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Susan Green

Behind the Attack on
W.L. White’s Book on Russia

(23 April 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 17, 23 April 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

W.L. White, journalist, author of several wartime books and a “roving editor” of the Reader’s Digest, was one of the party that recently went to Russia with Eric Johnston, president of the United States Chamber of Commerce. Mr. White went, saw and came home to write first a digest of his trip for Reader’s Digest and then a full account in a book entitled Report on the Russians.

Then the fireworks started. The Communist Party and fellow-travelers let loose their thunderbolts. The tender-hearted liberals, anxious to mollify the Russian bear, joined in the assault. Pro-capitalist writers, awed by Russian military successes and rubbing their hands in anticipation of $6,000,000,000 post-war Russian business, also went after White with hammer and tongs. If one were to take the word of these critics-with-an-axe-to-grind, White’s book is one-sided, reporting only the uncomplimentary things. Judging by the same critics, White is a liar. He is accused of planting the seeds of United Nations disunity, and – horror of horrors – of not letting the sacrosanct word “Yalta” shut his mouth. And those critics, who don’t find any real fault with the contents of White’s report, solemnly assure their readers that this is not the time to bring out Russia’s dirty linen for public observation.

Now this reviewer holds no brief for the opinions of Mr. White. Mr. White has a strong pro-capitalist bias and hates the sight or sound of socialism. Furthermore his idea of socialism is all askew for he identifies the dictatorial Stalinist regime with socialism. However, a reading of his book soon reveals that whatever else White may be, he is not a one-sided reporter.

As far as his reporting of what he saw and heard goes, he gives the good as well as the bad. If in one place he points out the inefficiency of a plant, waste of labor and neglect of workers’ comfort, in another place he praises factory tidiness and efficiency. If he describes the lowly conditions of the workers, he doesn’t neglect to report that at least women get the same pay as men. If he tells of certain technical deficiencies of the Russian army in earlier days, he also expresses appreciation of the Russian army as such. If he reveals that the bureaucrats have moved “into both the palaces and the privileges of the old aristocracy, and are drinking quite as much champagne,” he also admits that they are working hard for the state.

Capitalist Journalist’s Story

In fact, if one were to make a list of the good things White says about Russia, it might well be longer than the list of not so good things he says. He likes Russian agriculture. He compliments Russian surgery. He reports favorably on nurseries he saw. He approves Russia’s handling of minority peoples. He even thinks Stalin a great man, although he ridicules the imposed hero worship.

On the political side the reader of White’s book sees how complete is the dictatorship. The Communist Party not only puts up candidates and controls so-called elections, but its members act as spies on the community as a whole. Then there is the secret police – NKVD – whose representatives are everywhere: beside the mayor of a town answering questions for him; beside the director of a factory telling him when to stop asking questions of the visiting American capitalist; and also somehow on the heels of a Russian girl who may become too friendly with a foreign correspondent.

So tight a vise has the government clamped on the press that even the term “free press” is taboo. White relates how at a banquet he started his speech with the sentence: “I am here not as a representative of American business but rather as an American writer and representing her, free press.” This, to White’s indignation, the interpreter just didn’t translate because of those bad words “free press”! Such are the “democratic” conditions which prevail. All opinion is strictly government-made and government-conveyed, since the government owns all means of propaganda.

In the factories the sweatshop piecework system is typical. According to White, wages are the American equivalent of from $20 to $40 for a sixty-six hour week. While workers can get certain staple foods through their factories, everything else goes into the black market which, believe it or not, White says has been taken over by the government itself. In these government-run black-market stores, prices are prohibitive to all but the elite. The distinction between those in the slums and those on “the hill” is everywhere apparent. The social caste system was evidenced even in the dining rooms of a bomber motor plant where workers, foremen, engineers and directors all ate separately – their menus graded from grub to delicacies according to position.

And what of industrial democracy? Some light is cast on this subject by a bit of conversation had by White’s party with Kuznetsov, big chief of Russia’s so-called labor unions:

“‘If a worker is discontented and gets discharged for any reason, would it be difficult for him to get a job some place else?’ ‘Very, very difficult,’ said Kuznetsov. ‘Well, isn’t this what the workers in America call an employers’ blacklist?’ ‘No,’ said Kuznetsov. But he didn’t say why it wasn’t.”

White relates the prison-like methods used to eliminate absenteeism. He tells also of seeing women workers toiling under military guard. These women supposedly had in some way deviated from the straight and narrow political path, and had therefore become a “chain gang.”

Reason for Campaign

Yes, these are the things that “the friends” consider unmentionable and that White mentioned. They resent White’s mentioning the possibility that the Polish officers found slaugh- [line of text missing] forest, might have been victims of the Russians and not of the Nazis. Nor do “the friends” relish White’s story of how Russian secrecy about military equipment – in this case the lack of radar – led to the destruction of a whole fleet of allied fortresses based, on a Ukrainian field supposedly protected by Russian anti-aircraft.

So much for the reportorial side of White’s book. What he reveals bears the ear-marks of reliability to one who is fairly cognizant of the real situation in Russia, unadorned by whitewash from the brush of “the friends.” However, White’s opinions, as distinguished from the facts, are something else again.

As stated above, he is enthusiastically pro-capitalist and rabidly anti-socialist. Without rhyme or reason, he takes the Stalinist regime as a QED argument in favor of capitalism and against socialism. This approach is absolutely ridiculous.

In the first place, the Stalinist system is not socialism but a dictatorial system of bureaucratic collectivism which developed after Stalin’s successful counterrevolution against the great socialist revolution led by Lenin and Trotsky. Whether through ignorance or malice, White persists in referring to the present Russian dictatorship as socialism.

Therefore, the only alternative he can see to it is capitalism, so-called free enterprise. He has a panacea for every Russian deficiency – just a little bit of competition on the American plan, just a drop of business acumen, as the American industrialist practises it. White reduces his panacea to an absurdity. Thus, for example, when he sees factories with broken floors and poor lighting, he comments:

“But a hard-boiled American production man, trying to squeeze the last thin dime of value from his worker’s, would start, by making them comfortable with good light and tidy floors, to increase the man-hour production rate.”

As if the workers have to embrace the evils of capitalism in order to have good lighting and tidy floors!

Socialism would solve such problems quite differently since the comfort, health and well-being of the workers would be determined by themselves under factory democracy. And they themselves would enjoy the full fruits of their labor. In Russia today the keys to the kingdom are in the Kremlin and the fruits of labor go to a new exploiting class.

That White labeled this anti-socialist regime socialism, did not bother the fiery critics of his book! What they hollered about was the absence of whitewash in White’s report.

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