FICTION

Russia As I Saw It!

FREDERICK E. ROBSON March 15 1932
FICTION

Russia As I Saw It!

FREDERICK E. ROBSON March 15 1932

Russia As I Saw It!

In Russia a kiss in public may result in a fine, police courts are policeless and jails or “isolators ” have no jailers

FREDERICK E. ROBSON

MOSCOW! Again there are crowds, surging and struggling under huge bundles and boxes and bags. Russia is indeed moving. Pre-war Moscow had less than a million population; now it has nearly three million souls—or individuals without souls according to their atheistic attitude. Moscow is the mainspring of emotional enthusiasm for the Five Year Plan, and all that goes to make up Soviet ideology which someone has called atheistic humanism.

Motors meet us again and whirl us off to the Grand Hotel, where living conditions are passably good, even if beer does cost a dollar a glass.

But we did not come here to enjoy the hotel or to criticize the service; we came to six: Moscow and its people. It is just a short blk to the Red Square. The Kremlin, with its rich red brick walls, extends all along the side of the Square. A famous department store, now turned into offices, is on the opposite side of the Square. St. Basil’s Church is at one end and the museum at the other, with Lenin’s mausoleum in the centre by the Kremlin wall.

The tomb is a modern design of highly polished granite, about kirt y feet square with a smaller square of granite on top. Inside that magnificent mausoleum lie the mortal remains of Ulianovsk, known to the world as Lenin. Two sentries with fixed bayonets guard the entrance door. Every evening, except every fifth day, a crowd of from 1,000 to

5,000 people gather to go through the Lenin tomb. As intourists—foreign visitors —we were privileged to go into the tomb without waiting in line.

Passing through the main door, we turned abruptly to the left down a marble stairway of easy, wide steps. We were descending to the tomb, but there was nothing gruesome about it. The soft, indirect lighting gave a theatrical effect. At the bottom of the stairway we turned to the right into a large, well-lighted room, in the centre of which was a V-shaped glass case lit from above. There was Lenin lying in state, perfectly natural, half smiling. No flowers, no pomp of power, no medals, no flags, the proletarian leader of the proletarian class.

What were the thoughts of the thousand as they gazed in silent reverence? Was Lenin’s soul hovering near? Can it be possible that even communists gaze upon the earthly body of their leader without some concern about a future life? Surely his spirit lives. Is it logical to pay such homage to the empty shell of terminated existence?

Russia and religion used to be synonymous. There were 540 churches in Moscow alone, and every peasant home throughout the land had its ikons and its prayers. No one

can visit any city or town in Russia even today without being impressed by the wealth and magnificence of the churches, many of which have curious gold tops like inverted gilded turnips. It is at once apparent that the Greek Church played a tremendous part in the lives of the people. Church and state were united. It is said that every army and navy officer and state official was obliged to go into the confessional box at least once a year, flow far these confessions were betrayed is a matter on which there are no records, but that does not prevent controversy.

Whatever doubts there may be about the corruption of certain priests or church administration, there is no doubt that the Soviet Government is definitely opposed to religion. On a Soviet building in Moscow are emblazoned the words of Marx. “Religion is the opiate of the people.’’ Bezbojnik, the Society of the Godless, issues 400,000 copies of a paper and 150,000 copies of a monthly magazine called The Godless, the purpose of which is to destroy faith in religion. Posters and effigies are used in parades, clubs, and in public parks for the same purpose. In most cities churches have been turned into anti-religious museums. Membership in a religious body would disqualify anyone from membership in the communist party. Priests and their families were refused ration cards, which means they must buy food on the open market at five to ten times the co-operative prices, or beg or

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starve. All the advantages of Soviet citizenship were refused to them. Churches were heavily taxed and refused the former subsidies; consequently one church after another fell into the hands of the State.

Notwithstanding all this, there are still approximately forty churches open for services in Moscow and perhaps twenty-live in Leningrad, but the attenders are mostly old men and women. The numerous cathedrals in the Kremlin are kept up as museums, frescoes are being restored and treasures are carefully preserved, but they don’t forget to put up placards explaining how much money was wasted in building churches, and how much money was wasted on sendees and ceremonies in connection with coronations.

