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Liquidation of Illiteracy

Liquidation of Illiteracy. January 29, 1919


Original Source: Sbornik dokumentov i materialov po istorii SSSR sovetskogo perioda (1917-1958 gg.) (Moscow: Izd. Moskovskogo universiteta, 1966), p. 175.

For the purpose of giving the entire population of the Republic the opportunity for conscious participation in the country’s political life, the Council of People’s Commissars has decreed:

1. Everyone in the Republic from ages 8 to 50 who is unable to read or write is obligated to learn how to read and write in Russian, or in their native language, according to their choice. Instruction is given in government schools both existing and those instituted for the illiterate population according to the plan of the People’s Commissariat of Enlightenment.

Note. This activity applies to Red Army men, with the corresponding work in military units taking place with the closest participation of the Red Army and Fleet political departments.

2. The date for liquidation of illiteracy is established by the province and city soviets as appropriate. General plans for liquidation of illiteracy locally are to be formulated by organs of the People’s Commissariat of Enlightenment within two months after the publication of the current decree.

3. The People’s Commissariat of Enlightenment and its local organs are given the right to recruit, for teaching the illiterate, the country’s entire literate population which has not been called to war, as a labor responsibility. Payment is to be made according to the educational worker norm.

4. The People’s Commissariat of Enlightenment and its local organs recruit all organizations of the working population (namely trade unions, local Russian Communist Party cells, the Communist Youth League, commissions for work among women, and others) to participate directly in the work of liquidating illiteracy.

5. For those learning to read and write who are working at hourly wages, excluding those occupied at militarized enterprises, the work day is abbreviated by two hours for instruction, with the same wages.

6. For the liquidation of illiteracy the organs of the People’s Commissariat of Enlightenment are allowed to use People’s Houses, churches, clubs, private homes, appropriate rooms at plants, factories and Soviet institutions, etc.

7. Supply departments are charged with the responsibility to satisfy the needs of those institutions whose goal is to liquidate illiteracy before satisfying the needs of other institutions.

8. Those deviating from the obligations established by the current decree and those hindering the illiterate from attending schools are held criminally responsible.

9. The People’s Commissariat of Enlightenment is charged with publishing instructions regarding application of the current decree within a two week period.

Gorbachev Speaks to the UN

Excerpts of Address by Mikhail Gorbachev. 43rd U.N. General Assembly Session, December 7, 1988


On December 7, 1988, Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev addressed the United Nations General Assembly. After speaking about the recent changes in the Soviet Union, Gorbachev amazed the global community when he announced drastic cuts in the Soviet military presence in Eastern Europe and along the Chinese border — a move that ultimately allowed Soviet satellites to choose their own paths.

Two great revolutions, the French revolution of 1789 and the Russian revolution of 1917, have exerted a powerful influence on the actual nature of the historical process and radically changed the course of world events. Both of them, each in its own way, have given a gigantic impetus to man’s progress. They are also the ones that have formed in many respects the way of thinking which is still prevailing in the public consciousness.

That is a very great spiritual wealth, but there emerges before us today a different world, for which it is necessary to seek different roads toward the future, to seek — relying, of course, on accumulated experience — but also seeing the radical differences between that which was yesterday and that which is taking place today.

The newness of the tasks, and at the same time their difficulty, are not limited to this. Today we have entered an era when progress will be based on the interests of all mankind. Consciousness of this requires that world policy, too, should be determined by the priority of the values of all mankind.

The history of the past centuries and millennia has been a history of almost ubiquitous wars, and sometimes desperate battles, leading to mutual destruction. They occurred in the clash of social and political interests and national hostility, be it from ideological or religious incompatibility. All that was the case, and even now many still claim that this past — which has not been overcome — is an immutable pattern. However, parallel with the process of wars, hostility, and alienation of peoples and countries, another process, just as objectively conditioned, was in motion and gaining force: The process of the emergence of a mutually connected and integral world.

Further world progress is now possible only through the search for a consensus of all mankind, in movement toward a new world order. We have arrived at a frontier at which controlled spontaneity leads to a dead end. The world community must learn to shape and direct the process in such a way as to preserve civilization, to make it safe for all and more pleasant for normal life. It is a question of cooperation that could be more accurately called “co-creation” and “co-development.” The formula of development “at another’s expense” is becoming outdated. In light of present realities, genuine progress by infringing upon the rights and liberties of man and peoples, or at the expense of nature, is impossible.

The very tackling of global problems requires a new “volume” and “quality” of cooperation by states and sociopolitical currents regardless of ideological and other differences.

Of course, radical and revolutionary changes are taking place and will continue to take place within individual countries and social structures. This has been and will continue to be the case, but our times are making corrections here, too. Internal transformational processes cannot achieve their national objectives merely by taking “course parallel” with others without using the achievements of the surrounding world and the possibilities of equitable cooperation. In these conditions, interference in those internal processes with the aim of altering them according to someone else’s prescription would be all the more destructive for the emergence of a peaceful order. In the past, differences often served as a factor in puling away from one another. Now they are being given the opportunity to be a factor in mutual enrichment and attraction. Behind differences in social structure, in the way of life, and in the preference for certain values, stand interests. There is no getting away from that, but neither is there any getting away from the need to find a balance of interests within an international framework, which has become a condition for survival and progress. As you ponder all this, you come to the conclusion that if we wish to take account of the lessons of the past and the realities of the present, if we must reckon with the objective logic of world development, it is necessary to seek — and the seek jointly — an approach toward improving the international situation and building a new world. If that is so, then it is also worth agreeing on the fundamental and truly universal prerequisites and principles for such activities. It is evident, for example, that force and the threat of force can no longer be, and should not be instruments of foreign policy. […]

The compelling necessity of the principle of freedom of choice is also clear to us. The failure to recognize this, to recognize it, is fraught with very dire consequences, consequences for world peace. Denying that right to the peoples, no matter what the pretext, no matter what the words are used to conceal it, means infringing upon even the unstable balance that is, has been possible to achieve.

Freedom of choice is a universal principle to which there should be no exceptions. We have not come to the conclusion of the immutability of this principle simply through good motives. We have been led to it through impartial analysis of the objective processes of our time. The increasing varieties of social development in different countries are becoming in ever more perceptible feature of these processes. This relates to both the capitalist and socialist systems. The variety of sociopolitical structures which has grown over the last decades from national liberation movements also demonstrates this. This objective fact presupposes respect for other people’s vies and stands, tolerance, a preparedness to see phenomena that are different as not necessarily bad or hostile, and an ability to learn to live side by side while remaining different and not agreeing with one another on every issue.

The de-ideologization of interstate relations has become a demand of the new stage. We are not giving up our convictions, philosophy, or traditions. Neither are we calling on anyone else to give up theirs. Yet we are not going to shut ourselves up within the range of our values. That would lead to spiritual impoverishment, for it would mean renouncing so powerful a source of development as sharing all the original things created independently by each nation. In the course of such sharing, each should prove the advantages of his own system, his own way of life and values, but not through words or propaganda alone, but through real deeds as well. That is, indeed, an honest struggle of ideology, but it must not be carried over into mutual relations between states. Otherwise we simply will not be able to solve a single world problem; arrange broad, mutually advantageous and equitable cooperation between peoples; manage rationally the achievements of the scientific and technical revolution; transform world economic relations; protect the environment; overcome underdevelopment; or put an end to hunger, disease, illiteracy, and other mass ills. Finally, in that case, we will not manage to eliminate the nuclear threat and militarism.

Such are our reflections on the natural order of things in the world on the threshold of the 21st century. We are, of course, far from claiming to have infallible truth, but having subjected the previous realities — realities that have arisen again — to strict analysis, we have come to the conclusion that it is by precisely such approaches that we must search jointly for a way to achieve the supremacy of the common human idea over the countless multiplicity of centrifugal forces, to preserve the vitality of a civilization that is possible that only one in the universe. […]

Our country is undergoing a truly revolutionary upsurge. The process of restructuring is gaining pace; We started by elaborating the theoretical concepts of restructuring; we had to assess the nature and scope of the problems, to interpret the lessons of the past, and to express this in the form of political conclusions and programs. This was done. The theoretical work, the re-interpretation of what had happened, the final elaboration, enrichment, and correction of political stances have not ended. They continue. However, it was fundamentally important to start from an overall concept, which is already now being confirmed by the experience of past years, which has turned out to be generally correct and to which there is no alternative.

In order to involve society in implementing the plans for restructuring it had to be made more truly democratic. Under the badge of democratization, restructuring has now encompassed politics, the economy, spiritual life, and ideology. We have unfolded a radical economic reform, we have accumulated experience, and from the new year we are transferring the entire national economy to new forms and work methods. Moreover, this means a profound reorganization of production relations and the realization of the immense potential of socialist property.

In moving toward such bold revolutionary transformations, we understood that there would be errors, that there would be resistance, that the novelty would bring new problems. We foresaw the possibility of breaking in individual sections. However, the profound democratic reform of the entire system of power and government is the guarantee that the overall process of restructuring will move steadily forward and gather strength.

We completed the first stage of the process of political reform with the recent decisions by the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet on amendments to the Constitution and the adoption of the Law on Elections. Without stopping, we embarked upon the second stage of this. At which the most important task will be working on the interaction between the central government and the republics, settling relations between nationalities on the principles of Leninist internationalism bequeathed to us by the great revolution and, at the same time, reorganizing the power of the Soviets locally. We are faced with immense work. At the same time we must resolve major problems.

We are more than fully confident. We have both the theory, the policy and the vanguard force of restructuring a party which is also restructuring itself in accordance with the new tasks and the radical changes throughout society. And the most important thing: all peoples and all generations of citizens in our great country are in favor of restructuring.

We have gone substantially and deeply into the business of constructing a socialist state based on the rule of law. A whole series of new laws has been prepared or is at a completion stage. Many of them come into force as early as 1989, and we trust that they will correspond to the highest standards from the point of view of ensuring the rights of the individual. Soviet democracy is to acquire a firm, normative base. This means such acts as the Law on Freedom of Conscience, on glasnost, on public associations and organizations, and on much else. There are now no people in places of imprisonment in the country who have been sentenced for their political or religious convictions. It is proposed to include in the drafts of the new laws additional guarantees ruling out any form or persecution on these bases. Of course, this does not apply to those who have committed real criminal or state offenses: espionage, sabotage, terrorism, and so on, whatever political or philosophical views they may hold.

The draft amendments to the criminal code are ready and waiting their turn. In particular, those articles relating to the use of the supreme measure of punishment are being reviewed. The problem of exit and entry is also being resolved in a humane spirit, including the case of leaving the country in order to be reunited with relatives. As you know, one of the reasons for refusal of visas is citizens’ possession of secrets. Strictly substantiated terms for the length of time for possessing secrets are being introduced in advance. On starting work at a relevant institution or enterprise, everyone will be made aware of this regulation. Disputes that arise can be appealed under the law. Thus the problem of the so-called “refuseniks” is being removed.

We intend to expand the Soviet Union’s participation in the monitoring mechanism on human rights in the United Nations and within the framework of the pan-European process. We consider that the jurisdiction of the International Court in The Hague with respect to interpreting and applying agreements in the field of human rights should be obligatory for all states.

Within the Helsinki process, we are also examining an end to jamming of all the foreign radio broadcasts to the Soviet Union. On the whole, our credo is as follows: Political problems should be solved only by political means, and human problems only in a humane way. […]

Now about the most important topic, without which no problem of the coming century can be resolved: disarmament. […]

Today I can inform you of the following: The Soviet Union has made a decision on reducing its armed forces. In the next two years, their numerical strength will be reduced by 500,000 persons, and the volume of conventional arms will also be cut considerably. These reductions will be made on a unilateral basis, unconnected with negotiations on the mandate for the Vienna meeting. By agreement with our allies in the Warsaw Pact, we have made the decision to withdraw six tank divisions from the GDR, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary, and to disband them by 1991. Assault landing formations and units, and a number of others, including assault river-crossing forces, with their armaments and combat equipment, will also be withdrawn from the groups of Soviet forces situated in those countries. The Soviet forces situated in those countries will be cut by 50,000 persons, and their arms by 5,000 tanks. All remaining Soviet divisions on the territory of our allies will be reorganized. They will be given a different structure from today’s which will become unambiguously defensive, after the removal of a large number of their tanks. […]

By this act, just as by all our actions aimed at the demilitarization of international relations, we would also like to draw the attention of the world community to another topical problem, the problem of changing over from an economy of armament to an economy of disarmament. Is the conversion of military production realistic? I have already had occasion to speak about this. We believe that it is, indeed, realistic. For its part, the Soviet Union is ready to do the following. Within the framework of the economic reform we are ready to draw up and submit our internal plan for conversion, to prepare in the course of 1989, as an experiment, the plans for the conversion of two or three defense enterprises, to publish our experience of job relocation of specialists from the military industry, and also of using its equipment, buildings, and works in civilian industry, It is desirable that all states, primarily the major military powers, submit their national plans on this issue to the United Nations.

It would be useful to form a group of scientists, entrusting it with a comprehensive analysis of problems of conversion as a whole and as applied to individual countries and regions, to be reported to the U.N. secretary-general, and later to examine this matter at a General Assembly session.

Finally, being on U.S. soil, but also for other, understandable reasons, I cannot but turn to the subject of our relations with this great country. … Relations between the Soviet Union and the United States of America span 5 1/2 decades. The world has changed, and so have the nature, role, and place of these relations in world politics. For too long they were built under the banner of confrontation, and sometimes of hostility, either open or concealed. But in the last few years, throughout the world people were able to heave a sigh of relief, thanks to the changes for the better in the substance and atmosphere of the relations between Moscow and Washington.

