BOLSHEVISM inherited a truly catastrophic situation, in which the outstanding factors were famine, reduction of the grainfields, ruined industry and transport, a fall in the value of paper money with a corresponding rise in the cost of living, boundless speculation in shares and in exchange, and spontaneous demobilisation. These were not favourable conditions for what Trotsky, in the enthusiasm caused by the victory of the revolution in October, called an "unprecedented experiment."
There was no magic solution for the problem. The era of violence and suffering inaugurated by the War of 1914 was merely entering on a new phase. Once more history demonstrated the impossibility of social transformation by peaceful means. The resistance of the propertied classes at home and the hostility of the capitalist world abroad dissipated any hope of escaping regular civil war. And the harsh regulations of a state of war were to take the place of the promises of the Lenin programme. Victory must come before conversion, blows before persuasion.
The Bolsheviks had promised the immediate convocation of a Constituent Assembly; they had to defer it, then to dissolve it. They protested against the death penalty in the army; they reinstated it after having suppressed it, and then instituted it for civilians as well as soldiers. They offered violent opposition to the transfer of the capital to Moscow; they themselves afterwards carried it out. They recognised the right of independence for nationalities; they encouraged separation only to reintegrate them by force of arms. They vehemently denounced a separate peace; they were constrained to sign one. They were on the other hand committed to a war of revolution; they could not keep their word. They demanded a "democratic" peace; they had to submit to a "shameful" peace. They promised the land to the peasants; they were to confiscate the products. As for the abolition of the police, of the standing army and of bureaucracy, it was indefinitely postponed; the institutions condemned by Lenin were to survive under other names: the Extraordinary Commission (Cheka), the Red Army, the Soviet bureaucracy.
In other words the Bolshevik programme, admittedly, could not be translated at the moment from theory into practice, however sincere its promoters might be. The only realisable and actually accomplished step, the seizure of power, was related to a unique combination of circumstances. "If we had not seized power in October, we should never have obtained it," admitted Trotsky. In Lenin's words the whole thing hung by a hair.
Diverted by the Civil War from the line of action they had laid down beforehand, the Bolsheviks could do no more than execute their plan of socialisation by stages, beginning with the control of production by the workers. The immediate vital necessities which drove them to the momentary sacrifice of principle, without committing themselves as to the future, also drove them to desperate improvisation in the economic field. The inevitability of this radical action had been foreseen by Jaures:
Whenever unexpected events, similar to the historic disturbance of 1871, carry the socialist proletarians to power, they would be compelled to accomplish or at least to attempt a social revolution by the transformation of the system of private property. It would be useless to say that perhaps not the whole peasant class was prepared, that perhaps even in the working class there were too many inert and non-conscious elements; they would be compelled by the very logic of socialism to use the power which historical events had put into their hands for the complete transformation of property.
The February (March) Revolution failed in the eyes of the people because it had failed to realise the truth formulated in Kropotkin's Memoirs: "A Revolution must from its inception be an act of justice towards the ill-treated and the oppressed, and not a promise to perform this act of reparation later on. If not, it is sure to fail." The October (November) Revolution thus failed to fulfil its engagements, though only after having at least demonstrated the intention and desire to keep them. And when growing popular discontent put it in peril, it succeeded in maintaining itself, not by words, but by combining, in opportunist fashion, vigorous repression with cleverly conceived concessions. The Jacobins among the proletariat had profited by some of the lessons of history.
In fact, with their decrees on the subjects of peace and land, approved at the Second Congress of Soviets, the Bolsheviks displayed their anxiety to carry out when in power the promises they had made in opposition. The decree on a democratic peace could not provide such a peace, which must be determined by international conditions and the relative strength of the belligerents. The decree on the land could not provide a socialist solution of the agrarian question by consolidating the capitalism which the new regime aimed at limiting and eventually abolishing. But illusions shared alike by the Bolsheviks and the masses were at first satisfied by symbolic gestures. As these illusions vanished, the young Soviet Government found new means of strength in breaking all opposition by force, without pursuing any particular course of action to the bitter end, and, before as after the coup d'etat, by taking advantage of the colossal mistakes of their predecessors. But they had gradually to abandon their initial programme.
Five days after the October insurrection, Kerensky, with his customary foresight, had proclaimed that "Bolshevism is breaking up, it is isolated, and, as an organised force, it no longer exists, even at Petrograd." The whole of the "cultured classes," the socialist and other political parties, upper, middle and lower classes of the bourgeoisie, the Allied embassies and missions, all shared this opinion, which was voiced abroad by press correspondents and official and non-official news services.
The avowed reactionaries had refrained from active assistance to the Provisional Government; General Headquarters waited to see what would happen, and the Cossacks in the capital had declared neutrality, reserving the right to act on their own account. Troops, the strength of which was unknown, under General Krasnov, were marching on Petrograd, raising alarm in some quarters, hope in others. A general strike of State officials and employees paralysed public administration. The railwaymen's and the postal servants' unions demanded a Coalition Socialist Government, under the threat of depriving the new Government, the Council of People's Commissars, of transport and communications.
At this critical moment, Lenin saw arrayed against him in his own Party the Old Bolsheviks, who were also supporters of a "Socialist Government of all the Soviet parties," and of agreement between Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Left and Right Wing Social Revolutionaries. Ten days after the coup d'etat, while negotiations for the sharing of power were in full swing, eleven out of fifteen People's Commissars handed in their portfolios, saying: "There is only one other course, the maintenance of a purely Bolshevik Government by means of political terrorism." Rykov, Nogin, Miliutin, Shliapnikov and their colleagues added: "This policy diverts the organisations of the masses of the proletariat from the direction of political affairs, and leads to the establishment of an irresponsible Government, to the ruin of the revolution and of the country."
Kamenev, Zinoviev, Rykov, Nogin and Miliutin resigned from the Central Committee of the Party, accusing its directing group, that is, Lenin and Trotsky supported by Sverdlov, Dzerzhinsky, Stalin and Bukharin, of "desiring at all costs a purely Bolshevik Government without counting the number of worker and soldier victims it may cost." By their resignation they hoped to put a stop at the earliest moment to the "bloodshed between the various democratic parties." The "Left" Bolshevik, Lunacharsky, had preceded them by resigning from the Council of Commissars on hearing the false news of the bombardment of a church in Moscow. Shliapnikov signed the protest without resigning. Riazanov also protested, but he was not an inveterate Bolshevik and protested because he felt obligations to the railwaymen's union, which he had helped to found. At Gachina the People's Commissar, Dybenko, concluded a compromise with Krasnov's Cossacks, admitting the temporary removal of Lenin and Trotsky from the Government and even from the assemblies of the people.
In fact Bolshevik principles no longer committed anybody to anything. Strategy superseded political loyalty. Lenin and Trotsky especially were playing for time, which spelled victory.
With this end in view they agreed to send delegates to the congresses of conciliation convoked by the railwaymen, and they did not refuse to constitute a Coalition Government, though they continued to insist on irreductible fundamental conditions as against the personal political conditions formulated by the socialists, so as to prolong negotiations until the moment came to take another tone and saddle their rivals with the responsibility of the inevitable breach. The blindness of their opponents made the Bolshevik tactics easier. There was equal intransigence on both sides. The victors desired confirmation of their fundamental decrees on the questions of peace and land; the vanquished proposed to decapitate the revolution by removing only Lenin and Trotsky. But these two had long ago taken the measure of their talkative adversaries and were the cleverer tacticians.
They were still too optimistic over the prospects of international revolution, but they were not under any illusion about Russia, and, at this decisive moment, they surveyed the situation dispassionately. They saw the profound apathy in the urban population, proved by the recent municipal elections, in which in some places more than two-thirds of the electorate did not vote; a wave of anarchy in the country districts, taking shape in sanguinary riots, pillage, lynchings and pogroms; a peasant mass suspicious but kept quiet in the provinces by the sharing out of the land and at the Front by promises of peace; nationalism in Finland, Ukraine, the Baltic provinces and the Caucasus satisfied by the right to secede; town soviets bolshevised but elected less and less by the working-class majority; trade unions, weak and too recently formed to assume an independent role; and they saw their enemies, whether socialists, liberals or reactionaries, divided and disorganised, and incapable of quick action. The struggle was between small forces on either side. The soldiers and sailors were masters of the situation.
Trotsky did not hesitate to speak frankly of the soldier as the man "in whose hands power rests." The coup d'etat had been an essentially military proceeding, carried out under the orders of a military committee against a government with no military protection. "The inhabitants slept peaceably," said Trotsky, "without realising that power had passed from one body to another." The former police force was dissolved, and no new force existed to thwart the conspiracy. The attackers were hardly more warlike than the attacked; they spent a whole day in capturing the Winter Palace which might have been taken in a few minutes. Two or three point-blank shots from a cruiser would have sown terror in the Democratic camp. In Moscow the struggle was uselessly prolonged by the indecisive character of the Bolshevik action. Elsewhere, in the provinces, a telegram was sufficient to secure a change of government. The "battle" in Petrograd between Reds and Whites, and the capture of Tsarskoye Selo, admirable themes for grandiloquent communique, were really only feeble skirmishes followed by the occupation of a village already evacuated.
Lenin was not wrong in saying: "It was easy to begin revolutions in such a country, easier than lifting a feather." For its continuation a respite was necessary to create the machinery of coercion lacking under the preceding Government; the Red Guard and the sailors served as such pending the organisation of the Cheka, the revolutionary police. Lastly, "the primitive sheep instinct of the Russians," as Engels said, was a destined source of strength for the strongest. There was no longer any question of the "peaceful competition" of parties in the soviets (Lenin had already said so). The Bolsheviks were determined to keep power at all costs, if necessary by the means employed to seize it. The parallel drawn by Lenin between the 130,000 rural landlords of yesterday and the 240,000 Bolsheviks of today, now raised to 400,000, was verified beyond all expectation; in both cases, despite class differences, the political domination of an exiguous minority implies certain analogous consequences.
The negotiations for conciliation gave time to meet the most pressing difficulties and to forge an embryo mechanism of government. Among the negotiators on the Bolshevik side, Kamenev and Riazanov sincerely believed in the necessity of compromise. On the contrary Lenin and Trotsky foresaw the failure of any collaboration of this kind, without disdaining at least a temporary alliance with the Left Social Revolutionaries. Stalin took part in these diplomatic manoeuvres as confidential agent of the "clandestine directing circle," with instructions to make concessions in form while conceding nothing in principle. His principal characteristics, astuteness and firmness, made him an efficient agent for such a task. Lenin understood how to make the best use of the qualities and the defects of his followers.
The Bolshevik Central Committee declared themselves ready, under certain conditions, to form "a coalition within the limits of the soviets," not only with the various socialists of the Left but with those of the Right. Before constituting the Council of Commissars it had, indeed, invited in vain three Social Revolutionaries of the Left to join it. The demands of the Moderates made agreement impossible, and left the leading role to the Bolsheviks, who thus gained appreciable support for their Government from the Left Social Revolutionaries.
Lenin, a past master in the art of "negotiating and fighting simultaneously," strengthened his position in all quarters under cover of the truce. He had directed the first military operations with Trotsky and Stalin as his lieutenants, Trotsky at the front, Stalin in the rear, each where his best qualities were most useful; Trotsky as leader because of his personal magnetism as a leader of men, his masculine power of initiative and his inspiring courage, and Stalin in the rear because of his worth as a punctual, diligent, rigorous organiser, and as an energetic and reliable executive. At the same time he himself faced the deserters from his old group of "professional revolutionaries," the Zinovievs, Kamenevs and Rykovs; in violent philippics he roused opinion in the Party against them, reducing them first to silence and at last to submission. In his anxiety to bring about preliminaries of peace with Germany he overthrew the obstacle of the Army Headquarters by wireless as it were, by appealing to the troops over the heads of their officers; here again he had assistance from Stalin in the manoeuvre executed by Krylenko. Finally, heedless of democratic hesitations and scruples in the Bolshevik ranks, he tackled resolutely the primary conditions of every dictatorship, restriction of the freedom of the press. No one at that time dared to envisage total suppression.
Immediately after the coup d'etat there arose the question of abolishing the "bourgeois monopoly of the press," an expression paradoxical enough in Bolshevik journals with large circulations. "Every group of citizens should possess its own printing press and materials," declared Trotsky. Lenin himself asserted that "now that the insurrection is over, we have no intention whatever of suppressing the journals of the other Socialist parties except in case of incitement to armed rebellion or sedition." A press decree, drawn up by Lenin, gave the express assurance that "immediately the new order is consolidated, all administrative pressure on the press will be at an end; complete liberty of the press will be established on the principle of legal responsibility, on the widest and most advanced principles." Meanwhile the attack against democratic principles on which Lenin and Trotsky prided themselves, met with protests even in the camp of Bolshevism, which still bore the name of Social-Democracy. But he had an incontrovertible argument for his insistencethe Red Guard and the sailors.
The whole of the non-Bolshevik press abused and vilified the usurpers." Only the journals of the Right had been suspended, but the others felt their interests assailed by the attack on the freedom of the press. Articles Of Gorky, a former Left Bolshevik, give an idea of the general point of view, and sum up the average opinion held by the socialist revolutionary intelligentsia: "Lenin, Trotsky and their disciples are already intoxicated with the poison of power as is proved by their shameful attitude towards liberty of speech, personal freedom, and all the rights for which Democracy has fought." In the same Novaya Zhizn, in the pages of which he had defended the fugitive Lenin after the days of July, Gorky described the Bolsheviks as "blind fanatics, conscienceless adventurers," and Bolshevism as a "national disaster."
He denounced the "vanity of Lenin's promises ... the extent of his madness ... his anarchism on the Nechayev and Bakunin model," and his government as an "autocracy of savages." He expressed passionate indignation over their first steps in dictatorship. "Lenin and his acolytes," he said, "think they have licence to commit every crime." "How," he asked, "does Lenin's conduct with regard to freedom of speech differ from that of Stolypin, Plehve and other caricatures of humanity? Does not Lenin send to jail all those who do not think as he does, just as the Romanovs did?"
