From Fourth International, vol.6 No.6, June 1945, pp.177-181.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.
The rarest type of information concerning the USSR consists of interviews with Soviet citizens. Such an interview, however, was made possible in France when a 33 year old Soviet physician was freed last year among a group of Russian prisoners, with the aid of comrades of the Fourth International. This interview was published in June-July-August issue of Quatrième Internationale organ of the European Executive Committee of the Fourth International.
In publishing this interview, the editors of Quatrième Internationale made the following comment:
“Although some of the answers are obscure or quite unsatisfactory it is nonetheless interesting to learn just how the USSR and the Stalinist regime are judged by the young generation of Soviet citizens who are capable of arriving at a judgment, despite the oppressive atmosphere of the bureaucratic regime and the absence of political life – and consequently the absence of adequate political education.”
* * *
Question: a) What bodies of the Russian Communist Party did you belong to? b) What role did you play in them? c) Why and how did you leave the Party?
Answer: a) I followed the normal course of all Soviet youth, joining the Octobrists, then the Pioneers and next the Komsomol (Russian Young Communist League). I was a member of the Russian Communist Party for only a short time. I managed to leave it in the beginning of 1934 without being expelled, by attending meetings less and less frequently. My motivation for dropping out was the change in Party policy which no longer corresponded to personal views.
b) In the Party I was assigned to the Young Communist League where I functioned as secretary of a factory unit.
c) I was opposed to the policy of exportation (in the period of “dumping”). In my opinion it was necessary first to satisfy the needs of the Russian people. The Party acted to thwart the most elementary material aspirations of the Russian proletariat. I was likewise opposed to the regime of violence in furthering the development of the collective farms. Finally, the increased taxation was likewise contrary to my convictions. In conclusion, the bureaucracy, unable to realize a harmonious development of Soviet economic life, ignored the needs of the Russian working class and employed mechanical measures in order to maintain the system within the framework of formalistic collectivism.
Q. – What were the principal problems of Soviet domestic policy in the solution of which you took part?
A. – Let me say first of all that in the USSR there is no discussion of political problems. One has to be content with accepting decisions handed down from the top. In 1935 I took part in the Party purge of the Trotskyist elements. The only problems that could be discussed were those of an economic character – construction and organization of the country, technical improvements to be introduced in industry.
Q. – Did you participate in information meetings on the international political situation? What were, in your opinion, the relations at the time between the socialist construction in the USSR and the world proletarian revolution?
A. – I took part in the regular information meetings on the politics of the bourgeois world, what they meant, the possibility of triumphing over them in the course of the war, and of achieving ultimately, through the war, the world-wide extension of the revolution. In my opinion, the problem of socialist construction in the USSR is bound up with the world proletarian revolution.
Q. – How do you explain the initial defeats (Bialystok and Minsk)? If there were betrayals (Pavlov), how do you explain them?
A. – The explanation for the initial defeats of the Red Army is to be found in the demoralization among the troops owing to the material hardships of life in the Soviet Union before the war. Taking advantage of that demoralization, German propaganda was able to make inroads into the Russian army; German propagandists conducted their agitation in its ranks. Pavlov and others betrayed because they took the first opportunity to show that they never had any ideological bonds with the regime.
The coordination and discipline between various elements in the army were very poor; there was lack of understanding of the new German tactics and the attack came as a surprise. There was the betrayal of many army generals who for 25 years did nothing except supervise parades and who were not inclined to risk their lives. There was ignorance in handling new weapons recently produced. The army did not know how to fight. There was no systematic organization of the guerrillas and the armed forces assigned to the defense of cities remained on purely defensive positions.
The prevalent mood might be formulated as follows: the Russian soldier lacked the enthusiasm to defend the Stalinist structure.
Q. – How was the military reorganization of the USSR accomplished? What are the reasons for it? What part did civilian resistance and the guerrillas play in this reorganization? What role did the workers’ battalions play in the war (Leningrad, Rostov)?
A. – The defense army was in the meantime put in action. The command was changed and discipline restored. Liaison between the different armies was assured. At the same time the work of the guerrillas became more effective. Nazi atrocities periodically. To prevent new wars against the USSR it is necessary to overthrow perpetrated against Russian prisoners became known through the soldiers who escaped, and this stimulated the energies, hence the hatred of fascism.
The guerrilla detachments were primarily composed of old Bolsheviks. At Leningrad the workers’ battalions played a great role in the defense of the city. Frequently heard was the cry: “We’ll prevent the fascists from taking Lenin’s city!”
