Sunshine Recorder

"Piramida" by Hans Karlsson

Piramida is a formet soviet coal mining operation and settlement on Spitsbergen.

Link: Marxism vs. Liberalism, H. G. Wells interviews Joseph Stalin

In 1934, H. G. Wells arrived in Moscow to meet Soviet writers interested in joining the international PEN Club, of which he was then president. While there, Stalin granted him an interview. His deferential conversation was criticised by J M Keynes and George Bernard Shaw, among others, in the New Statesman. First published as a special NS supplement on 27 October 1934.

H. G. Wells: I am very much obliged to you, Mr Stalin, for agreeing to see me. I was in the United States recently. I had a long conversation with President Roosevelt and tried to ascertain what his leading ideas were. Now I have come to ask you what you are doing to change the world…

Joseph Stalin: Not so very much.

I wander around the world as a common man and, as a common man, observe what is going on around me.

Important public men like yourself are not “common men”. Of course, history alone can show how important this or that public man has been; at all events, you do not look at the world as a “common man”.

I am not pretending humility. What I mean is that I try to see the world through the eyes of the common man, and not as a party politician or a responsible administrator. My visit to the United States excited my mind. The old financial world is collapsing; the economic life of the country is being reorganised on new lines.

Lenin said: “We must learn to do business,” learn this from the capitalists. Today the capitalists have to learn from you, to grasp the spirit of Socialism. It seems to me that what is taking place in the United States is a profound reorganisation, the creation of planned, that is, Socialist, economy. You and Roosevelt begin from two different starting points. But is there not a relation in ideas, a kinship of ideas, between Moscow and Washington?

In Washington I was struck by the same thing I see going on here; they are building offices, they are creating a number of state regulation bodies, they are organising a long-needed civil service. Their need, like yours, is directive ability.

The United States is pursuing a different aim from that which we are pursuing in the USSR. The aim which the Americans are pursuing arose out of the economic troubles, out of the economic crisis. The Americans want to rid themselves of the crisis on the basis of private capitalist activity, without changing the economic basis. They are trying to reduce to a minimum the ruin, the losses caused by the existing economic system.

Here, however, as you know, in place of the old, destroyed economic basis, an entirely different, a new economic basis has been created. Even if the Americans you mention partly achieve their aim, ie, reduce these losses to a minimum, they will not destroy the roots of the anarchy which is inherent in the existing capitalist system. They are preserving the economic system which must inevitably lead, and cannot but lead, to anarchy in production. Thus, at best, it will be a matter, not of the reorganisation of society, not of abolishing the old social system which gives rise to anarchy and crises, but of restricting certain of its excesses. Subjectively, perhaps, these Americans think they are reorganising society; objectively, however, they are preserving the present basis of society. That is why, objectively, there will be no reorganisation of society.

Nor will there be planned economy. What is planned economy? What are some of its attributes? Planned economy tries to abolish unemployment. Let us suppose it is possible, while preserving the capitalist system, to reduce unemployment to a certain minimum. But surely, no capitalist would ever agree to the complete abolition of unemployment, to the abolition of the reserve army of unemployed, the purpose of which is to bring pressure on the labour market, to ensure a supply of cheap labour. You will never compel a capitalist to incur loss to himself and agree to a lower rate of profit for the sake of satisfying the needs of the people.

Without getting rid of the capitalists, without abolishing the principle of private property in the means of production, it is impossible to create planned economy.

I agree with much of what you have said. But I would like to stress the point that if a country as a whole adopts the principle of planned economy, if the government, gradually, step by step, begins consistently to apply this principle, the financial oligarchy will at last be abolished and Socialism, in the Anglo-Saxon meaning of the word, will be brought about.

The effect of the ideas of Roosevelt’s “New Deal” is most powerful, and in my opinion they are Socialist ideas. It seems to me that instead of stressing the antagonism between the two worlds, we should, in the present circumstances, strive to establish a common tongue for all the constructive forces.

In speaking of the impossibility of realising the principles of planned economy while preserving the economic basis of capitalism, I do not in the least desire to belittle the outstanding personal qualities of Roosevelt, his initiative, courage and determination. Undoubtedly Roosevelt stands out as one of the strongest figures among all the captains of the contemporary capitalist world. That is why I would like once again to emphasise the point that my conviction that planned economy is impossible under the conditions of capitalism does not mean that I have any doubts about the personal abilities, talent and courage of President Roosevelt.

But if the circumstances are unfavourable, the most talented captain cannot reach the goal you refer to. Theoretically, of course, the possibility of marching gradually, step by step, under the conditions of capitalism, towards the goal which you call Socialism in the Anglo-Saxon meaning of the word, is not precluded. But what will this “Socialism” be? At best, bridling to some extent the most unbridled of individual representatives of capitalist profit, some increase in the application of the principle of regulation in national economy. That is all very well. But as soon as Roosevelt, or any other captain in the contemporary bourgeois world, proceeds to undertake something serious against the foundation of capitalism, he will inevitably suffer utter defeat. The banks, the industries, the large enterprises, the large farms are not in Roosevelt’s hands. All these are private property. The railroads, the mercantile fleet, all these belong to private owners. And, finally, the army of skilled workers, the engineers, the technicians, these too are not at Roosevelt’s command, they are at the command of the private owners; they all work for the private owners.

We must not forget the functions of the State in the bourgeois world. The State is an institution that organises the defence of the country, organises the maintenance of “order”; it is an apparatus for collecting taxes. The capitalist State does not deal much with economy in the strict sense of the word; the latter is not in the hands of the State. On the contrary, the State is in the hands of capitalist economy. That is why I fear that in spite of all his energies and abilities, Roosevelt will not achieve the goal you mention, if indeed that is his goal. Perhaps in the course of several generations it will be possible to approach this goal somewhat; but I personally think that even this is not very probable.

Perhaps I believe more strongly in the economic interpretation of politics than you do. Huge forces striving for better organisation, for the better functioning of the community, that is, for Socialism, have been brought into action by invention
and modern science. Organisation, and the regulation of individual action, have become mechanical necessities, irrespective of social theories. If we begin with the State control of the banks and then follow with the control of the heavy industries, of industry in general, of commerce, etc, such an all-embracing control will be equivalent to the State ownership of all branches of national economy.

Socialism and Individualism are not opposites like black and white. There are many intermediate stages between them. There is Individualism that borders on brigandage, and there is discipline and organisation that are the equivalent of Socialism. The introduction of planned economy depends, to a large degree, upon the organisers of economy, upon the skilled technical intelligentsia who, step by step, can be converted to the Socialist principles of organisation. And this is the most important thing, because organisation comes before Socialism. It is the more important fact. Without organisation the Socialist idea is a mere idea.

There is no, nor should there be, irreconcilable contrast between the individual and the collective, between the interests of the individual person and the interests of the collective. There should be no such contrast, because collectivism, Socialism, does not deny, but combines individual interests with the interests of the collective. Socialism cannot abstract itself from individual interests.

Socialist society alone can most fully satisfy these personal interests. More than that, Socialist society alone can firmly safeguard the interests of the individual. In this sense there is no irreconcilable contrast between Individualism and Socialism. But can we deny the contrast between classes, between the propertied class, the capitalist class, and the toiling class, the proletarian class? On the one hand we have the propertied class which owns the banks, the factories, the mines, transport, the plantations in colonies. These people see nothing but their own interests, their striving after profits. They do not submit to the will of the collective; they strive to subordinate every collective to their will. On the other hand we have the class of the poor, the exploited class, which owns neither factories nor works, nor banks, which is compelled to live by selling its labour power to the capitalists and which lacks the opportunity to satisfy its most elementary requirements.

How can such opposite interests and strivings be reconciled? As far as I know, Roosevelt has not succeeded in finding the path of conciliation between these interests. And it is impossible, as experience has shown. Incidentally, you know the situation in the US better than I do, as I have never been there and I watch American affairs mainly from literature. But I have some experience in fighting for Socialism, and this experience tells me that if Roosevelt makes a real attempt to satisfy the interests of the proletarian class at the expense of the capitalist class, the latter will put another President in his place. The capitalists will say: Presidents come and Presidents go, but we go on for ever; if this or that President does not protect our interests, we shall find another. What can the President oppose to the will of the capitalist class?

I object to this simplified classification of mankind into poor and rich. Of course there is a category of people which strive only for profit. But are not these people regarded as nuisances in the West just as much as here? Are there not plenty of people in the West for whom profit is not an end, who own a certain amount of wealth, who want to invest and obtain a profit from this investment, but who do not regard this as the main object? In my opinion there is a numerous class of people who admit that the present system is unsatisfactory and who are destined to play a great role in future capitalist society.

During the past few years I have been much engaged in and have thought of the need for conducting propaganda in favour of Socialism and cosmopolitanism among wide circles of engineers, airmen, military technical people, etc. It is useless to approach these circles with two-track class-war propaganda. These people understand the condition of the world. They understand that it is a bloody muddle, but they regard your simple class-war antagonism as nonsense.

You object to the simplified classification into rich and poor. Of course there is a middle stratum, there is the technical intelligentsia that you have mentioned and among which there are very good and very honest people. Among them there are also dishonest and wicked people; there are all sorts of people among them. But first of all mankind is divided into rich and poor, into property owners and exploited; and to abstract oneself from this fundamental division and from the antagonism between poor and rich means abstracting oneself from the fundamental fact.

I do not deny the existence of intermediate middle strata, which either take the side of one or the other of these two conflicting classes, or else take up a neutral or semi-neutral position in the struggle. But, I repeat, to abstract oneself from this fundamental division in society and from the fundamental struggle between the two main classes means ignoring facts. The struggle is going on and will continue. The outcome will be determined by the proletarian class – the working class.

But are there not many people who are not poor, but who work and work productively?

Of course, there are small landowners, artisans, small traders, but it is not these people who decide the fate of a country, but the toiling masses, who produce all the things society requires.

But there are very different kinds of capitalists. There are capitalists who only think about profit, about getting rich; but there are also those who are prepared to make sacrifices. Take old [J P] Morgan, for example. He only thought about profit; he was a parasite on society, simply, he merely accumulated wealth. But take [John D] Rockefeller. He is a brilliant organiser; he has set an example of how to organise the delivery of oil that is worthy of emulation.

Or take [Henry] Ford. Of course Ford is selfish. But is he not a passionate organiser of rationalised production from whom you take lessons? I would like to emphasise the fact that recently an important change in opinion towards the USSR has taken place in English-speaking countries. The reason for this, first of all, is the position of Japan, and the events in Germany. But there are other reasons besides those arising from international politics. There is a more profound reason, namely, the recognition by many people of the fact that the system based on private profit is breaking down. Under these circumstances, it seems to me, we must not bring to the forefront the antagonism between the two worlds, but should strive to combine all the constructive movements, all the constructive forces in one line as much as possible. It seems to me that I am more to the Left than you, Mr Stalin; I think the old system is nearer to its end than you think.

 In speaking of the capitalists who strive only for profit, only to get rich, I do not want to say that these are the most worthless people, capable of nothing else. Many of them undoubtedly possess great organising talent, which I do not dream of denying. We Soviet people learn a great deal from the capitalists. And Morgan, whom you characterise so unfavourably, was undoubtedly a good, capable organiser. But if you mean people who are prepared to reconstruct the world, of course, you will not be able to find them in the ranks of those who faithfully serve the cause of profit. We and they stand at opposite poles.

You mentioned Ford. Of course, he is a capable organiser of production. But don’t you know his attitude towards the working class? Don’t you know how many workers he throws on the street? The capitalist is riveted to profit; and no power on earth can tear him away from it. Capitalism will be abolished, not by “organisers” of production, not by the technical intelligentsia, but by the working class, because the aforementioned strata do not play an independent role. The engineer, the organiser of production, does not work as he would like to, but as he is ordered, in such a way as to serve the interests of his employers. There are exceptions of course; there are people in this stratum who have awakened from the intoxication of capitalism. The technical intelligentsia can, under certain conditions, perform miracles and greatly benefit mankind. But it can also cause great harm.

We Soviet people have not a little experience of the technical intelligentsia. After the October Revolution, a certain section of the technical intelligentsia refused to take part in the work of constructing the new society; they opposed this work of construction and sabotaged it. We did all we possibly could to bring the technical intelligentsia into this work of construction; we tried this way and that. Not a little time passed before our technical intelligentsia agreed actively to assist the new system. Today the best section of this technical intelligentsia is in the front rank of the builders of Socialist society. Having this experience, we are far from underestimating the good and the bad sides of the technical intelligentsia, and we know that on the one hand it can do harm, and on the other hand it can perform “miracles”.

Of course, things would be different if it were possible, at one stroke, spiritually to tear the technical intelligentsia away from the capitalist world. But that is Utopia. Are there many of the technical in­telligentsia who would dare break away from the bourgeois world and set to work reconstructing society? Do you think there are many people of this kind, say, in England or in France? No; there are few who would be willing to break away from their employers and begin reconstructing the world.

Besides, can we lose sight of the fact that in order to transform the world it is necessary to have political power? It seems to me, Mr Wells, that you greatly underestimate the question of political power, that it entirely drops out of your conception.

