Home > Child labor and the grey market during the Great Patriotic War

Child labor and the grey market during the Great Patriotic War

An excerpt from R.K. Rakhimov, O proshlom s gordost'iu, o budushchem s optimizmom (Dushanbe: NPITsenter, 1997). 

Rashid Rakhimov (1932-) is a Tajik economist who spent 30 years as the head of the Institute of Economics of the Tajik SSR Academy of Sciences in Dushanbe. He played a leading role in the key economic debates of that period, as well as in organizing the research behind policy proposals adopted at the state level. This memoir covers his childhood outside of Leninobod (Khujand), his education in the post-war years, eventual graduate work in Moscow, and time in the institute. It also recounts stories about his family, including his sister I. R. Rakhimova, a leading party official.

The selection below recounts his schooling during the war years, and the different jobs he did to help his family survive. Note that much of what he describes was formally illegal. Indeed, what makes this description particularly interesting is the fairly detailed description it provides of grey and black-market activities. Curiously, as an academic economist Karimov became an outspoken opponent of introducing the kind of cottage labor he engaged in as a child. He believed that cottage labor – officially promoted as a way to encourage women with large families to take part in the work force – ended up pulling children away from schooling and socialization into Soviet society. (See Kalinovsky, Laboratory of Socialist Development, 83-84).


I personally did not feel the first years of the war, nor did it seem to affect the standard of living or the lifestyle of our family, despite the fact that the family was large, and only my father and sister – a schoolteacher at a collective farm near the city - worked. Our mom earned some extra money by making national blankets, [1] and we all helped her. (5)


            The house where we lived was large and located in the center of the city, not far from the regional branch of the State Bank, built from baked red brick. The house belonged to my father and his brother – Abdurahmon-amak. He lived alone, because his wife and daughter, her husband and children lived in the Simhoz (a seed farm located near the city, but on the Uzbek side). His side of the house was rented to a Russian family with two older kids, a boy and a girl. We were friends, and thanks to them I started attending a sports program and playing sports, including football. I must say that after I started playing sports I managed to rid myself of many diseases, including malaria and pediatric tuberculosis. I managed to achieve some success as a football player: I played on the team of the children’s sport school, [and was] the captain of the team representing our sporting school for teenagers, the captain of the technical school for cooperatives, and even the team of the G.V. Plekhanov Institute of Economics in Moscow. When I played on the technical school’s team, we often played against the State Pedagogical Institute, where my brother Majid was on the team. Once we both found ourselves playing forward, and it so happened that he had the ball and I was chasing him to take it away. Seeing this he reprimanded me: “Don’t run after me, or people will judge you.” After that I tried to avoid having to face my brother on the football field.


            I attended sixth and seventh grade during the most difficult years of the war. There was a rationing system for distributing good, especially bread (I was allowed 300 grams of bread each 24 hours). More and more, each member of the family had to take part in the fight for survival, and I decided that I would use weekends and holidays, and sometimes even skip lessons, to earn money.   

            Before the war I would often ride my donkey to nearby collective farms to collect grass for the animals we kept at home. Now I had to get a small wagon and the necessary equipment to transport goods.

            Some of our relatives were already engaged in this activity, i.e. transporting coal. Over the course of about a year I used to go to Proletarsky district (currently Jabbar Rasulov district) located 18 km from the city, every other day, to get coal. I would buy about 200-250 kg of coal and, bringing it back to the city the next day, sell it at the market. The difference in price brought me a profit, enough to support three adult members of the family. The trip took 12-14 hours. It was very difficult in the winter time. When it came time to replace the wagon, I decided to stop this activity and instead took up weaving. In one of the small rooms of our house my uncle’s son-in-law helped me install a hand operated loom.  In one day, from 6 am to 8 pm in the evening, with a one-hour break for lunch, I could produce 6-8 meters of fabric.  It was sold [on the market] and so I was a “small commodity producer.” The work was not hard, but very tiring, and so I tried to finish the yarn and take up another activity. I made this decision even though weaving brought in more income than the transport and sale of coal.

            Because the artisanal production of silk and cotton cloth became widespread during the war years, the buying and selling of yarn on the informal market developed very quickly. The supply of yarn came mostly from people who worked in the spinning mills of Tashkent and Ferghana district. I bought them up wholesale and sold them retail. Income from this activity was much higher than from my earlier work.

            I continued my entrepreneurial activity until the summer vacation of 1945. By that time the family budget was supplemented by my older sisters’ income. It was decided that I should focus on graduating from school and continuing my education in one of the technical schools of the city, so that I could become a specialist.

                                                -Translated and annotated by A.M.Kalinovsky

[1] Presumably “Kurpacha” or “Quroq”