From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 41, 9 October 1944, p 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.
For some years now Stalinist Russia has maintained the great masses of the Russian people in strict isolation from the rest of the world. The borders of that country are guarded by barbed wire, pill-boxes, machine guns, dogs and men, in peace as well as in. war. Foreign magazines are carefully examined and pages torn out before they are publicly sold.
Today, in “one world,” the great masses of the Russian people are as effectively isolated from foreign nations as were feudal serfs or Roman slaves. The difference is that in one case it was due to lack of technical and scientific development ... In the Russian case it is the opposite. Such is the poverty and oppression of the people that all the advantages of science are used to isolate them and keep them at the mercy of their rulers.
The same thing has taken place in Germany under Hitler. It is the necessary accompaniment of the totalitarian state, which, in all circumstances, is directed against the masses of the people.
But alas! The Red Army is now reaching European civilization. True, it is not very advanced civilization. It is miserable, backward Rumania. But Bucharest, poor as it is, is a European capital. The Red Army men are seeing with their own eyes what “bourgeois civilization” is like. And this has caused serious concern in the Kremlin. What if the stalwart men of the Red Army should be driven to make comparisons between Stalin’s “socialism” and “fascist-minded” Bucharest?
Two articles in Pravda raise the alarm. Skobelev, a Russian journalist, describes, the “fat bodies, flabby cheeks and baggy eyes” of the men. But the Russian soldiers would hardly be too interested in the men. The women, unfortunately, are “attractive,” with “cunning” hair-do’s. They wear dark red lipstick, which gives them “sinister mouths.” Shades of Theda Bara and Clara Bow.
Two Russian soldiers in Bucharest discussed these women, and Skobelev reports the discussion:
“What can you say? They’re very attractive.”
The Russian soldier was unduly bold in expressing this opinion. Who knows? Tomorrow he may be accused of Trotskyism. For his comrade, a true Stalinist, rebukes him. Says this hero:
“Wash off all that paint and then see what they’re like.” (Presumably this unpleasant task would be assigned to the GPU.) But our patriot went on to point an immediate moral which could be drawn without waiting for the results of the washing.
“No, brother, the girls from Ryazan (a town near Moscow), are more reliable and without deceit.” More reliable! To which his friend could easily say: “How do you know?”
Yet despite the absurdity and propagandistic crudeness of the articles, certain indications are worthy of notice. One soldier attributes the toeless shoe to lack of material. What a story that tells, not only of the poverty – no one laughs at poverty – but of the carefully nurtured ignorance in which the bureaucracy keeps the people!
One house, a soldier notes, is packed with “luxuries.” These luxuries are “toilet articles, cooking utensils and vacuum cleaners.”
Skobelev does not only deal with Bucharest. He also is preparing the Red Army for what it will see in Germany – ruined, war-torn Germany. He notes that the culture of a country can be measured by the quantity of soap consumed. Then he remarks that Germany normally consumed more soap than any other country in Europe. This is a problem. But he solves it. His conclusion is to note what “well-washed, cultured hands can do.” Ah, this unprincipled manner of living, says Skobelev, can offer few temptations to the Red Army man.
The whole thing is a pathetic attempt to make the Russian soldiers glory in their poverty, in the destitution, to which Russia has been subjected.
It is obvious that Skobelev is not defending the Kremlin against the devastation of Russia caused by war. If that were so, there would be no need to write as he has done. The Russian soldiers would know and understand. What he is doing is to discredit the pitiable culture of Bucharest in comparison with what the Russian workers accept as their normal way of living. As long as they were cut off from contact with Europe they could be bluffed into thinking that their poverty was nothing exceptional. In fact, Kaganovitch actually had the nerve to say at the opening of the Moscow subway that Russia could have a subway because of socialism. Now, however, the Russian soldiers can see for themselves. The bureaucracy will not find it so easy to deceive them.
As usual with Stalinist propagandists, there is one thing which they always leave out. We shall remind them of it. There is a class in Russia which uses lipstick freely and wears shoes without toes, To supply this class, a Russian agent made a special trip to Western Europe seeking perfumes and such-like decorations for the Russian rich. The perfume industry of late years had become important. For its head and traveling agent was no less a person than Madame Molotov, the wife of “Fascism Is a Matter of Taste” Molotov. Obviously the Red Army soldier had had no opportunity to wash the paint off the face of her and her friends to see what lay beneath.
Ilya Ehrenberg, Skobelev and the other hired apologists of the Kremlin are as crude and scoundrelly defenders of the Russian bureaucracy as the Westbrook Peglers of the American press are of America’s parasitic rich. But history moves on. The Russian soldiers, we hope, will use their eyes and see that if in Europe there is greater wealth than in Russia it is divided in the same way, the great bulk of it for the ruling class and the rest for the workers.
We hope they will see not only the class divisions but see how class divisions are destroyed, by revolution. We, hope too that they or their representatives will soon have the opportunity of driving out Skobelev and Ehrenberg and their bureaucratic sponsors of the Stalin regime from the columns of Pravda and from state power and fill the space with an accurate and balanced account of what they saw in Europe and how they helped their European comrades to change it.
Last updated on 16 February 2016