(Introduction to Myra Page, Moscow Yankee. Repr. Univ of Illinois Press, 1995; ISBN: 0252064992)
During almost all her long life (1897-1993), Myra Page was a radical activist--a Communist, a unionist, a feminist, an opponent of racism and war. Not long before her recent death at the age of ninety-six, Page lamented from her Yonkers, New York, nursing home that her involvement in multiple social causes was "spread[ing] [her] too thin" (Baker 296). Page was also a radical writer, continually composing and publishing poems, short stories, reportage, and novels articulating her leftist concerns. Her writings furnish part of the literary "red line of history" in the twentieth century.
Moscow Yankee, arguably the most important of Page's works, has continuing relevance in the 1990s. Given the recent collapse of Soviet-style socialism, the association of the word "Moscow" with human emancipation will strike many readers--especially younger readers--as a cruel irony. But the continuing inability of capitalism to provide even the most minimal livelihood for many of the globe's inhabitants, as well as the multiple forms of alienation and inequality prevalent even in those sites where capitalism proclaims itself a success, return many thoughtful people to the left-wing drawing-board. Moscow Yankee is an invaluable resource to such people, for it gives a glimpse of the joyful commitment experienced by working people who felt themselves involved in the construction of an egalitarian society. The novel reveals in embryo some of the political and economic policies that would cause Soviet-style socialism ultimately to meet its demise. But it refutes the widely held notion--almost a staple of contemporary bourgeois thought--that egalitarian societies cannot succeed because they fail to take into account the individualism and greed of "human nature." Moscow Yankee, which is closely based on Page's own experiences in Moscow during the First Five Year Plan, gives a compelling portrait of human collectivity. While situated some sixty years ago, Page's novel raises issues of urgent concern to our time; it deserves to be widely read and discussed among those who remain unconvinced that the "free market" furnishes the path to human liberation.
* * *
Looking back upon the writing of Moscow Yankee some fifty years later, Myra Page remarked,
I tried to create a true picture of the people and the life beginning to emerge. The Russians didn't know anything about the novel until I was practically through with it. All I knew was that they wanted me to give a realistic portrayal. Moscow Yankee is not a bright Utopian picture at all, nor is it supposed to be. It's a picture of struggle and of people moving. Among the common people, especially, there were many good people behind the movement. The novel is mainly about them. (Baker 184)
When Page began writing Moscow Yankee at a Soviet Black Sea resort in 1933, she was well equipped to paint her "picture of struggle and of people moving." Born Dorothy Page Gary in 1897 in Newport News, Virginia, to liberal middle-class parents, Page had early reacted strongly against Jim Crow racism and the harsh conditions faced by both white and black local shipyard workers. While from a relatively privileged class background, Page chafed against the restrictions imposed upon her as a southern white woman--as a child she was informed that there was no chance of her ever becoming a doctor like her father--and commented in later years that her awareness of "the woman question, without being very concrete, developed very early" (quoted in Frederickson 11). As a young woman Page participated in antiracist, humanitarian, and union-organizing activities sponsored by the YWCA, then not simply an inexpensive residence but a "movement of women" for social justice (Baker 67; Lerner). Page moved steadily leftward and, in 1925, joined the fledgling Communist Party of the United States. By the late 1920s she had received an M. A. from Columbia University and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota--both degrees in sociology--married fellow-Communist John Markey, and begun her long career as a radical writer. Prior to publishing Moscow Yankee in 1935, Page had written extensively for the Communist-sponsored press (Southern Worker, Working Woman, Daily Worker) and had published a nonacademic version of her Ph.D. dissertation, Southern Cotton Mills and Labor (1929), as well as a pamphlet about life in a "Soviet Middletown," Soviet Main Street (1933), and a proletarian novel, Gathering Storm: A Story of the Black Belt (1932). The author of Moscow Yankee was thus a veteran leftist, a seasoned labor reporter, and an experienced writer of fiction.1
Page had need of this background, for the task she set herself in this novel of Soviet life during the first Five Year Plan--"to create a true picture of the people and the life beginning to emerge"--was a formidable one. On the one hand, she wanted to give her novel--one of very few developed portraits of Soviet socialist construction in the entire canon of American proletarian fiction--the ring of veracity. To this end, she adhered closely to her own observations during the 1931-33 visit to the USSR on which the novel is largely based. A perusal of Page's extensive reportage for the US left press, as well as of Soviet Main Street, reveals that many of Moscow Yankee's themes, and several of its characters, are drawn directly from Page's personal experience. The text's documentary feel was noted by appreciative reviewers on the left. New Masses critic Alice Withrow Field declared that "[a]nyone who was lived in Moscow will attest to the fact that the picture is true" (Field 26). Edwin Seaver commented in Soviet Russia Today that "[t]here are few Americans who know more about the Russian workers and farmers and the new Socialist world they are building than does Myra Page" (Seaver 24). Moscow Yankee's credibility as a register to contemporaneeous developments in the USSR was also acknowledged in the mainstream press. The reviewer for New York Herald- Tribune Books, for example, while complaining that the novel was "a little too pat and moralistic," conceded that he did not "mean to criticize it as `propaganda' or unfaithful to its realism" (Marsh 20). In the 1990s as in the 1930s, much of Moscow Yankee's value consists in its documentation of a process of socialist transformation largely unimaginable to those living in the capitalist United States.2
On the other hand, Page wanted not just to document but to move and persuade. As a committed practitioner of literary proletarianism, she espoused the view that "`Art is a Weapon'" and viewed her fiction as a means to winning her readers closer to communism, calling upon writers and critics alike to "free themselves . . . from the old bourgeois methods and approach" (Page, "Author's Field Day," 31-32). Aware, however, that her first novel had been faulted for its mechanistic handling of character and plot, she strove in Moscow Yankee to focus more fully on "psychological development" (Page to Hicks) and to make use of the "new stream of consciousness technique" introduced among radical writers by John Dos Passos. Aware too that the influential Marxist critic Mike Gold "wasn't keen on women writers, whom he considered sentimentalists," Page "wanted to make sure that Moscow Yankee was really down to earth" (Baker 193-94). To convey a vision of human possibility without offering a "bright Utopian picture," to offer a "realistic portrayal" of socialist revolution by means of conventions largely inherited from bourgeois literary tradition--this too was Page's self-appointed challenge. In the 1990s as in the 1930s, Moscow Yankee is thus also valuable for what it can tell us about the relationship between left-wing politics and novelistic form.
