School Trips

School Trips - Russia 1964

Russia 1964

"Higher the banner of proletarian internationalism!"
The red and white banner blazoned out its message as the Monoux party of nearly 40, including boys, teachers, their wives and two brothers from a Muswell Hill school, filed, to the accompaniment of ballet music, into the reception room at Leningrad harbour-at last we had arrived in the Soviet Union.

In some ways the Russian ship "Baltika", which had brought its here, had allowed us an easy transition between the two factions ~f a split world-the huge hammer and sickle, imposing upon the tunnel, the red flag, anti-Imperialistic Warmongers propaganda and Helen Shapiro records coming over the ship's radio, caviar for breakfast and steak and chips, vodkas mixed with cokes. All these at least gave us a hint of the land of vivid contrasts that was to come.

The boat was quite an experience in itself with comfortable ~i not luxurious cabins, good food and excellent service, comfortable lounges and two (very quickly found) bars. The first day at sea over-when your correspondent, to capture the whole feeling of the mood of the journey, was violently sick twice, we could settle down to long relaxing days at sea playing cards, listening to records or just reading. To stop the monotony becoming overbearing there were two stops off en route, the first at Göteburg and the other at Helsinki.

At Goteburg we had arrived in the dismal greyness of morning when a thin, chilling rain was falling over the great hulks of war ships. The silence was punctuated only by the dull echoes of solitary ship workers. Throughout our short stay there we were unable to escape from the miserable drizzle and rain of this city known as "Sweden's London"-for now obvious reasons.

When we reached Helsinki, we found that these two major (owns of Scandinavia were similar in their countrified aspect of numerous parks and greenery and in their well-sited buildings. Perhaps most impressive about the Finnish capital, however, was the friendliness of the people which so many of us experienced. The group of four that I was in, obviously English and obviously confused, was soon "taken in hand" by two Finnish boys who showed us around the city ensuring that we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. On the dockside, after having exchanged addresses and 'promises to write, there were some rousing choruses of Auld Langs Aine, the School Song and Oh Sir Jasper (English and Finnish versions-some things are international).

Mrs. Cohen and her little party, who had gone for a trip further along the coast, had a similar experience. When they returned home by public transport the bus driver went a considerable way off the normal route and drove right up alongside the ~ ii al boat. Both examples of such extreme friendliness would be almost inconceivable in Britain.

The first sight of Russian land and soon the boat is sliding down the Neva canal between nuclear submarines and cruisers- we a u~ behind the iron curtain-our real holiday has started.

Looking back now the events of the boat journey merge into almost inconsequential memories, they acted only as the "hors-d'oeuvre" to the main course which was to be an examination of one of the most powerful nations of the world, of a country under a system of government which we are taught to hate-communism.

Both Leningrad and Moscow are cities very much immersed in revolutionary feelings and traditions-there is the Winter Palace, once the residence of the Tsars until it was stormed in the October Revolution, within its very walls the new order was established with the meeting of the revolutionary government; there is the Fortress where three generations of rebels were imprisoned, tortured and shot-the brother of one such prisoner fled abroad, and there changed his name to Lenin; there is the Square of the famous 1905 Bloody Sunday where peaceful demonstrators were mown down on the orders of the Tsar; there is the cruiser "Aurora" which had given the signal for the uprising and from whose radio the world learnt of the first socialist state. Everywhere there is the red flag and the hammer and sickle-symbols of either liberty and hope, or horrible repression, according to which mass propaganda one listens to.

Modern Russian communism is an unsubtle affair. The beautiful mosque-like churches of Russia are often barred, with the windows smashed and gaping; at Leningrad's Cathedral "on the Blood" an old woman approached the huge Christ decorating the exterior and reverently kissed and made the sign of the cross before its feet. A young Russian spared the ritual a bemused glance. On entering St. Isaac's Cathedral, also in Leningrad, you find that the interior has been turned into a museum and is filled with a milling crowd of noisy visitors-any semblance of religion has vanished and conceded victory to the worship of communism.

When we enter a church of another denomination and we see the motionless prayers and absorb the atmosphere of silent devotion then we too fall silent-out of respect for others' beliefs. When one enters Lenin's Mausoleum, it is the overpowering sensation of complete reverence which awes one.

