William Henry Chamberlin | Soviet Russia: A Living Record and a History
THE Soviet Union is fundamentally and avowedly a class state, based on the dictatorship of the proletariat, or industrial working class. The Soviet regime definitely breaks with the theory that the franchise and access to public office are the rights of every citizen who has not been adjudged morally or mentally incompetent. Besides lunatics and criminals, the Soviet Constitution disfranchises and bars from public office the following categories of persons: -
People who employ hired labor for the purpose of extracting gain.(1) Persons living on income not derived from toil, such as interest on capital, income from enterprises, earnings from property, etc. Private merchants, trade and commercial middlemen. Monks and ministers of religious cults of all creeds and characters, for whom this occupation is a profession. Employees and agents of the former police, the special corps of gendarmes and secret police departments, members of the former reigning family, and also persons who directed the activity of the police, gendarmes, and punitive organs.(2)
Officers of the anti-Bolshevik armies during the civil war are also usually disfranchised, unless they have conclusively demonstrated their loyalty to the Soviet Government. Now disfranchisement is a much more serious penalty in Russia than it might be in other countries, because Soviet legislation and practice tend to make the lishentsi, or persons deprived of the right to vote, veritable pariahs in the community.(3)
A person who cannot vote cannot be a trade-union member, and hence may not be employed in any state office or under-taking. His children will not be accepted into higher and middle schools. He will be charged double rates or more for medical treatment, for accommodation in state summer resorts, for a dozen other public and semipublic services. In short, his life will be made as uncomfortable as legislative and social discrimination can make it.
As against this pariah caste of the disfranchised, which, ironically enough, includes largely the classes which enjoyed the largest measure of wealth and privilege and social esteem in Tsarist Russia, former aristocrats and officers, merchants and factory owners, ecclesiastics and rich peasants, stands the new privileged class of the proletariat. The Soviet Government calls itself a Workers' and Peasants' Government. The privileges which workers enjoy in regard to holding office, admission to the universities, etc., are obvious and are fully described in another chapter. The peasants are regarded with somewhat less unqualified favor, and only the poor (the byedniaks) are regarded as fully reliable allies of the ruling proletariat. The kulaks, or rich peasants, are rated as class enemies, to be fought at every turn, while the seredniak, or middle-class peasant, is viewed as a rather unstable figure, wavering between the influences of the kulaks and the byedniaks.
Although the ultimate goal of Communism is the abolition of all classes, the achievement of this objective lies in a far-distant future, since, according to the programme of the Communist International, it is bound up with the realization of the communist social order, not only in Russia, but all over the world. Even in the Soviet Union full communism can scarcely be said to have been achieved at the present time, when there is a remnant, although a diminishing remnant, of private trade and industry in the cities, and, what is more important, a great mass of peasant small holders, farming their land on an individualist basis. During the present period, which is regarded as transitional between capitalism and socialism, class lines are nowhere drawn with greater rigor than in the Soviet Union. Every student, every applicant for office, must fill out a questionnaire stating his social origin, and any suggestion of "bourgeois" birth is as fatal a disqualification as non-Russian origin would have been in similar circumstances under the old regime.
Its avowed and consistent class character is a source both of strength and of weakness to the Soviet state. It is a source of strength because it inspires in the newly enthroned working class a sense of enthusiastic loyalty and devotion which could scarcely be matched in any other country. It is a source of weakness because its rigorous application almost inevitably transforms into embittered pariahs and "internal emigres" not only the members of the disfranchised classes themselves, but also their children, who are denied educational opportunities and exposed to discrimination if they seek employment.
What is the political mechanism of this class state ? Constitutionally sovereign authority is vested in Soviets, or Councils of Workers' and Peasants' Deputies. For a time these bodies were annually reelected; now reelections take place every two years. There are two important technical differences between Soviet elections and those which are customary in Western Europe and America. Balloting is based on the occupational rather than the residential principle, and there is no secret ballot, the voting procedure consisting simply of raising hands for or against a candidate. The electoral unit is not a residential district, but a factory or office, while village Soviet elections are open meetings of all the qualified voters. The choice of delegates to the highest organ of Soviet power, the All-Union Soviet Congress, passes through several stages of indirect voting. The village and town Soviets send a certain number of delegates to an uyezdni, or county congress of Soviets, which in its turn elects a certain proportion of its members as delegates to a gubernsky, or provincial congress.(4) The provincial congresses elect again a percentage of their delegates to the All-Union Congress.
