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Sabotage in the Urals

During his work in the Kalata mines, in the Ural region, Littlepage  was confronted by deliberate sabotage by engineers and Party cadres. It was clear to him that these acts were a deliberate attempt to weaken the Bolshevik régime, and that such blatant sabotage could only take place with the approval of the highest authorities in the Ural Region. Here is his important summary:

`Conditions were reported to be especially bad in the copper-mines of the Ural Mountain region, at that time Russia's most promising mineral-producing area, which had been selected for a lion's share of the funds available for production. American mining engineers had been engaged by the dozens for use in this area, and hundreds of American foremen had likewise been brought over for instructional purposes in mines and mills. Four or five American mining engineers had been assigned to each of the large copper-mines in the Urals, and American metallurgists as well.

`These men had all been selected carefully; they had excellent records in the United States. But, with very few exceptions, they had proved disappointing in the results they were obtaining in Russia. When Serebrovsky  was given control of copper- and lead-mines, as well as gold, he wanted to find out why these imported experts weren't producing as they should; and in January 1931 he sent me off, together with an American metallurgist and a Russian Communist manager, to investigate conditions in the Ural mines, and try to find out what was wrong and how to correct it ....

`We discovered, in the first place, that the American engineers and metallurgists were not getting any co-operation at all; no attempt had been made to provide them with competent interpreters .... They had carefully surveyed the properties to which they were assigned and drawn up recommendations for exploitation which could have been immediately useful if applied. But these recommendations had either never been translated into Russian or had been stuck into pigeonholes and never brought out again ....

`The mining methods used were so obviously wrong that a first-year engineering student could have pointed out most of their faults. Areas too large for control were being opened up, and ore was being removed without the proper timbering and filling. In an effort to speed up production before suitable preparations had been completed several of the best mines had been badly damaged, and some ore bodies were on the verge of being lost beyond recovery ....

`I shall never forget the situation we found at Kalata. Here, in the Northern Urals, was one of the most important copper properties in Russia, consisting of six mines, a flotation concentrator, and a smelter, with blast and reverberatory furnaces. Seven American mining engineers of the first rank, drawing very large salaries, had been assigned to this place some time before. Any one of them, if he had been given the opportunity, could have put this property in good running order in a few weeks.

`But at the time our commission arrived they were completely tied down by red tape. Their recommendations were ignored; they were assigned no particular work; they were unable to convey their ideas to Russian engineers through ignorance of the language and lack of competent interpreters .... Of course, they knew what was technically wrong with the mines and mills at Kalata, and why production was a small fraction of what it should have been with the amount of equipment and personnel available.

`Our commission visited practically all the big copper-mines in the Urals and gave them a thorough inspection ....

`(I)n spite of the deplorable conditions I have described there had been few howls in the Soviet newspapers about ``wreckers'' in the Ural copper-mines. This was a curious circumstance, because the Communists were accustomed to attribute to deliberate sabotage much of the confusion and disorder in industry at the time. But the Communists in the Urals, who controlled the copper-mines, had kept surprisingly quiet about them.

`In July 1931, after Serebrovsky  had examined the report of conditions made by our commission, he decided to send me back to Kalata as chief engineer, to see if we couldn't do something with this big property. He sent along with me a Russian Communist manager, who had no special knowledge of mining, but who was given complete authority, and apparently was instructed to allow me free rein ....

`The seven American engineers brightened up considerably when they discovered we really had sufficient authority to cut through the red tape and give them a chance to work. They ... went down into the mines alongside their workmen, in the American mining tradition. Before long things were picking up fast, and within five months production rose by 90 per cent.

`The Communist manager was an earnest fellow; he tried hard to understand what we were doing and how we did it. But the Russian engineers at these mines, almost without exception, were sullen and obstructive. They objected to every improvement we suggested. I wasn't used to this sort of thing; the Russian engineers in gold-mines where I had worked had never acted like this.

`However, I succeeded in getting my methods tried out in these mines, because the Communist manager who had come with me supported every recommendation I made. And when the methods worked the Russian engineers finally fell into line, and seemed to get the idea ....

