Report on "Bolshevik Realities," by Mrs. L ______*, formerly Organiser and Controller
of a large War Hospital in Moscow, who left Russia in October 1918.
*As some of those who have handed in reports or been interviewed have relatives and property in Russia and contemplate returning there after the Bolshevik régime is at an end, their names have been suppressed.
The Peasants and the Land.―Already under the régime of the Provisional Government the land had been handed over to the whole body of the peasants in each district. But it must be borne in mind that the Russian peasant has a strongly developed sense of property and all his hopes were centred on an ultimate dividing of the land, which would make each one an individual proprietor and guarantee him the secure ownership of his holding. The Bolsheviks, however, regarding the land as the property of the nation as a whole, ordered the peasants to cultivate the fields for the benefit of the local commune. The peasants, disappointed in their hopes, soon began to express their disapproval of the new policy. This brought upon them the accusation of disloyalty to the Soviet Government, and their antagonism was countered by the appointment in each district of "Comiteti Bednoti" (Committees consisting of the poorest class of peasants), who disposed of the crop, leaving a certain amount in possession of those who had grown it and taking the rest for themselves. This meant that the drones got all they needed without doing any productive work, and was equivalent to a premium on idleness. The inevitable result was a steady decline in the crops, which will in the end prove the ruin of agricultural Russia.
The Factory and the Workman.―Under the Provisional Government, Workmen's Committees were formed which dealt with such questions as hiring of labour, deciding the scale of pensions, allowances, and bonuses, and the whole administration of the factory. Selling prices were controlled and profits were allocated in the proportion of 95 per cent. to the State and 5 per cent. to the owner. In practice this scheme resulted in continual reconstruction of the committees on the ground that the bonuses were too low or pensions unfairly awarded. The committees were never in power long enough to get acquainted with the details of the business. At the beginning of their régime the Bolsheviks did not alter this system, but gradually changes leading towards nationalisation were inaugurated. In March 1918 private trade was put an end to and a Central Board for every industry was set up which collected the produce from various firms. The selling prices were fixed by decree, but payment out of which wages and expenses had to come was made by the Central Board only after long delay and repeated demand.
In July all factories were nationalised and handed over to the workmen under the direction of Central Boards which functioned in a most despotic manner. All owners and managers were turned out and could not re-enter the works unless elected. At the slightest opposition or protest the workmen were thrown into prison, field guns brought out, and the threat made to raze the factory to the ground.
Wages and Food.―The minimum wage for a workman was fixed at 500 roubles per month, while superior artisans (a very small percentage of the community) received up to a maximum of 1,000 roubles per month. This sum was fixed on the assumption that the official rations were inadequate. In actual fact the scale was ludicrously insufficient to maintain life. Up till September 1916 the bread ration was ¼ lb. to ½ lb. per day for workmen and 1/6 lb. for others. The bread was of very low standard, was full of refuse of all kinds and of the consistency of putty. Even this ration was seldom to be had. True, certain things could be obtained by underhand means, as for example black flour at 10 roubles per lb. (equivalent to 6s. to-day), butter at 39 roubles per lb., sugar at 39 roubles per lb., eggs at 27 roubles per dozen. From this it is quite evident that the wage of 500 roubles was inadequate for the upkeep of a family. As a result the workpeople tried to bring supplies into the town from districts where the prices were lower. This practice was strongly forbidden by the Government because it upset their "rationing organisation," and strong measures were taken to repress it. A train returning from one of the food areas would be held up by a body of Red Guards, established at some point on the line. These guards would open fire on the train and almost invariably some of the passengers were shot. All had their provisions confiscated, and the wretched workman returned to his home minus money and flour and having lost two or three days' work. These food hunting expeditions disorganised the whole of the factories, as a third of the men were always absent. When it is remembered that clothing, rent, and other necessaries had also to be provided out of the 500 roubles, it will be understood how deplorable were the conditions of life. Materials and made-up clothing were also rationed, but there was hardly enough to supply the needs of one-tenth of the population. The result of this struggle between the workmen and the Government, and the inefficiency of the latter's subordinate officials, is that the Russian factories are rapidly falling into a state of ruin. Output has decreased in some cases 90 per cent., and as there is no available supply of fuel or raw materials it is only a question of a few months, if the Bolsheviks remain in power, before the factories will be forced to close down.
Repression of Democracy―After the July Congress and the anti-Bolshevik demonstration of the Left Social Revolutionaries, non-Bolshevik Socialists were deprived of all political rights, hundreds of Socialist workmen were thrown into prison and large numbers were shot. In addition 3,000 workmen were thrown out of employment in the tramway repairing shops in Moscow simply on the ground of their Social Revolutionary sympathies.
The best illustration of the autocratic rule under which the workmen now exist is the fact that all public expression of opinion has been forbidden. All non-Bolshevik newspapers have been suppressed, including even "The Independent Socialist," whose editor, Martov, had a world-wide reputation in Socialist circles. All public meetings except those organised by the Bolsheviks are prohibited, and the Bolsheviks call themselves "The Peasants' and Workmen's Government."
The most serious crime in the eyes of the Bolsheviks is anti-Bolshevism, and the work of discovering and punishing offenders of this kind is in the hands of the Extraordinary Commission― an autocratic body which arrests, examines, imprisons, and executes at will. There is no charge, no public trial, and no appeal. There are English works-foremen in prison in Moscow to-day with nothing against them except the fact that they happened to be in a certain street or square at the time when the Red Guards took it into their heads to make a general arrest. Appeals from the Red Cross and the neutral consuls are unavailing. The Kommissar in charge of the case is away ill and nothing can be done till his return. Crimes of street robbery, &c., are punished in a rough–and-ready way ; the offender is shot on the spot and the body left there till some one thinks good to remove it.
To describe the life inside the prisons would require the pen of Charles Reade. Even using the greatest restraint and moderation, any account must appear exaggerated and hysterical to English readers. In verminous, ill-ventilated cells, starved and terrorised people are crowded together in one room, men, women, young girls (the latter held as hostages to force their hiding fathers or brothers to give themselves up). At six o'clock in the evening the doors are locked and no one is allowed out for any reason till morning, except those called out at about 3 A.M. for execution. Healthy and sick (some with cholera) are huddled on the floor, uncertain of their fate and knowing it is out of the power of anyone to help them. The food consists of one quarter of a pound of black bread and a bowl of hot water in which are floating some pieces of cabbage and occasionally a few fish heads. Red Cross officials noticed a rapid change in the appearance of prisoners ; they looked each day more haggard, drawn, and hopeless.