A criminal assault involving three Americans in Stalingrad became known as the Stalingrad Incident. It relates to several important issues concerning Stalin's Soviet Union. The Ford Motor Company received a contract to build a giant tractor plant in Stalingrad--The Traktorostroi. In effect, the United States was helping to build Soviet industry. Two white American Ford Motor Company workers at the plant attacked a black American laborer (August 1930). Soviet authorities arrested the two assailants and then turned the investigation and trial into a month-long propaganda campaign. The men were brought to 'proletarian justice'. The theme of the campaign according to one historian was 'to cultivate the image that workers in the USSR valued American technical and industrial knowledge in the construction of the new socialist society, but vehemently rejected American racism'. [Roman] The Soviet propaganda campaign showed photographs of blacks and whites working together as equals in the Soviet Union next to images of lynching in the United States. We suspect that later in the Stalinist era there may not have been such positive comments about 'American technical industrial knowledge'.
Henry Ford is best known for the Model "T" Ford and the mass production of autmobiles. He also produced the Fordson tractor which provided low-cost utility vehicles to American farmers. Ford negotiated a major contract for these tractors with the Soviet Union immediately after World War I (1919). The Soviets became Ford's most important foreign client. The Soviets purchased over 24,000 Fordson tractors (1921-27). Ford help the Soviets open the Leningrad plant "Red Putilovite" (Красный Путиловец) (1924). The plant produced Fordson-Putilovets (Фордзон-путиловец) tractors. Like their American versions, these tractors were both inexpensive and rugged. They became widely used throughout the Soviet Union. They were used on the new collective farms. The Soviets used images of the tractors in their propaganda (posters , paintings, postage stamps, ect.) to show how the Communists were modernizing Russia. Ford he;ped the Soviets build their first modern automobile lant at Gorki. The Ford Motor Company received a contract to provide technical assistance for the giant tractor plant in Stalingrad--The Traktorostroi. In effect, the United States was helping to build Soviet industry.
One of the most important American industrialists was Henry Ford. He became noted for paying workers a decent wage, but hated labor unions. He was also a pacfist and against war as well as a virulent anti-Semite. He sponsored a peace expedition to Europe during World War I (1915). The Europeans of course did not take him ceriously and the mission was a complete failure. Once America entered the War, his company became a leading producer of ambulances, airplanes, munitions, tanks, and submarine chasers. Ford had said he would not profit from the War. In fact he profited greatly. He ran as a Democrat for the Senate, but was defeated (1918). Ford took a paternalistic attitude toward his employees and tried to control their lives. He hired thugs who attacked trade unionists and Ford was the last major U.S. corporation to accept collective bargaining. Ford joined the isolationists as Europe moved toward War. Ford had a range of reasons for joining the isolationists. He did oppose war in general as he had shown during World war I. He did not see Hitler as a great threat and his anti-Semitism helped excuse NAZI barbaities. Ford in fact received a medal from the Führer. Another reason was his hatred of Franklin Roosevelt which began early. (Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Wilson Administration has opposed Ford's peace expedition.) Ford developed a relationship with Charles Lindbergh. Both passionately believed that the United States should stay not get involved in the European war and even aid Britain. Ford joined the America First National Committee (1940). Not all American Firsters were pleased about this as Ford was such a controversial figure. The AFC was concerned about being labeled anti-Semitic. Ford's anti-union reputation was also not helpful to the movement. The AFC thus voted to cancel his membership. We know that Ford and Lindbergh discussed the Jews in their private conversations. Some believed that Lindbergh's speech for the America Firsters in Des Moines, Iowa during which he identified the Jews as one of the groups tring to drag America into the War. After Pearl Harbor and the disolution of the American First Committee, Ford offered Lindbergh, who had lost much of his popularity, a job with his company. Lindbergh accepted the offer. Again after Pearl Harbor, Ford Motors played an important role in the American war effort. Ford retired after the War (1945).
Two white American Ford Motor Company workers at the plant attacked a black American laborer (August 1930). Soviet authorities arrested the two assailants and then turned the investigation and trial into a month-long propaganda campaign. The men were brought to “proletarian justice”.
The theme of the Soviet campaign according to one historian was "to cultivate the image that workers in the USSR valued American technical and industrial knowledge in the construction of the new socialist society, but vehemently rejected American racism". [Roman] The Soviet propaganda campaign showed photographs of blacks and white wirking together as equals in the Soviet Union next to images of lynching in the United States. We suspect that later in the Stalinist era there may not have been such positive comments about 'American technical industrial knowledge'.
