VICTOR KRAVCHENKO 41 ñòðàíèöà 58
I was in continual contact with Marshal Novikov, Marshal Vorobiov, General Seleznev, General Volkov, Admiral Galler, dozens of other military leaders at the procurement end of the great war effort. Too often, alas, we could do little more than combine our lamentations over the shortages in every direction.
Shall I ever forget the time when we commandeered thousands of the primitive school compasses and apportioned them sparingly to the various fronts? The order, over Stalin’s signature, had called for fifty thousand military field compasses, but the proper magnetic steel simply was not available.
Shall I ever forget the conferences, the frantic telephoning, the piled-up threats and the heartbreaks that we invested during the summer in a search for horseshoes? Thousands of animals, and often the cavalrymen as well, perished for lack of this item but their manufacture, it turned out, was blocked by lack of metal and the limited capacity of the two Urals plants making horseshoes. The demand for the horseshoes came from Marshal Budenny and thus, incidentally, gave me the answer to the mystery of the whereabouts of this revolutionary hero. He had been removed from a high post of command originally entrusted to him and since then his name had disappeared; there were even rumors that he had been liquidated. Now I became aware that he had been shunted to a bureau dealing with cavalry supplies.
Day after day I had the direct and tragic proofs of my country’s failure to prepare for this life-and-death crisis. I knew as a matter of simple fact that tens of thousands of our bravest fighters were slaughtered for lack of the simplest supplies. Neither Stalin’s terse commands nor Beria’s “strong measures” could squeeze adequate-equipment from factories lacking raw materials and operated by workers on a starvation diet.
I came to know more intimately even than the ranking generals and admirals how valuable American lend-lease weapons, materials and machinery were in achieving victory. Americans may still have some doubts about this, but not the Soviet leaders. For them it is a fact. God knows we paid back in full—in Russian lives—for Allied help, but that does not alter the fact itself. Without the great influx of American airplanes, American motor transport, telephones, a thousand other things we lacked, what would have been the fate of Soviet resistance? Russian production, Russian heroism and sacrifice take first place in any estimate of the factors which made for Russian victory; the Stalingrad triumph was clinched before the great flow of lend-lease got started. But American and Allied help belongs, immediately thereafter in the estimate.
The orders reaching me from above were often hysterical in tone. A demand for some essential tank part or vital aviation equipment, signed by Stalin and countersigned by one or another of his secretaries, was invariably barbed with a warning of ruthless punishment:
“Notify the People’s Commissars that fulfilment of this decision is a military-political task of the highest importance. Obligate the Prosecutor of the U.S.S.R. to control this order personally and to call those guilty of non-fulfilment strictly to account regardless who they may be.”
Or it might read:
“Control on fulfilment of this order is imposed upon the People’s Commissar of State Control, Comrade Popov. Everyone guilty of breaking this assignment, regardless who he may be, to be held strictly responsible and to be reported to me.”
Strict responsibility meant removal from one’s post and trial before a military tribunal. Decisions carrying the signature of Beria, who spoke with the awesome voice of the secret police, might conclude thus:
“Obligate the People’s Commissars to fulfill this order regardless of objective conditions. The guilty to be brought to my own attention. . . .” This was the routine Stalinist style, aped by every bureaucrat in his relations with those below him. It was the language of fear and intimidation, crude, undisguised, frankly intended to remind us of concentration camps and firing squads. Though addressing powerful leaders, men whose very names sent chills down Russian spines, Stalin and his closest collaborators never failed to invoke the dread of arrest and disgrace.
Never before had I worked so hard, so long or under such an overwhelming sense of frustration. Soon enough I had the gray-green complexion, the bloodshot eyes, the edge of fever that come with chronic fatigue. Nearly all the men and women around me drove themselves as hard as I did. Without doubt some others among them hated the Soviet despotism as deeply as I did, but our political views did not interfere with our devotion to the cause of victory. Our country was in danger—nothing else counted against this supreme fact.
