Russian society, before and after the Revolution of 1917, revered scientists and engineers whose expertise was utilized to increase the country’s industrial and military might. The presence of numerous literary works influenced by the method of socialist realism, where engineers are represented as primary and secondary characters, illustrated society’s interest in the personal and professional lives of engineers. The image of the engineer changed in the years 1910 to 1950 from a dictator-like figure to a romantic character and then to a fusion of the images of an engineer and a scientist. Before the Russian Revolution most engineers had a high socio-economic status and came from upper class families. Workers were accustomed to the unquestioned authority of engineers. Hence, prior to the emergence of socialist realism in the 1920s, engineers were portrayed as monarch-like figures with unlimited authority over the working class. After the Russian Revolution, the communist government convinced workers that they must be the focus of all the social, cultural and political events. Literature and science needed to cater to the tastes of the working class without lowering academic standards. Therefore, engineers needed to assimilate into the working class and to adapt science to their level. Engineers were portrayed as ordinary human beings and as workaholics who led the workers by their own example. As the method of socialist realism gained popularity in literature, the image of an engineer shifted towards a romantic figure with megalomaniac ideas, a builder of socialism and a carrier of progressive thought. This image was dictated by the political ideology of implementing the concepts of socialism in the entire universe. The political situation drastically changed in the 1950s with the onset of the Cold War. Society and the government realized that advanced science would become a crucial factor in winning the ‘arms race’ and the ‘space race’. Thus, the traditions of socialist realism were challenged and the image of an engineer was fused with the image of a scientist. This paper will discuss the political, and social factors that affected the changes in the image of the engineer in Russian literature between the 1910s and the 1950s.
Socialist realism is a method of artistic expression that is intended to highlight and glorify the idealistic goals and values of the socialist and communist regime. The term ‘socialist realism’ is also known as “Soviet culture’s literary system” that monopolised the field of Russian creative writing at the turn of the twentieth century. This method of literary expression allowed the authors to showcase the character traits that the citizens of socialist society must possess. Socialist realism demanded a high degree of creativity from the authors. The novelists needed to portray various social phenomena that have never occurred in Russia before. The working class was not politically active before the revolution. In the 1920s, however, workers became very vocal in terms of the policy formations and social standards of life. This rapid shift in social dynamics needed to be reflected in the literature. The heroes of the socialist realist novels were workers who strived to meet the social and political standards of Communist society. These heroes were often ‘deinvidualized’ because socialist society did not encourage individualistic self-expression. The more selfless the character was and the more devoted he was to the achievement of the common goals of his community, the better he was perceived. This image was perfect for portraying the workers, but it was challenging to represent engineers when the traditions of the socialist realism implied that the main character should meet the above requirements. According to the nature of their work, engineers were bound to be in leading positions. Although their professional skills were valuable for the communist regime, their individualistic way of thinking was not accepted in communist society. Engineers, in the novels and in reality, needed to adapt to the new social circumstances and to integrate the values of the working class into their practice. Socialist realism, however, did not come into being spontaneously and did not stay unchallenged.
The characteristics of socialist realism could be seen even in pre-revolution literature. In his work of fiction Engineer Menni (1913) philosopher Alexander Bogdanov reflected the social and political values of the tsarist period and the gradual emersion of socialist ideas. Bogdanov was a well-known utopian author. His novel Red Star (1908), a prequel to Engineer Menni, was published in three editions in 1908, 1918, 1929 by a respected publishing house called the Comradeship of Publishing Artists. Bogdanov’s philosophical views, disguised under the veil of fictional stories, drew Lenin’s attention and criticism. Lenin dedicated three chapters of his book Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments On A Reactionary Philosophy (1908)to the criticism of Bogdanov’s understanding of Marxism. Lenin’s disapproval was so harsh that the novel was not re-published after 1929. An abridged version of this novel was published only 60 years later, in 1963. It is safe to assume that certain chapters of the book were omitted because of their politicized content. Nevertheless, the abridged version provided sufficient information regarding the transition that the image of an ideal engineer undergoes throughout the novel.
