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Chapter 11

11

Policy relating to Food Supply

The ferocious struggles underway between the Russian Government and the peasants, due to the requisition policy of the former that has been so fully described in the bourgeois European press, which delights in reproducing the most insignificant details and which we viewed with a great deal of suspicion prior to our arrival in Russia, was a question that we wanted to get to the bottom of and to understand in detail, so that, upon our return, we would be able to disprove them, or else verify them, if it turned out that they were true.

Thus, we had no sooner crossed the frontier and made our first contact with the Bolsheviks, than we made frequent attempts to direct the conversation to this subject, and while we were not rewarded with any explicit clarifications in these conversations, they were not for that reason devoid of any usefulness, since they provided us with an introduction to the question.

But these simple introductions were not enough. The mission that sent us to Russia could not be satisfied with simple isolated suggestions. It required more; it required complete data that could serve as a basis for solid judgments.

The worldwide Press campaign against the Soviet regime attained the scale of an all-out attack.

The voice of reaction rose clamorously, deafeningly, stridently and with more or less certain proofs, with a huge stockpile of data and factual detail, and insistently confronted us with the accusations launched against the defenders of the Russian cause and drowned out our voices.

It was a necessity to counteract these effects. But an inescapable necessity. Love for the Revolution and the freedom of the Russian people, while indispensable elements for arriving at a fair judgment, could not be the only arguments marshaled against these accusations whose purpose is to distort the facts about the Revolution.

And if we broke through the blockade that surrounds Russia and crossed its frontier after so many hardships, it will be understood that we had not endured so many vicissitudes and overcome so many obstacles for the sole pleasure of being able to say: “We made it to Russia.” This would be an achievement, but we did not do it just out of personal vanity.

Our social activity and the experience that we have derived from it, along with the study of historical facts, has led us to a conclusion, one that we still hold; that without economic freedom, political or social freedom is a myth.

The pompous phrases, the moving oratorical style of polemical speeches, more or less democratic, the exuberant and declamatory speeches of man, are just so much fireworks, roman candles, and smoke, which dissipate if they are not accompanied by an economic improvement in the lives of the people. When man is no longer economically enslaved, no political servitude will be possible. When the bourgeoisie cannot lead the proletariat by his stomach, the ideas and actions of the proletariat will be suffused with freedom.

Because this is our standard for judgment, one can understand the attention we were obliged to devote during our stay in Russia to everything that had any relation with the economic liberation of the proletariat.

In the capitalist regime, the worker experiences hunger. Sometimes, entire peoples and regions have disappeared, decimated by this terrible scourge; but this is not because enough has not been produced to feed everyone. The phenomenon exists because the distribution of what is produced is arbitrary and cruel, because it bears the hallmarks of a Herodian massacre directed against the people. So how did the Bolsheviks proceed in Russia? Were they successful? We shall provide concrete evidence with regard to this question.

The March revolution first transferred power to the Cadets, and then to Kerensky, and did nothing to organize a more humane system than the one that had just permanently disappeared.

Russia’s economic situation at that time was still very difficult; hunger and the most atrocious privations had held sway over the people; the years of war, together with the difficult conditions which Russia had long endured, made a major contribution to the accumulation of hardships.

In Russia, of course, as in all the capitalist countries, those who suffered first and most intensely from the economic privations imposed by the war were the workers; for this same reason, the men who led the first revolution should have implemented a more equitable and more humane distribution of basic needs to the people. They did not do so and things remained the same in that regard.

During the period between March and October the situation got worse; it deteriorated to levels that were almost unprecedented. This grave situation, however, favored the Bolsheviks, and gave them the leeway to carry out their work. Their principle concern was with production.

But if the momentary situation did not pose grave dangers to the Bolsheviks, there was no doubt that they would have to face such dangers in the future.

The total disorganization of trade, the suppression of all the stores that formerly sold consumer goods—both large and small—the confiscation that the Government carried out for its own use of all the wealth produced and hoarded, gave it complete freedom of action on the road it had proposed to follow, and to create as many institutions as it thought would be necessary for the purpose of organizing distribution.

These advantages, that seemed so favorable, were seized upon by the Government, which immediately created the Commissariat of Food Supply, staffing it with tried and true communists and trusted Party members.

The first thing the Commissariat did was to fix the price of food products, since, although it was disorganized and timorous, free trade still existed.