No one intends to underestimate the serious nature of the disagreements, and the difficulties of the problems which have not been settled. However, we have already graduated from the primary school of instruction in mutual understanding and in searching for solutions in our and in the common interests. The U.S.S.R. and the United States created the biggest nuclear missile arsenals, but after objectively recognizing their responsibility, they were able to be the first to conclude an agreement on the reduction and physical destruction of a proportion of these weapons, which threatened both themselves and everyone else.

Both sides possess the biggest and the most refined military secrets. But it is they who have laid the basis for and are developing a system of mutual verification with regard to both the destruction and the limiting and banning of armaments production. It is they who are amassing experience for future bilateral and multilateral agreements. We value this.

We acknowledge and value the contribution of President Ronald Reagan and the members of his administration, above all Mr. George Shultz. All this is capital that has been invested in a joint undertaking of historic importance. It must not be wasted or left out of circulation. The future U.S. administration headed by newly elected President George Bush will find in us a partner, ready — without long pauses and backward movements — to continue the dialogue in a spirit of realism, openness, and goodwill, and with a striving for concrete results, over an agenda encompassing the key issues of Soviet-U.S. relations and international politics.

We are talking first and foremost about consistent progress toward concluding a treaty on a 50 percent reduction in strategic offensive weapons, while retaining the ABM Treaty; about elaborating a convention on the elimination of chemical weapons — here, it seems to us, we have the preconditions for making 1989 the decisive year; and about talks on reducing conventional weapons and armed forces in Europe. We are also talking about economic, ecological and humanitarian problems in the widest possible sense. […]

We are not inclined to oversimplify the situation in the world. Yes, the tendency toward disarmament has received a strong impetus, and this process is gaining its own momentum, but it has not become irreversible. Yes, the striving to give up confrontation in favor of dialogue and cooperation has made itself strongly felt, but it has by no means secured its position forever in the practice of international relations. Yes, the movement toward a nuclear-free and nonviolent world is capable of fundamentally transforming the political and spiritual face of the planet, but only the very first steps have been taken. Moreover, in certain influential circles, they have been greeted with mistrust, and they are meeting resistance.

The inheritance of inertia of the past are continuing to operate. Profound contradictions and the roots of many conflicts have not disappeared. The fundamental fact remains that the formation of the peaceful period will take place in conditions of the existence and rivalry of various socioeconomic and political systems. However, the meaning of our international efforts, and one of the key tenets of the new thinking, is precisely to impart to this rivalry the quality of sensible competition in conditions of respect for freedom of choice and a balance of interests. In this case it will even become useful and productive from the viewpoint of general world development; otherwise; if the main component remains the arms race, as it has been till now, rivalry will be fatal. Indeed, an ever greater number of people throughout the world, from the man in the street to leaders, are beginning to understand this.

Esteemed Mr. Chairman, esteemed delegates: I finish my first speech at the United Nations with the same feeling with which I began it: a feeling of responsibility to my own people and to the world community. We have met at the end of a year that has been so significant for the United Nations, and on the threshold of a year from which all of us expect so much. One would like to believe that our joint efforts to put an end to the era of wars, confrontation and regional conflicts, aggression against nature, the terror of hunger and poverty, as well as political terrorism, will be comparable with our hopes. This is our common goal, and it is only by acting together that we may attain it. Thank you.

Source: CNN Cold War (1998).

Offenses Rooted in the Traditional Way of Life

S. Iakopov. The Struggle against Offenses Rooted in the Traditional Way of Life (May 1930)


Original Source: Revolutsiia i natsionalnosti, No. 4-5 (1930), pp. 58-70.

“By ‘traditional’ offenses we understand such acts of individual representatives of the population, being survivals of the past, as are in themselves socially dangerous and therefore must be fought.”

In these or similar terms do some of our contemporary jurists define “traditional” (1) offenses.

It is at once obvious that such a definition is based on a purely formal method of thought which is alien to the proletarian conception of life. In the first place, it does not specify the most essential feature of “traditional” crimes–their class character. Secondly, by this very omission, it obscures the political significance of the struggle against “traditional” crimes. Therefore we consider the explanation of the Plenary Assembly of the Supreme Court of the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic (May 21, 1929) to be most timely and correct. This direction recommends “when investigating a case, to expose as fully as possible the social and class setting of the parties and their economic position.”

This explanation of the Plenum of the Supreme Court also adopts a well-defined class attitude with regard to kalym (payment of ransom for a bride), as is shown by the following passage:

“Taking into account the fact that kalym, as a means of obtaining possession of a woman (her labor power) generally expresses a class interest, and that this practice is directed essentially against the interests of agricultural laborers and small peasants, we instruct the courts to take a strong line in the fight against kalym, giving, of course, due consideration to the special circumstances of each case.”

There can be no disagreement about the fact that the abolition of “traditional” crimes requires first and foremost an uprooting of those basic conditions which produce them. The economic inequality of women (especially, amongst others, in our national republics and regions such as Azerbaijan, Bashkiria, and Kazakhstan), religious and customary prejudices (shariat) (2) and adat (3)), cultural backwardness-all these conditions still give rise to “traditional” offenses in our national regions.

At a time when the socialist offensive is developing on all fronts, the class enemies (the clergy and the big landowners in the forefront) avail themselves of every opportunity to preserve the existing social and economic relations on the basis of shariat and adat.

The measures taken by the Soviet State to promote the emancipation of women provide first and foremost for the recruitment of women into industry, the creation of special producers’ co-operatives (artels) for women and of special Women’s Institutes (e.g., the well-known Ali Bairanova Women’s Club in Azerbaijan), the extension of a network of nursery schools, hospitals and canteens, easier access for Eastern women to schools and other cultural and educational institutions, the allotment of special funds to the Commissions for the Improvement of the Working and Living Conditions of Women, and so on.

For instance, we must place on record the extraordinary extent to which the land and water reforms in the Republics of Central Asia have contributed to the emancipation of women.

Although Associations for the Joint Cultivation of the Land (4) are at present recognized as the main forms of kolkhoz economy in our Eastern Republics, the collectivization of village economy must nevertheless have introduced considerable changes in the habits of life. As kolkhoz economy develops and passes into higher forms (Artel and Commune), the background which produces “traditional” crime will accordingly die out. We must point out, however, that this process takes some considerable time.

Soviet legislation, in its struggle for the emancipation of Eastern women, does not confine itself solely to measures of an economic and cultural character.

Side by side with these measures, Soviet legislation provides a number of punitive sanctions, without which the struggle against Survivals of tribal life must be and remain ineffective.

As a logical consequence of the principal postulates of Soviet legislation in the early years of the revolution establishing the equality of women, criminal responsibility was established for the violation of women’s rights, in the Penal Codes of our National Republics (the Penal Codes of the RSFSR for its Autonomous Republics and Regions and the Penal Codes of the Uzbek, Tajik, Azerbaijan, Armenian and Georgian Soviet Socialist Republics).

On October 16, 1924, the Government of the RSFSR passed a law in pursuance of its struggle against “traditional” offenses in the Autonomous Republics and Regions. This law applied to the Autonomous Republics of Kirghizia, Turkestan and Bashkiria and was later extended to the Oirot, Kalmyk, Karachaev, Abzharian, and Kabardinian-Balkar Autonomous Regions. Later still, this statute was extended to various autonomous units on the North Caucasian Border. This statute of the RSFSR made special provision for each of these Autonomous Republics and Regions for those kinds of “traditional” offenses which occurred in their respective territories.

Subsequently, the second session of the twelfth Election Period of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee (April 16, 1928) deemed it necessary to consolidate all the individual enactments of the RSFSR Government in its struggle against “traditional” offenses hitherto promulgated for the various Republics and Regions, into a single legislative act of the RSFSR, designed for all the national units where survivals of tribal life still exist. This decision is reflected in the Penal Code of the RSFSR in the form of a special chapter, entitled: “Offenses representing survivals of tribal life.” The measures of social protection provided for “traditional” offenses in the first decree of the Government of the RSFSR (October 16, 1924) had in various cases been more severe than those contained in the decree passed in 1928. Thus, for instance, imprisonment not exceeding five years was the measure of social protection for compelling a woman to marry against her will, especially by way of kalym (payment of ransom).

The wording of the decree for the Bashkir Autonomous SSR was somewhat different, but the measures of social protection were the same, that is to say imprisonment not exceeding five years. It should be mentioned that the first decree of the Government of the RSFSR gave special consideration to such kinds of “traditional” Offense as abduction and compelling a woman to marry. Abducting a woman on reaching marriageable age preliminary to marrying her against her will, was also punished by imprisonment not exceeding five years.

In principle, the terms of imprisonment imposed for any particular offense are rather less important than the fact that our legislation recognizes practices of this kind as being punishable and applies to them adequate measures of social protection, although this does not mean that it is of indifference to the legislator how many years should be given for any particular offense. But it is most important that the legislator should determine the range of practices which, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, are to be considered as socially dangerous, and, on that ground, as punishable.

In the case of socially dangerous persons and of class enemies the legislation of the USSR ordains confiscation of property by the Court as a form of punishment. It thus acknowledges that confiscation by Order of Court should be applied only in cases which are exactly delimited by the law.

In the struggle against the various kinds of “traditional” offense confiscation of property is legalized as a measure of social protection in addition to imprisonment and removal from the bounds of a given locality.

Such measures may be applied, for instance, against a person who belongs to the clan of the victim of a murder and declines to be reconciled with the murderer and his clan as laid down by local statutes relating to conciliatory proceedings, and also against persons who obstruct such a reconciliation. This kind of crime assumed very ugly forms at times in our national Regions, inflicting great economic damage and preventing our local organs from getting on with their proper task of building up socialism. For this reason, the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR accepted the arguments of the USSR Government and decided to apply confiscation of property, either wholly or partly, to crimes of this kind which represent a survival of tribal life.

In the years 1926-27, abduction of women was the most widely spread of all these crimes in our national Regions. Sixty-six cases out of 155, or 42 per cent, were cases of abduction. (See Table 1.)

TABLE 1. Convictions for Cases of Traditional Offenses in 1926-1927 Autonomous Region
Abduction Kalym Forced Marriage Polygamy Rape
Ingushetiia … 14 21 5 1
Ossetia … 19 1
Chechen … 6 5
Adizhan … 3 5 6
Kabardino-Balkaria11 9 12
Karachaev … 3 4 6 6
Oirotia … 2 1 1
Circassia … 6 3 3
Kalmykia … 2
Total … 66 44 6 27 12

One cannot but agree with the opinion of the Commissions for the Improvement of the Working and Living Conditions of Women, attached to the Presidium of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, that the figures of this table present only an incomplete picture of the extent to which “traditional” offenses occur in the Autonomous Regions. A considerable proportion of these offenses never comes before the Court. This is due, on the one hand, to a lack of initiative on the part of the organs of revolutionary law, and on the other hand to the special nature of “traditional” crimes (a girl who has been raped usually seeks to avoid prosecuting the man who has raped her; she marries him, because under the local conditions of social life it is extremely difficult for a victim of rape to marry any other man).

We have not yet got the full figures for all these Autonomous Regions during the year just ended. But the evidence for the various Regions for 1928-9 indicates that instances of abduction of women (some forms of kalym) still occur. Thus, for instance, during the year just ended, 20.8 per cent of all offenses in seven

Autonomous Regions of the RSFSR fell into the category of kalym, 24.5 per cent into that of customary abduction and 46 per cent into that of polygamy. If we examine the distribution of the most widespread offense, polygamy, among the various Republics, it appears mainly as a “privilege” of the Bashkir Republic. Almost 75 per cent of the cases brought before the Courts of the Bashkir Republic were cases of polygamy.

Legislation in the Turkmen SSR against “traditional” offenses did not at first embrace the complete range of such offenses. The first law passed by the third session of the first Election Period of the Central Executive Committee of the Turkmen SSR (October 6, 1926) provided measures of social protection against polygamy, kalym, abuses in connection with divorce amongst the indigenous population, and marrying off a woman below the age of puberty. Later on, the second session the second Election Period passed a final version of the Turkmen

Penal Code which included the laws against “traditional” crimes passed by the third session of the first Election Period, and supplemented these by measures against other kinds of “traditional” crimes (blood feud, abduction, kaitarma, and so on).

Amongst all the various kinds of “traditional” offense which we have enumerated, kalym is one of the most dangerous and one which demands a special approach. Kalym is a most barbarous and despicable violation of woman’s liberty, for it reduces the woman to the position of a chattel. Kalym results in a barbarous and brutal exploitation of the woman. What is more, kalym is a means to illegal enrichment. The institution of kalym makes it extremely difficult for small peasants and agricultural laborers to set up house and found a family. Kalym in rural areas enslaves the agricultural laborers and small peasants. Marriage by means of kalym is a special privilege of the clergy, the big landowners, and the kulaks. Finally, kalym is a weapon in the hands of the class enemy by which he tries to prevent the integration of Eastern women into a socialist system. That is why a determined fight against kalym remains one of the most important tasks not only for our judicial and prosecuting organs but for Soviet society as a whole, especially in the national Republics and Regions. Kalym does not always take the form of direct payment for the bride in money or goods: it frequently takes the form of personal services. There was, for instance, an agricultural laborer in the Ak-Daryan district of the Samarkand region whom a woman hired for four years, promising him her daughter in marriage. At the end of these four years she suggested that the laborer should wait for some years longer. The laborer was annoyed at this and brought a suit before the People’s Court of the Ak-Daryan district, demanding payment of an adequate amount of money for the four years’ service.

In the Syr-Daryan district there occurred a lawsuit based upon the declaration of one Niyas-Badalov, an agricultural laborer who had worked without pay for the farmer Khazanov for about eight years, because Khazanov had promised him his niece in marriage. It was found that Khazanov not only had not kept his promise but at the end of the eight years had paid nothing to worker Badalov.

In the Uzbek Republic, 248 charges of paying kalym were brought before the Courts in 1928.

