1927 - Don peasant Ivan Khomich's complaint

Letter from peasant or Cossack Ivan Khomich from the Azov region, Don okrug to the local newspaper, Krasnoe Priazov'e. Copied and forwarded to V M Molotov from Rostov-on-Don 22 February 1927.

Translator's notes: 1. The letter reproduced here, from a peasant or Cossack in the Don area to his local newspaper, is of interest in several respects. Firstly, it illustrates certain aspects of Russian peasant mentality at that time, such as mistrust of the urban world and the local authorities, and an egalitarian conception of justice. Secondly, it provides an insight into the economic conditions then obtaining in the Soviet countryside, and the way the peasants perceived the terms of trade they faced under the New Economic Policy. Thirdly, the fate of the letter itself is interesting. There is no indication of whether it was ever published (although this would seem unlikely), but the letter was copied, sent to the local party committee, which in turn forwarded it to V M Molotov, then secretary of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee and a member of its Organisation Bureau. This illustrates the seriousness with which the authorities took manifestations of dissent or dissatisfaction. The letter eventually found its way to the Central Party Archive of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism in Moscow (now known as RGASPI), and was published in 2001 (see below). Although we know the fate of the letter, the fate of its author remains obscure.
2. One arshin = approx 71 centimetres or 28 inches. One pud = 16.38 kilograms or 36 lb. - FK.


Krasnoe Priazov'e, read what I have written. It is impossible for the peasants to live in the Soviet republic, especially the poor and middle peasants. We are sucked dry by the working class, and when some worker or other comes here from the town, he just speaks fine-sounding drivel.

Firstly, we are being diddled with kilos. Secondly, you are charging three times as much for manufactures, but wheat is 15% cheaper, and an arshin of cloth cost 15 or 16 kopeks for the best sort and now a metre costs 70 kopeks, that is two metres costs 1 ruble 40 kopeks. And under Bloody Nicholas two metres or three arshins cost 45 kopeks, you can imagine how much better peasants used to live. What's more, you are a bunch of liars, you would do better to shut up. You said everybody would get 10 years' schooling and now you have put off general education until 1933. You are swindlers and exploiters of our labour. You take our foodstuffs for next to nothing, and charge three times as much for any old rubbish. For example, a reel of cotton is 15 kopeks, and under Bloody Nicholas it was 6 kopeks, so that is three times the price, you will have the skin off our backs, but that's your will and you have the power. We have no power here, there's just the 10% that you pay 250 rubles per month so that they look to you and not to us. Take 250, you'll have to pay 70 kopeks a metre for what used to be just 16 kopeks, it's your fiefdom, you little Tsars.

  Under Bloody Nicholas Under Soviet power
Wheat 1r 40k 95k
Sugar per pound 16k 33k
Arshin of cloth 1r 50k 7r
Pud of salt 40k 1r
Pound of sultanas 12k 40k
Boots 8-9r 25r
Jacket 4r 15r
Hat 1r 20k 4r
Cap 1r 20k 3r
Total 18r 98k 56r 68k

You are running the economy at the expense of the peasant. The peasant is naked and barefoot and even hungry, while workers eat eggs, butter, meat and chicken. If a metre cost 20 kopeks or an arshin 16, then we would not be tormented by hunger, the peasants know that the workers are diddling us and have set themselves up nicely. You workers are stopping goods coming in from abroad so you can sell things dearer, having the shirts off our backs for your goods. You got us to fight alongside you, but the kingdom is for the workers, with only ruin for the peasants. All the peasants know that the worker is our enemy, all goods cost four times more, there's oppression for you, peasants have never seen such oppression before, it would be better with the capitalists, they'd sell us the stuff four times cheaper. You've set up a foreign trade monopoly to sell us the goods for five times the price. Some time it might get better for peasant children. Let the peasant die today, and the worker tomorrow, but know this, communist, that you have done no good for the peasants this past eight years, but if the capitalists start a war against you, I'll have to fight for you in the name of the eternally cursed enemy of the peasant - the worker.

