Since the first Five Year Plan was begun in 1928, the social and political structure of the Soviet Union has undergone radical changes.
In that year the Soviet Union was essentially a socialist state, even though petty bourgeois methods of production predominated. Despite manifestations of bureaucratic degeneration, the dictatorship of the proletariat found in Soviet democracy a suitable means to serve as a bond between the peasants and the working classes under the leadership of the industrial proletariat. The surplus state products were distributed among working Soviet citizens on a system that approximated mainly to the socialist principle of ‘To each according to his needs.’ The monopoly of education formerly enjoyed by bourgeois society was abolished, while the education monopoly of a new privileged class had not yet come into existence, so that the general social order had a tendency to approximate to the second basic principle of socialism: ‘From each according to his means.’ The maximum salary limitation imposed on Party members (circumvented only by a small group of Party officials who contrived to draw a second salary) prevented the leading men of the Party and government from losing social, cultural and economic touch with the masses.
The deliberate trend of the Soviet Union’s foreign policy was internationalist, even though a series of disastrous blunders and its aimless zigzag course tended to weaken and disorganize rather than strengthen the revolutionary movement. The internationalist nature of this foreign policy was also manifested in the fact that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Comintern worked in their own way (or rather, in their own blundering way) for the revolutionizing of the German workers and the overthrow of the German ruling classes, even though the diplomatic relations between the two countries were as friendly as possible and the leitmotif of the Soviet Union’s foreign policy was still ‘war against the Versailles system.’
1928 saw the beginnings of over-hasty industrial developments together with an official deathblow to the private enterprise in trade and industry which formed an important connecting link between the towns and the dwellers on the plains. The peasants then began to murmur, because these measures struck hardest at the light industries which supplied them with articles of everyday use.
They objected to exchanging their agricultural produce for paper roubles which could purchase neither tools, clothing, nor industrial goods, and their protest took the form of an attempt by the villages to starve the towns out. The Central Committee, which took its orders from Stalin, replied by decreeing the immediate collectivization of 40 per cent of all farms.
Stalin imagined that the centralized control of 40 per cent of all agricultural production would give the proletarian state sufficient foodstuffs to feed the towns and the army, and so enable it to impose its will on the remaining 60 per cent represented by 10,000,000 scattered one-family farms. But naturally the effect was just the reverse, for this collectivization was fettered by rigid dates and percentage standards and carried out without any ideological or technical preparation. It was, in fact, carried out “by means of the knout and extinguished lights,” as Trotsky expressed it. The consequence was that the peasants slaughtered a large part of their livestock rather than hand it over to the Kolkhozi, while a considerable number of animals perished miserably on the collective farms, which then lacked the means for agricultural operations on a large scale. In order to circumvent the state’s compulsory levies on produce, the peasants began to sow only as much as they required for their own personal needs.
The results of this policy were not long in making themselves manifest. The scourge of famine smote in the year 1931; in 1932 it reached its climax, and the masses of the Soviet Union found no relief until the spring of 1933.
The greatest suffering was felt in the areas where peasants who for centuries had farmed their own land in their own traditional ways waged the bitterest war on the State’s compulsory measures. These were the Ukraine, the ‘black earth’ area of Central Russia, Siberia and the ‘bread-rich’ steppes of the northern Caucasus.
From the very beginning the fight in the Ukraine was imbued with strong nationalist tendencies, associated with a trend towards an autonomy movement that aimed at an independent Soviet Ukraine within the general. state framework of the U.S..S.R. One of the principal supporters of these efforts was Skripnik, the old Ukrainian Communist and People’s Commissar for Education, and member of the Politburo of the Ukrainian Bolshevist Party. In 1933 he shot himself in order to avoid arrest.
The effect on the Red Army was disastrous. In every unit there was a mass desertion of peasant soldiers, who hastened to their native villages, with or without their rifles, in order to wreak vengeance on the executives of the collective farm organizations. The peasants wrote to their sons serving with the colours, ordering them to go to ‘Stalin, the chief of the townfolk’ and demand the restoration of their rights. Some even appealed to their sons to return to their villages with their rifles and help them The Red Army was, in fact, fettered by famine and crisis in those very months of that most critical international situation when the German masses had to decide between fascism and socialism, and the state of affairs in Russia contributed in no small measure to their decision in favour of fascism. This was also the time when in the Far East political and military conditions were ripe for a successful occupation of Manchuria by the forces of Japanese imperialism.
