We found out that this man who had left Russia in the dim past attentively follows everything that is said and written in Schenectady about his former homeland.
“Various lecturers come here,” he said, “and speak at the high school. Some are for the Soviet government, others are against it. And whoever speaks for theSoviet government, they write bad things about him, very bad. “For example, Colonel Cooper spoke well about theSoviet government, so they wrote about him that he sold out. Got two million for it. A millionaire farmer returned and praised the Soviet state farms. It was said that they built a special Soviet state farm for him. Not long ago a woman school teacher from Schenectady went to Leningrad,lived there, and then came back and praised Russia. Even about her they said that she left a boy friend there, that she loves him, and that is why she doesn’t want to say anything against the Soviet government.” “But what do you think yourself?”
“What difference does it make what I think – would anybody ask me? I only know one thing – I’m going to the dogs here in Schenectady.”
He looked at the slowly glowing initials of the electric rulers of the world and added:
“They have built machines. Everything is made with machines. The working man hasn’t a chance to live.”
“What do you think – what should be done so that the working man may live an easier life?”
“Break up and destroy all machines!” replied the vendor of popcorn firmly and with conviction.
More than once in America we heard talk of destroying machines. This may seem incredible, but in a land where the building of machines has reached the point of virtuosity, where the national genius has expressed itself in the invention and production of machines which replace completely and improve many times the labour of man – it is precisely in this country that you hear talk that would seem insane even in a madhouse.
Looking at this vendor, we involuntarily remembered a New York cafeteria on Lexington Avenue where we used to go for lunch every day. There at the entrance used to stand a pleasant girl in an orange calico apron, marcelled and rouged (she undoubtedly had to be up at six in the morning in order to have time to arrange her hair), who distributed punch tickets. Six days later, in the very same place, we saw a metal machine doing the work of the girl automatically – and at the same time it gave off pleasant chimes, which, of course, one could not very well expect from the girl We remembered also the story we heard in New York of a certain Negro who worked on a wharf as a controller, counting bales of cotton. The work suggested to him the idea of inventing a machine that would count the bales. He invented such a machine. His boss took advantage of this invention gladly, but dismissed the Negro, who henceforth was jobless.
The next day we visited the factories of the General Electric. We are not specialists; therefore, we cannot describe the factories as they deserve to be described. We don’t want to give the reader an artistic ornament instead of the real thing. We ourselves would read with pleasure a description of these factories made by a Soviet engineer. We did, however, carry away from there an impression of high technical wisdom and organization.
In the laboratories we saw several of the best physicists in the world, who sat at their work with their coats off. They are working for the General Electric Company. The company doesn’t give them very much money – not more than twenty thousand dollars a year. Such salaries are received only by the most prominent scientists. There are few of these people. But there are no limits to the means necessary for experiment and investigation. If a million is needed, they’ll give a million. That is why the company has managed to get the best physicists in the world. No university can give them such opportunities for research as they receive here in a factory laboratory.
But then, everything that these idealists invent remains the property of the firm. The scientists advance science. The firm makes money.
At a luncheon in a cosy and beautiful engineers’ club, several of the engineers, to our great surprise, expressed thoughts that reminded us very much of what theunemployed vendor of popcorn had been saying. Naturally they were not expressed in such primitive form, but the essence remained the same.
“Too many machines! Too much technique! The machines are responsible for the difficulties that confront the country.”
This was said by people who themselves produce all kinds of remarkable machines. Perhaps they were already foreseeing the moment when the machine will deprive of work not only workers but even themselves, the engineers.
Toward the end of the luncheon we were introduced to a thin and tall grey-haired gentleman on whose cheeks played a healthy tomato-coloured flush. He proved to be an old friend of Mr. Adams’s. Little fat Adams and his friend whacked each other’s shoulders for a long time, as if they wanted to beat the dust out of each other’s coats.
“Gentlemen,” the beaming Mr. Adams told us, “I present to you Mr. Ripley. You can get a lot of good out of this man if you want to understand the meaning of American electrical industry. But, but! You must ask Mr. Ripley to show you his electric house.”
“Very well,” said Mr. Ripley. “I will show you my electric house.”
And Mr, Ripley asked us to follow him.
13. Mr. Ripley’s Electric House
MR. RIPLEY led us to the entrance of his little house and asked us to press the button of an electric bell.
Instead of the usual bell we heard melodic sounds as if issuing from a music-box’. The door opened by itself, and we found ourselves in the anteroom.
Mr. Ripley walked up to a box hanging on the wall, opened a small door with an accustomed gesture, and showed us an electric machine.
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