Friend of Lenin as he was, he wrote of him in these terms: "Lenin is not an all-powerful healer, but a cynical conjurer caring nothing for the honour or the life of the proletariat." Lenin, he adds, has all the dualities of a leader, "especially the amorality essential to the part, and the country gentleman's scorn for the life of the masses." The Leninists are no better, for the "working classes are for them what minerals are for the mineralogist." He clings to the comparison with Nechavev. "Vladimir Lenin," he says, "is introducing the socialist regime into Russia by Nechayev's methodsat full steam through mud. Lenin, Trotsky and all the others who accompany them to destruction in the slough of realism are evidently, like Nechayev, convinced that dishonour is the best way of persuading a Russian. .. ." He takes pleasure in likening Bolshevism to Tsarism: "by threats of starvation and massacre for all those who do not approve of the Lenin-Trotsky despotism, these leaders justify the despotic power against which the best elements is the country have so long been struggling."
In reply to the reproaches of certain partisans of the new regime Gorky said: "Novaya Zhizn has asserted and will continue to assert that the requisite conditions for the introduction of socialism are non-existent in our country, and that the Government at the Smolny Institute treats the Russian workman as if he were a log; it sets light to the logs to see if the flame of European revolution can be kindled on the Russian hearth." He fearlessly warns the workers on repeated occasions and in varying terms: "The Russian proletariat is being subjected to an experiment which it must pay for in blood, life, and, what is worse, in lasting disillusion with regard to the socialist ideal."
Another Bolshevik of the Left, Bazarov, a colleague of Gorky's, wrote of Lenin in the same paper: "He is an incurable madman, signing decrees as head of the Russian Government instead of undergoing hydrotherapeutic treatment under the care of an experienced alienist." Such is the tone of all representatives of traditional socialism in Russia and elsewhere, among them many of Lenin's former comrades-in-arms.
Lenin did indeed sign many decrees which remained a dead letter. He himself said later on: "For a considerable period our decrees were a form of propaganda." According to Trotsky, he attempted by these decrees to cover the whole field of economic, political, administrative and cultural life. "He was not animated," says Trotsky, "by a passion for bureaucratic regimentation but by a desire to develop the Party programme in terms of law." Nevertheless the programme day by day was losing its initial content and tending exclusively to a single aim, the maintenance in power of the Bolshevik Party.
THE Council of People's Commissars was, in the idea of its creators and in the letter of the Constitutional Law adopted by the Congress of Soviets, a Provisional Government pending the convening of the Constituent Assemblya solemn undertaking forgotten, as so many others, before and after, were forgotten. Lenin considered it as necessarily subordinate ipso facto to the sovereign Party, that is to the Bolshevik Central Committee. Therefore he thought it unnecessary himself to become a member of it. This was not modesty on his part but in keeping with the division of labour. He proposed to nominate as President of the Council Trotsky, as the person best fitted to vitalise the fundamental decisions of the Party, and did not himself finally accept the post except under the unanimous pressure of the Central Committee.
None of the leaders had any conception of the various organs of the revolutionary dictatorship. It was a period of extreme confusion, of groping, of improvisation in the domain of government. There was no historical precedent, no scientific recipe for reference, and the example of the Commune of 1871, so often mentioned, only offered vague and general indications. Neither Lenin nor Trotsky believed a commissariat of Foreign Affairs to be necessary. The departments of State were entrusted to administrators, not to representative men or to political heads. This partly explains why the majority of the Commissars found themselves in opposition to Lenin and Trotsky from the very beginning on the essential question of the division of power. But the fact that this opposition had no influence on the march of events and that Lenin was easily able to ignore it suffices to show where the real power lay. By formulating the idea of a homogeneous Bolshevik Government, after having for tactical reasons allowed a week's discussion, Lenin intimidated the advocates of an entente with the Right Wing Socialists by the significant remark: "If there is a breach, so much the worse: we shall go to the sailors."
Gradually the Central Committee of the Party and the Council of Commissars ended by carrying out the same functions, and the latter became the instrument of the former. Only the presence of the Left Social Revolutionaries on the Council secured an appearance of respect for existing constitutional forms. But for some months the Council of Commissars, with Lenin and Trotsky as its principal members, had the semblance of power. During the Civil War, the same group of men, overwhelmed by the chaotic state of affairs and by their tasks, were to assume ah responsibilty, to direct everything, and juridical distinctions lost all meaning. Effective power was concentrated in fact in the small directing group of which Lenin was the centre, in the Central Committee, For the settlement of urgent questions a Political Bureau of four members was nominated, but under the obligation to consult all the members of the Central Committee present at any given moment in the Smolny Institute. It was a quarter consisting of Lenin, Trotsky, Sverdlov and Stalin, and underwent modification from time to time in accordance with the course of internecine struggles in Russia. In the distribution of government work Stalin was entrusted with the Nationalities question. For this reason he took charge of the journal, The Life of the Nationalities, which was the organ of this commissariat. His colleague Pestkovsky has related how, in putting his services at the disposal of the Soviet power at the outset, he made Stalin's acquaintance:
"Comrade Stalin," I said, "you are People's Commissar for Nationalities'" "Yes." "And have you a Commissariat?" "No." "Then I will make you one." "Good, what do you need for that purpose?" "For the moment only a chit indicating concurrence." "Good!"
This dialogue reflects with exactitude the state of the governmental services at the time and one of Stalin's master qualities-his economy of words, so remarkable in a nation of talkers and above all during a general fever of oratory. Pestkovsky goes on to describe the installation of the Commissariat in a room in the Smolny Institute already occupieda small table, two chairs and a sheet of paper fixed on the wall with the inscription: "People's Commissariat for the business of Nationalities." "Stalin agreed, glanced at the Commissariat, uttered a sound indicative either of approbation or the reverse, and went back to Lenin's room." The remark indicates Stalin's skill in concealing his views.
The sketchy character of the Commissariat of Nationalities corresponded with the general aspect of new institutions; in fact it was almost sufficient for the functions of the Commissariat. Indeed Stalin's activity was absorbed by the invisible labours of the Central Committee. In the ministerial scheme his job was to represent the Government either personally or by deputy at the Congresses, assemblies and people's committees of the different nationalities. The Commissariat exchanged messages with them, received delegations of Letts and Ukrainians, Jews and Tartars, Lapps and Bashkirs, classified claims and grievances which were soon lost in the torrent of such documents at this period.
At the Finnish Social-Democratic Congress in November, Stalin, as mouthpiece of the Council of Commissars, launched an appeal for decisive action in the seizure of power by the Helsingfors workers, promising them the fraternal assistance of the Russian proletariat; two months later the advice was followed, but, for want of the promised aid, the Finnish Revolution was literally drowned in blood and the workers' movement crushed by the White Terror. Stalin's signature accompanied Lenin's on the Declaration of Rights of the Russian People, asserting "willing and honourable union" and "complete and reciprocal confidence," and then, at the foot of the manifesto "To the Mussulman Workers of Russia and the Orient," repudiating Imperialist Russian aims in Persia and Turkevdocuments which were then useful for purposes of agitation and propaganda and now have retrospective interest for the evolution of Bolshevism from theory to practice.
In this matter Lenin's doctrine, which Stalin had to carry out, was hesitant, confused and contradictory. In opposition to the Austrian Social-Democrats, defenders of "cultural national autonomy" within the frame of existing States, and in opposition to the Left Social-Democrats of his own Party in Russia and Poland who had no interest in particularist nationalisms, Lenin had maintained the old democratic formula of the right of peoples to self-determination, as if, for a Marxist that did not signify the right of the ruling classes to dispose of the ruled and, in some cases, the right of one country to involve the fate of its neighbour.
In 1913, in a letter to S. Shaumian, he repudiated federalism in these terms: "We stand for unconditional democratic centralisation. We are opposed to federation. We are for the Jacobins against he Girondins. We oppose federation on principle; it weakens economic bonds, and is not a desirable type of State.... Generally speaking, we are against separation, but for the right of separation, because of Great Russian reactionary nationalism...." But in 1917, in The State and the Revolution, he admits, in conformity with the teaching of Marx and Engels, the necessity of federation by way of exception or as a transitional stage towards the "Republic one and indivisible." He preaches simultaneously separation as a right and federation as a duty. Next year he did not hesitate to declare, contrary to his former declaration, that "the interests of socialism are indeed superior to the right of self-determination," Stalin was content to follow these variations obediently.
After having, as opponents of federation, created a federal republic, the Bolsheviks saw the impossibility of maintaining it without trampling on the reactionary nationalisms they had themselves stimulated. The bourgeoisie of Finland and the Ukraine and later of other neighbouring countries, appealed to German imperialism against the revolutionary movement, and Soviet Russia had to reply by armed intervention. The same thing happened with regard to the rights of nationalities as to other parts of Lenin's programmes: in a very short time practice bore no relation to theory. And Stalin, the theoretical advocate of the right of peoples to independence, became the executant of the right of the Soviet State to impose itself by arms on reactionary nations.
Rosa Luxemburg had indicated the impasse into which Bolshevik policy had strayed. Lenin's motto, she said, was in gross contradiction with the democratic centralisation proclaimed elsewhere and with the glacial scorn showered on other democratic liberties. This "hollow phraseology" tended in reality towards the breaking up of Russia into fragments without any advantage to socialism; on the contrary it provided water for the counter-revolutionary mill. By suppressing the right of public meeting, the liberty of the press, and universal suffrage, the Bolsheviks refused the Russian people the right of self-determination advocated for other nations. At the same time they delivered over the masses to reactionary demagogy, and thus provided their own enemies "with the dagger which these were to plunge in the heart of the Russian Revolution." Their nationalist formula, whether utopian or mere mystification, helped forward bourgeois domination, for, under capitalism, each class seeks "self-determination" after its own fashion, and the bourgeoisie has a thousand means of influencing a popular vote, for the same reasons which make it for ever impossible to establish socialism by a plebiscite. Rosa Luxemburg concluded: "The tragic consequences of this phraseology introduced into the Russian Revolution, from the thorns of which the Bolsheviks were to receive bloody wounds, should serve as a warning to the international proletariat."
Neither Lenin nor Trotsky attempted to refute this argument of a revolutionary of their own school, who was, they admitted, one of the most eminent Marxists of the day. Still less did Stalin attempt any reply, though the national question was the principal theme of his writings at that time and had played an essential part in his life as a militant. The collection of his writings on the subject would be worth studying in detail if there were to be found in them anything but paraphrases of the opportunist views expressed by Lenin, in which theory is adapted to the tactical pre-occupation of the dislocation of the Empire and the discovery of temporary allies among the revolutionary classes and if facts had not eventually annulled words.
There are certain indications, nevertheless, that Stalin, if left to himself, would have inclined to the "Left" position of Bukharin and Pyatakov, who were sometimes charged by the Leninists with Muscovite Imperialism for denying to the subject nations the right of secession. This was especially evident at the time of the drafting of the constitution of the Republic of Soviets and in the debates of Congress. But these matters are hardly worth detailed examination, because the final decision always lay with Lenin, and Stalin made no original contribution to the subject; his political action will provide occasion for judging him by his achievement.
Another section of Pestkovsky's recollections, eight years after the first, presents Stalin as Commissar for Nationalities. This differs from the earlier one in its tendencious nature, characteristic of many writings of the time intended to be useful in internecine struggles. In it Stalin appears as a friendly and tolerant advocate against his colleagues in the Commissariat afflicted with the "Leftness" which Lenin called an infantile disease of communism. When his patience was exhausted by interminable discussions, Stalin disappeared, saying he was "going out for a minute," and did not return; his colleagues had no alternative but to close the meeting. It was a typical Oriental method of avoiding a definite decision. Stalin spent the greater part of his time with Lenin first at the Smolny Institution, then at the Kremlin, but the Nationalities question was not the most absorbing topic of discussion. Lenin had innumerable problems to solve, and needed diligent men to execute his orders; Stalin was one of the most valuable of his immediate collaborators in this matter.
In the Memoirs of Kote Tsintsadze, Kamo's redoubtable comrade in the Caucasus, there is an illuminating passage on Lenin's actual practice on the national question, more valuable than the compact theses and the voluminous reports in which Stalin specialised. He said:
After the October coup d'etat, I left Georgia for Petrograd with a letter from Shaumian in order to see Stalin and Lenin. I found Stalin alone in the office, but after a while Lenin came in, and Stalin introduced me with the words: "This is Kote, the former Georgian terrorist expropriator." "Ah! tell us about Georgia," said Lenin. When I got to the incident of the capture of the Tiflis arsenal by the Mensheviks, Lenin cut me short. "What, you surrendered the arsenal to the Mensheviks?" However much I tried to explain the causes of the capture of the arsenal, he kept on saying: "But you surrendered the arsenal to the Mensheviks???" Then Kamo came in. Lenin was in a hurry, took his leave, saying to Stalin: "Don't keep them waiting; take all the necessary measures without delay." We decided not to stay more than two days. We were provided with some millions of Tsarist roubles and they gave us Colonel Sheremetyev as military director of Transcaucasia, with special reference to Georgia. We left.
This needs no comment. The right of self-determination, a two-edged weapon, was turned in Transcaucasia against its advocates, and that classic ground of national antagonisms justified Rosa Luxemburg against Lenin only too well. Class struggles complicated by racial struggles in a historic situation in which the rivalries of world powers intervened in the smaller conflicts was no matter for democratic solution. All the various parties in the Caucasus appealed for outside aid, and violent intervention was to provide the denouement of the tragedy. The first secret Bolshevik manoeuvres to sovietise his native land were taken by Stalin in person, and, by a fateful irony, against the Georgian Social-Democracy of which he was the offspring.
Georgia had not followed Russia in her evolution towards Bolshevism,and revolution. Fear of Turkish invasion created circumstances unfavourable to defeatism by giving definite local meaning to the idea of national defence. For a long time the only influence the Bolsheviks had was among the soldiers, mostly Russian, who were war-weary and naturally anxious to get home. But the unwarlike garrison of Tiflis allowed the arsenal to be captured and disarmed by a few hundred determined socialist workmen who formed a "People's Guard," as Bolshevik workmen had formed a Red Guard in Russia. Both Guards filled their respective missionsthe maintenance of order for the benefit of the ruling party, with different aims but by identical means.
The Georgian Mensheviks, uncontested masters of the country, regarded their Party as merely a regional section of the Pan-Russian Social-Democracy. At Petrograd, where Chkheidze and Tseretelli were their best known representatives in the first Soviet and in the Provisional Government, they stood firm for a Russian Republic "one and indivisible," even against the very legitimate claims of Finland. After the October Revolution, although they had no "centrifugal" tendencies and were hostile to Lenin's views on the national question, they retreated across the Caucasus to join an ephemeral grouping of Georgia, Armenia and Azeybailan. When the Russian advocates of separation became country snatchers by revolutionary necessity, the Georgian advocates of Greater Russia became separatists in order to defend their democracy. Like Lenin, but in the opposite direction, Tseretelli felt himself driven, by the inexorable necessity of the political and the social struggle in time of revolution, to take action contrary to his programme.
