The Crisis in Russia - 1920
by Arthur Ransome
1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse


By Arthur Ransome



THE characteristic of a revolutionary country is that change is a quicker process there than elsewhere. As the revolution recedes into the past the process of change slackens speed. Russia is no longer the dizzying kaleidoscope that it was in 1917. No longer does it change visibly from week to week as it changed in 19l8. Already, to get a clear vision of the direction in which it is changing, it is necessary to visit it at intervals of six months, and quite useless to tap the political barometer several times a day as once upon a time one used to do.... But it is still changing very fast. My journal of "Russia in 1919," while giving as I believe a fairly accurate picture of the state of affairs in February and March of 1919, pictures a very different stage in the development of the revolution from that which would be found by observers today.

The prolonged state of crisis in which the country has been kept by external war, while strengthening the ruling party by rallying even their enemies to their support, has had the other effects that a national crisis always has on the internal politics of a country. Methods of government which in normal times would no doubt be softened or disguised by ceremonial usage are used nakedly and justified by necessity. We have seen the same thing in belligerent and non-revolutionary countries, and, for the impartial student, it has been interesting to observe that, when this test of crisis is applied, the actual governmental machine in every country looks very much like that in every other. They wave different flags to stimulate enthusiasm and to justify submission. But that is all. Under the stress of war, "constitutional safeguards" go by the board "for the public good," in Moscow as elsewhere. Under that stress it becomes clear that, in spite of its novel constitution, Russia is governed much as other countries are governed, the real directive power lying in the hands of a comparatively small body which is able by hook or crook to infect with its conscious will a population largely indifferent and inert. A visitor to Moscow to-day would find much of the constitutional machinery that was in full working order in the spring of 1919 now falling into rust and disrepair. He would not be able once a week or so to attend All-Russian Executive and hear discussions in this parliament of the questions of the day. No one tries to shirk the fact that the Executive Committee has fallen into desuetude, from which, when the stress slackens enough to permit ceremonial that has not an immediate agitational value, it may some day be revived. The bulk of its members have been at the front or here and there about the country wrestling with the economic problem, and their work is more useful than their chatter. Thus brutally is the thing stated. The continued stress has made the muscles, the actual works, of the revolution more visible than formerly. The working of the machine is not only seen more clearly, but is also more frankly stated (perhaps simply because they too see it now more clearly), by the leaders themselves.

I want in this book to describe the working of the machine as I now see it. But it is not only the machine which is more nakedly visible than it was. The stress to which it is being subjected has also not so much changed its character as become easier of analysis. At least, I seem to myself to see it differently. In the earlier days it seemed quite simply the struggle between a revolutionary and non-revolutionary countries. I now think that that struggle is a foolish, unnecessary, lunatic incident which disguised from us the existence of a far more serious struggle, in which the revolutionary and non-revolutionary governments are fighting on the same side. They fight without cooperation, and throw insults and bullets at each other in the middle of the struggle, but they are fighting for the same thing. They are fighting the same enemy. Their quarrel with each other is for both parties merely a harassing accompaniment of the struggle to which all Europe is committed, for the salvage of what is left of European civilization.

The threat of a complete collapse of civilization is more imminent in Russia than elsewhere. But it is clear enough in Poland, it cannot be disregarded in Germany, there is no doubt of its existence in Italy, France is conscious of it; it is only in England and America that this threat is not among the waking nightmares of everybody. Unless the struggle, which has hitherto been going against us, takes a turn for the better, we shall presently be quite unable to ignore it ourselves.

I have tried to state the position in Russia today: on the one hand to describe the crisis itself, the threat which is forcing these people to an extreme of effort, and on the other hand to describe the organization that is facing that threat; on the one hand to set down what are the main characteristics of the crisis, on the other hand to show how the comparatively small body of persons actually supplying the Russian people with its directives set about the stupendous task of moving that vast inert mass, not along the path of least resistance, but along a path which, while alike unpleasant and extremely difficult, does seem to them to promise some sort of eventual escape.

No book is entirely objective, so I do not in the least mind stating my own reason for writing this one (which has taken time that I should have liked to spend on other and very different things). Knowledge of this reason will permit the reader to make allowances for such bias I have been unable to avoid, and so, by judicious reading, to make my book perhaps nearly as objective as I should myself wish it to be.

It has been said that when two armies face each other across a battle front and engage in mutual slaughter, they may be considered as a single army engaged in suicide. Now it seems to me that when countries, each one severally doing its best to arrest its private economic ruin, do their utmost to accelerate the economic ruin of each other, we are witnessing something very like the suicide of civilization itself. There are people in both camps who believe that armed and economic conflict between revolutionary and non-revolutionary Europe, or if you like between Capitalism and Communism, is inevitable. These people, in both camps, are doing their best to make it inevitable. Sturdy pessimists, in Moscow no less than in London and Paris, they go so far as to say "the sooner the better," and by all means in their power try to precipitate a conflict. Now the main effort in Russia to-day, the struggle which absorbs the chief attention of all but the few Communist Churchills and Communist Millerands who, blind to all else, demand an immediate pitched battle over the prostrate body of civilization, is directed to finding a way for Russia herself out of the crisis, the severity of which can hardly be realized by people who have not visited the country again and again, and to bringing her as quickly as possible into a state in which she can export her raw materials and import the manufactured goods of which she stands in need. I believe that this struggle is ours as well as Russia's, though we to whom the threat is less imminent, are less desperately engaged. Victory or defeat in this struggle in Russia, or anywhere else on the world's surface, is victory or defeat for every one. The purpose of my book is to make that clear. For, bearing that in mind, I cannot but think that every honest man, of whatever parity, who cares more for humanity than for politics, must do his utmost to postpone the conflict which a few extremists on each side of the barricades so fanatically desire. If that conflict is indeed inevitable, its consequences will be less devastating to a Europe cured of her wounds than to a Europe scarcely, even by the most hopeful, to be described as convalescent. But the conflict may not be inevitable after all. No man not purblind but sees that Communist Europe is changing no less than Capitalist Europe. If we succeed in postponing the struggle long enough, we may well succeed in postponing it until the war-like on both sides look in vain for the reasons of their bellicosity.


Introduction The Shortage of Things The Shortage of Men The Communist Dictatorship A Conference at Jaroslavl The Trade Unions The Propaganda Trains Saturdayings Industrial Conscription What the Communists Are Trying to do in Russia Rykov on Economic plans and on the Transformation of the Communist Party Non-Partyism Possibilities

***I am indebted to the editor of the "Manchester Guardian" for permission to make use in some of the chapters of this book of material which has appeared in his paper.



Nothing can be more futile than to describe conditions in Russia as a sort of divine punishment for revolution, or indeed to describe them at all without emphasizing the fact that the crisis in Russia is part of the crisis in Europe, and has been in the main brought about like the revolution itself, by the same forces that have caused, for example, the crisis in Germany or the crisis in Austria.

No country in Europe is capable of complete economic independence. In spite of her huge variety of natural resources, the Russian organism seemed in 1914 to have been built up on the generous assumption that with Europe at least the country was to be permanently at peace, or at the lost to engage in military squabbles which could be reckoned in months, and would keep up the prestige of the autocracy without seriously hampering imports and exports. Almost every country in Europe, with the exception of England, was better fitted to stand alone, was less completely specialized in a single branch of production. England, fortunately for herself, was not isolated during the war, and will not become isolated unless the development of the crisis abroad deprives her of her markets. England produces practically no food, but great quantities of coal, steel and manufactured goods. Isolate her absolutely, and she will not only starve, but will stop producing manufactured goods, steel and coal, because those who usually produce these things will be getting nothing for their labor except money which they will be unable to use to buy dinners, because there will be no dinners to buy. That supposititious case is a precise parallel to what has happened in Russia. Russia produced practically no manufactured goods (70 per cent. of her machinery she received from abroad), but great quantities of food. The blockade isolated her. By the blockade I do not mean merely the childish stupidity committed by ourselves, but the blockade, steadily increasing in strictness, which began in August, 1914, and has been unnecessarily prolonged by our stupidity. The war, even while for Russia it was not nominally a blockade, was so actually. The use of tonnage was perforce restricted to the transport of the necessaries of war, and these were narrowly defined as shells, guns and so on, things which do not tend to improve a country economically, but rather the reverse. The imports from Sweden through Finland were no sort of make-weight for the loss of Poland and Germany.

