The Socialist Sixth of the World - Hewlett Johnson
1. The Moral Results of Socialist Planned Production
2. New Horizons
3. The Open Gateway
4. The New Womanhood
5. Soviet Women in the East
6. The Democracy of the Workshop
"An material results the Soviet Union moves up a steady incline: her moral advance is steeper still." In those brief words an acute social and religious observer, who visits Russia year by year, summed up his impressions of the achievement of the Soviet Union.
Unquestionably the material results arc astonishingly great, and may well be envied. The moral results are still more striking, and cannot be obscured by all the mistakes and crimes which from time to time have caused triumph to Soviet enemies and sadness to Soviet friends.
Moral advance should, indeed, have been expected, since the material advance itself is due to moral causes. For a programme which deliberately resolved to organize all the productive forces on a basis of service rather than profit, in order that all individuals, whatever their age, sex, language, or race, should share according to need, has established itself at the very outset upon moral principles.
The Soviet Union believes in science. It believes in morality too, and precisely on that account avoids the constant complaint heard in England of late, and especially when the social order shows grievous signs of cracking, that moral growth lingers behind scientific growth. British scientists themselves, in view of the prostitution of their achievements, join in the chorus of complaint, though they too ignore, as Russian scientists consistently refused to ignore, the things that happen outside their laboratory walls.
In the Soviet Union it is different. Moral growth advances side by side with scientific development, and in the Plan and its results the Soviet achievement is seen at its best.
Before proceeding to the final stages of this book, where we shall trace in its various aspects the fullness of life which socialist principles and planning have brought to the childhood, youth, manhood, and womanhood of all races in the Union, it will be profitable, for the sake of clearness and conciseness, to enumerate very briefly some elements in the advance along the Soviet moral front.
1. The Plan lifts the emphasis of life from personal acquisition to socialist accumulation. Unhealthy and unsocial development of the acquisitive instincts has long exercised the mind of thinkers and moralists. Its dangers became increasingly apparent in the nineteenth century and reached a climax in (he twentieth, calling forth a host of protests, with Professor K. II. Tawney’s merciless "Acquisitive Society" at their head. Soviet planned production with one masterly stroke severed the taproot of selfish acquisition. A shoot here and a shoot there may still arise and call for constant vigilance. The master shoot, however, wilts because the master root has gone.
True, hard work increases wages, and hard study the rate of wage; but the all-absorbing master principle of acquisition which inspires —and debases—capitalism, has gone for ever in the Soviet Union : the profit motive shrivels through lack of opportunity.
2. The Plan provides profitable employment for all. None is deprived of the opportunity of work. Booms and slumps are gone, and unemployment with them. Unemployment ceased in 1931, never to return. In the nature of things, and given a scientific plan, none need be unemployed so long as any human wants are still unsatisfied. When that is done, leisure comes, and leisure, when it comes, comes to all. So long as work is needed, work is free to all. Workers are in demand in the Soviet Union; and wages rise.
3. The Plan provides personal security for all. In capitalist countries, personal security is achieved by means of personal and private savings. The individual dare not trust himself to " the whole". The whole has never guaranteed his safety, or such guarantee, in the shape of dole or old age pension, is so inadequate and hedged around with so many humiliating restrictions, that wise men supplement it by personal saving. In the drive for security the master instinct for acquisition forms its strongest ally.
The Soviet citizen depends upon the whole community. It guarantees his safety. He stands secure. If he is sick, he receives side pay, ungrudging in amount, and subject to no time-limit. When old, he draws an ample and honourable pension, with no more shame attached to it than is attached to the pensions of retired Cabinet Ministers.
4. The Plan, on its negative side, removes fear and worry. Fear depresses and devitalizes. Christian moralists are right in their attack on fear. To remove fear is to release energy. The man who hid his talent in the earth where it remained without increase did so because he was afraid. " Fear not " was a word constantly on the lips of Christ.
The vast moral achievements of the Soviet Union are in no small measure due to the removal of fear. Fear haunts workers in a. capitalist land. Fear of dismissal, fear that a thousand workless men stand outside the gate eager to get his job, breaks the spirit of a man and breeds servility. Fear of unemployment, fear of slump, fear of trade depression, fear of sickness, fear of an impoverished old age lie with crushing weight on the mind of the worker. A few weeks’ wages only lies between him and disaster. He lacks reserves.
Fear binds and devitalizes the middle class as well. They perhaps fear more, for they have more to lose, though in a different way. Buttressing themselves around with safeguards on every side, they tremble at the breath of change. Fascism is built on fear: the fear of the possessor in face of the dispossessed. Fear kills initiative and adventure; it makes some servile and others brutal.
Nothing strikes the visitor to the Soviet Union more forcibly than the absence of fear. The Plan removes at one stroke many of the most obvious fears. No fear for maintenance at the birth of a child cripples the Soviet parents. No fear for doctors’ fees, school fees, or university fees. No fear of under-work, no fear of over-work. No fear of wage reduction, in a land where none arc unemployed.
5. The Plan discourages lies, deceit, and sabotage. The premium placed on lies, deceit, and sabotage by capitalistic industry has Ixrcn a prime cause of distress to those whose moral conscience is normal and sensitive. It is not easy to speak strict and generous truth in most branches of competitive industry and commerce. The atmosphere differs so widely from school and church that many avoid the latter lest they add the vice of hypocrisy which they can avoid to the subtle deceits which they cannot. They despise men who commit the deeds on Monday for which they crave pardon on Sunday.
Sabotage and ca’canny is another blemish of capitalistic industry. To live with skilled mechanics and to work with them, as I have done, is to see ca’canny in its proper light and recognize its social value under a capitalist regime. It is at once a virtue and a vice. It is a vice to check eager, helpful work. It is perhaps a worse vice from a social point of view for a highly skilled and able-bodied man lo let a work-rate from which he suffers no harm set the standard for others physically less strong or technically less skilled or, through too large an output, to cause slump and unemployment. Avoiding one evil, we run into the next. Production suffers and character deteriorates.
The Soviet Plan discourages lies. There is no need in Soviet Russia to sell paper boots as leather. Nor is one man’s speed at work another man’s undoing. Speed, skill, and invention increase the pool of goods in which all share. By paving the way to higher technical achievement, skill opens the door of higher wagers to all who will learn n it. Trade Unions in U.S.S.R. encourage all means of labour-saving mat augment production.
In Russia it is wholly social for a good comrade to do good and abundant work. It is social to speak the truth and possible to do so, without risk of unemployment. It is social to augment invention and encourage discovery in a land where technological unemployment ceases to exist.
6. The Plan resolves the struggle between the egoistic and altruistic motives. Disunited, these motives tear our personality in two. United in a common all-absorbing purpose, they lift the personality to unsuspected heights, like waves combining to achieve a higher crest in place of sinking through simultaneous clash. It is a happy order in which my more strenuous and profitable employment enriches others as well as, or even more than, myself.
Here, the motives are frequently at variance and man is internally torn asunder. In the Soviet Union they combine, and the interior tension is relaxed. The Soviet workers eagerly fit themselves for skilled or higher tasks, commanding higher salaries and satisfying their egoistic urge. Hut they are aware, even while they do it, that the higher skill adds more amply to the pool; that satisfies the social urge. The altruistic and egoistic motives run hand in hand in Soviet industry, just as on an English cricket field, where team-play serves the side and wins as well the prize of personal distinction.
7. The Plan creates a new sense of ownership and responsibility. The knowledge that every man, woman, and child has a place in the plan and a share in its product creates a sense of ownership. Peasants, artisans, students, and children speak of "our" country, "our" factory, "our" store, "our" metro.
Actually "our" metro was built not wholly by paid artisans and labourers, but with the help of volunteers who carried home with them a new technique, a new standard of workmanship, and a new sense of ownership : a sense which has sometimes its amusing side, as when a youth put his foot between the closing doors of an underground railway coach to "see what would happen" and received the shaking of his life by a peasant woman for "damaging our metro".
A sense of ownership carries with it a sense of responsibility. It is this sense of ownership and responsibility which makes trade unionism in the Soviet Union so perplexing to English trade unionists. In capitalist countries men work on other men’s property: in the Soviet Union they work on their own. Sedulously from the first Lenin cultivated this sense of corporate ownership and responsibility: every cook, he said, must be trained to run the country: it is her country.
8. Planned production creates a new attitude to work. For the Soviet Union is a land where all must work. No idle classes are tolerated. We talk much cant about the dignity of work, especially those of us who strive all our lives to escape it. Lenin cornbatted from the first the idea that a working class is lower than a leisured class and manual work lower than directive tasks. The plan needs help from all and ministers service to all. Work must be embraced. The school-child is taught the pride of working in a workers’ society. He is to know from his earliest years what he is doing and why he does it. Seeing his own tiny work as essential to the whole, he puts conscience behind it and acts in the comradely way. A leisured class is a social impossibility in the Soviet Union, though leisure for all is a right and an increase in leisure an aim.
9. The Plan reduces crime. Crimes are largely, though by no means wholly, committed by the very poor and committed through the fact of poverty. Such crimes lessen as poverty departs.
Another fruitful source of crime is the hurry to be rich. Remove that impetus; remove, too, the ennui and monotony due to overwork and work at tasks which lack social inspiration and drive men to gambling, drink, and sex perversions, and at one stroke you clear half your courts and half your jails. The decline of crime in the Soviet Union is a fact.
10. The Flan adds zest to life by providing creative tasks for all. "Building socialism" is the fashionable phrase. It is a task to which all are called. Each has his or her niche in the whole. Each feels he or she is wanted. And the tasks at which they work arc of social value. No tasks arc futile, or unsocial, or performed simply as a means for gaining access to the money-stream. What this means for childhood and youth we may learn on a later page. Perhaps it is the highest gift of all.
11. The Plan brings its benefits and its challenge to every race or colour or people in the Soviet Union. The plan is comprehensive. It has regard of the whole industrial and agricultural field and of every native race. Neither for military reasons alone, nor for economic reasons alone, were industry and agriculture re-distributed afresh. Humanity demanded it. Men are brothers. There is work for all and benefit for all, and though the highly developed sections under the Union move at a quicker pace than formerly, the backward elements move quicker still, and the day of their equality draws near. That for the scattered races and backward peoples is the message and the good news of the Plan.
From this bird’s-eye view of moral progress we shall pass straight on to examine in detail what the new planned production with its new moral basis does for childhood, youth, womanhood, manhood, national minorities, and the world at large.
The plan succeeds, and its success provides the material basis of abundant life for each and all. That is the natural, but none the less welcome reward of reorganizing the industry of a country on a scientific basis and with a single eye to the needs of the community as a whole. The plan promised abundance. The abundance comes.
This abundance must be examined in terms of human life. The plan was a means to an end; and the abundance which it produces is a means to an end. And that end was certainly not abundance for abundance' sake, still less was it merely a means for keeping machines employed or scientists busy. The end of the abundance was—let us remind ourselves of fundamental principles once again— to secure the maximum of safety and well-being to all upon an equalitarian basis. To give to each man, woman, and child, of every nationality, race, tongue, or colour, equal freedom from exploitation, equal justice, equal opportunity for work with remuneration appropriate to the service rendered to the community, equal and ample leisure, and equal access to education and security.
How does this work out in practice ? Let us begin with the child.
What impressed me most in Soviet Russia was not her factories and material statistics, but her children.
It was no happy moment, for an Englishman, on returning to London, to contrast the physical, mental, or spiritual opportunities of English children with those of the Soviet Union. I hardly recall, during a journey through five Soviet Republics and several great Soviet towns, having seen a really hungry or under-nourished child; and my wanderings by myself, of many long hours on many occasions and entirely alone, took me into all parts of the various towns and villages and at all hours of day and night. There is, of course, no need for hunger in a land where unemployment has ceased, where wages rise, and cost of commodities falls.
To have been strictly scientific, however, my standard of comparison should have been, not London or Paris, but the Russia of two and twenty years ago, where life, so far as it concerned mother and child, was, as we have already in some degree observed, at its lowest human ebb.
For although Russia, under Catherine the Great, was one of the first countries to institute, in 1782, a system of State education, the schools were few and confined entirely to towns. A later Tsar, Nicholas I, perceiving that education was a menace to autocracy, forbade secondary education to serfs, workers, or peasants, reserving this and other forms of higher education for the privileged classes.
