William Henry Chamberlin | Soviet Russia: A Living Record and a History
OVER the impersonal structure of the Soviet state and the Communist Party organization broods the mighty personality of Vladimir Ilyitch Lenin, (1) who has probably done more to deflect the course of world history than any political figure since Napoleon. What sort of man was this Lenin, whose body lies embalmed in solemn state in the sepulchre on the Red Square, an object of visitation for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all parts of Russia, whose picture has pushed out the ikons from many workers' homes, whose commandments, for large numbers of the Russian people, and for smaller groups of persecuted disciples abroad, have all the authority of revealed religion ?
The main secret, perhaps, of the significance of Lenin's personality lies in its rare combination of two qualities; absolute unwavering fanatical devotion to a set of theoretical principles, and extraordinary flexibility in choosing workable means for realizing those principles. Lenin was equally great as a revolutionary enthusiast and as a practical states-man. He knew not only when to advance but also when to retreat, a lesson which his heirs and successors might well keep fresh in memory. He could swing backward as well as for-ward with the movement of the revolutionary pendulum. That is why he was laid to rest in honor on the Red Square instead of being hurried off to some Russian equivalent for the guillotine which ended the career of Maximilien Robespierre, who, similar to Lenin in iron revolutionary will, lacked the latter's capacity for manoeuvre and compromise and for finding some exit from the most threatening impasse.
Lenin was born in 1870 in the sleepy little Volga town of Simbirsk (now renamed Ulianovsk). His father was an inspector of schools who, as he rose in the service, received the patent of nobility which was a regular reward in the higher grades of the Tsarist officialdom. So, while it is technically correct to say that Lenin was the son of a nobleman, he did not grow up in the atmosphere of wealth and social display which would have characterized one of the wealthy hereditary aristocratic families. His boyhood environment was rather that of a Russian middle-class intellectual family; and, like so many sons of this class, both Vladimir Lenin and his older brother, Alexander, from high-school days were drawn into the underground revolutionary movement.
Alexander, who, according to some acquaintances of the Ulianov family, displayed more boyhood precocity and promise than Vladimir, was charged with participation in a student plot to kill Tsar Alexander III and was hanged. Vladimir suffered the imprisonment and exile which have been the lot of practically every active Russian revolutionist, but went abroad in 1900 and spent most of his life up to 1917 in England, Switzerland, and other foreign countries, returning to Russia only for a comparatively short time during the revolutionary movement of 1905. He was one of the recognized leaders of the exiled Social Democratic groups, and was distinguished for his uncompromising intolerance of anything which he regarded as un-Marxian and heretical, either in the field of doctrine or in the field of organization.(I describe the theoretical differences of the Russian revolutionary parties in more detail in Chapter I.) He would always encourage a split in the thin ranks of the emigres rather than accept what he regarded as a harmful compromise solution of a problem.
Before the War Lenin was known to the small, poverty-stricken, always quarreling emigre groups, to a few foreign Socialists, and to the ever-watchful agents of the Tsarist secret police. It is doubtful whether one Russian in a thousand had ever heard of him. That he and his small band of Bolshevik disciples, always at odds not only with the Mensheviks, who represented another Social Democratic tendency, and the Social Revolutionists, the successors of the nineteenth century Narodniki, but with little groups of rebels and doubters in their own camp, could replace the Tsar and his vast bureaucratic apparatus at the head of the Russian state would have seemed too fantastic a proposition even to merit discussion. And yet this is precisely what happened.
The World War prepared the way for this unprecedented leap to power. Lenin himself, with the prophetic sense that is sometimes vouchsafed to the fanatic and denied to the man of reason and moderation, foresaw immediately the possibility that the War would lead to violent revolutionary upheavals. The following significant phrase appears in the manifesto which he wrote and the Bolshevik fraction of the Social Democratic Party published on the outbreak of the War: -
"To turn the contemporary imperialistic war into civil war, that is the sole correct proletarian solution."
And in Russia in 1917 this slogan was realized. Returning from his exile in Switzerland, Lenin immediately directed the course of the Bolshevik Party, which was somewhat wavering and confused in the first weeks after the March Revolution, along the line of no support for the Provisional Government Hid no support for the War. Undeterred by the accusations that he was a German spy, ridiculous to anyone who knew his lifelong record of bitter hostility to capitalism in all countries, undaunted by the failure of the first disorderly revolt against the Provisional Government in July, following which number of Bolshevik leaders were arrested and Lenin himself was obliged to go into hiding, he worked untiringly for the downfall of the weak Kerensky regime, keeping closely in touch with the rising revolutionary wave throughout the country.
If Lenin proved himself a master of the strategy of revolutionary attack when he organized and pressed on to a successful conclusion the Bolshevik seizure of power in November 1917, he proved his signal capacity for practical statesmanship when, by throwing the weight of his prestige and authority into the balance, he wrested a bare majority vote in the Party Central Committee for the signature of the ruthless Brest-Litovsk Peace, dictated by the German Government. Nothing is more difficult for a young and successful revolution than a retreat; and Brest-Litovsk was more than a retreat, it was a humiliating rout. Only Lenin's firm realistic grasp on the fact that no resistance was possible, that nothing could bring the crumbling Russian army back into the trenches, staved off the threatened German occupation of, Moscow and Petrograd, which might have spelled the end of the new Soviet state.
