VAGUE political dread of the U. S. S. R. is to-day superseded by very definite economic fear — fear of the unfair competition made possible by forced labor. These considerations make Soviet Russia again the focus of the world’s alarmed interest. The four books here reviewed, presenting different aspects of the central fact of Russia, the Five-Year Plan, are all concerned with the power behind the Soviet thrust for a position in the changing world.
In The Red Trade Menace (Dodd, Mead, $2.50) the author, H. R. Knickerbocker, surveys the actualities of the Five-Year Plan. He was the first foreigner to visit personally the chain of concrete and steel constructions, the distribution points of lumber, the giant grain factories, the oil fields, the mines — in fact, all the great economic centres destined to supply the material for the Soviet campaign in the world market. Mr. Knickerbocker takes the pulse of the new industrialism and weighs the material evidence against the unfavorable factors — the inflated currency, the food and housing conditions, the falling living standards, and the psychology of the population during the inspiring but tragic, often humorous but pathetic, process by which Russia is ‘starving herself great.’
The author, a journalist of international reputation, with long experience in Russia, has adopted a style of racy narrative. He has produced a book in tone not unlike the industrial dramas one sees on the Soviet stage. He interlines the astronomic figures of the plan with dialogues and skeptical interpellations, and carries the reader along with the breezy comments of an experienced observer to his conclusion that the Five-Year Plan is a colossal coercive-savings scheme for the whole nation.
One is inclined to agree with the author that the plan is not to be judged at present by the happiness or welfare conditions of the people. He dismisses the charges of convict labor, but suggests that forced labor exists for the political prisoners in the northern woods. And he believes that dumping can no more be dispensed with, under the Soviet foreign trade monopoly, than can bargain sales be abjured by department stores.
While eminently fair to the Communists, never for a moment does Mr. Knickerbocker forget the very human ‘little brothers’ being experimented upon. The feverish tempo of industrialization he ascribes to a fear, amounting to phobia, of capitalist intervention or blockade: ‘Every piece of machinery that enters the country, every kopek saved on imports of consumption goods and spent on imports of tools of production, seems to the Kremlin like just so many of the precious axes, saws, hammers, and nails saved by the Swiss Family Robinson from the wreck before it sank.’
This illustrated volume is a lively travelogue of the Five-Year Plan, from which the casual reader is able to digest an enormous amount of factual material disguised as adventure, thanks to the skill of Mr. Knickerbocker.
In Making Bolsheviks (University of Chicago, $2.00) Professor Samuel N. Harper treats the FiveYear Plan as the background for the training of new citizens, the product of the political and cultural revolution. This study, an extremely important revelation of the forces moulding new citizens, is a reproduction of six lectures given at the University of Chicago. It is an appendix to Professor Harper’s larger work, Civic Training in Soviet Russia.
Perhaps no American is so well qualified as Professor Harper to analyze the human results of the Revolution. For thirty years he has made the Russian people the subject of scholarly study. He knew old Russia as have very few others. He now chooses for characterization the six cadres, each a mobilizing nucleus, which the Communists have selected as the proper groups to enjoy the initiative and leadership in building socialism. The creation of such new citizens is, of course, accompanied by the ‘liquidation’ of the groups formerly in control, the capitalists, the private manufacturers, the kulaks, and so forth.
Of the six cadres, the first is the Communist Party Worker, who thinks differently from the ordinary run of humanity. ‘That is why he is a Bolshevik,’ says Professor Harper, ‘busily and actively making Bolsheviks, training others after his own pattern.’ Then come the Young Communists, whose enthusiasm calls for more aggressive methods in the class struggle, and in the training of technicians and managers. The ShockBrigade Workman is the specific human instrument in building socialism, increasing productivity, and setting the pace. The Collectivist-Peasant is relied upon to change the dual character of the unconverted peasant, making him content to be a simple toiler without engaging in private trade. On the educational front the Cultural Worker is entrusted with the long task of promoting the cultural revolution. And, finally, the Redarmyist is the defender of the ‘conquests of the Revolution,’ and of the ‘Land of the Soviets.’
In summing up the work of these new socialist citizens, who work at a Bolshevist pace under the ‘Must or Bust ’ propulsion of the Five-Year Plan, Professor Harper concludes that although the Soviet system has not yet demonstrated its efficiency, or that it can keep up the standards of living, nevertheless the spirit of the Bolshevist cadres in action produces a strength which cannot be fully grasped by non-Bolsheviks.
In The Economic Life of Soviet Russia (Macmillan, $3.00) Professor Calvin B. Hoover offers a comprehensive analysis of the controlled economic system, the first work in English which might be called a scientific reference book. With obvious care the author charts his way through the interlocking socialist institutions. He shows the functions of the multiple organs against, a general background of Soviet economy in industry, agriculture, and trade. His chapters on the Banking System and Money are especially instructive to those who recognize in socialist finance the key to the whole system. And his exhaustive treatment of labor conditions should be enlightening to governments determined to take action against Soviet competition by means of the embargo.
The student may regret the paucity of subtitles in the text. But other mechanical features are helpful, the bibliography listing Russian and foreign sources, the index, the glossary of Russian terms, and the ordered sequence of the material.
Professor Hoover’s conclusions, after a year spent in Russia, are that the Communist Party will set about the business of whipping on world revolution as soon as the Soviet economic system has been placed on a successful and stabilized basis. And, further, ‘if the present crisis is passed, the Soviet Union, within a decade, will be in a position to offer a standard of living which will compare favorably with that of the poorly paid manual workers in capitalistic countries. Unless in the meantime Capitalism has notably improved its technique of marketing . . . and unless the standard of living of such workers in the capitalistic world shall have been materially raised, the World Revolution will begin to make rapid strides.’
Thus the cautious judgment of a scholar.
In marked contrast to the even temper and detached judgments of the above three authors is the polemic brilliance of Father Edmund A. Walsh, who does not attempt to explain Russia so much as to damn the Bolsheviks. As he indicates in the foreword, one suspects that emotions which have become more and more intense since Father Walsh left Russia, in 1023, finally blew off the lid. The result is The Last Stand (Atlantic Monthly and Little, Brown, $3.00)—an anathema.
No one can quarrel with Father Walsh’s position in regard to the Terror and the war on religion. One may question, however, the appropriateness of the subtitle, ‘An Interpretation of the Five-Year Plan,’ as applied to a compendium of selected press dispatches, letters, and sensational current evidence. The author marshals his facts to suit his contentions, but his facts are facts and in making the selection he follows the established prerogative of the polemist. He has the true spirit of the fighter for what he believes to be the truth. To carry forward the assault he calls into the fray nol only most of the American correspondents in Moscow, whose names are not always given correctly, but also learned references to people and events of bygone ages, long before the industrial machine came to torment the mind of man. All this makes rhetorical artillery bound to delight the reader who loves a good fight.
In advising America to withhold recognition of a state which he pictures as ‘driven by the will of an embalmed corpse to lash with scorpions every established government of the world,’Father Walsh calls for defense of the ‘American Plan,’resting on our Constitution.
The reader puts down the mighty volume convinced that another nail has been driven into the Soviet coffin. He may perhaps sigh for the romantic days before the machine, when he might have read Father Walsh’s dazzling indictment and forthwith dashed away to distant lands to break a lance on some Saracen’s cranium.