Engineer Menni started with a “Note from the Translator” who stated that Marsian society did not experience drastic political changes or revolutions. By the year 1620, the last feudal state Tumasia surrendered and joined the common state that the Marsians had been forming since 1000. The Tumasian monarch died and his heir tried to resurrect the dynasty but failed and perished in battle. His son Menni survived and became an engineer. Menni asked the government to finance a project of building a series of giant waterways, some over 70 kilometers long, on the surface of Mars. He demanded absolute control of the entire process, including handling of all the bureaucratic matters, technical issues and financial planning. His project was accepted, and Menni was respected and liked by the workers at first. Complications arose when one of the channels had to pass through a dangerous swamp area. Many workers were dying. Angry and scared, they formed unions and chose representatives to inform Menni about their complaints. Menni, however, refused to accept the unions, saying that since not all the workers belong to their union, he cannot be certain that the representatives are not pursuing their own goals. Soon Menni was betrayed by his colleague, who offered Menni to take part in an illegal financial transaction with the government. Menni murdered his colleague on the spot and was sentenced to fifteen years of imprisonment. Moreover, he was accused of wasting financial and human resources. Menni was not aware of the existence of his son Netti, who was a worker at first and became an engineer later. Netti wrote a book that unveiled the illegal transactions performed by the government and rehabilitated Menni’s reputation. The new government asked Menni to resume the leadership over the great waterways project from his prison cell. Netti became Menni’s assistant and tried to convince him that workers’ unions were essential. Menni did not agree with these ideas, but admitted that they were intelligent and logical. After Menni’s death Netti soon retired from the waterways project and started educating the working class about science and technology.
There were two distinct idealistic images of engineers in this novel represented by Menni and Netti. Menni was a dictator at his workplace, a middleman between the men and the terrain, who felt his power not only over people, but also over nature itself. He represented the ideal image of an engineer of the monarchic era. Menni however, was not presented as a distant leader capable of giving orders only. He “took new measurements of the Livian canyon from north to south and from east to west himself with assistance of his helpers.” Moreover, he was willing to take care of all the bureaucratic aspects of the project, including the contract arrangements with workers. Menni believed that “a worker who is not eating well or overworked does not possess the full working ability. A worker who is not satisfied creates a threat of [unpleasant] surprises that will interrupt the course of action.” However, he had rather selfish motives for this statement, because then he added that he “does not need any [unpleasant] surprises” on his worksite. Moreover, later in the novel he revealed that to him, the labour of the human masses is just a mechanical force. Although Menni considered human labour as a tool to implement his own ideas, he did not devise his waterways project simply to amuse himself. He was aware of the geographic and economic needs of his country and tried to subdue nature to help humanity. Menni was presented as a young over-ambitious man with megalomaniac ideas who, nevertheless, sincerely wanted the desert regions of Mars to become habitable. Over the course of the novel, however, he took on the role of a dictator of the people as well as of nature. Menni’s character may seem to be presented as an etalon of professional practice and honorable social behaviour. However, the author did not allow the image of Menni to stay entirely flawless. Menni was portrayed as a blatant autocrat who could not be stopped by any laws or morals if they created obstacles on his way to success. He abandoned Nella, a lady why loved him, because he wanted to be ‘utterly free’ and thought that only a loner could be completely invincible. Over twenty years Menni did not inquire about her fate and did not feel any remorse for his actions upon their next meeting. Then, Menni killed his colleague right after blaming him for illegal cooperation with the government and did not regret his actions, telling the court that his deed was conscious and thoughtful.
Half way through the novel, a new character Netti, Menni’s son and his polar opposite in terms of personal and professional goals, was introduced. He was a democratic leader and a middleman between the working class and science, and a perfect engineer of the new socialist generation. The author did not describe any situations where Netti’s behaviour could be considered even remotely immoral. Although Netti cared about the future of the planet and humanity, and understood the importance of the great waterways project and his goals were more realistic. He stated that the working class should take ownership of science, bring it down to the level of everyday ideas and relate it to labour. Labour, according to Netti was the origin of science. Therefore, Netti wanted all the workers to become educated in order to be able to have a voice in the decision making process regarding scientific matters related to the building of the channels. His struggle with Menni regarding the purpose of the workers’ unions shows that the wellbeing of Marsians was a priority over the completion of the engineering plan.
