Experiences in Russia 1931
Days 7 to 10
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/
It was very nice and sunny this morning as we lay, with several others, on the forward deck taking a sun bath.
I managed to get into conversation with a Labor M. P. who was interested enough in Russia to make a trip there with a friend. It is strange how sane and conservative he seemed after my talks with the Communists, although this type of Laborite is generally considered a radical Socialist. It was rather a relief to hear that there is still some hope for Capitalism. He said that Communism is dying out in England, where they can claim only 2,000 Party men. It does not flourish in England, he believes, because Communism is contrary to the fundamentals of British character and tradition; and also because of the British workers’ hatred of theory, and of their desire for self-government. If they want Communism in England, they can get it by the ballot. Then the British have an intrinsic love of law and order, and a hatred of violence, and finally a feeling for family unity and morality. It is not unfair to say that Communism destroys the former deliberately, and tends to weaken the latter, he feels.
A discussion and explanation of Communism by our Scotsman tonight brought a retort from the Labor M. P.
I soon found that the Communists consider all Labor M. P.’s as traitors to the cause of the proletariat, on the theory that beneath the guise of Labor they further the ends of the Capitalist. The resulting debate was a real battle of the classes. Each of the warriors was housed in a rhinoceros hide of righteousness, and armed with the mighty sword of oratory and the dagger of invective. Cut and slash as they might for nearly two hours, no blood was drawn. Then someone yawned, and someone else said it was bedtime, anyway.
Nothing extraordinary happened today. I wish we would hurry up and get there. The service on this boat has been typically Russian. No one has touched our cabins or made our beds since we came on board at London. When we speak to the officers or crew, we generally get a surly reply. Our steward walks around the dining room at breakfast unshaved, unwashed, and collarless; by lunch time he usually looks a little better. I shall have no regrets when we disembark tomorrow.
I heard a rather radical expression from a Communist, but it was quite typical of the Party’s uncompromising attitude.
“There is no use drenching the Trade Unions in words,” he said. “We must drench them in blood!”
I think a little soap box oratory of this sort in America would do much to suppress any Communistic tendency.
Our Scots friend said gaily on sighting Leningrad:
“There is the Soviet Fatherland; Fatherland of the workers of the world, and the envy of the Bourgeoisie!”
And we all had a good last laugh together!
It was dark when we entered Leningrad Harbour; small cargo boats steamed by us showing only their red and green lights. Beacons flashed, boats whistled; it might have been any port, but it was Russia — and the beginning of a great adventure!
After a long delay we moved up the river. Although it was after midnight, the wharves on both sides were loading and unloading, mostly grain, lumber, and machinery. Winches droned, cargoes thumped, men shouted, arc lights spluttered overhead they were not idle, those Russians.
It was 2 a.m. when we finally docked, but we were not allowed to disembark until the next morning.
We were met at the dock by an In-tourist man this morning. He took us through the Customs before anyone else — courtesy of the port for Lloyd George’s former secretary! (Jones.) Our interpreter also appeared — a charming young lady of about twenty-seven, very intelligent, with excellent command of English and French. She had been with George Bernard Shaw when he visited Russia.
A new Ford touring car was waiting at the curb for us, and we tore away at a breakneck pace over very bumpy cobble stone streets. Somehow we arrived, without killing anyone, at the Hotel Europe, Leningrad’s best. Here we were fortunate to have a room with bath.
This morning we drove about thirty-five miles in a charabanc, with some other Americans, to see a Soviet sanatorium, and the famous Winter Palace. This sanatorium is for sickly children from four to twelve years old, and provides free medical attention and supervision for workers’ children. It was in excellent order and quite clean.
The amazing thing was the amount of Soviet propaganda on posters everywhere about the institution. The children had helped to make these posters with pictures cut from magazines, and some of the lines we read were
“Let us carry out the Five-Year Plan in four years.” (This in big red letters).
Another was titled “Defenders of the U.S.S.R.,” accompanied by pictures of guns, battleships and soldiers.
Another said: “Children of the whole world are one family,” this thought being illustrated with pictures of children of various races and nationalities.
Another poster said: “The Shock Brigade work is our method; the Five-Year Plan is our aim.”
The Shock Brigade is a group of enthusiastic and efficient workers who go to factories or farms to speed up production by their own energetic labor and superior ability. They are often accompanied by a considerable amount of ballyhoo, in the form of banners and posters, proclaiming their accomplishments and urging the “boys” to fight hard for the “Pyatelatka” (Five-Year Plan). Frequently, however, their strenuous efforts result in breaking machines through careless handling and over-speeding.
