Source: The New International, Vol. IV No. 12, December 1938, pp. 382–383.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.
In Search of Soviet Gold
by John Littlepage and Demaree Bess
310 pp. New York. Harcourt, Brace & Co. $2.75
No one had ever heard of John D. Littlepage until he broke out in the well-paying columns of the Saturday Evening Post shortly before the Third Moscow trial with an attack against the leaders of the October Revolution. He affirmed that sabotage and wrecking in the Soviet Union were common and carried on in an organized manner. In proof of his assertion he declared that he had spent ten years in the Soviet Union, that he knew all about gold mining, that one day he had accidentally laid his hand on a hot bearing and discovered it running in an amalgam of oil and powdered emery and that therefore all the Bolsheviks who had led the October Revolution were guilty of wrecking and sabotage except Joseph Stalin, for is it not well known that Bolsheviks commonly use sabotage and wrecking as part of their methods in capitalist countries?
Despite Littlepage’s attack against communism and open defense of capitalism, the Daily Worker front-paged the story, declaring Littlepage just a little “naive” about “communism in general” but really an expert in his own field of mining and therefore an expert on sabotage and wrecking as practised by the leaders of the October Revolution. Corliss Lamont, Wall Street patron of the Stalinist International, followed up the Daily Worker story with a mimeographed letter and a clipping of the story from the Post for all the members of the Trotsky Defense Committee, urging them on the basis of Littlepage’s assertions to sever immediately all connection with any attempt to find out the truth about the charges levelled against Leon Trotsky.
With the help of Demaree Bess, ex-Moscow correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, Littlepage has now cashed in again on his gold mining experience by expanding his Saturday Evening Post story into a full length book, In Search of Soviet Gold.
This search began in Alaska where Littlepage was earning good money as a slave driver in the gold mines. A visit from Serebrovsky, then studying mining conditions in the United States, the alluring prospect of “saving a lot of money”, and Littlepage decided to at least try out the racket of being a “friend” to the USSR. Perhaps he could make his dreams of gold come true in short order in Stalin’s land of Utopia.
A rude awakening awaited him in Utopia. Already in 1928 the police were quietly cutting into the ranks of the specialists and the sudden disappearance of many of Littlepage’s assistants without trial, reason, or pretext made it extremely awkward to achieve production records similar to those which had made the capitalist companies proud of him in Alaska. Still more grievous was the extreme difficulty in breaking the workers from the “theories laid down by their Communist prophets” when it should have been “obvious to a smart twelve-year-old that they didn’t make sense”. Littlepage found Marx, Engels, Lenin his greatest enemies. However, he quickly found a congenial mind in Stalin and under his patronage he succeeded in introducing the piece-work system, the speed-up, and many other capitalist forms of production directly opposed to “the exploded theories of nineteenth-century communists”. At the same time like the communist party bureaucrats he very happily gilded the feathers in his own nest.
Littlepage and Stalin nevertheless did not succeed in one day in their drive upon the forms and base of the workers’ society in the Soviet Union. The struggle was profound, involving the very structure and direction of the development of the economy. As Littlepage puts it, “looking back at it now, I can see that the events of 1929 and the years following were just as much a revolution as the years following 1917”.
Littlepage devotes not a few pages to wrecking and sabotage in the Soviet Union. Aside from the occurrence in which he burned his hand, he recounts several incidents where his plans for introducing the speed-up or the piecework system or a reorganization of a mine upon capitalist lines were changed to the great detriment of the industry by mysterious “higher-ups” (of course, not Stalin or his followers who will buy Littlepage’s book). In 1931 he went with the Pyatakov Commission to Berlin to buy machinery and wondered if there wasn’t some attempt at petty graft in this commission. When he read the report of the Second Moscow Trial he was immediately convinced that what was really involved was ... wrecking. Before, Littlepage had only suspected that something was just a trifle shady among the members of the Commission; but Pyatakov’s confession immediately peeled the blinders from his eyes. The first frame-up convinced him a little bit, the second frame-up still more, but the third frame-up clinched everything. Littlepage, despite the front-page hopes of the Daily Worker has absolutely nothing to contribute to the Stalinist case for the trials. He bases himself almost entirely upon the confessions at the trials themselves and not upon what he has himself experienced. Indeed he admits that in the Gold Trust he encountered not a single case of sabotage or wrecking.