Polygamy is another and equally dangerous kind of crime representing a survival of tribal life, and it finds a place in the legislation of the Turkmen, Uzbek and other SSRs. Thus, the Uzbek Penal Code establishes criminal responsibility and imprisonment not exceeding five years for everybody who marries without having first dissolved his former marriage. This law is in fact wholly directed against the rich landowners and kulaks, for polygamy under the conditions prevailing amongst the Eastern nationalities is the exclusive privilege of the propertied class. The existence of kalym has its repercussions within the strata of small peasants and agricultural laborers, as it makes possession of an adequate amount of money, goods, livestock or other such property necessary for marriage. Thus the big landowner is in a position to acquire more than one wife; according to shariat, he may have three. Polygamy, like kalym, reduces the woman to a chattel, restricts her liberty and is an insult to her person and dignity. With the exception of those rare instances where the sexual element prevails, polygamy fundamentally pursues the aim of exploiting woman economically. Besides, it is not difficult to imagine what kind of relations will exist between a woman and a husband who has several wives. We have evidence to show that favoritism and quarrels among the wives on this ground lead to hurt feelings, intrigues, bodily injuries and sometimes–rarely, it is true–even to murder.

Polygamy is one of the reasons for the development of kalym.

In 1928 the “traditional” offenses most widespread in the Turkmen SSR were inciting the divorce of a married woman and marrying a minor.

Forty-one cases out of 162 (i.e., 25.31 per cent.) fall within the clause dealing with marrying minors; 52, i.e., 32.11 per cent., within the clause dealing with compelling a married woman to a divorce. The remaining cases fall within the clauses dealing with customary abduction, kalym and so on. One hundred and six people were sentenced to varying measures of social protection for one or the other of these offenses. Eight of the offenders, i.e., 7.55 per cent, were members of the All-Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), candidates and members of the Komsomols (Communist Youth Movement). The persons convicted can be divided into the following groups, according to their social position:

TABLE 2. Social Position of Offenders
PeasantsWorkersClerksOther GroupsTotal

Unfortunately, the statistics do not show under the heading “peasants” the class characteristics of those who committed “traditional” offenses: whether they were small peasants, middle-class farmers or kulaks.

It is extremely interesting to note the degree of illiteracy among the persons convicted. Only 21 of them, i.e., 19.8 per cent, could read and write, and 85, i.e., 80.2 per cent, were illiterate. These figures suggest that the political and educational work among the peasant masses is extremely ineffective: no real progress has been made in liquidating illiteracy; the legislation against offenses which are survivals of tribal life has not yet been properly explained and popularized.

We must make reference to certain regions and districts where acquittals are the rule. The reasons for this state of affairs are twofold: because there are alien elements among the organs of criminal investigation, and because court officials are insufficiently trained. In the Tashausk district of the Turkmen SSR, for instance, 78 per cent of all cases were brought to court but there was not a single conviction. There can be no doubt that in this instance not only the investigating organs but also the Prosecution were guilty of grave neglect.

The same state of affairs, that is to say a continuous flow acquittals, exists in the Uzbek SSR The investigating organs, of course with the knowledge of the Prosecution, very frequently dismiss cases of “traditional” offenses without giving any reason. For instance, a Commission of the People’s Commissariat of Justice of the Uzbek SSR examined the work of the Kashka-Daryan district where the big landowners and the clergy were putting up a strong opposition against women activists; it disclosed that amongst the cases dismissed there was one murder in the village of Zakzav-Bek in the Budinsk district: the mutilated body of one Ravat-Bida Turnova, a girl of 18, was found in a well. The evidence shows that the victim was an activist who worked amongst the women in the village. No proper action was taken to investigate the crime and discover the murderers. The main reason, as established by the Commission, was due to disintegration, to the penetration of elements alien to the Soviet regime into social organizations and to criminal abuse of office. In 1928, for instance, fifty court officials had to be prosecuted.

We must note that the Government and the Courts in Armenia are rather more assiduous in implementing the legislation against “traditional” crimes. The year 1928, as against 1927, showed a considerable increase in the number “traditional” offenses brought to court in Armenia. This increase is to be explained not so much by the growth of criminality but by the greater publicity given to such offenses following on the mobilization of public opinion and the instructions given by the Supreme Court of the Armenian SSR 0ut of 16,752 cases which in 1926 were brought before the Armenian People’s Courts, 259, i.e., 1.5 per cent of all criminal cases, were, cases of “traditional” offenses. Eight of the convicted persons were minors of both sexes–192 were men and 26 women. Seven, of the persons convicted were members of the Communist (Bolshevist) Party or of the All-Union Lenin Young Communist. League.

The distribution of convicted persons with regard to their social position is shown in the following tables.

TABLE 3. Social Position of Persons Convicted for “Traditional” Offenses In Armenia

Middle-class farmers thus form the main contingent of those who committed “traditional” offenses.

TABLE 4. Measures of Social Protection Imposed for “Traditional” Offenses
Imprisonment not exceeding 1 month4
From 1 month to 3 months7
From 3 months to 6 months 31
From 6 months to 1 year57
From 1 year to 2 years32
From 2 years to 5 years6
Conditional Sentences64
Compulsory Labor (5)4
Other Measures of Social Protection5

The number of conditional sentences imposed in these cases of “traditional” offenses is considerable.

TABLE 5. Distribution of the Various Kinds of “Traditional” Offense
Abduction of a WomanCompulsion of a Woman to MarryMarrying a MinorKalymPolygamy

The Supreme Court of the Armenian SSR gave directions to the local authorities, stressing the necessity of considering in each case the danger to society involved and the frequency of similar cases and to intensify the struggle and to apply measures of social protection accordingly.

We must not omit to place on record the slackness in bringing cases of “traditional” offenses to a decision. This feature, common to nearly all the Autonomous Republics, generally leads to the worst kind of red tape. In many Autonomous Republics and Regions of the RSFSR and in the Turkmen, Uzbek, Armenian and Azerbaijan SSRs, it frequently happens that the judgment in a case is delayed by the court officials for more than six months, although the higher courts and the Public Attorney were ordered to use every means possible to speed up the proceedings in cases of “traditional” offenses.

We have to pay special attention to cases of murder directed against the emancipation of women. Only recently could the assassination of a woman with this motive be construed as a counter-revolutionary crime. Previously, such anti-feminist murders were treated like any other murder in law and in practice, and capital punishment was accordingly not available as a measure of social protection.

The Government of the Socialist Soviet Republics of Uzbekistan and Turkmenia, and later also of the Transcaucasian Federation, petitioned the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR to include anti-feminist murder in the category of counter-revolutionary crimes and accordingly to apply the supreme measure of social protection-the death penalty. This question was considered by the Committee for the Improvement of the Working and Living Conditions of Women, attached to the Presidium of the Soviet of Nationalities, by the Presidium of the Soviet of Nationalities of that Central Executive Committee and finally by the Secretariat of the same. On February 16, 1930, the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR made the following pronouncement:

“In view of the aggravation of the class struggle alike in town and country and of the consequent increase in anti-feminist murders especially among the Eastern nationalities, which murders are thus counter-revolutionary crimes, we direct the Central Executive Committees of the United Republics to rule that where it is established that the murder of a woman was committed because of opposition to the emancipation of women, clause 8 of the statute referring to crimes against the State (counter-revolutionary crimes) may be invoked.”

In other words, the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR referred this kind of crime to the category of Crimes against the Revolution and sanctioned the application, in serious cases, of the supreme measure of social protection-the death penalty.

During the period of intensified class struggle, especially in the Caucasian and Asiatic villages, there were outbursts of anti-feminist terrorism, particularly in connection with the discarding of the veil and the yashmak.

In Uzbekistan alone, there were 203 cases of anti-feminist murder in 1928. In the first half of 1929, such cases amounted to 165. We must place on record that the actual number of women murdered on political grounds was considerably larger, for there were also many cases which were not investigated. For instance, according to a communiqué; of the Public Attorney, sixty-eight women were murdered in Khorezm in 1928, but only twenty of the murderers came up for trial.

Women members of Soviets were also murdered in the regions of Samarkand, Bergand and Andizhan, and an attempt at murder was made in Khojent, in the Tashkent district. Here the Chairman of the Village Soviet of Dargomsk, one Gaziskhanov, was murdered by assassins hired by the big landowners, because he had worked zealously for the emancipation of women in the village. In this case the clergy had instigated the murder and thus played a major part in the crime.

The clergy and the big landowners were continually fighting the efforts of Soviet legislation to achieve the emancipation of women, and in pursuance of their obstructive aims they availed themselves not only of our internal difficulties but also of various factors in the sphere of foreign policy. In a period when our relations with the Conservative Government of England were strained, and diplomatic relations were broken off, the clergy engaged in strong agitation. They preached in the settlements and villages that the English had severed relations with the Soviet Union and were preparing for war because they disapproved of the fact that women were discarding their veils and yashmaks.

Further, they spread rumors that the recent earthquake in Central Asia was an act of punishment by Allah for the same offenses. In that period, there was also a number of antifeminist murders.

We have previously pointed out that there is a certain amount of corruption among the lower grades of government officials in various localities of the national Regions and that this arises from the presence of alien and disreputable elements.

We have additional evidence to show that similar corruption exists also in other national Republics. In the Amiadlisk daira of the Azerbaijan SSR, for instance, betrothals of girls under age were arranged under the direct protection of local government officials. In this daira, there was also a forced marriage and kalym was received. One shrewd villager married off his daughter three times and each time he received a substantial consideration.

In the Ordubat daira, cases of the following kind were noted: people who knew that the law did not permit minors to be married off, brought to the Registrar’s Office instead of the girl of 13 about to be married another woman of 18, or sometimes even of 25.

At an earlier period, marriages were also arranged in quite a number of regions. In the Yaiji settlement of the Ordubat daria, for instance, twenty-five cases were recorded of marriages arranged for girls between 6 and 12. One Fatma Asker-Kizi, the daughter of a woman delegate, arranged a marriage between her daughter, aged 9, and a member of the Komsomol. In all these cases, it took an investigation by an instructor of the Organization of Azerbaijan Communist Women Workers to rouse the attention of the general public and of the local government officials. These facts refer to 1928-9. Similar things occurred in other districts, as late as 1930. All that has been said above convinces us that the religious and customary law (shariat and adat) which existed among the Eastern peoples of the USSR before the Revolution are still to some extent preserved. These traditions obstruct the building up of socialism in the Soviet Union, they stunt the cultural development of these nationalities and delay the recruitment of the large masses of working women into constructive work, for socialism.

Although the Soviet laws about “traditional” offenses and the measures to bring about the emancipation of the Eastern women have been implemented with some success, (7) the significance of these achievements is very considerably diminished by a number of shortcomings.

These defects were fully exposed by the Commission for the Improvement of the Working and Living Conditions of Women attached to the Central Executive Committee of the USSR

The most important shortcomings are as follows:

(1) Soviet legislation has not been sufficiently popularized amongst the great masses of the workers, especially the women.

(2) The courts do not apply sufficiently strong measures of social protection in pursuance of their penal policy. This is true in particular of cases where imprisonment is commuted into compulsory labor at the place of employment, a conditional sentence is imposed, or an acquittal is given.

(3) Legal advisory assistance for women is inadequate.

(4) Proceedings by the organs of justice are slow.

(5) The conservative attitude of officials in the judicial and crime-investigating bodies which has frequently been observed during trials of “traditional” offenses and the not infrequent corruption of some organs of the judiciary by the presence of alien elements.

(6) Inadequate appointment of women to positions in the judiciary.

(7) Both the judicial organs and the various social organizations fail to avail themselves sufficiently of Women’s Institutes, Peasants’ Clubs, mobile tents and other cultural and educational institutions, nor do they make sufficient use of the Associations of Women Delegates for popularizing the legislation against “traditional” offenses.

In our efforts to remove these defects, better planned and more systematic work for the emancipation of women should take first place. Soviet Trade Unions and Co-operatives ought to give more attention to this work than they now do. The integration of women into the process of production, and the creation of special producers’ co-operatives (Artels) constitute a main task of our central and local administrators.

The press, which till now has been almost oblivious of this front, might render great service to the struggle for the emancipation of women. Our judicial organs and social organizations have up to now made extremely little use of mock trials and debates on the subject of women’s emancipation and “traditional” crimes. If such trials and debates can be arranged, they may contribute decisively to the struggle against “traditional” offenses. Soviet legislation against crimes which are survivals of tribal life has not yet been disseminated. There is a dearth of popular pamphlets and booklets to explain the history and significance of “traditional” crimes.

The departments of the Soviets dealing with social life can do a great deal of good and useful work in the sphere of protecting women’s rights. Experience in many localities shows that departments have achieved a great deal by supervising the correct application of Soviet laws for the emancipation of women. Everything possible must be done to improve the work even further, to bring indigenous women into these departments and to train activist women for this work.

Another problem that must be tackled with greater determination than at present is that of appointing indigenous women from the rural strata of workers, agricultural laborers, small peasants and middle-class farmers to positions in the Courts and in the departments dealing with the investigation and prosecution of crimes. Further, the potentialities of the Boards of Information have not yet been properly realized. In part, this is due to the scarcity of qualified workers and a lack of popular literature. Nevertheless, if even such possibilities as exist were utilized more fully, Boards of Information could be set up in most of the Soviets, Women’s Institutes, Peasants’ Clubs and the Legal Sections of the Conferences of Women Delegates.

We should point out that the work of Boards of Information amongst the nomad population of the Eastern nationalities of the Soviet Union deserves special attention. It is precisely amongst the nomad population (in Kazakhstan and elsewhere) that tribal life has survived to an extremely high degree. For this reason the setting up of Boards of Information amongst the nomad population will contribute to the emancipation of women.

The clergy and the ministers of religion frequently play part of inspiring and providing an ideology for agitation and propaganda against the measures of the Soviet Government for the emancipation of women. The ministers of religion thus implicate themselves as abettors in “traditional” crimes, and the courts must apply firmer measures against them. In this connection, the social organizations should widely increase their anti- religious work amongst the population, avoiding, of course, a leftish ardor which would only assist the class enemies.

