Read Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel (Classics in Russian Studies) by John Scott Free Online
Book Title: Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel (Classics in Russian Studies)|
The author of the book: John Scott
Edition: Indiana University Press
Date of issue: March 1st 1973
ISBN 13: 9780253106001
City - Country: No data
Loaded: 1101 times
Reader ratings: 7.3
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 631 KB
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This paperback has been sitting on my shelf since the early 90s, when I was supposed to have read this book for a Russian history class I dropped. Based on this book, I’m pretty happy with that decision, made over two decades ago. This is an autobiographical journaling of John Scott, son of American Communist sympathizers who was raised to idealize the “Workers’ paradise” of communism. He boldly decided to experience this paradise for himself by traveling to Magnitogorsk, the Gary, Indiana of the Urals at the ripe old age of 20 years.
Scott spent 5 years working in some of the harshest weather, working, and living conditions that an employed human being in 1930 could imagine. One might think that such a meager existence would sway his philosophy, but far from it, as Stephen Kotkin suggests in his introduction to this book, John goes to great lengths to rationalize the brutality and starkness of the life of a wage earner under the Stalin regime, as the ends to a glorious mean.
The beginning of this book is a story of adventure and is a delightful read, even when John is talking about living and working in conditions colder than a resident of the United States can barely fathom, with only a coal burning furnace to keep him and his roommate warm in wintertime nights where the lows commonly hover in the 20s… below zero.
He shares the experience of company-provided meals of watery soup and bread, every single day and night, trade school, and work politics which, in a very real sense, are an extension of party politics. Eventually, politically motivated purges get so bad that even John is basically “invited” to leave the country with his wife and two children. John waxes poetic about the Russian version of social safety nets, but I will be forgiven if I’m not exactly bowled over by the state of Russian resources of the day.
Smith twice receives visits from an American friend, who he proudly parades around Russia, to show his temporary nation framed in the most positive of lights. One must wonder what his American friend, who was endlessly curious about life in Stalinist Russia, must have made of these trips.
John unintentionally confesses to his rose colored glasses when he mentions that while beggars in the Soviet Union are almost unheard of, homeless and unemployed beggars he encountered while on a vacation in France were dressed better than he and his blue collar friends in Russia, and probably ate better, too.
The book is at its best when you see Soviet life through his eyes, but the book drags badly when he spends a good bit of time talking about the daily mechanics of working in a Soviet steel mill, which, I’m sorry to say, doesn’t really interest me. I’m not sure if there is a casual reader who this book would speak to, as it changes gears from vaguely interesting to coma-inducing and back. As a matter of history, though, it story isn’t without value. If you’re looking for a treatise on Russian politics, this may not be the book you’re looking for, as it deals with a biased view of a fan of Stalinist Communism. That said, as much of a fan as John is, even he can’t paint a pretty picture of the dualities of greedy excess and gripping want (even if many do not fully appreciate how dire their lives are), or the ruthless subversion of political and cultural enemies, real, imagined, or created. Towards the end of this book, John references a discussion with a comrade where he begins to question the experience and his colleague reminds of the comparative evils of John’s nation of birth, such as slavery, proving that “Whataboutism” isn’t a recent or uniquely American development. This helps to reinforce John’s sympathy for Stalinist Russia. From the perspective of a sympathetic wanna-be comrade, it isn’t hard to imagine how the Soviet Union’s implementation of Communism failed so thoroughly. In fact, to the contrary, it is difficult to imagine how it survived as long as it did.
The irony of reviewing this book is that I realize that John Scott wouldn’t give a damned what I think.
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John Scott (1912-1976) was an American writer who worked in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. The OSS was the predecessor organization to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Scott migrated to the Soviet Union in 1932 and worked for many years in Magnitogorsk, writing Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel about his experiences there.