The anti-religious museum in Moscow is in the Strastnoi Nunnery Church. It is typical of the many museums which we visited in other cities. Pictures, models and diagrams are shown to illustrate the cost of churches and religion in general, as compared with the material benefits such sums would provide. Coffins containing the bodies of saints are exposed to show' that they have decayed like ordinary people. The exposure of this superstition is used most graphically at the Lavra Monastery in Kief, where there are such extensive catacombs. Such inscriptions as these adom the churches in Kief:

“We shall destroy religion with the Five Year Plan.”

“The monks are the bloody enemies of the workers.”

“Your God is a stupid fairy tale invented by your priests.”

Religion is also disparaged on the stage in such a play as Esmeralda.

The moving picture General Line purports to show' the futility of prayer.

The children of 160 millions of people are growing up in what is not only a non-religious, but a distinctly anti-religious atmosphere. This is a force which must be considered.

Religion and the realities of a world of materialism were never more pathetically portrayed than in the epic of life which we saw' at Saint Sophia ’s cathedral in Kief. At the entrance to the church a barefoot peasant woman stood beside a rough, w'ooden coffin containing her dear, dead baby. Beside her stooped the figure of her bew'hiskered muzhik husband. They had called to reclaim the dead body of their baby girl, which had rested overnight in the sacred sanctuary of Saint Sophia, in order that her little spirit might again join with the angels from whence it came. Somehow we all instinctively knelt in silent prayer, a living silence soon to be broken by the rough voice of a burly droshky driver saying, Shourri! “Hurry, hurry, pay me the money.”

The look on that peasant mother’s face will never be forgotten. The ragged shawl that covered her head surrounded a face that shone with faith. Doubtless she had cried herself sick; there were no more tears left; she had given her all; she had communed with the mysteries of life and death, the ultimate mysteries beyond all logic that surge in the minds of believer and unbeliever alike.

She took out all the money she had. It was not enough; it never is with some droshky drivers. The little coffin was lifted by the father and mother and carried away by them into the turmoil of traffic, as the material world surged on with its hurried relentlessness. Here was Soviet materialism face to face with the spiritual.

VITE WISHED to see for ourselves how W justice is administered, so we asked a “comrade militiaman” to direct us. We arrived at a building which looked as much like a warehouse as a court, and were surprised to be shown into the courtroom by an old woman. There were no policemen about; it was a policeless police court. At one end of the room was an ordinary table behind which sat a woman judge, a young man representing the Soviet, and a young woman representing the Workers’ Council.

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These two assistants to the judge serve for a period of two weeks and then are replaced. I At the end of the table sat a young lady secretary keeping a record of court proceedings.

These four people constituted the entire court staff. No jury, no police, no lawyers, no swearing to tell the truth, no dock, no dignity, just simple justice according to the Soviet idea. The camera-carrying member of the party said to a guide, “May I take a photograph here?” and the guide stood up and said:

“Comrade judge, a foreign visitor asks if he may take a photograph of the court.”

“Certainly, as many as he likes. And maybe he would like to know about the cases we are going to try. Here are my papers giving the particulars.” Court was stopped while the guide translated the judge’s records.

The first case was a man charged with being drunk and giving a militiaman a black eye. The second case was forgery of a food card enabling the culprit to get extra food, and the third case was theft.

Photographs of the court were taken and court proceeded.

"Comrade,” said the judge, “why didn’t you appear in court two w^eks ago?”

“Well, comrade judge, I couldn’t find the court.”

“Nonsense; you didn’t try. But, very well, you are here now.”

The case went on in an animated conversational manner and finally the judge said:

“Well, go and sit down and we’ll tell you your sentence later.”

The other two cases proceeded in the same manner. Then the judge and her two assistants went into an inner room. They returned in ten minutes, and the judge announced sentences of six months in jail for each of the offenders. The arguments j started all over again, but the judge main! tained that the sentences had to stand.

In other countries .he convicted parties would be taken into custody, not so in Soviet Russia. They are free to carry on j their affairs for fifteen days, then they must report at the jail.

Can they escape? Not likely. They are dependent on their food card, which must be presented at their own co-operative shop. They can’t run away from their food privilege or they would starve; and. besides, the O. G. P. U. and Red Army are very efficient in apprehending offenders.

These potential prisoners didn’t seem very perturbed about going to jail, so off we went ! to visit one—a jail, mark you, not a political prison.

A Russian “Isolator”

POLITICAL punishment may mean anything from swift execution by the firing squad to lingering starvation or service in Siberia. The category of political crime includes:

Having aristocratic parents or relations, being wealthy, teaching religion without I>ermission, criticizing Soviet policies, refusing to do work assigned to one. hoarding money or food, impeding the progress of the Five Year Plan, and offenses against many other laws of which the prisoner may or may not have been cognizant.

