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Seuen Years in the Souiet Union

From the collection

of the




Francisco, California


The Book and the Author

What is the truth about Russia?

Recent developments in Europe
have obviously placed the Soviet
Union in a key position in the grow-
ing tension between the fascist Axis
and other world powers. Everyone is
wondering about this great expanse
of land with its millions of people
every day for years, absolutely con-
tradictory reports: The Revolution
betrayed Socialism being built.
Dictatorship Democracy. Famine
a far higher living standard than
the Russians have ever known. In-
efficiency, sabotage, bureaucracy
rapidly increasing production, ever-
increasing popular support, more and
more democracy.

Pat Sloan, a young Cambridge
economist, decided in 1932 to find
out for himself. For the better part
of seven years he lived, worked,
traveled in the U.S.S.R. He did not
plan to write a book because he felt
that too much had already been
written by biased and ill-informed

visitors. But the extreme bias and
ignorance which he found finally
drove him to write RUSSIA WITHOUT

In his work and on his vacations
Sloan saw almost every phase of the
varied activity throughout the Union.
But this is neither a travel book nor
an autobiography. It is a very honest
attempt to assess the achievements
and the failures, the good features
and the bad, of this new system. Our
confusion, our skepticism, our ques-
tions, were his. Is it socialism? Is
there freedom? Were the trials bona
fide? Does it differ in any vital re-
spect from the fascist regimes? All
these Sloan discusses quite practi-
cally, always making comparisons
and contrasts with his native Eng-
land. In the light of present-day de-
velopments, the testimony of a non-
socialist with no axe to grind and
with no preconceived Utopian
visions, is important and in this in-
stance thoroughly absorbing.



by Pat Sloan





All rights in this book are reserved, and it may not

be reproduced in whole or in 'part without

written permission from the holder of

these rights. For information

address the ptblishers.



Introduction by Harry F. Ward vii

I Why I Went to Russia I

II Student Dormitory 6

III I Work as a Teacher 1 8

IV Room of My Own 30
V Soviet Family 4 1

VI I Travel 52

VII "Proletarian Tourist" 68

VIII Peasant Cottage and Soviet Rest Home 78

IX Erivan to Dnieprostroi 85

X Perspective from England IO2

XI Return to the U.S.S.R. 1 1 8

XII On Being 111 and Trade-Union Organizer 133

XIII I Travel Again 150

XIV Is This Socialism? 164
XV This One-Party Business 176

XVI Discredited Politicians 189

XVII Enemies of the People 200

XVIII "The Disillusioned" 2 1 1

XIX Conclusion: Why I've Come Back 224

Index 235


IT so happened that like Pat Sloan I went to Russia in September,
1931 not like him to teach, but to pursue an inquiry in my own pro-
fessional field. I had been there in the summer of 1924 to find out
whether the defenders of capitalistic society were right in saying that
the N E P (New Economic Policy) meant the inevitable return to
capitalism. I went again, to stay until the spring of 1932, to find out
what makes the economic machine run and the cultural life develop
when profit is ruled out.

This task required that we live with the people in order to under-
stand their attitudes. For a shorter period Mrs. Ward and I dupli-
cated many of Mr. Sloan's experiences. We lived with a Soviet family
of the former middle class, in a factory dwelling house, on a collective
farm, in a sanitarium, and in a rest home with people of all sorts and
conditions from all over the Soviet Union. We know that sometimes
the barn is the best place to sleep.

We sat in the various kinds of group meetings through which
Soviet citizens participate in and develop the peoples' control of all
their common affairs with industrial workers, peasants, students,
intellectuals. Everywhere we asked and were asked the question that
Mr. Sloan discusses. Some of the places and some of the people he
mentions we got to know even more intimately. Through close
friends I knew well the working of the Technicum where he taught.
In widely different parts of the Soviet Union, including those where
smaller nationalities live, we became acquainted with the workings of
the labor unions, in one of which Mr. Sloan served.

