Source: Arthur Ransome, The Crisis in Russia (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1921), pp. 85-88
Text: The internal arrangements of the train are a sufficient proof that Russians are capable of organization if they set their minds to it. We went through it, wagon by wagon. One wagon contains a wireless telegraphy station capable of receiving news from such distant stations as those of Carnarvon or Lyons. Another is fitted up as a newspaper office, with a mechanical press capable of printing an edition of fifteen thousand daily, so that the district served by the train, however out of the way, gets its news simultaneously with Moscow, many days sometimes before the belated Izvestia or Pravda finds its way to them. And with its latest news it gets its latest propaganda, and in order to get the one it cannot help getting the other. Next door to that there is a kinematograph wagon, with benches to seat about one hundred and fifty persons. But indoor performances are only given to children, who must come during the daytime, or in summer when the evenings are too light to permit an open air performance. In the ordinary way, at night, a great screen is fixed up in the open. There is a special hole cut in the side of the wagon, and through this the kinematograph throws its picture on the great screen outside, so that several thousands can see it at once. The enthusiastic Burov insisted on working through a couple of films for us, showing the Communists boy scouts in their country camps, children’s meetings in Petrograd, and the big demonstrations of last year in honor of the Third International. He was extremely disappointed that Radek, being in a hurry, refused to wait for a performance of “The Father and his Son,” a drama which, he assured us with tears in his eyes, was so thrilling that we should not regret being late for our appointments if we stayed to witness it. Another wagon is fitted up as an electric power-station, lighting the train, working the kinematograph and the printing machine, etc. Then there is a clean little kitchen and dining-room, where, before being kinematographed – a horrible experience when one is first quite seriously begged (of course by Burov) to assume an expression of intelligent interest – we had soup, a plate of meat and cabbage, and tea. Then there is a wagon bookshop, where, while customers buy books, a gramophone sings the revolutionary songs of Demian Bledny, or speaks with the eloquence of Trotsky or the logic of Lenin. Other wagons are the living-rooms of the personnel, divided up according to their duties-political, military, instructional, and so forth. For the train has not merely an agitational purpose. It carries with it a staff to give advice to local authorities, to explain what has not been understood, and so in every way to bring the ideas of the Centre quickly to the backwoods of the Republic. It works also in the opposite direction, helping to make the voice of the backwoods heard at Moscow. This is illustrated by a painted pillar-box on one of the wagons, with a slot for letters, labelled, “For Complaints of Every Kind.” Anybody anywhere who has grievance, thinks he is being unfairly treated, or has a suggestion to make, can speak with the Centre in this way. When the train is on a voyage telegrams announce its arrival beforehand, so that the local Soviets can make full use of its advantages, arranging meetings, kinematograph shows, lectures. It arrives, this amazing picture train, and proceeds to publish and distribute its newspapers, sell its books (the bookshop, they tell me, is literally stormed at every stopping place), send books and posters for forty versts on either side of the line with the motor-cars which it carries with it, and enliven the population with its kinematograph.
Comment: Arthur Ransome (1884-1967), before he became most famous as a children’s author (Swallows and Amazons etc.), was a foreign correspondent for the Daily News and Manchester Guardian, where he spent several years in Russia before and after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. The Soviets made enthusiastic use of agit-trains to take propaganda – including films – to the masses. They were introduced in 1918. ‘The Father and His Son’ is Otetz i syn [Father and Son] (Russia 1919 d. Ivan Perestiani p.c. Khanzhonkiv/Mos-Kino-Committee), a single reel agitki.
Links: Project Gutenberg text