All the Tsar’s Men
Why Mobilization Can’t Save Putin’s War
THE individual human personality is fighting a losing battle against heavy odds in Russia today. When one hears of state planning in the Soviet Union one usually thinks of factories, steel plants, large grain farms and cotton plantations, tractors and other accessories of industrialization. What is perhaps not generally realized is that man himself is the first and most important objective of Soviet planning and that the tendency to replace man, the individual, by collective man, the product of social groups and forces, is one of the most important and interesting currents in Soviet life.
Indeed the success which has been achieved in shaping the individual and placing a definite stamp upon him is perhaps greater up to the present time than the success in standardizing types of tractors or railroad equipment. The Soviet Union has certainly gone further than any other country has ever gone in building up a gigantic mechanism of social, economic, educational and propaganda forces which tend to repress many old aspects of human personality and to remold it in the image of Marx and Lenin. Of course even the strongest individuality does not exist in a vacuum, but is modified to a greater or lesser extent by the political, economic, social and intellectual atmosphere surrounding it. In the Soviet Union the balance which exists elsewhere between the claims of society and the autonomy of the individual has been heavily weighted in society's favor.
From the cradle to the grave the life and thought of the Soviet citizen are mapped out for him so far as external influences can be mobilized to achieve this end. The Soviet child about the age of eight is apt to join the Young Pioneers, an organization which numbers more than four million members and is steadily growing. From the moment when young Vasya and Sonya put on the red scarf that is the distinguishing sign of the Young Pioneer a process of intensive propaganda begins, of which a part consists in giving them definite tasks to do. Thus Young Pioneers are not only taught to disbelieve religion; they are encouraged at Christmas time to go around and convert those "backward" children who may still want to have Christmas trees and celebrate the holiday in the traditional manner. When harvest time comes one is apt to answer a knock on the door and find two or three children in red scarves, asking for grain sacks which somehow never seem to be furnished in sufficient quantity through ordinary channels.
No meeting of workers or employees for the election of delegates to the Soviet is complete unless a troop of Young Pioneers marches in and, through its leader, gravely announces its "nakaz," or set of instructions for the future Soviet delegates. The "nakaz" usually includes a point about closing more churches and turning them into Pioneer clubs or schools. When a "chistka," or purge, of Soviet institutions and offices is in progress it is not uncommon for a ten-year-old Pioneer to stand up, after some preliminary coaching, and solemnly denounce some middle-aged official or professor as a bureaucrat or a saboteur.
Fairy stories and even pictures of genuine animals, accompanied by jingling rhymes, are now frowned on; and children from an early age are supposed to concentrate on the problems of the Five Year Plan. Even toys are made with a view to turning children's ideas along definite lines; the following excerpt from a symposium on the proper kind of Soviet toys is quite typical: "Show the children malignant caricatures of tsars, capitalists, policemen, priests. Show them the faces of saboteurs, bureaucrats, private traders. Show them proletarians of Europe, America, Asia and Africa. And instead of carriages and phaetons we need toys that reflect our technical revolution: cranes, machines, tractors, motorcycles, automats."
That the intensive political training of the Young Pioneers tends to make them quite different both from pre-war Russian children and from children in other countries is quite generally testified. Karl Radek recently pointed out that the authority alike of parents and of teachers is thoroughly undermined under present conditions. If parents are not communist their Young Pioneer children are apt to look on them rather condescendingly as "politically backward." Even when this issue does not arise there are other factors that make for the disintegration of normal family life: the frequency of divorce, for instance, and the absorption of many active communists in their work to such a degree that little time is left for their children. As for the teachers, few of them, especially of the older generation, are communists; and the children, as Radek observes, knowing that the Party is the highest authority in the country, cannot have full respect for a teacher who is not identified with the Party. Under these circumstances the Young Pioneer "otryad," or troop, tends to become an important force in regulating the lives of its members. The ten-year-old who is indifferent or rebellious to a rebuke by parent or teacher may be greatly affected if his comrades in the troop, in solemn imitation of their elders, bring him before a "social court," consisting of themselves, and pass a resolution condemning him for loafing, hooliganism or some violation of the rules of conduct for Young Pioneers.