The worst of the crisis was overin 1933. The capital invested in the heavy industries began to show its first practical results, while the light industries turned out an ever-increasing number of articles needed by the masses. Agricultural production was also on the up-grade.
But the social and political aspect of the Soviet Union had undergone a radical change in the years of crisis. In order to maintain their authority over the masses, who were called upon to endure unlimited sacrifices and privations, the heads of the State and Party machinery were forced to abolish all the outward forms of Soviet democracy. The Soviets were relieved of all their political functions, while the trade unions were practically liquidated by their amalgamation with the People’s Labour Commissariat. The Party itself became an unpolitical militarized body.
In the lean years of the Civil War the important regulative task of ‘distributing the privations between the classes and between workers and peasants’ fell to the lot of the Bolshevist Party as the vanguard of the revolutionary proletariat. But in the lean years of 1931-3 the privations of the whole mass of the Russian people were so enormous that the machinery of the state was forced to buy the services of a small privileged class, which could then be relied upon to carry out its policy. The first step in this direction included the abolition of the limitation of salaries for Party members and the creation of a very high standard of living for leading men of the Party and State, and the cream of the technical intelligentsia.
When the crisis was over, the gulf between the high standard of living of this ruling class and the low one of the masses was widened rather than narrowed. At one end of the social scale there was an ever-increasing standard of comfort, while at the other, where the great mass of the people were to be found, the standard of life remained as low as ever.
This contrast between two standards of living has created a new monopoly in education. Stalin adopted the old hypocritical principle of liberal capitalism,’ From each according to his means, to each according to his achievements,’ as a maxim of socialism, with the proviso that the ‘achievements’ of a Red factory director or Party or State official were to be appraised a hundred and fifty times as high as those of a miner, let alone those of a washerwoman.
This new home policy was reflected in the conduct of foreign affairs. The foreign policy pursued by Stalin and Litvinov took no further account of the European and American proletariat whom Lenin termed, “the sole, sure, reliable allies of Soviet Russia.” The Soviet Union made no more efforts to exploit the quarrels between imperialist powers in the interests of an international socialist revolution; on the contrary, it found a home in one of the imperialist blocs, bringing as a bridal gift to this union the suspension of class warfare by the communist parties of the countries in question and propaganda by those parties in favour of the defence of their imperialist fatherlands.
These are the social and political substructures of the stage on which is enacted that ‘war in the dark’ which has led to the execution of Old Bolshevists and Red generals, Russia’s loss of the power to act as a bulwark of international socialism, and the loss of her army’s head and life.
Throughout Soviet society and all its organizations runs the ideological cleavage between the supporters of Soviet democracy and those of the autocratic line, between the internationalists who seek their allies in the workers of the world and the oppressed colonial races and the Soviet Union patriots who desire to yoke the U.S.S.R. to the wagon of a group of imperialist powers. This cleavage does not spare the Red Army.
Tuchachevsky shared the leadership of the Soviet-democratic, internationalist line with Gamarnik, who had occupied the position of chief of the Army and Navy Political Administration since 1927. Trotsky completely misunderstands the twofold character of the Stalinist Soviet Union, which no oligarchy can ever succeed in cutting off from its socialist basis (this could be brought about only as the result of an imperialist war, in which the Soviet Union was in alliance with a group of imperialist powers), and misunderstands equally the executed chiefs of the Red Army, of whom he writes:
For ten years Gamarnik occupied posts of responsibility in heart of the Party machinery; he worked in daily co-operation with the G.P.U. Under such circumstances, is it conceivable that a man should carry on two different policies*212;one for the outside world and one for himself? As a member of the Central Committee and the chief representative of the ruling party in the army, Gamarnik was equally with Tuchachevsky flesh of the flesh and blood of the blood of the ruling caste.