Jones managed to talk with the parents of some children at the sanatorium. It was visiting day. One little girl was called Elimira, the name being derived from “Electrification of the World,” as well as being an old Russian one. A little boy had been at the sanatorium twice, and didn’t want to go home, although his parents were allowed to see him only once a month. I thought his attitude strange, but they did not appear to mind it at all, and even seemed glad to have him out of the way and well taken care of. “I want to be an engineer when I grow up,” said a little girl, aged eight.
We went to visit the ancient palace built by Catherine. Here were beautifully and richly decorated rooms in the Baroque style similar in magnificence to those at Versailles. A great contrast was the recent Czar’s palace and quarters, bourgeois in taste and ugly in decoration. His bedroom had around eight hundred icons on the walls, and both he and the Czarina had had a most amazing display of junk, awful pottery, and religious relics, including a dried fish and some cheap wooden souvenir spoons from Mt. Athos. There were frightful, sentimental pictures everywhere, especially ones of the Annunciation, for the Czarina wanted a son badly.
Even here the Soviet had placed posters in the ante-rooms, some of which read as follows:
“Proletarians be ready for the aerial defence of the U.S.S.R.”
“Soviet airships will be a great factor in the Socialist reconstruction,”
“On August 1st, let us be brave fighters for the Chinese Revolution.”
These Communists never let a chance slip to put over their propaganda.
We returned to Leningrad and dined “on the pink slip” given to us by the In tourist, and entitling us to a first rate meal of caviare, soup, meat, and dessert. The same meal would have cost the casual diner:
Caviare 5 rubles
Soup 2 rubles
Meat 2 to 3 rubles, 50 kopecks
Dessert 1 ruble, 25 to 50 kopecks
Tea 50 kopecks
Total 10 to 12 rubles, or $5 to $6. Not exactly cheap!
A fine roof garden overlooks the city, and here one dines in luxury.
In reckoning in rubles, it should be remembered that there is an inflation in Russia, and that a ruble might be worth anywhere from ten cents to fifty cents, according to the place where you buy. In the private market, a ruble is worth about ten cents to twenty cents; in the Co-ops., it might be worth thirty cents to forty cents. In a bank, you receive two rubles for a dollar, but a speculator will give eight, ten or more for a dollar.
We “lunched” at five. Below us lay the roofs of the city, drab and dirty. But here and there a great cathedral dome stretched up from the undergrowth. Nearby shone the jeweled monument of a famous church. Its pointed turrets of colored glass flashed in the sun, while below, on the housetops, the radio antennae interlaced like the cobwebs of unkempt places.
So this was the famous Leningrad, home of the Czars, and center of the gay-lived nobility! Dilapidated, senile “droshki” (carriages) replace the bright, sporty carriages of bygone splendor. A muddy, rough, and badly kept esplanade along the river survives a once famous drive. Broken windows, dirty, scaly, and unpainted house-fronts remain the grim reminders of what was. Only the main street looks decent, for last spring three thousand painters were set at work to plaster and paint there.
The trains are filled to overflowing - packed. Everywhere there are long queues of persons waiting for their oil, soap, bread, or other food ration. Everybody must wait for what he gets. Even that is uncertain! The workers’ Co-ops. sell cheaply, but one must have a card or pay five times as much - one does so in the private market. But there are few private traders left, an occasional street hawker selling vegetables, a barber, or a watch worker, or a baker. They are fast vanishing. Even the corner kiosk and the bootblacks are State managed. A shine cost me fifty kopecks.
Torgsin, the name given to the new State shops where one can buy only with foreign currency, is the latest development in cheap buying. Here one can buy food, cigarettes, and a few simple commodities, at a price comparable to American prices plus about twenty per cent. One article was quite cheap - cigarettes ten cents, but they were of an inferior quality.
A notable feature of the streets was the number of drunks. They frequently get into fights with the police. This eve-fling a fine scrap occurred right in front of the hotel, when a drunk fell, and was knocked unconscious. They say the reason for so much drunkenness is the lack of food, for the Russian is accustomed to drink vodka with his meals. But taken without food, vodka is disastrously intoxicating.
The Russians show inconsistency by proclaiming in some of their posters that religion and drunkenness are enemies of the Five-Year Plan, while at the same time they sell to the people vodka which is distilled - at a large profit - by the State vodka trust.
The police here have just received new uniforms, and wear white gloves. Everyone is very proud!