We have previously mentioned the slow procedure in matters of “traditional” crimes. This dilatoriness does not inspire the women victims with faith in the help likely to be forthcoming from our investigating and prosecuting organs. Our social and Trade Union organizations must in cases of need exert pressure upon the crime-investigating organs, at least by means of the press, to speed up the proceedings in cases of “traditional” offenses. An end must be put to all the manifestations of red tape which hinder the quick decision of cases.

What is more, officials who fail to take action against those break the laws safeguarding the rights of women, should be shed for neglect of duty.

Finally, we must devote especial attention to the special work amongst the native women who act as People’s Assessors. If possible, special courses of systematically conducted educational conferences should be arranged for them. If all these measures are carried out, the work of fighting crimes representing survivals of tribal life should greatly improve.

The abolition of special departments for Women Workers and Peasants within the Party Committees makes it essential that the Commissions for the Improvement of the Working and Living Conditions of Women attached to the Central Executive Committee of the Union and Autonomous Republics and to the district, provincial and regional Executive Committees should improve to the maximum the quantity and quality of their work in this sphere. These Commissions can cope with these problems only if they can rely on the unfailing assistance of the whole of public opinion in the Party and the Soviet Union.

There can be no doubt that the emancipation of the working woman in the Eastern national Republics of the Soviet Union is intimately dependent on the economic and cultural rebirth of these Republics which will come with the socialist reconstruction of the economy of the peoples in these regions and a revolution in their way of life. Nevertheless, Soviet legislation against crimes representing survivals of tribal life will, if successfully applied, contribute decisively to the emancipation of women, to their integration into production, to socialist economic reconstruction and to the building up of a civilized social life.

Source: Rudolf Schlesinger, ed., Changing Attitudes in Soviet Russia; the nationalities problem and Soviet administration (London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1956), pp. 33-44.

Knights of the Jeans Culture

Lev Kuklin, A Writer’s Notes: Knights of the “Jeans Culture”. October 1979


Original Source: Zvezda, No. 10 (October 1979), 188-195.

It may surprise you, esteemed readers, to know that right now, at the end of the seventh decade of the 20th century, in a country where all people are equal, in some Moscow and Leningrad schools our children are divided into three classes according to the sort of pants they wear. The first, highest or “deluxe” class includes those who are lucky enough to wear genuine American, “stateside” jeans with the labels “Lee,” “Levi’s” or “Wrangler.” These jeans aren’t sold in stores, and they carry such prestige that their price on the black market has already approached 200 rubles! The second class of schoolchildren consists of those who wear blue jeans that have been manufactured under license somewhere in Malta or Finland. Their going price is lower than that of the American jeans-50 or 60 rubles. Finally, in the third and lowest class of human material are those unlucky ones who have to be content with Indian, Polish, Bulgarian or, God forbid, Soviet-made jeans. These jeans are readily available, but they afford no prestige whatsoever to their wearers. (Incidentally, I cannot understand why our garment industry cannot learn to make these notorious, fashionable pants, but that’s not my concern-here.)

This custom of according status to one’s classmates according to the jeans they wear reflects an alarming tendency. Our children mirror our way of life, our upbringing, our literature and our propaganda. In this case, their behavior is a symptom of philistinism in our present-day society.

Anton Makarenko once quite aptly defined philistinism as “prosperity without culture.” Such a lack of culture is inexcusable in our society. The October Revolution was, in part, a revolution of the spirit that liberated the great spiritual potential of our country’s peoples. In the early, difficult days following the Revolution, material goods were plainly scarce, but the spiritual goods that the young Soviet government put into circulation were astonishing. Whole peoples were drawn to libraries and museums. A new literature and art were created, and illiteracy was eliminated in Russia in record time. Today, when every normal young person has a realistic opportunity to obtain an education at any level, spiritual ignorance should be regarded as an antisocial phenomenon. Such ignorance is a threat to society wherever it occurs. And it is especially disgusting, and even frightening, when it is covered up by professional training, or even a higher-school diploma.

To illustrate my point, let me relate an example from my own experience, an example that I believe is typical. Several years ago I was appearing at a large specialized construction institute. My audience consisted of some 200 16- to 18-year-old men and women. They were well dressed: Most wore “Platforms,” many had suede jackets or coats, and all, of course, wore the obligatory jeans. On the other hand, their notions about art and literature were curious. For example, they were convinced that Arkadii Raikin was a tremendously clever talent simply by nature, and they thought that most writers were people who were long since dead. “Why write new books?” they asked. “After all, you can’t find time to read the ones there are, anyway.” They greeted me with an air of coolness and indifference, but their interest picked up when they learned that I had actually written some of the songs that were familiar to them and was acquainted with some well-known singers. So they began to ask me questions.

The most active questioners were a group of “deluxe” youngsters who were all dressed in American jeans and were led by a young man wearing a cross around his neck (also in fashion!). First he asked how much I “raked in” with my songs, and then he went on to ask whether I owned a car, what sort of apartment I had, whether I owned a dacha, a color TV set, etc. I realized that these students were, in the Western fashion, trying to size me up according to their notion of the material prosperity that should accompany success. Finally, resorting to something of a “low blow,” I nonplussed the lead questioner and lowered his prestige in the eyes of his peers when I feigned surprise that he had never heard of my West German Uher tape recorder, which, I said, “costs 1,500 to 2,000 rubles in our money.”

I am still not sure whether I won that moral duel with this representative of the “jeans culture.” And of course one encounter, even a polemical one, is not enough to defeat these young people’s consumerist philosophy. I recall that I told them that if Alexander Pushkin were alive today he would probably own a Volga, since he loved riding fast, but that not long ago in Leningrad there lived a great poet named Anna Andreevna Akhmatova who did not even own a beat-up Moskvich. And did that make her any worse than me? I left them with the admonishment that the “jeans culture” would never replace culture itself for them. I would like to think they understood the irony.

I think those young people’s attitudes reflect a failure of our upbringing. Evidently some of the members of our younger generation are being reoriented toward a kind of money-making pragmatism. While no one with any economic common sense would deny the importance of material incentives, I think that, in emphasizing the material, we sometimes lose sight of our lofty spiritual guideposts.

In the world that stands opposed to us, people quite clearly know how to work. And German machine tools, French perfumes, American cars and Japanese transistors exist as objective givens in that world. But in that world we also see a generation’s total confusion in the face of the steamroller of material progress. And it is necessary that our young people hear, from the pages of our press, the despairing outcries of those who scream: “We have everything, but nothing to live for! ”

While affirming our Soviet way of life through positive examples, it is also necessary to combat the non-Soviet way of life. Social satire, reared on the works of Kol’tsov, Bulgakov, Ilf and Petrov, and Zoshchenko, has always played a purgative role here. Among recent, militant satirical works, I can recommend three excellent books by Leningrad writers. The first is “A Place for a Monument” by D. Granin, and the other two novellas by the Strugatsky brothers, “The Martians’ Second Invasion” and “Predatory Things of the Age”. Granin’s book, a somewhat unusual excursion into science fiction by this well-known realist, analyzes a character who might be called a latter-day “philistine of the nobility,” a militant ignoramus who is in possession of power and stands blocking the development of scientific progress. “The Martians’ Second Invasion” satirizes a society of satiated prosperity that literally revolves around its own belly. And the title of the Strugatskys’ second book reflects its related idea: that things are predators.

Nowadays cinema and television, in addition to literature, have an important role to play in propaganda for our Soviet way of life. It is disturbing that in recent years our television has tended toward increasing emphasis on sports and detective programs. Moreover, it is unpardonable when, in television and cinema, genuine heroes are replaced by movie idols or howling imported or domestic television idols-with or without jeans.

Source: Current Digest of the Soviet Press. Vol. XXXII, No. 3 (October 1979), p. 14.

Brezhnev Autobiography

Leonid Brezhnev, Malaia Zemlia (Little Land). 1978

Brezhnev’s legitimizing (and oft mocked) autobiography, likely ghost-written for a man of questionable literacy.

Although I didn’t keep a diary during the war, the 1,418 blazing days and nights have not been forgotten. There were episodes, encounters, battles and moments which for me, as for all front-line soldiers, will never fade from the memory.

I would like to lake you back to a comparatively small sector of the war which our soldiers and sailors called Malaia Zemlia (“the Little Land”). It is indeed “little”, less than thirty square kilometers. And it is great, as even the smallest patch of ground may become when soaked with the blood of selfless heroes. So that the reader can have an idea of the situation. I may say that on landing days every one who managed to cross the bay and set foot on Malaia Zemlia was given a medal. I don’t remember a single troop-crossing when the Germans didn’t kill, didn’t drown hundreds of our men. And yet there were always twelve to fifteen thousand Soviet soldiers on the beachhead which we had seized from the enemy.

On 17 April 1943, I had once again to get to Malaia Zemlia. I remember the date well, and I don’t think that anyone who was there will ever forget it either: it was the day the Germans began their operation Neptune. The name itself was an indication of their plans; they wanted to drive us into the sea. We were aware of this from intelligence reports: we knew what they were planning was no ordinary offensive, but a decisive, general one.

And it was my duty to be there, at the front lines, in the suburbs of Novorossiisk which jutted like a cape into Tsemesskaia Bay, on the narrow beachhead of Malaia Zemlia.

That April I was appointed Chief of the fifth army’s Political Department. Because of the fighting that lay ahead, the 18th Army was reorganized into a landing army, and reinforced with two infantry corps, two divisions, several regiments and a tank brigade. The Black Sea Fleet’s Novorossiisk naval base was operationally put under its command.

In a war one doesn’t choose where to fight, but I must admit that I was pleased with my appointment. The 18th Army was always being sent to the toughest sectors: it had to be given permanent attention, and I had been there, so to speak, day and night. Army Commander Konstantin Leselidze, member of the Military Council Semen Kolonin and I had long learned to understand one another. So my transfer from the Front Political Department to this Army simply legitimized the status quo.

Crossings were made only at night. When I arrived at Gelendzhik City Pier, or Osvodovskaia as it was also called, there wasn’t a free spot anywhere along the moorings. Vessels of all kinds crowded every inch, and people and cargo were already on board. I boarded the seine-netter Ritza, an old lub reeking through and through of fish. Its steps creaked, the sides and bulwark rail were grazed and scarred, and shell splinters and bullets had riddled the deck. It had obviously been worked hard before the war, and was having a tough time of it now too.

A fresh breeze was blowing in from the sea, and it was chilly. In general, it is harder to put up with cold weather in the south than it is in the north. I have no idea why, but it’s so. The seine-netter was being “settled” as I watched. Men were mounting machine-guns and anti-tank rifles at different points and levels. Everyone was looking for some more or less sheltered spot, even if nothing more than a thin board partition, as long as it shut out the sea. A military pilot soon appeared on board, and then everything started moving.

It was a rather strange sight, the ships headed for the roadstead in seeming disorder, but that was only for the first few minutes. Every vessel knew its exact place. The Ritza led the procession, with what we called motor boats No. 7 and No. 9 chugging behind. The seine-netter was towing them. The rest were strung out in a line at 400–500-metre intervals, and we were off for Malaia Zemlia. l here was also submarine chasers to screen us.

I had planned to talk to the new men during the three-hour journey: I wanted to know more about them. But I didn’t manage to get them together. The commandos had already settled in on deck, and I didn’t feel like asking them to get up. So I decided to move from group to group, a question here, a word there, often sitting down for a longer talk. I found most of the men battle-hardened and in a fighting mood. I realized fully that a talk with the soldiers was imperative, but I also knew that often more important than a talk was the soldiers realization that the Political worker, the Political leader, was in there with them, alongside them, enduring the same hardships and dangers. And the tougher the combat situation, the more important that became.

Far ahead, the sky was glowing over Novorossiisk. Peals of artillery thunder rolled, but they were familiar sounds. A naval battle was raging well off to our left. As I was later told, our torpedo boats and the German torpedo boats had clashed head on. I was standing beside the pilot on the open starboard wing of the bridge; his name as far as I can remember was Sokolov.

“The soldiers,” he said, “make one landing, but those manning the boats do it every night. And every night is a battle. They soon get used to it. We pilots have a particular sense of responsibility for everybody. As a matter of fact, we often have to ‘feel’ our way when piloting the ships. On land, sappers locate a mine field, clear out some lanes, and then boldly lead the men through. But the Germans are constantly re-mining our roads; both by plane and by ship. We might have got through some place safely yesterday, but take the same route today and we may run slap into a mine.”

The nearer we came to Tsemesskaia Bay, the louder the thunder of battle. The beachhead was not often bombed at night, but now enemy bombers were coming in from the sea in waves; the thunder of the explosions drowned out the drone of their engines and so it seemed as if the planes were creeping up soundlessly. They would dive and, veering away, immediately fly off. Our men braced themselves, their faces became grimmer, and soon we found ourselves in a wave of light.

The night’s darkness during crossings was an entirely relative thing. German searchlights scanned the waters from the shore, and flares dropped from planes floated almost continuously overhead. Two enemy torpedo boats suddenly shot out from somewhere to the starboard, and our sub chasers met them with heavy fire. German planes were also bombing the approaches to the shore.

Bombs kept falling, sometimes far away, sometimes close, churning up huge masses of water which, illuminated by the searchlights and the multi-colored tracer bullets, glowed with every color of the rainbow. We expected to be hit any minute; and yet even when the blow did come, we weren’t ready for it. At first I didn’t realize what had happened. There was a loud crash somewhere ahead, a column of fire rose upwards, and it seemed that the vessel had exploded. That is what had indeed happened: our seine-netter had hit a mine. The pilot and I were standing side by side, and the explosion shot us both into the air.