The war meant that Russia's ordinary imports practically ceased. It meant a strain on Russia, comparable to that which would have been put on England if the German submarine campaign had succeeded in putting an end to our imports of food from the Americas. From the moment of the Declaration of War, Russia was in the position of one "holding out," of a city standing a siege without a water supply, for her imports were so necessary to her economy that they may justly be considered as essential irrigation. There could be no question for her of improvement, of strengthening. She was faced with the fact until the war should end she had to do with what she had, and that the things she had formerly counted on importing would be replaced by guns and shells, to be used, as it turned out, in battering Russian property that happened to be in enemy hands. She even learned that she had to develop gun-making and shell-making at home, at the expense of those other industries which to some small extent might have helped her to keep going. And, just as in England such a state of affairs would lead to a cessation of the output of iron and coal in which England is rich, so in Russia, in spite of her corn lands, it led to a shortage of food.

The Russian peasant formerly produced food, for which he was paid in money. With that money, formerly, he was able to clothe himself, to buy the tools of his labor, and further, though no doubt he never observed the fact, to pay for the engines and wagons that took his food to market. A huge percentage of the clothes and the tools and the engines and the wagons and the rails came from abroad, and even those factories in Russia which were capable of producing such things were, in many essentials, themselves dependent upon imports. Russian towns began to be hungry in 1915. In October of that year the Empress reported to the Emperor that the shrewd Rasputin had seen in a vision that it was necessary to bring wagons with flour, butter and sugar from Siberia, and proposed that for three days nothing else should be done. Then there would be no strikes. "He blesses you for the arrangement of these trains." In 1916 the peasants were burying their bread instead of bringing it to market. In the autumn of 1916 I remember telling certain most incredulous members of the English Government that there would be a most serious food shortage in Russia in the near future. In 1917 came the upheaval of the revolution, in 1918 peace, but for Russia, civil war and the continuance of the blockade. By July, 1919, the rarity of manufactured goods was such that it was possible two hundred miles south of Moscow to obtain ten eggs for a box of matches, and the rarity of goods requiring distant transport became such that in November, 1919, in Western Russia, the peasants would sell me nothing for money, whereas my neighbor in the train bought all he wanted in exchange for small quantities of salt.

It was not even as if, in vital matters, Russia started the war in a satisfactory condition. The most vital of all questions in a country of huge distances must necessarily be that of transport. It is no exaggeration to say that only by fantastic efforts was Russian transport able to save its face and cover its worst deficiencies even before the war began. The extra strain put upon it by the transport of troops and the maintenance of the armies exposed its weakness, and with each succeeding week of war, although in 1916 and 1917 Russia did receive 775 locomotives from abroad, Russian transport went from bad to worse, making inevitable a creeping paralysis of Russian economic life, during the latter already acute stages of which the revolutionaries succeeded to the disease that had crippled their precursors.

In 1914 Russia had in all 20,057 locomotives, of which 15,047 burnt coal, 4,072 burnt oil and 938 wood. But that figure of twenty thousand was more impressive for a Government official, who had his own reasons for desiring to be impressed, than for a practical railway engineer, since of that number over five thousand engines were more than twenty years old, over two thousand were more than thirty years old, fifteen hundred were more than forty years old, and 147 patriarchs had passed their fiftieth birthday. Of the whole twenty thousand only 7,108 were under ten years of age. That was six years ago. In the meantime Russia has been able to make in quantities decreasing during the last five years by 40 and 50 per cent. annually, 2,990 new locomotives. In 1914 of the locomotives then in Russia about 17,000 were in working condition. In 1915 there were, in spite of 800 new ones, only 16,500. In 1916 the number of healthy locomotives was slightly higher, owing partly to the manufacture of 903 at home in the preceding year and partly to the arrival of 400 from abroad. In 1917 in spite of the arrival of a further small contingent the number sank to between 15,000 and 16,000. Early in 1918 the Germans in the Ukraine and elsewhere captured 3,000. Others were lost in the early stages of the civil war. The number of locomotives fell from 14,519 in January to 8,457 in April, after which the artificially instigated revolt of the Czecho-Slovaks made possible the fostering of civil war on a large scale, and the number fell swiftly to 4,679 in December. In 1919 the numbers varied less markedly, but the decline continued, and in December last year 4,141 engines were in working order. In January this year the number was 3,969, rising slightly in February, when the number was 4,019. A calculation was made before the war that in the best possible conditions the maximum Russian output of engines could be not more than 1,800 annually. At this rate in ten years the Russians could restore their collection of engines to something like adequate numbers. Today, thirty years would be an inadequate estimate, for some factories, like the Votkinsky, have been purposely ruined by the Whites, in others the lathes and other machinery for building and repairing locomotives are worn out, many of the skilled engineers were killed in the war with Germany, many others in defending the revolution, and it will be long before it will be possible to restore to the workmen or to the factories the favorable material conditions of 1912-13. Thus the main fact in the present crisis is that Russia possesses one-fifth of the number of locomotives which in 1914 was just sufficient to maintain her railway system in a state of efficiency which to English observers at that time was a joke. For six years she has been unable to import the necessary machinery for making engines or repairing them. Further, coal and oil have been, until recently, cut off by the civil war. The coal mines are left, after the civil war, in such a condition that no considerable output may be expected from them in the near future. Thus, even those engines which exist have had their efficiency lessened by being adapted in a rough and ready manner for burning wood fuel instead of that for which they were designed.

Let us now examine the combined effect of ruined transport and the six years' blockade on Russian life in town and country. First of all was cut off the import of manufactured goods from abroad. That has had a cumulative effect completed, as it were, and rounded off by the breakdown of transport. By making it impossible to bring food, fuel and raw material to the factories, the wreck of transport makes it impossible for Russian industry to produce even that modicum which it contributed to the general supply of manufactured goods which the Russian peasant was accustomed to receive in exchange for his production of food. On the whole the peasant himself eats rather more than he did before the war. But he has no matches, no salt, no clothes, no boots, no tools. The Communists are trying to put an end to illiteracy in Russia, and in the villages the most frequent excuse for keeping children from school is a request to come and see them, when they will be found, as I have seen them myself, playing naked about the stove, without boots or anything but a shirt, if that, in which to go and learn to read and write. Clothes and such things as matches are, however, of less vital importance than tools, the lack of which is steadily reducing Russia's actual power of food production. Before the war Russia needed from abroad huge quantities of agricultural implements, not only machines, but simple things like axes, sickles, scythes. In 1915 her own production of these things had fallen to 15.1 per cent. of her already inadequate peacetime output. In 1917 it had fallen to 2.1 per cent. The Soviet Government is making efforts to raise it, and is planning new factories exclusively for the making of these things. But, with transport in such a condition, a new factory means merely a new demand for material and fuel which there are neither engines nor wagons to bring. Meanwhile, all over Russia, spades are worn out, men are plowing with burnt staves instead of with plowshares, scratching the surface of the ground, and instead of harrowing with a steel-spiked harrow of some weight, are brushing the ground with light constructions of wooden spikes bound together with wattles.

The actual agricultural productive powers of Russia are consequently sinking. But things are no better if we turn from the rye and corn lands to the forests. Saws are worn out. Axes are worn out. Even apart from that, the shortage of transport affects the production of wood fuel, lack of which reacts on transport and on the factories and so on in a circle from which nothing but a large import of engines and wagons will provide an outlet. Timber can be floated down the rivers. Yes, but it must be brought to the rivers. Surely horses can do that. Yes, but, horses must be fed, and oats do not grow in the forests. For example, this spring (1920) the best organized timber production was in Perm Government. There sixteen thousand horses have been mobilized for the work, but further development is impossible for lack of forage. A telegram bitterly reports, "Two trains of oats from Ekaterinburg are expected day by day. If the oats arrive in time a considerable success will be possible." And if the oats do not arrive in time? Besides, not horses alone require to be fed. The men who cut the wood cannot do it on empty stomachs. And again rises a cry for trains, that do not arrive, for food that exists somewhere, but not in the forest where men work. The general effect of the wreck of transport on food is stated as follows: Less than 12 per cent. of the oats required, less than 5 per cent. of the bread and salt required for really efficient working, were brought to the forests. Nonetheless three times as much wood has been prepared as the available transport has removed.