Bogdanov’s novel had a high literary value because of the artistic language and the use of metaphors that related the fiction story to reality and the future, as it was seen at the beginning of the 1910s. The author explained that, although there were wars on Mars, the Marsians were less violent and more environmentally conscious than the Earth dwellers. Unlike on Earth, all of their political and social changes were gradual. The author predicted the strive of the Soviet government to turn all the unhealthy lands into the fruitful ones by means of implementing the achievements of agricultural science. It is particularly interesting that the author mentions that the “independent peasantry… has almost disappeared from the face of the planet [Mars]” nearly five years prior to the revolution and the Soviet collectivization of private farms. However, there were some very unrealistic assumptions in the novel. For instance, a book published by a twenty four year old Netti created such a resonance that the entire government needed to retire. Moreover, one of the members committed suicide.
The image of an ideal engineer changed in the decade that immediately followed the Russian Revolution. One of the representative authors of that time was Aleksei Tolstoy. His futuristic science fiction novel Aelita, where the main character is an aero-space engineer, was written while he was abroad. Tolstoy returned to Russia after the onset of the Soviet Regime and published his novel in two parts in a popular magazine called The Red Novelty at first. The magazine was published monthly and included popular science as well as philosophic articles. Although authors such as Lenin, Bukharin and Frunze published their works in The Red Novelty, it could not be considered a fully proletarian magazine. Nevertheless, the presence of popular philosophers give reasons to think that The Red Novelty was read widely enough, at least for the purposes of labelling Aelita a well-known novel. It was re-published numerous times by various publishing houses, including the Children’s Publish House. Tolstoy’s work was acknowledged by three Stalin Prizes awarded after his death in 1941, 1943 and 1946.Although by the 1940s the magazine became an object of criticism of the radically-oriented communist youth, it was widely read in the 1920s.
Aelita’s main character was a lonely engineer Mstislav Los’ (which translates into Russian literally as a ‘moose’) who was building a spaceship intended for travel to Mars at the speed of light. He was looking for a travel companion for his exploration trip. An enthusiastic ex-soldier Gusev agreed to join Los’. They landed on Mars several days later and discovered an advanced civilization whose economic system was a very similar to extreme capitalism. Gusev and Los’ were taken to a palace where princess Aelita, the daughter of the Marsian dictator Tascoob, taught Los’ and Gusev the Marsian language and educated them about the origins of the Marsian civilization. Marcians were decedents of Atlanteans, who left their continent after it was sunk. Gusev and Los’ soon found out that the socio-economic status of the working class on Mars was extremely low. The workers lived underground, close to the industrial machines. They also found out that the planet was approaching an environmental cataclysm because the ice caps stopped melting. Gusev accidentally overheard the broadcast of Tascoob’s hostile speech in front of the assembly of the Marsian leaders. He stated that Mars was declining and blowing up the city would be the only way for the upper class to face the fall of the planet with dignity. Moreover, he ordered Aelita to poison Gusev and Los’. Gusev became a leader of an uprising intended to overthrow the upper class leaders and to save the city. After the movement was crushed by the government and the city was destroyed, Los’ Gusev returned to Earth. Aelita survived and sent signals to Los’ from Mars.
The social and political goal that society was preoccupied with during the 1920s was the establishment of socialism in the entire universe. Hence, the theme of space exploration and spreading of political ideas was reflected in popular literature. The image of an engineer in Aelita was no longer dictator-like. In contrast with Bogdanov’sMenni, Los’ did not exert his power over thousands of workers and did not even strive to gain such a power. He built his spaceship with the help of several workers and did not express any desire to become rich or famous. In fact, Los’ was a poetic dreamer who possessed the megalomaniac idea of travelling to Mars with the speed of light in only ten hours. People were avoiding him, as though he was mad. Los’ was somewhat similar to Bogdanov’s Netti in his readiness to educate Gusev about space travel and the details of the spaceship’s construction. At first, Tolstoy made the reader believe that scientists and engineers, represented in this novel by Los’, were the leading force of active space exploration. However, it became evident over the course of the novel that the working class, represented by Gusev, was the cornerstone of all the social changes. Illustration of Gusev’s socially active behaviour was a clear manifestation of the socialist realism expression method in this novel. The working class provided the propelling power without which the science and technology would stay passive and useless, just as Los’, who spent most of his time idling and day dreaming while staying on Mars. Overall, the image of an ideal engineer shifted from the educator of the masses to the provider of scientific and technological services that were used by the working class for the dissemination of socialist ideas.
