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Susan Green

The Ordeal Depicts Slavery
of Russian Workers

(16 April 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 16, 16 April 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The war stories on the market are legion. Some are good, some bad. All, however, contribute to the record of the toil and trouble, of the sorrow and sacrifice, of the destruction and death that capitalism has visited upon humanity for the second time in a quarter of a fcentury.

The Ordeal, by Arkady Perventsev, is another such story. It relates how, under German bombardment, a whole aircraft factory was moved from a Ukrainian town to the safety of the Urals, there to continue the production of planes. Undoubtedly such feats of individual and collective achievement are unprecedented in history.

However, not only in Russia but in China, England, the United States, and also in Germany and Japan, are people doing superhuman things – unfortunately in the prosecution of annihilative imperialist war. So it is not from this point of view that The Ordeal merits special attention by Labor Action. And certainly not from the point of view of its being a literary masterpiece, for it is a rather mediocre piece of work.

Rather it merits our attention he-cause it is a story about Russia today and as such tells us something: about the kind of society that flourishes under Stalin. Labor Action has time and again produced proof that the Stalin regime has reduced the working people of Russia to a downtrodden mass exploited to maintain a new class of bureaucrats in a style to which they have never been accustomed. The Ordeal is another piece of evidence of the correctness of Labor Action’s conclusion.

In this tale THE people are the factory directors, engineers, heads of departments and the generals, lieutenants and such. The workers are vaguely indicated in the background – something like Negroes singing in Hollywood versions of “genteel” life in our own South.

The hero is Bogdan Dubenko, chief engineer of the factory. We know from the story exactly how he and his social layer live. He has a modern apartment, a car, a chauffeur; His wife has a maid and a fur coat. His table is supplied with plenty of food and drink, including wines and the national standby, vodka. We learn also that the heads of departments and the aristocracy of labor, the Stakhanovists, inhabit a little white colony of brand-new bungalows, bright with flower pots and gardens. And we learn also of their agonies when German bombs fall among them.

But not a word does Mr. Perventsev see fit to give his reader about the conditions under which the mass of factory workers live, except the hint that they may be living in “barracks of some sort.” No doubt the less said about that the better. The reader sees the common people mainly as an indiscriminate mass of refugees, clogging the roads and impeding the progress of “their betters,” who ride in cars with their own chauffeurs.

And in the factory itself, what is the position of the workers and what is the attitude of the bureaucrats toward them? When the Germans have attacked Kiev and Sevastopol, Factory Director Shevkoplyas and Chief, Engineer Dubenko hold a conference. They talk of calling meetings immediately in all the shops. “There’ll be increased working hours, OF COURSE,” says Shevkoplyas. So the factory boss and his first mate decide about working hours; OF COURSE. The meetings are simply a formality to ram decisions down the workers’ throats.

In contrast with this way of “explaining” the necessities of the war to the workers is the description of a meeting of the town intelligentsia – writers, painters, actors, scientists, doctors and teachers. Dubenko speaks to them. “He senses the perturbation of his, audience,” who “listen eagerly but understand nothing.” This causes Dubenko great chagrin and he therefore cannot enjoy the “long entertainment program” given for the benefit of the town intelligentsia – while the German guns roar in the distance. Long hours for the workers; long entertainment for “their betters.”

If there is one single socialist thought expressed in the book, this reviewer failed to see it. Dubenko’s father, an old man who has presumably been through the October Revolution, holds not a socialist but a fatalistic view of war. “There’ve always been wars,” he says. “And wars always mean tears ...” The “enlightened” factory director, Shevkoplyas, attributes the cause of war not to imperialist conflicts but to “The German! The scum!”

And what of the October Revolution and of Lenin, its leader? Oh, yes, Lenin. To be sure. Why, he has become one of Russia’s many national heroes, all of whose greatness is embodied in Superman Stalin, who “took over the burden of Alexander Nevsky, of Peter the Great, the responsibilities of Kutuzov, Dmitry Donskoi and Pozhsrsky” and “the cares of Suvarov, the achievements of Minin, the steadfastness of Bagration, and the great work of Lenin.”

To a thoughtful reader of this book only one conclusion can be drawn: Such a tale could not be written about a country where the workers are the dominant class with industrial and political freedom.

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