What can those, even with the best intentions in the world, do if they are unable to raise the question of seizing power, and do not possess power? At best they can help the class which takes power, but they cannot change the world themselves. This can only be done by a great class which will take the place of the capitalist class and become the sovereign master as the latter was before. This class is the working class. Of course, the assistance of the technical intelligentsia must be accepted; and the latter, in turn, must be assisted. But it must not be thought that the technical intelligentsia can play an independent historical role.

The transformation of the world is a great, complicated and painful process. For this task a great class is required. Big ships go on long voyages.

Yes, but for long voyages a captain and navigator are required.

That is true; but what is first required for a long voyage is a big ship. What is a navigator without a ship? An idle man.

The big ship is humanity, not a class.

You, Mr Wells, evidently start out with the assumption that all men are good. I, however, do not forget that there are many wicked men. I do not believe in the goodness of the bourgeoisie.

I remember the situation with regard to the technical intelligentsia several decades ago. At that time the technical intelligentsia was numerically small, but there was much to do and every engineer, technician and intellectual found his opportunity. That is why the technical intelligentsia was the least revolutionary class. Now, however, there is a super­abundance of technical intellectuals, and their mentality has changed very sharply. The skilled man, who would formerly never listen to revolutionary talk, is now greatly interested in it.

Recently I was dining with the Royal Society, our great English scientific society. The President’s speech was a speech for social planning and scientific control. Thirty years ago, they would not have listened to what I say to them now. Today, the man at the head of the Royal Society holds revolutionary views, and insists on the scientific reorganisation of human society. Your class-war propaganda has not kept pace with these facts. Mentality changes.

Yes, I know this, and this is to be explained by the fact that capitalist society is now in a cul de sac. The capitalists are seeking, but cannot find, a way out of this cul de sac that would be compatible with the dignity of this class, compatible with the interests of this class. They could, to some extent, crawl out of the crisis on their hands and knees, but they cannot find an exit that would enable them to walk out of it with head raised high, a way out that would not fundamentally disturb the interests of capitalism.

This, of course, is realised by wide circles of the technical intelligentsia. A large section of it is beginning to realise the community of its interests with those of the class which is capable of pointing the way out of the cul de sac.

You of all people know something about revolutions, Mr Stalin, from the practical side. Do the masses ever rise? Is it not an established truth that all revolutions are made by a minority?

To bring about a revolution a leading revolutionary minority is required; but the most talented, devoted and energetic minority would be helpless if it did not rely upon the at least passive support of millions.

At least passive? Perhaps subconscious?

Partly also the semi-instinctive and semi-conscious, but without the support of millions, the best minority is impotent.

I watch Communist propaganda in the West, and it seems to me that in modern conditions this propaganda sounds very old-fashioned, because it is insurrectionary propaganda.

Propaganda in favour of the violent overthrow of the social system was all very well when it was directed against tyranny. But under modern conditions, when the system is collapsing anyhow, stress should be laid on efficiency, on competence, on productiveness, and not on insurrection.

It seems to me that the insurrectionary note is obsolete. The Communist propaganda in the West is a nuisance to constructive-minded people.

Of course the old system is breaking down, decaying. That is true. But it is also true that new efforts are being made by other methods, by every means, to protect, to save this dying system. You draw a wrong conclusion from a correct postulate. You rightly state that the old world is breaking down. But you are wrong in thinking that it is breaking down of its own accord. No; the substitution of one social system for another is a complicated and long revolutionary process. It is not simply a spontaneous process, but a struggle; it is a process connected with the clash of classes.

Capitalism is decaying, but it must not be compared simply with a tree which has decayed to such an extent that it must fall to the ground of its own accord. No, revolution, the substitution of one social system for another, has always been a struggle, a painful and a cruel struggle, a life-and-death struggle. And every time the people of the new world came into power they had to defend themselves against the attempts of the old world to restore the old power by force; these people of the new world always had to be on the alert, always had to be ready to repel the attacks of the old world upon the new system.

Yes, you are right when you say that the old social system is breaking down; but it is not breaking down of its own accord. Take Fascism for example. Fascism is a reactionary force which is trying to preserve the old system by means of violence. What will you do with the Fascists? Argue with them? Try to convince them? But this will have no effect upon them at all. Communists do not in the least idealise methods of violence. But they, the Communists, do not want to be taken by surprise; they cannot count on the old world voluntarily departing from the stage; they see that the old system is violently defending itself, and that is why the Communists say to the working class: Answer violence with violence; do all you can to prevent the old dying order from crushing you, do not permit it to put manacles on your hands, on the hands with which you will overthrow the old system.

As you see, the Communists regard the substitution of one social system for another, not simply as a spontaneous and peaceful process, but as a complicated, long and violent process. Communists cannot ignore facts.

But look at what is now going on in the capitalist world. The collapse is not a simple one; it is the outbreak of reactionary violence which is degenerating to gangsterism. And it seems to me that when it comes to a conflict with reactionary and unintelligent violence, Socialists can appeal to the law, and instead of regarding the police as the enemy they should support them in the fight against the reactionaries. I think that it is useless operating with the methods of the old insurrectionary Socialism.

The Communists base themselves on rich historical experience which teaches that obsolete classes do not voluntarily abandon the stage of history.

Recall the history of England in the seventeenth century. Did not many say that the old social system had decayed? But did it not, nevertheless, require a Cromwell to crush it by force?

Cromwell acted on the basis of the constitution and in the name of constitutional order.

In the name of the constitution he resorted to violence, beheaded the king, dispersed Parliament, arrested some and beheaded others!

Or take an example from our history. Was it not clear for a long time that the Tsarist system was decaying, was breaking down? But how much blood had to be shed in order to overthrow it?

And what about the October Revolution? Were there not plenty of people who knew that we alone, the Bolsheviks, were indicating the only correct way out? Was it not clear that Russian capitalism had decayed? But you know how great was the resistance, how much blood had to be shed in order to defend the October Revolution from all its enemies.

Or take France at the end of the eighteenth century. Long before 1789 it was clear to many how rotten the royal power, the feudal system, was. But a popular insurrection, a clash of classes was not, could not be avoided. Why? Because the classes which must abandon the stage of history are the last to become convinced that their role is ended. It is impossible to convince them of this. They think that the fissures in the decaying edifice of the old order can be repaired and saved.

That is why dying classes take to arms and resort to every means to save their existence as a ruling class.

But were there not a few lawyers at the head of the great French Revolution?

I do not deny the role of the intelligentsia in revolutionary movements. Was the great French Revolution a lawyers’ revolution and not a popular revolution, which achieved victory by rousing vast masses of the people against feudalism and championed the interests of the Third Estate? And did the lawyers among the leaders of the great French Revolution act in accordance with the laws of the old order? Did they not introduce new, bourgeois-revolutionary law?

The rich experience of history teaches that up to now not a single class has voluntarily made way for another class. There is no such precedent in history. The Communists have learned this lesson of history. Communists would welcome the voluntary departure of the bourgeoisie. But such a turn of affairs is improbable, that is what experience teaches. That is why the Communists want to be prepared for the worst and call upon the working class to be vigilant, to be prepared for battle.

Who wants a captain who lulls the vigilance of his army, a captain who does not understand that the enemy will not surrender, that he must be crushed? To be such a captain means deceiving, betraying the working class. That is why I think that what seems to you to be old-fashioned is in fact a measure of revolutionary expediency for the working class.

I do not deny that force has to be used, but I think the forms of the struggle should fit as closely as possible to the opportunities presented by the existing laws, which must be defended against reactionary attacks. There is no need to disorganise the old system because it is disorganising itself enough as it is. That is why it seems to me insurrection against the old order, against the law, is obsolete, old-fashioned. Incidentally, I exaggerate in order to bring the truth out more clearly. I can formulate my point of view in the following way: first, I am for order; second, I attack the present system in so far as it cannot assure order; third, I think that class war propaganda may detach from Socialism just those educated people whom Socialism needs.

In order to achieve a great object, an important social object, there must be a main force, a bulwark, a revolutionary class. Next it is necessary to organise the assistance of an auxiliary force for this main force; in this case this auxiliary force is the party, to which the best forces of the intelligentsia belong. Just now you spoke about “educated people”. But what educated people did you have in mind? Were there not plenty of educated people on the side of the old order in England in the seventeenth century, in France at the end of the eighteenth century, and in Russia in the epoch of the October Revolution? The old order had in its service many highly educated people who defended the old order, who opposed the new order.

Education is a weapon the effect of which is determined by the hands which wield it, by who is to be struck down. Of course, the proletariat, Socialism, needs highly educated people. Clearly, simpletons cannot help the proletariat to fight for Socialism, to build a new society.

I do not under-estimate the role of the intelligentsia; on the contrary, I emphasise it. The question is, however, which intelligentsia are we discussing? Because there are different kinds of intelligentsia.

There can be no revolution without a radical change in the educational system. It is sufficient to quote two examples – the example of the German Republic, which did not touch the old educational system, and therefore never became a republic; and the example of the British Labour Party, which lacks the determination to insist on a radical change in the educational system.

That is a correct observation. Permit me now to reply to your three points. First, the main thing for the revolution is the existence of a social bulwark. This bulwark of the revolution is the working class.

Second, an auxiliary force is required, that which the Communists call a Party. To the Party belong the intelligent workers and those elements of the technical intelligentsia which are closely connected with the working class. The intelligentsia can be strong only if it combines with the working class. If it opposes the working class it becomes a cipher.

Third, political power is required as a lever for change. The new political power creates the new laws, the new order, which is revolutionary order.

I do not stand for any kind of order. I stand for order that corresponds to the interests of the working class. If, however, any of the laws of the old order can be utilised in the interests of the struggle for the new order, the old laws should be utilised.

And, finally, you are wrong if you think that the Communists are enamoured of violence. They would be very pleased to drop violent methods if the ruling class agreed to give way to the working class. But the experience of history speaks against such an assumption.

There was a case in the history of England, however, of a class voluntarily handing over power to another class. In the period between 1830 and 1870, the aristocracy, whose influence was still very considerable at the end of the eighteenth century, voluntarily, without a severe struggle, surrendered power to the bourgeoisie, which serves as a sentimental support of the monarchy. Subsequently, this transference of power led to the establishment of the rule of the financial oligarchy.

But you have imperceptibly passed from questions of revolution to questions of reform. This is not the same thing. Don’t you think that the Chartist movement played a great role in the reforms in England in the nineteenth century?

The Chartists did little and disappeared without leaving a trace.

I do not agree with you. The Chartists, and the strike movement which they organised, played a great role; they compelled the ruling class to make a number of concessions in regard to the franchise, in regard to abolishing the so-called “rotten boroughs”, and in regard to some of the points of the “Charter”. Chartism played a not unimportant historical role and compelled a section of the ruling classes to make certain concessions, reforms, in order to avert great shocks. Generally speaking, it must be said that of all the ruling classes, the ruling classes of England, both the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, proved to be the cleverest, most flexible from the point of view of their class interests, from the point of view of maintaining their power.

Take as an example, say, from modern history, the General Strike in England in 1926. The first thing any other bourgeoisie would have done in the face of such an event, when the General Council of Trade Unions called for a strike, would have been to arrest the Trade Union leaders. The Brit­ish bourgeoisie did not do that, and it acted cleverly from the point of view of its own interests. I cannot conceive of such a flexible strategy being employed by the bourgeoisie in the United States, Germany or France. In order to maintain their rule, the ruling classes of Great Britain have never forsworn small concessions, reforms. But it would be a mistake to think that these reforms were revolutionary.

You have a higher opinion of the ruling classes of my country than I have. But is there a great difference between a small revolution and a great reform? Is not a reform a small revolution?

Owing to pressure from below, the pressure of the masses, the bourgeoisie may sometimes concede certain partial reforms while remaining on the basis of the existing social-economic system. Acting in this way, it calculates that these concessions are necessary in order to preserve its class rule. This is the essence of reform. Revolution, however, means the transference of power from one class to another. That is why it is impossible to describe any reform as revolution.

I am very grateful to you for this talk, which has meant a great deal to me. In explaining things to me you probably called to mind how you had to explain the fundamentals of Socialism in the illegal circles before the revolution. At the present time there are only two persons to whose opinion, to whose every word, millions are listening – you and Roosevelt. Others may preach as much as they like; what they say will never be printed or heeded.

I cannot yet appreciate what has been done in your country; I only arrived yesterday. But I have already seen the happy faces of healthy men and women and I know that something very considerable is being done here. The contrast with 1920 is astounding.

Much more could have been done had we Bolsheviks been cleverer.

No, if human beings were cleverer. It would be a good thing to invent a Five-Year Plan for the reconstruction of the human brain, which obviously lacks many things needed for a perfect social order. [Laughter]

Don’t you intend to stay for the Congress of the Soviet Writers’ Union?

Unfortunately, I have various engagements to fulfil and I can stay in the USSR only for a week. I came to see you and I am very satisfied by our talk. But I intend to discuss with such Soviet writers as I can meet the possibility of their affiliating to the PEN Club. The organisation is still weak, but it has branches in many countries, and what is more important, the speeches of its members are widely reported in the press. It insists upon this, free expression of opinion – even of opposition opinion. I hope to discuss this point with Gorki. I do not know if you are prepared yet for that much freedom …

We Bolsheviks call it “self-criticism”. It is widely used in the USSR. If there is anything I can do to help you I shall be glad to do so.