The struggle for education was long and bitter, and not in any substantial measure successful under the Tsarist regime. The mass of people still lay beyond the pale of even the most elementary forms of education. The fine scholarship and art that existed was limited to a favoured few, and confined to the Russian tongue. National minorities were almost wholly without elementary schooling.
Church and Tsar united, alas, in nullifying the attempts of liberals to spread popular education.
In 1904 3.3 per cent, of the population were at school in Russia, compared with 19 per cent, in the United States. And whilst England, as far back as 1877, was spending a very inadequate sum equivalent to I2J. 8½d. per head on education, Russia was spending only is. 05/8d. In 1914 Russia occupied nineteenth place on the list of world literacy: 72 per cent, of its people could neither read nor write. In some Asiatic provinces this figure reached 99 per cent.
Then came the War, the revolution, the civil war, the blockade, and the famine of 1921 and 1922. Education was brought to a standstill.
Educational reconstruction did not in practice begin until 1922, although the earliest decree of the Bolshevik Government had proclaimed that education was to be universal and free to all, irrespective of colour or race. It was rightly perceived that if communism was to succeed at all, it would be only upon a basis of high culture as well as high production, arid also that high production was only possible on the wide basis of educated workers. Lenin took steps to secure both. Seventeen years have passed since 1922, and that noble decree reaches out to its fulfilment. It is difficult to imagine what had been the position of the worker today if the British Empire had shown the same enthusiasm for education and the same regard for all its citizens of every race.
Untold difficulties have blocked the way of Soviet educationalists. Many teachers of the old regime refused to work in the Bolshevik regime; others used their posts as a leverage for anti-Soviet activities and propaganda. School buildings and equipment were out of date and hopelessly inadequate. Theories of education were numerous. Every kind of educational system and experiment was tried—the Dalton Plan, the Project Method, the Brigade Laboratory and the like. Examinations were abolished and then reinstated; though with a vital difference. Examinations in the Soviet Union serve as a test for scholarship, not as a door to educational privilege.
Typical communist education was slowly formulated, and embodies many of the main features of the Western educational system, whilst developing interesting and valuable features of its own.
In the meantime the main struggle was concerned with the provision of teachers and buildings. Teachers are not trained in a day, and it is hard to build schools when every other thing needs building at the same time. And it is an achievement entirely without parallel that the number of scholars in elementary schools has been raised from 8 millions in 1918 to 34 millions in 1938, that teachers in adequate numbers have been trained, and that buildings have been provided to cope with this immense influx of pupils.
To every Soviet child in the land the school door now stands open, and though the buildings sometimes leave much to be desired in finish, paint, and general decoration, and often savour in appearance too much of the barracks, still they are provided. The provision in 1935 of 70 new schools for Moscow, with another 120 in 1936, each holding 800 children, gives some idea, at least, of the quantity. The quality will follow: it is a common saying in the Soviet Union quantity first, then quality. The policy differs from that which gives superior conditions to the select few and inferior to the rest. What is inferior or good is shared by all, and all rise together.
The Russian educational system settled down slowly. The Plan of 1932 to 1937 discarded the Dalton and other systems, limited rampant self-government, re-instituted terminal tests and reports, re-introduced the study of history and geography, provided a subject curriculum not unlike our own, and made education a process for producing useful, purposeful, and happy citizens.
There were, however, marked differences.
1. Education from first to last is provided for all without monetary payment, from the excellently equipped nursery-school right up to the university course.
2. School education is to continue to the age of eighteen. That goal is not yet reached, but the Soviet Union is nearer to it than other lands.
Here are some of the achievements.
Nearly 2 million children under the age of eight attend a full course at the nursery-infant school, I million more receiving some other less systematic form of education.
No children between the age of eight and twelve escape school today, and by 1940 education for children of eight to fifteen will be compulsory throughout the Union, from the Arctic to the desert steppes. By the same date education in all towns, industrial settlements, and rural centres will be compulsory from eight to eighteen.
3. The type of education and the principles which inspire it differ in vital respects. It is primarily education for social service in line with the Christian principle upon which communism is based: "From each according to his ability and to each according to his need." Education is free and given equally to every child, for every child needs it. On the other hand, a return, more exacting than any asked for here, is demanded of the child from first to last. Though education lacks monetary charge, it places the recipient under obligation. Soviet training is training for service. The ideal held out to a child differs entirely from that still too common here: "Work hard and get on." The child is incited by all around him to "work hard and you will be able to take your part in building socialism. Work and fit yourself to render comradely service to those around you, to your country, and to the Soviet Union." The difference is one of emphasis.
4. Manual work is not only held in high esteem, it is deemed essential. Soviet education is designed to produce the complete citizen, and in Soviet eyes no citizen is complete apart from manual training. Soviet education bridges the gulf between manual and intellectual activity.
The peculiar process by which this is done is called Polytechnization and needs careful understanding. It demands a section to itself.
This hideous word polytechnization does not mean technical training. It is not an attempt to teach the child the use of particular tools or how to perform the special technical tasks which await Mm when he enters industry.
Polytechnization represents a whole-hearted effort to give the child from first to last, and with growing clearness all along his course, a thorough understanding of the nature of productive industry itself and as part of a social whole; what industry is for; what place industry occupies in the social order; what effect industry exerts upon the worker, and what effect this or that particular product of industry exerts upon the social body as a whole.
It aims not at making a worker, so much as a many-sided social being.
It aims at producing a new intelligentsia, men who understand materials and their properties, who understand the significance of the various things produced and the. scientific nature of the forces, electrical or otherwise, necessary for their production. But men also who understand the effect of new modes of production upon the whole organization of life — who, in a word, understand the parts of life in relation to the whole of life.
Here is a principle of the very highest importance, and the Soviet Union does well to stress it. It is fundamental if we are to build up a unified and diversified corporate body composed of intelligent and willing units. It is worthy of further illustration.
An engineer, for example, trained as a boy in the Soviet system of polytechnization, when about to build a bridge in a particular place and at a particular time, would see in his mind’s eye more than the space to be spanned and the materials and labour requisite to do it. He would see the need for the bridge, the changes beneficial or otherwise of its provision, and the conditions and reactions of those who worked on its construction. He relates his own particular job to the whole, of which he, too, forms part. He would be sensitive to anti-social work.
A chemist, too, perfecting an explosive mixture or a fertilizer, will have a clear vision of the place his invention will occupy in shaping the human whole.
Polytechnization aims at an all-round education of a highly trained worker: it is the exact opposite of that which produces the narrow specialist. With polytechnization training, many in England would be far more restive than they are when compelled, for the sake of a livelihood, to engage in work which cannot aid, and may seriously harm, the whole community.
Polytechnization aims to give to every man, woman, and child that breadth of outlook and social sense which is reserved here for the few. It is a factor in deciding a child’s ultimate career. A boy, for instance, will tell you that he wishes to be a locomotive construction engineer, "because the country is in great need of developing its transport". A girl will tell you "I am going to study gardening. Like Michurin I want to cross tomatoes with potatoes and cherries with apples," Another boy is studying electricity because he wishes to invent an apparatus for transmission of electric power from a distance without a direct wire which "would have great importance for agriculture".
This close connection of the school with the outer world proves to be the real disciplinary agent in Soviet education. This is the clue to the self-disciplined Russian child. For such I heard them to be and such I found them. In a great theatre, for instance, I would find some 1,500 children of various ages and apparently unattended. Boisterous they certainly were in mirth, but completely controlled, and with total absence of horse-play amongst the smaller children or between older boys and girls.
School for these Soviet children has brought close contact with the outer world. From its earliest years the child was conscious of being a citizen. The difference in the child’s mind between itself and its parents or teachers was a difference of experience at a common task, and inexperience — just such a difference as, for example, on an English cricket-field exists between the boys and the professional cricketer who instructs them.
The close resemblance, indeed, between Soviet schools and English playing-fields is often noticed by English observers, and especially in this matter of discipline. Nobody dragoons a boy on the cricket-field. There is no need. He loves the game. He seeks to excel at the game. The cricket professional is not his enemy. He is the expert to whom the boy looks for guidance. So the boy provides his own discipline, and the relation between the two is easy and happy. Such relationship exists between the Soviet child and the Soviet teacher. And such is the secret of the discipline of the Soviet child.
This relationship between teacher and taught, and this emphasis upon citizenship and responsibility, begins in pre-school years. It begins in tiniest infancy, amongst the one- and two-year-olds in the creche. It is the meaning of the sentence written over creche nursery doors: "Never do anything for the child which it can do for itself."
From the tenderest years the Soviet child is taught to work with others at useful and corporate tasks. Soviet children like English children, for instance, will play with cubes. But Soviet cubes or bricks will often and purposely be too large for a single child to handle. He will call a companion, and together they will build their house of cubes. Co-operation becomes instinctive.
The child learns too, taught in simple form, to understand the nature and the meaning of the real world around him; and to take interest in it, as my small English children love to follow a housemaid and aid her with real tasks. I observed in the playground of nursery schools that paths resembled miniature turnpike roads with coloured traffic lights and "stop" signs which children themselves could operate.
The spirit of the team is the spirit of the school in a more real sense than here. There is no lack of incentive to individual achievement, but only in so far as it is consistent with the welfare of the team. Children receive class marks, "excellent" or the reverse, but not class places, first, second, or third. Competition is desirable and stimulates a child, but in the Soviet school it is competition between class and class, not between child and child. Competition is keen in a Soviet school and, with the system of class "excellents" in place of class lists, acts socially. Clever children are saved from temptation to self-seeking or jealousy. The clever child has incentive to stir duller scholars and turn their "bad" marks into "excellents", as clever members of a cricket eleven correct the faults which jeopardize the team.
Self-discipline becomes second nature in such schools. Glasses elect their own leaders, who check attendance and promote order. Other children form committees which aid in school kitchens and in regulation of sanitation. Teachers and representatives of the children meet at regular intervals to discuss work and other matters; the wall newspaper to which any child may contribute is a training-ground for critical as well as constructive citizenship.
Needless to say, the cane and any other form of corporal punishment are altogether absent from Soviet schools. From the home, too; for to administer corporal punishment to a child is illegal in the Soviet Union.
If he should wish it, the Soviet child is aided in his out-of-school life. Aided in his games or hobbies. Aided in the kind of way English boys and girls are aided at Scouts and Guides and other social clubs. But aided with a thoroughness and a lavish expenditure astonishing to those who know the financial struggles of English clubs. Palaces of Youth spring up all over the Soviet Union; I visited them in Kiev, Moscow, Odessa, and elsewhere.
Beautiful in themselves — some of them exceedingly beautiful — these Palaces are even more beautiful in their promise for enthusiastic and adventurous youth. I spent an evening in one of them where 2,500 children were at work in 209 circles on 69 different subjects. It is worth a brief description.
In the first room a score of small boys and girls, dressed in lovely light blue frocks and suits, were dancing, taught by a member of the Moscow ballet.
In the next room children were at work on sculpture: one child finishing a graceful figure of a girl about to dive; another a group of arctic explorers gathered round Professor Schmidt, another a convincing group of Spanish women, soldiers, and children.
Then a history room, its walls adorned with maps of Moscow and scenes of Russia’s past. The map was peculiarly ingenious, tracing, as you pressed a button, by means of coloured lights running along tubes, the stages of the cities’ growth and the projects for tomorrow. On one whole wall was painted the city of the future, the sun lighting its steel-latticed towers and transmitting power to the city through a vast concave mirror: a Wellsian city of the super-mechanical age, yet with a haunting mysterious beauty in its delicate blue haze—a hint of the new beauty which the Soviet Union needs and will get.
The mechanical rooms were innumerable. In one, boys were making model aeroplanes, one boy re-boring a cylinder and making certain other adjustments: he had nearly won the prize for long-distance flight. The lathes, drills, planes, in their workshops were beautifully made and appropriately small in size.
There was a dynamo house, a railroad room, a testing-room, a complete model of the Metro, a completely equipped film-making room.
The aviation-room contained its own air-tunnel and wind-chamber and a delicate instrument to test the resistance of home-made planes.
A short-wave transmission station connected the Moscow home of Pioneers with the Pioneers’ Palace in Leningrad, and the children can themselves communicate between the two cities.
