An American sees the Soviet Union (2) By Julius Walstad


(Julius Walstad was the first official delegate to the Soviet Union to be elected by thousands of American farmers to join the delegation of ‘Friends of the Soviet Union’ to visit Soviet Union. He visited Soviet farming regions in the Fall of 1934, a year in which severe drought had occurred in both the USA and the USSR In this pamphlet he reported what he saw as an American Delegate while visiting the Collective Farms in an unscheduled manner how Soviet Agriculture was flourishing in socialism. This report is a testimonial of what Soviet socialism could achieve within 5 years of socialism and is a befitting reply to the canard spread by the imperialist-capitalist camp against Socialism and great Stalin. This report has been brought out by the AIKKMS in the form of a pamphlet. With their permission, the report is reproduced below in instalments as it would help our readers to be acquainted with the remarkable advancement of Soviet agriculture under Stalin’s leadership. The first instalment was published in Proletarian Era dated 15 July 2022. This is the second instalment)

The Church and Religion

Before leaving Moscow, I want to say something about churches in the USSR and about freedom of religion there. In Leningrad we attended services at a Greek Catholic church and in Moscow we went to three Roman Catholic churches. After a sermon in one of the Moscow churches the priest, Tschacowe, talked with the Canadian delegate in French. In answer to the question, ‘‘Does the Soviet government interfere in any way with the practice of religion’’? he replied: ‘‘You can see for yourself that we have free religion here’’. He also told us that he had been sent to his post as a missionary from France. Some of the churches had as many as eight priests.
Most of the people have, however, lost interest in the church; instead, they are busy building factories and improving agriculture so that all may live well. We asked many people why they had stopped going to church. They said that the priests had sided with the Tsar against the workers and farmers. In 1921, during the famine, people petitioned the church to use its great wealth and its gold to buy food for the hungry. But the priests answered that the gold belonged to God and that people asking for such things should be excommunicated. The church not only would not feed the starving, but took part in counter-revolutionary warfare against the workers and farmers.
Part 1, Chapter 1, Article IV of the Constitution of the RSFSR, which includes most of pre-revolutionary Russia, reads as follows: ‘‘For the purpose of assuring real liberty of conscience to the workers, the church is separated from the state and the school from the church; and the right of all citizens to practice freely any religious belief or to engage in anti-religious propaganda remains inviolate.’’
The constitutions of the other Soviet republics, federated into the USSR, have similar clauses guaranteeing freedom of conscience.

Planning our Tour

After the celebration, the 156 delegates to the anniversary from 14 foreign countries met to map out their tour. We wanted to cover the whole Soviet Union and decided that each group would go to a different section. The American and Canadian farm delegates decided to go to the Ukraine because it suffered a drought this year like our own western area. In the United States we had read that hundreds of thousands of people were starving in the Ukraine. We selected our own route and our own stopping places. In many places we took the farmers by surprise. There was no attempt to tell us where to go or to put on a show for us. One of the farms we visited had never before received a foreign delegation. We picked the farms hardest hit by the drought so that we could report the worst conditions. Before I describe the farms we visited, it is necessary to give. a picture of the whole farm problem. Russian agriculture before the revolution was almost as backward as in the Middle Ages.
Plenty of farmers used a wooden plough and had no horses or cows. The horseless farmers were forced to hire out to landlords and rich farmers, whom the Russians called kulaks. (Kulak means a fist in Russian.) There were almost no schools. Doctors were hundreds of miles apart, and when a baby was born, an old midwife was the only help a mother had. Very few men in the village might be able to read. One of those would become the ‘‘reader’’ and would read the notices of the authorities or write their letters for the peasants. Even in 1920 only 32% of the whole population of the country could read and write.
When the Revolution started, the peasants moved in on the big landowners. Most of these fled the country. Altogether, two hundred and fifty million acres of farm land held by the monasteries and the landlords were turned over for the use of the poor farmers. Today the law of the land provides that land is for the users of the land. It has been nationalized and cannot be bought or sold but any citizen without capital can find land or join a collective farm or work on a state farm (Soukhoz) if he wants to farm. A farmer is taxed only according to what he can produce in any given locality. In drought years or for any other natural causes of crop failure no taxes are levied. This is a sort of income tax based on what he can produce on a given area of land. They do not have to pay our charges of rent, mortgage interest, taxes, etc., etc. Only the Russian farmers have never heard of ‘‘evictions’’ or foreclosures. Land is for use, not for sale. It is really a natural resource and is treated that way.
For the first ten-twelve years after the Revolution Mr. Kulak had to be put up with. He was a shrewd customer and had gotten most of the bigger farm machinery in the community. He had always acted as straw boss for the Baron and the landlord, and he knew how to run and repair the old-fashioned thrashers and engines. At that time Russia was desperate. Food was scarce and there was an iron ring of armies around her borders trying to break down the new government. So Mr. Kulak was allowed to continue. About 7% in the village were of this type. And they hired poor farmers and did custom work as of old. As late as 1928, 27% of the farmers had no working cattle or farm implements and 47% had only ploughs. One-tenth of the spring field crops were still cultivated with the sokha or wooden plough, three-fourths of the area in these crops was sown by hand, one third was harvested with sickle and scythe, and 40% was thrashed by flail. The counter-revolutionary armies were defeated. The Soviet government won the recognition of the world. Then it began its own housecleaning. New agricultural methods, new tractors were brought in from the United States. But they were not given to the kulaks.
Producers’ cooperatives were formed by poor farmers. They are known there as ‘‘Collectives’’ or in Russian ‘‘Kolkhozes’’. Modern thrashing machines and finally combines began to buzz around the villages. Farmers no longer had to work for Mr. Kulak. They could borrow capital of their own and get farm equipment from the Soviet government. Every village hated the kulaks for almost every family had tasted the whip of the old order in the hands of some local kulak. From then on Mr. Kulak rapidly lost out.
Today 90 per cent of the sown area of the Soviet Union is handled by collective and state farms. All thrashing is done by machine. From 1928 to 1932 tractors increased from 26,700 to 148,500. Soviet tractor plants produced 78,300 tractors in 1933 and approximately 92,500 in 1934. At the end of 1932, the close of the first Five-Year Plan, the national inventory of agricultural equipment and machinery had increased 57.9% over 1928.
During the last few years there has been a great rush of farmers to join collectives; they saw their increased production, the shorter working hours, the cultural advantages of group life, schools and theatres and better houses which these collectives were able to build. Collectivization made it much easier to eliminate illiteracy. In 1931- 1932 three million farmers studied in rural schools for this purpose, and from 1919 to 1934 45,000,000 people have learned to read and write. By 1933 90% of the people could read and write.
Beginning January 1, 1935, an important step has been taken. Bread cards will no longer be required from buyers. During times of shortage the bread card system was developed in order to see that everyone got his share but no more. Now that there is no longer any shortage at all, the bread card has been done away with. This is a sign of the success of the collective farms.
(To be continued)

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