The Civil War whose problems had hitherto dominated the life and thought of Russia in general and of the Communist Party in particular was nearing its end. New problems that had received inadequate attention came to the forefront. The opposition in the country had been largely suppressed but was smouldering on beneath the ashes. The party had grown rapidly and had attracted heterogeneous elements: the class struggle whose normal manifestations were kept down by the strong hand of the Government was reflected in the struggles between the various trends inside the Party and found expression also in the Trade Unions.
In the now passing phase of the Revolution the Party had revealed itself to the people as a “ruling class,” a “privileged caste” – a caste, it is true, that possessed more rights but also more duties than other citizens. Now, in consequence of a further class division within the Party, a new master class was developing from its ranks that strove to dominate not only the people at large but also the Communist Party. Naturally this process developed but slowly. Within the Party there still existed real congresses, serious discussions, trends, tendencies, more or less constant groupings. What was maturing here became clear to me suddenly as if revealed by lightening one day when I was sitting with Irma in the secretariat of the Central Committee. The Party Conference was at hand and we met here quite a number of Party workers of medium calibre who were being “commanded” to provincial towns for the express purpose of obtaining mandates to the Conference.
“The method is well-worn,” I said to Irma, “but to-day this is more ominous than in 1906/07. When the citizens lose their rights, their self-determination in the State, it is under prevailing conditions impossible for the Party membership to retain their rights, their self-determination in the Party. What we are witnessing here is a narrowing down of the dictatorship, a decrease of the number of its actual bearers.”
“Don’t you see the end?” Irma asked. “If the dictatorship should go on narrowing down in such a manner we would in the end come to a one-man dictatorship, to Caesarism.”
“I am afraid that’s where we are travelling,” I replied. “But a present day Caesar would along with political power acquire also supreme economic power.”
In the Kremlin there was a meeting of responsible workers, I do not remember on what occasion. Here the discontent prevailing in Party circles came to the surface. “We demand at least freedom of thought, Vladimir Ilitch,” my friend O. called out to Lenin. But Lenin sharply rebuked this idea. His face red with anger, Lenin declared that under existing conditions this could not be guaranteed. “What does that mean, you cannot permit freedom of thought?” “And who are you, comrade Lenin?” indignant voices shouted at him. Lenin was wriggling like an eel. As his attempt to accuse us of “sticking to bourgeois prejudices” was met with laughter and he perceived that such threadbare slogans could have no effect in this circle of old experienced revolutionaries, Lenin came to speak seriously and tried to take shelter behind the economic difficulties. Finally he threw us a bone: “None the less you are right, comrades,” he said, “we do require more scope for criticism inside the Party. Serious measures to combat bureaucratism have to be devised. The problem must be discussed and solved by the Party as a whole.”
This was a good start for the approaching Party Conference which reached its climax on the 27 September 1920 with Zinoviev’s important speech on “the healing of the Party.” At the Conference the opposition did not venture out into the open so courageously as at the small gathering of revolting “responsibles.”
“Comrades, for you it is not a secret that during the last weeks and months in quite a number of Party organisations misunderstandings have arisen, at times even sharp conflicts,” Zinoviev began going straight to the point. “These conflicts signify that the Party is at present faced with the problem of inadequate contact between the leading circles of the Party and the mass of the membership, that it is faced with the question of inequality in the Party in all its magnitude. The Central Committee has no desire to stifle discussion of this problem; on the contrary it proposes that the Conference should deal with this question and all its implication.” Zinoviev proceeded to analyse the causes of discontent prevailing in Party circles. He touched upon the bureaucratic centralisation in industry, finding sharp words against its abuses. He also condemned the defects resulting from the militarisation of the Party. Finally he dealt with the main evil – the growth of bureaucracy within the ranks of the Party. In dealing with this delicate question Zinoviev performed a smart egg-dance – he described the super-bureaucratisation of the Party as a “seasonal disease” of a Party that had just attained power. Well aware whom he was speaking to he turned the tables upon his audience and launched an attack: “In the Province-Committees of the Party things are not one single iota better.” For this Conference was by no means composed of real representatives of the rank and file. Apart from the before mentioned emissaries of the Central Committee – at this time still a minority – the representatives of the local Party bureaucracy predominated. These were up in arms against the bureaucratic centralisation at the top, but at home they were applying exactly the same methods and nothing was further from their minds than the defence of the rights of the rank and file. This circumstance was lost sight of by the group “Democratic Centralism.” This group demanded that both in the State and in the Party the central authority should rule through the elected local organs; they therefore opposed the growing tendency of appointments from the Centre. However, they ignored the fact that these local organs themselves were not freely elected and were applying the same methods of oppression within their own localities, or they did not wish to see this, at all events here their democracy bad a crack. It was this weak point in their armour that the sly Zinoviev assailed. Zinoviev admitted that more freedom of criticism was needed in the Party but for this members’ meeting were required and he remarked acidly: “however much that is to be regretted, there are a large number of towns where such an institution as an aggregate meeting of members is more and more becoming a reminiscence of the past.” Also as regards appointments from above which he justified, a question that aroused so much discontent in the provinces, Zinoviev beat the local Party bureaucrats with their own weapons. He pointed out that in the provinces transfers and mobilisations were frequently misused as reprisals, and added that the system of one-man rule in the provinces must be eradicated.
In this skirmishing between central and local bureaucracy the fundamental problems remained untouched. The real causes of discontent of the masses of the Communist membership, of the working class as a whole and of the peasantry were neither honestly laid bare nor was any attempt made to find effective remedies. Disappointed I said to Zinoviev:
“You have been fluttering to-day like a butterfly round the twigs of the hollow tree instead of wielding a spade like a man to lay bare the diseased roots.”
“Look at all these provincial bureaucrats,” he replied, “for them I have gone much too far, they would like to devour me.”
“To hell with them,” I said, “I am concerned about the masses!”
“Never mind. The question has now been raised. The discussion is sure to develop,” Zinoviev encouraged me.
During the debate a characteristic incident occurred. Alexandra Kollontai who had at that time attached herself to the “Workers’ Opposition” turned to Lenin and asked:
“It is said that we must now criticise more freely in the Party. However, when we do criticise will you guarantee us that we shall not be sent to Turkestan to eat peaches?”
“Such a guarantee we cannot give you,” Lenin replied trying in vain to hide his annoyance. Slyly he added: “Otherwise any member who does not want to leave Moscow requires only to criticise and then shelter behind it.”
At this Conference the suggestion that a Central Control Commission should be formed was made. This was to be a kind of “Communist Court of Honour” as Zinoviev described it, in order to keep the Party clean and to control the mode of life of Communists in responsible positions. Lenin propounded the idea that all State institution should be “permeated with workers.” However, in practical life it soon became apparent that a “permeation with workers” was by no means equivalent to a permeation with proletarian spirit. Those workers lifted out of the mass and transplanted into State institutions soon became themselves the worst bureaucrats. For it is not possible to replace Democracy – the responsibility of freely elected representatives to the people – by such simple mechanical “blood-transfusions"!
One day Irma and I happened to meet in the street Dzerzhinsky, the head of the Tcheka who was a member of the Central Committee of the Party.
“Oh, you are just the people I want,” he said amiably. “We are about to create a new organ to combat the misuse of power and economic mismanagement. So we have been thinking about you two; this surely should be a task to your liking. Would you agree to undertake this work?”
“A hopeless task,” I replied.
“What,” Dzerzhinsky exclaimed astonished, “if we give you far-reaching powers and place my whole machinery at your disposal?”
“A bureaucratic control-committee to control the bureaucrat can never replace the democratic control by the people,” I said earnestly. “The millions of eyes of the people who know best where the shoe pinches are better than any machinery. All that is required is to give to the masses facilities for free criticism by speech and press, then there will be no need for another bureaucratic machine.”
“We would very much regret your refusal,” Dzerzhinsky replied. “You are waging a war against bureaucracy for a long time. Now we wish to give you the means to carry it on effectively.”
“I am afraid your means will prove ineffective,” I remarked.
“I am very sorry if you think so,” he said.
When we were alone Irma laughed. “It seems they really wanted to recruit us for the Tcheka,” she sneered, “then they have come to the wrong address.”
“No, no,” I replied. “They would not want us there. This is a proposal of the Central Committee which is now engaged in seeking the squaring of the circle: an effective bureaucratic substitute for Democracy.”