This same capacity for realistic appraisal of a situation came to the rescue of Lenin and the Communist Party in the spring of 1921, when, despite military victories on all fronts, the Soviet Government was in the gravest danger of collapse from the almost impossible economic situation resulting from the collapse of industrial production and the steady decline of the planted area. Lenin perceived that the one measure which could give immediate relief was a stimulus to the productive instinct of the peasants through the substitution of a fixed tax and free trade for the former system of forced requisitioning of their produce. This was done; the sharp crisis which found expression in the mutiny of the sailors at Kronstadt and numerous peasant uprisings all over the country was overcome; the country was able to enter upon a new stage of development and economic reconstruction.
Lenin's prescience had its limits and, broadly speaking, they were nationalist limits. More than once he grossly misjudged the political situation and revolutionary possibilities in other countries. He proclaimed again and again that the War must produce as its immediate aftermath other successful socialist revolutions. Strangely enough, he understood the Russian peasants, with whom he had comparatively little contact, better than the labor and socialist movements of the countries where he spent so many years of his life. He knew that the Russian peasant soldier would not fight against Brest-Litovsk in 1918; he knew that the peasantry would wreck the whole revolutionary experiment if they were not placated in 1921. But he never fully understood the difficulties which stand in the way of violent Marxist revolution in England and France, Germany and Italy.
The international revolution which Lenin predicted so often and so confidently and which he believed would inevitably follow the triumph of Bolshevism in Russia has not yet broken out; and perhaps its prospects tend to grow dimmer rather than brighter with the passing of years. But as the leader of the Russian Revolution he ranks among the great statesmen of history.
When I recently stood in the lower chamber of the wooden mausoleum where the physical shell of Lenin is still preserved in its glass case, with the growth of beard on the face, the Order of the Red Banner pinned on the rough suit, and one hand clenched in an attitude of implacable determination that seems to defy death itself, another scene rose involuntarily in my memory. Far away from Moscow, under the hot blue sky of Turkestan, in " Jeweled Samarkand" rises the oval-shaped memorial sepulchre of Tamerlane, "the Earth-Shaker," whose armies overran Western Asia in the Middle Ages. A slab of the rare precious black nephritic stone marks Tamer-lane's grave; and his horse-tail standard hangs near by, just as Lenin's mausoleum is the repository for one of the smoke-blackened red flags of the Paris Commune.
Tamerlane, if history does him no injustice, celebrated his captures of cities with pyramids of human heads. The Russian Revolution, like every crusading upheaval, demanded its toll of human sacrifices. And, although the mind of Lenin belongs to Europe, his spirit has no little affinity with Asia, the continent from which all the great religions and most of the great conquerors have come.
It is among the founders of religions rather than among the destructive conquerors, the Tamerlanes - and Attilas, that Lenin's place will be found. He was one of the greatest haters of all time; and in this fact lies no little of the secret of his hold on the aroused revolutionary masses. His detestation of capitalism, which he regarded as the chief instrument of human enslavement, was heightened to a feverish pitch by the World War, every one of whose victims he regarded as a direct victim of the inevitable clash of competing imperialisms. For an expression of this spirit take the following excerpt from a letter which he addressed to the workers of America in the summer of 1918: -
"The bourgeoisie of international imperialism killed ten million human beings and mutilated twenty million in `their war,' a war to decide whether British or German robbers should rule over the whole world.
"If our war, the war of the suppressed and exploited against the oppressors and exploiters, will cost half a million or a million victims in all countries, the bourgeoisie will say that the first victims are justified and the second are not.
"The proletariat will give quite another answer."
Boundless hatred for the capitalist system and its upholders, boundless faith in the right and ability of the working class to dominate a new social order - these were certainly the two dominant passions of Lenin's strong and simple character. But in this hatred there was no element of personal revenge or vindictiveness.
In private life Lenin was a typical old-fashioned idealistic revolutionary intellectual, with simple tastes and standards of living, no vices, predominantly classical tastes in literature and music, and a rather disapproving eye for the element of Bohemian dilettantism that sometimes made itself felt on the fringes of the Bolshevik movement. The vulgar fleshpots of power and office meant nothing to him. In his two rooms in the Kremlin he lived in much the same simple Spartan style which he had maintained during the years of poverty and exile. He was naturally, not ostentatiously, indifferent to dress, and the typical Russian workman's cap was his favorite headgear. This simplicity of life represented an additional element in his hold on the Russian masses; still another was his transparent sincerity in setting forth the difficulties and hardships through which the country was passing and had to pass, and in denouncing bureaucracy and other abuses.
"Ilyitch (a familiar affectionate term for Lenin) never lies to us," became almost a byword among the Communist workmen. Just because he was so certain in his own mind of the correctness of his Marxist revolutionary interpretation of life (I know of no evidence that he ever wavered in this faith, even in the most discouraging moments), he could afford to be unsparing in criticizing defects of detail and execution. The fanatic can sometimes despise the propagandist devices of the petty politician.
