Russia in 1919
I had a rather grim talk with Meshtcheriakov at dinner. He is an old Siberian exile, who visited England last summer. He is editing a monthly magazine in Moscow, mostly concerned with the problems of reconstrucition, and besides that doing a lot of educational work among the labouring classes. He is horrified at the economic position of the country. Isolation, he thinks, is forcing Russia backwards towards a primeval state.
"We simply cannot get things. For example, I am lecturing on Mathematics. I have more pupils than I can deal with. They are as greedy for knowledge as sponges for water, and I cannot get even the simplest text-books for them. I cannot even find in the second-hand book stores an old Course of Mathematics from which I could myself make a series of copies for them. I have to teach like a teacher of the middle ages. But, like him, I have pupils who want to learn."
"In another three years," said some one else at the table, "we shall be living in ruins. Houses in Moscow were always kept well warmed. Lack of transport has brought with it lack of fuel, and water-pipes have burst in thousands of houses. We cannot get what is needed to mend them. In the same way we cannot get paints for the walls, which are accordingly rotting. In another three years we shall have all the buildings of Moscow tumbling about our ears."
Some one else joined in with a laugh: "In ten years we shall be running about on all fours."
"And in twenty we shall begin sprouting tails."
Meshtcheriakov finished his soup and laid down his wooden spoon.
"There is another side to all these things," he said. "In Russia, even if the blockade lasts, we shall get things established again sooner than anywhere else, because we have all the raw materials in our own country. With us it is a question of transport only, and of transport within our own borders. In a few years, I am convinced, in spite of all that is working against us, Russia will be a better place to live in than anywhere else in Europe. But we have a bad time to go through. And not we alone. The effects of the war are scarcely visible as yet in the west, but they will become visible. Humanity has a period of torment before it . . . ."
"Bucharin says fifty years," I said, referring to my talk of yesterday.
"Maybe. I think less than that. But the revolution will be far worse for you nations of the west than it has been for us. In the west, if there is revolution, they will use artillery at once, and wipe out whole districts. The governing classes in the west are determined and organized in a way our home-grown capitalists never were. The Autocracy never allowed them to organize, so, when the Autocracy itself fell, our task was comparatively easy. There was nothing in the way. It will not be like that in Germany."
Chapter 10: An Evening At The Opera