The towns suffer from lack of transport, and from the combined effect on the country of their productive weakness and of the loss of their old position as centres through which the country received its imports from abroad. Townsfolk and factory workers lack food, fuel, raw materials and much else that in a civilized State is considered a necessary of life. Thus, ten million poods of fish were caught last year, but there were no means of bringing them from the fisheries to the great industrial centres where they were most needed. Townsfolk are starving, and in winter, cold. People living in rooms in a flat, complete strangers to each other, by general agreement bring all their beds into the kitchen. In the kitchen soup is made once a day. There is a little warmth there beside the natural warmth of several human beings in a small room. There it is possible to sleep. During the whole of last winter, in the case I have in mind, there were no means of heating the other rooms, where the temperature was almost always far below freezing point. It is difficult to make the conditions real except by individual examples. The lack of medicines, due directly to the blockade, seems to have small effect on the imagination when simply stated as such. Perhaps people will realize what it means when instead of talking of the wounded undergoing operations without anesthetics I record the case of an acquaintance, a Bolshevik, working in a Government office, who suffered last summer from a slight derangement of the stomach due to improper and inadequate feeding. His doctor prescribed a medicine, and nearly a dozen different apothecaries were unable to make up the prescription for lack of one or several of the simple ingredients required. Soap has become an article so rare (in Russia as in Germany during the blockade and the war there is a terrible absence of fats) that for the present it is to be treated as a means of safeguarding labor, to be given to the workmen for washing after and during their work, and in preference to miners, chemical, medical and sanitary workers, for whose efficiency and health it is essential. The proper washing of underclothes is impossible. To induce the population of Moscow to go to the baths during the typhus epidemic, it was sufficient bribe to promise to each person beside the free bath a free scrap of soap. Houses are falling into disrepair for want of plaster, paint and tools. Nor is it possible to substitute one thing for another, for Russia's industries all suffer alike from their dependence on the West, as well as from the inadequacy of the transport to bring to factories the material they need. People remind each other that during the war the Germans, when similarly hard put to it for clothes, made paper dresses, table-cloths, etc. In Russia the nets used in paper-making are worn out. At last, in April, 1920 (so Lenin told me), there seemed to be a hope of getting new ones from abroad. But the condition of the paper industry is typical of all, in a country which, it should not be forgotten, could be in a position to supply wood-pulp for other countries besides itself. The factories are able to produce only sixty per cent. of demands that have previously, by the strictest scrutiny, been reduced to a minimum before they are made. The reasons, apart from the lack of nets and cloths, are summed up in absence of food, forage and finally labor. Even when wood is brought by river the trouble is not yet overcome. The horses are dead and eaten or starved and weak. Factories have to cease working so that the workmen, themselves underfed, can drag the wood from the barges to the mills. It may well be imagined what the effect of hunger, cold, and the disheartenment consequent on such conditions of work and the seeming hopelessness of the position have on the productivity of labor, the fall in which reacts on all the industries, on transport, on the general situation and so again on itself.

Mr. J. M. Keynes, writing with Central Europe in his mind (he is, I think, as ignorant of Russia as I am of Germany), says: "What then is our picture of Europe? A country population able to support life on the fruits of its own agricultural production, but without the accustomed surplus for the towns, and also (as a result of the lack of imported materials, and so of variety and amount in the salable manufactures of the towns) without the usual incentives to market food in exchange for other wares; an industrial population unable to keep its strength for lack of food, unable to earn a livelihood for lack of materials, and so unable to make good by imports from abroad the failure of productivity at home."

Russia is an emphasized engraving, in which every line of that picture is bitten in with repeated washes of acid. Several new lines, however, are added to the drawing, for in Russia the processes at work elsewhere have gone further than in the rest of Europe, and it is possible to see dimly, in faint outline, the new stage of decay which is threatened. The struggle to arrest decay is the real crisis of the revolution, of Russia, and, not impossibly, of Europe. For each country that develops to the end in this direction is a country lost to the economic comity of Europe. And, as one country follows another over the brink, so will the remaining countries be faced by conditions of increasingly narrow self-dependence, in fact by the very conditions which in Russia, so far, have received their clearest, most forcible illustration.


In the preceding chapter I wrote of Russia's many wants, and of the processes visibly at work, tending to make her condition worse and not better. But I wrote of things, not of people. I wrote of the shortage of this and of that, but not of the most serious of all shortages, which, while itself largely due to those already discussed, daily intensifies them, and points the way to that further stage of decay which is threatened in the near future in Russia, and, in the more distant future in Europe. I did not write of the shortage deterioration of labor.

Shortage of labor is not peculiar to Russia. It is among the postwar phenomena common to all countries. The war and its accompanying eases have cost Europe, including Russia, an enormous number of able-bodied men. Many millions of others have lost the habit of regular work. German industrialists complain that they cannot get labor, and that when they get it, it is not productive. I heard complaints on the same subject in England. But just as the economic crisis, due in the first instance to the war and the isolation it imposed, has gone further in Russia than elsewhere, so the shortage of labor, at present a handicap, an annoyance in more fortunate countries, is in Russia perhaps the greatest of the national dangers. Shortage of labor cannot be measured simply by the decreasing numbers of the workmen. If it takes two workmen as long to do a particular job in 1920 as it took one man to do it in 1914, then, even if the number of workman has remained the same, the actual supply of labor has been halved. And in Russia the situation is worse than that. For example, in the group of State metal-working factories, those, in fact which may be considered as the weapon with which Russia is trying to cut her way out of her transport difficulties, apart from the fact that there were in 1916 81,600 workmen, whereas in 1920 there are only 42,500, labor has deteriorated in the most appalling manner. In 1916 in these factories 92 per cent. of the nominal working hours were actually kept; in 1920 work goes on during only 60 per cent. of the nominal hours. It is estimated that the labor of a single workman produces now only one quarter of what it produced in 1916. To take another example, also from workmen engaged in transport, that is to say, in the most important of all work at the present time: in the Moscow junction of the Moscow Kazan Railway, between November 1st and February 29th (1920), 292 workmen and clerks missed 12,048 working days, being absent, on in average, forty days per man in the four months. In Moscow passenger-station on this line, 22 workmen missed in November 106 days, in December 273, in January 338, and in February 380; in an appalling crescendo further illustrated by the wagon department, where 28 workmen missed in November 104 days and in February 500. In November workmen absented themselves for single days. In February the same workmen were absent for the greater part of the month. The invariable excuse was illness. Many cases of illness there undoubtedly were, since this period was the worst of the typhus epidemic, but besides illness, and besides mere obvious idleness which no doubt accounts for a certain proportion of illegitimate holidays, there is another explanation which goes nearer the root of the matter. Much of the time filched from the State was in all probability spent in expeditions in search of food. In Petrograd, the Council of Public Economy complain that there is a tendency to turn the eight-hour day into a four-hour day. Attempts are being made to arrest this tendency by making an additional food allowance conditional on the actual fulfilment of working days. In the Donetz coal basin, the monthly output per man was in 1914 750 poods, in 1916 615 poods, in 1919 240 poods (figures taken from Ekaterinoslav Government), and in 1920 the output per man is estimated at being something near 220 poods. In the shale mines on the Volga, where food conditions are comparatively good, productivity is comparatively high. Thus in a small mine near Simbirsk there are 230 workmen, of' whom 50 to 60 are skilled. The output for the unskilled is 28.9 poods in a shift, for the skilled 68.3. But even there 25 per cent. of the workmen are regular absentees, and actually the mine works only 17 or 18 days in a month, that is, 70 per cent. of the normal number of working days. The remaining 30 per cent. of normal working time is spent by the workmen in getting food. Another small mine in the same district is worked entirely by unskilled labor, the workers being peasants from the neighboring villages. In this mine the productivity per man is less, but all the men work full time. They do not have to waste time in securing food, because, being local peasants, they are supplied by their own villages and families. In Moscow and Petrograd food is far more difficult to secure, more time is wasted on that hopeless task; even with that waste of time, the workman is not properly fed, and it cannot be wondered at that his productivity is low.

