Russia. No. 1 (1919). - 57. Interviews with Returned British Subjects.

No. 57.

Interviews with Returned British Subjects.

MR. A—— left Petrograd in November. He stated that production was practically at a standstill, and in the most favourable cases has decreased 50 per cent. The factories are run by Committees. A Committee composed of Mensheviks produces a fair amount of work, but a Committee of Bolsheviks gives a wholly unsatisfactory output. The Committees were formerly elective, but the Bolsheviks now co-opt their own members without consulting the workpeople, and members who do not agree with the Bolsheviks are voted off. The Committees are in fact entirely political, and there is a great increase of bureaucracy.

Discipline is bad, and the men are frequently one or one and a half hours' late. The responsible members of the Committee do not understand the needs of the mill, and the Bolsheviks object to paying technical men.

In May 1918 an attempt of the Committee to form their own organisation was rigorously suppressed.


Mr. B——, wo has lived in Russia all his life, left Moscow on the 8th February and was interviewed at the Foreign Office on his arrival, and supplied the following, information :-

Food Conditions.

The food conditions are getting worse and worse every day, and it is now practically impossible to obtain enough to eat. People are dying of starvation everywhere A few months ago it was possible for the townspeople to buy food from the peasants down in the villages, but they are unable to do this now, as the peasants will not take money for any food that they may have to sell. Everything is done by exchange. Money is no use to the peasants, but clothes and instruments are valuable, so the exchange system is used everywhere.

The following are the most recent prices of food :-

Moscow- Roubles.
1 lb. of bread 16
1 “ potatoes 6
1 “ butter 100-120
1 “ lard 85-90
1 “ oil (used instead of butter) 45-55
1 pint of milk 12
1 lb. of meat . 30-35
1 1 “ of pork . . 65-75
1 “ of horse meat 15-17
1 “ of dog’s meat 5-7
1 cat is sold for 6

There are three food categories in Moscow now instead of four, but even the "category" people cannot get all the food they are entitled to receive. Certainly the 1st category ought to receive ½-lb. bread a day , the 2nd, 3/8-lb., and the 3rd, 1/8-lb. ; also about ½-lb. to 1 lb. of fish a month, which was usually not fit for consumption ; 1 ¼ to 1½-lb. of oil a month (butter substitute) ; and about ½-lb. soap a month. The above is all that could be obtained even by category people. No fats of any description were obtainable. Mr. B—— himself sold a lb. of soap for 35 roubles.

In spite of the appalling conditions prevailing everywhere, the Kremlin is well supplied with all kinds of food. A servant of the house where Mr. B—— stayed had a brother in the Kremlin, and he told her that there was an abundance of ham, white bread, butter, sausages, &c.


Typhus is rampant everywhere, and is getting worse every day. There is also a lot of typhoid fever about ; but, worse than this, glanders is now spreading among the people. The Bolsheviks are afraid of this terrible disease spreading far and wide so they simply shoot any person suffering from this complaint. There are no medicines there by which they can attempt to cure the people, and there is of course a great shortage of doctors. Mr. B—— thinks that there are more cases of glanders in Moscow than anywhere else.

Fuel Shortage.

The people are suffering intensely from the cold as there is practically no wood available. Only 3 ½ feet of wood is allowed a month for one flat, and even this the people have to fetch themselves from the railway stations. The price of wood in the Nijni Novgorod is 200 roubles a fathom (official price) ; if bought from outside in the markets, &c.) it is about 500 roubles. The average heat of a room is only 43° to 45° Fahrenheit. The fuel question is much worse in Petrograd than it is in Moscow. The reason for this is that most of the Petrograd houses have central heating, and when the pipes get out of order (as they invariably do) there is no possibility of ever having them mended.

Factories and Workmen.

All the workmen are anti-Bolshevik in reality, though many of them have to work under the Bolsheviks in order to live. Mr. B—— gave 5 to 10 per cent. as his estimate of the mumber of Bolsheviks out of the whole population of Russia.