A sentence to jail or to what the Soviet prefers to call an isolator may be for offenses ranging from petty theft to murder. The prisoner is entitled to food, schooling, some entertainment, and work at from sixty to 100 rubles a month.

The isolator we visited in Moscow had been an old military prison housing 600 men. The superintendent directed our attention to some of its features.

"You will observe that the guards at the doors are not soldiers or policemen but prisoners elected by their associates. On entering the isolator, prisoners are put in quarantine for fourteen days. They are then given State underwear, but retain their own outer clothing. Stripes, darts or

arrow markings do not exist. Prisoners are given opportunities to attend school or work in the various factories associated with the isolator. Pay for work is about half the amount for similar work done outside the jail.”

Prisoners are divided into three categories according to their crimes and conduct.

Group A are privileged to have friends and relatives visit them for half an hour every two weeks, and they have three holidays out of jail every year.

Group B may have friends visit them for half an hour each week, and they have seven holidays out of jail every year.

Group C may have friends visit them an hour each week, and they have fifteen holidays out of jail every year.

If a prisoner is a peasant he may return to his farm for three months during harvest or seeding periods, providing the community from which he came guarantees his good behavior and safe return. Such time spent outside the isolator counts as part of the sentence.

A committee consisting of four prisoners, a Soviet judge and a representative of labor have authority to shorten sentences, dependent on the conduct of the prisoners.

Cell doors are open from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. and prisoners are free to visit each other at will. Hours of labor are the same as at all factories, and every fifth day is a holiday.

If a prisoner works in a prison factory he receives his regular pay for the period he is out of jail on holiday.

We were given every opportunity to talk privately to prisoners, a number of whom spoke English. There are no doubt some who feel the advantage of being protected against their own follies, but to most people liberty is a prized privilege. Conversations with these men left an indelible impression that coddling crime had an ad win tage to first offenders, but the system needed more rigorous direction for the hardened cases.

It was permissible to take photos and movies in the isolator. One visitor remarked, “The reforms in prisons are remarkable, but then, you know, most of the leaders have had personal prison experience.” The prison we visited was not up to the British standard of cleanliness for such institutions.

In a measure, all of the Soviet Union is at present a prison. People must work, food is ixxir, and the boundaries of the Union are the barrier walls. This was mentioned to a prisoner.

“Yes,” came the quick retort, “we are all slaves to something—our work, our family, our hobbies or our country. We in the U. S. S. R. are proud to sacrifice and slave for our country today in order to have a better country tomorrow.”

The Morals of Moscow

'“THERE are seven profilactoriums— reform institutes for fallen girls—in Moscow, and similar institutions are being opened in other cities. It is said there were 20.000 prostitutes in Moscow in the old days. Today there are very few—at least they are not apparent. The policy of the profilactoriums is to post agents about the streets and explain to such girls the advantages of an institute in which trades are taught and reinstatement in the social order is assured. Those who express willingness to go to the institute are first given medical attention, then are provided with work that enables them to live in about the same state of comfort as a factory employee. As soon as the director feels that they can be trusted in society, positions are secured for them, and. according to records, the work has been eminently successful.

"The problem is as old as the ages, but we contend,” said the superintendent, “that easy money provides the lure for this vice. We are death on the commercial exploitation of sex.” The Soviet law legalizes contraception and abortion by authorized persons. There is no such thing in law as an illegitimate child. The Mother and Child Museum provides a graphic explanation of childbirth and care of a baby. The same institution arranges for free advice, and a hospital in connection takes care of maternity cases.

No doubt social disease has been very ¡ bad and still is, but there is no mock modesty ! in combating it. The frankness of the posters ¡ in registry offices, public health parks, clubs and museums, would shock the average Westerner. So would the motion pictures dealing with maternal education.

