Arthur Ransome
Russia in 1919

Foreign Trade And Munitions Of War

February 25th.


I had a talk in the Metropole with Krasin, who is Commissar for Trade and Industry and also President of the Committee for Supplying the Needs of the Army. He had disapproved of the November [October] Revolution, but last year, when things looked like [they were] going badly, he came to Russia from Stockholm feeling that he could not do otherwise than help. He is an elderly man, an engineer, and very much of a European. We talked first of the Russian plans with regard to foreign trade. All foreign trade, he said, is now concentrated in the hands of the State, which is therefore able to deal as a single customer. I asked how that would apply to purchase, and whether they expected that countries dealing with them would organize committees through which the whole Russian trade of each such country should similarly pass. Krasin said, "Of course that would be preferable, but only in the case of socialist countries. As things are now it would be very much to our disadvantage. It is better for us to deal with individual capitalists than with a ring. The formation of a committee in England, for example, with a monopoly of trade with Russia, would have the effect of raising prices against us, since we could no longer go from a dear shop to a cheaper one. Besides, as socialists we naturally wish to do nothing to help in the trustification of English manufacturers."

He recognized that foreign trade on any large scale was impossible until their transport had been improved. Russia proposed to do her paying in raw material, in flax, timber, etc., in materials of which she had great quantities although she could not bring them to the ports until her transport should be restored. It would, therefore, be in the foreigner's own interests to help them in this matter. He added that they were confident that in the long run they could, without foreign help, so far restore their transport as to save themselves from starvation; but for a speedy return to normal conditions foreign help was essential.

The other question we touched was that of munitions. I expressed some surprise that they should be able to do so well although cut off from the west. Krasin said that as far as that was concerned they had ample munitions for a long fight. Heavy artillery is not much use for the kind of warfare waged in Russia; and as for light artillery, they were making and mending their own. They were not bothering with three-inch shells because they had found that the old regime had left scattered about Russia supplies of three-inch shells sufficient to last them several years. Dynamite also they had in enormous quantities. They were manufacturing gunpowder. The cartridge output had trebled since August when Krasin's committee was formed. He thought even as things were they could certainly fight for a year.


Chapter 20: The Proposed Delegation From Berne