Proletarians of all countries, Unite!
This Marxist slogan was turned into reality in the Kuzbass of the 1920s. The Communist International (Comintern) and V.I. Lenin conducted there an international experiment: the Autonomous Industrial Colony Kuzbass.
Workers and specialists of 30 nationalities came to the heart of Siberia from all around the world to demonstrate their solidarity with the Russian workers by taking part in the construction of the world's first workers and peasants’ state.
The International Industrial Organization operated in Kuzbass in 1921 – 1927.
Unfortunately, the abrupt change in the Soviet foreign policy brought about the end of this unique project.
IntroductionLenin’s address to the working people of the world
In December 1919, New York magazine The Class Struggle published V.I. Lenin’s address to American workers. How the letter was delivered to the United States, despite the military intervention and the blockade of Soviet Russia, deserves a story of its own, and indeed, the story was described in a 1967 movie called “The Currier from the Kremlin”.
Lenin wrote in his address:
- "America is the leader of those countries whose workers can help us, are helping now and will help."
"The faithful, energetic and well-qualified workers of America will inspire foreign industrial workers to bring their technical knowledge to Soviet Russia. They are ready to endure hardships to restore the economy of the first workers and peasants' republic."
Lenin's letter immediately hit the headlines and was published all over America and Europe. It triggered a movement in support of Soviet economy. It was especially strong in the USA, where the community of Russian expatriates was large, because a lot of Russian migrants who ran away from the Tsarist regime were glad to return home.
Decree on Concessions
The Civil war and the foreign military intervention completely undermined Soviet economy. Russia’s plants and factories lay in ruins, its transport system was almost totally destroyed, and its agriculture was in tatters.
The Soviet government realized that to restore the ruined economy they needed equipment and technical assistance from abroad. So they decided to set up a number of foreign concessions, i.e. to lease state property to foreign capital.
The Decree on Concessions was adopted by the Council of People's Commissars on November 23, 1920.
The Decree contained a list of 72 concession territories. One of the most attractive objects was the Kuznetsk Basin: "The Kuznetsk coal Basin, undoubtedly, ranks first in terms of the quantity and quality of deposits to be submitted for development on a concession basis, as well as in terms of the number of prospects for the industrial development of Western Siberia".
The Autonomous Industrial Colony Kuzbass: Beginning“We shall build a new world!”
The 3d Congress of the Communist International
The story of the Kuzbass Autonomous Industrial Colony (AIC Kuzbass) began in Moscow, where the Third Congress of the Communist International (Comintern) and the International Congress of the Red Trade Unions (Profintern) were held from June 22 to July 12, 1921. 605 delegates from 52 countries came to Moscow to demonstrate their solidarity with the Russian workers in response to the blockade of Soviet Russia by capitalist governments.
The First World War, the civil war, the foreign intervention, famine and drought brought the country's economy into a catastrophic state. Delegates discussed how the international proletariat can help the world's first workers and peasants’ state.
Sebald Rutgers, an engineer and socialist from the Netherlands, was the first to suggest: "The starving people of Russia need not only our money, food and other products. We should help to restore the country’s economy ... The working class has the opportunity to organize teams that could participate in the restoration of Russia’s economy and industries. And such form of support will be exactly what the starving people need ... I therefore make the following proposal: I’m asking foreign workers to support Soviet Russia by organizing industrial colonies."
Rutgers united his efforts with Herbert Calvert, an American representative of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Together they turned this idea into a project of industrial labor colonies that foreign industrial workers were to set up in the economically significant regions of Russia: "Since it is impossible to upgrade the Russian economy quickly enough, it is necessary to transplant an independent industrial unit from America; a group of foreign workers and engineers, familiar with advanced technologies and production, will lay the foundations of modern industry in that region."
Rutgers insisted that such an organization should act as a closed independent economic unit within the Soviet system. He feared that qualified foreign specialists would merge into the Soviet production system and lose their advantages.
The project was supported by the Soviet government and delegates to the Congress. In the summer of 1921, Rutgers led an expedition to Kuzbass in order to select the site for the first experimental colony. He declared Kuzbass a perfect place for foreign workers.
After the agreement had been signed, they formed an Organizing Committee, which included Rutgers, Calvert, Heywood, Barker, Bayer, Mann, and Watkins, each responsible for a particular direction.
Sebald Rutgers was a Dutch engineer, the author of the Kuzbass project. He served as a link between the USA, Western Europe and Moscow and coordinated the activities of the Organizing Committee. He was appointed the chief director of the Colony and was elected Chairman of the Kuzbass Board.
Herbert Calver was the only American in the initiative group allowed a legal entrance to the USA. To recruit colonists, he organized the American Office of Kuzbass in New York.
Bill Heywood a political emigrant from the United States, remained in Moscow as AIC representative for solving all organizational issues. He preceded Rutgers in Kemerovo.
Jack Beyer was a political emigrant from the United States. He was delegated to Kuzbass to prepare accommodations for the first colonists and establish contacts with local authorities.
Tom Barker was a leading member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in New Zealand and Australia. He was in charge of the New York Office after Calvert.
Tom Mann was an English trade unionist, one of the founders of British Communist Party. Together with Watkins, he was to recruit miners in England.
Agreement between the AIC and the Council of Labor and Defense"This is an exceptional concession granted to US workers by the special permission of the Politburo" V.I. Lenin
It took Rutgers team and the Council of Labor and Defense five months to draft the contract. Such carefulness was explained by the enormous political and propagandistic significance of the project, as well as by the considerable material risk on the part of the Soviet government, which financed the project.
While supporting the idea of a foreign colony, the Council of Labor and Defense was afraid that the project would fail as it could attract random people lacking sufficient qualification, in which case the costs, allocated from the scanty Russian budget, would not pay off. Lenin was quite explicit about Kuzbass leaders: "Heywood is a semi-anarchist, more sentimental than business-like; Rutgers might slip into leftism at any minute. Calvert is all talk no work... They are carried away too easily... We have no business guarantees here. "
The Council of Labor and Defense held two opposite options for the development of Kuzbass. One belonged to the member of the State Planning Committee, the former Managing Director of Kopikuz, Joseph Iosifovich Fedorovich. The other was expressed by Sebald Rutgers.