Gamarnik suffered the same fate as many old Bolsheviks, such as Rykov, Bukharin and Tomsky, who were the three chief representatives of the right wing of the communist opposition. He took a leading part in Stalin’s campaign against Trotskyism, because Trotsky and his new opposition party did in fact make blunders in their attitude to a number of problems, and because he believed that Stalin’s line would lead to the success of socialism. But when he reached a contrary view in 1931-3, the years of severe crisis, and even more so in the years that followed, he began to do the only thing conceivable of the time in the Soviet Union—namely, to ‘carry on two different policies.’ One of these was certainly for the benefit of the outside world, but the other was not &8216;for himself,’ but for a socialist liberation from the Stalin rßgime.
From the military point of view Tuchachevsky welcomed the industrialization and collectivization policies. A modern revolutionary army is inconceivable without a strong industrial basis, while the collective farm system enourmously increased the army’s fighting power because it released far more men for service at the front without injuring agricultral work and the people’s food supplies than a system based on 250,000 peasant proprietors, each farming his own land, could ever do. Moreover, the peasant working on a collective farm learns to handle tractors and agricultural machinery, and can thus be fashioned into a good soldier more easily than the man who turns up the soil with a primitive plow.
In the years of crisis Tuchachevsky considered the bureaucratization of the land, the suppression of party democracy and the abolition of self-government in all bodies from the village community upward to the republics comprising the Soviet Union as temporary measures framed for emergency. But when the crisis was over, this autocratic form of government was strengthened rather than diminished, and consensquently the masse begin to manifest silent opposition to machinery of officialdom which they identified with the soviet power.
This development had disastrous effects in the larger republics of the Soviet Union, such as the Ukraine, White Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Turkmenistan. There the autocratic line, enforced mainly by administrators of Great Russian origin, led to an intensification of racial antagonism engendered by the national arrogance of these officials and so strengthened the nationalistic sentiments of the inhabitants. The consequent effect on the fighting power of the Red Army in any future war would be very serious, and Gamarnik, Tuchachevsky, and other officers in responsible positions were continually haunted by the bugbear of the Austro-Hungarian Army, with its medley of nationalities, which could not stand its baptism of fire.
The demand for the reintroduction of democratic methods found yet another champion in the person of the commander of the Far Eastern Army, the present Marshal Blücher. In 1933 he succeeded in introducing important measures of democratization in the area under his control by means of a declaration (presented practically in the form of an ultimatum) that otherwise he could take no responsibility for the defence of the frontier. Thereupon the Soviet Government issued a decree which abolished the compulsory levies on all agricultural produce in that area and restored the main features of the New Economic Policy (N.E.P.).
In all matters of home policy Tuchachevsky, Gamarnik, and their friends supported the demand for a democratization of the country, which alone could create the conditions necessary for complete exploitation of the man-power in Soviet territories for purposes of national defence. With regard to foreign affairs, Russia’s renunciation of her position as champion of the independence movement among the colonial races and the socialist struggle for emancipation seemed to them to threaten isolation to the Soviet Union.
Until May 1937, the active forces of the Red Army remained immune from persecution by Stalin’s G.P.U., which was then commanded by Marshal Yagoda. Nevertheless, the antagonism between the Red Army and the G.P.U. was of long standing and grew continually sharper.
As chief of the latter body, Yagoda had control of a special army of 250,000 picked men. G.P.U. representatives sat on all recruiting commissions, while the physically and mentally best specimens of manhood were allotted to their forces. Their officers and men received higher pay and better rations and equipment than their comrades of the Red Army. Whenever G.P.U. formations took part in manceuvres, preliminary negotiations were invariably necessary before any sort of working agreement could be reached between the officers in command of the two bodies.
For almost ten years the Higher Command of the Red Army had carried on a campaign against this intolerable dualism in the home defence forces. Then, all of a sudden, Stalin apparently acceded to their demand, though it was not long since he had promoted the G.P.U. chief to the rank of marshal. Meanwhile Yagoda had won great popularity throughout the country by his preparation of the ‘cases’ which led to the execution of the old Bolshevists.