Link: Noam Chomsky on Propaganda in the US vs in the USSR.

October 24, 1986.

David Barsamian: C.P. Otero, who has edited a collection of your essays entitled Radical Priorities, has written in its preface, “The totalitarian system of thought control is far less effective than the democratic one, since the official doctrine parroted by the intellectuals at the service of the state is readily identifiable as pure propaganda, and this helps free the mind.” In contrast, he writes, “the democratic system seeks to determine and limit the entire spectrum of thought by leaving the fundamental assumptions unexpressed. They are presupposed but not asserted.”

Noam Chomsky: That’s quite accurate. I’ve also written about that many times. Just think about it. Take, say, a country which is at the opposite end of the spectrum from us domestically, the Soviet Union. That’s a country run by the bludgeon, essentially. It’s a command state: the state controls, everybody basically follows orders. It’s more complicated than that, but essentially that’s the way it works. There, it’s very easy to determine what propaganda is: what the state produces is propaganda. That’s the kind of thing that Orwell described in 1984. In a country like that, where there’s a kind of Ministry of Truth, propaganda is very easily identifiable. Everybody knows what it is, and you can choose to repeat it if you like, but basically it’s not really trying to control your thought very much; it’s giving you the party line. It’s saying, “Here’s the official doctrine; as long as you don’t disobey you won’t get in trouble. What you think is not of great importance to anyone. If you get out of line we’ll do something to you because we have force.”

Democratic societies can’t really work like that, because the state can’t control behavior by force. It can to some extent, but it’s much more limited in its capacity to control by force. Therefore, it has to control what you think. And again, democratic theorists have understood this for 50 or 60 years and have been very articulate about it. If the voice of the people is heard, you’d better control what that voice says, meaning you have to control what they think. The method Otero mentions there is one of the major methods. One of the ways you control what people think is by creating the illusion that there’s a debate going on, but making sure that that debate stays within very narrow margins. Namely, you have to make sure that both sides in the debate accept certain assumptions, and those assumptions turn out to be the propaganda system. As long as everyone accepts the propaganda system, then you can have a debate.

The Vietnam War is a classic example. In the major media, the New York Times or CBS or whatever — in fact, all across the spectrum except at the very far-out periphery which reaches almost no one — in the major media which reach the overwhelming majority of the population, there was a lively debate. It was between people called “doves” and people called “hawks”. The people called hawks said, “If we keep at it we can win.” The people called doves said, “Even if we keep at it we probably can’t win, and besides, it would probably be too costly for us, and besides maybe we’re killing too many people,” something like that. Both sides, the doves and the hawks, agreed on something: we have a right to carry out aggression against South Vietnam. In fact, they didn’t even admit that it was taking place. They called it the “defense” of South Vietnam, using “defense” for “aggression” in the standard Orwellian manner. We were in fact attacking South Vietnam, just as much as the Russians are attacking Afghanistan. Like them, we first established a government that invited us in, and until we found one we had to overturn government after government. Finally we got one that invited us in, after we’d been there for years, attacking the countryside and the population. That’s aggression. Nobody thought it was wrong, or rather, anyone who thought that was wrong was not admitted to the discussion. If you’re a dove, you’re in favor of aggression, if you’re a hawk you’re in favor of aggression. The debate between the hawks and the doves, then, is purely tactical: “Can we get away with it? Is it too bloody or too costly?” All basically irrelevant.

The real point is that aggression is wrong. When the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia, they got away with it. They didn’t kill many people, but it was wrong because aggression is wrong. We all understand that. But we can’t allow that understanding to be expressed when it relates to the violent actions of our state, obviously. If this were a totalitarian state, the Ministry of Truth would simply have said, “It’s right for us to go into Vietnam, period. Don’t argue with it.” People would have known that’s the propaganda system talking and they could have thought what they wanted. They could have seen that we were attacking Vietnam just like we can see that the Russians are attacking Afghanistan.

You couldn’t permit that understanding of reality in this country; it’s too dangerous. People are much more free, they can express themselves, they can do things. Therefore, it was necessary to try to control thought, to try to make it appear as if the only issue was a tactical one: can we get away with it? There’s no issue of right or wrong. That worked partially, but not entirely. Among the educated part of the population it worked almost totally.

There are good studies of this that show, with only the most marginal statistical error, that among the more educated parts of the population the government propaganda system was accepted unquestioningly. On the other hand, after a long period of popular spontaneous opposition, dissent and organization, the general population got out of control. As recently as 1982, according to the latest polls I’ve seen, over 70 percent of the population still was saying that the war was, quoting the wording of the Gallup poll, “fundamentally wrong and immoral,” not “a mistake.” That is, the overwhelming majority of the population is neither hawks nor doves, but opposed to aggression. On the other hand, the educated part of the population, they’re in line. For them, it’s just the tactical question of hawk vs. dove.

This is, incidentally, not untypical. Propaganda very often works better for the educated than it does for the uneducated. This is true on many issues. There are a lot of reasons for this, one being that the educated receive more of the propaganda because they read more. Another thing is that they are the agents of propaganda. After all, their job is that of commissars; they’re supposed to be the agents of the propaganda system so they believe it. It’s very hard to say something unless you believe it. Other reasons are that, by and large, they are just part of the privileged elite so they share their interests and perceptions, whereas the general population is more marginalized. It, by and large, doesn’t participate in the democratic system, which is overwhelmingly an elite game. People learn from their own lives to be skeptical, and in fact most of them are. There’s a lot of skepticism and dissent and so on.

Here’s a case which is an interesting one because, while the technique of thought control worked very effectively, in fact to virtually 100 percent effectiveness among the educated part of the population, after many years of atrocities and massacres and hundreds of thousands of people killed and so on, it began to erode among the general population. There’s even a name for that: it’s called the “Vietnam Syndrome”, a grave disease: people understand too much. But it’s very striking, very illuminating to see how well it’s worked among the educated. If you pick up a book on American history and look at the Vietnam War, there is no such event as the American attack against South Vietnam. It’s as if in the Soviet Union, say, in the early part of the 21st century, nobody will have ever said there was a Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Everyone says it’s a Russian defense of Afghanistan. That’s not going to happen. In fact, people already talk about the Russian invasion of Afghanistan — maybe they defend it, maybe not — but they admit that it exists. But in the United States, where the indoctrination system is vastly more effective, the educated part of the population can’t even see that it exists. We cannot see that there was an American invasion of South Vietnam. It’s out of history, down Orwell’s memory hole.

Link: ‘Animal Farm’: What Orwell Really Meant

Following is an excerpt from a letter from George Orwell to Dwight Macdonald, written in December 1946, soon after the publication of Animal Farm in the US. According to the editor of the letters, Peter Davison, who also supplied the footnotes, Macdonald wrote Orwell that

anti-Stalinist intellectuals of his acquaintance claimed that the parable of Animal Farm meant that revolution always ended badly for the underdog, “hence to hell with it and hail the status quo.” He himself read the book as applying solely to Russia and not making any larger statement about the philosophy of revolution. “I’ve been impressed with how many leftists I know make this criticism quite independently of each other—impressed because it didn’t occur to me when reading the book and still doesn’t seem correct to me. Which view would you say comes closer to you own intentions?”

Orwell’s reply will appear in George Orwell: Life in Letters, to be published by Liveright in August.


Re. your query about Animal Farm. Of course I intended it primarily as a satire on the Russian revolution. But I did mean it to have a wider application in so much that I meant that that kind of revolution (violent conspiratorial revolution, led by unconsciously power-hungry people) can only lead to a change of masters. I meant the moral to be that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job. The turning-point of the story was supposed to be when the pigs kept the milk and apples for themselves (Kronstadt).1 If the other animals had had the sense to put their foot down then, it would have been all right. If people think I am defending the status quo, that is, I think, because they have grown pessimistic and assume that there is no alternative except dictatorship or laissez-faire capitalism. In the case of Trotskyists, there is the added complication that they feel responsible for events in the USSR up to about 1926 and have to assume that a sudden degeneration took place about that date. Whereas I think the whole process was foreseeable—and was foreseen by a few people, eg. Bertrand Russell—from the very nature of the Bolshevik party. What I was trying to say was, “You can’t have a revolution unless you make it for yourself; there is no such thing as a benevolent dictat[or]ship.2


The Stalinist Order, the Putinist Order: Private life, Political Change and Property in Russian Society

The “Stalinist order” continues to lurk in aesthetic forms and written documents; from an architectural perspective, it lives on as long as the buildings survive. And merges with the new order, in which the new “elite” buy up the same buildings and imitative newbuilds for artificially inflated prices.
This was a very simple space. The architect or, more probably, the engineer who had designed it was constrained by available funds – there could be no spiral staircases or bay windows. We lived in box rooms, just like everyone else. It seemed quite natural to me that my best friend’s flat, where I spent almost as much time as at home, was identical to ours. Literally so – for even the coat rack in the hall was the same, as were the chandeliers. The bookshelves were also similarly installed, and the books in them no different from our own.
Life was confined to our apartment, of course, but I was also aware of the presence of people living upstairs and next door. Flats with paper-thin walls are places where people are constantly reminding each other of their presence. Like anyone who grew up in an apartment of this type, I knew the voices of the people next door and those upstairs. The neighbours next door used to quarrel loudly at times, and one of the children was learning to play a musical instrument – though the attempt seemed limited to performing scales. Occasionally something heavy could be heard tumbling to the floor in the flat upstairs – a piece of furniture? A beam? But on a working day, in the morning, there was almost total silence; and you could hear far further than the nearest neighbouring box room. It would seem to me, sometimes, that I could hear someone reading aloud to a child.
To my grandparents, a life with no exterior aspect seemed a joy. I can remember the stories they told about moving into their nine-storey block. The flat was better than a room in a communal apartment or in a wooden barrack, far better. People wouldn’t be watching you. These were glad tidings indeed. You’d be able to go to the lavatory when you wanted, you’d be able to wash inyour own bathroom. From a harsh world of intense struggle for survival, a world where nothing was private, where there was only the public, you had come to have a home of your own. You had somewhere to hide. So what if it was a prefabricated box room made of panels produced in a building construction factory? This was the only available option.
Economic law governs our actions and our minds. Housing is the problem of our times. Social stability depends upon it. In a period of renewal, the first duty of architecture is to bring about a revision of values, a revision of the constituent elements of the home. Mass-production is based on analysis and experiment. Heavy industry should focus on working out and producing the elements essential for the construction of housing on a mass scale. We must create a spirit of mass-production, a spirit of mass home construction. We must establish the idea of a building as an industrial article, manufactured on a grand scale, and encourage the aspiration to live in such buildings. If we eliminate from our hearts and minds the set notion of what a home should be, and look at the issue critically and objectively, we shall arrive at the idea of “the house as a machine for living”, an industrial product that is healthy (also in the moral sense of the word) and beautiful - just as the working tools, inseparable from our existence, are beautiful.
These lines were written in the 1920s, by Le Corbusier, who made the distinction between architects and engineers. He predicted that architects, who had forgotten about the primary purpose of the home and become wholly absorbed by décor, would soon be put in their rightful place. They would have nothing left to do: “We no longer have the funds to erect historical souvenirs.” Meanwhile, the role of engineers would grow and they would take the reins in the community. Of course Le Corbusier could not have imagined how firmly engineers would grasp the communal reins in far distant Russia. It would not have occurred to him that in his own lifetime, in the 1960s, thanks to the industrialization of construction by Nikita Khrushchev, an entire society would grow up and be educated inside “industrial products”. We became that society. The “governance of economic law” was translated into the language of the resolutions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union: “The Central Committee of the CPSU and the Soviet of Ministers of the USSR note that the superficial, ostentatious and overindulgent aspect of architecture has become prominent in the work of many architects and organizations undertaking architectural projects, which does not correspond to the line of the Party and the Government on matters of architecture and construction.” The five-storey residential block which appeared thanks to this new political line (copied in the 1950s from a French prototype by the engineer Vitaly Lagutenko) proved a lifeline for millions. Later, nine-storey blocks appeared, like the one in which I grew up, constructed from rough, grey panels. Later still, the 16-storey blocks arrived, together with all those other examples of “machines for living”, as attractive as working tools and inseparable from our lives. Have we developed “the aspiration to live in such buildings” that Le Corbusier hoped for? Of course we have. For the majority of us, this is home. Even today, for most people, it is the only opportunity to create a small space of their own even today – never mind that it’s in a box room in a huge residential block. To experience the outside world we can go to the centre of town, just as we did when we were children. Or, better still, we can travel to other cities and other countries where we can have a good look at the external environment and even stay for a while. An old house in an old European city is like a souvenir. You want to pick it up and take it home.
It’s perfectly clear which kind of house you’d want to take away, and which youwouldn’t. Like many others who live in faceless buildings, I have developed a very specific attitude to architecture. Soviet constructions – multi-storied, residential blocks made of prefabricated panels – define the appearance of most Russian cities to this day. No doubt that is why the attraction of rationalist avant-garde architecture, with its levelling impact, seems so incomprehensible in this context. Most buildings erected during the brief Rationalist, Constructivist period in the second half of the 1920s and early 1930s, need to be culturally rehabilitated, so the contemporary Russian schoolboy can learn to distinguish between examples of buildings created by the avant-garde movement, and the simplified copies run off in Soviet and post-Soviet times. A severe approach to form, functionality, the growth of a building from “within” (from the internal space not the façade) …all this became the basis and language of world architecture in the twentieth century. But it means almost nothing to us in Russia. The functionality and beauty of Constructivism was pushed out by mass construction. Our architects were given the opportunity to create an environment and build over vast areas according to their own plans – something most of their colleagues abroad never experienced. But economic law proved extremely harsh. The environment came to play no part at all. It was almost as though it didn’t exist.
The creators of the project were persuaded that people would come to love their homes in time. They were convinced that they had picked the right moment. “The unacceptability of these buildings, in practice, given the specific conditions of the time, was generally explained by saying that they had been introduced too early. It was assumed that, in due course, society would ‘mature’ enough to accept the way of life that communal blocks were intended to cultivate.” But in fact, like most fantasists, the authors of these projects were behind the times. If genuine communes developed at all, they emerged from attempts by workers to resist a hostile social environment. During the years of the civil war, social aggression forced supporters of Soviet power to come together and form domestic communes. Architects picked up the notions of communal housing from these communities, merging them with utopian ideas from the past. But once socialism had triumphed, people (who now felt they were living in a country they owned) needed not defence installations, but comfortable urban housing. This remained confined to the realm of fantasy.
We, in Russia, understand architecture instantly and unconsciously. Anything that is tall, exceptional and redolent of “the elite” is unattainable. It is acquired in return for service to the state or for untold sums of money. “Elite quality” establishes value – no matter how this expression may be understood at any given time. It may be a flat in a Stalinist tower block, a detached brick fortress or a sterile-looking, minimalist house. Equally, any building that has no features or character at all is a product not of architecture but of engineering. Engineers were the social levellers, forbidden to indulge in excessive ostentation, and forced to invent buildings that were, as far as possible, identical.In order to understand the merits of simplicity, one needs to have experienced both complexity and luxury. Only those who have tired of complicated spaces, garish facades and an excess of decorative architectural features can appreciate the distilled elements of modern architecture, its vast spaces and featureless concrete surfaces. But the people who had no choice but to function in a world where architects and engineers stood opposed, did not understand either space or decorative features and, on the whole, did not even have their own home. Most Soviet people lived (and, in Russia, continue to live) in a world invented by engineers constrained by lack of funds. They have known no alternative. Khrushchev’s five-storey residential blocks, known as Project K-7, were intended to save the country from homelessness. And so they did. But the five-storey model also became the prototype for numerous prefabricated clones which continue to be reproduced today. Buildings survive longer than people and if, fifty years ago they were built as a lifeline, they are now being replicated out of inertia and a sense of inevitability.All this shows how a temporary, “experimental” decision (for the five-storey blocks were thought of as a temporary measure) can become a permanent feature of daily life, with no existing alternative. It is an example of how, in a major plan, a small diversion can become a highway. We become dependent on a chosen route very quickly – consider how a field track is formed. It becomes increasingly difficult to shake off our dependence* – just as it is hard to get out of any rut. Mass produced multi-storey blocks were an excellent solution for the Soviet state, because the Soviet economy knew how to create “output” and organize a form of mass production in which quantity was more important than quality. This was a solution for many residents of barracks and communal flats, but it also proved to be a trap.

