On our arrival we found Moscow covered with deep snow which, however, was soon to turn into still deeper mud. While we in Siberia had had a good time eating roast goose and enjoying a warm stove the poor Moscovites had throughout the winter been starving and freezing pitifully. It appeared that last summer’s provision of firewood had been totally inadequate. It had been a very cold winter with an abundance of snow, and of course it had not been possible to dispose of the snow in the customary way by “burning” it on huge fires in the streets. Thus snow clearing had been declared a civic duty, and strolling through Moscow one could see doctors and professors, artists and scientists along with other “bourgeois” clearing snow from roofs, roads and backyards. It mattered little that meanwhile the sick were waiting in vain for the doctors, the students for their teachers. While one of our most famous gyneocologists almost slipped off the roof he was trying to clear from snow mothers were dying helplessly from puerperal fever.
The persecution of the intellectuals had reached its climax. Until the Ninth Party Congress a few weeks later ordered a change of policy it was regarded almost as a crime to have received a higher education under the old regime. So the unfortunate scholars tried to hide in higher esteemed manual occupations – a mathematician would serve as a night watchman, a physicist as a caretaker, a lawyer as a clerk. In that way they would at any rate receive ration cards as workers and a “payok” (food ration as part of wages). We met a famous technical engineer in the street drawing a little sledge. “Potatoes,” he said with a sad smile, “flour and sunflower oil. You see this is my payok. Well, the Russian intelligentsia has turned into beasts of burden. There you are, we used to think, the man in the corner shop who supplied us with all that, raising the price by a few kopeks, was just a robber and his work was parasitic from a point of view of national economy. Now that we have to carry everything home on our own backs we suddenly discover he was not a robber at all, on the contrary, he was our benefactor.”
Laden with a huge piece of our Siberian fish we went to see an old friend, a physicist who was a Menshevik. We found him and his wife in the kitchen. She had picked up somewhere a peculiar instrument: an imitation of a spirit lamp to be heated by bits of wood. On this curious invention they were frying by combined effort a kind of rissoles made of minced remainders of meat, vegetables and potatoes. “So leben wir, so leben wir, so leben wir alle Tage,” (so we live every day) our friend was humming full of grim humour a popular German song. The room soon filled. Totally unexpectedly my old friend Vera turned up whom I had last seen in 1905 at Kiev after my escape from Voronezh.
“Now the Revolution of which we have been dreaming so long has come,” she said with a smile, “but what has it brought us?”
“Brought?” repeated one of the guests in a contemplative mood, he was a famous professor of medicine who in his student days had been very active in the revolutionary movement. “At all events it has radically transformed us. Tell me from where does this severity, this strictness arise which is so utterly alien to the Russian character? This Prussian strictness? And whither have they suddenly all vanished the typical Russian intellectuals, these modest, unselfish idealists? Think of the typical Russian rural doctor who kept far, far aloof from the powers that be, who wished nothing for himself and had only one thing at heart: to enlighten the peasants and help them in time of sickness. What has become of them all? Vanished as if by magic!”
“But what is the cause of this?” asked the physicist, “is it the political persecution or the general misery which turns the most unpractical idealist into a bread-seeker, into a “speculator” who tries to exchange the buttons of his old overcoat on the Sukharevka market for something to eat?”
And what has become of the Russian press!” remarked Vera.
“It has been trodden underfoot by the donkeys in the innumerable departments,” the professor replied, “now everything is regimented, monopolised, centralised. The press official has replaced the free publicist ....”
“And Demian Bedny has been appointed poet-laureate to the Revolution!” Vera interjected, “Poor Revolution.”
This gathering left a deep impression on us. In the evening Irma sat on the edge of her bed shrouded in thought.
“How is this mad hatred against the intellectuals to be explained?” she asked. “For three generations intellectuals have been fighting in the foremost ranks of the revolutionary movement, have filled the prisons, have suffered banishment and death. And now when there is such a lack of people with real knowledge, senseless war of destruction is waged against the intellectuals instead of offering them a field of activity that would give them satisfaction.”
“The Russian intelligentsia who were familiar with trends and developments in Western Europe, have been the standard bearers of libertarian thought in Russia,” I replied. “That is why the system now in process of development feels an instinctive distrust of them. Really that is a very disquieting phenomenon. The heavy boot of the peasant-soldier may yet crush liberty.”
“I fear for the future,” said Irma. She took a little notebook from its hiding place and read to me a poem she had recently written:
Die gesprungene Saite.
Gesprungen die Saite
Drauf meist ich gespielt,
Verweht die Begelst'rung
Die tief ich gefuehlt –
Da blieb mir ein wundes
Bang fragendes Herz,
Enttaeuschung und Schmerg.
Schwach klagt meine Harfe
In zitternder Hand
Um den Kaempfertraum
Der siegend entSchwand:
Wir stehn auf den Truemmern
Der feindlichen Macht,
Der Sieg ist errungen
Und dennoch herrscht Nacht!
Die Dirne verkauft sich,
Der Bettler fleht Brot,
Der Geist wird zertreten
In Kerker und Not,
Kein freudiges Schaffen
Auf keinem Gebiet -
Das bloekende Vieh zur
Ich wag’ nicht zu nennen
Dich, Goettin des Lichts,
Trifft, Freiheit, dein Name
Mein Herze so bricht’s:
Ich fuehle das Elend,
Die Schmach dieser Zeit
Und Weiss keinen Ausweg -
Da sprang denn die Sait’.
[Written in German in Moscow in early 1920 and has been kindly translated by Ken Jones.
Broken the strings
On which I have played most
Dispersed the enthusiasm
Which I have felt so deeply
Now I am left with a wounded
Increasingly questioning heart,
Nerve wracking doubt
Disappointment and grief.
My harp laments feebly
In (my) trembling hand
For the dream of our fighters
Which in the hour of triumph, vanished.
We stand on the ruins
Of the enemies power
Victory is achieved
But nevertheless night prevails.
