Report by Mr. H.______, Vladimir.―October 14, 1918.
Our mills continued to work under the most adverse conditions, which grew from bad to worse during the course of the years 1917-1918, owing to labour disorganisation, shortage of raw material, money (from a balance of 35,000,000 roubles we now owe 25,000,000 roubles to the State Bank), and finally of food for the workpeople. The large shell manufacturing plant which during the course of the war we had developed had to be closed down by orders of the Soviet. Famine and cholera finally made their appearance, and the workpeople and their families (especially children) commenced to die and to grow so weak as to seriously impair their capacity for work. My co-directors and self were powerless to do anything to help or do anything in the matter as the Soviet had taken over everything connected with the working of the concern, putting in utterly incapable people such as doorkeepers, watchmen, &c., to supervise work demanding long experience, technical and medical knowledge, even interfering with the hospital administration, where the man cook supervised the work of our doctors.
As the (mill) position grew worse and matters became impossible I was charged with sabotage and working as an agent of England to paralyse industry in our district. All the sales and purchases of materials and goods were made through the agency of the Soviet, who employed dishonest persons with the result that though our goods were ostensibly sold to various representative bodies such as other Soviet organisations, in reality they were made the objects of speculation and theft, and sold in some cases to known German agents and sent to Germany. This was known to the workpeople who were greatly excited by the matter. Shortage of food, the supply and disposal of which became a Soviet monopoly, with the usual result of stopping all supplies, forced the workpeople to travel to the grain districts in the South and East of Russia and obtain supplies there themselves. The supplies, in order to preserve the principle of Soviet monopoly, were usually confiscated by the Red Army requisition commandoes from the unfortunate people on their return journeys on the railways. These Red Army requisition commandoes are charged with the duty of stopping all private trading and so-called speculation, but being in many cases utterly devoid of any idea of honesty or duty, merely took the food and resold same, in many cases to the people again. Eventually there was no more money to be had, the workpeople having even exhausted their savings. In addition, the journey undertaken to obtain food was long, costly and arduous, and generally 50 per cent. of the people were away from their occupation, losing their wages and so making their position still worse, and congesting the railways. At the same time members of the local Soviet were continually seen in a drunken condition and were evidently living well. Exasperation grew, and finally the workpeople, with whom joined many of the peasants in the district, came in a body to me and asked my aid, but I was powerless to help. In addition, I had to be very careful as my words and actions could have been so misconstrued to the Soviet as to cause them to think that I was interfering in their functions. The fact of the people coming to me as of old for help alarmed the Soviet authorities, and open threats were made against me and arrests of workmen followed. This was at the time of the outrage at the British Embassy at Petrograd, and on receipt of news of same I was advised to leave by certain members of the Soviet. A meeting was then called by order of the Moscow authorities in order to choose the quota of members of the requisition commandoes of the Red Army from amongst the workpeople, who answered the summons by picking the members of the local Soviet, who were bitterly attacked and the actions and authority of the Soviet Government repudiated. The speakers were arrested, and on the demand of the crowd of workpeople, numbering some 20,000, to release them, the guard of the local prison consisting of members of the Red Army opened fire, killing and wounding, it was stated, over 100 people. In addition many were badly hurt in the panic which ensued. On the following day all the mills and works in the district were stopped, the workpeople striking as a protest. I then left the district for Moscow, not wishing to be made the centre of an anti-Soviet movement ; especially as the authorities were accusing the British and French representatives as being the cause of the many disturbances which were occurring all over the country, but which in reality were caused by their own reckless, unscrupulous, and utterly dishonest conduct.
My house, with all contents, horses, carriages, clothing, &c., were confiscated or "requisitioned" by the local Soviet. In addition all my holding in the firm, including shares and loan money, were taken over by the Central Government, and jewellery, plate and papers placed in the safe of the library at the Anglican Church, and furs stored in cold storage in Moscow were confiscated by the Moscow Tribunal.
Trade Conditions in Central Russia.
