Marxists Internet Archive: Subjects: Marxism and Art: Literature: Children's Literature

M. Ilin's

The Story of the Five-Year Plan


1. Bread is Coal

There is black coal–the coal from the mines; there is green coal–the peat from the swamps; there is white coal–the energy of the waterfall; there is azure coal–the energy of the wind; there is blue coal–the energy of the tides of the sea; there is yellow coal–the energy of the rays of the sun.

And there is yet one more coal, one more source of energy–bread.

A piece of bread is not simply a piece of bread, but a charge of energy, several hours of concentrated labor of hands, feet, or brain. This coal we need no less than that which we burn in the furnaces of steam boilers. For we must have power for men as well as for machines. We require millions of tons of bread; and not only bread, but also meat, milk, butter, vegetables.

And of this most valuable coal we have little. Scientists say that from our present cultivated lands we could harvest twice as much grain as we do today. We produce much less bread than is necessary. At the same time many more people are raising grain in our country than are producing iron, coal, and other things.

Then what is the matter?

The matter is this: We produce coal and iron in large factories and mines with powerful machines, with well-organized labor.

Do we have many bread mines and grain factories? They have only begun to appear. And we still have very few of them.

More than half of our bread, meat, and milk is still produced in small peasant households, in small grain shops.

In the factories we have accurate, nimble machines with tens of metal hands. On the farm you seldom see a machine. Here men work today as they did a thousand years ago, with hand tools–with sickle, scythe, flail, and spade.

In the factories the workers have a clear, definite, and carefully formulated plan. On the farm the peasants work, not according to a plan, but according to habit, as their grandfathers did before them.

In the factories the workers know that, in order to produce a certain number of tons of goods, they need a certain number of tons of raw materials, a certain amount of heat, a certain number of hours of labor.

And does a peasant know, when he works, what the results of his labors will be? Does he know what harvest he will get? Whether he will have enough bread to last until the next year?

The peasant is in a constant state of fear; he has none of the assurance of the worker. A drought can burn up his sewings. A rain can rot his hay. An injurious insect can destroy his entire crop.

But this cannot go on. We must organize the labor of the people who produce bread. Should we tolerate the situation, if our iron were produced, not in factories, but in a million village blacksmith shops, if we never knew whether we should have any iron at all, or whether we should have enough for our needs? But how are we to convert all of these little peasant shops into great factories? How are we to organize labor so that we need not fear rain, drought, or poor crops?

And can it be done?

2. Factories Without Walls and Without Roofs

In any metallurgical or chemical factory the task is clear: with machines and from raw materials steel, pig iron, soap, soda, and phosphates must be made.

If water is needed, the worker opens a faucet and water pours forth. If light is needed, he turns a switch and there is light. If electrical energy is needed, he makes a connection and there is energy. Cold of 200 degrees below zero, heat of 1000 to 8000 degrees above zero, pressure of 1000 atmospheres, rarefication to one-thousandth of an atmosphere–all of this is at the complete disposal of the worker in the factory.

And in the peasant household? Here water is given, not by water-pipes, but by a cloud hanging in the sky. Light and energy are sent, not by an electric station, but by the sun. However, can we command the sun to shine or not to shine? Can we command the rain to fall or to cease falling?

No, we cannot.

Does this mean that man is powerless in the face of Nature?

No, here also we may carry on a warfare with Nature.

We cannot extinguish the sun or stop a drought, but we can choose for planting the kind of grain that is least susceptible to drought.

We cannot force rain to fall, but we can dig irrigation ditches and send water through them into the fields.

We cannot make the wind cease blowing, but we can protect the fields from the wind by a wall of forest trees.

We cannot halt a deluge, but we can gather our crops so quickly that they will be in no danger of rotting.

We cannot grow grain on infertile soil, but with mineral fertilizers we can make soil productive.

We can force Nature to obey. We can also organize labor so that all chance factors will be eliminated, so that everything will be estimated and weighed as in any chemical factory.

True, it will be more difficult here. A grain factory stands under the open sky, without walls and without roofs. Its shops are the fields. The very largest chemical factory you can cross in two or three hours, but a large grain factory, if it occupies 100 to 150 thousand hectares, you cannot cross in several days. And over this great distance must be moved men, and machines, and seeds, and fertilizers, and fuel, and the finished product–grain and straw.

And this is a most difficult task.

