Gareth Jones

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News Chronicle, London, Friday, October HTTP/1.1 100 Continue 3rd, 1930


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By an Englishman recently returned from Moscow

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Special interest is given to this article by the repeated reports in the last few days of the ‘execution’ of ‘specialists’ on a charge of sabotaging the food supply of Soviet Russia. 



There are many kinds of snobbery.  There is the snobbery of the old lady who reveres of a title and adores blue blood.  There is the snobbery of the American who places the successful money-maker on a pedestal.  Bloomsbury has its own special brand, intellectual snobbery.  Finally there is that snobbery, which, is rampant in Russia today. 


The town-worker is the aristocrat the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics.  He sits in the forefront of the Opera House.  He gets the first place in the queue when meat is short.  He alone is sent to a Rest Home or a sanatorium.  It is he who prides himself most upon his birth.  To be able to boast of a working-class origin is far more important to a Russian than the possession of Norman blood ever was in England.  This domination by one small class, the town proletariat, was the feature, which struck me most during a. recent visit to Soviet Russia. where a knowledge of Russian helped me to get beneath the surface. 


“What is your father?  Is he a worker or a bourgeois?”  How many Russians asked me that question!  A fat Red Army officer who promised to visit me in London when the World Revolution broke out, was exceedingly anxious to find out whether I was tainted with Capitalism or not.  When I disclosed that I was bourgeois he treated me with pity.  He foresaw a grim future for me when the World Union of Socialist Soviet Republics came into being.  Still he said, since I was an “intellectual” rather than a “capitalist” my fate might not be so bad. 

The new aristocracy of Russia has many privileges.  The greatest of these is the trade union card.  British trade unionists will find it hard to realise what a precious possession this is; so precious, indeed, that a roaring business has been carried on in the forging and illicit sale of these cards.  If you have a worker’s trade union card, you receive a far larger share of bread or meat or butter (if there is any!) than the poor bank clerk or post office assistant or waitress or shop-girl!  You have reduced prices in cinemas, theatre, concerts, gardens and restaurants.  You only pay two-pence to visit the Anti-Religious Museum or the Museum of Revolution, whereas the common herd has to pay four-pence! 


There is a complete reversal of values in the esteem in which one’s occupation is held, and, of course, in one’s social position.  This is reflected in the language of today. The pre-revolutionary equivalents of “Monsieur” or “Mademoiselle” are now taboo, and have been replaced by “Comrade” or “Citizen.”  A small incident in a chemist’s shop in Moscow will illustrate the change in the forms of address.  A girl who stood next to me, and was probably from the provinces, made the great faux pas of shouting to the shop-assistant  “Baryshnia” (Mademoiselle) instead of saying “Comrade” or “Citizen.”  I shall never forget the shocked faces of the customers who heard her, nor her blushes when she realised that she had given away her bourgeois origin.  An East End costermonger’s wife would not be more embarrassed in a Bond-street jeweller’s shop than was this middle-class or maybe noble girl in the Communist co-operative chemist’s store.


One evening I went to a Moscow theatre, and was struck by the snobbishness, which the play revealed.  The impression, which the performance left on me was that in Russia far more stress is laid on what your father was than on what you are yourself.  The heroine of the drama was an energetic Communist girl, who inspired all her companions in the factory with enthusiasm for the Five-Years’ Plan.  When things were going badly and output was low, it was she who rallied the workers and saved the situation.  Then came a bombshell.  A drunken man disclosed the disgraceful fact that her father had been nothing else than a Tsarist policeman!  Sensation.  “Throw her out of the Party,” was the cry.  And out she had to go.

Often Soviet snobbery degenerates into real cruelty.  I was chatting with a Russian caretaker and his wife and watching some dirty little children at play.  “Look at those children,” said the woman.  “They have been born to misfortune, because the fathers are not workers.  They will never get on in life.  When they grow up they will not be able to go to a university, and now they cannot have food until the workers’ children have had their fill, poor, unhappy ones!”

Of all kinds of snobbishness the Communist is the worst, for it is not a superficial airing of class superiority, as in England, that wrecks the lives of many Russians, whose only sin is to have been born of other than working-class parents. 


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