RUSSIA covers one seventh of the earth's surface; in the last thirteen years since 1917 a new social order has been created out of the chaos of a revolution; from this new social order, much confused theory and little fact has passed out into the world of other nations. While writers have written of a vague Social Experiment, propaganda of all kinds has tended to confuse the actual Russian scene. Negley Farson with a photographic eye and a clear reportorial style has observed contemporary Russian life in the closest possible way and, in "Black Bread and Red Coffins", has written a compelling book about it.
In his presentation of the facts Mr. Farson has neither spared nor struck at the communistic rule. Pointing out that only one out of every hundred Russians are Communists, he presents a picture of one hundred and twenty millions of ignorant peasants, submerged in squalidity and often bewildered by the complete overthrow of the world of their fathers, 'being whipped into shape by the young Communists. In the Communists he finds a "new priesthood" who neither drank nor believed in God "because both of them clouded one's brain," whose courage and self-denial he finds comparable to the Jesuits, whose motto, in one case, ranked religion with drunkeness, smoking and hooliganism.
The completed picture is not pleasant. The average standard of living in Russia is unbelievably low. Peasant squalor exists around half-destroyed churches containing the art of eight centuries. Loud speakers bleat communist propaganda into stond uncomprehending faces. On the whole, however, life is livable and looks to the future. "Black Bread and Red Coffins" brings a shadowy nation into clear relief. In the prison, in the courtroom, in the Bureau of Marriage and Divorce, and in the village world, representative personalities are etched in living and human detail.