A look at collective Saturday, Subbotnik, work in the Soviet countryside before the N.E.P. by one who would be among its earliest advocates. At this point in his revolutionary career, veteran Bolshevik Lev Sosnovsky was editor of the Party’s newspaper for peasants, The Poor, and spent much of his time traveling to villages explaining Party policy as a head of the Presidium of All-Russian Central Executive Committee’s Agitprop Department.
‘Saturdayings in the Villages’ by Lev Sosnovsky from Soviet Russian (New York). Vol. 3 No. 6. August 7, 1920.
THE importance of the saturdayings as a means of training the proletarians in the direction of communism is at present generally recognized. And their importance as a school in the organization of collective mass labor is not disputed, though not appraised at its full value.
More important from this standpoint is the use of saturdayings in the villages, among the politically and culturally backward peasants, where, the individualistic, private property conceptions are particularly strong, offering great resistance to the new — communistic — conceptions.
Unfortunately, there is no record of the saturdayings in the villages. The party organizations do not give the saturdayings the serious attention which they merit. They are still looked upon as demonstrations. And who would bother to keep a record or make a study of demonstrations?
We are therefore forced to make use of accidental data. On looking over a few dozen provincial Soviet newspapers, I got the impression that the idea of the saturdayings has gotten quite a firm foothold in the villages. From the Archangel forests to the steppes of the Turgay region and the Yenisseisk province, not to mention the central provinces, — everywhere the saturdayings are mentioned. As a general rule, the village saturdayings are not directed by the city, but are organized by the peasants themselves, according to their own plans.
The only part in which the directing arm of the capital is still shown, is the tilling of the Red soldiers’ fields, through the saturdayings. And even this is rather a compromise. The tilling of the soldiers’ fields is obligatory, according to the decrees. And in this way the burden is placed upon the volunteer participants of the saturdayings, that is, first of all, on the communists and the sympathizing poor peasants. At any rate, the spread of the saturdayings has greatly advanced the work of aid to the soldiers’ families. All re- ports mention not only the tilling of fields, but also the repairing of houses and implements.
Particularly noteworthy in the list of saturdaying works is the service for schools. Repairs on school buildings, cleaning, the storing of wood for the winter, the ploughing of the school garden — such is an incomplete list of the various tasks. A remarkable feature of the saturdayings is the participation of the teachers, who are sometimes even the initiators of the saturdayings. This was not the case before.
But, most of all, the saturdayings are devoted to the improvement of the unattractive surroundings. Here is a brief summary of the work for the First of May and for the week of the labor front only for one volost (Lenin volost, of Koliazin County — province of Tver).
“During the week for the labor front and the First of May saturdayings, 130 bridges were put up in the volost, whose total length is 1,050 feet, and in addition the Votrin bridge of 175 feet.
“Ditches were dug for approximately fifteen versts, an average of about 1/14 verst for each village.
“Roads were repaired for over thirty versts, an average of a little over two versts for each village.
“This does not include the smaller scale work — the loading of wood on twenty-three carts, public tilling, etc.”
The Cheliabinsk newspaper Sovietskaya Pravda, contains a summary of the work for the labor front week for a whole county. In forty-two volosts (townships) of Kurgan county, 35,262 men and 27,441 horses participated in the work during the week.
Repaired: seventy-three mills, twenty-six schools, 364 soldiers’ houses, (201 storage places, fourteen oil mills, 183 bridges, twenty-two dams, 914 carts, 684 ploughs, 1,029 harrows; made — 102 axes, 145 axles.
Mended: 1,954 pairs of boots, 1,035 pairs of shoes, 1,613 harnesses, 1,274 cart-seats.
Cleaned: 7,940 yards, 382 streets, and moved out 44,489 wagon loads of garbage.
Chopped 7,945 feet of wood and moved 6,055 feet; ground 13,450 poods of grain, and loaded and sent away 12,000 poods; brought in 8,000 pieces of timber; moved out 30,000 wagon-loads of straw, hay, ice, pulp and brush-wood.
The newspaper adds that similar work, though not so well recorded, was performed also in other counties of the province.
Let the reader ponder on these figures, this varied work, and chiefly on the expedient selection of the work. This list shows, firstly, what diverse wants have accumulated in the villages for the last few years. Only great collective effort can save the villages from this situation.
Starting with the above mentioned work on bridges, mills, schools, oil-mills, storage places, roads, etc., the peasants will be led by experience to the socialization of the basic economic process — the exploitation of the soil.
The total figures are very considerable. This will be admitted by everybody who has been in touch with the Russian peasants during the last (after-war) years.
And this for but one week!
Let there be more such weeks, properly organized, directed by the party, and linked with a sensible propaganda of communism. No agitation — by speech or press — could compare in results with this agitation by actual creative work.
Try, for instance, to keep step with the agitation of the Red soldiers of the Fifth Army, who, in undeveloped Siberia, beyond Krasnoyarsk, effected in one day — the First of May — the electrification of the village of Sukhobuzimskoye.
The communist unit of the Fifth Army initiated his idea, formulated a detailed plan of work and executed it in military fashion.
On April 29 a motor, dynamo, tools, and a group to prepare poles were sent ahead from the city. On the next day a detachment of Red soldiers departed with music. On the morning of the First of May the detachment, at a given signal, took up their places in the village and started to work. They erected poles, put up wires, attended to the interior wiring, and mounted the motor and dynamo.
During this time the educational unit and the agitators were holding several meetings in the neighboring villages.
At six o’clock in the afternoon the work was completed. A special commission examined the work and saw that everything was in proper order. In the evening, at the conclusion of a meeting where the significance of collective labor was explained to the peasants, the light was turned on. Later in the evening a play was staged for the peasants in the clubhouse, which was illuminated by electric light. Altogether, light was provided for eighty houses, for the school, the headquarters of the Revolutionary Committee and for the clubhouse.
On the next day two addresses of appreciation were presented to the Red soldiers in the name of the peasants.
Such is the result of one day of volunteer collective labor. The electrification of the village of Sukhobuzimskoye is a miniature anticipation of the bright future which awaits the country after we shall have overcome the main obstacles on our road.
In order to overcome these difficulties, it is necessary to attract the peasants to the common work, to awaken them to a conscious attitude to- ward the general work of reconstruction, to arouse the villages to volunteer collective labor, preparatory to the coming universal obligatory service — and the saturdayings in the villages are of great value for this purpose.
The saturdayings departments attached to the committees of the Russian Communist Party must become efficient, practical organs, must be in touch with the committees on labor service and must give particular attention to the development of volunteer labor in the villages.
This is one of the methods through which communism will make its way into the villages. — Pravda, June 6, 1920.
Soviet Russia began in the summer of 1919, published by the Bureau of Information of Soviet Russia and replaced The Weekly Bulletin of the Bureau of Information of Soviet Russia. In lieu of an Embassy the Russian Soviet Government Bureau was the official voice of the Soviets in the US. Soviet Russia was published as the official organ of the RSGB until February 1922 when Soviet Russia became to the official organ of The Friends of Soviet Russia, becoming Soviet Russia Pictorial in 1923. There is no better US-published source for information on the Soviet state at this time, and includes official statements, articles by prominent Bolsheviks, data on the Soviet economy, weekly reports on the wars for survival the Soviets were engaged in, as well as efforts to in the US to lift the blockade and begin trade with the emerging Soviet Union.
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