The basis of representation in the All-Union Soviet Congress is one delegate to every 125,000 voters in the rural districts and one delegate to every 25,000 voters in the cities, another instance of the Soviet policy of according first political consideration to the urban proletariat. Inasmuch as it is convened only once in two years and sits for a comparatively short time, the Congress cannot even nominally fulfill the functions of a parliament or congress. Those functions are vested in a body called the Tsik (one of the familiar Russian abbreviations from the initials of the words for All-Union Central Soviet Executive Committee). The Tsik consists of a Council of the Union, made up of about a quarter of the delegates to the All-Union Soviet Congress, selected by that organization, and a Council of Nationalities, in which each of the autonomous Soviet Republics is represented by five delegates and each of the autonomous territories by one.(5)
The Tsik elects the Soviet Cabinet, which is known as the Council of People's Commissars. Sessions of the Tsik are held, as a rule, three times in the course of the year. Here are heard and approved reports of the various Commissariats, and decrees are passed. A presidium of twenty-one members, elected by the Tsik, is constitutionally the highest legislative, executive, and administrative organ in the Soviet Union during the intervals between sessions of the Tsik. Laws, as a rule, are promulgated by this presidium, although the Council of People's Commissars may also issue decrees, and the Sto, or economic cabinet, may issue ordinances with binding force in the field of economic policy. Possible serious conflicts of authority between these legislative bodies are averted because all really important legislative and executive decisions have a common source in the Political Bureau of the Communist Party Central Committee.
So much for a brief outline of the constitutional organization of the Soviet system. How does it fit in with the fact, noted in an earlier chapter, that the Communist Party is really the supreme power in the land ? The chief factor in the absolute, secure, and unbroken control of Soviet executive and legislative organs by the Communist Party (all People's Commissars, all Presidents of Provincial Soviet Executive Committees, a substantial majority of the delegates to Soviet Congresses and of members of the Tsik, are invariably Communists) is the circumstance that no other party or political group is permitted to function legally within the country.
So a Soviet election has about it a strong suggestion of sham battle. Campaign slogans and appeals to all classes of the electors to come out and vote are liberally plastered over bill-boards and on the tops of street-cars and buses; an abundance of literature is distributed; there are torchlight processions with the victorious candidates to the Moscow Soviet, and other features which might suggest a hotly contested election in another country. But, one element is conspicuously lacking: any sort of open organized opposition, under the auspices of any rival party. Should the Trotzkyists or some other dissident group attempt to put up its candidates, the Gay-Pay-Oo, or political police, would quickly step in and handle the situation.
Under these conditions the procedure at Soviet elections is fairly simple. The Communist yacheika, or local branch, which exists in every factory and office of any size, draws up a list of candidates with more or less regard for their popularity among the workers or employees, and it is very uncommon, in the cities, for any opposition list to be presented. In the villages, where there are fewer Communists and the kulaks sometimes exert a certain amount of influence on the remainder of the peasants, the elections may assume a more definite element of struggle. Here also, however, the Communist list usually goes through. The out-and-out kulaks are disfranchised, and the Communists have a monopoly of printed propaganda. Even in cases where an unacceptable village Soviet may be chosen, its significance is very limited. Should it disobey any laws or regulations about taxation or other agricultural questions, it would be dissolved and reelected under circumstances which would leave very little doubt of a Communist victory. With each higher stage in the indirect election of an All-Union Soviet Congress the organized weight of the Communist Party grows, so that, while the majority of the members of the village Soviets are non-Party peasants, there is always a Communist majority in the provincial and national Soviet Congresses.
It should be noted that it is by no means the policy of the Party to elect only Communists into the Soviets. It is rather recognized as desirable to elect a certain proportion, ordinarily about 30 per cent, of non-Party deputies, as this strengthens the connection between the Party and the masses of working-class electors and raises the authority of the Soviets as popular representative bodies.
In the course of the winter of 1928-1929 I had occasion to witness the preliminary and the final stages in the Soviet electoral process, in the shape of an election meeting in a Moscow factory and a session of the Tsik. Descriptions of these episodes may help to illustrate the general character of the Soviet constitutional system.
Work stopped early in the "Dynamo" motor factory, and one of the large central sheds of the plant rapidly filled up with some 1800 prospective voters, each of whom had to present a certificate of his electoral qualifications to the soldier on guard at the entrance. In the cities fifty per cent of the voters must appear in order to make the election valid (the requirement in the villages is 35 per cent). In this case the minimum figure was substantially exceeded, since about 90 per cent of the authorized electors attended.
The representative of the election commission, who was present to see that all the legal formalities were observed, declared the meeting open. Then a presidium was chosen, consisting of about twenty persons and including representatives of every department in the factory, not forgetting the women who clean out the shops.
