Russia As I Saw It
Further glimpses of everyday life in the land of the Soviets
FREDERICK E. ROBSON
SOMEONE has said. “Russia is the only country where children are not spoiled by parents and relations.” It is certainly true that children are the first consideration of the Soviet state. In many instances they are cared for by the state. In all cases they are taught communism, ideology of Soviet rule and anti-religion, as well as the subjects of regular education. 1 The ideal is State first, work second, and self third. This theory encourages children to report against their own parents if, in their opinion, the parents are in any way offending against Soviet rule. The pupils, not the teachers, run the schools. Punishment is prohibited except the expressed disapproval of the children themselves against an offender.
This plan of education develops considerable personality for weal or woe. Sometimes children band themselves together under the leadership of one of their number with a flair for organization and cause a very considerable disturbance. To use an old phrase, they proceed to teach their grandmothers how to suck eggs.
Education, on the whole, is under the Swedish and Dalton systems. The new schools are very modern in construction, and provide large auditoriums in which lectures to parents are given. These, together with technical schools, technical museums and universities, are to the credit of the Soviet Government. Its slogan is “Liquidate Illiteracy.” Each person able to read is asked to teach someone less fortunate. This, in Russia, is a herculean task. In Odessa we saw' J,(KX) school children parading as a mark of appreciation to the Government for raising the pay of teachers and for giving teachers food cards. It is freely said that the Soviet Government has murdered, by hunger or otherwise, thousands of teachers, and that there is a great scarcity of teachers today.
Children throughout the land look nourished and healthy. Most of them have boots or shoes, and they appear to have as much clothing as adults, or more, although there is a definite shortage of clothing for everyone. There are numerous sanatoriums, camps and rest homes for children, most of them well managed.
Children’s organizations consist of:
Octobrists 5 to 10 years of age
Pioneers 10 to 15
Comsomols 15 to 22
And finally communists. It is difficult to become a comsomol, it being necessary to lx* a probationer for six months. There are very strict rules for communists.
The Soviet system of education is aimed at fitting the child to take its place in some manual or industrial activity, or in an agricultural pursuit. The factory, farm or mine becomes part and parcel of education. Classes go from the schools to the industrial plants on occasions, impeding progress jx*rhaps, but at least linking up practice with theory.
It is imjxissible to leave the subject of Russian children without a reference, however brief, to the homeless children. They do exist, although not in the numbers or in the depraved condition of a few years ago. We encountered these children mostly in the Caucasus, although there are some even yet in the capital cities. The Government collected hundreds of these children and placed them in schools and homes. One of the new Russian talkie pictures shows the lives of these children, and glorifies their personalities to a degree that creates a wide public sympathy for
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them, though it may be said that it makes the children themselves rather “swelled headed.” The way these children beg in the trains is absurdly autocratic. They demand so much from each passenger, taking no more and no less than the figure they wish to levy.
SO MUCH for the children, who are the most important factor in the Russia of tomorrow. What is ahead of them if the present system continues? How does that system affect the adult worker?
In answering this question, it is necessary to outline briefly what the system of administration is.
The Union Congress of Soviets, with 1,500 representatives, meets once a year for approximately ten days.
The Central Executive Committee (Tzik) of 131 representatives elected by the Union, meets three times a year and elects:
The Union Council and the Council of Nationalities.
The Presidium of the Tzik, which organization is permanent and consists of twenty-one members.
The Politbureau of nine members, which is the real directing force.
The business of the country is conducted by a series of trusts which aim to operate at a profit on business lines. Some of the trusts are:
Gosplan —State Planning Committee
Gostorg —State Import and Export
Mosselprom —Factories, Food and Confectionery.
Centrosoyus —Co-operative shops and distribution.
State Bank —Controlling finance and currency.
Torgsin —Trade with foreigners in
Arcos —British Trading Co.
Amtorg —American Trading Co.
R. K. E. —Factory efficiency,
Most of us are concerned not so much with the form of administration as with how it affects us. The Soviet Government controls and prohibits freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of action to such a degree that any attempt to disparage or hamper the Government in any way meets with very severe punishment, if not death. All papers, periodicals and books are directly and rigidly controlled by the Government Trust, which is the largest publishing organization in the world. No one can enter or leave Russia without Government sanction. More than that, no one can move from one place to another; and no one can, with wisdom, refuse to do the work they are
asked to do. Existence largely depends on food cards, and Government controls the food.