Something, no doubt, is due to the natural character of the Russians, which led Trotsky to define man as an animal distinguished by laziness. Russians are certainly lazy, and probably owe to their climate their remarkable incapacity for prolonged effort. The Russian climate is such that over large areas of Russia the Russian peasant is accustomed, and has been accustomed for hundreds of years, to perform prodigies of labor during two short periods of sowing and harvest, and to spend the immensely long and monotonous winter in a hibernation like that of the snake or the dormouse. There is a much greater difference between a Russian workman's normal output and that of which he is capable for a short time if he sets himself to it, than there is between the normal and exceptional output of an Englishman, whose temperate climate has not taught him to regard a great part of the year as a period of mere waiting for and resting from the extraordinary effort of a few weeks. [*]

* Given any particular motive, any particular enthusiasm, or visible, desirable object, even the hungry Russian workmen of to-day are capable of sudden and temporary increase of output. The "Saturdayings" (see p. 119) provide endless illustrations of this. They had something in the character of a picnic, they were novel, they were out of the routine, and the productivity of labor during a "Saturdaying" was invariably higher than on a weekday. For example, there is a shortage of paper for cigarettes. People roll cigarettes in old newspapers. It occurred to the Central Committee of the Papermakers' Union to organize a "Sundaying" with the object of sending cigarette paper to the soldiers in the Red Army. Six factories took part. Here is a table showing the output of these factories during the "Sundaying" and the average weekday output. The figures are in poods.

Made on Average week Factory the Sunday Day Output

Krasnogorodskaya.........615...............450 Griaznovskaya.............65................45 Medianskaya..............105................90 Dobruzhskaya.............186...............250 Belgiiskaya..............127................85 Ropshinskaya..............85................55]

But this uneven working temperament was characteristic of the Russian before the war as well as now. It has been said that the revolution removed the stimulus to labor, and left the Russian laziness to have its way. In the first period of the revolution that may have been true. It is becoming day by day less true. The fundamental reasons of low productivity will not be found in any sudden or unusual efflorescence of idleness, but in economic conditions which cannot but reduce the productivity of idle and industrious alike. Insufficient feeding is one such reason. The proportion of working time consumed in foraging is another. But the whole of my first chapter may be taken as a compact mass of reasons why the Russians at the present time should not work with anything like a normal productivity. It is said that bad workmen complain of their tools, but even good ones become disheartened if compelled to work with makeshifts, mended tools, on a stock of materials that runs out from one day to the next, in factories where the machinery may come at any moment to a standstill from lack of fuel. There would thus be a shortage of labor in Russia, even if the numbers of workmen were the same today as they were before the war. Unfortunately that is not so. Turning from the question of low productivity per man to that of absolute shortage of men: the example given at the beginning of this chapter, showing that in the most important group of factories the number of workmen has fallen 50 per cent. is by no means exceptional. Walking through the passages of what used to be the Club of the Nobles, and is now the house of the Trades Unions during the recent Trades Union Congress in Moscow, I observed among a number of pictorial diagrams on the walls, one in particular illustrating the rise and fall of the working population of Moscow during a number of years. Each year was represented by the picture of a factory with a chimney which rose and fell with the population. From that diagram I took the figures for 1913, 1918 and 1919. These figures should be constantly borne in mind by any one who wishes to realize how catastrophic the shortage of labor in Russia actually is, and to judge how sweeping may be the changes in the social configuration of the country if that shortage continues to increase. Here are the figures:

Workmen in Moscow in 1913............159,344 Workmen in Moscow in 1918...........157,282 Workmen in Moscow in 1919............105,210

That is to say, that one-third of the workmen of Moscow ceased to live there, or ceased to be workmen, in the course of a single year. A similar phenomenon is observable in each one of the big industrial districts.

What has become of those workmen?

A partial explanation is obvious. The main impulse of the revolution came from the town workers. Of these, the metal workers were the most decided, and those who most freely joined the Red Guard in the early and the Red Army in the later days of the revolution. Many, in those early days, when there was more enthusiasm than discipline, when there were hardly any experienced officers, and those without much authority, were slaughtered during the German advance of 1918. The first mobilizations, when conscription was introduced, were among the workers in the great industrial districts. The troops from Petrograd and Moscow, exclusively workmen's regiments, have suffered more than any other during the civil war, being the most dependable and being thrown, like the guards of old time, into the worst place at any serious crisis. Many thousands of them have died for the sake of the revolution which, were they living, they would be hard put to it to save. (The special shortage of skilled workers is also partially to be explained by the indiscriminate mobilizations of 1914-15, when great numbers of the most valuable engineers and other skilled workers were thrown into the front line, and it was not until their loss was already felt that the Tsar's Government in this matter came belatedly to its senses.)

But these explanations are only partial. The more general answer to the question, What has become of the workmen? lies in the very economic crisis which their absence accentuates. Russia is unlike England, where starvation of the towns would be practically starvation of the whole island. In Russia, if a man is hungry, he has only to walk far enough and he will come to a place where there is plenty to eat. Almost every Russian worker retains in some form or other connection with a village, where, if he returns, he will not be an entire stranger, but at worst a poor relation, and quite possibly an honored guest. It is not surprising that many thousands have "returned to the land" in this way.

Further, if a workman retains his connection, both with a distant village and with a town, he can keep himself and his family fat and prosperous by ceasing to be a workman, and, instead, traveling on the buffers or the roof of a railway wagon, and bringing back with him sacks of flour and potatoes for sale in the town at fantastic prices. Thereby he is lost to productive labor, and his uncomfortable but adventurous life becomes directly harmful, tending to increase the strain on transport, since it is obviously more economical to transport a thousand sacks than to transport a thousand sacks with an idle workman attached to each sack. Further, his activities actually make it more difficult for the town population to get food. By keeping open for the village the possibility of selling at fantastic prices, he lessens the readiness of the peasants to part with their flour at the lower prices of the Government. Nor is it as if his activities benefited the working population. The food he brings in goes for the most part to those who have plenty of money or have things to exchange for it. And honest men in Russia to-day have not much money, and those who have things to exchange are not as a rule workmen. The theory of this man's harmfulness is, I know, open to argument, but the practice at least is exactly as I have stated it, and is obviously attractive to the individual who prefers adventure on a full stomach to useful work on an empty. Setting aside the theory with its latent quarrel between Free Trade and State control, we can still recognize that each workman engaged in these pursuits has become an unproductive middleman, one of that very parasitic species which the revolutionaries had hoped to make unnecessary. It is bad from the revolutionary point of view if a workman is so employed, but it is no less bad from the point of view of people who do not care twopence about the revolution one way or the other, but do care about getting Russia on her feet again and out of her economic crisis. It is bad enough if an unskilled workman is so employed. It is far worse if a skilled workman finds he can do better for himself as a "food speculator" than by the exercise of his legitimate craft. From mines, from every kind of factory come complaints of the decreasing proportion of skilled to unskilled workmen. The superior intelligence of the skilled worker offers him definite advantages should he engage in these pursuits, and his actual skill gives him other advantages in the villages. He can leave his factory and go to the village, there on the spot to ply his trade or variations of it, when as a handy man, repairing tools, etc., he will make an easy living and by lessening the dependence of the village on the town do as much as the "food speculator" in worsening the conditions of the workman he has left behind.

And with that we come to the general changes in the social geography of Russia which are threatened if the processes now at work continue unchecked. The relations between town and village are the fundamental problem of the revolution. Town and countryside are in sharp contradiction daily intensified by the inability of the towns to supply the country's needs. The town may be considered as a single productive organism, with feelers stretching into the country, and actual outposts there in the form of agricultural enterprises taking their directives from the centre and working as definite parts of the State organism. All round this town organism, in all its interstices, it too, with its feelers in the form of "food speculators," is the anarchic chaos of the country, consisting of a myriad independent units, regulated by no plan, without a brain centre of any kind. Either the organized town will hold its own against and gradually dominate and systematize the country chaos, or that chaos little by little will engulf the town organism. Every workman who leaves the town automatically places himself on the side of the country in that struggle. And when a town like Moscow loses a third of its working population in a year, it is impossible not to see that, so far, the struggle is going in favor of that huge chaotic, unconscious but immensely powerful countryside. There is even a danger that the town may become divided against itself. Just as scarcity of food leads to food speculation, so the shortage of labor is making possible a sort of speculation in labor. The urgent need of labor has led to a resurrection of the methods of the direct recruiting of workmen in the villages by the agents of particular factories, who by exceptional terms succeed in getting workmen where the Government organs fail. And, of course, this recruiting is not confined to the villages. Those enterprises which are situated in the corn districts are naturally able to offer better conditions, for the sake of which workmen are ready to leave their jobs and skilled workmen to do unskilled work, and the result can only be a drainage of good workmen away from the hungry central industrial districts where they are most of all needed.