The whore sells herself
The beggar pleads for bread
The spirit is trampled underfoot
In prison and in need
No joyful creativity
In any sphere
Draws the lowing cattle
To the Soviet manger
I dare not to name you
Goddess of light
If freedom offends your name
Then my heart breaks
I feel the misery
The shame of these times
And can see no way out
For the strings are broken.]
In Russia at that time a strange process of levelling in the cultural and intellectual sphere could be observed. The masses of the people hitherto excluded from all intellectual life had come into motion. Millions of people had learned to read; tens of thousands were discussing philosophical and sociological problems, were reading serious books, listening to lectures and trying hard to understand these questions that had hitherto occupied only the minds of the small educated minority. While the available capital of knowledge was disseminated amongst the people little was done to increase this fund – the leading scientists and men of letters were not encouraged in their growth, they were rather hampered if not destroyed outright. If we regard all that was attained during that time in the sphere of the cultural uplifting of the people from a point of view of quantity the achievement was enormous. However, regarded from the point of view of quality the picture changes completely. The level of our press sank deeper and deeper. Literature deteriorated. Vulgar propaganda publications appeared in large quantities; useless bureaucratic reports of various institutions absorbed the limited stocks of paper. For new editions of our classical literature, for reprinting of the older Marxist writings then so much in demand or for new scientific publications from the pen of non-Communists there was no paper. The nationalisation of printing presses and paper mills, the monopoly of foreign trade and the centralisation of publishing had destroyed the last remnants of independent thought and initiative in the sphere of literature. Even the import of publications from abroad was made impossible to the public first through the blockade, then through the difficulties of foreign exchange. Once when, as patients, we visited Professor Golovin, this European celebrity in the sphere of ophthalmology, he pointed sadly to a voluminous manuscript, a big work on which he had spent years. He doubted whether it would ever be published, for the State Publication Office declared that they could not spare paper for specialised medical works! I was choked by a deep feeling of shame when this famous eye specialist, almost seventy years old, mentioned in the course of conversation that now, when the tramway service was interrupted, he had to walk every day with his heavy instruments from his little suburban house to the clinic to perform operations. And he had not even enough food. No wonder that under such conditions many famous doctors died from heart disease. Yet there was no young generation capable of filling their places. The universities had descended from their high standard and they were to sink still further.
During the years of war and revolution Russian science had been cut off from Europe. Our scientists had been going on with their investigations and research independently; in various spheres of science new discoveries and conclusions had been attained, but the lack of paper prevented them from publishing their works. In order to safeguard for them the possibility of establishing priority of discoveries it had been decided to arrange a series of highly scientific public lectures. Professor Lasarev was to give the first of these lectures in order to make known the results of his research regarding the atom. The lecture was to take place in the large hall of the Polytechnic Institute which was situated in a small lane between two main streets. Though the trams were not running we expected that the hall would be crowded and therefore started early on our way. The streets were lively, many people seemed to go in the same direction as we. When we wanted to turn into the lane where the Institute stood we found ourselves face to face with a compact mass of people – not only was the hall overcrowded, the whole lane was packed, yet from both sides crowds of people were streaming in who had hoped to gain admittance to the lecture which was to begin only within an hour!
“War Communism” had now reached its zenith. The monetary wage which we were still receiving besides the “payok” played an insignificant part. This money is only good to paper your room with, the workers would sneer. In the open market prices had risen so high that for the half-monthly wage one could hardly buy a pound of butter. The State ceased collecting money for most of its services. Bread and whatever was given out on ration cards was no longer to be paid for, the salesman, more correctly the supply official, would simply cut off a coupon from the ration card. Rent was no longer paid in nationalised houses. Private trading was banned, however the “Sukharevka,” the large market continued to function in spite of all prohibitions, police raids and confiscations. Every new repressive measure had only one result: the raising of prices. At the Sukharevka everything imaginable was offered for sale. Food stuffs, old and new clothing, boots, textiles, household goods, jewelry of all kinds, works of art, books, pictures, paper and writing materials, in a word everything that the individual citizen might sell when in need, that the smuggler could provide, that the State stores would sell illegally (although it was not to be obtained in any legal way) – all this was here offered for sale. Whenever the militia (police) raided the market, the place was empty in an instant for no trader would bring out any larger quantity of goods; as soon as the militia had left the market was again in full swing. At times very high Soviet officials would appear here as customers; their action illustrated the futility of their laws. This “Sukharevka” had long outgrown the dimensions of the Sukharevski square from which it took its name, it became omnipresent – in backyards and under gateways this secretly organised illicit trading flourished. There stood a ragged man, a poorly dressed woman keeping in their hands perhaps a pair of old boots, half a loaf of black bread. If the customer aroused confidence he might in a whisper be offered a sack of flour, an elegant fur coat or God knows what else. If he seemed willing to buy, the desired object would rapidly appear apparently from nowhere. All state factories, institutions and stores helped to feed the Sukharevka – first and foremost the railways where commodities of all kinds disappeared whole waggons at a time. For three years the Government with all the forces at its disposal waged a bitter war against the Sukharevka. In the last weeks before the introduction of the “NEP” (New Economic Policy) this struggle reached its climax, and the Government attained its first victory – it drove the Sukharevka market from the Sukharevski square. The square was planted with trees and turned into a boulevard. But the old “Sukharevka” flourished and grew happily on another still larger square until the NEP finally legalized it. A lesson for everyone who did not yet know the simple truth that economic laws are always stronger than State laws.