After brief speeches of greeting from a bearded peasant, a native of the village to which the factory stood in the relation of a chef, supplying it with books and magazines and generally preserving contact with it, and from a lusty-voiced official of the Metal Workers' Union, the main orator of the occasion was introduced as Comrade Popov, from the Moscow Committee of the Communist Party. He launched into an hour's discourse on the internal and international position of the Soviet Union. After this was finished a few questions, written on slips of paper, were handed in. One of them was about the exile of Trotzky, and Popov thundered out:
"Trotzky has sold himself to the bourgeoisie. We shall soon publish documents to prove that he received huge sums of money from bourgeois publishers to write slanderous articles about the Soviet Union."
As a final blow to the Trotzkyists someone brought in a suggestion that Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of the Party Central Committee, should be elected an honorary member of the Soviet from the Dynamo factory. This was greeted with some handclapping, and the secretary of the factory Party branch, who was conducting the meeting, swept the audience with his eye and asked: -
"Are there any objections to the election of Comrade Stalin as an honorary member of the Moscow Soviet ?"
Not a hand or voice was raised in objection.
A good deal of time was then spent in reading the nakaz; or set of general instructions, worked out for the guidance of the future deputies by the Moscow Committee of the Communist Party, and supplemented by a further nakaz, dealing especially with the local needs of the Dynamo factory district. Much of the content of these nakazes might have appeared in the municipal programme of any political party; they included both general and concrete suggestions for more and better schools and hospitals, better street-car service, cleaner streets, etc.
By this time the meeting had lasted three hours, and the actual election, which came at the end, was perhaps the shortest and simplest part of the whole ceremony.
Three deputies and two alternates were proposed for member-ship both in the Moscow and in the regional or ward Soviet, which has charge of purely local questions. The list had been made up in advance by the local branch of the Communist Party and discussed at general workers' meetings in various departments of the factory, so its acceptance by the gathering without any show of serious opposition was a foregone conclusion. Now and then two or three hands would be raised against some individual candidate, and the negative votes were registered with meticulous care by the chairman of the meeting. But in general the procedure had little of the atmosphere of political contest; it rather suggested a mass meeting with solid and unified sentiment.
Soviet elections are pretty well standardized in character, especially in the cities; and what I witnessed at the Dynamo factory was probably reenacted, with minor variations, in hundreds of other factories in Moscow and throughout the country. The newly elected deputies remain at work, merely receiving time off with pay when they attend the infrequent plenary sessions of the Soviet. There are about 2500 members of the Moscow Soviet, and about an equal number in the six district Soviets of the city. Obviously such a large body can-not and does not function in the manner of an ordinary municipal council. The full membership of the Soviet is called together on rare occasions, and most of the work of the deputies is done in the fifteen sections, for health, education, finance, housing, etc. Each deputy is allowed to choose the section in which he wishes to work. The work of the sections consists not of actual administration, but of supervision and inspection; the rank-and-file membership of the Soviet really resembles an organized body of active municipal social workers rather than a legislative body. The deputies are unpaid, and do as much work as their energy and social interest may prompt. A deputy may be recalled by his electors if he is very inactive, or for other causes.
In the stately Hall of St. Andrew, attached to the Great Kremlin Palace and formerly the throne-room of the Tsars, meets Russia's Red Parliament, the All-Union Soviet Central Executive Committee, or Tsik. Even familiarity does not detract from the eternal symbolism and pageantry of this contrast.
The half-barbaric, half-Byzantine splendor of the throne-room, with its vaulted ceiling, its high pillars, its profuse gilded scrollwork ornamentation, remains, even though the throne has been removed to make way for the prosaic dais of the presidium of the Congress and traces of wear and tear are beginning to appear in parts of the palace architecture. And the Tsik is quite definitely something new and unique, unlike any parliamentary body in Western Europe or America.
One enters the massive enclosure of the Kremlin and gains admission to the palace after twice presenting credentials to attentive but courteous sentries. The Soviet delegates sit in rows in the body of the former throne-room, facing the raised dais, on which are perhaps a dozen members of the presidium, while the speaker of the moment stands on a somewhat lower elevation and delivers his utterances before a radio transmitter.
The first feature of the sessions of the Tsik which would probably impress an experienced parliamentary reporter is the absence of forensic training on the part of the great majority of the delegates. The Soviet Executive Committee contains a considerable number of workers in collarless blouses and peasants in sheepskin coats, who come to Moscow from their factories and farms two or three times a year for the brief sessions and who are usually quite untrained in public speaking.'