The Red Square is an impressive enough place as it is, with the vast enormity of the cobbled square hemmed in by so many strange and conflicting buildings. There, facing us, is the beauty of bulbous fantasy and near deformity of St. Basil's Cathedral; to one side is the store of Moscow-GUM-with its interior fountains and astronomical prices, and opposite this the long lean shape of the Kremlin where the very existence of the world is debated. Squatting at its feet is the shrine of communism, square and almost muscular in its solidarity as it draws, like a multifloored magnet, the long row of people into its smooth jaws. The mausoleum is more than an essential tourists' sight. On our first visit to the Red Square it had had a wonderful atmosphere of life, a spirit of its own given by the great surge of humanity thronging it and massing to see the clockwork absurdities of the soldiers "changing the guard"-then the mausoleum had been closed. Now the long human caterpillar stretched out and beyond the Square and into the several thousand mark. Only a small number would actually see Lenin that day but still they waited and still more joined the long, silent, impressively silent, queue. Then the great moment comes and as you shuffle past the corpse of this once dynamic man you see only a light-bathed and flaking face, eyes closed to the spectacle of so many gawping visitors, hands stretched out before him and there, in his lapel, the inevitable red badge. It is almost in anti-climax yet even for the "non-believers" it is necessary to break the spell by cracking the usual joke about how you could swear Lenin's hand had moved.
The old people of Russia seem the forgotten generation; they idle along-the vast majority of them women, dressed completely in black with headscarves and large shapeless dresses covering their large shapeless bodies. One such woman was crossing lime road when the lights changed and there she stood glued to the spot, trembling with fear among the angry and impatient hoots of he Moscow traffic. She had probably helped usher communism in and now sees it race past her and at her at a pace she is unable to comprehend. Now the Soviet Government puts its emphasis upon youth. Propaganda is cheap in Russia, indoctrination starts v' icing as is shown by the long crocodile lines of small and uniformed members of the Young Pioneer Corps. On our last day in Moscow we visited one of their camps set in 150 acres of land and at whose entrance was the inevitable Lenin - this time his portrait drawn in 25,000 flowers and depicted as a four year old boy. The camp was a veritable children's paradise on a gigantic scale with swings, puppet theatres, libraries, athletic tracks and sport pitches. The uninhibited yet remarkably good behaviour of the children was extremely impressive and their friendliness almost embarrassing. One small boy, having once taken me by the hand, refuscd to let me go except to take part in a Monoux relay race team against a team whose average age could not have been more than about nine (We won while, with the aid of Messrs. Pollard and Hodson, a Monoux Basketball team was ingloriously beaten at the hands of "an older and more experienced team").
In contrast to the black marketeer kids who sneak up to you and offer badges for biros and chewing gum, here the children pressed badges, postcards and stamps upon you. The warmness with which they greeted us, their first English visitors, made this perhaps the most enjoyable experience of our entire stay in Russia.
As you walk along even the main streets of Leningrad and Moscow, particularly the former, the dirty and plaster-crumbling buildings serve only to depress you. The communists claim that theirs is the greatest record for rebuilding and construction-we saw little evidence to verify such a statement except for the new blocks of flats on the outskirts of Moscow. Yet the Russian people are far richer than their English counterparts in a completely different sense. They have an intense and enriching interest and pride in culture and the great achievements that their Government is producing. The Hermitage Art Gallery has one of the finest collections of paintings and sculptures in Europe and the ordinary Russian people come flocking to see the Leonardo da Vincis and Picassos on a scale, 10,000 a day, that would shock the customary visitors to the sedate and deserted Royal Academy in London.

Again they come in their thousands to the great showpiece of Soviet Communism-the Exhibition of Economic Achievements. Here, set amid some 500 acres of artificial lakes, open-air theatres and cinemas, and fields of crops and growing fruit one can spend the whole day examining 73 different pavilions. Here there are the copies of the first sputniks and of the Venus rocket, along with films of the first Russian cosmonauts and here there is illustrated the peaceful uses of the atom, etc. etc. From their small and dingy rooms the ordinary Russian people flock to the Exhibition and learn to take a pride in and glean vital self-respect in what the Government is doing for "their country".

I was asked to write a report of the Russian trip, to capture "the feeling and the atmosphere" of the holiday. One boy stated that the holiday had been too long, another felt depressed by what he had seen in the U.S.S.R.; neither of these has been my reaction and if I have "captured" anything at all then it has been my own personal impressions. My report is very limited in that our trip has been limited, for the most part we saw only what our guides wanted us to see and we had too little time and too little language.

My report is limited just as the size of the "Monovian" is limited-I have had to leave so much out.

