Experiences in Russia 1931
Days 1 to 6
This book is written in the form of a diary. Most of it consists of interviews with Russians in every walk of life, - the object being to obtain a cross-section of public opinion about the things that are transpiring in their country’s remarkable experiment in practical Socialism. No attempt has been made to reach conclusions, and the reader may from his own opinions.
First published & copyrighted by the Alton Press, Inc, Pittsburgh, USA in 1932.
Transcription & republication by Dr. M. S. Colley & N. L. Colley. © 2002-03. All Rights reserved. For further information: www.colley.co.uk/garethjones/legal.htm ; the domain from where this file was originally downloaded.
Original Source material from the diaries of Gareth Jones' visit to the Soviet Union with Jack Heinz II , in Autumn 1931. For further Soviet articles by Gareth Jones, please visit: www.colley.co.uk/garethjones/
IN 1932 Russia finds herself in revolutionary chaos compared with which the shots and terror of 1917-18 were but dramatic episodes. This is the revolution of the Five-Year Plan which is changing the whole life of the country even more than the initial seizing of power by the Bolsheviks fifteen years ago. The aim of this new Communist Party set before it. These new rulers of Russia, having issued a challenge to the age-old rights of private property, are attempting to build up a State where the good of the community, and not the private profit of the individual, shall be the guiding motive, where classes shall disappear, and where all shall receive according to their needs and give according to their abilities. Throughout the centuries, philosophers have talked of such a State, but up to 1917 their arguments were based upon pure theory. Today, however, the ideas propounded by Socialist thinkers are being put into practice. How do they work out in real life?
It was in quest of an answer to this question that I was permitted to accompany the author of this diary to Russia in the autumn of 1931 when the Soviet citizens were in the very thick of the struggle to build up Socialism. I believe the author’s approach was as non-partisan and open-minded as possible for any one reared under a regime of Capitalism.
With a knowledge of Russia and the Russian language, it was possible to get off the beaten path, to talk with grimy workers and rough peasants, as well as such leaders as Lenin’s widow and Karl Radek. We visited vast engineering projects and factories, slept on the bug-infested floors of peasants’ huts, shared black bread and cabbage soup with the villagers—in short, got into direct touch with the Russian people in their struggle for existence and were thus able to test their reactions to the Soviet Government’s dramatic moves.
It was an experience of tremendous interest and value as a study of a land in the grip of a proletarian revolution.
GARETH R.V. JONES.
Experiences in Russia 1931
OFF FOR RUSSIA
A trip to Russia by a Soviet boat may justly kindle the imagination in this hectic year of 1931 when that country is the cynosure of the remaining five-sixths of the world. Much we have read, much heard—now we shall see first hand what it all means.
Jones and I embarked from London on the Soviet steamer Rudzutak at 7:30 p.m. We had expected to get a good meal on board, but got only tea, served in a glass mug, and bread, cold ham, sausage, and cheese. The boat, a 5,000-ton cargo and passenger steamer, was neat and clean; the lounge and dining saloon were nicely decorated. Quite a surprise!
The passenger list, though lacking in brilliance, looked promising in variety, a party of scientists on tour, another group of some sort, an English Co-operative Store delegation, and many Russians (assorted flavors).
In roaming about the boat we discovered a “Lenin Corner” in the crew’s quarters, where stood a fine bust of Lenin himself, and also several photographs of various Party leaders and generals. A piano, a ping-pong set, and a radio completed this scenery. Nearby, a bulletin board was plastered with Communist propaganda and amazingly true statements regarding the present world depression.
As a matter of interest, I have copied a translation, made by Jones, of this wall newspaper. The paper is the work of one of the crew and illustrates the sort of propaganda of an unintelligent nature found everywhere. Of course, it is quite typical, and the sheer quantity of such similar stuff must have a great influence on the workers. It was titled:
“Two Worlds — The World of Capitalism and The World of Growing Socialism.”
Here is Jones’s translation:
“August 1st is the International Red Day of the struggle of the revolutionary proletariat against the dangers of imperialist wars and the threats of attack on the U.S.S.R.
“August 1st is the eve of a deepening of the world economic crisis and of an unprecedented embitterment of conflicts between Capitalist countries, and especially between the systems of building Socialism and decaying Capitalism.