The discontent of the workers at times became more acute. A large meeting of metal workers had shouted down several Communist leaders, and the preceding metal workers’ conference had refused a hearing even to Trotsky. The Moscow Committee of the Party sent a motor car to fetch me to that meeting. Accompanied by Irma I took a seat in the audience. Smidovitch, a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets tried to speak but soon had to give up his attempt. He was followed by Melnitchansky, the chairman of the Moscow Trade Council. This broad-shouldered well-fed “American” whose well tailored clothing always smelled of eau-de-Cologne was still less successful. “Who has elected you?” the workers shouted angrily. “Not we! Clear out.” Now a working man stepped on to the platform. He pulled to pieces Smidovitcht’s arguments amid the wild cheering of the audience. Then my turn came. The audience sat in silent expectation. “We are in Russia still far, far away from Socialism,” I declared taking up a point made by the previous speaker. “What is Socialism? Anybody who understands the ABC of Socialism knows that under Socialism there is no buying and selling, no money and no wages, no social distinctions. But the economic system of Socialism presupposes a high level of technical development which we have not yet attained in Russia. The western European industrial countries are therefore perhaps nearer to Socialism than we are in spite of our victorious Revolution that has overthrown the class domination of the feudal landlords and the bourgeoisie.” “Smidovitch just stated that we have already got Socialism,” the workers shouted. “I am not responsible for what Smidovitch says,” I retorted, “if he really said that, he is wrong. That would be a beautiful kind of Socialism indeed with a low standard of living, so many categories of wages, with prisons and worn boots!” That won over the audience and I could now in a long and serious speech proceed to explain the economic and political situation and call upon the workers to help in reconstructing our economic life and in overcoming all economic and political evils. When I stepped down from the platform into the cheering crowd an old working woman slapped me on the shoulder. “You are one of us,” she exclaimed, “one can see that at a glance, for you are sweating, they don’t feed you.”
The Moscow Committee enquired whether I would be willing to speak at a Conference of the non-party youth. I gladly accepted. My eagerness caused surprise. “Most speakers are afraid to go there,” the secretary said, “these youngsters are extremely critical.” “Critical” was a polite expression for discontented. “Perhaps they have good reasons,” I remarked laughing. I found a crowded hall, delegates of juvenile workers from many factories and works. I dealt with the economic position, popularly and frankly, without any attempt at playing hide-and-seek, without camouflaging the truth by high-sounding phrases. My exposition was listened to with earnest interest and frequently met with approval. Then a hailstorm of questions poured down on me.
“I am earning so much – is it possible to live on that?” a young worker asked.
“To live – no,” I replied, “at best to subsist. Our position is horrible. We are all starving.”
“Is justice ruling here?” was another question.
“Unfortunately not yet. Help us to attain it. Make a beginning to-day. You have the right to elect your representatives to the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection. Chose honest and energetic people support them, demand reports of them and see to it that your factory meetings do the same. Then we shall be a step further.”
“And what will happen to them if they should attempt to control the Comintern or some other high authority where they are feasting and living in luxury?” one sneered.
“Are you young workers afraid of prison?” I exclaimed. “Had we been afraid of prison under Tsarism we should not be so far as we none the less are to-day.”
Enthusiastic cheers greeted my reply. In the course of my speech I had put forward a number of practical proposals, these were now carefully discussed, embodied into a resolution and carried. The Conference ended in a friendly spirit. Instead of trying to allay justified criticism by insincere statements or attempting to suppress it as was often the case I had fearlessly opened every valve and suggested practical measures for combatting the economic chaos.
I attended a members’ meeting of the Party in the Samoskvorietsky district of Moscow. The re-election of the district committee was on the agenda. Several candidates were put forward. A very bourgeois looking member wearing golden framed spectacles took the floor. He read out the list of candidates and declared: “The metal worker X herein mentioned cannot be elected. I propose to delete his name from the list because he was a very active supporter of the Workers’ Opposition. The same applies to the worker Y who in the Metalworkers’ Union has advocated collective responsibility in industry.” I looked round. The meeting sat in tense silence. On many faces a dark cloud was noticeable, but the clenched fist remained hidden in the pocket. The two working class candidates were very popular in the district. They had distinguished themselves in the street fighting during the October Revolution and were active Trade-unionists. My eyes scrutinised the speaker. Good God, that really was the once day Right Social-revolutionary N. who in those October days had opposed the Revolution and had only recently discovered his Communist heart just in time to get a good job in State service.
“Does anyone wish to speak?” the chairman asked again. But silence persisted. Damned cowards: I thought and got on my feet.
“Peculiar things are happening here,” I bounced upon them, “two working men have been proposed whom you all know, good fellows, tried in battle. And then someone proposes to you to strike their names off the list of candidates because they have once been or might one day be “oppositional.” And not one of you protests. What has become of you, comrades, are you Communists? Are you revolutionaries? Look at this man who dares to act in that manner against the two honest comrades. Who is he? An official. Where was he in the October days when those two were fighting for the Revolution? On the other side of the barricade in the camp of the Right Social-revolutionaries. And there you are all sitting like painted images in complete silence. I propose to elect the two workers and to reject the ex-Social-revolutionary bureaucrat.”
Then the members’ suppressed feelings found relief in loud applause. The two workers were elected almost unanimously, the bureaucrat did not get a single vote. My authority, they felt, shielded them, legalised the opposition. I did not share the views of the Workers’ Opposition but I was indignant about the way they were persecuted, and these two candidates were at any rate clean.
During the first three years of the Revolution the Civil War and the political recasting of the State had diverted attention from economic problems except the difficult supply question. Official propaganda had limited itself so far as our economic life was concerned mainly to general slogans and formulae. The majority of our propagandists were deficient in economic knowledge and lacked understanding for the deeper problems of economic reconstruction. Now the question of economic planning and the rebuilding of our industry became more and more acute. The workers were growing tired of meetings. They knew by heart most of the stereotyped statements which were dealt out to them by the speakers – Koltchak and Denikin, the Entente, the Comintern, always the same hackneyed shibboleths. They demanded more variety in their mental food, but it was not yet clear to them what they were yearning for.
“Would you care to speak in a large works in the Bauman district, comrade Petroff?” enquired the Moscow Committee over the telephone. “The Communist nucleus desires a meeting, but I can give you no guarantee that the workers will really attend in any number. And if they do come there usually are difficulties – they never listen to a speaker to the end.”
“Then I will go there,” I replied, “only do send me the motor car two hours before the normal time.”
I went to the works club and sought out the secretary of the nucleus.
“What subjects have been dealt with by speakers at your works during the last six months?” I asked him.
“Usually they speak on ‘the political situation,” he replied. “Well, I shall speak on ‘the economic problems of the Soviet Republic’. Please announce this to the workers.”
Within half an hour handbills were ready. We posted ourselves near the exit where some members of the nucleus distributed these.
“Since you are the speaker, comrade Petroff, we shall come to the meeting,” the workers said to me.
“I shall speak only if the meeting is well attended,” I replied.
“We'll see to it that all attend,” the workers shouted.
At the appointed time the hall was crowded. Meanwhile I had been sitting in the club drinking tea, eating dried fish and feeling the pulse of the workers. They were thoroughly good people. The difficulty was merely that they had outgrown mentally the primitive propaganda the Party still offered them. Apart from that there was a strong undercurrent of general discontent.
At the opening of the meeting I asked the chairman to state that I did not desire to limit the time for questions and discussion even though the meeting might last till after midnight. This was acclaimed, none the less a proposal came to limit the time of my lecture to forty minutes. A strong minority were indignant about this proposal so little in accord with Russian usage. They were amazed that I accepted it. I then proceeded to draw in broad outlines a picture of our economic problems, to criticise with bitter sarcasm our industrial organisation and to deal frankly with our supply troubles. The meeting listened intensely. At times I was interrupted by cheers. I looked at my watch. “The forty minutes are almost over,” I declared, “it will therefore not be possible for me to outline some practical proposals, I shall only just give an indication.” A storm broke loose. Though the resolution to limit my time had been carried by a considerable majority the audience showed now definite hostility to the mover who himself asked leave to withdraw his motion. “That won’t do,” I explained, “the meeting has adopted it.” Finally another vote was taken and any limitation of time was unanimously rejected. I spoke about half an hour more, then there were innumerable questions. The type of question asked indicated with what interest and understanding the audience had been following my speech. Late in the night we parted having arranged for a second meeting to take place in the works itself since the large hall of the club was considered too small. Actually two other meetings followed there at which economic problems were considered with the same tense interest. Thereupon other works communicated with me directly asking me to address them. Sometimes they would simply send their factory’s motor car to fetch me.