Lenin the man quite escapes and defies one's judgment because he is so completely submerged in the ideal of Leninism, or revolutionary Marxism. I doubt whether a man of corresponding will, energy, and mentality ever lived who was so averse to any theatrical exploitation of his personality, so willing to sink himself in his cause. To that cause, the cause of Communism, he gave his life in the fullest and most literal sense of the phrase. And by the success or failure of that cause the future will in large measure judge the significance of his life.
The mantle of Lenin's leadership has fallen on Joseph Vissarionovitch Stalin, General Secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee, about whom less is probably authentically known than about any other important personality in world politics. Stalin has surrounded himself with a cloud of mystery comparable with the clouds which sweep about the peaks of his native Caucasian Mountains.
Lenin combined the functions of leader of the Communist Party and head of the Soviet state. Although he was an extremely busy man, he was by no means inaccessible; many foreigners have talked with him; genuine interviews with him have been published in the foreign press. Stalin, on the other hand, is exclusively a Party functionary and holds no state office. He sees almost no foreigners, unless they are Communists or members of the left-wing labor delegations which sometimes visit Russia. Even the American business man with a disposition to discuss granting credits, for whom almost any door in Soviet officialdom will be unlocked, has no access to Stalin, who never talks to representatives of the foreign press, and speaks, as a rule, only at Party congresses and meetings, from which non-Communists are barred.
All this external reserve does not, I think, cover an especially complex character. Strength of will and simplicity of world outlook are characteristic of Stalin, as they were of Lenin; and if one adds to these an extraordinary astuteness in manipulating the mechanism of the Communist Party organization, one has a fair measure of the main traits in the personality of the new uncrowned leader of the Communist Party. Stalin is an organizer and a man of action, rather than a theoretician; his published writings consist mostly of restatements of Leninist theories, sometimes accompanied by concrete illustrations of their practical application, and reprints of speeches and articles on current topics. For Stalin there is only one Marx, and Lenin is his prophet.
Physically the Communist General Secretary is an impressive figure, over six feet tall and well built [A], with black hair and an olive skin that reveals his Asiatic origin. For Stalin's real name is Djugashvili; he was born fifty years ago in the town of Gori, in the Tiflis Province of Georgia, on the southern side of the Caucasus Mountain range which is one of the boundaries between Europe and Asia. Stalin means "steel" in Russian, and this word well summarizes the character of the man who chose to bear it.
Stalin's father, a shoemaker, sent young Joseph to the local church school and then tried to make a priest out of him by educating him in a theological seminary; but this proved a hopeless task. Stalin was soon expelled from the seminary for subversive ideas, and entered on a long career of revolutionary activity, mostly in Tiflis, Baku, and other Caucasian centres, in the course of which he was arrested and sent into exile on no less than six occasions. Five times he escaped and returned to resume his underground work; he was released from his last term of exile in the remote north by the March Revolution.
Stalin was always a consistent Bolshevik and was one of Lenin's most trusted lieutenants in guiding the Party work inside Russia. He made three short trips abroad, to attend the Stockholm and London conferences of the Party and to attend a meeting of the Bolshevik emigres in Cracow. After the Revolution Stalin at different times held the posts of Cornmissar for Nationalities and Commissar for Workers' and Peasants' Inspection, besides serving on various fronts in the civil war. In recognition of his activity in defending the town of Tsaritsin, the so-called "Red Verdun" of the lower Volga, against the troops of the Cossack General Krasnov, the name Tsaritsin was changed to Stalingrad. Himself a member of one of the minor nationalities of the Soviet Union, Stalin had much to do with working out the nationality policy of the Soviet Government, which is the subject of a separate chapter.
Stalin's emergence as the future leader of the Communist Party could be foreseen after Lenin's final breakdown in the spring of 1923, followed, after an interval of almost a year, by his death in January 1924, made the question of candidates for the succession acute. As General Secretary of the Party Central Committee, he held a strategically dominating position in matters of organization; and his opponents, especially the Trotzkyists, charge that he used to the fullest extent the opportunities which this post afforded of packing the provincial and city Party committees with his own partisans. The Stalinites retort that these are slanderous accusations, put into circulation by disgruntled people who failed to capture control of the Party for their own ends. They point to the unanimous votes registered at Party Conferences and Congresses as proof that Stalin's policies command the approbation of the solid masses of the Party members.
That the practice of Party politics in times of controversy can be pretty sharp is undeniable. But the fact that Stalin prevailed over Trotzky, Zinoviev, and Kamenev in the struggle for Party leadership does not necessarily prove that his methods were less ethical than were theirs. It does tend to show that he was more skillful, logical, and successful in driving toward his goal.
Stalin has developed a technique of achieving power by seeming to put it aside. At every stage in the internal Communist political controversies of the last years he has cloaked himself with the formidable authority of " the Party," expressed in resolutions and decisions of its central organs, although at no time during recent years have these resolutions and decisions, in important points, failed to coincide with Stalin's own will and opinions.
An amusing minor illustration of this technique was furnished to a foreign journalist who happened to be in the same summer resort with Stalin and hopefully put in an application for an interview. A reply came back to the effect that "Stalin never gives interviews, unless the Party commands him to do so." This close identification of himself with the Party organization is not the least of the elements in Stalin's rise to power. The spirit of Bolshevism is quite opposed to any kind of self-assertive, flamboyant, visible dictator on a white horse. Stalin understands and respects this spirit; that is one reason why his tenure of real power has been so long and unbroken.