"Hatred of Bolshevism was the reason why Transcaucasia made itself independent of Russia," said the socialist, Albert Thomas. But the immediate cause of the Balkanisation of the Caucasus, and of the incessant disturbances and wars, which were to end in the negation of the pseudo-principle of nationalities, was less important than the distant causes. Elisee Reclus had already indicated them in his impartial, monumental work: "The geographical situation of Georgia hardly permitted its peoples to maintain their independence and form a single nation with satisfactory boundaries." Since these words were written, the Baku oil-wells have reinforced the geographical reasons by economic considerations founded on the geological formation of the country. Neither neutrality nor independence was possible in the era of imperialism.
The bridge between Europe and Asia, as Jordania called her, Transcaucasia could not fix her own future without the help of one of the Great Powers whose interests were concerned. The national question, always a burning and acute one in these regions, merely multiplied pretexts for external intervention. The Armenians, in fear of the Turks, called in the Russians; the Mussulman Tartars, in fear of Russia, called in the Turks; the Georgians, in fear of the Turks and the Russians, called in first the Germans and then the English. Moreover, Armenians, Tartars and Georgians, in local competition, fought among themselves. The Russians on their frontiers were of two kinds, Reds and Whites. In the interior, Bolshevism was making headway and undermining fragile States. In spite of implacable repression, peasant insurrections followed one another. Foreign military and civil missions poured oil on the flames by mutually thwarting their intrigues. The theoretical Bolshevik solution of the national question then could settle nothing and itself propounded an insoluble question: whose right was it to determine what? "Does the right of self-determination mean the right to injure one's neighbours with impunity?" This question addressed by Trotsky to the Georgian Mensheviks was also an unconscious answer to Lenin.
THE squaring of the national circle was insoluble without belying theory in practice. The agrarian question also was settled by a tactical expedient postponing difficulties instead of overcoming them. The Land Decree abolished the big estates in principle without laying the foundation of collective management. Cultivation by individuals gave the peasant a right to use the soil, a perpetual usufruct equivalent to possession.
Rosa Luxemburg had said of the Leninist solution of the national question: "It is analogous to the Bolshevik policy with regard to the peasants, whose appetite for land it is proposed to settle by permission to take direct possession of the great estates, thus securing their adhesion to the revolution.... Unfortunately the calculation has been absolutely wrong in both cases." Like the territorial dismemberment of the State, the parcelling out of the land was diametrically divergent from the natural tendency towards economic centralisation. Neither Stalin, nor any Bolshevik of the second rank, in their blind following of Lenin and Trotsky, foresaw the future perils from these large strategic plans.
The immediate seizure of land by the peasants has nothing in common with socialism, wrote Rosa Luxemburg in substance: "Not only is it not a socialist measure; it cuts away the path leading to socialism." There was thus established not socialised property, but a new property of individuals, which was technically backward compared with the relatively advanced great estates. The apportionment of the land accentuated inequality instead of tending towards its suppression. The rich peasants, the kulaks, in virtue of their effective supremacy in the village, were assuredly the principal gainers by the agrarian revolution. Socialism would thus have a new and powerful category of enemies in the countryside. The future socialisation of the land, and therefore of production in general, would involve in the future a sharp conflict between the town proletariat and the peasant masses. The course of events was to confirm this reasoning; its final endorsement came ten years later.
Lenin did not deny the opportunist tendency, ii not the opportunism, of his agrarian policy. He had changed his tactics many times on the question. Before 1905 his programme was the most modest among all the Russian socialist programmes. The first revolution convinced him of his error. "Having exactly foreseen the direction of the movement," he said, "we were in error as to the degree of its development." At that time he advocated the confiscation of the great estates for the benefit of the smaller peasants. In his pamphlet, To the Poor Peasants, he wrote: "The Social-Democrats desire to expropriate only the large estate-owners, only those who live on the labour of others. They will never dispossess the small and the 'middle peasant.' " Later on he adopted nationalisation of the land, that is to say general expropriation, even of small properties. Finally, in 1917 he took over the programme of the Social Revolutionaries, his traditional enemies, translating it into action by his famous Decree. This Decree confiscated large landed property, to be placed at the disposal of local agrarian committees and regional peasants' soviets; the final solution was left to the Constituent Assembly; the "peasant memorial" of the Social Revolutionaries, a resume of agrarian claims, served meanwhile as a guide.
In reply to those who reproached him with his change of front, Lenin said of this "memorial": "What does it matter who drew it up? As a democratic government we cannot evade the decision of the masses, even if it is not in accordance with our views." He was frankly to admit a few days later: "We shall not realise the Bolshevik programme: our agrarian policy is drawn from the peasants' memorials." Three years later he explained this change of programme.
At the time of the October Revolution [he said], we had concluded with the petty-bourgeois peasant class a political alliance which, if not formal, was at least quite serious and effective, by accepting en bloc with one modification only, the agrarian programme of the Social Revolutionaries, that is to say by concluding a compromise to prove to the peasants that we in no way desire to impose a regime on them, but on the contrary to come to an understanding with them,
and indeed he was only recognising an accomplished fact, for the peasants were dividing the land without consulting anyone.
In spite of his intention to "prepare the ground in such fashion that no bourgeoisie can ever raise its head again," he had created the conditions for a capitalist renaissance in Russia, in the expectation of a European revolution which would solve the paradoxes of this backward country. He afterwards made the admission: "The peasants have incontestably gained more from the revolution than the working classes... That proves certainly that, up to a point, our revolution was a bourgeois revolution." But in 1917 he subordinated all considerations of principle to the seizure of power, which required the purchase of the sympathy or at least the neutrality of rural Russia. In Trotsky's arresting phrase, "the young Russian proletariat was only able to accomplish its task at that time by dragging with it the heavy mass of the peasantry, just as one drags out a lump of earth with the roots of a tree."
Lenin was evidently preoccupied with other considerations in decreeing his earliest governmental measures. Without any illusions as to achieving socialism along the path into which circumstances had led him, he expected to be able to diverge from that path when the progress of the socialist revolution was assured in the west. He said repeatedly that the extension of the international revolution would put Russia in the position of a backward Soviet country. And he set himself to hold on as best he could until the fall of capitalism in Europe, which seemed to him to be assured in the immediate future. This conviction accounts for all the actions contradictory to his programme; where others saw hasty change of front in cynical repudiation, he conceived himself as faithful to his aim while temporarily changing his methods. To his mind tactics were infinitely variable, and this "doctrinaire," often accused of dogmatism, liked to quote a phrase from Goethe's Faust: "Theory, my friend, is grey, but the tree of life is eternally green."
The most violent surprise reserved for his opponents and for many of his followers was his domestic policy. For him dictatorship was no empty phrase; he was determined to exercise it through his Party as the mandatory of the poorer classes who had followed his teaching, and to prolong it even when he no longer had their confidence. "The dictatorship of the proletariat presupposes violence against the exploiting classes," he said, but, refusing to be bound by any law, he soon came to use violence against any opposition, even peaceful or legal opposition, against any non-Bolshevik party, whether of workmen or peasants, even against the Social-Democrats whose programme was still accepted by the opposing sections. After having demanded liberty from the socialists when they were in power, on the ground of their principles, he now refused it to them for tactical reasons. The dissolution of the Constituent "may be said to have been the turning-point of this policy," said Rosa Luxemburg, disturbed as to the fate of a revolution which she praised without losing her critical sense.
Under Kerensky, the Constituent Assembly, constantly deferred, became a myth, and the Bolsheviks angrily demanded that it should be summoned. At first sight their demand appeared to be in flagrant contradiction with the demand for power for the soviets. Lenin never made the point clear, but he appears to have envisaged a "composite State" harmonising the Constituent and the soviets, the national and the municipal power; Zinoviev and Kamenev have reported some remarks in this sense. On the morrow of the October Revolution, fidelity to the Constituent was immovable. The principal Soviet Decrees were provisional pending ratification by the Assembly. Lenin declared: "We shall submit all the peace proposals to the decision of the Consituent." Trotsky wrote: "The country can only be saved by a Constituent Assembly representing the exploited working classes." Statements of this kind abound.
The elections yielded unexpected results at Petrograd; more than half the votes went to the supposed "usurpers." The Bolsheviks cherished for the moment the chimerical hope of similar success in the provinces; the support of the Social Revolutionaries of the Left, represented on the Council of Commissars, and the stern action against the Kadets were expected to secure a majority for the Soviet regime. But the results as they came in dispelled the illusion; the peasantry followed tradition in voting for the Social Revolutionaries without making any distinction between Left and Right. Lenin saw the danger, and desired to parry it by the preventive measure of another postponement and a modification of the electoral law. The Central Committee thought otherwise. Bukharin spoke of excluding the Right from the future Assembly and convening the Rump as a Convention. Stalin urged the necessity of getting rid of the Kadets, already outlawed by Decree. Amid the anxiety and hesitancy of the ruling organizations, the idea of dissolving the Constituent made headway.
The Bolsheviks obtained in all a quarter of the votes, but in the two capitals, in the industrial towns, in the army on the principal Fronts and in the fleet they had a majority. As Lenin had foreseen, the distribution of forces assured their preponderance in the decisive quarters. The Social Revolutionaries, with more than half the votes, but scattered over the countryside, remained impotent before the real governing body. The Kadets were numerically the second urban party. The Mensheviks paid disastrously for their errors and compromises, except in the Caucasus, where Georgian Social-Democracy remained invulnerable.
The Constituent Assembly, the dream of many generations of revolutionaries, was adjourned on the day it met, on the demand of a sailor, without having ventured to oppose the Soviet Government's policy on peace and land. The decree of dissolution, signed by Lenin, was received next day. The objections raised by the Bolshevik Right met with no response, and the Third Congress of Soviets automatically sanctioned the operation. Russia remained indifferent, though there were a few mild protests in socialist and liberal circles. Parliamentarism on the western model could not be acclimatised in this enormous and backward country, where the active minority imposed itself without a parliament on a passive majority incapable of insisting on its parliament, under historical conditions in which democracy no longer existed anywhere. The bourgeoisie had postponed the Constituent when the Bolsheviks demanded it, and began to demand it when the Bolsheviks suppressed ita reversal of roles which emphasises the anachronism of an institution inherited from bourgeois revolutionary tradition in other lands and defenceless against the accomplished fact of a new "specifically Russian" system at home.
The supporters of the Constituent expected salvation from a spontaneous break-down of Bolshevism, from an outburst of popular feeling, from some unknown remedy arising from the seriousness of the disease, or, most of them, from help from outside. Gorky justly remarked: "Even now that the people are masters of their fate, they continue to expect a barin; for some of them this barin is the European proletariat; for others, the Germans, the creators of an iron discipline; others think that Japan will save them; no one trusts to his own right arm." The Bolsheviks had the advantage of relying upon themselves, pending the world revolution.
After the event, Trotsky condemned the Constituent as a "belated echo of an epoch outdated by the revolution." The elections had followed too close on the insurrection, the rural districts were ill-informed of the events in the towns, the lumbering machine of democracy did not correctly represent the rapid development of the political situation in a country so vast and so ill-organised. To which Rosa Luxemburg replied, in the name of the principles of Bolshevism, that it was necessary to break the antiquated Constituent and to convoke instead an Assembly derived from a renovated Russia. According to Trotsky, she said, "the body elected by the democracy would always reflect the image of the masses at the date of the elections, just as, according to Herschel, the starry heavens represent the celestial bodies, not as they are when we look at them, but as they were at the moment when they sent their rays from an immeasurabie distance, to our earth." This negation of any living bond between the elected and the electors is contradicted by historical experience, showing that the "living wave of the people's opinion constantly bathes, inspires and directs their representatives." The friendly criticism received no response; the disagreement implied insuperable opposition, not only on the particular issue, but between two conceptions of the revolutionary dictatorship.
In reality, Lenin and Trotsky, equally sincere in summoning and in denouncing the Constituent, had not foreseen the realities corresponding to their abstract formulas, and, by revising the formulas on the basis of actual circumstances, they found justification in the complexity of the facts for the most unpremeditated solutions. Doubtless they did not recollect Plekhanov's forecast at the Social-Democratic Congress of 1903, justifying a future blow at universal suffrage, until they found themselves faced with inevitable civil war. But, again, the conclusion of peace came about quite differently from the way in which they had intended. Another proof of the truth of a pre-Marxist prophetic remark by J. de Maistre: "Men do not so much lead revolutions; revolution leads them."
LENIN had often propounded the dilemma: an honourable, democratic peace or revolutionary war. The Bolsheviks, unanimously convinced that they had to defend their country under a socialist regime, understood such a peace as the end of hostilities without annexations or indemnities and with the right of self-determination for the peoples. German imperialism, in virtue of this right, proposed to support the counter-revolution in Finland, Poland and Ukraine. The theses of Lenin and his disciple Stalin on the national question might be interpreted in an opposite sense. The refusal of the Allies to agree to an armistice preliminary to a peace in which there should be neither victors nor vanquished, drove Russia to choose between a hopeless revolutionary war and the separate peace scorned by intransigent Bolshevism.
The impossibility of reconciling revolution and imperialism was evident at the first meeting at Brest-Litovsk. Clinging to the hope of an imminent social revolution in the west, especially in Germany, the Bolsheviks desired to gain time; they multiplied their appeals to the international proletariat, manifestoes sent out by wireless, which were intercepted and everywhere censored. The German ultimatum cut short these manoeuvres; they had to capitulate to obtain a respite, or to expose themselves to invasion with the certainty of disastrous defeat.
Lenin was the first to grasp the alternative of life and death. On the morrow of the coup d'etat he had sounded a warning against unreasoning optimism. "Our party," he said, "never promised to secure an immediate peace. We said we would immediately make peace proposals and would publish the secret treaties. That has been done; the struggle for peace is beginning." On the approach of danger he had no hesitation in making a frontal attack on the bellicose romanticism of the Party, and resolutely proposed acceptance of a "shameful peace"; for, he said, the socialist Republic required a truce, and revolution in Germany might be delayed.