The Stalinist Order, the Putinist Order: Private life, Political Change and Property in Russian Society

The “Stalinist order” continues to lurk in aesthetic forms and written documents; from an architectural perspective, it lives on as long as the buildings survive. And merges with the new order, in which the new “elite” buy up the same buildings and imitative newbuilds for artificially inflated prices.

This was a very simple space. The architect or, more probably, the engineer who had designed it was constrained by available funds – there could be no spiral staircases or bay windows. We lived in box rooms, just like everyone else. It seemed quite natural to me that my best friend’s flat, where I spent almost as much time as at home, was identical to ours. Literally so – for even the coat rack in the hall was the same, as were the chandeliers. The bookshelves were also similarly installed, and the books in them no different from our own.

Life was confined to our apartment, of course, but I was also aware of the presence of people living upstairs and next door. Flats with paper-thin walls are places where people are constantly reminding each other of their presence. Like anyone who grew up in an apartment of this type, I knew the voices of the people next door and those upstairs. The neighbours next door used to quarrel loudly at times, and one of the children was learning to play a musical instrument – though the attempt seemed limited to performing scales. Occasionally something heavy could be heard tumbling to the floor in the flat upstairs – a piece of furniture? A beam? But on a working day, in the morning, there was almost total silence; and you could hear far further than the nearest neighbouring box room. It would seem to me, sometimes, that I could hear someone reading aloud to a child.

To my grandparents, a life with no exterior aspect seemed a joy. I can remember the stories they told about moving into their nine-storey block. The flat was better than a room in a communal apartment or in a wooden barrack, far better. People wouldn’t be watching you. These were glad tidings indeed. You’d be able to go to the lavatory when you wanted, you’d be able to wash inyour own bathroom. From a harsh world of intense struggle for survival, a world where nothing was private, where there was only the public, you had come to have a home of your own. You had somewhere to hide. So what if it was a prefabricated box room made of panels produced in a building construction factory? This was the only available option.

Economic law governs our actions and our minds.
Housing is the problem of our times. Social stability depends upon it. In a period of renewal, the first duty of architecture is to bring about a revision of values, a revision of the constituent elements of the home. Mass-production is based on analysis and experiment. Heavy industry should focus on working out and producing the elements essential for the construction of housing on a mass scale. We must create a spirit of mass-production, a spirit of mass home construction. We must establish the idea of a building as an industrial article, manufactured on a grand scale, and encourage the aspiration to live in such buildings. If we eliminate from our hearts and minds the set notion of what a home should be, and look at the issue critically and objectively, we shall arrive at the idea of “the house as a machine for living”, an industrial product that is healthy (also in the moral sense of the word) and beautiful - just as the working tools, inseparable from our existence, are beautiful.

These lines were written in the 1920s, by Le Corbusier, who made the distinction between architects and engineers. He predicted that architects, who had forgotten about the primary purpose of the home and become wholly absorbed by décor, would soon be put in their rightful place. They would have nothing left to do: “We no longer have the funds to erect historical souvenirs.” Meanwhile, the role of engineers would grow and they would take the reins in the community. Of course Le Corbusier could not have imagined how firmly engineers would grasp the communal reins in far distant Russia. It would not have occurred to him that in his own lifetime, in the 1960s, thanks to the industrialization of construction by Nikita Khrushchev, an entire society would grow up and be educated inside “industrial products”.

We became that society. The “governance of economic law” was translated into the language of the resolutions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union: “The Central Committee of the CPSU and the Soviet of Ministers of the USSR note that the superficial, ostentatious and overindulgent aspect of architecture has become prominent in the work of many architects and organizations undertaking architectural projects, which does not correspond to the line of the Party and the Government on matters of architecture and construction.” The five-storey residential block which appeared thanks to this new political line (copied in the 1950s from a French prototype by the engineer Vitaly Lagutenko) proved a lifeline for millions. Later, nine-storey blocks appeared, like the one in which I grew up, constructed from rough, grey panels. Later still, the 16-storey blocks arrived, together with all those other examples of “machines for living”, as attractive as working tools and inseparable from our lives.

Have we developed “the aspiration to live in such buildings” that Le Corbusier hoped for? Of course we have. For the majority of us, this is home. Even today, for most people, it is the only opportunity to create a small space of their own even today – never mind that it’s in a box room in a huge residential block. To experience the outside world we can go to the centre of town, just as we did when we were children. Or, better still, we can travel to other cities and other countries where we can have a good look at the external environment and even stay for a while. An old house in an old European city is like a souvenir. You want to pick it up and take it home.

It’s perfectly clear which kind of house you’d want to take away, and which youwouldn’t. Like many others who live in faceless buildings, I have developed a very specific attitude to architecture. Soviet constructions – multi-storied, residential blocks made of prefabricated panels – define the appearance of most Russian cities to this day. No doubt that is why the attraction of rationalist avant-garde architecture, with its levelling impact, seems so incomprehensible in this context. Most buildings erected during the brief Rationalist, Constructivist period in the second half of the 1920s and early 1930s, need to be culturally rehabilitated, so the contemporary Russian schoolboy can learn to distinguish between examples of buildings created by the avant-garde movement, and the simplified copies run off in Soviet and post-Soviet times. A severe approach to form, functionality, the growth of a building from “within” (from the internal space not the façade) …all this became the basis and language of world architecture in the twentieth century. But it means almost nothing to us in Russia. The functionality and beauty of Constructivism was pushed out by mass construction. Our architects were given the opportunity to create an environment and build over vast areas according to their own plans – something most of their colleagues abroad never experienced. But economic law proved extremely harsh. The environment came to play no part at all. It was almost as though it didn’t exist.

The creators of the project were persuaded that people would come to love their homes in time. They were convinced that they had picked the right moment. “The unacceptability of these buildings, in practice, given the specific conditions of the time, was generally explained by saying that they had been introduced too early. It was assumed that, in due course, society would ‘mature’ enough to accept the way of life that communal blocks were intended to cultivate.” But in fact, like most fantasists, the authors of these projects were behind the times. If genuine communes developed at all, they emerged from attempts by workers to resist a hostile social environment. During the years of the civil war, social aggression forced supporters of Soviet power to come together and form domestic communes. Architects picked up the notions of communal housing from these communities, merging them with utopian ideas from the past. But once socialism had triumphed, people (who now felt they were living in a country they owned) needed not defence installations, but comfortable urban housing. This remained confined to the realm of fantasy.

We, in Russia, understand architecture instantly and unconsciously. Anything that is tall, exceptional and redolent of “the elite” is unattainable. It is acquired in return for service to the state or for untold sums of money. “Elite quality” establishes value – no matter how this expression may be understood at any given time. It may be a flat in a Stalinist tower block, a detached brick fortress or a sterile-looking, minimalist house. Equally, any building that has no features or character at all is a product not of architecture but of engineering. Engineers were the social levellers, forbidden to indulge in excessive ostentation, and forced to invent buildings that were, as far as possible, identical.

In order to understand the merits of simplicity, one needs to have experienced both complexity and luxury. Only those who have tired of complicated spaces, garish facades and an excess of decorative architectural features can appreciate the distilled elements of modern architecture, its vast spaces and featureless concrete surfaces. But the people who had no choice but to function in a world where architects and engineers stood opposed, did not understand either space or decorative features and, on the whole, did not even have their own home. Most Soviet people lived (and, in Russia, continue to live) in a world invented by engineers constrained by lack of funds. They have known no alternative. Khrushchev’s five-storey residential blocks, known as Project K-7, were intended to save the country from homelessness. And so they did. But the five-storey model also became the prototype for numerous prefabricated clones which continue to be reproduced today. Buildings survive longer than people and if, fifty years ago they were built as a lifeline, they are now being replicated out of inertia and a sense of inevitability.

All this shows how a temporary, “experimental” decision (for the five-storey blocks were thought of as a temporary measure) can become a permanent feature of daily life, with no existing alternative. It is an example of how, in a major plan, a small diversion can become a highway. We become dependent on a chosen route very quickly – consider how a field track is formed. It becomes increasingly difficult to shake off our dependence* – just as it is hard to get out of any rut. Mass produced multi-storey blocks were an excellent solution for the Soviet state, because the Soviet economy knew how to create “output” and organize a form of mass production in which quantity was more important than quality. This was a solution for many residents of barracks and communal flats, but it also proved to be a trap.