I wasn’t aware of any pain. Nor, I’m sure, did the thought of death occur to me. There was nothing new to me about death in its many aspects, and although a normal person can never become inured to it, war forces him to constantly realize that it may also happen to him. You sometimes read that at such a moment a person recalls his loved ones, that his entire life flashes before him, and that he is even able to understand something very important about himself. Perhaps that’s so in some instances, but the only thought that flashed through my mind then was that I must not fall back onto the deck.

Fortunately, I landed in the water well away from the seine-netter, and as I bobbed up to the surface, I saw that it was already sinking. Some of the men, like myself, had been hurled away from the ship by the explosion, others had jumped overboard. I had been a good swimmer from boyhood; after all, I grew up on the Dnepr river; and felt quite secure in the water. I caught my breath, looked around, and saw that both motor boats had cast off their tow lines and were slowly approaching us.

I found myself near boat No. 9. Pilot Sokolov also swam up to it. Holding on to the guard rail, we helped those who were weighted down with arms and ammunition and hardly able to stay afloat to climb on board first, while others in the boat pulled them up. As I remember, not one of them abandoned his weapons.

The searchlights had already found us and clung to us like grim death, while German artillery from the Shirokaia ravine west of Miumiskhako opened fire. It was inaccurate, but the boat was hurled from side to side by the explosions. Then suddenly, although the thunder didn’t subside, the shells stopped exploding around us. Our guns had probably struck at the enemy batteries. And amid that din I made out an angry yell:

“Are you deaf or something? Let’s have your handle”

As it turned out, it was Petty Officer 2nd class Zimoda who shouted at me, stretching out his arms. He couldn’t see my rank-epaulettes in the water, but at a moment like that it really didn’t make any difference. Assault boats have a small draught and run low over the surface. Grabbing the guard rail, I jerked upwards, and strong arms lifted me in.

Only then did I sense my trembling: even in the Black Sea, April is not the best time to swim. The seine-netter had already gone down. The men were wringing out their clothes and cursing under their breath: “Damn that bloody Jerry!” They all gradually quieted down, finding places behind boxes and bales. Some lay curled up or stretched out, as if that provided some sort of safety. But our real job was up ahead, the main thing the battle we were about to join.

And in these tragic surroundings, in the light of the explosions and tracers, a song suddenly welled up. One of the sailors, a very tall one I recall, began to sing. It was a song that had been born on Malaia Zemlia; it was about the bravery and strength of fighters like the men who were in the boat. I knew the song but now it seems to me that that was the time I heard it first. One of the lines has been in memory ever since: “Men of iron sail in these wooden shells.”

Heads began to rise slowly. Those who were lying on deck sat up, the seated rose to their feet, and then more people picked up the tune. I’ll never forget that moment: the song squared the men’s shoulders. Despite what they had just gone through, everyone began to feel more confident, and ready to fight.

The boat soon scraped bottom and we began jumping onto the shore.

Sharp commands were barked out, and the men began unloading the ammunition boxes, while others, hoisting them onto their shoulders, ran towards the shelters; they needed no chasing, the steady fire did that. As soon as they put down one load, they immediately ran back for another, and all the time under fire, under the unceasing hail of bombs. In the meantime wounded men, readied for evacuation, the very ones our soldiers were to replace, were already being carried from the shore on stretchers .

The sloping strip of shore was covered with pebbles, and beyond that was a hill pitted with recessed shelters. That is where the men had to head for if they were to find cover from the fire, and then, climbing another fifteen meters, jump into a trench that led to the heart of Malaia Zemlia. And though, I repeat, the real job was still up ahead, by the time they had reached this point the men had already begun to feel calm. From here, heading along communication trenches, one could get to any unit fighting on the beachhead and probably even to the sub-unit.

Crossings were always dangerous; the journey by sea itself was a risk, as was the unloading, the rush to shelter, and climbing the hill. But each time I returned to Malaia Zemlia a thought would preoccupy me: how had our men made their first landing here, when the German machine guns were mounted right where the present life-saving shelters were, and Germans armed with submachine-guns and grenades, invisible to our landing force, were running through the communication trenches? Everyone who thought for a moment how much harder it had been for the first ones probably felt a lot stronger himself.

Nevertheless, we kept our hold on Malaia Zemlia for exactly as long as the Soviet Command’s plans required, that is, for 255 days. How we lived through those days is what I want to tell you about.

Source: L. I. Brezhnev, How It Was: the war and post-war reconstruction in the Soviet Union (New York: Pergamon, 1979), pp. 3-8.

Nine Girls

Sergei Tretiakov, Nine Girls. 1935


Translated by James von Geldern

Tretiakov (1892-1939) was another of the dedicated revolutionary writers destroyed in the Stalin purges. A participant in Proletkult, Blue Blouse, and LEF, he achieved fame through political theater and attracted the attention of Bertoldt Brecht. In the 1930s Tretiakov led sketch-writers who journeyed to workplaces to write about “real” Soviet people. He spent two years on a kolkhoz researching this piece.

Original Source: Vchera i segodnia: ocherki russkikh sovetskikh pisatelei (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1960), pp. 305-316.

She sits and leans forward slightly.

Her tense, extended hands are joined on her lap–it’s the same grip used to steer a tractor when it jerks through frozen clods of autumn soil.

The transparent tangle of her bangs falls into her eyes, which glisten through the hair, concentrated, with a cold, unwavering gleam.

That’s how they watch a furrow at night, when the “Bat” lantern flickers in the wind, but the job has to be done right.

She doesn’t jest. Doesn’t stumble in her speech. Her words flow, measured and serious. In her restrained and muffled voice a metallic ring sometimes appears–that’s when she remembers old insults and hardships overcome in pain. Sometimes a surprisingly gentle softness is woven into her voice–she’s talking about friendship or something fun–and then her lips confirm what she’s said with a smile. Only the lips. Not the voice or the eyes.

Eight girls sit next to her in a row. They have strong hands, accustomed to grappling with iron, and eyes of such clarity that it seems they’ve been washed by the rain. There is a great calm in their silence. They know–whatever Pasha Angelina said must be true.

They’re used to it. The behavior that the brigade learned at work has gone beyond boundaries of the job. Sometimes even Pasha smiles, remembering how scared they were of losing her, their leader in Mostorg. They held hands like in a choral dance and walked up the staircase, past the stalls, towards the cashiers and through the entrance to the bus.

“Like ducklings,” I remark.

A calm smile touches their faces. They take the comment without humor. Yes, just like ducklings. Each is wearing the same jacket, the same collars folded back on their blouses.

“What can I do with them!” exclaims Pasha, as if flustered, but actually proud. “I buy something, and they buy it too.”

“We were visiting Comrade Sarkisov, president of the Don Regional Committee,” she continues. “He begged one, then another to eat. They bow, thank him, but just sit there without moving. So I say ‘OK girls, let’s eat’–and right away they begin.”

Pasha speaks a pure Russian. But if she’s moved by her memories or the heat of the moment, strange intonations sneak into her speech. It’s a Greek accent.

Out of the nine girls in her famous tractor brigade, five are Greek.

“Nei kuricha,” one of them says. That’s Greek for “nine girls.”

“There are Hellenic Greeks,” Pasha specifies, “but Vera Mikhailovna here is a Tatar-Greek, and we generally speak Tatar Greek.”

And truly, if they’re talking about private, unofficial matters, they quickly begin to speak Tatar.

Ancient Greece has come to the Soviet Five-Year Plan!

How many centuries has mankind been amazed by the statues of beautiful white heroines, brave young men and commanders it has dug from the earth. One glance at them makes for the legend of mankind’s beautiful springtime.

Verses traced on parchment telling of battles and exploits, of friendship and hatred, of voyages and wars, fly across the centuries from that age to ours. A magnificent era, which to this day is a lesson to man.

But take a look here! A volcanic eruption has wrenched the earth, and these Greeks emerged from the black soil of the Ukraine, unearthed from the coal dust and factory grime of the Donbass mining region. They come to us not with blind eyes of marble, but with the energetic glean of Komsomol eyes; not with the silence of stony lips, but with the piercing melody of a ditty; not with the smooth gesture of a petrified hand, but with the firm grip of a skillful fist clenching the wheel of a tractor, a manager’s pencil, the shoulder of a Komsomol dance partner; not in the pampered nakedness of a goddess begotten by the foam of warm seas, but in the buttoned jacket of a proletarian girl who knows the discipline and joy of work, the joy of someone who has worked a twenty-hour shift on a frozen iron tractor seat, and strolls away in her thick cotton work-pants, hands in pockets not because of the cold, but to hold the pants up, and there and then breaks into a dance–a dance not just to warm up, but to show the happiness of work successfully completed, show it proudly to friends, neighbors, the field, the motherland, the world. The language of singing and dancing.

In these strong, quiet girls with their beautiful, calm faces Greece has been resurrected, with its myths of people who fear no encounter with the savage monsters and phantoms. Great tales of battles, remembered through centuries, come back to life in the story of these nine girls who conquered the earth in this true springtime of mankind. These girls, of whom the oldest is twenty-two, the youngest not even sixteen.

“Besh” means five in Greek. The village of Starobesh near Stalino has that name because five Greek families moved there from the Crimea in the time of Catherine the Great, and by our day they have grown to more than a thousand households.

Pasha grew up in the village. Her father, Nikita Vasilievich Angelin, was a farm hand. Her mother worked for the kulaks white-washing huts.

“Mother nursed all us children herself and yet never quit working,” says Pasha in a conversation about whether a tractor-driver should quit work when she has a baby. And she remembers an incident from when her older brother was still nursing.

Leaving for the fields, her mother tied the baby to a cart wheel so he wouldn’t crawl away. She returned to feed him and saw that the baby had stretched the string tight and is playing with something springy, black and quick. A poisonous snake. He inched his fingers towards it, pouted his lips and goo-gooed. And the snake was twisting peacefully near his hands, so that her mother was scared to make a step–frighten it and it’d bite.

She ran for the father and her blood ran cold. When they raced up, the snake was gone. It hadn’t touched the baby.

A real Mawgli of the steppe.

The Angelins lived poorly in a one-room hut thatched with ancient reeds, where it was worse than outside when it rained.

“How often,” Pasha remembered, ” I cried angrily by the stove in the winter, after I had to run home through the snow from school barefoot, in my summer jacket.”

But Nikita Vasilievich never got mad. He was even-tempered, steady and extraordinarily firm-willed. Himself illiterate, he set aside his pennies so that his children might become something (and there were eight of them).

The family grew up Bolsheviks. The family of a true Soviet celebrity. Her older brother is a regional agronomist; another finished the Communist Institute of Journalism and became Party secretary of a regiment stationed in the Far East; a third is a Black Sea sailor; the fourth is a tractor driver and Party organizer. Of her sisters, one works as a market-gardener in the kolkhoz brigade, another studies at the Industrial Workers’ School. She’ll become a metallurgical or mining engineer. A third is the leader of a Pioneer troop. The fourth is Pasha, a Komsomol member and the most famous girl in the Soviet Union.

Even in elementary school the kulak-pups teased her and called her a “commie.” Sometimes they beat her up. She cried rarely and quietly. She was stubborn even then, unbendable like her father. She didn’t know how to snap back, and she didn’t know how to be soft.

The benighted customs of Greek families dictated that girls be quiet and veil their faces up to the eyes. Against their will they grew up shy, scared even to talk with a boy. They’d tar your gates if you did.

In 1927 Pasha’s father organized the first kolkhoz in Starobesh, and her brother delivered the first tractor.

Pasha liked the machine very much, and the way you drove it. She pestered her brother to explain better how it was made. But he didn’t know. Only knew how to turn the wheel.

From that time on, Pasha would dream about the tractor. She hung a picture clipped from a magazine on the wall–a tractor driver plowing.

Her mother saw it and said: “It won’t happen. Become a doctor. It’s better.”

The kolkhoz slowly got stronger. Pasha’s father fought for it against overt and covert kulaks. Pasha also learned to fight, by her work in the brigades.

The year 1930 arrived. The kulak fought back savagely, radicals took policies too far. Lamps kept going out at meetings, and party-organizer Angelin and his children were pelted with corn cobs.

The kolkhoz came out of that year’s scrape very small and weak, with only twenty-three households, and the fields unweeded. But Pasha’s father didn’t give up, and his children were in the front ranks of the weeders that saved the Bolshevik harvest.

And when a kulak with a party card, a member of the kolkhoz board, tried to undermine Nikita Angelin, Pasha rushed to the Regional Party Committee, unmasked the scoundrel, and made sure he was put on trial.

It was then that a leaflet from the tractor courses arrived in the village. But the young men were needed for field work, nobody wanted to let them go. That’s why they sent Pasha, so that the spot in the courses didn’t go to waste.

One sixteen-year old girl amongst a hundred young men. Everybody mocked her. They noticed that cursing made her blush, and the language got three times fouler. You could hear: “Long of hair, short of brains!”, “You should be barefoot and pregnant, not on a tractor!” If she passed through a crowd of boys on her way to class, they’d always shove her, make her fall in the snow–and that so it hurt.

She tried to stay away. She never ate with any of them. Always ate after everybody else was done. And always in the corner, hiding behind her kerchief after every bite.

When she came home from school it wasn’t easier. Her mother didn’t believe she’d learned anything, the kolkhoz members laughed: “What good will come of you?”

She worked in a men’s tractor brigade. But what she managed to produce was swamped in the prevailing leveler’s stew. People continued to laugh at her. She just stayed silent and knit her brow. But she noticed that there were other female tractor drivers in the area, and that they were having a tough time too.

From there comes that angry tenacity with which she holds to her purely female brigade, refusing to dilute it with men. As if saying: “You mocked “women’s work”–take a look now, be ashamed, just try and match us.”

In 1933 the Politsektor was formed. The organizer sensed in Pasha one of his first allies among the village youth of the time. And most important, a selflessly conscientious person who loved her work more than herself.

