Mirrors Of Moscow

by Louise Bryant

Lenin and his subordinates:

Maxim Litvinov, Assistant Commissar, Leonid Krassin and Subordinates


LITVINOV, more than Tchicherin, has been Lenin's spokesman to the outside world in the past three years. Litvinov is closer to Lenin; he knows how Lenin will react on most situations, while Tchicherin is usually in doubt. 'Phis knowledge gives Litvinov power to make immediate decisions. Litvinov has worked with Lenin since the Communist party was created, while Tchicherin actually only came into the Communist ranks after the revolution—he was formerly connected with another group and his allegiance is naturally a little more conservative.

Litvinov makes a striking contrast to Tchicherin, the aesthete. Litvinov is hale, hearty and loves the fleshy things of life. He fairly bursts with a florid, extravagant energy, like a man who has just emerged from a hot bath, dressed in haste and is late for an appointment. He is big and burly, wearing his clothes loosely with a sort of unkempt but smooth-shaven atr. He is a great worker and, when he has the opportunity, a man who enjoys life greatly.

Abroad he likes to eat good food, drink old wines and roll around in a new, expensive automobile with a small red flag on the hood. All this not because he·craves ease or ostentation but because of a sort of obvious patriotism for the Soviets which wants to shout to a hostile world, "We too can do things with a flourish." There is nothing subservient about Litvinov.

He has been accused of undue extravagance by the other embassies in Reval, but in Russia he goes about like any peasant with a piece of black bread in his pocket, works furiously from eleven in the forenoon until two or three in the morning to accommodate Tchicherin and never has a moment for recreation. He never looks tired and seems to begin each task with the same enthusiasm.

The Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs is immensely human, and has an ear for jokes and gossip and knows how to hate. He has a wife and three children living in Copenhagen and maintains a perfectly conventional household. One day last winter I interviewed him while he was eating his lunch, and he said, with a sigh, that he wished he could arrange his work somehow so as to get away for a few days to visit his family. His wife had just had a baby.

"Boy or girl?" I asked.

Litvinov reddened and laughed. "The telegram didn't say," he said, "and God knows when I'll have a chance to run over and find out."

A moment later he was deep in a discussion of the attitude of the American press towards Russia. I remarked his ability to put out of mind circumstances he could not change; it is the same saving quality which keeps Litvinov from breaking under strain.

When Litvinov is interviewed his thoughts run along smoothly with no break in the thread of them; he is extremely capable and intelligent but one feels at once that he is a politician. Perhaps it would be better to say that he is a practical Communist, just as one would say that Mr. Penrose was a practical Republican and Mr. Underwood is a practical Democrat. Most successful public men are practical politicians and reporters learn early to weigh their words; they have a way of using the press, through subtle suggestions, to their own advantage.

No practical politician is above intrigue. Tchicherin is above it and that is probably why he does not see it when it is all around him.

There was a moment when the clashing of personalities and ambitions nearly ruined the staff of Mr. Tchicherin. The whole matter centered round the English trade negotiations begun by Litvinov and David Rothstein and finished by Krassin.

Rothstein had pinned his hope on those negotiations; he believed that their successful termination would make him Ambassador to England. It is easy to comprehend his feelings and even his actions in this matter. Rothstein is ambitious without either the intelligence or the foresight of Litvinov. It is astounding that Litvinov allied himself, however briefly, in a petty intrigue against Krassin.

Rothstein has lived many years in London, his home is there, his family and his wife. No doubt it would have been very pleasant for him to have been appointed Ambassador to England. But logically, and through peculiar circumstances, that office seemed to be about to be bestowed upon Mr. Krassin. · Thus Rothstein set about to remove Krassin from his path.

Both Litvinov and Rothstein had cause for deep annoyance against the British Government. Rothstein was "allowed" to accompany Litvinov to Moscow when Litvinov was "returned" to his government; he was refused permission to go back. Feeling himself tricked, he pointed a suspicious finger at Krassin who came and went so freely. He managed to play upon Litvinov's wounded personal vanity. Between them they almost ruined Krassin's work.

Litvinov was sent out of England with all the indignity of a man being kicked down stairs. No one could blame him for a perfectly human desire to go back some day and sit at a conference table facing the very men who were once so unjust to him. This desire has probably been entirely appeased at Genoa. The world is full .of tantalizing prejudices, which direct events more than we realize. Krassin and Litvinov are both charter members of the Communist party, but Litvinov just happens to be England's idea of a Bolshevik while Krassin does not. Because Krassin came from the same class that Lord Curzon did, England does not feel so much panic in dealing with him. Krassin is obviously a gentleman and official England can never quite ignore a gentleman. Krassin is as polished and as coldly polite and as well dressed as if he were in the House of Lords. He is tall, middle aged, fine featured and has great personal charm.

