Revolutionary Works: Words that stir the populous’ blood

Wherever there is revolution, there are artists and intellectuals working behind the scenes to rouse the people into action. In colonial America, it was “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine and “Concord Hymn” by Emerson. In revolutionary Russia, Dmitry Furmanov was responsible for creating the call to action in his novel “Chapaev.” Typical of the World War I era, it glorifies battle and celebrates the power of youth. Furmanov depicts “courageous” young men “indissolubly linked together,” motivating Russia’s youth to respond to a higher calling ((Dmitry Furmanov, Chapev, (1923)). Chapaev is unique in Russia’s class-based society as it calls to everyone; the misfits, the poor, the hungry, the handsome, and the well-to-do are all welcome under Chapeau’s watchful eye. Furmanov creates a romanticized story where even the peasants can find food and happiness – appealing to the many who had nothing under the current regime and inspiring even more to rise up and fight.
Similarly, the poem “We Grow Out of Iron,” by Aleksei Gastev, also uses powerful language and wording to create images of the weak becoming powerful and overthrowing their oppressors. Gastev, himself a factory worker, manipulates the vision of the poem by choosing a relatively low level of syntax, while still planting the idea of revolution in a manner that relates to the audience. His word choice, particularly in the fourteenth line, when he says “I too am growing shoulders of steel and arms immeasurably strong,” empowers the people ((Aleksel Gastev, We Grow Out or Iron, (1914)). “I too” has a twofold meaning – not only is he participating in the revolution, just like the commoners, the sailors, and the peasants, but he is struggling, yet overcoming, setting the expectation that others will too. Authors like Furmanov and Gastev were the driving force behind the revolution – not the revolution of the intellectuals, who tended to plan without action, but the revolution of the people, who stirred at the calling of freedom and the end of tyranny.

“Chapaev” and “We Grow Out of Iron”: Industrialization and Revolutionary Thoughts

In both “Chapaev” and “We Grow Out of Iron”, the authors are teaching the audience about industrialism and revolutionary thoughts. After the revolution in 1917, new thoughts on modernity emerged.

In Gastev’s poem, “We Grow Out of Iron”, symbols of factories and iron structures elude to society changes, both literal and metaphorically. Gastev describes the buildings are very large and indestructible. The author also describes them as ever-growing structures. After the revolution of 1917, new definitions of modernity emerged. Technology and industrialization became much more ominous. Gatev hints at this in the poem, “they demand yet greater strength”. Not only are the building actually growing taller, they are growing more powerful.

The poem also mentions the factory workers’ role in this emerging industrialization. As the factories grow stronger, so do the workers. They are taking on more tasks and their importance in industry is ever growing. With greater responsibility comes the workers’ feeling of inhumanity. The poem says, “My feet remain on the ground, but my head is above the building.” The author is teaching the audience the importance of factory workers in industry and modernity. The works have become “one with the building’s iron.” The revolution, as illustrated in “Chapaev”, is all about the congregation and rise of the working class.

The Russian Working Class

Both “We Grow out of Iron” by Gastev and “Chapaev” by Furmanov dealt with the feelings of the working class during the Soviet takeover of Russia.

“We Grow out of Iron” is a propaganda poem glorifying hard work, an idea that was spread throughout the Soviet Union.  While this poem could be dismissed as a piece of propaganda, it is more than that.  Gastev was from the poor, working class.  Without the breaking down of the class system, he would most likely have never been able to write his poetry.  It makes sense that Gastev would love and support the Soviet Union because communism gave him a chance to be more than just a worker.  Unfortunately, during Stalin’s perversion of communist ideology, Gastev was killed.  But under idealistic communism, Gastev flourished.

In “Chapaev,” the main character, Fyodor, is a member of the working class, just like the author, Furmanov.  As an urban worker, Fyodor is skeptical of Chapaev because he is a peasant.  While Fyodor admires Chapaev, he is unsure of the peasants’ commitment to the Soviet cause.  He believes peasants are more likely to switch sides spontaneously than the urban workers.  Furmanov highlights the distinctions between the rural peasants and urban workers even more when it is revealed that the middle-aged Chapaev only recently learned to read.  The story deals with many stereotypes held by the urban workers about the peasants, such as peasants are backwards and uncontrollable.

Both Gastev and Furmanov write about the experience of urban workers at the beginning of the Soviet Union.  Both these authors show urban workers at the heart of the political upheaval in Russia as one ideology replaced another.

Revolutionary Thought in Russian Literature

To me, the poem “We Grow Out of Iron” by Aleksei Gastev is about the power of the working class of Russia. The poem begins with the subject constructing a building out of iron, but by the middle lines of the poem the subject realizes that his work makes him strong, too. He grows confident and solid in his actions, surprising himself with his own strength and endurance as he shouts to his comrades “may I have the floor?” This echoes the revolution in the early 20th Century, when the wives and mothers began rioting over lack of food and, backed by their factory-working husbands and children, started a movement that would lead to significant change. What started as a demand for food turned into something stronger, the impact of which no one expected. When the workers all banded together the inertia of their actions was too strong to stop and before they knew it, they had made a real change—victory was theirs.


In contrast, I see in chapter five in Chapaev by Dmitri Furmanov the other approach to revolution that emphasizes educated leaders as the way to reform. Klychkov, the character based off the author Furmanov, is clearly educated, distinguishing himself from the famous Chapaev. Klychkov is also a plotter, carefully detailing how he plans on proving himself worthy to Chapaev and gain his confidence and trust.  He does this because he believes that Chapaev, despite being uneducated, could be a true revolutionary because of his peasant origins, which is where the “spontaneous feelings of rage and protest” grow strong. He recognizes this phenomenon among the peasantry, but at the same time questions, “who can see what spontaneous protest will lead to?” (Furmanov, 63).  He is weary of the efficacy of a wide revolt, wondering if uneducated peasants can actually bring about the change that is so necessary.

The famous Vasily Chapaev of the Russian Civil War.


Gastev and Chapaev

Aleksel Gastev, Vladimir Kirillov, and Mikhail Geraismov all wrote their poetry about the machine’s growing importance and the growth of industry in Russia. All three were proletarians and believed that the revolution and change Russia needed was to be found on factory floors. Gastev’s “We Grow Out of Iron” compares the newly built iron factory to his own new importance and strength. The strength of iron is reflected in the boldness of the revolutionaries and Gastev considers himself one of them. In Kirillov’s “The Iron Messiah”, he describes the changes to Russian society such as mass production as a messiah destroying the prisons of the past and helping Russia progress into modern labor. Gerasimov’s “We” exalts the varied creations of the collective revolutionaries, from artwork to architecture.

Dmitry Furmanov wrote Chapaev in 1923 to recount his own experiences as the political commissioner of the Chapaev division in the Urals during the Civil War and described the political tension, power struggles, and discipline issues within the troop of mostly peasant soldiers and their charismatic leader. Furmanov ruminates on why it is that most of the heroes in war are peasants, concluding that their rage at their poor quality of life is what leads them to succeed at protests and wars. At the end of the excerpt, Furmanov insists that not only boldness but also knowledge are needed to win a war.