The deliberations of the "Red Parliament" are guided by a presiding official, who may be Mikhail Kalinin, President of the Russian Soviet Republic, or the President of one of the associated Soviet Republics, Ukraina, White Russia, Trans-Caucasia, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. This presiding official allots the time and order of the speakers, puts questions to a vote, and generally fulfills many of the functions of the Speaker of a foreign parliament.(6)
The divisions and party challenges, which one would have noted in the supreme legislative bodies of Great Britain and America, France and Germany, are conspicuous by their absence in this Soviet legislature. This is quite understand-able in view of the fact that the majority of the members are Communists, bound by party discipline to vote as a unit, while the non-Party members are in full accord with the general Communist programme.
In the spacious Hall of St. George, where the names of the officers and regiments, recipients of the Cross of St. George, the highest pre-war Russian military decoration, are still engraved on the walls, the writer talked with several members of the Tsik at its last session. They were easy to identify by their red badges, with the inscription "Member of Tsik."
In the course of a few intervals between sessions it proved possible to form casual acquaintanceships with a genial worker from one of the factories of the Lena Goldfields Company, in the Ural district; with a peasant from the Glukhov district of Northern Ukraina; a woman agricultural laborer from Karelia, near the Finnish frontier; and a woman worker from the textile mills of Serpukhov.
One did not find in these typically proletarian legislators any very exhaustive grasp of the details of the governmental reports to which they had listened or of the decrees which they had enacted. However, the appeal of these Soviet sessions in the Kremlin to the imagination of the Russian masses should not be discounted merely because most of the rank-and-file delegates are inclined to take the legislative projects which are submitted to them pretty much for granted. The most simple and obvious impression to be derived from attending a session of the Soviet assembly, that here are representatives of the Russian poor and disinherited classes, installed, by the judgment of history, in the seats hitherto reserved for the Tsar and the nobles, happens, in this case, to be the most significant.
The Soviet system, as it functions in practice, does not place any check on the dictatorship of the Communist Party and affords no outlet for expression of opinion by dissident minority groups. But it is not, I think, unpopular with the masses of the people, if one excepts the numerically small former propertied and conservative educated classes who naturally look askance at the Revolution and all its works. The Soviets are more broadly representative in character than the national Duma and the municipal councils which existed in Tsarist times and were elected on a narrow propertied franchise. Then, although all the strings in the Soviet mechanism are pulled by the Communists, a very considerable number of non-Party working men and women, under the Soviet system, have an opportunity to participate in public life which they could scarcely have enjoyed in pre-revolutionary times. If people really learn by doing, the Russian working class is making progress in realizing the Communist ideal that it should be the actual governing power in the country.
With two exceptions, the executive apparatus of the Soviet state does not seem to call for special attention. What are called Ministries in other countries are known as Commissariats in the Soviet Union; but the functions are not markedly dissimilar.(7)
The first of the two exceptions in this connection is the Rabkrin, or Commissariat for Workers' and Peasants' Inspection. This body, which is closely linked up with the Control Commission of the Communist Party, is a sort of permanent super-commission for audit and control; it is continually combing the other state departments for traces of graft, bureaucratism, and other abuses. The Rabkrin has a far-flung net; its inspectors look into everything, from the management of a Moscow art museum to the building of a new industrial plant, from the civil service qualifications of the officials in Daghestan to the condition of peasant farms in the Kuban.
Russians are in the habit of making jokes to the effect that the customary applied remedy for the recognized national evil of bureaucracy is to create more bureaucracy, and that, as soon as someone discovers that there are too many state commissions, the first instinct is to create a new commission to see what can be done about it. But the Rabkrin, which includes in its staff many of the oldest, most educated, and most experienced Communists, seems to make out a good case for its activity on the ground that the savings which it has recommended far outweigh the cost of its upkeep.
The Commissariat for Health plays an important role in the Soviet Union, because medical aid there has been largely transformed from a private to a public function. The Commissar for Health, N. E. Semashko, stated that during eleven months of the year 1927 a total of 49,435 workers and employees went to private hospitals as against 14,000,000 who received treatment in state hospitals and dispensaries. The worker's average expenditure for medical aid during this time was twenty-three kopecks, most of which sum went for home medicines. During the year 1926-1927 the state spent, on the average, 30.84 rubles on medical aid to each worker's family.(See newspaper, Vechernaya Moskva ("Evening Moscow"), for February 24, 1928.)