Fedorovich proved the economic inefficiency of Kuzbass: poor Russian locals would never be able to work shoulder to shoulder with foreign proletarians. Besides, ggreat plans require large capital. He said: "Only foreign capital can help us in such a difficult economic situation. In my opinion, the only option that might eventually turn beneficial for the Motherland is to give up Kemerovo mines to a foreign concession."
Rutgers had a different opinion: "I believe that the independence of the enterprise from foreign capital is of greatest economic and political significance. It is extremely important that the region, which has such a colossal importance for the further development of industry, does not fall into the hands of our class enemies. Instead of attracting concessionaires and capitalists to the industrial development of this extremely important region, I propose to attract a group of foreign workers and engineers and give them an opportunity to build this industry."
Rutgers’ project was supported by V.I. Lenin, Chairman of the State Planning Committee G.M. Krzhizhanovsky and L.D. Trotsky, who was the Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic and People's Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs.
On November 22, 1921, the Council of Labor and Defense signed a contract with the Kuzbass organization team. The draft was approved by the Council of People's Commissars on October 25, 1921.
According to the Charter adopted, “The State Association of the Mining, Metallurgical and Chemical Industries of Siberia and the Urals, the Autonomous Industrial Colony “Kuzbass” (AIC Kuzbass)” was a state institution, and all of its products belonged to the state.
The agreement had to be changed on December 25, 1922, when the New Economic Policy (NEP) was declared in the country. According to the new agreement, the organization was considered officially approved on October 1, 1922.
Sebald Rutgers was appointed the chief director of the Kuzbass Colony. His main task was "to set up modern large-scale industry." The Colony got hold of all industrial enterprises in the region. Originally, it was decided to give Kuzbass control over the Nadezhdinsk metallurgic plant in the Urals, but it had to be postponed.
As a state enterprise, Kuzbass was exempt from all taxes. The Colony was allowed a duty-free import of those equipment and materials that were not manufactured in Russia.
It was supposed that local workers would be involved on equal footing with foreigners.
The Colony was called a "concession of workers", because its members invested in the development of the Kuzbass their labor instead of money.
The name of the Kuzbass Autonomous Industrial Colony
The enterprise was autonomous because it reported directly to the Council of Labor and Defense and the Kuzbass Board; all other state and local bodies were forbidden to interfere with the administrative, technical and organizational work of the enterprise.
The founders later admitted that the word "colony" in the name of the enterprise bore a certain negative connotation. But in Russia the word "colony" denoted both a settlement founded by settlers from another country and a factory village. Besides, there had already been a settlement near the coke plant in Kemerovo called New Colony in the days of Kopikuz Company.
The corporate seal of Kuzbass
Like any other enterprise, the Kuzbass Autonomous Industrial Colony had a company stamp, but it was as unusual as the organization itself. Its design was developed by one of the founders of the Colony, Jack Beyer.
The basis for its design was the poster of a play dedicated to a grandiose strike in the town of Paterson back in 1913. (Paterson was America’s biggest center of the silk industry. The IWW and Bill Heywood encouraged twenty-five thousand workers to go on strike that lasted several months).
The performance was staged by John Reed (*), a journalist and the author of the famous book Ten Days That Shook the World about the revolution in Russia. On June 7, 1913, he organized an unusual performance in Madison Square Garden, the largest hall in New York. It was based on his play The War in Paterson.
The building was decorated with red bulbs that spelled Industrial workers of the world. Above the stage there was a gigantic poster depicting a heroic worker placed against an industrial background. The author of the poster was Robert Jones, a famous theater artist. Over 15,000 spectators attended the play, including 1,200 strikers from Paterson, who waved red flags and IWW posters.
After the strike in Paterson, the image from the playbill became a IWW symbol. It was assumed that most colonists would be IWW members, so Jack Beyer used the image for Kuzbass company stamp.
The Structure of The Kuzbass Autonomous Industrial Colony
Kuzbass Foreign Offices
The Colony was created parallel to its offices in New York and Berlin. Their task was to recruit colonists, purchase equipment and provide colony with technical information.
The American Office was headquartered in New York. At first it was located on 40th Street, but on May 1, 1924, it was moved to Broadway. The Office opened about 30 support centers for Kuzbass in ten states of America (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, California, West Virginia, etc.) and two Canadian provinces (Ontario and British Columbia).
The Kuzbass Colony support centers promoted information about the project, selected candidates, interviewed them, helped them to collect all necessary documents and get to the assembly point. Each candidate was required to submit a qualification profile and a medical certificate.
Candidate signed a two-year contract with the Kuzbass Colony, as well as a commitment that was added to the text at Lenin’s insistence. This commitment warned potential colonists about the hardships that awaited them in the starving country, e.g. that they could face distrust and envy of the local population, whose standard of living had fallen below the lowest level imaginable.
The would-be colonists paid an entrance fee of $300 (100$ for the purchase of tools, 100$ for food and 100$ to get them to the border of the USSR). After the expiration of the contract, this amount was to be refunded.
The Berlin branch of the Kuzbass Colony was located in the building of Soviet Trade Mission on the famous Unter den Linden Street.
Russian Kuzbass Offices
Russian Kuzbass offices were opened in Moscow, Sverdlovsk (modern Yekaterinburg), Tomsk, and Novosibirsk.
The Board resided at the Kemerovo Mine.
AIC enterprises in Kuzbass
In 1925, the Council of Labor and Defense added the Southern District of Kuzbass to the number of AIC enterprises "as the first step towards unifying the management of the entire Kuznetsk Coal Basin." In addition to the Kemerovo Mine and the coking plant, the Colony managed mines in Leninsk-Kuznetsky and Prokopyevsk, as well as a metallurgical plant in Guryevsk.
Eventually, the Colony managed an area equal to the territory of the Netherlands.
