Food Shipments Trapped in Web of Soviet Inefficiency
While other countries are shipping thousands of tons of food to the Soviet Union to offset feared shortages this winter, much of the country’s own agricultural produce is sitting in railway yards and warehouses because of mismanagement, the Soviet press has charged.
“The situation, to be frank, is catastrophic,” Nikolai Garyushin, the head of the Soviet railways’ chief administration for commercial transport, told the Communist Party newspaper Pravda on Sunday.
The blockage in Moscow reflects what Soviet economists fear is the coming collapse of the whole rail transport system as more and more cars full of goods waiting to be unloaded jam the depots.
Behind this, they see the accelerating disintegration of the whole Soviet economy, with producers unable to sell their goods to consumers, who in turn become frustrated at their inability to buy even daily necessities and increasingly fend for themselves outside the state-run economy, relying on the black market.
The “food crisis,” consequently, is regarded not as an agricultural failure but as a broader systemic collapse of the Soviet economy so that even the routine requirements it has coped with for decades are becoming nearly insurmountable.
In Moscow alone, a weekend survey found 300 freight cars waiting to be unloaded and 20,000 containers awaiting delivery by the capital’s trucking companies, according to Pravda.
They contain everything from oranges, bananas, tea, coffee, sausages, butter and eggs to television sets, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, glassware, clothing and shoes.
Among the freight trains were 101 freezer cars of meat that had been purchased abroad to ease the severe food shortage here, Pravda said. The packing plant that was to process the meat was unable to cope with the shipment, so it has been left in the railway yard since it arrived Nov. 25.
Garyushin said the railroads’ warehouses were virtual “cemeteries” with undelivered goods. He estimated that only a fifth of the goods now being shipped to Moscow were actually delivered to wholesale and retail outlets. Some supplies have been waiting for delivery since July, he added.
Foreign donors have expressed concern that their shipments might be caught in the transport blockage. So far, an estimated 1,200 tons have arrived by air, sea and land, with six to seven times that amount en route and more to come.
“One of the reasons given for the freight congestion is a shortage of storage facilities--all warehouses of trading establishments are packed to capacity,” Pravda said. “On the other hand, shop shelves are empty. Why? This question should be put before the leaders of the Moscow City Council who have been carried away with rallies.”
Yuri A. Tulupov, the director of a Moscow meat-packing enterprise, told the newspaper Argumenty i Fakty that the whole supply system was breaking down.
Moscow this year was short 22,000 tons of sausage that should have been delivered from other regions, he said, but sausage had instead become a kind of currency to be exchanged for construction materials and consumer goods.
Practical explanations for the breakdown varied. Officials said there were not enough drivers or trucks to take the goods away. Warehouses were too full to accept more goods. The orders were so old that the goods had to be reallocated to another buyer. The paperwork was not in order.