`At the end of five months I decided I could safely leave this property .... Mines and plant had been thoroughly reorganized; there seemed to be no good reason why production could not be maintained at the highly satisfactory rate we had established.

`I drew up detailed instructions for future operations .... I explained these things to the Russian engineers and to the Communist manager, who was beginning to get some notion of mining. The latter assured me that my ideas would be followed to the letter.'

.

Ibid. , pp. 89--94.

`(I)n the spring of 1932 ... Soon after my return to Moscow I was informed that the copper-mines at Kalata were in very bad condition; production had fallen even lower than it was before I had reorganized the mines in the previous year. This report dumbfounded me; I couldn't understand how matters could have become so bad in this short time, when they had seemed to be going so well before I left.

`Serebrovsky  asked me to go back to Kalata to see what could be done. When I reached there I found a depressing scene. The Americans had all finished their two-year contracts, which had not been renewed, so they had gone home. A few months before I arrived the Communist manager ... had been removed by a commission which had been sent in from Sverdlovsk, Communist headquarters in the Urals. The commission had reported that he was ignorant and inefficient, although there was nothing in his record to show it, and had appointed the chairman of the investigating commission to succeed him --- a curious sort of procedure.

`During my previous stay at the mines we had speeded up capacity of the blast furnaces to seventy-eight metric tons per square metre per day; they had now been permitted to drop back to their old output of forty to forty-five tons. Worst of all, thousands of tons of high-grade ore had been irretrievably lost by the introduction into two mines of methods which I had specifically warned against during my previous visit ....

`But I now learned that almost immediately after the Russian engineers were sent home the same Russian engineers whom I had warned about the danger had applied this method in the remaining mines (despite his written opposition, as the method was not universally applicable), with the result that the mines caved in and much ore was lost beyond recovery ....

`I set to work to try to recover some of the lost ground ....

`Then one day I discovered that the new manager was secretly countermanding almost every order I gave ....

`I reported exactly what I had discovered at Kalata to Serebrovsky .... 

`In a short time the mine manager and some of the engineers were put on trial for sabotage. The manager got ten years ... and the engineers lesser terms ....

`I was satisfied at the time that there was something bigger in all this than the little group of men at Kalata; but I naturally couldn't warn Serebrovsky  against prominent members of his own Communist Party .... But I was so sure that something was wrong high up in the political administration of the Ural Mountains ....

`It seemed clear to me at the time that the selection of this commission had their conduct at Kalata traced straight back to the Communist high command in Sverdlovsk, whose members must be charged either with criminal negligence or actual participation in the events which had occurred in these mines.

`However, the chief secretary of the Communist Party in the Urals, a man named Kabakoff,  had occupied this post since 1922 ... he was considered so powerful that he was privately described as the ``Bolshevik Viceroy of the Urals.'' ....

`(T)here was nothing to justify the reputation he appeared to have. Under his long rule the Ural area, which is one of the richest mining regions in Russia, and which was given almost unlimited capital for exploitation, never produced anything like what it should have done.

`This commission at Kalata, whose members later admitted they had come there with wrecking intentions, had been sent directly from Kabakoff's  headquarters .... I told some of my Russian acquaintances at the time that it seemed to me there was a lot more going on in the Urals than had yet been revealed, and that it came from somewhere high up.

`All these incidents became clearer, so far as I was concerned, after the conspiracy trial in January 1937, when Piatakoff,  together with several of his associates, confessed in open court that they had engaged in organized sabotage of mines, railways, and other industrial enterprises since the beginning of 1931. A few weeks after this trial ... the chief secretary of the Party in the Urals, Kabakoff,  who had been a close associate of Piatakoff's,  was arrested on charges of complicity in this same conspiracy.'

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Ibid. , pp. 97--101.

The opinion given here by Littlepage  about Kabakov  is worth remembering, since Khrushchev,  in his infamous 1956 Secret Report, cited him as an example of worthy leader, `who had been a party member since 1914' and victim of `repressions ... which were based on nothing tangible'!

.

Khrushchev,  Secret Report, op. cit. , p. S32.



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Fri Aug 25 09:03:42 PDT 1995