Moscow’s 800th Birthday Party in 1947
By happenstance (a post on Facebook), I came across an incomparable series of photographs by Robert Capa of Moscow 1947 (the post led me to the site with a big set of pictures of superb reproduction quality). One of them - women dancing in the street - was riveting and would not let me go. I followed the trail…
Robert Capa visited in the Soviet Union with John Steinbeck on an assignment for The New York Herald Tribune. They were supposed to produce a series of human-interest reports about the people living through the post-war reconstruction of the USSR. The real cold-war freeze was just setting in, and an average American was puzzled by the changing tone in the political relationship between Soviet Russia and the West. Only recently, USSR had been a staunch ally of the West in the war against Hitler. Now it was morphing into the Big Other. “A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately light by the Allied victory,” as  Churchill put it in a language worthy of an epic poet, and “from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them…” (The Fulton Speech, 5 March 1946). Could this grim epic be true and was the world on the brink of the third great war of the century? The author of The Grapes of Wrathand, perhaps, the world’s most  famous war photographer were supposed to sort it all out by observing and reporting on the daily life of ordinary Soviets. Steinbeck’s reports and Capa’s photographs were serialized beginning January 1948 and later in the year appeared under Steinbeck’s name as A Russian Journal, with Photographs by Robert Capa. The book is still in print.
Their forty-day-long trip happened to coincide with a festive celebration of Moscow’s 800th anniversary, held on September 7, 1947. I was then a little over one year old but the echoes of the event reverberated throughout my childhood (we lived in the center of Moscow halfway between the Red Square and Chistye Prudy). I remember playing with the colorful commemorative insignia (few things were colorful then) and hearing my parents, probably in answer to my questions, refer to the celebrations with uncharacteristic ebullience. Clearly it was a major landmark of the post-war years in Stalin’s Russia.
Having won the other Great War, USSR was now a superpower and — recall Churchill’s Homeric catalogue of cities on which the USSR has cast its “shadow” — a great world empire. Empires need historical legitimacy, and the mere three decades since the Proletarian Revolution of 1917 came woefully short, especially now that the revolutionary proletarian class had been enhanced, if not entirely supplanted, by the “great Russian people, the leading people among all of the peoples of our country,” as Stalin famously put it in his Toast at the Victory Dinner in the Kremlin on 24 May 1945. Once and for all, the proletarian internationalism had to yield its pride of place to Russian nationalism. The 800th anniversary of Moscow’s first mention in the Primary Chronicle came in handy. This anniversary had been celebrated once before, in 1847, on the prompting of the Russian Slavophiles. Then, as now, it provided the empire with an almost millennial stretch of usable history. This round, doubly symbolic, date became a cornerstone of the new era, and it was marked accordingly by laying the foundation of the eight Moscow skyscrapers, the buildings that were to define the city’s skyline into the future imperial century. And they, in fact, do even to this day (ultimately, only seven were built). And then there were the festivities to match the momentous occasion. The city was outfitted with illumination fit for a Roman carnival or Paris on the Bastille Day. The center of Moscow was filled with the sound of music, both live and blasting from the public loudspeakers. Temporary stages were set up on which couples of professional well-dressed dancers twirled to live music to encourage the people below stage, the survivors, exhausted by the years of war and privation, to do the same. There is a one-minute clip showing such a street scene in Moscow.
Now, Robert Capa, one of the century’s most celebrated  photographers, the hero witness to the Spanish civil war and the Allied landing in Normandy three years earlier was to document the Soviets’ transition to peace. 
Judging by most pictures, Capa was shooting with a 35 mm lens (slightly wide-angle) - a reporter’s tool to capture the context while getting in close to the subject, the tool also favored by his friend Henri Cartier-Bresson. (On this trip, Capa had with him a Contax and, photo to the right, a square format Rolleiflex and, according to A Russian Journal, two more cameras and lenses). 
Getting close to the subject, though, turned out to be difficult. He could not move around freely and shoot even though he had his permits and his official guides from VOKS — not until, that is, he partnered with a Soviet “photographer,” no doubt of the Lubyanka provenance, who could ward off policemen. (Viktor Tolts of Radio Free Europe located and interviewed their VOKS interpreter.). This not to mention that his Soviet subjects, especially in Moscow, were, as Steinbeck noted, camera shy before an American reporter. This is why we often see his subjects’ backs — with the eyes the Great Leader staring at them from giant posters or, as in the picture on the left, from a giant piece of porcelain. This composition — the photographer watching the subject being watched by another — had a venerable pedigree among the artists touched by surrealism.
Some pictures were taken from hotel windows, like the one the right of the Theater Square and the Bolshoi, when Capa was shooting from the Metropol in the late afternoon sun (the long shadows). Some of the night shots of the Kremlin were taken from the balcony of the suite occupied by Louis Aragon and Elsa Triolet at the hotel National.
And yet, whatever the restrictions, this war photographer was able to convey the atmosphere of the 1947 Moscow. Indeed, many images are composed to give expression to the wrenching tension between the ordinary folks’ desire to cash in a little of that great WWII victory — to ease gently into the long-deferred private life — and the unspoken command shouting at them from every poster: “Attention! To the Glory of the Empire, March!”
A cluster of women in the image below are sitting this way and that on the bench in a small park in front of the Bolshoi Theater. They are enjoying a bit of sunshine and a quiet moment with a book, while behind them Apollo, with the USSR coat of arms above his head, is barely capable of restraining his charging horses. His ancient chariot is now festooned with an array of erect pointed flagpoles, flags taut, one for every constituent republic of the Soviet Union. Below them and right above the women’s heads hang the giant faces of the ageless leaders — one dead, one very much alive. Between the two heads, as if knitting them together, are the words of the new Soviet anthem: “The unbreakable union of free republics has for ages been bonded by Great Russia…” The neoclassical architecture of the Bolshoi Theater, with its slightly Baroque Ionian columns and classical double pediment crowned by the Soviet Union’s coat of arms could not be better suited to serve as an emblem of a centuries-old, newly-minted empire. What contrast all of this imperial paraphernalia provides to the female figures — young and not so young, bare-headed, kerchiefed, and one with a fashionable pointed hat (echoes of better times?) — relaxing on a park bench on a brilliant sunny day in an unseasonably cold Moscow! The contrast is even more striking for the complete absence of men or children around them. Will these women have to be forever married to Lenin and Stalin, captives to the the frigid union between the mothers of their land and the fathers of the empire?  
Coming of age as a photographer in the decades of Surrealism, Capa, like his friend Cariter-Bresson, sought out in his reportage a “found object,” or as Cartier-Bresson redefined it, the “decisive moment.” What, then, was Capa’s decisive moment in his Moscow pictures? His shutter clicks in that ineffable split second that separates the longed-for deep breath of his subject and a furtive, incomplete exhale, constricted by Stalin’s sphinx-like gaze. The photograph showing a model at the fashion commission meeting is another exemplary image. The picture is awkward, absurd, comical, and heart-stoppingly chilling. Generalissimo Stalin’s gaze dominates, refracted and dispersed into the smaller gazes of the judges on the committee.
But there are exception, and the most notable one, when the camera looks straight into the faces of his subjects and meets their eyes, is Capa’s photograph that caught my attention in the first place: two women dancing with each other in the street on that festive September Sunday (Saturday was a workday). The location is easy to figure out. They are dancing at the corner of Okhotny Ryad and Tvesrkaya, right in front of the Hotel Moskva, with the Hotel National, the Intourist building, behind them.
September 7 was one of those liminal days when the air is cool and the pale blue sky is open and sunny (there is just a wisp of a cloud in the top left corner). The woman facing the camera is wearing a thick shawl and a heavy coat, the other is in a light dress, epitomizing the two sides of the Russian “Indian summer” and, perhaps also, the desire to use hope to trump the cold reality, for “it was a brilliant cold day,” as Steinbeck noted in his Journal. Both women are young and beautiful and strikingly dignified. But their faces suggest a more complicated story. The furrowed brow, the lines around the mouth, the alarm in the eyes of the woman facing the camera — what is behind them? And what about her dancing partner? Alone in the frame in a white flowery dress, her hair beautifully arranged, but her gaze is fixed on a point in infinity and her  profile is frozen into a classical tragic mask. Her right arm, bare and vulnerable, is gracefully stretched out, and the slight curve of her back is protected by the hand of her partner, apparently, stronger and more practically dressed. The tension is palpable. Were the music to stop at that moment, one of them and perhaps both would hunch over and burst out crying. To make sure your are not imagining all of this emotional dynamite, you check their expressions and posture against the other two female couples in the background: they, too, look tentative, dispirited, and forlorn, though lacking in grace and dignity compared to the couple in the foreground. The out-of-focus smiling faces to the right of the dancers only amplify the grotesque contrast between the intended mood of the festivities and the pain of the city’s post-war life. So much sadness fills this instant captured by Capa that it can never be effaced or redeemed. 
Seven years later, in 1954, a year after Stalin’s death, and, it happens, a few months after Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir attended the May Day parade in Moscow, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Capa’s good friend and, with him, a co-founder of the Magnum Agency, made a trip to the USSR. He was the first Western photojournalist to be allowed the privilege of touring the Soviet Union since Stalin’s death and, perhaps, even since his friend’s 1947 visit. He produced a fuller, richer set of images, with plenty of faces not shying away from his Leica lens. Cartier-Bresson was a greater artist than Capa and enjoyed better conditions in the USSR, then slowly beginning to “thaw” from the deep freeze of Stalinism. O what a difference do seven years make! Or perhaps, not just the seven years. Cartier-Bresson was also more “engaged,” to use Sartre’s term, and had, for awhile, belonged to the French Communist Party (see Jean-Pierre Montier, Henri Cartier-Bresson, figure de l’« intellectuel » ?). One needs only to compare his sets of photographs from the USA tour of the 1930s and 1940s with the pictures from his 1954 tour serialized in Life in January 1955 and later that year collected into The People of Moscow. US is sinister, violently racist, aggressive and plutocratic. USSR is, well, a bit backward, a bit absurd, but always charmant.

Moscow’s 800th Birthday Party in 1947

By happenstance (a post on Facebook), I came across an incomparable series of photographs by Robert Capa of Moscow 1947 (the post led me to the site with a big set of pictures of superb reproduction quality). One of them - women dancing in the street - was riveting and would not let me go. I followed the trail…

Robert Capa visited in the Soviet Union with John Steinbeck on an assignment for The New York Herald Tribune. They were supposed to produce a series of human-interest reports about the people living through the post-war reconstruction of the USSR. The real cold-war freeze was just setting in, and an average American was puzzled by the changing tone in the political relationship between Soviet Russia and the West. Only recently, USSR had been a staunch ally of the West in the war against Hitler. Now it was morphing into the Big Other. “A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately light by the Allied victory,” as  Churchill put it in a language worthy of an epic poet, and “from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them…” (The Fulton Speech, 5 March 1946). 

Could this grim epic be true and was the world on the brink of the third great war of the century? The author of The Grapes of Wrathand, perhaps, the world’s most  famous war photographer were supposed to sort it all out by observing and reporting on the daily life of ordinary Soviets. Steinbeck’s reports and Capa’s photographs were serialized beginning January 1948 and later in the year appeared under Steinbeck’s name as A Russian Journalwith Photographs by Robert Capa. The book is still in print.

Their forty-day-long trip happened to coincide with a festive celebration of Moscow’s 800th anniversary, held on September 7, 1947. I was then a little over one year old but the echoes of the event reverberated throughout my childhood (we lived in the center of Moscow halfway between the Red Square and Chistye Prudy). I remember playing with the colorful commemorative insignia (few things were colorful then) and hearing my parents, probably in answer to my questions, refer to the celebrations with uncharacteristic ebullience. Clearly it was a major landmark of the post-war years in Stalin’s Russia.

Having won the other Great War, USSR was now a superpower and — recall Churchill’s Homeric catalogue of cities on which the USSR has cast its “shadow” — a great world empire. Empires need historical legitimacy, and the mere three decades since the Proletarian Revolution of 1917 came woefully short, especially now that the revolutionary proletarian class had been enhanced, if not entirely supplanted, by the “great Russian people, the leading people among all of the peoples of our country,” as Stalin famously put it in his Toast at the Victory Dinner in the Kremlin on 24 May 1945. Once and for all, the proletarian internationalism had to yield its pride of place to Russian nationalism. The 800th anniversary of Moscow’s first mention in the Primary Chronicle came in handy. This anniversary had been celebrated once before, in 1847, on the prompting of the Russian Slavophiles. Then, as now, it provided the empire with an almost millennial stretch of usable history. 

This round, doubly symbolic, date became a cornerstone of the new era, and it was marked accordingly by laying the foundation of the eight Moscow skyscrapers, the buildings that were to define the city’s skyline into the future imperial century. And they, in fact, do even to this day (ultimately, only seven were built). And then there were the festivities to match the momentous occasion. The city was outfitted with illumination fit for a Roman carnival or Paris on the Bastille Day. The center of Moscow was filled with the sound of music, both live and blasting from the public loudspeakers. Temporary stages were set up on which couples of professional well-dressed dancers twirled to live music to encourage the people below stage, the survivors, exhausted by the years of war and privation, to do the same. There is a one-minute clip showing such a street scene in Moscow.

Now, Robert Capa, one of the century’s most celebrated  photographers, the hero witness to the Spanish civil war and the Allied landing in Normandy three years earlier was to document the Soviets’ transition to peace. 

Judging by most pictures, Capa was shooting with a 35 mm lens (slightly wide-angle) - a reporter’s tool to capture the context while getting in close to the subject, the tool also favored by his friend Henri Cartier-Bresson. (On this trip, Capa had with him a Contax and, photo to the right, a square format Rolleiflex and, according to A Russian Journal, two more cameras and lenses). 

Getting close to the subject, though, turned out to be difficult. He could not move around freely and shoot even though he had his permits and his official guides from VOKS — not until, that is, he partnered with a Soviet “photographer,” no doubt of the Lubyanka provenance, who could ward off policemen. (Viktor Tolts of Radio Free Europe located and interviewed their VOKS interpreter.). This not to mention that his Soviet subjects, especially in Moscow, were, as Steinbeck noted, camera shy before an American reporter. This is why we often see his subjects’ backs — with the eyes the Great Leader staring at them from giant posters or, as in the picture on the left, from a giant piece of porcelain. This composition — the photographer watching the subject being watched by another — had a venerable pedigree among the artists touched by surrealism.

