Excerpts from



Life in Russia



Ayn Rand's
Testimony Before
The House Un-American
Activities Committee

 

 

X X X X X X X X

 

Mr.Stripling: Would you give the committee a break-down of your summary of the picture relating to either propaganda or an untruthful account or distorted account of conditions in Russia?

Miss Rand: Yes. First of all I would like to define what we mean by propaganda. We have all been talking about it, but nobody- Nobody has stated just what they mean by propaganda. Now, I use the term to mean that Communist propaganda is anything which gives a good impression of communism as a way of life. Anything that sells people the idea that life in Russia is good and that people are free and happy would be Communist propaganda. Am I not correct? I mean, would that be a fair statement to make- that that would be Communist propaganda?

 

Now, here is what the picture Song of Russia contains. It starts with an American conductor, played by Robert Taylor, giving a concert in America for Russian war relief. He starts playing the American national anthem and the national anthem dissolves into a Russian mob, with the sickle and hammer on a red flag very prominent above their heads. I am sorry, but that made me sick. That is something which I do not see how native Americans permit, and I am only a naturalized American. That was a terrible touch of propaganda. As a writer, I can tell you just exactly what it suggests to the people. It suggests literally and technically that it is quite all right for the American national anthem to dissolve into the Soviet. The term here is more than just technical. It really was symbolically intended, and it worked out that way. The anthem continues, played by a Soviet band. That is the beginning of the picture. Now we go to the pleasant love story.

 

Mr. Taylor is an American who came there apparently voluntarily to conduct concerts for the Soviets. He meets a little Russian girl from a village who comes to him and begs him to go to her village to direct concerts there. There are no GPU agents and nobody stops her. She just comes to Moscow and meets him. He falls for her and decides he will go, because he is falling in love. He asks her to show him Moscow. She says she has never seen it. He says, "I will show it to you." They see it together. The picture then goes into a scene of Moscow, supposedly.

I don't know where the studio got its shots, but I have never seen anything like it in Russia. First you see Moscow buildings -- big, prosperous-looking, clean buildings, with something like swans or sailboats in the foreground. Then you see a Moscow restaurant that just never existed there. In my time, when I was in Russia, there was only one such restaurant, which was nowhere as luxurious as that and no one could enter it except commissars and profiteers.

 

Certainly a girl from a village, who in the first place would never have been allowed to come voluntarily, without permission, to Moscow, could not afford to enter it, even if she worked ten years. However, there is a Russian restaurant with a menu such as never existed in Russia at all and which I doubt even existed before the revolution. From this restaurant they go on to this tour of Moscow. The streets are clean and prosperous-looking. There are no food lines anywhere. You see shots of the marble subway- the famous Russian subway out of which they make such propaganda capital. There is a marble statue of Stalin thrown in. There is a park where you see happy little children in white blouses running around. I don't know whose children they are, but they are really happy kiddies. They are not homeless children in rags, such as I have seen in Russia. Then you see an excursion boat, on which the Russian people are smiling, sitting around very cheerfully, dressed in some sort of satin blouses such as they only wear in Russian restaurants here. Then they attend a luxurious dance. I don't know where they got the idea of the clothes and the settings that they used at the ball and - It was an exaggeration even for this country. I have never seen anybody wearing such clothes and dancing to such exotic music when I was there. Of course, it didn't say whose ballroom it is or how they get there. But there they are- free and dancing very happily. Incidentally, I must say at this point that I understand from correspondents who have left Russia and been there later than I was and from people who escaped from there later than I did that the time I saw it, which was in 1926, was the best time since the Russian revolution.

 

At that time conditions were a little better than they have become since. In my time we were a bunch of ragged, starved, dirty, miserable people who had only two thoughts in our mind. That was our complete terror- afraid to look at one another, afraid to say anything for fear of who is listening and would report us- and where to get the next meal. You have no idea what it means to live in a country where nobody has any concern except food, where all the conversation is about food because everybody is so hungry that that is all they can think about and that is all they can afford to do. They have no idea of politics. They have no idea of any pleasant romances or love- nothing but food and fear. That is what I saw up to 1926. That is not what the picture shows.

