So this is Russia!


So this is Russia!
by Gene Tunney
and Walter Davenport

The National Weekly
October 3, 1931

...I think it was on the following morning that I was the guest of an American metallurgical engineer, Mr. J. Stanley McClenahan of New York. A few miles out of Moscow and off the tourist trail he had redesigned an old smelter and considerably increased its capacity with German machinery. He explained that he had preferred American equipment but that American manufacturers could not extend the necessary credit.

Possibly Mr. McClenahan wouldn't have invited me had he known how it was going to affect me. Perhaps I should have guarded my emotions a bit more. As soon as I saw McClenahan's "junk pile" behind the smelter a queer, resentful depression filled me.

These images were not Tunney & Davenport's book, but they would have been representative of what Tunney saw.

There in a bold broad hill lay the bells of Russia--some of them. They were the bells that I had hoped some day to hear. I had read of them and travelers had told me about their sonorous evening song. Perhaps they never would have sounded as sweet in my ears as in my imagination. It doesn't matter. Some were smashed, some were being smashed, others were still intact--beautiful things wonderfully molded and engraved.

From Bells to Bullets

To a great extent they had been cast from metal donated by the peasants--copper, bronze, gold, silver. They had been gorgeous works of art, decorated with bas-reliefs of the saints, the apostles, of Christ, of His parables. Here was a huge bass bell on the sides of which the story of the Annunciation had been told by a sculptor; and near it was another beautified with the story of Bethlehem.

"Probably they'd laugh at me," I said to McClenahan, "but this seems unnecessary. What a shame. How many tons have you in this hill?"

"I don't know," replied McClenahan, "but thus far we've smelted six hundred thousand tons of them for their bronze, gold, silver, copper and so on. The theory is plain enough: the bells were made for the churches out of the metals donated by the peasants. Now they've taken the bells from the churches and returned the metal to industry--to the workers."

"Any of the metal go into ammunition?"

"Oh yes, most of it," he said. "These metals given to the church were supposed to provide protection for the soul of the peasant. Converted into bullets and shells it now may protect the body of the peasant from the invader. Some of course goes to the peaceful arts."

McClenahan was merely the technical director of the smelter--the expert engineer. He had nothing to do with the workers whose leader was the president of their local workers' council. A most matter-of-fact man this president, to whom sentiment was mere weakness.

"You must realize," said he, "that the workers of this country are the rulers of the Soviet Republic. All that these bells symbolize is done--gone. The workers willed it that way. These things are of no use to us. We have abolished what these bells stood for--superstition."

And more along that line. He was still talking when I noticed what were bundles of icons of brass, gold, silver and platinum; candelabra of the same metals; holy vessels and altar pieces. They were all in machine-pressed blocks ready for the furnace. On top of this mound I saw what seemed to me to be a man asleep. The figure was clumsily covered with canvas or something of the sort and so sure was I that it was one of the workers taking a siesta out of hours that I asked the president of the workers' council about it.

For the first time he grinned. He winked at another Russian and, catlike, leaped up the hill of confiscated altar pieces. A shout from him made us step back. He raised his right foot and rolled the prostrate figure over with a thrust of his heel. It teetered on the edge and then came rolling down, crashing in a moment at our feet.

It was a great bronze figure of Christ, a magnificent sculpture. It was more than life size and apparently had been wrenched from its huge cross.

The president looked at me squarely, his face wider than ever with the grin he had for my frown. I was astounded. Perhaps my resentment was even stronger than that.

"That," I protested, "is awful. The whole thing's ghastly. Why is this beautiful work of art destroyed? Even if there is no respect for religion and its symbols, you should, I think, preserve the art."

"We workers," he said coolly, "will no longer tolerate this nonsense. We were the slaves of the church for centuries. That's all over. We've abandoned superstition. We're struggling out of the old ignorance. This hurts you? We can't help that. This is only a little part of our plan. This figure symbolizes what we have decided is not necessary to our life. We workers--"

"But I, too, was a worker," I said. "My father was a worker--his father, too."

"The day will come," he said, "when even you will understand."

Perhaps, perhaps; but I'm not convinced. I don't believe that after they have established themselves and proved their theory, organized religion can be kept suppressed. Humanity must release its emotions somewhere. When calm comes to Russia, they're going to find emotional outlet in some form of church. I left the smelter thinking of Voltaire's "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."

I saw no reason to agree with those who predict the collapse of Soviet Russia. I saw nothing but a tremendous striving to compel success. But neither did I see the sparkling eyes of happiness that the pro-Soviet writers insist upon. Just a doggedness, a mechanical plodding, a huge pressing force crushing forward. I saw nothing to indicate pity, kindness, thoughtfulness nor compassion. The whole scene was as colorless and as inexorable as a grinding machine.