William Henry Chamberlin | Soviet Russia: A Living Record and a History
SEVERAL years ago an American came to Moscow for the purpose of studying the state of civil liberty under the Soviets. This evoked an outburst of uncontrolled amusement from a Russian acquaintance, a former Social Democrat, who had suffered the not uncommon fate of being a political prisoner both under the Tsarist regime and under the Soviet Government.
"Civil liberty in the Soviet Union," he laughed. "Soon some historian will begin to investigate the status of civil liberty under Ivan the Terrible. He will find just as much there as your American student will discover here."
Certainly the things which the average Western European or American associates with the phrase "civil liberties," freedom of speech and press for all citizens, freedom of political organization, guaranties against arbitrary search and arrest, are completely nonexistent in Russia to-day.
Not only is there no opposition press in Russia; but every newspaper or periodical dealing with political questions is under Communist control and voices in news and editorials alike only the orthodox Communist viewpoint. There are no privately owned newspapers in Russia; every organ of the press is issued either by a Soviet, by a local or national Committee of the Communist Party, by a trade-union, or by some other public institution or organization; and in every case the direction of the newspaper's policies by. a responsible Communist is ensured.
The writ of habeas corpus does not run in Russia. Anyone suspected of a political or economic offense may be arrested, held in prison for an indefinite period and finally exiled, sentenced to a term of imprisonment or even, in rare and extreme cases, executed, simply by the fiat of the all-powerful Gay-Pay-Oo, or political police.(1) No one has ever been able to secure any official statistics regarding the number of persons who are in prison or in exile for political offenses in the Soviet Union; but the free use which the Gay-Pay-Oo makes of its sweeping powers of arrest makes it certain that this figure is one of the highest in the world.(2)
No meeting may be held in Russia without a permit; and such permits are practically never given for gatherings where even the most indirect forms of political criticism might be voiced. I can recall only two exceptions which tend to prove this general rule. The anarchists held a meeting to honor the memory of the pioneer figure in Russian anarchism, Mikhail Bakunin, in the summer of 1926; and some of the speakers here uttered more or less veiled attacks on Communist theory and practice, from the anarchist standpoint. In the autumn of 1928, during the celebration of the Tolstoy centenary, a Tolstoyan suggested the disbandment of the Red Army, the abolition of capital punishment and the sale of vodka. Such episodes, however, are extremely infrequent.
During the civil war a few Mensheviks contrived to get themselves elected to Soviet Congresses; but the last of these feeble voices of political opposition were stilled in 1920 or 1921. Any non-Communist political parties and groups are regarded as counter-revolutionary organizations, liable to summary suppression by the Gay-Pay-Oo. As was pointed out in an earlier chapter, while the Soviets include a certain number of non-Party members, they do not provide any forum for the expression of views which are at variance with the official Communist programme.
Academic freedom also does not exist in Russia. Any professor who lets drop any unguarded word critical of the existing regime or who holds in history or economics, philosophy or science, non-Marxian or idealistic views at variance with the prevalent dogma of materialism is likely to be dismissed.
The severe regimentation of political thought and activity is by no means confined to individuals and groups committed to a capitalist outlook or to the non-Communist interpretations of socialism held by the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionists. Beginning with the autumn of 1927, when arrests of Trotzkyist adherents began, the Gay-Pay-Oo has directed more and more of its activity against the Trotzkyists and other dissident Communists.' It is an amusing and suggestive fact, illustrative of the varying conceptions of political liberty which prevail in Russia and in Western Europe, that German, French, and British Communists, avowedly aiming at the revolutionary overthrow of the governments of those countries, have been free to publish daily newspapers and books advocating their views, whereas no Russian Communist group which disagrees with the Party leadership is permitted to make its views known to the Party masses through similar means.