Of course not all Russian children are Young Pioneers. But almost all children in Russia now attend primary school, at least for three or four years; and the present school is almost as much of a forcing-ground for the inculcation of communist ideas as the Young Pioneer organization itself. Every teacher is obligated to give anti-religious instruction, not only in the classroom but through such media as excursions to anti-religious museums and the organization of atheistic skits, plays and carnivals. Then too a good dose of the Five Year Plan is inserted into every course of study, and a bust or picture of Lenin is to be found in almost every schoolroom. Children are politically propagandized in the schools from a very early age, even to the point of being pressed to vote approval for sentences of execution which are passed upon accused counter-revolutionaries and saboteurs.
From the Young Pioneers it is a natural upward step to membership in the Union of Communist Youth, an organization with a membership of more than four million young people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-three. Here the clay of human personality that has been given preliminary shape in the Pioneer stage is subjected to further and more vigorous psychological kneading. The khaki uniform and Sam Browne belt which Young Communists of both sexes wear are symbolic of the militantly active type of life which they are expected to lead. Not only is theoretical training in the teachings of Marx and Lenin intensified for the Young Communists; but they are given the most effective kind of propaganda, the propaganda of action, that finds expression in various ways. Sometimes groups of Young Communists, without their distinctive uniforms, will descend on a store, factory, office or public institution, take notes on any real or supposed cases of inefficiency or bureaucracy which they may discover and report their discoveries to higher authorities. This sort of informal inspection is called "a raid of the light cavalry." The Young Communist "yacheika," or local branch, is a power to be reckoned with in any higher school or university.
Young Communists are all bound to take military training; and anyone who fails to comply with this requirement is liable to expulsion from the organization. These four million fanatically ardent young people (for girls also take the military training) are a very important element in the huge trained civilian reserve which is steadily being built up for the regular Red Army. The Young Communist also has his duties on the so-called economic front. When a large new tractor plant was built at Stalingrad thousands of Young Communists were mobilized by their local organizations all over the country and sent there to work. One often reads of similar mobilizations for the "timber front" or the "coal front." Failure to comply with such an order, or unauthorized departure from the new place of work, are punishable with expulsion from the Union.
Now the passing of a large and increasing part of the Russian youth through the political school represented by the Young Pioneers and the Union of Communist Youth tends to shape, direct and repress the individual in various ways. First of all, the child from an early age is under collective or group influence. Then the whole channel of thought and action is marked out with a definitiveness and precision scarcely paralleled in any other country. There is short shrift for any kind of questioning or doubting. A Young Communist leader named Sten recently brought down a storm of criticism on his head by voicing the opinion that "every Young Communist must seriously work out all questions by his own experience and thus become convinced of the correctness of the general line of the Party." The official newspaper of the Union of Communist Youth read Sten a severe lecture and informed him that "his formula is at best the formula of a petty-bourgeois revolutionary individualist, not the formula of a Bolshevik. Sten's Young Communist is some sort of critically thinking personality, who has no concern with the collective experience of the Party." The sort of individuality that finds expression in a "critically thinking personality" is decidedly not in favor in the Soviet Union today. The human type which is wanted is a sort of gramophone which plays without a hitch the records that are placed on it.
The tremendous pressure of "obshestvennost," which might be loosely translated as organized public opinion, does not slacken when the Soviet citizen grows out of the Communist Youth age and takes up his regular work in life. True, the proportion of the adult population enrolled in the Communist Party and subject to its severe discipline is much smaller than the percentage of young people who wear the red scarf of the Young Pioneers or the khaki uniform of the Young Communist. But other agencies, such as the trade-unions, which were rather aptly described by Lenin as "schools of communism," continue the work of molding individuality and repressing it when it comes into conflict with the supposed interests of the social organism as a whole. Thus if our Soviet citizen goes to work in a factory he will be under strong pressure to join a "shock brigade," which may mean that he will be obligated to work overtime, to increase productivity without demanding higher wages, to remain at his post until the Five Year Plan is finished, even though he may hear of more attractive work elsewhere, and so on. If he is an engineer and is sent to an uncomfortable post he will have difficulty in declining the appointment. Some group organization, most probably his trade-union, will report and denounce him as "a deserter from the industrial front" and do its best to make him an outcast.