But his own words on a war of revolution were remembered by the Party, which was disposed to translate them into action. Once more, Lenin was in a minority. Against him were ranged the Left Communists, advocates of breaking off negotiations and of perishing in a life and death struggle rather than compromise with the enemy; among these were the most energetic and able of the militants: Bukharin, Pyatakov, Preobrazhensky, Radek, Joffe, Krestinsky, Dzerzhinsky, Pokrovsky, Ossinsky, Sapronov, Kollontai, and many others, supported in the Soviets by the active section of the Left Social Revolutionaries. Unconsciously the neo-Jacobins were falling into the same political error as the Girondins, denounced first by Marat, and then by Robespierre. In the Central Committee of the Party, Lenin could only rely with certainty on Sverdlov, Stalin, Sokolnikov and Smilga, not counting Zinoviev and Kamenev, who, as "October-deserters," were rather compromising associates. Trotsky, without identifying himself with the Left, took a "centrist" standpoint, which consisted in renouncing battle but without signing peace, and, for the moment, in a prolongation of the Brest negotiations with the idea of publicly demonstrating the incompatibility of the policies of the parties and of encouraging revolutionary activity in the Central Empires.
Stalin prudently followed Lenin. But how? According to Trotsky, he had no settled convictions, but temporised, manoeuvred, and intrigued; he supported both Lenin and Trotsky, trying to keep in with both of them while the result was uncertain. "Stalin," he says, "took no active part. No one took much notice of his hesitation. Certainly my main preoccupation, to make our conduct on the peace question as comprehensible as possible to the world proletariat, was a secondary consideration for Stalin. He was interested in peace for one country only, just as later on he was interested in socialism for one country only. In the decisive vote he was with Lenin."
Though Stalin took no public part in the discussion, he shared in the secret deliberations of the Central Committee of the Party, which was already the real Government of the Republic. The minutes of this "secret group of leaders" show that he was more decided than Trotsky admits, though he did not necessarily rise to the level of Lenin's motives. His first speech on the question is thus summarised by the Secretary, Helen Stassova:
Comrade Stalin thinks that in adopting the slogan of a war of revolution we are playing the imperialists' game. Comrade Trotsky's position is no position at all. There is no revolutionary movement in the west, there is no action, only potential action, and on that we cannot rely. If the Germans begin the offensive, our counter-revolution will be strengthened. Germany can attack, for she has Kornilov's troops and the Guards. In October we spoke of a holy war, because we were told that the mere word peace would be the signal for revolution in the west. But that was a mistake. The introduction by us of socialist reforms will rouse revolution in the west, but we need time for that. By adopting Comrade Trotsky's policy, we should create the worst conditions for the movement in the west, and therefore he [Stalin] proposes the adoption of Comrade Lenin's motion.
Thus Stalin came round to Lenin's conclusions, but for national reasons, while Lenin had arrived at them just because of "potential" international revolutions. Revolution has not begun in the west, said Lenin in reply to Stalin, but "nevertheless, if we altered our tactics for that reason, we should be traitors to international socialism." He only proposed to sign peace in the belief that it would be annulled by the "general socialist revolution." Stalin, on the contrary, only conceived of a revolutionary movement in the west under the influence of socialist reforms in Russia.
Trotsky's compromise of "cessation of the war, non-signature of the peace, and demobilisation of the army," was adopted by the Central Committee by 9 votes to 7, a provisional solution which had at least the advantage of preserving the Party from a mortal breach. Stalin recognized this at the next meeting, when he said: "The intermediate position of Trotsky's has provided us with a way out from a difficult situation." It was the same position which Stalin had recently described as no position at all.
Lenin wore down his opponents with obstinacy and skill. Internal dissension was unusually sharp. More than two hundred soviets which were consulted on the subject pronounced for rupture of the Brest negotiations, and only two important soviets were for peace. The Left disclosed several shades of opinion. By 7 votes to 6 the Central Committee once more supported Trotsky's proposal to refuse the resumption of negotiations. But on that very day another meeting was hastily summoned, on the news of the German offensive. The Kiev Rada came to terms with the Central Empires, in the name of self-determination, and Ukrainian nationalism became the handmaid of the invaders. In the north Dvinsk was captured and Petrograd threatened; the old Russian army declared itself incapable of fighting, and the new one did not yet exist. Lenin's thesis was hourly strengthened.
Every possible error had been made, and Trotsky wavered, beginning to come over to Lenin's view. Stalin cut the matter short: "We must speak plainly. The Germans are attacking, we are defenceless. It is time to say bluntly that negotiations must be renewed." Lenin, with more assurance than ever, reiterated his argument in short, cutting phrases. "It is no use jesting with war. We are losing rolling-stock and making our transport worse. We cannot wait, for the situation is plain. The people will not understand that if there were to be a war we ought not to have demobilised. Now the Germans will take everything. The game has come to such a pass that the downfall of the revolution is inevitable if we persist in a middle policy." Trotsky wavered, but insisted on first asking the Central Powers for their terms. Stalin replied: "After five minutes' hurricane firing we shan't have a single soldier in the line. This confusion must be ended. I don't agree with Trotsky. A question like that is merely paper talk. We must now consider the whole situation and say that we are for resumption of negotiations." On the vote, Lenin won by 7 to 5, with one abstention. Trotsky, unconvinced, nevertheless voted with Lenin, fearing an irremediable split.
The internal crisis in the Party was at its worst; discord amounted to paroxysm. Trotsky resigned from the Council of Commissars, and Lenin threatened resignation from the Central Committee. "We are turning the Party into a dung-heap," cried Bukharin, sobbing in Trotsky's arms. The Left began to publish papers in opposition to the official press. They treated Lenin as "phrase-maker and opportunist," capable of "the same faults as Kautsky" and they denounced the "profound mistake which will ruin the Russian and the international revolutions." At the next sitting of the Central Committee, Stalin sought to conciliate the extremists. "It is possible," he said, "not to sign, but to begin negotiations." Lenin would yield nothing. He said: "Stalin is wrong in saying it is possible not to sign. We must sign the terms laid down. If you do not sign, you sign the death sentence of the Soviet power in three weeks. These conditions do not affect the Soviet power. I have not a shadow of hesitation. I do not lay down an ultimatum and then run away. I want no more revolutionary phrase-making. The German revolution is not ripe. It will take months. The conditions must be accepted." By 7 votes to 4 and with four abstentions, including Trotsky's, Lenin obtained a relative majority for submission to the imperialist conditions of peace. The Central Committee pronounced unanimously for a future war of revolution.
Four members of the Left, including Bukharin and Bubnov, immediately resigned their "responsible positions." With Lenin's assent they reserved the right to agitate in the Party against the resolution adopted by the Central Committee. A breach seemed inevitable. Six People's Commissars, including Pyatakov and Uritsky, followed Trotsky in resigning. Stalin, who was evidently uneasy over the lack of leaders, made deserving efforts to conciliate them in terms unusually friendly for him. Trotsky, once more in disagreement with Lenin, nevertheless did his best to safeguard unity.
The Seventh Bolshevik Congress was summoned to vote on the ratification of the "shameful peace"; the various soviet bodies had in the end to conform to the decision of the sovereign Party.
This special Congress was held in March in the dramatic atmosphere of the first rumblings of civil war, with only 29 duly elected delegates. Stalin was not there. He was no orator, and he rarely appeared on great occasions in the assemblies. Without even appearing in the forefront or inscribing his name in the revolutionary annals, a self-effacing but capable executor of Lenin's instructions, he was useful as an administrator in a small group which was in fact, if not formally, gathering into its hands all the political prerogatives of the State. At that time Sverdlov calculated the Party membership at 300,000; one-fourth must have been lost in less than six months, under the fear of the coming fall of the new regime.
The majority of the Congress rallied to Lenin, repudiating retrospectively the formula "neither peace nor war," and exhibiting little anxiety to do justice to the imposing part played by Trotsky at Brest, or to his disinterested mediation between the rival sections in the Central Committee. Trotsky, bitterly offended, resigned all his offices and functions in the Party and in the Soviets. Lenin had severely criticised his "revolutionary phrase-making" which, by concealing the enormous danger in which the revolution stood, aggravated it. Riazanov, although a Right Communist, left the Party, and was soon followed by Kollontai. The Left section continued its violent opposition. But civil war was soon to rally all revolutionaries to the defence of the "socialist fatherland in danger." Before separating, the Congress decided to modify the old Social-Democratic programme, at last obeying Lenin's wishes and adopting the name Communist.
Lenin had resumed the ascendancy which was henceforward to be unquestioned. The incarnation of the political and tactical intelligence of Bolshevism, strengthened by inflexible determination turned unceasingly on a single aim, he imposed his authority by plain common sense, of which most of his comrades and followers showed themselves destitute in great emergencies. Because he had outlined a policy whose logic was elementary, "not to fight when you were assured of defeat," he was to pass for a genius in a party which owed him everythingits origin, organisation, doctrine and programme, its strategy, and its tactics, its theory and practice, and the conquest and maintenance of power, a party which nearly lost everything by losing confidence in its leader and inspirer. His distinctive supremacy really lay, apart from his personal qualities, in the essential faculty of discerning "the grain of reality in the straw of words." In this he showed himself genuinely deserving of the only praise he desired, that of being a Marxist. In this respect Trotsky's political weakness was evident, in spite of his brilliant outward gifts. The Brest episode shows up the idealism of the one and the realism of the other.
Under the circumstances, Lenin thought it wrong to risk the fate of the revolution begun in Russia on the single card of a coming revolution in Germany, and wished, as Radek puts it, "to gain time." When his own words on a war of revolution were recalled he replied: "We were speaking of the need of preparation and of carrying on revolutionary war.... But we never promised to embark on such a war without considering the possibilities and chances of success." The socialist revolution is ripening in all countries, but it will come "at the end of the end, and not at the beginning of the beginning." We must learn to retreat. The man who can't adapt himself to the worst situation "is only a talker, not a revolutionary." The Left Communists "take the nobleman's, not the peasant's point of view." The Treaty of Brest will have the same fate as the Peace of Tilsit. Peace is only a means of reconstituting one's forces.... Peace is a truce between wars; war the means of securing a better peace. It must not be possible to say with truth that "revolutionary phrase-making about the revolutionary war ruined the revolution."
Hardly had the Communist Government obtained respite on the new western frontier when they had to face manifold and constantly increasing dangers at home. A new "Time of Troubles" opened for Russia. During the year 1919 the situation took a sinister turn in the country given up to fire and blood.
WHILE the Germans occupied, in addition to Finland and Poland, first Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in Russian territory, and then the Ukraine and the Crimea, and, lastly, Georgia, where they were summoned by the Menshevik Government in aid against a Turkish invasioncivil war broke out under many forms. Plots, treason and mutiny followed. There was sabotage in the public services and a strike of officials and technicians. After the repressions of the risings of Kaledin on the Don, and of Dutov in the Urals, the mobile "Cossack Vendee" was constantly in revolt. In the north the Finnish counter-revolution, supported by German troops, threatened Petrograd. Presently, English and French forces were to occupy Archangel and the Murmansk coast. On the middle Volga detachments of Czechoslovak prisoners of war on their way home raised armed revolt. On the lower Volga, Krasnov's Cossacks were approaching Tsaritsyn. In the Kuban the first volunteers of Denikin's future army were assembling to the south of the Caspian; Whites with some English officers from Persia threatened the Baku Commune, then in the hands of the Reds. On the Roumanian frontier Bessarabia was invaded. In the Far East the Japanese were landing at Vladivostok, and, but for the opposition of the United States, would have advanced along the Trans-Siberian railway, and re-established "order" in Asiatic Russia, which was ravaged by bandits, by "great companies," and "infernal columns," so called. Finally, after the blockade, military intervention on the part of the Allies was to be expected, and their agents, missions, embassies, fictitious consulates, fomented and supported sedition and political crime.
In rural Russia groups of "partisans" of all colours were operating. The peasants hid their grain, refused worthless coinage, and returned to a system of barter. Inflation reached astronomical figures. The local soviets, at the end of their resources, levied extraordinary contributions, decreed requisitions, and carried out arbitrary confiscations. In the starving towns industrial production fell almost to zero, commerce was dying, and scarcity compelled increasingly drastic rationing. Instead of "workers' control" of industrial undertakings, the Communists decided on their gradual nationalisation by force, in order to keep them going, at the request sometimes of the workers, sometimes of the owners. The Mensheviks incited strikes, the Social Revolutionaries revived terrorism, the Anarchists formed their Black Guard filled with Whites, the counter-revolution organised itself in "Liberating" and "Patriotic" leagues. In this indescribable chaos the "building-up of socialism" hoped for by the Bolsheviks was pushed into the background by the necessities of the defence of the revolution.
In vain Lenin had sketched out in April 1918 a constructive programme of the "successive tasks of the Soviet power," emphasising the following essential measures: economic reconstruction by rigid calculation and control of production and distribution, the organisation of positive and creative work by one-man direction in industry, the employment of highly-paid specialists, the adoption of the Taylor system, piece work, the incentives of emulation and of forcewhile he denounced the hysteria of the Left, "Communists of disaster." Repression was a more urgent task than administration. Trotsky, now Commissar for War, had summarised the same programme in his formula, "Work, discipline and order will save the Republic of Soviets." But first of all, the implacable enemy had to be crushed, as the event proved, if they themselves were not to be exterminated. Jaures was not a false prophet when he wrote at the end of the last century: "In the present condition of Europe, and in so far as the course of events can be foreseen, it is no longer possible to hope, unless one is blind, or to assert, unless one is a traitor, that socialism will be achieved in the advanced nations by peaceful means. The nation which first achieves socialism will see all the frenzied powers of reaction hurled against it at the same time. It will be lost if it is not itself prepared to seize a sword, to answer bullet with bullet, so that the working class of other countries may have time to organise and rise in its turn."
In May, the hostile newspapers, which demanded armed foreign intervention, were suppressed; the brief period of a free press was at an end. In June, "anti-soviet" parties were excluded from the soviets; the soviet monopoly of politics had begun. Volodarsky was assassinated in Petrograd by Right Social Revolutionaries. The Cheka seized hostages; its repressive measures were still moderate, while the Whites, by their mass shootings and hangings, were sowing the seeds of inexpiable hatred and ensuring severe reprisals for themselves. The Red Terror was hardly yet equal to the White Terror. But a merciless struggle was beginning in the villages; expeditions of workmen went there ostensibly to seize bread from the kulaks, but really to take it from all peasant farmers, and they provoked sanguinary rural warfare. The industrial centres had to be fed at all costs. Committees of "Poor Peasants" were formed, on Lenin's initiative, to break the resistance of those who refused to supply cereals, to requisition cattle, and to confiscate surpluses. Necessity knows no law. The essential was not "a socialist experiment," but the mitigation of famine.