If we succeeded in saving a day, even an hour, in supplying the front with some sorely needed piece of equipment, we might be saving the lives of thousands of our people. None of us needed any other spur to action; the threats were wasted on us. The feeling that our efforts were tied directly into the life-and-death struggle of our people was always with us, though we said little about it. We dealt with concrete tasks, with materials, tools, machines, under difficult conditions that left us little margin for indulging our emotions.
The whole organization, from Pamfilov down to the humblest file clerk, was caught in the mighty surge of patriotism that came from the profoundest depths of Russian history and the Russian soul. The little publicity agents of the Stalinist machine, at home and abroad, who try to explain it all as a Bolshevik phenomenon do our Russia an ugly injustice. They are trying to explain an elemental, timeless force in terms of petty partisan ideas. It was not a Soviet but a Russian miracle. When I think of myself, toiling honestly and unsparingly under leaders I despised and distrusted, I see a kind of symbol of Russia at war.
My many months at the Sovnarkom coincided with the most harrowing phases of the war. They covered the soul-searing summer of 1942 when the Germans made their largest gains and their deepest thrusts. They covered the advance to the Volga and the climactic struggle which made Stalingrad a word to rank forever with Marathon and Waterloo in human history. At the core of a nation there is a hard, eternal and unconquerable element—it was this that was bared in Stalingrad, that survived blood-letting and disaster on a horrifying scale. It had nothing to do with Karl Marx and Stalin.
Official communiqués continued to minimize the magnitude of our defeats. The starkest reverses were dressed up to sound like strategic maneuvers.
On one wall in Utkin’s office there was a big map of Russia. Every morning the pins marking the German advances were moved deeper into our country’s flesh and a thread the color of blood marked the extent of our losses. I found Utkin gazing at this map, his round, handsome face puckered with worry.
“I have some urgent business, Andrei Ivanovich,” I said, placing some documents on his desk,
“The papers won’t fly away. Come here, look what the German sons- of-bitches are doing.”
The red line was only about a hundred miles west of Moscow, just beyond Mozhaisk. It cut off virtually all of the Ukraine and lay frighteningly close to the Volga in the direction of Stalingrad.
“What will we do if they grab our oil, Victor Andreyevich? We’ll be lost!”
“The picture is awful,” I conceded, “awful! All that any of us can do is to work and work and work. It’s a good thing lend-lease should begin to flow faster now. . . .”
“Lend-lease!” Utkin exclaimed irritably. “A second front is what’s needed! But the capitalist bastards keep dawdling. A lot they care how much Russian blood is spilled! We’re paying plenty for their lend- lease. . . .”
Mobilization had long been in force on a total scale unmatched in any other belligerent country. Manpower in industry and on the farms was depleted just when the need for output was greatest. I sat at the precise point in the government where this calamitous picture was most clearly visible. Our fighting men ranged from sixteen to fifty-six. The last pretenses of genuine medical examinations and exemptions because of helpless dependents were dropped, by an order from Stalin himself which was never made public. Tens of thousands of veterans were rushed back to the front lines before their wounds were half-healed. Boys and girls of school age, the mothers of small children, even women from farms already stripped of their men, were rounded up for work in factories.
In this tightening manpower crisis, the compulsory labor of millions of prisoners was a vital, and often the most vital, factor in rescuing Soviet military economy. This truth must be faced, whatever its unpleasant implications. There was an ever-increasing output of war supplies by the evacuated factories, enlarged Siberian and Urals plants, newly built industrial units. But few of them were without decisive cadres of compulsory labor. Those people abroad who talk excitedly of the ultimate Russian victory as proof of “the success of the Soviet system” would be closer to the truth if they glorified the success of large-scale state peonage.
With free labor drained by the armed services, our industry became more and more dependent upon the vast armies of prisoners, their ranks now swelled to unprecedented size by war arrests. In official circles twenty millions became the accepted estimate of this labor reservoir. The estimate did not include the boys and girls from 14 to 16 forcibly torn away from their parents and assigned to regions and industries in which manpower shortages were sharpest.
