Experiences in Russia 1931
Days 7 to 13
First published & copyrighted by the Alton Press, Inc, Pittsburgh, USA in 1932.
Transcription & republication by Dr. M. S. Colley & N. L. Colley. ã 2002. 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!
We arrived at Moscow at 11:30 a.m. and were taken to the Metropole Hotel in a new Franklin sedan by our Intourist guide.
Following are remarks made by a foreign woman who had lived long in Russia:
“They don’t quite rely on the Red Army this year, and leave was not granted to many peasant soldiers who wanted to go back to the villages.
“The morals are very low. Girls like those two there,” pointing to two working girls in the street, “do not hesitate to live with men. If they have a baby they can easily have an abortion. Ninety percent of the people are indifferent to matters of this kind.
“The G.P.U is all powerful; there is one G.P.U. member in every house.”
This statement, by the way, is probably an exaggeration.
This morning we went for a long auto ride out to Sparrow Hill from which one gets a capital view of Moscow and its four million people. Moscow gave me a pleasant surprise after Leningrad. Here the streets are well paved and kept clean; a modern watering truck runs about, sprinkling. The streetcars are crowded here, too, but there are many more automobiles. People are better dressed. The whole appearance of the city and of the people is better than we found in Leningrad.
We stopped to visit a barrack on our way back from Sparrow Hill. It was a place for manual laborers. Here a meal cost only thirty kopecks, but very poor food was served. In the bunk house there was a noticeably clean floor. Here was a definitely new note! The men laughed when we mentioned it, and explained that they had a system of fining a man one kopeck for throwing a cigarette or tracking mud on the floor.
We visited the remarkable Park of Culture and Rest, where the workers go in the late afternoon, and on their rest days for movies, sports, lectures, and swimming. About the park were radio speakers from which we heard:
“We must have more and more Shock Brigade workers.”
This was followed by a song about “Shock Brigades.”
Here was an avenue of bronze busts of the leading Shock Brigade heroes of the country. A flaming red banner read:
“We must know the heroes of the Soviet Union.”
Another sign read:
“The Red Sport International is a militant organization of the International Proletariat.”
It is amazing how everything here is directed toward the military!
Another poster showed a group of silk-hatted Capitalists seated around a table on which there was a sheet of paper bearing the word “Crisis.” On the table was a sign reading, “The Hoover Plan.” Towering above this scene was a great red figure of a worker brandishing a rifle.
[Hover Plan - Crisis – from Gareth’s personal collection. ã Nigel Linsan Colley. 2002.]
We returned to the hotel and went with Lady Muriel Paget to the British Embassy for tea, and there were entertained by Mr. Strang, the charge, and Mr. Walker, the first secretary.
I went to the movies tonight with Lady Muriel and a friend of hers, Madame Litvinoff, an English woman and the wife of the foreign minister. She would not come to the hotel with us because she had already been “called up” for associating too much with foreigners. It was strange to see her jump onto a tram crowded with people when she started for home.
We visited a marriage and divorce bureau this morning.
Just as we were approaching the door an old priest in his long dark robe came up to an aged woman, who was standing by, and as she bent down to kiss his cross, he made the blessing sign over her. That was outside!
Inside, a girl of twenty was the clerk who took the necessary data. A couple seated themselves on chairs beside her desk - name, address, passport, one ruble charge, sign names; scratch, scratch went the pen. In five and a half minutes it was done - marriage in the Soviet manner. The contrast was striking - religion without; formality without religion within!
Three more couples were waiting. Next! A girl of seventeen wanted to be married, but that was too young. However, she had a doctor’s certificate saying she was pregnant, so she could get married.
The average number of marriages per month is 400; divorces, 200. It was interesting that in the spring months the number of marriages did not increase. I said:
“In the spring a young man’s fancy doesn’t turn to thoughts of love in this country.”
“Oh, yes,” replied the clerk, “but they haven’t time to get married.”
