Original publication at www.urokiistorii.ru
On 27 September a large-scale Soviet project on the history of every day life was launched. Maxim Gorky came up with an idea for Soviet writers and sympathizing foreigners to choose a random day in the life of the world and describe it. Newspaper publications, news stories, photos and letters were compiled in a book published in 1937. The experience was repeated 25 years later, but this time it was no “surprise” for the world.
The 1937 book “A Day of the World” is a luxurious publication of encyclopedic layout with a lot of pictures (photos, drawings, caricatures) devoted to one day - 27 September 1935.
«The book “A Day of the World” is ventured to show our reader what a bourgeois day is filled with and to contrast this picture to the contents to our Soviet day. Why do we need this? We are writing that bourgeoisie is decaying, rotting, etc. It sounds proofless, since it is not confirmed by facts – our newspapers are not suitable for the material on everyday life which would provide an obvious clear picture of how exactly the senile obsolete world of bourgeoisie is decaying»,
– Maxim Gorky wrote in a letter to Mikhail Kol’tsov, the second editor of the book (Gorky himself, the initiator of the publication, died in 1936, one year before the book was published).
Despite the fact that the Soviet collective project was realized in mid-30s and despite an obvious ideological task (to oppose the two worlds – the old and the new one), the book turned out to be documentary indeed to a large extent. It is based not only on the articles on politics which had come out in different editions all over the world on 27 September 1935, but also on simple observations of people’s life: thus the “Japan” chapter contains a photo of drying umbrellas after the rain, while the “France” chapter features a collection of photos of Paris windows, the “Hungary” chapter – passers-by resting on benches, and “the USSR” chapter – “working people’s” walks in entertainment parks.
The illustrations and the greater part of materials were taken from local press, that’s why, as it is said in the preface:
«every foreign country is depicted mainly in the words of its own ruling classes and groups. With a few exceptions all the texts in corresponding chapters are taken from the press of these countries».
However, the structure of the book, the headings, the logic of exposition, captions and titles were elaborated by a Soviet editorial board, which exerted quite an impact on the way a random day in the life of the world was presented. Thus, the world is explicitly divided in two parts, the former of which is on fire, it’s starving, searching for employment and is about to collapse (“Italy on fire”, “Hungry Hungary”, “Poland in obscurity”, “Bulgaria in poverty”, “Spain before the battle”, “Finland’s dark day” – chapters of the contents), while the latter is flourishing (“Blooming Ukraine”), working and resting not forgetting the preparation for the defense (“Leningrad is getting ready for the defense”). The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is symbolically separated from the rest of the world even in the book – first by Stalin’s portrait under a cigarette paper, and at the end – by a photo coverage about frontier guards.
Gorky regretted that
“Journalists and writers of ours, repeating the words “decaying”, “croaking” etc. like parrots can’t, and don’t even think it necessary to show, what is decaying, how it is decaying, who and how seriously it is infecting”.
That is why details of decaying capitalist world are thoroughly described:
• In London, for instance, they not only practise gas-defense:
• But also pass sobriety tests:
• In Hamburg the unemployed are looking at their former factory through the fence (one can see this picture in other cities in Germany):
• In Japan people are manually working on rice fields:
• In Hollywood actresses’ casting is organized:
• Fashion is ruling over the people’s life in European world:
• While getting acquainted through newspaper ads reveals a grave “disease of everyday life”:
At the same time people in the USSR are living quite a different life.
• There is fashion here as well – but it is Soviet and there are no women of fashion:
• People work here as well, but on rice fields – on a “large-scale Soviet construction”, and “yesterday’s thieves and bribers, embezzlers and bandits”, “people, temporarily deprived of freedom due to their recent past, lived the same life with the country, thought the same thoughts and just like the rest of the country were full of lasting faith in a happy future of the country and passionate craving to see the grand result of their everyday labor as soon as possible” – these extracts from monthly literary magazine of NKVD Dmitlag (Dmitrov camp) are given next to the pictures showing the construction of the Moscow-river-Volga channel:
• There is no hunger here, but only food abundance: the description of the USSR starts with a news story on the abolition of food coupons and a vague photo of a bakery window in the outskirts of Moscow:
• There are no unemployed here for sure: one can make sure glancing at the vacancies ads:
However, unlike the book “A Day in the World. 27 September 1960” the world in 1935, though divided, is still not conquered and learned”. There is room for uncertainty and surprise in the face of the ordinary and mundane even in one’s own country (in 1960 the world was totally reduced to the leading articles of Soviet newspapers).
For instance, telegrams sent by Soviet people at night on 27September 1935 are astonishing:
Telegrams. <p. 493> At night writer Boris Levin went to the Moscow telegraph, stood by the window, asked the people sending telegrams what news they are telling about. We are citing sample telegrams below (last names have been changed):
• Mariupol director Construction bureau Fenix everything settled budget dot project approved People’s Commissariat dot send the materials dot I stay in Moscow 2 days dot Fetisov
• Orel Mtsenskaya 22 Popova Exam passed excellent kiss mum, dad, granny Nadya
• Baku Shaumyana 5 Vsevolozhsky Been robbed stay Metropol copeck dot send six hundred fifty dot Blestyaschiy
• Kamyshyn Kolkhoz Red Rifle Markelov Orchestra artists coming kolkhoz festival dot provide apartments dot coming willingly dot I come with them dot Smyshlenkin
• Smolensk Enelgardt 33 Baskakov Operation successful dot don’t worry see you soon dot Vanya
• Dnepropetrovsk Petrovsky plant Krupele Latch problem comma but hope door handles have been sent dot Telegraph if parquet has arrived worrying dot latches tomorrow comma baths clarified finally dot Sadikov
• Saratov Chernyshevskaya 21 Komarova Wonderful fall Moscow dot missing you Asenka dot Hugs and kisses Asenka dot Come soon waiting impatiently your Kolya
• Malo-Arkhangelsk Brick factory Satunova Malania Terekhova awarded Lenin order dot congratulate my behalf Merkushev
• Station Prokhaldnye voday Stanits Kuschevka Karl Liebknecht kolkhoz Loaded twenty bikes thirty gramophones records problem dot promised some place dot telegraph departure dot send car station dot don’t let down dot Serezha
• Gagry Gagripsh Molodtseva Received your letter dot Friendship offer caused a smile dot do as you wish dot wish you happiness dot tomorrow leaving Sakhalin dot Gleb
• Kuznetsstroi Tarbarin tanchuk gossiped dot swear nothing happened dot cried all night Olya
• Stavropol 26 Antonina Kuznetsova Bailed out today dot great dot was praised dot tellGrisha dot Kisses Tonya
• Saltykovka Ryazan-Urals railway Profintern Factory Samsonov Read your plan overfulfilment newsaper dot very glad dot shake your hand dot regards Mergalik
It seems Soviet 30s are not such a well-studied time.
By Yulia Chernikova
Translated by Ekaterina Kokorina