In this introduction to Moscow Yankee I shall, first, discuss the novel as a register to Soviet socialist construction, reflecting both the strengths and the weaknesses of this momentous historical experiment. The two principal issues that will concern us are the status of women in the USSR and the development of socialist relations of production. I shall then consider the politics of novelistic form--what I call "generic politics"--and examine the extent to which Page's choice of a traditional bourgeois narrative mode--the bildungsroman--may have compounded certain less-than-revolutionary features of the "doctrinal politics" that the author espoused. I shall close with an assessment of the value of Moscow Yankee to present-day radicalism, literary and otherwise.
Soviet Socialist Construction in Moscow Yankee
"One thing is being deliberately abolished, the unequal status of woman," wrote Page in Soviet Main Street, "while the oncoming generations, in rights and status, have at last come into their own" (SMS 66-67). Drawing upon Page's observations of Soviet women's rapidly changing status at work and in the family, Moscow Yankee offers a portrait of women's contradictory social position in the early phases of socialist construction. The novel's principal exemplar of the "new Soviet woman" is, of course, Natasha, a character who was, Page noted, "based on Valya Cohen, a young woman whom I came to know very well" (Baker 191). A factory worker of peasant origins, Natasha is training to be an engineer and throws herself passionately into the project of socialist construction. While possessed of abundant physical charms (Page would not go so far as to have an ugly female protagonist!), Natasha is tough and wiry in both body and mind and cannot tolerate any assumption of male superiority: her slapping Andy in the face for his offer of silk stockings signals the self-concept of the "new Soviet woman." Natasha is one of the "women heroes of socialist construction" upon whom Page had reported in the 1932 Daily Worker: "Resourceful, independent, and with minds largely freed from . . . petty household cares . . . , these women devote their energies to building the new life in factory, club, and community" (Page, "Women Heroes," 4). Throughout Moscow Yankee the Communist Natasha is contrasted with not only the nefarious and sexually manipulative White Russian Katia Boudnikova but also various American women: Mary Boardman and Edith Crampton, the disgruntled and restless wives of the two American engineers, and Andy's Detroit girlfriend Elsie, whose whining letters reflect a consciousness defined by commodity fetishism.
The minor character Zena further illustrates woman's changing status in Soviet society. A former prostitute turned factory worker, Zena continues to ply her trade with the eager participation of various male co-workers. In the scene where Zena is charged with lateness and low productivity, however, Natasha and Maxim designate as the "real criminals" and "traitors" the men who have "lured" Zena back to her old ways, "acting the same as White Guards" (191). Prostitution is a crime stemming from the old social order, and its remedy is immersion in the new: Natasha's challenge to a friendly "socialist competition" will presumably eradicate Zena's wayward habits. The portrayal of Zena was based upon Page's 1931 visit to a "Prophylactoria," or rehabilitation center for former prostitutes, as well as her attendance in that year at the First Conference of Former Prostitutes, where she heard a woman testify, "The only card I used to have was a Yellow Ticket [the prostitute's badge and `passport' under the Tsar]. Any man could have me for a ruble. Now I have another card--a red card, my trade union book. Now I bow to no man. And I say hurrah for the Soviet power" (Page, "The Fallen Woman Rises," 9; cited in Baker 190). Natasha and Zena embody the "oncoming generation" of Soviet women who, "in rights and status, have come into their own."3
Despite its exhilarating representation of revolutionized gender roles, Moscow Yankee also testifies to the tenacity of inherited conceptions of women's intrinsic traits and appropriate roles--not only in Soviet society but also in Page's discourse about that society. Natasha is noteworthy in Moscow Yankee for her uniqueness: from the "hysterical New England spinsters" on the Moscow-bound train (19) to the parasitical American wives to Natasha's superstitious peasant mother, many women in Moscow Yankee do not transcend sexist stereotype. Nor is a sexist division of labor called into question. In the overcrowded apartment building inhabited by the expatriate Scottish radical Mac and his wife Nan, it is housewives rather than husbands who are blamed for domestic disorder. When the Klarovs have left a pile of dirty dishes in the communal sink, Alicia Klarov is faulted by her neighbor Berta: "That Klarova woman! How much trouble she gives us! . . . Nan and I are forever cleaning up after her." Mac--who functions throughout the novel as a socialist mentor, to both Andy and the reader--agrees, thinking to himself that "if Alicia kept this up they'd have to take her before the House Soviet" (98-99). The omission of any mention of Mr. Klarov's role in creating the mess reveals the extent to which inherited assumptions about women's domestic duties--which, unlike overcrowding, will not be alleviated by the construction of new housing--permeate characters and author alike.4