“A world economic crisis has gripped all Capitalist countries. The fundamental features of this are a violent cutting down of production, a sharp decline of the internal markets, together with the impoverishment of working masses by a colossal growth of unemployment, and a tremendous cutting down of the foreign markets. Wages have been cut, the working day lengthened, and millions of peasants have been ruined through a fall in the price of agricultural products, high taxes, and rents. The attack of Capitalism on the workers’ standards of living has led to increased mortality, suicides, and crime. The world bourgeoisie is struggling, with the active help of the Social Democrats, to guarantee a way out of a crisis at the expense of the working masses. They are organizing terrorist Fascist bands, and threatening the workers’ revolutionary organization; are depriving the workers of the right of assembly and press; are shooting unemployed and strikers; and are suppressing peasant movements.
“While in Russia”— etc., etc.
A glowing picture of the accomplishments of Communism followed.
The sea is very rough today, and this 5,000-ton boat is not like the Berengaria! Sick as a pup! Stayed in bed and slept and cursed our luck. Couldn’t do anything else — awful sissy!
Tonight we learned that the boat will put into Hamburg for at least twenty-four hours to load a cargo of German machinery. This will delay everything badly — fed up!
This same boat has just brought from Russia, to dump into England, 2,000 tons of butter, which will undersell the English or Danish product by thirty percent. Dumping?
“No,” say the Russians, “we sell at the highest price we can in any market in order to obtain foreign credits.”
We were supposed to arrive at Hamburg at noon, but did not dock until 2:30, and then had to wait two hours for the police to come aboard, before any passengers were allowed ashore. Finally, we asked the captain if we could disembark, to which he casually remarked:
“Oh yes, the police have been here an hour!”
Jones reported a conversation with a sailor he found loafing in the “Lenin Corner.” This sailor had been a member of the Party since 1926, and said that about sixty percent of the crew were of the Communist Party.
“What will Russia be like in ten years?”
Jones asked. “Stalin doesn’t say.”
“Isn’t Stalin’s speech opposed to the principles of Communism?” Jones inquired.
“Oh, no! came the response. “You see, we have Communism for years and years — twenty, fifty, a hundred, or two hundred years. We are now only entering Socialism. When Communism comes, all classes will have disappeared, and all will be able to obtain everything they want. There will be complete equality. We are working toward that; we must now be sure to act according to the doctrine. ‘He who will not work, shall not eat.’ So, if a man doesn’t work, he is not to have money nor bread nor anything else. We started off in the beginning with equal pay, but it gave advantages to the lazy man, so we soon abolished that.
“There are still classes in Russia. The Kulak still exists. There are still bourgeois producers. They must be stamped
Another conversation between two sailors concerning the old and the new army was translated by Jones as follows:
“It was much better in the Czarist Army than it is in the Red Army now,” said one.
The other retorted hotly:
“No, no, it was three times worse!”
Contradictory opinions of this kind are rather puzzling.
A further conversation with another sailor revealed some interesting facts about the crew of the boat. The captain has only administrative power, and the ship is really run by a committee of three men, the president of the committee, who may be an ordinary sailor; the captain, and the secretary of the Party “cell,” or organization on the boat. The captain and first mate are “civil servants,” while other members of the crew are in the category of “workers.” The former are better educated, receive higher pay, and can get better things for personal use. The peasants are in another category. It is possible to move from one category to another. If the civil servant is a member of the Party his maximum wage is 315 rubles per month, but there are only two million Party members in Russia out of a total population of 160 million.
Jones asked whether he, a schoolmaster’s son, would be eligible for Party membership.
“Yes,” was the reply, “as neither your father nor yourself has exploited the workers. On the contrary, your father has been educating the people. A preliminary probation period is, of course, necessary—six months for a worker, maybe two years for others.”
The seaman said:
“Trotsky was too much under the influence of foreigners. He was a valuable man in his time, but now we have no further use for him. Trotsky stood for a ‘world revolution’ as the only means of putting Russia into a Communistic state.” He also maintained that the peasants, being in the majority, were the mainstay of the government. Stalin, on the other hand, stands for the national idea of Communism in Russia first, and his policy is to work with the minority group, the city proletarian.
“World revolution is bound to come,” the sailor continued. “Everywhere there are strikes and discontent.
He added that before long Russia would become absolutely independent of the rest of the world.
“But Russia will always have to import goods,” said Jones.
“No,” declared the sailor, “Russia is going to be self-sufficient. She will import for five years or so and then stop. We will soon be able to make all the manufactured goods we need. We do not like the campaigns carried on in England against Russia. The English Socialists are traitors, tools in the hands of the bourgeoisie. They are merely opportunists. The English people have not suffered and hungered like the Russians, or they would not be so easy in dealing with their exploiters. The time will come when they will believe in a bloody revolution.” Jones asked this same fellow a few questions regarding lotteries in Russia.