We naturally had our fair share of the discomforts and unpleasant-
nesses of that period. We saw, as those educators in Moscow who
counseled us where to go said they wanted us to see, "the worst as
well as the best" of Soviet life. And we also saw a fair sample of what
lies in between. To read Mr. Sloan's descriptions and judgments is
to vividly live over again the experiences of that period.



From this background I can assure the readers of this book that it
gives them something this country badly needs a true account of
life and work in the Soviet Union. I mean true in the full sense of
that term, not merely in its record of facts but also in its interpretation
of their meaning. It is the combination of skill in fact finding with
insight into what lies behind the facts that makes Mr. Sloan's book more
valuable to American readers than some more pretentious volumes.

The reader will discover this if he will reflect occasionally on the
brief sentences which often conclude the description of a factual situa-
tion and light up the whole scene like a powerful searchlight on a
dark night. For instance, the statement about the feeling the people
have that everything government, economic resources, plant and
organization, cultural institutions belongs to them; the statement
about the meaning of the fight against bureaucracy; or the judgment
that many commentators have gone astray because they looked from
the top down instead of from the bottom up, which means that if one's
ego bulks bigger than the social need, he simply cannot like or under-
stand Soviet life.

From my personal contacts with "the disillusioned" writers on Rus-
sia, I am convinced that Mr. Sloan has correctly analyzed the causes
that led some of them to falsify, and threw the work of others com-
pletely out of perspective. I would therefore suggest to any who
accepted the findings of these writers, willingly or regretfully, that
they ask themselves whether they too did not expect too much, did
not disregard the historical background, did not judge the Soviet
Union as though it were the United States. To those who will reply
that all this simply means that Mr. Sloan and myself happened to
have the same point of view I would suggest that they acquaint them-
selves with the findings of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, whose com-
petence as investigators is beyond question.

In his discussion of the recent trials and purge Mr. Sloan helps us
to understand the causes that produced this series of events. Having
seen these forces at work in their early stages, I am led to conclude
that his assessment is correct. No judgment of the way the situation is
handled is worth anything which does not take into account the total
historic background.


Doubtless the part of Mr. Sloan's discussion which will be hardest
for Americans to understand is that which deals with "This One-
Party Business." It takes an effort for an American, even when he
is living in the Soviet Union, to realize that when private ownership
of economic resources and the economic machine is abolished, and the
struggle for profit is ended, a different world begins to emerge. A
new economic order requires and creates new political forms, just as
capitalism did when it appeared at the end of the feudal period. The
change in the object of political organization requires a corresponding
change in its machinery. Whether this is democratic is not determined
by whether it is a one, two or multiple party system, but by the way
it operates, by whether it does or does not express the peoples' power.
At this crucial point there is a world of difference between the one-
party system of Russia and that of Italy or Germany.

I hope that those who read this book will get others to read it. One
of the things the people of the United States most need is a correct
understanding of what is now going on in the Soviet Union, and on
the basis of that the right relationship between their Government and
that of Russia. The future of our democracy, the future of democracy
in the world, very largely depends upon this. The Soviet Union is
now a great power, a greater power than the old Russia ever was,
and it is the first socialist state in history. I do not think that Mr.
Sloan overestimates its capacities and possibilities. In 1924, only two
years after the last battles of the Civil War and the foreign interven-
tion only two years after the famine these had caused I consid-
ered the amount of social organization accomplished throughout that
vast territory one of the great achievements in human history. In
1931-32, "the third and decisive year of the first Five-Year Plan," I
recorded a similar judgment for the gains of the intervening seven
years, which culminated in the successful development of social eco-
nomic planning for and by a vast population another of the great
changes that the wiseacres always say can never be made. I thought
then, and I still think, on the basis of what I hear and read concern-
ing the gains in production and the rise in the standard of living and
culture in the last seven years, that the people of the Soviets are not
chasing a will-o'-the-wisp when they proclaim their intention to


"overtake and surpass the United States," the most efficient nation
of the world in economic production.

