John Scott (writer)

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John Scott. Picture taken in 1940.

John Scott (March 26, 1912 – December 1, 1976)[1] was an American writer and author of Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel[2] who worked in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. The OSS was the predecessor organization to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).


Scott was born in 1912 and was the son of Scott Nearing and Nellie Marguerite Seeds Nearing.

Soviet experience[edit]

Behind the Urals: An American in Russia's City of Steel[edit]

After leaving the University of Wisconsin in 1931 [3] Scott migrated to the Soviet Union September 1932 at the age of 20.[4] He worked for 5 years in the new industrial city Magnitogorsk at an iron and steel plant.[5] In 1938, with regret, he left the mills to escape arrest by the NKVD only after lengthy council with a confidant who concluded: "Better leave. This is no place for foreigners now."[6] The next day his wife Mariya Ivanovna Dikareva applied for permission to go to the United States to live, which took four years to come through, and in 1942 the two moved to America.[6]

Scott wrote Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel about his experiences in Magnitogorsk, presenting the Stalinist enterprise of building a huge steel producing plant and city as an awe-inspiring triumph of collectivism. Scott contributed to the construction of Magnitogorsk as a welder working in treacherous conditions. His writing reflects the painful human price of industrial accidents, overwork, and the inefficiency of the hyperindustrialization program, the wretched condition of peasants driven from the land in the collectivization program and forced into becoming industrial laborers, and the harshness of the ideological purges.

In Behind the Urals Scott recalls many examples of the danger workers faced in Magnitogorsk:

I was just going to start welding when I heard someone sing out, and something swished down past me. It was a rigger who had been working on the very top. He bounced off the bleeder pipe, which probably saved his life. Instead of falling all the way to the ground, he landed on the main platform about fifteen foot below me. By the time I got down to him, blood was coming out of his mouth in gushes. He tried to yell, but could not.[7]

According to Scott, Stalin chose to industrialize Magnitogorsk for several reasons, and integrated the construction of Magnitogorsk into a five-year economic plan. First, Stalin began to emphasize industrial modernization in favor of agriculture by the mid-1930s. Second, Magnitogorsk was rich in iron ore and other minerals. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Magnitogorsk lies far from any borders and was less vulnerable to enemy attack.

The Russian people shed blood, sweat, and tears to create something else, a modern industrial base outside the reach of an invader—Stalin's Ural Stronghold—and modern mechanized army...the population was taught by a painful and expensive process to work efficiently, to obey orders, to mind their own business, and to take it on the chin when necessary with a minimum of complaint. These are the things that it takes to fight a modern war.[8]

These experiences, however, did not disillusion Scott with Soviet communism which he believed was "the source of initiative and energy which drove work forward."[9] Scott expressed a deep sense of pride for his contributions as a welder in Magnitogorsk [10] and was sympathetic to many Soviet ideologies. Reflecting back on the poor working conditions, loss of life, and ideological purges Scott concluded that "it was worthwhile to shed blood, sweat, and tears" to lay "the foundations for a new society farther along the road of human progress than anything in the West; a society which would guarantee its people not only personal freedom but absolute economic security."[11] After leaving Magnitogorsk in 1938, Scott spent the next four years in Moscow as a self-proclaimed "observer".[12]

In early 1938 Scott contributed information which appeared in three dispatches from the United States Embassy in Moscow to the State Department.[13] The three dispatches date January 28, February 8, March 10 of 1938 and cover an array of topics including the forced labor colony in Magnitogorsk;[14] activities of Soviet secret police,[15] participation in "wrecking", that is, industrial sabotage;[16] food stores;[17] and the production capabilities of the metallurgical plant in Magnitogorsk.[18] In 1942 Scott moved back to the United States with his wife and two children.[19]

The Venona Project[edit]

Amongst nearly 1,300 messages sent between New York and Moscow in 1942, just twenty-three were successfully decrypted and translated by the National Security Agency's Venona Project.[20] A cable sent from New York to Moscow on May 22, 1942 addressed to code name "Viktor", who was the director of Soviet Intelligence during World War II Lieutenant General Pavel Fitin,[21] credited "Ivanov" with delivering "a mass of materials on the Soviet war industry".[22] Nearly three years later cable number 207 sent from Moscow to a Soviet Intelligence office in New York on March 8, 1945 revealed that the cover name "Ivanov" was in fact John Scott [23] "Ivanov" also happened to be the name of Scott's foreman in Magnitogorsk.[24]


Time magazine[edit]

Whittaker Chambers claimed that Scott tried to influence Time Magazine publisher Henry Luce to remove Chambers as foreign news editor because of Chambers' anti-communist and anti-Soviet views.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sanders, Jack. "John Scott Memorial". Find a Grave. Retrieved February 17, 2014. 
  2. ^ Scott, John (1942). Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-20536-0. 
  3. ^ Scott 1942, p. 3.
  4. ^ Scott 1942, p. 5.
  5. ^ Scott 1942, p.253.
  6. ^ a b Scott 1942, p.230.
  7. ^ Scott 1942, p.19-20.
  8. ^ Scott 1942, p.266.
  9. ^ Scott 1942, p.83.
  10. ^ Scott 1942, p.249.
  11. ^ Scott 1942, p.248.
  12. ^ Scott 1942, p.248-249.
  13. ^ Scott 1942, p. 280-306.
  14. ^ Scott 1942, p. 280.
  15. ^ Scott 1942, p. 303.
  16. ^ Scott 1942, p. 290.
  17. ^ Scott 1942, p. 302.
  18. ^ Scott 1942, p. 305.
  19. ^ Scott 1942, p.248-49.
  20. ^ "The Venona Story" (PDF). NSA: Center for Cryptologic History. Retrieved February 14, 2014. 
  21. ^ "Venona 195 New York to Moscow 9 February 1944" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-02-14. 
  22. ^ Haynes, John Earl. "Cables Decrypted by the National Security Agency's Venona Project" (PDF). Retrieved February 14, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Venona 207 Moscow to New York 8 March 1945". 
  24. ^ Scott 1942, p. 17.
  25. ^ Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. Random House. p. 498. ISBN 0-89526-571-0. 


  • John Scott, Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (1941).
  • Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. Random House. ISBN 0-89526-571-0. 
  • Sam Tanenhaus, Whittaker Chambers, New York: Random House (1997), pg. 182.
  • John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, New Haven: Yale University Press, (1999), pgs. 194, 195, 237.

Further reading[edit]