All this would not mean much in America, but in England to establish one's social equality with the home office is an especially strong point for any visiting diplomat. This acknowledgment of caste is true all over Europe. Tchicherin, the aristocrat, had a much better chance at Genoa because of his background.

If such conferences are ever held in America, Litvinov might prove the most popular of the group. Any country which is satisfied with the familiar type of our middle western· Congressmen will not reject an intelligent proletarian like Litvmov. Some of our rough-and-ready Senators will surely feel much more at home with his bluntness than with Krassin's smooth, impenetrable Old Worldliness. Litvinov reminds one of a successful mining man from Alaska or a lumber king from the West. Krassin is more like those quiet, powerful, coldly intelligent men who manage railroads, Wall Street and the world's finance.

Krassin, who once managed the great Putilov factory and was considered one of the most able engineers in Russia, is now pretty generally conceded the strongest man next to Lenin. As a force for stability and reconstruction he is immensely valuable to the Soviets. He has maintained a mental equilibrium which many of the other Commissars have lost. Contact with men of different political opinions is a great dissolver of mental cobwebs. Krassin's continual coming and going has probably helped him to maintain. his perspective. When one remains too long in Russia, the outside world often appears incomprehensible just as Russia appears incomprehensible to the outside world.

I remember a conversation I had with him during the blockade. "Whenever Russia," he said, "ceases to be a country visited only by 'brave' and 'adventuresome' and 'occasional' travelers, the Russian people and the Russian government will be no more interesting and no more evil than the governments and the people of the rest of the world; it will no longer be necessary for writers to exaggerate about us." David Rothstein is a deep and thorough student of Socialism. Theoretically, he believes that he knows the only true way to cure the wounds of humanity; he reverences Marx as some men do Mohammed. But in real life he is fussy, narrow, selfish and without personal loyalty. He cannot imagine applying his doctrines to his immediate surroundings, and so he fundamentally fails.

Fresh from London, he spent his time ordering suits from the Soviet tailor and fuming because they did not fit perfectly; this in a country literally of rags. He was more worried about his son's dismissal from Oxford than about the thousands of young men being slaughtered on the various Russian fronts. He exclaimed generously, "We must have victory no matter how many men it takes I" But he kept his own sons in England. He could never see anything in Wells' articles for American papers except the flippant remarks about Marx which made him writhe in mental agony.

At present Rothstein is Ambassador to Persia, and Litvinov and Krassin are working in harmony. There are many other men in the Foreign Office of interesting and varied character; very few are workmen or peasants. I will take for example, four typical men: Weinstein, Karakhan, Florinsky and Axionov.

Weinstein was one of the Editors of the Russian daily paper N ovy M ir, in New York, and secretary to Ludwig Martens, who directed the Soviet Bureau on Fortieth Street. He was deported with Martens. Immediately upon his arrival in Moscow he became head of the Anglo-American Department of the Foreign Office. Almost his entire staff are ex-Americans. English is more generally spoken among them than Russian.

Michael Karakhan is head of the Eastern Department when Tchicherin is in Russia; when Tchicherin attends the conferences, he is elevated to Tchicherin's place. Karakhan is an Armenian and, more through favorable circumstances than any astonishing ability, has achieved his high official position. I always think of him as getting into or out of an automobile. During the first days of the revolution he "requisitioned" Rasputin's car, a gorgeous affair which had been the gift of the Empress and was made especially for the mysterious priest. Karakhan never walks anywhere and his car is always waiting for him in front of his home or the Foreign Office. An evidence of his cleverness was his ability to keep for himself the whole lower floor of the most lovely private palace in Moscow, while Lenin and Tchicherin lived as meagerly as workmen.

He is a faultless dresser. And he has the rather dubious distinction of being the only Commissar who divorced his wife under the new marriage laws. He immediately married again. Karakhan is one of those surprising figures of the revolution who, without possessing marked talents or great idealism, nevertheless rose to power.

Mr. Florinsky and Mr. Axionov represent the old order. Florinsky was a Consul in America under the Tsar. He is now a Communist and wears his red button with all the grace of an old beau wearing the ribbon of the Legion of Honor. He was the only man in Russia last year who wore spats and a monocle. Axionov is the Cheka man-a former Tsarist officer and a poet of distinction. I was never present when he arrested anyone. He was always pounding out free verse poems between reports. Often in dull moments he read them to us.

He has the manner of a courtier and used to embarrass the American stenographers by kissing their hands. He was forever bowing and continually good-natured. Sinister rumors used to float round about his activities which caused us to vow never to "talk" or to criticize anything or anybody in his presence, but we invariably forgot our resolutions simply because he was so pleasant. Axionov wore a beard which was fiery red. His head was absolutely bald, but he usually kept it covered by a high peaked cap with a large red star on the front. No other country but Russia could have produced such a character.