The Health Commissariat is inclined to take special pride in its work for the prevention of disease. At the time of the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the Commissariat for Health, in the autumn of 1928, Dr. Semashko declared that two thousand doctors were employed in the field of protecting the health of children through regular physical examinations of school pupils, inspections of the sanitary condition of the schools, encouragement of physical training, etc. A good deal has been done in the way of investigating occupational diseases of factory workers, and a number of experimental sanatoria are maintained in this connection.
The pre-war figure of fifteen doctors per hundred thousand of the population has now increased to twenty-five,(See newspaper, Rabochaya Gazeta ("Workers' Gazette"), for October 16, 1928) and there has also been an increase in the number of hospitals and medical points. It is doubtful whether quality has always kept pace with quantity in this respect. The effort of the state to provide free medical aid for all insured trade-union members places a terrific strain both upon the doctors, who are usually extremely overworked, and on the equipment of the existing hospitals and clinics. Attacks by patients, nervously worn out by days of waiting in crowded clinics, on doctors who did not, as they felt, treat them promptly enough or who did not give them the desired permission to go to a sanatorium were at one time so frequent that some special propagandist trials were organized in an effort to check the practice. The peasant villages are still far behind the cities in the amount of medical service which they receive; and all the measures of compulsion and persuasion which have been brought into play have not been successful in inducing a sufficient number of doctors to forsake the cities for the villages.
In medicine, in the provision of hospitals, clinics, and sanatoria, as in so many branches of Soviet life, one is forcibly struck by the impression of leveling. Existing accommodations are, as a rule, inferior to what wealthy or even middle-class people would command before the Revolution. But workers and the poorer classes who could not in pre-war times have afforded to pay the fees of private doctors and hospitals now receive a much larger share of free medical attention. The health of the population as a whole seems to be better than was the case before the War, if mortality statistics represent a fair criterion. The death rate in European Russia in 1913 was 27.4 per thousand. In the European part of the Soviet Union in 1926 it was 19.9 per thousand.(See in this connection the article, "Growth of the Population in the Soviet Union," by P. Kurkin, in the magazine, Our achievements, No. 1, pp. 129-142.) There has been an especially marked decline in infant mortality, due to the legislation for the protection of mothers and babies, which is described elsewhere. The country has also been free during recent years from the terrible scourges of cholera and typhus, although this may be due in part to the fact that these epidemics were so widespread during the period of civil war that a considerable part of the population acquired relative immunity through contracting the diseases.
The class character of the Soviet state is nowhere more in evidence than in its judicial system. Rejecting the idea of abstract or impartial justice as a fiction, designed to cover up the rule of the bourgeoisie, Soviet jurists boast of the "class justice" which is meted out in their courts. On one occasion I submitted to Mr. Nikolai Krilenko, the fiery Attorney-General of the Soviet Union, who is almost always the prosecutor in important state trials, a series of questions, including one regarding the Soviet understanding and application of this principle of class justice. Mr. Krilenko's written reply to this last question reads as follows: -
"Consideration of the social position of the person who has committed a crime is an obligatory but not decisive element in determining the measure of social defense (that is, the sentence to be imposed). Naturally, in the case of two quite identical crimes, the Soviet court will act differently toward the bourgeois, who has committed a crime as a result of his class ideology and habits, and toward the worker, who has committed a crime from poverty or from slightly developed social consciousness.
"But the fundamental element in the class approach to crime is not only and not so much the consideration of the social position of the criminal as, in the main, consideration of the social danger of the given person from the standpoint of the interests of the state of the proletarian dictatorship as a whole. Facts demonstrate that the majority of the most socially dangerous criminals (counter-revolutionaries and others) consist of kulak and capitalist elements, and individual toilers are implicated in such crimes only in exceptional cases."
As is evident from this statement, the safety of the state is a primary consideration in the administration of Soviet jurisprudence. This not only governs the workings of the ordinary courts, but accounts for much of the activity of the Gay-Pay-Oo, or political police, a special institution dealing with a wide range of supposedly counter-revolutionary offenses which do not come under the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts.
These ordinary courts may be divided into three classes. First comes the People's Court, which hears the ordinary petty civil or criminal case. It consists of a judge and two assessors. More important cases are tried in the provincial courts, which also hear appeals against the decisions of the lower courts. At the apex of the Soviet judicial system stands the Supreme Court of the Republic, which passes on the constitutionality of decisions of the lower courts, hears cases of exceptional political importance, touching the interests of two or more Soviet Republics, furnishes explanations and interpretations of the constitutionality of judicial decisions and legislative measures to the supreme courts of the individual, republics, and serves as a tribunal of final appeal.
