<< Byers Exhibit

<< Clark Exhibit

Although both H. Spencer Clark and Harry Byers were in the Soviet Union within an overlapping period, the two had very different experiences. By the time Spencer set foot into the country as a visitor of two weeks, Harry had lived and worked in the country for almost a year and seven months. Spencer left the Soviet Union in early August 1931 for his next tour destination, while Harry left less than two weeks after him to return to North America for good.

Spencer's disbelief

Spencer expresses doubt that his tour was guided.

In his tour of the Soviet Union, Spencer visited various European countries as a part of Dr. Sherwood Eddy's study group on the cooperative movement. The group's itinerary was always preplanned, and the Soviet Union was no exception. The communes, collectives, and camps visited, although heralded as typical, were in fact showpieces constructed purely for the group's viewing pleasure.

On the other hand, no such attempts at orchestration were made for Harry. Unlike Spencer's leisure tour group of academics and intellectuals, Harry was a contracted tractor instructor. This is reflected in their respective diaries, where Spencer writes at length about the Soviet administration, while Harry's diary details day to day events.
Flung into the rural corners of the Soviet Union, Harry was far removed from the glamorous city centres Spencer stayed in. The biggest challenge Harry faced was one that Spencer did not know existed at the time: food. Unbeknownst to Spencer, the Soviet countryside was ravaged by a severe lack of food, fuel, medicine, and supplies. Where Spencer wrote of hearty hotel breakfasts and praised the agricultural efficiencies of collectivization, Harry wrote of constant hunger and starvation.
Harry's entry

[...] no food in the House, no wood for fires, no Medicine, and my girl Sick what Im [i.e. I'm] thinking about (is not so good).

Harry Byers,
November 14, 1930

Spencer's entry

[...] Breakfast – Rich Coffee, Fresh baked sweet bread, butter & new cheese. [...]

H. Spencer Clark
August 7, 1931

Newspaper clipping

Spencer believes humane labour camps is the most common form of punishment.

Throughout much of Harry's stay, he and his wife were witnesses to the ever-prevalent violence around them. They observed arrests and disappearances to be a fact of Soviet life, and often woke to the sound of breaking glass and demonstrations. Although Spencer was also aware of the use of violence, he was not aware of its extent and severity. Unlike Harry, Spencer did not witness any arrests or acts of violence firsthand.


Harry's entry

Many Prisoners are Being taken to Jail. See many women. & old Chinese men, with guards. [...]

Harry Byers
March 5, 1930

In spite of their contrasting experiences however, the two do raise some points in common. Although Harry and Spencer are at one point almost 10,000 kilometer apart, Soviet propaganda seem to effectively extend to even the furthest corners of the country, and both make numerous mentions of propaganda film and posters.  

men and women share train compartments

Spencer observes men and women in the same train compartments.

Harry also writes on occasion that the Russian people do not seem to view nakedness as taboo or sexual, while Spencer similarly noted that men and women mixed together without concern for gender, thinking nothing of the intimacy. The two seem to agree at least, that the sexualization which existed in North America did not exist in the same degree in the Soviet Union.


Harry's entry

Jack saw man on bycycle [i.e., bicycle] naked. See many sights [imular? i.e., similar?] to that. [...]

Harry Byers
August 8, 1930

Newspaper clipping

Harry's experiences are "too much to ask an intelligent person to believe".

Upon returning to North America, Spencer became very sought-after as a lecturer and interviewee. On the other hand, in the rare occasion that Harry did speak to the media, the newspaper's Russian correspondent expresses disbelief and accuses Harry of attempting to discredit the Soviet Union to the rest of the world.


<< Clark Exhibit

<< Byers Exhibit

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