The results of this decree could hardly have been more disastrous. Because the decree fixed the prices of goods far below the prices they were being sold for on the market, and because the decree also threatened anyone who refused to observe the price limits with harsh penalties, all the products disappeared from the market and in a few days their prices rose more than three hundred percent.

Threats, requisitions, imprisonments, and even executions: everything was tried; but always with negative results. The goods did not reappear, and those that were sold on the black market fetched astronomical prices.

In the meantime, the staff at the Commissariat of Food Supply was working feverishly. Reports accumulated. One statistical abstract followed another, and these were succeeded by others and yet more reports; but the situation of the people’s food supply did not improve. Speculation was rampant. You could not have bought a pin for the price fixed by the decree; instead, one could obtain anything for the black market price.

The peasant Soviets in the province of Moscow contacted the Commissariat of Food Supply and requested that it establish some order and normal activity in the relations of buying and selling or the exchange of products, between the city and the countryside.

Among the products that were affected by severe shortages was milk. It could not even be found for hospital patients.

This shortage was all the more striking insofar as Moscow had always enjoyed an abundance of milk, due to the enterprising spirit of an industrialist of the capitalist regime.

A wealthy and ambitious man, a few years before the revolution, had organized the purchase of milk in the neighboring villages.

Agreements were made with the peasants, according to which all the milk that was produced by their cows would be gathered, and then shipped in casks they owned, and distributed in numerous stores established in Moscow for this purpose.

The peasant Soviets requested that the Commissariat of Food Supply should respect this organizational arrangement, due to its good results, even if the entrepreneur who owned the company that operated the service was expropriated, as had indeed taken place already.

They also requested that the Commissariat of Food Supply should appoint one or more individuals to take over the expropriated company with full power to negotiate the price of milk with the peasant Soviets.

The Commissariat considered the request of the peasant Soviets, approved their proposal and promised to quickly comply with their requests.

The peasants went home satisfied, because they believed that the Commissariat would solve the problem.

Weeks and months passed; it was half a year before the Commissariat issued its official response, upholding the previous price decrees for milk products.

The Commissariat of Food Supply ruled in favor of maintaining the price of thirty rubles for a liter of milk, when the price on the free market was two hundred and fifty, and thus, while the Government could not supply the population with milk, the black market was overflowing with this product.

This example, cited as a broadly relevant case that shows how the Bolsheviks proceeded with regard to the problem of food supply, can be repeated for all other food products.

The uniformity, unilateral orders and the rigid mentality adopted for one question was also adopted for all the others. This explains the constant series of rectifications, which bordered on the incredible.

Once the statistics concerning the inhabitants were in the hands of Soviet Russia, it was hoped that there would be products to distribute. The Government’s first requisitions were soon used up, except for those that were rotting in the warehouses, awaiting the compilation of statistics, while the people went hungry.

Now that the State had become the sole purchaser of everything that was produced, it attempted to enforce its requisitions and price fixing, which the peasants evaded by every means at their disposal: leaving the lands untilled or farming only as much as was indispensable for their own families; armed resistance; executing and stoning to death the communists and the soldiers sent to requisition their products.

The first arrangement for the accumulation and distribution of products that the Commissariat of Food Supply established was surely one of the most extravagant and absurd systems one could imagine.

This is how they went about it.

Having acquired statistical knowledge of the amount of products—a purely approximate, rather than precise knowledge—produced by each province, the Commissariat established in each provincial capital one or more large warehouses for products. The Soviet of each village, town or hamlet of “isbahs” provided statistics reflecting what each cultivator had harvested, and the cumulative product, without leaving any part thereof for the farmer, was sent by the Soviet to the provincial warehouses.

Once all the products of the province were gathered in the provincial warehouse, those that were earmarked for each town or village, in accordance with the number of residents and the quantity, as set forth in the rationing system decreed in Moscow, that was assigned to each individual, were returned to the village or the town from where they originally came.

By means of this brilliant communist innovation, before a peasant can eat a kilo of beans harvested from his own crop, they had to be sent hundreds of kilometers, in accordance with the wise Bolshevik and Leninist decrees.

But since absurdity cannot long prevail, because reason resists its continuation, the protests of all the Russians who were not Commissars, or leaders, or dictators, caused the latter to see the error of their ways and to correct them.

The errors of Bolshevik political economy are legion. When history finally makes an account of them available, humanity will be shocked. If their purpose had been to make the situation worse, they could not have been more successful.

The centralization of all the distribution services produced incalculable damage and even more incalculable losses.