Meanwhile in front of all State or co-operative distributive centres long queues were standing. Besides those citizens who hoped to satisfy here their most urgent needs there stood many professional “queuers up” of all ages: Whole families, mostly from the bourgeoisie or the nobility, were now gaining their livelihood by father mother and children queuing up from dawn to dusk in order to receive any article that was going on their own cards, bought cards or without cards. What they thus obtained they would sell at the Sukharevka or exchange it for food. In some distributive centres they had adopted the method of numbering those in the queue at 10 o'clock in the morning chalking the numbers on the backs of the men or the skirts of the women. Then the people might go about their business and return hours later as the number received warranted without missing their turn. It presented a peculiar sight when in those districts one would find no end of people walking about with large number chalked on their clothing. It is easy to imagine the exasperation of the citizens in the queues when, while the endless queue would slowly, slowly advance, ever new persons holding special orders would pass through to be served first. These persons could soon be seen returning with big parcels while the ordinary citizen after having spent perhaps ten hours in the queue might receive nothing better than a plate, a pair of scissors or a brush. Once when I passed such a queue some working women called me. They pointed to a well-dressed creature with painted lips who was just leaving the stores laden with parcels. “Comrade Petroff, is this just?” they asked me. And one of them added bitterly: “I wonder with what commissar she has slept!”
I had read in the newspapers that thirty per cent of the Moscow population were to get boots on their ration cards. My boots were in a deplorable state, I therefore considered that I was entitled to be included in the thirty per cent. Armed with my ration card I set out for the central supply department of Moscow. As was the general custom here they sent me from one room to the other, without my approaching any nearer towards the coveted boots. In one room I was received not by the official in charge but by two rats which were fighting over a breadcrust. Finally after long wandering about I came to what seemed the right department. A pretty young girl sat at the desk drinking tea and munching black bread like the two rats. “You wish to get boots on a ration card?” she asked in amazement, “haven’t you got a special order?” I showed her the note in the newspaper. She laughed merrily. “Well, let us hope one day we shall be so far,” she said encouragingly. I was about to give up my attempt of getting boots when I ran into the head of the institution on the corridor.
“What has brought you here, comrade Petroff,” he asked.
“I am one of the thirty per cent who ought to get boots on their ration cards,” I replied, “but for over an hour I have been seeking in vain the proper authority.”
“Why did you not come to me at once instead of wasting your time,” he said reproachfully, “come with me I shall get you a special order.”
“To hell with your special orders and privileges,” I retorted “I want to get boots on my ration card like any other citizen.”
“All right,” he said smiling, “that can be done without wasting time. Come to my room, I shall direct you to the proper place.”
While I was sitting in his room an official made enquiries by telephone and then informed me at which store I could get the right kind of boots. When I called there I immediately got the desired strong boots and the official cut a coupon off my card with a grin.
“You really seem to think that you got your boots on the ration card, comrade,” he said, “very likely!”
Then I understood that sooner would a camel walk through the eye of a needle than a Moscow citizen walk about in boots obtained on a ration card.
On the 29 March 1920 the Ninth Congress of the Communist Party was opened in Moscow. A number of intricate problems were to be solved. In various spheres the course hitherto followed had proved to be fallacious; an energetic turning of the rudder was essential. Under existing conditions the order for such a change could be issued only by the Communist Party.
At long last the fact had to be faced that the whole method of organisation of industry had proved a failure. An inflated bureaucratic machine had been created which was producing marvellous plans and diagrams but that otherwise only hampered and hindered. Industry had by now reached its lowest point: the total industrial production amounted to seventeen or eighteen per cent of the level of 1913; some branches of heavy industry had fallen to below five per cent of their pre-war output. Yet some sixty per cent of the workers continued in employment. The Civil War was responsible for many evils, but quite independent of it the productivity of labour had declined to an appalling degree. It is true this was partly due to the malnutrition of the workers, but the continued employment of superfluous workers and the unwarranted enrolment of more workers (a peculiar way of solving the problem of unemployment) was largely responsible. Now changes were to be introduced, and the Party Congress found strong words in condemnation of the prevailing system of industrial organisation:
“Unfortunately the methods of centralisation which were applied immediately after the expropriation of the bourgeoisie led to monstrous forms of red tape and delay which are, of course, very harmful to our industry.”
It was decided to replace the cumbersome central bodies, the “Glavki” and “Centry” by a new form of organisation termed “Trusts” and “Combines.” Apart from this “vertical” system of organisation “horizontal” central managing bodies were to be created in order to co-ordinate the industrial production of an entire economic area.
And it was now deemed necessary to make use of the bourgeois “specialists” who had been hitherto badly neglected:
“The Congress reminds all members of the Party in the most categorical form of the necessity of ideologically interesting and attracting all specialists into the sphere of Soviet industry...” declared the resolution. The desperate position of these “specialists” underwent a sudden change. Not only did they get “scientists’ payoks” and influential posts in industry, they even had the satisfaction of seeing their oppressors called to order and scolded by the Party:
“The Congress makes it obligatory for all members of the Party to fight mercilessly that particularly obnoxious idea, the ignorant conceit which deems the working class capable of solving all problems without the aid of specialists of the bourgeois school in the most responsible posts ... Demagogic elements who are speculating on this kind of prejudice of the more backward section of our working classes can have no place in the ranks of the Party of scientific Socialism.”
At the same time by one stroke of the pen the management of the works and factories was taken out of the hands of the Factory-Committees. The responsibility for the management of a factory was in future to be entrusted to a managing director. If the latter was a specialist he had an “economic director” by his side precisely as a commander in the army was paired with a commissar. If he was a Communist administrator he had a “technical director” to assist him. Everywhere in industry the system of collective management was replaced by individual responsibility termed “edinolitchie.” Of course this did not pass without violent opposition. The group “Democratic Centralism” within the Communist Party declared in their “thesis” put forward by Sapronov, Osinsky and Maximovsky at the Party Congress:
“The principle of collective management in one form or another is the essential foundation of democratism!”
This evoked from Lenin the characteristic reply that
“Socialist Soviet-Democratism is by no means in contradiction to individual management (edinolitchie) and to dictatorship, that the will of the class is at times realised through a dictator who alone often achieves more, and who frequently is very much needed.”