These palaces and their innumerable regional homes in various parts of great cities have a double object in view: to help the individual child to develop his or her particular gifts to the full, and to enrich the community with all that a fully developed individual can give. Their leading men deem it no waste of time to welcome and foster any talent that youth shows; and in addition to a highly trained permanent staff, leading scientists, explorers, actors, artists, or specialists in all departments of industry will devote hours to mingling with the children, to observing them and instructing them and selecting the abler amongst them for further development.
The number of summer camps by sea and lake and forest grows from year to year. Summer camps become part of the normal life of the Soviet child. No large factory lacks its camp or its holiday home, and small industrial concerns link up together to possess one.
I visited Artek, the most famous of all camps, in a lovely spot on the Black Sea Riviera, and spent an evening with the children, entertained by them to tea and after tea to a concert. Then the children gathered round, plying me with every kind of question, most especially about Spain and England’s attitude. They had much to ask about the Nyon Treaty and had an astonishing knowledge of and interest in international affairs.
Organized games form a part, but not a predominant part, in camp life. The children swim, run, jump, and play tennis as they do here. They have other vital interests. Boys and girls at Artek were collecting geological and botanical specimens as they roamed along shore or mountain by day. And £n the evening girls as well as boys crowded the large carpenters’ shops, making boxes to exhibit them and take them home.
Boys mingle everywhere with girls, in schools and camps, sleeping in separate houses at night.
The spread of education in the Soviet Union shows itself in the new passion for reading. Old and young, boy and girl, man and woman all desire literature. Illiteracy has almost gone, and with the new capacity to read comes a new demand for books. The needs of children and youth come first.
The peoples of the Soviets are a reading people. It is doubtful if any people in the world read more.
It is twenty-one years since the Revolution, and the growth in book publishing has been incredibly rapid.
The United State Publishing House was formed in 1930. It includes twelve publishing houses in various fields, such as social and economic literature, fiction, technical and scientific works of all sorts, encyclopaedias, dictionaries, and other literature. Its output is enormous. Tsarist Russia, in its peak year 1912, published 133-6 million copies of books; the U.S.S.R. in 1937 published 571 million copies. In 1938 an issue of 700 millions was anticipated.
The State Publishing House for Children’s Literature issued about 45 million copies of books during fhe year 1938, millions more were issued by children’s publishing houses of the Union and of the autonomous republics.
For very young children 36,300,000 books are to be published, among them Grimm’s fairy tales and D. Harris’ "Uncle Remus". Tolstoi’s and Chekhov’s fairy tales and stories in the "Miniature Book" series are to be issued in editions of from 500^000 to r million copies.
The small children’s books have a peculiar fascination, full of fancy and vivacity and printed in vivid colours, A small child’s geography book will begin with the picture of a letter in an envelope, and then its travels to the pillar-box, the sorting office, the railway train, the steamer, the ice-sledge ; through hot countries and cold countries and among people with white skins, yellow skins, or black skins. The thing is concrete, vital, and to a small child arresting and understandable.
For the older children, "Book after Book" is the name of a series of forty-two famous Russian authors, together with such well-known foreign writers as Dickens, Victor Hugo, Jack London, and Ernest Seton Thompson. "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe, "Rob Roy" by Sir Walter Scott, "Oliver Twist" and "David Copper-field" are also on the list for publication in the children’s series, together with stories by Fenimore Cooper, Mayne Reed, and Jules Verne.
The Soviet child is encouraged from its earliest years, in school, in books, in theatre, or in great parades and reviews of the Union’s many national peoples, to transcend the barriers of sex, race, language, or colour, to regard every other child as a brother and to win for each such privileges as he or she enjoys.
I perceived the spirit of this thing most dramatically in a theatre I attended in Moscow.
This theatre, like many more, built and arranged like an ordinary theatre, was devoted entirely to children. The children had their own restaurant and foyer, their own skilled actors and actresses, who devoted their whole lives to children’s plays and acted with consummate skill. Around the walls of the foyer were photographs of the children’s favourite stars. In the corner of their refreshment-room was a huge glass case of special toys and dolls.
Some 1,500 children, ten years of age and upwards, awaited the play with vivacity and the usual anticipative chatter, but with no roughness or horse-play, though the absence of attendants was most marked.
The play was called "The Negro Boy and the Monkey". It opened with a forest scene where black boys and girls fought and quarrelled, until, utterly weary, one cried out, "Oh, if only we had a leader!"
At that, a splendid and vivacious Negro boy leapt on to the stage and said: "Why not choose as leader a boy who can run best, jump best, and sing best?" They had a contest, and he was their choice.
Then he went hunting, and only escaped death from a python by the sudden leap of a monkey, which saved his life.
He and the monkey became firm friends — it was a charming child’s play — and both returned to the forest clearing.
Then exploiters arrived, guns over shoulders, moneybags at their sides, and dressed in plus fours and check suits — very plus fours and very large checks.
The forest children scattered, but the monkey was seized and shipped away. Where ? I looked at the masthead and saw — the Stars and Stripes!
The Negro boy leapt on board another ship and went in pursuit. He landed in Moscow; and in the next scene we see him in a chocolate factory with other workers.
The dinner-horn blows, and all depart for dinner. The boy is left alone.
Looking to right and left, and seeing he is alone, he advanced to a large map of the world and, flinging his arms around Africa, sobbed.
At that moment a Komsomol apprentice boy in white overalls enters by one door and a similarly dressed girl by another door. They steal up to the boy and, placing each a hand on his shoulder, seek to cheer him; the girl at length says brightly: "I have a spare ticket for the circus tonight; come with us." And there the first half of the play ends.
During the interval the two Komsomols and the Negro boy enter the theatre and, passing the stalls, climb nimbly up the pillars to the dress-circle, where they lean over the balcony to watch the rest of the play—which is the circus to which the Negro boy had been invited.
The usual merry foolery of the clowns followed, and then came the performing animals, and amongst them our old friend the monkey, thin, jaded, and miserable. He stumbles, and the circus manager cracks his whip savagely.
The Negro boy can endure no more, and with a piercing cry utters the monkey’s name.
The creature, all life in an instant, leaps over the orchestra, runs deftly over the children’s heads in the stalls, climbs up the pillar to the dress-circle and, amidst tumultuous cheers, monkey and boy are united once more.
Then a black out. On the screen we see the ship returning to Africa. The curtain rises for the final act.
Again we are in the African forest. Again the black children cluster around, this time mourning their lost leader. But down a distant glade come Boy and Monkey, their arms filled with parcels tied up with gay ribbons, a present for every forest child.
Never can I forget the last scene and speech. "These presents," said the Boy, "are from the children of Moscow to the children’ of the dark forest. For the Moscow children wish every child in all the world, be his colour white, red, yellow, or black, be his race what it may, and be his language what it may, to enjoy the same full richness of life as Moscow children now enjoy."
I confess to a lump in my throat as I left the theatre and said to myself. "This is a communist theatre, in communist Moscow. These are communist actors playing to communist children. And this is Sunday evening—for such, indeed, by coincidence, it was—and seldom have I heard so moving a message of the old theme which I learned as part and parcel of my early Christianity that all children are my brothers and sisters, to be regarded as such and planned for as such: the theme that formulated my own earliest purposes was re-enacted here.
That planning to give rich equality of life to every child is precisely what the Soviet Government is doing for every nationality, colour and race, in all the Soviet Union. What it teaches to its children, it practises through its own administration and on the most gigantic scale.
The Soviet Union is a young country. Youth controls factories, workshops, and scientific institutes. The managers of the Moscow Dynamo works are under thirty years of age. The majority of those participating in the Arctic exploration expeditions were under twenty-five years of age. The percentage of the population under twenty-nine years — that is, of those who either were born under the Soviet regime or retained but blurred recollections of Tsarist days — is 63. A similar percentage in Britain is 50.
What has the Soviet Union done for its youth and what is it doing?
At fifteen years of age — that is, at the end of the seven-year school age, which extends from eight to fifteen years — two alternatives present themselves: the child may enter the ten-year school and proceed to the university or technical college, and an extremely large percentage do so; or he may start at once to learn the profession of his choice. Should he choose to become a technician — an engineer, say, pr an aviation mechanic — he enters a machine-constructing technical college, where he studies the elements of mechanics. The course lasts for two years and is free. On his seventeenth birthday, and not before, he can enter industry. As a juvenile he works for not more than five or six hours a day, receiving an appropriate wage.
At the end of his eighteenth year he leaves the works, and after an examination enters a higher technical college. For the next five years he undergoes an extensive course of theoretical and practical service. On his twenty-fourth birthday he emerges as a qualified engineer,
During all this time he has received, in addition to his meals, instruments, and text-books, a monthly allowance which makes him independent of outside financial aid.
At college he meets students from every country in the Union. He comes into closer touch with the outside world than in his school days. He may become one of the five million members of the Communist League of Youth. He comes of age politically. He becomes politically aware, which is altogether desirable if politics is "the art of living with one’s fellows". At the age of eighteen he or she obtains the right to vote and are eligible for election. Of the 1,143 deputies of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R., 284 are between the ages of eighteen and thirty.
In the earlier days of the revolution this external activity was much overdone, though necessity demanded it. The best young members of the Communist Party built entire works during the First Five-Year Plan and educated large numbers of the backward peasantry.
Today, happily, none of that work, nor overwork, is needed, and there is a happier blend of study with external work, such as tree-planting or harvesting in holiday times.
But politics and work do not absorb his whole time. Soviet youths are as keen sportsmen as British youths, and Soviet teams can hold their own with any teams they meet. We constantly read of their triumphs in Paris, where they are welcomed. Soviet youth swims — inventing and perfecting new strokes — skates and climbs. In parachuting he — and she — have led the world. I have watched children of ten receive their first lesson in air-mindedness: as when a small girl eagerly offered herself to be tied to a fixed chair at the end of a long beam, to be swung through the air at the height of a two-storied house, landing head downwards at the far end, and then swinging back again. The next stage is the leap, attached to an open parachute, from the parachute tower. After that the real thing : 500,000 Soviet men and maidens indulge in parachuting.
Mr. Maurice Hindus, writing in "Asia" of March 1938, assures us that communistic organization of industry in general, and agriculture in particular, has definitely succeeded. As proof of this he selects the following dramatic instance. In the city of Kiev, in April 1937, 1,112 girls left school at the age of eighteen. Of these not more than 10 per cent, considered their education to b$ complete and went to work. The remaining go per cent, passed on to some form or other of higher education. I suppose that in England the percentage would be nearer 5 or 6.
This wholesale desire for higher education seems to be in, credible, and the ability to gratify the desire more incredible still. Three considerations may help to account for it :
First, there is. no financial difficulty which hinders a clever or keen student from entering the university or institute for higher education. Students receive a wage according to the standard reached in their work, but in any event adequate for maintenance. An examination must be passed, but it is not competitive, as here, where a certain limited number of places and certain limited financial resources alone are available. The examination merely tests fitness to profit by the course of advanced study.
Secondly, the parents have no need of the early wages of their children to eke out the family income or provide maintenance in their own old age. Their own earning power, the absence of unemployment, and the certainty of a pension on retirement, or maintenance if sick, cause them to encourage rather than hinder their child’s desire for a university education of the highest order they can get.
Thirdly, and not of least importance, is youth’s own eagerness for the highest possible forms of mental equipment. There is a zest for learning; especially, but by no means exclusively, in the several fields of science.
The number of students in universities and technical colleges is to reach 650,000 during the Third Five-Year Plan. Secondary education is to grow still more rapidly, and the number of those with a completed higher education will increase from 750,000 to 1,290,000.
And that is but the beginning, not the end. For the fundamental aim in the matter of education is to raise the whole cultural and technical level of the working class to that of engineers and technical workers and to remove for ever the distinction between the man who works with his brain and the man who works with his hand.