Divorce is easier than marriage. Either party may, without consulting the other, secure a Divorce Certificate, with no trouble, from the ZAKS (the Marriage and Divorce Bureau). It has often happened that a man will one night tell his wife that he is going to get divorce papers, and appear at home the next night with the new bride! Then, due to the housing shortage, all three must live together until eventually somebody moves out.
We visited the old convent of Novodyevichi. It is now used as a museum to illustrate the emancipation of woman, her new social position as a worker, and her freedom from the superstition of the Church.
Just inside the door was a huge poster in color, a caricature of a grinning fat priest riding astride an old peasant woman who was on all fours. Dangling from a stick held by the priest was an icon which she was trying to kiss. The donkey and the carrot were not more ludicrous.
The graveyard here was in a horrible state, graves torn up, and grave stones lying about in great disorder.
At the entrance, an old woman in a shawl sold admission tickets and displayed a few miserable postcards. She had a much wrinkled face and a pair of sharp eyes. This was her contribution:
“The old ones still believe in God, but the young ones don’t. I do, of course.”
The “of course” was added because she assumed, no doubt, that her age had’ already identified her with the believers.
“It is very sad for the mothers,” she said, “because their children look down on them as a result of their religious beliefs and after reaching the age of thirteen or fourteen they will not have anything to do with their parents. Yet there are some young people who believe! The girls behave very badly today. They want to make me an atheist because of my job, but if they want to dismiss me, let them do it. We must speak quietly, for if the director heard me telling you I believe in God and that things are bad, he would dismiss me.”
We ran into Colonel Cooper, the American engineer in charge of the Dnieperstroy dam, at the hotel tonight - a bit of a rough diamond, but a smart man, I guess. Quite a character!
Red Letter Day! We breakfasted with Maurice Hindus, author of “Humanity Uprooted,” this morning. A man of Russian-Jewish peasant origin, he can see with a clever mind, the general peasant situation in particular. For the future, he does not hazard a guess as to the trend of policy or the result. World revolution is impossibility, he believes.
“In America or England,” he declared, “the bourgeois would give up private property only over his dead body.”
He also agreed with Jones that the Third International had declined both in significance and in activity. The press does not mention it, there are no men of prominence in it, they are not sending funds abroad, and the foreign branches are declining in the number enlisted, he says.
“The peasants,” said Mr. Hindus, “are not so well off from the point of view of food as in 1926, or before the Revolution; but they now have education, entertainment, and care for their children. They lived very well from 1920 to 1928 when the collective farm movement began. They joined this movement because they realized there was no future for them as individualists, and that they could only reach a certain level and then get knocked on the head. In many cases there was compulsion by threat of being called Kulak. It meant that personal accumulation was impossible in the future, but this also meant the unification of economic effort and, therefore, the collectives are far more productive than the individual farms. The Commune will be more productive than the Artel and will be the ultimate aim.”
The “Commune” is the most highly Communistic farm organization; here practically all the possessions of the members are communized. The “Artel,” on the other hand, is less highly communized, but the difference is one of degree only.
Mr. Hindus thinks that this year’s harvest is not so good as that of the previous season. Exports of grain will be less, probably because they need more at home.
The cotton factories are not so successful as they should be, he believes. Cotton growing in Turkestan will be a huge project in the future, and Russia will be able to export a fine, long-staple product in quantity.
Mr. Hindus thinks exports will decline, due to home needs. At present, they are forced.
Mr. Hindus left us rather abruptly, but he was nice enough while here.
At 11 o’clock, we had an appointment to visit Louis Fischer, an American Jew of a Philadelphia family. Quite radical in his thinking, he has written a book on “Why Recognize Russia?”
Mr. Fischer said:
“Russia is a bull country. Exports and imports will not decline, I think. Resources are so tremendous that the country will produce more than the people need. We too easily under-estimate the country’s productive capacity. ‘In three years time,’ a Soviet cotton man told me last year, ‘we will be independent in cotton.’ And they are already exporting
With regard to the attitude toward Germany, Mr. Fischer told us that someone in the People’s Commissariat for Trade had said to him privately:
“My God, I hope Germany doesn’t go smash!”