The abolition of collective management in industry proved a heavy blow to the Russian Trade Unions. They have never been able to recover fully from its effects. The Russian Trade Unions had hitherto cherished great illusions as to their growing importance in the life of the State. The far-reaching consequences of the change of policy by the State in the question of the transfer of administrative functions to the Trade Unions will be appreciated when we recollect the great expectations of the Unions. These expectations had been expressed at the Second All-Russian Trade Union Congress held in Moscow on the 10 to 25 January 1919. This Congress, representing three and a half million members, had cherished the hope (like the First Trade Union Congress a year earlier) that it was only a question of time when the Trade Unions would take over the State power. In an endless resolution carried at the Second. Trade Union. Congress it had been stated:
“In the process of practical collaboration with the Soviet power ... the Trade Unions have advanced from the control of production to the organisation of production ... The socialisation of all means of production and the reorganisation of society in accordance with new principles ... requires prolonged and energetic work ... This leads the Trade Unions to an energetic collaboration with the Soviet power ... in the reconstruction of various State institutions and their gradual replacement by the Trade Unions with the object of an ultimate amalgamation of the Trade Union organs with the organs of the State. In the present phase of the (still inadequate) development of the Trade Union organisations it would be a mistake to convert the Union at once into organs of State power or to amalgamate them with the latter. ... In view of this it is the business of the Trade Unions to combine the unorganised masses of the proletariat and of the semi-proletariat into mighty industrial Unions. ... Since the Trade Union organisations are collaborating in all spheres of Soviet administration, forming State organs out of their own ranks, they have to train their membership as well as the masses of the workers not alone for the administration of industry but also for the gradual absorption of the entire State administration.”
Now the Soviet State – so far from entrusting the State administration to the Trade Unions – suddenly deprived the latter of their share in the management of industry!
After the war we experienced in Russia the same phenomenon of a widespread indisposition to work which was to be observed in other countries as well. Large sections of the working class had got unaccustomed to regular toil while at the front and could not immediately settle down to ordered industrial life. In Russia other conditions contributed to expand this into a desertion of large numbers of workers from the towns and from industrial life. The Party Congress considered that it was now time for drastic action in order to re-establish working discipline in industry. Threats of draconic measures were uttered although the devil was never allowed to become so terrible as he was painted by the Party Congress. It was left to Stalin to resurrect these rhetorical threats contained in the resolution of the Ninth Party Congress and to develop therefrom under totally different circumstances his gospel of police-Communism. Needless to say that Stalin tries to hide Lenin’s and Trotsky’s authorship of these notions though it cannot be said that he does them a disservice by that. The resolution stated:
“The Ninth Congress approves the mobilisation of the industrial proletariat, compulsory labour service, the militarisation of production and the utilisation of military detachments for economic needs ... Every skilled worker is to return to his particular trade ... It is necessary to put the mass mobilisation for labour service on a proper footing ... Every social system ... has had its ways and means of labour compulsion ... The Soviet system is faced with the task of developing its own methods of labour compulsion ... In view of the fact that a considerable number of workers ... in search of better food conditions ... leave their places of employment or change from place to place the Congress considers ... the way to combat this is ... the creation of a labour detachment of deserters under punishment and, finally, internment in concentration camps ...”
The long Civil War had militarised the entire feeling and thinking of the Communist leaders; the dictatorship made them unable to visualize government without repressive police-measures. This new ideology revealed itself in its naked brutality at the Ninth Party Congress. Lenin and Trotsky had exchanged the spiritual weapon for the police-truncheon. A few weeks earlier Trotsky had formed his “Labour-Armies.” A fine gesture, the riveting of swords into plough shares at the conclusion of the war, but in practical life a futile idea as became obvious soon enough. At a meeting of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets Lenin had tried half-heartedly to defend the necessity of the Labour Armies: “We cannot as yet dissolve our army because the enemy is still here. But we cannot afford to leave these forces unused in our struggle against economic chaos.” None the less these Labour Armies soon withered away.
At the Third All-Russian Trade Union Congress which opened in Moscow on the 5 April 1990 Trotsky knocked the bottom out of the cask by proclaiming his marvellous “theory” of the innate laziness of man. With repugnance I had been listening to the speeches and resolutions of the Party Congress which to me heralded the transformation of the Communist Party from a revolutionary working class party into a bureaucratic administrative machine. Here at the Trade Union Congress I learned to my amazement and disgust that Trotsky, the most influential leader of the Party after Lenin, had not even grasped the basic ideas on which the whole structure of Socialist philosophy rests. When I translated to a Norwegian Socialist who sat beside me Trotsky’s declaration that a human being was by nature a lazy animal requiring compulsion to make him work, the Norwegian was flabbergasted and asked me:
“And what do you think about it?
“Such rubbish I have heard hitherto only from the speakers of the Anti-Socialist League at London street corner meetings,” I replied indignantly.
And Irma added: “If this theory were correct, Trotsky would to-day live as an ape-man in the treetops of the jungle, for there could have never been any cultural development.”
The Norwegian shook his head and said: “The more I study this Bolshevism the less I understand it.”
The Trade Unions were at that time built up on the basis of compulsory membership. All employed in industry, transport, distribution and administration were automatically attached to some twenty huge industrial unions. Their contributions were simply deducted from their wages and transferred to the respective unions. All found themselves thrown into the same stew, beginning from the head of a trust and factory director down to the last worker, caretaker and charwoman. Those who had the power to dismiss and those who had to fear being dismissed, all were lumped together. Thus these Trade Unions that were no longer called upon to lead strikes and labour conflicts grew into inflated bureaucratic machines which consumed enormous sums and soon degraded into industrial appendices of the Communist Party. Out of the sixteen hundred delegates at the Third Trade Union Congress thirteen hundred were Communists. The Ninth Party Congress had defined the role of the Trade Unions in the Soviet State in the following manner:
“The Soviet State is the widest imaginable form of Labour organisation ... Therefore, any antagonism of the economic organisations of the working class known as Trade Unions towards its political organisations, i.e. the Soviets, is an absurdity... The Trade Unions in their capacity as a school of Communism ... should organise the masses, lift them up culturally, educate them politically, train them for administration and raise them to the level of Communism ... Proletarian dictatorship and the building up of Socialism is possible only in so far as the Trade Unions, though nominally remaining non-party, in reality adhere to the Communist policy and are actually carrying through this policy.”