The Gay-Pay-Oo, the chief agency for maintaining this system of rigorous controls, is probably the most powerful and extensive secret police system existing anywhere in the world. It is the direct lineal successor of the Chekha, the grim secret police which struck such terror into the enemies of the Revolution during the period of civil war.(3) The Gay-Pay-Oo really enjoys most of the rights of the Chekha, including that of inflicting death sentences.(4) In practice, however, it makes much more sparing use of this right. Whereas the executions by the Chekha during the years of desperate civil war ran well into thousands, the annual lists of persons shot by order of the Gay-Pay-Oo could probably be reckoned in scores, or, at most, in hundreds.(5)
The Gay-Pay-Oo has its own regiments, reserved for employment in special emergencies when it might be inexpedient to employ regular troops. Its original head was Felix Dzerzhinsky, organizer of the Chekha and one of the strongest personalities of the Revolution; his successor is another Pole, Menzhinsky. Although it is not formally a Commissariat, its head has the right to attend sessions of the Soviet Cabinet. It has six sections, or departments: the operative, which exercises general supervision over the workings of the organization and directs the troops' movements; the foreign, designed to ferret out cases of counter-revolution and economic espionage originating abroad; the economic, which keeps an eye on state industry and trade and punishes such offenses as smuggling and counterfeiting; the transport section, which maintains order on the railroads and inspects travelers' pass-ports; the military, which watches out for symptoms of disaffection in the army; and the secret service, which deals with counter-revolutionary activities and tendencies in Russia. It is this last section that inspires most fear in the classes which are chiefly exposed to the supervision of the Gay-Pay-Oo. A survey of the special prisons and places of exile maintained by the Gay-Pay-Oo would doubtless reveal an extraordinary collection of types who had landed in its far-flung net from the greatest variety of causes. There would be priests and sectarian leaders whom the priests themselves would have been quick to denounce in pre-war days; kulaks and speculators and Trotzkyists who thought the Party was not sufficiently ruthless in dealing with kulaks and speculators; Mensheviks, Social Revolutionists, Georgian Nationalists, and old Tsarist officers and officials.
The Gay-Pay-Oo makes most of its arrests by night and heightens the terror which surrounds it by operating with a maximum degree of secrecy. Its chiefs almost never give interviews; one would scarcely know of the existence of the organization by reading the Soviet press. Ordinary criminals arrested by the Gay-Pay-Oo are often handed over to the regular courts; political offenders are almost always dealt with by the secret administrative process of imprisonment, banishment to some remote part of the Soviet Union (the northern regions of Siberia are often used for this purpose, as was the case under the Tsar), or a milder form of exile, which consists of prohibition to live in the six largest cities of the Soviet Union. One of the most dreaded places of confinement under charge of the Gay-Pay-Oo is an old monastery on Solovyetzky Island, in the White Sea. Several years ago some disorder among the political prisoners there led to the killing and wounding of a number of them by the prison guards; and in 1925, possibly as a result of the intensive agitation which was carried on in the foreign emigre press, it was decided that all political prisoners should be removed to places of confinement on the mainland. The term "political prisoner
is rather restricted in its application, however; it apparently does not cover ecclesiastics, for instance, although many of them are certainly confined on political and semi-political charges; and it appears that some Georgian Nationalists were left on the island. Most of the inmates of Solovyetzky Island now, however, are criminals of the hardened type and persons charged with speculation and other economic offenses.
Inasmuch as no foreign observer has been able to visit Solovyetzky Island, it is impossible with any assurance to strike the balance of factual truth between the stories of over-crowding, ill-treatment, bad labor conditions, and high death-rate which are told by persons who have been confined there and the reassuring denials of the Soviet Commissariat for Justice. It is certainly a place from which the average Russian very strongly desires to keep away.(6)
How many of the persons who fall into the hands of the Gay-Pay-Oo are really guilty of offenses against the Soviet state, and how many are victims of suspicion or false denunciation ? In view of the complete secrecy which shrouds the proceedings of the organization, it would be as impossible to give an authoritative answer to this question as to state with any certainty how many of the people consigned to the Bastille under the lettres de cachetsystem practised in France under the Bourbons were enemies of the existing regime and how many were imprisoned by accident or mistake.
With its army of spies, agents, and informers and its sweeping powers of arrest, the Gay-Pay-Oo has every reason to be a well-informed secret police; and it has unquestionably broken up many plots and unearthed many economic offenses. One of its most brilliant feats of detective work was the luring into Russia in 1926 of the Monarchist emigre, V. V. Shulgin, and the escorting him about the country on a sort of Gay-Pay-Oo personally conducted tour, introducing him. to many "Monarchists" who were really its own secret agents.