The peasants who saw the clumsiness of the State and its errors, due to the consequences and harm that they brought in their wake, organized violent resistance and refused to have any dealings with it.

They also demanded that the requisitioned products should be paid for with other products, since the Bolshevik money, due to the fact that it was produced without limit, was enormously depreciated.

“We do not refuse,” they said, “to produce as much as we can, but only that the delivery of our surplus products, after we reserve for our own use those we need, should be in exchange for what we need to live. What we refuse to do is to deliver the products in exchange for worthless paper money and to support the thousands of useless drones who lurk in the offices of the Government, and who are the ones who oppress us now and who enslave us, now that for each deputy we send to the Soviet, they have the right to send five.”

The Government’s attempt to fix prices was therefore completely ineffective. The seizure by the Government of everything that was produced, the requisitions and the threats, which were carried out all too often, did not improve the situation; to the contrary, they aggravated it.

The time came when the ration that the Government gave the people was reduced to one-quarter of what each individual needed to live, according to official data.

The whole situation was only made worse by the centralization of all the methods of distribution.

In Moscow all the census data for the whole population of Russia was centralized, where the individual ration was calculated. Therefore, the production statistics also had to be gathered in Moscow.

We therefore found that the system worked as follows. First: after each peasant harvests his crops, he sends them to the local warehouse—whether of a city, village, town or hamlet of “isbahs”--; second: once the products are in the warehouse, the local Soviet carries out an exact statistical survey of them, which must be transmitted to the provincial Soviet; third: the provincial Soviet sends all the statistics collected from all the localities under its jurisdiction to Moscow, to the Commissariat of Food Supply, so that they can be analyzed, the provincial exchange is established and a ration is fixed for each individual; fourth: the statistics are returned to each provincial Soviet; and fifth, the provincial Soviet will distribute the statistics to each local Soviet, so that the latter may proceed to distribute the products assigned to each category of the population.

Then there are the surplus products. The local Soviet sends them to the central provincial warehouse, which will distribute them in accordance with the orders it receives from the Commissariat of Food Supply in Moscow.

All these operations imply a waste of time and many sinecures: thousands of employees, who are, according to Lenin, “the most noxious plague that has attacked Bolshevism”.

The inconveniences of this centralization constituted the most formidable battering ram used against the Bolshevik’s economic policy, and the “new economic policy”, which was advocated by Lenin himself and implemented after our departure from Russia, is the most convincing proof of this.

Before we conclude this chapter, however, we would like to relate some facts that are certainly quite instructive. They shed light on the disastrous results of the centralization policy that was, and still is, so highly praised.

The province of Moscow is a major producer of potatoes. The harvests are usually very good. The hunger which seized hold of the population of Moscow, after the blockade cut off external supplies, was somewhat mitigated for a few months by the potato harvest.

Due to the fact that the Russian winters do not permit the sowing of crops in early spring, most of the legumes and root crops are of the kind that we call “late planting” crops in Spain, in other words, those that are harvested at the end of the summer.

The potato harvest in the province of Moscow in 1919 was a very large one. The residents of the city were pleased, because they were notified concerning this abundant harvest of potatoes by the news spread in the city by the peasants from the surrounding farmlands, and expected that the food distribution would fulfill their needs.

During the first two weeks of September of 1919, rumor had it that the potato warehouses of Moscow were crammed full of potatoes.

Everyone awaited the imminent beginning of the distribution of the potatoes. But the distribution never took place. The distribution did not take place because the very abundance of the harvest obliged the authorities to revise or prepare new rationing schedules.

The days passed by. The people were beset by hunger, a hunger that was all the more cruel since everyone knew about the existence of the huge potato harvest, and became impatient, fearing the worst. In the meantime, the Commissariat of Food Supply and the Council of the National Economy, with their centralized bureaucratism, were still working, compiling lists and reckoning numbers, submitting reports and calculations, as if they wanted to be complicit in what was going to happen.

And the people’s fears were realized. The climate put the finishing touches on the whole Bolshevik system of centralizing mathematics and scientificism, destroying in just a few hours the hopes that a million hungry people had with regard to that immense harvest of potatoes.

The frosts of the end of September, which are persistent in Russia and herald the first snows of the winter, destroyed all the potatoes in the warehouses. And this took place just when the Bolsheviks had announced they were almost finished with their statistical reports on the revised ration schedules.