While gender issues figure prominently in Page's "picture of struggle and of people moving," the core of the novel is its representation of developing forces of production and changing relations of production. As much as new conditions for possibility of love, it is the vision of new possibilities for work that converts the novel's hero Frank Anderson (Andy)--a refugee from Depression-era Detroit--into a "Moscow Yankee." Page adhered faithfully to her own experience and observation in her depiction of Soviet production. The Red Star automotive production plant in Moscow Yankee draws its name from a state farm Page toured near Kharkov and is based upon the Amo auto and truck factory that Page frequently visited during her Moscow stay (Baker 190). The factory foreman Mikhail, a veteran of both the 1905 and the Bolshevik Revolutions, closely resembles Feodor Trefanov, the seasoned Podolsk brigade leader described in Soviet Main Street. The American engineer Philip Boardman, who is fascinated with the limitless possibilities opened to industry untrammelled by capitalism, had as his prototype a "hard-headed mechanical engineer . . . [with] a pioneer spirit. . . who decided to stay. . . . [T]he Soviet Union gave him a chance to do what he couldn't do in his own country" (Baker 189). Mac and Nan are based on "a Scottish couple, once active in union and progressive movements in Scotland, [who] were realistic about conditions in Russia and chose to stay" (Baker 189). The participation of Red Star workers in voluntary overtime to meet and surpass production quotas; the celebration of udarniks, or exemplary "shock-workers"; the purge of plant superintendent Eugene Pankrevich for bureaucratic and inefficient leadership; White Russian Alex Turin's attempted sabotage of the factory-- these and other aspects of the struggle over production during the First Five-Year Plan depicted in the novel replicate common features of Soviet experience in the 1930s and correspond closely with Page's own direct observations of socialist construction. "I did very little inventing in Moscow Yankee," Page declared (Baker 187).5
Just as important to Page as the epic portrayal of expanding productive forces, however, is the representation of revolutionized productive relations, for these constitute the material foundation of the social order producing the "new Soviet man" and "new Soviet woman." Andy's growing perception that a mistake at work generates not reprimand or firing but an offer of help from his assembly-line "tovarisch" Sasha; that Mikhail is not a "straw boss" but a friend; that injury results not in unemployment but in a paid convalescence by the Black Sea; that government officials and assembly-line workers vacation side by side in mansions expropriated from the former rulers--these and comparable insights convince Andy that, as he says in a letter to Elsie, "[W]orking stiffs like me count here. No kidding. . . . [P]lenty my kind are running entire works" (255). Andy's satisfaction at the novel's conclusion derives from not only his domestic happiness with Natasha but also his discovery of meaningful work that expands his own capacities and contributes to the collective: at novel's end, he and Sasha have devised "a new type of bolt for the upper frame" that has earned them a write-up on the "Board of Inventors" (290). The alterations internal to Andy thus offer a literary projection of the conclusions Page drew about her own experience in the USSR:
The social changes I saw taking place in the Soviet Union received less attention from the outside world than the rapid growth of the Dneiper power station, the Kharkov tractor works or the Magnitorgorsk mills, but they were no less startling and certainly of equal significance. In helping to transform a formerly backward, agrarian country into a highly industrialized one, Russians were changing themselves as well. Of course there were many remnants, very stubborn ones too, of the old life and ugly human traits that remained. Nevertheless, the tendency was increasingly away from the old and toward the new. I believed the Soviet system was helping to create a world that fosters the better aspects of human nature, and that the corroding effects of the old competitive system where the few exploit the many had virtually disappeared. (Baker 198)
Page, eager not to paint a "bright Utopian picture," took care to include in Moscow Yankee certain "remnants of the old life and ugly human traits that remained." The inefficiency and waste entailed in drawing "raw" peasants into industrial production are reflected in the episode where a valuable machine is destroyed by a careless worker; the uneven political commitment among the workers is displayed in the theft of Andy's precious hammer; the low quality of consumption is brought out in the factory workers' grumbling about the food in the plant cafeteria; the possibility that party members may become separated from the masses is signalled through Misha Popov's demotion into the ranks of the workers; the dangers of bureaucratic management are embodied in the top-down policies of Pankrevich; the tragic national costs of full-scale industrial development are obliquely conveyed through rumblings of starvation in the Ukraine. The principal role of the Heindricks, idealistic expatriate fellow-travelers who become disillusioned with the imperfections of Soviet socialism, is precisely to voice Page's acknowledgement of such flaws; the Heindricks stand in for readers skeptical of Page's generally laudatory representation of Soviet socialism.