The war industries of the U.S.S.R., like those of Germany, rested primarily on slave labor. The main difference was in the fact that Berchtesgaden enslaved conquered foreigners whereas the Kremlin enslaved its own people. At a time when hunger stalked the land, the horrible conditions under which the prisoners lived and labored can readily be imagined. They were “expendables” and the N.K.V.D. did not have to account for casualties.
With the outbreak of war, the Armaments and Munitions Commissariats had been placed under control of Beria, Commissar of the N.K.V.D., who was also Assistant Chairman of the Sovnarkom and a member of the State Defense Committee. This amounted to putting them under control of the secret police. The nominal Commissars, Oustinov and Vannikov, knew what it meant; so did everyone else, down to the lowliest official. They would have preferred a quick death to the righteous anger of Beria and his organization. Everyone in the plants and offices and institutions directly or indirectly connected with armaments and munitions was gripped by dread fear.
Beria was no engineer. He was placed in control for the precise purpose of inspiring deadly fear. I often asked myself—as others assuredly did in their secret hearts—why Stalin had decided to take this step.
That same lack of faith was manifest in most other industries. Their civilian leaders were superseded by military leaders, or at least persons clothed with military titles and authority. Railroad transport, for instance, was put under the direction of General Khrouliov, Stalin’s deputy in the Commissariat of Defense. Acting in concert with the Transport Administration of the N.K.V.D., Khrouliov introduced complete military discipline, substituting unabridged fear for patriotic cooperation throughout the transport system.
In the same way Malishev, an Assistant Chairman of the Sovnarkom and an engineer by profession, was raised to the rank of General and put in command of the tank industry, over the head of the civilian commissar. Military titles were bestowed also on factory directors and other crucial figures in this industry, so that a military regime quickly displaced the normal administration.
The commissariats under Beria’s direction, of course, absorbed the largest share of the available slave-labor forces. But there was enough to spare for all departments of national economy. I know from extensive personal observation that few industrial enterprises were without slave contingents and that in dozens of them coerced labor was the principal or the sole reliance.
While in the Sovnarkom I heard a good deal about the special problems posed by the concentration camps and prisons in evacuating territory as the Germans gained ground. It was even more important to remove this slave population than the free citizens. Their labor power was an economic value worth saving, but more important, these prisoners could hardly be trusted to love the Soviet regime and might prove helpful to the Germans. Another consideration, without doubt, was purely political—the apprehension that through the prisoners the outside world might learn some of the monstrous secrets of the extent and nature of the Soviet slave system.
Some of us in the Sovnarkom knew of episodes in which prisoners were killed on a mass scale when it became clear that they could not be evacuated. This happened in Minsk, Smolensk, Kiev, Kharkov, in my native Dniepropetrovsk, in Zaparozhe. One such episode has remained with me in detail. In the tiny Kabardino-Balkar Soviet “autonomous republic” in the Caucasus, near the city of Nalchik, there were a molybdenum combinat of the N.K.V.D. operated with convict labor. When the Red Army retreated from this area, several hundred prisoners, for technical transport reasons, could not be evacuated in time. The director of the combinat, by order of the Commissar of the Kabardino-Balkar N.K.V.D., Comrade Anokhov, machine-gunned the unfortunates to the last man and woman. After the area was liberated from the Germans, Anokhov received his reward, becoming President of its Council of People’s Commissars, the highest office in the autonomous region.
In pressing commissariats for speedy output, I was continually balked by manpower shortages at critical points. People’s Commissars knew the situation better than I did; they frequently asked Pamfilov for additional manpower from the N.K.V.D. reserves and he in turn made demands on the N.K.V.D. for working hands to supply this or that key factory; sometimes he put the problems up directly to Vosnessensky, Molotov, Beria. The Central Administration of forced labor camps—known as GULAG—was headed by the N.K.V.D. General Nedosekin, one of Beria’s assistants. Nedosekin received orders for slave contingents from the State Defense Committee over the signatures of Molotov, Stalin, Beria and other members and acted accordingly.