In simple human language this means that the compulsory Trade Union organisations were to provide the sheep’s clothing which the Communist wolf might don in order to get near to the masses of the workers.
However, this was still merely wishful thinking. As yet all “Menshevist deviations,” were not by any means wiped out, all efforts towards real Trade Union activity, and all striving for independence. Particularly among the metal workers and printers the struggle continued for a long time yet. When I came to a sitting of the Trade Union Congress I found the leading Communist caucus in a turmoil of excitement. What had happened? Riazanov had made an important speech at the Communist faction meeting and had succeeded in getting his resolution carried instead of that proposed on behalf of the Party executive. This “revolting” incident had created such commotion! All wires were being pulled. The so suddenly kindled courage of the Communist faction of the Congress collapsed just as rapidly – the faction rescinded its previous decision and obediently voted for the official resolution. Riazanov was debarred by the Party from any further activity in the Trade Unions on whom Radek and Bukharin had previously been imposed as commissars.
Riazanov with whom I was connected by ties of a long standing friendship was a remarkable and extremely attractive figure in revolutionary Russia. A man of wide knowledge, a prominent historian and an authority on the international working class movement he was undoubtedly the greatest scholar of. Marxism in Europe. An outstanding personality, too independent to be easily assimilated by either of the warring factions or to take much interest in their intrigues he has not only played a great part in the Revolution, he has also contributed considerably towards the spreading of theoretical knowledge in the ranks of the Russian and international working class movement, particularly by collecting and publishing older Marxist writings. He was the organiser of the Party archives and the founder of the Marx-Engels-Institute in Moscow. Amongst the book-lovers of the whole world, Riazanov was known and respected for decades as an eminent bibliographer. Though he was very strict in everything concerning books or documents, he tried during all the phases of the Revolution to gain the collaboration of scholars caring little whether they were Mensheviks or other “heretics,” and he protected them like a lioness her cubs. Riazanov’s sixtieth birthday in 1930 was celebrated in Soviet Russia by the publication of a collective volume On Advanced Post. However, when Stalin started through his agents to falsify historical documents and older works, Riazanov offered strong opposition. Imprisonment and banishment could not break this noble and fiery spirit. It is stated that in 1935 Riazanov died in a concentration camp.
At that time, in spring 1920, the dictatorship of the Central Committee within the Party was already as strongly fortified as the dictatorship of the Party within the State. However, differences of opinion were still tolerated and these – if they did not go too far – could still find expression at congresses and Party meetings, even in the press. The years 1920 and 1921 were taken up by such discussions and it took some years before Stalin managed to strangle all opposition. I personally have taken only a small part in these discussions. My fundamental differences and practical disillusionment already exceeded all limits set by the dictatorship. Among the officially recognized opposition groups there was none with whose positive articles of faith I could agree, much as I welcomed their existence and supported them in the negative. I found myself in direct opposition to Trotsky’s ideas and smiled at the weak and confused opposition of the group “Democratic Centralism” led by Sapronov. Even with the rather sympathetic “Workers’ Opposition” led by Shliapnikov I could not agree in their positive demands. But in their struggle against existing evils this group had my whole-hearted support. Shliapnikov, our first People’s Commissar for Labour, the leader of the metal workers, who was certainly somewhat inclined towards Syndicalism, desired to increase the Trade Unions’ share in the management of industry. I on the contrary believed that our shamTrade Unions could develop into real Trade Unions only by maintaining as far as possible their independence of the entire state-capitalist structure. I considered that their chief function ought to be the protection of the interests of the wage earners under state capitalism. Later on the brave Old-Guard Bolshevik Shliapnikov developed his programme more and more in the direction of working class democracy. Under Stalin this inevitably led him to prison. Whether death has already freed him from his torments I do not know.
Already at that time attempts were made to present to the people as “Socialism” the developing state-capitalism. It is true, in an important debate with Bukharin, Lenin had expressly recognised that the economic system prevailing in Russia was state-capitalism. But he refrained from counteracting the attempts of over-zealous propagandists to create “Socialist” illusions. For now, when it was desired to encourage the workers by all means to more intensive work, such illusions had their practical value. The very May Day celebration was used for the purpose of creating a new attitude towards work. This international Socialist holiday when the worker refuses to place his brain and muscles at the disposal of capitalist exploitation in “Socialist” Russia was to be turned into a day of voluntary labour for the common weal. A very fine idea – had the premises only been correct: As I did not consider these premises as correct, as I thought that the rate of exploitation of the individual proletarian under the primitive state-capitalism of Russia would be hardly less than under developed private capitalism, and further as I opposed tooth and nail every attempt of profanation of the idea of Socialism in the minds of the people, I found myself in utter opposition to this May Day subotnik. Irma had suddenly fallen ill. The doctors’ diagnosis was malaria but it turned out later to be a particularly severe form of recurring typhus. She had been in the Kremlin hospital whence she was discharged as “cured from malaria” when the first attack of typhus was over. Since she was too weak so much as to hold a spade we sat in the boulevard looking on how the people with spades in their hands were marching with bands of music to plant trees in public places to the sound of the “Internationale.”
“A year ago at Saratov this holiday was more beautiful,” Irma said thoughtfully, “but is it possible that only one year has passed since then? It seems to me that at least half a century must lie between then and now.”
The wide spread hope for an early external and internal peace proved vain. Supported by the Allies with money, arms and military advisers the reactionary “Shliakhta” that was ruling the newly formed Polish State tried to act as a battering ram against revolutionary Russia. They considered their big neighbour sufficiently weakened by the prolonged Civil War, by starvation, epidemics and transport difficulties to score a cheap victory. Their invasion, accompanied as it was by acts of wholesale sabotage by Polish spies, aroused a whirlwind of wrath and indignation throughout Soviet Russia, particularly in the industrial centres. The terrific sound of the explosions when some of our munition depots were blown up awakened even the most discontented worker imbuing him with a desire to protect the revolutionary fatherland. Even wide circles of the bourgeoisie hitherto hostile to the Soviets rushed to the colours. General Brusilov, famous in the world war, who had been keeping aloof was one of the first to offer his services to the Soviet Government against the hated enemy. Nationalist feeling rose high and threatened to flood the minds of the people – many Communists were alarmed at this wave of nationalism and demanded that the Government should counteract these tendencies. Opposing the nationalist wave they emphasised the international character of the Revolution which had to be defended against the onslought of international capital and its Polish mercenaries. The nationalist wave subsided.
