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The Great Famine | Primary Source

Russians Plead for Famine Relief

Patriarch Tikhon Asks the English Archbishops to Send Food and Medicine.

Lenin Orders More Strenuous Food Levies -- Germans Cold to Calls for Help.
New York Times, July 19, 1921

BERLIN, July 18 -- Russia is entering on the worst famine within memory and one not exaggerated, according to an increasing volume of news as well as confirmatory private advices from Russia. Ominously the official organ Izvestia of Moscow, under the headline, 'Bad Grain Crop in the Volga Region,' writes:

"A bad harvest now is exceptionally hard on us because the country is so run down after the long war." The official Soviet organ tries to pluck up courage and adds:

"But we believe we shall have strength to survive this hard time. The solidarity of the working classes will come to the help of the population which will suffer hunger."

Concluding, Izvestia proffers the following rhetorical remedy for famine:

"We must organize a firm front against all the difficulties of our present situation. If the revolutionary spirit is alive in us we shall have strength to survive this last misfortune."

The alarmed state of mind of the Bolshevist chieftains is exemplified by the flock of world wide wireless propaganda appeals suffered to be sent from Moscow painting the situation in darkest colors. Apparently no longer is it Bolshevist tactics to bluff, pretending everything is fine.

In addition to Maxim Gorky's appeal in the name of dead Russian authors to Gerhardt Hauptmann, Anatole France and Blasco Ibanez, this frantic wireless appeal has been sent by the head of the Orthodox Russian Church, the Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow, to the Archbishops of York and Canterbury.

"Fearful famine in Russia. Greatest part must die of hunger. In those regions which ordinarily produce most breadstuffs, all grain now annihilated by drought. Epidemics following in wake of famine. Immediate help large scale imperative. Populace deserting fields and houses and running eastward, crying 'Break!' Send immediately bread and medicines."

In comic contrast to the spectre of famine is a news item that Petrograd workers and soldiers and students are receiving free tickets to Summer theatres and gardens. Also that a Red Art Congress meeting in Moscow is hatching projects for monuments for the revolution's dead, likewise symbolic monuments of peace and work.

Further monuments are for the Paris commune to Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, and a memorial medallion for the Russian revolution. Also that clothing workers are organizing a technical institute of garment making, with a special model factory for practical laboratory work in making clothing.

Lenin Orders Food Levies.

Lenin personally is making what appears to be puny efforts to cope with the crop failure and famine problem. In a circular letter addressed to the Soviets of the several governmental departments Lenin discusses Soviet Russia's difficult food position and enunciates that doctrine that "the sole condition of success is effectively to get the grain and food levies or taxes in natura."

Lenin urges the local Soviets to strengthen organizations for gathering in these levies by appointing the local heads or trade associations of them, and, further, to employ all means to increase the authority of these food levy and gathering organizations.

Indirectly, too, hunger is helping to break down the rigid barriers of the Soviet system. The new "freedom of collective barter" is being eagerly embraced with such astonishingly good results that its extension seems inevitable.

According to a relatively recent Soviet decree, factories and plants may keep part of their production for trading purposes. They may barter this part for whatever other commodities their workers need. Good thus obtained in barter by factories are divided among the workers.

According to the Soviet publication, Economic Life, this system of permitted barter has visibly increased the efficiency of the workers, resulting in increased production, for the more they work the more bartered goods they individually receive in the distribution. Many factories have adopted collective bartering and co-operative feeding. Increase of efficiency is reported in the industries by many governmental departments. In some cases there is 1,000 per cent. increase in working efficiency under the new system.

A typical illustration: The Association of Engine and Machinery Works, "Gomsa," swaps its machine products, particularly agricultural machinery, with the Central Co-operative Society for the latter's food. The barter contract calls for 200,000 gold rubles worth of machinery in return for 100 carloads of grain, 1,000 poods of fat, meat, vegetables and other commodities to the value of 200,000 gold rubles.

It is interesting to note here how money, and the gold ruble at that, figures in this Soviet-sanctioned barter agreement.

The Central Co-operatives also are swapping food with the All-Russian Economic Union for the latter's saws, planes, tools, kitchen utensils and farm implements.

Steps Away from Communism.

While individual factories in Russia are engaging in a new barter system, the tendency is for a number of plants in the same or allied industries to get together. Thus the economic section of the metal workers' union in Moscow reports that several electrical and metal manufacturing plants in Moscow are pooling the workers' wages as represented by that portion of production which the factories may retain for barter, using this pooled production for bigger bartering operations than the individual factories could pull off alone.

The same economic section is instituting a studious investigation to determine just what is the food minimum of existence for able-bodied workers and also for officials before war and what it is today.

Many old guard Bolsheviki and communist irreconcilables are aroused over the permitted introduction of the barter system. They fear only one small step back to the "capitalistic system."

Another new decree aimed to increase production marks another backward step from theoretical Bolshevism. This decree permits "economic equipment," to wit, factories, plants, workshops, tools, &c., to be "loaned" to co-operatives, to associations and even to private citizens. Even municipal plants can be thus "loaned" to individuals for operation. Those to whom "economic equipment" is loaned have the right to take orders and also personally to tell the output in a free market. Only the Soviet Republic's laws regarding labor remain in force in connection with such "loaned" plans.

According to official Bolshevist figures, imports from July 1 to 15 totaled approximately 900,000 poods, whereof 37 per cent. was metal manufacturers, 30 per cent. foodstuffs, 9 per cent. chemicals, 9 per cent. textiles, 8 per cent. shoes. The Petrograd foreign trade section is rounding up large shipments of wood for England. Germany at the same time is negotiating with foreigners for foresting and wood-cutting machinery.

German, Finnish and English business men are reported in Soviet Russia seeking concessions. A Norwegian delegation wants a big paper factory concession. Visiting English ship owners are reported to have expressed surprise that the Petrograd port is in such good order.

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