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  • Tom Wintringham and Lenin’s Tractor September 8, 2010

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    Of all the intellectual perversions of modern times perhaps none was as bizarre and perhaps none had more serious consequences than the fawning attitude of some western democrats towards the Soviet Union and its satellites from the 1930s to the 1970s.

    The paeans of nonsense that there were written about Lenin and Stalin now beggar belief. Yet in Europe in this period they were the stuff of serious newspaper editorials. Who could forget, for example, L’Humanité pontificating that capital punishment for children was acceptable in the Soviet Union because the young matured more quickly under true socialism?

    The blindness – especially the willing blindness – of many decent people had a corrosive effect on intellectual life: in France and Italy it marred national intellectual life for the best part of half a century. And Beachcombing can think of few things more depressing than seeing a fine, independent, stimulating mind bent under the weight of local Communist Party diktats.

    Take Tom Wintringham (1898-1949). Journalist, poet, soldier and politician Wintringham was the kind of man that you want on your side. Proudly independent with a burning sense of right and wrong Wintringham fought in the international brigades in Spain before going on to train the Home Guard in street fighting two years later in Britain. However, as a member of the Communist Party he had sold an important part of himself to an organisation that was not worth the dirt under his fingernails.

    Wintringham was actually a fine poet. But there follows a poem that is, to repeat an oft used phrase, so bad it is good. Beachcombing seems to see Wintringham’s muse trussed up like a May Day pioneer in one of the never made Soviet pornographic films screaming ‘Let me out, Tom!’

    Beachcombing came across the work in question in an incomplete form and would be extraordinarily grateful if anyone could fill in the missing pieces: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com. It was allegedly first published in Storm, February 1933. Is it perhaps in We’re Going On – Collected Poems (2006)? Beachcombing will investigate.

    Breathe deeply before you begin. Beachcombing giggled while reading and then, afterwards, smiled all the way through his television dinner.

    Lenin was speaking. Careful, searching, keen,

    His comrades heard him. Words became flame –

    Not the white furnace-hunger, nor the light

    Of guns that curse at night –

    Flame at the heart of a vast machine,

    Sparks small as steel can measure, strong alone

    By striking thought, the mist of thought, to action:

    Petrol to power. Words had grown

    Electric, surely placed at the millionth fraction

    Of time, to leap, explode, become

    The pulse’s drum,

    The living, lifting, and life-giving factor

    In the steel strength of the Immortal Tractor.


    Lenin’s words beat

    With the rhythm of the factory, the red heat of the forge,

    Explosive as the dynamite that cuts a mountain gorge.

    Lenin is speaking, and the workers go

    Through blood, mud, snow,

    Through fear, lies, hate

    And the Cossacks hesitate


    Lenin is living – every word a spark

    Driving the great Tractor through the desert and the dark,

    The million-powered Tractor, plunging on to victory –


    Lenin is speaking. All who hear him know

    Here, too, a Tractor’s building, and will grow;

    Here, in the cities where the cold fog kills,

    In the ploughless valleys, on the blank, bare hills,

    ‘Mid the famine of the mines and the phthisis of the mills,

    We are moulding, forging, shaping the steel of our wills

    Into pinions, into pistons, crankshaft-web and crankshaft-throw

    We are building Lenin’s Tractor. It will grow.

    Wintringham left the Communist Party in 1938 after his wife had been accused of that most terrible of all heresies, Trotskyism. However, cooling on the Soviet Union he quickly built up a comparable admiration for Chinese totalitarianism and Tito.  Out of the frying pan…

    All power to Tom Wintringham! Ya, boo, sucks to Lenin and his tractor parts!