Q. – In your opinion, how should the war end? What kind of peace can be concluded between the Soviet Union and the capitalist countries? How can new wars against the USSR be prevented – by the international revolution or by agreements with the imperialists?
A. – So long as capitalism survives, new wars are bound to recur capitalism; it must be the last victim of the war.
The imperialist war has to be terminated in the revolution. Otherwise the USSR will have to conclude peace with the capitalist countries. To safeguard itself, the USSR must rely on the world proletariat.
Q. – What do you think of the Red Army from the standpoint of its social composition, the relation between the soldiers and the officers, the technical quality of the command? What do you think of the strategy of the Red Army commanders and their strategic and material preparations? What is the Red soldier fighting for? (Compare with Jules Remains’ descriptions of Verdun.) Is the Red Army a formation of the international proletariat, the army of the Third International as Lenin called it, or is it the army of the Russian people?
A. – The Red Army is an international Army because of the diverse national elements of which it is composed. In training and field maneuvers excellent results were obtained. But the first Finnish campaign demonstrated that the army had not yet reached the level of technological development and discipline one could have expected. An estimate of strategy can be made only in time of action. The Red Army showed itself strategically inept at the beginning of the war with Germany. The German war gave it the experience it lacked and which it possesses today. The Russian soldier is fighting today to vindicate and preserve his right to live. Nazism has very clearly showed him its oppressive goals. Since then the only goal of the Russian soldier has been to destroy fascism.
Comradely relations exist between officers and soldiers, for they both come from the proletarian milieu. The officers eat separately; their food is better than that of the soldiers. The troops consider this normal. However, in 1933, inadequate rations on warships at Leningrad gave rise to protest movements among the soldiers. Similar actions likewise occurred during the war.
Officers are given assignments after a period of training in a military school. However, after the betrayal of the generals in September 1941, the People’s Commissariats of Defense decreed that an officer who did not place himself in the forefront during battle would be broken and the soldiers would select a substitute from their ranks in whom they had the greatest confidence.
Bourgeois type of discipline was instituted several years before the war. But in reality these regulations were not observed and soldiers saluted officers only when they wanted to. Not until 1940, under Timoshenko, did the officers enforce the salute. Classes were organized to teach the troops to salute. In general it can be said that the Red Army has reverted to bourgeois norms in matters of discipline and in relations between officers and soldiers. In my opinion this purely formal discipline is useless and undermines the soldier’s morale.
Q. – Some Russian soldiers say that this war between the USSR and Germany is not political in character and that when attacked you have to defend yourself. What do you think of this interpretation? What are the reasons for wars in general and in particular why will there always be wars against the USSR so long as the capitalist environment remains? From this point of view, how can the war threat to the USSR be averted?
A. – All wars are political and economic in character. War is the continuation of politics. In order to defend the USSR, capitalism must be abolished.
Q. – What do you know about fascist atrocities in the USSR and elsewhere? Do you know that the German fascists began by employing their barbaric methods against the German people? Do you think it is possible to fight against fascism without fighting together with the international proletariat against capitalism? Don’t you think that fascism exists because the revolution has failed to keep pace with the maturity of the objective situation?
A. – The cruelty of the Germans manifested itself in different ways in different areas: corpses were hung on telephone poles, prisoners were used as targets during maneuvers. My own memories are too grim to recall.
I am not acquainted with the attitude of the German fascists toward the proletariat, but it is natural for the bourgeoisie to deal even more savagely with the revolutionary proletariat of its own country than with prisoners of war. I think that fascism exists because of the delay of the revolution. Since Russia is menaced by world capitalism, it is necessary to fight against capitalism together with the international proletariat.
Q. – What in your opinion, is the difference between Soviet economy and capitalist economy? Is Soviet economy already fully socialist or communist? Are the workers masters of production? Does planning take place according to the two great essential needs of the workers’ state: a) the world revolution; b) broad mass consumption? What do you think of the big American and English capitalists lending money to the Soviet Union, supplying it with war materiel and poking their fingers into the affairs of the workers’ state? What will be the consequences of this situation in the postwar period? Will the USSR be able to resist the pressure of international capitalism without a revolution abroad?
A. – Under the capitalist regime the economy is in the hands of individuals or groups of individuals, whereas Soviet economy is at the disposal of the country. Soviet economy is tending toward a general collectivization of the economic budget, one part of which is allotted to the needs of the government, and another to the construction of public enterprises and the payment of functionaries.