Stalin set out for Tsaritsyn, where Voroshilov was then in command, in charge of a detachment of Red soldiers, provided with two armoured cars, to direct operations for the collection of food in the south. The national question might wait, and for that matter, would wait for a long time. Most of the energetic militants were mobilised on the "Food Front," if they were not commissars with the armies. In any case all fronts tended to become one, and, instead of differentiation of functions, a mass of work and responsibilities of all kinds had to be undertaken. Dzerzhinsky, Pyatakov, Smilga, Sokolnikov, Ivan and Vladimir Smirnov, former workmen such as Serebriakov, Shliapnikov and Voroshilov went into the army, some as commissars, some as improvised generals. Stalin also began his military career haphazard; he found Tsaritsyn in inextricable disorder which made his task impossible without exerting pressure on the command, the headquarters of the Tenth Army.
There is nothing about Stalin in the military works, or the historical memoirs and studies on the Russian Civil War. For ten years no communist author thought it worth while to give him any notice. Trotsky's name is associated throughout the world, by friends or enemies, with the victories of the revolution; Stalin's share was not discovered until 1929. There were violent domestic rivalries before Voroshilov suddenly thought of filling up the gap, and before Trotsky made the necessary documentary corrections to his belated tribute. Stalin's reputation as a soldier does not emerge enhanced, but there is further evidence of his organising capacity, his dictatorial method, and his faculty for intrigue; here also are the beginnings of a personal antagonism which was soon to weigh heavily on the destiny of the Republic.
The history of the Red Army is bound up with the life of Trotsky, as the history of the Bolshevik Party is bound up with Lenin's. To these two men, who complemented one another, the revolution owed its salvation in its critical hours. This may be said without injustice to the achievements and the heroism of the Party and of the picked few among the workers and peasants. Marx and Engels, who did not exaggerate the historical role of individuals, said, "For the realisation of ideas you must have men with practical ability."
Trotsky recognised the pre-eminence of Lenin, and the latter in turn appreciated Trotsky's value. Gorky has reported some remarks made by Lenin about Trotsky in private conversation. "Show me any other man," he said, "capable of organising an almost model army in one year and moreover of winning the sympathy of professional soldiers. We have that man. We have everything. You will see miracles." That did not prevent differences of opinion, for the very simple reasons which led Bonaparte to say somewhat paradoxically, "rather one bad general than two good ones." But in those terrible years the profound agreement and reciprocal esteem between the two principal leaders, reinforced by a Sverdlov in administrative affairs, a Dzerzhinsky at the police, a Rakovsky for war and diplomacy in the Ukraine, and many other able and distinguished militants, gave the revolutionary Government an authority unparalleled except, mutatis mutandis, in the case of Robespierre and Saint-Just. Other times, other men, other circumstances, other historical stages, and other social conditionsbut the analogies are sufficient to justify the parallel.
Stalin was not yet an outstanding personage, and was still unknown in the country and in the Party, but nevertheless he must be counted among those hardened revolutionaries who were always available for the most unexpected tasks. Theoretically under the orders of Trotsky, who was Commissar for War and President of the Revolutionary Council of War, he nevertheless had direct access to Lenin as a member of the Central Committee of the Party, an extra-constitutional body which was already the supreme authority. Moreover the Council of Commissars was to cease to exist as the nominal Government when the Left Social Revolutionaries broke with the Bolsheviks, whose peasant policy and peace tactics they violently opposed.
At the beginning of July 1918, these "hysterical maniacs of the Left" attacked the Communist Party during the Fifth Congress of Soviets, tried to revive war with Germany by assassinating the ambassador, Mirbach, and attempted to overthrow the Council of Commissars by bombarding the Kremlin. The revolt was stifled in twenty-four hours, and was the beginning of the end for the Left Social Revolutionaries; some were shot, others imprisoned, and their party was shattered. (The anarchists, already roughly handled in April, soon suffered a like fate.) Thenceforward the communists monopolised the Council of Commissars, and almost had a monopoly of the Executive of the Soviets. The Bolshevik Central Committee did not need to take any formal steps to be able to exercise the dictatorship through their Political Bureau. At the same period, and at the instigation of French diplomatic agents, the extreme Right of the Social Revolutionaries and the Whites, led by Savinkov, provoked, by the Yaroslavl revolt, the first great massacre of the civil population and the destruction of one of the finest cities of old Russia. The episode recalls the Lyons incident of 1793. Terror breeds terror. Under the shadow of this tragedy, the Congress of Soviets, interrupted by bombing and cannonade, passed, on Sverdlov's motion, the Constitution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Soviets, an idealised codification of the existing order, preceded by the Declaration of Rights of the Toiling Masses. In this solemn charter nothing was said of the dictatorship of a single Party or of the communist monopoly of power. But force of circumstances in fact concentrated the public power in the hands of the victorious Party for the time being.
Meanwhile news from the Front was not reassuring. On the Volga the commander-in-chief, Muraviev, committed treason and then killed himself. Below Tsaritsyn, where Voroshilov was unequal to his task, the Cossacks pierced the Red Line. The Soviet army, occupying an immense Front, was ill-nourished, ill-equipped and badly officered, and was everywhere in retreat. The Communist Party mobilised all their fit men and their last resources. Stalin hastened to the Front.
A few minutes before starting, he wrote to Lenin: "I harry and abuse all those who deserve it, and hope for early improvement. Be sure we shall spare no one, neither ourselves nor others, and we shall send grain. If our military specialists (the fools!) did not sleep and dawdle, the line would not have been broken; if it is repaired, it will be in spite of them."
In reply to Lenin's expressed anxiety about the Left Social Revolutionaries at Tsaritsyn, where the anarchists had attempted a rising in May, Stalin replied: "As for the hysterical maniacs, be sure that our hand will not falter; with enemies we shall act as enemies." Indeed it was abundantly clear at this time that Stalin was a man whose hand did not falter.
There is a significant phrase in his short note about "military specialists," that is, professional soldiers. Stalin had no use for them. His aversion is expressed in a telegram in which he says: "Our specialists are psychologically unfit for decisive war against the counter-revolution." A whole section of the Party shared this prejudice. The "military opposition," recruited especially among communists of the Left, advocated guerilla war, independent guerilla bands, the election of officers by their men, federalism and improvisation in military affairs. Just as the remnants of the Left opposition accused Lenin of blindness, of opportunism and of compromise with capitalism because of his practice of using specialists in industry, so the military opposition reproached Trotsky with his centralised methods, strict discipline and employment of specialists in the army. The nucleus of this opposition was at Voroshilov s headquarters at Tsaritsyn. Stalin secretly encouraged it.
Now, if Trotsky was able to put the Red Army on a conscripted instead of voluntary basis, raise its effectives from 100,000 to one, and then to two or three millions, to form sixteen armies in a Front of 8,000 kilometres, it was by incorporating, as Dubois-Crance did, the sound elements of the old army in the new, by using professional soldiers under the surveillance of revolutionary commissars, by abolishing the election of officers and the soldiers' council and by instituting rigid discipline under a single command. The resistance of Tsaritsyn to the orders of the Revolutionary Council of War only made defeat certain. As Trotsky explains in My Life, the opposition could not do without specialists, but they chose mediocre ones.
Though he was not a Left Communist, Stalin supported this opposition in a new way. Trotsky says that this intrigue was directed against him. Why? Trotsky does not say. Probably, even before the October Revolution, Stalin had been jealous of the popularity of an opponent outside the secret circle of professional revolutionaries who thought the direction of the revolution a preserve of their own. For Stalin and his like, Trotsky was, if not an intruder, at least a convert, and if no one now ventured to contest the preeminence of Lenin, the stronger men necessarily competed for preponderance of influence with the master. Stalin and Trotsky, so different in their birth, education, intellect and culture, both had a passion for domination.
Voroshilov, an unconscious witness against himself, says that the centre of the Tenth Army presented a lamentable picture of confusion and impotence when Stalin arrived. His presence rapidly made itself felt in the rear and at the Front. Stalin showed "colossal energy," and purged the commissariat, the administration, and the staff. The tone of his letters to Lenin shows the spirit by which he was animated. "I shall make good," he said, "the local deficiencies and many others. I am taking and shall take measures to deprive unsuccessful officers and generals of their command in spite of rules, which I shall break if necessary. For this I naturally assume full responsibility before the superior courts."
Stalin was especially successful in the town. He organised a local Cheka, and instituted inexorable repression. On this matter, Voroshilov quoted with satisfaction a White witness, the turncoat Nossovich, who wrote of Stalin: "It is only just to say that his energy may be envied by every former administrator and that his capacity for adapting himself to his task and its circumstances might be an example to many others." The atmosphere of Tsaritsyn changed. "The Cheka is working at full speed"; every day new plots were discovered, and all the prisons were overflowing. An engineer and his two sons, who had come from Moscow, were arrested for conspiracy. "Stalin's decision was brief: 'Shoot!' The engineer Alexeyev, his two sons, and several officers with them, some belonging to the organisation, others only suspected, were seized by the Cheka and immediately shot without trial." Stalin's hand did not falter.
There are no statistics of the victims under his proconsul ship. The same initiative and the same firmness were shown everywhere on all occasions. In this memorable month of July, when the days of the Soviets appeared to be numbered, the Ural communists under Byeloborodov executed the fallen Emperor and his family on the approach of the victorious Czechoslovaks. A Left Communist, the workman Myasnikov, killed the Grand-Duke Michael. In August, after the loss of Simbirsk and Kazan, Trotsky started in person to the middle Volga where the fate of the revolution was in the balance, and formed the legendary armoured train in which for more than two years he hastened from the most dangerous point of one Front to another.
At the end of the same month, the Civil War entered on its acutest phase. Simultaneously an attempt was made to kill Lenin, and Uritsky was assassinated at Petrograd; the secret organisation of the Right Social Revolutionaries was at work. Trotsky, on the way to Moscow, had the luck to escape the bombs and bullets of the terrorists. This time the Cheka replied with lightning swiftness. The Red Terror was openly endorsed and martial law imposed. Five hundred counter-revolutionaries were executed at Petrograd, as many at Kronstadt, perhaps a hundred at Moscow, and an unknown number in the provinces. The Russian Revolution had its September massacres. Atrocities on one side were made good on the other. The press published lists of hostages, and announced mass arrests. There are no exact statistics of the number of victims. All trace of democracy vanished in the fury of suppression. At the Front panic-stricken communists were shot. Some days later the Fifth Army of Ivan Smirnov took Kazan, Tukhachevsky re-entered Simbirsk with the First Army, the Red guerillas of the Urals under the workman Blucher effected a junction at Perm with the Third Army after marching 1,500 kilometres and after fifty days of murderous fighting.
Trotsky had other cares besides the struggle for Kazan. Tsaritsyn headquarters caused him anxiety because of its obstinate opposition, its flagrant lack of discipline, and the obstruction of Army Headquarters' plans. Voroshilov, still quoting Nossovich, admits the pernicious role played by Stalin:
A characteristic peculiarity of this drive was the attitude of Stalin to instructions wired from the centre. When Trotsky, worried because of the destruction of the command administrations formed by him with such difficulty, sent a telegram concerning the necessity of leaving the staff and the war commissariat on the previous footing and giving them a chance to work, Stalin wrote a categorical, most significant inscription on the telegram"To be ignored!" ....The entire artillery and a section of the staff personnel continued to wait on barges at Tsaritsyn.
Lenin could not have been aware of this very significant incident, but he interested himself in this conflict. Knowing something about Stalin he suspected him of improper conduct, but sought to reduce friction so as to get the full value from all his personnel. At the beginning of October, Trotsky telegraphed to him:
I insist categorically on Stalin's recall. Things are going badly on the Tsaritsyn Front in spite of super-abundant forces. Voroshilov can command a regiment, but not an army of 50,000 men. Nevertheless I will leave him in command of the Tenth Tsaritsyn Army on condition that he reports to the Commander of the Army of the South, Sytin. Up till now Tsaritsyn has not even sent reports of operations to Kozlov. I have demanded that reports of reconnaissances and operations should be sent twice daily. If that is not done to-morrow I shall send Voroshilov and Minin for trial and shall publish the fact in an Army Order. So long as Stalin and Minin remain at Tsaritsyn, their rights, in conformity with the Statutes of the Revolutionary Council of War, are limited to those of members of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Tenth Army. We have only a brief interval to take the offensive before the autumn mud, when roads here are not practicable either for horse or foot. Without coordination with Tsaritsyn no serious action is possible. There is no time to lose in diplomatic pourparlers. Tsaritsyn must either submit or get under. We have a colossal superiority of forces, but complete anarchy at the top. I can put a stop to it in twenty-four hours provided I have your firm and definite support. At all events that is the only course I can see.
Next day Trotsky communicated with Lenin by direct wire: "I have received the following telegram: 'The execution of Stalin's fighting instruction No. 10 must be suspended. I have given full instructions to the Commander on the Southern Front, Sytin. Stalin's activities destroy all my plans. VATZETIS, Commander-in-Chief. DANISHEVSKY, member of the Revolutionary Council of War.' "
Stalin was immediately recalled to Moscow. By way of special consideration, Lenin sent Sverdlov to fetch him in a special train, and Trotsky, on his way to Tsaritsyn, met them en route. A conversation took place between Trotsky and Stalin. "Is it true that you want to turn out the lot" asked the latter resignedly, speaking of the "opposition" at Tsaritsyn. Submission was only apparent. Stalin harboured resentment and bided his time.
At Tsaritsyn, when Trotsky sought an explanation with Voroshilov, this peculiar soldier admitted frankly that he did not mean to carry out instructions unless he thought them right. Whereupon Trotsky indicated unconditional obedience to superior orders on pain of immediate dispatch to Moscow under escort for trial. Voroshilov had to give way, but Trotsky had one personal enemy the more. And when the Commissar for War turned his back on Tsaritsyn opposition continued, secretly supported by Stalin. This at any rate is Trotsky's version, in the preceding as in the following pages; but he bases it on irrefutable documents and no one has ever been able to query them.