No statistics are available, but, roughly, the following can be taken as a fairly reliable estimate in October last :―
The metal trade was practically at a standstill, due to the shortage of fuel and raw materials, probably not more than 40 per cent. of the plant on all branches being in operation. Labour was thoroughly disorganized, owing to political and economic disturbances and shortage of food products which forced the workpeople to leave their occupations for long periods in search of food. The stocks of what little fuel, copper, lead, &c., that remained were ·being gradually exhausted, and no hope of recovery could be expected in the near future. Physically the metal trades entail a heavy strain on the workers, whose stamina was thoroughly exhausted by shortage of food.
Production was 50 per cent. of the normal and was gradually being reduced owing to shortage of flax (due to difficulties of transport) and fuel. Workpeople were starving and absenting themselves from their work searching for food.
Production was decreased 60 per cent. owing to shortage of wool and fuel. Similar conditions prevailed amongst the workpeople as elsewhere in Central Russia. During the course of the summer there was a stoppage of from one to three months of all the mills. The wool-producing districts, such as Simbirsk, Kazan, Saratoff, and Astrakhan were centres of great unrest, and no wool was to be obtained from these districts.
Production was decreased 60 per cent. below normal. This applies to all branches. Many mills were stopped altogether and the stocks of cotton from these mills have been requisitioned and distributed to certain groups of mills which have been nationalised by the Government. Probably 30 per cent. are stopped. Stoppages of all mills took place during the summer of from one to three months. At time of leaving another period of stoppage of one month for all mills had been proclaimed by the Government. Labour conditions, as in other trades, owing to economic and food troubles, were very unsettled. There was sufficient fuel to last six months. Stocks of cotton in Central Russia were roughly 1,500,000 poods ; the monthly requirements for all mills being 1,200,000 poods. These stocks would allow of another five weeks of work. In Central Asia it was estimated that there were the following stocks: 3,500,000 poods of the old 1916-1917 crops and 2,500,000 poods of the new 1917-1918 crops. On the Volga and on the Caspian Sea it was estimated that there was another 1,000,000 poods. These last stocks were, however, unavailable, as the districts mentioned were practically cut off from communication with Central Russia. This year, 1918, it is calculated that only 30 per cent. of the land in Central Asia is being sown with cotton.
In Central Russia the staple trades are manufacturing in all its branches woollen and silk. Of the raw material required during the period of the war 70 per cent. of the cotton has been obtained from Central Asia and Trans-Caucasia (Erivan, Kars, and Mugan districts), and 30 per cent. from abroad. Silk has also been obtained almost entirely from these districts with the exception of a small quantity from Japan. With the closing of these markets to Russia the textile industries will have entirely to close down, thus throwing out of work a great number of people. The Mohammedan populations in these districts are only too anxious to throw off the power of the Soviets, and would do so at once if they were sure of strong support on the part of the Allied Governments. Several risings have taken place in the territories of the Emir of Bokhara and the Khan of Khiva, who themselves are very anxious regarding the safety of their own thrones, as there is in their dominions a party who support the Bolsheviks.
The silk trade is practically dead. All supplies of silk from Italy, Japan, Central Asia, and the Caucasus being cut oft and the stocks of silk are now exhausted.
The paper trade has greatly decreased, probably the output of the mills being 60 per cent. of normal.
The Brown coal districts of Tula, Riazan, and Moscow are giving 60 per cent. of their full production, the shortage being caused by the absence of the workpeople. Strong attempts are being made by the Soviets to develop these districts since the Don Coalfields were cut off from Russia. The results so far have not been encouraging.
The working season as a rule is from May to July. The labourers employed are bodies of organised peat workers from the Riazan Government, supplemented during the war by German and Austrian prisoners. The work is heavy and requires great physical strength. The workers, not having sufficient food, could not produce their full complement of work. In addition many workpeople did not leave their villages fearing famine. In consequence production was only 60 per cent. of the normal. Great efforts have been made by the local authorities, especially in view of the fact that the stocks of coal and naphtha were exhausted, to increase the production of this class of fuel. The results were disappointing and gave no alleviation to the situation.