Summing up the facts collected in this chapter and in the first on the lack of things and the lack of men, I think the economic crisis in Russia may be fairly stated as follows: Owing to the appalling condition of Russian transport, and owing to the fact that since 1914 Russia has been practically in a state of blockade, the towns have lost their power of supplying, either as middlemen or as producers, the simplest needs of the villages. Partly owing to this, partly again because of the condition of transport, the towns are not receiving the necessaries of life in sufficient quantities. The result of this is a serious fall in the productivity of labor, and a steady flow of skilled and unskilled workmen from the towns towards the villages, and from employments the exercise of which tends to assist the towns in recovering their old position as essential sources of supply to employments that tend to have the opposite effect. If this continues unchecked, it will make impossible the regeneration of Russian industry, and will result in the increasing independence of the villages, which will tend to become entirely self-supporting communities, tilling the ground in a less and less efficient manner, with ruder tools, with less and less incentive to produce more than is wanted for the needs of the village itself. Russia, in these circumstances, may sink into something very like barbarism, for with the decay of the economic importance of the towns would decay also their authority, and free-booting on a small and large scale would become profitable and not very dangerous. It would be possible, no doubt, for foreigners to trade with the Russians as with the natives of the cannibal islands, bartering looking-glasses and cheap tools, but, should such a state of things come to be, it would mean long years of colonization, with all the new possibilities and risks involved in the subjugation of a free people, before Western Europe could count once more on getting a considerable portion of its food from Russian corn lands.

That is the position, those the natural tendencies at work. But opposed to these tendencies are the united efforts of the Communists and of those who, leaving the question of Communism discreetly aside, work with them for the sake of preventing such collapse of Russian civilization. They recognize the existence of every one of the tendencies I have described, but they are convinced that every one of these tendencies will be arrested. They believe that the country will not conquer the town but the reverse. So far from expecting the unproductive stagnation described in the last paragraph, they think of Russia as of the natural food supply of Europe, which the Communists among them believe will, in course of time, be made up for "Working Men's Republics" (though, for the sake of their own Republic, they are not inclined to postpone trade with Europe until that epoch arrives). At the very time when spades and sickles are wearing out or worn out, these men are determined that the food output of Russia shall sooner or later be increased by the introduction of better methods of agriculture and farming on a larger scale. We are witnessing in Russia the first stages of a titanic struggle, with on one side all the forces of nature leading apparently to an inevitable collapse of civilization, and on the other side nothing but the incalculable force of human will.


How is that will expressed? What is the organization welded by adversity which, in this crisis, supersedes even the Soviet Constitution, and stands between this people and chaos?

It is a commonplace to say that Russia is ruled, driven if you like, cold, starving as she is, to effort after effort by the dictatorship of a party. It is a commonplace alike in the mouths of those who wish to make the continued existence of that organization impossible and in the mouths of the Communists themselves. At the second congress of the Third International, Trotsky remarked. "A party as such, in the course of the development of a revolution, becomes identical with the revolution." Lenin, on the same occasion, replying to a critic who said that he differed from, the Communists in his understanding of what was meant by the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, said, "He says that we understand by the words 'Dictatorship of the Proletariat' what is actually the dictatorship of its determined and conscious minority. And that is the fact." Later he asked, "What is this minority? It may be called a party. If this minority is actually conscious, if it is able to draw the masses after it, if it shows itself capable of replying to every question on the agenda list of the political day, it actually constitutes a party." And Trotsky again, on the same occasion, illustrated the relative positions of the Soviet Constitution and the Communist Party when he said, "And today, now that we have received an offer of peace from the Polish Government, who decides the question? Whither are the workers to turn? We have our Council of People's Commissaries, of course, but that, too, must be under a certain control. Whose control? The control of the working class as a formless chaotic mass? No. The Central Committee of the party is called together to discuss and decide the question. And when we have to wage war, to form new divisions, to find the best elements for them-to whom do we turn? To the party, to the Central Committee. And it gives directives to the local committees, 'Send Communists to the front.' The case is precisely the same with the Agrarian question, with that of supply, and with all other questions whatsoever."

No one denies these facts, but their mere statement is quite inadequate to explain what is being done in Russia and how it is being done. I do not think it would be a waste of time to set down as briefly as possible, without the comments of praise or blame that would be inevitable from one primarily interested in the problem from the Capitalist or Communist point of view what, from observation and inquiry, I believe to be the main framework of the organization whereby that dictatorship of the party works.

The Soviet Constitution is not so much moribund as in abeyance. The Executive Committee, for example, which used to meet once a week or even oftener, now meets on the rarest occasions. Criticism on this account was met with the reply that the members of the Executive Committee, for example, which used to meet once a week or even oftener, now meets on the rarest occasions. Criticism on this account was met with the reply that the members of the Executive Committee were busy on the front and in various parts of Russia. As a matter of fact, the work which that Committee used to do is now done by Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, so that the bulk of the 150 members of the Central Executive are actually free for other work, a saving of something like 130 men. This does not involve any very great change, but merely an economy in the use of men. In the old days, as I well remember, the opening of a session of the Executive Committee was invariably late, the reason being that the various parties composing it had not yet finished their preliminary and private discussions. There is now an overwhelming Communist majority in the Executive Committee, as elsewhere. I think it may be regarded as proved that these majorities are not always legitimately obtained. Non-Communist delegates do undoubtedly find every kind of difficulty put in their way by the rather Jesuitical adherents of the faith. But, no matter how these majorities are obtained, the result is that when the Communist Party has made up its mind on any subject, it is so certain of being able to carry its point that the calling together of the All-Russian Executive Committee is merely a theatrical demonstration of the fact that it can do what it likes. When it does meet, the Communists allow the microscopical opposition great liberty of speech, listen quietly, cheer ironically, and vote like one man, proving on every occasion that the meeting of the Executive Committee was the idlest of forms, intended rather to satisfy purists than for purposes of discussion, since the real discussion has all taken place beforehand among the Communists themselves. Something like this must happen with every representative assembly at which a single party has a great preponderance and a rigid internal discipline. The real interest is in the discussion inside the Party Committees.

This state of affairs would probably be more actively resented if the people were capable of resenting anything but their own hunger, or of fearing anything but a general collapse which would turn that hunger into starvation. It must be remembered that the urgency of the economic crisis has driven political questions into the background. The Communists (compare Rykov's remarks on this subject, p. 175) believe that this is the natural result of social revolution. They think that political parties will disappear altogether and that people will band together, not for the victory of one of several contending political parties, but solely for economic cooperation or joint enterprise in art or science. In support of this they point to the number of their opponents who have become Communists, and to the still greater number of non-Communists who are loyally working with them for the economic reconstruction of the country. I do not agree with the Communists in this, nor yet with their opponents, who attribute the death of political discussion to fear of the Extraordinary Commission. I think that both the Communists and their opponents underestimate the influence of the economic ruin that affects everybody. The latter particularly, feeling that in some way they must justify themselves to politically minded foreign visitors, seek an excuse for their apathy in the one institution that is almost universally unpopular. I have many non-Communist friends in Russia, but have never detected the least restraint that could be attributed to fear of anybody in their criticisms of the Communist regime. The fear existed alike among Communists and non-Communists, but it was like the fear of people walking about in a particularly bad thunderstorm. The activities and arrests of the Extraordinary Commission are so haphazard, often so utterly illogical, that it is quite idle for any one to say to himself that by following any given line of conduct he will avoid molestation. Also, there is something in the Russian character which makes any prohibition of discussion almost an invitation to discuss. I have never met a Russian who could be prevented from saying whatever he liked whenever he liked, by any threats or dangers whatsoever. The only way to prevent a Russian from talking is to cut out his tongue. The real reason for the apathy is that, for the moment, for almost everybody political questions are of infinitesimal importance in comparison with questions of food and warmth. The ferment of political discussion that filled the first years of the revolution has died away, and people talk about little but what they are able to get for dinner, or what somebody else his been able to get. I, like other foreign visitors coming to Russia after feeding up in other countries, am all agog to make people talk. But the sort of questions which interest me, with my full-fed stomach, are brushed aside almost fretfully by men who have been more or less hungry for two or three years on end.

