Another Protest Shot Down
The picture above is an example of some of the posters that workers made quickly before their march on the Communist Party Headquarters in 1962. Workers once again were angered with the low wages they were receiving, especially since food prices were going through the roof at the same time. Many of the posters like the one above said “Meat, oil, and raises,” or “We need apartments.” It was also reported that someone wrote “Use Khrushchev for meat” on the side of a train.
The protest was made up of workers from the Novocherkassk Electric Locomotive Works. They, along with everyone else had been promised increased food availability and lower prices. They received the exact opposite as well as lower wages. As a result they left work and marched towards the Communist party headquarters. In true soviet fashion (it seems) they were met and dispersed with gunfire. Over 20 people were killed (some say 23, some 24) and many more were wounded. It was reported that the protestors broke windows and destroyed the fence, so officials charged 114 people and seven were even executed for their offenses. Of course the bodies of the people killed in the shooting were buried immediately and for the most part never spoke of. News of the event did leak, but an article wasn’t published in a newspaper until 1988.
The KGB was aware of the people’s dissatisfaction with the food price increases. In fact they spent a lot of time trying to discourage strikes and other protests in order to prevent incidents like the Novocherkassk massacre. However, I don’t believe they understood, or at least weren’t allowed to say they understood, how angry the people actually were. In a top secret KGB report they made comments like “slight increase in prices for meat, meat products and butter” and “The country has generally understood the decision correctly.” In the same report they report of the protest of the train workers, but there is no mention of the massacre. The Soviet Government did its best to cover up the deaths. It was said that two days later, life was back to normal and no one dared to speak of what happened, even though it was a sickening event.
What strikes me as amazing is how how quick the government could respond. I did this topic in class, and I remember reading that while the massacre was going on, it was announced via radio that there was a ‘concert’ going on, in order to hide the fact that people were at that moment being gunned down.
Not only that, but I can’t imagine how the government made this event ‘disappear’ from the public just two days later.
Aside from the government cover up, what makes the Novocherkassk massacre so significant in the context of the post-Stalin era? Protesting poor living conditions must mean something different than protesting for political freedoms, right? Why would workers demand “meat, oil and higher wages” in 1962 but not in 1952?