I recall vividly an interview which I arranged on Utkin’s orders with one of the top administrators of GULAG. He was to supply a certain commissariat some hundreds of prisoners for a rush assignment. We were under terrific pressure from Pamfilov, who was, in turn, of course, being pushed from higher up and I had summoned the GULAG official for a showdown on this manpower.
“But Comrade Kravchenko, be reasonable,” he interrupted my speech. “After all, your Sovnarkom is not the only one howling for workers. The State Defense Committee needs them, Comrade Mikoyan makes life miserable for us, Malenkov and Vosnessensky need workers, Voroshilov is calling for road builders. Naturally everyone thinks his own job is the most important. What are we to do? The fact is we haven’t as yet fulfilled our plans for imprisonments. Demand is greater than supply.”
Plans for imprisonments! The fantastic, cold-blooded-cynicism of the phrase still makes me shudder. What made it more uncanny was the fact that this official was entirely unconscious of the frightfulness of his remark —the seizure and enslavement of human beings had become a routine affair in his life. Of course, he did not mean that arrests were actually planned to meet labor demands. He was merely complaining, in Soviet lingo, about the fact that the multi-million armies of forced labor were not enough to meet all requests.
The magnitude of child labor in Russia has for some reason remained entirely unknown outside the country. Even within our frontiers it was surrounded with a good deal of secrecy and, of course, disguised in hypocritical slogans. The essence of the system, stripped of verbal camouflage, is compulsion. Millions of children are taken from their homes against their own or their parents’ will and impressed into industries on a “mobilization” basis without consulting their preferences. It would be wrong to credit the development wholly to the war, since it was initiated in 1940 and, as is evident from dispatches, has even been intensified since the end of the conflict.
The first decree for the mobilization of children was issued in October, 1940. It provided for the immediate enlistment of from 800,000 to one million city and village children from fourteen to seventeen for industrial training.
Having completed these terms, according to the decree, the young people would be assigned to plants, mines, building projects, other undertakings at the discretion of the Administration of Labor Reserves for a period of four years. Though surrounded with fine slogans, the procedure amounted to a conscription of child labor. Children were torn from the arms of their mothers and fathers, “for their own good,” of course.
By 1943 the child labor contingents were raised to two million a year. The cruel scenes of separation, with youngsters sobbing and struggling, with relatives wailing and lamenting, became more and more familiar in the stricken land. The conscripts were put into uniforms, housed in government barracks and subjected to rigid discipline and a virtually military regimen. Their time was apportioned for work, study and physical training along lines calculated to turn them not merely into obedient but into fanatic servants of the Soviet superstate. Political indoctrination was naturally the important consideration in their training.
Even before the war, when I was still working at the Glavtrubostal plant in Moscow, I saw in various factories large groups of the children who had been forcibly wrenched from their homes. I came to know the whole system at close range. The young conscripts were awakened by bugle call or drums at five-thirty for military drill. Then they had breakfast and by seven were at their work benches, girls as well as boys, in accordance with the spartan principles prevailing in their education as robots of the state.
A touch of macabre irony was added to this regimentation by placing the head of the All-Soviet trade unions, Nikolai Shvernik, a member of the Politburo, in political control of the undertaking. The chief of the Labor Reserve Administration, which was in charge of training the young conscripts and which assigned them to posts in various parts of the country in accordance with the needs of the state, was Maskatov, one of the secretaries of Shvernik’s trade unions.
Five times in the course of the war the government made new mobilizations, bringing the aggregate of these uniformed boys and girls to nine millions. In addition, hundreds of thousands of boys, some of them as young as twelve and thirteen, were herded into newly established military schools, to be trained as career officers for the Army, in the same way that the others were being molded for proletarian careers.