One prediction about Stalin which was freely voiced several years ago has been pretty effectively demolished by the developments of the last year or two. This was to the general effect that, after ridding himself of the extremist opposition of Trotzky, Stalin would inaugurate a policy of concessions to foreign capital and to the property-owning instincts of the more prosperous peasants. As is pointed out more than once in this book, nothing of the kind happened; on the contrary, it was just after the expulsion of the Trotzkyists from the Party that Stalin embarked on the daring policy of trying to achieve socialism in agriculture - a problem which fairly baffled Lenin himself. Was this a retort to the Trotzkyist taunts of opportunist betrayal of communist principles, or a response to immediate. economic difficulties, connected with the refusal of the peasants to sell their grain, or the execution of a long-planned economic policy, or a master-stroke of internal Party politics - to carry out a large part of Trotzky's agrarian programme while sending Trotzky into exile ? It is difficult to say; perhaps all these factors entered into the situation. At all events, Stalin is aiming at a difficult goal, which will demand for its achievement all the iron will and stubborn determination with which he is credited.
In the last year of his life, with a second and final nervous breakdown impending, Lenin committed to paper a sort of political testament, in which he expressed himself with the utmost freedom regarding the personalities of some of his colleagues and predicted that the main danger of a Party split lay in the clashing and different temperaments of Stalin and Trotzky, whom he characterized as "the two most gifted leaders of the present Central Committee."(2)
Lenin's apprehensions have been at least partially justified; although there has been no split, in the sense of a large-scale division of the Party masses into two hostile camps, there has been an elimination of many well-known Communists who sympathized with Trotzky; and the prolonged personal struggle between Stalin and Trotzky has ended with the former in the Kremlin and the latter in exile, a late and striking addition to the ranks of the emigres. One of the political fables, which the Russians call "anecdotes" and of which there are so many in Russia, represents Trotzky as standing before the mausoleum of Lenin and reflecting:
"He is alive, although dead; and I am dead, although alive."
There was truth as well as imagination in this fable. Trotzky is the tragic figure of the Revolution, an outcast from the new social order which, as President of the Petrograd Soviet in the decisive weeks preceding the overthrow of the Kerensky regime and later as War Commissar, he contributed so much to build. He is a Russian Danton - a Danton who has paid for his downfall not by the swift sharp stroke of the guillotine but by the slower and possibly more painful process of gradual elimination from the scene, extending over a number of years.
Both temperamental and political factors were involved in Trotzky's fall. Throughout his long revolutionary career, up to 1917, Trotzky was a man of such strong individuality that he could never remain long within the ranks of an organized political party or group. He had to be leader or nothing. He came into frequent and bitter clashes with Lenin, whom, as late as 1913, he called "that professional exploiter of every backwardness in the Russian labor movement," adding: "The whole edifice of Leninism at the present time is based on lies and falsifications, and contains within itself the poisonous beginning of its own disintegration."
Lenin himself was no mealy-mouthed controversialist and he more than once in pre-revolutionary days characterized Trotzky by epithets which were equally trenchant and uncomplimentary. All these things, on the surface, were forgotten during the period of revolution and civil war, when Trotzky joined the Bolshevik Party and held the highest offices in its service; but they constituted a veritable arsenal of material for the upholders of the Central Committee majority in their campaign to discredit Trotzky which began in 1924.(3)
Trotzky was irresistibly drawn into the revolutionary movement of 1917; his fiery rebel temperament could be satisfied only with the most extreme slogans and policies; and Lenin, whom he came sincerely to respect and who respected him, despite all the sharp early quarrels, was able to give free scope to Trotzky's vast fund of energy and organizing ability, and still maintain intact the unity and discipline of the Party.
But it proved impossible for Trotzky to work in harness with Lenin's disciples after the latter had become incapacitated. And there were several things which barred Trotzky from succeeding Lenin as Party leader. There was the taint of heresy about him in the eyes of the older Bolsheviks, who could not forget that he had only joined the Party in 1917; there were the many enemies whom he had made through his vitriolic pen and through his ruthless administrative measures as Soviet War Lord; there was a widespread feeling that, while Trotzky was an invaluable leader in the active, destructive period of revolution, he was too mercurial and unstable to be a reliable guide in the slower and more prosaic work of economic reconstruction. Finally, the whole Party organization was in the hands of his enemies, which meant that every attack on him received maximum publicity, while in presenting his own case he was handicapped by the strict rules of Party discipline. Over long periods of time he could make no public speeches and the newspapers did not print his articles. When he defied Party discipline and began to circulate his articles through underground channels he could reach only a small number of Communists, and those mostly his own sympathizers; and by this he placed on himself the stigma of breach of Party discipline and illegal activity.
Some day, when Stalin and Trotzky belong to history as completely as Boris Godunov and Prince Shuisky, some future Aleksei Tolstoy or Moussorgsky will perhaps write a great drama or opera based on the tragedy of the clash of these irreconcilable personalities, the Man of Steel and the Man of Fire.
