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M. Ilin's

The Story of the Five-Year Plan


1. The New Don Basin

Where are the most of our coal mines?

In the Don Basin.

How much coal did they give at the beginning of the Five-Year Plan?

Twenty-seven million tons a year.

Only! But in order to fulfill the plan, we need seventy-five millions.

What is the matter, then? Have we made a mistake, or what? Perhaps the whole Five-Year Plan will have to be formulated again. If we have made a mistake here, this is what may happen: we shall construct factories and then discover that there is no coal with which to run them. And they will stand as a laughing-stock before the whole world.

No, this must not be permitted.

The task must be fulfilled at any price.

But how is it to be done? And can it be achieved?

Engineers tell us that it is possible. They say that in many mines we still work by hand, without machines. They say that an American miner produces five times as much coal as ours. Is this because the American miner works harder? No, certainly not. The matter is easily explained: the machine aids the American miner.

In many of our mines the work still follows antiquated methods–with his own strength the miner strikes the coal with a pick. In America the pick is almost forgotten. There the miner operates a machine which chops out the coal.

Our miner bores into the coal with a hand drill. The American miner watches an automatic hammer pierce the coal under its own power.

Our miner harnesses himself, like a horse to a sleigh, and straining himself drags the coal to little cars. In America the coal runs along a kind of trough to its destination, is lifted by the hands of a loading machine, and in an instant is emptied into the waiting car.

Up to the present time our mines have been stables. Here with drooping heads stand quiet and gentle horses which never see the light of day. But in America electric engines long ago replaced horses. These engines dash rapidly along the passages of the mine pulling trains of little cars to the elevators.

In our mines all is darkness. Only occasionally is the gloom broken by a tiny light–the lamp of a miner. In America the mines are always illuminated by electricity. They are as light as a room. The miners even carry electric lamps on their caps.

Why could not our mines be equipped in the same way? And we shall so equip them. Already some of them are no worse than the American. Already drilling machines and automatic hammers work for us.

At the end of the Five-Year Plan the Don Basin alone will have 25,000 modern drills, 3500 conveyers, 80 electric engines, and 100 loading machines.

Not only shall we transform the old mines, but we shall also put down tens of new ones. By 1933 the old Don Basin will exist no longer. A new Don Basin will take its place.

2. We will Force the Dead to Work

How much coal will the new transformed Don Basin give us in 1932-33?

Fifty-two and a half million tons.

And how much do we need?

At least seventy-five million tons.

Even this is insufficient.

Whence shall we get the missing coal?

Let us ask the scouts.

They tell us that we have another coal basin, in comparison with which the Don Basin is a dwarf.

In far-away Siberia stand the Altai Mountains whose peaks are covered with eternal snows. And along the slopes grow dense and dark coniferous forests. From the main range long ridges reach out into the Siberian and Kirgiz steppes. At the foot of these mountains lie great beds of coal. In prehistoric times this very spot was washed by an arm of the Gigantic ferns and horse-tails grew along the shores. And in the midst of the ferns clumsy heavy beasts with long necks and little foolish heads made their way. A single beast was as tall as a four-story house.

But years rolled by, the beasts perished, the water dried up, and the sea was converted into a vast swamp. Then the swamp too filled with sand, received deposits of clay, and disappeared. The remains of the swamp grass, the ferns, the horsetails rotted under the layers of sand and clay, became black, and turned into coal. And to this cemetery we intend to go, drag the dead out of their tombs, and force them to work for us.

What is the name of this coal giant in comparison with which the Don Basin is a dwarf? It is called the guzbas or the Kuznets Basin. In the Don Basin the layers of coal are thin; there a seam half a meter in thickness is thought good. But in the Kuznets Basin layers two meters thick are not regarded as usual. Indeed, strata sixteen meters in thickness may be found. These strata, moreover, lie near the surface of the earth, and the quality of the coal is better.

What is the matter, then? Why do we not concentrate on the Kuznets Basin? And so we shall. In the Don region we shall double the output, but in the Kuzbas we shall triple it. The fact is that in the latter basin we are only beginning. Kuzbas is only a youngster. There we have few mines and few railroads and as yet no large electric stations. And the one depends upon the other. How can we run drilling machines, let us say, or electric engines, if there is no current? This means, unfortunate as it may seem, that during these five years we shall not be able to take from the Kuznets Basin all that it is able to give.

Nevertheless we shall do much. Our very largest mines will be in Kuzbas. Mine No. 1 will give 2.5 million tons a year and mine No. 2 will be even more productive: it will give six million tons.