What sort of justice is administered in these courts ? Next to its avowedly class character, which usually results in a bourgeois faring worse than a proletarian in a Soviet lawsuit,(8) perhaps the most distinctive feature of the sentences passed by Soviet courts is their extreme flexibility. Take, for example, the rather familiar Russian offense of embezzlement. Under normal conditions conviction on this charge would probably involve a sentence of two or three years in prison, which would perhaps be cut down in the event of good behavior. But, if some unlucky wight should make off with the funds of his trade-union or cooperative just at a moment when Soviet public opinion was especially aroused over the evil of this practice, he would quite possibly incur a sentence of ten years in prison (the maximum term permitted under the Soviet legal code), or even the extreme penalty of death by shooting.
This flexibility, this conscious adjustment of the law to circumstances, is nowhere more evident than in the application of the death penalty. Capital punishment does not exist in Russia for ordinary criminal offenses, and this was also true in pre-revolutionary times. But, just as the Tsarist Government, by such devices as declaring martial law in regions where political crimes were prevalent, probably inflicted more death penalties than the courts of many countries where capital punishment is a recognized part of the criminal jurisprudence, so the Soviet authorities every year execute a certain number of persons on charges of having committed crimes which are counter-revolutionary and strike at the bases of the new social order.
What offenses come under this category of "counter-revolution" ? They vary with time and place. Espionage or attempts to organize an armed uprising against the Soviet Government are capital offenses. Industrial sabotage in the sense of deliberate mismanagement of state enterprises is a serious offense and may be punished with death. So at the end of the great Shachti trial of fifty-three engineers and specialists the public prosecutor, Krilenko, demanded twenty-two death sentences. The court passed eleven, of which five were actually carried out, the remainder being commuted following a petition to the All-Union Soviet Executive Committee. Death sentences for corruption and embezzlement have rather declined during recent years; on the other hand, during the winter of 1928-1929 the number of executions for attacks on village Soviet officials and active workers greatly increased, in proportion to the increasing number of these attacks. Persons who have committed many murders and armed bandits are sometimes executed.(9)
The Soviet prison system, as applied to ordinary criminals, embodies a number of progressive penological ideas. Educational and manual training instruction courses exist in the more advanced prisons; prisoners are not required to wear uniforms; and the well-behaved prisoner receives a vacation of two weeks every year, which is certainly a unique Russian institution. The Soviet Attorney-General, Mr. Krilenko, after mentioning these features of the Soviet prison regime to the writer, declared that it "eliminated everything which counted on the suppression of the human dignity of the prisoners." This ideal is best realized in some of the more adequately equipped prisons of Moscow. In regard to the provincial prisons one often hears complaints of overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions; but it is questionable whether in these respects the prisons fall much below the general standards of Russian life.
The Red Army of the Soviet Union, like every other institution of the Soviet state, bears a distinctly class character. Persons who are disfranchised under the Soviet Constitution may not serve in the fighting branches of the army, but are mobilized for service in non-combat units, and also obliged to pay a special tax. This regulation dates back to the time of the creation of the Red Army, in 1918, when civil and class war was raging throughout the country and the infiltration of anti-Soviet elements into the ranks of the newly formed army would have been politically very dangerous.
A second distinctive feature of the Red Army is its close identification with the ruling Communist Party. The regular land and naval forces of the Soviet Union have an enlisted strength of 562,000; and of this number 99,000 are Communist Party members and 137,000 belong to the Union of Communist Youth.(10) Among the officers, or commanders, as they are called in the Red Army, on January 1, 1928, 49.7 per cent were Communists and 4.45 per cent Young Communists. This proportion of Communists tends to increase, because most of the new commanders, who are turned out steadily by the military training schools, are members either of the Party or of the Union of Communist Youth. The Red Army is probably the most thoroughly propagandized military force in the world. The Pur, or Political Administration of the Army, supervises an extensive system of training in Communist and Soviet political ideas. Formerly, when there were comparatively few. Communists in the commanding staff of the army, every officer had attached to him a Communist commissar, who had the double duty of watching out for any symptoms of political disloyalty on the part of the officer and of stimulating the morale of the soldiers through training in Communist principles. The watchdog functions of the cornmissar have now been largely abolished, since the condition of the army has become more stabilized and the loyalty of the remaining non-Party officers is regarded as pretty well assured. Commanders who are Communists now have no commissars, but supervise the political education of their men themselves. Commissars are still attached to non-Communist officers and carry on the political education which is regarded as an essential part of the training of every Red Army soldier.