Aelita was full of unrealistic conversations. Aelita often recited unreasonably lengthy monologues, such as her monologue about the Atlanteans. It was difficult to determine the genre of the novel. Tolstoy did not include enough psychological details about Los’ and Aelita’s relationship to call it a psychological drama. On the other hand, the lack of victory over the Marsian upper class did not allow the novel to be labeled it as a utopia, even though it is conventionally labelled so. Tolstoy included numerous descriptions that painted the images of the surrounding world in idealistic and realistic way at the same time. For instance, the author said that a bird was singing with a voice that sounded ‘crystal from joy’.
In order to illustrate further changes in the image of an ideal engineer, it is necessary to examine Valentin Kataev’s novel Time Forward! that was first published in 1932. Kataev was a popular writer who published his works in literary magazines such as The Red Novelty, The New World and Russia. He is known for producing numerous novels dedicated to the daily lives and ideals of the working class people as well as war veterans. Kataev received the Stalin Prize in 1946 and the Hero of the Socialist Labor medal in 1974 for his accomplishments in literature.
Time Forward! was a classic example of the socialist realism novel. Even though the main character was an engineer named David Margulies, the workers Konstantin Ishchenko and Mosya were the focus of the novel. The novel took place at a construction site in the Ural Mountains. The entire story lasted for twenty four hours. One morning Margulies found out that the world record of concrete-pouring was beat by someone in Kharkov. At first, Margulies was not convinced that his workers should compete with Kharkov. He needed to check the scientific parameters of the cement and to verify that the quality will not suffer from the speedy production rate. The enthusiastic worker Mosya was eager to beat the Kharkov’s record and did not understand why Margulies did not give the order to beat it right away. In the afternoon Margulies’s sister called him and quoted an article which confirmed that the quality of the cement would not decrease if the production rate would increase. Margulies immediately ordered the workers to try and break the record. Another engineer Nalbandov was against this plan, but he preferred to let Margulies fail. The workers faced numerous difficulties. The warehouse refused to give the brigade extra cement and the water supply was cut off because the daily quotas of materials were used up. Moreover, the work was interrupted by a severe storm. Soon Margulies’ colleagues obtained two wagons of extra cement and restored the water supply. By the end of the shift, the workers did not break Kharkov’s record, but Margulies reminded them that the time when the water supply was cut off needed to be compensated for. There was just enough time to break the record. The brigade leader Ishchenko was accepted into the Communist party immediately and Mosya got his name published in a newspaper (it is implied from the context, although not stated explicitly). The samples of solidified concrete passed the standard quality test. Soon Margulies and his team found out that their new record was broken at another construction site.
Time Forward! was written at the time of the peak popularity of Stalin’s Five Year Plans. The workers were often rewarded for quick completion and over-production. Hence, Kataev’s engineer was portrayed as an extremely practical and fast-thinking figure. Despite his ‘crazyness’, Margulies was shown as an extremely responsible professional who would never give orders that could lead to uncertain results. Kataev’s ideal engineer was socially dynamic and eager to share his working enthusiasm. The workers were portrayed as conscious citizens who were motivated to obtain their education by intrinsic factors such as attaining the right to be called an official member of the Communist Party, the pride of being praised in the local media or the possibility of professional promotion. The engineer’s role of an active educator of the working class shifted towards a role of a mentor who needed to be on equal footing with the workers.
Kataev’s novel was filled with creative metaphors and humour. Time was presented virtually as a distinct character in the novel. In one instance Kataev compares time to a runner that constantly accompanied Margulies until “there was no substantial difference between him and time.” Kataev used humour to highlight the everyday life situations that were imperfect or even unfortunate but their presence gave the novel a sense of connectedness with reality. For instance, the scene where Margulies discovered that two boys were competing for the greatest number of painted words for posters and misspelled all the words, was presented as an unfortunate episode. Nevertheless, it was described in a humorous tone. On the other hand, Margulies as the main character, was portrayed as virtually flawless human being. The only imperfection Margulies could be accused of was the fact that he was a workaholic. This however was not considered a large character flaw because the population was preoccupied with completing the five-year plans, both in the novel and in reality.