The Politsektor director, Kurov, whose name she remembers gratefully to this day, once invited her to his office.

She came with her frowning face buried in her collar.

“Have a toothache?”


“Why are you hiding?”

“Just because.”

“You’re a good worker. Let’s organize a women’s brigade. Let’s show how important women are to the kolkhoz.”

Her face popped out of the collar and lit up. Her dream was coming true.

All the kolkhozes were laughing: “They sent girls. We don’t need girls–they’ll ruin the fields.”

Kolkhoz director Afenkin greeted them with vulgarities and chased them away. It was no easier in other kolkhozes. No huts were set up for them to sleep in, they had to beg for food, they had to drink from a stream, there are hitches in fuel delivery, the tractors keep breaking down–and nobody helps them find a mechanic.

But how she worked! Furious, gritting her teeth. The girls were a bit green and timid. One gets a tractor and she raises a ruckus. Pasha runs up–the girl won’t budge: “Who the hell thought up this damned machine. Take it, I’m leaving!”

And it seems tougher to budge the girl than the dead machine. Pasha pushes her, pushes, peps her up, explains things, and then she herself gets so angry that she too starts howling–so they cry together. They cry themselves out and, when they’ve settled down, they again set to conquering the “damned machine.”

The girls had a tough time getting used to tractors, they were scared.

They drive over a gully and quit right there: “No further! We’re scared!” The brigade leader herself gets into the saddle and guides each tractor, one after the other, across the gully.

The first seven days, when they weren’t given anywhere to sleep, they worked without leaving their tractors. They slept right there, in the furrow, while the mechanic fixed the machine. Or right in the iron saddle, if their inflamed eyes couldn’t make out the furrow anymore, with their oozing, shaking fingers slipping off the wheel.

After seven days Pasha went to Kurov to tell him about their work. She said three words and fell silent. The Politsektor director looked at her, and she was asleep on the couch.

But still she fulfilled her Plan. And Pasha is vain and stubborn as hell about the Plan–don’t mind that her last name is angelic.

That was when the brigade’s fame first began. The kolkhozes began fighting one another to have it. Even Afenkin asked its pardon and invited them to work. But Pasha cut him off: “We won’t go to Afenkin!”

Pasha doesn’t remember personal insults, but she never forgives an insult to her cause.

Pasha also remembers how she hauled coal with tractors from the mines to the Tractor Station. In a blizzard, in freezing weather, when even the young men refused to drive, she went with an improvised girl’s brigade.

The mine director refused to give them coal.

“Bring lumber first, then I’ll give it to you.

In such a storm? Pasha wouldn’t agree to the artful dodger’s idea. And it was already late, almost evening. The girls let the water out of the radiators so that the freezing pipes wouldn’t burst. They hunched together on their tractor benches against the cold. There they slept in the blizzard.

And Pasha drove back all night to complain to the Politsektor director. She arrived and covered the machine with her own shawl so that it wouldn’t freeze. And she ran off in her summer jacket. By the way, she saw nothing special in this. Most important to the girls were their machines, and more than once they took their coats off to wrap the tractors.

The Politsektor director went to let the mining bureaucrat have it. Pasha didn’t sleep that night, shivered the whole time. She drove back to bring food to the girls–they hadn’t eaten for days.

The coal was brought. But by then the girls were in no condition to work.

Then the personnel director, a certain Serdiuk (Pasha remembers his name very well) ordered her to deliver it with a brigade of men.

But she just couldn’t anymore. She could barely rise from the bench.

“If you don’t go,” says Serdiuk, “we’ll raise the question of your exclusion from the Party.”

It was like a knout blow. Pasha couldn’t tolerate it. She stood, and went over to the machine, swaying. Her eyes were green circles, her face like ashes. The mechanic saw her and announced that he wouldn’t let her go. He brought her back, and she fell down without getting up for a month and a half. Pneumonia.

Sickness is not as terrible as human callousness. Disease might not leave a trace. But the blow of a callous word will always leave a wrinkle around the mouth or the scar of an insult in the heart.

From her hospital bed she went straight back to the tractor seat. Her fame swept through the region. She already sensed the ability of herself and her friends and knew that for the honor of their tractor brigade they’d go through fire and water, without mercy for themselves.

They challenged Anastasov’s tractor brigade to a competition. And beat them. The men did four hectares per shift, Pasha’s brigade did 5.6. Moreover. She took Anastasov into the brigade as a student. As an exception. By the end of the summer Anastasov was amazed: “I earned five hundred rubles for the year in my brigade, but under Pasha’s leadership, I earned twelve hundred in five months.”

Already two of Pasha’s girls lead brigades of their own: Stepakina and Anastasova. The Starobesh Tractor Station already has three women’s brigades.

It was hard for them to leave Pasha! Not only did they break into tears when they said goodbye, but later, whenever they’d see Pasha’s brigade from a distance, there’d always be tears.

You look at this quiet, serious girl in a Moscow hotel room and think: where did this disciplined strength, these fine leadership qualities come from?

She ran into the room and spoke hurriedly, because there wasn’t much time. She speaks precisely, in detail. But her hand works independently: it smoothes the rumpled dress hanging on the headboard of the bed, puts the pen near the inkwell, covers some carelessly unwrapped packages. Unconsciously, she puts everything in order.

Pasha has a law for the brigade: if you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your machine.

That’s why the girls never step into their field cabin without first examining their machine, cleaning it till it shines, and washing themselves properly.

How could you enter that cabin dirty–it’s first-rate, white-washed on the inside! Folding beds along the walls, chests for their linen, suitcases, flowers, a hundred and fifty book library, pictures, a gramophone.

Pasha’s drivers’ don’t only look out for themselves, but for the nearby truck-drivers’ cabin. They make sure the truckers wash, don’t curse, read and wear their work clothes, not street clothes, on the job. And study their machines well.

Incidentally, it a bit tougher with the truck drivers. There are always different drivers, depending on which kolkhoz the brigade is working.

What makes the brigade so strong? It maintains a strict discipline that is entirely voluntary, is faultlessly clean, it has a sharp sense of political responsibility, and it strives to justify the honor of high norms for female labor.

But their strength comes not only from Pasha’s knowing her tractor like her own hand and caring for it like a mother cares for her child. Not only because she ceaselessly searches for fuel, or for parts, or for food, breaking down the barriers of human sluggishness, ignorance, bureaucratic callousness, or the simple vileness of enemies.

The tremendous power of the brigade, besides all that, comes from the closeness of the girls, living heart to heart, looking after one another, worrying and caring for one another.

Not only for business, but for any personal problem they go to their brigade leader. If it’s something happy, they laugh together, if it’s sad, they cry.

“Which tractor driver,” I ask Pasha, “is the most careful? Who works hardest? Who likes to read most? Who’s the best dancer?”

Pasha doesn’t like the question. She frowns.

“They’re all the same. They all work just as hard, dance just as well, read just as much.”

A stern answer, in which you don’t know whether there’s more solicitude for the members of her team, or a unique “psychological leveling.”

Of course, each is different. And of course, Pasha treats each differently. It’s called “the distribution of strengths.”

Take Natasha Radchenko. Broad-faced, quiet, doesn’t raise her eyes. But actually the merriest. She dances on the way to dinner, dances as she gets off the tractor. The best chastushka singer in the brigade.

Little apple, little apple,

What a nation.

Satellites, loafers, carburation.

Or jauntier still:

I didn’t love the tractor-boy,

And wouldn’t drive a tractor.

Then I loved a tractor-boy,

And became a tractor-girl.

She puts chastushki together herself, or takes an old one and changes it:

If I was, if I was

If I was a parakeet,

In my loved one’s pocket,

I’d weave myself a nest.

She gets on her tractor with a painful hop. During the winter break she married the president of the workers’ committee, a railroad worker. Come spring, she returned to her tractor, and he began to treat her badly.

“What the hell use are you to me in the brigade? Stay home and cook my dinner. Otherwise, who will feed me and darn my socks? I won’t let you go!”

Natasha was ticked off.

“I won’t live with such an idiot!”

She left her husband like she was leaving a prison. She got on her tractor and literally in a fury began to cut the earth, putting into her work the entire supply of maternal energy that found no outlet in her failed marriage. Now Natasha is a brigade leader finished in Pasha’s school. And on her strong, broad chest is the Order of Red Labor.

Marusia Radchenko, no relation, is entirely different. A calm-eyed hulk, capable, hard-working, but so imperturbable that when you see her serenity you want to jostle her, just so she’ll flare up!

Each is their own girl. Hot-tempered Marusia Tokareva takes the most pleasure in life, she’s never unhappy when others frown: “Oh, the weather’s bad. Will we fulfill the Plan?”

But Marusia had bad luck: she dislocated her arm cranking up her tractor. True, it was her own fault: some guys were looking her over, she wanted to cut a figure, and cranking a tractor–not a subtle piece of machinery–should be done carefully, particularly by a girl.

“Why is it that people who start a tractor carefully never get hurt” asks Pasha.

“Because they’re spoiled”–Marusia needed another forty-nine hectares for her award.

And Natasha Radchenko had to work double for her partner.

How Pasha looked after Marusia Tokareva! When the brigade received a pass to a sanatorium, she gave it to Marusia, supplied her for the journey, told her how to dress, wrote to her all the time, and when she ran out of money, dug some up and sent it to her.

Vera Zolotopup, the brigade Komsomol organizer, next in line after Natasha to run a brigade, slowly but steadfastly changes from an extremely shy, hesitant girl into a competent leader and lecturer. More than anything she wants to change her last name.

“I’ll go back to the regional center and fix everything up there,” she says.

And then there’s the stern face of the silent Greek girl Vera Mikhailova, who unlike Natasha knew how to bring her husband, the commander of a tractor brigade, to reason when he insisted that she chuck her machine and stay home. Very easily confused. She complained to me about her illiteracy.

The brigade’s fussiest member, and its most avid reader, despite her semi-literacy, is Marusia Balakai, a person with a bright and welcoming heart, who never gets mad at anyone.

Light-haired Vera Kosse, also Greek, whose eyes are opened wide with surprise to the world, dreams of sailing the distant seas.

And finally there’s the youngest, restless Nadya Biits, whom Pasha made editor of the wall-newspaper and then taught her that she must put her brigade-leader through the wringer as well. And in the beginning for show she even wrote critical notes about herself, if there was a break in the fuel supply or not enough food.

Once at a meeting Nadia got a note from a boy she didn’t know: “Hey, I like you, let’s get to know each other!”

She took the note to Pasha. The brigade leader decided: drop it, you’re too young. Then she hunted down the boy and gave him a dressing-down.

“It’s a monastery,” the regional Komsomol secretary, Pasha’s husband, smiles. “There was some agitation in the brigade when they found out that their leader had married me. They decided: he’ll take her away to the big city, the brigade will be done for.”

He also chides her gently for the fact that the girls still don’t read much. He tells of how much effort it cost Pasha herself to quit being an unsocial Amazon of the steppe who never climbed out of her dust-bitten work-clothes, and to speak with people freely. Back in 1933, when she walked onto the tribune for her first big speech, Pasha stood silent for ten minutes before she got out the first word.

“Do you think it was easy to train you out of your work-coat and into a dress?” her husband jokes, and continues to tease: “Will you tell him what you want to call our boy?”

Pasha flares up: “You idiot!”

“What idiot? I can imagine him clearly. He’ll be a real pistol.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m a tractor driver. I’m not interested in children.”

Then the young Communist’s voice becomes terribly sly: “And who was that choosing a baby blanket in Mostorg?”

And then Pasha falls face-first into her hands. And for a long time she doesn’t take her hands from her brightly blushing cheeks.

But quickly, leading the conversation back to the Don steppe, she tells how this autumn the brigade harvested the very last hectare just to keep the promise Pasha had made to Stalin at the Second Congress of Kolkhoz Shock-workers: to give twelve hundred hectares per tractor.

Everything was fine. They had already done eleven-hundred eighty per tractor, and the brigade had saved twenty tons of fuel, when a frost set in hard. The ground became boggy. It stuck to the tractor treads and forced them to stop for cleaning. It slowed their pace to a crawl. One more week, and the soil would become iron.

Pasha walked about silently, with a pencil and paper, calculating something. The tractor drivers didn’t bother her with questions. If Pasha’s thinking, she’ll think up something.

And Pasha thought something up.

To save time on fueling the tractors and passing them on from shift to shift, she proposed that the brigade go from a ten-hour shift to twenty hours and fill up the tractors only when the gas tanks were almost empty. According to her calculations they would complete their work victoriously by the twentieth.

The plows bucked, and fingers were frozen. Working twenty hours straight wasn’t easy. But the work was fun, because the entire country was watching!

And nine girls, overcoming their dreary kerchiefs and their decrepit, dirty living quarters, and the kulaks’ mockery, and bureaucratic callousness, and the oddities of their machines, and the weariness of their muscles, defeated the weather.

Four days before time was up they tallied what they’d done and it turned out that each tractor had completed twelve-hundred twenty-five hectares.

And for those days the best worker had been little Nadia Biits.

Nine girls had conquered the earth.

Then came the long-awaited Moscow. It was like a holiday, but a little frightening. Particularly frightening was the subway–the doors closed without asking, and could snatch away one who got flustered from the other eight and abandon her in the glittering underground passage. True, Pasha explained that the doors close on a rubber strip and that even a finger stuck in won’t hurt–all the same it was frightening.

The streets were packed with people, and riding the tram was even more complicated than driving a tractor downhill.

But this was eclipsed by the most important thing.

Nine girls could be seen by the whole country. The conquerors were called to microphones, to factory clubs, celebrations were arranged in their honor. Their hands were shaken, glowing words were said, they were showered with gifts, photographers caught them on staircases, at the sight of them reporters pulled out their pencils.