The economy in the USSR is socialist and not communist. It will become communist when the entire production is organized for the purpose of satisfying the needs of the proletariat. At present we are still in the period of construction. A part of the wealth is therefore diverted for the purpose of this construction. Another part is devoured by the bureaucracy, thus diminishing the share of the proletariat.
The scarcity of necessities gives rise to a struggle for self-preservation; everyone fights to increase his personal share. The bureaucracy exploits this situation for its own aggrandisement. It exercises control over the work of the proletariat and generally over the production of the country.
At present, under the socialist regime, wages are based on individual output. Under the communist regime, wages must depend on the needs of the individual. At that stage, the masses will have reached such a high degree of consciousness that work will become a necessity like food.
It is impossible to build socialism in one country. The workers should be the masters of production. Actually they are masters only of their own labor. In order to reach a higher form, an alliance is necessary with the struggle of the world proletariat, included in this struggle is the fight against the bureaucracy.
I lack the technical knowledge to speak concretely of planning. As for the relations with the Anglo-Americans, their alliance with the Russians is based only on their momentary common interest: the defeat of Germany.
The interests of the USSR lie on the side of the world revolution which will free it from the possible domination by the Anglo-Saxons.
Q. – What do you know about the NEP and collectivization? What do you know about the growth of the bureaucracy, denounced by Lenin as far back as 1922? What is the importance of the bureaucracy in Soviet economic and political life? What are the relations between the bureaucracy and the Russian proletariat? Betweenthe bureaucracy and international capitalism? Do you know how Stalin came to power? Do you know that Stalin would not have come to power without the aid of Zinoviev and Kamenev; and that he could not have maintained himself in power without the aid of Radek and Bukharin? Do you know that Stalin came to power, ousted Trotsky and expelled the entire Bolshevik Old Guard from the leadership and later from the Party – and all this at the time of the NEP when the bourgeoisie (kulaks) were growing internally, and under the pressure of world imperialism?
A. – The NEP was introduced in the period of famine and shortage of technical equipment. Indispensable productive foundations had to be created before the socialist construction of the country could be undertaken. Private trade existed especially in the cities. The NEP became unnecessary when the government had adequate financial and economic resources at its disposal.
The kolkhozes (collective farms) were imposed almost exclusively by force, according to plans laid down by members of the Party. These methods were employed because of lack of time. It would obviously have been better to establish model kolkhozes in order to peaceably demonstrate to the peasantry the superiority of this collective organization over private exploitation. The dissolution of the sovkhozes (State farms) and the swing back to the system of kolkhozes, observable in the years before the war, show the inability of the bureaucracy to attain a superior form of collectivization in the countryside. Demoralized by the policy of the bureaucracy, the agricultural worker took no pains with the quality of his work.
The bureaucracy was formed by those who held posts in the organization of the country. The bureaucracy detached itself from the proletariat toward the end of the war in 1923. At present it holds all the leading positions. In my opinion the bureaucracy is an unavoidable form for the control of the financial and productive forces of the country. The bureaucracy rests on the proletariat, and the Party rests on the bureaucracy.
The proletariat considers the bureaucracy a sad necessity. There is no essential difference between Soviet and bourgeois bureaucracy. As for the relation between the bureaucracy and the proletariat, one can say that each goes its own way and each defends its own interests.
With regard to the methods whereby power was concentrated in Stalin’s hands, I have no special information.
It was said of Trotsky that he was an opportunist, that he was against the policy of Stalin and Lenin, that he entered into relations with fascism and that he had been expelled from the Party for these reasons.
Stalin’s rise to the leadership of the Communist party shifted the political role of the Party in favor of the bureaucracy, which would not have happened had the revolution triumphed.
Q. – What do you know of the history of the Russian Revolution; the role of Lenin and Trotsky; the internationalist perspectives which were undisputed and followed at the time even by Stalin? What do you know about the Moscow trials? How do you explain that the entire Bolshevik Old Guard – with the exception of Stalin and Molotov – allegedly betrayed the Revolution to which they had devoted their lives? Are the books Zinoviev wrote in collaboration with Lenin, and the books of Bukharin, Pyatakov, Rykov, Preobrazhensky, etc., still known in the Soviet Union? What do they say about Trotsky and what did you think of him before coming here? Do you know how he died? Do you know that he was one of the principal political leaders during the Revolution, the organizer and leader of the November 7 insurrection and the founder of the Red Army? Are you acquainted with his political and military works?