Page takes care, however, to blunt or deflect most of the Heindricks' criticisms. Some of the flaws in socialist construction are shown to derive from the inevitably uneven course of development within party, proletariat, and peasantry. Rather than offering cause for despair, these flaws are treated as nonantagonistic and thus remediable through increased dedication to the Pyatiletka, or Five-Year Plan. Misha helps fight for the party's positions as a rank-and-file worker; Pankrevich is removed from management; the plant cooks engage in a socialist competition to improve the quality of food; the discovery that the hammer thief is a former bezprizhorni, or war orphan, alleviates his crime. Other threats to socialist construction derive, by contrast, from the continuing presence in the USSR of the class enemy: the "thieving, speculating" (234) kulaks who withhold grain from the industrial centers to undermine socialist construction; the formerly aristocratic White Russians and their henchmen who, in alignment with capitalist interests overseas, still hope to regain their lost power and property through sabotage and, ultimately, counterrevolution. Contradictions between the socialist USSR and such enemies are antagonistic and must be resolved by force, whether through the workers' class-conscious intervention (Ned Folsom's pursuit of saboteur Alex Turin) or the intervention of the state on the side of the revolution (the O.G.P.U's arrest of the kulaks caught smuggling luxury items to the black market). Whether antagonistic or not, however, contradictions potentially inhibiting socialist construction are, in Page's account, shown to be attributable neither to the intrinsic greed of human nature nor to the dominance of a "Stalinist" party but to insufficient commitment to the Five Year Plan within the USSR on the one hand and to sabotage and the threat of capitalist encirclement on the other.6
The Heindricks, still grumping, decide to stay in Moscow; whether or not Page successfully allays all her readers' skepticism--either in the 1930s or the 1990s--is an empirical question, not determinable through textual analysis.7 What is significant, however, is that the issues noted above are treated as issues in Moscow Yankee--that is, Page clearly feels it necessary both to air and to dispute them on what could be termed the text's explicit level of doctrinal politics. More problematic, however, is a proposition that remains largely uninterrogated in Moscow Yankee--namely, the equation of the development of productive forces with the formation of egalitarian social relations.
Like Soviet-authored novels about the First Five-Year Plan, Moscow Yankee is premised upon the notion that expanding the USSR's industrial base is the key to building socialism and achieving communism. Mikhail explains to the impatient Natasha:
`Yes, Lenin showed us we had to rebuild our life, like we made our October, with men not all good or all bad. Just ordinary humans.' Through the struggle, fierce as it was, man was reshaping himself as well. After the First Five Year Plan there'd be the Second Plan, beginning next year and bringing with it an end to classes and all exploitation of man by man. There was the key! All busy at some useful work, and growing like a boundless field on their steppes of ripening grain. After the Second Plan, and Third, a Fourth. And with each fresh generation, man stretching his world and himself further, understand? (139)8
The same idea is conveyed in "Look Here, Stalingrad!," a poem constructed out of a Pravda newsstory and inserted, Dos Passos-fashion, into the narrative. The workers at Leningrad's Red Putilov steel works have chided their Stalingrad tractor works counterparts for lagging behind production quotas:
Look here Stalingrad
Come through on those tractors!
. . . [You're] making us the laughing stock of the
Exchanges in New York and Europe. . . .
Can't you feel in their scorn
the swift training of machine guns
to the east and west!
. . . . Brothers, on to the fight!
The front of socialist construction
To work--in a new way!
The Stalingrad workers have apparently risen to this challenge to
The whole country waits
For daily reports in Pravda
Yesterday Stalingrad gave forty tractors
Stalingrad is coming through!
Answering Putilov, the whole earth
Not with words
In Mikhail's vision of the Soviet future and in "Look Here, Stalingrad!," "useful labor" and "technique" are portrayed as the key means to socialist advance. But neither statement clarifies exactly how certain survivals of capitalist social relations of production--the commodification of wage-labor, the division of mental and manual labor--will be eliminated. Indeed, the novel if anything valorizes the struggle initiated by the party, in the persons of Mac and Vasiliev, to refine the division of labor, increase individual accountability, and introduce wage differentials based on productivity. Although they anticipate "stiff opposition, once this fight's launched"--and various workers in their brigade do in fact vigorously resist--they anticipate "no trouble" from management: "They'll be scared the plant can't pay the wages this is bound to mean. But it's plain horse sense more and better output. We'll convince them" (104).