There are strange contrasts in this land of paradoxes. Sexual alliances are made and broken with a lack of restraint that has caused some social students to say the Russians are descending to animalism; and yet they are less sex conscious than most other countries. Our guide, a charming girl of twenty-two, had not the slightest anxiety j or concern in sharing a locked sleeping compartment with one, two or three different men night after night, and this is not an exception but a general rule of sex parity and protection. There is no sex appeal in the motion pictures, none in the shops, none in the magazines or papers. Modem dancing and jazz music are taboo except for the entertainment of foreign visitors. Jazz gramophone records were confiscated at the customs house from a fellow passenger who wanted to liven up his Moscow home. There is no night life or cabarets except in a very limited way at the hotels provided for foreigners. An American who kissed his wife on a railway train was fined twenty-five ! rubles, $12.50, by the conductor. The fact that he kissed his own wife brought no reduction in the fine, nor would it have been increased if he had kissed someone else’s wife.

The future morality of Russia rests with the children now in their teens. Over six million of these virile, self-disciplined coeducationists are paving the way to a new moral experiment that may have repercussions around the world. We were told about a parade of half a million children through the Red Square in Moscow. They marched eight abreast—keen, alert, enthusiastic and eager to serve—and no one who saw them could fail to be impressed by their intensity of purpose and devotion to communism.

One of the strict rules of the young Pioneers—as such children are called— prohibits smoking, swearing and drinking, and they appear to follow these mies to an astonishing degree. In Czarist days vodka provided about twenty-seven per cent of the State revenue. Today the state manufactures and sells vodka, but spends a considerable portion of the revenue to educate the people against the foolish waste and physical harm of drinking. It uses posters explaining that if jjeople did not drink vodka the money would provide 1,200,000 much needed homes or 700,000 tractors.

There is a lot of petty thieving, especially at railway stations, but few hold-ups and very few fights. Russians are ever ready to join in a word battle, which some declare is a national pastime; they will even spit at and on each other. Na plavat, “I spit on that,” is a useful phrase. Vitriolic verbal effusions reach a climax in Russia. It is equally true that no language provides finer compliments or a greater variety of endearing terms.

Russian Homes

rT'HE Russian aristocrat’s home under the A Czarist régime was a luxurious castle, but the peasant’s home was a mud hut, usually of two or three rooms, with a straw roof, very small windows, a stove that looked like a kiln and no modern conveniences.

Every large home in Russia has been confiscated by the State and turned into an apartment house, a rest home for workers, a sanatorium or a school. The small mud huts remain, but the peasants are being gradually collected into communal homes and modem apartment buildings where the mysteries of electricity, modem plumbing and wireless transform their lives.

City homes, especially in Leningrad, Moscow. Kharkof. Kief and Odessa, consist of one, two or three nxims frugally furnished. Accommodation is often improvised for a visiting aunt or a newly married couple by making an extra “room” with a ragged curtain or shawl. A box is a bureau and a string is a towel rail.

Cement apartment houses of modem

German design are being rushed up by co-operative societies. The Government lends a co-operative building society eightyfive per cent of the capital cost for a period of sixty years at one per cent interest. It is necessary to buy a 100-ruble ($50) share in the building society and pay installments on fifteen per cent ol the capital cost at a scaled rate according to your wages. This system explains why you see apartment houses exclusively for doctors, postmen metal workers, etc.

Rentals are graded according to wages earned. An engineer earning $60 a week paid $7.50 a week lor a three-room flat while an electrical worker earning $24 a week paid $2.50 a week for similar accommodation, and an unemployed man paid only twenty-five cents a month for his room. We visited homes of manual workers, musicians teachers, writers, and English and American technicians and engineers. No one collects much furniture, for three reasons. There is practically nothing to buy, moving is very expensive, and you may have to move almost any minute.

In a country so vast as Russia, houses vary lrom the palatial homes of Leningrad Moscow and the Black Sea resorts to log houses reminiscent ol Northern Canada nomad tents of the desert Mongols, and shacks clustered one on top of another in the Caucasus Mountains where the women are obliged to sleep in the lower shelter with the cows and goats. The majority ol city residents live in crowded apartments, and lamily life is supplemented by the numerous clubs community kitchens and parks.

We were asked to go to the apartment ol an American engineer. It is the general practice ol the Soviet Government to let fiats lumished to foreigners. He lived five miles from the centre of the city. It would have cost us $20 to go by a State taxi, so we boarded an overcrowded train.

The apartment was on the third floor of a large wooden building. We walked cautiously along a single plank laid over an open, ill-smelling sewer to reach the entrance. When ten or twenty families are crowded into a house designed for one pierson, the sewer and water supply is in a chronic state of disrepair. We climbed the wooden staircase, and heads aj)peared from various doors because the advent of foreign visitors always arouses curiosity. We reached the apartment and were greeted with wholesome enthusiasm.