Stores guided them from counter to counter. They tried on jumpers and chose shirts for their brothers. And not only their brothers. They found bicycles for themselves–true, the brigade already had some, but they were the heavy type. They read record labels and shrugged their shoulders, because there wasn’t anything they didn’t already have in their cabin in the steppe.

But the most important thing lay ahead: the gathering in the Kremlin, where Stalin would be, to whom they had made a promise and kept it.

It was evening. The tractor drivers, happy and excited, left the writer’s apartment. A shiny “Lincoln” awaited them at the entrance of the tall building. Hurriedly, one after the other, nattering in a whisper, they got into the car. The door snapped shut, and the olive Lincoln set off. And suddenly from inside a many-voiced song of the steppe rang out, so piercing that passers-by reeled, stood stock-still and smiled.

When Pasha mounted the tribune of the Kremlin Palace, Stalin stood up applauding, and with that motion he pulled up all three thousand people in the audience.

Pasha stood in her bright-green beret, seizing hold of the tribune as if it were a tractor, and directed her speech into the fertile furrows of the rows of humanity, through a storm of greetings that blew in her face. Then she leaned into the rostrum and shouted: “Comrades!”

She shouted to the very horizon, like they yell to a distant tractor in the steppe to drown out its rumbling.

She shouted for the entire country, the entire world, throwing her words to the Pamir plateaus, where the warm sheep graze, and to the frozen strait across which America can be seen from our territory, and to the Moldavian gardens above the murmuring Dnestr, and to the shore-line where the Red Navy distrustfully and guardedly watches the expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

Amazement and a ringing pride were in her hurried tale: that’s what I am, and that’s what we girls are.

Her pride was not conceited: just take a look what I’ve done, nobody else could have done it. No, it was comradely: work intelligently and happily, like we do–you’ll do the same.

It was a challenge to a duel.

Eight girls watched her from the first row and learned how to be proud and to work people up.

“I will take it upon myself this year to organize” Pasha shouted and gathered her breath before a leap, “ten women’s brigades. I will sacrifice my girls to other brigades, take new ones for myself and give per tractor”–here there was no pause, this figure was noted and marked down long ago–“sixteen-hundred hectares!”

And then she fell silent. She wiped her brow with her hand and, leaning to the side, said quietly, like a little girl:

“Working is easier than talking…”

Source: James von Geldern and Richard Stites, eds., Mass Culture in Soviet Russia (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), pp. 216-227.

Falsification of the National Past

Platon Kerzhentsev, Falsification of the National Past (about Demian Bedny’s “Heroes”). November 15, 1936


Original Source: Falsifikatsiia narodonogo proshlogo (o Bogatyriakh Dem’iana Bednogo). Pravda, 15 November 1936, pp. 3-4.

When the Chamber Theater staged Borodin’s old comic opera, it commissioned a new libretto from Demian Bednyi.

Viktor Krylov’s old text, written as a parody of pseudo-folk operas, needed a replacement. But Demian Bednyi’s reworking of the text not only did not improve it, it was significantly worse than the previous version.

The new version added the theme of the robbers, absent before, it introduced a totally unmotivated vulgar treatment of the baptism of Russia “in a drunken state, and the characters of the Russian folk heroes were grossly overpainted. Demian Bednyi’s primary and grossest error was the attempt to eulogize the “robbers” of Kievan Rus’ as a positive and even revolutionary element in our history. According to Demian Bednyi’s own declaration, the heroic element in the play was to be the “robbers brave, heroes of the forest.”

The foundation for this concept of Demian Bednyi, which has nothing in common with history, is the comment in the Primary Chronicle about the number of robbers in Russian lands. But do we not already know who these robbers were? They were people concerned with their personal welfare, far from revolutionary fighters. As we know, the epics (byliny) gave a stark representation of the type in the figure of the Robber-Sparrow (Solov’ei-Razboinik).

But that is not the only matter. For Demian Bednyi, elevating of the robbers and turning them into revolutionary heroes is the entire foundation of his historical understanding of our past. It is not a new concept. In the booklets, brochures and proclamations of Bakunin, Nechaev and other anarchistical types you often meet with the elevation of robbers to bearers of the revolutionary principle for the Russian people. This outlook could later be found among all sorts of déclassé elements, among the “righto-leftist” muddleheads and suchlike.

But with an unexpected cornucopia of naiveté, Demian Bednyi creates his “robber” theory of Russian history, evidently attempting to depict the robbers as some sort of “true” revolutionaries of Kievan Russia, and trying to build a bridge from them to the present.

Thus, the fundamental political tendency of the play HEROES is false through-and-through.

In the folk epic the heroic elements comes not from the robbers, but from the heroes (bogatyri), who come in for such unfettered blackening and slander in the play, produced with such voracious appetite by Tairov in the Chamber Theater.

Unfortunately, our wonderful folk epics are not of much interest to our publishers nowadays. In recent years not a single collection of the epics has come out, not even a two-volume work of the type in the “Monuments of World Literature” series. Our literary scholars can do only either a purely formal analysis of the epic, or some piece of sociologizing. For instance, they label the epic hero Mikula Selianinovich as a kulak (Literary Encyclopedia, vol. II, pg. 16).

Meanwhile, the figures of the folk heroes manifest the hopes and thoughts of the people. They have lived among the people over the centuries precisely because they embody the people’s heroic struggle against foreign invaders, popular gallantry, laughter, courage, cleverness and bigheartedness, which have found particularly vivid manifestations at axial historical moment of the people and their struggle for a better lot in life. No wonder that the epics remained an oral form for so many years, while written forms recorded the images of princes, saints, sheriffs and boyars.

In their unique form the epics reflected the historical past of our people, the heroic pages of their struggle.

Il’ia Muromets, who is reputed in the epics to have been the son of a peasant, or a simple Cossack (i.e. somebody close to the people), is renowned for defeating Robber-Sparrow and for his clashes with the Tatars. The epic poems sing the glories of his fight with Mamai, his feats during the Kama battle, etc.

Dobrynia Nikitich liberates the country from Tsar Batur and frees it from paying tribute. Dobrynia is noted in the epics as a man of valor, strength, and a master of clever diplomatic tricks.

Alyosha Popovich (who is mocked by Demian Bednyi) is glorified in popular songs for vanquishing Tugarin Zmeevich, and that contest symbolized the struggle of Rus’ against Asian nomads. We know that a certain historical prototype of the epic hero was Aleksandr Popovich, who beat the Pechenegs during the reign of Prince Vladimir (Soloviev, History of Russia, Vol. 1, pg. 210). The people also commend the sly cleverness of Alyosha Popovich, thanks to which he was victorious in his fight with the most dangerous and powerful opponents. It was Alyosha Popovich who first challenged the unearthly foe. …

The names of the enemies of the epic heroes (Mamai, Tugarin, Batur-Batyi, etc.) show that the subject was the fight of the Russian people against Tatar incursion and the attacks on our country of other Asiatic peoples.

And this heroic tale of the Russian people, this heroic epic, which is as dear to us Bolsheviks as all the most heroic traits of the peoples of our country and other countries, is turned by Demian Bednyi into material for the shameless mockery of the heroes.

How right Maksim Gorky was when he said at the First Congress of Writers: “I direct your attention, comrades, to the fact that the deepest, most striking and artistically most perfect heroic types have been created by folklore, the oral art of the working people,” and Gorky listed these figures: “Hercules, Prometheus, Mikula Selianinovich, Sviatogor, Doctor Faust, Vasilissa the Wise, etc.”

The great proletarian writer did not fear compare to Hercules and Prometheus figures created by the epics, because he correctly saw in them the images of folk heroes.

Under the pretext of mocking all sorts of Anik-Warrior and Kupils, who deserve contempt and mockery, Demian Bednyi depicts the epic heroes as drunks, cowards and brawlers. Showing folk-epic heroes in this way means to warp folk poetry, slander the Russian people and its historical past.

This is particularly inappropriate at a time when the party and government are devoting such attention to the issue of studying our historical past and encouraging folk arts.

Demian Bednyi did not just stop with warping the folk epic. For some reason he also had to warp history. He depicts the baptism of Russia as if it was a drunken prank, without any sense or thought behind it.

The old faith was a drunken one,
And the new one even worse.

The adoption of a new religion, which was one of the great historical events of Kievan Rus’, is depicted by Demian Bednyi as a drunken revelry of idiotic nitwits. This scoffing version of our country’s past is above all historically inaccurate. It has been fairly accurately established that the acceptance of the new faith went through several complicated stages, after negotiations, discussions and comparisons of the various faiths. It is known that Vladimir was baptized two years before the mass baptism of Russia. But most important is the fact that the false treatment of the history of Kievan Rus’ by Demian Bednyi distorts the historical past.

Marxists are far from being adherents of feudalism, and certainly not of capitalism. Yet still, how many times did Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin remark in their works that at certain historical stages feudalism and later capitalism were progressive epochs in human history that raised the productivity of labor, culture and science.

It is also well-known that the baptism of Rus’ was one of the main conditions that facilitated the contact of the Slavs and Byzantium, and then with the countries of the West, that is with countries of a higher cultural level.

It is well-known that the clergy, part of it the Greek-born clergy, significantly helped the spread of literacy in Kievan Rus’, of book learning, foreign languages, etc. The first translation of foreign books, including secular books, for instance history books (chronographs) was done in connection with the transfer of the Slavs to Christianity.

Thus too in its historical part, Demian Bednyi’s play is a distortion of history, a model not only of an anti-Marxist but also of an empty-headed attitude toward history, a slur on the people’s past. Long ago, after all, did Demian Bednyi not call Russian history “rotten.”? He only recollected the folk heroes when he “heard their snore,” he wrote about Russian culture that “the old Russian woe-culture is a fool, and he depicted the Russian people as “dozing on the stove.” The sad reflection of these old adages, alien to Bolsheviks and to plain-old Soviet poets, can be heard in this play.

The main director and inspirer of the production, Aleksandr Tairov, tried to portray this stinking outrage of the Chamber Theater as the “creation and confirmation here of the comic folk opera.” Tairov “dared” declare that the show “is based on folk culture and the folk epic,” as if the inspirers of this theatrical production were in some way related to the people, and did not place themselves in the position of rejecting the people. It is well known as well that this is not the Tairov theater’s first such venture under the mask of Soviet art. Certain misguided “critics”, for instance O. Litovskii in the journal SOVETSKOE ISKUSSTVO, repeating someone else’s words, were in agreement so much as to say “Demian created an entirely new, organically whole popular satirical play,” that the theater achieved “a truly popular comic opera.” But the woe-critics echoing of someone else’s voice can in the end not be read at all.

The play of Demian Bednyi in Tairov’s staging, which showed an exceptional effort to blow up the falsest aspects of the lackluster libretto,–this is not at all a folk or popular play, but a pseudo-folk, anti-folk production, which warps the history of the people, and is false in its political tendencies. Both the author and the theater of this of this production did service not to the peoples of the Soviet Union, who are building their socialist art, but to some other people.

Such plays are alien to Soviet art–they bring joy only to our enemies.

Conference of the Wives of the Engineers in Heavy Industry

Pravda (Lead Article), A Remarkable Conference. May 10, 1936


Original Source: Pravda, 10 May 1936, p. 1.

Today the magnificent hall of the great palace of the Kremlin is filled with more than three thousand activist-wives of the leaders of Socialist industry. This hall has seen much during the past year. The Stakhanovites of industry and transport, the tractor drivers and combine-men, the leading collective farmers, the best cattle-breeders have here held conferences with Comrade Stalin, with the leaders of the party and the Soviet government. Everything that is progressive, full of initiative and creativity in the country has been brought here, into the Kremlin. The best sons and daughters of our fatherland have stepped on to its honored platform and their powerful voices have been broadcast hence to the whole country.

Who are the people who have gathered there to-day for their first conference, a conference unimaginable in any other country?

They are the activist-wives (obshchestvennitsy) of the managers, engineers and technicians, women who are not themselves employed in the enterprises and establishments. Formerly, many of them lived for the limited interests of the family, within the narrow confines of household care. In the majority they are people brought by the Soviet government, educated, cultured people. They were no longer willing to be satisfied with the position of mere sympathizers with the great socialist constructive movement and decided to become active participants in it. A great cultural force lay latent and had not been utilized in an organized way. Now it has found a purpose worthy of it. The delegates to the conference are the best representatives of the large proportion of women in our country who do not want to be mere housewives if they can be wives of the country. They have found new interests in life, and our party and government are helping them, educating and organizing them, drawing them into the active construction of our land.

There have arrived in Moscow the wives of engineers and technicians from the Donbass and the Urals, from the Far East and Transcaucasia, from all parts and regions, from the towns of metal and coal, petroleum and gold. Before their eyes factories and towns have been created and have grown with fairy-tale speed, canals have been dug and mines sunk, hydro-electric dams have been erected and oil wells drilled. The drama of construction, the Eroica of socialist everyday life, the romanticism of the Bolshevist transformation of the country could not leave them unmoved. Among this section of Soviet womanhood there are also those who side by side with their husbands went through the fire of the Civil War. In those days, like the activists of Krivoi Rog, the founders of the movement of wives of commanders-they lived on news bulletins, with the moods of the Red Army, in the passion of the struggle. The more active ones joined the political and administration departments of the Army, the nursing services, sharing with their husbands the joys of victory and the sorrows of defeat. And these women say: “Now above all must we be in the ranks, now that we have grown up politically and the aims desired have become so near and clear, now that our wise Stalin has collected all that is best in the working people in order to lead the land of socialism speedily and joyfully towards final victory.”

The movement of the wives of engineers and technicians sprang up spontaneously. During one of his visits to the Urals the People’s Commissar of Heavy Industry, Comrade Sergo Ordzhonikidze, inspected the flowers planted with care in the Red Urals thermo-electrical power station by the manager’s wife. The wives of the leaders of the construction of Krivoi Rog heard about it and found an outlet for their energy. They have chosen as the field of their activities that aspect to which the Party is at present paying great attention, the side of civilization in everyday life: they decided to introduce into life Comrade Stalin’s slogan about the care of men.