By this time the Central Committee of the Party had also come to the conclusion that it would be necessary to start a campaign throughout the country in order to make plain to the people the problems of economic reconstruction. The Moscow Committee requested me to work out material for their speakers in the campaign. So I went to the Presidium of the Supreme Economic Council to get from them statistical raw material. First of all I desired to deal with the fuel industry. It appeared that the meagre data they could supply were inadequate for my purpose. I had not been at Baku so recently in vain, I had taken a good look at the oil production there and of course questioned every available official about its working. Thus I could easily detect that some nice-looking figures in the statistics of the Supreme Economic Council had been just sucked out of the fingers. As to many of my questions the Statistical Department was at a loss to offer any satisfactory explanations. What they possessed were meagre and not always reliable data regarding production and transport. When I enquired as to cost in production, wages, consumption, productivity of labour, when I sought comparable figures for various periods or areas, or material for comparisons with other countries, they had to admit that they had nothing whatsoever.
“It seems to me your statistics are lame on all four legs,” I remarked in the end.
“Would you like to take charge of our statistical department?” Rykov asked.
“No, thanks,” I replied. “I am more interested in economic work than in purely statistical work.”
“Well anyhow, our statistical department is at your disposal,” Rykov said. “Work out lists of questions and give them tasks which they may carry out for you. This will be a stimulant for our entire statistical work.”
I was collaborating for quite a time with the statistical department studying their raw material. The department had first class specialists but they had no figures. They soon gave up their attempt to present to me their “guessed” data as actual figures and frankly admitted their methods of calculation. “We are sending out no end of forms,” the head of the department complained, “but the replies do not always come or they are unreliable. Could you not use your influence in the provinces so that they should furnish us with reliable data?” None the less this work gave me many an interesting glimpse into the economic life of the country and taught me where I might rely on official statistics and where it was necessary to be careful.
The study of the fuel industry which l had selected proved very useful. We came to the conclusion that the disproportion between production and consumption prevailing throughout the last few years was bound to lead soon to an acute fuel crisis which might become catastrophic. A few months later that crisis became evident and the material we had collected came in very handy.
I was particularly keen on the educational work of the Party. Everywhere Party-Schools had been established catering for the Socialist education of the Party members, of youth functionaries, Soviet employees and redarmists. A whole network of such schools of varying type had been created providing shorter or longer general courses, special courses for definite categories of students, or courses for the study of particular political, social, historic, philosophic or economic problems. These schools were partly run by the Party as purely “Party-Schools,” partly by the People’s Commissariat for Education as “Party- and Soviet-Schools.” After my return from Siberia I continued to devote a considerable part of my time to the schools. My growing discontent with the whole trend of the political development made me shun responsible Party or State posts, I therefor withdrew to the line of educational activity.
In consequence of the large influx of new members into the Party and of the drafting of older members into the provinces or to the front the educational level of the Moscow membership as a whole had been lowered. To counteract this the Moscow Committee decided to introduce compulsory school attendance for new members. For this purpose a network of primary Party Schools was established that were to give to the new member within two or three months some fundamental Socialist training. Of course it was difficult to obtain sufficient suitable teachers for the large number of new schools. The Party tried to solve this problem by imposing the duty on all high Soviet officials to teach there. However, a man may be a very efficient administrator, a good undersecretary of State, a good specialist, yet he may not be capable of teaching simple working men and women in a simple manner. Small wonder that the conscripted students liked to play truant while the conscripted teachers were eager to shirk. In order to assist these latter the Moscow Committee of the Party, that had long grown into a bureaucratic machine, had prepared a detailed programme. Without consultation of the teachers, bureaucrats had divided up the selected subject matter over the defined number of lectures in a manner which deprived the obedient teacher of the least possibility of making his lesson lively and interesting. A member of the Moscow Committee Z., now holding a high economic post, whom I knew as a good speaker and a man with knowledge one day unburdened his heart to me:
“I have been appointed to teach at a primary Party school in the Bauman district. I carefully prepare every lesson, I do my very best, but my pupils yawn or run away. I am now scared to go there and begin to develop an inferiority complex – please sacrifice this evening, come with me and show me where I am at fault.”
When I agreed he exclaimed full of joy: “I shall at once telephone to the District Committee announcing that you will speak to-day, then I will come to fetch you.”
“What is the subject to-day?” I enquired.
He fished for the marvellous programme in his pocket and showed it to me, I think it was the fifth lesson.
“Oh well, if you are going to stick to this horrid programme your difficulty is only too obvious,” I said. “Here you are supposed to deal in one evening for completely unprepared students with several entirely unconnected problems. Of course there can be only confusion. The authors of this curriculum themselves ought to be sent to a school as pupils.”
Instead of saying little on a multitude of things I took the most important item out of the programme for the evening: our economic administration. I dealt with the subject in a critical rather than explanatory manner, that is to say, I discussed the problems of economic administration instead of describing the functions of the various economic organs. That brought a flood of questions, a lively discussion ensued and the school closed much later than usual. On closing my friend patted me on the shoulder:
“Now I know what the matter was. Now I can do it too, I have regained my courage. This damned programme had confused me entirely. I am very grateful to you.”
Some members of the District Committee had been present, we remained together for a while and they too complained:
“It is a real burden, these schools. At the end of the course there is to be an examination. Then we find that the pupils, intelligent keen workers, sit and cannot reply to a single question. They cannot explain what a Constitution is, what materialism means, what feudalism was, what the objects of a Trade Union are, what functions the Supreme Economic Council fulfils, what the Law of Socialist Land Utilisation stipulates, when the Seventh Party Congress took place, what was decided at the Fourth Soviet Congress – in a word they know nothing!”
“And does Lovovsky know what the objects of a Trade Union are?” I asked smiling. “Leave these silly examinations. Better arrange at the conclusion of the course a nice tea, simply have a talk with the pupils and you will get quite a different idea of their intelligence and critical faculties.”
“We must try that!” a member of the Committee exclaimed. “Would you care to come?”
It was a pleasant evening. The lecturers and Committee members who would otherwise appear as strict examiners sat cheerfully at the tea table with the students, all were eagerly discussing. Students that had not opened their mouths throughout the course proved capable of clearly stating their opinions – though they might not have been able to define the term “constitution” they could point out its defects well enough.
At the Kremlin long term military courses were being held for the training of “instructors” (junior officers) for the Red Army. A large proportion of these were Party members, and for them special Party schools were arranged, the attendance being compulsory. I was in charge of one of the four schools that had been established; it met once a week in the hall of the Revolutionary Tribunal These evening schools were of a much higher type than the ordinary primary schools. My school was always well attended, the attendance seemed to increase each time, often the benches were all occupied so that some of the latecomers had to sit on the floor. Only the lack of punctuality of the students was irritating. The hall filled up only when the lecture had already commenced. The cause of this I discovered much later: quite a number of students who had been allotted to the other schools went there first to sign the register, then they deserted and came over to us. It seemed that my unorthodox method of teaching as well as my “undisciplined” programme and my habit of encouraging free expression of opinion appealed more to them than the dogmatic stiffness of the other schools. These were constantly complaining about slack attendance.
We commenced with an introduction into Marxist philosophy. After a number of evenings when we had studied the materialist conception of history we arranged a discussion on “the role of great men in history.” Some of the students had to defend the materialist point of view, others the idealist conception of history. The hall was crowded to the last place. A heated discussion developed as to whether the October Revolution would have taken place if Lenin and Trotsky had never existed.
On the following morning I met Lenin. “All the inhabitants of the Kremlin are cursing your school,” he said laughing, “none of us was able to sleep because all the members of the military courses were arguing throughout the whole night whether the Revolution would have taken place without us.”
“Yes, I have already been told,” I replied, “but the most interesting part is that my pupils are replying to the question in the affirmative while their commanders and commissars are taking up the anti-Marxist point of view and deny it.”
“Well, when you continue to raise such interesting problems you may yet get a collective protest from the inhabitants of the Kremlin who value their night’s rest,” Lenin remarked gaily.