Especially ludicrous is Littlepage’s attempt to explain away the fate of his chief, Serebrovsky. Apparently the book had been written before Serebrovsky’s disappearance; in page after page he lauds Serebrovsky, the head of the Gold Trust, as the ideal Stalinist. No matter how prevalent wrecking and sabotage might be in the other trusts, as can be found from listening to the “confessions” in the Moscow frame-ups, in the Gold Trust not a single case occurred. Not a single case – expert witness Littlepage emphasizes this. No doubt that ubiquitous Satan – Trotsky contaminated all the rest of the industries in Russia, but Serebrovsky kept him exorcized before he got started. In a postscript to his book Littlepage tries to explain why Serebroysky has now been arrested. He makes a big stab at doing a little reasoning and almost achieves the level of a Daily Worker editorial. The charge “enemy of the people”, he points out sapiently, is a bit vague. It is too bad we don’t know the real reason for Serebrovsky’s disappearance, especially since there was absolutely no sabotage or wrecking under him. The arrest is very hard to understand, since Serebrovsky was a pet of Stalin for his preternatural, almost capitalist skill at developing that most beloved of all Stalin industries, gold-hunting. But in true Daily Worker fashion he comes through with a flashing conclusion: perhaps Serebrovsky, like all Communists, was conditioned to conspiracy in youth and even after so many years of clean life working for Stalin and being his gold star yes-man, he just couldn’t keep his nose out of plotting.
But as that master Wall Street politician, Corliss Lamont of the millionaire Lamont family, points out, Littlepage is politically naïve and cannot be trusted in political affairs such as purging Bolshevism out of the Soviet Union. It is only his judgment in his own field that is trustworthy. What is Littlepage’s judgment in this field? In the Gold Trust he did not encounter a single case of organized wrecking. As for Soviet industry as a whole – much more deadly than any organized wrecking are the unending arrests, imprisonments, shootings which keep every single person in the USSR in a state of suspense and fear, especially those who must initiate and plan. Littlepage chokes his book with evidence to show the utter impossibilitiy of successfully organizing an industry and carrying on production under Stalin. Suspicion and terror paralyze the workers, engineers, managers, as if each worked with a loaded revolver at the back of his head. In this he verifies the evidence offered by Tchernavin and confirms Tchernavin’s conclusions regarding the complete breakdown of planning under the reign of mediocrity and ignorance. “I suspect there are more watchers than producers,” Littlepage repeats. Over and over he shows where Soviet industry breaks down because of the uncorrellated “planning”, the shooting of the best and most capable men and their replacement by ignorant scoundrels capable of nothing but ruining machinery, factories, mines. He recounts incident after incident where illiterate peasants, some of whom have never seen a piece of metal before in their lives, are forced to handle valuable machinery, inevitably ruining it. He confirms the terrible stories that have seeped out of the Soviet Union despite the censorship of the press and the connivance of such foreign correspondents as Eugene Lyons, Walter Duranty, and Louis Fischer: people harried and driven like cattle by the hundreds of thousands; whole populations torn from their homes by Stalin and dumped like the unfortunate victims of the old African slave traffic into an alien world; whole sections of the economy disrupted and smashed by frenzied measures of Czar Stalin; police terror; a madhouse confusion of orders, counter-orders; virulent hatred of all foreigners, national isolation; bursting prisons, enormous gangs of tattered political prisoners in concentration camps. Unwittingly he confirms Boris Silver’s story of the distrust, the unrest, the seething discontent in Stalinland as he describes the mounting suppression and the increasing suffocation of the Marxist-Leninist ideals during his ten years in the Gold Trust. Despite his own colossal blindness, if blindness it be, this phase of Littlepage’s record of conditions in the Soviet Union is one of the most damning documents against Stalin ever written by any of his ex-gold-diggers.
Last updated on: 13 September 2015