But the motives which prompted Stalin to order the arrest of Yagoda and the liquidation of the G.P.U. as a state within a state, were by no means in accord with the views held by Gamarnik and Tuchachevsky. The latter wanted to make an end of the dualistic military system in order to suppress Yagoda’s high-handed terroristic régime in the interests of Soviet democracy; Stalin, on the other hand, eliminated the dualism of the regular machinery of state and the G.P.U. machinery in the interests of his own totalitarian terroristic despotism.
Stalin made use of the support he derived from the Red Army to destroy the G.P.U. as a state within a state; he then turned round and crushed the Sovietdemocratic internationalist opposition within the Red Army. When examined in the course of the Piatakov trial, Radek purchased his own life by betraying the fact that Tuchachevsky, Gamarnik and their associates belonged to the communist opposition. Moreover, Stalin and Voroshilov had a score to settle with Tuchachevsky which dated from the days of the Civil War and the Polish campaign.
Gamarnik committed suicide when about to be arrested. Previously he had advocated the playing of a waiting game; he also advised Piatakov to admit everything required of him by Stalin and Yagoda during his ‘trial,’ because he thought the leaders of the Soviet opposition ought to do everything possible to preserve their lives, since the time factor was working irresistibly for an expansion of the strength of Soviet democracy. During Piatakov’s trial Gamarnik made several vain efforts to obtain clemency for him from Stalin, on the plea that the Red Army could not dispense with his co-operation in the People’s Commissariat for Heavy Industries.
Tuchachevsky and the other Red generals were shot by order of Stalin. They had no ‘trial,’ or rather, not even the kind of proceedings that Russian custom allows to pass for a trial in such cases.
In all great political trials the Politburo decides the penalty for the accused in advance. If subsequent proceedings take place in public, they are merely a farce. A wire connects the court with Stalin’s office; he follows the course of the proceedings by means of a loudspeaker and intervenes by direct communications to the presiding judge whenever he thinks fit.
In the so-called ‘secret trials’ the Politburo nominates the panel of judges. Their sole function, however, is to sign the protocol drawn up for them in advance.
Stalin misused the names of Budyonny and Blülcher, the popular heroes of the Civil War, by appointing them to serve on the ‘military court’ that tried the Red Generals. He did this in order to associate them with this ‘trial’ in the eyes of the army and Soviet public opinion.
The accusations brought by the Stalinist oligarchy against the Red Generals are as monstrous as they are contradictory. The accused were alleged to have acted as spies on behalf of the German General Staff, to whom they offered the Ukraine and White Russia as the price of the support Germany could give them by suitable intervention in Russian home politics. They were also said to be planning the restoration of capitalism in Russia and the reinstatement of the landed proprietors in all their old powers. Finally, they were accused of planning a revolutionary war against the imperialist western powers in order to bring about a Socialist World Revolution by force of arms.
One portion of these accusations was intended for home consumption, i.e., for the citizens of the Soviet Union and the international working class. The other was for the foreign market, i.e., for the imperialist powers friendly to Russia.
Reasons of home politics required the Red Generals to be slandered as spies and advocates of the restoration of capitalism, for it was impossible to send them to execution as champions of Soviet democracy and internationalism. For the benefit of the Soviet Union’s imperialist allies the bureaucracy then trumped up the charge of Tuchachevsky’s ‘friendly relations with Germany,’ and his plan to hand over the Ukraine and White Russia (the Soviet Union’s most important agricultural areas) to German Fascism.
The assertion that Tuchachevsky intended to bring about a revolutionary war against capitalist Europe was a sop to the bourgeoisie of all nations, including both the German Fascists and the French democrats. Therewith Stalin hoped to curry general favour by posing as the representative of peace and order in Europe. His contempt of mankind is so great that he is not at all bothered by the fact that these various accusations contradict one another.