The Bolsheviks pay the workmen very well, but as the cost of living has increased so tremendously their wages are not nearly high enough to enable them to live comfortably, even were the food obtainable. Roughly speaking, the workmen get fifteen to twenty times as much as they used to, and the cost of living has gone up to anything between 300 and 1000 times as much as it was before the Revolution.

The Bolsheviks employ very high-handed methods with the factories. If the workmen strike, the factory is closed, the leaders are generally arrested, and sometimes they are even shot. At the Sokolnitski works (repairing trams, &c.) in Moscow, the workmen went on strike because the Bolsheviks said they were not turning out the proper amount of work. As a result of this the factory was simply closed down and the following notice was put in the paper : "In consequence of the falling off of production in the Sokolnitski works, it was closed down by order of the Government." All this proves that the Workmen's Committees have no real power, as the Bolsheviks just do what they like without even consulting the Committees.

At S——, where Mr. B—― was working, the Bolsheviks wanted to inaugurate a demonstration on the 25th October, 1918. In order to get the men to attend the demonstration meeting the Bolsheviks promised a free dinner to all who went, and looked upon those who refused as saboteurs. This, in the end, practically amounted to forcing the men to join the demonstration.

There are not many factories working in Russia now, most of them have had to close down on account of the fuel shortage. The few factories that remain only work about three days a week, but the workmen are paid full wages. Often a factory has to be closed for weeks at a time, owing to lack of fuel and raw material ; during this time the workmen are paid half wages.

Political Questions.

The people have no interest at all in politics, the only topic of conversation being food. Everyone would welcome Allied intervention ; in fact, anything would be preferable to the Bolshevik régime. Mr. B——does not think that many troops would be required, as the Red Army is of small account, and directly they got there it would go to pieces. In fact, the only reason why the officers stay in the army is because the Bolsheviks threaten to shoot their wives, mothers, or sisters if they desert. Mr. B——has spoken to officers, the addresses of whose families had been taken down by the Bolsheviks for this reason.

In Moscow the Menshevik paper, " Vperyod," was allowed to reappear for a few days, but it was soon suppressed. It then appeared later under the name of "Vsegda Vperyod" ("Always Forward"). The "Izvestiya" still attacks the Mensheviks, in spite of the so-called agreement which the Bolsheviks have made so much use of for propaganda abroad.

General Conditions.

To take a cab to the station costs 120 roubles, and even at this price it is very difficult to obtain a cab at all.

The "terror" is not so bad as it used to be, but this is merely because the people's spirit is quite broken, and they do not dare to offer opposition.


Students of the high schools do not pay any fees, and any boy or girl of 16 years of age is allowed to enter the universities without showing any certificates, so that if a boy is unable to read or write he can still go to the university. This offer of education does not appeal to the working-class very much, and it is mostly the intelligentsia who take advantage of this opportunity.

In spite of the Bolsheviks' so-called efforts to promote education, nothing is being accomplished, and things are going from bad to worse. They have instituted workmen's clubs where the workmen can go and listen to lectures, &c., but the only reason why any men attend is because a cup of tea and a slice of bread is usually supplied sometime during the lecture. In the same way, the only reason why children go to school is to get the breakfast that is given there.

Journey to England.

Mr. B—— came to England with twelve other Englishmen, and they had to go through same very trying ordeals before getting out of Russia. They were packed in two cattle trucks, and it took them sixty-eight hours instead of twelve to get from Moscow to Petrograd. They had to do their own stoking and find their own fuel, &c., and they also had to feed the engine driver.

During the journey one Bolshevik women told Mr. B ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ that all the railway men ought to be shot as they were hostile to the Bolsheviks.

Between the big stations only two trains run a day : one in the morning and one at night. The whole question of transport is exceedingly bad


Mr. C——, formerly with T—— and Co., and then with Moscow branch of Anglo-Russian Commission, left Russia on the 21st January.

Factories and Workmen.