Kuzbass Friends in the USA
There were no diplomatic relations established between Soviet Russia and the United States in that period. However, some Americans welcomed the Russian revolution and advocated the normalization of relations between the two countries, e.g. there were many leftists among American intellectuals and people of art.
In 1923, American Office established an Advisory Committee. It included famous American scientists, journalists and other celebrities that openly promoted and supported the idea of Kuzbass.
Charles Proteus Steinmetz "The Lord of Lightning", "The Magic Dwarf from Breslau", "Electro-dwarf" – these was how journalists nicknamed outstanding mathematician, electrical scientist, engineer and inventor Dr. Charles Steinmetz.
William Montgomery Brown was the Bishop of Arkansas. They called him Red Bishop after he published his book Communism and Christianity in October 1920. The subtitle read: "Banish Gods from Skies and Capitalists from Earth!" He was the first Episcopal bishop to be tried for heresy since the Reformation, and the first of any creed in America to be deposed for heretical teachings. His book withstood a number of publications and was published in Russian in 1923. When he learnt about Kuzbass in April 1921, William Brown handed Herbert Calvert $500 and sales return from his book to promote the project. Then Kuzbass founders decided to use the money to publish a monthly journal called "The Kuzbass Bulletin" in the USA (1922 – 1923).
Thorstein Bunde Veblen was an outstanding American economist, sociologist, publicist and futurist. He entered the history of economic thought as the founder of institutionalism and the first popular critic of capitalism. In his masterpiece The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) Veblen combined sociology with economics and introduced the terms "leisure class" and "conspicuous consumption." According to Veblen, the leisure class included proprietors that lead a leisure lifestyle and despised work as an unworthy occupation. They did not produce anything: they just spent huge money on completely meaningless things in pursuit of the hottest trends. Veblen was left-wing but not a Marxist. He said: "Eventually, something new will appear, but right now I do not see a better course than the one chosen by the Communists." Veblen learned about Kuzbass from his friends and helped Herbert Calvert with advice.
US Propaganda of Kuzbass«Wanted! Pioneers for Siberia!»
Kuzbass benefited greatly from its propaganda in the United States. Popular newspapers wrote about Americans who intended to "build a more efficient industry in Kuzbass than the one built by the capitalists in the state of New Jersey." The Liberator published an article by American writer Michael Gold entitled "Wanted, Pioneers for Siberia."
The American Office issued a 32 page brochure about Kuzbass in English, Russian, Finnish and Hungarian.
The brochure was criticized for being too promotional: it embellished the real state of affairs in Siberia. In response, American mining engineer Alfred Pierson, who ran the Kemerovo Mine, wrote: "the brochure does not allow a modern American city dweller to imagine the grayness of a Siberian town with its log huts, so he will probably be disappointed by the reality, although I have seen many a miner town in America that would make Kemerovo look like the city of your dreams."
"The Kuzbass Bulletin"
In 1922 – 1923, Kuzbass American Office issued an English monthly 12-page journal called the Kuzbass Bulletin. The money for this publication was donated by the Bishop of Arkansas William Montgomery Brown*, who got very enthusiastic about Kuzbass. He gave Calvert $500 and donated all sales return from his book Christianity and Communism on the propaganda of the project.
The first issue was published on May 20, 1922, and opened with Sebald Rutgers' editorial "An Attempt to Strengthen Soviet Russia." Rutgers wrote that Kuzbass was no place for theorists and dreamers; it was not to be regarded as a way to avoid unemployment or get rich: people went there to do hard work and repair Soviet economy. He warned potential “Kuzbassers”: "The colonists who come to Russia will have the opportunity to secure a decent standard of living, but they will not be able to make a profit or get rich. We invite only those workers who are ready to give all their energy and who are willing and able to bear the hardships of the first years".
The first issue of the Bulletin was sold out in a week, and soon its subscribers numbered thousands. The Bulletin covered Kuzbass plans, reports, and stories about the life of the colonists, their letters, poems, photographs, and applications for specialists.
The Kuzbass Bulletin became the most effective means of Kuzbass propaganda. Its materials appeared in other newspapers and magazines. Tom Barker said that they knew about Kuzbass more in America than in Russia.
The last issue of the Bulletin was published on December 1, 1923. Eventually they had to stop publishing because of financial difficulties; besides, the permanent staff of the Colony had already been shaped. Since 1924, people were recruited only to replace those colonists who had worked their time.
It’s a long way to Kuzbass"The road to Soviet Russia began as a path that seemed an excellent opportunity to help the first working people's state not just in words but in deeds." - Colonist Ruth Kennell
The first group of colonists departed from New York to Kuzbass on April 8, 1922, on the steamer Adriatic. From 1922 to 1926, several groups of colonists were sent from the USA to Kuzbass every year to replace those whose two-year contract had run out. They crossed the Atlantic from New York to Rotterdam or from New York to Libava (the modern city of Liepaja in Latvia). There they were joined by colonists from European countries and went to Petrograd by smaller steamers. A special train took them from there to Kemerovo. In addition to personal luggage, colonists carried food, materials, tools, equipment, and seeds.
Ruth Kennell, who came to Kuzbass with the 4th group, wrote to Calvert's wife Mellie (July 11, 1922, 4th group): "Dear Mellie, in the evening our train left Petrograd in stormy weather.... We call our train Maxim Gorky. You know that this writer traveled a lot around the country. There are 19 freight wagons in our train, some of them have sleeping plank-beds, and others carry food and stuff. There is no light, we use candles. We have to boil our water, we drink only coffee. We have a laundry car with basins where we can wash our stuff with soap and hot water. We cook food in a special kitchen wagon. At first the oven smoked as if there was a big fire, and we all felt very sorry for the cooks, who were constantly in tears. We hope that next year there will be special kitchen cars for cooking. "
Several groups travelled by another route: from San Francisco across the Pacific to Japan, then to Vladivostok, and from there by train to Kemerovo.