That is very significant and is seconded by Varga’s report on Germany at a meeting of the Komintern. He said a crash in Germany would be disastrous, the reason for all this being 300 million marks in orders placed there. Magnitogorsk needs these machines vitally.
Mr. Fischer felt that the Komintern is declining. Nobody takes the Komintern seriously. The personnel now consists merely of revolutionary bureaucrats. They still want world revolution, but their method is different from the heyday period of 1923. Radeck said, “Revolutions aren’t carried in suitcases,” and they realize it. Moscow is not ready to sacrifice Russia for world revolution. Its hand is not going to be in every revolutionary fire.
“But why this constant talk and fear of intervention?” I asked.
“I think it is a very sincere belief, but quite a ridiculous one,” said Mr. Fischer. “It is hard to understand. Everywhere, you see posters calling for the protection of the U.S.S.R. against intervention. The world proletariat is therein appealed to, and this acts as a safety measure, the Soviets think.”
In regard to imports, Mr. Fischer foresees Russian need of delicate machines, rubber, lemons, coffee, better quality clothes, medicines, and chemicals. Consumption of the finer manufactured goods will be greater. When this period of paying for capital imports is over, Russia will be in the unusual position of having practically no debts. There is a good future for exports of grain, oil, lumber, coal, and manganese.
“This country is starving itself great,” said Mr. Fischer.
Shortly after this interview, we saw Walter Duranty, New York Times correspondent. Poor man! He has a hard time of it. Almost everyone who comes to Russia pays him a visit. He is known as the Unofficial America Ambassador, and though he is a very busy man, he is perfectly charming to everyone.
He spoke of the new attitude toward the technician, now that Stalin has said they must have their own technicians. Stalin didn’t mean by this to exclude the old ones, but to advance any loyal workers, regardless of background.
Rudzutak, on August 12th, gave further interpretation to this when he spoke to the engineers and technicians, saying that “we must not look back on sabotage and treachery, but forward to future plans. It is how a man acts that counts.” Mr. Duranty thinks this is a much healthier outlook, and it should go far to advance the plan.
The G.P.U. are changing their vigilant attitude and personnel, thinks Mr. Duranty. It follows from Stalin’s speech. It is an unannounced change. Messing, who was severe, is now out; Menjensky has been ill for a long time, and he used to he a severe man; Yagoda, also severe, has been demoted to second in command; Akulof is now first assistant, and a mild man.
American engineers have said that there have been cases of sabotage where the Russian engineers remained silent, and afraid to report it, but things are now changed.
Peasants can now sell things in the private market, even though they belong to the Kolhozi.
Mr. Duranty believes the Party will, however, stick to the two Marxian principles:
(1) Production by the State and the corollary that no individual may employ others to make a profit for himself. (A servant is, however, permissible.)
(2) Only the workers have a voice in running things.
The newspaper correspondent agrees that there is a decline in the Third International and says also that the following factors are proofs of non-interest in a world revolution:
(1) Possibility of forcing an immediate World Revolution ended in 1923.
(2) Stalin emphasizes the “building” of Socialism in our country.
(3) World Communist parties have fought with the Soviet Third International.
(4) “World Revolution is inevitable sonic day, so why worry?” says Stalin. “We can only prepare the peoples’ minds.”
The foreign trade of Russia will depend on the policy of foreign governments, in Mr. Duranty’s opinion.
Russia has shown herself ready to make offers for repayment on the principle of a further loan, (National City Bank case of $86,000,000) with a high interest rate of nine or twelve percent going to repay the first loan. She still repudiates the Kerensky debt.