These two factors, the presence in the army of large numbers of Communists, in whom Party discipline takes precedence over loyalty to any military chieftain, and the intensive cramming of the soldiers, mostly peasant lads, with political propaganda, have helped to safeguard the Soviet Union against Bonapartism and against generals' plots and coups of the Chinese and Mexican variety.
A third unmistakable characteristic of the Red Army is the democratic relationship which prevails between its officers and men. The old Russian army, as was pointed out in the first chapter, dissolved as a result of a tremendous mutiny, largely caused by the intolerable strain of the World War on the nerves and morale of raw peasant troops, often obliged to fight with most inadequate equipment, but strengthened by the bitterness which the brutal discipline and caste spirit of the Tsarist army had engendered in the minds of the masses of the soldiers.
When the Red Army was created it was necessary, of course, to establish discipline, to assert the authority of the officers, to inflict ruthless punishment upon cowards and deserters. But Trotzky and his associates in the creation of the Red Army were careful not to revive the excessive privileges of the pre-war officers and the restrictions, many of them of an extraordinarily humiliating character, which were placed upon the Tsarist soldiers.(11) The very word "officer," hateful through its associations with the past, has been abolished in the Red Army and replaced by "commander." The high-sounding titles, "Your High Excellency" and others, with which soldiers formerly had to greet any high officer, standing rigidly at attention as they did so, have been completely discarded, and the commander is designated merely by his function, as commander of platoon, regiment, division, etc. The huge spreading epaulettes of the Tsarist officer have been eliminated; one can discern the rank of a Red Army commander only by unobtrusively small markings in the collar of his uniform.
The abolition of the compulsory salute immediately after the March Revolution has often been represented as the cause of the disintegration of the Tsarist army, although as a matter of fact it was rather a symptom of the general mood of mutinous revolt. The Red Army compromises on this question. The salute is compulsory in service, but is optional if officers and men pass each other in the street when off duty. The democratization of the Red Army, as compared with the pre-war Russian army, is furthered by the fact that most of the new officers come from the same social classes as the men them-selves - that is, from the working class and the peasantry - whereas the Tsarist officers' corps up to the time of the War was largely a preserve for sons of the nobility.
What is the fighting capacity of the Red Army ? It is recruited on the basis of universal liability to service of all male citizens between the ages of nineteen and forty. Members of a few small religious sects are granted exemption from bearing arms and given alternative service either in the non-combatant branches of the army or in socially useful work, such as fighting forest fires and epidemics. The regular army and navy, with an enlisted strength of 562,000, do not absorb nearly all the recruits who come up for service; every year about 1,200,000 persons become eligible for enlistment. About 800,000 of these are passed as physically fit, and of this number 450,000 are actually taken into service, approximately half in the regular army and navy and half in the territorial forces, which are organized on a regional militia basis.(12) There is a strenuous effort to make military training universal, except for members of the disfranchised classes, and voluntary courses in rifle practice are organized for the benefit of those who do not find a place either in the regular or in the territorial forces.
As has always been the case, Russia is better provided with human reserves than with mechanical equipment. The Red Army has built up a considerable air fleet, largely based on motors of Russian production. More than two years ago War Commissar Voroshilov made the following statement regarding the state of Soviet armaments: -
"In artillery we obtained stable results in the field of in-creasing the length of range; besides this we already have excellent construction of automatic arms. It is especially necessary to note the very successful manufacture of small-calibre rifles. The mass production of these will give a powerful impetus to the development of shooting sport in the near future. In the matter of chemical production we have solved one of our most important problems: the manufacture of our own counter-gases."
In the winter of 1927-1928 Mr. Voroshilov pointed out some of the defects of Russia's technical preparation. Perhaps the most important of these is the condition of the roads and the state of motor transport. At the time of Mr. Voroshilov's statement Russia had only 22,000 automobiles and trucks, with a domestic production of only 300 to 500 automobiles a year. Russian roads have always been notoriously bad, constituting perhaps an equal handicap to any rapid aggressive movement from the Russian side and to any invader who tries to penetrate deeply into the country. Lack of chlorine and nitrate and the still weak development of the Soviet chemical industry place the country at a disadvantage in the manufacture of asphyxiating gases.
The morale of the Red Army soldier is probably better than that of the Tsarist soldier, because of the increased educational work in the army and the more humane disciplinary regulations. These factors also tend to develop more initiative on the part of the soldier. A good many of the new "Red commanders" got their taste of fire in the civil war; the effect of radically changing the class composition of the students in the military training schools can perhaps only be gauged in the test of actual warfare. Inasmuch, however, as less complicated abstract thinking is required for the making of an officer than for the training of an engineer or a scientist, it is probable that the new captains of the Red Army give less cause for concern, in the matter of preparation, than the new captains of Soviet industry.
