Diagram of the 1962 shooting of strikers in Novocherkassk according to journalist investigation (Image: video capture)
Fifty-six years ago this week, the Soviet military fired into a crowd of workers in Novocherkassk who were protesting the latest increase in prices without an increase in wages. Twenty-six people were killed and more than 100 wounded; and then those charged as organizers were tried, with seven sentenced to death and others up to 15 years in prison.
“In this history,” Russian commentator Mikhail Pozharsky says, “is approximately everything one needs to know about the Soviet Union.” A year before this, “the Soviet government launched the first man into space (there were means enough for that), and six months later, it put nuclear rockets in Cuba (there were means enough for that too).”
“But in the interval between these two events,” the Soviet government “sent forces to shoot its own population which was unhappy that it did not have enough money for meat and sausages. But there is in this history, one delicious nuance,” Pozharsky says.
And that is this, as British historian Geoffrey Hosking has documented. Marie Antoinette became infamous for saying that if the people don’t have enough bread, “let them eat cake,” but fewer people are aware that the Novocherkassk factory director in front of whom the workers were shot said something equally insensitive and horrific.
“If they don’t have money for meat and sausages,” he said, “let them eat liver pies.” That comment, Hosking suggests, possibly became the spark that led to the explosion of popular anger in that southern Russian city in 1962, anger that was reflected both in their partisan-like actions and also their own slogan: “Let’s make sausages out of Khrushchev!”
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