The colonists wrote in their memoirs that the steamer Rotterdam gave a long low whistle when leaving the New York harbor. And when they heard the whistle of the Kemerovo coke plant, they were struck by the similarity of its tone with the whistle of the Rotterdam.
Two groups of colonists included a film crew who filmed their entire journey to Kemerovo and then made a film that was shown in Moscow and New York.
Modernization American style"The most valuable thing that the world knows is human labor, and the proletarian immigrants bring to Russia the enumerable treasures of skilled and qualified human labor " – I.M.Maysky, Chairman of the Sibgosplan
The first party of the colonists arrived in Kemerovo on May 25, 1922. In addition to personal luggage and tools, the colonists brought 38 tons of food, materials, equipment, a Fordson tractor, a plow, a disc cultivator, gardening tools, and seeds.
Due to poor organization, the first colonists had nowhere to live: had to spend a week in their train carriages, and only then they were accommodated in two school buildings and in big army tents. Bill Haywood came to Kemerovo July 9, 1922, upon learning about the hardships the colonists had to endure. He had to fulfill the functions of the director because Rutgers had not arrived yet. Unfortunately, Heywood was guided by the main IWW principles, i.e. equality and brotherhood. Hence the working hours were established by voting on a daily basis, everything was subject to public discussion, even technical issues; besides, he gave people their salary out-of-pocket in equal shares. Later, Rutgers described Heywood’s administrative abilities as follows: "Heywood was a good speaker, but he had no idea whatsoever about production management."
Rutgers arrived in Kemerovo on August 1, 1922, and immediately realized that Kuzbass was on the brink of failure because nothing at all had been done.
To save the Colony, Rutgers followed his substantial administrative experience: he established a seniority system, stopped the practice of public voting, and introduced trade unions. Eventually, he had to substitute equal pay with the Soviet 17-category tariff scale in accordance with the New Economic Policy, which stirred up a great discontent among the IWW members. They claimed that Rutgers betrayed the Revolution: “We are all equal, which means that the earnings should be equal!” Harry Susman even proposed a new slogan: "Workers of all countries, unite! And then divide into 17 categories!"
Rutgers actually became the sole manager of Kuzbass and had the absolute right to resolve all issues. The IWW members called him a dictator. They saw Kuzbass as an experiment to confirm their social utopia: a working colony run by the workers themselves, while Rutgers intended to create an effective industrial enterprise.
Rutgers fired everyone who could not come to terms with his policy, but paid for their journey to Russian border and issued them a monthly ration. Heywood understood the utopian character of his dream and left Kuzbass in January 1923.
With the arrival of Rutgers, the "romantic period" ended and the “Kuzbassers” began serious work under the guidance of the technical office commanded by Rutgers and Pierson.
Kuzbass as a New Pennsylvania
The colonists wanted turn Kuzbass into a New Pennsylvania, which was the main coal mining region of the United States at that time, by applying the newest American methods and equipment.
In 1923, the Council of Labor and Defense allowed Kuzbass to make independent purchases abroad. But it concerned only those products that were not produced in the USSR or were 50% more expensive than foreign ones. Commissar of Foreign Affairs L.B. Krasin was personally charged with the duty to facilitate the immediate implementation of all Kuzbass orders. The New York Office sent out requests for mining, electrical, construction and agricultural equipment.
By the end of 1923, Kuzbass had purchased machines, materials and equipment in America and Europe worth $300,000; they purchased $150 worth of tools per colonist.
The chief engineer of the Kemerovo Mine was Alfred Pierson, who had worked in the United States as the chief engineer in the Pennsylvania Coal Company. He closed several small mines, cut the staff apparatus by 20%, and changed management methods. He believed that qualified specialists are to direct the production process directly on site, and not by issuing orders from the office.
Pierson reorganized the mining works. Previously, miners worked around the clock in four 6-hour shifts. Pierson introduced three shifts with two-hour intervals to ventilate the mine after explosions, which allowed him to speed up the process.
Kemerovo mines were technically upgraded: jackhammers and headers were introduced for the first time. At the Central Mine they installed the first in Kuzbass electric hoist (cage), purchased in the USA from the Lidgerwood company.
Gasoline miner lamps gave way to electric lamps brought from America. This alone made it possible to raise the labor productivity of a miner by 20%.
200 axe picks were brought from America, but that was not enough, and the Colony had to manufacture them in situ, according to the American model. They bought a steam hammer, and Hungarian master Lempek trained young Russian smiths. As a result, very soon they provided Kemerovo mines and the whole region with axe picks.
Due to the modernization, the average monthly productivity of a clearer rose by 170%, that of a miner – by 159%, and that of a technician – by 280%. During the existence of the Colony the total volume of coal mining in Kuzbass increased 8.5 times.
In 1923, the Central mine produced 1,728 tons per month, and by the end of 1926 it was 1,037 tons per day. Earnings of qualified clearers allowed them to have a cow, while an experienced clearer could afford 2 or 3 cows and a horse.
Similar transformations were carried out in the mines in the southern region of Kuzbass.
Coal was sent to the Urals, the Baltic Fleet, the Arkhangelsk haven, and to the railways of Kazan, Samara and Perm.
The Coking Plant
The most significant achievement of the Colony was the launch of the first in Siberia coking by-product plant. The initial coke plant had been set up by Kopikuz before the revolution. The plant was supposed to provide coke for metallurgical plants in the Urals. It was the first time that a plant like that had been built in such harsh climatic conditions.
A team of Kuzbass specialists led by Dr. Mahler* spent several months in Europe. They visited chemical plants and smelters, purchased hoisting cranes, coke discharging installations and other necessary equipment. They managed to recruit some German chemical engineers and coke masters from the Ruhr Coal Basin. The new coke plant boasted a well-equipped chemical laboratory.
The coking plant was officially opened on March 2, 1924; it was 20 degrees Celsius below zero; an orchestra was playing The Internationale.