Our guide, quite smartly dressed, informed us about the price of clothes. Russian-made silk stockings cost from twenty-three to seventy-five rubles per pair, and the shoes she was wearing cost one hundred rubles. The better dressed women buy materials in the regular Co- op. stores and then have them made into clothes by private dressmakers.
Tonight at the hotel, a little boy with fair hair and an intelligent face came up to Jones and asked him if he had any foreign money to sell,
“How much will you give?” he asked, when Jones said he would be willing to sell dollars for rubles.
“I’ll give you a dollar for six rubles,” said Jones, “but isn’t it dangerous to do this?”
“Yes, it is dangerous, but ‘nichevo’ [It does not matter]!” and he shrugged his shoulders. “The G.P.U. are everywhere, but there you are!”
Strong with the idea of fate!
“Its speculation,” said Jones.
“No, it isn’t.”
“Well, what do you do with the money; do you sell it?” asked Jones.
“No I go to the sops were foreigners buy, and there you can purchase things more cheaply by paying in dollars. Besides, in other shops you can’t get anything much, but in the foreigner’s shops you can get everything.”
“Can you get butter at the coop’s?” Jones inquired.
“Nyet” (No), he replied.
“Does your father make you do this?” we asked.
“No,” he replied, “I thought of it myself [aged thirteen]. I watched the foreigners buy and I figured I could too, if I could get some foreign money. I’ve asked foreigners for it. I’ve bought clothes there too, - everything.”
We gave him some chocolate.
“You can’t get any of this quality here,” he said. “Sometimes you can get chocolate of a kind, but you can’t eat it - ugh! [with facial expression of horror] it’s terrible, makes you ill!”
Asked about his school, he replied:
“We have in my class at school, thirty-six boys. There are only eight Pioneers. The others don’t care about these Pioneers. They don’t think them interesting. What they like is sport and fun. But higher up there are more Pioneers and Komsomols.”
Pioneers are aged eight to fourteen years and Komsomols, fourteen to twenty-two. Both these groups are novitiates of the Communist Party.
“Do you believe in God?” Jones asked.
“Yes, I believe in God,” he said. “My parents do, too. My father is a civil servant [employee], and my aunt is a sectarian, a Baptist. There are lots of Baptists. They took me to a meeting once. There were lots of people and workers there. I fell asleep! I am not interested when they talk so long, and not when they speak about politics. I like sport. In my class some believe in God, but they are a minority.”
“Will the Five-Year Plan be a success?” we inquired.
“I don’t know. I don’t care what goes on in factories. I never read the papers. They’re dull. I like the radio and cinema and sports magazines. Have you anything here to sell? I’ll take this piece of chocolate back to my mother if you’l1 sell it to me.”
We could scarcely persuade him to take the chocolate as a gift, for he wished to pay for it and a tin of beans, but he was most grateful, and although I could not understand a word he said, his face expressed his appreciation. He is coming back again tomorrow.
Tonight Jones translated a conversation with a typical Russian engineer and his wife. The statements are evidence a life in Russia today. The daughter of these people used to say the Lord’ Prayer, but one day she came back from school and asked:
“Where is God? Show me.”
“Now she says there is no God,” said her mother tragically “I want my child to have a good education, and although I don’t particularly care to have my little girl a Communist, I want her to join the Pioneers and the Komsomol so that she may have a good education. That’s what most parents do with their children. It is easy to get married and divorced now and morals have declined. Nobody wants to have children these days. It is difficult to feed them. Abortions and abortions all the time - 75,000 last year in Moscow!” These are true figures, according to an American doctor.
“One-third of the man’s wages,” she said, “are given directly to the mother of his children, but mothers under eighteen years get nothing. All the children of girls fewer than eighteen must be given to State homes. That makes the girls more careful, but I don’t find that they behave well here.”
She also said that when the new marriage laws became effective, a lot of men who had been married twenty or more years left their wives and married young girls.
“Women of today,” she declared, “say, ‘If I love a man I’ll live with him; if I get tired of him, I’ll go to somebody else’.”
Of religion she said:
“There are a good many believers left, but they are old people. They conceal their religion and hold secret meetings.”
This woman also spoke of the manner and cost of living today. Butter in private markets costs ten rubles ($5) a pound (Russian pound, three-fourths of an English pound); eggs sell at ten for five rubles ($2.50), while in the Co-ops. they cost only seventy kopecks. In the Co-ops. one can buy one pound of butter per month, but not regularly; eggs, once a month, but not regularly either in the winter there are no eggs. Meat, mostly salted, is given out in Co-ops. at the rate of 200 grams, three times during the month. In the private market, meat is twelve rubles ($6) per kilo. The “worker” gets more, 300 kilo. He gets 400 grams of salt fish per month. There is not enough bread, 200 grams a day.