3. The Calculations of a Professor Who did not Know how to Calculate

A certain professor even composed a table in order to show how much time workers will have to consume in walking. He calculated that it will be necessary for every worker to make six trips a day. In the morning from the headquarters to the place of work–one trip. Back to headquarters to dine– a second trip. After dinner to the place of work again–a third trip. From the place of work to the headquarters to pass the night–a fourth trip. Also, since, according to the professor, it may rain, we shall assume one rain a day, and since the worker must get out of the rain, he will go to headquarters –a fifth trip. But after the rain he must go back to work–the sixth trip.

If the headquarters is near the place of work, the situation is not so bad. But if it is distant five or six kilometers, then the worker will spend seven hours a day in walking. And only one hour will remain for labor.

If the place of work is not six, but seven kilometers, distant, every worker will spend the entire day in walking.

And if the distance should be more than seven kilometers, the worker will never reach the place of work. It will be as inaccessible to him as the North Pole or Mount Everest.

And, in truth, the worker barely makes half the distance before he must run home to dine. He finishes his dinner and again runs halfway, but is forced back because it starts to sprinkle.

And from this series of intricate calculations the professor draws the following conclusion: large grain factories must not be organized.

But is it not possible to transport workers in trucks or autobuses?

No, this also cannot be done. For five or six thousand persons to drive through a factory six times a day is no joke. It will cost too much.

Is the professor, then, really correct? Is a large grain factory really an impossible thing?

No, the professor is mistaken. We already have large grain factories, and they work well. The huge grain factory, Gigant, has been running since 1928. Do you know how large it is? Seventy-three kilometers from north to south, forty kilometers from east to west.

What happens, then? Do the workers go about on foot there?


Do they ride in autobuses?


They live where they work.

And this is very simple. One need not be a professor to think of it. Any school child in the first grade will tell you that workers need not run to headquarters to dine when it is possible to take along a kitchen on wheels and dine in the field. Also they need not return to headquarters to sleep. They can pass the night in a tent. But suppose it should begin to sprinkle? My, what a calamity! Do men actually run from rain to headquarters several kilometers away? A tent will protect them. Red soldiers live all summer in tents.

Matters can be arranged so that men will not have to run a whole day. And this is not so difficult.

4. Factories on Wheels

And how about the machines? In ordinary factories machines stand firmly in place, screwed to the door or the foundation. But in a grain factory machines cannot stand, they must be moved from place to place.

And how is this arranged?

By putting machines on wheels.

An agricultural machine can be distinguished at one glance from any factory machine. It has wheels.

Visit Gigant. There you will see workers' houses on wheels, shops on wheels, reservoirs on wheels, post-offices on wheels, print-shops on wheels.

The motor in the grain factory must also be on wheels. It must not only drive machines, but it must also move them about.

Such a motor is the tractor.

At Gigant workers and machines wander for a whole summer through the grain factory. Who would have thought a few years ago that it is possible to have a wandering agriculture, just as there are yet here and there wandering cattle breeders?

But how are connections maintained? In a factory the operations must be closely integrated. The foreman must know what each worker in shop does, and the superintendent must know what each shop in his factory does.

And here in the grain factory one brigade of workers is separated from another by tens of kilometers. You could not even see them all with a telescope. But the necessary connections can be established by telephone. At Gigant telephone wires are stretched through all the fields. Any brigade can speak at any moment with the central office–with the chief of staff of the grain factory.

5. Man Replaces a Hundred

But in a large factory large machines are needed. Are there such machines?

There are. Gone is the time when the sickle and the scythe were the only tools for reaping. Now a single machine will do the work of hundreds of sickles and scythes. The reaper of today is a mechanic in overalls and goggles, with brown gloves on his hands as a protection against oil and dirt. He stands on a little bridge belonging to his machine a combine–high above the ground. In his hand is a whistle. With this whistle he gives orders to the driver.

The combine moves through the held. A huge revolving fender presses the stalks against the knives. Rapidly the knives move backward and forward and cut the straw. The fallen stalks then run by themselves into the machine, where they are met by a thresher and a winnowing apparatus. In the twinkling of an eye the head is separated from the stalk and the grain is threshed, winnowed, and piped into a tank which rocks over the head of the operator.

The machine does three things at one time: it reaps, it threshes, and it winnows.

The combines go through the held–like a squadron–in a curved line: the first leading the way, the second behind and a little to the left, the third still farther back and more to the left. Proceeding in this fashion they do not interfere with one another. Each machine cuts a strip five meters wide. Ahead is a limitless sea of wheat stretching for tens of kilometers. In order to reap all this with the scythe, to bind it into sheaves, to thresh it with the flail, to winnow it with the shovel, thousands of men would be required. And here several mechanics in blue overalls do the entire job. One man with a combine is equivalent to one hundred men using hand implements.