The text treats as unproblematic, moreover, management's plan to construct special apartments for its hundred most productive udarniks--a move also revealing the material incentives being held out to the workers. While it is good news that Crampton will return to the US and Boardman will stay in Moscow, it is not clear that Boardman's privileging of "science, engineering, efficiency" over Crampton's capitalist fixation on "speed, money, costs" (146) will eliminate top-down management, even if Boardman continually stops to share his expertise with rank-and-file workers. Natasha and Andy are studying to be engineers and will rise in the ranks, and Pankrevich will be supplanted by a more dedicated and motivating superintendent; but the existence of separate ranks of engineers and assembly-line workers is not fundamentally called into question. To "work in a new way" means, mainly, to work harder in the "beautiful, quivering nerve center" that is Red Star (22).9
In short, just as Moscow Yankee's failure to interrogate received conceptions of women's domestic roles points up Soviet socialism's incomplete achievement with regard to the "woman question," the novel's blithe equation of technique with progress reveals the prevalence of the doctrine of productive forces determinism in Soviet socialist construction. This premise bears comment, because it is arguably in large part to the fetishization of technology that the USSR's failure to achieve an egalitarian society--indeed, its relapse into an authoritarian state capitalism--can be traced. As Sovietologist Charles Bettelheim has noted, even though the CPSU declared in 1936 that class struggle had come to an end in the USSR, class conflict continued unabated into socialist construction, though reshaped primarily as a struggle over production relations. Even by the early 1930s, however, the course of socialist construction was guided by an economism that "tend[ed] to identify the productive forces with the material means of production, thus denying that the principal productive force consists of the producers themselves." This economism "ascribe[d] the major role in the building of socialism not to the initiative of the working people but to the accumulation of new means of production and technical knowledge" (34). To be sure, Page's novel displays plenty of "initiative of working people"; clearly the characters in Moscow Yankee are motivated to produce not only trucks but also the "new Soviet man" and "new Soviet woman." But since this initiative is not translated into altered relations of production, but is instead directed toward achieving and surpassing production quotas under existing work conditions, it takes shape as a manifestation of voluntarism rather than a constitutive feature of socialist construction.
In both its manifest and its subliminal levels of discourse, then, Moscow Yankee documents the contradictory realities of Soviet socialist construction. Page did indeed provide a "true picture of the people and the life beginning to emerge"--even truer, perhaps, than she was aware.
Moscow Yankee and the Politics of Novelistic Form
Moscow Yankee provides not just a record of Soviet life during the First Five Year Plan, however, but a specifically novelistic record. Its use of the form of the bildungsroman to convey its male protagonist's growth into a "new Soviet man" displays both the strengths and the weaknesses of this novelistic genre as a carrier of 1930s left-wing doctrine.
The bildungsroman is perhaps the most quintessentially bourgeois of all novelistic modes. Individualistic in both its philosophical premises and its narrative structure, this genre routinely features a protagonist who, while often initially rebelling against the strictures of bourgeois society, is eventually reconciled--either happily or reluctantly--to this society's inevitability. In the classical bildungsroman, social contradictions are subordinated to the arousal and fulfillment of narrative expectations surrounding the hero's fate: conflicting ideological paradigms are permitted articulation but are repressed in a hierarchy of discourses that guarantees the supremacy of one or another hegemonic standpoint. Social criticism is, moreover, conflated with ethical choice: insoluble social conflicts are papered over in the protagonist's internal moral debates. This personalization of the social is epitomized in the protagonist's quest for an ideal mate: the romantic love- plot involves in reader in an emotional and erotic identification with the hero's yearning, and larger questions of social causality and social justice are dissolved in the protagonist's achievement of a selfhood largely defined through the reward of an appropriate life-companion.
It would seem that proletarian writers would have avoided the bildungsroman genre like the plague; actually, it was the most frequently deployed of all novelistic modes. Proletarian writers used the bildungsroman format to write novels of "conversion"--that is, narratives tracing a protagonist's development from false consciousness to class consciousness, from alienation and passivity to collectivity and activism. Page's novel exemplifies such a plot of "conversion": initially portrayed with his head "wobbl[ing] foolishly from side to side" on the train "charging between two worlds" (3), Andy ends as a purposive participant in a Moscow May Day. While he happily comes to terms with the social order, this reconciliation has involved expunging his belief in the superiority of American capitalism and embracing a new way of life halfway around the globe. Does Moscow Yankee thus signal that proletarian writers could use inherited bourgeois literary forms with impunity--that a sufficiently "left" doctrinal politics could predominate over the bourgeois generic politics historically accompanying traditional narrative modes?10
In order to answer this question, we must consider again the narrative structure of Moscow Yankee. The main plot-line follows Andy's "conversion" into a "new Soviet man." Mentors such as Mac, Mikhail, and Sasha function to persuade him--and, over his shoulder, the reader--of the superiority of Soviet socialism, but the principal vehicle for conveying Andy's internal alteration is his relinquishment of the consumerist Elsie for the Bolshevik Natasha. As Page herself subsequently noted, "The main story of Moscow Yankee . . . is the relationship between Andy and Natasha," which culminates at the concert where Andy "hears the huge stage orchestra playing music he knows--Dvorak's `Going Home'" (Baker 188). The central problem in this plot-line is Andy's responsibility to Elsie; its resolution is his decision to break with her and remain in Moscow. This guiding narrative thread is accompanied by a sub-plot about production, in which the principal conflict is between the proponents of socialist efficiency (Boardman, Sasha, Mikhail) and the advocates of capitalist profiteering (Crampton, Katia Boudnikova, Alex Turin). The sub-plot reaches its climax with the thwarting of Alex's attempt to sabotage Red Star. The two plots are entwined throughout, but especially at the moment of narrative closure: Andy's decision to remain in Moscow has both a personal component--his discovery of the ideal mate with whom to share his awakened class consciousness--and a more broadly social one--his commitment to building a society in which the Cramptons and Boudnovikas will no longer be able to threaten the fledgling socialist state.