All factories nationalised ; only about half of them working. Men all anti-Bolshevik. Very discontented with conditions of life, and with the working of the factories. Conditions getting worse and worse every day. Great many of the men have gone to the country, as it is practically impossible to live in the towns.

Mr. C——, after leaving Anglo-Russian Commission, went to the factory where he used to work to seek employment, but the factory had been nationalised and they refused to employ him, saying he was a counter-revolutionary (because an Englishman).

At one time Mr. C—— lived near cotton mill belonging to L——. All the workmen there are against the Bolsheviks and very discontented, but they have to go on working for the Bolsheviks in order to live. Factory works about three days a week on a 6-hour day. Often have to stop work for a week or two because there is no fuel or no cotton left ; have to wait until new supply comes in. Very often about ten factories combine and work under a common directorship ; this is done in order that one factory may exchange with another whatever is wanted. If one of these factories is closed down, the village members of the other factories are discharged, and the men from the old factory employed in their places.

In Petrograd more attempts to strike than in Moscow ; this is because in Moscow the workmen are more under the power of the Government, and they do not dare to strike. Even if they did there is nothing to gain by it, for the Government would simply stop their wages, discharge a good many, and probably cancel their bread cards.


In Moscow all shops are closed, with the exception of Soviet shops, All hotels taken up long ago by Red Guard detachments, &c. Nothing can be purchased from the shops without a ticket or order, and this ticket can only be obtained by a Soviet worker, and even he has to go from one place to another before the ticket is legal. First he has to get a ticket from his factory, then he has to go to his trade union, and so on, before he is entitled to buy anything. An ordinary man is unable to purchase anything.

Fur coats, which had been requisitioned by the Soviet, were sold at the Soviet shops for, say, two, three or four hundred roubles. The next day the same fur coats were sold down in the thieves' market far about 7,000 roubles.

Mr. C—— sold a very old suit (privately, as public selling is forbidden), for which he got 600 roubles.

Services are not held in the church because there is no fuel to heat the building. As there are only a few people left to attend services, the priest holds them in his own house.

When Red Guards are sent from Moscow to the front there is often a row at the station, and guns are taken from them. When they eventually arrive at front, often only half of original number present, the rest having escaped. The Red Guards are quite content to receive good pay, &c., but they are not anxious to fight.

Theatres still running very well. Actors are greatly privileged, being placed in first category, &c.

Bookshops distribute literature free in the villages, and in Moscow it is sold very cheap. No tickets required for books.

Between 50 and 100 Englishmen left in Moscow.


Mr. D——,who has been in Russia for three or four years, left Moscow on the 21st January.

Mr. D—— was giving private lessons all the time he was in Russia, but during the last month or so he went as a teacher of French to one of the lower grade schools in Moscow. The reason for this was that he found it practically impossible to live on the fourth category, and by going to a school he was transferred to the third category.

Discipline in the school very bad indeed. The only reason why children or teachers went to school at all was in order to get the food supplied there.

Food Conditions were very bad indeed. No provision shops open in Moscow. The people are all anti-Bolshevik at heart, but they have to work for the Bolsheviks in order to live.

Typhus is rampant, and many people are suffering from skin diseases (Mr. D—— himself experienced this) caused from the want of fats.

Only a few trams and trains running, and the former often have to stop for a day or two on account of disputes and strikes.

The fuel question is very serious, and it is becoming more and more acute every day. Some friends of Mr. D—— had no means of cooking the little food they had, as they had no benzine, no kerosene, and no wood. People often have to cut up chairs, tables, &c., for firewood.

Moscow is a dead city. Very few trams running, many shops boarded up, all shop-signs removed.The whole place looks deserted.The houses are all in bad condition, &c. But,in Mr. D——'s opinion, the streets of Moscow are much safer now than they were a year ago. There is no street robbery, and the only danger now is being arrested in the street.

Mr. D—— thinks there are still about sixty or seventy English people left In Moscow.

Bolshevik literature impresses the people to some extent, but they don't want to believe it.