From the point of view of the ruling class which he represents, Stalin is in a position in which he could not have acted otherwise. The main function of the Soviet Union’s existing machinery of state is to protect the united interest of this class (which consists of the entire State bureaucracy and the leading engineers, directors of industry, managers of collective farms, manufacturers of public opinion, etc.), against the class interests of the proletariat and against the interests of Soviet society in general, and thereby to defend the Socialist World Revolution. But since the vital interests of the Stalinist oligarchy are indissolubly linked with those of the October Revolution, i.e., with the interests of the Socialist Revolution which began in 1917 and can find its complement and completion only in the victory of the International Socialist Revolution, the Soviet Union is forced—even under Stalin’s leadership—to work against the world’s bourgeoisie in an objective revolutionary sense. The Soviet Union is conservative in regard to the privileges of this ruling class and counterrevolutionary in the way in which it sacrifices the interests of the working classes, but it remains a revolutionary factor in its attitude towards the bourgeoisie of the world. This essential contradiction forces the oligarchy into the unprincipled zigzag course it takes in all its political actions and utterances; it is also the starting-point for the proceedings taken against the Red Generals and for the official explanation of their ‘crime.’
The Red Army was smitten to the heart by the ‘trial’ of its chiefs. But the ‘trial’ was not a cause, but merely an expression, of the severe crisis within the army, which it sharpened and intensified. As Trotsky has rightly said, the May executions in Moscow and the subsequent mass arrests and condemnations of officers of all ranks have beheaded the Red Army. Confidence in the army’s fighting power has been badly shaken by the defamation and physical removal of its heads. If a Tuchachevsky, a Gamarnik, a Yakir, an Eydemann, an Uborevitch or a Primakov can be bought by Fascism, then why not also a Voroshilov, a Yegorov, a Budyonny, a Blücher or a non-political Tsarist officer such as Shaposhnikov? Why not even a Stalin? If 60 per cent of the men occupying posts at the head of the Party, the State and the Army under Lenin are spies and traitors, why not also the other 40 per cent? This is the question which every Soviet civilian and every officer and man in the Red Army must ask himself today. But since the army’s officer corps contains few men who really believe Tuchachevsky and the other Red Generals guilty of treason, the only result of the ‘trial’ has been to create an unbridgeable gulf between the army and the Stalinist ruling clique.
Who are the men who will replace the executed generals? What guarantees can they give of their ability to lead the army to victory in any future war?
The most popular of the present marshals is undoubtedly Budyonny. His cavalry army was an ingenious combination of Jenghiz Khan’s tactics with the elements of modern warfare. His conglomerated groups of horsemen fought with rifles and machineguns that were carried in the old primitive wagons of the steppes. Their offensive power lay in the onslaughts they made with couched lanches and brandished sabres. Mounted on the small breed of steppe horses or on bloodstock from the Ukraine studs, they hurtled through the enemy’s lines at breakneck speed as they charged over the vast steppes, whose grass “will whisper the story of how on many a starlit night and cloudy day, Budyonny’s horsemen charged bravely in the fray,” as the song has it.
But Budyonny has not yet shown the ability to adapt his undoubted skill to the methods of modern technique. The essential reason of his success in the Civil War may be found in the fact that he fought unentrenched opponents in the open. When Stalin and Voroshilov ordered him to attack the Lwow fortifications in 1920, his forces were decimated.
Shaposhnikov is the present Chief of the General Staff. He received a thorough military training in the Tsarist school of war, but possesses no strategical gifts. During the Civil War he was employed as an executive for staffs at the bases, in which capacity he won distinction by his diligence and reliability, but never developed the slightest sense of initiative. In 1936 he was the head of the Russian delegation which attended the Czechoslovak manceuvres, and when proposing the health of the former Russian White Guard General Voiczechovsky, who now holds a command in the Czechoslovak army, he expressed the point of view of the typical non-political officer in the following words:
“It was just a matter of chance whether we fought for the Whites or the Reds in the Civil War.“
Yegorov is a typical uneducated Tsarist officer. He speaks no language but his own. In the Civil War he won as much prominence by his military narrowmindedness as by his personal courage. Even if he cannot be held responsible for the defeat in 1920, when he was in command of the south-western front and refused to place his forces at Tuchachevsky’s disposal there is no doubt that his action was the cause of the disastrous proportions it assumed. He was appointed in May 1937, to the post formerly held by Tuchachevsky.