And with the painful sadness that only hungry people with no means to satisfy their hunger can possess, the people of Moscow saw how thousands and thousands of kilos of frozen potatoes, unsuitable for human consumption, were thrown into the streets, shoveled into huge piles. Nothing was left to distribute to the people.

The wisdom and the delights of centralist political economy could not be more comforting.

Another interesting case, worthy of not being imitated, took place with regard to the Petrograd fishery, in the Neva River.

After the ice melts, when the temperature rises and people can fish in the Neva, the schools of small fish swarm there in such abundance that all one needs is a pole and a few hours on the shore in order to catch a few pounds of fish.

But the Bolshevik State, concerned that no one under its control should have to worry about getting enough food, devised a measure that would assure all the residents of Petrograd some Neva fish on their table. Was there not a king who wanted to put a chicken in the pot of each one of his subjects? Why shouldn’t a Bolshevik Government put a fried fish on the plate of every resident of Petrograd? Nothing could be more just.

The Government forced all the fishermen of Petrograd to join a trade union, and imposed upon them the obligation to sell all the fish they caught to the city’s Soviet. This measure was rounded out with the most absolute prohibition against anyone who was not a member of the Trade Union fishing in the river. Anyone who violated this regulation was threatened with severe penalties.

The professional fishermen, who were members of the Trade Union and to whom the monopoly of fishing in the Neva had been granted, were pleased, since they expected to be able to make a living on fishing.

But no one expected what actually took place. Along with the obligation to sell their catch to the city Soviet that was placed on the fishermen in exchange for conceding them their monopoly, the most absurd commercial theory made its appearance. The Petrograd Soviet fixed the price of fish, using the norm imposed with regard to the milk price rates as a model. It fixed the price at a much lower level than the fish were selling for on the open market and in the mutually adjusted sales.

The fishermen protested; they wanted to make the local Soviet see how inappropriate the price controls were. But the Soviet was not convinced by their arguments, and instead threatened them with severe penalties if they did not comply with the price controls. The result?

The fishermen refused to fish; they abandoned the entire enterprise; only a handful gave in. But since the catch brought in by these few fishermen, after subtracting the fish they were entitled to, could not even cover a quarter of what the population needed, and since the prohibition on unauthorized fishing was still in effect by virtue of the monopoly granted to the Trade Union, the people of Petrograd had to go hungry, forbidden to do so much as drop a line with a hook into the river.

Something similar took place with regard to the fishermen in Lake Ladoga.

They, too, were conceded a monopoly on fishing in the lake, after having been forced to join a trade union, and the Moscow Soviet bought all their fish, at the price set by the Soviet.

Because this price was so low that the sale of their catch failed to compensate them for their expenses and basic needs, the fishermen of Lake Ladoga refused to fish. But since the entire catch from Lake Ladoga is consumed in Moscow, and because the fishermen’s strike caused a shortage of fish in that city, the Soviet decreed their mobilization and issued an order to them to go back to work.

The measure could not have been less effective or more counterproductive. When a detachment of troops was sent to Lake Ladoga to force the fishermen to go back to work, the fishermen emigrated en masse, and of the several hundred fishermen who originally formed the Trade Union and made their living from fishing, only thirty were left.

But the most serious accusation that can be made against the errors of Bolshevik political economy and the violence and extortion to which it led, involves the story of a railroad worker in the province of Saratov.

The father of a numerous family, the rations he received were insufficient. Hunger, and with it, desperation, led him to an understandable resolution. He took the only pair of shoes he owned and departed for the countryside and exchanged them for a couple of kilos of flour.

Upon returning to his village, shoeless, but with a little flour that would placate the hunger of his family for a few days, he was detained and the flour was confiscated.

All his pleadings, all his supplications, and all his lamentations, broke against the barbarous official regulation.

In desperation, he went to the outskirts of the village and hanged himself from a tree.

Thousands of cases like this can be cited. If we have referred to this case in particular, we did not do so in order to pull on the heartstrings of the reader; we did so in order to give some idea of the profound tragedy that the people of Russia are suffering as a result of the misdeeds of their leaders.

And do not tell us that these disasters are attributable to the shortage of goods; this is a half-truth at best. We do not deny that there was a shortage of products in Russia; but we do claim that this shortage was in part caused by the clumsy and by all measures arbitrary economic policy pursued by the Bolsheviks.

We shall conclude by pointing out that all this information was provided to us by Victor Serge (Kibalchich), and was confirmed by other high level employees of the Soviet Government. We say this because the eloquence of our pro-Bolshevik elements, who are such prodigious fantasists, could very well be used to accuse us of pouring forth a series of calumnies to discredit the red dictators.

