Mr. Willkie and
Comrade Muratov

A Lesson in Democracy

(April 1943)

From The New International, Vol. IX No. 4, April 1943, pp. 102–103.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In the beginning there was Walter Duranty. He acquired a certain notoriety and a not uncomfortable living by reiterating for twenty years that everything abhorrent represented by the Stalinist counter-revolution would be intolerable for civilized English gentlemen, and perhaps even for Americans, but for the stupid Russian it was all right, maybe even too good. He conceals very little of the abominations of the Kremlin regime; he even insists upon them; and with the aid of his outlook he succeeds in thrilling the whisky-and-soda crowd in London and the cocktail friends-of-the-Soviet-Union on Park Avenue and Malibu Beach with simultaneous feelings of superiority and of “understanding of Russia.”

Then came Ambassador Davies, who found that Stalinism is after all not too far removed from Christianity, that the regime is not suitable for “the civilization we know,” but that inasmuch as “the Russia of Lenin and Trotsky – the Russia of the Bolshevik Revolution – no longer exists,” the Roosevelt policy of an alliance with Moscow in defense of American imperialism is indicated, justified, unexceptionable.

More recently, Mr. Wendell Willkie has come forward as an interpreter and friend of the “Russian experiment.” Every effort to prod the memory, assisted by minute examination of old newspaper files, has thus far failed to reveal any friendliness by Mr. Willkie toward what Mr. Davies adequately called “the Russia of Lenin and Trotsky – the Russia of the Bolshevik Revolution.” Like ninety-nine per cent of the other “friends of Russia” today, Mr. Willkie adopted an amicable attitude toward the country only after the workers’ power had been completely and sanguinarily extirpated by the Stalinist counter-revolution. It is quite understandable.

In the Reader’s Digest (March 1943), Mr. Willkie writes about what he calls “one of the most effective societies of modern times” under the title of Life on the Russian Frontier. It is the story of the Siberian territory of Yakutsk, as he found it during a brief stop-off on his aerial way through Russia, and the story is not without interest.

During the time of the Czars, Yakutsk was famous for tuberculosis, furs and syphilis. Convicts and political prisoners, including Alexander Pushkin, were exiled there. Many who endured its bitter life wrote of Yakutsk as “the people’s prison.”

All that is changed, however. Not, mind you, that Mr. Willkie was not apprehensive about what he would find upon landing. “Between the airfield and the town we looked for the usual concentration camp we had seen in some other cities – heavy barbed-wire fences, with sentry boxes at the corners. But there was none in Yakutsk, or at least we never came across it.” Either the camp is not one of Yakutsk’s outstanding show-places, or else his cicerone had other things to boast about. The illustrious guest was met at the airfield and thereafter guided around by the first citizen of the Republic, Comrade Muratov, President of the Council of People’s Commissars of Yakutsk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.

“You are not going on today, Mr. Willkie,” he replied, “nor probably tomorrow. The weather reports are not good and it is part of my instructions to assure your safe arrival at your next stop. Otherwise I shall be liquidated.”

If there is one thing that Comrade Muratov (and all his peers) is warmly concerned with, it is to avoid liquidation, which is a Russian word that now means not being dissolved in water but being sent up in smoke. On that delicate point. Comrade Muratov is not an ignoramus. Mr. Willkie gives us his very interesting biography, complete at least to the time of going to press.

... he had been picked from a machine shop in Stalingrad for special schooling because he was bright. He had worked and studied his way through school, through the university and through the Institute of Red Professors, Moscow’s leading graduate school in the social sciences. Two years ago he had been sent out to head the Council of People’s Commissars of Yakutsk.

