Joe Hansen

“In Stalin’s Realm”

“The Russian Workers’ Own Story”

(September 1938)

Source: Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 37, 10 September 1938, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: 2015 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2015; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

The Russian Workers’ Own Story
by Boris Silver
251 pp. London, George Allen & Unwin, Ltd. 7s. 6d. 1938

When Boris Silver visited “Stalin’s Realm,” as he calls the present U.S.S.R., his memories of Czarist Russia gave steadiness to his vision and coolness to his judgment. He visited cities he had not seen for 30 years, observed their changes, renewed old acquaintances and heard their estimates of what had happened since 1905, lived on kolhozes (collective farms) and in villages where tourists are not permitted, dwelt on intimate terms with the common people of Russia, listened to their arguments, their hopes for the future, their confidential discussions among themselves.

The workers, the peasants, the rank and file members of the Communist Party in Russia, the small bureaucrats, even informers of the G.P.U. and not a few rascals in positions of power told their own life stories to Boris Silver and he presents these thumb-nail biographies as well as significant anecdotes in his book as simply and sincerely as they were told to him.

A True Witness Speaks

Boris Silver himself, although now a Belgian Socialist, spent his childhood in Russia, learning the language fluently and becoming a member of the Bolshevik wing of the Social Democratic party prior to 1905 (leaving it after the 1905 revolution when he was forced to flee Russia because of his revolutionary activity.) This early acquaintance with Russia enabled him upon his return in 1933–34 to travel freely, to have workers confide without fear their real opinions so that he gained information utterly impossible to anyone without such advantages. It also enabled him to see the political forces on a broad scale, a quality entirely lacking in such authors as Eugene Lyons who in his Assignment in Utopia confuses his own rather sordid personal problem of whether to work for Stalin or to work for capitalist democracy with the major political issues confronting the working class of Russia, molding himself and his small problem into the heroic proportions of a true-hearted youth seeking after Utopia who permitted a vulgar materialism called “Bolshevism” to sully his spotless ideals. Even after rejecting Stalin, Lyons still bases his entire concept of Bolshevism upon Stalin’s theoretical formulation of Socialism in one country. Lyons prefers imperialism. The actual issue facing the Russian working class Lyons does not even pose in his book – rebirth of Bolshevism or reversion to capitalism.

Silver, on the contrary, is not a dewy-eyed sentimentalist struggling to choose between a petty-bourgeois Utopia and the “human values” over which float the Stars and Stripes of imperialism. He is not a professional hack of the Duranty type, nor a non-political specialist like Tchernavin who can report only a single phase of what is happening in Russia and that completely disconnected from a large view of the class forces in struggle. Silver is a careful observer with an intimate knowledge of Czarist Russia and an intelligent conception of what socialism signifies against which to measure the things he comes across in “Stalin’s Realm.”

A First Encounter

No sooner does he settle down in the train after crossing the border than Boris Silver encounters his first experience with the seething undercurrent of unrest and dissatisfaction among the common people. When she is sure that the ticket collector has left and that they are alone, the daughter of a middle-aged workman with whom Silver has been talking asks him in a low voice:

“Do you believe in Trotsky or Stalin? ... who in your opinion is the better man of the two? Speak in a low voice, we can hear you all right.”

This question after years of Trotsky’s exile and Stalin’s bloody repressions constitutes, together with the warning to speak in a low voice, one of the major topics among all the people with whom Silver talks. Trotsky to them still symbolizes the revolution and the struggle for socialism, Stalin the reaction. After one of the carefully staged street “demonstrations” which constitute part of Stalin’s propaganda machine, one of the workers confides his sentiments to Silver. First he tells a very disheartening story of the miserable conditions under the G.P.U. regime, the scarcity of food, the lack of freedom, the constant spying, the difficulty in smashing the bureaucracy. Silver asks the worker if he isn’t painting too gloomy a picture of the future.

“Stalin Came A Little Late”

“Oh, no,” replies the worker. “No Socialist should despair of the future. Stalin, I hope, came just a little bit too late. There is a generation growing up which has had the benefit of a sound socialist education under Lenin, and many young men and women are still being so educated, though with great difficulty. All the peasantry, by, mere instinct, hate the very name of Stalin. In the south he’s liked just about as much as the czar was, and he’s less feared. It won’t be long before all the people will begin to see the light.”

That Stalin’s propaganda falls far short of convincing those against whom it is directed is graphically shown by a conversation between a woman member of the Communist Party and a worker in a restaurant. Stalin’s 3½ hour speech had been rebroadcast upon every radio program steadily for three weeks. It had been translated into all languages of the Soviet Union as well as all European languages and reprinted in countless editions of the press, in millions of leaflets, and recited by professional readers at all social gatherings as part of the “entertainment.”

After listening to the woman’s eulogies on the genius of Stalin, the worker bursts out,

“Stalin, Stalin, Stalin again! I guess things must be wrong somewhere or that the Kremlin crowd is smitten by some nervous disease. I will ask you a question, my fair and enlightened comrade, does your party believe that people will except any animal as a lion because thousands of asses – I exclude you, of course – go braying ‘Lion Lion’? I think they would rather suspect an ass in a lion’s skin. Was it ever found necessary to run about proclaiming Lenin a lion? People merely had to understand Lenin and they admired him automatically.”

Even members of the Communist Party itself hold Stalin in contempt. Silver records the following statement from an argument between two party members:

“Our children who have to become the embodiment of Communism are not only prevented from reading Trotsky; they must, I say again must, believe that Stalin is all that he pretends to be, while we all know that, judging by the standard of the people whom he drove out of the Communist movement, he is only at best a mediocrity ...”

“Down with the Georgian Swine!”

While Silver is visiting a kolhoz, a representative of the Communist Party arrives and draws the manager aside for conversation. Say the workers upon the arrival of the official: “We’ll see that he is well watched; maybe he’s a Communist sent by that Gruainskaia swinia (’Georgian swine’).”

The manager of the kolhoz is suspected of “being a bit of a Trotskyist” by a member of the Communist Party loyal to Stalin because the kolhoz is run on sound lines and the manager is very popular with the workers and peasants of the kolhoz. But he does not report his suspicions to the G.P.U. In the evening when more than a thousand gather to hear speeches by Silver and two members of the Communist Party, the following incident occurs: Grisha an Old Bolshevik begins speaking, “Comrades, I bring you greetings and a message from the proletariat who conquered and now hold power in the Soviet Union ...” He is interrupted by a baritone voice: “Doloi Gruzinskaia Swinia! (‘Down with the Georgian swine’).” Several voices shout, “Shut up, Peter, he’s not going to speak about Stalin.”

The chairman restores order and Grisha gives a short speech without once mentioning Stalin.

He gets a great ovation.

Later the manager of the kolhoz in pointing out with local pride the humane rules and well-ordered condition of the kolhoz and justifying the fact that against the Soviet law he had hired a homeless worker who had been unjustly deprived of his passport by the G.P.U. (a sentence equivalent to death by starvation) says: “Even Stalin would be safe and properly treated here as long as he only claimed the rights of any ordinary man.”

(Continued in the next issue)


Last updated on: 13 September 2015