But any arbitrary police system is bound to make mistakes, especially when, as in Russia, the welfare of the state is considered infinitely more important than the security of the individual. The fear of meeting foreigners is very prevalent among the old bourgeoisie and old intelligentsia, and one cannot say in the light of existing conditions that it is unfounded. Foreign residents in Russia are kept under fairly close surveillance by the Gay-Pay-Oo; but, aside from the handicap of being socially isolated from many Russians of the classes which are most exposed to suspicion, and the minor annoyance of occasionally receiving letters which have obviously been opened in transit, they have no harsh treatment to complain of. The Gay-Pay-Oo method of summary arrest on suspicion is for domestic application only. Looking back over more than seven years' residence in Russia, I can recall few cases of arrests of foreigners and still fewer where these arrests were followed by serious consequences in the shape of banishment or long-term prison sentences.(7) Even the right to expel "undesirable aliens," asserted by every government, is sparingly exercised in the Soviet Union.
The amount of freedom enjoyed by foreign press correspondents, while it affects a very small number of persons directly, is obviously of some importance in determining the value of information sent out from Russia. Technically the situation in this field has not changed for a number of years. All news telegrams must be stamped in advance by an official in the Press Department of the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs. There is no preliminary examination of articles sent by post; but a correspondent who endeavored to evade the censorship by sending through the mails items of information which did not pass the telegraphic censorship would most probably find his permission to stay in Russia speedily terminated.
Since the latter part of 1925 there have been no repressive measures against foreign journalists. A few correspondents who have been in Russia are barred from revisiting the country because of writings and speeches which were regarded by the Soviet authorities as unfairly biased in a hostile direction.
The news censorship is not severe, as censorships go, and shows a slow but steady tendency toward giving the foreign journalist increasing latitude in conveying impressions as well as facts. One rule of the censorship is that anything may be telegraphed which has appeared in the press; and, while this might seem a hollow concession, in view of the fact that the newspapers are all under Communist control and are sent abroad anyway, so much unfavorable material is printed in them, especially in connection with the campaign of "self-criticism," which will be described later on, that many of the uncompromisingly hostile correspondents who send their Russian news from Riga and other foreign centres find much of their ammunition in the Soviet press.
In normal times the censorship is little more than a routine process incidental to sending a telegram; it tends to become tighter in periods of severe economic or international stress or acute internal Party dissension. Sometimes it is not the substance of a dispatch but the manner of phrasing it which excites critical attention; and friendly philological discussions as to the precise meaning and implications of certain adjectives and phrases between the correspondents and the censor are not uncommon.
No journalist likes to work under a censorship; but given the peculiar combination in Russia of a government that controls every line of its own press and a foreign press that is not, to put it mildly, over friendly to the Soviet regime, some arrangement for the control of outgoing news is probably inevitable; and it is better, under the circumstances, that this control should be open than that it should exist in secret form. I can recall very few important pieces of news which have been completely suppressed by the Soviet censorship during the last few years, although some items have undoubtedly got out in delayed and weakened form. I think a comparison of the news despatches from Moscow and those sent about Russia from Riga, Helsingfors, Berlin, and other places outside the country would demonstrate beyond any doubt that, despite the handicaps which are implicit even in the mildest censorship, Russia can be reported more reliably, more accurately, and more intelligently from Moscow than from any foreign city.
The assertion is often made that correspondents and foreigners in general in Russia are so subjected to official super-vision that they are unable to make any independent investigation or to form any correct idea of actual conditions. I am convinced from personal experience that this assertion is baseless. Of course, under a dictatorship there are always difficulties in correctly gauging popular sentiment which do not exist in countries where people of all shades of opinion feel free to express their views openly. Many of the old propertied and educated classes make a point of avoiding foreigners, although a very few contacts with these classes are sufficient to give an adequate idea of their views and feelings.