Tracts of forests were being cut down for the use of the railways and industries, especially power stations, but the shortage of labour and disorganisation of traffic prevented any serious results being attained. The shortage of fuel has caused the authorities to close the schools or to curtail the period of instruction.
The crops in 1918 have been in every case above the average, the Government estimate being 120 per cent. Much hitherto uncultivated land was brought under the plough owing to the very high prices prevailing for food products, the price for same fixed by the Government being 20 roubles per pood for flour, which, in private hands, was being sold at 350 to 400 roubles per pood. The price of meat was fixed at 40 roubles per pood but was being sold at 400 roubles per pood ; sugar was being sold at 25 roubles per pood. Under these conditions the peasantry were making much money, as, for instance, one dessetine of land produces on an average in Central Russia 200 poods of potatoes, the average price of which was 40 roubles per pood, thus giving 8,000 roubles per dessetine. As the average holding of the peasant is now 6 dessetines, the sum earned as an average would probably be from 40,000 to 50,000 roubles per year. These prices were inducing the peasant to cultivate land which formerly was lying fallow. This may even cause a real and permanent improvement in methods of cultivation of land hitherto worked in a most primitive manner, as the peasantry are now demanding and buying good agricultural implements.
The State of the Transport.
Transport both by rail and water was still disorganised, but, as the railways had their own separate organisations, which were more or less independent of the Central Soviet, matters were not as bad as in other branches of industry. There was a shortage of fuel, which consisted largely of timber and of lubricating oil, and there was still an enormous amount of railway stock lying unrepaired.
The tramway services in Moscow and Petrograd had been decreased to one-fourth of the normal service owing to want of fuel. Motor transport, however, was being utilised without restriction, especially by the members of the many Soviets and their various organisations. It was stated that the stock of petrol in Moscow in August was roughly 50,000 poods. The river service on the Volga was practically suspended during the summer owing to the river being in the war zone. This greatly encumbered the already overworked railways.
All lands, buildings, machinery, &c., were now nationalised, without any compensation being paid to the former owners. The result has been an utter deadlock, all private enterprise being killed. Money is being hidden to an enormous extent, the absence of which is being made good as quickly as ever possible by the Soviet's printing presses ; private printing establishments being taken over for this purpose. It is estimated that the quantity of paper currency in circulation is now over 30,000,000,000 roubles, roughly 100 times the present gold reserve. A great quantity of false money is also being printed and being brought into circulation, especially the 20 and 40 rouble note varieties. All private trading is being taken over by the Government and the stocks are being confiscated.
Gold articles over a certain weight are confiscated, with the result that same have disappeared, being hidden by the owners. The system of education has been ntirely altered. All religious instruction has been abolished, and in its place a form of State Socialistic instruction substituted. The peasantry now refuse to send their children to the State schools and they remain without education. Clothing, such as winter overcoats, belonging to private people are being confiscated for the benefit of the Red Army. No man is supposed to possess more than one suit of clothes, two changes of linen, or two pairs of boots ; anything above this is requisitioned for so-called State purposes. All furniture is nationalised.
Throughout the districts occupied or administered by the Soviet Government 90 per cent. of the population is against the administration, and probably not more than 5 per cent. actively support the same. This 5 per cent. consists of returned political refugees, mostly non-Russian in race, members of the many committees, commissariats, and Government's Departments, Red Army recruits, who are receiving high wages, and a certain number of fanatics, mostly young, of both sexes. The remaining 5 per cent. support the Soviets simply owing to the fact that they are dependent on them for a living. Also amongst these there are a certain number who are working for the purpose of getting acquainted with the organisations. This element could be depended upon to give valuable help in the event of a counter-revolution. Feeling is very bitter amongst all classes of the working population and peasantry, but these people are now so terrified, and, in the case of the town-bred working population, so weakened physically, as to preclude any possibility of a rising against the ruling power for the present. Regarding the form of Government which the people desired, the majority, especially amongst the peasantry, wish a monarchy. From carefully-noted inquiries of peasants and workpeople I found that 90 per cent were of this opinion.