“Well, here you are. Welcome to America in Moscow! Wouldn’t friends back home howl their heads off to see Martin and me in a dump like this? Imagine, one lone picture and five rickety chairs in our combination dining, sewing, and sitting room. It looks like a stage setting for Poverty Alley. Look at our banquet—real white bread and tinned raspberries. The Clevelands are coming in to meet you and they are bringing some honest-to-goodness coffee.”

By the end of the evening ten people had arrived. A trunk made a suitable seat for three. A college professor sat on a packing case, a noted author sat on an inverted pail Everyone enjoyed the “picnic.” There was no class distinction, no coldness, no ajxilogy. Conversation always returned to food supplies, clothing, success of the Five Year Plan and the world outside.

Papers And Periodicals

THE Soviet publishing trust is the greatest publishing organization in the world. Pravda, meaning “Truth,” is the official paper of the communist party.

Izveslia, meaning “News,” is the official paper of the Soviet.

These are the leading newspapers in Moscow, of which it is said, “There is no news in the Truth and no truth in the News.” Be that as it may, there is a definitely directed jxilicy in controlling not only all newspapers, books and jjeriodicals, but in controlling the source of supply, the paper mills. .

The Godless, in both newspaper and magazine form, has a tremendous circulation There are many children’s papers, the Sparkle the Hedgehoe, etc

Many publications now appear in local languages which, were formerly prohibited

There are many leatures ol difference between Soviet publications and those printed in other countries With a few exceptions. Soviet paper is poor and the reproduction bad

A unique and influential news agency is the wall newspaper, a glorified notice board Sheets ol paper are tacked or pasted up in convenient places in all tactories. tarms sirops, boats, etc. They contain not only such news as the authorities wish to impart but also criticism or praise ol the work done by their readers.

There is no advertising, excepting a limited amount by State trusts. There is no Ireedom of speech Everything is colored by communistic propaganda. Papers are used to encourage labor and to abuse slackers. One has to recognize, however that there are a growing number of papers and they wield an important power in the development of the country.

Education And Culture

'X'HE Park of Culture and Leisure contains.

fifteen or twenty acres and is situated an the Moscow River about ten minutes tram ride from the centre oí the city The entrance ticket costs fifteen kopecks about seven and a half cents. Special groups of workers and delegations may enter free As we go inside we see a group of Ukrainian peasants doing a folk dance.

On the left is the Museum of Culture—a arge wooden building devoted to explaining the principles and progress of the Soviet plans. Diagrams, charts, graphs, illustrations and photographs all contribute to a clear impression of progress. Cartoons and posters ridicule religion and capitalism. Over on the right are the usual park amusements such as slides, swings, roundabouts, etc. In the centre of the park are huge billboards twenty feet high and forty feet long bearing pictures of imposing Red soldiers defending the Soviet against a frightened group ol capitalists and religionists. These boards are erected on a slant so that the underside of the board is protected lrom rain On the underside were further charts, graphs and materials showing the increased production of coal, wool, oil and machinery under Soviet rule.

“Wouldn’t it be a good idea to apply this method of making our own people more patriotically jiroud of national progress?” said one of the party.

Farther along is the Children’s Park, where one can “park” the children You enter a house and are met by a motherly manageress. I^et us supjx>se we have two children to leave. The children come under the scrutiny of the matron. Hats and coats are checked, and each child is put in an overall which defines the group to which it belongs. Groups are formed of approximately twenty-five children in blue, pink, red or brown overalls. The color enables the child to know and keep with its own group. Two qualified Kindergarten teachers take charge of each group and interest and educate them during their stay, while the parents go off to enjoy and educate themselves.

The Children’s Park includes sand-pile games, doll houses, children’s plays in which the children do the acting, Kindergarten class rooms, the walls of which are decorated with children of all nationalities, life size, from which they teach a lesson on international love and parity. Then there are dining rooms and rest rooms, both of which are well equippied.

The children seemed sturdy, well fed and happy. Our tour included a visit to the sports grounds where boys were playing volley ball. Aquatic sjx>rt was limited to swimming and rowing. The museum, billboards, loud speakers, motion pictures and children’s village all contributed education on Soviet principles and progress.

Editor’s Note—This is the third oj a series of articles by Mr. Robson. In his fourth article which will appear in an early issue he will describe the Five Year Plan and its effect on the life oí the ordinary Russian