The old oppression under Bloody Nicholas II   Cheap Soviet power  
Cloth 1r 50k Cloth 7r
Macaroni 12k    
Rice 12k Rice 12k
Calico 16k Soviet muslin 40k
Jacket 3r Jacket 25r
Boots 5r Boots 25r
Trousers 1r 20k    
Shirt 70k Shirt 2r 50k
Hat 1r 20k Hat 4r
Cap 1r 20k Cap 3r
The lot for 14r 28k The lot for 62r 67k

It was cheaper under Tsarist oppression. You communists need luxury.

The working class is turning away from socialism, but in general the worker has socialism now, but not the peasant - the peasants are used to suffering, so let them suffer another ten years. The worker gets from 120 to 250 rubles a month, what does he need socialism for, it's fine as it is, with the 8 hour day, peace and the new bourgeoisie and new capitalists. You look at the livestock statistics, increasing them is the peasants' problem. You see that in the village a peasant has a pair of bullocks and two horses, but no shirts, his children go barefoot, the women are worn out, and he has to pay insurance, the food tax, and seven times more for a metre, give us socialism, give us the commune, and say goodbye to the worker and his wages.

As a peasant I have to work, giving the state collective work. Both the peasant collectives and the workers' collectives should exchange goods, the worker should work for food and clothing, and the rest should go to the state. As a peasant I give my spare grain over to the state, and chickens, potatoes, eggs, butter - just give us boots, hats, jackets, shirts, trousers, and we've got socialism, lads. I think, what are these wages for, you should work 8 hours, get your food and your clothes, and all the surplus should go to the state.

State - pay attention to the peasants, give us manufactured goods, let the workers and employees live without wages, for the good of the state bring in this law.

Law for the worker and employee Law for the peasant
1. There should be an 8-hour working day.
2. Employees should get one uniform.
3. Workers should get one uniform
4. Daily food rations
5. The daily food rations should be the same for the worker and the employee, if there is chicken, then chicken for everyone, if there is meat, then meat for everyone.
Surpluses to the state, whatever I get in each year, supply one uniform to all and equal daily food rations. Give us manufactures, take grain.
Where is the equality, where is the fraternity, down with taxes, down with wages, down with money within Russia.
Long live socialism.

I am Ivan Khomich. Krasnoe Priazov'e, give my letter to the top leaders, let them sort out what I have written about here.

Comrade Communist, you stand at your post and either don't see what is going on, or you've gone completely blind. I am a peasant, and my hopes for communism are cooling off because you are fooling the people by buying wheat by the pud and weighing it by the kilo, like you've taken to selling by the metre and measuring by the arshin, so that you can befuddle the poor peasant more easily. All the peasants are cursing you for short-changing them or not making up the rest, you cheats, whether it is by mistake or to undermine Soviet power. I should trade with you not in puds but in kilos, then I'd soon be able to reckon. If I have 20 kilos, I know that 20 kilos fetches one ruble, but how to convert that into puds is a mystery to me. It would be better if you set the price in kilos and not in puds. For example, if I brought in 80 kilos, then you should say, what do you want for a kilo, citizen, or here you are, here's 5 kopeks for each kilo. An illiterate could soon count 80 fives and know whether he had been cheated. I can read and write a bit, but I'm damned if I can understand the sense of weighing by the kilo and setting the price in puds, you could even confuse a bookkeeper. I don't think the centre knows about this, it undermines the authority of Soviet power. The accounts clerks are underpaying the peasants, the peasants are cursing Soviet power. If you don't change things, sell by the metre and measure by the arshin, there will be some left over, the extra inches will go to the salesmen, the clerks and office workers.


[signed] Altulin

True copy: Head of the General Department, Don Committee [signed] Gerasimov

Source: S S Kryukova (compiler), Krest'yanskie istorii: Rossiyskaya derevnya 20-x godov v pis'makh i dokumentakh, Rosspen, Moscow, 2001, pp. 86 - 88.