***

The requisitions, together with the existence of the Cheka, are the two blackest marks against Bolshevik policy.

We have hinted here and there in previous chapters concerning the resistance, sometimes passive and sometimes violent, with which the Russian peasant always opposed the requisition policy.

How many victims were there? We were unable, despite assiduous efforts, to acquire even an approximate idea. We saw graphs and tables dealing with the question. We possess photographs of villages and towns that were destroyed because they refused to hand over their products; but our reports go no further than this.

The requisitions are the logical consequence of the food supply policy implemented by the Bolsheviks.

When did they decree the requisitions? How were they carried out?

During the very first moments of the revolution, there was no reason for requisitions. The peasant, like the worker in the city, exchanged what he possessed and delivered everything, sometimes even what was indispensable for his survival. The instinct of solidarity in the people, in the great majority of them, produced magnificent results. But when official action intervened to regulate and control everything, the result was conflict.

By Government order free trade was suspended and products requisitioned for the purpose of statistical analysis; this paralyzed all trade, leading to poverty.

Since the official prohibition of free trade was absolute, any infraction was punished; but infractions were necessary because of the shortages that were getting worse every day.

Before banning free trade, the Government should have prepared the instrument that would replace free trade, and that would provide for the needs that were provided for by the market, because, whatever one may say against commercial thievery, one must acknowledge that it fulfills a need in the distributive machinery of products for modern populations.

But this did not happen. The Bolshevik Government, drunk on theory, but without any grasp of reality, suppressed free trade without having established the distributive institution that would replace it.

The immediate and most urgent consequence of this measure was the most absolute paralysis of everyday commerce, and its greatest impact was on the households of the workers.

It is true that the Government remembered to establish large warehouses for the distribution of products; but the effectiveness of these warehouses can only be gauged after the products are requisitioned, inventoried and brought to the warehouses.

This process had to take several days, and in the proletarian home, in Russia as in every other country, one lives day to day, and with the stores closed, the workers had nowhere to go to get provisions.

The first thing they did was to resort to the black market, and thus to engage in what the Bolsheviks called speculation, but which was an imperious necessity, in order to obtain what could not be obtained legally anywhere.

During this transition period the Cooperatives played a major role; but they were insufficient. How could they, numbering only a few dozen, supply a population of almost one million residents?

The exchange of products, one by one, and hand to hand, clandestine and burdensome, soon attained a formidable scale, and accustomed the peasants to the practice of usury, which was favored by having to carry on their business in secret.

After a few weeks, the Government purchasing and distribution warehouses opened, and the remedy proved worse than the disease, because the peasant, enticed by the fabulous profits to be made from the black market, did not want to sell their products to the Soviet for the price the Government fixed.

Then the requisitions began. The Bolsheviks thought they could fight fire with fire.

Insofar as the requisitions were restricted to the city, and were limited to the confiscation of all the products brought to the city for sale or to be stored or hoarded in secret caches, they did not have tragic consequences. These consequences came later.

In parallel with this Government policy of forced confiscation and requisition, the Government also implemented a program of price controls that were set by the Soviet of each municipality, in accordance with instructions received from Moscow.

The peasants, not wanting to comply with either decree, organized passive resistance. They did not deliver their products; they would rather hide them.

Then the Bolsheviks organized a Government offensive against the peasants.

They organized groups of individuals, or soldiers, under the command of trusted communists, which proceeded from one village to another requisitioning and confiscating everything.

The peasants shifted from passive to active resistance. They confronted the groups and military detachments responsible for the requisition orders. But they did not yet engage in violent conflict. The active resistance consisted in letting one part of their lands lie fallow, thus discharging their shared bitterness.

The Government responded with draconian measures, which led in many cases to the execution of the most stubborn resisters.

The result could not have been worse, because the peasants then shifted from active resistance without violence to active and violent resistance.

Elsewhere in this book we have already spoken of the means with which the peasants defended themselves, to which we make reference.

What did the Bolshevik Government do? What measures did it implement? How did it attempt to resolve such an extremely violent situation, brought to such an extreme by its own errors?

It proclaimed even more draconian and violent countermeasures and treated the peasant as an enemy of the people. It gave full powers to the commissions responsible for the requisitions, ordering them to seize everything without hesitation.

