Russia in 1919
In the afternoon I got to the Executive Committee in time to hear the end of a report by Rykov on the economic position. He said there was hope for a satisfactory conclusion to the negotiations for the building of the Obi-Kotlas railway, and hoped that this would soon be followed by similar negotiations and by other concessions. He explained that they did not want capitalism in Russia but that they did want the things that capital could give them in exchange for what they could give capital. This was, of course, referring to the opposition criticism that the Soviet was prepared to sell Russia into the hands of the "Anglo-American Imperialistic bandits." Rykov said that the main condition of all concessions would be that they should not effect the international structure of the Soviet Republic and should not lead to the exploitation of the workmen. They wanted railways, locomotives, and machines, and their country was rich enough to pay for these things out of its natural resources without sensible loss to the state or the yielding of an inch in their programme of internal reconstruction.
He was followed by Krestinsky, who pointed out that whereas the commissariats were, in a sense, altered forms of the old ministries, links with the past, the Council of Public Economy, organizing the whole production and distribution of the country, building the new socialist state, was an entirely new organ and a link, not with the past, but with the future.
The two next speeches illustrated one of the main difficulties of the revolution. Krasin (see p. 153) criticized the council for insufficient confidence in the security of the revolution. He said they were still hampered by fears lest here or there capitalism should creep in again. They were unnecessarily afraid to make the fullest possible use of specialists of all kinds who had taken a leading part in industry under the old regime and who, now that the old regime, the old system, had been definitely broken, could be made to serve the new. He believed that unless the utmost use was made of the resources of the country in technical knowledge, etc., they could not hope to organize the maximum productivity which alone could save them from catastrophe.
The speaker who followed him, Glebov, defended precisely the opposite point of view and represented the same attitude with regard to the reorganization of industry as is held by many who object to Trotsky's use of officers of the old army in the reorganization of the new, believing that all who worked in high places under the old regime must be and remain enemies of the revolution, so that their employment is a definite source of danger. Glebov is a trade union representative, and his speech was a clear indication of the non-political undercurrent towards the left which may shake the Bolshevik position and will most certainly come into violent conflict with any definitely bourgeois government that may be brought in by counter-revolution.
In the resolution on the economic position which was finally passed unanimously, one point reads as follows: "It is necessary to strive for just economic relations with other countries in the form of state regulated exchange of goods and the bringing of the productive forces of other countries to the working out of the untouched natural resources of Soviet Russia." It is interesting to notice the curiously mixed character of the opposition. Some call for "a real socialism," which shall make no concessions whatsoever to foreign capital, others for the cessation of civil war and peace with the little governments which have obtained Allied support. In a single number of the Printers' Gazette, for example, there was a threat to appeal against the Bolsheviks to the delegation from Berne and an attack on Chicherin for being ready to make terms with the Entente.
The next business on the programme was the attitude to be adopted towards the repentant Social Revolutionaries of the Right. Kamenev made the best speech I have ever heard from him, for once in a way not letting himself be drawn into agitational digressions, but going point by point through what he had to say and saying it economically. The S.R.'s had had three watchwords: "War and alliance with the Allies," "Coalition with the bourgeoisie," and "The Constituent Assembly." For over a year they had waged open war with the Soviet Government over these three points. They had been defeated in the field. But they had suffered a far more serious moral defeat in having to confess that their very watchwords had been unsound. "War and Alliance with the Allies" had shown itself to mean the occupation of Russian territory by foreign troops in no way concerned to save the revolution, but ready, as they had shown, to help every force that was working for its suppression. "Coalition with the Bourgeoisie" had shown itself to be a path the natural ending to which was the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie through military force. "The Constituent Assembly" had been proved to be no more than a useful mask behind which the enemies of the revolution could prepare their forces and trick the masses to their own undoing.
He read the declaration of the Right Social Revolutionaries, admitting that the Soviet Government was the only force working against a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, and calling upon their troops to overthrow the usurping governments in Siberia, and elsewhere. This repentance, however, had come rather late and there were those who did not share it. He said finally that the Executive Committee must remember that it was not a party considering its relations with another party, but an organ of government considering the attitude of the country towards a party which in the most serious moment of Russian history had admittedly made grave mistakes and helped Russia's enemies. Now, in this difficult moment, every one who was sincerely ready to help the working masses of Russia in their struggle had the right to be given a place in the ranks of the fighters. The Social Revolutionaries should be allowed to prove in deeds the sincerity of their recantation. The resolution which was passed recapitulated the recantations, mentioned by name the members of the party with whom discussions had been carried on, withdrew the decision of June 14th (excluding the S.R.'s from the Executive Committee on the ground of their counter-revolutionary tendencies) with regard to all groups of the party which held themselves bound by the recently published declarations, gave them the right equally with other parties to share in the work of the Soviets, and notified the administrative and judicial organs of the Republic to free the arrested S.R.'s who shared the point of view expressed in the recantations. The resolution was passed without enthusiasm but without opposition.
There followed the reading by Avanesov of the decree concerning the Menshevik paper Vsegda Vpered ("Forever Forward," but usually described by critics of the Mensheviks as "Forever Backward"). The resolution pointed out that in spite of the Mensheviks having agreed on the need of supporting the Soviet Government they were actually carrying on an agitation, the effect of which could only be to weaken the army. An example was given of an article, "Stop the Civil War," in which they had pointed out that the war was costing a great deal, and that much of the food supplies went to the army. On these grounds they had demanded the cessation of the civil war. The Committee pointed out that the Mensheviks were making demagogic use of the difficulties of the food supply, due in part to the long isolation from the Ukraine, the Volga district and Siberia, for which those Mensheviks who had worked with the White Guard were themselves partly responsible. They pointed out that Russia was a camp besieged from all sides, that Kolchak had seized the important centre of Perm, that Petrograd was threatened from Finland, that in the streets of Rostov and Novo Tcherkassk gallows with the bodies of workmen were still standing, that Denikin was making a destructive raid in the northern Caucasus, that the Polish legionaries were working for the seizure of Vilna and the suppression of Lithuania and the White Russian proletariat, and that in the ports of the Black Sea the least civilized colonial troops of the Entente were supporting the White Guards. They pointed out that the Soviet Government had offered concessions in order to buy off the imperialistic countries and had received no reply. Taking all this into consideration the demand to end civil war amounted to a demand for the disarming of the working class and the poor peasantry in the face of bandits and executioners advancing from all sides. In a word, it was the worst form of state crime, namely, treason to a state of workers and peasants. The Committee considered useful every kind of practical criticism of the work of the Soviet Government in all departments, but it could not allow that in the rear of the Red Army of workers and peasants, under that army's protection, should be carried on unrestrained an agitation which could have only one result, the weakening of Soviet Russia in the face of its many enemies. Therefore Vsegda Vpered would be closed until the Mensheviks should show in deed that they were ready to stand to the defence and support of the revolution. At the same time, the Committee reminded the Mensheviks that a continuation of their counter-revolutionary work would force the Soviet Government "to expel them to the territories of Kolchak's democracy." This conclusion was greeted with laughter and applause, and with that the meeting ended.
Chapter 22: Commissariat Of Labour