The secret of Stalin’s power has been a matter of recent comment. It is amazing how he put out Trotsky, a man of equal, but of a more fiery and self-assertive nature. Stalin has maintained his position and advanced his strength by a special technique - achieving by seeming to put aside. He cloaks himself with the authority of the Party when it makes declarations. Yet at the same time, those are always his opinions and coincide with his will. W. H. Chamberlain tells of an amusing incidental example of this technique. It seems that a foreign journalist put in an application to see Stalin when they were both at the same summer resort. The answer came back, “Stalin never gives interviews unless the Party commands him to do so.” Thus does the “man of steel” identify himself with Party discipline and play upon the Communist rule that is opposed to any kind of self-assertive flamboyant leadership.
At the Dom Krestyanin (Peasant House) here in Moscow, we saw the Agricultural Exhibition which they use to educate the peasants when they come to town. Several years ago it was built to combine the functions of a boarding house, club, and free legal aid society for peasant delegates sent from the country with grievances. One huge poster was very typical. It was titled, “Religion is a weapon for oppression,” and showed a huge Bible on the backs of workers. On top of the Bible was an ugly Capitalist in evening dress and top hat, and beside him, the Pope.
There are facts and figures everywhere at the Peasant House. Here is one of the announcements:
“In Artels, twenty-four percent clean their teeth. In the Commune, thirty-one percent clean their teeth!”
We visited a typical workers’ club of the Caouchouc Industry today. Five thousand workers have the use of this club, which consists of various kinds of meeting rooms, devoted to first aid, mechanics, war material, music, and dramatics, and there is also a fine large theatre. Everybody must take the military training course, including the use of gas masks, arms, etc. Classes are all held after working hours, and are obligatory for Party members. Seventy percent of the factory workers are of the Party or Komsomoitsi. About nine half-hour classes, twelve times in thirty days, are required in the military course.
The fight against idlers is amusing in method and effectively carried on.
“We have a cemetery with real graves in the factory,” explained the enthusiastic young man who took us around the club premises. “If a man is an idler or a drunkard, his name is put on a cross on a grave. And we cartoon the drunkard, with his name below the drawing. We use hypnotism to stop some from drunkenness, and effect cures.”
This worker explained their motto, which is:
“No revolution can last unless it can defend itself.”
“We must all be prepared to jump from our machines and seize rifles against foreign invasion,” he said.
I went with Mrs. Patterson and her son to see a Prophylactia for former prostitutes this morning. The girls are sent there after receiving hospital treatment. The authorities attempt to change their lives, furnish them work in a healthy atmosphere, pay them, and give them “culture.” There are 120 girls in this Prophylactia. Their work consists of knitting cotton stockings by machine. Even here they have Shock Brigade workers who display red pennants with their records on them.
We had the privilege of visiting Madame Krupskaya, Lenin’s widow, a woman of sixty years, most kindly, most simple, and fine. Unfortunately she would not speak French, only Russian, and consequently I could not understand what she said. However, I could tell by her expression that her heart was in her work in the schools, and that she was proud to tell foreigners of this work.
She had white, whispy hair, brushed closely back from her face, a slightly twisted mouth, and heavy prominent eyelids. One eye was a little bloodshot. Her smile, however, was indeed full of sympathy and love for children. Her speech was clear and simple, without hesitation, and logical to a remarkable degree. It was a wonderful interview, with a really fine person.
As she is at the head of the Primary School System of Russia, education was the subject she discussed. Here are points she made:
Education must teach the child and the worker everything about production. Upon production she laid great stress at all times. The children must learn about factories and mines and farms, and how to increase production, she explained. The workers must also learn, and then help others.
There is a great desire among workers to study, and in some factories practically all the workers go to evening classes.
Then these workers go out to the collective farms to teach organization to the peasants.
Factories have special connections with the Kolhozi, and workers go from the factories to the Kolhozi and give the peasants the benefit of their organizing abilities. The factory workers have learned how to work and organize in groups, whereas the peasant has only been accustomed to work for himself.