But for the correspondent who wishes to take the time and trouble, working-class and peasant Russia, the Russia of 90 per cent of the population, lies open to explore as he wishes. Except for Soviet Central Asia (which was also a restricted zone for foreign' travelers before the War, on account of the proximity to India and the fear of British spies), one can travel anywhere in the Soviet Union. I have repeatedly struck off the main lines of communication to visit factory settlements and peasant villages and talked freely with the people without encountering any evidences of official espionage or obstruction; in fact it is a general rule that the farther one goes away from Moscow the less one sees and hears of the Gay-Pay-Oo.
It is true that some individuals and delegations have turned in reports about the Soviet Union which suggest not so much what an impartial outsider might think of the workings of the Soviet system as what the Soviet Government thinks about itself. But I think this is due, not to the existence of any insuperable barriers placed in the way of free investigation, but to the fact that the individuals and delegations in question were either naive and credulous in their approach to the problem or came to Russia with preconceived ideas which they were glad to have confirmed. I should not wish to suggest that all the superficial and incompetent observation is through favorable spectacles; the visitor who comes to Moscow with a strongly unfavorable bias can pick up enough hostile gossip, most of it exaggerated and much of it quite untrue, to fill up a book in record time.
Passing through a Russian provincial town, I recently saw a Soviet election placard which cited Lenin as the authority for the statement that "the Soviet state is a million times more democratic than the most democratic bourgeois republic." Against the background of political repression which is incarnated in the Gay-Pay-Oo this claim may seem so strange as to be almost ironical. Yet there can be no doubt that Lenin was perfectly serious when he made it and that Russian Communists are convinced that their system provides more liberty than exists in other countries.
Their first argument in this connection is that the private capitalist system itself involves the oppression and economic exploitation of a wage-earning majority by a propertied minority. Therefore, by abolishing or greatly limiting private capitalism through the nationalization of industry and transport, banking and the land, the Communists, in their own judgment, have taken a stride in the direction of fundamental economic liberty which enormously outweighs the limitation of individual liberties involved in the present system.
A second line of argument is to the effect that these restrictions are class restrictions, directed against numerically small classes which will vanish altogether in the future Communist society. It is further argued that every great social revolution involves a period of ruthless suppression of the sympathizers with the order which has been overthrown.
Finally it is contended that the so-called civil liberties of democratic countries are fallacious and unreal, because the possession of superior resources of wealth enables the richer classes to control the press and the schools, to influence, directly or indirectly, the procedure of the courts and the issue of elections.
Whatever one may think of these arguments, it is only fair to note that the Russian Revolution, while sweeping away even the poor crumbs of civil liberty which existed under the Tsar (a pale and almost powerless parliament, elected on a narrow franchise, a few newspapers which might very cautiously criticize the official viewpoint, etc.), has brought certain social liberties which to the uneducated or scantily educated masses of the people are probably more valuable than the right to vote for rival parties in elections or to write theoretical critical articles. In judging the effect of the absence of civil liberties on the mood of the Russian people it should never be forgotten that the vast majority of these people have not the slightest conception of what these liberties are; that they are not so far removed from the insurgent soldiers who followed the Dekabristi, shouting, "Constantine and Constitutsia !" ("Constantine and a Constitution !") under the impression that " Constitutsia" was Constantine's wife.
What are the social liberties which are associated with the Revolution ? First of all, the disappearance of "superior" social classes, based on wealth and birth. The worker does not have to cringe before the "red director" of the Soviet factory as, in pre-war times, he cringed before the private owner of the factory. He can write letters to the press complaining of conditions in the factory and suggesting changes, something which a worker would scarcely do with impunity even in democratic capitalist countries, where factories are private and not public concerns.
A peasant once remarked to me: "After the Revolution there was more freedom; I got land." To him freedom meant, not the opportunity to vote for a parliamentary Peasant Party, but the possession of a slice of the landlord's estate. And this identification of land with liberty is a very traditional attitude of mind with the Russian peasantry. It was no accident that one of the revolutionary societies of the nineteenth century called itself "Land and Liberty." It is true that most peasants have not been singing any very loud hymns to liberty since the Communist Party went over to its more radical agrarian policy in the winter of 1927-1928. To the peasant the pressure exerted to make him sell his grain at low fixed prices seems quite as definite an infringement of liberty as the extortion of high rent by the grasping landlord of prerevolutionary days. But the big landlords have gone forever; it is rather unlikely that the semi-requisitioning methods which have been used in purchasing the peasants' grain during the last two years will last very long.