Our holiday was made by the patience and guidance of Mrs. Cohen, Mr. and Mrs. Chambers, Mr. and Mrs. Pollard, Mr. Hodson, Mr. Murdoch and our many and very charming young ladies. Ours was a very friendly group and many of us will remember with a smile a sixth form Casanova with literally a girl in every port, our transport expert blissfully lost to the world and enveloped in the folds of a Moscow tramway map, another six former being arrested for trying (quite innocently-or so he claims) to cheat the Metro of 5d., two others for getting drenched in the trick fountains of the Summer Palace and a rather merry Monovian trying to pour out a drink into a glass through the straw. The list of personal reminiscences is endless. For me, however, a horrible realisation was only too dramatically highlighted by the Vietnamese crisis of that August, almost exactly to the day 50 years after the outbreak of the First World War, almost exactly to the day 19 years after the dropping of the first Atom Bomb on Hiroshima. Here we were in the enemy country of a Cold War among a people upon which our government would be willing to commit nuclear genocide. Ours was the first Monoux party to go to Russia; it must not be the last. It is only through contact with the children of the Youth Camp, by more mutual exchanges of books and goodwill between our school and the Leningrad Youth Palace, and by a fuller knowledge and understanding of those people who came up to shake us by the hand that we can see all the futility of dividing the world up into "ally" and "enemy". In this way we may help achieve the international peace and freedom from fear that must, one day, come.

Once again I would like to thank on behalf of the whole party those members of staff who took on the responsibility of organisation. I hope that all those lost cameras and lost boys have not discouraged them-at least, not too much.

J.Weinstein, 6T Lit.

SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE SOVIET UNION

Supposedly, the best way of gaining an impression of a country is to see it for oneself. A ten-day stay in the Soviet Union, however, is certainly not long enough to gain a detailed overall idea of the country as a whole, particularly when Moscow and Leningrad are the only two cities visited. What one sees there does not necessarily reflect aspects of the whole country, yet those two cities, through necessity, must here suffice as my basis for generalisations on life in the Soviet Union today.

Two difficulties face the inquisitive visitor to the Soviet Union who is keen to find what really makes this Communist State tick; the language difficulty and the deliberate restrictions placed on visitors by the authorities. In view of these factors, as well as the need for brevity, this account must be very superficial in its analysis. I have tried to be as objective as possible in my attitude although there are obvious limits to the degree of objectivity one can attain within the short limits of this account. However, I have tried to see things as they are and to avoid any pre-conceived notions that I might have had. But I cannot, I fear, remain neutral. I am against the Soviet attempt to force other peoples of the world into their ideological mould. I am equally opposed to the concept of class warfare, that is, in fact, being used to camouflage the rise of a new privileged group in the Soviet state. I abhor the use of human beings as material for totalitarian planning towards a supposedly utopian goal. The flight of millions of people from the Soviet zone of Germany to the West, the struggle for freedom in Hungary and Berlin, all reinforce my personal contention that the triumph of the Communist regime would be unbearable to nations that have experienced freedom.

Some say there is no such thing as "Soviet man", that the people of the Soviet Union are simply Russians, and that Bolshevism is merely the logical evolution of the Russian character:
at the other extreme are the Soviet leaders and ideologists who contend that "Soviet man" exists and is a type of man the world has never seen before.

I consider that, in the main, the Soviets have not succeeded in creating the perfect Bolshevik idea of "Soviet man", and that as the standard of living in the Soviet Union gradually rises, the chances of success lessen accordingly. No, the ordinary Russian has not been transformed into a new man, a collectivised robot, who in thought, deed and desire reacts exactly as the Soviets want him to react, a being unapproachable by and incomprehensible to us.

Indeed, one of the first facets a foreigner in the U.S.S.R. comes into contact with is straightway contradictory to this conception. The Soviet citizen is keenly interested in foreigners, who are easily conspicuous by virtue of their clothes and general deportment. As a rule the first question the Soviet citizen will ask a stranger is "What country do you come from?" If he can speak the particular language with any fluency, innumerable searching questions will be asked, for he knows that from a "real foreigner" (i.e. from outside the Soviet bloc) he can learn something authentic about the almost unknown, and therefore fascinating, parts of the outside world.

Everybody is ready to make a special effort for a Foreigner- Russian officials or salesmen often brush aside fellow countrymen and turn, obviously eager to please, to attend the needs of a foreigner. It seemed to me that this eagerness was more genuine when the Russian found he was dealing with a "real foreigner" rather than someone from the other Iron Curtain countries.