The Moscow Committee was compelled to withdraw its programme and to consider the question of a reorganisation of the entire Party school system. A committee of three was set up to frame new programmes. Since in this committee Dr. Helfer and I usually were of one mind we succeeded in working out appropriate programmes for various types of schools, to place them before meetings of lecturers and get them adopted. But it was a severe fight because we got into a sharp conflict with the People’s Commissariat for Education. In the Department for out-of school education” of this Commissariat headed by Krupskaia (Lenin’s wife) at the time a tendency had gained the upper hand, a narrow “practicism” which we opposed tooth and nail. The fight started over the question whether or not the history of the question whether or not the history of evolution was to be included in the curriculum of the higher school types. Our opponents desired to devote more into the practical questions of the Soviet State and its institutions; Dr. Helfer and I attached greater importance to theoretical subjects: history of evolution, industrial history, history of the European working class movement, history of revolutions and so forth. In the discussion of the curriculum for the training of functionaries for the youth movement, Vaganian, head of the propaganda department of the Central Committee of the Party exclaimed:
“Good gracious, do you want to turn a young peasant from the Volokalansky district into a professor?”
“A peasant from the Volokalansky district may soon be called upon as a commissar to govern a couple of millions of people,” I replied, “for this he must be raised to a certain cultural level otherwise the unaccustomed power will turn his head. The Soviet institutions he will soon get to know without us.”
It is true, we might have just as well spared ourselves the irritation spent in the fight over evolution. For, our theoretical victory was soon followed by practical defeat. It appeared that amongst our Party propagandists there were but few who could lecture on the Solar System, the development of the forms of life on earth, the origin of man, and primitive society. Yet the suggestion to invite non-Party or Menshevist intellectuals to lecture at pure Party schools was considered unacceptable.
While this controversy on questions concerning the curriculum of these schools was going on I had an interesting discussion with Professor Pokrovsky, the prominent historian and Vice People’s Commissar for Education as well as with the Rector of the Moscow university. We were considering the curriculum of certain courses to be held by the Sverdlov University, but the discussion had left its original sphere and assumed a general character.
Pokrovsky declared: “Comrade Petroff is striving for too high a degree of education. We are a poor country and we have no time. We require chauffeurs with a thorough knowledge of their motor car however ignorant they may be in all other respects; we are in urgent need of engineers, chemists, agronomists and so forth; we require them immediately, in large numbers and we have therefore to train them at top speed, just bake them.”
I turned to the Rector of the Moscow University: “Please tell us, what are your students doing, are they going headlong into studying their special subjects or are they striving to improve their general education?”
“I must admit,” replied the Rector, “that many of them devote forty to fifty per cent of their time to studying subjects of general education.”
“That should not be permitted,” exclaimed Professor Pokrovsky “that is a waste of time, a luxury which we cannot afford at present!”
“First of all we require human beings,” I said, “it cannot be the aim of a university to fabricate ignorant and one-sided intellectual artisans.”
“At the moment that is all we can do,” Pokrovsky insisted shrugging his shoulders.
The struggle between these two educational tendencies has continued in Soviet Russia for many years. Sometimes one trend got the upper hand, sometimes the other. The convulsive shocks that again and again upset the entire educational system of the country resulted from the violent conflict of these two tendencies. Nowadays the hot-house methods in public education have gained victory all along the line though the motives that actuated the late Professor Pokrovsky have lost their urgency. But to the requirements of the Stalin regime the drilling of the one-sided robot with a narrow outlook is more suited than the careful education of the broadminded critical citizen capable of creative work.
The winter months 1920/21 were marked by the great discussion of the question as to the role of the Trade Unions in the “transitional period.” This discussion excited the entire active membership of the Communist Party and reached a climax during the Eighth Soviet Congress at the meeting of the Communist faction of the 30 December 1920. As with a flash-light it lit up both the hollowness of the Russian Trade Unions and the contradictions between theory and practice in the “Socialist” Soviet-Republic. In this glaring light the “all-embracing” Trade Unions were revealed as a mere fiction, and the idea that the bureaucratic Soviet State was a “workers’ state” or that the very real dictatorship was a “dictatorship of the proletariat” was brought to nought. During the last three years developments had taken their natural course, a course not in accordance with any theory, a course that had been neither designed nor foreshadowed by anyone. For the first time since the Revolution the Party that accepted responsibility for those developments had gained a breathing space allowing it to look back and review what had been achieved, more still, what had not been achieved. But this Party that was now reviewing its past had meanwhile completely changed its character. The heaven-storming revolutionaries of 1917 had been transformed into a ruling class burdened with the responsibility for the destinies of a tremendous country, used to imposing their will on passive masses. This Party could no longer look round with an open mind, analyse honestly and state frankly what was. Had the Party been still capable of objective judgment it would have been forced to recognise that the State it had created was about to grow into a centralised machine of oppression of the first order; that the economic development had led to state-capitalism and was in eminent danger of getting bogged there; that the Party itself had been transformed into a militarised organ of domination of this same State; that the Trade Unions had remained a hollow fiction represented by a bureaucratic machine built up with the aid of a tax collected from all employed, a machine whose functions had as yet not been clearly defined. Had the Party recognised all this and frankly expressed it, it would have been obvious to Socialists that under the prevailing conditions real Trade Unions in the European sense of the word were essential. Trade Unions that would be able to protect effectively the interests of the wage earners against the omnipotence of the state-capitalist bureaucracy and that would be in a position to safeguard the application of the labour laws so far remaining on paper. However, as they partly did not see, partly did not wish to admit the real state of affairs, they proceeded to discuss in a vacuum a fictitious problem: the role of the fictitious Trade Unions in the fictitious workers’ state. It is true, it could not be avoided that in the course of the discussion which for months and months filled conferences, meetings, and even the press, one or other of the debaters would in the heat of the battle let out some disconcerting truth correctly observed. But in this State there was no more room for an opposition that could have taken up and developed such stray remarks, consequently no conclusions were drawn from such admissions. Zinoviev for instance at the faction meeting of the 30 December spoke of those “seven millions of people assigned (pripisany) to the Trade Unions,” Trotsky declared: “In our country there is no individual joining, every worker must be in the Union, contributions are collected like obligatory taxes” thus, he concluded, the Trade Unions were “an objective combination, not a subjective one.” Lenin himself let the cat out of the bag by remarking that the Soviet State was actually not a workers’ State but a workers’ and peasants’ State and “from this a great deal is to be deduced.”
If Lenin was the most far-seeing and comprehending among the debaters, Trotsky was the most honest amongst them. He had the gift honestly to intoxicate himself with his own slogans and to believe simultaneously two mutually exclusive conceptions. Without so much as wasting a moment’s consideration on the distasteful reality, Trotsky accepted as proven that the Soviet Republic is a workers’ state; and he immediately drew the conclusion that the workers do not require any protection against this State, hence the protective functions of the Trade Unions have to disappear. “On what basis can Trade Unions be built up in a workers’ State?” he asked. “Solely on the basis of collaboration in production, on the organisation of the workers for production itself. Amongst the masses of the workers there must be created a production-atmosphere, such zeal, such keen interest as there was for the front.” And he further declared: “In the workers’ State the counter-pressure that used to be exercised is no longer required. To-day, the road to the promotion of the interests of the workers leads through the raising of the productivity of labour and the improvement of the technical equipment.” He suggested, the worker should learn “while working to direct his thoughts not against capital but to think how the working time may be best utilised to serve production.” Trotsky had coined a new slogan “production-democracy” with which he made great play seeking all the while for some practical definition. “On what basis are we going to work now?” he asked. And he replied forthwith: “On the basis of the direct building up of production, of the transformation of workers’ democracy into production-democracy. That is not an empty phrase. What is our State? The State is that which must wither away. The transformation of the State into the Commune includes the transitional phase of the transformation of political democracy and workers’ democracy into production-democracy.” Goethe is right: “For just where the comprehension fails, a word steps promptly in as a deputy.”
If Trotsky was flying in the clouds without a compass, Lenin and Zinoviev knew very well what they were driving at. For them the Trade Unions were just a means to an end, that is to say a means to the ends of the Party. “The Trade Unions are the steel backbone of the dictatorship,” Zinoviev declared demagogically, “but it does not follow that they must needs be a direct tool of the dictatorship. No, for that we have the State organs, the Soviets behind which the Party is standing. The Trade Unions have other functions to perform. They are doing the spade work in the organisation of the masses, in their education in the proletarian spirit and then in a purely Communist spirit. They are a school of Communism.”