The event was attended by 1,500 Kuzbass employees, city residents and guests from Moscow, Novosibirsk, Tomsk, and Yekaterinburg. They read congratulatory telegrams from the Council of Labor and Defense, Siberian Revolutionary Committee, The 3d International, from the Netherlands, Germany, London, New York and Ural factories.
A representative of the Council of Labor and Defense addressed the people: "Workers, technicians and engineers of Kemerovo! Entire Soviet Russia celebrates with you today! You have built a large enterprise in Siberia, which will give coking coal to the factories of the Urals. My greetings, and thank you all. Long live the little international of Siberia!".
American engineers, who participated in the construction of the plant, published an article in the American journal Chemistry and Metallurgy about the event in Kemerovo. Dr.William Mahler wrote about it in the Kuzbass Bulletin.
The same year the blast furnaces of the Ural plants in Nizhne-Saldinsky and Nadezhdinsk started using Kemerovo coking coal, which increased their productivity by 30%.
Eventually the Colony built the second coke battery and nearly completed the third one.
Kemerovo coke went to Omsk, Moscow, Tashkent, Bryansk, Krasnoyarsk, Tyumen, Leningrad, Nizhny Novgorod and other cities. Kuzbass chemical products were purchased by major Russian enterprises (Aniltrest, Severokhim, Moskvotol, Leningradago, etc.)
By launching the coking plant, the Colony proved itself as a successfully operating enterprise, not some abstract ideological experiment.
The factories and mines run by the Colony were much more profitable than other enterprises in the region. By the end of 1924, the AIC Kuzbass reached 1 million gold rubles of net profit.
Electrification was the key issue in the modernization of Kuzbass production.
In January 1924, the Colony built a power plant with the capacity of 60,000 kW on the territory of the coking plant. The plant was completely electrified, and a high-voltage line was thrown across the Tom’ river to the mine.
By November 1925, 14 transformer substations, 48 electric motors, 18 steam boilers of various systems and 12 steam pumps operated at the Kemerovo mine.
That was how the Colony contributed to in the electrification plan of Russia, which included the Ust-Iskitim power station in Kemerovo.
The Colony electrified the nearest villages as well. The Technical Office developed a project for the electrification of 12 villages within 15 – 18 versts around the town of Shcheglovsk (1 verst = 1.067 km). The purpose of this plan was to replace the horse drives used on threshers, windmills, and mills. All in all, Kuzbass electricians managed to electrify five villages.
The power plant constructed by the Colony became the only electricity supplier to the town of Shcheglovsk. The town bought electricity at a price of 5 kopecks per kW and sold it to industrial consumers at 12 and 25 kopecks. The coking plant served as a source for lighting for the streets of Shcheglovsk.
The Colony reconstructed another power station in Leninsk-Kuznetsk in the south of the region.
A rolling shop was opened at the Guryevsk Metallurgical Plant.
Auxiliary shops and transportation
The Colony had more than 10 subsidiary workshops for its own needs.
The telephone department operated two telephone stations: one for 150 telephone units at the Kemerovo Mine and the other – for 100 units at the chemical plant.
Foreign workers were used to cinema, radio, telephone, and Sunday newspapers, but in Kemerovo they received central Russian newspapers 3 – 4 weeks too late. Therefore, the Kuzbass Board did everything to install a radio station in Kemerovo.
The Colony had its own shoemaking and tailoring shops that made working clothes and boots for workers of coke ovens, leather gloves, aprons, etc. The workshop had 6 mechanical machines and a cutaway electric knife, which made it possible to cut out several patterns at the same time. The workshop could produce 600 tarpaulin costumes per month, or twice as many in two shifts. The workshops also served local residents.
The main means of transportation in Kuzbass was by cart. In early spring and late autumn local roads were drowned in mud. The Colony had to purchase a snow tractor for the off-road conditions in the south of Kuzbass. Its engine was taken from a Fordson tractor. It was one of the world's first all-terrain vehicles produced by Armstead Snow Motors Company in Michigan in the 1920s. The transport department had several freight and passenger Ford vehicles.
Kuzbass enterprises were located on two banks of the rapid Tom’ river. That created huge difficulties since there was no bridge.
"The river was in its full spring flood. Those who were trying to cross it by boat had to pull the boat upstream along the cable for about a quarter of a mile along the bank; after that, four of them would row like mad while the strong current carried them downstream the same distance, to moor to the stairs on the opposite shore that led up the cliff... Then they would climb 200 wooden steps to the main office located on the cliff" (Nemmi Sparks, colonist).
The Colony had a number of rowing boats, motorboats and powerboats that bore different names (The Yan Tompa, The Record, The Pioneer, The Lyalya, The Link). There were also horse-drawn ferries and two jetties. 700 -900 colonists had to cross the river every day.
In 1923, Dutch engineers Struik and Baars decided to make use of the strong current and replaced the old ferry with the so-called flying, or current operated one. A boat with a rudder was attached to the cable that was stretched across the river; the current carried it to the opposite bank, where the steering wheel was rearranged, and the current carried the boat back.
The whole city used the ferry, and it was constantly overloaded. After the city launched two municipal ferries, the management of the Colony took measures to limit the number of extra-passengers.
In June 1925, the Colony introduced a ticket system: its employees received tokens with their names and the number of family members to prevent them from transporting unauthorized persons by company water transport.
Without a bridge, the Colony carried large economic losses. Communication between the banks ceased for two or three weeks in spring and autumn. Therefore, it was necessary to transport supplies in advance and to keep parallel carpentry shops, sawmills, warehouses, business departments, and horse stables on both banks. Besides, Kuzbass employees had to rent temporary housing on the bank where they worked. Workers of the coking plant and miners would cross the river in the trolleys of the cable road, which was a great danger.
Only a bridge could save the situation, so the Colony made drafts for railroad, motorway and pedestrian bridges. However, none of the projects has ever been implemented.
After the Colony was turned over to the Russians and became the Kuzbassugol Trust, its water transport became municipal.
The agreement the Colony signed with the Council of Labor and Defense included a clause about a mechanized agricultural farm. It was supposed to provide food for colonists and become a model of farming for local peasants. As a pilot enterprise, the farm paid no agricultural tax.