There may be several reasons for this attitude towards foreigners. First, there is the Russian tradition of hospitality. Then there is the lively and largely unsatisfied interest in the outside world, about which the Russian for decades has heard only the official Soviet version, a version he accepts only with strong reservations. Then again every "genuine" foreigner is regarded as the harbinger of a return to normal international relations-a symbol of the easing of political tension, rather than a potential spy (as the authorities are constantly warning its citizens). But perhaps the strongest motive of all is the Russians' intense love of, and pride in their own country. They naturally want to behave towards foreigners in such a way that the visitors will always remember with pleasure the time they spent in Russia. Indeed, the natural, eager hospitality of the ordinary Russian is one of the most effective means the Kremlin has for making a favourable impression on the outside world.

In political spheres, however, the Soviets have managed make the average Russian relatively "unapproachable and incomprehensible". This has naturally affected the Russian's attitude to truth. Questions by a Foreigner about living standards or working conditions are unlikely to receive entirely candid answers, because adverse criticism may in certain circumstances constitute an offence; remember that in the Soviet Union nothing is absolute except the government, and a man might find it advisable to depart from strict veracity for two reasons: because it might embroil him with authority, or because politeness demands an oblique reply. In political issues, therefore, experience has taught the Russian reserve, unless the person to whom he is talking is either a close friend or a chance acquaintance whom he is not likely to meet again.

Conversely, however, in personal matters the Russian has far fewer inhibitions than we have; the desire to keep his distance from people is foreign to his nature. For example, the sight of men embracing and kissing each other, which is so embarrassing to the English and the Americans, is commonplace in Russia, particularly when friends and relatives are meeting or seeing each other off at railway stations.

One of the items on the Communist Programme is the creation of a "classless society"-whether this is realizable is not here relevant-but there are no signs of its being realized in the Soviet Union today. Indeed the Soviet Union is a country of privilege. The Revolution of 1917 certainly swept away the old order of society, and in its place has grown up a caste system in many aspects more rigid. The fundamental division appears to be that between the ruling caste-the Communist Party (the members of which comprise only about 5 per cent. of the population)-and the rest. All positions of authority are given to Communists, so that few young people can hope to do well, even in the professions, unless they join the Party.

This is a land where the contrast between the proclaimed classless society and reality is blatantly obvious, where the gaping chasm between top and bottom must strike every Soviet citizen- a land whose official "bible" is the "Communist Manifesto" issued by Karl Marx in 1848, many of whose ten points demand that the econornic differences and privileges dividing the social classes be eradicated.

I could not help feeling that perhaps the Soviet Union had entered its bourgeois era (a fact vehemently denied by the Soviet authorities). The "new class" does not constitute a bourgeoisie in the western sense of the world; it is a state bourgeoisie. All its members work for the state and are dependent on it, yet the way of life of this present day Soviet bourgeoisie resembles in many ways that of its flourishing Western counterpart during the Victorian era.

As far as standards of living are concerned, one has only to look about in a busy Russian thoroughfare to see that living standards are much lower than those in the West, which is only to be expected if military and capital equipment has been the main field of concentration up till now. The dress of the ordinary Russian is very poorly styled and of inferior quality, yet prices are exceedingly high. Motor cars, now regarded as a symbol of the affluent society, are not seen in anything like the numbers evident in Western countries-a reflection of the low priority given to light industry and consumer goods. The paucity of advertisements in public places is noticeable to the foreigner. As there is no commercial competition, advertisements are used by the State only for the purpose of stimulating consumption of some commodity which is not selling too well, or to show portraits of workers who have excelled themselves in particular branches of industry. The important thing is that the Soviet authorities, though pre-occupied with heavy industry, are committed to raising the standards of living. Correspondingly, the Russian people are becoming more discriminating and exacting; in the great GUM department store in Red Square one can often see customers complaining about such things as high prices, poor quality and sub-standard service.

However, a 20-year Soviet programme to raise the living standards was introduced (I believe) in 1960; it claims that "at the end of the second decade (1980), every family, including newlyweds, will have a comfortable flat". The programme does not promise to overtake the living standard of the U.S.A., evidently because much of the American private abundance is considered wasteful and pointless luxury by the Soviet planners; for example, they do not want to catch up the U.S.A. in private car production. The age of plenty which the Communist Programme forecasts for the end of the century is that of "controlled abundance", of "socially necessary" Communist affluence. The power and the wealth of the State, however, are to remain first priorities. A slower rise of the living standard would not endanger the position of the rulers, which depends on their successes in raising the standard of power of the nation (and the military might of the nation is, of course, one of the most important components of this "national standard of power"). It will be interesting in the years to come to see just how far the living standard is actually raised.