The military trainees were largely volunteers, but hordes of war orphans, partly drawn from children’s homes and partly from the bezprizorni or homeless waifs, were used to fill quotas. In addition, parents unable to feed their children are tempted to send the boys to the military schools: in effect an enlistment for life. Higher education as well as the three senior classes in high school are now open only to those who can pay the tuition fees; the decision imposing tuitions was made, if the Kremlin is to be believed, “in view of the heightened level of the national well-being of the toilers. . . Many families, unable to pay the fees, see the military career as the best chance for their sons to escape from the exploited ranks of the working class.
If the system of child industrial conscription continues, and there is every indication that it will, the Soviet state by 1960 should have at its disposal from thirty to forty million workers trained on this regimented basis. It will be a new kind of “proletariat.” Home influences reminiscent of a freer past and intellectual influences beyond those prescribed by the authorities will have been reduced to a minimum. Fully indoctrinated with Communist tenets and the Stalinist theories of world revolution, they will be people without a memory of personal freedom, willing or unwilling, of the state. These morally and politically maimed Russians will represent a formidable force in the hands of the regime, whether for use at home or in foreign adventures.
This carefully conditioned body of citizens will be supplemented by perhaps twenty million N.K.V.D. forced-labor prisoners, and by a huge standing army of career soldiers and officers, trained from childhood on the basis of Stalinism solely for defense of the Soviet set-up, over and above the ordinary conscript forces and military reserves. Nor should it be forgotten that tens of millions of other children meanwhile will have been indoctrinated in the ordinary Soviet schools, where devotion to the regime and its methods holds first place in the curriculum.
The mental picture of this mobilized humanity, nightmarish in scale,
was constantly before me as I negotiated for manpower at the behest of various commissariats, in the effort to fulfill urgent production plans. It seemed to me the closest approach in human terms to the anthill or the beehive. The fact that it was embellished with hypocrisies about the dignity of labor and service to the “socialist” collective, and administered by “working-class leaders” like the slave-master Shvernik, made the picture even more monstrous in my eyes. My “rotten liberalism,” clearly, was too deep to be cured.
I became conscious of our tragic deficiencies in war supplies almost at the outset. A conference in the Kremlin called by one of Stalin’s most powerful assistants, Alexei Kasygin, underlined the facts for me. Because the agenda covered many items centered in my department, Utkin wanted me at his elbow, under instructions not to speak in that august gathering unless I was spoken to.
Kasygin represented the Politburo in the control of five commissariats and was also in charge of the problems of Military Engineering Armament. Long before one in the morning, when the conference was scheduled, the five People’s Commissars are on hand in the large reception room. We are somewhat relaxed, the official masks dropped for the moment. These people know each other intimately, even too intimately; the vlast, after all, is a closely-knit world. There are pleasantries, some leg-pulling, an exchange of gossip.
Comrade Ginsburg, Commissar for Construction, a fat little man with a bald head and thick eyeglasses, sits in a corner, quietly drinking tea and chewing cookies. A tall man wearing a colored Russian blouse under his jacket is munching an apple; this is Akimov, Commissar for Textiles. I follow his example and dig into the large fruit bowl. Commissar Lukin, head of Light Industry, winks at me. He is famous as a wit and practical joker.
“How long will you torture us here?” Lukin addresses one of Kasygin’s men. “I want to eat—bacon and eggs, for instance. And a glass of vodka to wash it down wouldn’t hurt either.”
“Yes, you’ll need strength tonight,” the other replies, laughing.“You’ll get hell. Better prepare yourself.”
Everyone joins in the laughter, except Comrade Sosnin, Commissar of Building Materials, a tall man with a gaunt and gloomy face. The gloom is understandable: his is a thankless job, his commissariat “gets hell” from the bosses as a matter of course at every conference. The contrast to Sosnin’s chronic dejection is provided by the cheerful Okopov, Commissar of Machine Construction. Only a little while ago he had been merely the director of a factory in the Urals. Now he is a People’s Commissar and reputed to be a court favorite of Mikoyan. His rapid rise in the official firmament is generally credited to his success in producing a new rocket gun, known as a katusha and still wrapped in great secrecy.