And now, look at the work done by the wives of the commanders in hundreds of enterprises. They have opened first-class restaurants, poultry farms, fashion shops, they have organized cultural centers, hostels, nurseries, pioneer camps, they are organizing medical services for workers’ families, delivery of foodstuffs to the houses, canteens. They are liquidating illiteracy and running libraries. Their work represents that great movement of the toilers towards culture in everyday life about which Stakhanovite Fadeeva has written in the pages of Pravda.

The desire for creative and joyful work on the part of the leading wives of the commanders of heavy industry was taken up by Comrade Ordzhonikidze. Supported by Party and government, this movement has found followers in light industry and in the food industry. It is fighting its way into the villages, into the Machine and Tractor Stations. In the northern Caucasus the wives of the managers of the Machine and Tractor Stations are undertaking the organization of the cultural life of the workers on the stations; they are planting house-gardens and allotments, setting up mobile libraries. In Leningrad the first women’s organization in light industry has been created by the wife of the manager of the Skorokhod shoe factory. In short, the enterprise of the activists of heavy industry has inspired hundreds of thousands of women.

It cannot be said that the movement of the wives of engineers and technicians did not meet with obstacles. Like everything new, it at first met, and even now sometimes still meets, the opposition of dull-witted officials and trade-union bureaucrats. But this movement, created by the initiative of the masses of women, is strong and breaks the obstacles that bar its path.

Even now some people view the work of the wives of the commanders with sarcasm, call them philanthropists and compare them to the pre-revolutionary “charity ladies”. This is the shallow nonsense of the stupid bourgeois. The “charity ladies” of the philanthropic societies threw the crumbs from their tables to the poor, and their benevolence took the form of alms.

Women’s charitable organizations “for the care of beggars, orphans, the sick and the pregnant,” the “women’s society of teetotalers,” or the society for the “care of young girls” we a pitiful fruit of bourgeois hypocrisy hiding behind a humanitarian facade. The revolution of the proletariat has liquidated poverty and our whole Soviet system has become the truly humane friend of humanity. The new movement of the wives of engineers and technicians helps the Party and the government in leading the country to a life of plenty and raises the members of this movement to the level of active builders of socialist society.

Ploughed up by the revolution, the soil of our land again and again bears new and remarkable fruit. The Soviet land has become a vast and magnificent garden where the talents of the people blossom and the great Bolshevist gardener nurses them as though they were his favorite tree. The wives of the engineers and technicians of the Baku petroleum plants wrote to him- to Comrade Stalin-in Pravda recently:

We are happy at the mere thought that the drop of our work flows into the great, invincible toil of our mighty country. We are happy to live and toil in the great Stalin epoch, we who are enlightened by the wisdom of your genius, warmed by your love and care. Thank you for everything, for the joy of life, for the resounding laughter of our children, for the new aspirations you have given us.

Greetings to the activists, to the wives of the commanders, the delegates to this remarkable conference.

Source: Rudolf Schlesinger, ed. Changing attitudes in Soviet Russia; the Family in the USSR (London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1949).

Collective Farm Women of Tataria

A. Nukhrat, Collective Farm Women of Tataria. 1933



Original Source: Revolutsiia i natsionalnosti, No. 11 (1933).

At the first All-Union Congress of kolkhoz shock-workers Comrade Stalin said: ‘The kolkhoz women members represent a great force. To keep it back would be a crime. It is our duty henceforth to promote the women in the kolkhozes so as to release that power for action.’

The women of Tataria have displayed real Bolshevik power in collectivization. Their contribution to Tataria’s victory in socialist agriculture has been far from negligible. Already in 1932, according to the calculation of labor days earned, female labor in the Tatar kolkhozes amounted to 37 per cent-against 31 per cent in the Russian kolkhozes. That year the Republic had 162 women tractor drivers, dozens of brigade-leaders, and several women were chairmen of the best kolkhozes.

… The victory of collectivization, a factor of the greatest significance in Tataria and due to the active participation of the women, has radically altered the status of the peasant woman, especially among the Tatars.

What was the position of the Tatar woman in the past?

The lot of the Tatar working woman was the same as that customary to all the women of the East. There was the yoke of poverty without means of escape-for the woman’s path into the world, to independent life, was blocked by the interdictions of religion and the Shariat laws. There was the yoke of spiritual darkness and illiteracy-the power of superstitions, mullahs and quacks. The arbitrary rule of the father and husband to which the woman had meekly to submit-the docile submission of the woman. The joyless, unprotected toil for the kulak, the mullah and huckster. Child-birth in the bath-house, illness and death of the children. Clandestine or open sales of women, when their fate, their marriage was decided by the kalym (bride money), when women, like cattle, had a price. Bad harvests and famine generally led to overt sales of Tatar women. They were taken to market to Bukhara, Azerbaijan, and, via the Crimea, to Turkey. Was there a harem of khans, beys, merchants and industrialists without Tatar women? They were sold literally for a pood of flour.

But the past has gone for ever-our victories are a pledge of that. The kolkhozes have introduced a new way of life, in which labor has become a matter of joy and honor, the guarantee of prosperity, and the source of equal rights for women. Kolkhoz farming is crushing the mullah, the quack and the Shariat laws. In the kolkhoz is no place for the kalym, for the people here are linked by socialist labor.

This has been beautifully expressed by the Tatar poet Akhmed Erikeev. His poems express man’s new attitude towards women, the truth of the new life.


Ransom for the bride?-‘What nonsense.’
Bridegrooms do not pay it nowadays.
Your customs of life, granddads, fade like smoke.
We have done with your kalym.
I will no longer buy for money
The girl I love.
If she will marry for money
She is not worth a farthing.
If you want to marry me,
And your kin expect the kalym,
Tell them that the great kalym
Has been paid by the one you love.
My kalym is not silver coin.
It is the lead that riddled me,
Lead from the rifles of the Basmachi.
It is well worth silk and brocade. My kalym is not added up in cash.
The Soviet passport is my kalym.
It is contained in the shock-work I do.
It is in my fight for the new life.
It is in the dozens of textbooks
Whose great wisdom I have grasped.
In our days even the best girl
Can expect no finer kalym.

(Komsomol’skaia Pravda, October 8, 1933.)

The kolkhoz movement has advanced to leading posts a great many remarkable and capable women’ (Stalin). Let me introduce the remarkable women of Tataria-the best of the best-kolkhoz chairmen and village soviet chairmen.

The whole of Tataria knows the chairman of the kolkhoz Gigant, in the Nizhnie-Chelny district-the Komsomol member Gaisha Shamsutdinova. Her kolkhoz has been entered on the red board. She was the first in the Republic to complete the grain delivery.

Here is the chairman of the Russko-Krasin village soviet of the Aksubiisk district-Varvara Efimovna Vanchurina. Let her tell us her own story:

‘I have been chairman for two years. Our men called me “Fortnight”. You won’t, they said, work on for more than a fortnight: this is not a woman’s job. But here I am at it already for two years, and my village soviet, formerly the most backward, has become the leading one in the district.

‘In my village soviet, the kolkhoz Komsomolets had 24 households which did not own cows, but now there are only three, and they too have received assistance from us in the form of permanent work throughout the year that they may be able to buy cows. In my kolkhoz, members who are fit to work are allotted at least 200 labor days each. My husband, for instance, has received 280 poods of grain, i.e. 180 poods of wheat, and 100 poods of rye. And this does not include vegetable crops. There can be no argument about it: we are leading a prosperous life.

‘Our living conditions, too, are changing. Our kolkhoz has two nursery schools for 60 children, a canteen for 130 people, and field canteens for each brigade.

‘In my village soviet, since I am there, almost all the officials are women. My deputy, Comrade Anna Petrina, is a good activist. The chairman of the group assisting the Public Prosecutor, Comrade Pelageia Zakharova, too, is working well. The chairman of the group assisting the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate, Mariia Vladimirova, is one of the best women activists. The chairman of the finance section, Tat’iana Kozlova, is an untiring worker. I am saying this because, before I came, there was not a single woman in the village soviet.

‘As for myself, I have worked for the kulaks from the age of ten. After the Revolution, I took a charwoman’s job in the office of the elevator. Here I learned to read and write. In 1929, from the moment our kolkhoz was organized, I was the first to join it. My husband, Comrade Vanchurin, did not want me to work in the village soviet. Yielding to kulak propaganda, he began to demand that I should give up the work. But I called him to account in the kolkhoz wall newspaper. He recognized his error and admitted that he had fallen into the trap laid by the kulaks. By now Comrade Vanchurin has become a good shock-worker and communist.’ (Rabotnitsa [The Woman Worker] 1933, No. 29, p. 4.)

In 1933, approximately 10 per cent of the tractor drivers were women, i.e. 220 (against 162 in 1932). Combine-harvesters were introduced in Tataria, and to-day the Republic has already 38 women combine operators (out of a total of 232); in the Sarmatov district, four women kolkhoz members served as senior combine operators.

‘Nine women tractor drivers are working in the Tumutuk Machine Tractor Station (Aznakai district). Nine pairs of strong women’s arms are driving the steel horses confidently over the spacious kolkhoz fields. The tractor of Zigan Shakirova works better than all the others; having completed the spring sowing plan three days before the appointed time, she has worked 32 hectares “in excess”.

‘During the harvesting, the Inter driven by Zigan has threshed the grain, all the time exceeding its quota: instead of 200 centners it threshed 300-350 centners per day. At the same time, the steel horse “did not eat up” the food norm allotted to it: 2-5-3 kilograms of fuel per hectare were saved where it did the work.

‘Shakirova’s tractor was never idle. There were no cases of breakage during the whole spring and summer. Zigan knows the minutest detail of the interior, all the habits and caprices of her Inter tractor. It obeys the slightest movement of her strong small hand.

‘Zigan Shakirova is quite young. She is only 19, but already she wears the shock-worker’s badge, and tucked away at the bottom of her little camping trunk is a diploma. She received both tokens of honor at the 1st All-Tatar Congress of kolkhoz shock-workers. By September 1, she had already earned 220 days-days. For every day-day she will receive 10 kilograms of grain crops-138 poods of grain! Zigan had never seen such wealth before. Last year she had received only 32 poods’ for the whole of the twelve months.’ …

Tatar women work in pig farms (how long did they regard the pig as the most unclean and sinful animal!). Kaliullina Gulsum has been working as a pig breeder in the kolkhoz Magarif from February 1933. The farm has achieved great successes. The number of its pigs has increased from 226 in 1932 to 542 in 1933. Kaliullina intends to earn as much as 400 days-days.

Here we have one more woman shock-worker-Praskovya Antonovna Kuznetsova. She is forty years old and the best stable attendant of the kolkhoz NA SHTURM in the Spasskii district. Before collectivization, the Kuznetsov family had never had a horse of their own; they ‘were always kow-towing before the kulaks’, working all their lives, yet never able to escape from poverty. How can a peasant do without a horse? But now, in the kolkhoz, this is the third year that she is looking after a dozen horses, sparing neither strength nor time … By September 1, 1933, Comrade Kuznetsova had earned 250 days-days, and her husband and young son 220. For every day-day they will receive half a pood of grain, including six pounds of wheat. And the family has only five mouths to feed.

Kuznetsova has been awarded five prizes, a diploma and the shock-worker’s badge. She was a delegate to the 1st Congress of shock-workers, and has traveled to Moscow to report to Comrade Kalinin. She has achieved a good and prosperous life, (and) her only concern now is to buy spectacles and to learn reading and writing, so as to improve further the care of kolkhoz horses.

Among the working women of Tataria there are still many illiterates, which causes us great concern. All the kolkhoz women have now been given the task of spending the winter on study, and study is a must. The whole Republic has taken up Comrade Krupskaia slogan: ‘The shock-workers of the socialized agriculture must become the shock-workers of proletarian culture.’

The activity of the kolkhoz women was brought on primarily by the mass work among the women undertaken by the party organization of Tataria, and by the provision of nursery schools and playgrounds for the children of the kolkhoz women. This received a great deal of attention in Tataria …

During the harvesting campaign alone, 179,867 kolkhoz children have been admitted to the nursery schools (against 150,000 provided by the plan); 18,837 children (against 3,000 provided by the plan) have been admitted to mobile and field nursery schools, and as many as 4,000 people were trained to serve as staff in the kolkhoz nursery schools. The development of kindergartens presents the following picture: in 1933 the Republic had 1,216 permanent kindergartens with 64,750 children (including 34,059 Tatar children). Five thousand six hundred and eighty-nine playgrounds were used by 170,690 children (including 95,454 Tatar children). As many as 5,000 people were trained as kindergarten and playground staff.

The nursery schools and playgrounds are greatly effective in facilitating women’s labor in the kolkhozes. Let us illustrate this by referring to the field camp of the Krasnoznamenskii kolkhoz Alda, in the Aktinsk district (in the sector of the Machine Tractor Station). Here every brigade had its nursery school. The days-days put in by women whose children were in the nursery schools have considerably increased. Thus, a harvesting, the kolkhoz woman Gubaidullina has earned 41.19 days-days, Sirazeeva 46.30, and Sibirzianova, 42.23.

On the other hand, of the women who did not have their children in the nursery schools, Mukhametsianova earned only 13 days-days, and Akhmetova 10.

This is why the party organizations of Tataria, at present, are raising the question of establishing children’s institutions permanent in every respect with a permanent and well-trained staff. They are most energetically supported in this program by the prosperous kolkhoz members, who desire their children to be given proper education and to grow up in good health, with bright and active minds that are not poisoned by religious dope …

Source: Rudolf Schlesinger, ed., Changing Attitudes in Soviet Russia; the nationalities problem and Soviet administration (London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1956), pp. 152-157.