In general the common man in Russia to-day has the sense of release, of social liberty, that comes with the disappearance of classes which are visibly above him in wealth and opportunity, culture and social status. When I called on the Soviet governor of an important industrial province, a man who had held high office in the trade-union movement and accompanied a diplomatic delegation to England, I found him in his office wearing the high boots and colorless blouse that constitute part of the distinctive costume of the Russian worker. Walking on the streets or riding on a train he would have been indistinguishable from the textile workers of the province. He certainly represented a different type of official from the decorated "high excellency" who would most probably have held the corresponding post under the Tsar.
Whether the plebeian leveling which characterizes so many fields of Russian social and cultural life is an unmixed blessing is highly debatable. But that it gives to the masses, at least to those of them who have absorbed some of the revolutionary propaganda, a sense of liberty which they did not possess in former times is, I think, undeniable. In earlier chapters I have described other liberties which have come with the new social order: greater freedom for women, more humane treatment of the soldier in the Red Army, recognition of the right of racial minorities to use freely their own languages, greater liberty for children in the schools, although this last form of freedom, it must be said, is less in evidence where teachers and professors are not in hearty sympathy with the new regime.
One must also note the practice of "self-criticism," very widely developed in some spheres of Soviet life, sharply limited or nonexistent in others. Following the Shachti trial and the detection of some scandals in local Party organizations, the Communist Party Central Committee in 1928 issued an appeal urging the Party and trade-union members to subject to merciless criticism abuses in the state administration and management of industry. The result of this was a veritable flood of letters and articles in the press, revealing real or alleged abuses. For a vivid first-hand picture of the defects of the Soviet civil service and the socialist management of industry one has only to turn to the columns of the Soviet press. In some cases, with the Russian tendency toward exaggeration, the criticism was really overdone, and one had the curious spectacle of a press, published under the strictest control of a ruling party, representing some conditions as worse than they actually were.
Of course, there are important and substantial limitations on this practice of "self-criticism." It never touches the activities of the Gay-Pay-Oo, for instance. The basic policies of the Communist Party are never subjected to critical discussion; and one can scarcely imagine a Soviet publishing house issuing a book entitled The Man Who Knew Stalin and animated by the same spirit of satire that characterized Mr. Sinclair Lewis's The Man Who Knew Coolidge. A shrewd Ukrainian peasant once gave me what I should consider a fair appraisal of the amount and character of popular criticism permissible under Soviet rule. He said in substance: -
"If our local Soviet president is a drunkard and a grafter, we have more opportunity to complain and more chance of getting him removed than we should have had in putting out a bad official under the Tsar. But suppose we think the whole Communist agrarian policy is wrong, that they ought to stop forcing us into collective farms and give us the right to develop as individual farmers. We haven't much chance to express thoughts of that kind."
Liberty is always a relative and personal conception; and in the wake of a great social upheaval it is inevitable that what is one man's freedom should be another man's tyranny. The out-look of two personal acquaintances helps to illustrate this point.
Vladimir Nikolaevitch was the son of an educated family of moderate means. From his student days he was a revolutionary, a member of the Social Democratic Party. The Tsarist Government sent him into exile. His reaction to 1917 was that of the typical radical intellectual. The cruel and destructive sides of the Revolution bulked largest in his mind; he expressed his ideas rather freely and was clapped into jail. He was released after a comparatively short detention, because of old friendships with influential Communists, and during the last few years has led a fairly unmolested life. But to him the Soviet regime is slavery of the worst kind, slavery of the mind as well as of the body. He can only do some kind of mechanical clerical work. He cannot publish a book or article, even on a nonpolitical subject without the risk of having the censor stop it for some heterodox expression. He cannot even state his ideas in conversation, except to a small circle of trusted friends.
