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The New International, July 1942

Mary Casting

Books in Review

Moscow Correspondent


From New International, Vol. VIII No. 6, July 1942, pp. 187–189.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Moscow War Diary
by Alexander Werth
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, N.Y., 1942

Alexander Werth, for many years correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, went to Moscow as a reporter for Reuters Agency and was there from June to October 1941. The first part of the book is in the form of a diary and deals with the months of July, August and September, the decisive period of the great German offensive and the relatively rapid advances of the German army. The second part of the book gives a number of impressions of the front, naturally of that part of the front to which Werth was admitted. In conclusion, Werth develops his general point of view on the question of the war and the question of the future peace.

Werth is of Baltic German descent. His parents went to St. Petersburg from the Baltic region and there became fully Russianized. Werth does not mention this German origin, but since his name is German and his origin the Baltic region, one is fully justified in assuming his German descent. This is of interest only because Werth speaks of the Germans solely as Huns and develops a general “philosophy” on the hopelessly depraved character of the German people. He adheres to the expression Hun so persistently throughout the whole book that he even translates the Russian word “Njemtz” as Hun. This is a direct falsification, since “Njemtz” is the Russian word for German.

Werth’s family belongs to the cadet wing of the Russian bourgeoisie. His father was a factory director in the Don Basin and in the Urals. The family went to England at the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution. Werth reads and writes Russian and has maintained certain childhood memories of pre-Bolshevik Russia, even though these memories are vague and of a very limited character. This Russian origin and knowledge of the Russian language are in themselves great aids for an objective report. Most of the reporters who write on contemporary Russia do not understand a word of Russian. But Werth’s book demonstrates that one can understand the Russian language without in any way being less blind in traveling through Russia than those who do not understand a word of the language.

Some “Objective” Observations

The diary attempts to give “objective” observations made during the first three months of the war on the character of the Russian people and Russian “heroism.” It is surprising to note how Werth does not in any manner succeed in coming in contact with the Russian people or in achieving an insight into Russian life and thought. Werth’s life is Moscow in those decisive three months are entirely empty and meaningless. He reports extensively on almost every meal he ate, on the drinks, on the weather, on the conversations with his chauffeur and with his cook. His greatest source of information was Losovsky’s press conference, where the latter rebuffs questions with answers like “You are too curious, Mr. Werth,” or “We cannot answer that yet.” (Example: the question of the number of Poles interned in Russia.) During these months Werth visited the theater or the opera almost daily. He did this to kill time and to picture normal life in besieged Moscow. One reads many extensive reports and analyses of the theater and opera bills, and also the movies which Werth visited.

During his visit to the front, in the Vyasma sector, Werth, of course, saw the destruction wrought by the German advances. Here, too, his contact with the army limited itself to a number of empty conversations with officers. The reservation and taciturnity of Russians toward foreigners is so great and so systematic that Werth complains at length that Stalinism (he never uses the word but calls it the “new regime”) has created a uniformity of expression which has completely strangled the old powerful and picturesque language of the people. Despite these extraordinarily limited impressions, Werth comes to absolutely positive conclusions in reference to Russia, the Russian people, the Russian regime, the Russian army and the Russian war potential, etc.

Werth estimates the military and economic possibilities of Russia very favorably. He is completely convinced that the Russian government, under the leadership of Stalin, without anything further, will succeed in decisively defeating the Germans and with only one prerequisite, not too difficult to fulfill, that Russia receive enough weapons and munitions from England and America.

He notes all manifestations of Russian nationalism very carefully and voices with outspoken emphasis his complete agreement. The war must be won by Russia, by Stalin’s Russia, by the “new regime,” which is far removed from every kind of “socialism” and where the danger of a return to socialist ideas is fortunately no longer present.

Werth belongs to that widely prevalent species of liberal “anti-fascist” intellectuals who were opposed to the Russian Revolution when it had a proletarian and socialist character and who were won for the contemporary Russian regime as a result of Stalin’s counter-revolutionary politics.