Stalin expressed the intention with his usual simplicity in words spoken at a recent conference of Stakanovites:
"The elimination of the distinction between mental labour and manual labour can be achieved only by raising the cultural and technical level of the working class to the level of engineers and technical workers. It would be absurd to think that this is unreasonable. It is entirely reasonable under the Soviet system, when the productive forces of the country are treed from the fetters of capitalism, where labour is freed from, the yoke of exploitation, where the working class is in power, and where the younger generation of the working class has every opportunity of obtaining an adequate technical education. There is no reason to doubt that only such a rise in the cultural and technical level of the working class can undermine the basis of the distinction between mental and manual labour, that it alone can insure that higher level of productivity of labour and that abundance of articles of consumption which are necessary in order to begin the transition from socialism to Communism."
The goal is that of a wholly educated nation.
* * * * *
We have traced the course of Soviet youth from infancy throughout childhood to the higher ranges of education in university or technical institute, and now reach the point where he is ready to launch boldly forth into the world of affairs with which throughout his whole career he has been acquainted, and the principles of whose industries he has been encouraged to understand.
What awaits him now ?
It is at this moment, I venture to think, that the Profound difference between planned production for community consumption and production which is either unplanned or planned only for the safeguarding of profits and in the interests of the profit-making class, shines out most clearly, and altogether to the advantage of the former.
For the Plan gives to Soviet youth a creative purpose and a hundred opportunities to work it out. That plan seeks his help. Unlimited possibilities open up before him in the spheres of science, economics, general culture, and politics. For Soviet youth the nightmare of unemployment is for ever gone. His future is full of hope. There is a niche for each and a call for each. There is for each a promise of security, banishing devitalizing fear; and an honoured place in a cause which gives, or can give, zest and nobility to life.
Vivid indeed is the contrast between the outlook on life of the average Soviet youth, from the outlook of the average British youth. No one in close touch with British youth, or with their parents too, can fail to know the fears, anxieties, and strain with which they face the future, whether in times of slump through which we are passing, or in times of boom into which we may shortly come, only with the knowledge that another slump lies inevitably ahead.
More than most perhaps am I placed in a position to know the inner side of this question as it affects the various types and classes of boys and girls of England; being at the moment Chairman of Governors of an elementary school, of two large secondary schools, and of a great Public School, the oldest in the English-speaking world: having also held similar posts in the great industrial centres of the north.
All this contact with youth makes vivid the problems, depressions, and the discouragements which beset youth on the threshold of life.
There is general and disturbing anxiety in the later school years as to whether a job can be secured which will provide a livelihood. The number of useful jobs, they know, is limited, the number of applicants immense. Competition is severe. Even the strain of securing a job through examination often leaves the winner exhausted when the job is secured and glad to leave for ever the studies which secured it. Others, less fortunate, gain no job at all. Hundreds of thousands of boys and girls have been condemned to pass the post-school life without ever knowing the joy of work, lacking tools., room, skill, or resources to make their own employment. Life consists of hanging around street corners, with its morally grading effects.
Youth — I am speaking now of vast numbers of youth in industrial centres —sees no way out. He lacks political knowledge. He cannot trace these things to their source. He feels that he is in the grip of fate. Luck rules. You are lucky if you have been born into the right circle. Lucky if you have brains. Lucky if you get a job. But, then, your luck may turn against you. All life is a gamble. Belief in a beneficent providence, or in purpose behind the order of things departs. Fate dominates.
How can good work be done against a background so black and so discouraging?
Or, when a youth is lucky and finds a job, how often can we call it a creative job? Innumerable young men and women, capable of achieving much and enriching the world with the things they could produce or the services they could render, eke out a miserable and precarious living as touts urging the purchase of commodities we neither need nor want. And how many more are tied down for life to routine tasks and dread the very inventions which may make even these tasks superfluous and cast the present workers on the scrap-heap of unemployment?
And, while many are unemployed, many more, and especially those in the more skilled type of employment, are seriously overworked. The end of the working day finds them too fatigued to take interest in the social and political order which so vitally affects their lives. The strain of keeping the skilled job they have secured is incessant. Age will quickly prove a handicap. In order to keep to the front there is danger of striving for showy or dramatic results. It is not easy to do solid work in the time allotted. Life shrinks to small horizons.
Some few, in the higher ranges of industrial or professional life, inherit, or gain by influence, or even win by open competition, in a struggle for which they have had all the advantages which wealth and leisure and every favourable circumstance can give, a sphere where life really has creative purpose, as in the case, of many enterprising industrial concerns, I recall again my own experience. Such jobs are few and precious.
It is just these creative tasks that open up in the Soviet Union, not to a favoured few, but to all. All have a share in the ownership of industry and productive processes. All have their appropriate niche, and it is the niche of their own choosing. There is no hunt for a job. The jobs do the hunting. And each job is part of a greater whole. Nothing is haphazard. In whatever job he chooses, a Soviet boy may know that he is building up a national concern. What he does creatively affects himself, his family, his city, his fatherland.
Soviet youth is assured of healthy creative and attractive work, his perplexity lies only in its choice. It is no mere humbug when you speak to a Soviet child about vocation: each can hear an inner call and heed it.
* * * * *
It may properly be asked what has been the quality of the intellectual achievement resulting from this vast enthusiasm for education and culture in the U.S.S.R. ? How is youth acquitting itself now that it enters into power? What results can it show, and are the authorities satisfied with these results?
As the preliminary need was for increased production, and as material production depended primarily upon the creation of a skilled and reliable technical staff, the question at first resolves itself into the quality of the engineering youth. On this question we may take such witnesses as the one quoted in the first chapter of this book as decisive. The more especially so since subsequent events support him.
The Moscow trials and purge of 1937 swept away many of the old managers and engineers and technicians and pitchforked youth, perhaps prematurely, into their places. It is interesting and instructive to observe the effects on production.
The plan for 1937 was to increase output over 1936 by 20 per cent. The purge produced a temporary slump. During the first half of 1937 industry showed no increase: it merely maintained the level of the previous year. The young men were learning their new job. In a half year, apparently, they had learned it, and set a quicker pace. The Government was encouraged, but only to a limited extent; and in setting the plan for 1938 they asked for an increase indeed, but for an increase of only 15-3 per cent, instead of 20 per cent. Every month showed an accelerating increase, and in July, at the end of the first half-year, the Government revised its plan to show finally an increase, not as originally planned before the purge, of 20 per cent., but of 21 per cent. Youth had triumphed.
So, too, the triumph of Arctic exploration, of geological research, and the aviation feats which place the Soviet Union in the front rank of air-skilled nations, is the triumph of Soviet Youth and the justification of the new education.
So, too, youth triumphs in the Stakanovite movement for the speeding up of industry. Young people in every branch of industry strive to emulate the achievements of Alexei Stakanov, who reorganized the mining of coal, producing an immensely increased output, with advantage alike to the community and to himself. Peter Krivonos set the pace in railway transport; two young girls, Dusya Vmogradova and Tasya Odintsova, led in the textile industry; and two more young girls in agriculture.
One of the greatest industrial plants in Moscow, the Kaganovich State Ball-bearing Plant, is managed by Yusim, a young engineer who came to the plant direct from the university. He was appointed foreman in the forge as an ordinary engineer. His shift forged 46.000 to 47,000 retainers instead of 28,000. He had the distinction of being the first "Stakanovite" — as these scientific speeders of industry are now called — in the engineering world. He established one collective record after another, and after being awarded the Order of Lenin, he took over the entire control of the plant when the previous manager was removed for wrecking activities. Victor Lvov, who heads the People’s Commissariat of the Machine-building Industry, is thirty-eight, and has reached his high post at an early age after an adventurous and interesting career. Left an orphan early, he dropped his schooling after four years and worked as farm labourer for rich peasants. Joining the Red Army at eighteen, he travelled over the whole country, fighting for the revolution. He then studied at a technical institute whilst working at the Red Putilov Engineering Works, and graduated in 1933. He received a diploma for his plan for a 6o-ton open-hearth furnace. Sent to France in 1934 to study iron and steel production in that country, he returned in 1936, and was appointed Chief of the Steel Foundry in his former works, and later director of the works. In 1938 he was promoted by the Soviet Government to the post of People’s Commissar of Machine-building Industry.
Assistant People’s Comrnissar of Heavy Industry, Konstantin Kartashov, is thirty-four years of age. He began to work in the mines when twelve. The Revolution gave him his chance. He studied with avidity first in the technical institute which was attached to the mine, and finally at the Mining Institute in Stalino. He graduated , in 1930, and after two years became manager of a pit, where he instituted a system of work which lightened the labours of the miners and resulted in increased productivity of the coal-cutting machines. He was awarded the Order of Lenin, and after five more years was appointed manager of the Pervomaisky Coal Trust, then Chief Engineer of the Central Administration of the Coal Industry, and finally, in 1938, Assistant People’s Commissar of Heavy Industry.
Not only young men, but young women too, trained in Soviet Institutes, rise to high posts. Tatyana Morozova entered the New Dawn Soap and Perfumery Factory in Moscow at the age of fifteen. The factory sent her to a special school for training trade-union functionaries, where she received a general as well as a special education. On returning to her factory she was elected Chairman of the Trade Union Committee, at the same time taking an interest in the management of the enterprise. She became Assistant Director, then Director, and now, at the age of thirty-one, is Chief of the Central Administration of the Perfume Industry which controls twenty-nine large factories.
Sugra Gaibova, Manager of Oil Field No. 3 of the Orjonikidze Oil Trust in Baku, is only twenty-six. She has been educated entirely under Soviet conditions. Graduating from her secondary school in 1930, she finished her course at the Industrial Institute in 1935, and started at once as foreman in the third field, and after displaying marked organizational ability, was appointed in 1938 to her present post of manager.
The Chief of the Central Aero-Hydrodynamics Institution is a young scientist, Mikhail Shulzhenko, thirty-three years of age. Sent in 1926 by his branch of the Young Communists League to a workers’ preparatory school, and then to a technical college in Moscow, he subsequently joined the Aviation Institute, where his ability was quickly recognized. He received high commendation for his design for a speed transport plane, and after graduating was appointed to his present post.
Nor is the Soviet Union backward in the arts. In 1927 several young Soviet musicians took part in the First International Chopin Contest of pianists held in Warsaw, Out of them, Lev Oberin, won the first prize. Since then at practically all international contests Soviet Youth rank first among the prize-winners. At the Third International Contest of Pianists in Warsaw in 1937 Zak and Rosa Tamarkina won first and second prizes respectively. Emil Hilels, who had won the second prize in 1936 at Vienna, won first prize at Brussels in 1938.
As with the piano, so with the violin. At the International Ysaye Contest in Brussels in 1937 five of the six prizes were awarded to Soviet violinists, first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth.
And yet, as far as youth and education are concerned, there is to be no resting on laurels already won. The Third Five-Year Plan has more in mind than quantity. Though quantity precedes, quality is to crown educational achievement; and special attention is to be paid in the coming years to quality of education. A higher standard is to be set and reached, and as a preliminary step a thorough revision of text-books is contemplated: none but the best must be employed.
The end of the Third Five-Year Plan should show not only that 40 million out of a population of 168 million were studying in elementary and secondary schools, but that they were reaching a standard of education calculated to place the Soviet Union in the front rank of educated nations.
I can well understand Lion Feuchtwanger when he wrote after sojourning in the U.S.S.R. that "Soviet youth emanates a strength and joy which involuntarily astonishes me." And I can sympathize with Roland Romain’s message to Soviet Youth: "You are the hope of the world, the seed of the future classless society of all humanity, a society without exploitation of man by man, without frontiers between the states, without hatred between races and peoples."
Womanhood enters a new world in the Soviet Onion. Soviet women share with men a new equality in education, in political rights, in skilled work, in status, in culture. No world was more dark for women than that which went with the Russian Empire, none more bright than that which came with the Soviet Union.
Soviet womanhood earned her liberty. She paid the price of it with the blood of her best.
The Revolution which took Russia by storm in 1917 did not come unprepared. It was the climax of a series of desperate struggles, in which women were never far behind men. Often the women led.
When Christianity invaded Russia in the year 1000 it came from Byzantium and in a form which spelt subjection for women by Church and State. A youthful primitive agricultural people were overwhelmed by a monastic asceticism which in the oriental tradition regarded women as evil. Inferior places were allotted to women in church. Women might not approach the altar. At marriage, a man’s ring was gold, a woman’s ring iron.
In the Domestic Ordinance of Pope Sylvester in the sixteenth century woman was degraded to being a possession of man, the domestic head: she must obey in all circumstances : "If a wife refuses to obey ... it is advisable ... to beat her with a whip ... the whip is painful and effective, deterrent and salutary."