The people are waiting and hoping for some sort of intervention from England. The present position is intolerable, and practically anything would be preferable to the Bolshevik rule.


Mr. E——, secretary of a bank, left Russia on the 24th January. He was interviewed at the Foreign Office on the 21st February, and supplied the following information :—

Economic Conditions.

It is impossible to live in Petrograd, as the prices are outrageous. There are only two categories now, the 1st and 2nd. The 1st category consists of people working in the different Bolshevik works and organisations ; physical workers, their wives, and their children (up to 12 years of age). The 2nd category consists of all those who either support themselves by their own labour (either mental or physical), and do not live by interest on accrued capital, or who do not use the fruits of other people's labour. The Red Guards are always considered first, and practically form a category of their own, which is higher than either the 1st of 2nd. Officially the 1st category ought to receive 1lb. of bread a day, and the 2nd ¼-lb., but in reality the amount varies from day to day, according to the supplies. The 3rd and 4th categories have been done away with altogether ; consequently, there are a great many people who are in no category at all. The Bolsheviks published statistics showing that the 4th category was not necessary, as there were so few members. This proves that the 4th category people have either been exterminated or have been forced to work under the Bolsheviks in order to live. Three months ago, a decree was issued saying that all those about to enter the 1st category must produce a certificate from their trade organisation. As a result of this decree, practically all the men joined a trade organisation, and, as every trade organisation is controlled by the Bolsheviks, the Bolsheviks in this way got more men under their power.

The "category" people can only go to municipal shops (as a matter of fact, all other shops are closed). The latest prices of goods in Petrograd were: bread 1 r. 50 c. a lb. at a municipal shop, but 20 roubles a lb. if bought outside (from Red Guards, sackmen, &c.) ; butter 75 roubles a lb. if bought outside—no fats of any description sold at municipal shops ; sugar, which was only available about once a month, 1 r. 50 c. a lb. at municipal shops, and otherwise 80 roubles. Meat was sometimes obtainable at the market ; as a matter of fact, it was supposed to be sold by card system, but it was generally sold in an underhand manner at the market. Beef 23 roubles a lb. ; veal 26 roubles ; pork 45 roubles. Meat was also obtainable from the sackmen. The Bolsheviks try to stop these sackmen, who go from house to house selling food.

The category people do not get their supplies regularly, or the full amount they are entitled to. The Supply Committee publishes in the paper from day to day what food is available, and what each category is allotted.

Financial Situation.

It is very difficult to draw any large amount of money out of a bank. The Bolsheviks allow 1,000 roubles a month to be taken out from an account, but even this has become more difficult lately, as they have just issued a decree that a man must get either his House Committee or some other Bolshevik organisation to state that he is really in need of money. But by means of bribery, men draw out hundreds of thousands of roubles. All the banks have been nationalised, and now they are centralised. A decree was published a little while ago saying that, if a man had an account in three or four banks, he must choose one bank, and put all his money into that. If this decree was not obeyed, the Bolsheviks simply took all his money away. By this means the Bolsheviks can tell exactly how much money each man has.

If a new account was opened on the 1st January, 1918, the depositor was allowed, in principle, to draw out his money freely ; but in practice this was not so. When the banks were nationalised new money could be taken out as desired (again only in principle). But when, about six weeks ago, the new decree about centralising all accounts was published, the position of affairs was altered. For example, if a man had 5,000 roubles in his new account, and 100,000 roubles in his old account, he could transfer his old account to his new account, so making 105,000 roubles in all. But, according to this decree, he was only allowed to draw to the amount of 5,000 roubles, as the old account was considered "barred." For transferring an account from one bank to another the commissars charged 25 per cent.


There are frequent strikes in factories, which often have to be put down by force. About six weeks ago there was a strike in the Putilof works. Trotski in a speech made a definite threat to use force if the men did not go back. As a result of this the strike was settled with only a few arrests taking place.