Another author that depicted engineers using the socialist realism method of literary expression was Andrei Platonov. He was a worker and an inventor. Engineers, inventors and practical thinkers often became the main characters of his utopian socialist realism novels such as Chevengur and The Foundation Pit. Platonov always depicted the lives of workers in his novels and painted literary portraits of perfect socialist labourers. He was a very productive writer and his works were published often. Nevertheless, he was not always appraised by the soviet literary critics. For instance, Platonov’s criticism of Soviet bureaucracy was labelled as an inaccurate understanding of the reality of communist society. Soviet critics would be very unlikely to criticize Platonov for his novel The Sea Of Youth (1931), where he portrayed an image of an engineer who strived to achieve ambitious professional goals in order to improve the well-being of the state farm he worked at. Unlike Menni, who by 1931 could be branded as an engineer from the past generation, Platonov’s engineer placed his dedication to the well-being of the community above his ambitions.
The main character of Platonov’s The Sea of Youth was an electrical engineer named Nikolai Vermo, who was hired by a meat production state farm. The leader of the farm Umrishchev suggested that Vermo should ‘mind his own business’ and avoid any confrontations or conflicts. One of the secretaries named Nadezhda Bestaloeva, Vermo’s colleague, always thought that Umrishchev was too cynical. The next day Vermo became a witness of the funeral of a milkmaid named Ayna. She was a witness of the numerous crimes of Bozhev, who replaced the state farm cows with private farm cows. Moreover, Ayna’s brother reported that Bozhev abused her physically and sexually. Umrishchev was transferred to another state farm as a punishment for his inattentiveness to community life and Bozhev was executed shortly thereafter. Bestaloeva became the leader of the meat production state farm and hired Vermo for the position of the chief engineer. Vermo dreamt of the mechanization of labour and fantasised about futuristic cows that will have metal body parts that will allow them to eat faster and produce more milk. He thought that the more machines will be created to replace the workers at their workplaces, the more time these workers will have for intellectual development and entertainment. He conducted a series of technical reforms at the farm. Vermo created a tower where the cows were killed by electric charges, installed a windmill and created a machine that was used to dig wells and to obtain the water from underground. A delegation from Moscow praised Vermo’s work and sent him, along with Bestaloeva, to America for testing and the popularization of his well digging apparatus.
Vermo possessed some of the qualities of ‘ideal’ engineers from previous decades. Similarly to Kataev’s Margulies, Vermo dedicated his entire attention to the improvement of the community. He did not possess any imperfect personal or professional traits, which is typical of pure socialist realism novels. He was a romantic dreamer like Los’. On the other hand, Vermo was never idle. If he was not busy with his engineering projects, he was playing musical instruments. Platonov portrayed an engineer as a well-rounded person with numerous professional and artistic interests. Vermo completed his music education as a driver and a technician before he became an engineer. Platonov used a variety of writing styles in his novel. In some parts he imitated simple language that could be used in remote villages. Other parts of Platonov’s novel sound like poems, such as the opening part of the novel where Vermo’s travels are described.
Despite the popularity of socialist realism, it did not go unchallenged for too long. Daniil Granin, a famous author who is still living, was among the writers who chose not to follow all of the traditions of socialist realism. Granin did not limit himself to portrayals of the lives of the manual labourers. Scientists, professors, graduate students and engineers were often the main characters of his novels. These characters were not always perfect in personal or professional ways. Granin however, similarly to other socialist realist writers, portrayed his characters as honest and dedicated professionals who were willing to embrace their mistakes and to improve their skills. His contributions to Soviet literature were rewarded with the Hero of Socialist Labour medal in 1989 and with numerous other prizes for his accomplishments in literature. Granin did not necessarily label his characters as ‘engineers’ or ‘scientists’. He created the images of talented educated people who were ready to do any work that was necessary for the achievement of their professional goals. Granin wrote Into the Storm in 1957, in the midst of the Cold War. The government realized that scientific development would help the USSR to win the ‘arms race’ and the ‘space race’. As a result, “a pronounced atmosphere of respect for education and science had developed in the Soviet Union”. Granin conveyed this attitude very clearly. He appropriated the image of a prefect engineer that was created by the writers of the previous generations and fused it with an image of a perfect scientist. As a result, he produced a character who did not use science for immediate improvements only. He was able to think and plan his research ahead of time and to inform the public about the expected results.