Not long ago they opened “commercial shops” with higher prices. Shoes that were fifty rubles ($25) per pair there cost fifteen rubles ($7.50) in the Co-ops. But the Co-ops. hardly ever have any shoes!
It is almost impossible to get fats.
“The peasants,” continued this woman, “are dissatisfied with taxes, etc. They were forced onto collective farms, and many were exiled. They cannot kill their own cows without permission. Peasants say of the Communists, ‘Those devils.’ And the killing of Communists still goes on! There is a lot of forced labour. In the forests of the North there is only forced labour.
“Last winter was very cold. The wood was rationed, and we had to go to the boat, and carry it home ourselves. The ‘fuel’ front is going badly, and so is transportation. One cubic meter of wood for all winter!
“For two months we have not been able to get soap except at the highest prices.
“Six people are living here in three rooms, but they are fortunate. Next door there are eight families in six rooms.
“My husband works ten hours at the office and then two or three hours at home. He is an engineer. Some workers labor seven hours, but most eight. The Russian worker and muzhik are accustomed to the knout[whip] and must be ruled.
“But youth believes in all this, and is enthusiastic for better days to come. All who have seen other days, however, are dissatisfied.
“Last winter there were a lot of arrests. There was hardly a big house in which someone was not arrested. Many persons were arrested and tortured to make them give up gold, foreign currency, and jewelry. They were given only salt herring to eat, and no water. Others were packed in a suffocating room, and when they fainted were pulled out and then put back in again, unless they confessed that they knew of the whereabouts of gold.”
This same story was later verified from two other sources.
“Forced loans,” she continued, “were secured by the government by compelling people to pay a month’s wages. This sum was automatically deducted in instalments from each month’s pay. The workers do not lend their money to the government. It is a gift. If you do not give when asked, you are put on the black list.”
The following statements were made by men we encountered:
One worker said: “Everything is expensive now. In some places you have to pay two or three rubles for a meal. But I suppose we’ve got to do it to get machines. We get much less meat now than before the revolution.”
A man at the hotel said: “I’ve been here twenty-five years. Those were the good times when princes and barons used to come here. Fine people they were! We get different people today.” And he shook his head.
A Tartar waiter with shaved eyebrows said: “I used to get 200 to 300 rubles [$100 to $150] per month; now I get 60 [$30]. It is impossible to live, and we must support our children, too. I come in the third category. Look at the prices. Butter costs ten rubles [$5] per pound, and clothes and boots are impossible in price. The workers aren’t satisfied either.
‘The peasant hates the Kolhozi. What he wants is freedom to sell, freedom to call what he owns his own. He doesn’t want to work ‘in common.’ Oh, they’ve had trouble in the villages. Force is what makes them join the Kolhozi. If you don’t join, you are arrested or your house is taken away from you. The peasants aren’t happy. And they get so little to eat! Much less than before the Revolution. Why, a peasant can’t even kill his own cow. And if he has two cows, he is called a Kulak. It’s terrible what they have done to the Kulak. There have been shootings, too [in a whisper]. They don’t want the Kolhozi; they want to work ‘on their own.’
“The Communists think that jazz is bad and bourgeois. It’s silly. Why, people have to enjoy themselves, especially in times like these!”
This morning we paid a visit to Mr T, in charge of the Metropolitan Vickers Expt. Company of this district. He lived and had offices in a funny old back street, but his rooms were quite nicely fixed up. He spoke of his experiences with the turbine works for which he makes plans. The Russians like to try to improve the plans and call them original, but their paper designs do not work. The academic engineers are OK, but what they lack are real practical men and factory managers who can handle workers and situations. Any engineer who is really good has had to join the Party, hut for the last six months Party men have not been so much preferred.
Mr. T. said that production figures are mostly correct, but there is often a tactful way of emphasis. The Putilov factory produced its turbine quota in especially fast time. But the quota is in kilowatts and now they make only two sizes, while Metro-Vickers probably produce a hundred sizes in England. Naturally it is easy to fill a quota in large units rather than in many small ones.
They are producing quantity, but quality is lacking. They love the excitement of quick work.
“Can they ever export manufactured goods cheaply?” I asked.
“If they want to,” he replied, “they will, no matter what the cost may be. The possibilities here are so great that they will be able to produce and export - also import. The more they make, the more they want.”