It is the irony of current history that the Tories of Great Britain
who want most to destroy the Soviet Union, have now to look to her
for their own safety. It makes strange reading to find their press
proclaiming that all the governments which have renounced war as
an instrument of national policy naturally belong together, and that
the record of the Soviet Union shows that it has done this. Our need
for collaboration is of a different kind. If government of, by, and
for the people is not to perish for a time from this part of the earth,
our democracy must be extended from the political to the economic
realm. The Soviets started with economic democracy and are now
developing the appropriate democratic machinery in the political field.
Each has much to learn from the other. It is not a question of imita-
tion but of developing basic principles and techniques in a manner
congenial to the diapering historic background.

Despite this difference there are some striking likenesses between the
people of the United States and the people of the Soviet Union. They
both have a genuine feeling for democracy in terms of social equality;
they both prize and seek technical efficiency; they are both vast cos-
mopolitan populations that stand between the West and the East with
an influence on both; they both have the varied continental resources
that make possible the immediate development of a planned and plan-
ning social economy. China is the only other nation that possesses
similar characteristics for affecting the future. If these peoples could
come to work together, each in its own way going in the general
direction of a completely socialized democracy, they would determine
the course of mankind for the next period of history.


Russia Without Illusions


Why I Went to Russia

THE subject of Russia has been a controversial one for very many
years. Before 1917 the glamour and romance of the Tsar's court,
the gilded churches, and a mystical mujtk steeped in the spiritual
faith of 'Holy Russia' waged constant war in the minds of English-
men with that other conception of Russia as a land of famine, of
appalling oppression and Siberian exile. But since 1917 this con-
troversy has intensified. More books have appeared on Russia since
1917 than on any other foreign country. And those who, like myself,
have grown to maturity during the post- War period, have always
heard the word Russia mentioned with an unusual intensity, whether
of enthusiasm or horror.

At the age of eleven, in the first year after the War, I was on
holiday with my parents on the west coast of Scotland. I can remem-
ber people in our hotel speaking about Russia. I still can see a
smallish man, with spectacles, a mustache, and hair just turning
gray, telling us how the Bolsheviks employed Chinese to devise
special tortures for their victims, and how they skinned people's
hands in boiling water. This was just as we were going out for a
day's fishing. I remember it as vividly as I remember, a year or two
earlier, a cook at a hotel where we were staying describing how the
Germans were so brutal that they "even crucified a little kitten."
Hundreds of thousands of children at that time must have had their
hair stand on end at such tales of Russia. And yet, just a year later,
Councils of Action were set up all over Britain by the Labor move-
ment to deter the Government from any further acts of intervention
against the Soviets. Millions of working-class children must have
heard their fathers talk of Russia with respect and enthusiasm. From



that time to this two opposing points of view on Russia have con-
tinued to be expressed.

The next time that I was given particular cause to think about
Russia was ten years later. My supervisor in Cambridge was inter-
ested in that country, though he never spoke of it to us unless we
took the initiative. But on one occasion when he was organizing the
showing of a Russian film, I was asked to help, and "Mother," or
"Potemkin," was shown in the Malting House School. It was impos-
sible to cover the great skylight windows at all effectively, the
screen was wrinkled, and there was an enormous crowd in a very
small and badly ventilated space. I remember that I did not see much
of the film, but spent most of my time in the fresh air outside.

It was in North Wales, early in 1930, that my interest in Russia
became more strongly aroused. At that time the Christian Protest
Movement was campaigning the country, and a meeting was held
in the Powys Hall of the University College at Bangor, where I was
assistant lecturer in Economics. The case against Russia was put
with such bitterness and such a disregard, it appeared, for any kind
of accuracy, that I put several questions at the meeting and later
organized a debate on the subject in the town. From this time I
felt a personal interest in a country which was being so furiously
condemned, and yet which had apparently already won the respect
of quite large numbers of people. I visited the Soviet Embassy in
London to obtain information on the treatment of religion in
Russia, and in the spring of 1931, during the Easter vacation, paid
rny first visit to Moscow as a tourist, hoping to find work in order
to return there to live, to sample everyday life, in the autumn.