 

Now, after this tour of Moscow, the hero- the American conductor- goes to the Soviet village. The Russian villages are something- so miserable and so filthy. They were even before the revolution. They weren't much even then. What they have become now I am afraid to think. You have all read about the program for the collectivization of the farms in 1933, at which time the Soviet Government admits that three million peasants died of starvation. Other people claim there were seven and a half million, but three million is the figure admitted by the Soviet Government as the figure of people who died of starvation, planned by the government in order to drive people into collective farms. That is a recorded historical fact. Now, here is the life in the Soviet village as presented in Song of Russia. You see the happy peasants. You see they are meeting the hero at the station with bands, with beautiful blouses and shoes, such as they never wore anywhere. You see children with operetta costumes on them and with a brass band which they could never afford. You see the manicured starlets driving tractors and the happy women who come from work singing. You see a peasant at home with a close-up of food for which anyone there would have been murdered. If anybody had such food in Russia in that time he couldn't remain alive, because he would have been torn apart by neighbors trying to get food. But here is a close-up of it and a line where Robert Taylor comments on the food and the peasant answers, "This is just a simple country table and the food we eat ourselves." Then the peasant proceeds to show Taylor how they live. He shows him his wonderful tractor. It is parked somewhere in his private garage. He shows him the grain in his bin, and Taylor says, "That is wonderful grain."

 

Now, it is never said that the peasant does not own this tractor or this grain because it is a collective farm. He couldn't have it. It is not his. But the impression he gives to Americans, who wouldn't know any differently, is that certainly it is this peasant's private property, and that is how he lives, he has his own tractor and his own grain. Then it shows miles and miles of plowed fields.

Mr.Stripling: I saw the picture. At this peasant's village or home, was there a priest or several priests in evidence?

Miss Rand: Oh, yes; I am coming to that, too. The priest was from the beginning in the village scenes, having a position as sort of a constant companion and friend of the peasants, as if religion was a natural accepted part of that life. Well, now, as a matter of fact, the situation about religion in Russia in my time was, and I understand it still is, that for a Communist Party member to have anything to do with religion means expulsion from the party. He is not allowed to enter a church or take part in any religious ceremony. For a private citizen, that is a non-party member, it was permitted, but it was so frowned upon that people had to keep it secret, if they went to church. If they wanted a church wedding they usually had it privately in their homes, with only a few friends present, in order not to let it be known at their place of employment because, even though it was not forbidden, the chances were that they would be thrown out of a job for being known as practicing any kind of religion.

 

Now, then, to continue with the story, Robert Taylor proposes to the heroine. She accepts him. They have a wedding, which, of course, is a church wedding. It takes place with all the religious pomp which they show. They have a banquet. They have dancers, in something like satin skirts and performing ballets such as you never could possibly see in any village and certainly not in Russia. Later they show a peasants' meeting place, which is a kind of a marble palace with crystal chandeliers. Where they got it or who built it for them I would like to be told. Then later you see that the peasants all have radios. When the heroine plays as a soloist with Robert Taylor's orchestra, after she marries him, you see a scene where all the peasants are listening on radios, and one of them says, "There are more than millions listening to the concert." I don't know whether there are a hundred people in Russia, private individuals, who own radios. And I remember reading in the newspaper at the beginning of the war that every radio was seized by the Government and people were not allowed to own them. Such an idea that every farmer, a poor peasant, has a radio, is certainly preposterous. You also see that they have long-distance telephones. Later in the picture Taylor has to call his wife in the village by long-distance telephone. Where they got this long-distance phone, I don't know.

Now, here comes the crucial point of the picture. In the midst of this concert, when the heroine is playing, you see a scene on the border of the U.S.S.R. You have a very lovely modernistic sign saying "U.S.S.R." I would just like to remind you that that is the border where probably thousands of people have died trying to escape out of this lovely paradise. It shows the U.S.S.R. sign, and there is a border guard standing. He is listening to the concert. Then there is a scene inside kind of a guardhouse where the guards are listening to the same concert, the beautiful Tschaikowsky music, and they are playing chess. Suddenly there is a Nazi attack on them. The poor, sweet Russians were unprepared...

 

 

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