Lenin described the Trade Unions as “a historically necessary form of organisation of the industrial proletariat” that now, under the dictatorship of the proletariat had become “an organisation of the ruling, the governing class” of “the class that realises the dictatorship and exercises state compulsion.” This “all-embracing organisation of the industrial workers” however was not the “pillar bearing the dictatorship”; the Party comprises only the advanced guard of the proletariat and it was “this vanguard which is the pillar bearing the dictatorship.” Thus Lenin frankly admitted that the much advertised “dictatorship of the proletariat” in Russia in his opinion was not a dictatorship of the working class of the majority of the people as Marx had conceived it, but that it meant the usurpation of political power by the Party comprising only the small “vanguard” which had “sucked in the revolutionary energy of the class” and to which the Trade Unions “which form the connecting link between the vanguard and the masses” are subsidiaries. None the less Lenin – in contradistinction to Trotsky – understood that the Soviet State could not be regarded as a workers’ state. “Our present state is of such a nature,” he said, “that the proletariat organised to the last man, must defend itself; we have to utilise these workers’ organisations for the protection of the workers against their State and for the protection of our State by the workers.”
I had been ill, had spent a few weeks in the Firsanovka sanatorium and there found the time to make a good study of the extensive “theses” published by the spokesmen of the various trends as contributions to the discussion. It had struck me how completely my own views differed from those of all the groups and factions amongst my fellow-members of the Party. I entirely differed even from the views of men whom I so much liked and respected as Riazanov and Shliapnikov. Was it really possible that I was the only one in the Party who recognised that our Trade Unions with their seven million compulsory members were no Trade Unions at all? When even Riazanov, who strongly emphasised the necessity for protection of labour, wished to subjugate the Trade Unions completely to the Party; when Shliapnikov desired to realise the syndicalist principle of entrusting the Trade Unions with the functions of administration – “the trade unionisation of the state” as he called it – with the faulty means of these ficticious compulsory Unions – I could not go with them. I decided for the time being to remain silent and wait. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. At a large workers’ meeting in the Zamoskvorietsky district of Moscow where representatives of various trends were clashing like steel on stone, my patience gave way; I took the floor and expressed my own views to the attentively listening workers.
“You are always talking about the functions of the Trade Unions,” I said, “but we must first have real Trade Unions! Such can be developed only in the fight for the interests of the workers against the arbitrariness of the state-capitalist bureaucracy. Of course such Trade Unions must not come and desire to command from above – their freely elected leaders must have the confidence of the rank and file.” I clearly rejected any absorption of the Trade Unions by the State machine. Trotsky’s followers tried to sneer at that point of view terming it “English Trade Unionism” and chiding me for my “democratic illusions.” “You are still miles behind that English Trade Unionism which you pretend to despise, my friends,” I replied. “The democratic British Trade Unions with all their faults undoubtedly represent a higher type of organisation than your organs of a police-dictatorship which you want us to accept as Trade Unions, you Trade Union generals without an army.” The fact that this meeting remained without consequences shows nevertheless that at this juncture in Soviet Russia there still remained a certain amount of liberty be it only for a small category of persons – the revolutionary Old Guard.
The unrest amongst the workers grew. I often spoke in works’ meetings and found everywhere the same discontent. In most works the Communist nucleus had earned for themselves the hatred of their fellow-workers. Frequently it was really the worst elements who gathered there; they acquired all sorts of privileges for themselves, were better dressed and better fed than their colleagues, and their overbearing behaviour was abominable. They had usurped certain control rights and were responsible for many denunciations. I was disgusted with this development. If hitherto the Communist had been always ready to place himself at the disposal of the Party or the Government for any dangerous or difficult task, that had now changed completely. Now even the Communists at the bench (the source from which unspoiled men and women were to be drawn to replace those who had got spoilt in soft jobs!) appeared no longer as fighters for an idea but as job-hunters, slave-drivers, spies. And the working class Communists themselves seemed to consider this quite normal. Once when talking to the secretary of the Communist nucleus of a large works I referred to the small number of Party members there, and he said naively: “I simply can’t understand it but the people do not want to join the Party. We have already given out new boots to the whole nucleus – even that does not attract them.” At the same works I gave a lecture in the workers’ club on “Parliamentarism in Western Europe.” I pictured the European Parliaments, their election, their work, the influence of the stock-exchange, the frequent frauds at election and the dishonesty of many bourgeois politicians and believed my severe criticism would have impressed the workers. Nothing of the kind! The workers listened with shining eyes and afterwards in private conversation they said to me: “Oh, if only we had such institutions! There millions of people can vote and before the election they can meet and quarrel. Here we are compelled to attend the official meetings whether we like it or not, but if a few of us desire to discuss something amongst ourselves, immediately a member of the Communist nucleus will poke his nose in.”
I addressed a large factory meeting in the Bauman district. There was a lively discussion.
Suddenly a worker asked ne: “So you are still in favour of the eight-hour-day?”
“What a question!” I said amazed, “the eight-hour-day is fixed by law.”
The audience laughed. There was a ring of bitterness in the laughter.
“Why then has our factory-Committee been arrested when they opposed the introduction of the ten-hour-day?”
“What?” I said, “your factory-committee arrested?”
It appeared that the factory committee had actually been arrested on the instigation of the Communist nucleus. In contradiction to the clear stipulations of the law attempts were being made to prolong the working day in a number of large Moscow works. Here the factory committee had opposed this illegal demand.
“So” I exclaimed indignantly, “because they would not break the law these comrades have been arrested? And this” – I turned to the Communist nucleus – “with your consent? That is shameful, scandalous! Immediately after the meeting I shall go to the Party Committee and demand their release, and I shall insist on the suspension and re-organisation of the nucleus that has brought shame on the Party.”
I kept my promise. After the meeting I made a terrific row, I succeeded in getting the release of the members of the factory committee, and the district-committee of the Party promised to investigate the whole affair.
One morning I had a telephone call from the Communist nucleus of the Moscow Electricity Works.
“There is great excitement here,” said the secretary, “the workers are threatening to go on strike. You have so much influence on our workers, would you come here at once?”
“What is the cause of the trouble?” I enquired, “what are the workers demanding?”
“Three members of the works committee have been arrested,” was the bashful reply.
“And what has the nucleus done so far to get them released?”
“The three were really dangerous,” was the unexpected answer, “they opposed our measures.”
“Do the workers consider the nucleus responsible for the arrest?” I asked.
“That is just where the difficulty lies.”
“And do you appreciate what you are doing?” I asked sternly. “Do you know what the mood of the Moscow workers is at present? A strike at your works plunging Moscow in darkness would be a signal for a general strike. By your silly behaviour you bear the responsibility.”
Panic. “For God’s sake, comrade Petroff, come here at once, we don’t know what to do.”
“All right, I shall come. But only one condition. I shall demand the immediate release and the nucleus must support my demand and apologise for their fooleries to the workers.”
They were ready to promise whatever I wanted and I instructed them to call a works meeting. At the meeting the waves of wrath were rising high yet my appearance was cheered by the workers. I did not waste time on introductory remarks, I at once proposed to elect a committee of three in order to obtain the immediate release of the arrested committee members. The nucleus supported me for all they were worth. “If you agree to be one of the committee, comrade Petroff we can chance it, otherwise this committee of three may also find themselves in prison,” the workers shouted. The nucleus were quick to put forward my candidature. Together with a Communist and a non-party worker we were elected unanimously. “Now, comrades,” I said, “return to your work. We shall forthwith take all necessary steps and afterwards report to you.”
I telephoned to Messing, head of the Moscow Tcheka who was also a member of the Moscow Committee of the Party.
“You damned counter-revolutionaries,” I greeted him, “you are arresting honest workers, members of factory committees, you create counter-revolutionary feeling, and are sure to bring about a general strikes Do you think we are going to take responsibility for your deeds?”
“For heaven’s sake, comrade Petroff, what is the matter?” Messing asked flabbergasted when he had overcome his first amazement at the unusual address.
“You do not know what the matter is?” I cried angrily. “Well if Moscow is plunged into darkness to-night and other works take up the strike signal, then perhaps you will know what the matter is.” In a few words I explained the situation and told him that we were coming. “Please see to it that all papers are available when we come and bring up the three arrested workers, we shall take them home with us,” I concluded.
He promised to do his best and asked us to come. When we entered his room Messing formally apologised to the workers’ delegates.
“The arrest was due to a misunderstanding,” he said, “the arrested men will be here in a minute, of course we release them and they can go home with you.”
“That is all very well,” I said, “but we have to report to the meeting and we demand that those responsible be punished. Please show us the papers on the case.”
“The papers are still somewhere in transit,” Messing replied. “I have not yet managed to get hold of them. I have ordered the release without any formalities conforming to your demand. I suppose you prefer to have your committee members released than to wait for the papers.”
“But this does not yet settle the matter,” I remarked and Messing promised to look into the who affair. The door opened and the three arrested members of the factory committee entered the room. They rushed up to us and grasped our hands.
“You are free, comrades,” I said, “and you can come home with us.”