Some pictures were taken from hotel windows, like the one the right of the Theater Square and the Bolshoi, when Capa was shooting from the Metropol in the late afternoon sun (the long shadows). Some of the night shots of the Kremlin were taken from the balcony of the suite occupied by Louis Aragon and Elsa Triolet at the hotel National.

And yet, whatever the restrictions, this war photographer was able to convey the atmosphere of the 1947 Moscow. Indeed, many images are composed to give expression to the wrenching tension between the ordinary folks’ desire to cash in a little of that great WWII victory — to ease gently into the long-deferred private life — and the unspoken command shouting at them from every poster: “Attention! To the Glory of the Empire, March!”

A cluster of women in the image below are sitting this way and that on the bench in a small park in front of the Bolshoi Theater. They are enjoying a bit of sunshine and a quiet moment with a book, while behind them Apollo, with the USSR coat of arms above his head, is barely capable of restraining his charging horses. His ancient chariot is now festooned with an array of erect pointed flagpoles, flags taut, one for every constituent republic of the Soviet Union. Below them and right above the women’s heads hang the giant faces of the ageless leaders — one dead, one very much alive. Between the two heads, as if knitting them together, are the words of the new Soviet anthem: “The unbreakable union of free republics has for ages been bonded by Great Russia…” The neoclassical architecture of the Bolshoi Theater, with its slightly Baroque Ionian columns and classical double pediment crowned by the Soviet Union’s coat of arms could not be better suited to serve as an emblem of a centuries-old, newly-minted empire. What contrast all of this imperial paraphernalia provides to the female figures — young and not so young, bare-headed, kerchiefed, and one with a fashionable pointed hat (echoes of better times?) — relaxing on a park bench on a brilliant sunny day in an unseasonably cold Moscow! The contrast is even more striking for the complete absence of men or children around them. Will these women have to be forever married to Lenin and Stalin, captives to the the frigid union between the mothers of their land and the fathers of the empire?  

Coming of age as a photographer in the decades of Surrealism, Capa, like his friend Cariter-Bresson, sought out in his reportage a “found object,” or as Cartier-Bresson redefined it, the “decisive moment.” What, then, was Capa’s decisive moment in his Moscow pictures? His shutter clicks in that ineffable split second that separates the longed-for deep breath of his subject and a furtive, incomplete exhale, constricted by Stalin’s sphinx-like gaze. The photograph showing a model at the fashion commission meeting is another exemplary image. The picture is awkward, absurd, comical, and heart-stoppingly chilling. Generalissimo Stalin’s gaze dominates, refracted and dispersed into the smaller gazes of the judges on the committee.

But there are exception, and the most notable one, when the camera looks straight into the faces of his subjects and meets their eyes, is Capa’s photograph that caught my attention in the first place: two women dancing with each other in the street on that festive September Sunday (Saturday was a workday). The location is easy to figure out. They are dancing at the corner of Okhotny Ryad and Tvesrkaya, right in front of the Hotel Moskva, with the Hotel National, the Intourist building, behind them.

September 7 was one of those liminal days when the air is cool and the pale blue sky is open and sunny (there is just a wisp of a cloud in the top left corner). The woman facing the camera is wearing a thick shawl and a heavy coat, the other is in a light dress, epitomizing the two sides of the Russian “Indian summer” and, perhaps also, the desire to use hope to trump the cold reality, for “it was a brilliant cold day,” as Steinbeck noted in his Journal. Both women are young and beautiful and strikingly dignified. But their faces suggest a more complicated story. The furrowed brow, the lines around the mouth, the alarm in the eyes of the woman facing the camera — what is behind them? And what about her dancing partner? Alone in the frame in a white flowery dress, her hair beautifully arranged, but her gaze is fixed on a point in infinity and her  profile is frozen into a classical tragic mask. Her right arm, bare and vulnerable, is gracefully stretched out, and the slight curve of her back is protected by the hand of her partner, apparently, stronger and more practically dressed. The tension is palpable. Were the music to stop at that moment, one of them and perhaps both would hunch over and burst out crying. To make sure your are not imagining all of this emotional dynamite, you check their expressions and posture against the other two female couples in the background: they, too, look tentative, dispirited, and forlorn, though lacking in grace and dignity compared to the couple in the foreground. The out-of-focus smiling faces to the right of the dancers only amplify the grotesque contrast between the intended mood of the festivities and the pain of the city’s post-war life. So much sadness fills this instant captured by Capa that it can never be effaced or redeemed. 

Seven years later, in 1954, a year after Stalin’s death, and, it happens, a few months after Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir attended the May Day parade in Moscow, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Capa’s good friend and, with him, a co-founder of the Magnum Agency, made a trip to the USSR. He was the first Western photojournalist to be allowed the privilege of touring the Soviet Union since Stalin’s death and, perhaps, even since his friend’s 1947 visit. He produced a fuller, richer set of images, with plenty of faces not shying away from his Leica lens. Cartier-Bresson was a greater artist than Capa and enjoyed better conditions in the USSR, then slowly beginning to “thaw” from the deep freeze of Stalinism. O what a difference do seven years make! Or perhaps, not just the seven years. Cartier-Bresson was also more “engaged,” to use Sartre’s term, and had, for awhile, belonged to the French Communist Party (see Jean-Pierre Montier, Henri Cartier-Bresson, figure de l’« intellectuel » ?). One needs only to compare his sets of photographs from the USA tour of the 1930s and 1940s with the pictures from his 1954 tour serialized in Life in January 1955 and later that year collected into The People of Moscow. US is sinister, violently racist, aggressive and plutocratic. USSR is, well, a bit backward, a bit absurd, but always charmant.

Link: Russians Who Raised the Dead

In the years before World War II, Russian scientists attempted to revive fish and dog heads, and even a human being. Excerpted from “How to Make a Zombie.”

[Sergei] Bryukhonenko…graduated from Moscow University Medical School in 1914, just in time to be drafted into the Imperial Russian Army and bear witness to the horrors of the First World War. After the Russian revolution, he worked for several years in a large hospital, before turning to his famous experiments. At the time, the field of physiology was maturing rapidly, and Bryukhonenko decided to study the intricate workings of the organs. To do so, it was necessary to keep individual organs functioning once they had been removed from their host. In a cramped and underequipped laboratory he set himself to the task of keeping organs alive.

In May 1925, at the meeting of the Second Congress of Russian Pathologists, Bryukhonenko demonstrated the fruits of three years’ labour in the lab: the original heart-lung machine that he had built for his dogs’ heads. Using two electric pumps, the primitive life-support system drew exhausted blood from the head and deposited it in a glass chamber where it was warmed and oxygenated, then pumped back into the animal. In these early days, this “autojektor” was not hermetically sealed, and eventually the blood supply would coagulate and the system would fail. Nevertheless, Bryukhonenko could keep a dog’s head alive for about one hundred minutes. His results were met with little fanfare, however, and failed to provoke any mention in the popular press. The following year he again demonstrated the autojektor, outlining the progress he and his colleague Sergei Chechulin had made in prolonging the lifespan of their test subjects. Again, there was no coverage.

Six months later the Soviet media finally broke the silence surrounding the device, and once they did the story gathered an unstoppable momentum. Prosaic technicians mused about how it might mean that surgeons would be able to repair a diseased heart while the machine was used to keep the patient alive; the more fanciful dreamers envisioned the birth of a fullthrottled immortality engine in Bryukhonenko’s lab. Public dismay mounted over the conditions under which Bryukhonenko had been forced to concoct his life-support system, and the director of the Chemical-Pharmaceutical Institute was compelled to increase the provision for Bryukhonenko’s research to thirty thousand roubles. The grant came from the People’s Commissariat for the Protection of Health, the highest agency responsible for medical research in the USSR.

With this funding, over the next year Bryukhonenko was able to produce five papers on various aspects of autojektor experiments. He presented these at the Congress of Soviet Physiologists in 1928 – and this time, with the full backing of the Soviet government, there was no delay in provoking a media sensation. Rumours quickly circulated on American campuses that the communist scientists had succeeded in reanimating the dead. In February 1929, a student paper at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported the news that Bryukhonenko and Chechulin had kept a severed dog’s head alive for three and a half hours with “a queer-looking affair made of glass and rubber tubing”. Within the month, Time magazine shared a bulletin: “Vague reports have been reaching the U.S. that Russian scientists have revivified corpses”. On hearing of the invention, the playwright George Bernard Shaw quipped, “I am greatly tempted to have my head cut off so that I may continue to dictate plays and books independently of any illness, without having to dress and undress or eat or do anything at all but to produce masterpieces of dramatic art and literature.”

The ability to sustain an animal using a heart-lung machine allowed for a much more mechanistic view of life. Metaphysical concepts for separating the living and the dead – such as the Catholic soul or the Vodou nanm – were threatened with obsolescence in the face of modern medicine. If the only difference between being alive and being dead was having a heartbeat, then wouldn’t a corpse revived with a machine be alive? And why shouldn’t a machine take the place of a broken heart?

Keeping a head alive was one thing; raising the dead was quite another. Bryukhonenko was not the first Russian to dedicate himself to the problem. As early as February 1902, Aleksei Aleksandrovich Kuliabko of the Physiological Laboratory of the Imperial Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg had restarted a rabbit heart that had stopped beating forty-four hours previous, and went on to repeat this procedure on animal hearts up to five days post-mortem. The next year he procured the heart of a three-month-old infant who had died from pneumonia two days earlier. Using Locke’s solution – a mixture containing sodium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium chloride, sodium bicarbonate and dextrose, and designed by the British physiologist Frank Spiller Locke specifically to keep excised hearts pumping – Kuliabko was able to bring the baby’s heart back to life. In 1907, he developed techniques for artificial circulation that could revive a severed fish head. Between 1910 and 1913, another Russian, Fyodor Andreyev, succeeded in resuscitating an electrocuted dog by injecting a combination of saline and adrenaline into the bloodstream and then applying an electric shock to the heart. Andreyev would later become director of the hospital where Bryukhonenko spent his postwar years, and no doubt encouraged the young doctor to explore their common interest in reanimation.

In 1929, as Bryukhonenko was attaching dogs’ heads to his autojektor, Aleksei Kuliabko set aside his outmoded fish heads and prepared his most ambitious experiment yet: a secret attempt to reanimate a human. He was joined in the experiment by the “chemico-pharmacist” Fyodor Andreyev, several assistants and a man who had passed away during surgery the day before. The team arranged the corpse on an operating table and attached a tangle of pumps to the blood vessels so that they could be pumped full of Locke’s solution and adrenaline. The man’s heart heaved violently in his chest, and a wet choking sound erupted from his throat like a death rattle. Kuliabko’s assistants fled the room in terror. Kuliabko and Andreyev kept the man’s heart beating for twenty minutes before it stopped. When news of Bryukhonenko’s decapitated dogs eventually made the headlines, Andreyev could not resist hinting that the science had already moved on. He told reporters: “The principle has already been demonstrated successfully. It only remains to develop the technique for surgeons to apply practically.”

Perhaps disturbed by the experiment, or wary of the public reaction that might be aroused if word leaked out of a reanimated man, Kuliabko decided to carry out his future trials on dogs, following Bryukhonenko’s lead. One of Kuliabko’s canine subjects showed remarkable resilience: having been poisoned and revived once, it was purportedly poisoned again and left dead for several months, before being successfully revived a second time. But Bryukhonenko had heard about Kuliabko’s experiments with humans and he was ready to try his own hand at them.

He enlisted the help of the experimental surgeon Sergeo I. Spasokukotey, who had helped to engineer the network of blood banks across the Soviet Union. In 1934, showing a similar level of disregard for a person’s self-determination as he had shown for the laws of nature, Bryukhonenko attempted to revive a man who had committed suicide. Just three hours after the man had hung himself, the doctor slit open an artery and a vein and connected them to the autojektor. The machine steadily drew cold dead blood from the corpse and returned it warm and rich with oxygen. For several hours the team waited, listening to the whirr of the autojektor as the dead man’s body slowly warmed. Then a faint sound joined them in the room: a heartbeat.

Max Richter - Maria, The Poet (1913)

Maria, The Poet is a piece from Max Richter’s Memoryhouse album in which Marina Tsetaeva reads her own poem about her experience of Stalinism.

Marina Tsetaeva was was a Russian and Soviet poet. Her work is considered among some of the greatest in twentieth century Russian literature. She lived through and wrote of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Moscow famine that followed it. As an anti-Bolshevik supporter of Imperialism, Tsvetaeva was exiled in 1922, living with her family in increasing poverty in Paris, Berlin and Prague before returning to Moscow in 1939. Both her husband Sergey Efron and her daughter Ariadna Efron (Alya) were arrested for espionage in 1941; Alya served over eight years in prison and her husband was executed. Without means of support and in deep isolation, Tsvetaeva committed suicide in 1941. As a lyrical poet, her passion and daring linguistic experimentation mark her striking chronicler of her times and the depths of the human condition. (Wikipedia)

Here’s the English translation:

How many people fell in this abyss,
I fathom from afar!
There will be time, and I will vanish too
From earth’s exterior.

All will be still, that sang and that did struggle,
That glistened and rejoiced:
The greenness of my eyes, the gold of my hair,
And this my tender voice.