After Budyonny Marshal Blücher is the most popular Red Army leader. He showed military ability when commanding a division in the Civil War; in 1924 the Revolutionary Council of War sent him to China, where he worked under Borodin and became military adviser to Chiang Kai-Shek under the assumed name of ‘General Galen.’ Blücher-Galen reorganized the Chinese southern forces and led them victoriously to Shanghai, which city he captured when the local workers co-operated with him by organizing a revolt in the rear of the northern armies. When Marshal Chiang Kai-Shek turned traitor and massacred the Shanghai workers, he sent Borodin back to Russia, but offered General Galen wealth and honour if he would consent to remain as his adviser. When Blücher refused this offer, he was escorted to the Russian frontier with full military honours. Two years later he was in charge of the Soviet’s military operations on the Manchurian frontier during the conflict in the Far East.
In 1926-7 Blücher showed great skill in the way he utilized the military backwardness of the southern Chinese armies to defeat the equally backward troops of the northern forces. In 1929 he defeated the Chinese troops by a series of swift and vigorous operations. But this latter campaign gives no standard by which to test the Red Army’s fighting strength or Blücher’s ability in a war against modernized forces.
In 1929 the Chinese soldiers fought very unwillingly against the Russian troops. In August 1937, the same Chinese forces displayed extraordinary heroism when inspired by their profound and justifiable hatred against the armies of Japanese imperialism. But the technical and tactical superiority of the Japanese army over the Chinese is no less than the Russian technical and tactical superiority of 1929.
Russian home defence has been undermined by the ‘trial’ and subsequent disorganization of the Red Army. The bureaucracy should have been aware of this risk when they ordered the execution of the Red Generals. Did they then feel themselves so strong that they could afford to disregard the upheaval it was bound to cause all over the country?
The internal stability of an autocratic régime can seldom be gauged before its overthrow. Robespierre sent one opposition leader after another to the guillotine. There seemed to be no limits to his power; he had Danton, the great tribune of the people, beheaded, and no hand was raised to save his victim. Then, suddenly, on a trivial issue dealing with the question of the arrest of some insignificant person, the machinery of State broke down in Robespierre’s hands. The Convention arrested him, and when his head fell under the guillotine’s blade, the only man to stand up for the revolutionary dictator and die with him was Saint-Just. But this comparison between Robespierre’s France and Stalin’s Russia is applicable only to the valuation of the stability of two autocratic dictatorships.
It is not a consciousness of strength, but rather a feeling of insecurity, that impels the Stalinist oligarchy to exterminate all those persons who might serve as focal points for the struggle of the socialist masses for power in the event of a crisis.
After the October Revolution many Russian monarchists reproached themselves bitterly for having failed to strike off all the heads of the ‘hydra of revolution’ at the right time, for there had been a period when they had all the revolutionary leaders, without exception, in the power of the Tsarist Ochrana. But the Stalinist bureaucrats have learnt a lesson from the belated wisdom of these monarchists.
As far back as 1921 the Kronstadt Mutiny disclosed the fact that the masses of the people (who showed their sympathy with the mutineers by their strikes) only refrained from overthrowing the Bolshevist Government because there was no other organized socialist body in the country. The crisis of 1931-3 revealed the full magnitude of the danger to the Stalinist clique. It was only averted because the old opposition leaders Zinoviev, Kamenev, Piatakov, Tomsky, Rykov, Bukharm and Sokolnikov agreed to sink their differences with the Stalinist régime for the time being in view of the deadly perils of crisis, famine, and imminent war that beset the land.
The masses in a totalitarian state are deprived of even the smallest vestiges of political power, and so a moment of crisis finds them unable to produce from their ranks any organizations ready and able to do battle on their behalf. They can only apply for assistance to groups already formed and persons possessing some sort of authority.
By means of the ‘proceedings’ taken against the leaders of the Bolshevist Old Guard and the Red Army, the present government intends to insure its totalitarianism against any new crisis into which a future war would throw the country. That is why it shoots not merely the visible representatives of Soviet-democratic and internationalist tendencies, but also those thousands of unknown communist workers, Party organizers, industrialists and officers, in fact all the little Tuchachevskys and Piatakovs whom it accuses of espionage for Germany or Japan or ‘Trotskyist sabotage.’
The execution of Tuchachevsky and the other Red Generals was a definite war measure undertaken by the Stalinist bureaucracy, whose aim was to exterminate along with the many possible rallying-points for a struggle for power in the event of a future war. But in consolidating the state of affairs that gives them power, they are undermining the foundations of socialist society and so destroying the very conditions of their own existence.