The main character of Into The Storm was Sergei Krylov. He did not do very well at his first year of the physics program at university and initially received help from Oleg Tulin. By the end of the third year of university Krylov proved to be an intelligent student. Shortly thereafter, he was expelled due to his conflict with the dean. He then decided to work at a plant. Krylov was passionate about science and sometimes appeared foolish to his coworkers when he was deeply immersed in thoughts. The main engineer-constructor Gatenyan noticed Krylov’s scientific and engineering talent and hired him to work at his bureau. Krylov published articles in technology-related journals and even spoke at a seminar at the institute of physics. He left the plant and overcame numerous challenges before he could come back into academia. Krylov started working with professor Dankevitch but found that the research was not moving forward fast enough. He left the country on a geo-physics research ship and came back a year later to write a dissertation about his travels. In the meantime, Dankevitch died but his ideas were proven to be true. Krylov became famous because of his previous work with Dankevitch. His fame however, resulted in conflicts with coworkers. Krylov started working with Tulin who studied atmospheric electricity and designed various equipment and experiment procedures that would allow measuring the strength of the electric charges inside a storm cloud. The experimental flight finished with the tragic death of a graduate student Richard who tried to save the disks with information obtained from the on-board measuring equipment. The research project was closed, but Krylov kept working on it. Once again, he was thought to be foolish but soon other researchers supported him and petitioned for the resumption of the experimental flights to study atmospheric electricity.
Into the Storm had numerous story lines that were not mentioned in the above plot summary. One of the Granin’s literary talents was to express himself laconically without losing the details of the story and the beauty of linguistic expression. The author’s respect and reverence for scientists can be seen from the first lines of the novel, where he refers to Tulin as a ‘wizard’. Granin illustrated, using Krylov as an example, that a scientist could not be considered fully educated unless he possessed practical knowledge. Granin’s image of a scientist was inseparable from the image of an engineer. The author kept a neutral position with respect to the decisions that the characters made. For instance, Krylov’s decision to come back to academia was not immediate. He discussed his plans with other characters and all of them offered different points of view that sounded equally logical and plausible. None of Granin’’s characters were portrayed as perfect. For instance, Krylov was socially awkward and Tulin was too cynical and even rude at times. These imperfections would jeopardize the main characters of classic socialist realist novels, but Granin used those small character flaws to portray the scientists and engineers as ordinary people, who cannot be either absolutely evil or perfect.
The image of an engineer in Russian literature was influenced by political and social factors as well as by popular trends in literature. The Socialist realism method of literary expression played a large role in the way that engineers were represented and how their interactions with the working class were portrayed. The image of the engineer in pre-socialist realist literature was monarch-like. With the onset of the Russian revolution it shifted towards a servant of the working class who supplied the socialist state with the technological means of dispersing the popular political ideas. In a few decades after the revolution the image of an engineer tended to become close to the image of an ordinary worker and a workaholic who dreamt of increasing the productivity rates by all possible means. Finally, during the Cold War period, the image of an engineer and a scientist became inseparable due to the political turmoil that demanded immediate scientific advancements. The popularity of engineers in Russian literature of the first half of the twentieth century reflect the society’s interest and awareness of the important, although always changing, role of engineer in social, political and professional matters.
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FreetranslationfromRussian.Original: “Я сам со своими помощниками, – сказал он, – произвел новый промер Ливийской котловиныот юга к северу и от востока к западу”.
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Freetranslation.Original: “Рабочий, который плохо питается или переутомлен, не обладает полной рабочей силой. Рабочий, который недоволен, угрожает неожиданностями, нарушающими ход дела.”
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