In The Proletariat\'s Paradise



Romuald Lipinski is a survivor of the USSR, originally deported from Poland in the summer of 1941. He recalls an episode in Russia brought on by a quest for potatoes. A portion of his memoirs can be found here.

Strange, justice was, in the Soviet Russia. Soon after our deportation from Poland to Barnaul, Altajski Krai, we ran out of our food supplies brought from Poland. It was necessary to look for something to eat. Our major source of nourishment became the River Ob, which had plenty of fish. We had fish three times a day. Soon, it became necessary to find something else. A man cannot live by fish alone. Somebody told us that in one kolhoz (collective farm) there was a potato field, and that the potatoes were already dug out with many likely left on the ground. The field was not guarded, so there was an opportunity to go there and dig out some of potatoes. This was very exciting as our situation was near desperate. We were glad to have a chance to get some potatoes.

Early in the morning, a group of youngsters from our Vostochnyj Posielok (Eastern Settlement) set out for the kolhoz where the potato field was located. The weather was good, and we were in a good mood. Expecting to bring some food back to the table, we proceeded happily to our destination. We had some shovels and sacks for the potatoes with us. It was about a journey of about 10 kilometers, and we arrived to the field in about three hours. We quickly found that, indeed, there were many left in the ground after a tractor had gone through the field. We worked for about two hours digging potatoes and had our sacks half-filled, when someone yelled, “Watch out! They are coming!” I raised my eyes and noticed four or five horsemen galloping in our direction. I knew what was going to happen.

In Soviet Russia, although they claimed that land belongs to people, it was not so. The land belonged to the government. Not only the land, but people as well. One does not exist as an individual. The Revolution in 1917 abolished the class system based on hereditary aristocracy. But it introduced another aristocracy that was based on allegiance to the Party. Privileges were allocated according to the position and hierarchy occupied in the Party. Party men had special stores where they could buy everything they needed, that were closed to ordinary people. They had cars, and if they were high enough in the hierarchy, they had chauffeurs to drive them around. They were allowed in special apartments and so many other privileges that an ordinary “muzik” (Russian farmer) could not even dream about. Just to be allowed to live in a large town, especially Moscow or Leningrad, one had to have permission that was very difficult to get. People arranged their lives, their marriages, and so on, according to the privileges they could get. For example, if somebody had a permit to live in Moscow or had a nice apartment allocated to him, he was an attractive marriage partner.

So, by invading the potato field we committed an inpardonable sin - we were steeling public property. Never mind that these potatoes would have rotted in the ground. Never mind that we were hungry. Although the Party proclaimed that the land belonged to the people, this was government property and nobody could touch it. For an infraction like that, people went to court and were condemned for many years in the Gulag.

There was not a moment to lose. I grabbed my sack and hid myself with two or three boys behind bushes that were nearby. Helplessly we watched our friends being mercilessly whipped with long whips. We could see blood flowing from the face of a girl not more than 15 years old as she tried cover her face. The others were similarly whipped. Fortunately they did not arrest anybody. They yelled that they should rot in a concentration camp, but after a while they went away.

When we saw that they had gone, we came from our hiding place and helped our friends to their feet. There was not much that we could do. We shared our potatoes that we were able to hide and started on our way home. Needless to say that on the trip back home our mood was subdued. But we were glad that this incident ended up the way it did. It could have been much worse.


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jaimito has bought into the

jaimito has bought into the bill of goods sold to them. They actually believe that communism is a good way to go. Looking down their noses at us simple capitalists, thinking I know better than they I can lead these people. And of course, at first they would do things they thought were right. However, people are people and sooner or later there will be some that will have to be taken care of. So they would hire the secret police, you know, to protect the people. Start arresting those who thought differently then the boss. After all, he is only doing it for their own good. Those people who do not submit to the genius of the system will have to be dealt with, IE gotten rid of. Meanwhile he hires more people to be the sheppards of the downtrodden. To take care of them, so when they ride in on their horses with some 15 year old girl taking some potatos from the farm will get whipped to within an inch of her life, it is for her own good. Because that property does not belong to the people, or even the government, it belongs to the people who run the government. And stealing from the king is death.

Communism is just another name for Feudalism. You have a King, commissar, and the peasants, peasants, to do the bidding of the king. Do not want to work your field, go to prison, do not want to do the King's bidding, you die. In what way is Communism any different than feudalism. Can anyone tell me?

What is your point? In the

What is your point? In the middle of a great war and disorder, you steal food from the collective. If you steal a piece of bread from a supermarket in Chicago May 1, 2006, in the richest country of the world ever, you end in jail and possibly raped by a drug crazed AIDS carrier. What did you expect in a miserable and remote Asian village? Why they didnt try to ask permission to enter the field? Sorry, I cant see special Communist or Muslim (the farmers were probably Muslim than Marxist) malevolence here.

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jaimito -- your analogy is

jaimito -- your analogy is broken. The loaf of bread in Chicago is private property. Someday, someone will buy it. In the odd case that the store owner has incorrectly estimated his inventory, it will be his decision whether or not to take it home, donate it to a nearby soup kitchen, or whatever. The potato in the field is public property. Not only that, but it was going to rot, abandoned, if no one else took it and ate it (i.e. put it to any use).

In the greater Chicago area, in 2006, there are still some places where you can find abandoned corn fields. My guess is that, even though they are technically private property, no one in America would whip a 15-year-old girl until she bled for eating corn from their stalks.

