“We Grow Out of Iron” and the Socialist Message

In the poem “We Grow Out of Iron,” Aleksei Gastev preached for socialist revolution rooted and cultivated in Russian factories. Gastev targeted the audience of factory workers in 1918 by relating the strength of the revolutionary cause to steel beams that support the factory. The steel represents in many ways the relationship between the workers and the revolution. The magnitude and strength of the steel factory structure Gastev described in the poem translated to his vision of some sort of labor revolution. His poem also represented an effort to give context of the socialist movement by tailoring his message to specific social class of people by relating the revolutionary message to their lifestyle.

But, Gastev’s message seems hazy because of some of his word choices. Throughout the poem, he narrates with the first person singular “I” rather than “we.” This implies to the reader an individual or singular effort. Even though factory workers at the time could probably resonate with the poem’s message regardless the phrasing, it is still noticeable. But, the first person “I” could of contradicted the principle of socialism to some, which is an emphasis on the mission and identity of a collective group of people rather than the individual. Gastev concluded his poem with the line “victory shall be ours!”[1] The switch from “I” to “we” represents a connection between the individual and the whole. Why was the poem phrased in the “I” person if it was intending to promote socialism? Were the efforts to make socialism accessible and achievable for Russian revolutionaries tarnishing the goal of Marx’s vision of socialism?

[1] Aleksei Gastev, “We Grow Out of Iron,” (1918).

4 thoughts on ““We Grow Out of Iron” and the Socialist Message

  1. I agree that Gastev’s consistent use of the pronoun “I” seems strange when considering the propagandistic nature of “We Grow Out of Iron.” However, the poem seems to almost be a call to action. The narrator stands amongst his comrades, almost marveling at the structure around him, which appears to give him strength.

    By using the pronoun “I,” Gastev may be intending to press more people into participating in the revolution and industrialization with Russia. By declaring that, “Victory shall be ours!” the narrator appears to want to incite change. Could the poem be trying to convince others to join the proletariat cause in order to create this change that the narrator seems so enamored with?

  2. Interesting thought. However, I would say that the “I” represents the result of the promises of a better life. A life that would be completely different from Tsardom. The worker finally felt that if everyone can be equal and can be fed, then I can be inspired to work. I don’t necessarily think the “I” in this case was supposed to show selfishness or individualism. I believe that it was meant to show how the individual worker was morphing into this empower socialist worker and how others could become like that worker. In the book, “Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters under Lenin and Stalin”, Victoria Bonnell noted that in early Soviet Propaganda posters, the state had shown the worker in an individualistic way. It wasn’t meant to show them to be working for themselves. It was meant to show how these workers had become heroes for the state because of their ability to work hard. In some ways, this poem was to show the beginning stages of the Soviet hero. It was meant to show the evolution, from a first persons standpoint, of a pre revolutionary individual changing into a hard working through inspiration.

  3. Very interesting interpretation and question raised. Answering your question, I think that “I” is used in this poem to underline the individual effort, personal meaningfulness in “new world”. You were peasant or worker, you were ruled by authorities who did’t care about what you are and what’s your wishes and ideal are, who didn’t take your interests into account. Now, with socialists revolution, you, as an individual working for its’ success, provide yourself with the power which is yours naturally, but which was taken by class system, bourgeoisie, etc. You went from your village to the city, you built all these factories and plants, you were able to raise with them, to find your way to freedom and wealth. And because of that personal effort made by each working class member, you together are going to the better future, to communism, to “we”.

  4. What does this last two lines mean in the poem:

    .”I shall not tell a story or make a speech , I only shall shout my iron sword:we will conquer “?

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