The Author’s Analysis of the War

Werth carefully notes that one speaks of the “Second Fatherland” World War. But he is disturbed and dissatisfied when Voroshilov appeals to the workers of Leningrad for the defense of the city. “Why to the workers?” he asks, displeased, and not to all Russians. But he consoles himself, with justification, that it was probably only an accidental deviation in agitation. He is happy to find accusations against the Germans in the periodical, The Godless, on the grounds of their persecution of the Catholic and Protestant clergy. He makes careful comparisons between the 1931 edition of the Encyclopedia and the second purified edition of 1938, and reproachfully remarks that in the first edition The History of Moscow was essentially concerned with the history of the revolutionary events and only a half page given to the real history, i.e., the pre-revolutionary period. He reads and studies the “new History of the USSR,” which in contrast to Pokrowsky’s historical writings is obviously traditional, banal, and nationalistic. It respectfully appreciates the Czars, portrays the traitorous Dimitri as a Polish spy, etc.

Next to the Huns, Werth’s greatest enemy is “Trotskyism.” He underscores in various places the wise politics of Stalin in liquidating the Opposition. But Werth must have, somewhere are somehow, sensed the existence of oppositional currents or else a pious ejaculation like the following could not be explained:

“What would be fatal for the future peace of Europe would be any sort of return by Russia to international Trotskyism and any attempt to Trotskyize Germany. It would be a boomerang. In a few years Germany would go Nazi again and start another war. But I think the Russians are becoming increasingly aware of the real nature of the German problem.”

From this and other instances one becomes aware that the currents of discontent with the Stalin regime even make their way into the glass house in which Mr. Werth lived. He does not, nor does he dare to, give a report on these tendencies. In order to report them he introduces as his medium an obscure personality, a Portuguese or South American journalist who appears as the personification of the fifth column and tells his disruptive anecdotes. Thus this anonymous Portuguese tells among other things that great sections in the army and in the population are dissatisfied with Stalin and that there exists “much disappointment because the Germans had managed to invade Russian territory at all.”

A Europe Without America

Werth clings to the conviction of a Russian victory. He wants a Europe ruled by England and Russia. A Europe without Germany and with the exclusion of America. This anti-American, pro-European position is an interesting symptom of a definite and assuredly significant tendency in England. Werth clearly sums up his beliefs in his conclusion:

Russia, at the end of this war, will be a tired, devastated country. She will, more than ever, be concerned with rebuilding her towns and industries and creating real prosperity for the Russian people. It may take her twenty-five or thirty years before such prosperity is attained – prosperity greater than anything she has yet achieved. She will not be interested in world revolution; she hasn’t been for years. But she will want security...

In the West, there can be another security block based on England and resurrected France and closely cooperating with the Eastern block. After a long period of mental convalescence, perhaps Germany also will become a possible member of the European community ... and no one must be guided by the externals of Germany’s regime – whatever regime she may adopt. The Nazi poison lies so deep in the German soul that no “fall of Hitler” can be taken at its face value. It might be nothing more than a subterfuge, engineered by the equally more criminal German army leaders, and with full Nazi approval. Even the sudden establishment of a “Soviet Germany” or a “Democratic Germany” would be no reason for abandoning caution. It might only be a shrine for a subsequent revival of Hitlerism and a trick for avoiding retribution. The German communists can no more be trusted than the Weimar Republic to dean the German soul of cruelty and militarist greed ... Giving up flying is a small penalty which the German people must pay for the unparalleled catastrophe their criminal and adored leaders have brought on millions of fellow Europeans. With the rapproachment between Russia and Britain, Russia will, I am convinced, become increasingly democratic and European. In England we are steadily moving, in almost all directions, toward socialism in the wider sense of the word.

Mr. Morrison, Mr. Bevin. and Mr. Eden ... have given us a foretaste of the post-war Britain.

As for America, it is too early to assess her part in this war. It depends on the extent to which the Roosevelt spirit spreads, and lasts. If, after the war, America cooperates with Europe in every way then the next hundreds years may become the golden age of civilization, of the human race ... if not ... then Europe – that is, the bloc comprising the Western and Eastern federations of independent states – will have to carry on alone. But with Britain and Russia as the pillars of this new Europe, it can be done.

Werth’s book is a symptom of a crisis in the ranks of the English intellectuals. It is not a document on contemporary Russia, but rather a document of the prevalent confusing lie-propaganda which attempts to falsely portray Stalin as a liberal bourgeois nationalistic democrat and seeks to prepare with its anti-German line the future European counter-revolution. At the same time, however, it unconsciously reveals the internal weakness of the Stalin regime.

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