Thus the factory worker brings to the village his experience in working and organizing. He also brings cultural education. He teaches the peasant to read and write. This is essential, not only from the cultural viewpoint, but also in knowing how to run a collective farm. I t is necessary to keep accounts, to make contracts, to figure and to budget.
Then she spoke of the children and Polytechnical Education. Polytechnical Education is now the great motto. Its aim is to educate the children to become at the same time workers and collective owners of industry. Thus it lays great stress on the part the future citizen must play in production. Each school has an arrangement with a factory or collective farm. The pupil frequently visits the factory and learns about production by practical experience in handling machines. When the children go to the collective farms they learn about life in the villages, and they also bring culture to the peasant.
This summer, for example, 500 children went from Moscow to Crimea. They all worked four hours a day and thus helped to reduce the shortage of labor that was apparent everywhere in the Soviet Union. In their spare time, they went on excursions, bathed, played games; and then returned home healthy and happy.
Workers and peasants are everywhere learning to read and write. Some people of eighty are trying to learn. In Saratov, there was a Pioneers’ crusade against illiteracy. The Pioneers visited every home and grouped the literate and the il1iterate. They put the illiterate to shame! They formed classes and taught them, and now Saratov has no illiteracy. In the villages, there are cultural centers, children’s gardens, and libraries. Where there are many tiny villages, a central one is made into the cultural center.
“Of course, we don’t teach religion in the schools,” Madam Krupskava announced.
“A German pedagogue wrote and asked me if we wanted to set up children’s towns where all the children would live together. I replied to him, ‘No, that would be a mistake. The children should have relations with their families, because they must learn about life, about factories, and about workers.’ Our idea is to have in the large new communal houses one floor devoted to the children. We must remember that in Russia nearly all the mothers work. They also want to learn, and to go to the cinema; so they are glad when they can devote their time to lessons while the care of children is taken off their hands.”
We heard an amusing story of an American doctor’s visit to the main hospital here. He was favorably impressed, except for the flies. He commented on them and received the excuse that the) were a “relic of the Czarist regime.”
Tonight, after an early dinner, from 8:30 to 10:00, we visited the famous Red Square and Lenin’s Tomb. The huge square was lit by search lights, illuminating the ancient Kremlin wall, with the Red Flag (illuminated) flying atop. The tomb stands against the wall; simple and beautiful in red and black marble. A line of 1,500 people, two abreast, were waiting to enter. Within, two sentries stood motionless - one at each end of the glass topped coffin. There lies the great man in state. It was quiet, except for the shuffle of feet. We passed out, thrilled by the sight of the body of men dead seven years.
“There has been a decree that only those who work can receive things,” he said in explanation, “so the order must be carried out.”
That was that!
He told us about their Kolhoz and the “otkhodniki” (peasants sent to factories):
“Here we have group piece work. We decide how many workers shall be assigned to threshing, how many to milking, etc., and send the unnecessary ones to work in the factories. We sent 130 men to the biological factory alone. Some go because they want to. The more machines we get, the more spare people we shall have to send to the 518 new factories to be opened this year.
“Last year we had ‘uravnilovka’ [equal pay] and a lot of people were lazy and said that whether they worked or not they got the same pay. But we introduced ‘sdelshchina’ [piece work] -this spring, and now they work far harder. We use a system of brigades with a brigadier in charge. Each person has a book in which the amount of work he does is put down daily, together with the credit he receives for that work in terms of ‘work days’. For instance, cutting silage is only one-half a ‘work day’ in the book, because it is not a full-time job; other jobs receive more than a ‘work day’s’ credit - e. g., a brigadier receives this, or a skilled worker, or one who has done a particularly good job that day. They are paid monthly advances on the basis of the number of ‘work days’ up to sixty per cent of what we figure the average pay should be, or about eighty rubles. Then the remainder of the profits of the farm are divided at the end of the year.”
Probably not the profits!
“We had a Sect in our village,” continued our friend, as we drove along through the fields in the warm sun, “but we sent the leader away, chased him.
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