With regard to factory discipline, Mr. T. said:
“All the best workers of forty or fifty are drunkards. But if a man is frequently drunk at work, at the end of the month he will be given his pay in a huge model of a vodka bottle, in the presence of his associates. The shame often changes the man. Piece work rates help efficiency. There is now more personal responsibility and a man must pay for careless breakage.
We also visited Mr. R., of Stuart, James & Cooke Co. His work is a project trust for coal mining in the west of the Siberia district. He said the Russians follow plans fairly well, but they like to try to improve a tested and sure thing. They are also procrastinators.
A trust cannot work men more than so many hours, but the trust makes a contract job with a time limit requiring extra hours - then men get paid 600 rubles ($300 nominal) per month or more.
Contrasted with Mr. T.’s statement, Mr. R. said that the coal figures were decidedly inaccurate. Lack of food, especially meats, is responsible for low production at times.
“The system takes away initiative,” he said. “Engineers are afraid to sign the drawings when something goes wrong. Skilled workmen are rushed through their courses and become engineers. Plans are presented to workers for OK. But that doesn’t mean anything! The workers are pleased, and there are sometimes one or two intelligent questions.”
He told us of arrests in Central Asia. Professors were arrested and jailed for not teaching a group of very dumb Uzbeks more rapidly.
The present clever saying of the day is:
"The bourgeois gentilhomme has now become the bourgeois Communist.”
Our little Russian boy returned tonight.
“In the houses of most of my friends are icons,” he said. “In the minority there are pictures of Lenin, almost none at all of Stalin. They don’t like Stalin.”
He spoke of the radio.
“We never listen to our Russian wireless,” he declared. “There is nothing but dull talks on the Five-Year Plan. I only listen to foreign stations. We want fox trots! My mother can play sixty tunes and my sister one hundred. We dance on the sly. It is forbidden, but everywhere they dance. They say it is bourgeois!”
“What do the G.P.U. do if it is forbidden?” we asked.
“Oh, they dance themselves,” he replied. “They only forbid it for show.”
“Boys in our school have given each other American names,” he continued. “I am Bebe Joyce. Others are John Smith and John Simonson.”
“But why American?” we asked.
“Because we love Americans,” he said. “They are the most cultured. Was Sherlock Holmes a real, live man?”
We decided to go for a walk and our little friend was eager to be our guide. As we walked along the street, a police patrol came clanging by. Our friend said, as he shook his head:
“There is trouble for someone. The Solvovki [prison in the north] is full nowadays - it is hard for religious people.
“Oh, look, I am still chewing the gum you gave me! He was chewing gum for the first time in his life!] I’ll carry all your bags to the station, one by one, if you’ll let me,” he offered.
He took us into a side street and we walked up a flight of dirty stairs to the top floor. As bold as brass, he knocked on a door and said:
“Here are some foreigners come to see things.”
Apparently that was sufficient introduction, for we were cordially received by the fair-haired wife of a worker - stout and pretty. I noticed there were icons on the walls of her room. In another section of the building, a young Jewish woman, her husband, mother, and a maid were living in two and a half rooms. The husband was a Party man, the wife was not a member. She spoke very good French, and so I was able to talk to her myself. She told us of her life and how content she was under the present conditions.
“Of course, we would like to have better quarters, but soon we hope to,” she remarked.
She said she was twenty-eight, had married at sixteen and was devoted to her child. At twenty-five, she had taken up medicine, completed her course an4 would soon practice. It was possible to get all the books she wanted from the library, so she did not need to worry about the cost of text books. They were very cordial, and asked us to have tea with them.
“You must hear our phonograph,” she said proudly, and to our greatest surprise produced a new American portable machine.
On returning to the hotel we saw quite a fight. A drunk and a policewoman were struggling. He had attempted to strike her. She blew her whistle and he tried to run away, but a policeman, who went after him, twisted him around and he fell heavily on his head, unconscious. He began to moan, a loud monotonous imbecilic moan. Policemen took him off in a droshki, but one could still hear his delirious wail as they drove away and until they went around the corner.
This, then, was life in Leningrad!
This afternoon we visited the famous Hermitage and saw some very fine Rembrandts, some good men of the Dutch School and some lovely old gold jewelry of the Eighth Century, B.C., from South Russia, with remarkable detail and fineness of work.
Tonight at 11:30 we took the train for Moscow, traveling first class.
At the station were crowds of people surging in and out, and many more sitting on their boxes and bundles, just waiting. It is always so in Russia; people often wait for days to get on a train, and if a Russian cannot get to his destination today, “Zavtra,” or, as the Spaniard says, “Manana,” will always do. So goes the philosophy of the East!
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