Moreover, it is difficult for anyone living outside of Russia to understand the tremendous machinery for the regimentation of the individual which exists when every agency of information and entertainment -- the press, the radio, the drama, the motion-picture -- is centrally controlled for the purpose of making people communistically minded. Compared with this gigantic state monopoly of all the main forces that contribute to the making of ideas the most elaborate schemes of governmental propaganda and private advertising in other countries seem very puny.
When the Soviet citizen picks up his newspaper, no matter which one it may be or whether it is published in Moscow, Kharkov, Tiflis or Vladivostok, and no matter whether it is printed in Russian, Ukrainian, German, Tatar or any one of the other numerous languages of the Soviet Union, he gets precisely the same picture of political and economic events, often expressed in virtually identical phraseology. The outside world is represented as writhing in the throes of a hopeless crisis, with widespread hunger and unemployment and communist revolution as the sole way of salvation, while the Soviet Union is depicted as living through an era of unprecedented prosperity, tempered perhaps by a few prosaic difficulties in such matters as supply with food and clothing, housing shortage, overcrowded trains and street-cars, all difficulties, however, of growth, which will soon be victoriously overcome by the creative energy of the proletariat under the direction of its leader, the Leninist Communist Party.
The Soviet press has a number of stock methods of suggestive reporting. Whenever a new state loan is issued (and subscriptions to such loans, while nominally free, actually are virtually compulsory for workers and employees, as a result of the social pressure which is placed on them by trade-unions) it is always "in response to the overwhelming demand of the workers." When an ardent shock brigade member, trying to speed up the other workers, is beaten or killed his assailant is almost always described as a drunkard, a hooligan and, as a final damning trait, of kulak origin. Any international dispute in which the Soviet Government may become involved or any trial of persons accused of treason or sabotage is always the occasion for a vast outpouring of very similarly worded resolutions from factories, institutions and organizations, all expressing their support of the government, their detestation of the persons on trial and pledging the signers to work harder as a response to the incident in question.
The radio, which is entirely under state or public control, broadcasts a vast amount of political agitation and economic exposition. The Soviet citizen cannot escape from the Five Year Plan by going to a new play, which in most cases will be a dramatized story of the building of some new enterprise, or by going to the motion-picture theater, where the newsreel certainly and the film quite probably will be full of excavators, cranes, pulleys and blast-furnaces. Even concerts are often accompanied by short explanatory lectures in which the class origin of the composer is analyzed and his music is discussed as reflecting both his origin, whatever it may be, and the general historical problems of his time. Amateur theatricals, of which the Russians are enormously fond, represent still another means of influencing sentiment. There are now 120,000 circles under the central direction of the so-called "Theater of Self-Activity." The members of these circles are not professional actors, but workers, employees and peasants, who put on plays and skits in the factory or village club in their spare time. The themes for these amateur plays and playlets are carefully worked out in the center and are, of course, designed to stimulate enthusiasm for Soviet policies.
So the individual personality is attacked from every side by forces which are all controlled from a common center and which are working in accordance with a prearranged plan to remake the traditional human individualist into a collective man, a citizen of the future communist society. Of course character in every country is shaped by a variety of institutions -- home, school, church, books, radio, newspaper, and so on -- and critics sometimes see in modern industrialism a potent and even sinister force for the standardization of tastes, habits and thoughts. But there can be no convincing analogy between the loose, jarring and sometimes conflicting influences which operate for the creation of personality in most countries and the closeknit, intense concentration of effort upon the production of a definite type of citizen which goes on today in the Soviet Union.
