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From Communism to Anti-Communism

 | 
Andre Liebich
, 
Svetlana Yakimovich

Soviet Life in 1931

Youth Active in the Harvest

Hiroaki Kuromiya

Texte intégral

The back of the document reads in German: “DIE JUGEND AKTIV BEI DER ERNTE. B.z. eine Brigade ukrainischer Mädels, die in die Dörfer für die Erntezeit geschickt wird. 37485”. [Purple stamp] “UNIONBILD G.m.b.H. – Berlin SW 68 Zimmerstrasse 70”. [Other purple stamp in Russian] – [“YOUTH ACTIVE DURING HARVEST. A brigade of Ukrainian girls, which will be sent to the villages for the harvest time”]. Black and white photograph; 14 x 19 cm.

1An all-female Youth Brigade at harvest time ready and, supposedly, eager to undertake its task: Agricultural labor was intense and seasonal. Sowing and harvest had to be completed within a limited range of time and therefore required concentrated labor. In the Soviet Union, most agricultural activity was collectivized in the early 1930s, meaning that collective farms (kolhozes) or state farms (sovkhozes) replaced individual farming on small plots. More than 60% of peasant families were in collective farms by late summer 1931, a plateau not surpassed for three years. The assumption was that agricultural work, like industrial work, was to be mechanized, and large-scale collective farming was expected to become far more productive than old, individual farming.

2This proved to be a fantasy. By all estimates, Soviet agriculture stagnated and continued to lag far behind European standards for various reasons, both political and technical. Mechanization proved difficult to implement in the absence of machinery and of mechanical skills. Mismanagement compounded these problems. As a result, human labor still played the predominant role in Soviet agriculture, then and later. Many people, especially young people, such as students, were mobilized as “volunteers” to help collective farms at sowing and harvest times.

3The present photograph shows young, purportedly Ukrainian, girls, all in decorative attire, with impeccable white socks, sent to a village for harvesting. The fact that the girls are dressed alike in festive costumes and aligned in quasi military fashion wielding their hoes like rifles suggests that this photo was a propaganda exercise designed to emphasize the theme of mass mobilization. The photographer does not seem to have noticed the church in the background, hardly a positive element in Bolshevik iconography. Millions were to die of famine in Ukraine in the following years but the harvest in 1930 to which this photo refers was a bumper crop. This photograph thus shows a picture of well-fed girls gazing into the camera with a sense of purpose and dedication. There is no sign of the disaster that was soon to overtake the Ukrainian countryside at that time.

Bibliographie

Robert Conquest, Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror Famine, London: Hutchinson, 1986.

Robert W. Davies, The Socialist Offensive: The Collectivization of Soviet Agriculture, 1929–1930, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1980.

Robert W. Davies and Stephen G. Wheatcroft, The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture 1931–1933, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Table des illustrations

Légende The back of the document reads in German: “DIE JUGEND AKTIV BEI DER ERNTE. B.z. eine Brigade ukrainischer Mädels, die in die Dörfer für die Erntezeit geschickt wird. 37485”. [Purple stamp] “UNIONBILD G.m.b.H. – Berlin SW 68 Zimmerstrasse 70”. [Other purple stamp in Russian] – [“YOUTH ACTIVE DURING HARVEST. A brigade of Ukrainian girls, which will be sent to the villages for the harvest time”]. Black and white photograph; 14 x 19 cm.
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