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‘Comrades, come and join the Kolkhoz’

A harsh wind is blowing on the Russian Steppe and the Collective Farm Committee are in town, in the latest ‘Through the K hole’

Dimitri was stooped over the earth, bent double like a birch tree swept by the harried wind of the Russian Steppe. He worked the fields and as usual his face was grim and determined and his yellowed hands hung like tree roots.

He’d inherited this small corner of the world from his late father, and the plot, bound by a grove to the east and flanked by stone walls, had been faithfully handed down through the generations. He filled his basket with the earthy, tangled knots of freshly picked vegetables and made his way back home, forcing the reluctant wheels of his handcart through the mud. In between the big sparse drops of rain he could just make out his house, low lying and hugging the landscape.

His daughter ran out to meet him and with quick young hands and tousled hair she helped to load the crop into sacking. Inside they all shared a single room and in the evening the dining area was cleared away and mattresses and blankets were laid out onto the floor. But there was black bread and cured meat and jars of pickled gherkins and tomatoes, and there was a welcoming fire. It was simple, but it worked, and he’d done enough to supply his family with food.

That evening a meeting was held in the local hall. Farmers who owned plots from all over the district were called to hear about the Government’s new plans. As they congregated they looked as if they would always be at the beck and call of someone else and they were all fearful of what might happen.

The hall was draughty and on the stage, elevated above them on a wooden podium, was a member of the party. His voice droned and filled the echoing hall with something other than rural silence.

He said how current working was too inefficient, that the Collective Farm Committee wanted to amalgamate them into consortia. Their dream was for federations of farmers to work together with a focus on strategic leadership. Existing grain and animal sheds would be used more efficiently and the tools of farming would be shared; they were socialists after all and property was better owned by the collective.

He talked passionately of how this was a great opportunity to improve quality and productivity, and how the decentralisation of budgets had led to excessive localisation of resources and inter-plot variability. He presented a five year road map and explained how the kulaks, the enemies of the collective farm, would be forcibly converted.

‘Innovation needs to be embraced brothers. Comrades, come and join the Kolkhoz!’

Questions were met with inveterate hostility.

The farmers left, cowed and uncertain, doubtful that this collective culture would ever work.

They went back to tend to their own plots, to do what they did best. Dimitri looked mournfully out over his fields, conscious that the slowly flowering heartbeat of his life would be neglected. A handful of ravens took off, ominous scotomas on a landscape which from now on would be managed very differently.

He crossed himself and said a quick prayer before setting off home.

Written in response to: Senior NHS manager urges immediate break-up of PCTs Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Aberdeen

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