It is clear from this necessarily brief and condensed review that the Russian Revolution, like its French predecessor, has created a definitely new type of state. The French Revolution awakened the principle of nationality and ushered in an era of national states, struggles for national unifications and liberations, national wars. The Russian Revolution will quite probably exert a similar general influence, substituting class for nationality as the guiding stimulus. That it has already made over Russian psychology, in this respect, is indisputable. There is very little national chauvinism in Russia to-day; but there is a very strong class chauvinism, finding expression in class pride, class consciousness, class hatred. To an audience of Communists and workers the "Internationale," the song of class consciousness and class war, is as intoxicating as was the "Marseillaise," the song of national consciousness and national liberation, to the revolutionary throngs of Paris. And the merciless disabilities which are visited on the pariah disfranchised classes in the Soviet Union suggest very strongly the disabilities which the Tsarist Government, eager to base itself on exclusive Russian patriotism, visited upon the races which were regarded as "lesser breeds without the law."
(1)The employment of domestic servants is not a cause of disfranchisement.
(2) See Constitution of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, p. 28. Published by the All-Russian Soviet Central Executive Committee, Moscow, 1925.
(3)In 1927 a total of 3,111,903 persons, or 4.3 per cent of the number of electors who would have qualified under the age limit, were deprived of the right to vote. The number of disfranchised rural voters was 2,170,929, or 3.6 per cent of the total number; that of city voters was 940,974, or 7.8 per cent of the total number. Figures are not yet at hand for the Soviet elections of 1929; but it is probable that both the number and percentage of the disfranchised will reveal an increase, because of the intensified class war against the kulaks in the villages and because the general instructions issued to the election commissions were to be stricter in scrutinizing the qualifications of every voter. In Russia proper, excluding Ukraina, White Russia, Trans-Caucasia, and Central Asia, 4 per cent of the electors were disfranchised in 1927, as against 1.5 per cent in 1925-1926, when the Soviet "class policy" was milder. (For election statistics see Handbook of National Economy, pp. 24-25.)
(4) The Soviet Union is now undergoing a process of elaborate redistricting. The old divisions into gubernias (provinces), uyezds (counties), and volosts (townships) are being replaced by the oblast, or territory, which usually embraces the area of several former provinces, the okrug, or district, and, as the smallest administrative unit, the raion, or region. The new administrative boundary lines are drawn with a view to the natural economic unity of different parts of the country. This redistricting does not, however, affect the general political characteristics of the Soviet election system.
(5)The special functions of the Council of Nationalities and, in general, the federal features of the Soviet Constitution are described in Chapter 9, "The Babel Tower of Nationalities."
(6) According to The Handbook of National Economy (p. 32), 17 per cent of the members of the All-Russian Soviet Executive Committee in 1927 were actual workers and 16.8 per cent actual peasants. A very considerable number of the others, however, are of working-class and peasant origin.
(7) The Supreme Economic Council, which is really a Commissariat for Industry, is described in Chapter 6.
(8) A good example of this was the execution of a Moscow merchant's son, Kalganov, for murdering an official of the local house committee, Karavaev, an old Communist. The murder followed some trivial quarrel over a dog, and under ordinary circumstances would not have incurred a sentence of more than ten years' imprisonment. But the court held that Kalganov's action was an expression of his counter-revolutionary class ideology.
(9) Mr. Krilenko furnished me with the following figures regarding death sentences passed by the courts of Russia proper (excluding Ukraina, White Russia, Trans-Caucasia, and Central Asia) during the year 1928. In all, 287 sentences were passed, affecting 479 persons. Of these 289 were commuted by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, while the All-Russian Soviet Executive Committee commuted about 30 per cent of the remainder. The number of persons actually executed was, therefore, in the neighborhood of 130.
(10) See article by L. Degtyarev, "The Political-Moral Condition of the Red Army," in Pravda for February 23, 1929.
(11) Articles 99-104 of the pre-war military service regulations provided, among other things, that soldiers might not smoke in public places, might not ride in the interior of tramcars, being obliged to stand on the platforms, could only travel in third-class cars on trains, and could not enter restaurants, with the exception of station and boat buffets of the third class. See in this connection A. Shlyapnikov's The Year 1917, published by State Publishing Company, Vol. II, p. 102, with the appended references to pre-revolutionary sources.
(12) See The Calendar of the Communist for 1929, published by the Moscow Worker, p. 358. This publication is a sort of Communist almanac, and its figures may be accepted as reasonably official.