Commentary Magazine

Business and the Soviets

To the Editor:

Carl Gershman’s article, “Selling Them the Rope: Business & the Soviets” [April], contains several historical inaccuracies:

  1. John Calder, whom Mr. Gershman describes as the construction manager of the Stalingrad Tractor Plant, is identified as having worked for the Austin Company. In fact, Calder did not work for Austin.
  2. Austin had no involvement with the Stalingrad Tractor Plant, although the article implies that it did.
  3. Leon A. Swajian, identified as Calder’s colleague, was not a member of the Austin organization, although from the article one could infer that he was.

The Austin Company was, however, responsible for the construction of the automobile manufacturing complex at Gorki, as Mr. Gerhsman correctly states.

Marvin M. Epstein
The Austin Company
Cleveland, Ohio



Carl Gershman writes:

Antony C. Sutton’s study, Western Technology and Soviet Economic Development, was the source of the information which Marvin M. Epstein disputes. Mr. Sutton’s reference in Volume I of the study to the Austin Company’s construction of the Ford River Rouge plant was based on a Soviet source (Torgovo-Promyshlennaya Gazeta, July 26 and November 1, 1929). It was correctly stated in Volume II of the study that the River Rouge plant was built by Albert Kahn, Inc. I inadvertently overlooked this correction.

Sutton’s statement that Calder worked for Austin while he was construction manager at the Stalingrad Tractor Plant is again based on a Russian source: Za Industrializatsiiu (July 5, 1930). If Austin denies this, then we must accept its denial. This, of course, would also dissociate Austin from the construction of the Stalingrad plant. Finally, I never said that Leon A. Swajian worked for Austin.

The reader should bear in mind that despite Sutton’s extraordinary historical investigation, there is much that we still do not know—and may never know—about U.S. business’s involvement in the economic development of the Soviet Union. Many U.S. firms instructed their employees in Russia not to discuss their work or affiliations. Some firms required employees to resign before accepting a contract with the Russians as a way of disguising their affiliation when working in the USSR. Some, however, did not heed these instructions, and Mr. Sutton was able to pick up their uncensored comments in State Department files.

Another factor which may explain the confusion over the affiliation of some employees is that Americans sometimes invented association with prominent firms like Austin to facilitate being hired by the Soviets. The Russians also may have exaggerated their associations with U.S. firms for propaganda purposes, e.g., they bragged about their association with Henry Ford. I am indebted to Mr. Sutton for enumerating some of the reasons why such mistakes could have occurred.

The really important point in all of this is not the “inaccuracies” in my article, but Mr. Epstein’s admission in the last sentence of his letter: namely, that the Austin Company was responsible for the construction of the Gorki automobile plant. This is all that is needed to substantiate my point that American business has been “selling them the rope” and that the Austin Company has participated in this dangerously short-sighted endeavor.

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