Jones: “What good is the winning of a lottery to a man in Russia.
Sailor: “The winner might invest the money in a Five-Year Plan Loan, receiving interest of six to nine percent. He could win a prize of 2,000 to 20,000 rubles in Obligations and receive interest.”
Jones: “But that would make him a Kulak or petty bourgeois.”
Sailor: “Yes, he might buy a house or a car, but he would have to sacrifice fifty to seventy percent of the prize to the State in the form of taxation. He would no longer be able to get tickets to buy food at the cheap rate. His food would cost five times as much.”
An English Co-operative member interrupted at this point with the remark that, “It is a case of ‘the pot calling the kettle black’, when Russia upbraids other nations for exploiting the workers, because Russia’s method of dealing with winners of lotteries is nothing more than an exploitation.”
The sailor continued:
“In the beginning, educated people joined the Party for their own profit. They were useful at first as educators to speed up production, but then later they were removed by the ‘Chistka,’ which is the Russian method of periodically removing the inefficient. The word literally means ‘cleansing’.”
Another member of the group remarked:
“I remember when Lenin came to my factory. He was just an ordinary little man. He looked like a muzhik [peasant] and spoke simply. He came to the factory and asked people to show their hands. Some wore diamond rings. He shouted to them, ‘You swine! You have been exploiting the workers’.”
Jones and I took the ferry to the city of Hamburg and went to a restaurant located on the Lake Alster. It had been well known for decades as a gay meeting place for “diners out,” but tonight it was deserted.
A talk with the head waiter revealed the seriousness of the political situation. Fortunately, the referendum to dissolve the Prussian Parliament had not been carried, but there was still considerable Communist unrest. Several shootings had taken place in Hamburg, and there had been a street fight in Berlin, when thirty-seven were severely injured. An offer of a 20,000-mark reward for the capture of the Reds who had murdered three Berlin police officers was blazed across the first page of the newspaper.
One could not fail to be deeply impressed by the tense atmosphere, charged with the rumblings of anarchy and revolution.
I spent the morning and early afternoon in Hamburg writing letters and visiting the art gallery, where there was a fine display of Rembrandts. We also saw some of the city’s modernistic buildings. Rather good, I thought, and quite original, but with a little too much of the German tendency toward the grotesque. There were amazing elevators in one apartment house, consisting of an endless, constantly moving chain of compartments into which one stepped and went up or down.
The boat was supposed to sail at 5:00 p.m., but did not leave until 5:00 a.m., so we went ashore for dinner. It was grand to get away from that boat! We seriously considered flying, since we were already two days late, but we gave up the idea out of consideration for our families, and the added expense.
We awoke this morning to find ourselves sailing slowly through the Kiel canal, with flat farming country and sparsely scattered houses on both sides.
I spent the morning reading, and talking with a Scotch Communist. He was one of the most radical men imaginable, but in spite of my laughing at some of his absurd statements, he always maintained a sense of humor. I learned that he had been a member of the Communist Party for ten years, and for nine years had been out of work. He hailed from Glasgow. This was my first real contact with a devoted Communist who knew quite a bit about his Marxian philosophy. I was amazed by the ridiculous radicalism expressed in this statement:
“Al Capone and Jack Diamond are tools of the bourgeois employed to break strikes and intimidate workers.”
An atheist too, he believes that “religion is the opium of the people.”
I asked him how it was that Christ and His teachings had been remembered two thousand years. He replied that these Christian beliefs had been fostered by the bourgeois to dope the workers with superstition, and to keep them confused.
Further views on religion were expressed by him and a Mrs. Bromley, a working woman of London. They object to what they call the insincerity and outward sham of the Catholic Church in particular, and claim that the higher authorities get good salaries and live a life of exploitation and secret vice. They ridicule what they call the ceremonial hokum, and decry the custom of paying money to the priest when one marries. Furthermore, the Catholic religion, in their opinion, removes opportunity for free choice and free thought; the child must be confirmed at seven, must learn as the Church teaches, under penalty of damnation.
We talked of great men. Comrade Reid, the Scotsman, believes that Lenin and Marx are the only truly great men of the past or present, because they have constructively aided the proletariat.
“But what about a person like Queen Elizabeth?” I asked.
“All such characters are but details of history, the product of their economic environment,” he replied.