And the work of this one man is, of course, lighter. 'During the day,' say hand reapers, 'you are so worn out from wielding the scythe that you cannot rest at night. When you sleep, your hands continue to twitch as if you were still mowing.'

The operator of a combine does not have to swing a scythe; he stands quietly at his post and looks on. The machine mows by itself.

6. A Living or an iron Engine?

The grain factory has the tractor.

And what kind of engine does the peasant have?

The horse.

The horse is the most greedy, the most gluttonous of all engines. It devours one half of all that the peasant produces on his farm. In the steppe region of the Ukraine the peasant spends three hundred rubles a year on his horse–as much as he spends on his whole family.

A horse is a voracious engine and at the same time a very weak engine. One tractor can do the work of twenty and more horses. And with a horse you cannot plough the earth as deep as you can with a tractor.

But even this weak engine is too strong for the peasant's farm. The ordinary horse works much less for the peasant than it might. Think of all the days a horse stands idle. Only about a hundred days a year does it labor. And yet it has to be fed all the time. It is not like a tractor which uses gasoline only when it works. And even when the horse works, it does altogether too little, because on a peasant's farm there is not enough to do to keep one horse busy. And why? Because the farm is too small. One half of a horse would suffice to cultivate the tuft of earth that the poor peasant owns. His horse could do a great deal more if he had more land and more horse-drawn machines: a rake, a plough, a planter, a reaper, a thresher. He could then force the horse to do what he must do himself now: plant, reap, and thresh. But there is precisely where the trouble lies: every peasant does not have machines.

The only way out is for the peasants to unite, to organize an artel in order that the soil may be cultivated in common and that all horses and all machines may be owned cooperatively. Fewer horses would then be needed, and every horse would have more work to do. An artel can do many things: it can buy machines and mineral fertilizers. A large artel need not use horses at all, but can replace them with tractors.

7. M.T.S.

M.T.S. means machine-tractor stations. They are being organized in order to help the village make the transition from hand to machine work, from an individual to a collective economy.

The first M.T.S. was organized in 1928 in the sovkhoz of the name of Shevchenko. There the M.T.S. entered into a contract with twenty-six villages. This agreement was as follows: the peasants were to unite all their fields and remove all dividing fences and barriers, and the station was to place at their disposal a detachment of tractors and an accompanying staff of agronomists and mechanics. The results for the year were as follows:

The cost of the cultivation of the soil decreased from twenty rubles to fourteen rubles per hectare; and the income increased from fifty-two rubles to eighty-three rubles per hectare. Needless to say, the peasants did not regret having entered into the contract. Now we have many such stations. Hundreds of villages are being towed by the M.T.S. toward mechanized and socialized agriculture.

8. Two Departments of a Grain Factory

Sovkhozes and kolkhozes are more profitable than the individual peasant farm. For one thing, the harvest is much higher. On Shevchenko sovkhoz the yield of winter wheat per hectare is one and a half tons, while on the neighboring peasant strips it is only three-quarters of a ton.

On the kolkhoz Kolos 2 (in the Leningrad region), the harvest of hay and barley was one and two-thirds tons per hectare, and on the land right next to it the yield was only one ton. In the case of potatoes, the kolkhoz produced twenty tons per hectare and the peasant farms only eleven tons.

These examples I have taken at random. I did not select them.

But a grain factory also produces straw. What is to be done with it?

Should we throw it away? This would mean that we should throw away three-fourths of the goods turned out by the factory. Who ever heard of such a thing–a factory having three tons of waste for every ton of goods?

This cannot be tolerated. A good factory should have no waste, no trash.

Straw should not be thrown away. It can be transformed into meat and milk. But in order to do this, we must organize in addition to the grain department one more department–a dairy section.

In a grain factory, as in any other factory, everything must be used. The waste from one department–straw–should go to another and be turned into meat and milk. The waste from the second department–manure–should go back to the first and fertilize the fields. Nothing should be wasted. One department should support the other.

Such is the case on sovkhozes and kolkhozes. But on individual farms the situation is just the reverse. There cattle die off because of insufficient grain and straw. And the grain is inadequate because of the lack of manure. The horse fights with the cow and takes away her fodder. The horse must be fed. Otherwise there will be nothing with which to plough the soil, nothing with which to feed the cow, nothing for the people to eat.

This seems like an enchanted circle from which there is no possible escape. Yet there is a way of escape–through the kolkhoz.