Like most English and American visitors and there were already
quite a few at that time my first approach was to the editor of the
Moscow News, a paper with which I had become acquainted since
the meeting in the Powys Hall. Anna Louise Strong was not very
sympathetic. "Have you any experience of journalism?" No, I had
to confess that I had not. "What do you do in England?" I told


her that I was a university lecturer. "Then you had better see Mrs.
Borodin at the Technicum of Foreign Languages," and she rang
up, promised to send me round at once, and put me on my way.

In 1931 it was not hard for a foreigner with any qualifications
that might be useful to the U.S.S.R. to find work. It was harder
to obtain living accommodation, but that, Mrs. Borodin told me,
could be arranged. My academic qualifications were deemed ade-
quate for teaching the English language to Soviet students. I was
given a paper stating that from September onward I would be a
member of the staff of the Technicum. This paper obtained a visa
for me a few months later without the delay that is usual under
such circumstances.

All this, incidentally, takes very little time to put on paper. In
fact, however, it took many long hours of waiting for appointments
before that simple 'document 5 was obtained. Mrs. Borodin was, I
found, an extremely busy woman, and my first visit to Moscow, in
the spring of 1931, was spent to a considerable extent in waiting
in line for interviews, in calling for the precious document that
would bring me a visa, and in being told to come again tomorrow.
As my main aim was to get a job, and as I had no other business in
Moscow, I did not mind the delay. It was rather amusing. I can
understand the exasperation, however, of certain penniless immi-
grants who had paid no preliminary visit beforehand, had landed in
Moscow in search of a job and with very little money, and were
kept hopping from one organization to another and back again
while hard-worked officials took the necessary steps to find them
suitable jobs. There was no shortage of work, but it was not always
easy, as some foreigners failed to realize, to place each newcomer
in just the job to which he or she might be most suited. Particularly
true is this because many of the foreigners had no qualifications at
all to speak of and obtained their jobs in the Soviet Union only by
sheer blufif. After all, even in my own case, a Cambridge First in
Economics was not necessarily a guarantee that I should be a good


teacher of the English language. And it certainly did suggest that I
might say things about economics that would definitely not be con-
sistent with Soviet views of this science! All the same, teachers of
English were required I had a university degree I was appointed.

Today, looking back on my first months in the U.S.S.R., I
realize how exceedingly fortunate I was to start my career as a
Soviet worker in the sphere of education. For, by working among
students, I obtained from the first an insight into what was new in
the Soviet system, and what kind of a younger generation was grow-
ing up in the new era of Five-Year Plans. In this respect I can
claim to have had an experience which not a single one of our news-
paper correspondents has enjoyed; and I established a contact with
the rising generation which even factory workers did not have to
the same extent. It has been said that a community can be judged by
the way in which it cares for its children; equally true, I think,
would it be to say that a community can be judged by its students.
My first contact with the U.S.S.R. was with its students; and as
a result I obtained first-hand contact with the new, wholly Soviet,
rising generation.

From September, 1931, to the end of 1932 I worked in the
U.S.S.R. Then I returned to this country for six months. In July,
1933, having been offered a temporary job for two months in
Moscow, I went back. Permanent work was offered me, and I
stayed, with only one month's holiday in England, till June, 1936.
Again, in the summer of 1937, I paid a month's visit to Leningrad
and Moscow with a group of visitors from this country.

When I returned to England in the middle of 1936, there was
one thing which I did not intend to do. This was to write a book
on my 'experiences' of c my life in Russia.' I thought that such
books had already been greatly overdone. People who lived in
Russia for anything from five days to five years seemed to write
books on their 'experiences,' and I did not personally feel that


another such book would add anything to the violently opposed
views already expressed.