“What about a man like Edison? I inquired. “Did he not benefit humanity and the civilized world?”
“No,” he declared. “Edison was exploited by the bourgeois, too. But unconsciously he abetted the rationalization of the Capitalist world by his inventions, and in so doing his work caused greater unemployment, and consequently helped to destroy Capitalism.”
The Communist mind feels that to benefit humanity it is only necessary to help the proletariat, and his outlook is therefore as narrow as my question was broad.
We discussed war with Soviet Russia. Our friend, the Clydesider, felt that war is the only way out of the crisis. He is not afraid of a bloody revolution. You cannot expect the bourgeois to voluntarily relinquish his present advantage without a struggle, in his opinion.
“Why, Hoover and Lloyd George are plotting war with Soviet Russia,” declared Reid. “Would not America and England like to own the Soviet oil fields, their timber, their other material resources? Certainly! And what are all the campaigns against Russia’s ‘dumping,’ ‘convict labor,’ and ‘religious persecution’ but the beginning of a war of intervention?”
“But,” queried Jones, “has not history shown by the example of Napoleon’s march on Moscow, and the ‘White’ Intervention of 1918 that Russia cannot be conquered?”
“Ah, now there are airplanes and poison gas,” came the reply. “And why are the nations arguing today? Why is there more money spent on weapons now than in 1913?”
Not much else happened today, only a five-hour delay in the Kiel canal while we took on oil. They say we will not dock for three days.
We had a beautiful sunny morning with a smooth sea.
I enjoyed an amusing talk with a Russian who had been a contractor in Chicago for twenty years. A most amusing old chap he was, with Communist ideas. He had lost most of his money in Chicago banks that had closed.
“All that money of mine,” he said, “was taken by bankers and given to Fascists and Germans. The Capitalist is like a tiger—beautiful, but just try to deal with him!
“In America, if you steal a million dollars, the government pats you on the back and says ‘good boy’, but if you steal fourteen cents, you get fourteen years! American schools are bad; children learn to whistle and spit and say ‘my old man’—they show no respect for their families!”
I read and wrote until tea time, after which I started a casual talk with the Scotch Communist. Three hours later we quit, having gathered fifteen or more persons into the argument. Said our friend:
“Economic freedom is the ultimate aim of Soviet Russia; there is no freedom in bourgeois countries, because the bourgeois control the press and the right to assemble. Scotch Communist. Three hours later we quit, having gathered fifteen or more persons into the argument. Said our friend:
“Economic freedom is the ultimate aim of Soviet Russia; there is no freedom in bourgeois countries, because the bourgeois control the press and the right to assemble.
“We must have in England a Cheka [political police] more ruthless than in Russia.
“The Soviet Government’s first obligations are to the working class of the world. Therefore, if any of the treaties or undertakings signed by the U.S.S.R. clash with the interest of the proletariat, these treaties will be immediately repudiated.”
“Do you believe the Soviet Government would abide by the German and Italian treaties of the present if they turned out detrimental to the proletariat?” we asked.
“Of course not. At present they coincide with our interests.
“World revolution is inevitable; each country will apply voluntarily for membership in the U.S.S.R. Germany is to be next. In India, the task of the British Communist Party is to fight for the freedom of the workers and the peasants against bourgeois governors.
“The present belief is that Capitalism itself will bring about its own downfall. Russia does not believe in sending money abroad, and is quite right in concentrating on the Five-Year Plan. Its success is the best propaganda. The workers of the world will see Russia a brilliant success and proceed to establish a Communist state.
“There have been three periods in the progress or decline of Capitalism, according to the Russian outlook. These periods were:
“1. 1918-23 - Period of upward tendency.
“2. 1923-28 - Period of temporary stabilization.
“3. 1928 -Period of rapid and final decline.
“The contradictions in the Capitalistic system are necessarily increasing. Rivalry for world markets, which are steadily contracting, will lead to war. This conflict will end in civil war and revolution. The present period of world Capitalism is the period of wage cuts, oppression in the colonies, and unemployment.
Changing the subject, he said:
“Bourgeois doctors are all superstitious; they do not know their jobs; they don’t tell you what is wrong with you. They ask how you feel, give you medicine, and then look in a medical book to learn what troubles you. They take no interest in the patient, and work only for the bourgeois who pay them.”
This evening we again had an argument, a considerable number of saloon passengers, both Communist and non-Communist participating. But the revolutionaries were so numerous and so unreasonable that they might have swamped me, had it not been for the timely arrival of Joneski. Then we flayed ‘em!
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