3. Raw Materials from Flesh and Bones

Of coal we shall have enough. But here is something we seem not to have thought of.

Where are most of our factories and mills? In Leningrad, in Moscow, in the Urals, in the Ukraine.

And where is our coal?

Far to the south in the Don Basin, and yet farther away in Siberia in the Kuznets Basin.

To the Urals we shall bring coal from the Kuzbas, to the Ukraine from the Donbas. But what are we to do with Moscow and Leningrad? Must we transport coal such distances, for thousands of kilometers? Think of the cost of transportation!

What an absurdity! Coal in one place, and the factories which need it in another. But we are not to blame for this. The manufacturers who built factories without any plan are responsible.

However, they did have a plan: to extract as much profit as possible. Very often they built factories, not where coal was cheap and not where raw materials were cheap, but where people were cheap. Before the revolution the peasants held little land, they had little to eat, and they were ready to work for farthings. So the manufacturers built factories near this human raw material of flesh and bones.

But the coal? They needed less coal than we do, because it was not profitable for them to buy many machines. A machine which was regarded as profitable abroad, often proved unprofitable to them. And why? Because a machine on two legs worked more cheaply. Nevertheless, they did have some machines.

Whence then came the coal for these machines?

It was imported by sea from abroad.

Their own country had plenty of coal, but they bought coal from England!

Or they did yet worse–they burned the forests.

4. Should Wood be Burned?

The forest should not be burned. Wood is not a fuel, but a valuable material. Instead of destroying trees, we should plant them. Read what Marshak writes :

What do we plant,
Planting forest?
Masts and rails
To hold the sails,
Beams we plant
And ties we grow,
Roads we build
And marshes pave.

What do we plant,
Planting forests?
Airy wings
To cleave the skies,
Windows and doors,
Canoes and chairs,
Kegs and newspapers,
And a book for you.

In fifteen or twenty years no one would think of burning such valuable raw material. The word 'stove wood' will simply be forgotten. And what will the stoves burn?

There will be no stoves.

But how can we get along without stoves? In place of stoves an entire city will be served by one large heating plant. In this central station, not wood, but coal or peat, will be burned. Thence hot water will flow through pipes to all the houses. Already we have such heating stations in Leningrad. And already many homes receive heat through pipes from central plants.

5. Mines Near Moscow

This means that wherever possible wood must be replaced by some other fuel.

What should be done with the Leningrad and Moscow factories? To burn wood is not permitted. Coal must be brought from the Don Basin. But do we not have in the north some other kind of fuel with which it would be possible to replace in part the Don coal?

We will ask the scouts and see what they can tell us.

The scouts say that there is coal near Moscow. Can this be true? How did we happen to overlook such an important fact?

We overlooked the Moscow coal because it is of poor quality. Formerly we paid no attention to it whatsoever. It gives only one half the heat of the Don coal, and with the Kuznets coal it is not to be compared.

Now, however, the engineers have discovered a method of burning this coal profitably.

But what about Leningrad? What is the situation there? Again let us ask the scouts.

A swamp, say the scouts.

A swamp? What kind of swamp?

Peat, say the scouts.

Well, suppose it is peat. What good does that do?

This, that peat is also a fuel. And it is not altogether bad. We must only know how to get at it.

6. Peat Saves Moscow

In 1918, Moscow was cut off from the Don Basin. The transportation of coal was stopped. The Moscow electric stations burned their reserves. Only one station, Electroperedacha, worked without interruption and saved the city. It used peat. And there is peat all around Moscow–as much as you please.

Then they thought of building another peat burning station near Moscow. In the spring of 1918, they began constructing ditches and digging peat in the Shatura swamps. The workers lived in mud huts, went hungry, worked in water up to their knees, and suffered from heat and mosquitoes. But they carried on. In the Baltic factory in Petrograd they found a turbine generator–a machine for producing current. They took a steam boiler from the battleship Novarin. They improvised a new furnace for the burning of peat. They stretched wires from Shatura to Moscow.

And finally current was sent over these wires. Lamps dashed on along the streets of Moscow. Lathes in the factories began to turn. Peat saved the city.

7. Green Coal

Peat–green coal–saved Moscow. It will save us now also, it will help us fufil the Five-Year Plan. For we have tremendous reserves of peat, the foremost in the world. Around Leningrad and Moscow peat swamps extend for tens of kilometers on all aides. Moss, hillocks, water, shrubs, low-growing birches, occasional dark huts, and soft dirt roads, along which travel is possible only in very dry weather–this is the country of peat. We must conquer it. But we cannot conquer it without machines. In many places we still dig peat, as of old, with shovels: here and there we still tramp peat with our feet: we throw peat into a hole, pour water over it, and then, with only our shirts on, crawl down and knead this dough of turf.