On the kolkhoz the cultivation of the soil is superior: the yield of grain and straw is greater. On the kolkhoz the cow gets better food and gives more milk. On the kolkhoz fewer horses are required to cultivate a given area; hence more cows can be kept. And if tractors replace horses on a kolkhoz, so much the better. A tractor does not deprive a cow of her fodder.

No matter from what side you approach the question, the conclusion is clear: a change is necessary. And this change is already going on. It has embraced one half of all the peasant farms, and in a few years, in place of millions of poverty-stricken individual households, we shall have one mighty union of grain factories.

9. We shall Change the Map of U.S.S.R.

Bread is the most valuable, the most useful coal.

And we shall have this coal in abundance, if we only organize our labor wisely. Natural resources of coal or peat we cannot increase, but the reserves of bread we can double, triple, raise tenfold.

We can irrigate deserts, dry swamps, plough steppes, and force even the sands to give bread.

In Central Asia, in Kazakstan, in the regions beyond the Caucasus, we shall lead canals across deserts and steppes, we shall create hundreds of eases, we shall plant rice and cotton. The Hungry Steppe of Kazakstan will cease to be hungry and unfruitful. We shall transform it into a flowering plain.

In White Russia and in many other places we shall dry swamps and convert them into prairies.

In the Northern Caucasus, in Kazakstan, we shall plough steppes and force wild grasses, red-top and feather grass, to step aside and give way to wheat.

We shall take possession of vast empty spaces in the south and in the east and we shall transform them into green pastures and cultivated lands. During the five years we must conquer fifteen million hectares of new territory. Such an area is equivalent to two Esthonias or two and a half Lithuanias.

In certain regions, where today forests grow, the soil is black and fertile and capable of giving us the richest of harvests. These forests we shall cut down and the land we shall seed to grain. Then we shall plant trees on sandy and unprofitable soil.

With forests we shall subdue the sands and reinforce the banks of ravines. With forest walls we shall protect railroad tracks from drifting snow. With forests we shall shelter fields from the hot winds of the south.

10. A Colossal Task

To create eases in deserts, to transfer forests from one place to another, to convert swamps into fields–such are the great tasks which the Five-Year Plan sets before us.

But still more difficult, still more grandiose, is yet another task: to change the life of millions of people, to pull poverty, and darkness, and slavery out by the roots.

We need kolkhozes and sovkhozes not merely to produce bread.

And we need machines not only that work may go on more rapidly and more efficiently.

We know that the machine is capable of being either a friend or an enemy of man.

The same combine and the same tractor, that deliver our peasant from poverty and drudgery, in America have caused millions of people to leave their homes and wander through the land. Every new machine invented is a curse for many workers.

In America also small farms consolidate to form large agricultural factories. But how does this occur there? A machine is invented. Every small farmer must buy it, or he will be at a great disadvantage; but he has no money with which to make the purchase. He therefore becomes entangled in debts, is forced to sell out to some banker or merchant, and ends his life as a worker on the very farm which at one time belonged to his father or grandfather. But in time another machine is invented, better than the first. Half of the workers are discharged. Often a person who was born and raised on a particular farm is forced to leave and join the ranks of the unemployed. The machine has thrown the man out of his own home and taken both bread and shelter from him and his family.

A certain American writer says:

'Since the invention of agricultural machines, a whole army of wandering farm laborers has appeared. Frequently they cover tremendous distances in order to find work during harvest-time. Since they have no money, they steal rides on freight trains or travel by foot. They are a completely disheartened people.'

This is what the machine does in America. It changes a free man into a slave, a farmhand.

This ought not to be permitted. Life must be so organized that people will rejoice at the appearance of each new machine and greet it as a friend. But in order to achieve this goal, machines must belong to society and not to individuals. A socialistic state must be built.

In the village this is by no means an easy task. It is less difficult to build socialism in the cities because there the State owns all machines and all factories. The State can conduct the work in the interests of the whole society, of the entire country. In the village there are many owners. Each peasant owns his tools, his horse, his cow. Each peasant works in his own way and works badly, because he must work on his miniature farm, in his little hand shop. The country consequently suffers from a scarcity of foodstuffs and raw products for its factories.

But this is not all. In the cities the workers have broken the power of manufacturers; they have driven out the great landowners; factories and mills now belong to the State. In the village we still have private property, we still have individual ownership. And the village capitalists, the kulaks, of course, are opposed to all forms of collectivism. They pull backwards and endeavor to hamper the peasants who desire to unite and build a socialized economy. This is the chief obstacle on the way to socialism.

In the socialistic state there will be no classes. The Revolution first removed the manufacturers and landowners. Now we are setting ourselves the task of disarming another class–the kulaks, the capitalists of the village.