Voroshilov also had to be recalled after another telegram from Trotsky to Lenin: "It is impossible to leave Voroshilov at his post after he has nullified all attempts at compromise. There must be a new Revolutionary Military Council with a new Commander at Tsaritsyn, and Voroshilov must be transferred to the Ukraine." This was another indirect hit at Stalin. After this the defensive and offensive capacity of the Tenth Army was stimulated under Trotsky's influence. The workman Shliapnikov entered the new Revolutionary Council of War on the Tsaritsyn Front.
In the Ukraine Voroshilov played the same game, still with secret support from Stalin. Trotsky was obliged to telegraph to Sverdlov: "I must categorically state that the Tsaritsyn policy, which led to the complete disintegration of the Tsaritsyn army, cannot be tolerated in the Ukraine.... The line pursued by Voroshilov and Rukhimovich means the ruin of the entire enterprise." Stalin intrigued in the shadow, but Trotsky saw through his game.
In reply to Lenin and Sverdlov, who sought to smooth things over, Trotsky replied: "A compromise is of course necessary, but not one that is rotten.... I consider Stalin's patronage of the Tsaritsyn policy a most dangerous ulcer, worse than any treason or betrayal by military specialists.... Read carefully once more Okulov's report on the demoralisation of the Tsaritsyn army by Voroshilov with the help of Stalin." The prospect of Anglo-French military intervention in the Ukraine did not permit tergiversation on Trotsky's part; nevertheless he did not insist on extreme measures.
After temporising for some months, Lenin finally telegraphed to Voroshilov: "It is absolutely imperative that all agitation be stopped immediately, and that all work be placed on a military basis; that no more time be wasted on all the fine projects about separate groups and similar attempts at restoring the Ukrainian Front. Discipline must be military...." He asks him to put an end to "chaos, palaver, and disputes about precedence." On the same day, he summoned the Political Bureau of the Central Committee which took Trotsky's side and called on Voroshilov to carry out his duty, "otherwise Trotsky will summon you to Izium the day after tomorrow and will make detailed arrangements." Next day the Central Committee empowered Rakovsky and Trotsky to take energetic measures to recover from Voroshilov the munitions which he had secured illegally. Lenin wrote by direct wire to Trotsky: "Dybenko and Voroshilov making free with military property. Complete chaos, no serious help given the Donetz base." By dint of tenacity, Trotsky had defeated Stalin's influence and had liquidated "Tsaritsynism."
But at what price? In his My Life, a source even more essential for Stalin's biography than his own, Trotsky admits that he hustled and offended many people during the disturbed period of his supreme command. "But in the great struggle that we were carrying on," he said, "the stakes were too big to permit me to consider side-issues." There is no doubt whatever that he was inspired by the interest of the common cause. But in the difficult period of internal dissensions he came into contact with all those who were discontented or annoyed. When Lenin had offended comrades by his fierce polemic, he always sought once he had won his victory, to bind up the wounds and to conciliate the vanquished. Trotsky did not take the trouble, and scornfully accumulated enemies. It was a weakness in a politician.
Stalin, he says, "carefully picked up people with grievances. He had leisure for it and it was to his personal interest"an allusion to his reputation for idleness, which Bukharin confirmed. The latter says: "Stalin's first quality is laziness and his second is implacable jealousy of anyone who knows more or does things better than himself. He even tried to dig under Ilyich." In speaking of the recriminations heaped on Lenin with every failure at the Front, Trotsky says that Stalin secretly directed the machinations. The Assistant Commissar for War, Skliansky, who was highly valued by Lenin, and compared by Trotsky to Carnot as a distinguished organiser, suffered from Stalin's underhand attacks. Stalin gathered round him a group of disappointed and ambitious careerists. Trotsky reports a characteristic story revealed by Menzhinsky. The latter learned that Stalin had suggested to Lenin that Trotsky was forming a cabal against him. An invention of this kind recalls the old accusations made at Tiflis, the suspicions felt at Baku, and many other incidents. Trotsky ends this passage in My Life by saying: "But Stalin was obviously sowing trouble. Not until much later did I realise how systematically he had been doing thatalmost nothing but that. For Stalin never did any serious work."
With due allowance for controversy, Trotsky no doubt had in mind intellectual work and high politics. For Stalin was not only lazy and intriguing as Bukharin and many others thought; his faults were allied with compensating qualities, but on a limited scale. His brutal energy in police repression, and his calculating intrigue in personal relationships, together with a certain flair for day to day politics, gave him in the narrow Party circle an important place in the shadow of men who were indispensable. These minor qualities, given a favourable time and place, were to assist his elevation.
A letter from Lenin to Trotsky shows well how Stalin succeeded in circumventing others without exposing himself to attack. After his recall from Tsaritsyn, Stalin pretended to seek an understanding, to advise Voroshilov to submit, and he asked to be allowed to show what he could do on another sector of the Front. Lenin wrote:
Stalin is anxious to work on the Southern Front.... He hopes that in actual work he will be able to demonstrate the correctness of his view.... In informing you, Leon Davidovich, of all these statements of Stalin's, I request that you consider them and reply first as to your willingness to talk the matter over with Stalin personally-for this he agrees to visit you-and second, if you think it possible to remove the friction by certain concrete terms and to arrange for the joint work which Stalin so much desires. As for me, I consider it indispensable to make every effort for such an arrangement with Stalin.
Trotsky, less intransigent in his actions than in the bitterness of his memoirs, replied favourably, and Stalin was appointed to the Revolutionary War Council of the Southern Front. There, he unsuccessfully continued his machinations, but with greater prudence and caution.
STALIN'S new appointment coincided with great historic events. On the first anniversary of the October Revolution, the military and political map of Europe had greatly changed. The Central Empires had suffered disastrous defeats on the Western Front and in the Balkans; there was mutiny in the German fleet, revolution in Bulgaria, in Austria-Hungary and in Germany, and there were preparations for a general peace. The economic and military intervention of the United States had enabled the Allies to keep going in the last lap. Moreover, the end was hastened by the so-called Bolshevik poison in the Austro-German armies, assisted in the rear by Joffe, the ambassador of the Soviets in Berlin.
These disturbances were not yet the world socialist revolution counted on by Lenin, but he thought he saw in them the first steps towards an "October" with two continents for its stage. The delay in the realisation of his expectations had made him wary without quite depriving him of the hope of a universal social conflagration. "The world proletariat is with us, and marches at our heels," he said, at the least sign of revolt in the belligerent countries. "There is no issue from this war except in revolution," he repeated on another occasion, and later on he said more emphatically, "Only the workers and peasants of all countries will make peace." The first rumblings of the German Revolution led him to declare that "the crisis in Germany is beginning; it will inevitably end in the seizure of power by the proletariat." He was so obsessed by the course of the Russian Revolution that it seemed to his mind the only immediate prospect open to the whole world. "World history in these days is hastening more and more towards a world workers' revolution."
Nevertheless he was disquieted by the victory of the Allies, a vague menace of armed intervention in favour of the Whites in the Russian Civil War. "We have never been nearer a worldwide proletarian revolution, but neither have we ever been in such danger ourselves." But there were stronger grounds for hope than for fear. In November, at the Sixth Congress of Soviets he declared: "A whole series of countries are invaded by the flames of the workers' revolution. Our expectations are being accomplished, all our sacrifices are justified."
Trotsky expressed himself in similar terms: "History is developing, perhaps against our will, but on the lines we have marked out.... The end will be as we have foreseen ... the fall of the gods of capitalism and imperialism.... Soviet Russia is only the vanguard of the German and the European revolution. . . ." Stalin did not at that time venture public expression on these matters. The Left Communists were retracting or were silent in face of the tangible results of Lenin's tactics.
The leaders of revolutionary Russia thought the German Revolution more important than their own for the future of humanity. In the name of the interests of socialism, they declared themselves ready to sacrifice the revolution of the most backward country to that of the most advanced. In theory Lenin thought it "obligatory to risk defeat and even the Soviet power," if necessary, to save the German Revolution. In practice no such eventuality presented itself. Germany only accomplished a superficial political revolution, and the Soviet Republic had all it could do to save itself.
For the Civil War took on greater proportions with the end of the war of nations. Thanks to the retreat of the German armies, the Reds hastened to occupy the Baltic and Lithuanian provinces, which were immediately converted into little Soviet States. In the Ukraine, where fifteen governments or so succeeded one another in less than four years, they disputed the ground with the reactionary troops of the Hetman Skoropadsky, the nationalist insurgents under Petlura, the anarchist peasants of Makhno, guerilla bands of all sorts and the haidamaks of the highways and byways. In the east they penetrated into the Urals, after having dislodged the Committee of the Constituent Assembly from Samara and the Directory of the Social Revolutionaries from Ufa, but they had to retreat before Kolchak's White Army under the orders of the Omsk dictatorship protected by the Allies. In Siberia their isolated guerilla bands fought desperately against the generals and atamans who exercised an unbridled tyranny over vast areas.
By decree of the Executive of the Soviets, the Republic had been proclaimed in a state of siege. To unify the commissariat for the Red Army there was created in November a Council of Workers' and Peasants' Defence, presided over by Lenin, with the inevitable Bureau under Trotsky. The various organs of the State and the Party were ill-suited to the exigencies of the situation, and it was sought to remedy the defect by supplementary organisations. In fact the same men were to be found in all the superior courts, and the Political Bureau of the Bolshevik Central Committee took over more and more of the responsibilities of the dictatorship. Stalin was one of the six members of the new Council, a proof that Lenin and Trotsky relied on his energy in military organisation.
On the last day of the year, Lenin telegraphed to Trotsky: "From below Perm there are a series of messages from the Party on the catastrophic condition of the army and its drunkenness. I send them on to you. They ask for you to go down there. I thought of sending Stalin, fearing that Smilga might be too gentle towards X..., who is said to be drinking and unable to restore order. Telegraph your views." In fact the Third Army in retreat had evacuated Perm and was in danger of leaving Vyatka exposed to the enemy. Trotsky replied, confirming Lenin's information and said in conclusion: "I agree to the dispatch of Stalin empowered by the Party and by the Revolutionary Council of War." Perhaps he was not sorry to be rid of Stalin in a northern region. It certainly was wise to send Stalin where a firm hand was required. The Central Committee, that is, its all-powerful Political Bureau, chose Dzerzhinsky and Stalin to inquire into the capitulation of Perm and the defeats on the Eastern Front, charging them to "restore at the earliest possible moment Party and Soviet activity in the zone of the Third and Second Armies."
This meant a journey of inspection on the Vyatka Front and a mission for the political and administrative reorganisation of the rear. "Party and Soviet activity," in other words the functioning of the official institutions, was to be re-established by the two special envoys. This shows to what an extent the Soviet State was separated from the people, and how "superior" initiative was substituted for the conscience of the masses. Lenin's thesis on the State without bureaucrats, police or professional army had been forgotten. But the exceptional situation seemed to justify exceptional measures.
In publishing not long ago Lenin's dispatch on the defeat at Perm, Voroshilov thought it necessary to falsify it by the suppression of the words: "I send them on to you. They ask for you to go down there.... Telegraph your views." There is evident intention to conceal Lenin's constant references of difficult situations to Trotsky, and the confidence between the two. Voroshilov pushes complaisance so far as to impute the journey of Dzerzhinsky and Stalin to Vyatka to the fall of Uralsk, nearly 1,000 kilometres to the south. The reports of Stalin and Dzerzhinsky justify no such suppositions. All they do is to demand three regiments to reinforce the morale of the Third Army.
According to Voroshilov, who cites no documents on the subject, Stalin denounced "the inadmissible criminal proceedings of the Revolutionary Council of War in the direction of the Front," an obscure allusion aimed at Trotsky. If the statement is true, it shows how little notice Lenin took of Stalin's denunciations. Trotsky remained in supreme command throughout the Civil War and after it.
Stalin's last report briefly indicates the principal object of his activity. "The district Cheka has been purged, and its numbers filled by other militants of the Party." As at Tsaritsyn he was especially preoccupied with the police coercion. Evidently his experiences convinced him of the possibility of a weak government maintaining itself by force, by the physical destruction of opponents and the intimidation of waverers. His close collaboration with Dzerzhinsky, President of the Cheka, was not fortuitous. Their Vyatka mission appears to have lasted two or three weeks.
Stalin did not again appear at the Front until five months later, the interval being devoted to organising activity. He was not one of the theorists of the Party, but considered himself no less useful, to use his own expression, as a "practitioner." He wrote little for the press, and had no part in elaborating communist policy at this period, when the Third International was founded. Taking little interest in theoretical questions, or in international problems, he took no part in the inaugural session.
The disaster of the Spartacus League in Germany, then the assassination of Liebknecht and of Rosa Luxemburg, had darkened the prospects of revolution. But Lenin renounced neither his hopes nor his plans, and he had at heart the creation of a Communist International. No one in his Party raised any objections when he proposed to summon to Moscow the Conference, to which, in addition to Bolsheviks of the various nationalities inside Russia, there was only one single delegate representing a Party, the German Communist Party. The other participants, recruited from refugees, emigres, exiles, represented no one but themselves. The Spartacus delegate brought with him the posthumous view of Rosa Luxemburg, definitely hostile to the premature formation of a new International. This was also the definite opinion of the Central Committee of his Party. After much hesitation, Lenin ignored it; the Communist International was born of his will. He was not disturbed by a modest beginning. The political fortune of his own original group, of which he had been the only fully conscious member, seemed to him to promise the future victory of the Communist embryo organisation on a world scale. A few days after the conference had transformed itself into a congress the proclamation of a Soviet Republic in Hungary and then in Bavaria, where no Communist Party even existed, fortified him in his illusions.
But peace was not secured at home. On the contrary, the Civil War was to be intensified in the course of 1919, with the concentric advance of the armies of Kolchak and Denikin on Moscow, and the march of Yudenich on Petrograd. The Soviet Republic, cut off from its natural resources, was for a moment reduced, in the current expression, almost to the old grand duchy of Moscow. A levee en masse and superhuman tension of the physical and moral strength of the Party were required for the restoration of the frontiers.