A. – It seemed strange to me that all the leaders should have betrayed the Revolution, but I was too busy to formulate this clearly in my mind. I felt uneasy and had moments of doubt. Many shared my position but couldn’t express it and all they could do was keep it to themselves.
Trotsky’s old sympathizers and all those up to the age of 63 who in the past had any contact at all with him were sent to concentration camps.
Most of the decisive elements of internal policy escaped my attention, as was the case with almost all the citizens of the USSR. In my opinion, faced with a proletariat groping confusedly for the reasons behind their unsatisfactory material conditions, the Party, unable to satisfy their needs, switched the discontent from itself to the “Trotsky opportunists.”
Concerning Lenin and Trotsky I know they were the architects and leaders of the proletarian revolution. I have no precise recollection of the points on which they may have disagreed, not being sufficiently politically conscious at the time (1932-1933). In my estimation, Stalin came third. At that time the world revolution was the policy of the Party.
Concerning the Moscow Trials, everybody was surprised to learn that all the old leading spirits of the Bolshevik Party were traitors. It was impossible for those who had any doubts to arrive at any clear opinion. The presence of the Old Bolsheviks stood in the way of the Party bureaucracy’s shift to a new policy – the Constitution of 1935, Stakhanovism, the introduction of new bourgeois forms into the army, and so on. Hence the political necessity of the Moscow Trials.
I explain the death of Kirov and Tukhachevsky, the death of Orlov and Gorki as follows: these leaders were very popular and the Stalinist leaders couldn’t possibly accuse them of Trotskyism. Stalin had them killed in order to shield his policy. The writings you mention in your question are not read today in the USSR. When the authors were condemned, their books were withdrawn from circulation. Even the texts of Lenin seem to have been mutilated or falsified. Nonetheless they are surely to be found in university libraries and in the libraries of the scientific institutes.
On the whole, Trotsky is hardly a subject of interest in the USSR since he left it. He is no longer considered to have been the principal organizer of the Red Army. Trotsky is given no credit for any achievement of his own in Russia. Of course no one knows the books he has published since his departure from Russia. The “New Course” is unknown to me.
Q. – What are the differences and relations between scientific progress in the USSR and in capitalist countries? Are you familiar with Soviet literature (Mayakovsky, Yessenin)? Have you read the books of Pilniak or Sholokhov? Have you read And Quiet Flows the Don, and Waste Lands, and what do you think of these descriptions of the civil war and collectivization? Are there any Russian writers who made a deep impression on you? What do you know of foreign literature (Remain Rolland, Gide, Malraux, Heinrich Mann, and so on)?
A. – Under the capitalist regime it must be impossible for the proletarian strata to get an education. These difficulties did not exist in the USSR. Not only are schools free, but students are also entitled to scholarships in order to assure their livelihood. But in the beginning of 1941, a new law introduced tuitions into the schools (200 rubles a month starting with the eighth grade) except for very good students. Many students had to leave the universities en masse. There were big protests. This law was annulled for the duration of the war. I am familiar with some of the works of the Soviet authors whom you mention. I have read And Quiet Flows the Don, and I have seen it in the movies. I was very fond of writers who wrote about the civil war. I love Dostoevsky. I know Jean Cristophe by Romain Roland. Gide and Heinrich Mann are only names to me. I never heard of Malraux, but I have read some of Molière’s plays. I also know Balzac and Dumas.
Q. – With respect to the big wage differentials in the USSR, do you know that this is proof that socialism isn’t achieved, inasmuch as the distribution of wealth still proceeds in accordance with bourgeois norms? What is the strength of the bureaucracy? The woman question; what do you think of the law against abortions?
A. – Socialism does not prevent work from being paid in accordance with the respective skills. Communism implies that men are recompensed not according to their abilities but according to their needs. Therefore the regime in the USSR is socialist and not communist.
To illustrate here are some average wages in different professions:
200 to 300 rubles a month
300 to 600 rubles a month
350 rubles a month
180 rubles a month plus tips
120 to 150 rubles a month
350 rubles a month on the average
300 rubles a month and more
200 to 300 rubles a month a month
Professors of Medicine
3,000 rubles a month and more
The prohibition of abortions resulted in aggravating the material hardships and increasing the number of children. In addition, the growth of secret abortions led to higher mortality rates. A physician who performs an abortion loses his right to practice.