On the 17 May 1929 the British Labour Delegation arrived in Moscow. This was not one of those foreign “delegations” which were later on organised by Soviet agencies abroad rushed to holy Russia like swarms of locusts at the expense of the Russian government to be shown there Potemkin villages, paying their bill by publishing ridiculous eulogies. This first delegation was a serious one; its majority were honestly striving to get at the truth, although there were some delegates who cherished illusions with which they were loth to part. The delegation under the chairmanship of the textile workers’ leader Ben Turner consisted of three delegates of the Trade Union Congress: Margaret Bondfield, A. A. Purcell and H. Skinner; three delegates of the Labour Party: Ethel Snowden, Tom Shaw and Robert Williams.. They were accompanied by two secretaries Dr. L. Haden Guest and Chas. Roden. Buxton. As delegates of the Independent Labour Party R. C. Wallhead and Clifford Allen had come and Bertrand Russell was travelling with them.
At this juncture the misleading of foreign opinion and of every foreigner as to the internal position of Russia had become a policy of the Government – soon there was no more unpardonable crime than to speak frankly to a foreigner, even to a foreign Communist, on the actual conditions in Russia. In the Kremlin there was great excitement. The Soviet Government feared this Enquiry Commission of British Labour whose freedom of movement they did not dare to limit. That would not lend myself to misleading the representatives of the British working class movement was well understood at the Kremlin and some of our mandarins would have been happy to have me at Archangel, Samarkand or Vladivostok. However, as unfortunately for them I was in Moscow it was considered advisable to make me a member of the reception-committee in spite of Bukharin’s opposition. He objected: “Petroff is too angry about all our swineries.” “The English delegates will find him all the same,” he was told, it would be better therefore to impose a certain responsibility on me.
“How should we accept the delegation?” Radek asked me, “shall we surround them with European luxuries, wine, flowers, waiters in tail coats, delicacies?”
“Under no circumstances,” I replied. “Let them see how we are living. No special privileges for them! Only supply them with healthy food that they should not fall ill. Our black bread full of chaff is no good for English stomachs, our eternal ‘shtshi’ neither. Otherwise I think they ought to be allowed to see our difficulties in all their magnitude and horror. The English delegates do not expect to find here a paradise plus civil war. Only when they understand the real situation they may be able to help us.”
Radek said that my advice would be followed.
The delegates had not expected anything better; in Estonia they had taken care to provide themselves with butter and similar “luxuries.” In the mornings one could observe Ben Turner how he prepared the precious sandwiches of white bread and shared them out ceremoniously amongst the delegates.
The delegation had been quartered at the hotel “Dielovoi Dvor” recently re-decorated. Whoever desired to enter this hotel had first to obtain a “propusk” (permit) from the commandant. The difficulty was that the place was swarming with Tcheka-spies; persons who had no desire to give their names and addresses or who did not wish to be seen at all found it no easy task to gain access. Yet the dangers were not then so great; the delegation found ways and means to get into touch with personalities from various camps – Martov, Tchernov and others. None the less the spy pest was irritable enough, but the arrogance of these fellows was revolting. One day when some delegates had invited a Russian typist who was working for them to their table at lunch the tchekist Goldberg turned her away in a rough manner. Indignantly the delegates complained to me. I led the typist demonstratively back to her place at the table and requested her to stay on my responsibility. Then I went to the telephone, informed Tchitcherin of the incident and rang up Xenophontov, the secretary of the Collegiate of the Tcheka. I protested against the scandalous behaviour of his people and told him that this tchekists were doing more to adversely affect the mood of the delegates than all grumbler white guardists and hotel bugs taken together. Xenophontov got frightened and raised no objections when I told him that I would turn out his entire crowd. I lost no time in doing so, and though Xenophontov found ways and means of replacing them, the substitutes showed less arrogance but this did not make them less dangerous. Particularly one monocled individual of aristocratic bearing who thereafter accompanied us on our Volga cruise, impressed me as a sinister international adventurer, but he always gave me a wide berth.
While the majority of the delegates were endeavouring to explore the actual state of affairs with understanding and sympathy, striving at the same time in reply to our questions to give us an honest and true picture of the position and feelings in England, some delegates behaved in a different manner. Robert Williams, Purcell and particularly Clifford Allen who tried to show himself a two hundred per cent Communist, were anxious to avoid hearing a critical remark lest their illusions as to the nascent Russian paradise be shaken. Williams who had picked up a few current slogans in Russian would tell enthusiastic Russian mass meetings that in Britain the social revolution was just round the corner. Thus it happened that when we set out to visit various places and institutions the delegation would often divide into two groups: the dreamers who would be glad to be shown well prepared mirages in accordance with the programme whence they returned as pleased as Punch, and the truth-seekers who would go with me to places where they had been least expected. All our Party mandarins were ready to patronise and boom up the group of dreamers who were praising everything to the hilt, while they regarded the honest delegates with a certain distrust and hostility. Lenin even accorded a special audience to the great “revolutionary” Williams though he was not much impressed by this new rising Star of “Soviet-England,” but Lozovsky and the like of him adored Williams. When Clifford. Allen later on followed MacDonald into the Tory camp and landed up in the House of Lords the news must have caused great disappointment in the Kremlin.