The farm was headed by William Kingery, an American agronomist and agricultural machinery engineer, who graduated from Stamford University School of Agriculture and had almost 20 years of experience. His assistant for vegetable garden was Roscoe Fillmore, an agriculturist from Canada.
9544 ha of land were allocated for the farm. The territory was divided into 3 sections on both banks of the River.
11 Case, Fordson, and Internationale tractors were brought from the USA together with seeders, winnowers, corn harvesters, hay presses, straw-cutting machines, manure spreaders, potato planting machines, Potato hoggers, potato digging machines, etc.
By 1924, the farm was able to feed the entire Colony and even sold surplus products in the local market.
The farm was engaged in livestock breeding: there were cows, horses, rabbits, pigs, and sheep. Tribal cattle were purchased in Russia and abroad. The colonists brought corn from the USA and made fodder in the form of silage. The dairy farm gave more than 25,000 liters of milk. In Moscow, Kingery purchased two railroad carriages of milk bottles from an American agricultural commune that operated in Russia, so the workers of the chemical plant could receive free bottled milk.
The farm developed cattle breeding, rabbit breeding, and beekeeping. Poultry farming on the farm began when Van Erickson, a young farmer from Seattle, brought chickens of red Irish breed and an incubator. Later, they introduced geese as well.
The farm supplied local peasants with selected seed material. New varieties of potatoes, beets, carrots, cereals, perennial dogrose, lilacs, etc. appeared in Kuzbass.
The site at the Kemerovo mine was called a "farm garden", as it provided the Colony's kitchens with a variety of vegetables. There were greenhouses and watermelons, which was a novelty for Siberia.
In 1926, the Kuzbass farm took part in the Shcheglovsk regional agricultural exhibition and struck the imagination of local peasants with 700-kilogram young bulls.
The secretary of the Kemerovo district party committee told Rutgers: "Your subsidiary farming has a great influence on the surrounding peasants, many of them asked to organize them into a commune and provide them with American equipment."
According to the plan, the development of the farm was to be completed in 1936. But when the Kuzbass Autonomous Industrial Colony was liquidated by the USSR Supreme Economic Council Decree of April 27, 1927, the farm was turned into a "subsidiary enterprise" and donated to the Siberian Regional Land Administration.
Throughout all its existence, the Colony experienced a permanent housing crisis.
The only comfortable building at its disposal was the stone house of the Kopikuz manager on the steep bank of the Tom’ river. They called it the House of Visitors and used it as a hotel. There lived Chief Director Rutgers, as well as other leading specialists of the colony with their families before they were provided with proper accommodation.
A team of Finnish carpenters built a communal house for 250 people, which had a dining room, a bakery, a food warehouse, a shop, a laundry, a sewing workshop and a shoemaker’s shop.
The living conditions of 5,000 Russians, who came to work for the Colony from various provinces of Siberia and Russia, were harsh. Some rented rooms in the surrounding villages, others lived in dugouts. There were whole spontaneous settlements of mud huts; people called these squatter settlements "boor villages". In the southern parts of Kuzbass the situation with housing was the same.
Anton Struik, who was the head of the Construction Office, wrote in the newspaper Kuzbass: "The terrible housing crisis, which can be observed throughout our republic, requires that we build as many available apartments o as possible. It is of paramount importance for the working class to find a standard type of house that would meet all the necessary hygiene requirements and would be cheap to construct."
In 1925 the Board decided to take advantage of the privileges the government gave to state-owned enterprises that built dwellings for their workers. The Colony developed a program of extensive housing construction and took a state loan.
The arrival of Dutch architect Van Loghem marked the "Dutch" period in the architecture of Kemerovo. The Construction Office of the Colony was made up of Dutch specialists: Van Loghem, Anton Struik, Dirk Schermerhorn and several designers came from the Netherlands.
In just a year and a half, four villages with hundreds of houses were built in Kemerovo, Prokopyevsk and Leninsk-Kuznetsk. Van Loghem developed village projects and more than 15 types of modern houses with modern amenities for cheap mass construction.
Van Loghem resided on the right bank and used it as his main experimental site. 11 types of houses were built here under his personal supervision.
Van Loghem employed various technologies, materials and equipment that were new to Kuzbass. He introduced Gerard brickwork with hollow walls, electric saws, concrete mixers, and automatic saws with detachable teeth. He ordered lifting machines, winches and other mechanic tools from Germany. He used a cement gun to plaster complex surfaces.
Van Loghem started using brick for the first time in the area. He sent samples of local clay to the Leiderdorp plant in the Netherlands, after which the Colony built several brick-making factories in Kemerovo, Leninsk and Prokopyevsk. They produced bricks of Russian and American size. American bricks were used only in Kemerovo and completely replaced by the Russian standard in 1927 – 1928.
Van Loghem became so famous in the region that the head of the Siberian Institute of Architecture applied to the Colony, asking them to allow his students to use some buildings as subjects for their graduation projects.
Van Loghem departed in September 1927 but he managed to fulfill the promise he had given: a year after his arrival no one had to live in dugouts any more.
The Kuzbassugol Trust, which succeeded the Kuzbass Colony, approved only two types of Van Loghem’s houses for construction.
The Small Siberian International
753 people came to Kuzbass from abroad. The bulk of the first colonists were Americans; that is why the enterprise was sometimes called the American Colony. But there were people of different nationalities among the Americans who had previously escaped to the United States from tsarist Russia and European countries. Subsequently, the number of colonists from Europe increased.
There were many families with children, but men prevailed, and half of them were single. The average age of the colonists was 25 – 35.
The motives that led the people to Kuzbass were different, but most of them came to Siberia out of ideological considerations or material interest.
The first group consisted mostly of IWW members, who went to Kuzbass to realize their utopian dream of an industrial workers' republic where all people would be equal.
There were political emigrants, too, who were expelled from the United States for political propaganda.