So far Trotzky perhaps enjoyed the satisfaction of the biting word, and Stalin that of the decisive deed. Trotzky's speech before the hostile Central Committee which decreed his expulsion from its midst in October 1927 was a great rhetorical effort. One may recall two or three of its phrases:
"The ruling faction thinks that everything can be done with force. This is a basic mistake. Force can play a great revolutionary role, but on one condition - that it be subordinated to a correct class policy. . . . Stalin's momentary victory in the organization will have for its consequence his political shipwreck. . . . The roughness and disloyalty, of which Lenin wrote, are no longer personal qualities; they are the characteristic qualities of the ruling group, both in its own policy and in the guidance of the organization."
This last reference was to Lenin's political testament, in which, in a postscript, apparently written in a moment of sharp exasperation, he characterized Stalin as rough and disloyal and recommended his removal as Secretary of the Party Central Committee. But against all Trotzky's oratorical darts and slings Stalin himself was composed and immovable, while Trotzky's speech was drowned in a chorus of abusive outcries from the overwhelmingly Stalinite majority of the Central Committee. When Stalin came to speak he declared that he had twice offered his resignation as General Secretary, but that the Party had rejected it on both occasions.
Shortly after this episode Trotzky wrote a letter to the 1st-part, or Commission for the Study of the History of the Party and the Revolution, which from the first sentence to the last, was a passionate vindication of his own role in the Revolution and a bitter satirical denunciation of his enemies. It was as impressive as the spring of a long-baited lion; and more than one highly placed comrade must have smarted under the lash of Trotzky's stinging satire. But Stalin's regime saw to it that this letter had only the scantiest surreptitious circulation within Russia, and few people outside of the country could even understand some of the points which were made.
The last and perhaps the most vivid illustration of this futile struggle of the biting word against the decisive deed falls after Trotzky had landed, a man absolutely without a country, in Constantinople. Most people who read Trotzky's articles in the British and American press, especially those who were familiar with his mastery of invective, must have been surprised at the relative moderation of their tone. But this very moderation had its deep-seated purpose and logic. Trotzky must have felt that, if he burst out with some vehement abuse of Stalin as a ruthless tyrant, the latter would have been only contemptuously amused at this sign of an emigre's helpless rage. So he chose his method of attack more subtly, selecting just the points on which he thought Stalin would prove most sensitive. He painted the latter not as some villainous Nero, but rather as a mediocrity, "the average man" of the Party. He dwelt on such points as Stalin's alleged theoretical weakness and ignorance of foreign languages.
Hatred usually teaches one where to strike. But Stalin was again equal to the occasion. Trotzky's articles in the "bourgeois press" were made the starting point for a final campaign against his personal and political character. "Mr. Trotzky in the service of the bourgeoisie," was the theme on which thousands of Party officials held forth at Communist workers' meetings all over the country. And these meetings passed their resolutions denouncing Trotzky as a traitor and renegade to the Revolution, although only a negligible percentage of the participants had any first-hand knowledge of the contents of the offending articles.
Stalin delivered a further counterstroke when an enterprising American news agency offered to print in full any reply which he might care to make to Trotzky. A reply was sent back to the general effect that Stalin was too busy to bother about such trivialities.
The last laugh in this prolonged historic duel would seem to be with Stalin, if indeed the preoccupations of his office leave him much time or inclination for laughter.
So far I have devoted this chapter to three men, of whom one is dead, one in exile, and the third the most powerful figure in the Soviet Union at the present time, because it seems to me that, in their several ways, they have been the most important personalities in the Revolution. What of the other prominent figures in the Communist Party and the Soviet Government ?
After Lenin's death there was naturally much speculation as to his successor in the post of Premier. "We must have a Christian," a Communist said at that time, with a smile. By this he meant, of course, not a Christian in the theological sense of the term, but a Slavic Russian of the same racial stock as the majority of the population. Aleksei Ivanovitch Rykov, at that time President of the Supreme Economic Council, seemed the most eligible of the candidates with this basic qualification, and he has held the office of Premier ever since.(4)
I had an opportunity to observe Rykov fairly closely during a trip of inspection to the drought-stricken provinces of the lower Volga on which I accompanied him several years ago. Two features which impress one are the clear blue eyes and the deeply lined face. In manner Rykov has much of the simple, winning, homely hospitality which one often finds in the homes of the Russian provincial intelligentsia. On this trip he made the impression of having to struggle rather hard physically to keep up with the exactions of his office: speeches in the hot sun of factory courtyards, long tours of inspection daily in salvaged war automobiles over jolting country roads, the hearing of all sorts of complaints and petitions, hasty meals bolted at irregular times on the simply appointed Volga steamboat which was his means of conveyance.
Mikhail Ivanovitch Kalinin, President of the All-Russian Soviet Executive Committee, is the best living advertisement for the Soviet Government among the peasantry. If all Russia's peasants could be rolled into one to produce a common type, the result might quite easily be Kalinin; a spare and slightly stooped figure, with shrewd and kindly blue eyes, a wrinkled face, and a short straw-colored beard. And Kalinin is of peasant origin, a native of the village of Verkhnaya Troitsa, the flax-producing province of Tver, which lies between Moscow and Leningrad.
Kalinin's functions are more similar to those of a European than of an American president; a striking feature of his ante-chamber is the crowd of petitioners, mostly peasants, from all parts of the Soviet Union, who come to present their grievances and problems to the "All-Russian Starosta," as Kalinin is frequently called. (The Starosta was the headman elected by peasant villages before the Revolution.)