Ivan Ivanovitch before the War was a worker in one of the large Moscow metal factories. He joined the Bolshevik Party in the big revolutionary upswing of 1917, took part in the fighting in the streets of Moscow in November, and was one of the first volunteers to join the Red Army. He fought on one front after another, was captured by the White Army of General Yudenitch, and his teeth were knocked out by a brutal jailer; but he thought himself lucky to escape with his life. After the civil war he went back to work in the factory, where he is now the secretary of the Communist local branch. This activity keeps him quite busy, but he still finds time to attend courses at an evening rabfac, or workers' high school, where, besides a firmer grounding in the tenets of Leninism, he gets his first acquaintance with Russian literature and some of the elementary facts of science. To him the Revolution has been a great liberating experience, and he would simply regard it as axiomatic that the Soviet state, being a workers' state, is the freest in the world.
One could vary the human types and multiply the evidence on both sides indefinitely. I should think it probable that the number of people in Russia who consciously feel liberated as a result of the Revolution probably exceeds the number who feel more oppressed than they were under Tsarism. Therefore, while there is a strong and justified sense of repression among the former propertied and educated classes, it would, I think, be a mistake to assume that the whole Russian people feels itself repressed.
It would scarcely seem that there is any likelihood of serious modification or relaxation of the system of political control exemplified in the Gay-Pay-Oo and its methods. In the latter part of 1927, Stalin, in the course of an interview granted to an American labor delegation, likened the Gay-Pay-Oo to the Committee of Public Safety in the French Revolution and declared: "The Revolution needs the Gay-Pay-Oo, and the Gay-Pay-Oo will live with us to the terror of the enemies of the proletariat."
This stringent police system grew up during the period of civil war and intervention; and its maintenance for a time was habitually defended by Communists on the ground that the security of the newly established Soviet state must be protected at all costs against plots and uprisings. Now, since the security of the state is taken for granted, the line of argument has changed to the effect that forces of discontent in Russia, however feeble, always have international connections and support from outside, and that the Gay-Pay-Oo is needed for defense against this alleged external danger. Inasmuch as this danger will presumably only be removed when there are Communist revolutions all over the world, or at least all over Europe, the Gay-Pay-Oo seems to be about as permanently entrenched as any Soviet state organization.
The Russian and Communist attitude toward civil liberty cannot be fully appreciated and understood unless one constantly bears in mind the fact that Russia lay almost entirely outside the influence of three movements which probably contributed most to implant the ideal of respect for individual consciousness, thought, and judgment in the Western mind - namely, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the French Revolution. Unless he be a Communist of the most stalwart brand of faith, a Westerner, the more or less conscious cultural heir of Milton and Voltaire and John Stuart Mill, will never feel quite at home under the proletarian dictatorship. It is significant that Western-educated Communists are most apt to become implicated in Trotzkyist and similar heresies and to kick over the traces of Party discipline.
But it would be a grave mistake to assume that Western psychology coincides with Russian in this matter of the importance of individual liberty. Just as Bolshevik Russia has attempted to leap from a rather early and undeveloped form of capitalism into socialism, so it is attempting to realize social and economic liberty without any preliminary background of individual liberty. The experiment is full of interest and contradictions.
Assuming that Russia for some time enjoys, a peaceful and normal course of development, there are, I think, two factors which may tend to extend the sphere of liberty and democracy and to reduce the consciousness of repression. The spread of popular education will tend almost inevitably to make the Soviet and Party and trade-union elections more real and to give the masses a larger effective voice in the management of everyday affairs.
Then the generations which grow up reading Soviet newspapers, attending Soviet schools, deriving their ideas from Soviet books, will most probably contain fewer active and passive rebels and dissidents to invite the attentions of the Gay-Pay-Oo. Will this gradual making over of the people into the Communist and Soviet mould be the final flowering of the social and economic liberty which Communists hold up as their final goal ? Or will it be simply an amazing triumph of regimentation of the ideas and habits of a large passive majority by a small active minority ? I shall leave this question for the metaphysicians.
(1) The full formal title of this institution is United State Political Administration. It is usually shortened in Russia to Gay-Pay-Oo, which is a combination of the first three letters of the Russian words for State Political Administration.
(2) There was a huge round-up of political suspects after the breach of diplomatic relations with England and the murder of the Soviet Ambassador in Warsaw, Volkov, in the spring of 1927. Most of the persons arrested were released after a period of interrogation, but a number credibly estimated at little less than a thousand were exiled or imprisoned. A laconic note in the Soviet press in January 1929 announced the arrest of a hundred and fifty members of the underground Trotzkyist organization. The vast majority of political arrests in Russia are never reported in the press.