But it did not stop there: when it saw how powerless it was against the resistance of the peasants and that, in addition, the people responsible for the requisitions were withdrawing from the countryside in fear, it granted the requisition squads twenty-five percent of the confiscated products as a reward.

The effect was magical. Hunger accomplished what conscience refused to do. The requisitions were implemented mercilessly. Instead of playing the part of Government agents fulfilling a sacred mission, the requisition squads fell upon the villages like bands of conquerors devoted to pillage, greedy for spoils and wealth.

They confiscated everything; they took everything away; the seized everything. When there was nothing else to take, they even took the rations that were legally assigned to the families they were pillaging.

When, during our excursion on the Volga, we slipped away from our official guides and asked some peasants for details about the requisitions, they remained completely silent, but their eyes blazed with hatred and they clenched their fists threateningly.

The requisition teams paid so well that men with good jobs and high-level positions in other government departments resigned their positions and requested posting to the requisition teams.

During one of our trips, our train stopped alongside one of the trains carrying one of the requisition teams. Its commander was a medical doctor who gave up his practice and his clinic in order to accept this commission.

Since the two trains had to wait in the station for more than an hour, we were interested in getting detailed information about the team’s mission, and we went over to their car to ask them some questions.

We were received by the commander.

He responded to our questions by saying that requisition was necessary, because the peasant, imbued with petit bourgeois ideas, did not want to deliver his products to the Government, and instead wanted to sell them on the black market or to speculators in order to obtain enormous profits.

“And how do the peasants receive you?”, we asked.

“The way you would expect. They receive us with hostility. Whenever they can they impede and obstruct our efforts. They are opposed to any requisition of their possessions.”

“And how do you go about carrying out the requisitions? Who do you approach first?”

“We are assigned the place or places we are to work at in advance.”

“Once we arrive, we immediately demand that the Soviet Committee of the village meet with us; we ask the Committee to identify the farmers who have refused to comply with their scheduled delivery of their products; and we ask where the products are hidden and approximately in what quantity.”

“When we have a detailed list of the malefactors, we proceed with a squad of Red Army soldiers, whose support we request from the nearest army post, to the place where our work must be carried out, and we go from house to house demanding the delivery of the hidden products.”

“And if they refuse to turn them over?”

“We arrest the suspect; we bring him to the local Soviet and put him in jail.”

“And if he still resists? And if, despite arrest and imprisonment, he persists in refusing to deliver the products, what do you do then?”

“We search his house, the places where we suspect he has concealed the goods and which we have been informed are suspected to be his hiding places, until we find them. There are cases when the peasant, after a few hours in jail, voluntarily confesses where the products are hidden.”

“Do you have any rights to a commission or reward in the form of a portion of the products that you discover?”

“If the peasant, upon being asked for the first time to deliver the products, does so voluntarily, no; but if he refuses and our investigation uncovers them, then we get twenty-five percent of the proceeds.”

“So in that case you have a major interest in discovering the hiding places?”

“You would assume so, although we have even more of an interest in carrying out the mandate and orders of the Government.”

“And how is it,” we objected, “that you, being a medical doctor, and in view of the shortage of doctors at the battlefront for treating wounded soldiers, have preferred this disagreeable task instead of your chosen profession?”

“We all do our part for the victory of communism and to fight the counterrevolution. And this job requires intelligent men who support communist policy.”

“Of course. But there are many men who support communist policy, and some of them are very intelligent, who would be glad to perform this task, without drawing on those who are needed at the battlefront, such as doctors, for example, and who cannot be replaced because of the qualifications of their profession.”

“The Party can be served in many ways,” he responded.

“And you,” we continued, “were you sent here by the Government, by some provincial Soviet, or did you apply for the job?”

“I voluntarily requested this posting.”

“And why didn’t you request posting to the front, to Poland, where the Red Army is fighting in defense of the Revolution?”

“It’s none of your business,” he responded somewhat gruffly.

The arrival of a communist from our entourage put an end to our dialogue, which was interesting in so many respects, revealing the why and the wherefore of many things.

Upon the request of this communist we were shown the quantity of requisitioned products, which was by no means small, and he also told us about the quantity that was to go to the requisition team as their reward. This, too, was not inconsiderable.

These products, which were supposed to be sent to Moscow and placed at the disposal of the Commissariat of Food Supply, had already been shipped from one place to another for many days, following the circuitous course and zigzags of the requisition team. Before reaching its destination, it was quite possible that half of it would be lost in transit. Hunger played its part; corruption did the rest.