If we carefully scrutinize the narrative movement of these plot-lines, however, we note that they are not so much synthesized as juxtaposed. The suspense and vicarious satisfaction involved in each are transferred to the other, but at the expense of actually solving the main problem each has posed. In the love-plot, the dilemma Andy confronts when Elsie announces that she is coming to Moscow derives from his sense of responsibility to his Detroit fiancee: after all, she has not had the privilege of living as a "Moscow yankee" and cannot therefore be blamed for her false consciousness. Significantly, however, Andy ends up with his Russian beloved without ever having to confront his responsibility to Elsie: when one of his Detroit buddies writes to inform him that Elsie has been unfaithful, he is simply let off the hook. As the New York Herald-Tribune reviewer complained, Andy is "never forced to face a vital emotional . . . issue. . . . His way is made too soft for him" (Marsh 20). The reader tends not to notice this narrative opportunism, however, in the flurry surrounding the attempted destruction of Red Star. While the sub-plot ostensibly functions to politicize Andy's decision to remain in Moscow, it depoliticizes the issue of sexual responsibility. The excitement of the chase compounds the love-plot's suspense but deflects attention from its central issue, by a peculiar conflation of aroused loyalties even analogizing the perfidious Elsie with the traitorous Alex.
At the same time, the love-plot depoliticizes the production sub-plot. The "villains" in the sub-plot have been of two kinds: advocates of capitalist-style management (Pankrevich, Crampton) who constitute an "internal" enemy, and saboteurs of socialist construction (Turin, Boudnikova) who, with their international connections, constitute an "external" enemy. At the moment of narrative climax, the enemy is wholly externalized: the demonic Alex Turin becomes a synecdoche for all that threatens the nascent workers' state. Because of the strong emotional satisfaction accompanying Andy's reconciliation with Natasha, however, the reader tends not to notice that Mac's and Vasiliev's plan for "more and better output" may not be so different from the policies advocated by Pankrevich and Crampton as is claimed. Just as Elsie's infidelity displaces any blame for Andy's straying affections, the sabotage attempt displaces accountability for egalitarian socialist construction from the organizers of production. Finding the perfect mate ideologically coincides with the proposition that socialism entails technique plus enthusiasm. The "pink sunset" ending for which New Masses reviewer Field faulted Page (26) derives in no small part from the text's mismatch of an individual-centered narrative form with the task of representing the complex and contradictory realities of socialist construction.
Upon analysis of how Moscow Yankee positions the reader--to assume certain values, to desire certain outcomes--we discover, in short, that the bildungsroman form functions to slough over important social and political contradictions. Before we reach the formalistic conclusion that the bildungsroman form is the cause of Moscow Yankee's rhetorical opportunism, however, we should note that the sites of depoliticization in the novel's plot coincide with the very areas in which, on the level of explicit political discourse, the novel also manifests gaps and evasions--namely, with regard to the "woman question" and the doctrine of productive forces determinism. Elsie is an inappropriate mate for Andy because, as it emerges, she is a narcissistic and manipulative female who would not have benefited from the Moscow experience in any case. Sexist stereotyping thus conjoins with the pressures of the bildungsroman's romantic plot- line to guarantee that the hero will end up with the "right" woman. Similarly, the sub-plot's facile displacement of reactionary politics onto the evil White Russians is enabled not only by the primacy of the hero's quest for meaningful selfhood but also by the text's portrayal of the contradiction between top-down control and proletarian empowerment as a non- antagonistic one. The inherited ideological pressure of generic politics is felt most strongly at those places where the text's doctrinal politics contain the heaviest bourgeois residue.
* * *
To point up Moscow Yankee's entrapment within bourgeois narrative conventions and its complicity with bourgeois ideology is not, however, to conclude that the novel in any sense "fails" to convey an exhilarating picture of revolutionary possibility. It is all too easy for those of us living in the 1990s to look back on 1930s literary radicals like Page as being hopelessly enmeshed in a naive realist epistemology and hopelessly enamored of an authoritarian utopia doomed to tragic defeat.
Actually, I believe, reading Moscow Yankee justifies quite the opposite conclusion. As a novel, Moscow Yankee demonstrates the considerable flexibility of the bildungsroman form as a carrier of radical politics. The focus on Andy's "conversion" to socialism involves the reader as vicarious partisan. As Rebecca Pitts noted in a review of Moscow Yankee, "The book's excitement comes . . . from your sense of looking through Andy's eyes. . . ; you wonder whether he will join the udarniks and marry Natasha or go back to Detroit and his American ideals. And with his final acceptance of new friends and new values comes a thrill of participation" (146). Moreover, in proposing that the mate who furnishes Andy's "reward" is a Bolshevik factory worker who instructs him in the ways of socialism, and that Andy's reconciliation with the social order--his "going home"--entails uprooting from Detroit and settling in the Moscow of the First Five-Year Plan, Moscow Yankee to a significant degree subverts narrative conventions routinely mobilized to support a bourgeois world-view. It is only when the text explores issues to which it cannot offer persuasively revolutionary answers that it becomes overwhelmed by the ideological inheritance of its encoded generic politics. Both practitioners and readers of radical fiction should realize that there is a good deal of life still left in the bildungsroman genre: we need not entirely re-invent the literary wheel.
