"REPORT FROM MOSCOW"
An Address by
WILLIAM (BILL) BOSS
Canadian Press Correspondent
MR. INWOOD: On September 5th, 1951 the Empire Club called a special meeting to hear a report from William Boss on the Korean situation at the time of his return from that battlefield. Today we are very pleased indeed to have Bill Boss back from five months in Moscow and here today to give us his report from that somewhat controversial city. Mr. Boss has been the staff writer for the Canadian Press in Moscow since last November and has reported as much about the Soviet way of life as censorship would allow. His five months in Russia was another phase in a career that has taken him to many parts of the world and followed two years as the only correspondent who was with the Canadians in Korea from the time they landed in December, 1950. He spent a longer period than this during the last war with our troops in Europe as he served on the Headquarters Staff of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division and the 1st Canadian Corps in Italy.
Bill Boss has served in almost every Canadian Press bureau between London England and Vancouver and built his reporter's career from a sound knowledge of his own country. He is a graduate of the University of Ottawa and speaks five languages, or maybe it is seven, as I believe he (on a lesser scale) now speaks Korean and Russian. He has agreed to speak to us in English today.
It gives me great pleasure to present to you once again Bill Boss whose subject is "Report from Moscow."
MR. BOSS: It is an honour to be invited to come back to the Club and speak to you about my latest assignment.
I am instructed to speak to you on a Report from Moscow. That I can not do. A report from Moscow is an impossibility. I might be able to give you a partial report from Moscow. I might be able to tell you some of the things one does and does not do in Moscow, but to pretend to be able to tell you what makes Moscow tick or what makes the Soviet Union run would be preposterous presumption.
First of all, I should get a couple of things on the record, that is the status of "Bill" Boss as expressed to you by the Chairman. Bill Boss is a reporter who is as good as his editors make him. Behind that name, and backing it all the way, as for any Canadian Press reporter wherever he happens to be, are his team of colleagues from Coast to Coast, his head office staff and General Manager, and the editors and publishers of practically every newspaper in Canada. No reporter with that type of team need have any fear of any kind, except the fear of error and the fear that his copy may be partial. Our business is facts and truths expressed briefly, and without comment. I sin against brevity but I just want to be sure you understand that if any C.P. reporter looks good, it is not because of any personal qualities or skills he may have. It is because he is C.P. and no matter where he goes, C.P. goes with him even to Moscow.
As for the Russian assignment and the series of stories now appearing in the newspapers, every impression and every fact were mine, those of a responsible and thoroughly confident reporter. For the skilfulness and readability of their presentation, I and you who are reading them are indebted to the team, and specifically to the outstanding newspaper man who collaborated with me in this most considered job, my general news editor, John Dauphinee.
My report to you will not be in terms of cultural, spiritual values. It will deal with the material things that impress a person visiting the Soviet Union.
First of all you will want to know what the conditions of the operation were. I was not followed wherever I went, they did not have to. There is a policeman with a telephone on every corner. But when I took a taxi, there was no little black car that followed somewhere and came along. When I took a bus I did not seem to have anybody shadowing me. When I was in the subway and took the last car deliberately, I never seemed to see anyone watching for me in the stations along the route. So in those terms I had freedom of movement in Moscow.
When I wanted to travel I had to get permission from the Foreign Office, get my Soviet documents endorsed with the names of the cities I was authorized to see. Then I could buy tickets and go by train or by plane.
I could not go by bus. I could not drive my car, if I had one, but diplomats who are resident in the Soviet Union are entitled to drive on giving 48 hours notice of their intended route.
When I got my visa, having waited five months for it to come through, I felt that the Soviet authorities had looked into the credentials of Bill Boss and had decided that he get the treatment. I did not get the treatment. I was in the Soviet Union a month and some days before they allowed me the first facility, which was a visit to a school. I had seen the Press Department of the Foreign Office on the second day after my arrival. In the record time of something like six hours, I was given my credentials as a Resident Correspondent: it usually takes a week. I got mine because they wanted me to attend the Foreign Minister's first press conference since the war. But having got that initial accreditation I had to wait a month before they began showing me things. And in the entire period I was there I was given a total of 10 facilities. So if anyone has any idea that the articles appearing in the newspapers this week are based on Boss having been shown special things, or his impressions being based on the best he saw, the idea is wrong.