Such, then, is the position twenty years after the October Revolution. Despite the huge expansion of its technical basis and despite the mechanization of the Red Army, the Soviet Union’s stability has been imperilled by Stalin’s policy more than it ever was in the days of the Civil War. Lenin’s internationalist policy rendered the imperialist powers incapable of warlike action against the Soviet Union, but Stalin’s narrow nationalist policy and the disorganization occasioned within the ranks of the international working class movement by the Comintern’s policy, have made it impossible for the proletariat of the imperialist countries to prevent any criminal war against the Soviet Union. The danger threatening the working classes by reason of Stalin’s present policy is all the greater by virtue of the fact that he carries it out in the name of Lenin. But he is only using an old, well-proven recipe, for in 1915 Lenin wrote in his polemic against the leaders of the Second International and their policy of centralism:
“History shows us that after the death of any revolutionary leader who has won popularity with the masses his enemies appropriate his name and use it to hoodwink the oppressed classes.”
The only conditions under which a country’s manpower and entire economic potentialities can be completely exploited for war purposes, are those which imply a democratization of the country and the elimination of all conflicts between the masses and their rulers and between the various nationalities that make up the state. But an autocratic government accentuates these conflicts, disorganizes the economic system, and deprives the masses of all power of initiative. In any future war the victory will go to the belligerent with ‘the better nerves,’ provided, of course, that he has a sufficiency of material and mental resources. But an autocrat brings elements of unrest and nervousness into the machinery of the army, industry and state by virtue of his personal intervention in all their affairs.
An instance of this may be seen in the way Stalin ignored the protests of the aircraft constructors when he ordered them to build the huge aeroplane known as the ‘Maxim Gorky’ in ‘record time and with a luxury hitherto unknown.’ This machine was to fly over Moscow on February 23, 1934, the Anniversary of the Red Army, but when the pilot tried to take off from the October Field on the appointed day, he was unable to get it off the ground. The whole construction of the machine had to be overhauled for two months.
On May 1 the Maxim Gorky made its appearance in the sky, amid the plaudits of the populace. The machine was designed to provide a flying headquarters for the general staff in the event of a war on two fronts that might be 10,000 kilometres apart and so to keep the higher command in close contact with both groups of armies, but the inexperience of its designers in the construction of huge machines of this type and the various alterations that had to be undertaken in order to get it into the air on the appointed day had made it such a fragile bird that Tuchachevsky refused to take it over for the army. When the disaster which the experts foresaw was brought about by a slight collision with another machine that touched one of its wing-tips-a hit by an anti-aircraft battery would have produced the same effect—Stalin promptly thwarted the plans of the aircraft industry by ordering twelve giant machines of the same type.
One of the most important requisites for a successful mobilization is a well-organized system of rail transport; this is even more necessary in the Soviet Union than in other countries, because the railway network is a bad one, with extremely wide meshes. But even in peacetime the Soviet railways are very badly run.
Kaganovitch tried to raise their standard by a system of rewards, as well as by executions for ‘sabotage.’ But he did not go to the root of the trouble, for the permanent way is in a miserable condition. Most of it has been left in the same state as it was when taken over from Tsarism, to which must be added the deterioration caused by twenty years of wear and tear. The wage standards of the railwaymen are extremely low, save for a few privileged persons in receipt of Stakhanov wages. In 1935 Kolzov published the results of a medical enquiry into the condition of thirty engine-drivers accused of negligence which had caused collisions; all were found to be undernourished, while 80 per cent were tubercular subjects. All told the court that they were in a state of complete physical exhaustion when the accidents occurred.
Such is the state of the railways in time of peace. But in 1934 the Soviet Government ordered a trial mobilization of the Siberian railways. The result was disastrous, for in two days the entire traffic was in a state of such helpless chaos that gigantic efforts were needed to restore the ordinary peace time-table. In this regard we may add that the trouble was by no means due to the nature of the mobilization scheme, which was perfectly capable of realization.