But since my return to England the flood of books of the c l-have-
lived-in-Russia' type has increased, not diminished. And among
these books a particular tendency has become noticeable that of the
'disillusioned Communist* who, in the late 1920*5 or early '30*5,
went to the U.S.S.R. to work, buoyed up by enthusiasm for the Five-
Year Plan, and professes, as a result of experiences at that time, to
have been bitterly disillusioned. And it is just because I, too, went to
the U.S.S.R. at the same time, not as a Communist but as an
economist, without any illusions whatever as to what I should find
in Russia, that I now write this book about my experiences and the
conclusions to which these experiences have led me.

Therefore, though in 1936 I thought I should never be guilty of
adding yet another book to those that tell all about 'how I lived in
Russia,' I now present this volume without apology. I feel that
someone who went to live in the U.S.S.R. without previously having
any illusions about it deserves a hearing.


Student Dormitory

IN SEPTEMBER, 1931, it was still a little daring to go to Russia.
A relative even called it 'courageous' of me to go to work in Moscow.
The vast influx of foreign visitors was still just beginning and grew
steadily during the following years. When I arranged to work at the
Technicum of Foreign Languages as a teacher of English, I was
not so much interested in the work of teaching as in the people whom
I was to teach, the organization of the institution in which I would
work, and in general the running of the country in which I was to
live. I was considerably less interested in the teaching of English
as such than I had been in teaching economics in North Wales. I
was also, it must be admitted, rather less qualified to teach English
than to teach the economics of capitalism.

Owing to the fact that it was still a rather unusual thing to go
to live in the U.S.S.R., I was asked by a large number of people to
write to them of my impressions. As a result I typed a series of
letters (with carbon copies) during my first months in Moscow,
and these were circulated to friends and relatives in Britain. Thanks
to the fact that copies of these letters remain in my possession, I can
recapture to some extent my first impressions on arrival in the
Soviet Union in 1931.

What were these first impressions? A wooden arch across a rail-
way line laid on sand, and on the arch was inscribed the legend,
"Workers of all Lands, Unite!" And then the Customs House at
Stolpce, which at that time was made entirely of wood. Then, as
now, it was necessary to wait quite a long time for the Moscow
train. Customs officials politely but very thoroughly searched through
the baggage of each passenger. They appeared particularly interested



in any printed matter, and their lengthy perusal of every illustrated
magazine seemed hardly to be entirely a matter of duty. When the
Customs investigation was over, there was time to explore the vast
waiting room and restaurant, with a buffet and artificial palm
trees. At the buffet was some rather fly-blown food; a few people
sat at tables or lounged about, and near the entrance a distinct whiff
of the toilet was noticeable, guiding the foreigner who read no
Russian to the right door along a corridor. A single visit to this
toilet was enough to justify all the caustic comments on Soviet sani-
tation that have ever been made by foreigners: Plugs that did not
pull, plugs that did pull and pulled right off, plugs that pulled with
no water to follow, overflowing fluids swamping the floor, dirty
seats, and a smell apparently completely uncombated by any form
of disinfectant. Such toilets, I was to find, were not uncommon
throughout Soviet territory during the years 1931, 1932, I933>
and even today. But I was also to find that, bit by bit, here a little
and there a little, steps were being taken to improve conditions. For
example, in 1937 a brand-new tiled lavatory was opened in the Park
of Culture and Rest in Moscow. It had Grecian columns at the
entrance, and lines formed outside it on the first days after its
opening. Young men came out and friends in the line called out
to them, "What's it like?" "Magnificent," came the reply. Lava-
tories in the U.S.S.R. have played an important part in forming the
impressions of foreign visitors, and more will be said on this subject
later on.

At last the train for Moscow arrived. We took our places, and
in one respect, at any rate, I found traveling more pleasant than in

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