I find, instead of an urgent desire to alter this or that at once, to-morrow, in the political complexion of the country, a general desire to do the best that can be done with things as they are, a general fear of further upheaval of any kind, in fact a general acquiescence in the present state of affairs politically, in the hope of altering the present state of affairs economically. And this is entirely natural. Everybody, Communists included, rails bitterly at the inefficiencies of the present system, but everybody, Anti-Communists included, admits that there is nothing whatever capable of taking its place. Its failure is highly undesirable, not because it itself is good, but because such failure would be preceded or followed by a breakdown of all existing organizations. Food distribution, inadequate as it now is, would come to an end. The innumerable non-political committees, which are rather like Boards of Directors controlling the Timber, Fur, Fishery, Steel, Matches or other Trusts (since the nationalized industries can be so considered) would collapse, and with them would collapse not only yet one more hope of keeping a breath of life in Russian industry, but also the actual livelihoods of a great number of people, both Communists and non-Communists. I do not think it is realized out-side Russia how large a proportion of the educated classes have become civil servants of one kind or another. It is a rare thing when a whole family has left Russia, and many of the most embittered partisans of war on Russia have relations inside Russia who have long ago found places under the new system, and consequently fear its collapse as much as any one. One case occurs to me in which a father was an important minister in one of the various White Governments which have received Allied support, while his son inside Russia was doing pretty well as a responsible official under the Communists. Now in the event of a violent change, the Communists would be outlaws with a price on every head, and those who have worked with them, being Russians, know their fellow countrymen well enough to be pretty well convinced that the mere fact that they are without cards of the membership of the Communist Party, would not save them in the orgy of slaughter that would follow any such collapse.

People may think that I underestimate the importance of, the Extraordinary Commission. I am perfectly aware that without this police force with its spies, its prisons and its troops, the difficulties of the Dictatorship would be increased by every kind of disorder, and the chaos, which I fear may come, would have begun long ago. I believe, too, that the overgrown power of the Extraordinary Commission, and the cure that must sooner or later be applied to it, may, as in the French Revolution, bring about the collapse of the whole system. The Commission depends for its strength on the fear of something else. I have seen it weaken when there was a hope of general peace. I have seen it tighten its grip in the presence of attacks from without and attempted assassination within. It is dreaded by everybody; not even Communists are safe from it; but it does not suffice to explain the Dictatorship, and is actually entirely irrelevant to the most important process of that Dictatorship, namely, the adoption of a single idea, a single argument, by the whole of a very large body of men. The whole power of the Extraordinary Commission does not affect in the slightest degree discussions inside the Communist Party, and those discussions are the simple fact distinguishing the Communist Dictatorship from any of the other dictatorships by which it may be supplanted.

There are 600,000 members of the Communist Party (611,978 on April 2, 1920). There are nineteen members of the Central Committee of that party. There are, I believe, five who, when they agree, can usually sway the remaining fourteen. There is no need to wonder how these fourteen can be argued into acceptance of the views of the still smaller inner ring, but the process of persuading the six hundred thousand of the desirability of, for example, such measures as those involved in industrial conscription which, at first sight, was certainly repugnant to most of them, is the main secret of the Dictatorship, and is not in any way affected by the existence of the Extraordinary Commission.

Thus the actual government of Russia at the present time may be not unfairly considered as a small group inside the Central Committee of the Communist Party. This small group is able to persuade the majority of the remaining members of that Committee. The Committee then sets about persuading the majority of the party. In the case of important measures the process is elaborate. The Committee issues a statement of its case, and the party newspapers the Pravda and its affiliated organs are deluged with its discussion. When this discussion has had time to spread through the country, congresses of Communists meet in the provincial centres, and members of the Central Committee go down to these conferences to defend the "theses" which the Committee has issued. These provincial congresses, exclusively Communist, send their delegates of an All-Russian Congress. There the "theses" of the Central Committee get altered, confirmed, or, in the case of an obviously unpersuaded and large opposition in the party, are referred back or in other ways shelved. Then the delegates, even those who have been in opposition at the congress, go back to the country pledged to defend the position of the majority. This sometimes has curious results. For example, I heard Communist Trades Unionists fiercely arguing against certain clauses in the theses on industrial conscription at a Communist Congress at the Kremlin; less than a week afterwards I heard these same men defending precisely these clauses at a Trades Union Congress over the way, they loyally abiding by the collective opinion of their fellow Communists and subject to particularly uncomfortable heckling from people who vociferously reminded them (since the Communist debates had been published) that they were now defending what, a few days before, they had vehemently attacked.

The great strength of the Communist Party is comparable to the strength of the Jesuits, who, similarly, put themselves and their opinions at the disposal of the body politic of their fellow members. Until a decision had been made, a Communist is perfectly free to do his best to prevent it being made, to urge alterations in it, or to supply a rival decision, but once it has been made he will support it without changing his private opinion. In all mixed congresses, rather than break the party discipline, he will give his vote for it, speak in favor of it, and use against its adversaries the very arguments that have been used against himself. He has his share in electing the local Communist Committee, and, indirectly, in electing the all-powerful Central Committee of the party, and he binds himself to do at any moment in his life exactly what these Committees decide for him. These Committees decide the use that is to be made of the lives, not only of the rank and file of the party, but also of their own members. Even a member of the Central Committee does not escape. He may be voted by his fellow members into leaving a job he likes and taking up another he detests in which they think his particular talents will better serve the party aims. To become a member of the Communist Party involves a kind of intellectual abdication, or, to put it differently, a readiness at any moment to place the collective wisdom of the party's Committee above one's individual instincts or ideas. You may influence its decisions, you may even get it to endorse your own, but Lenin himself, if he were to fail on any occasion to obtain the agreement of a majority in the Central Committee, would have to do precisely what the Committee should tell him. Lenin's opinion carries great weight because he is Lenin, but it carries less weight than that of the Central Committee, of which he forms a nineteenth part. On the other hand, the opinion of Lenin and a very small group of outstanding figures is supported by great prestige inside the Committee, and that of the Committee is supported by overwhelming prestige among the rank and file. The result is that this small group is nearly always sure of being able to use the whole vote of 600,000 Communists, in the realization of its decisions.

Now 600,000 men and women acting on the instructions of a highly centralized directive, all the important decisions of which have been thrashed out and re-thrashed until they have general support within the party; 600,000 men and women prepared, not only to vote in support of these decisions, but with a carefully fostered readiness to sacrifice their lives for them if necessary; 600,000 men and women who are persuaded that by their way alone is humanity to be saved; who are persuaded (to put it as cynically and unsympathetically as possible) that the noblest death one can die is in carrying out a decision of the Central Committee; such a body, even in a country such as Russia, is an enormously strong embodiment of human will, an instrument of struggle capable of working something very like miracles. It can be and is controlled like an army in battle. It can mobilize its members, 10 per cent. of them, 50 per cent., the local Committees choosing them, and send them to the front when the front is in danger, or to the railways and repair shops when it is decided that the weakest point is that of transport. If its only task were to fight those organizations of loosely knit and only momentarily united interests which are opposed to it, those jerry-built alliances of Reactionaries with Liberals, United-Indivisible-Russians with Ukrainians, Agrarians with Sugar-Refiners, Monarchists with Republicans, that task would long ago have been finished. But it has to fight something infinitely stronger than these in fighting the economic ruin of Russia, which, if it is too strong, too powerful to be arrested by the Communists, would make short work of those who are without any such fanatic single-minded and perfectly disciplined organization.