Moreover, as a document of 1930s political radicalism, Moscow Yankee reveals the enormous energy and creativity that were released when working people committed themselves to the construction of a society that they felt to be their own. Even if the text indicates some of the reasons why control of this society slipped from their hands, it testifies that ordinary people are more than capable of organizing themselves with humanity, efficiency, and intelligence. Page noted, we will recall, that her novel treated "[a]mong the common people . . . the many good people who were behind the movement" and concluded, "The novel is mainly about them." Page's characters--and their real-life referents--are part of our heritage. If we are able to learn from both their achievements and their failures, the project to which they committed themselves is very much part of a history still to be made.
1 Page continued to write into old age, publishing primarily short stories and journalism. A novel, With Sun in Our Blood, was published in 1950 and reissued under the title Daughter of the Hills by the Feminist Press in 1986. She also wrote a number of children's books.
2 Page's journalism relevant to Moscow Yankee includes a 1932 series in the Daily Worker and several articles in the magazine Soviet Russia Today, on whose editorial board Page served for over two years in the mid-thirties (see bibliography). For most of these sources, as well as for the vast bulk of my information about the biographical basis of Moscow Yankee, I am deeply indebted to Professor Christina Baker, who has shared with me the manuscript of her "oral biography" of Page in a manner in keeping with its title, "In a Generous Spirit" (forthcoming U of Illinois P--all references here to typescript). I wish also to thank Alan Wald and Suzanne Sowinska for editorial and bibliographical suggestions.
3 Page noted in Soviet Russia Today that in 1931 there were only four hundred prostitutes in Moscow, out of a population of 3 1/2 million ("The Fallen Woman Rises," 9).
4 For more on women's status in the USSR, see Page, Soviet Main Street; Halle; and Winter. For somewhat different views of the gender politics in 1930s US leftist women's writing, see Foley, especially pp. 213-46; Rabinowitz; Coiner; Lacey; Sowkinska; Rosenfelt. Rabinowitz and Lacey discuss gender and class (and Sowinska also discusses race) in Page's first novel, Gathering Storm; Rosenfelt focuses on the gender politics in Page's last novel, Daughter of the Hills; I cover all three novels. Baker notes that Page excluded from Moscow Yankee an episode in the life of Valya Cohen that would have been hard to incorporate into her upbeat tale--namely, Valya's gang rape on a Black Sea beach by a group of anti-Russian Azerbaijanis (Baker 192). It is also noteworthy that Valya Cohen was of petty- bourgeois rather than peasant origin. She was an accomplished pianist and, with her husband, even owned a modest Black Sea dacha (Page, "Your Questions Answered," [4 (September 1935): 21]).
5 For Page's own experiences with sabotage and spies, see Soviet Main Street, 63. For more on politically-motivated sabotage in Soviet industry, see Kuznick, 115.
6 For Page's defense of Stalin against the charge of dictatorship, see "Concerning `Dictators'" (15). Page's concern that "the workers' republic is surrounded by a ring of hostile powers" is articulated in "Your Questions Answered," SRT, 4 (March 1935): 14. Page later regretted, however, her "unaware[ness] of the other Russia . . . where kulaks were beaten and killed" and her misplaced assumption that the bezprizorni she encountered were war orphans, noting that they must have been "children of the kulaks who were killed or deported" (Baker 172, 176).
7 The historical prototype of Heindrick did not stay in Moscow: "[I]n disgust, he threw his machinist's tools in the Moscow River and left. He had expected Russia to be the land of promise, and when he didn't find it he returned to the U. S. A. to join the breadlines again" (Baker 189). Suzanne Sowinska suggests the possibility that Heindrick is based on the Gastonia figure Red Hendricks (letter to author, 14 February 1994).
8 Mikhail here sounds a theme explored by Page in one of her SRT pieces--namely, that by the end of the Second Five Year Plan the USSR would attain "the end of of exploitation of man by man and the building of a socialist classless society" ("Concerning `Dictators,'" 15).
9 Page herself--in keeping with the view prevailing among almost all leftists of the time--explicitly defended the institution of unequal wages, arguing that the principle of "[f]rom each according to his ability, to each according to his labor" was a necessary principle to follow in the "transitional" period into socialism. She also viewed the multiple chances for upward mobility in Soviet society as proof of its egalitarian nature: "It must always be remarked that opportunities to increase one's skill and qualifications are open to everyone. The unskilled worker of today in Soviet Russia is the skilled worker and engineer of tomorrow" ("Your Questions Answered," SRT, 3 [December 1934]: 10).