What a success-story! And how utterly simple! What an unexpected blessing for the Yakuts! In his day, Lenin had to be elected head of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic. Alfred E. Smith had to be elected Governor of the State of New York, and Franklin D. Roosevelt had to go through the same involved, annoying process to be elected to the same post and later to the Presidency of the United States. The very same Mr. Willkie, in his effort to succeed Mr. Roosevelt, had to go through an election. How much simpler – and more gratifying – it would have been if there had been some All-seeing, All-knowing and All-providing Power to arrange that Mr. Willkie, for example, be “sent out to head” the Office of the Executive of the United States! Comrade Muratov is far and away better off than Mr. Willkie. “He had been sent out to head the Council of People’s Commissars of Yakutsk.” Mr. Willkie has told us, if we didn’t know already, what Yakutsk was under the Czars. In those dread and – thank God! – long past days, the Autocrat of All the Russias had and exercised the power to “send out” General-Gubernators to rule the provinces and territories of his empire. But – again, thank God! – that is all changed in this “one of the most effective societies of modern times.” Nowadays, He Who Is Sent is no longer called General-Gubernator. That says everything. As for They Who Receive Him Who Is Sent, they had better say nothing. For they know what happened, among others, to Comrade Muratov’s predecessors who “had been sent out to head the Council.”

Muratov did not tour Mr. Willkie through the cemetery which houses the remains of his predecessors and all other Wrong-Thinkers, because he is undoubtedly a comrade of tact and delicacy. But he did show him as good a time as he could. “The food served us was Siberian,” continues our Gulliver,

– a whole roast pig on the table, sausages, eggs, cheese, soup, chicken, veal, tomatoes pickles, wine and a vodka concentrate so strong that even Russians poured water into it. Each meal was as big as the one that preceded. There was vodka even at breakfast and steaming tea all day long. It is a cold country. Though I do not imagine the people outside our hotel ate as well as we did, they apparently ate plenty.

Plenty of what? Of Marie Antoinette’s cake, no doubt. More tangible edibles do not exist for the masses of the people who, especially now, are always on the verge of starvation. But if the Muratovs do not show much concern over what the people eat, or how they live, do not think that their attitude extends to that particular section of the “people” who constitute the bureaucracy.

I saw a good deal of Muratov for a couple of days. He was a man who would do well in any country; in his own country he was doing somewhat more than well. His way of doing things, like the Soviet way all over Siberia, was rough and tough and often cruel and sometimes mistaken. His comment would be: “But it gets results.”

Splendid! These four words should be inscribed as the generic motto on the shields of all bureaucracies, particularly of those who pretend to represent the workers, the masses of the people. Do oppression and exploitation “rough and tough and often cruel” get results? Of course they do! For whom? Why, for the oppressors and exploiters, for the Muratovs and Those Who Send the Muratovs. Example? Here it is, a “small” one:

“Have you a theater?” I asked Muratov.

He had, and went went to it later in the evening. He told me the performance began at nine o’clock. After dinner we drank vodka and talked, and I suddenly realized that it was after nine.

“What time did you say the show started?” I asked him.

“Mr. Willkie,” he answered, “the show starts when I get there.”

“And so it did. We walked into our box a half hour later, sat down, and up went the curtain.

To Mr. Willkie’s description of Russia as “one of the most effective societies of modern times,” every Muratov in the country would most emphatically and enthusiastically echo, “Absolutely!” But there is also no doubt that all the viceroys and satraps of the Czar would have been just as emphatic and enthusiastic in their day. They, too, were Sent Out. And although the curtain of the provincial opera house may not have waited to go up until they arrived, they glorified reflectively in the fact that in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the curtain did wait until the Imperial Family took its place.

At bottom, however, the old Czar was a naive and honest murderer. He would have been offended if you called his régime a “workers’ state” or a “socialist society,” or anything less than the autocracy that it was. As for himself, he proudly and honestly called himself the Autocrat of All the Russias.

Our Wisconsin and Indiana democrats, however, are so deliriously delighted at the “effective” way in which Lenin and Trotsky, the revolutionary socialists, and socialism, have been “liquidated,” that the new Czar of All the Russias and his new slavery appear to them as a new freedom – not, the Almighty forbid! for Wisconsin or Indiana, but good enough for Russians ...

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