The idea given expression in the blunt phrase "None of your business" finds little toleration in the Soviet Union. There almost everything is almost everybody's business, as witness the numerous groups of people who go about inspecting, warning, reprimanding, purging institutions and organizations. A typical Soviet practice in this connection is the so-called "chistka," or purge, carried out periodically both among the members of the Communist Party and among employees of state institutions. The purging of a state institution is carried out under the supervision of a commission appointed by the Commissariat for Workers' and Peasants' Inspection, which is a sort of supreme state department of audit, inspection and control. The commission hears evidence from employees about the conduct and efficiency of their colleagues and holds public purges of those individuals whose behavior has given occasion for suspicion. The commission may inflict penalties ranging from complete debarment from state employment for serious offenders to dismissal from the particular post, without prejudice to future employment. So-called workers' brigades, usually recruited from the more active communists and members of the Union of Communist Youth sometimes inspect the work of libraries, hospitals, museums and other institutions. The wall newspaper which is typewritten or written out by hand and posted up in every large factory or office is also a vehicle of criticizing individuals who are accused of not fulfilling their duties.
A little incident which I recently witnessed on a Moscow streetcar illustrates the difference between the Russian and the foreign attitude toward personal criticism. An American woman was getting on the car with her little daughter and a Russian workman, who had perhaps participated in a commission which told some professor or physician how his library or hospital ought to be run, offered criticism of the way in which the child had been lifted onto the car. The American woman knew enough Russian to tell him rather tartly that it was none of his business. An expression of sheer blank and hurt incomprehension came over the Russian proletarian's face. "How? None of my business?" he stammered.
Still another important way in which old individualist ideas of possession and privacy are being designedly supplanted is seen in the architectural blueprints for the new "socialist cities" which are growing up in various parts of Russia as the building of huge new plants creates new centers of population. Some of these socialist cities, like Stalingrad and Cheliabinsk, are additions to old towns; others, like Magnitogorsk and the new town which is growing up in the neighborhood of the great hydro-electric power plant on the River Dneiper, are built almost to order. In the apartment-houses which are constructed in these cities comparatively little space is reserved for individual dwelling quarters; and the cottage type of house, designed for one or two families, is frowned on. On the other hand, lavish appropriation is made for communal buildings: common dining-rooms, mechanized laundries, clubs, reading-rooms, nurseries, kindergartens. Soviet city planners are projecting not only new houses but new people whose group interests will predominate over their individual interests as a direct result of the living quarters in which they will be placed.
In the field of economic enterprise the individual has received blow after blow. The big prizes which the capitalist system offers to a restricted number of people, ownership or part ownership of a bank, a railroad, a big industrial or commercial corporation, have been abolished in Russia ever since the revolution, which transferred to the state the title to the large industries, the transportation and banking systems, along with monopolistic control of foreign trade. And during recent years the smaller individual prizes which in most countries are vouchsafed to the doctor or lawyer who builds up a large practice, to the farmer who adds steadily to his acres and his stock, to the mechanic who develops into a small businessman, have been all but entirely swept away. The wages of thrift, industry and commercial shrewdness for the more prosperous peasants, the so-called kulaks, have been "liquidation as a class," i. e., expulsion from their homes and confiscation of their property; and the absorption of over half the peasant homesteads into collective farms during the last two years heralds the disappearance in Russia of a world-wide bulwark of economic individualism: the independent peasant-proprietor.
"The butcher, the baker, the candlestickmaker" of the nursery rhyme, such craftsmen as shoemakers, tailors, barbers and locksmiths are also being pulled into the collectivist net. They are under strong economic pressure to give up their little separate businesses and to band together in so-called cartels, or coöperative groups, where each member receives a definite wage. Private legal practice has almost completely ceased; lawyers, as a general rule, are enrolled in associations and are assigned in rotation to such cases as arise in the courts. The same tendency is visible in medical practice, although some of the older doctors and dentists with established reputations still carry on private practice, usually combining it with work in some state hospital. The younger doctor is almost invariably a state employee, with a definite salary, attached to a hospital or assigned in rotation to treat cases which may arise in homes. A further curtailment of the economic enterprise of the individual may be seen in the regulations which, combined with social pressure, make it difficult if not impossible for a worker or employee to move from one place of employment to another without the consent of the director of his enterprise. Workers in factories are urged to sign pledges not to leave until the end of the Five Year Plan; and an engineer or specialist of any kind who leaves a post without permission may be blacklisted and barred from further employment.