Life will continue with its soft hot bread,
With day’s oblivion.
All will continue — under outstretched heavens
As if I’d never been!

Like children changeable in every mien
And angry not for long,
Who loved the times when in the fireplace
Into ash turned the log,

Violin and cavalcade within the forest
And in the village, bell…
Upon this dear earth — I will be no longer
That was alive and real!

To all — who are the friends and strangers
To never having known the measure, me?
I turn to you with this my faith’s demand
And love’s query.

Both day and night, in word and letter both:
For truth of yes and no,
For that though I am but twenty I am
So often in such sorrow,

For unavoidably my slights and trespasses
Will be forgiven me —
For all of my impetuous tenderness
And look too proud and free —

For quickness of events as they come rushing,
For truth, for play, say I —
Please hear me! But do also please love me
For this that I will die.

(Source: sunrec)

Chernobyl Exclusion Zone: Adrenaline & Radiation Urbex, A Good Day to Die Hard?

The Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster happened 27 years ago on April 26, 1986. After the explosion, a radius of 18.6 miles (30 km) was setup as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. That “zone of alienation” is becoming more frequently seen in popular culture; it was seen in the 2013 film A Good Day to Die Hard, in the 2012 Chernobyl Diaries and also in the 2011 movie Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The area is featured in hundreds of documentaries and even early on in the 1998 film Godzilla as a researcher studies the mutational effects of radiation on native earthworms. It’s the nightmare setting for several video games. Although urban explorers have been coming to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone for years, Ukrainian officials opened the zone for tourists with “special permission” in 2011. Whether you call it reverse eco-tourism, terror tourism, or an adrenaline rush urban exploration, it would undoubtedly be surreal to experience. Some claim it’s haunted, while others think it’s a dream setting for playing a zombie apocalypse-like paintball gun war. Thanks to those that were brave enough to take up their cameras and Geiger counters, we can take a virtual tour of the Exclusion Zone. It includes Prypiat, Prypiat amusement park, Polissya hotel, the Red Forest and more places stuck in time as everyone was evacuated with no time to pack. This is what visiting the Chernobyl disaster after almost 27 years looks like, since criteria for this photo essay included being creative commons photos taken as recently as possible with as many different radioactive areas as possible. Enjoy! [69 Photos, 8 Videos]

Link: The Siege of Leningrad, 1941-1944

Between September 1941 and January 1944, Leningrad was besieged by Nazi Germany, during which time three-quarters of a million inhabitants starved to death. The Nazis “prosecuted a classical siege, preventing, so far as possible, all movement of people and goods in and out of the city, using air and ground bombardment to destroy food stocks, utilities, factories, hospitals, schools and housing,” writes Anna Reid in “Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944” (Walker and Company), the first full-scale narrative of the event in more than four decades.

“The siege of Leningrad has been paid rather little attention in the West … despite the fact that Leningrad was the first city in all Europe that Hitler failed to take,” offers the author in the book’s introduction. Part of the reason is that the Soviets actively obscured the truth, while military historians have long preferred to focus on the battles for Stalingrad and Moscow. Reid’s history addresses everything from the Nazis’ deliberate decision to starve Leningrad, to the incompetence and cruelty of Soviet leadership, to the terrible details of life in the blocked city.

Perhaps most notably, Reid contends that the death toll would have been far lower under a different sort of government, one better prepared and more responsive to the challenges faced by the city’s citizens. “Failing to empty Leningrad of its surplus population before the siege ring closed was one of the Soviet regime’s worst blunders of the war, leading to more civilian deaths than any other save the failure to anticipate Barbarossa itself,” writes Reid, who graciously took the time to answer Failure’s questions about the siege.

Why has the siege of Leningrad received relatively little attention from historians?

In Russia, this isn’t true: the siege has received lots of attention, just attention of the wrong sort. Under Communism, honest history-writing was pretty much impossible on any subject, of course, but especially so on the siege of Leningrad, since the vast civilian death toll begged so many questions about the competence of the wartime leadership. Why was the German invasion such a surprise? Why were the German armies allowed to encircle the city? Why weren’t more food stocks laid in, or surplus civilians evacuated, before the siege ring closed? How fair was the rationing system? What did Leningraders really think of Andrei Zhdanov and the city’s other Party bosses?

Until Gorbachev’s glasnost Russian historians had no hope of addressing these kinds of questions: their job was to polish an uplifting story of heroic national resistance amidst extraordinary suffering. This didn’t require them to make things up—the heroism and the suffering were real—but it did mean leaving a great deal out. Taboos included the shocking waste of the People’s Levy (a 135,000-strong civilian militia thrown into the front line, without weapons or training, from late July 1941), the encirclement and loss of the Second Shock Army in the spring of 1942, the deaths of tens of thousands on the chaotic Ice Road, endemic theft and corruption within the food distribution system, and continuing political repression. (Ordinary, patriotic Leningraders continued to be arrested by the thousands, even as they died of hunger.) Also left out were the inevitable pathologies of all starving societies: murder, mugging and looting, the collapse of families and friendships, and most notoriously, the scavenging of corpse-meat for food. The distortions and exclusions didn’t only serve a political purpose, they also gave genuine psychological comfort to the three generations whose lives were blighted by the war. Even today, siege historians—mostly themselves St. Petersburgers—feel constrained by a deep sense of respect towards the dwindling band of siege survivors. Debate may become franker, ironically, when the last blokadniki have passed away.

On coverage of the siege in the West: until the last fifteen years or so, the whole Eastern Front was hopelessly under-reported. Partly this was because we were more interested in the campaigns—France, Italy, North Africa—in which our own troops fought; partly because Soviet censorship blocked access to Russian primary sources. It’s nevertheless extraordinary that my book is one of only two general histories of the blockade (the other is Michael Jones’s “Leningrad: State of Siege”) to have come out since Harrison Salisbury’s “900 Days” in the 1960s.

Inside the city, which people were most likely to survive? Who was at the bottom of the food hierarchy?

At the top of the food hierarchy, predictably, were staff at the city Party headquarters (a trades union official’s recently released diary lovingly describes the bread and butter, pork and steamed cabbage on offer in the canteen), and people who worked within the food distribution system, within which theft and corruption were widespread. Many diarists complain of bosses skimming their allotted rations, or of “plump” and bejeweled girls behind the counters in the bread shops. Also privileged—though far less so—were factory workers and the staff of prestigious institutions such as the Academy of Sciences and the Hermitage. Their workplaces were less likely to close down, condemning them to a “dependent’s” ration card (nicknamed the smertnik, from the Russian word for “death”). They were also likelier to have some sort of light and heat, and access to food parcels sent by air from Moscow. The poet Olga Berggolts, for example, was able to distribute coffee, chocolate, oranges and other luxuries to friends thanks to her job at the city radio station.

At the bottom of the food hierarchy came the poor and unskilled (in apartment buildings and offices, janitors and cleaning ladies were often the first to die), the peasant refugees who arrived in the suburbs with their carts and cattle ahead of the German armies, and teenage “factory-school boys”—village boys sent to board in the city and train as industrial workers. These latter groups were more or less abandoned by the authorities. (The Party archives are full of examples of food allotted them being skimmed or stolen.) The very earliest reports of starvation deaths come from the suburban towns in which peasant refugees were penned (they were not allowed into the city center), and factory-school boys became notorious for mugging for bread. There are no reliable figures for the death rate amongst either group, but it was certainly well above the average twenty-five or thirty percent. 

To what extent was crime and cannibalism a problem during the siege?

One of the regime’s most remarkable achievements was that while crime—including the looting of bread shops and bread-carts—was widespread during the siege, Leningrad never descended into lawlessness. Survivors’ recollections of the first, mass death siege winter are not of disorder, but of emptiness and quiet. One told me that yes, she had been afraid when walking through the streets alone, but not because she feared crime—in fact, she only learned that there was any long afterwards, by reading about it. At the time she felt “alone in the city, absolutely alone. I would walk to the shop and back, enter our courtyard, climb the stairs and go in my door. If anyone had wanted to they could have pushed me over with their little finger. But I never met a soul.”

The most notorious crime of the siege was cannibalism, but it was not widespread. A total of 2,015 people were arrested for “the use of human meat for food” between December ’41, when the first cases were reported, and the end of 1942, when they finally petered out. Even taking into account under-reporting (rank and file police were starving too) this represents less than a thousandth of a pre-siege population of 2.5 million. And the vast majority of “cannibals” were not the bestial lowlifes of Soviet legend, but the respectable poor. Sixty-four percent, the police reports tell us, were women; over ninety-percent had only a basic education, forty-four percent were jobless, and only two percent had a criminal record. Case reports also often mention—perhaps in an unspoken plea for clemency—that the arrestee was unsupported (her husband being dead or at the front) and had children. “Cannibals,” in other words, were ordinary working-class women, scavenging protein to feed their families.

Link: Stalin Lives

The Soviet dictator died six decades ago. But Russians have yet to say farewell.

When Joseph Stalin died sixty years ago, Soviet citizens sensed that their lives had changed forever — and they were right. During his nearly 30 year rule, Stalin transformed the USSR from the ground up and led it to victory in World War II. He also killed, imprisoned, or displaced tens of millions of his own compatriots; the full extent of his crimes will probably never be fully known. His successors ruled on an altogether more modest scale.

In October 2012, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace commissioned a survey of perceptions of Stalin in Russia and three South Caucasus states: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The results show with startling clarity that, for many, the Soviet tyrant lives on. Of the four post-communist states surveyed, only Azerbaijan (which seems to be more interested these days in emulating Dubai than dwelling on its Soviet past) appears to have set Stalin on a path toward irrelevance: 22 percent said they had no idea who he was. (Among the young this number reached almost forty percent.) In Georgia, by contrast, a shocking 45 percent of the respondents shared a positive view of Stalin — presumably because he remains, as the most famous (and infamous) ethnic Georgian, a powerful nationalist symbol. In Armenia this number was 25 percent, in Azerbaijan it was 21.

Yet Russia is the place where, in many ways, the legacy of Stalinism runs deepest. In the Carnegie survey, conducted Moscow’s respected Levada Center, 42 percent of Russians named Stalin the public figure that has had the most influence on world history — up from just 12 percent back in 1989, at the peak of Gorbachev’s liberalization push. Meanwhile, the number of those who express a positive opinion of Stalin in the Carnegie survey reached 28 percent. To quote the Levada Center’s Gudkov, these figures represent “an astonishing resurgence of Stalin’s popularity in Russia” since the end of the USSR.

There is, however, something curious about this recognition: Traveling around Russia, one would never guess the Russian people believe Stalin is their greatest compatriot. Stalin statues or portraits are nowhere to be found, and there are no streets or cities named after him. For comparison the embalmed body of Lenin, Stalin’s Bolshevik predecessor, is still on display in the mausoleum in Red Square. Lenin’s name and monuments adorn every Russian city. Yet Lenin is slowly slipping into oblivion: During the same period of 1989 to 2012 his popularity dropped from 72 to 37 percent. 

Stalin is a hidden hero, and this status is part of the inherently vague nature of Russia’s post-communist statehood and national identity. Russia does not have a nationally recognized narrative of the origins of the new, post-Soviet Russian state and no consensual perception of its Communist past.

Russian Stalinist groups, Communists, war veterans and others have repeatedly come up with initiatives of paying tribute to Stalin, such as bringing back the name of Stalingrad to the Russian city (now known as Volgograd) where one of the major battles of WWII was fought. Most recently, a Duma deputy has talked about naming a street in Moscow Stalingradskaya (after the battle of Stalingrad). Neither of the two ideas has been fully implemented, but Stalinists can claim some successes in endowing their hero with physical presence. Buses adorned with Stalin’s image have appeared in some Russian cities on Victory Day and other wartime anniversaries.

In Russia the official discourse on Stalin is evasive, and public perception of him is ambivalent and divisive. Almost half of Russians surveyed agree with the statement that “Stalin was a wise leader who brought power and prosperity to the Soviet Union.” But over half in the same poll believe that Stalin’s acts of repression constituted “a political crime that cannot be justified.” And about two-thirds agree that “for all Stalin’s mistakes and misdeeds, the most important thing is that under his leadership the Soviet people won the Great Patriotic War” (the name Russians give to World War II).

During the six decades since Stalin’s death, the Soviet Union and then post-communist Russia have gone through two and a half phases of de-Stalinization — but though his images are absent from the Russian physical space, Stalin’s  presence can be easily felt in the Russian political order and in state-society relations.

Link: Lost in Space

What really happened to Russia’s missing cosmonauts? An incredible tale of space hacking, espionage and death in the lonely reaches of space.

Midnight, 19 May 1961. A crisp frost had descended on Turin’s city centre which was deserted and deathly silent. Well, almost. Two brothers, aged 20 and 23, raced through the grid-like streets (that would later be made famous by the film The Italian Job) in a tiny Fiat 600, which screamed in protest as they bounced across one cobbled piazza after another at top speed. 

The Fiat was loaded with dozens of iron pipes and aluminium sheets which poked out of windows and were strapped to the roof. The car screeched to a halt outside the city’s tallest block of flats. Grabbing their assorted pipes, along with a large toolbox, the two brothers ran up the stairs to the rooftop. Moments later, the city’s silence was rudely broken once more as they set to work: a concerto of hammering, clattering, sawing and shouting. 