There were those who wanted to dedicate their lives to socialism: "... but most of all we were drawn to this amazing Russian revolution, to the new world that was just being created ... We were invited, therefore, we were needed" (Nemmi Sparks).
Some colonists were romantics, "pioneers of spirit." A.A. Geller, a member of Rutgers’ expedition, wrote: "In their desire to sacrifice material comfort for the privilege of building up an ideal socialist state, these people resemble the Puritans and Quakers of the early America who sought to face the difficulties of the uninhabited land in the name of religious freedom."
There were people forced to leave the USA and Europe because of the economic crisis. By March 1921, there were 5.5 million unemployed in the United States. Foreign workers – Hungarians, Poles, Yugoslavs, Ukrainians – found themselves in especially hard conditions.
As FOR German colonists, they were attracted by more favorable working conditions: in 1924, the average salary of a foreign qualified worker in the Colony was 50% higher than in Germany.
Many early colonists were IWW members, romantics and enthusiasts, but in 1924 the recruiting policy of the Colony changed.
Rutgers achieved the consent of the Soviet government to pay qualified specialists a special bonus in foreign currency in addition to salary. He believed that foreign workers should help the proletariat of Russia not with inspiration and class consciousness, but with highly skilled labor. He insisted that the American Office had to make professionalism the main recruitment criterion.
As a result of the new policy, at least 50 people on administrative and engineering positions in the Kuzbass Colony had higher education and work experience in the relevant production sector. Among them there were graduates of universities of Cornell, California (Berkeley), Columbia (Bernard), Wisconsin, Michigan, Stamford, Vienna, Zurich Polytechnic, Delft and Munich Higher Technical Schools, Bochum Mining School, etc. The director of the coking plant, chemist William Mahler, was a Doctor of Science.
Al in all, approximately 80% of foreign colonists were highly qualified.
People of more than 30 nationalities worked in the Colony. The largest foreign groups were Finnish, American, German and Yugoslav. The foreigners were the core of the Colony, but they worked shoulder to shoulder with 5,000 Russians. Rutgers called Kuzbass "Our little international in Siberia."
Ruth Kennell described the international gathering: "... the gloomy, constantly dissatisfied Finns; the proud Dutch; the sedate, pedantic Germans; the cheerful black-eyed Yugoslavs; the noisy, unceremonious Americans."
The Colony had a certain national specialization: the Dutch and the Finns were responsible for construction work; the Americans were busy with mining; the Germans were in charge of the coking plant.
It was a difficult task to maintain peace in a large community of people who possess totally different political views, temperaments, and tastes.
The management of the Colony had to issue an order that described The Rules representatives of different nationalities had to obey in the Communal House (June 29, 1925).
At a certain point an opinion was voiced that that the initial internationalization policy was wrong, and that an enterprise made up of small multiethnic groups was doomed.
Indeed, not everyone could adapt to the difficult housing conditions, Siberian climate and remoteness, constant ideological disputes. By the end of 1923, 30% of the arriving colonists had left the colony ahead of schedule.
However, the main core of the staff maintained their motivation and dedication to the utmost goal, which eventually made the Colony viable.
Colonists followed American daily routine: 7.00 – 7.30 a.m. – light breakfast, 12.00 a.m. – lunch of 2 – 3 dishes, 6 p.m. – dinner.
They had no problems with food supply. With every group of colonists, the New York office sent food enough to feed 500 people for 2 years. Therefore, the diet consisted mainly of canned food.
The farm supplied eggs, milk, fresh vegetables, berries, watermelons and melons. In the winter they enjoyed pickles and jams produced on the farm. Each foreign or Russian colonist received a standard ration of fresh meat from local stocks, potatoes and bread from the local bakery. From November to May, men engaged in heavy work received an additional 50% of the meat ration. Many foreigners found Russian black bread and sour cream delicious.
And then a campaign against the Kuzbass Colony was launched in the USA. The New York Times published articles that described the horrors of Kuzbass: "People in the Kuzbass are starving. They live on beans and porridge. There is no medical aid... only starvation, disease, and poverty. People die like flies."
Problems with nutrition did arise, but they related to differences in national cuisines and customs: it was difficult to please everyone – Finns, Serbs, Americans... Therefore, in October 1922, they had to form a committee to develop a list of foods that would satisfy each colonist.
Initially, 60% of salary went to the communal fund. The money was spent on food, accommodation, laundry and other utilities. But with the introduction of tariff scale, this habit died out.
The Communal House was the center of life in the Colony. On the walls of the dining hall they posted information, fresh news, clippings from newspapers, and letters from America. The refectory also served as a club: there were parties, people danced, a small amateur orchestra played music, enthusiasts staged performances. Local residents were welcome, too: they learnt how to dance waltz and foxtrot and, in return, taught their foreign colleagues Russian dances. The Colony had a wonderful German choir of 20 people and a children's dance group.
The colony theater staged Bernard Shaw and plays written by Yugoslavian colonist Zhivko Baiskich. They even put up "Cinderella" for the local children. Performances began after 23.00 and ended at dawn. Many colonists visited the Russian theater that was located in Shcheglovsk on the left bank. The theatre had 800 seats, and the inflation was so high in 1923 that one ticket cost 6 million rubles.
In 1925 the Colony financed motion pictures shows in all its villages.
Foreign colonists took an active part in public life: they joined the Soviet trade unions; members of the Communist Party of America participated in the activities of the Siberian section of the Communist Party, they went as delegates to party conferences in Shcheglovsk, Tomsk and Petrograd.
The Babylonian confusion of languages was the source of much trouble. Since most of the colonists came from America, the language of international communication was English. Only 5% of foreign colonists could speak Russian. Rutgers was learning Russian and demanded the same from all Kuzbass specialists.
One large room in the Communal House hosted a school for children who did not speak Russian. Elsa Melmann, an experienced teacher with a California diploma, gave lesson to 45 kids of different ages and nationalities. Some of the foreign children attended Russian schools, where they quickly picked up Russian. The Colony even gave English classes to the locals.
In 1925 the Colony opened its first pioneer camp.