10 For more on the politics of the proletarian bildungsroman, and in particular a discussion of generic and doctrinal politics, see Foley, 321-61. Page claimed to have been influenced by Dos Passos in Moscow Yankee, and she did insert some newspaper headlines and songs into the novel in a style clearly imitating Dos Passos. Moreover, her adherence to Andy's language in representing his point of view closely resembles Dos Passos's treatment of characters like Joe Williams and Charley Anderson in U. S. A.. Page worked within the mode of the bildungsroman, however, and did not disperse her narrative into the collective, kaleidoscopic form associated with Dos Passos.
Selected Works by Myra Page
Page, Myra. Gathering Storm: A Story of the Black Belt. New York: International, 1932.
_____. Moscow Yankee. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1935.
_____. Daughter of the Hills. (1950, originally entitled With Sun in Our Blood; rpt. New York: Feminist P, 1986.
II. Newspaper and Magazine Articles on the USSR
_____. "In the Worker's Capital." Daily Worker, 10 November 1931: 4.
_____. "Women Heroes of Socialist Construction." DW, 16 April 1932: 4.
_____. "The Fallen Woman Rises." Soviet Russia Today, 3 (March 1934): 9.
_____. "Your Questions Answered." SRT, 3 (December 1934): 15.
_____. "Concerning `Dictators.'" SRT, 4 (January 1935): 15.
_____. "Who's Behind the Five Year Plans?" SRT, 4 (February 1935): 15.
_____. "Your Questions Answered." SRT, 4 (March 1935): 14.
_____. "Your Questions Answered." SRT, 4 (April 1935): 14.
_____. "Protection on the Job." SRT, 4 (May 1935): 15.
_____. "Socialism and the Individual." SRT, 4 (July 1935): 15.
_____. "Your Questions Answered." SRT, 4 (September 1935): 21.
_____. "Your Questions Answered." SRT, 4 (October 1935): 16.
_____. "Who Rules the Soviet Union?" SRT, 4 (November 1935): 31, 63.
_____. "A Gift for a Child." SRT, 4 (December 1935): 13.
_____. "Vacations for Everybody." SRT, 6 (June 1936): 21.
III. Children's Literature
Page, Myra. The Little Giant of Schenectady. New York: Aladdin, 1956.
_____. Explorer of Sound: Michael Pupin. New York: J. Messner, 1964.
IV. Other Works
Page, Myra. "Author's Field Day." New Masses, 12 (3 July 1934): 31-32.
_____. To Granville Hicks. 7 April 1934. Box 48, Granville Hicks Papers, Arents Library, Syracuse U.
_____. Soviet Main Street. Moscow and Leningrad: Co-op Publishing Society of Foreign Workers in the USSR, 1933.
_____. Interview. Oral History of the American Left. Tapes I and II. Tamiment Library, New York University.
Reviews of Moscow Yankee
Cournos, John. "Americans in Russia." New York Times Book Review, 28 April 1935: 20.
Field, Alice Withrow. "Soviet Tempo in an American Novel." New Masses, 15 (7 July 1935):26.
Marsh, Fred T. Review of Moscow Yankee. New York Herald-Tribune Books, 7 April 1935: 20.
Pitts, Rebecca. "Worker in a New World." New Republic, 83 (12 June 1935): 146.
Seaver, Edwin. Review of Moscow Yankee. Soviet Russia Today, 4 (November 1935): 34, 63.
Works on Myra Page
Baker, Christina. In a Generous Spirit: The Life of Myra Page.
Forthcoming. Urbana: U of Illinois P.
Frederickson, Mary. "Myra Page: Daughter of the South, Worker for Change." Southern Changes, 5 (January-February 1983): 10-15.
Lacey, Candida Ann. "Engendering Conflict: American Women and the Making of a Proletarian Fiction." Ph.D. Thesis, U of Sussex, 1986.
Rosenfelt, Deborah. "Afterword" to Myra Page, Daughter of the Hills. 1950; rpt. New York: Feminist P, 1986. Pp. 247-68.
Sowinska, Suzanne. "American Women Writers and the Radical Agenda, 1925-1940." Ph.D. Thesis, U of Washington, 1992.
Bettelheim, Charles. Class Struggles in the USSR. Trans. Brian Pearce. Vol I. London: Monthly Review, 1976.
Coiner, Constance. "Literature of Resistance: The Intersection of Feminism and the Communist Left in Meridel Le Sueur and Tillie Olsen." In Left Politics and the Literary Profession. Ed. Lennard J. Davis and Bella Mirabella. New York: Columbia UP, 1990. Pp. 162-85.
Foley, Barbara. Radical Representations: Politics and Form in US Proletarian Fiction, 1929-1941. Durham: Duke UP, 1993.
Halle, Fannina. Women in Soviet Russia. Trans. Margaret M. Green. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1938.
Kuznick, Peter J. Beyond the Laboratory: Scientists as Political Activists in 1930s America. Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 1987.
Lerner, Gerda, ed. Black Women in White America: A Documentary History. New York: Vintage: 1973.
Rabinowitz, Paula. Labor and Desire: Women's Revolutionary Fiction in Depression America. Chapel Hill and London: U of North Carolina P, 1991.
Winter, Ella. Red Virtue: Human Relations in the New Russia. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1933.