“Please tell me,” Messing asked them in a friendly manner, “what you were told when you were arrested?”
“That we were counter-revolutionaries,” one of them replied, “fine counter-revolutionaries! Of course this is the work of that damned nucleus.”
“But now the nucleus has demanded your release,” the Communist member of the committee defended himself.
“All’s well that ends well,” Messing pacified them. He shook hands with his ex-prisoners and we took leave. In a joyful mood we went back to the electricity works, where the freed prisoners were loudly cheered.
I had only just returned home when the telephone rang again. Lenin was speaking. “For God’s sake, comrade Petroff, hurry to the electricity works and prevent a threatened strike. I have just been informed that there is terrible excitement amongst the workers and I know that you have great influence there. I have asked comrade Krozanovsky too to go there. Imagine what such a strike would mean at this moment!” Lenin was quite excited.
“Don’t worry, Vladimir Ilitch, the danger is over,” I replied. And I related to him the whole story up to its happy end together with the preceding incident in the Bauman district. “But such things must not happen again,” I added earnestly, “it is playing with fire. Enough inflammable material has gathered amongst the workers of Moscow. The matter ought to be thoroughly investigated, and in this particular case I should like to see the papers.”
Lenin promised to speak to Dzerzhinsky about it, but the papers I have never seen.
One day when I was sitting in my room in the first house of the Soviets the caretaker rang up requesting me to come down as someone wanted urgently to speak to me. “Let him come up,” I suggested. “No, that is impossible,” said the caretaker, “please come without delay.” Amazed Irma and I rushed down the stairs. Our amazement grew when we found downstairs the military commissar Schaufler from Marxstadt, a very capable Volga German, who had been our fellow member of the Executive Committee of that district. There he was under guard of two armed Tcheka soldiers who had orders to transport him to the prison of the Tcheka but had been persuaded to allow him to call upon us on the way. In a few words he told us how, after we left, there had started a violent feud between two groups of officials in the Volga area, both groups intent on imprisoning each other. He had opposed the arbitrary actions of both sides thus arousing their enmity, now he was the victim of an act of revenge. We both had been working with Schaufler for a long time and we valued him as an honest Communist and capable commissar. We promised to do all in our power to attain his liberation. At the “conflict-department” of the Central Committee of the Party, where we went first of all, they had to admit that they had no case against Schaufler and that the reason for his arrest had as yet to be cleared up. None the less they would not order his immediate release, they would wait for the result of the investigation of the Tcheka. Consequently we went to the Tcheka and demanded to know what was their charge against Schaufler. They had nothing, but just because they had nothing they lacked a justification for his release. Back we went to the Central Committee and made a row. What influences were at work behind the scenes we could not discover. But we did not give way. At last the day came when Schaufler was sitting happily in our room. “The investigating judge told me yesterday,” he related, “you might have sat here till Doomsday. But the Petroffs take an interest in your case and with them it is no use starting a quarrel. So we had better release you.” Schaufler was very tired. Expecting to be released in the morning he had sought permission to work through the night with the help of a fellow-prisoner in order to finish the boiler equipment of the prison laundry which he as an efficient technical engineer had undertaken to install.
In the first months of 1921 the food situation in Moscow had become rather precarious again. We had now reached the zenith of “War-Communism”: the last private shops and restaurants had been closed, the Sukharevka passed through critical times, money played but an insignificant part. The purchasing power of the rouble sank ever lower, the cost of printing of notes indicating smaller sums exceeded their face value. On the 1 November 1917 there had been twenty milliard roubles in circulation in Russia. During 1918 the monthly average for the printing of notes was three milliard rouble the monthly average for 1921 was 1582 milliard roubles. Yet the real value of the entire money in circulation – calculated in so-called budget-index-roubles – had decreased by the 1 July 1921 to the unheard-of small sum of 29.1 million roubles: Under War-Communism the centre of gravity was shifted to the direct utilisation and distribution of the real values of peasant economy and of nationalised industry. The development went towards the complete elimination of money, the so-called “naturalisation of wages,” towards the transition to the money-less Socialist method of work and distribution of values.
I received at that time a half-monthly salary of thirteen thousand roubles, which I would spend on cigarettes the day I got them. I was lecturing at a three-months-course for officials of the People’s Commissariat of Education. The payment was a thousand roubles per academic hour, two thousand per lecture. But the People’s Commissariat had undertaken to provide for me facilities to travel to the distant institute. There still were cabs for hire – to travel by cab to the institute I would have had to pay ten thousand roubles since the People’s Commissariat for Education was inadequately supplied with motor cars they paid me this fare money so that I got twelve thousand roubles for each lecture, ten thousand of which I earned with my legs. In the institute for railway technical engineers I was lecturing for quite a time on the history of labour. At the end of the quarter I received 250,000 roubles and felt quite a Croesus. Cheerfully I went with Irma to the market. We bought a loaf of white bread, a few pounds of tomatoes, some butter and cheese – the money was gone.
The workers who could not live on their payok (food ration) were grumbling. To keep them in their jobs the factory administrations found themselves compelled to allow them to fabricate after working hours out of scrap metal mechanical cigarette lighters or similar small objects which they could barter against food. How this worked out in practical life, what was classified as “scrap metal,” how many working hours were stealthily devoted to this new branch of production, and what stimulant all this gave to illicit trading with all its ruinous consequences to the railways may be imagined. It had been necessary to temporarily permit to the workers the bringing in of flour from the provinces no matter how much this ran counter to the entire tendency of the Government’s supply policy. The impossibility of continuing that policy became more and more apparent. In the provinces; too, this became evident. The opposition of the peasants to the drastic measures of enforcing grain deliveries and the acute lack of industrial commodities of all kinds had already led in a variety of places to local riots.
At Easter 1921 our distributing centre in the first house of the Soviets remained closed for three days. Before the closure we had received a pound of white beans each which together with a few potatoes formed our whole food stock for the holidays. To my surprise no one in the house seemed to bother about the lack of distribution of bread. On the second day when we had consumed all our food and our stomachs were rumbling I said to the manager of the house:
“Of course I am pleased that we in this house do not get anything better than has been given out in Moscow generally. But the people have everywhere received bread and other food stuffs for the holidays. Why did we not get anything?”
Beside us stood a sailor who was a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets but did not play any particular part. He was amazed.
“Have you really nothing to eat, comrade Petroff?” he asked flabbergasted.
“No, there has not been anything given out,” Irma replied. “I cannot understand that,” he exclaimed shaking his head, “please do come and have tea with us.”
When we entered his room we could hardly believe our eyes. The big table was loaded with all sorts of luxuries: white bread, butter, cheese, sausage, roast pork, marmalade, sweets. We marvelled. It appeared that the distributive centre in the Kremlin and a number of other institutions, particularly the Central and Moscow Committees of the Party and the Comintern had been very generous to “responsible workers” this Easter holiday. The “responsible” Communists were more and more growing into a privileged caste whose standard of living was rising rapidly above that of the rest of the people. It is true, by Western European standards their mode of life living was not at all extravagant. But on the background of the general misery a single well-furnished room, an abundance of good food and at times a new article of clothing or some other requirement on special order and the possibility of getting a motor car at any time was a standard of living sufficient to arouse envy and class hatred amongst the masses.
We refrained as much as possible from sharing in the privileges of our caste of “responsible Communists,” as we considered these privileges both illegal and immoral. Of course it was very difficult to live up to these principles for we were debarred also from those other (not less illegal) sources of additional supply by the aid of which “non-responsible” people kept body and soul together: illicit trading, “speculation,” hoarding, fabrication of cigarette lighters and so forth. One day when we had some occasion to call at the Central Committee the secretary Yaroslavsky said to us:
“You look very pale, comrades, it seems you have not enough to eat. That will not do, here is an order for you, go to the Kremlin and fetch regularly what you require.”
He gave the paper to Irma. But Irma tore it up indignantly and threw it on the floor in front of the flabbergasted Yaroslavsky.
“When the workers are starving we are not going to feast with you,” she said and turned away.
That was in the morning when we had just devoured our entire ration of black bread for the day. In the evening we felt the pinch of hunger. The usual means of dulling the stomach, one cup of tea after another, would no longer assist. We decided on an expedition to find out whether amongst our friends there was anybody who had returned from the provinces or from abroad with his bag full of flour. Thus it happened that we landed in the room of Mertens, the representative of the Soviet-Republic in the United States who had recently been turned out from there. “American friends have sent me a supply of food specially for such hungry wolves,” Mertens said. He made up a wonderful parcel for us: flour, semolina, sugar and other delicacies and handed to Irma a long fat sausage. We solemnly agreed amongst ourselves to divide up this sausage so that it would for a long time, but it proved irresistible. Every half-hour one of us would go with a guilty look in the eyes and a knife in the hand to the cupboard.