That, my friend, would be a better analogy.

If you steal a piece of

If you steal a piece of bread from a supermarket in Chicago May 1, 2006, in the richest country of the world ever, you end in jail and possibly raped by a drug crazed AIDS carrier.

Sorry, just had to add one more thing -- since when is jail time the penalty for petty theft? For minors, a call to your parents is the usual action. For adults, a small fine. For heavy, heavy repeat offenders (like, say, Winona Ryder), community service. What planet are you from anyway, jaimito?

Jonathan asked "In what way

Jonathan asked "In what way is Communism any different than feudalism. Can Anyone tell me?"

I know yours is a rhetorical question, but I suppose George Orwell answered it better than any of us could in "Animal Farm". I wish more people would realize that motives matter far less than outcomes.

In the end, the question remains -- Qui custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will watch the watchmen?)

Jaimito - your comparison is

Jaimito - your comparison is even worse than Jonathan said. Since these were potatoes that were left over and not going to be used, it's the equivalent of looking for food in a garbage dump in Chicago. How many people get whipped or sent to prison for rummaging through trash in the US?

On the difference between communism and feudalism - communism is much worse, because it seeks to control everything. Communists don't just want total political power, they want to control every aspect of a person's economic and social life. They've frequently tried to abolish families as part of the communist ideal.

Feudalism (mass slavery) is a good comparison, since totalitarianism is less likely to lead to micro-managing of economic and personal activities. But communism is even more extreme, and attempts to leave nothing at all to individual choice.

Sorry folks but I cant find

Sorry folks but I cant find in the story any suggestion that Communism is to blame for the foreign thiefs´s punishment in Posielok. If someone tells me about the summary execution of an Ukranian peasant because he refused to deliver his cow to the State, or a sentence of eight years in a labor camp for hiding grain, or a student is thrown out of the university because his grandfather was a peddler and a class enemy, or the terror imposed by Lysenko among biologists, I say the regime is inhuman and evil.

But stealing potatoes from a field (I cant believe that the potato was to be left rotting on the field, possible it was left on purpose so the peasants may return and pick it up for their own subsistence) or just stealing, is a crime in any country. Russians as a people are extreemely generous and there are many stories of strangers sharing their last "potatoes".

I feel the Posielok story is wrong, because it invites the reader to apply current American expectations to a very different situation. I am sure Polish wanderers in Siberia during the war suffered a lot, but all that little has to do with Communism per se and much to do with the chaos and misery of Russia in those terrible times.

"(I cant believe that the

"(I cant believe that the potato was to be left rotting on the field, possible it was left on purpose so the peasants may return and pick it up for their own subsistence)"

Then you are a fool. Sorry, but that's the only word.

In a collectivized system, waste of this sort is constant and systemic because nobody has an incentive to actually prevent it. The individual farmers have quotas to produce and they meet those quotas excatly (if they can). They try not to fall short because that leads to punishment, but they also make darn sure not to produce above quota.

Why? Because that means the quotas will be raised for the next cycle, whether or not they should be. So if the harvest is better than expected, you make darn sure that the surplus rots in the field. Because otherwise you'll be expected to meet the same higher figure next year.

Heck, waste is enough of a problem in a free market (since it's almost never economical to eliminate *all* waste). But it's a pale shadow of the problem a centralized, collectivized economy experiences.

So, yes, that food was just going to rot there, even in the midst of shortage and want. Because it wasn't in any farmer's interest to gather it. And that image sums up Soviet industry and agriculture from the beginning to the end...

Dwight, Communism was

Dwight,

Communism was irrational indeed but the people werent. Why should starving kolohozniks ride out and prevent stealing of potatoes from their fields if it was left there to rot? I dont think that communism worked in such a stupid way.

Regarding the quota system, it is irrelevant to this story.

Jonathan,

The analogy of a children picking corn from an abandoned plot in Chicago 2006 is utterly absurd. In your mind, you pictured the scene as happening in an environment you are familiar with, such as Chicago 2006, which is understandable and it may have been the author's intention. In fact you are confusing times, places and situations, and making severe errors in judgment.

I find that Communism was evil because allowed ideologues and politicians to make economic decisions, such as building factories for products no one wanted, sowing unsuitable seed or ordering excessive plant density. Mao imposed wrong agricultural technologies and caused terrible mass starvation, which now I know, were Lysenko's ideas. Lysenko could not have existed except under communism and that is enough reason for me to reject communism.

The analogy of a children

The analogy of a children picking corn from an abandoned plot in Chicago 2006 is utterly absurd. In your mind, you pictured the scene as happening in an environment you are familiar with, such as Chicago 2006, which is understandable and it may have been the author’s intention. In fact you are confusing times, places and situations, and making severe errors in judgment.

And that's that. I'm confusing things, but you offer no explanation or rebuttal. Please explain how I am confusing things, and what is absurd about my analogy, and if that's the case, how your analogy is any less absurd. You could really put the absurdity issue to rest by citing a study showing how many petty thieves are ass-raped by HIV-infected inmates. That would be precious.

I was under the impression that theft from a local merchant operating a store versus from an abandoned or unmaintained field were two different things. I used Chicago 2006 as a setting because you did in your analogy, and, having grown up there, I did pick corn from abandoned corn fields in my youth.

I'm starting to think my only error in judgment was attempting a rational argument with you.