About two months ago there was an election for the Workmen's Committee in the Putilof Works, and this resulted in a majority for the Social Revolutionaries. The Bolsheviks would not consent to this, and there had to be another election. This shows that, in spite of the Workmen's Committees, the Bolsheviks are really in control. If the workmen get too independent, the Government simply closes the factory down ; and if the Committee is troublesome the same thing happens, unless a new Committee is appointed. All members of the Committee have to be Communists, or in sympathy with the Communists. Often a factory has to close down for lack of fuel or certain machinery, but the men who are thus thrown out of work are given an unemployment allowance.

House Committees.

Mr. E—— was a member of his House Committee in order to get put into the second category. The chief duties of the House Committee are to see that the different decrees of the Bolsheviks are carried out. If these are not carried out the Committee is held responsible, and is either fined or imprisoned. The Committee is forced to buy one newspaper a day in order to follow the decrees, as the Bolsheviks only publish their decrees in the newspaper. By this means practically everyone has to read the papers, and as only Bolshevik papers are allowed to be published their propaganda is seen by everyone.

General Conditions.

All the streets are deserted, and there is no life at all. The Nevski is practically empty, and most of the shops are shut. But perfect order reigns in the streets ; there is no looting or robbery.

There are hardly any executions now. This is due to the fact that the people's spirit has been broken, and that they now offer no opposition.

All restaurants are closed, with the exception of municipal restaurants and cafés. In an ordinary café a cup of tea, without milk or sugar, costs 1 rouble, and coffee, 3 r. 50 c.

Services still continue to be held in the churches, and on the whole they are well attended. The congregation is chiefly composed of women, but on the Russian New Year's Eve there were many men there. The priests, who used to be in the fourth category, are now in no category at all.


In Mr. E—— 's opinion Allied intervention would be very welcome. He thinks 50,000 troops would be ample, and that the Bolsheviks would not be able to rouse any opposition against us. In fact, the Red Guard officers would be among the first to join our ranks. Everybody is hoping and praying that the Allies will intervene, and they would be welcomed with open arms everywhere.


Russians crossing the border from Russia into Finland are now, in the majority of cases, sent back to Russia again, unless they have some very strong influence in Finland itself.


Mr. F——, who has returned from Vladimir, states that he had his factory going right up to the day of his departure from M—— on the 6th February.

Before the revolution the output was :—

1,100 poods (roughly 400 cwt.) yarn daily.

800 pieces cloth.

The latest figures were for January 1919 :—

550 poods (roughly 200 cwt.) yarn daily.

500 pieces cloth.

Out of 6,500 workmen there were not 200 convinced Bolsheviks. The majority were kept in order by pure terrorism,of which there were many examples within a radius of 40 versts of M——. When peasants refused to supply grain and cattle, and rose to protect their property, a Bolshevik force soon appeared in the neighbourhood, and if any resistance was offered, the whole village was wiped out. Usually, the peasants gave in at the first shot, a number of ringleaders would then be shot on the spot, and a number would be taken off to Moscow to prison.


Typhus is rapidly spreading in the country and the capitals. The average number of cases taken off trains arriving at the Kasan station, Moscow, is twenty per train. At the Kursk Station in Moscow, typhus cases lie about the waiting halls. The hospitals are so full that patients are left in the corridor.

Sanitary Conditions.

In places where people congregate, such as railway stations, market places, &c., the sanitary conditions are terrible. With the thawing of the snow the epidemic which has reached enormous proportions during the winter frosts, will naturally increase in violence.


The Kazan railway runs one passenger train each way to Kazan. This railway used to bring 40 per cent. of the food into Moscow. It now runs an average of three goods trains each way per day.

Red Army.

No one wants to join the Red Army now except the worst elements of the people. If a conscript deserts in the town where he joins, his parents or wife are treated with extreme brutality, sometimes being shot. But desertion often takes place while troops are going to the "front." Under these latter circumstances, the Bolsheviks are unable to trace their relations, so they are not touched.

Mr. F—— considers one of the inducements to fight is that, if the Red Army breaks through the enemy it usually finds large stores of food.