There has been a constant increase in the population since the Revolution. Each year Russia gives birth to a Finland. Heads of families receive no supplementary wages. Families of more than 7 children get 2,000 rubles a year. For each birth there is a bonus of 90 rubles.
Q. – Isn’t it your impression that there is no real political or profound intellectual life in the Soviet Union? Do you know that the Fourth International demands freedom for all Soviet parties (those who accept Soviet democracy as their basis)? What is your opinion of this measure? Don’t you think that this is the only way to undermine the power of the bureaucracy? For us, the proletarians of capitalist countries, socialism signifies above all freedom. What do you think of the 1935 Constitution? Did you take part in the functioning of Soviet bodies (factory councils and so on)? What did you think and what was your reaction to the news that Soviets had been suppressed in favor of universal suffrage of the bourgeois type?
A. – There is no political life in the general sense of word, nor any intellectual life in the USSR. Scientific life has more favorable conditions for expansion, provided it does not trespass on the political domain. If everyone spoke out what is in his mind, there wouldn’t be room enough in all the prisons. The day-to-day hardships tend to switch life to purely material preoccupations.
The restoration of Soviet parties in Russia is one of the fundamental planks for the country’s return to political liberty. It is one of the foundations for the struggle against the bureaucracy.
The 1935 Constitution serves as a screen for the political aims of Stalin. It is primarily the bureaucracy that profits from the constitutional legality. The urban proletariat accepted the law formulated by the government, without having any possibility of criticism except in the details of each article. The only candidates were those officially designated.
Q. – What do you know about Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht? Do you know that they were the forerunners of the Communist International in Germany? Do you know how they died? What do you know about the German revolution of 1919 and the role of Kautsky? What do you know concerning the defeat of the German proletariat in 1923? How could Hitler have come to power in a country which according to Lenin was the closest to communism in 1919, if not thanks to the false policy of the revolutionary leaders? To whom do you attribute this false policy? In your opinion, why do the Germans continue to fight? Don’t you think that the failure of the Germans to put an end to the war by ridding themselves of Hitler is due to the fact that they have no perspective of salvation? And don’t you think that Stalin’s policy, which consists in ignoring the German proletariat and its revolutionary aspirations, is the chief explanation for the continued existence of the Nazi regime? What should be done with the Germans? Shouldn’t they be immediately summoned to join us in a common fight for socialism and to put an end to the war? Do you know that in Moscow there is a “Free Germany Committee”, sponsored by Stalin and composed almost exclusively of bourgeois reactionaries, including a number of generals (von Seidlitz) and SS commanders, together with the notorious von Paulus, the “defender” of Stalingrad? What is your opinion of such a committee? Do you think it can be of service to the revolution, or is the contrary true?
A. – Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht are for me two fighters of the world proletariat. They were killed by the Social Democrats.
I have heard of Kautsky, but no longer recall anything except his name.
In my opinion the revolution in Germany was killed by the lackeys of the bourgeoisie. I know nothing about the defeat of the German proletariat in 1923. In Russia the entire proletariat was ready to conquer or die.
The proletariat must be conscious of its struggle. It seems to me that in Germany it was the political unpreparedness of the proletariat that made fascism possible. The proletariat was not sufficiently organized. The German soldier fights on because he still believes it is possible to resume the offensive. Lack of propaganda in the German army impels the soldier to continue fighting against his own wishes. Hitler believed in victory because his espionage organizations depicted the Russian proletariat as demoralized.
Stalin’s aims are not the aims of the German proletariat. To fight the German army, it is necessary to follow two lines of procedure: fight to the death at the time of defense, conduct political propaganda at the time of offense. The “Free Germany Committee” created by Stalin fights against fascism and not for the revolutionary proletariat.
Q. – What do you know about China, the Canton insurrection, the Shanghai events and the alliance with Chiang Kai-shek? Are you acquainted with the fact that it was the communist leadership that prevented the agrarian revolution, and forced the small peasants to return the land to the big feudal landlords? Do you think that the communist revolution must be made in China or is it merely an unimportant diplomatic question for you? (Is it a matter that concerns only the bureaucracy or something vital to all communists and all the exploited?)
A. – I have heard of the Chinese Red Army which had contact with the Soviet government, from whom it received assistance; and that a school for officers and leaders existed in Russia. This army has entered the army of Chiang Kai-shek in order to fight against Japan. The communist revolution in China must be the concern of all the communists. It is true that the Stalinist attitude has been only one of self-preservation.
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Last updated on 12.9.2008