Fifty years since the USSR's biggest post-Stalin massace of workers

Submitted by Matthew on 6 June, 2012 - 9:54

On January 1, 1962, wages were lowered by 30 to 35 per cent at the largest electrolocomotive plant in Novocherkassk.

On the morning of 1 June the government radio announced that there would be a sharp “temporary” increase in the price of meat and dairy products (up to 35%). [Sparked by an insult from a manager, the workers struck].

There were about 14,000 workers at the plant. The workers went out to the plant grounds and filled the square near the plant management office. The square could not hold all the strikers.

At about noon the word spread amongst the strikers: “The militia has come!” ... On seeing the menacing wave of people, the militia ranks dissolved immediately. Wrathful as they were, the workers were not violent; they did not even touch the remaining militiamen and saw them off with the advice not to poke their noses into strikes.

By the end of the work day the first military detachments of the Novocherkassk garrison arrived at the square but they were not armed. Having approached the people, the soldiers were immediately absorbed by the crowd. The soldiers and the strikers began to fraternize, to embrace and kiss each other.

Then the armoured carriers with officers began to arrive at the square. The authorities had determined that the soldiers of the Novocherkassk garrison were unreliable, and decided to rely upon the officers.

At 5 o’clock [the next] morning I was awakened by the noise of tanks and left for the plant... We all observed that the railway along the plant and the plant itself were surrounded by soldiers with sub-machine guns...

Columns of marchers were converging on the city from everywhere and there appeared red flags, portraits of Lenin. The demonstrators were singing revolutionary songs. Everybody was excited, full of belief in their power and in the fairness of their demands. The column of demonstrators was becoming larger and larger...

The demonstrators were seething in front of the city CPSU committee building. The building itself was full of soldiers from the Caucasus. The demonstrators exchanged heated remarks with the soldiers through the door. One Caucasian lost his temper, broke the glass of the door with the butt of his sub-machine gun and through the hole struck a woman with it. Under the pressure of the indignant demonstrators, the door of the building swung open. The crowd broke through and... the City Committee building was completely occupied by the demonstrators.

A rally began [outside the building]... the soldiers were commanded to open fire... Not a single bullet is likely to have been wasted: the crowd was too dense...

The soldiers near the party committee building were also ordered to open fire, though there had been no assault, no violence there. Curious children were sitting high in the trees in a small public garden in front of the party committee... The soldiers opened fire. First upwards, at the trees, at the children who fell down, killed, wounded, frightened... Then the machine guns were pointed at the crowd...

Trucks and buses were driven to the site. The corpses were hastily thrown and thrust into them. Not a single body was given to the family to be buried...

A period of trials followed. The most blatantly cruel was the trial of 14 of the participants in the strike and rallies... Seven of the fourteen were sentenced to be shot. [Many other strikers were jailed].

• Story (by a participant) originally published in Russian Labour Review (Moscow), and extracts here taken from

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