The form of government is infinitely more ! tyrannical than the Czarist regime.
The Soviet Government seized power on a programme of peace, yet it has developed a perpetual state of war. Everyone now talks war—war with other countries, war against capital, war against those who actively or passively impede the Five Year Plan, war agaii t illiteracy.
Ty as the Government may be,
it has ilRed the most enthusiastic support and the rru -st hopeful confidence on the part of the younger people in the cities. The support of the peasants—muzhiks—is still said to be uncertain. That is the real problem. '£he enthusiasm of the manual worker is Rundless and tremendously impressive. There is nothing like it in any other country today.
The manual worker feels that he owns Russia. He may be hungry and ill-clad now, but he will tell you to wait until the Five Year Plan is completed, then things will be better.
Perhaps the most fundamental anxiety of human Rings is security. What will happen if you lose your job, if you are sick and cannot work, if your stocks or your bank fails? All these things have happened over and over again in other countries. Families have suffered torture through no fault of their own. Think of this, and then note what Soviet State Insurance plans to provide.
1. Full wages in case of illness, quarantine or leave of absence due to illness.
2. Full wages to those who must remain away from work to nurse members of j the family.
3. Full wages to physically employed women for 16 weeks during childbirth; twelve weeks for other workers.
4. Half a month’s wages when a child’s birth is registered.
5. Twenty-five per cent of the average monthly wage for child maintenance.
6. One month’s wages to cover funeral expenses, or half a month’s wages for children under sixteen years.
7. Provision for families of dependents when wage earners die.
8. Provision for invalids and old age, dependent on circumstances.
9. Unemployment dole of approximately thirty per cent of the average wage for nine months for skilled workers, and six months for unskilled werkers.
10. Free medical service ranging from a simple bandage to special treatment in a sanatorium. Free doctors, free dispensing of drugs and free rest homes.
Government reserves the right to change these conditions without notice.
The worker gets a holiday every' fifth day. His working day is a seven hour one, with double pay for overtime.
In practice these things are done, but, on the other side of the ledger, you must record that, while a holiday every fifth day seems to be a good many, in fact it only represents seventy-three days a year, whereas Saturday afternoons and Sunday holidays total seventy-eight days a year, not to mention that additional holidays are far more numerous outside Russia.
Russians are very' often obliged by patriotic pressure to work on their free days, without pay.
Wages can only be evaluated by what you can buy with the money earned. Two hundred rubles a month may sound a lot, hut what can you get with them? The Russian worker is today a martyr to a cause. He suffers tremendous hardships, but he seems to have a martyr’s enthusiasm and hope for a better world to come.
Most civilized countries have free disliensaries, hospitals, etc., but they savor of charity. The Russian free dispensaries and rest homes belong to the people by right, not by charity. That is an important difference.
Marriage And Divorce
WHAT is the truth about marriage and divorce in Russia? Well, let’s drop in unannounced at the nearest registry office.
Twenty-two people are waiting in an outer rx>m. We open the door of the inner office, and see a young woman at a desk. She is talking quietly to a man and girl seated in front of her. Our guide announces that foreign visitors want to see how the office operates. May they come in? Pojalooesta (please). The bride and groom accept the interruption without protest.
"Now tell us what you are saying and I what they reply.”
“Well, I first ask this man for his identifiI cation card, his nationality, age, and if he : has been married and divorced,” the woman at the desk replies. "All these things are recorded on his card. Then I ask him if he is healthy; has he any communicable disease, syphilis, etc.? I las he been examined by a doctor? I then ask the girl the same questions, and if the answers are satisfactory and they haven’t been divorced more than three times, I record the marriage in this lxx)k and enter the marriage on their identification cards.” Special circumstances are dealt with by committee.
