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D. Pavlov Paper to Standing Committee on Immigration of the Council of Labour and Defence in the USSR

Doukhobors in Canada

[ The first steam tractor owned by the Doukhobor commune, with Peter Verigin behind it, 1905, Unknown, UBC Special Collections 27-18 ]

D. Pavlov
[This paper was presented as Protocol No. 13 at the 16 February 1925 Session of the Standing Committee on Immigration of the Council of Labour and Defence in the USSR. The purpose of this committee was to facilitate and/or screen people and groups that wanted to emigrate to the USSR.]

At the end of October newspapers announced the death of a Canadian Doukhobor leader P.V. Verigin. Verigin had tremendous influence among the Doukhobors, and with his death, huge changes among the Doukhobors might be anticipated. During the last 5-6 years, articles regarding Doukhobors have been few and far between in the Russian press. Nevertheless, a substantial amount of information has been collected which is of a great interest for the public, the more so since with Verigin’s death great changes within the whole Doukhobor movement might be expected. [...]

With a fall of the Tsarist Government in Russia, Canadian Doukhobors have been constantly entertaining the thought of moving back to their motherland. There are two main reasons for that: on the one hand, crises happen frequently in Canada, affecting farmers, especially Doukhobors, who are engaged exclusively in agriculture. On the other hand, their longing towards Russia is not been completely gone, in particular with the Doukhobors who were born in Russia. It’s not that easy to get used to the new way of life, customs and character of a foreign country. In spite of 25 years in Canada, Doukhobors still feel themselves strangers here in many respects.

The first attempt to start negotiations about Doukhobors moving back to Russia was in 1917, soon after the February Revolution. This attempt was quite unanimous. Verigin shared the enthusiasm completely.

After the October [Socialist] revolution, Verigin abruptly changed his opinion on this question. After October he became a severe opponent of resettlement, using all his strength and influence to thwart the move.

However, not all Doukhobors supported Verigin’s position. Independent Doukhobors were the first to openly oppose Verigin. They created a special Committee for Repatriation of Doukhobors and established a connection with the Soviet Government. A section of the communal Doukhobors also was thinking about repatriation. Intellectual ferment was so strong, that in spite of all of Verigin’s authority and resources, he eventually had to give in and start correspondence with the Soviet Government regarding repatriation. Quite obviously, this was a maneuver whereby he was trying to keep the communal Doukhobors in tow by not letting the movement shift into an independent form, while at the same time hoping that the resettlement conditions put out by him would not be accepted by the Soviet Government, which would serve as a new and effective argument against any resettlement. This is why it is of interest to look at Verigin as a leader of the Doukhobors in more detail. It is obvious that Verigin played a major role in the Doukhobors’ destiny. As an organizer and economic manager, he possessed indisputable and outstanding virtues. The Doukhobors valued this highly, rendering their due to Verigin's authority. However, Verigin did not confine himself to that alone. Having been in the past an exile and martyr for the ideals of the Doukhobors, Verigin strove to preserve for himself the position of spiritual and secular leader of the Doukhobor commune. He accomplished a lot; nevertheless, not all Doukhobors were supporting him in this capacity. The whole group (about 4,500) of independent Doukhobors ideologically swerved from Verigin. Even their name is characteristic of this group’s ideological independence from Verigin.

Even among the communal Doukhobors who formally supported Verigin, his authority as ideological leader was valued differently. Dissatisfaction sometimes was expressed in open protest. The fact that a group of communal Doukhobors frustrated with his extravagant way of life openly burned his house is well known. There were a lot of Doukhobors unsatisfied with the uncontrollable autocratic rule of Verigin, which made them leave the commune. And finally, the fact that Verigin started communication with the Soviet Government regarding repatriation of the Doukhobors (which he passionately opposed) indicates that he had a lot of enemies and, in order to maintain his authority, had to reckon with them.

One Canadian newspaper, in a posthumous article, called Verigin “a little tsar”. In many respects it was fair. Being in fact a manager of the all assets and resources of the Commune, he deprived the communal Doukhobors who were leaving the commune of their share of property. Recently, there have been lots of court proceedings in which Doukhobors leaving the commune insisted on getting their share of property, but all these issues were always resolved in Verigin’s favour.

These facts show that the unity of the Doukhobor commune was actually artificial to a certain extent. Verigin’s death may cause big changes. It’s interesting that some newspapers reported that Verigin died under mysterious circumstances, and his death could be a result of a successful attempt on his life (Verigin died in the railway car explosion).

It is very likely that with Verigin’s death the issue of Doukhobor repatriation will become of keen interest again. The issue of Doukhobor repatriation is a complex one; it is worth discussing in detail. The Doukhobors’ desire to repatriate and the agreement of the Soviet Government to accept them are not sufficient in order to resolve the issue. It might happen that an agreement will be reached, but, nevertheless, repatriation will take a long time for the following reasons (independent Doukhobors had already faced them):

First of all, it should be taken into account that not all Doukhobors living in Canada want to repatriate. There is a certain group that is against it. They are relatively few. Another group is more numerous: they are hesitating and decide the issue depending on the conditions of repatriation. The third group consists of those who irrevocably decided to repatriate. They are also not very numerous. Therefore, an examination into these groups is required before decision can be made. This is especially important because there were instances when those opposing repatriation joined those willing to interfere with the process in every possible way.

Secondly, it is very important to provide repatriating Doukhobors with the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the assigned lands in the USSR, with economic and agricultural conditions in which they would work. It is not enough to just use envoys for such large groups as the Doukhobors. The envoys are not able to comprehend all issues which arise here. People are interested not only in location and quality of lands, but also in water supply, roads, markets, prices on construction materials and many others. Continuous source of business information is required in order to solve the issue of repatriation.

The third problem is liquidation of Doukhobor property in Canada. Doukhobors know very well that at the moment they cannot rely on financial aid from the Soviet Government. This makes them thoroughly consider liquidation of their property in Canada. They have to do this in such a way that after paying back all their debts to banks, there was enough money left for the move and beginning their new home in the USSR. They are aware of the difficulties of moving to a new place, they have an idea how much this might cost; therefore, financial problems are given very thorough consideration.

In the mean time, the conditions for the sale of Doukhobor property are extremely unfavourable. One should not forget that Doukhobors are excellent farmers. Canada values them a great deal. It is not in the best interests of the Canadian Government to create favourable conditions for the liquidation of Doukhobor property. The Canadian Government and banks not only refuse to buy the Doukhobor property, they also use their influence to interfere with this liquidation altogether. Having exhausted all possibilities in Canada, Doukhobors turned to Americans. Last spring, an American company agreed to buy land with buildings, cattle and equipment for $35 per acre. This is a very low price (many Doukhobors paid $50 per acre just for the land) but they calculated that with this sale price they would manage to make ends meet, and agreed to the sale. However, the company demanded new conditions: they insisted on having seeds to sow the whole area. This would decrease the selling price to $30. Such a price is unacceptable, and the deal is at the freezing point at the moment. This kind of obstacle will not disappear in the future; therefore, without a doubt, Doukhobors need organizational aid with this issue. This is in the best interests of the USSR also, because the better conditions under which they can sell their property in Canada, the sooner Doukhobors will be able to settle and start their homes in the USSR.

D. Pavlov

November 17, 1924
Montreal, Canada

Source: Russian State Economic Archive, Moscow, Fond 478, opis 7 dilo 2940 (1924), D. Pavlov, D. Pavlov Paper to Standing Committee on Immigration of the Council of Labour and Defence in the USSR, February 16, 1925, 30, 37-41.

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