I was able in Moscow to go into the stores, buy . things and watch people buy things. I was able to travel in the subway, to walk the streets, to go to the theatres, to eat in the restaurants. And that was that!
When it came to getting to meet the people, that was another question. They are conditioned against the foreigner, and it is much more difficult for the foreigner to get to know people in Moscow than it is for the man from Ottawa to make friends in Toronto. I can assure you of that.
This social stonewalling makes it difficult in public places to get to know Russians. They don't fear the foreigner, they are fearful about being seen with him in public places. So you have to contrive to meet them under conditions in which the barricades are down. I changed my dinner hour, I had dinner at 1.30 in the morning, because after midnight, after vodka and caviar had a certain lubrication effect, soviet personal defences tend to be relaxed, and it is not difficult to sit at the table where a man is having his social time with his friends. During a party even they may come to your table, and you get a certain superficial form of contact. But to have a real discussion with no holds barred, you have to get a Russian by himself. He won't visit your hotel.
I met several acquaintances in theatres and restaurants, who later telephoned me and said, "I would like to see you. Where can you meet me?" I would suggest the ticket office or the cinema, or a beer hall, and I would turn up there, and he might or might not. Usually he did, sometimes he didn't. One man I met five times, another man I met three times. I got a couple of telephone calls for a couple of cinema dates from a couple of "gals". They were interesting in a way-if buying a ticket for a girl, taking her into a cinema, watching a picture and then saying "Good Night" is interesting-These were my "dates".
But it was in the trains especially that I met people. I found that if I happened to have a compartment on what they call the "international car"--on the best trains there is always one of these-I was able to meet a Soviet citizen under conditions in which he felt free to talk to me.-Nobody was watching.
One night I got on the train and was given a place in a vacant international car compartment. I waited for the train to leave. A Red Army officer stationed at Samarkand had to make the trip, and had no reservation. By great good luck he was brought to my compartment. His wife was with him. They had to say Good Bye. Being a little diffident about doing so in front of this foreigner, they went into the corridor. I simply went out in the corridor, and said, "Comrade", and motioned to him. He came with his wife, and I showed them into the compartment and closed the door behind them. This was a gesture which he appreciated very much. After the train was gone, he came back-his wife of course had lefta man who felt a certain obligation to this strange foreigner, and we began a chat which lasted until we reached Tashkent the next morning. We did not go to bed.
When the train reached Tashkent we shook hands, and he asked for my address. He said, "We may not know, I may be in Berlin or Vienna some day and it will be possible to get in touch again". When we went into the compartment corridor he was just another Red Army officer, and to all outward appearance we were simply two people who travelled together, had nothing in common and had not talked. He did not make any form of greeting, and we went our separate ways.
I had many such types of meetings with Russian citizens. I would say that during five months I probably had conversations of a revealing nature with 40 Soviet citizens. One is not going to generalize on the basis of 40 conversations, about what goes on in a country of 210 million people. The things the regime could have shown me were the sort of things set up especially for foreigners to seethings they show what they call cultural delegationscollective farms, heavy industries, light industries. I even asked unsucccessfully to see them digging extensions for the Moscow subway.
So I can merely report to you on the basis on what I saw and on the basis of these conversations, these limited conversations. Honesty compels me to relate the following basic impressions:
The U.S.S.R. comprises 210 million people who speak more than 80 languages, who comprise more than 147 nationalities. It covers one-sixth of the land area of the world. Three-quarters of its land area is in Asia; threequarters of its boundaries are Asiatic. One-half of the population of the world is concentrated along its Asiatic contours.
When we consider Russia as a European power and we make our comparisons of Russia in European and Western terms, my impression is that we are off base. Our comparison must be in terms of what the Russian, or the Soviet citizen knows; and in terms of what he has compared with what the people on his frontier have. The people on his frontier are those in Pakistan, India, going down as far as Ceylon, Indo-China, China, Korea, Japan. To these countries, under-developed, backward, where people are living under conditions of which you have not the slightest conception here, what is going on, in the Soviet Union is very impressive, and impressive to people like me who have had a chance to see on both sides of it.
