Marxists Internet Archive: Subjects: Marxism and Art: Literature: Children's Literature

M. Ilin's

The Story of the Five-Year Plan


1. Our Ally Chemistry

'Before my eyes a huge rock was blown up. We stood within two hundred paces of it, when it sighed dully, shivered, and was enshrouded in white clouds. With a strange speed these clouds melted away and the rock seemed wider and lower.'

Thus Gorky describes what he saw at Dnieprostroy. There rocks are shattered with charges of liquid air and soot. A little air, a little soot, and a great rock is blown into bits.

Who invented this process?

The chemists.

Also at Dnieprostroy autogenic divers with lighted lamps plunged to the bottom of the river and with a gas flame cut steel under the water.

This the chemists invented too.

On the fields of the kolkhoz the earth yields twice as much grain as on the neighboring peasant strips.

Why is this?

Because the kolkhoz fertilizes its fields with chemical products. Chemistry is a powerful ally of the kolkhoz.

With the help of chemistry we can break rocks, cut steel, make barren lands fertile. Chemistry cures, washes, feeds, clothes, and shoes us. Without chemistry we could not make leather, paper, soap, rubber, candles, medicines, dyes, conserves. Without chemistry we could not bleach and dye cloth, refine gasoline and kerosene, purify water for drinking, or wage effective war with the parasites which destroy harvests.

Chemistry transforms rubbish into useful and valuable things. From twigs and wood shavings it makes silk; from pine stumps, turpentine and resin; from coal dust and particles, benzine; from coal tar, dyes and medicines; from rushes and straw, cardboard and paper; from air and the escaping gases of coke ovens, ammonia which is indispensable for the production of fertilizers.

Chemistry has taught us to make rubber without caoutchouc, flower perfumes without flowers, leather without leather, wool without wool, stone without stone, bone without bone.

Buttons out of curds, silk cloth out of wood shavings, oil out of coal–only recently such talk would have sounded like nonsense, like a fable. But all of it is now being done.

To those who know how to win her, Chemistry is a powerful ally. In time of war she can fill the trenches of the enemy with poison gases. And she is able to create contrary gases to save people from these poisons.

The more of chemistry a country possesses, the richer and stronger it is.

Do we have many chemical factories?

Very few.

2. The Chemical Brigade of the Country–Factories

Instead of deriving ammonia from coke gases, we burn them in furnaces. Instead of making sulphuric acid from the sulphuric gas generated in our copper blast-furnaces, we permit it to escape into the air and poison the surrounding country. Sulphuric acid we need badly for many forms of production. We have billions of tons of phosphorus, the very largest beds of calcium in the world, and yet our fields starve and the peasants do not even know what phosphorus and calcium are. We lack factories for making artificial silk, artificial wool, artificial leather. We have insufficient paper for books and newspapers. And in order to make all of these things, we need no special kind of raw materials, but merely the wood which we have in great abundance.

This means that chemistry is the very weakest point on our front of construction. We need chemical factories.

Wherever we have coke ovens in mills for the smelting of iron, we must construct chemical sections–fertilizer factories.

Wherever we have forests, we must build factories for the making of paper, artificial silk, artificial wool, artificial leather.

In our plants for the refining of copper, we must build factories for producing sulphuric acid.

Chemistry must conclude an alliance between metal and forest. To chemical factories the forest will give wood, stumps, the scraps from lumber mills; the metal industry, gases from its ovens.

In electric stations we shall force steam through turbines and thus produce electric current. Then we shall take this steam, which, though somewhat cooled, is yet hot, and send it into the chemical factory to make paper, rubber, soap.

Our whole country will become a single huge factory, and in this factory the chemical section will occupy not the last, but one of the fist places.

3. The War with Things

But the task of building all these chemical factories is not so easy. It is not enough that by 1933 we should increase the output of chemical apparatus twelve times. It is not enough that we should prepare thousands of chemists. Our greatest difficulty lies in the fact that almost all of these forms of production are new for us. Even the factories abroad which produce artificial fertilizers, artificial silk, and artificial leather have been established only in recent years. And there much is kept in secret, much is guarded from us by foreign manufacturers. We must unlock these secrets, we must discover anew what has already been discovered. Perhaps you think that the production of ammonia from air and coal gases or the conversion of wool into silk is a simple matter!

In the factories which produce ammonia, gases must be cooled to 200 degrees below zero, heated to 500 or 600 degrees above zero, and held under pressure of hundreds of atmospheres.

At such high pressures, gases begin to pass through the steel walls of the containing vessel as if they were made of cheesecloth. And the danger of an explosion! The red-hot gas eats into the steel and makes it extremely fragile. If the gas should break through its steel prison and escape, then it would leave death in its wake.

The warfare with gas is difficult and dangerous. A special kind of steel is needed to hold it. Then a steel casing must be constructed around the entire oven in order that men may be protected against explosions. Everything must be anticipated and forestalled. Heretofore our engineers and workers have never had to deal with such terrifying cold (200 degrees below zero), With such cruel heat (600 degrees above zero), with such high pressure (up to 1000 atmospheres). Only since 1925 have we begun these new chemical factories. But already we have gained some experience. Already we have become accustomed to the machines and have learned bow to deal with the dangerous enemy.

The war with things is not an easy one. It is frequently more difficult than the war with men. But in Chemistry we have a powerful ally; she will help us.