We had not had an opportunity for a serious talk with Mertens since his return from the United States. What he now told us was extremely interesting. It appeared that in the U.S.A. a number of progressive persons from various walks of life had avowed sympathies for revolutionary Russia. They were publishing a journal and had inaugurated various campaigns in support of our Revolution. Mertens mentioned the wife of President Coolidge as one of the humanitarian sympathisers. Certain influential business circles showed interest in developing trade with Russia, he related. These had made important and rather favourable proposals, they were willing to allow credits and Mertens had joyfully forwarded their offer to the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Trade. Then a great silence followed. For months and months Mertens had not been able to get any reply whatsoever. Meanwhile strange items of information reached those American firms, and these rumours, impossible though they seemed at first, were fully confirmed. While the favourable offers of American producers remained without any reply, representatives of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Trade had been purchasing in Estonia and elsewhere those same American goods through second and third hands at a much higher price, and they had paid in gold: In consequence the Russian trading institutions had come into such bad repute in the United States that business people declined to take them seriously. All that Mertens and his friends had built up was reduced to ruins. After his return to Moscow Mertens had spent many weeks vainly trying to clear up the matter.
“I have been under the impression for a long time that not all is well at the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Trade,” I remarked. Krassin who seems to be a dark horse is sitting there. During the war, as a technical engineer of the Simens-Schuckert Works he has been involved in mysterious dealings together with his pro-German gang – that is how Russia’s gold fund is being squandered.”
The discontent amongst the peasants was growing. In many districts open riots had occurred. The unrest amongst the industrial workers culminated in open conflicts in various towns. In Petrograd the general unrest had already in the middle of February found an outlet in spontaneous mass meetings; strikes in some of the large works and street rioting followed. Redarmists declined to go against the workers. The Government declared a “state of siege” and, on the 25 February 1921, formed a “Defence Committee for Petrograd,” headed by Zinoviev. The “Trubotchny Zavod” a large works, that was regarded as the centre of the strike movement and whose workers had adopted a strong resolution against the government, was closed. Workers’ demonstrations were dispersed by armed force. Since the redarmists were considered “unreliable” the “coursants” (students of military schools) were called in. At the sitting of the Petrograd Soviet of the 26 February Lashevitch, a member of the Defence-Committee and of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic (later shot by Stalin) reported on the situation in Petrograd and on the measures taken. The suppressed Socialist groups – Mensheviks, Social-Revolutionaries, Anarchists – tried to seize the reins of the movement; they issued illegal leaflets and manifestoes and tried to lead the movement further. One of these illegal “Proclamations of the Workers” distributed on the day following the sitting of the Soviet declared:
“A radical change of the entire policy of the Government is necessary. The workers and peasants require liberty above all. They do not wish to live according to Bolshevik dictates, they want to decide their destinies themselves.”
In the sane leaflet the following demands were put forward:
“Liberation of all arrested Socialists and non-party workers. Raising of the state of siege. Freedom of speech, press and meeting for all toilers. Free re-election of all factory-committees, Trade Union organs, and Soviets.”
These rebellious workers at the bottom of their hearts were loyal to the Soviets. They were neither Whiteguardists nor adherents of the Constituent Assembly. In their ranks there were many Communists who, from their Communist point of view, were in revolt against the oppressive supply policy of the Government, against the bureaucratisation of the Party and against the rising caste of new masters.
In Moscow and other towns unrest was spreading. Even amongst the “responsible Communists” a deep feeling of bitter disappointment was noticeable. Irma expressed our feelings in a poem written at that time:
Was ist geschehen?
Ihr ideale meiner Jugendzeit
Seid ihr mir unter'n Haenden denn zerronnen?
Euch hab’ ich meine beste Kraft geweiht
Und niemals hab’ ich anders mich besonnen.
Was ist geschehen? Unser Kampfpanier
Scheint so verblasst und taugt nicht mehr zur Zier!
Jung trat lob ein in jener Kaempfer Schar,
Die Freiheit, Gleichheit aufs Panier geschrieben,
Die aufrecht kaempften, jeder Falschheit bar,
Bis dass dal Unrecht aus der Welt vertrieben,
Im Staate Freiheit herrscht, der Arbeitsmann
Nicht fuerder ausgebeutet werden kann.
Wir kaempften, gingen vor von Sieg zu Sieg,
Das Kapital, das maecht'ge war geschlagen,
Schon waehrte jahrelang der heisse Krieg.
Und vieles Schwere hatten wir zu tragen.
Doch fuer die Freiheit soheint kein Opfer gross –
Wir trugen freudig auch ein hartes Los.
Was ist geschehn? Der Feind, den starker Hand
Wir just besiegt, will jetzt uns korrandieren?
Das Banner, das in Not uns treu erfand,
Er traegt es nun – wohin will er uns fuehren?
Und waehrend wir in Hunger, Not und Qual
Verschmachten, schmaust er bei der Fuehrer Mahl.
Wir schaun usher wie fremd scheint uns der Kreis:
Viel seidtne Kleider, ja, und steife Kragen –
Wir wischen von der Stirn den Staub und Schweiss
Von all den Kaempf en in vergangnen Tapen
Und suchen dann die alten Kanpf'rencbssen:
Die meisten stehen einsam und verdrossen.
Stumm blicken die auch in dem Sahwarm umher,
Der uns umlaermt mit eingelernten
Phrases: ist das der proletarier siegreibh Heer
Die alias, wofuer wir gekaempft, vergassen?:
Was ist geschehn? Doch einer wusste Rat:
Gehn wir zurueck zum Proletariat.
At Kronstadt, the island fortress defending Petrograd, the storm broke that had been heralded by the labour unrest in Moscow and Petrograd. On the 1 March 1921 in the Revolution-square of Kronstadt a mass meeting took place attended by some 16,000 people. Kalinin, the president of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets addressed this meeting on the situation in Soviet Russia. He was followed by the Commissar of the Baltic Fleet, Kuzmin and by the chairman of the Kronstadt Soviet, the Communist Vasiliev. The audience listened to the speeches patiently although the dissatisfaction had reached highwater mark, particularly amongst the sailors as was evident from the resolution that had been adopted by various crews during the preceding days. Kalinin returned cheerfully to Petrograd while the meeting continued. After the official Communist speakers, workers and sailors addressed the meeting, men just returned from Petrograd who reported on the cruel suppression of the workers by armed force. That knocked the bottom out of the cask. The sailor Petritchenko – soon to become the recognised leader of Kronstadt and the “Third Revolution” – declared that the Bolsheviks were hiding the truth. He proposed the same resolution which on the 28 February had been carried by the crews of the battle ships Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol. This resolution which was adopted by the meeting amidst great enthusiasm thus became the accepted programme of revolutionary Kronstadt, and clearly reveals the nature of that movement. It demanded:
“1. Taking into consideration that the present Soviets do not express the will of the workers and peasants new elections to the Soviets should be carried through without delay by secret ballot; before the elections all workers and peasants must be free to carry on unhampered election propaganda.
2. Freedom of speech and press for workers and peasants, for the Anarchists and the Left Socialist Parties.
3. Freedom of meeting, and freedom for Trade Unions and Peasant Associations.
4. The calling of a non-party conference of the workers, redarmists and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt, and the Petrograd province.
5. Liberation of all political prisoners of Socialist parties as well as of all workers and peasants, redarmists and sailors who have been arrested in connection with labour or peasant unrest
6. Election of a commission to investigate the cases of all prisoners in prisons or concentration camps.
7. Abolition of the Political Departments since no party should have privileges in the propaganda of its ideas nor receive state funds for this purpose. Instead of these, cultural-educational committees elected in the localities should be established, the costs to be defrayed by the State.
8. Immediate recall of all “zagraditelnye otriady” (of all military detachments combatting trading in foodstuffs).
9. Equal rations (payok) for all toilers except those in unhealthy occupations.
10. Abolition of all Communist formations within military units as well as of all Communist guards in factories. Wherever such institutions are deemed necessary they should be chosen out of the particular military units or from the workers of the factory.
11. Recognition of the right of the peasants to decide upon the utilisation of their land as well as their right to keep livestock insofar as they are able to carry on their farms with their own labour, i.e. without exploiting hired labour.