Communists, of course, would contend that their present system is not merely one of restrictions and deprivations. It may be true, they say, that wealth, even very modest wealth, is not attainable for the individual under present Soviet conditions; but the specter of unemployment is also banished. While the present standard of living is low for everyone, lower in proportion for the professional classes than for manual workers, there is the hope that it will rise steadily after the first rough construction jobs of the Five Year Plan are finished. As a substitute for the acquisition of individual wealth there is an effort to find socialist stimuli for productivity in the shape of public honoring of the best "shock brigade workers" through publication of their names and pictures in the newspapers and by giving them the title of Heroes of Labor.
Moreover, it is important to bear in mind that the communists themselves realize that the time is still far off when people will give their best services merely in return for the satisfaction of benefiting the community. Curious and even paradoxical as it may seem, during the very period when the wiping out of the individual entrepreneur even of the smallest type -- the peasant with three horses and a farm of a hundred acres, the corner barber, the trader with a small shop -- has gone ahead most rigorously, the insistence upon the necessity for piecework methods of payment in state enterprises and collective farms has increased.
I recently remarked jokingly to a communist acquaintance that the whole process of liquidating the kulaks as a class would have been in vain if, under piecework methods of payment, new classes would spring up among the peasants in the collective farms ranging from those who would be relatively well-to-do as a result of earning high piecework rates to those who would be poor because they would receive little pay for slovenly and indifferent work. "Ah," he replied, "but differences of wealth in such cases will not grow out of the exploitation of one man by another. The peasant who earns more money in the collective farm will not be able to buy land and machinery and to increase his wealth by utilizing the labor of others." This reflects the present dominant communist view that original economic sin is expressed not in varying wage and salary scales and standards of living but in the use of capital by one man to employ, or in communist phraseology to exploit, others.
One last sanctuary of the individual personality, artistic creation, has recently been ruthlessly invaded in Soviet Russia. Pegasus has been firmly hitched to the chariot of the Five Year Plan. The present tendency is not to encourage free flights of individual creative fancy, but to regiment art in all its forms and to place before it definitely propagandist objectives. The contrast with the situation of a few years ago is very marked. There has always been a strict political censorship in the Soviet Union; but from 1922 until 1928 or 1929 authors and playwrights were given a fairly wide scope in their choice of themes. There was a school of so-called proletarian writers who wrote the slogans of class war, but there was also a group of "poputchiki," or "travelling companions," who often stood aloof from political and economic questions, eschewed moralizing along communist lines, and concerned themselves with problems of individual character and psychology.
Now there has been a great shift of emphasis. It is perhaps most clearly reflected in drama, where an extraordinarily high percentage of the new plays of the last two seasons conform to a rather narrow and simple pattern, something as follows. An effort is being made to build a new factory, or to step up production in one which already exists. There are difficulties in the path; some of the newly recruited workers grumble about physical hardships; a counter-revolutionary engineer usually is cast for the villain's rôle and plots sabotage. But in the end the enthusiasm of the workers, under communist leadership, sweeps all before it; the program is carried out in record time; the "internationale" blares out as the symbol of the invariably happy ending. There are probably a score of new plays which would conform to this formula with minor variations, while new Russian dramas based on historical or personal psychological themes have been extremely uncommon in the last two seasons. Even the Kamerny Theater, long a stronghold of æstheticism in dramatic art, has fallen in line with the new tendencies, and its director, Alexander Tairov, quite correctly described one of the Theater's new plays, "The Line of Fire," as "the victorious building of socialism, the industrialization of the Soviet land, the electrification of the Soviet Union, cultural revolution and socialist reconstruction of human psychology." This transformation of the Soviet theater is partly but by no means entirely explained by a tightening of the censorship, which has found perhaps its most visible expression in the banishing from the stage of the satirical comedies of Mikhail Bulgakov, whose mordant wit at its best had a suggestion of Gogol. Bulgakov disappeared from the stage just about the time, early in 1929, when the clamor for "art in the service of the Five Year Plan" became very insistent.