(3) Membership in the Communist Party has never been a guaranty against arrest for views and activities which are regarded as subversive in relation to the Soviet state. So in 1923 two secret groups, the Workers' Truth and the Workers' Group, both consisting mainly, if not entirely, of Communist Party members, were broken up by the Gay-Pay-Oo.
(4) The right of the Gay-Pay-Oo to function in the triple role of policeman, judge, and executioner is clearly brought out in Premier Rykov's reply to the protest of some British Labor Party leaders against the prompt execution of twenty alleged counter-revolutionists in reprisal for the murder of the Soviet Ambassador, Volkov, in the spring of 1927. Rykov stated in this connection: "The sentence of the Gay-Pay-Oo is characterized in your telegram as `executions without legal trial.' This is not the case. According to the law of our state the collegium of the Gay-Pay-Oo is competent in all cases when it is necessary to take energetic action against the counter-revolution; in these cases it then has all the rights of a revolutionary tribunal."
(5) A veil of impenetrable secrecy is drawn over the precise number of Gay-Pay-Oo executions during the last few years, since no official statistics have been published, and there is no rule that executions must be reported in the press. Mr. Roger Baldwin, in his book, Liberty under the Soviets (published by Vanguard Press, New York, p. 221), declares that Menzhinsky, in conversation with members of an American labor delegation which visited Russia in 1927, gave the figure of 1500 for executions ordered by the Gay-Pay-Oo between 1922 and 1927. I have nothing to add in proof or disproof of this second- or third-hand testimony. The largest number of executions on any one occasion in the Soviet Union during recent years took place after the short-lived uprising of the Georgia Mensheviks in August 1924. Two correspondents who visited Georgia after the uprising, Herr Paul Scheffer of the Berliner Tageblatt, and Mr. Louis Fischer of the New York Nation, were told by responsible Soviet Georgian officials that several hundred of the participants in this uprising were executed, and popular rumor set the figure still higher. It is not clear whether these Georgian executions were included in Menzhinsky's total figure.
(6) A moving-picture film displayed in the autumn of 1929 depicted conditions in a fairly favorable light. Of course, it was impossible to judge what aspects of life in the concentration camp were not chosen for photographic representation. But one could see that the camp is at least provided with such appurtenances of a modern progressive prison as a library and reading room and a hall for concerts and theatrical performances. Some forms of the work to which the prisoners were assigned, such as loading stones and lumber, cutting peat, and making roads through the boggy forests, looked strenuous and difficult; but it was stated on a caption that an eight-hour working day was observed, while some of the pictures showed a medical examination, designed to establish the working capacity of the prisoners. While a spectator could not, of course, feel absolute confidence that the moving-picture production told the whole story of the Solovyetzky camp it did furnish some visual refutation of the wilder rumors which represent the island as a howling wilderness, devoid of the most elementary facilities for humane treatment of the inmates. It also showed that a certain amount, of new building, both of quarters and of small factories and workshops, has been going on during the last few years.
(7) The two cases of arrests of foreigners which aroused the greatest stir both, curiously enough, affected citizens of Germany, the country which has been most consistently friendly in its official relations with the Soviet Union. In the summer of 1925 three German students in Moscow, Kindermann, Wolscht, and Von Dittmar, were arrested and placed on trial before the Supreme Court of the Union, charged with a rather fantastic plot to assassinate Stalin and other Soviet leaders. The chief witness for the state was Von Dittmar, who was hotly denounced in Germany as a "pathological liar." Death sentences were passed on the students, but were promptly commuted; and shortly afterwards these three young men, along with several other German citizens, were exchanged for a mysterious Russian who went by the name of Skobelevsky and was under sentence of death in Germany for alleged participation in the Communist disturbances in the autumn of 1923. The other case was the arrest of several German engineers and mechanics in the Shachti sabotage case in the spring of 1928. The engineer and two mechanics who were actually brought to trial were all acquitted; but the whole episode created a bad impression in Germany and is not likely to be repeated.