12. Recognition of the right to carry on free handicraft workshops based on “personal labour.”
When the resolution had been carried it was resolved to call a delegate meeting for the following day.
On the 2 March 1921 this delegate meeting assembled. It was opened by Petritchenko and a presidium was elected. The re-election of the Kronstadt Soviet formed the main item on the agenda. It is remarkable that these Kronstadt sailors who were already practically involved in a rebellion were willing to allow the commissar of the Baltic fleet, Kuzmin, and the chairman of the Soviet, Vasiliev to speak first as the official representatives of the Communist Party. But the speeches of these two only added fuel to the fire. Kuzmin declared that the Communists would never give up voluntarily the power they had conquered, they would fight to the last man. The unexpected result of these speeches was a decision of the conference to arrest the two speakers on the spot. But those Communists who attended the conference as delegates were allowed to continue their work unhindered.
The die had been cast and things developed rapidly. A temporary revolutionary Committee was set up which took over power in the fortress that very evening. It based itself upon the ten to fourteen thousand sailors and redarmists of Kronstadt, its forts and the Baltic fleet frozen in here, as well as upon the local workers. This movement in its initial stage was the clear expression of the workers’ and peasants’ discontent widespread in the country. It is therefore natural that the Kronstadt rebels expected that the workers and peasants of large parts of the country, particularly of the two capitals would at once join them. Had it been possible for them to bring their demands and objects to the knowledge of the people – the Government would have been in a precarious position indeed. Having overthrown landlords and capitalists, defeated foreign intervention and native whiteguardists the people would no doubt still have found the strength to break the oppressive power of the “Communist usurpers” in a “Third Revolution.” Free elections to the Soviets, free disposal of the products of one own labour what peasant would have failed to support these demands! Free trade at home, freedom of meetings, free Trade Unions – that was just what the workers had expected to attain after their victory over the White enemies. The starvation, the fuel crisis, the breakdown of the transport system, the industrial chaos, the inflated inefficient bureaucracy, the arrests and persecution of the last months had irritated the people and brought the indignation of the masses to boiling point But the Government possessed the monopoly of the press and of public meeting; the radio technique was as yet insufficiently developed, a flood of official lies and slander against the “agents of the Entente in Kronstadt who are being led by tsarist generals” overflowed the country. Kronstadt radio calls remained unheard. The joy about the Kronstadt revolt expressed in the whiteguardist press abroad was of immense value to the Soviet Government. In an order issued by the Council of Labour and Defence signed by both. Lenin and Trotsky the Kronstadt movement was officially denounced as a “putsch of the one time tsarist general Kozlovsky” and as the work of the “French Spy service"! The same slanders which Stalin and his press kulis are to-day spreading about Trotsky the latter was then pouring out against the undoubtedly honest sailors of Kronstadt. Trotsky was the sowing the wind – now he is reaping the whirlwind.
During the first days of the Kronstadt revolt the “Petrograd Defence Committee” could not command sufficient reliable forces. if the Kronstadt rebellion had really been led by general Kozlovsky who together with the entire garrison of Kronstadt had gone over to the side of the “Third Revolution” – or had the rebels at any rate followed the general’s advice to make full use of their opponents’ temporary disadvantage and start an offensive, things might have taken quite a different turn. Had they advanced on Oranienbaum which they could have easily taken the Kronstadt rebels would have obtained an ice-breaker. This would have made it impossible for the detachments of the Red Army to conquer Kronstadt by a night advance over the ice camouflaged by white overalls. However, Kronstadt was another example of those passive revolutions, so frequent in history, which in spite of all their heroism never came out victorious. After fifteen days of heroic defence and after bloody street fighting on the 17 March 1921 the Kronstadt of the “Third Revolution” was conquered by the Red Army. Trotsky who hitherto had played the part of general Galifet against the Kronstadt Commune thereupon left it to Stalin’s favourite, the noble Dybenko to “pacify” the vanquished town.
While this struggle was going on, the Tenth Party Congress had assembled in Moscow. The Congress deliberated in a secret session on the Kronstadt events and sent three hundred of its delegates to Petrograd to be drafted into the forces fighting against Kronstadt in order to raise morale; these participated in the assault against the fortress.
In our circles there was of course great excitement. The Kronstadt insurrection was an event of first rate importance, and every Communist felt compelled before his own conscience to define his attitude. It was the first time since the October Revolution that the Government could not rely completely on all Communists. A member of the Petrograd-Defence Committee whom I met during the Party Congress told me that it was estimated that forty per cent of the Petrograd Communists sided with the Government, forty per cent with Kronstadt, and twenty per cent were neutral. In Moscow where we observed these developments from a greater distance many of us were more or less in sympathy with the Kronstadt sailors, these fighters for freely elected Soviets. The cruelty exercised in the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion by Trotsky, Zinoviev and Dybenko enraged us. We were particularly indignant about the imprisonment of the families of Kronstadt rebels in Petrograd who were kept as hostages for the safety of Communist prisoners in Kronstadt. However, in spite of all our sympathy with the demands of the Kronstadt sailors we could not shut our eyes to the grave danger that a movement of the people on a starving island was bound to become dependent on the support of anti-Soviet elements abroad who were sure to attempt to use them as a battering ram against the Revolution. From this point of view I considered the Kronstadt insurrection of well-meaning but naive people a very risky enterprise. Therefore, while I completely agreed with the demands of the Kronstadt sailors, and did not by any means regret the fact that such a rising did take place as a timely warning to our ruling clique, I none the less heaved a sigh of relief when the luckless enterprise of splendid revolutionaries who had my full sympathy came to an end before it could be dragged into the counter-revolutionary swamp by the entry of alien elements from outside. However, when one of the leaders of the Red Army who had “distinguished” himself in the struggle against Kronstadt was strutting about in Moscow with the Order of the Red Flag bestowed upon him for his part in the suppression of the rising I turned away in disgust.
In a Moscow Party meeting where the Kronstadt events were discussed Bukharin read to us a manifesto published illegally by the Social-Revolutionaries wherein it was stated that in the eventuality of the overthrow of the Soviet power a rescinding of the nationalisation of large-scale industry and of the land would be impossible. However, freedom of trading and for small workshops must be assured.
“Well,” Bukharin giggled cynically, “this programme we can carry through ourselves; meanwhile we will keep these gentlemen in prison.”
“Have you heard this:” I said to Irma, “that is Communist policy in a nutshell. After the bloody suppression of the Kronstadt sailors they will now proceed to carry through Kronstadt’s programme, but of course only the soup without the meat, without the free elections and without equal rights for all Left-Socialist parties; only Kronstadt’s economic demands! For of their dictatorial powers they won’t give up a particle!”
Lenin grasped this sign of the times. The Kronstadt rising, so quickly suppressed, became a turning point in the economic policy of the Soviet Government. The epoch of “War-Communism” was dead and buried – the “N.E.P.” the new economic policy entered in triumph.
The pressure hitherto choking the peasants snapped suddenly. Under the thunder of the guns of Kronstadt, scared by peasant unrest in the countryside-and by labour unrest in the towns, the Tenth Party Congress on Lenin’s initiative turned the wheel and decided to replace the hated “prodrazviorstka” – compulsory grain delivery – by a produce tax. When the peasant had paid his tax he was to be at liberty to dispose at will of the remainder of his agricultural produce:
1. The “prodrazviorstka” as a method of State providing of foodstuffs, raw materials and fodder is to be replaced by the produce tax.
2. This tax must be lower than the delivery hitherto demanded. The total amount of the tax shall be systematically lowered in the same degree as the reconstruction of transport and industry will enable the Soviet Government to obtain agricultural produce in the normal way, i.e., in exchange for industrial commodities. ...
5. The law introducing the produce tax shall be issued and published in time for the peasants to be informed before the beginning of their spring work as to the amounts that will be demanded of them.
8. All stocks of food, raw materials and fodder remaining to the peasants after their tax has been delivered are at their free disposal and may be used for the strengthening of their economy, the improvement of their own food, as well as for exchange against industrial commodities.
The law demanded by the Party Congress was promulgated. It was the first of a series of measures that radically changed the face of Russian economic life. The almost eliminated money returned and finally attained stabilisation in the “Tchervoniets.” State industry was reorganised in trusts and combines built up on commercial principles. Private shops were selling openly whatever was available in free trade, but also whatever was embezzled in State institutions or brought in by smugglers from abroad. The Trade Unions tried to replace compulsory by voluntary membership. Social changes of great importance were in the making.
But in the political sphere everything remained unchanged – the One-Party-State stood unshaken.