Okopov is an undersized Armenian with graying hair, a cunning little race and fine eyes.
Then Marshal Vorobiov arrives, accompanied by General Kaliagin. Vorobiov is Stalin’s assistant on combat engineering troops and supplies. Since his problems also clear through my Sovnarkom department, we are already acquainted and he greets me warmly. We need one another and both he and Kaliagin are aware how earnestly I’m working to meet the needs of the front. In the midst of the chatter and the tea drinking, our minds are on the big oak doors leading into Alexei Kasygin’s chambers. At last these doors are opened.
“Alexei Nikolayevich invites you to the conference,” a secretary announces.
A hush descends. Smiles fade out. Everyone assumes his most official mask. In Kasygin’s presence we are only one short step removed from the Beloved Leader himself. The room is vast and high-ceilinged, a perfect oval in shape. Portraits of the entire Politburo are evenly spaced around the cream-colored walls. A large radio receiver of foreign make attracts my attention; ordinary mortals are not allowed to possess radios during the war. The conference table, covered with green baize, is large enough to accommodate thirty people.
Kasygin, at the head of the table, wears foreign-made clothes. His expression is grim and his features are as eloquent of sleeplessness and fatigue as my own. He answers the greetings of the Commissars and the Generals with curt nods.
“Be seated,” he commands. “The head of GVIUK will report.”
GVIUK is the abbreviation of the department under Marshal Vorobiov, who stands up to speak. The fact that he has not been addressed by his name and his title is not lost on any of us, least of all on' the Marshal. It’s a gruff indication that Kasygin is in a bad mood. We can expect fireworks.
Marshal Vorobiov talks for about fifteen minutes, from a sheaf of notes. He cites figures, more figures. It’s a black picture he draws of deficit supplies. There are no motorboats for river crossings, he says, and this is costing us thousands of lives. There are no prefabricated bridges, no mines to slow up the enemy advance, no motorized repair shops, no telephone wire and instruments, no plain stoves for trenches; there are even no axes and shovels for the infantry.
Kasygin’s eyes are on the pad before him and he doodles in impatience and irritation. The muscles of his face twitch nervously. Why is there nothing to counter a satanically efficient and mechanized enemy? my mind keeps repeating. Why did we squander those two years of peace? As he proceeds with the statistics, the Marshal’s feelings break through the military crust. There is a catch in his throat as he exclaims:
“People are dying by the thousand at the front this very minute! Why can’t we provide them with ordinary shovels and axes, with cutters for barbed wire? Our boys make bridges of their bleeding bodies because they haven’t the tools to cut the wire! Comrades, it’s shameful, shameful! We have no lanterns—never mind flashlights, just simple kerosene lanterns.
Eight times in the last few months Comrade Stalin has personally ordered these lanterns, but the front still hasn’t got them. We are without camouflage equipment. I plead with you comrades who stand at the head of industry, in the name of the simple soldier at the front.”
“It’s all very clear,” Kasygin says in a tense voice, as the Marshal sits down. “What kind of lanterns do you refer to?”
A colonel sitting beside the Marshal lifts a primitive round lantern, a metal frame with glass windows.
“And we can’t manufacture this trifle?” Kasygin exclaims angrily.
It happens that I am acquainted with this very problem. With Utkin’s permission I speak up.
“Permit me to explain, Alexei Nikolayevich. Production of lanterns is slowed up because we have no sheet metal, no stamping machines, no glass of the proper size and quality. The big sheet-metal plant evacuated from Novomoskovsk is not yet in working order. The glass we can get only from Krasnoyarsk. Perhaps Comrade Sosnin can tell us why it isn’t forthcoming.”