I had suggested to a group of the delegates to pay a visit to the Sukharevka. I telephoned to the Kremlin for a motor car, little pleased with our intention they sent us the huge motor car of the Tsar well known in the town. I could not help laughing. “Should we appear at the Sukharevka in this motor car the entire market would disperse in an instant,” I explained to the delegates, “we shall therefore stop in some hidden corner in the neighbourhood and walk to the market.” The British delegates were very much amused by this curious market with its peculiar collection of manifold goods. They purchased all sorts of souvenirs for English money and marvelled at the “low” prices.
Lenin received the “right wing” of the delegation in my presence. He understood English though he did not speak it fluently. When Lenin complained about the actions of the British Government and about the support the latter accorded to the Poles, Tom Shaw and Ben Turner requested that they be given some documentary evidence which they might lay before the Trade Union Congress.
“You want documents?” Lenin exclaimed angrily, “get them from your Government!”
“Our Government is not likely to be so obliging as to present us with material against themselves,” the delegates retorted.
“The documents are lying in the archives of your Foreign Office,” Lenin said, “make a revolution, seize the documents and publish them, as we have done.”
The delegates looked at him in surprise. It seemed to me I could see with my physical eye the ideological gulf that was yawning between Lenin and the British Labour leaders. In the course of the conversation Lenin emphasised the necessity of suppressing all opposition “bezposhtchadno,” that is “mercilessly.” I translated faithfully. It was Lenin’s favourite expression and he would use it again and again. This made a most unpleasant impression on the sentimental Englishmen.
“Does that word really mean ‘mercilessly'?” Tom Shaw asked, interrupting me.
“The translation is exact,” I replied.
Lenin confirmed this and himself translated into German “ohne Gnade.”
The British delegates were amazed. Lenin was not at all conscious of the impression his statement had made on them. The interview vividly revealed the abyss separating the ideology of the British Labour leaders from that of the supreme exponent of the Russian dictatorship.
Some time later the Times published what purported to be a report of this interview in an article from the pen of Dr. Haden Guest whom the delegation had brought with them as their secretary. This “report” was a silly attempt to present Lenin as an almost childish talker who was reported to have said that the paper money paid to the peasants for their grain “costs us nothing; we only print it” and further: “I do not believe the blockade can be lifted with a bourgeois government in power in England.” In reality Lenin had expressed to the English delegates his hope that the British Labour movement would soon succeed in compelling their Government to raise the blockade.
Very interesting was the delegation’s visit to the Tcheka. Xenophontov. Mogilevsky and Latsis replied to the shower of questions more zealously than truthfully. They gave the number of persons shot as approximately eight thousand. During the visit the delegates were shown a room which had been turned into a museum for torture instruments. “All this we have taken from the Whites who have used them against our comrades,” Latsis explained. The delegates had seen enough. The question why this curious “museum” had been established in the building of the Tcheka of all places, seemed imprinted on the faces, though nobody was so impolite as to ask it aloud. I quickly gave a new turn to the conversation remarking: “These atrocious monstrosities have been paid for with the sums your Government has bestowed upon the Whites.” However this exhibition had made a horrid impression on me. I once related this to Lenin adding:
“How can they show such a museum! These instruments bear no stamp certifying who has made or used them. But really, Vladimir Ilitch, I think the Tcheka is a dangerous place to keep these things.”
“Such duffers!” Lenin exclaimed.
A number of delegates came out with me to visit the sanatorium, Ilinskoe. From there I walked over with some of them to the nearby Usovo where Irma was still lying dangerously ill. After her discharge from the Kremlin hospital she had been sent for convalescence to Usovo. There she suffered four more attacks of recurring typhus. Irma was happy about our visit and had a long talk with Mrs. Snowden.
After our return from the Volga tour where we had left Clifford Allen sick in the care of Dr. Guest, we attended a meeting at Moscow. Unexpectedly a visit to the Polish front was proposed. A special train stood waiting and we were urged to leave at once. I declined to accompany the delegates since Irma was expecting me on the following day and would be anxious. I was however persuaded to go when a representative of the People’s Commissariat for health promised he would send a special nurse to Usovo to take care of Irma. So I wrote a few lines to Irma which the nurse was to deliver to her and went with the delegates to the front. But we were in Russia – within half an hour all those concerned must have forgotten the whole affair, neither my letter nor the nurse were ever sent to Usovo. On the following day Irma had particularly high fever. My non-appearance caused great anxiety to her; in her fever dreams she saw me slain in the big forest I had to pass. A few days later a confused note from her reached Tchitcherin. He got frightened and sent an urgent wire to be handed to me “on the personal responsibility of the commander of the front sector”: “Return at once, Irma dangerously ill.” This telegram reached us at the front. Without informing me at once of its contents the delegation decided to curtail their tour and the train was turned back to Moscow. Worried to death I reached Usovo, but on entering Irma’s room I found her cheerfully reading a novel. The attack of fever was over. From one of the visitors at Usovo who happened to have been present at the Moscow meeting she had learned of my journey to the front, now she was amazed about my early return. She was very annoyed that the non-delivery of my letter had caused the delegation to curtail their tour of the Polish front. “What will the English delegates think,” she exclaimed, “such a muddle is possible only here:”
Short as our visit to the front had been, it had proved very interesting. It coincided with the famous or rather notorious drive of the Red Army towards War sow. Disregarding the warnings of our strategists who opposed the advance of the cavalry at a pace infantry and artillery could not follow, Lenin had insisted that we should in Poland “feel with the bayonet” whether the workers and peasants were ready for the Social Revolution and for the establishment of a Soviet regime. This madness involved Russia in her first big military defeat. It is true, had we continued the war, ultimate victory would have been ours, but now Lenin, only yesterday so confident, lost his head (as he had done during the insurrection of the Left Social-revolutionaries, and during Yudenitch’s attack on Petrograd); he concluded a shameful peace. Of course at the time of our tour things had not developed so far. What we saw at the front seemed to justify to a certain extent Lenin’s optimism. Nowhere did the Polish soldiers desire to sacrifice themselves for their Shliakhta. At the first opportunity they surrendered to our troops who accepted them as brethren. We met detachments of prisoners of war who – several hundred of them under “guard” of five redarmists – were marching cheerfully eastward. The oral and written propaganda amongst the Poles functioned remarkably well from the leaflets shot over their lines as a new shell-filling up to the Polish meetings for prisoners of war.