One of Kalinin's functions is to receive newly appointed diplomats when they present their credentials; he wears conventional clothing on such occasions, and said "Your Majesty" for the first and probably the last time in his life when he went to meet King Amanullah of Afghanistan, on the latter's arrival in Moscow in the spring of 1928. But this peasant-president perhaps feels more at home when he goes back to his village for summer vacation, dons the peasant shirt and sandals, and pitches hay with his old neighbors.
The leading authority on Communist theory, especially after the elimination of the Trotzkyist opposition, was Nikolai Bukharin, for many years editor of the Communist Party Central organ, Pravda, and author of books and pamphlets on Marxist subjects. A fiery and eloquent speaker, quite popular among the workers because of his almost ostentatiously austere personal life, Bukharin, who began his political career after the Revolution as a heretic of the "left," is in some danger of ending it as a heretic of the "right." (Bukharin was expelled from the Political Bureau of the Communist Party in November 1929, by decision of the Party Central Committee.)
Bukharin was a main organizer of the so-called "left" Communist opposition to Lenin on the question of signing the Brest-Litovsk Peace, and strayed off the straight line of Party orthodoxy again during the dispute about the proper role of the trade-unions which preceded the introduction of the New Economic Policy. His later deviations have been rather In a "right" or moderate direction. So in 1925, when the Party seemed committed to a policy of tolerating the growth of a prosperous peasant class in the villages, Bukharin, whose tongue sometimes runs a little ahead of his discretion, blurted out the slogan "Get rich" for the peasants. This aroused a storm of maliciously gleeful criticism from the Trotzkyists, and Bukharin withdrew the offending expression.
During the winter of 1928-1929 it was a matter of common gossip that Bukharin was sulking in his tent as a result of differences with the Party leadership on the questions of forcing the tempo of industrialization and pushing collective forms of agriculture, and that he had little to do either with editing the Pravda or with the work of the Communist Inter-national, where he formerly played a leading role. A sharp-tongued oppositionist, Sapronov, long since cast utterly into outer darkness by the Party authorities, once characterized Bukharin as "that ever-sinning, ever-repenting Magdalene." Has he repented of his recent "right deviation" ? Time will show.
Trotzky's old post of War Commissar is now held by Klimenti Voroshilov, who makes a fine figure of a man on horse-back as he rides every May Day through one of the Kremlin gates to review the military parade on the Red Square and recite the oath of the Red Army soldiers for the new recruits to repeat after him. Voroshilov is not a professional soldier, but the son of a poor peasant. As a boy he worked in the mines, entered the revolutionary movement, and suffered the usual experiences of arrest and persecution. He saw a good deal of military action during the civil war, when he was for a time a political commissar attached to Budenny's cavalry army, which carried out so many brilliant raids against the Whites and the Poles. As commander of the North Caucasus military district he helped to root out the last remains of the White movement there. Like his predecessor, Mikhail Frunze, the immediate successor of Trotzky, Voroshilov was regarded as a man whom the Party leadership could entrust with the management of the army.
Stalin's right-hand man in matters of Party organization is Vyacheslav Molotov. When symptoms of unsound views began to crop up in the Moscow Communist Party organization in the fall of 1928 Molotov was commissioned to clean up the situation and reassert the authority of the Central Party organs, which he vigorously and expeditiously did.
V. V. Kuibishev, as head of the Supreme Economic Council, is responsible for the execution of the most complicated and extensive task of industrial management in the world. He brings to it a spirit of boundless optimism; no matter how high the State Planning Commission estimates the capacity of the Soviet industries for increased production, Kuibishev is always sure that even more could be accomplished. It remains to be seen whether his optimism is justified.
Yan Rudziatak, Commissar for Transportation, is a Lett who was serving a ten-year prison sentence in the Moscow Butirka prison for revolutionary activity when he was released by the overthrow of Tsarism in March 1917. He has shown a keen interest in introducing American and other foreign improvements into the equipment and operation of the railroads.
The eight men who have been described, Stalin, Rykov, Kalinin, Bukharin, Voroshilov, Molotov, Kuibishev, and Rudziatak, with the addition of Tomsky, formerly President of the All-Union Trade-Union Congress and now in political eclipse, constitute the present members of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party Central Committee, which is the ultimate repository of power in the Soviet Union.
The President and Secretary of the Party Control Committee, Gregory Ordzhonikidze and Emilian Jaroslavsky, are also ex officio important figures in public life. Ordzhonikidze, a Georgian with a singularly romantic and poetic face, had even more than the normal share of personal adventure ,luring the civil war. Being attached to one of the Soviet armies in the North Caucasus which was wiped out by General Denikin's White forces, he escaped over the wildest passes of L Caucasus and, after reaching Baku, made his way across the stormy waters of the Caspian Sea to Astrakhan on a fishing boat. Besides holding the invariably combined posts of President of the Control Committee and Commissar for Workers' and Peasants' Inspection, Ordzhonikidze is Assistant Premier and assistant head of the Council of Labor and Defense, or economic cabinet.