I have already suggested that although the small Central Committee of the Communist Party does invariably get its own way, there are essential differences between this Dictatorship and the dictatorship of, for example, a General. The main difference is that whereas the General merely writes an order about which most people hear for the first time only when it is promulgated, the Central Committee prepares the way for its dictation by a most elaborate series of discussions and counter discussions throughout the country, whereby it wins the bulk of the Communist Party to its opinion, after which it proceeds through local and general congresses to do the same with the Trades Unions. This done, a further series of propaganda meetings among the people actually to be affected smooths the way for the introduction of whatever new measure is being carried through at the moment. All this talk, besides lessening the amount of physical force necessary in carrying out a decision, must also avoid, at least in part, the deadening effect that would be caused by mere compulsory obedience to the unexplained orders of a military dictator. Of the reality of the Communist Dictatorship I have no sort of doubt. But its methods are such as tend towards the awakening of a political consciousness which, if and when normal conditions-of feeding and peace, for example-are attained, will make dictatorship of any kind almost impossible.

To illustrate these methods of the Dictatorship, I cannot do better than copy into this book some pages of my diary written in March of this year when I was present at one of the provincial conferences which were held in preparation of the All-Russian Communist Conference at the end of the month.

At seven in the evening Radek called for me and took me to the Jaroslavl station, where we met Larin, whom I had known in 1918. An old Menshevik, he was the originator and most urgent supporter of the decree annulling the foreign debts. He is a very ill man, partially paralyzed, having to use both hands even to get food to his mouth or to turn over the leaves of a book. In spite of this he is one of the hardest workers in Russia, and although his obstinacy, his hatred of compromise, and a sort of mixed originality and perverseness keep him almost permanently at loggerheads with the Central Committee, he retains everybody's respect because of the real heroism with which he conquers physical disabilities which long ago would have overwhelmed a less unbreakable spirit. Both Radek and Larin were going to the Communist Conference at Jaroslavl which was to consider the new theses of the Central Committee of the party with regard to Industrial Conscription. Radek was going to defend the position of the Central Committee, Larin to defend his own. Both are old friends. As Radek said to me, he intended to destroy Larin's position, but not, if he could help it, prevent Larin being nominated among the Jaroslavl delegates to All-Russian Conference which was in preparation. Larin, whose work keeps him continually traveling, has his own car, specially arranged so that his uninterrupted labor shall have as little effect as possible on his dangerously frail body. Radek and I traveled in one of the special cars of the Central Executive Committee, of which he is a member.

The car seemed very clean, but, as an additional precaution, we began by rubbing turpentine on our necks and wrists and angles for the discouragement of lice, now generally known as "Semashki" from the name of Semashko, the Commissar of Public Health, who wages unceasing war for their destruction as the carriers of typhus germs. I rubbed the turpentine so energetically into my neck that it burnt like a collar of fire, and for a long time I was unable to get to sleep.

In the morning Radek, the two conductors who had charge of the wagons and I sat down together to breakfast and had a very merry meal, they providing cheese and bread and I a tin of corned beef providently sent out from home by the Manchester Guardian. We cooked up some coffee on a little spirit stove, which, in a neat basket together with plates, knives, forks, etc. (now almost unobtainable in Russia) had been a parting present from the German Spartacists to Radek when he was released from prison in Berlin and allowed to leave Germany.

The morning was bright and clear, and we had an excellent view of Jaroslavl when we drove from the station to the town, which is a mile or so off the line of the railway. The sun poured down on the white snow, on the barges still frozen into the Volga River, and on the gilt and painted domes and cupolas of the town. Many of the buildings had been destroyed during the rising artificially provoked in July, 1918, and its subsequent suppression. More damage was done then than was necessary, because the town was recaptured by troops which had been deserted by most of their officers, and therefore hammered away with artillery without any very definite plan of attack. The more important of the damaged buildings, such as the waterworks and the power station, have been repaired, the tramway was working, and, after Moscow, the town seemed clean, but plenty of ruins remained as memorials of that wanton and unjustifiable piece of folly which, it was supposed, would be the signal for a general rising.

We drove to the Hotel Bristol, now the headquarters of the Jaroslavl Executive Committee, where Rostopchin, the president, discussed with Larin and Radek the programme arranged for the conference. It was then proposed that we should have something to eat, when a very curious state of affairs (and one extremely Russian) was revealed. Rostopchin admitted that the commissariat arrangements of the Soviet and its Executive Committee were very bad. But in the center of the town there is a nunnery which was very badly damaged during the bombardment and is now used as a sort of prison or concentration camp for a Labor Regiment. Peasants from the surrounding country who have refused to give up their proper contribution of corn, or leave otherwise disobeyed the laws, are, for punishment, lodged here, and made to expiate their sins by work. It so happens, Rostopchin explained, that the officer in charge of the prison feeding arrangements is a very energetic fellow, who had served in the old army in a similar capacity, and the meals served out to the prisoners are so much better than those produced in the Soviet headquarters, that the members of the Executive Committee make a practice of walking over to the prison to dine. They invited us to do the same. Larin did not feel up to the walk, so he remained in the Soviet House to eat an inferior meal, while Radek and I, with Rostopchin and three other members of the local committee walked round to the prison. The bell tower of the old nunnery had been half shot away by artillery, and is in such a precarious condition that it is proposed to pull it down. But on passing under it we came into a wide courtyard surrounded by two-story whitewashed buildings that seemed scarcely to have suffered at all. We found the refectory in one of these buildings. It was astonishingly clean. There were wooden tables, of course without cloths, and each man had a wooden spoon and a hunk of bread. A great bowl of really excellent soup was put down in the middle of table, and we fell to hungrily enough. I made more mess on the table than any one else, because it requires considerable practice to convey almost boiling soup from a distant bowl to one's mouth without spilling it in a shallow wooden spoon four inches in diameter, and, having got it to one's mouth, to get any of it in without slopping over on either side. The regular diners there seemed to find no difficulty in it at all. One of the prisoners who mopped up after my disasters said I had better join them for a week, when I should find it quite easy. The soup bowl was followed by a fry of potatoes, quantities of which are grown in the district. For dealing with these I found the wooden spoon quite efficient. After that we had glasses of some sort of substitute for tea.

The Conference was held in the town theatre. There was a hint of comedy in the fact that the orchestra was playing the prelude to some very cheerful opera before the curtain rang up. Radek characteristically remarked that such music should be followed by something more sensational than a conference, proposed to me that we should form a tableau to illustrate the new peaceful policy of England with regard to Russia. As it was a party conference, I had really no right to be there, but Radek had arranged with Rostopchin that I should come in with himself, and be allowed to sit in the wings at the side of the stage. On the stage were Rostopchin, Radek, Larin and various members of the Communist Party Committee in the district. Everything was ready, but the orchestra went on with its jig music on the other side of the curtain. A message was sent to them. The music stopped with a jerk. The curtain rose, disclosing a crowded auditorium. Everybody stood up, both on the stage and in the theater, and sang, accompanied by the orchestra, first the "Internationale" and then the song for those who had died for the revolution. Then except for two or three politically minded musicians, the orchestra vanished away and the Conference began.

Unlike many of the meetings and conferences at which I have been present in Russia, this Jaroslavl Conference seemed to me to include practically none but men and women who either were or had been actual manual workers. I looked over row after row of faces in the theatre, and could only find two faces which I thought might be Jewish, and none that obviously belonged to the "intelligentsia." I found on inquiry that only three of the Communists present, excluding Radek and Larin, were old exiled and imprisoned revolutionaries of the educated class. Of these, two were on the platform. All the rest were from the working class. The great majority of them, of course, had joined the Communists in 1917, but a dozen or so had been in the party as long as the first Russian revolution of 1905.

Radek, who was tremendously cheered (his long imprisonment in Germany, during which time few in Russia thought that they would see him alive again, has made him something of a popular hero) made a long, interesting and pugnacious speech setting out the grounds on which the Central Committee base their ideas about Industrial Conscription. These ideas are embodied in the series of theses issued by the Central Committee in January (see p. 134). Larin, who was very tired after the journey and patently conscious that Radek was a formidable opponent, made a speech setting out his reasons for differing with the Central Committee, and proposed an ingenious resolution, which, while expressing approval of the general position of the Committee, included four supplementary modifications which, as a matter of fact, nullified that position altogether. It was then about ten at night, and the Conference adjourned. We drove round to the prison in sledges, and by way of supper had some more soup and potatoes, and so back to the railway station to sleep in the cars.