Nevertheless, the mortal menace of serious military intervention by the Allies began to be dissipated. On this question Lenin said: "If we have been able to exist for a year after the October Revolution, we owe it to the fact that international imperialism is divided into two groups of wild beasts.... Neither of these groups can dispatch any considerable forces against us." And later: "They could have crushed us in a few weeks." Replying to the boasts of his associates he said: "A few hundred thousands of the army of millions of the Entente ... could have crushed us by military force." In fact foreign intervention was extraordinarily capricious and incoherent, and was limited to aimless landings. The Czechoslovak anabasis, for want of men and guns, was not an expedition but a retreat in good order. Clemenceau's bellicose intentions were foiled by the opposition of President Wilson and Lloyd George; the abortive project of a conference of the various Russian Governments at Prinkipo was symbolic of the contradictory currents. Moreover, war weariness in Army and Navy, shown especially on the French ships in the Black Sea, were factors against the dispatch of an expedition.
The Civil War remained "Russian versus Russian" and the mirage of armed intervention only played into the hands of the Reds, who were placed in the classic pose of defending the frontiers, and stimulated in their favour what was left of Russian patriotism. Marx's remark on the Revolution of 1848"there were none of those great foreign complications which might have excited the energy and precipitated the course of the revolution, stimulated the Provisional Government or destroyed it"explains why the Russian Revolution benefited in the end by danger from outside. The Allies grasped the truth later. The Mensheviks were the first to realise it, then the Social Revolutionaries, both of whom repudiated any connection with foreign intervention. The Georgian Social-Democrats only, disavowed by their Russian comrades, persisted in reckoning on armed help from the Allies. Lenin was able to state that "in all countries, the bourgeois intelligentsia, the Social Revolutionaries and the Mensheviksthat race unfortunately exists everywherecondemned intervention in Russian affairs."
At the Eighth Congress of the Communist Party, henceforward the single political body in the country, the military opposition was disarmed without appeal, after secret deliberations of which minutes have not been published. Stalin dared not openly defend them and, as usual, did not appear on the tribune. But he succeeded in being appointed to the drafting Committee of the resolution as representing the majority, that is to say by simulating an opinion he did not share. His special kind of cleverness is seen in these tactics. In the absence of Trotsky, detained at the Front, his army proposals, put forward for him by Sokolnikov, were unanimously voted, with Lenin's support.
The adoption of the new programme led to an academic controversy between Lenin and Bukharin on imperialism and to a new discussion of the national question, but without any new arguments. Against Lenin and Riazanov, advocates of the right of self-determination, Bukharin and Pyatakov maintained the exclusive rights of the working classes. According to the report of the debate, Stalin sided with the Left section, but aware of the inconvenience of open difference from Lenin, took no public part. Once more Lenin won the declaration on the principle of self-determination, which the Bolsheviks violated in practice.
The Congress decided on a volte-face with regard to the peasants, robbed and persecuted by all parties in the Civil War, and exhausted by the pillage practised by the "commissarocracy." For Lenin, as reported by Sosnovsky, to have spoken of stopping the " 'abominable Bashi-Bazouk' policy" towards the "middle" peasant, the Reds must have exceeded all bounds. A series of outrageous abuses of power by the Soviet village authorities were denounced and condemned. The peasants were reducing their sowings, and hiding their reserves, and were on the verge of revolt. They had to be treated with consideration, and concessions had to be made if agricultural production was to be restored. Recalling the question of Engels"might it not be necessary to repress the rich peasants by force" Lenin declared: "We shall not permit any violence against the 'middle' peasant; we do not insist, as resolutely as in the case of the bourgeoisie, on complete expropriation." The Committee of Poor Peasants had done its work. The decision represented paper concessions, problematical in its application.
Ossinsky and Sapronov had already criticised the rapid degeneration of the Party and the Soviets into a parasitic bureaucratic system. In practice, in spite of the Constitution promulgated the year before, the Communist Central Committee was supplanting both the Council of Commissars and the Bureau of the Executive of the Soviets. This same Central Committee, moreover, no longer itself existed, as a whole. Its meetings became steadily rarer. "One man always had the threads in hand," Lenin in policy, and Sverdlov in administration. Contrary to Lenin's thesis before October, officials were not elected, nor responsible to the people, but formed a privileged social class. The local committees of the Party substituted their authority for that of the Soviet Executive Committees; the military and police organisations had no respect for any legal institution. In vain Ossinsky proposed to amalgamate the Council of Commissars and the Executive Bureau of the Soviets, to introduce into the new body the principal members of the Communist Central Committee to assure unity and continuity of direction, and to rationalise the administrative machine. The resolution adopted promised reforms which the Civil War and an uneducated people rendered impossible of realisation.
The election of the new Central Committee produced six names on all the lists of candidates, those of Lenin, Zinoviev, Trotsky, Kamenev, Bukharin and Stalin. These six men were really the secret directing group of the Party and the State, and were accountable to no one. Sverdlov's death from typhus was an irreparable loss to the regime of which he had been the principal organiser. Zinoviev and Kamenev gradually effaced their reputation as the "October deserters" by submission to Lenin who required docile agents for minor tasks. Bukharin had a reputation as a theorist, and was a pleasant colleague, relatively open and friendly. Stalin, still unknown in the Party and the country, patiently cultivated personal relations in the ranks of higher officials; the disappearance of Sverdlov, his former comrade in exile, left a vacant place. The position of Lenin and Trotsky was undisputed and indisputable.
During the Congress, Zinoviev roused a storm of acclamation by reading the message announcing the~formation of a Republic of Soviets in Hungary, adding on his own account: "Let us hope that in Paris the radio will soon be in the insurgents' hands." Shortly afterwards he declared, in a manifesto issued by the Communist International for May Day: "Before a year has passed, the whole of Europe will have gone over to the Soviet system." Lenin's language was very much the same: "The Soviet system has conquered, not only in backward Russia but in the most highly civilised country in Europe, Germany, and in the ancient capitalist stronghold, England." Even in America, "the most powerful and the youngest of the capitalist countries, the Soviet system has the sympathies of the working masses." Lenin saw soviets everywhere, saw them in the ephemeral English Shop Steward's Committees, in the most insignificant Strike Committees, and ventured on the premature announcement that "the soviets are winning throughout the world." In hasty generalisations on passing phenomena he based his general plan on halftruths and uncertainties, sometimes on pure mistakes. "No one," he said, "will be able to pay these unheard-of debts, or make good the terrible ruin; in France the production of wheat has fallen by more than half, famine is knocking at the door, the forces of production are destroyed." Hence he concluded optimistically: "We are sure that we have only six really hard months to face." The Hungarian episode led him to declare that "the bourgeoisie themselves have recognised that no other power but the soviets can survive," and from this peaceful change of regime he hopefully augured that "other countries will attain the Soviet system by other and more humane means."
The most critical hour had not pet struck for the Russian Revolution, abandoned to its own resources pending the realisation of these grandiose dreams. It was at hand with the almost simultaneous offensive of Kolchak in the east, Denikin in the south and Yudenich in the north.
Kolchak was the first to be repulsed, and his retreat roused dissension even among the communists. Should he be pursued. into the depths of Siberia, or should forces be drawn from the Eastern Front to meet the disturbing advance of Denikin in the south, Trotsky leaned towards the second course, in error as the event proved. Stalin seized this pretext to satisfy his bitterness; he had more than once denounced Trotsky to Lenin, but in vain. Lenin stood firmly by his rival. Early in June, Stalin again found fault with the southern command with the underlying design of hitting Trotsky; he insisted on penalties in terms apparently ambiguous, but clear enough to the initiated: "The whole question is to know whether the Central Committee will be courageous enough to draw the necessary deductions. Will it have sufficient character and firmness?" Though he did not see this correspondence, Trotsky sensed intrigue, and offered his resignation.
The incident had no immediate results. But it had the double interest of making clear the Central Committee's attitude towards Trotsky and Stalin's methods. In fact the Central Committee replied by confirming Trotsky in his post, assuring him of their desire to do everything to facilitate his task on the Southern Front, "the most difficult, dangerous and important at the moment, and selected by Trotsky himself," to put all possible resources at his disposal, and to endeavour to hasten on the Party Congress, being "firmly persuaded that Trotsky's resignation at this moment is absolutely impossible and would be the greatest disaster to the Republic." This resolution is signed byStalin.
Fresh divergence of view arose over the operations against Denikin. In substance, Trotsky's plan was for an offensive across the working-class regions of Kharkov and the Donetz Basin, socially favourable to the Reds. The plan of the general staff on this Front, on the other hand, the plan supported by Stalin, was to cross the Cossack peasant country, which was socially favourable to the Whites. At first the Central Committee approved the second plan, but the event showed that Trotsky had been right. The ill-timed attack on the Cossacks drove them into the arms of Denikin, helped the enemy, and soon wore itself out. Meanwhile the Whites advanced into Great Russia, captured Kursk, then Orel, and were marching on Tula, the principal arsenal of the Republic and only zoo miles from Moscow. The error of the Staff, of the Central Committee, and of Stalinof Lenin in the last resortcost dear in life and war material. Also it led to an alarming situation in the South at the very moment of extreme danger in the North.
The Seventh Red Army, weakened by many desertions and demoralised by long inaction, was retreating on Petrograd. Stalin had spent three weeks on this Front in June-July, at the time of the surrender of the Krasnaya Gorka fort, easily retaken four days later. The whole affair resolved itself into a plot quickly repressed. In this matter Voroshilov attributes to Stalin "immense creative work," and the liquidation of "a dangerous situation in front of Red Petrograd." In reality there is no evidence of this in any published document of that date or for ten years afterwards, or in any memoirs; on the contrary the position of Petrograd grew steadily worse until October, when Lenin thought it lost and resigned himself to its evacuation.
The abandonment of Petrograd would have been a major disaster. Trotsky hurried to Moscow to oppose it energetically, with the help of Krestinsky, Zinoviev, and, this time, Stalin. He wanted to defend the city at any cost, even if it involved street fighting. Lenin submitted to his arguments, Trotsky's plan was adopted and the Commissar for War went to the North-West Front.
If ever situation was remedied by one man, it was in this amazing case, as was admitted in both camps. Petrograd was panic-stricken, its fall was announced throughout Europe, the Whites were, so to speak, at the gates. Trotsky was the soul of the resistance. His attitude revived the confidence of the disheartened population, aroused day by day the initiative and confidence of the defence, and galvanised the working classes in their adhesion to the only revolutionary Party. He was to be seen on horseback literally under machine-gun fire, bringing back stragglers to the front line. In a fortnight, at the cost of heavy sacrifices, Yudenich's army was definitely defeated.
"The saving of Red Petrograd was an invaluable service to the world-proletariat, and consequently to the Communist International. The first place in this struggle of course belongs to you, dear Comrade Trotsky..." said Zinoviev emphatically, in a message from the Executive of the new International. This was the general tenor of the resolutions of thanks and of the unanimous congratulations sent to Trotsky. In this case Lenin had all but committed an irreparable mistake in observing to excess the retreat tactics consciously employed a year earlier. His collaboration with Trotsky balanced the disadvantages arising from unlimited personal authority. Happily for the regime, its founder did not pretend to omniscience or omnipotence, and tried to secure collective rule.
The Political Bureau bestowed on Trotsky the Order of the Red Flag. The revival of decorations in the army, so contrary to communist ideology, could be explained, if necessary, as a temporary stimulus for the soldiers, most of them uninstructed peasants; but the practice was extended and consolidated by bestowing orders on the leaders. Originally there was no idea of creating a Civil Order, but the first step was to lead to a second, then a third. Trotsky had neither the rigid sense of principle nor the political intuition to limit the evil by his own example. Thus the rapid resumption of past customs day by day belied the scarlet colours of the Revolution.
On the same occasion, Kamenev proposed to decorate Stalin, to the great amazement of Kalinin, Sverdlov's nominal successor, who asked: "For what? I can't understand why it should be awarded to Stalin." Bukharin's reply was instructive. "Can't you understand? This is Lenin's idea. Stalin can't live unless he has what someone else has. He will never forgive it." Lenin had discerned Stalin's jealousy and sought to avoid anything which might excite his enmity to Trotsky. When the decorations were given, Stalin had the sense not to appear and no one understood why his name was mentioned.
The Republic of Soviets celebrated its second anniversary. Contrary to all expectations it had survived, and might lastif it denied its own programme. But peril persisted, and' the Southern Front was too near Moscow. Trotsky's plan, tardily approved by Stalin on his own account, had to be adopted. In a letter full of insinuations, the date of which Voroshilov carefully omits to give, Stalin proposed a new plan, in agreement with that proposed by Trotsky, and in his turn threatened resignation, "otherwise my work at the Front would be absurd, criminal, and futile; this gives me the right, or rather the duty to go anywhere else, to the devil if need be, but not to remain on the Southern Front." A severe reply from the Political Bureau called him to order. "The Political Bureau regards the framing of your demands in the shape of ultimatums and resignations as inadmissible." Notifications of this nature fed his repressed hatred, the virulence and effectiveness of which were underrated by Trotsky.
Stalin's military historiographer, his close collaborator and subordinate, Voroshilov, declaresafter ten years' reflectionthat before starting for the Southern Front, Stalin had secured a ruling forbidding Trotsky to interfere in the business of his sector. If this were the case, the Commissar for War, President of the Revolutionary Council of War, member of the Central Committee and of the Political Bureau, would have been excluded from the main Front. It would have been easy to extract the confirmatory document from the archives. Voroshilov carefully abstains from all reference to it. On the other hand the collection How the Revolution Armed, vol, ii, book I, contains no less than 80 documents relative to Trotsky's activities on the Southern Front. Not everything that Trotsky has to say in his later writings with regard to his quarrel with Stalin is invulnerable, but the documents cannot be refuted; Voroshilov has not taken the risk of attempting contradiction. Indeed the actual state of affairs can be deduced from this polemical literature without going into details.
Early in the following year, after Denikin's defeat, Stalin was nominated to the Caucasian Front, but evaded the task on the ground of the malevolent interpretation which would be placed on his frequent changes from one post to another. In reply to Lenin, ordering the dispatch of two divisions to the Caucasus, he said: "I do not see why the care of the Caucasus Front should rest especially on me. Responsibility for reinforcing the Caucasus Front rests normally with the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic, whose members to my knowledge are in perfectly good health, and not with Stalin who is overloaded with work." In answer to this discourteous telegram, Lenin insists, with an implied reproof: "It is your business to hasten the dispatch of reinforcements from the South-West Front to the Caucasus Front. You must help in all ways and not dispute as to whose business it is." The interchange is characteristic of the two men.