The Soviets were not wrong about American racism. It was wide-spread and instituionalized in the South. The situation in the 1930s was still terrible. Racism prevented most black Americans from leading productive and rearding lives. Lynching was a continuing threat, especially in the South. And the United States Congress before World Sar II repeateldy refused to pass an anti-lynching law. Blacks in the South did not have access to the law. And law enforcement officers were often involved in extra-legal actions against blacks.
The number of racist killings, of course, while apauling, were miniscule in comparison to what the Soviets were doing to their own people. The Socialist press, however, focused on the United States. To an extent this reflected the openess of American society and the closed-Soviet police state. There was, however, enough known about the Soviet Uniion to understnd that terrible things were happening there. The reporting reflects the unwillingness of Socialists to look on critically at Socialist states. Modern Socialists take another approach, they claim that the Sviet Union was not really a Socialist state. The problem is that other Communist countries (Cambodia, China, North Korea, Vietnam, as well as the Soviet Eastern European satellites) have also carried out terrible attrocities. Socialists maintain that these states also were not Socialistvstates and that Socisalism had nothing to do with the attrocities. The only problem is that such attrocities have occurred when ever Communsts have imposed a Socialist system. This continues today. Think how often newspapers and television networks have carried articles about the incarceration of Islamic terrorists at Guantamo and how rarely the media deals with the incarceration of Cubans convicted of protesting the Communist government. The Cuban prisoners are not only more numerous, but treated far worse than the Guatanamo prisoners. And they have not committed violent crimes, but only want basic civil rights.
The Soviet Union is responsible is responsible for one of the worst records of attrocities and killing in human hitory. Millions of people were killed. The Soviet body count even exceeds that of the NAZIs. (But not thsat of the Chinese Communuists.) Killings began as soon as the Bolsheviks seized power. A series of secret police organizations (Cheka, NKVD, and KGB) were responsible for terrible attroicities ib=nvolving the death of millions. The history of the Soviet Union is essentially the history of these organizations and the Gulag they built. [Solzhenitsyn] Some of the worst attrocities were the Ukranian famine engineered by Stalin and actions against various ethnic groups during World War II. Large-scale killing did not end until the death of Stalin, but the Soviet police state did not end until Gorbechev became General Secretary.
One would think that after nearly 70 years of Communism preaching proletarian internationalism and the evils of racism that modern Russia would be a country cured of the evils of racism. In fact Russia is one of the most racist societies in the world. The Soviet Union granted scholarships to thousands of African students. Many of these students were stranded in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And there were many attacks on these students just because they were black. And these attacks continue imodern Russia. It is very dangerous for individuals blacks to move around Moscow or other Soviet cities. It is unclear to me just white blacks generate such hatred. I think it is in part Russian nativism nd suspicion of foreigners. Blacks are so rare in Russia thatvthey are easily identifiable as foreigners. In addition, some Russians appear to have resented the priviliges granted to African students during the Soviet era. A reader writes, "It's not just African nationals who get attacked. Tajikistan citizens working in Russia are harassed and beaten-up, sometimes the attacks lead to people getting killed. This extends to their children too who also are attacked often going to or coming home from school. It is not unknown for kids running errands to get chased and beaten if caught. a fear for jobs is the given reason but I suspect the migrant workers do jobs the Russian People would not want to do."
The final chapter of the Stalingrad Incident is that despite the Soviet propaganda about the idea Soviet socieety and evil capitalist America, the future moved in exactly a different direction. Not only has Russia become a racist society, but America has moved to address its race problem. One of the most important movements in American history is the Civil Rghts Movement. The story of the Movement is one of terrible incidents of terror and hated. Itvis also an uplifting story of the power of non-violence and the force of law. It was accompanyed by the same messianic zeal that marked the American Abolitionist Movement. We certainly can not say that racism hs been ended in America. We can say that tremendous progress hs been made. Institutnalized racism hs been ended and public attititudes have been fundamentally changed.
Roman, Meredith. "Racism in a “Raceless” Society: The Soviet Press and Representations of American Racial Violence at Stalingrad in 1930," International Labor and Working-Class History (Cambridge University Press) Vol. 71 (March 2007), pp. 185-203.
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I. The Gulag Archipelago, 1818-56 (Harper & Row: New York, 1973).
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