The French Revolution had its Russian repercussions. Brave officers and intellectuals strove for freedom and suffered banishment to Siberia. Wives voluntarily accompanied their husbands, forced to leave every comfort, and even their children, behind them.
In the ’sixties and ’seventies of the last century devoted educated women left the city and its high remuneration to teach in desolate villages for a mere pittance, where they worked alone at the mercy of hostile authorities. Under Bakunin’s influence in the ’seventies young women as well as young men left the universities and, learning a trade, "went among the people" to learn from them: "the people know what they need better than we".
The Minister of Justice declared in 1877 that the success of revolutionary propaganda was due to the large number of women among the conspirators. This propaganda was carried on by living devotedly with women dulled by life in dreary, cramped, and dirty barracks and working sixteen hours a day in the factory.
In the heroic line of those who revolted from Tsarist oppression and cruelty, women were never wanting. Women served the causes of liberation with a fervour and contempt of death which yielded not an inch to the authorities. Their strength rose with their tasks.
Most revolutionary women in these earlier days were young, richly endowed in mind and soul, many ,of them beautiful and gifted with artistic powers. Their personal and romantic love was subordinated to the universal love to which they had devoted their lives, and accounts for the purity in mutual relations which subsisted between men and women of the revolutionary movement.
Since the seventies there has been an unbroken line of victims caught in the terrible official net which spread from Moscow to Sakhalin to catch the champions of liberty. Few more terrible places have I seen than the museums, where in room after room one may examine the records of those years of torture: contemporary pictures of prisons and prisoners and the means used to tame them. The data are enormous: portraits, photographs, statistical tables, drawings, farewell letters, relics, casts, instruments of torture. The impression is overwhelming, recalling the martyrdom of early Christianity.
Friendship and comradeship, the capacity for holding together, was, from the first, a marked characteristic of Russian revolutionaries. That, too, has left its stamp on the new order. Out of prison men and women shared their last penny. In prison the political prisoners lived literally in a commune, sharing money and food with meticulous care. All social barriers went, and ardent friendships based on common intellectual interests such as are seldom found in freedom were formed, and persisted when freedom came.
To mitigate as far as possible the sufferings of thousands of prisoners, the Russian Red Cross was founded in 1881, and principally administered by women. It was women who did most to aid prisoners to escape.
Women were the soul of Russia’s fight for freedom. And they were mostly young. Of the sixty-seven women prisoners at Maltsev between 1907 and 1912, eighteen were under age, thirty-seven between twenty-one and thirty, and only twelve over thirty.
A consuming thirst for knowledge and culture marked these women revolutionaries, and has left its stamp upon the future. In prison, wherever possible, they pursued varied and complex studies. The illiterate learned to read and write. The literate pursued self-directed studies. Small libraries grew up. The authorities, probably through ignorance of their contents, permitted books on philosophy more readily than books on social science, and much philosophy was read and seriously discussed. Women prisoners studied mathematics eagerly and read Nietzsche, Doestoievski, the Bible, Indian philosophy, or Tolstoi.
In 1887 the screw of oppression took a tighter turn. Brutality increased. Pogroms were ordered to divert attention. Prisoners were sent to Sakhalin and even remoter regions. Education was curtailed. Alexander III scribbled across a report sent to him by his Minister of Education, "No more education". Women’s colleges were closed.
Hence the mass exodus of women students to pursue their studies abroad, mostly at this time to Germany, where the Socialists, Liebknecht, Bebel, and Kautsky, were active. Political science was now added to philosophy. In Switzerland Vera Sasulich fell under the influence of Marx and Engels, and at the age of forty added much to Russian Marxian literature. In a letter to a friend she tells of her life and her loneliness. For months, she says, she hardly spoke to a soul. Her life went on without human companionship. She lived on coffee and work. She seldom ceased writing before two in the morning.
During these years industrialism came to Russia. It came full-blown, with ruthless exploitation, unsoftened, as in England, with many legal and moral mitigations of its hardships. It taught, however, the power of the collective process of production. The modern industrial proletariat came into existence at a bound, and with it a fresh advance in the struggle for freedom.
In 1895 a "Fighting Association for the Liberation of the Working Class" was formed. Lenin was a member. Four women were on the executive. One was Nadyeshda Krupskaya, who later married Lenin. Leaving the Grammar School in the ’eighties, Krupskaya studied educational theory, and coming into contact with radical groups, proceeded to study Marx, and subsequently taught in the Smolensk Workers’ College in St. Petersburg. Many of her pupils occupied prominent places in the Russian Labour movement and Revolution. She was arrested and exiled for three years, going at her own request to Siberia, where Lenin was serving his period of exile. They became engaged. Lenin moved to Munich on his release, and at Munich, and afterwards in London, issued his paper, The Spark (Iskra). Krupskaya joined him and acted as editorial secretary. She became the mother of the revolution.
As the Russian Labour Movement grew year by year, women gained power, taking a leading part in strikes against evil conditions. Women wrung from the Government various concessions, such as the prohibition of night-work for women and children. And it was significant that the textile trades, in which the cheaper feminine labour was employed, headed the new unrest.
In 1905, on "Bloody Sunday", an immense crowd with ikons, images, and portraits of the Tsar went to the Winter Palace to present a petition: they were met with deadly rifle-fire. Faith in Tsar and Government departed for ever. Barricades were erected. A working woman, Karelina, had cried before the march: "Mothers and wives, do not dissuade your husbands and brothers from risking their lives for a just cause. Come with us! If they attack us or shoot us, don’t weep, do not lament, be sisters of Mercy! Here are bands with the Red Cross, fasten them round your arms, but not before they begin to shoot on you." With one voice the answer had come back: "We will all go with you." More than a thousand lives were sacrificed, and among them many women and children. One woman, struck by four bullets and dying next day said, "I do not regret for a moment that I stood on the barricades".
The massacre of "Bloody Sunday" and its fellow at Odessa sealed the fate of Tsardom. I stood long one cold autumn day on that immense flight of steps leading down to the harbour, picturing the kindred massacre of innocent men and women.
Smidovich, secretary of Lenin’s paper Iskra, when it was issued from London, took a leading part in the Odessa risings. Her resource matched her courage. Arrested once in Kiev, with copies of Iskra upon her, she begged leave to go to the closet in the police yard. In an instant, flinging off her fur cloak and cap, tying a handkerchief over her head and in her cheap jacket, worn always beneath her costly cloak, she issued so swiftly and with such complete transformation that the guard failed to recognize their prisoner, and she escaped.
It was the pains and toils of Russia’s womanhood throughout a century of struggle that helped mightily to pave the way for the Revolution and set its stamp on the new Soviet order. Inevitably it won for Soviet womanhood a status and dignity enjoyed in no other land.
No one was more conscious of this than Lenin himself, who said of it in its culminating phase: "In Petrograd, here in Moscow, in cities and industrial centres, and out in the country, proletarian women have stood the test magnificently in the revolution. Without them we should not have won. Or barely won. That is my view. How brave they were, how brave they still are! Just imagine all the sufferings and privations that they bear. And they hold out because they want to establish the Soviets, because they want freedom, communism."
Every characteristic of the line of heroic women fighters reappears in some form or other in the new civilization: their comradeship, their zeal for the common good, their scrupulous sharing, their sense of absolute equality, their hatred of exploitation, their belief in the proletariat, their passion for culture and learning, No one .can fully understand the Revolution, nor the new life of the U.S.S.R., and the new lot and dignity and authority of its womanhood, who has not seen it in the light of this century of conflict and devotion.
* * * * *
When the old order collapsed and the new order took its place, every vestige of the old laws relegating women to subordinate positions was swept away.
Lenin put it like this, and in doing so echoed the words of Karl Marx spoken sixty years ago: "There can be no talk of any sound or complete democracy, let alone of any socialism, until women take their rightful and permanent place both in the political life of the country and in the public life of the community in general."
Article 122 of Stalin’s Constitution of 1938, written twenty-two years later, formulates with great precision the same intention:
"Women in the U.S.S.R. are accorded equal rights with men in all fields of economic, state, cultural, social and political life. ... The possibility of realising these rights of women is ensured by affording women equally with men the right to work, payment for work, rest, social insurance and education, state protection of the interests of mother and child, granting pregnancy-leave with pay, and provision of a wide network of maternity homes, nurseries and kindergartens."
That expresses in a comprehensive way the charter of the new womanhood.
During the twenty-two years which separate these statements the principles they both formulate have been rigorously and consistently applied in every sphere of life. The whole organization of society bends itself to give the women’s charter concrete expression. The battle against prejudice and inertia has been won; and industry, the professions, the arts and sciences are open doors to Soviet womanhood.
From the first women responded to the new opportunities with eagerness, and entered industry with an alacrity which astonished the Western world. A vista had opened out before them. They leapt as comrades to the side of men. In the early years, when enemies pressed on every side, women mounted the barricades, served as soldiers and scouts, or drove armoured trains.
When Kornilov’s army attacked Leningrad, 200,000 women went to the front. Plotnikova, still half a child, like Joan of Arc, rallied the exhausted soldiers of the 19th Cavalry Regiment in their retreat. She spurred her horse and led them to the charge. The enemy was repulsed; the girl commander was carried off the field severely wounded.
When the last shots ceased, women flung themselves with similar enthusiasm into the task of building socialism. They crowded into factories; forcing themselves where necessary, and with the entire concurrence of the authorities, into every branch of skilled industry.
Into unskilled or less skilled factory life women had entered in considerable numbers prior to the Revolution, forced by economic necessity, as in other capitalist countries, for female labour was cheap, and women, drilled by the discipline of the home, worked more steadily than men, and were regarded as more docile and tractable.
All who obstructed the new order in the Soviet Union were swept aside. Old-fashioned managers and technicians who affirmed that women lacked the capacity for skilled technical work were soon compelled to change their view.
In 1928, for example, the Leningrad Tractor Works were short of hands. Women instead of men were sent to them by the Labour Exchange. The management were indignant: "A woman could not turn a shaft or cut a cogwheel." The Labour Exchange, however, insisted that the women must stay, and the factory admitted them. They were unskilled and the situation was critical. But they had grit. They learned their tasks. They formed a brigade and entered into a "bench competition" with the men. With care and conscientious work, with elimination of ail waste, with no absences and no late arrivals, they succeeded, and at length surpassed the men. The foreman was bound to say at the end of the contest: "I have no complaint to make either of the quantity or quality of the women’s work ... the women stick deliberately to their work and are very careful with the plant."
The individual efficiency of women workers improved rapidly. We might have expected it. For in rg37, 41 per cent, of the total number of students in the workers’ faculties were women. There are nearly 100,000 women engineers and technicians working today in Soviet industry. There are just as many who have won honours and distinctions among women workers as amongst men. It was the women, Doussia and Maroussia Vinogradova, who led the way to increased production in the textile industry, and a Ukrainian woman farm worker, Maria Denchenko, who was the first to harvest 20 tons of sugar-beet per acre.
* * * * *
But none of this achievement would have been possible had not the Soviet leaders been sensitive to the inevitable handicaps under which womanhood suffers, and resolute in their determination to remove them. Both Marx and Lenin had known poverty and seen the sufferings of their own women-folk, and an intimate connection links Lenin’s intense compassion and complete and sympathetic understanding of a working woman’s life, and the new charter for Soviet womanhood.
Maxim Gorky helps our understanding here with his stories of Lenin’s personal life. Once, for instance, when Gorky, who was delicate and had come to London for a conference, saw Lenin, who came to visit him, feeling the bedding with a preoccupied air, he asked, "What are you doing?" "I’m just looking to see if the sheets are well aired ..." replied Lenin, and added, seeing Gorky’s perplexity: "You must take care of yourself."
A Russian worker in Hyde Park after meeting Lenin said of him: "For all I know there may be others in Europe as clever as he on the side of the workers, but I don’t believe you will find anyone who attracts you so much right at the start."
During the famine of 1919, comrades, soldiers, and peasants from the provinces sent him food. He would open the parcels in his bleak flat, frown and grow embarrassed, and hasten to give them to sick comrades or those weak through lack of food. "They send things to me as though I were a lord. How can I prevent them from doing it ? If you refuse and don’t accept it, they are hurt. And everyone round me is hungry."