Suddenly, an angry voice rang out; the man who lived on the floor below leant out of the window and screamed: “Will you stop that racket, I’m trying to sleep!” 

One of the young men shouted back “Sorry sir; the Soviets have launched a satellite and we’re trying to intercept it!” 

The brothers finished setting up, grabbed their head-sets, twiddled the knobs on their portable receivers, hit the record button and listened… 

“Come in… come in… come in… Listen! Come in! Talk to me! I am hot! I am hot! Come in! What? Forty-five? What? Fifty? Yes. Yes, yes, breathing. Oxygen, oxygen… I am hot. This… isn’t this dangerous?” 
The brothers looked nervously at one another. They only fully understood the Russian later when their sister translated for them, but the desperation in the woman’s voice was clear. 

“Transmission begins now. Forty-one. Yes, I feel hot. I feel hot, it’s all… it’s all hot. I can see a flame! I can see a flame! I can see a flame! Thirty-two… thirty-two. Am I going to crash? Yes, yes I feel hot… I am listening, I feel hot, I will re-enter. I’m hot!” 

The signal went dead. 

There are those who believe that somewhere in the vast blackness of space, about nine billion miles from the Sun, the first human is about to cross the boundary of our Solar System into interstellar space. His body, perfectly preserved, is frozen at –270 degrees C (–454ºF); his tiny capsule has been silently sailing away from the Earth at 18,000 mph (29,000km/h) for the last 45 years. He is the original lost cosmonaut, whose rocket went up and, instead of coming back down, just kept on going. 

It is the ultimate in Cold War legends: that at the dawn of the Space Age, in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, the Soviet Union had two space programmes, one a public programme, the other a ‘black’ one, in which far more daring and sometimes downright suicidal missions were attempted. It was assumed that Russia’s Black Ops, if they existed at all, would remain secret forever. 

The ‘Lost Cosmonauts’ debate has been reawakened thanks to a new investigation into the efforts of two ingenious, radio-mad young Italian brothers who, starting in 1957, hacked into both Russia’s and NASA’s space programmes – so effect­ively that the Russians, it seems, may have wanted them dead. 


Solzhenitsyn’s One Day: The book that shook the USSR
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s classic novel, was published 50 years ago this month. A short, simply-told tale about a prisoner trying to survive the Gulag - the Soviet labour camp system - it is now regarded as one of the most significant books of the 20th Century.

It was still dark, although a greenish light was brightening in the east. A thin, treacherous breeze was creeping in from the same direction. There is no worse moment than when you turn out for work parade in the morning. In the dark, in the freezing cold, with a hungry belly, and the whole day ahead of you. You lose the power of speech…

In November 1962, one story shook the Soviet Union.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn described a day in the life of a prison camp inmate, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov.
The character was fictional. But there were millions like him - innocent citizens who, like Solzhenitsyn himself, had been sent to the Gulag in Joseph Stalin’s wave of terror.
Censorship and fear had prevented the truth about the camps from being published, but this story made it into print. The USSR would never be the same again.
"We were absolutely isolated from information, and he started to open our eyes," remembers writer and journalist Vitaly Korotich.
Life in the camps was something “it was impossible even to think about” he says. “I read it and re-read it and I simply thought about how brave he was. We had a lot of writers but we never had such a brave writer.”
It was Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev who had sanctioned publication of Solzhenitsyn’s novel nearly a decade after Stalin’s death. Allowing a book on the Gulag, he thought, would help debunk Stalin’s personality cult. However, one story sparked many more.
"After it was published, it was impossible to stop it," Korotich recalls. "Immediately we received a lot of illegal publications. A lot of people who were in prison started to remember how it was.
"It was not the time of computers and printers. Books were printed on cigarette paper, it was the only way to make more copies. The Soviet Union was destroyed by information, only information. And this wave started from Solzhenitsyn’s One Day."
According to his dossier Shukhov was in for treason. He’d admitted it under investigation - yes, he had surrendered in order to betray his country and returned from a POW camp to carry out a mission for German intelligence. What the mission could be, neither Shukhov himself nor his interrogator could imagine. They left it at that - just “a mission”. The counter-espionage boys had beaten the hell out of him. The choice was simple enough: don’t sign and wear a wooden overcoat, or sign and live a bit longer…
Hardline communists tried to put the genie back into the bottle. Nikita Khrushchev was deposed, de-Stalinisation halted, and in 1974 Solzhenitsyn was arrested and expelled.
But that didn’t save the Soviet Union. And once the USSR had fallen apart, the full scale of Stalin’s crimes became clear.

Solzhenitsyn’s One Day: The book that shook the USSR

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s classic novel, was published 50 years ago this month. A short, simply-told tale about a prisoner trying to survive the Gulag - the Soviet labour camp system - it is now regarded as one of the most significant books of the 20th Century.

It was still dark, although a greenish light was brightening in the east. A thin, treacherous breeze was creeping in from the same direction. There is no worse moment than when you turn out for work parade in the morning. In the dark, in the freezing cold, with a hungry belly, and the whole day ahead of you. You lose the power of speech…

In November 1962, one story shook the Soviet Union.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn described a day in the life of a prison camp inmate, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov.

The character was fictional. But there were millions like him - innocent citizens who, like Solzhenitsyn himself, had been sent to the Gulag in Joseph Stalin’s wave of terror.

Censorship and fear had prevented the truth about the camps from being published, but this story made it into print. The USSR would never be the same again.

"We were absolutely isolated from information, and he started to open our eyes," remembers writer and journalist Vitaly Korotich.

Life in the camps was something “it was impossible even to think about” he says. “I read it and re-read it and I simply thought about how brave he was. We had a lot of writers but we never had such a brave writer.”

It was Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev who had sanctioned publication of Solzhenitsyn’s novel nearly a decade after Stalin’s death. Allowing a book on the Gulag, he thought, would help debunk Stalin’s personality cult. However, one story sparked many more.

"After it was published, it was impossible to stop it," Korotich recalls. "Immediately we received a lot of illegal publications. A lot of people who were in prison started to remember how it was.

"It was not the time of computers and printers. Books were printed on cigarette paper, it was the only way to make more copies. The Soviet Union was destroyed by information, only information. And this wave started from Solzhenitsyn’s One Day."

According to his dossier Shukhov was in for treason. He’d admitted it under investigation - yes, he had surrendered in order to betray his country and returned from a POW camp to carry out a mission for German intelligence. What the mission could be, neither Shukhov himself nor his interrogator could imagine. They left it at that - just “a mission”. The counter-espionage boys had beaten the hell out of him. The choice was simple enough: don’t sign and wear a wooden overcoat, or sign and live a bit longer…

Hardline communists tried to put the genie back into the bottle. Nikita Khrushchev was deposed, de-Stalinisation halted, and in 1974 Solzhenitsyn was arrested and expelled.

But that didn’t save the Soviet Union. And once the USSR had fallen apart, the full scale of Stalin’s crimes became clear.

Link: FBI releases its files on Stalin's daughter

Newly-declassified documents show the FBI kept close tabs on Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s only daughter after her high-profile defection to the United States in 1967, gathering details from informants about how her arrival was affecting international relations.

The documents were released Monday to The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act following Lana Peters’ death last year at age 85 in a Wisconsin nursing home. Her defection to the West during the Cold War embarrassed the ruling communists and made her a best-selling author. And her move was a public relations coup for the U.S.

One April 28, 1967, memo details a conversation with a confidential source who said the defection would have a “profound effect” for anyone else thinking of trying to leave the Soviet Union. The source claimed to have discussed the defection with a Czechoslovak journalist covering the United Nations and a member of the Czechoslovakia “Mission staff.”

"Our source opined that the United States Government exhibited a high degree of maturity, dignity and understanding during this period," according to the memo, prominently marked "SECRET" at the top and bottom. "It cannot help but have a profound effect upon anyone who is considering a similar solution to an unsatisfactory life in a Soviet bloc country."

When she defected, Peters was known as Svetlana Alliluyeva, but she went by Lana Peters following her 1970 marriage to William Wesley Peters, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright. Peters said her defection was partly motivated by the Soviet authorities’ poor treatment of her late husband, Brijesh Singh, a prominent figure in the Indian Communist Party.

Another memo dated June 2, 1967, describes a conversation an unnamed FBI source had with Mikhail Trepykhalin, identified as the second secretary at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The source said Trepykhalin told him the Soviets were “very unhappy over her defection” and asked whether the U.S. would use it “for propaganda purposes.” Trepykhalin “was afraid forces in the U.S. would use her to destroy relationships between the USSR and this country,” the source told the FBI.

An unnamed informant in another secret memo from that month said Soviet authorities were not disturbed by the defection because it would “further discredit Stalin’s name and family.”

Stalin, a dictator held responsible for sending millions of his countrymen to their deaths in labor camps, led the Soviet Union from 1941 until his death in 1953. Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced him three years later as a brutal despot.

And even though Peters denounced communism and her father’s policies, Stalin’s legacy haunted her in the United States.

"People say, ‘Stalin’s daughter, Stalin’s daughter,’ meaning I’m supposed to walk around with a rifle and shoot the Americans," she said in a 2007 interview for a documentary about her life. "Or they say, ‘No, she came here. She is an American citizen.’ That means I’m with a bomb against the others. No, I’m neither one. I’m somewhere in between."

Link: Mathematics & Anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union

How Soviet-era Moscow University used deceptively simple math exams to keep out Jewish students. 

… In the Soviet Union circa 1984—remember Orwell?—it was not considered bizarre to ask someone what their “nationality” was. In the inner passport which every Soviet citizen had to carry with them, there was in fact a special line for “nationality,” and for this reason it was called pyataya grafa, “the fifth line.” It came after (1) first name, (2) patronymic name, (3) last name, and (4) the date of birth. Nationality was also recorded in one’s birth certificate, as were the nationalities of the parents. If their nationalities were different, as in my case, then the parents had a choice which nationality to give to their child.

For all intents and purposes, “the fifth line” was a code for asking whether one was Jewish or not. (People of other nationalities, like Tatars and Armenians, against whom there were prejudices and persecution—though not nearly on the same scale as against the Jews—were also picked up this way.) My “fifth line” said that I was Russian, but my last name—which was my father’s last name, and clearly sounded Jewish—gave me away.

Even if I hadn’t been using my father’s last name, my Jewish origin would have been picked up by the admissions committee anyway, because the application form specifically asked for the full names of both parents. Those full names included patronymic names, that is, the first names of the grandparents of the applicant. My father’s patronymic name was Joseph, clearly Jewish, so this was another way to find out (if his last name weren’t so obviously Jewish). The system was set up in such a way that it would pick up those who were at least one-quarter Jewish and everyone of those was classified as a Jew, much like it was in Nazi Germany.

Having established that by this definition I was a Jew, the woman said:

“Do you know that Jews are not accepted to Moscow University?”

“What do you mean?”

“What I mean is that you shouldn’t even bother to apply. Don’t waste your time. They won’t let you in.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“Is that why you sent me this letter?”

“Yes. I’m just trying to help you.”

I looked around. It was clear that everyone in the office was aware of what this conversation was about, even if they weren’t listening closely. This must have already happened dozens of times, and everybody seemed used to it. They all averted their eyes, as if I were a terminally ill patient. My heart sank.

I had encountered anti-Semitism before, but at a personal, not institutional level. When I was in fifth grade, some of my classmates took to taunting me evrey, evrey (“Jew, Jew”). I don’t think they had any idea what this meant (which was clear from the fact that some of them confused the word evrey, which meant “Jew,” with evropeyets, which meant “European”)—they must have heard anti-Semitic remarks from their parents or other adults. (Unfortunately, anti-Semitism was deeply rooted in the Russian culture.) I was strong enough and lucky to have a couple of true friends who stood by me, so I was never actually beaten up, but this was a very unpleasant experience. I was too proud to tell the teachers or my parents, but one day a teacher was passing by. He intervened, and as the result, those kids were immediately called to the principal, and the taunting stopped.

It is important to note that my family was not religious at all. My father was not brought up in a religious tradition, and neither was I. Religion in the Soviet Union was in fact all but non-existent in those days. Most Christian Orthodox churches were destroyed or closed. In the few existing churches one could typically only find a few old babushkas, like my maternal grandmother. She occasionally attended service at the only active church in my hometown, Kolomna. There were even fewer synagogues. There were none in my home town; in Moscow, whose population was close to ten million, there was only one. Going to a service in a church or a synagogue was dangerous: one could be spotted by special plain-clothed agents and get in a lot of trouble. So when someone was referred to as being Jewish, it was meant not in the sense of religion, but in the sense of ethnicity, “blood.”

My parents had heard of the discrimination against Jews at entrance exams to universities, but somehow they did not pay much attention to this. In my hometown, there weren’t many Jews to begin with, and all of the purported discrimination cases my parents had heard of concerned programs in physics. A typical argument went that Jews weren’t accepted there because the studies in such a program were related to nuclear research and hence to the defense and state secrets; the government didn’t want Jews to be in those areas because Jews could emigrate to Israel or somewhere else. By this logic, why would anyone care about pure math? Well, apparently, someone did.