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From Communism to Anti-Communism

 | 
Andre Liebich
, 
Svetlana Yakimovich

Soviet Life in 1931

Medical Consultation, Forest Exploitation, Orletsk

Lewis H. Siegelbaum

Texte intégral

The back of the document reads in French: “F. PRESSE-CLICHÉ No. 64625. Février 1931. Rayon de Kholmogory. LES CONDITIONS DE VIE DANS LES EXPLOITATIONS FORESTIERES SOVIETIQUES. Sur la ph.: l’exploitation forestière d’Orletzk. Le secours médical ; les malades attendent leur tour de consulter le médecin”. [Purple stamp] “Copyright PRESS CLICHE – Photo Bureau – Moscow, Pokrovka, 1” – [“February 1931. Region of Kholmogory. LIVING CONDITIONS AT A SOVIET FOREST EXPLOITATION FARM. On the photo: forest exploitation in Orletzk. The medical aid; patients waiting for their turn to see the doctor”]. Black and white photograph; 12.5 x 17 cm.

1One thing the Soviet Union had in abundance was forests and felling timber proved an essential part of the Soviet economy. This was especially the case during the 1930s when exports of wood and wood products provided the USSR with otherwise scarce foreign currency.

2As settlement authorities promoted migration to ever-more remote and sparsely populated regions, such as the Amur River basin bordering on China, virgin forests became targets of exploitation. There does not seem to be information available about the Orletsk Forest Exploitation identified here though it may have taken its name from a nearby Orthodox monastery that had been functioning since the 15th century. The Kholmogorsky District in which the Orletsk Forest Exploitation is located is part of Archangelsk Oblast (region) in the far North of Russia. Though remote, it boasts Mikhail Lomonosov, father of Russian science, as one of its sons. Today, Moscow University is named after Lomonosov as is the village in the Kholmogorsky District where he was born. Timber cutting has long been and is still the principal industry in that part of the country.

3Timber cutting was a dangerous activity and that, as well as the harsh climate of the area, made this particular polyclinic a busy place. Loss of fingers from accidents and frostbite were the most common maladies. At least in the 1930s and 1940s lumberjacks overwhelmingly were collective farmers working seasonally (primarily in winter) to supplement their all too meager incomes. So crucial was their labor to the production of timber that in November 1933 the Soviet government required each collective farm in certain designated areas to include logging and rafting in their production plans, and assume full responsibility for their fulfillment. In later years, the labor reserve system sent collective farmers to forests, but increased mechanization and professionalization encouraged a more permanent labor force.

4Perhaps intentionally, the photographer has portrayed a group of patients where timber workers appear to be absent. At the center of attention is a young boy sitting in a wheel chair with a bandaged left hand and a bandaged, perhaps amputated, right leg. His winter garb and that of his neighbors suggests that this is a winter scene and the cause of the boy’s misfortune is therefore probably frost bite. In sharp contrast to the appearance of the patients is the figure in white, with his back turned and barely visible at the right of the photo. This would probably be the doctor who seems to be speaking to – scolding? – the boy. This sort of public or collective consultation would not have been the rule. Another consultation area is visible behind the waiting room but, in this case, the white-coated specialist may be trying to give a lesson to all those around him.

Bibliographie

Andy Bruno, The Nature of Soviet Power: An Arctic Environmental History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Paula Michaels, Curative Powers: Medicine and Empire in Stalin’s Central Asia, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003.

Lewis H. Siegelbaum and Leslie Page Moch, Broad is My Native Land: Repertoires and Regimes of Migration in Russia’s Twentieth Century, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014.

Table des illustrations

Légende The back of the document reads in French: “F. PRESSE-CLICHÉ No. 64625. Février 1931. Rayon de Kholmogory. LES CONDITIONS DE VIE DANS LES EXPLOITATIONS FORESTIERES SOVIETIQUES. Sur la ph.: l’exploitation forestière d’Orletzk. Le secours médical ; les malades attendent leur tour de consulter le médecin”. [Purple stamp] “Copyright PRESS CLICHE – Photo Bureau – Moscow, Pokrovka, 1” – [“February 1931. Region of Kholmogory. LIVING CONDITIONS AT A SOVIET FOREST EXPLOITATION FARM. On the photo: forest exploitation in Orletzk. The medical aid; patients waiting for their turn to see the doctor”]. Black and white photograph; 12.5 x 17 cm.
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