He was worried when food was not well cooked for those who were working desperately hard at the Kremlin: "I know there is very little food to be got, and that bad — they must get a good cook there."
Caressing some children one day he said to Gorky: "These will have happier lives than we. They will not experience much that we did. There will not be so much cruelty in their lives." Then, looking into the distance, to the hills where the village nestled, he added pensively: "And yet, I don’t envy them. Our generation achieved something of amazing significance for history. The cruelty which the conditions of our lives made necessary will be understood and vindicated. Everything will be understood, everything." Gorky adds, "He caressed the children gently, with a soft and tender touch".
It was this side of Lenin, then, that beyond all others saw the needs of women and the difficulties which hemmed them in. He had no sympathy whatsoever with a working man’s oftentimes callous attitude to his wife. "Very few men, even among proletarians" he writes to Clara Zetkin, "think how much labour and weariness they could lighten for women, in fact save them altogether, if they would lend a hand in woman’s work. No, that is incompatible with a man’s ‘rights and dignity’, which require that he should enjoy his peace and comfort. A woman’s domestic life is one in which she is sacrificed every day amidst a thousand petty details."
With this knowledge of Lenin in mind, examine, then, the difficulties of a woman’s life. Women are handicapped by their physical make-up. They experience regular periods of physical and psychic depression. They suffer debility during pregnancy and become invalids during child-birth and afterwards. Held down by household duties and care of children, they lack time for learning, or even for maintenance of school standards of culture. If need arises they cannot support themselves and their family. They become dependent on charity as the alternative to neglecting their home. A working woman is powerless to take part in public administrative work or share her husband’s social life.
The Soviet leaders understood these difficulties, and, led by Lenin, set to work with determination to meet them wisely and in the general interests of the community.
Having given to every woman the right to work, with no doors closed against her, save in those occupations which involved unduly heavy physical toil, they laid down the principle that women workers must receive equal pay with men for equal work. The Soviet Union, alone amongst all the countries of the world, fulfils this principle rigidly, although its strict observance inevitably involves financial loss and creates vexatious problems in the factory. For women’s physique and periodic illnesses introduce elements of dislocation and uncertainty into factory routine. Again, marriage and motherhood introduce other obvious difficulties into the industrial life of women. And in order to make equality as complete as possible, full compensation must be given to a woman to enable her to fulfil, without handicap, her biological function of child-bearing. The Soviets have done two things here. They have encouraged motherhood and made it abundantly possible. Women employed in industry and public undertakings are granted adequate leave with full pay, both before and after confinement.
It has also been ensured that there is no single profession from which married women are barred. The pregnant woman, indeed, may not lift heavy weights, or work overtime. But her absence from work at the time of confinement in no way endangers her employment, and nursing mothers . working at factories are given a pause every three hours to suckle their babies.
The Soviet Constitution shows that these problems have been met and weighed with minutest care and are amply provided for. And with production organized on the principle of service to the whole, and not profit to a section, it has been found possible to do under socialism the justice to womanhood which capitalism fails to do.
Women’s work may be more costly than men’s work, if the principles of equal pay and compensation for biological function are to be maintained, but it is none the less of value. For, on the purely material side, women’s work has increased the number of producers without increasing the number of consumers, and thus leaves ample margin for all necessary compensations; and on the spiritual side it has enriched and enlarged woman’s experience, intelligence, and character.
As women need to be compensated against the handicaps of child-birth, they need further compensation or assistance in the matter of child-care and house-care. And an abundance of nurseries, crèches, milk-kitchens for infants, kindergartens and playgrounds for young children, together with communal dining-rooms at factories and elsewhere, and other devices are created to free womanhood from the drudgery of domestic duties.
This, again, is possible and advantageous under a socialist regime. For the crèche and the communal kitchen rationalize labour. Women’s work in the house has obviously been more uneconomical than man’s work in the factory. One large kitchen absorbs less labour than a score of smaller ones, and one large mechanized laundry than a hundred washing tubs. Communal kitchens and laundries and crèches and kindergartens are releasing women from drudgery, and placing them, with equal status as workers, side by side with men, and thus through their work, is enriching the whole community by increasing the volume of distributable goods.
The right to work, the right to equal pay, and release from the drudgery of the household have led to a widely expanding freedom and enrichment in the domestic life of women.
1. They have brought a new freedom to marry or to avoid marriage. Soviet women are more free than, women elsewhere to marry or not to marry. Economic hindrances to marriage — or to early marriage, at any rate — are removed. The large number of Soviet young married women is in marked contrast to England’s economically induced delay. Repeatedly did I discover that my local guide, whom I supposed to be a girl recently released from college, proved to be a married woman with children of her own of whom she was fond and proud. The practicability of early marriage has had an immense effect for good on public morality.
2. When married, a woman is free to continue her work or to undertake new work. In this matter man and woman stand on an absolute equality. The husband of one of my guides was earning his living as an editor, she as a guide. They had independent incomes, and each contributed to the family expenses. Sometimes she borrowed from him, sometimes he from her, and each was independent economically of the other.
3. A woman is free to have as many children as she likes. Economic barriers to large families are removed, and that probably accounts, with the new joy and zest for life and with the Russian woman’s passion for children, for the fact that the birthrate in the Soviet Union outstrips all other European records.
In early days, when famine made children a burden, and when war weariness depressed husband and wife, women sought any possible release from the responsibilities of motherhood. Abortion was permitted by the Government, but only that it might be open and safe, rather than furtive and dangerous. Abortion was permitted as a temporary measure; it was not part of the communist programme, and it was abolished, save when it was necessary medically, in 1936 after prolonged public discussion.
Children are welcomed by the Government, and mothers with several children receive additional financial aid. A mother of six children receives at the birth of each additional child an annual grant of 2,000 rubles for five years, while a mother of ten children gets 5,000 rubles at the birth of : each additional child, plus an annual grant of 3,000 rubles for four years.
There were 1,375,000 births in the first five months of 1937, a figure at the annual rate of increase almost equal to the whole of Finland’s population.
4. A woman is free to divorce her husband, though strongly discouraged from doing so. Divorce is granted readily at the request of either party, but frequent divorce and remarriage is definitely condemned, and where there are children, both parties are compelled to shoulder their responsibilities. Divorce tends to decrease.
Great stress is laid upon the value of the-family, and notwithstanding all that is done by the Government for the children, neither father nor mother are relieved of their parental responsibilities. The Soviet authorities, acting differently in this respect from other countries, encourage "paternity suits" and make non-payment of affiliation orders punishable under the criminal code. If a mother abandons her children, say after divorce or separation, the law may compel her, if she is earning, an independent income, to pay alimony to her former husband. The legal protection of motherhood in Western European countries is still behind the U.S.S.R. in this, as in so many other ways.
In these circumstances complete cessation of prostitution is not remarkable, though wholly welcome.
Every discouragement is given to promiscuity. Lenin opposed it from the outset. The "new sexual life" which was advocated by some seemed to him to be abhorrent, a mere extension of the bourgeois brothel. To those who excused moral laxity on the ground that the satisfaction of the instincts was as simple and unimportant as "the drinking of a glass of water", he replied, "will a normal person under normal conditions lie down in the dirt and drink from a puddle? Or even from a glass with a rim greasy from many lips?"
The myth of the "socialization of women" in the Soviet Union was a clever device, without a basis in fact, used abroad to embitter feeling against the new Soviet order. My friends in Kiev were very bitter about this charge, which had been represented to the country people in earlier years as the "all-under-the-same-blanket" theory.
As a matter of fact sex plays a comparatively small part in Soviet Russia in general, and everything lascivious or degenerate has been expunged from Soviet public life. Co-education produces a healthy atmosphere. The girls are strong and physically able to look after themselves. "Petting parties" are unknown. Healthy activity and an all-absorbing common goal, together with the freedom and independence of women, have thrust sex back into its more natural and normal and less prominent place. The whole tendency is towards what has been called a "rehabilitation" of monogamy: that ancient and well-tried principle which elsewhere threatens to burst a too-rigid framework, tends here to reform itself in a new and living way. Similar interest and common endeavour, which can last as long as life and are made possible by the new freedom of women, replace the brief attraction of a pretty face or comely form, which are quick in the passing. And in the Soviet Union, as elsewhere, the child is the cement which binds the family together.
5. Women are free to take their share in the administration of the common life. The Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R., the highest legislative organ of the Soviet Union, includes 189 women among its members: collective farm workers, tractor drivers, or school teachers, amongst many more. No parliamentary body in the world can show the same proportion. And women here, and in all other administrative bodies, enjoy exactly the same rights as men, granted willingly by the Soviet authorities, and thereafter wrested from backward husbands and backward communities. Peasants especially had protested against "petticoat authority". The husband who shouted after his wife, "I’ll give you a good hiding if you keep running off to meetings", only said what many felt, and when he gave the beating, he only did what many did. Women had a long struggle at first in their own backward localities to realize their new liberty.
Today, however, women enjoy not only the same facilities for education and training as men, but hold the same kind of responsible posts in the administrative and social services. It is impossible to think of a People’s Court of Justice apart from its women members, who impart to it not only freedom from pomp, but also just that touch of womanliness, and even motherliness, which Western courts still lack.
Soviet women in public life regard themselves as instruments for the service of the community. They show in their sphere that disinterestedness and sincerity which, I have often observed, distinguish the service, in social and religious life, of their English sisters. In the Soviet Union this spirit opens, as has been said, a new chapter in the history of womanhood.
6. Women are free to enter cultural and intellectual life. As we have seen, they share equal opportunities for education both in school and colleges. At work, hours of labour are short. Work becomes lighter as machinery grows in efficiency. Pay is high. Domestic drudgery is minimized. Children are tended. The Soviet Union has offered women a new chance for cultural pursuits, and they have seized it. It is women who help to swell to such astronomical figures that demand for literature which promises to make the Soviet Union the most literate country in the world.
Few escape the contagion. I shall not soon forget the group of old women I suddenly came across in Odessa struggling eagerly with pothooks, learning late in life how to’ read and write. It is calculated that there is one learner for every two inhabitants in the U.S.S.R.
Soviet women’s journals receiving correspondence from working women, peasant women and women workers of all ages, in all parts of the Soviet Union, are revealing the inner growth and originality of the new Soviet women. Poems, stories, sketches, pour in. A new type of folk poetry is developing, rather American in style, with the realism and speed of the machine age.
But also an old style, the original Russian epic style, is drawn out of its long obscurity and cherished in a proper spirit. Old Marya Krivopolyenova, all of a piece with her native countryside in the neighbourhood of Archangel, who was discovered at the age of seventy-two tramping from village to village singing her unique national poems, has now been brought to light and captures the city crowds by her consummate natural art. The speech of Russian folk-lore is being committed to writing by hundreds of women.
In literature women take their place. In the arts, too. It has been noticed, in sculpture, that women’s work tends to be more forceful, more robust, than men’s; the men’s statues tend to be life-size or less, and generally in white marble; the women’s tend to more than life size, and are carved often from lovely native woods, birch, oak, or lime.
It is said that the Soviet order has destroyed the homes of Russia. If by "destruction of the home" is meant moral infidelity and looseness of living, the charge is false. The moral atmosphere has cleared.
If the economic home is meant, the charge is true. For by the economic home we mean the home where the husband works at the factory and earns money to pay the family bills, whilst the wife does the household drudgery, dependent economically on her husband, and debarred from social and political life. In English homes of the upper class the wife is still economically dependent upon her husband, but her husband’s larger income frees her from drudgery: cooks, housemaids, and parlour-maids relieve her of one half of the household tasks, nurses and governesses the other half.
The Soviet Union has smashed up this old home economy, and few will mourn its departure.
The woman is no longer economically dependent on her husband. He cannot prevent her working, where paid work makes her economically independent of him, while the crèche and kindergarten make her largely independent of former household cares.
