Behind The Urals Behind the Urals The United States that we live in makes it very hard for us to fathom what a struggling nation is like to live in. In the United States, we are socialized to believe that America is the most superior of all the countries and our prosperity will continue to grow.
We are very fortunate to be born into a relatively high standard of living as a society, thus we cannot comprehend what it is like for countries trying to build societies from the bottom up. John Scott portrays this brilliantly in his book Behind the Urals as he examines individual people and their struggles as they worked in Magnitogorsk. These citizens worked in the most inhumane conditions, all with the intention to help their country develop under the new system of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union had just gone through an entire turn around in their political, social, and economic spheres as they went from one extreme to another.
The old Czarist government was always out to serve the rich landowners, while treating the peasantry as second-class humans rather than equals. However, when the Russian Revolution came to a head, and the Red Communists or Bolsheviks defeated the White Czarists, Russia was left with an entirely new system of thought in its government. This ideology viewed the working class and peasantry as the main citizens in their society, while the rich landowners were not nearly as powerful as they once were. Thus the workers of Magnitogorsk held a very important position as they had the responsibility to help the Soviet Union take flight as a country that could compete with other powerful countries of the world, all while working under the most inhumane conditions. John Scott moved to the Soviet Union leaving the United States and in his eyes, its unsatisfactory capitalistic way of governing.
Scott may have been aided in making his decision as he saw the United States slip into the Great Depression, a time when the conditions in America reached an all time low. He left his roots in the United States to begin a new life in a foreign country simply because he was disgruntled with American governing and was appealed to by the Soviet philosophy of governing. It tool Scott a tremendous amount of will and fortitude to leave behind everything he knew so well, to start a new life on the other side of the world. He showed his courage as he began his new life by starting a family, educating himself, and growing very successful.
Scott knew exactly what he was doing, as after some reflection I could find no issue that I disliked in America so much that it would lead me to do what he did. The first worker we are introduced to in Behind the Urals is a man named Koyla, Scott’s roommate at his arrival in Magnitogorsk. He was depicted as a young, strong man and a hard worker that had a huge responsibility for his age. There are not many 22-year-old men that hold the position of foreman and have power over a sizable group of men.
He was a strong leader that had one agenda and that was for the prosperity of his country. Koyla was very mature for his age as he showed leadership skills that very few men at his age possess. He seemed to be an intelligent man as he was going to school to become a technician in a setting that demanded a higher intellect level than the schools where the majority of the other workers educated. You will never find anyone Koyla’s age, or any age, in the society that we live in today being asked to direct a group of workers under the conditions that he did.
Koyla’s work ethic and strong will can be somewhat traced back to his childhood and upbringing as it was too very demanding. Another interesting character was the peasant who traveled for two weeks on foot with his cow. His story exemplifies the struggles that were taking place in both Europe and Asia. He, like John Scott but for different reasons, left his home, the famine, and unemployment to set out for the Soviet Union where jobs and food could be attained. Unfortunately, the peasant found nothing more than he left back home. He managed to find some work but food was scarce and the living conditions were even worse than what he had left.
His cow could provide him with little milk due to the lack of food for humans, let alone the animals. The reader can only imagine what the peasant left behind in his homeland, as it can be inferred that it was as bad as an area could be. In contrast to Scott, who left a somewhat run down United States, the peasant’s living conditions in both Europe and then the Soviet Union. This is one more instance that we cannot comprehend because of the prosperous society we have grown accustomed to. Valdek, a Pole who traveled to Magnitogorsk, was a welder who was dissatisfied with his life in his homeland.
He, like many others, worked with enthusiasm and perseverance to help the birth of Communism and the Soviet Union. Poland was known for being very harsh on the working class, as it drove many Poles like Valdek to the Soviet Union. Valdek is a prime representative of the people who traveled to Magnitogorsk, not solely for the food or more money, but chiefly for a life that was easier on workers, and did not concentrate so much on the well being of the upper class. Valdek was much respected in Magnitogorsk and many of his fellow workers questioned the lack of a revolution in Poland.
Valdek explained to them that if there were talk of a revolution, the revolutionaries would be immediately thrown in jail. Khaibulin, who was a tarter, exemplifies the diversity of the people who traveled to Magnitogorsk. His ancestors raised livestock for centuries and overall were very primitive. This concept is reinforced in the fact that people had not yet seen an airplane or an automobile, but Khaibulin had never seen an electric light and even more unbelievable, he had never seen a staircase. His people, for hundreds of years, never came out of the fields and into modern society to acquaint themselves with the new ideologies and inventions.
They learned a particular skill, and kept it that way in their resistance to change the way of life in which they were comfortable. Magnitogorsk was a haven for the peoples of countries from all over the world, and in Khaibulin’s situation, had people coming from an extremity in which the modern world was a foreign idea. Looking to the opposite end of the spectrum, there were people in Magnitogorsk who were not there by choice. Shabkov, who was an ex-kulak, is a prime example as he was a peasant whose community of peasants lived a little better off than most. His community is an example of a collective farm that Stalin implemented, and is a society where all the members use their individual skills to keep the society working.
If a member of a collective farm needed something from a household, was not willing to give something up to the collective farm, then charges would be brought up against the person and they would lose their property. The property would then be given to the collective farm and in this, many people were punished without just cause. This happened to Shabkov, as he saw his farm taken and he was sent to Magnitogorsk, to work off his punishment. Even with all the injustice Shabkov underwent, he served his sentence with dignity and was respected as one of the best workers there. In the beginnings of the Soviet Union, and more specifically Magnitogorsk, a diversified group of people from various ethnic, religions, and national backgrounds all put forth their individual efforts to develop the new Russia. The grueling environment that these people lived in developed them into strong and proud workers.
In looking to our home front, I cannot find one example that even borders similarities to life in the Soviet Union under Stalin’s Five Year Plans. We can study the times, even look to experts in the field for information on the topic, but we can never fully grasp the extreme environment that the peoples of Magnitogorsk lived in. They jeopardized and sometimes even sacrificed their own lives to build up a country. Lives were not lost in the battlefields, but instead on the job as workers froze from the climate while working the blast furnaces. The Soviet Union’s success is usually given to the Communist ideology or even Stalin, but instead it was the hard workers who came from all over the eastern hemisphere to take on and complete the task of developing Russia.