Lenin was fond of poking fun at the ‘Asiatic slovenliness’ of the Russians by the following anecdote. In the early days of the World War, when America was still neutral, a Yankee visited the belligerent countries. In Halle he enquired when the next express train left for Berlin, and was told: “At 12 minutes and 26 seconds past 2 p.m.” Then, on expressing his amazement at such accuracy, he was told by the stationmaster: “But, my dear sir, there’s a war on.“Afterwards he went to Russia and wanted to catch a train from Saratov to Moscow. But the stationmaster at Saratov merely scratched his head. “The Moscow express, eh?” he said. “Well, it ought to have been here long ago. It’s 4 p.m. now, and if the train gets in before 8, and if we can manage to find an engine for it, it may leave tonight.” The American was horrified. “But, my dear sir, there’s a war on,” the stationmaster reminded him.
Today the phlegmatic ‘Asiatic slovenliness’ is still far from vanquished. But at present it is in abeyance, and in its place we have the nervousness, indecision and fear that an autocratic government brings with it.
Even now, in peace-time, the conjunction of a thirst for record figures and a panicky dread of responsibility has brought the economic life of the whole country into a feverish condition. Today industrial concerns work to 100 per cent capacity, but the output of many important industries is still a long way under normal.
This is partly due to objective reasons. The plans are too ambitious. But one essential cause of their nonfulfilment is to be found in the psychological effects of this autocratic, terroristic régime. The methods of intimidation it employs will produce no pioneers of industry, but only petty, scared, indecisive officials with no sense of initiative.
These criticisms of the whole machinery of State and industry may be applied with even greater force to the army. “A modern army,” wrote Lenin in 1915, in his essay, The Collapse of the Second International, “is a model organization. This organization is good only when it combines elasticity with the art of endowing millions of men with a single will. When a million men inspired by one single will for some particular purpose, can change the nature of their groupings and actions, the localities and methods of those actions, and their weapons and tools—all in accordance with the changing conditions and needs of warfare—then we have something that can be defined as organization.”
Modern warfare, which may leave a man entirely to his own resources on the battlefield and demand from the private a power of decision equal to that required of a general in the wars of past centuries, presupposes a high sense of initiative and great willingness to take responsibility that can only be evolved in a truly democratic society, i.e. in a socialistic state in which all class differences and racial antagonisms have been abolished. A modern army and an autocratic regime mix as well as fire and water.
In 1928 I told Blücher that his best ally in the Chinese campaign was the German Colonel Bauer, who when serving as instructor to the Chinese northern forces made his soldiers practise the goose-step. This step presupposes the type of military organization, the general political structure of State and army, and the form of discipline—or rather, ‘kadaver’ disciplinewith which Frederick the Great won his victories under the tactical and technical conditions of the eighteenth century. But it bodes destruction in advance to any army of the twentieth century which has to fight the modern forces of an up-to-date opponent.
In the above-quoted polemic against the Second International, Lenin said that: “the living soul of Marxism is its revolutionary spirit.” He stigmatized the ‘lifeless Marxism’ of the patriotic socialists and centralists. The living soul of the Red Army is its revolutionary, international spirit, but Stalin’s policy killed the Red Army long before he beheaded it by executing its leaders.
The decisive factor is no longer the possession of a hundred aircraft or a thousand tanks more or less than the enemy (important though this factor undeniably is), but a diversion of policy from the autocratic to the Soviet-democratic line, from the rotting soil of narrow-minded nationalism and arrogance to the firm foundation of revolutionary internationalism. Tuchachevsky and Gamarnik, who realized this and so began to turn their minds to politics, had to pay for their insight and their devotion to the socialist cause with their lives. Their deaths were a heavy loss to the international working class, but far more is at stake—the October Revolution itself!
The Bolshevists won the Civil War because they succeeded in creating the political and social-economic preliminary conditions they needed for the seizure and maintenance of power. But the Red Army will only win a future war with some imperialist power, and the Soviet Union will only emerge from such a war as a Socialist, Soviet State, if the Russian proletariat succeeds in creating the right preliminary conditions for such a victory.
The centre of gravity of Soviet home defence has shifted from the military to the political sphere. History therefore, has once more caused the military problem to become the essence of the political problem.