The economic home has lost. But the family has gained. The new economic freedom gives to the woman ampler leisure to enjoy family life with husband and children. She mingles in social and political activities. She fulfils skilled tasks. She is the intellectual companion of her husband, with an intelligent interest in his work. She guides and directs her children from the new level of the experienced citizen. She has, in a word, gained that measure of independence of the kitchen and the nursery which the wealthy classes always endeavour to achieve here. But she has gained far more than that. She has gained a highly skilled, purposeful life, with a creative purpose at the centre of it, which she can share with husband and children and neighbours. No longer is it her function merely to cook and clean, which is the lot of nine out of ten mothers in capitalist countries; nor is it her function merely to enjoy a measure of freedom from these duties; she is building up socialism and laying the foundations of a new world.
The good citizen rather than the good housekeeper is the type of woman deemed most attractive in the modern Soviet State. And in the long run this will produce the good wife and the good mother. The effect on the husband and children is salutary. A man is the better for a companion who challenges his ability, rather than a house-wife who comforts him in his shortcomings.
A Russian husband finds it harder to cut a great figure before his wife unless he is a great figure in reality. She is a spur to stimulate him and an example to call out his best. She fulfils the function of the good comrade and companion.
If, then, the economic home has suffered, the family as a centre of affection, culture, and comradeship has gained.
The Soviet East has witnessed a burst of missionary enthusiasm. It emerges from the slumber of centuries into an unparalleled newness of life.
The charter of Soviet womanhood was from the first planned for the whole of the East as well as the West; for Esquimos, for Chuckchees, and for Koriaks in the north, or for Armenians, Georgians, and Uzbeks in the south. Nearly two hundred races, ranging from wild nomads to accomplished citizens, now enjoy economic and social freedom, and share equality of political rights. These things were purchased often at great cost, the conservative East resisting strenuously all efforts at enfranchisement, and resisting with exceptional bitterness enfranchisement of womanhood.
Eastern women had sunk into unbelievable degradation, and finally were bound fast by class rapacity and masculine dominance. Now, at a single bound and in a single generation, these women have passed from a semi-animal existence into the freedom of equal citizenship in a progressive community. When will the West appreciate the significance of this great thing?
In Moscow, with its groups of two hundred nationalities and in its Soviet Chamber of Nationalities, we see as in a microcosm a picture of the extent and range of the Union. And from Moscow has gone forth the message of the woman’s charter of liberty.
Not always, it would seem, have Eastern women been in the state of abject subjection to men in which the Tsarist Government found and left them. Evidence exists in many quarters that women in the East were once the dominant sex, that society was matriarchal rather than patriarchal: women had fought as warriors for Jenghis Khan; Mongols have possessed female Khans; Georgians say sisters and brothers, rather than brothers and sisters, and call their father, mama.
Matriarchy died hundreds of years ago, and when Islam and the Turk overran the major part of what is now the Soviet East — Turkmen, Uzbeks, Kirghiz, and Kazakhs are all of Turkish origin and mainly of the Mohammedan faith — every vestige of matriarchal rule and womanly freedom had departed. Marriage became a commercial transaction; early marriage and child-marriage followed as a natural consequence. Women became the mere objects of men’s lust, and, as is common in such circumstances, excessive sensuality was attributed to them. Women are held to be essentially impure. They must be kept in isolation and hidden behind the veil. Total deprivation of women’s rights may be contrary to the letter of the Koran; it has become the practice of Mohammedan lands.
The life of women became incredibly hard. They were treated as less than human. No grief must be shown when a woman dies, and no pity for her pains in childbirth. A woman in certain Georgian mountain clans is condemned to spend two weeks before her confinement in solitude in a hut of slate. Dogs are kennelled better. Where, in winter time, animals are brought from the stable to the living-hut to give birth to their young, women are sent from living-hut to stable. Kalmucks place a woman, when in labour, on a dunghill. In the far North a woman gives birth to her children in an unclean, icy tent, aided by no human hands.
Girl-children of the Eastern world were strangers to the joys of girlhood. Uzbek and Tadjik girls were married at the age of eight or nine.
The wife was a chattel in the East, a bit of man’s property, legally acquired by marriage, a vital necessity as prime worker in house and farm, valuable for that purpose, but treated with contempt. At Turkman weddings the bridegroom received a whip. At Askabad the husband required his wife, on the first night of marriage, to remove his boots, and made the task as difficult as possible. In Uzbekistan the woman slept on the bare floor, the man on rugs on the couch, kicking his wife awake without arising when desiring tea in the morning.
Women did all the work of field and house in Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan, and Turkmenistan—a relic of days when men fought and women worked.
In Uzbekistan and Tadjikistan the veil, behind which women were commanded to hide themselves from the world, had degenerated into an appalling horsehair net or cage; black, hot, and foul, shutting the wearer off effectually from the world of men and from the light of the sun.
The Tsarist Government brought no relief to womanhood, rather it added the fresh indignity of national subjugation. Universities and secondary schools in the native tongue were strictly prohibited. National antipathies were fanned into national hate.
* * * * *
With one stroke of the pen the Soviet Government swept away all legal hindrance to Eastern women’s liberation. Lenin proclaimed political, economic, and cultural liberty, and began at once the task of translating into act the freedom which existed on the Statute Book.
It was an uphill fight all along the line, especially in Central Asia; and not until 1925, when the scattered peoples were finally gathered into the Soviet Union, did liberty for women begin to take concrete form. Enslaved in their own households, Eastern women had long to wait for their release, and when it came it was often purchased at great cost and suffering. Tsainet Khesmitova, when almost a child, left her aged husband and fled to the Reds. The man procured her capture, beat her black and blue, cut out her tongue, and buried her, still living, up to the head in the ground. Found by the Reds, she was rescued. Today she lives, appallingly crippled and mutilated, in a Moscow hospital. "When I am in Moscow and visit her", said the woman President of the City Soviet of Tashkent, "I am ill for at least three days afterwards."
The Soviet Government proceeded to prohibit compulsory marriage, child marriage, marriage by capture, and the sale of women, fixing the age of consent in the East at sixteen, a half-way house to the eighteen years which is legal in Soviet Russia.
Propaganda amongst Eastern women was carried on by Russian women with the utmost difficulty and with the aid of new methods: women’s clubs, Red Corners, Red Boats, Red Yurtas or tents, equipped often with electric light and wireless sets, and open for women alone. Such institutes acted as elementary schools for the women’s movement. They assisted with legal advice, and gradually brought women into the stream of industrial and cultural activity.
This selfless work of the Russian women missionaries, learning new languages, living amidst miserable and insanitary conditions, risking their lives daily through poisoned meals or direct attack, and even wearing the vile paranja or horsehair veil in order that eventually the native women might cast them off, makes marvellous reading. A book like Fannina Halle’s "Women in the Soviet East" is singularly akin to the tales of missionary doctors and engineering pioneers with which we were familiar in our youth, but with one great difference. English missionaries struggled on with scant assistance, and often tacit opposition, from their country as a whole. Soviet Russian women had their country’s goodwill from the first, and all its resources solidly at their back.
Side by side with the cultural penetration of women missionaries was ranged the mass cultural attack upon the people as a whole, which sent vast numbers of men, women, and students of both sexes as doctors, lawyers, locksmiths, musicians, teachers, to pave the way for further changes.
Prejudices slowly collapsed. Women learn now to clean their dwellings, to use soap, to plant vegetables, to tend children. Thirty-eight primitive peoples were provided with new alphabets, for of the various tribes in Northern Asia not one had a written language.
A dramatic moment came with a mass rejection of the paranja on the International Women’s Day of March 8th, 1928. Fannina Halle thus describes it:
"On that day ... tens of thousands of women, huddled in paranjas and chachvans poured like a menacing avalanche through the narrow choked streets, squares and bazaars of the ancient Central Asian cities. ... Above this silent gloomy approaching mass, still without faces or eyes, a sea of red flags floated high in the air ... and like a blossoming red flower bed in the midst of a barren, weedy field, a group of women with uncovered faces and red kerchiefs on their heads, contrasted with the strange procession, they marched past with more or less firm tread; these were the few who had previously had the courage to break with their past, and no longer looked upon the blue sky through a black grating.
"Amidst strains of music the vast multitude, including a number of men and children, gathered round the Lenin monument, which was likewise decked with red banners and native carpets, and the women waited breathlessly for what was to come. Thundering, stinging words, but words that were new, unaccustomed and inspiriting, that moved the bearers hearts so deeply that they called forth a real frenzy of enthusiasm. ... All the bands struck up the Internationale. ... The real proceedings began. ... They [the paranjas] were flung aloft into the quivering air, timidly at first, but then with ever wilder and more frenzied speed, these symbols of slavery that the women cast off, paranjas, chachvans and chadras. They were piled in rapidly growing heaps, drenched with paraffin, and soon the dark clouds of smoke from the burning common abjuration of a thousand year old convention, now become unbearable, flared up into the bright sky of the Spring day. ..."
Today there is not a single veiled woman in Bukhara, though there has in the meantime been many a lapse from the great demonstration of 1928.
Not all the opposition of men or priests have been able to hold the women back. Young girls of twelve, forced by their fathers to put on the paranja and marry against their will men they had never seen before, would escape for refuge to the Women’s Club and, joined by many more, set up effectual resistance.
The old tales that the communes possessed an immense blanket, 50 yards long, under which all the members of the commune were to sleep, men and women promiscuously no longer gained credence; nor the charge that babies were sent from the crèches to Russia or China to be boiled down for soap or eaten.
Women were at last awake and on the march. The tide of enlightenment arises; the use of soap, of washable underclothes, of a lamp, of a bed — little enough to us, vastly significant to those always denied the slightest luxury — led on to greater things: to the right of divorce, and the right to chose their husbands freely.
Women in many places lead the men, who now pay the penalty for flinging all the tasks on the women. The charge " You say that the Soviet Government has done a lot for us women. But it hasn’t changed the men yet!" has in it a proper touch of irony.
Women leap from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century at a bound. A child married at twelve to a man she had never seen before, compelled to wash the feet of all the men in his family and all male guests, not permitted to sit in his presence, living on scraps and cold food, now studies at Kutv, the University for Labouring East in Moscow, side by side with her husband. Beside her, again, studied another girl whose mother never took off her clothes or shoes, slept all her life on the bare floor, and never dared to call her husband by his name.
The wife who was a mere object of lust or an instrument to breed her husband’s children, now greets him as comrade. Women enter industry, become economically independent, mount to a social equality with men, and begin to play their part in politics. Women hitherto silent now grow eloquent; women who bent low in toil now soar in aeroplanes and launch forth in parachutes. Tashkent, the largest and most important city in Central Asia, boasts of a President who a few years before was an illiterate servant girl hidden beneath a paranja. Swiftly the past fades before the glory of the present. A six-year-old daughter asks her mother, the head of the Teachers’ College at Bukhara, "What is a paranja ?"
The Soviet worker possesses many advantages unknown in capitalist lands. He is guaranteed paid work. He is guaranteed leisure. He is freed from the curse of unemployment. His working hours are reduced to .seven a day, and still further reduced to six if his work lies in mines or in dangerous trades. He is assured of holidays with pay. His wife can work if she desires it, and receives equal wage with men for equal work. His children are cared for in crèche and school. In case of accident he receives compensation, and in case of sickness financial assistance and medical help. Technical institutes and universities await his children free of charge, and in old age he retires on a generous pension.
In addition to all this, and crowning it, he enjoys a new freedom in the workshop, where the mass of workers spend the major part of their lives and where freedom is most highly valued and most hard to secure.
The democracy of the workshop is the bulwark of Soviet liberty. Its nature and value have been largely overlooked. The problems of freedom, liberty, and democracy are not the same for the middle class and the workers. The middle class, freed from the discipline and tyranny and restrictions of the workshop, think of freedom in political terms, freedom to vote for what policy they desire; when they think of freedom in economic terms, it is freedom to use their economic power as they choose: a freedom which quickly runs to licence.