Seventy-one million of the 210 million in the Soviet Union live in cities, towns or industrial communities. Those people live in conditions which are visibly improving day by day. They are building houses and apartment buildings. They are building factories. They are getting more food. They are getting more and better clothing, better transport. And everything that the Soviet citizen sees about him impresses him with the fact that the regime he has is doing a job.
Now the job it is doing, to you and me, leaves a great deal to be desired. But it is all he knows, and if we think the Soviet people waiting for us to go and liberate them from the Communist regime, we are crazy.
Two-thirds of the Soviet people are farmers, peasants. They are the people with the grudge. Their farms having been given to them in 1917 by the Revolutionaries, were taken away from them in 1930 by Stalin and collectivized. Those people are producing the Soviet Union's food. The Regime says there is not enough. Nonetheless in the stores there is food available, and there is food in the markets. People can go and buy it. They pay higher prices in the market, but they get it, and they have the money to buy it too.
The important thing on the farm front is that while the Regime says there is under-production and they are going all out to get more production, the regime is eating. The peasant resistance has not broken on the back of the Communist Revolution as far as I could see. They have given the peasants personal interest in cultivation, they have started a two-year program which, by the end of 1955, will have opened up they say more than 50,000 square miles of new territory to be farmed on mass-production methods. By one way or another they are determined to overcome this food shortage, such as the food shortage is.
Now, as I see it, the regime has the support of the urban dweller and the industrial worker. It is going out to give the peasant a new deal.
It is obviously investing vast energies and materials in construction for civilian needs, and it is building a tremendous and impressive body of trained professional people and technicians.
The University program to me was staggering. They are preparing the gamut from scientists and doctors to ballet dancers, and the students come from Korea, China, IndoChina and Czecho-Slovakia to the Republics of the Union itself. These people are at universities preparing themselves to go back to their countries, what we call "satellite countries" and taking up their jobs as doctors and engineers and musicians and ballet dancers. to move into every field of professional life and do a job.
When you realize there are 10,000 Koreans in the Soviet Union, getting this type of training, and one day going back to North Korea to take up the program of reconstruction on Communist lines, and to do a job which will impress people in Korea as a square deal, you begin to see something of the challenge that faces us.
Now my concern as a reporter is to bring this message, this report back to you, to Canada, and to do something to impress upon us the need for positive action. I am not among those more distinguished. more learned than I, experienced men, who say that South East Asia and the Orient will not go Communist. I know what the Soviet Union can offer these people. I know the conditions under which they are living, and I know the attraction a better life has for people who are living in the base conditions endured by the Asiatics and the Orientals. It is all very well for you and I to sit back and say we have the Colombo Plan, we have UNRRA, the Americans have their America-Korea Rehabilitation Program. It is all very well for us to go home in the evening after the office, and live in a warm brick building and to have our meals with our families and read in the newspapers about these unfortunate people in the other part of the world, and wonder why on earth they would be attracted by Communism!
There is every reason for them to be attracted by Communism, and we have to do something not only to persuade them against it but to help them and show them that we do know and we can help them to work out a better deal for themselves, without them having to sell their souls to do it.
Now where do we come in? I believe that Clubs like this, Service Clubs, Professional groups, Home and School Clubs, ought to get cracking and study ways that they individually can do things.
What can you do? You can give scholarships to bring students out here, the way the Soviet people are taking them into Russia for three or five years on double stioends, paying their way and expenses. We have to match it, and our Governments are not doing it. Our industrialists, who have certainly benefitted by the various plans, are not doing it. It comes back to people like you and me, pitching in there and doing a job. We have Korea as a window, which is closely watched by people in that part of the world, for mass action. Korea has our promise of help. We can't do anything in Indo-China. That is a swamp which needs many kinds of cleaning up before it is fit for this type of program. But Korea has great need for this kind of help, has earned it, and we should move in and do something if we don't want them to be won over by the program which both the Chinese and the Russian Communists have for reconstruction, education and Communization of North Korea.
Mr. Chairman, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to develop these themes. I feel they are very important. I have not the time, and I don't want to bore you. But I do hope, members of the Empire Club, that something I have said will give you a greater interest in the news coming out of Central Asia, of Southeast Asia, of the Orient, and a more personal interest in things contemplated by the Colombo Plan. Bring it down to your own level and do something yourselves, otherwise we are going to have trouble.
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. James H. Joyce.