The Kuzbass Colony paid scholarship to some of its members to study at the institutes of Tomsk and Leningrad, with obligatory summer intern at Kuzbass enterprises. The colony even had a dormitory in Tomsk.
On the second floor of the mine office they opened a library that had 3,000 books of various genres in different languages. The books were brought by the colonists or sent by AIC foreign offices from New-York and Berlin. The locals could also use the library.
The Kuzbass Bulletin published an appeal to Americans: "The New-York office will gladly accept periodicals you have already read. We will ship them to Russia together with colonists who depart every two weeks, and our guys in the distant Siberia will sit down after a hard day to read the newspapers you no longer need. Send them to us. We will also be grateful for newspapers in foreign languages: Russian, Bulgarian, Hungarian and Finnish. Do not throw away your weekly newspapers and send them to "Kuzbass", cab. 301, 110, West 40th Street, New York."
At all Kuzbass enterprises there were hospitals that served its employees and their family members.
The largest one was the hospital of Kemerovo Mine; it had 65 beds and 5 wards: general, surgical, infectious, gynecological and maternity. The hospital staff consisted of 50 people, Russians and foreigners. Annually, the hospital conducted about 250 major operations and more than 2 thousand minor ones. 600 babies were born there in 1925 – 1926. The hospital had a first aid room at the coking plant.
In the Southern region, the Colony hospital had 33 employees and the same wards as in Kemerovo. 30 people worked in the hospital of the Prokopyevsk mine.
The Colony purchased medical instruments and medicines abroad. The hospital in Kemerovo had an electric drill and an electric vacuum cleaner; in 1926 the Colony ordered three ambulances.
Kuzbass workers could get a sick leave. Doctors could visit patients at home, and there was a system of fines for a false call. The most common diseases at that time were rheumatism and pneumonia. Due to frequent epidemics of smallpox, all Kuzbass workers were vaccinated.
The Soviet Siberia wrote that there were more medicines in the main hospital of the Colony than in the entire Tomsk province, and its dental office was the best in Kuzbass. In 1926 they started sending their people to the summer resorts of Siberia.
There were many athletes among colonists, and they took an active part in sporting events and introduced their favorite sports to Siberians. They organized baseball and football teams, started their own athletic club. The old church of the Kemerovo Mine was turned into a gym. There were football matches between the teams of the mine and the chemical plant, between the Red Army soldiers and the colonists.
In 1926 physical education was introduced in local secondary schools. In the absence of PE instructors, Arne Palmgren, who was one of the most famous athletes of the Colony, was involved with schoolchildren. Up to 800 children participated in sports competitions held among miners' children. The competitions usually included a 100-meter dash, basketball, high jumps and long jumps, triple jumps and a relay race.
The Colony did not just work hard, they also knew how to party. Basically, all holidays were connected with revolutionary events: Lenin's Day, Revolution Day, International Women’s Day, etc. Christmas was an exception. Ruth Kennell recalled how she and her husband discussed whether it was OK to put a Christmas tree, which was considered a bourgeois remnant in the USSR. Finally, they secretly brought one from the forest.
But the main holiday in the colony was The First of May – state holiday dedicated to the international solidarity of working people. The Colony saw it as its own holiday because the concepts of internationalism, solidarity, and cooperation acquired a special meaning in Kuzbass environment.
The festive demonstration of May 1, 1923, was visited by 2,000 people who gathered in front of the main office building. Rutgers addressed them in such a way: "On behalf of the foreign members of the Kuzbass Colony, on behalf of those who came to help you build a new, socialist Kuzbass, on behalf of the proletarians of America, Canada, Poland, Holland, Finland and many other countries in Europe, I congratulate you with the holiday of international solidarity! Less than a year ago the first tents of the colonists appeared here at the mine. Our work is just about to begin. Yet, some of you are not completely convinced that we are not bourgeois, not concessionaires, who have come here for profit. We work on a par with you, and our profits are for your state, which is now ours as well. The only riches that we would like to take away from here are our unity, our friendship and the consciousness that we leave behind the smoking pipes of the plant and the revived, operating mines. We want to give you our experience: capitalism used it to enrich itself and exploit the proletariat, but here it will help to work more efficiently and to live a better life! "
After that, those who worked hardest received memorable gifts: a book by Russian author Demyan Bedny, a notebook, a pack of tea, or a pair of children's shoes.
The colonists enjoyed skiing and sleigh rides in winter, and in the summer they walked in the forest, picked berries and mushrooms, swam in the river. On Sundays, they would often have picnics. Men were fond of hunting and fishing.
By the mid-1920s, the Soviet government had lost interest in foreign industrial colonies because the hope for a world revolution had dwindled. The Soviets decided to build socialism on their own.
The special status of the Colony and the American technologies and management principles that it introduced proved incompatible with the increasing bureaucratization of the country. Rutgers wrote that Moscow saw Kuzbass "as a Soviet state-owned enterprise that operates on the basis of American methods and, unfortunately, needs Americans."
December 22, 1926, the Council for Labor and Defense decided that the project had outlived itself and terminated the contract with the Colony. On June 20, 1927, the Colony was liquidated.
All the enterprises of the Kuzbass Colony entered the state-owned Kuzbassugol trust, and most foreigners returned home. Only about 40 of former colonists decided to stay in the Soviet Union.
And that was the end of the unique experiment to create a foreign working concession in the Soviet Union.
Sebald Rutgers wrote: "Now, when the industry of Russia is firmly on its feet, the colony no longer needs autonomy... It was historically impossible to achieve more than we managed to... And yet our experiment was a success. It came with a high price. Our “little international in Siberia” created a large industrial enterprise. It will remain and will grow. We have demonstrated what the international solidarity of workers can do."
The experimental organization of the Kuzbass Autonomous Industrial Colony was the largest and most successful project of foreign workers in Soviet Russia. It was a unique phenomenon in the domestic and world history. While the project demonstrated the utopianism of the idea of economic and social equality, it proved the efficiency of international teamwork.