Workers, forced by economic necessity to submit to a discipline which they play no part in shaping, inevitably suffer from a sense of degradation and an irritation which stunts their lives and warps their outlook. Discipline imposed from above and involved in an operation in which the worker is in no sense a partner acts as a clamp upon the mind. It thwarts initiative. Resentment smoulders beneath the surface, only awaiting some new cause of grievance to burst into a flame. A real sense of injustice, always present, even if only sub-consciously, leads to a deep-rooted hostility and suspicion, erecting barriers between the classes and creating the "two nations" within the community of which Disraeli speaks. In its ultimate manifestation this leads to social upheaval and revolution. A division of purpose and aim amongst the human elements in a capitalist factory is the chief cause of friction and strife. This difference of aim is always present, sometimes more, sometimes less. It is, in fact, a normal and accepted feature of industrial life. The aim of the capitalist is profits. Costs of production affect profits. To increase profits costs must be reduced. Labour wages are a cost of production. Labour wages, therefore, must be kept low, and if possible reduced. On the other hand, the standard of living is vital to the worker. He lives on the brink of want. He lacks reserves. Wages and wage increases form the sole means of maintaining or advancing his standard of living. Therefore wage maintenance and wage advance are of primary importance. In other words, the aim of the human factors of production — the capitalist and the worker — are at variance.
Naturally, discontent is never far away, and organizations, such as Trade Unions, are created to focus this dissatisfaction and provide partial solutions. The strength of Trade Unions varies, and depends upon the unity, discipline, and knowledge of the workers and their skill in choosing proper leaders. Their aim is to obtain what measure of justice is possible, not by reason or logic, but by threat of force. The strike is the ultima ratio of Trade Unionism. Workers confront owners and managers as antagonists. Both stand ready for action, as armies on the eve of battle, suspicious of every move. Peace is never real. Armed truce is the only hope. The wells of production are poisoned at this source.
So much is this the case that it is impossible for trade unionists and non-trade unionists alike to realize that under another and different social and economic system, where these root contradictions are eliminated, is it possible for Trade Unions to have other and different functions and to play a constructive role in social activity. Thus Sir Walter Citrine can write :
"It is too much to assume a complete identity of interest between the director and the workers. The director was concerned with efficiency and output, and the worker with the amount he could earn, and the conditions under which it was earned. ... Liberty of association and the right to strike are the essential features of legitimate trade unionism."
The Soviet factory and the Soviet economic system start off with this major contradiction eliminated. A common ultimate purpose inspires all Soviet workers, be they foremen, managers, directors, or artisans. The general benefit of the whole community, with a richer and fuller life for each individual, is the common and conscious aim of every industrial worker. Exploitation of man by man is entirely abolished. Neither worker nor management is confronted by an "enemy", and from this new foundation of mutual interest it is possible to build up a new attitude to work and labour. Co-operation replaces strife. Directors, managers, foremen, and workers are all part of a common whole, working for one common purpose.
Differences, naturally, exist between the several classes of workers: wide differences of function, due to wide differences of knowledge, experience, and aptitude and wide difference of wage according to the value of the work done. What has gone — and this is a matter of paramount importance — is a difference of class or caste. There is no closed hierarchy in the Soviet Union. Anyone with the requisite knowledge, ability, and energy can find a niche suited to his powers. And every encouragement, materially and morally, is given to individuals to increase their knowledge and improve their qualifications in order to perform work of greater importance demanding higher qualifications.
It is this effort to improve the human element that makes Soviet factories akin to English schools and separates them widely from factories in capitalist industry. In English schools the child is surrounded by men and women who seek his advancement and bend themselves to help him. Soviet factories exhibit the same eagerness to make men as well as things; to educate the individual worker, to seek his advancement, to fit and encourage him to equip himself progressively for higher tasks. In England we are told that there is always room at the top. That is much more true of the Soviet Union, and still more true is it to say that the Soviet people alone and wholeheartedly seek to equip every man or woman, boy or girl, who possesses will and ability for posts of advancing importance. That is natural and practicable where exploitation of man by man is outlawed and where it is to the interest of the whole that the’ potentialities of all its members should reach fulfilment. Life contains new purpose and interest and possibility for all. The stagnation of a class society with its closed and guarded areas has gone.
If freedom means absence of restraint, and if the sense of restraint comes with the recognition that a man is prevented from doing what he intends to do, then a Soviet factory possesses and cultivates the roots of real freedom, because all intend to reach a common goal with every possible restraint removed.
At the same time modern methods of production enforce differences of function, and it is never easy for large numbers of workers with widely different functions to pull together, even if the major contradictions have all been removed. The man who designs may expect too much of the available machinery and materials, the manager too much of the artisans, the artisans too much of the labourers. How shall day-to-day differences of opinion be met and grievances ventilated? In particular, in what way can those in lower categories of labour criticize and advise those who exercise advisory and managerial functions?
These are crucial and practical questions, and .the Soviet Union has not been slow in seeking solutions. In the Soviet factory there are branches of three public organizations which serve the purpose of stimulus, advice, or correction : the Trade Union, the Communist Party cell, and the Young Communist League.
The Trade Union, though similar in name to its British counterpart, differs widely in function. Its scope is wider. Like an English Trade Union, it airs individual grievances and injustices, but this is a small part of its work, since grievances can find other and speedier outlets. It has a constructive rather than a fighting purpose.
The Soviet Trade Union is primarily concerned with that aspect of factory life which makes it a workshop for the production of men. It shares, in ever-increasing degree, in the administration of the cultural and social funds of the factory. How radically a Soviet Trade Union differs from a Trade Union in England, and how radically every spark of antagonistic interests has gone, are seen in the fact that the Soviet Trade Union administers the Government’s social insurance funds. The Soviet Trade Union builds and administers rest homes and sanatoriums; factory clubs and Palaces of Culture; crèches and kindergartens. It undertakes and stimulates workers’ education; and beside administering his sick and benefit funds, it stimulates the general social activity and consciousness of the worker. Its function is positive and educative.
The individual worker participates in the activities of his Trade Union by the common, humdrum, democratic means of meetings, election of committee and officers by secret ballot, by criticism of management through the Union representative, and by the wall newspaper, upon which he may and does air his grievances and make his suggestions, and which is a common feature in every workshop and public institution.
* * * * *
More important even than the Trade Union is the Party, which is the tangible means by which, primarily, workers feel and exercise their ownership of industry. The Party exercises general supervision over the whole collective enterprise and maintains its standard. The Party is the inspiring, stimulating, regulating spirit of any enterprise. The Party is composed of the most convinced, the most ardent, and the most self-sacrificing spirits in the Union, or in any part of it. The Party has many affinities — in its faith and discipline and unity and singleness of purpose— with the great religious orders of Christianity or Buddhism.
The Party will be better understood if examined in the light of its origin. "The All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks)" is its full title. In 1903 the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democrat Labour Party, held in London, split into two factions, one led by Lenin. In the final split Lenin’s adherents received a majority, and hence were known by the name of Bolsheviks, which means majority: the minority were appropriately named Mensheviks. The party which fought for and won the adoption of its programme in 1903 still leads the people of the U.S.S.R. in 1939.
Through all the intervening years the Party has steered an undeviating course: Colonel Gromov, at a reception in Los Angelos after the second record-breaking flight from Moscow across the North Pole to the U.S.A., said: " During the whole of the time we flew along a straight line, straight like the line of the Party."
These words of the distinguished airman, "straight, like the line of the Party", express what the Party has done for the Soviet people. It is the Party which from the first had faith in the masses. It is the Party that called upon its members to fight for the socialist programme, regardless of danger. It is the Party which attracts men of strength, devotion, and courage, and whose membership of some two million souls stands firmly established in the affection and confidence of the broad millions of the people.
The Communist Party has a clearly defined constitutional position. Article 126 of the new Soviet Constitution, dealing with the right of the citizen to organize, contains these words:
"The most active and politically conscious .citizens in the ranks of the working class and other strata of the toilers unite in the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R. which is the vanguard of the toilers in their struggle to strengthen and develop the socialist system and which represents the leading core of all organisations of the toilers, both public and state."
Branches or cells of this Communist Party are found in all factories, and complete consultation takes place between the Party and the management on all matters affecting the general direction of the factory and the well-being of the workers.
So unfamiliar is such action, and yet so essential to an understanding of true democracy is this democracy of the workshop, that it needs fuller explanation, and this can best be shown in the words of Victor Martov, Secretary of the Party Committee at the Red Proletarian Machine-Tool Plant in Moscow. He describes the relationship between the Party and the director of the plant as follows :—
"The director of the plant has sole authority in managing it. His orders are indisputably carried out. ‘Conflicts’ on production matters are very rare: Firstly, because Peter Taranichev, prior to his appointment as director, had worked many years at the Red Proletarian, starting as turner and later in managerial posts; he knows production thoroughly and directs the work of the shops excellently. Secondly, and this is no less important, whenever he has any doubts he comes to the Party committee for counsel. He discusses with us all cardinal problems of production, including questions of reconstruction or reorganization of various shops, drafting the plan of output, the financial plan and many other related problems.
‘‘No conflicts, in the full sense of the word, are possible since we are all concerned with the same thing: matters of production and the well-being of the people working at the plant.
"Our task is not to issue orders to the director but to help him. When it seems to us that the director acts incorrectly, we invite him to the Party committee, outline our viewpoint and listen to his arguments in support of his orders.
"We had the following case recently. On the request of the workers we decided to open a new club: several thousand rubles were needed to equip it. The director refused the money, claiming that he had no available funds. We considered the club of utmost importance, for it is not only a place for rest and entertainment, but also a huge school for the acquirement of considerable political and general knowledge.
"We invited the director to the Party committee and had a heart-to-heart talk with him. We reminded him that production and business matters should not’ blot out from his view the necessity for political and cultural activity among the workers, that he should learn to combine both. The director’s plea that there were no funds for the purpose was valid, but we advised him to apply for the money to the Central Administration of the Machine-Tool Industry. He complied with our suggestion and received the necessary funds.
"The same director, however, can transfer any Communist, even a member of the Party committee, to other production work or dismiss him if he does not cope with his job. He can protest against the decision of the Party committee, should we, for example, call a meeting during working hours, or, going over the head of the management, interfere in production matters. Such action of the director would be lawful, for his is the sole authority; he is responsible to the Government for the enterprise intrusted to his charge."
At Party and other meetings the workers of a particular shop in a factory will not hesitate to criticize or advise the shop superintendent or the foreman whom they meet there on neutral ground. Such procedure, unheard of in this country, has a double value. First, it assists production, inasmuch as the criticisms are frequently valuable contributions to workshop methods. Secondly, it enables the workman to remove the inner contradictions and private grousing which have so blunting and deadening an effect in an English factory. Criticism of this open nature is of the essence of democracy: the worker is free to think and express his thought at the focal point of his life’s activity. He can exercise direct influence over the organization that more than any other dominates his life.
We hear many proud boasts concerning freedom of our English democracy, and, it is assuredly a valuable thing, and not to be regarded lightly. Indeed, it is a priceless I possession and one to be guarded jealously. But it has its ! limitations, and the democracy of a Soviet factory is in many ways more important to the average worker than voting for a particular political party once in every five years. Freedom to criticize the boss face to face, instead of behind his back in the local "pub", is of inestimable value, and is possible only because the boss and the worker are both part proprietors of an industry which belongs to all and is run for the benefit of each. Both realize that improved production is beneficial to all. themselves included, and that is possible only when the workers are contented and eager and the methods correct.
The Party officials and committee are chosen, as in the case of the Trade Unions, in the normal democratic manner, by secret ballot and after the fullest and most open criticism and examination of the candidate’s career and record; it being of obvious importance to all that the wisest and most sensible men should be chosen to guide common action for the common good.
Criticism is, perhaps, less resented in the Soviet Union than anywhere else. It is accepted as normal and proper. And its effect upon discipline is beneficial. Men "let off steam" by criticism and also get a hearing for fresh suggestions. Initiative grows. The foreman or boss who can be talked to in a completely frank way after work hours is no longer a tyrant to be outwitted. The discipline which the worker helps to shape is accepted without a struggle and breeds no ugly resentments.
The worker is drawn through these various agencies right into the life of the plant. It is "his" plant. He sees it in relation to the whole purpose of life. He appreciates its problems and helps to solve them. He integrates his own life with the life of the whole Soviet organism. The factory is a place of education, not of exhibition; a place of team-work and achievement, not of grievance and bitterness. Work becomes a pride and pleasure. Drudgery loses its sting in the light of purpose, and the desire to remove unpleasant and arduous work becomes a call to creative possibilities.
The inner discipline which began in the creche and grew with the growth of years reaches its climax in the life of the factory, where unity of purpose in the general life of the community is fully realized and becomes creative in the individual mind.