In a state like the Soviet Union, where private ownership of the means of production is prohibited, knowledge is the surest road to success. What therefore particularly strikes an observer is the naive enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge of every kind displayed by the gifted Russian people, the majority of whom have only learned to read and write in the last few decades. They apply themselves with a discoverer's zest to the tasks confronting them. The belated Industrial Revolution in Russia and then the Bolshevik Revolution released the capacities of the vast majority of the I '1nilation which had till then lay dormant. The Russian people are now going through that early phase of intellectual enthusiasm which the West has long forgotten and which has been replaced by scepticism and sophistication.
Religion, with its great moral force, is ridiculed and rejected by the State. As Lenin wrote: "Marxism is absolutely atheistic and resolutely hostile to all religion". Yet there still appears to be a great deal of deep religious fervour displayed in the Russian churches. It seems that religious indifference and ignorance (the result of atheistic education) and profound immersion in religious feeling exist in the Soviet Union today side by side and it is impossible for the foreigner, perhaps even the Russian himself, to assess the relative weight to be accorded to either of these two attitudes. Does this mean that the Communist doctrines of materialism and atheism should not be taken too seriously, that Cmmunism has become essentially tolerant to religion?

In effect, no. The Communist attitude towards religion is one thing. their treatment of the existing Church at any given time quite another. The position of the Soviet leaders regarding religion has hardly changed since the turn of the century-for them, religion is not a question of metaphysics, but one of sociology and history -- a barrier to progress, or as Karl Marx put it, "the opium of the masses". They believe that matter is primary, spirit is secondary. This thesis is not just an embellishment of their doctrine; it is its very core. The Church repulsed a direct attack by Lenin and Stalin, so that the Communists now proclaim a state of co-existence, assuming that the Church will degenerate and eventually collapse by itself, at the same time, of course, doing whatever they can to accelerate this process. It is interesting to note that such tactics determine the Soviet leaders' policy towards the free world, as well as their national Church.

It appears that the older generation, except for the militant Communists, have preserved a good deal of their religious attachment, and with some of them it has even grown. The middle generation, who have been in the thick of economic and political struggles, are far less concerned with religion, being largely agnostic. The younger people, cultivated to be atheistic in outlook, are perhaps searching for something else to believe in besides Karl Marx-whether they will turn eventually to the Orthodox Church remains to be seen.

These various facets, therefore, represent the greater part of the picture to be drawn from a visit to the Soviet Union, taking nothing for granted and observing everything with a critical eye. The interests of the regime are well safeguarded by exposing only the strengths and concealing the weaknesses, and by releasing information from official sources only, subject to the overriding control of the Communist Party. The fundamental goodwill of the ordinary Russian is constantly being exploited by the malevolence of the Party, hostile to all ways of life save its own.

The Soviet Union's strengths, therefore, are there for all to see; the patriotism and endurance of her people, her growing industrial power, her scientific progress and military strength. The weaknesses are less obvious but nevertheless detectable: the attitude of the Party that it can "fool all of the people all of the time", the vulnerability of dictatorships to winds of change, the relative weakness of the agricultural position; the growing corruption and dishonesty (cases of which are frequently reported in the Russian press as a warning); the addiction to theory rather than practice, and the disinclination to steady, sustained effort.

To the visiting foreigner, the Soviet Union must present itself primarily as a land of contrasts. Industrial and scientific achievements contrast with the shortage of housing, poor consumer goods, and the relative paucity of leisure and recreational facilities. These in turn contrast with the promise of a Communist Utopia by 1980 which will give the Soviet citizen, so the regime claims, material abundance, 2-room flats, free holidays, transport and meals.

Moreover, the regime should bear in mind that the intense effort towards intellectual self-improvement, this natural thirst for knowledge, which it is exploiting, will inevitably stimulate the critical faculties of the Russian people-and this stimulation will be all the more acute if the grandiose promises for 1980 are not substantially realized. For when a man is taught to think he is taught also intentionally or otherwise, to criticise. Perhaps this may result in a beneficial modification of Communism, so that in the future World peace may be based on mutual trust instead of mutual fear, as it is now. In the West, the freedom of the community was won in the fight for the freedom of the individual; in the Soviet Union, behind any struggle for the freedom of the individual citizen there rises, even if only in outline, the image of freedom itself.

Therein must live our hopes-hopes we must cling to as the Soviet Union follows its difficult road.
S .L.Turner, 6 A Lit.

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