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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

The Eugene V. Debs Children's Colony: Soviet children's homes expropriated from the wealthy, 1923

The Lenin Children's Home in Orenburg

After the devastation of the First World War, the triumph of the Bolshevik Revolution saw the lands of the future USSR endure years of brutal Civil War, imperialist intervention and famine. The new Soviet state, among so many other changes, built health spas for working people, the elderly, people with psychical challenges and homes for all too many orphaned children.

And they did it by expropriating the mansions and lands of the wealthy and nobility.

Not by some silly liberal or social democratic taxation scheme, by expropriation.

Remember, it has been done will be done again.

This brief article from an English language Soviet monthly in October 1923 talks about the creation of the Eugene V. Debs Colony for orphaned children built on the expropriated land of the wealthy and named for the great American socialist leader. It was named for Debs as its construction was, in part, financed by donations from American working people who supported the world's first socialist state.


JUST outside the old Tartar city of Kazan there are a number of summer villas, surrounded by trees. These villas formerly belonged to the local millionaires. After the fashion of Russian millionaires, these former owners somehow disappeared after the Revolution; and the villas are now inhabited by three hundred famine orphans, the young citizens of the Eugene V. Debs Colony. The existence of the colony is announced by signs in Russian and English which stand over the entrance.

The Eugene V. Debs Colony is truly international in its composition. A little more than half of the children are born of Russian parents. The others are Tartars, Bashkirs, Kirghiz, Chuvashes...

Kazan was one of the most exposed outposts of the Revolution. It was taken by the Czecho-Slovaks and Whites in the late summer of 1918, one of the most critical periods in the life of the Soviet Republic. It was retaken soon afterwards by the Red Army under the personal command of Trotsky himself. While in Kazan I heard many stories of the reckless courage which Trotsky displayed in directing the military operations at that time. The city shows traces of desperate fighting. Many houses are partially or completely destroyed, and one hospital is pitted all over with the marks of Czecho-Slovak bullets. In 1920 a great fire raged for three days in Kazan. Finally in 1921 came the famine. It is estimated that more than a hundred thousand people died of hunger in the Tartar Republic, of which Kazan is the capital. The city has recovered from the effects of war and famine with really remarkable speed; but the local government is faced with an appalling problem in taking care of the multitudes of homeless children in the Tartar Republic.

The Eugene V. Debs Children's Colony is a beautiful monument to the international solidarity of the American workers who contributed the funds for its upkeep. It is a genuine bond of friendship between Russia and America. To the children who grow up there America will be associated not with the troops that were sent to Archangel, not with the shells that were sent to Kolchak, not with the sanctimonious lies of the official anti-Soviet propaganda, but with the great-hearted leader of the American working-class who went to prison because he hated war and imperialism and who stood by the Russian Workers' Republic from the moment when it was born. As I left the Colony, after a visit that was all too short, I had one dominant wish: that Debs himself might some day visit the little children's city that bears his name and see what a splendid work of humane reconstruction the American workers have already made possible in this region.

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