By these methods we cannot go far. We need steam shovels, excavators, and mechanical kneading and moulding machines. Excavators, of course, are not suited to all conditions. In stump swamps they cannot work. And this kind of swamp is most common. But Engineer Klasson has discovered an excellent method of meeting this situation. Instead of digging peat, he has suggested that we wash it out of the roots and hillocks with a powerful stream of water. The practice seems absurd at first sight. Men walk through a swamp and water it from a hose, as if it were not a swamp, but an asphalt pavement. And immediately following the men go two cranes. One carries a hook from which a peat pump is suspended; the other is armed with steel jaws. The former plunges its pump, like a trunk, into the peat gruel and pumps it out of the swamp. And the crane with the jaws proceeds alongside, pulling out the stumps after the manner of a great dog picking ticks from brown fur.

But to get peat is not enough. It must be dried. For it absorbs water like a sponge. And it is precisely here that we have our greatest troubles. As yet we do not know how to dry peat well.

How is peat dried?

The peat is made into little bricks which are stacked in piles. The sun and wind do the rest. But this method requires a great deal of time. Even then some of the water remains in the peat. We must learn to dry it artificially. Already we are working on this problem. At the station Electroperedacha an experimental factory for removing water from peat has been built. Here methods of converting ordinary peat into dry bricks and powder have already been discovered. And such artificially dried peat burns quite as well as coal.

8. Ponds of Oil

'It was unnaturally stuffy and suffocating. I felt myself being poisoned. Blundering into a forest of towers covered with oil, I saw before me oil ponds of a greenish black liquid. They seemed bottomless; and the earth, with everything on it, including the people, was splashed and drenched with dark oil. Everywhere greenish puddles reminded one of decay, and under the feet the sand did not grate, but mumbled.

Who says this? And where is oil poured over the ground as if it were water?

The account is from Gorky. He is relating, however, not what exists now, but what existed in the Baku oil fields under the former owners. They made no effort to conserve this valuable resource. They did not guard it in iron cisterns as now, but simply collected it in uncovered ditches. They drew it out of the wells in open pails. As a consequence much oil evaporated, and quantities of gasoline were lost forever. But the owners of the fields gave no thought to this. They were merely interested in getting as much oil as possible out of the earth as quickly as possible and selling it as soon as possible. Why spend money on costly cisterns, on foreign machinery, they argued, when in a month or so one can grow rich and become a millionaire? Seize, rob, plunder! And what would happen when the reserves were exhausted, when the earth ceased to give oil, was no concern of theirs.

We cannot reason in this way. We did not take the oil from the capitalists in order to spill it upon the earth.

We must organize everything efficiently. We must put the oil into cisterns. We must take the oil from the earth, not with open pails, but with pumps. We cannot afford to lose gasoline–we shall need it for our airplanes and automobiles.

9. Steel Pilgrims

We have already bought from abroad many pumps (in the oil fields they are called 'pilgrims') and other machines. And during the coming five years we shall buy still more.

Gorky visited recently our oil fields and says that they have been transformed beyond recognition:

'Over an infinite expanse of oil fields crouch iron pumps with clanking chains; the great watch-towers of the past are disappearing; everywhere swing the clumsy "pilgrims." Almost noiselessly they pump the oil from the depths of the earth. In a little wooden shed on a flat surface spins a central generator. Like a spider it stretches out its long iron legs in ah directions.... Nowhere can one see workers smeared with black oil....Nowhere can one hear the shouting or howling of superiors. Only the clicking and clanking of iron upon iron as the "pilgrims" bow to the earth.'

During the current five years we must increase the production of oil to 26 million tons. In 1927-28 we produced only 12 millions. We will not burn crude oil as they did formerly. We know that crude oil is not a fuel, but a raw material. From it we shall get gasoline for airplanes and automobiles, kerosene for tractors.

If we are to burn it at all, we should burn, not the oil itself, but the residue after benzine and kerosene have been extracted. Even this residue, however, should not be burned, because a way has been discovered of making benzine, not only from raw oil, but from it as well. According to the Five-Year Plan we must build sixty sets of apparatus for performing this process. From the residue we also get machine oil. Since we need great quantities of this oil, we shall not burn all of the residue, but only that portion of it that cannot be utilized in other ways.