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A 1933 look at conditions in Russia

Volhynia, traditionally a rich agricultural area, did not escape the starvation that swept across the Societ Union in the 1930s. This famine was a direct result of the government's policies and attempts to force the collectivization of farms.
The government of Ukraine is trying to have the famine declared genocide. This has angered the government of Russia.
In recent years, several books have been written about what happened; one of the best is Harvest of Sorrow, by Robert Conquest.
In the 1930s, several western journalists wrote favorably about what was going on in the Soviet Union. One of the most influential was Walter Duranty of the New York Times, who won a Pulitzer for his work.
The publisher of the Vancouver Sun, the largest newspaper in British Columbia, also wrote fondly of the Communist experience. He did not mention Volhynia; it appears he did not visit the area. Still, his comments provide a peek at how North Americans viewed the events unfolding in the Soviet Union.
The following is a report on a speech he gave in Victoria, B.C.

Russia, As Seen By Vancouver Editor

Victoria Daily Times, August 16, 1933

The address on his recent trip to Russia given by Robert J. Cromie, publisher of the Vancouver Sun, before the members of the Chamber of Commerce at their luncheon to-day included a number of impressions which differed from many of those detailed by others who have spoken on that subject in this city. Mr. Cromie expressed the opinion that Russia was progressing at a rate which left no room for worry on her own part or on that of the outside world.

Mr. Cromie said what he found there was not straight communism, but a modified version of it. During his stay in that country he got off the beaten tourist tracks and investigated for himself, interviewing 110 persons from all walks of life.

"The church is not stamped out in Russia, although the government does not officially recognize it," Mr. Cromie said, emphasizing the good impression made on visitors by the Russian attitude towards religion. Russia has taken the supernatural and superstitious out of religion." He said.

"The sex problem in Russia takes care of itself. They are too busy at work. It is only countries that have indolence and indulgence and decadence that are bothered with promiscuity and perversions," he said.

"Marriage is easy and so is divorce. I visited divorce and marriage bureaus and it was as easy to buy a marriage certificate or secure a divorce in Russia as it is to buy a suit of clothes in Canada.

"But, wherever there are children, that's another matter. No father or prospective father can get a divorce until he has made arrangements and his pay has been pledged to protect the children."

A point which Mr. Cromie stressed was the normalcy of life in Russia. He saw crowds of 50,000 both at a race meet and a football match in Moscow.

Mr. Cromie said; "I went to Russia for the same reason that any one of this audience would go. I was curious and I was anxious about the unsettling changes that were coming in Canada and the United States, and I wanted to see if the conditions and philosophies prevalent in Russia were the ones that were likely to obtain in North America.

"You will never understand Russia until you visit her; even then you will not have a true perspective of Russia if you have not visited other countries and are thus able to compare Russian conditions and Russian people with other countries of the world.

"What the masses of Russia are to-day enjoying in the way of education and food and clothing and working conditions and amusement and social welfare for children and aged, would be the height of luxury to the masses of India or China or Africa.

"I went to Russia with my mind filled with newspaper stories, including those printed in our own paper, The Vancouver Sun, telling of a starved and depressed people on the verge of a collapse.

"I was looking for the sensational, the romantic and the dramatic, which we humans always look and expect to find in some place other than where we happen to live.

"I somehow forgot the fact that 99 per cent of the lives of Canadians, including my own, is the commonplace of eat-sleep-and-hard work.

And the people of Russia are just the same, only on a different standard.

"It took Japan only thirty years to modernize industrially. Russia is doing in ten.

"I saw the one or two per cent of the sensational and dramatic in Russia. But to report that as indicative of Russian conditions would be as distorting as to brand Vancouver as over-ridden with bandits because there are a couple of street holdups.

"The people of Russia are just like the people of Canada, only on a different standard.

"Thirty years from now Russia will probably be on our standard of living.

"Our hotel in Leningrad was just as good as the Savoy in London. It belonged and had been built during the old regime. The rooms were large, the rugs and furniture were in perfection condition, linen and bathroom spotlessly clean. We had ample attention.

"When I used to read of a many paying a ruble for an egg or 5 rubles for a pound of butter, or 1 ruble for a tumbler of strawberries, I wondered how the people of Russia lived or on what they lived.

"I overlooked the fact that the basic food of Russia is black bread and cabbage soup, just like rice is the basic food of China and Japan and India.

"After arriving at the hotel in Leningrad I dropped around to the tourist office, and for $15 a day I arranged for a guide whenever I wanted him, for a Lincoln motor car and for my hotel room and board, and train fare if I wanted to travel.

"I went where I wanted, when I wanted, and people seemed to pay no more attention to me than they did in London or Berlin.

"The tourist office, like a Cook's tour, had a formal programme that I could follow if I wanted to each morning and afternoon.

"This included visits to factories and crèches and schools and public works and government offices and museums.

"Of course, I could not enter and go through factories without a guide any more than I could go into the Vancouver Sugar Refinery without a permit.

"Instead of paving and repairing the streets of Leningrad, what the government has done is to concentrate all its money on educational buildings and theatres and factories.

"Leningrad has seven big theatres and educational centers, fine buildings seating 8,000 people each, with endless class and gymnasium and social rooms. Each night the theatre is crowded; the plays start about 8 o'clock and about 11:50 or 12 o'clock.

"The crowds you see there are fine, well-behaved and reasonably well-dressed people. You cannot come in too late and you cannot leave except at intermissions.

"The factory life of Russia is pretty much like the factory life of Japan or Vancouver or Chicago, except that they work seven hours a day and they work hard with the one thought throughout the whole organization of getting a maximum output.

"Every worker and foreman spares neither himself nor his machine to make good the factory's quota of production.

"I was in rubber factories, electrical factories and wire factories, and everywhere it is the same.

"Going through a big electrical works in Moscow which employs about 4,000 people, I started in at the drafting rooms. The engineers and staff are working on the top floor in good light, good air, and working down through the different floors where they were making electric light bulbs and fixtures of all sorts, you soon realize that the electrical plant is no different in Russia than an electrical plant in Japan or in Schenectady, New York.

"The factories were nice and clean and orderly. Everywhere possible they have adopted the continuous motion principle, automatic machines. But if one department falls down in its production there is a great fuss.

"Russian Communism now recognizes that all people are not equal. Union wages run from 80 to 800 rubles per month.

"Where Russia differs from America is that the rewards in money and in recognition go, not for exploitation and manipulation, but for effort and endeavor.

"In Russia the spread between the least paid worker and the highest paid official is 1 to 30.

"In North America, the spread between the least paid worker and the big money manipulators is 1 to 30,000."

Mr. Cromie will also speak at a public meeting in the City Temple this evening when he will answer questions.


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