable cultivation is being gradually introduced, despite the specific obstacles such as shortage of seeds and lack of experience in vegetable cultivation (so that, when weeding, carrots are pulled out instead of weeds) and so forth. The amount of vegetable cultivation introduced into the former nomadic districts is inconsiderable. But the very fact that the indigenous Kirghiz population is growing and consuming vegetables is significant.

An immense amount of work has still to be done in rationalizing the branches of cattle-breeding and, particularly, in developing its fodder base. But one notes already an advance in hay-making and beginnings of silage. In the Karakul district, some kolkhozes this year even practiced some experimental sowing of fodder beet for cows.

School building and the struggle against illiteracy have greatly improved the cultural level of the kolkhoz members. The age-old Eastern slavery of the woman, in particular, is receding more and more into the realm of legend. Not infrequently, women from the settling population become members of the kolkhoz administration and team leaders, or take charge of Red corners and so forth, and play an active part in social and political work, in economic organization and in production work.

All this is an indication of the important changeover taking place in the settlers’ kolkhozes to a new way of life and new forms of production.

Source: Rudolf Schlesinger, ed., Changing Attitudes in Soviet Russia; the nationalities problem and Soviet administration (London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1956), pp. 158-170.

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