Jaroslavsky, the son of a political exile in Siberia, is in an excellent position to publish a book on the scandals of Communism, if he were not too well disciplined a Party member even to think of such a thing. As Secretary of the Control Committee, which has the right to examine, reprimand, and expel Party members charged with delinquencies, he knows more about the inner weaknesses of his comrades than almost anyone else, unless it may be the head of the Gay-Pay-0o. Jaroslavsky is himself an old Bolshevik of the strictest per-suasion, and is said to have been chosen by Lenin himself for his present responsible post. As is psychologically quite natural in one who holds a post not unlike that of a grand inquisitor on behalf of a new, enthusiastic, and intolerant faith, Jaroslavsky is a most vigorous enemy of religion and the leading spirit in the movement to promote atheism throughout the country.
Foreign Commissar George Chicherin is an unusual personality, perhaps one of the most striking produced by the Revolution. He represents almost the sole example of a scion of an old hereditary aristocratic family holding high position under the Soviet regime. Chicherin is of diplomatic stock on both his father's and his mother's side; and this inheritance is clearly marked in his linguistic genius and in his extraordinarily retentive grasp of detail.
I have heard him pass with entire ease from Russian, into English and then on to French and German; and no translator can quite satisfy his demand for meticulous exactitude of word usage in every language. An American woman correspondent from Seattle, meeting Chicherin at a diplomatic function, observed that she presumed he had never heard of her native city. Thereupon, to her amazement, the Foreign Commissar launched into a little lecture on the history, settlement, population, and resources of Seattle, containing many facts of which she herself was ignorant. There was formerly a Russian consulate in Seattle, and Chicherin had apparently memorized its reports verbatim.
Chicherin is an ardent amateur musician; and for a time a piano was a regular part of the working equipment of the Commissar for Foreign Affairs. His working hours are the despair of visitors and secretaries, beginning in mid-afternoon and lasting sometimes until four or five in the morning. Ill health has recently forced Chicherin to spend a good deal of his time in German spas.
During his absences the direction of Soviet foreign policy is in the hands of Maxim Litvinov, a portly, paterfamilias type of man, who, with his lively English wife, usually presides at the entertainments which the Foreign Commissariat gives in the ornate "Sugar King's palace," directly facing the Kremlin, from the other side on the Moscow River, and in the other houses at its disposition. A Jewish revolutionary emigre in the pre-war period, Litvinov lacks Chicherin's formal diplomatic background and training; but he possesses a naturally keen mind, quick to seize a point in negotiation and slow to relinquish it. In common with Chicherin, he possesses a noteworthy faculty for sarcasm, which has found abundant opportunity for expression during the sessions of the League of Nations disarmament commission, which Litvinov has regularly attended as the Russian representative.
Leo Karakhan, a tall, dark, handsome Armenian, looks after the Eastern interests of Soviet diplomacy. Karakhan negotiated the agreement under which the Chinese Eastern Railway was operated, with joint Soviet-Chinese control. For a time he was Soviet Ambassador in Peking, where he gave delight to radical students and offense to foreign diplomats by continuously proclaiming the Soviet belief that China should 1,e treated on a basis of equality by other nations, and ex-tolling the liberating nationalist movement in Eastern countries.
Death and political fatality have permanently or temporarily removed many of the leading actors in the first stage of the Revolution. The fanatical, iron-willed Dzerzhinsky, organizer of the Chekha, one of the most terrible and at the same time one of the most idealistic figures of the Bolshevik movement, now lies buried under the Kremlin wall, behind Lenin's mausoleum. So does Leonid Krassin, formerly Ambassador in France and England and first Commissar for Foreign Trade, an unusual example of a successful engineer and business man who was also an old revolutionary. Death has overtaken Mikhail Frunze, who took over the War Commissariat from Trotzky, Victor Nogin, who did much to build up the state textile industry, and Adolf Joffe, who helped to negotiate a number of the peace treaties with the border states and was one of the first Soviet envoys in the Far East. Joffe, a man of brilliant mentality, tortured with disease which he tried to relieve with drugs, a staunch adherent of Trotzky, shot him-self at the time of the latter's expulsion from the Party, leaving behind a pathetic letter in which he set forth the combination of personal and political motives which impelled him to commit suicide.
Trotzky carried with him in his fall men of such prominence as Karl Radek, an Austrian Jew who, along with perhaps the keenest wit of any participant in the Revolution, possesses an encyclopaedic fund of knowledge on international, political, and economic questions; Christian Rakovsky, a cultivated Bulgarian former physician, master of a number of European languages, who had filled the offices of Premier of Ukraina and Ambassador to France and England; Eugene Preobrazhensky, co-author with Bukharin of The ABC of Communism and a well-known Communist theoretician.
Trotzky's two chief associates in opposition, Gregory Zinoviev and Leo Kamenev, of whom the former was for a long time President of the Communist International and the latter Vice-Premier and President of the Moscow Soviet, have gone to Canossa, confessed their mistakes, and received minor posts in the Party and Soviet service. They may rise again in the public eye, although it is unlikely that they can ever again attain the prestige which they enjoyed in 1923 and 1924, when they were generally regarded, with Stalin, as constituting the unofficial triumvirate which guided the destinies of the Communist Party.