A peculiar meeting with our redarmists whose attitude the delegation desired to explore stuck in my memory. Some two hundred redarmists were crowding round us endeavouring to ask questions of the delegates. The intelligent questions and the manifold interest of the redarmists surprised the delegates and they soon began to ask questions in their turn. I translated both ways in direct speech so that both sides had the feeling of direct contact. Miss Margaret Bondfield was searching for nationalist and militarist tendencies amongst the redarmists – in vain. With the Whites we have now finished at last, the redarmists would declare, we are anxious to return to our villages or factories and set to work. Now this damned. Polish Shliakhta has invaded us. So we must first help the Polish workers and peasants to liberate themselves then at long last we shall be able to get on with our work. The delegates were delighted
In the big theatre in Moscow a festive gathering had been arranged in honour of the delegates at which the General Council of Trade Unions, the Moscow Soviet, the Moscow Trades Council and various Party authorities participated. Russian and English speakers alternated. Tomsky and Kamenev addressed the meeting; of the English delegates Wallhead gave a remarkable speech which I translated in spite of a heavy headache. Then followed some of those delegates whose revolutionary fervour was of recent growth; amidst the wild cheers of the audience they foretold the imminent social revolution in England: “The policy of direct action which is now practiced by a million of British miners is undoubtedly the first step towards revolution,” exclaimed Purcell. Tom Shaw, Skinner and Mrs. Snowden between whom I was sitting were disgusted. “It is cruel to mislead the Russians in such a manner,” Tom Shaw said to me. “You know well that this is all moonshine. It is our duty to reply to this and to destroy such illusions. Ethel Snowden will speak on our behalf but we do not trust the other translators. You know our views, and you know England, please translate her speech notwithstanding your headache, otherwise there is no use for us to speak at all.” I promised. Mrs. Snowden’s speech was clear and adroit, warm and friendly but free from flattery, striving carefully to picture the true position in England honestly and without arousing illusions: “I do not wish that you be misled by those who desire to travel the same road as you do,” She stated. “The impression might have been created that seven millions of British Trade unionists are ready to throw themselves to-morrow into the struggle for the realisation of Socialism. But we must face facts, and the facts do not justify such expectations.” When I got up to translate I became conscious of the discontent of our leading lights – Kamenev and Trotsky, Bukharin and Radek were whispering excitedly, they knew what was to come. My strong voice immediately aroused the meeting whose attentiveness had slackened during the speech in a foreign language. Mrs. Snowden’s impressive and carefully considered speech lost nothing of its effectiveness in translation. Though the Russian leaders could hardly hide their displeasure, the audience was listening with the greatest interest; I vividly recollect Martov’s attentive face. The applause at the end was “disagreably big” and at that honest. Tom Shaw shook my hand. “We thank you for your courage in undertaking the translation in this atmosphere so hostile to our group and for having carried it through in such a manner,” he said warmly. In order to diminish the impression, the posterboy of the “English revolution” Robert Williams was brought into the arena. Kamenev, Radek and Bukharin were imploring me to undertake the translation. But I steadfastly declined.
“He has only one speech,” I said sarcastically, “and I have translated it often enough. Let him say in Russian: Long live the Revolutions, that will be enough.”
“Your headache did not prevent you from translating Mrs. Snowden’s speech in such a masterly manner,” Bukharin growled.
“We are very anxious that Williams’ speech be translated also in such an impressive manner,” Kamenev begged. They brought me aspirin and other medicines.
“Let Balabanova translate his speech,” I replied and stuck to my refusal.
“You damned old Trade Unionist,” said the cynical Radek shaking his finger at me.
Williams’ speech was a total fiasco, both in English and in Russian. But my name already inscribed in the black list received a still blacker mark.
Tom Shaw and Ben Turner wished to be back in England in time for the Trade Union Congress while the other delegates were still able to stay in Russia. They had applied to our Government asking for facilities to depart in time, but had been informed that this would not be possible for “technical reasons.” Our mandarins really believed that if only they could keep these “Right-wingers” until Robert Williams and the other “Left-wingers” were returning, their anticipated hostile criticism would be offset by the enthusiasm of the Leftists. The fact was that Tom Shaw and Ben Turner wanted to hurry back in order to arouse the Trade Union Congress that it might force the Government to raise the blockade against Russia. However this was not understood in Russia nor would they have believed it since they were used to judge people by their slogans. Apart from that the leaders of Russia were certain that the influence of a British Labour leader on the masses was in direct ratio to the degree of his “leftism.” The mentality of an honest moderate British Labour leader was a book with seven seals to our mandarins. Anyone who did not repeat their slogans nor endeavour to outdo them in shouting was looked upon as a counter-revolutionary, an enemy. The British Trade Union Congress they regarded as an insignificant body of “class-traitors” and bureaucrats. Tom Shaw and Ben Turner smelled a rat though in their practical way of thinking they could not understand what was behind this “technical impossibility.” They asked me to help them out of the difficulty. I spoke first to Tchitcherin and then rang up Lenin.
“Do you appreciate, Vladimir Ilitch, what it means to keep British Trade Union leaders in Russia against their will? A complete army of Williamses and Purcells could never undo the bad affect in the minds of British organised Labour. Don’t you see what a disgrace such a “technical impossibility” would mean for the Russian State? Take my word for it that these moderate Trade Union leaders whom you so much dislike are better and besides more effective friends of Russia than your much beloved radical slogan-gramophones and adventurers.”
“Please tell your friends that everything is now ready for their departure,” Lenin replied. “As soon as they decide when they wish to travel a special carriage will be placed at their disposal. I shall myself see to it that the arrangements be made.”
Thus I succeeded in preventing a disagreeable scandal that would have lowered the prestige of Soviet Russia in the eyes of the British workers. The friendly and appreciative report which was published by the delegation in England proved that I had been right in my attitude towards the “Right-wing” delegates.