Stalin was again engaged in military affairs in 1920 during the Polish campaign. During the summer, the former leader of the bojowci expropriators, Pilsudski, forced the exhausted Reds into another war by advancing with the Polish army into the Ukraine as far as Kiev. By an ironic chance, Stalin, the virtuoso of the boyeviki expropriations, was at the headquarters of the retreating army. The reverses roused a burst of fighting energy in Russia. The Red Army of the Southwest, having been reinforced, pulled itself together, and the Poles had to evacuate Kiev and retreat faster than they had advancedmore than 600 kilometres in five weeks. These suddenly altered circumstances occasioned a sharp strategic and political difference among the communist leaders. Trotsky and Radek argued resolutely for the conclusion of peace. But the majority, including Lenin and Stalin, wanted to exploit the success to the full, to develop the offensive, to take Warsaw, and to realise after their own fashion self-determination in Poland by helping Polish communists to establish a Soviet Republic.
They were falling into the bellicose error of the "Girondism" of the Left Communists, and forgetting Robespierre's clear statement: "The wildest idea that can enter the head of any politician is to think that it is sufficient for a nation to carry their arms among another nation to make them adopt their own laws and constitutions. No one loves armed missionaries." The result was to stimulate Polish national unity under pressure of a foreign enemy, instead of stimulating the class struggle. The Central Committee had agreed with Lenin, but events proved him to be wrong. The advance of the Reds began as an adventure, and ended in severe defeat.
One of the causes of the catastrophe, says Trotsky, was the action of the Southern Front headquarters, where Stalin was the leading political personage. This can be proved without going into all the details. When the army group commanded by Smilga and Tukhachevsky on the north had dangerously thinned its front towards Warsaw by too rapid a march, Stalin proposed to lead the Southern Army towards Lemberg, contrary to his instructions to help the Northern Army group by attacking the Poles in the flank. Stalin endangered the main action in the desire to inscribe on his banner the capture of a great city. "Only after repeated orders and threats did the south-western command change the direction of its advance. But the few days of delay had already had their fatal effect." Voroshilov passes over this feat of arms in silence.
Lenin was not the last to understand the significance of his defeat. He referred to it frankly on several occasions. Amongst his other commanding qualities he possessed that of often acknowledging his errors and of learning from them. "We were wrong," is a frequent phrase in his writings and his speeches. With regard to the Warsaw mistake, Clara Zetkin relates in her Reminiscences of Lenin that he said: "Radek predicted how it would turn out.... I was very angry with him, and accused him of 'defeatism.' But he was right in his main contention. He knew the situation outside Russia, especially in the west, better than we did." Neither was he grudging in his praise of Trotsky. More than anyone else, he was conscious of the lack of capable men in his Party, and he did justice to the best of them. "Good staff officers are just the element lacking in all revolutions," wrote Engels to Marx, half a century earlier. Lenin knew something about it by experience.
Stalin also took part with Frunze in the operations against the last of the great White armies, levied in the south by Wrangel; but sickness shortened his military career. Voroshilov does not attribute to him any exploit of any particular merit on this Front. Had he any responsibility for the cruel massacre of unarmed prisoners ordered by Bela Kun in the Crimea after the final victory of the Reds? It must not be assumed, in view of the uncertainty of the dates of his presence at the Front.
With this last battle, which cost the Whites a hecatomb of victims, the Civil War drew to a close, after two years of struggle comparable only, in modern times, by the size of the forces involved and the bitterness of the fighting, to the War of Independence. The Russian struggle was shorter than the American, but the technique of armaments made it more intense and the extent of country covered by its operations made it more costly in life. More than a year elapsed before the remnants of the insurgent troops were dispersed in Ukraine, Siberia, Turkestan, and before the conquest of the Caucasus was achieved. Nevertheless, the year 1920 opened for the Soviet Republic a new era, that of peaceful work.
STALIN emerged from the war matured and tempered. He had won no notoriety, but under Lenin he had acquired the technique of government, a modicum of empirical political science and confidence in himself. At the Front he learned to hold life and human suffering cheap. And this "hard" man among the "hards" had become still more hardened to repression in the rear.
Around him there were many gaps. Sverdlov, the master organiser of the dictatorship, Uritsky, Volodarsky, Chudnovsky, and many others, were gone; his comrades and rivals in the Caucasus, S. Shaumian, called "the Lenin of the Caucasus," and P. Djaparidze had been killed by the English among the twenty-six commissars executed after the fall of the Baku Commune. The decimated cadres of Bolshevism had a new world to create. Infinite possibilities seemed to lie open to the bold survivors. What ambitions came to birth in Stalin From some lines which he wrote later in memory of Sverdlov, it is clear that he felt himself misunderstood and unjustly kept in the background of events: "There are men, leaders of the proletariat, who are not talked about in the press, perhaps because they are not fond of talking about themselves, but who are, nevertheless, the vital sap and the authentic leaders of the revolutionary movement." He is certainly speaking awkwardly about himself, in honouring Sverdlov.
He was probably voicing long harboured bitterness, but also a certain truth. In Soviet Russia, as elsewhere, writers and orators attract public attention without always deserving it. Usually silent in great assemblies and unnoticed in the press, Stalin remained unknown outside the limited circle of official politics, although he shared the effective power wielded behind the closed doors of the Political Bureau and the Central Committee. But unresigned to his position in the background and unsuspecting of the future in reserve for him, he was biding his hour with the patience and typical prudence of the peasant.
During the revolutionary days of 1917, Lenin, envisaging the possibility of assassination, asked Trotsky: "If the Whites kill us both, do you think that Sverdlov and Bukharin will be able to carry on?" He did not think of Stalin as an eventual successor, nor, of course of the "October deserters." A careful observer of men, he was incapable of error in assessing the intellectual and moral level of his comrades and followers, however close their relations. He told Trotsky that Zinoviev was bold when the danger was past, an opinion confirmed by Sverdlov: "Zinoviev is panic personified." Of certain Left Bolsheviks he had written: "Lunacharsky, Manuilsky and Co. have no brains." His estimate of the others of his following was not more flattering. On the other hand he valued at their true worth his serious collaborators, supporting and encouraging them in every difficulty.
By the tragic light of the Civil War, he no doubt discerned that Stalin and Dzerzhinsky were the strongest characters, with the exception of Sverdlov and Trotsky. In 1919, between two campaigns against the Whites, he secured Stalin's nomination as Commissar for Workers' and Peasants' Inspection, the new control organisation which was neither more nor less "workman and peasant" in character than the other Soviet institutions, and which only added one bureaucratic complication the more to the machine. The utility of this Commissariat, as in the case of the Commissariat for Nationalities, was sufficiently expressed by the fact that the Commissar who presided over both of them spent his time at the Front. But the choice of Stalin at that time is significant.
There is no ground for Trotsky's hypothesis that Lenin, who had only just met Stalin from time to time before he returned to Russia, formed an unfavourable opinion of him after seeing him actually at work. That appears to be an anachronism. Lenin respected Stalin not for his brain but for his fist. It was several years before he changed his opinion of the "wonderful Georgian."
Substantially different was his appreciation of Trotsky, whose rhetorical and romantic quality he did not like, but whose intelligence, culture, initiative and energy he understood how to use in the interests of the revolution. With him he shared the direction of affairs and its responsibilities, and with him he maintained a permanent friendship, implicit or explicit, except in case of an open difference of opinion in which controversy was admissible. On the Bolshevik attitude towards the peasant question he wrote in Pravda: "I entirely support Trotsky's statement. There is not the smallest dIsagreement between us....I subscribe with both hands to what Comrade Trotsky has said." On another occasion he defended Trotsky when he was charged with excessive severity. "If we have defeated Kolchak and Denikin," he said, "it is because discipline is stronger with us than in all the capitalist countries of the world. Trotsky has established the death penalty, and I approve of this." He even gave him a signed blank paper agreeing beforehand to his most disputed acts: "Knowing the strict character of Comrade Trotsky's orders, I am so convinced, so absolutely convinced, of the correctness, expediency and necessity for the success of the cause of the order given by Comrade Trotsky that I unreservedly endorse this order." Their fundamental agreement was not one of the least factors in the stability of the regime.
In the division of work, dictatorial power was divided between the Political Bureau, the Revolutionary Military Council and the Extraordinary Commission (Cheka)all three extra-Constitutional authorities. Lenin directed the first, Trotsky the second, and Dzerzhinsky the third. In the last resort decision rested with the Political Bureau, but, practically, Trotsky and Dzerzhinsky, each assisted by colleagues, exercised almost unlimited authority in their respective domains. At one time Pravda was able to state that the formula "All power to the Soviets" had been replaced by "All power to the Chekas." The country was covered with a close network of Chekas, superior, local, departmental, provincial and regional, without taking into account the special Chekas for transport and other departments. At the top of this police pyramid, the Central Cheka was responsible in theory to the Council of Commissars, in reality to the Political Bureau. In fact it had means of securing automatic confirmation for its actions, except for the very rare interventions of Lenin or Trotsky acting on direct information. The end of armed hostilities reduced military control to the camps and garrisons, but left a ramified Cheka which perfected itself by simplification of its operation. The Political Bureau and the Cheka, each the instrument of the other, held the prerogatives of government in their hands, much as in France the Committee of Public Safety and the Committee of General Security did under Jacobin rule. The circumstances were parallel, but not identical; the same causes had produced analogous results.
But in Russia the machinery for coercion forged in the Civil War period survived the circumstances which had made it necessary and historically justifiable. Peace was not immediately attained, the professional revolutionaries, increased in number, remained on the alert, and the state of war, theoretically abolished, persisted under new forms, by force of inertia and as being the easiest governmental method.
Before the Constitution was in being, the Republic of Soviets enjoyed a semblance of constitutionalism, complex and ill-defined. Local soviets had some power. Social-Democrats, Social Revolutionaries and Anarchists had representatives of precarious standing in the Soviet executive. The harried Opposition, in spite of repressive measures, issued journals with frequent changes of name. The Communist Party as yet only exercised a relative dictatorship; its committees and sections shared authority within limits under a domestic regime which tolerated controversy. The outburst of terrorism and the counter-terror was soon to change this state of affairs.
Lenin had not been caught napping. In this matter he had never changed his opinion, for lie had written in Iskra in 1901: "In principle we have never renounced, and cannot renounce terrorism. It is an act of war....indispensable at a certain point in the struggle," though he agreed that terrorism "was not in itself sufficient." He had never envisaged the terror as a permanent instrument of his "democratic dictatorship." At first events were stronger than he, and he afterwards found it expedient to prolong the use of means intended for exceptional circumstances. The word "shoot" recurred like a sinister leitmotiv often simply as a threat, but the violent language was in itself a sign of weakness.
In so far as Lenin and Trotsky adopted the terrorist theory they travestied Marxist doctrine, of which they professed themselves faithful interpreters. They had no reply ready when confronted with Engels's statement that terror meant "the domination of men who were themselves terrorised" that it consisted of "useless cruelties committed to give self-confidence to men who are themselves afraid." A considered opinion confirmed by Marx, who praised the Paris Commune for having "remained innocent of the violence common in revolutions and especially in the counter-revolutions of the upper classes." Twenty-five years earlier Marx had written: "Revolution will show less bloodshed, less vengeance and fury, in exact proportion to the degree in which the proletariat is reinforced by socialist and communist elements." Regarded from this aspect the Russian Revolution showed singular poverty in those elements.
Whites and Reds accused one another of beginning reprisals in the Civil War and of the worst exactions and persecutions. Both sides produced many doubtful documents and many wild assertions. But pending examination of these, there is enough truth in them to make it unnecessary to undertake a minute study of the truth of any individual instance; given a certain degree of horror, the variants are unimportant. The essentials are already known before the archives have yielded their secrets and before all the witnesses are free to speak. Hostages shot, prisoners exterminated, the innocent massacred, villages burnt, rape, pillage, reprisals, hangings and torturethe whole is too generally true for it to be worth while to verify the details.
History proves that there is nothing specifically Russian about these abominations. There is evidence of them in all wars and revolutions. Jaures justly observed: "Revolutions are a barbarous means of progress. However noble, fruitful or necessary a revolution may be, it always belongs to an inferior and semi-bestiai epoch of humanity." And might not Lenin be said to admit this in giving the advice "not to shrink front barbarous methods to combat barbarism"? Also Trotsky, in speaking of revolution "with its heroism and cruelty, its struggle for and scorn of the individual."
In justification of the Bolsheviks, it is fitting to quote some other reflections of the Histoire Socialiste de in Revolultion Francaise:
When a great country in revolution struggles at the same time against interior factions which are armed, and against the world, when the least hesitation or the least fault can affect the future of the new order, perhaps for centuries, those who direct this immense enterprise have not the time to rally the dissidents, or to convince their adversaries. They cannot pay much attention to discussion or combination. They must fight, they must act, and to guard intact their full capacity for action, in order not to dissipate their strength, they use death to create around them that immediate unanimity which they need.
There is nothing specifically Russian, and certainly no connection with "experiments in socialism," in the outburst of peasant savagery caused by centuries of despotism and Ignorance, in the awakening of atavistic brutality roused by war between so-called civilised nations. These are phenomena natural in the backward state of Russia, the country of which Gorky wrote in his Revolt of the Slaves:
A people brought up in a school which dwells vulgarly on the terrors of hell, tutored with blows of the fists, with rods and whips, cannot have a tender heart. A people who have been trampled down by the police will be capable in their turn of trampling on the bodies of others. In a country where iniquity has been triumphant for so long it is hard for the people to realise in a day the power of justice. You cannot expect justice from those who have never known it.
Bolshevism could not escape the psychosis of systematised murder. At the end of the Civil War it was soaked in it. Its principles, practice, institutions and customs had been turned into new channels by the weight of the calamities it had endured. It was its misfortune rather than its fault. There is a remarkable disparity between Bolshevism conservative and Bolshevism triumphant. But in passing from "War Communism" to communism in peace, the chosen few owed it to their doctrine, their culture, their socialist past and their revolutionary present to move into the "more humane path" of which Lenin spoke. To renounce that path by adopting the dictatorship in opposition to democracy, instead of raising themselves to the height of a synthesis, was to compromise the future irremediably and to make the boldest effort abortive. But by following out their own programme the Bolsheviks, with the aid of the workers of other countries, could have made a reality of this Socialist Federal Republic of Soviets, which was neither republican, nor socialist, nor federal, and could have revived the soviets which had virtually ceased to exist. Their impotence to attune speech and action, theory and practice, confirmed the truth of a prophetic saying of Rosa Luxemburg's: "In Russia the problem may be posed: it cannot be resolved."