New men are gradually coming up to fill the places left vacant by death or political elimination. Anastasius Mikoyan, a young man in his early thirties, who is, like Stalin, a native of Georgia, is an example of this tendency. Mikoyan, who by the merest accident escaped being shot along with twenty-six other Bolshevik leaders of the Caucasian oil centre, Baku, during the civil war, is now Commissar for Trade and a candidate, or alternate member, of the Political Bureau. After a period of political disfavor because of his Trotzkyist sympathies, Yuri Pyatakov, whom Lenin, in his political testament, mentioned with Bukharin as one of the more promising among the younger Party members, has made his peace with the Party authorities and received an appointment as head of the State Bank. He is a man of marked executive ability. Another rising star in the Party is Y. A. Yakovlev, founder of the Peasants' Gazette, which is one of the chief means of contact between the Soviet Government and the peasantry, and an indefatigable worker in the Commissariat for Workers' and Peasants' Inspection, which operates as a sort of broom to sweep the state administrative offices clean of bureaucracy and corruption.
So long as they retain their health and their political orthodoxy the highest Soviet officials are seldom changed. Ever since the Revolution, Anatole Lunacharsky(5) has been Commissar for Education and Nikolai Semashko has been Commissar for Health. Lunacharsky, who was fairly well known as a critic and playwright in radical literary circles before the Revolution, is an unfailing orator at celebrations of an intellectual character; and his speeches seldom run under two hours in length.
Theatres and the fine arts as well as schools and colleges come under Lunacharsky's general charge; and credit is generally accorded him for preserving the old classical theatres from collapse under the first shock of the Revolution. To-day he functions as a more or less effective buffer between the critics who demand 100 per cent Communist ideology in literature and drama and the authors and playwrights who desire greater freedom.
Nikolai Semashko, a country doctor before the Revolution, has built up an extensive socialized health service. He is especially proud of the achievements of his Commissariat in the field of preventive medicine, and in reducing the formerly high rate of infant mortality.
A striking personality, and one calculated to inspire fear in the heart of any prisoner at the bar, is the State Attorney-General, Nikolai Krilenko. A short, but powerfully built man, whose favorite avocations are hunting, mountain-climbing, and chess-playing, his conduct of a state trial is calculated to suggest at once the chess player working for a mate and the hunter stalking and finally springing upon his prey. All the burning fanatical ardor of the Revolution seems concentrated and pent up in this little man, who might have walked out of one of the tribunals set up in France to try the "aristocrats" and the "suspects."
As I observed at the beginning of the chapter, the Communist Party and the Soviet Government are essentially impersonal organizations; and it is likely that they will become more rather than less so in the future. Anything tending to emphasize the personalities of individual leaders is frowned on; and it would be impossible to find in the Soviet press or in Soviet literature full-length character portraits of any prominent figures, from Stalin down. The first storm of revolution inevitably brought to the top a number of strong individualities, whose salient traits could not be hidden; but as the Soviet state becomes more settled and stabilized the personalities of the leading political figures tend more and more to merge with the offices which they hold. It is Communist theory that individual personality does or should count for little, that disciplined Party members should simply carry out the tasks which the Party assigns them. And, while there is still a considerable admixture of the fictitious element in this theory, fiction which is believed and acted on has a capacity for being transformed into fact.
(1) Lenin's real name was Vladimir Ilyitch Ulianov; but he became so famous under the revolutionary pseudonym of Lenin that he will never be known under any other appellation. The name Nikolai Lenin, which has acquired such wide currency outside of Russia, is based on a misunderstanding. Lenin was in the habit of signing his articles in the revolutionary press "N. Lenin," and somehow the assumption grew up that the noncommittal "N." stood for Nikolai.
[A] An interesting error, no doubt the result of Stalin's illusiveness combined with state propaganda, and the fact that Stalin wore platform shoes to increase his height. Stalin's actual height was five feet, four inches.
(2) This testament has never been published in Russia, but was read at a session of the Twelfth Party Congress in the spring of 1924, after Lenin's death. Its authenticity is unchallenged, and was admitted by implication by Stalin himself in his last verbal passage-at-arms with Trotzky in the session of the Party Central Committee in October 1927. Its text has been several times published abroad, most recently in the book, The Real Situation in Russia, a collection of Trotzkyist documents, published in America by Harcourt, Brace and Company, and in Germany by the Avalun-Verlag, of Dresden.
(3) Lenin about Trotzky, published by Novaya Moskva, Moscow, 1925, pp. 217-219. The above-cited vigorous expressions were used in a letter from Trotzky to the Georgian Menshevik member of the Duma, N. S. Ckheidze.
(4) Rykov, Tomsky, and Bukharin, the three outstanding leaders in the "Right Deviation," described in the preceding chapter, signed a statement, which appeared in the Soviet press on November 26, 1929, admitting that they had been wrong in their disagreements with the Party Central Committee and professing readiness to combat all deviations from the general Party line. This recantation followed the expulsion of Bukharin from the Political Bureau and the warning from, the Central Committee to Rykov and Tomsky that they faced a similar fate.
(5) Lunacharsky resigned his office of Commissar for Education in September 1929. By taste and temperament Lunacharsky is perhaps better qualified for esthetic crititicism, for weighing the merits of new authors and dramatists than for the difficult executive work of the Commissariat for Education, which must every year greatly extend its school facilities on a budget that is never quite adequate.