That’s all, except, that they must pay two rubles—for a marriage stamp one dollar. There is no declaration, no ring, no relatives, no witness, no ceremony, not even a kiss in the marriages we saw. If either party had been divorced more than three times, the matter would be investigated before another marriage would be recorded. And if either ¡xirty had diseased bodies and did not disclose the facts they would be liable to imprisonment.
Divorce is even simpler. A naval officer entered the room, presented his identification card, asked to have a divorce registered. Had he any children? No. Very well; his card was stamjxjd at once. No further questions excepting, “Where shall I send the notification of divorce to your former wife?” And a card is immediately posted to her, asking her to rail and have the divorce endorsed on her card. "That will be two rubles, please!” In case of children, the mother has first claim, or the state may take the children. In any event, the father must pay one-third of his salary' until the children are sixteen years of age.
I f it’s all so simple as that, why bother to record the alliance at all? Lots don’t, but remember you get twenty-five per cent added to your salary for each child and a bonus for registration. If you are not a manual worker you pay ten rubles for marriage or divorce, just five times as much. There is no waiting until you can afford a home. There are no homes. The girl comes to your apartment, or you go to hers.
In case of divorce, that is more difficult. Either the man or the woman must find other quarters, and sometimes disputes arise as to who must leave. It has been known that divorced couples had to share the same room. Sometimes, though very rarely, new husbands and wives appeared, and curtains had to be erected to separate the room. This terrific overcrowding explains why there is such a feverish haste to erect new apartments.
We ask the registry official how many marriages and divorces have been recorded during the year.
The txx)ks showed 1,168 marriages and 789 divorces, the latter being sixty-eight per cent of the former. We checked these figures at four other registry offices, and the combined figures showed sixty-two per cent of divorces.
Trains And Travel
"CROM Leningrad to Moscow is ten hours
travel by train. You have the choice of three classes. First, international sleepers; second, soft sleepers, much like international except that usually four persons are in a room; third, hard travel, which means that a coach is fitted with numerous racks, each containing three tiers of shelves without springs. It is in the hard travel class that you mingle with the peasants and take your chances on thievery, snoring competitions, fleas and garlic fumigation.
The crowding at all railway stations is terrible. It’s a sight to see people wait around the stations for days—sleeping on their bundles, eating bits of dried herring, raw salt pork, black bread, or perhaps someone may enjoy the luxury of an egg. There are hundreds of these patient travellers waiting at every station—women with heavy leather top boots, a generous quantity, if not quality, of skirts, short-waisted bodices and the usual scarves covering their heads, bewhiskered men, and men with shaven heads, boys gazing into the future, girls half hiding behind their mothers’ skirtsRussia is on the move. We are inclined to wonder what Russia will be like when those tenyear-old girls have grown up?
You must not let your lugg^e out of your sight. It will probably be taken, not by thieves, who are hoarding up money, hut by people who have virtually nothing. The urge to gain some comfort is too great for them. What does any starving person care about law? You can’t afford to have a conscience if you are perishing with cold and hunger. Didn’t some old Cockney lady say to the curate:
"The reason I ain’t bin to Church is me ole man’s out o’ 'is job, an’ you can’t be a reg’lar Christian on less than eighteen and sixpence a week now, ran yer?”
Of course, we had a few things lost, strayed or stolen, but surprisingly few. Russians are friendly folk, and travellers get plenty of opportunity to hear the news and views of those on the train with them. In turn, you are asked to explain why you visited Russia? Do you like it? Are the capitalistic countries not all bankrupt? How much did your suit cost? Your travelling case? Would you sell it, please? Oh, well. Nechevo. Wait till our five year plan is complete, then we will have clothes and bags and good ones, too, very, very good ones.
The train rattles on at about twenty miles an hour. Tea is served from a samovar in the first-class compartments at fifteen kopecks—eight cents—a glass. The secondand third-class passengers run out to get hot water when the train stops at a station. They, too. have their tea and talks. The landscape gliding by is very like Canada— birch and pine trees, wayside stations with wooden huts. Soon we shall reach Moscow, the Kremlin-crowned centre city of the Soviet. Yes, here we are !
Editor's Note—This is the second article in Mr. Robson's series on Russia as he saw it. In the next issue he will tell of visits to a people's court, to the “isolator” (Jail), and describe general housing facilities.