The Fallacy of Industry

Both Vladimir Kirillov and Aleksei Gastev express their admiration of the growing collectivization of industry in revolutionary Russia through their free verse poetry. The poets envision industry as the cure to class struggles that plagued revolutionary Russia, for under a rational and efficient system of production, all workers will be equal. Kirillov tells his readers that the leader of Russian industry may be a common man, “From the suburbs,” ((Vladimir Kirillov, “The Iron Messiah,” in Popular Poetry in Soviet Russia, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1929), 216)) with enough power and charisma to bring citizens “to eternal fraternity” ((Kirillov, “The Iron Messiah,” 216)). Kirillov seeks to empower the average Russian worker, engaging in a form of mass politics to mobilize the working class.

Gastev paints the factory floor with images of heaven, rising Christlike out of the building to bring Russia to a new age of progress and pride. Rather than tire from work, Gastev boasts that “iron blood pours into my veins.” ((Aleksei Gastev, “We Grow Out of Iron,” in A Treasury of Russian Verse, edited by Avrahm Yarmolinksy (New York: Macmillan Company, 1949), 252)) Kirillov and Gastev put their faith in Russian industry, worshipping work as a deity. But does their veneration neglect the true lot of the peasant? They make no note of how industry could continue to exasperate the struggle of the revolutionary-era peasant. In the face of this poetic naivety, is it any wonder that workers’ quality of life in the Soviet Union plummeted?


Blood and Iron: Gastev’s Socialist Message

Aleksei Gastev takes values of strength and perseverance to new heights with his factory-oriented socialist poem, We Grow Out of Iron.” A laborer himself, Gastev knew full well the hardships found on the factory floor, and took advantage of his experiences to maximize the relatability of his poetic works. Drawing on the iron aesthetic of the workspace, Gastev’s verses support the rhythm of the piece exactly as the cross-beams he references support the factory. Between the beam’s demands for greater strength and the pouring iron blood of the workers, Gastev makes it clear that there is no strength without sacrifice.

In the latter half of the poem, the narrator of the work transcends mortal bounds, becoming one of the mighty beams supporting the factory and, through it, the industriousness of the Russian people.

The metaphor, while not particularly subtle, serves well to represent the blunt strength with which many viewed the socialist movement. Despite the difficulties, both social and economic, faced by Russia in the early twentieth century the industry workers were a powerful force for change once organized. The obvious fervor Gastev holds for his cause makes his ultimate death in Stalin’s labor camps all the more ironic.

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.