More important probably than the negative influence of the censorship is the direct and intensive effort to mold the temperament and forms of expression both of authors and producers. The Vapp, or All-Union Association of Proletarian Writers, is perhaps the most active of several organizations which are quick to pounce on any taint of heresy in a new book or play. The subordination of the autonomy of the theatrical producer to social control, and of aesthetic to political considerations, is vividly reflected in the following instructions which one of the Moscow district committees of the Communist Party gave to the communists engaged in the Vakhtangov Theater: "Decisively and consistently to turn the theater in the direction of artistic reflection of the problems of socialist construction, struggle of the proletariat for the Five Year Plan in four years, cultural revolution, problems of struggle for the mastery of technique, questions of the international struggle of the proletariat and of the defense of the Soviet Union."
The same sort of regimentation affects painters and sculptors. With the disappearance of the well-to-do private purchaser these artists have become dependent on state, trade-union and other public patronage, and many, especially of the younger painters, sculptors and engravers, are attached to institutions which pay them salaries and instruct them as to just what subjects they shall depict. Last year 347 artists were sent into industrial regions and large state and collective farms, and commissioned to paint scenes of new Soviet life. Employing the economic phraseology is habitual in Russia in discussing literature, art and drama, the newspaper Soviet Art complains that "the artists did not receive from their organizations definite production assignments," with the result that "we had unsatisfactory production." The Rabis, the artists' trade-union, has now decreed that " the sending of artists must be carried out in strict accordance with production plans, and every artist must receive a definite concrete assignment as regards production and theme, linked up with proposed exhibitions, as for instance, 'For the strengthening of the defensive capacity of the Soviet Union,' 'The Storm of the Second Five Year Plan,' etc." It would not seem that under this system much scope is left for caprices of the artistic temperament.
"Art organizes thought. And, as it formerly served the priesthood, the feudal classes and the bourgeoisie, so in the Soviet Union it must serve the proletariat." This statement, made to the author by Mr. Felix Kon, head of the Arts Department of the Commissariat for Education, sums up concisely the communist view of the function of art.
A parallel process is to be observed in the field of science. There is now no toleration for the idea that science should be divorced from politics. Classes in Marxian theory and dialectic materialism are instituted for greybearded professors. There is a strong tendency to give preference to utilitarian and applied as against pure science. Quite typical of the effort to bring into the field of scientific research the element of class struggle that communists see in every branch of intellectual life was a recent decision of the Leningrad Academy of Sciences to study not "remnants of patriarchal life," but "remnants of patriarchal life as a weapon of class struggle and an obstacle to socialist construction."
The Tsarist censorship was probably the strictest in Europe. Yet it is doubtful whether anyone who reads the Russian classics -- Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgeniev, Gogol -- would derive from them any idea that the Tsarist régime was a desirable or admirable one. On the other hand, emphasis on the desirability of the communist social order, on the necessity for struggling for its ideals, certainly permeates a considerable portion of contemporary Soviet literature. The Tsarist censorship was purely negative in its operation. So long as an author did not advocate "dangerous thoughts" he could be neutral or indifferent in his attitude toward politics. Neutrality or indifference is not enough today.
So the machinery for the forging of the new type of collective man is functioning at full speed. It includes almost every external influence that may touch or affect the development of a human personality, from the song taught to an eight-year-old Young Pioneer to the book or play or newspaper that attracts the attention of an adult man. Of course human clay is malleable in varying degrees. The most finished standardized type of collective man is perhaps the young factory worker who has grown up since the revolution and who has felt most strongly the concentrated propaganda force of the new régime. The most resistant types are probably the pre-war intellectual, who may have travelled abroad and whose world outlook was formed before the communist mechanism began to operate, and the old peasant, whose struggle with the soil and the elements has cultivated in him an incurably individualist psychology. But the new Soviet intelligentsia is, on the whole, very cocksure and dogmatic, very different from the eternally doubting Hamlet type of the pre-war Russian student; and the collective farm may be as big a factor in remolding the individualist psychology of the peasants as the Soviet factory has been in producing a new type of worker, shot through and through with new political and social ideas.
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