Next day the Conference opened about noon, when there was a long discussion of the points at issue. Workman after workman came to the platform and gave his view. Some of the speeches were a little naive, as when one soldier said that Comrades Lenin and Trotsky had often before pointed out difficult roads, and that whenever they had been followed they had shown the way to victory, and that therefore, though there was much in the Central Committee's theses that was hard to digest, he was for giving them complete support, confident that, as Comrades Lenin and Trotsky were in favor of them, they were likely to be right this time, as so often heretofore. But for the most part the speeches were directly concerned with the problem under discussion, and showed a political consciousness which would have been almost incredible three years ago. The Red Army served as a text for many, who said that the methods which had produced that army and its victories over the Whites had been proved successful and should be used to produce a Red Army of Labor and similar victories on the bloodless front against economic disaster. Nobody seemed to question the main idea of compulsory labor. The contest that aroused real bitterness was between the methods of individual and collegiate command. The new proposals lead eventually towards individual command, and fears were expressed lest this should mean putting summary powers into the hands of bourgeois specialists, thus nullifying "workers' control". In reply, it was pointed out that individual command had proved necessary in the army and had resulted in victory for the revolution. The question was not between specialists and no specialists. Everybody knew that specialists were necessary. The question was how to get the most out of them. Effective political control had secured that bourgeois specialists, old officers, led to victory the army of the Red Republic. The same result could be secured in the factories in the same way. It was pointed out that in one year they had succeeded in training 32,000 Red Commanders, that is to say, officers from the working class itself, and that it was not Utopian to hope and work for a similar output of workmen specialists, technically trained, and therefore themselves qualified for individual command in the factories. Meanwhile there was nothing against the employment of Political Commissars in the factories as formerly in the regiments, to control in other than technical matters the doings of the specialists. On the other hand, it was said that the appointment of Commissars would tend to make Communists unpopular, since inevitably in many cases they would have to support the specialists against the workmen, and that the collegiate system made the workmen feel that they were actually the masters, and so gave possibilities of enthusiastic work not otherwise obtainable. This last point was hotly challenged. It was said that collegiate control meant little in effect, except waste of time and efficiency, because at worst work was delayed by disputes and at best the workmen members of the college merely countersigned the orders decided upon by the specialists. The enthusiastic work was said to be a fairy story. If it were really to be found then there would be no need for a conference to discover how to get it.

The most serious opposition, or at least the most serious argument put forward, for there was less opposition than actual discussion, came from some of the representatives of the Trade Unionists. A good deal was said about the position of the Trades Unions in a Socialist State. There was general recognition that since the Trade Unions themselves controlled the conditions of labor and wages, the whole of their old work of organizing strikes against capitalists had ceased to have any meaning, since to strike now would be to strike against their own decisions. At the same time, certain tendencies to Syndicalism were still in existence, tendencies which might well lead to conflict between different unions, so that, for example, the match makers or the metal worker, might wish to strike a bargain with the State, as of one country with another, and this might easily lead to a complete collapse of the socialist system.

The one thing on which the speakers were in complete agreement was the absolute need of an effort in industry equal to, if not greater than, the effort made in the army. I thought it significant that in many of the speeches the importance of this effort was urged as the only possible means of retaining the support of the peasants. There was a tacit recognition that the Conference represented town workers only. Larin, who had belonged to the old school which had grown up with its eyes on the industrial countries of the West and believed that revolution could be brought about by the town workers alone, that it was exclusively their affair, and that all else was of minor importance, unguardedly spoke of the peasant as "our neighbor." In Javoslavl, country and town are too near to allow the main problem of the revolution to be thus easily dismissed. It was instantly pointed out that the relation was much more intimate, and that, even if it were only "neighborly," peace could not long be preserved if it were continually necessary for one neighbor to steal the chickens of the other. These town workers of a district for the most part agricultural were very sure that the most urgent of all tasks was to raise industry to the point at which the town would really be able to supply the village with its needs.

Larin and Radek severally summed up and made final attacks on each other's positions, after which Radek's resolution approving the theses of the Central Committee was passed almost unanimously. Larin's four amendments received 1, 3, 7 and 1 vote apiece. This result was received with cheering throughout the theater, and showed the importance of such Conferences in smoothing the way of the Dictatorship, since it had been quite obvious when the discussion began that a very much larger proportion of the delegates than finally voted for his resolution had been more or less in sympathy with Larin in his opposition to the Central Committee.

There followed elections to the Party Conference in Moscow. Rostopchin, the president, read a list which had been submitted by the various ouyezds in the Jaroslavl Government. They were to send to Moscow fifteen delegates with the right to vote, together with another fifteen with the right to speak but not to vote. Larin, who had done much work in the district, was mentioned as one of the fifteen voting delegates, but he stood up and said that as the Conference had so clearly expressed its disagreement with his views, he thought it better to withdraw his candidature. Rostopchin put it to the Conference that although they disagreed with Larin, yet it would be as well that he should have the opportunity of stating his views at the All-Russian Conference, so that discussion there should be as final and as many-sided as possible. The Conference expressed its agreement with this. Larin withdrew his withdrawal, and was presently elected. The main object of these conferences in unifying opinion and in arming Communists with argument for the defence of this unified opinion a mong the masses was again illustrated when the Conference, in leaving it to the ouyezds to choose for themselves the non-voting delegates urged them to select wherever possible people who would have the widest opportunities of explaining on their return to the district whatever results might be reached in Moscow.

It was now pretty late in the evening, and after another very satisfactory visit to the prison we drove back to the station. Larin, who was very disheartened, realizing that he had lost much support in the course of the discussion, settled down to work, and buried himself in a mass of statistics. I prepared to go to bed, but we had hardly got into the car when there was a tap at the door and a couple of railwaymen came in. They explained that a few hundred yards away along the line a concert and entertainment arranged by the Jaroslavl railwaymen was going on, and that their committee, hearing that Radek was at the station, had sent them to ask him to come over and say a few words to them if he were not too tired.

"Come along," said Radek, and we walked in the dark along the railway lines to a big one-story wooden shanty, where an electric lamp lit a great placard, "Railwaymen's Reading Room." We went into a packed hall. Every seat was occupied by railway workers and their wives and children. The gangways on either side were full of those who had not found room on the benches. We wriggled and pushed our way through this crowd, who were watching a play staged and acted by the railwaymen themselves, to a side door, through which we climbed up into the wings, and slid across the stage behind the scenery into a tiny dressing-room. Here Radek was laid hold of by the Master of the Ceremonies, who, it seemed, was also part editor of a railwaymen's newspaper, and made to give a long account of the present situation of Soviet Russia's Foreign Affairs. The little box of a room filled to a solid mass as policemen, generals and ladies of the old regime threw off their costumes, and, in their working clothes, plain signalmen and engine-drivers, pressed round to listen. When the act ended, one of the railwaymen went to the front of the stage and announced that Radek, who had lately come back after imprisonment in Germany for the cause of revolution, was going to talk to them about the general state of affairs. I saw Radek grin at this forecast of his speech. I understood why, when he began to speak. He led off by a direct and furious onslaught on the railway workers in general, demanding work, work and more work, telling them that as the Red Army had been the vanguard of the revolution hitherto, and had starved and fought and given lives to save those at home from Denikin and Kolchak, so now it was the turn of the railway workers on whose efforts not only the Red Army but also the whole future of Russia depended. He addressed himself to the women, telling them in very bad Russian that unless their men worked superhumanly they would see their babies die from starvation next winter. I saw women nudge their husbands as they listened. Instead of giving them a pleasant, interesting sketch of the international position, which, no doubt, was what they had expected, he took the opportunity to tell them exactly how things stood at home. And the amazing thing was that they seemed to be pleased. They listened with extreme attention, wanted to turn out some one who had a sneezing fit at the far end of the hall, and nearly lifted the roof off with cheering when Radek had done. I wondered what sort of reception a man would have who in another country interrupted a play to hammer home truths about the need of work into an audience of working men who had gathered solely for the purpose of legitimate recreation. It was not as if he sugared the medicine he gave them. His speech was nothing but demands for discipline and work, coupled with prophecy of disaster in case work and discipline failed. It was delivered like all his speeches, with a strong Polish accent and a steady succession of mistakes in grammar.

As we walked home along the railway lines, half a dozen of the railwaymen pressed around Radek, and almost fought with each other as to who should walk next to him. And Radek entirely happy, delighted at his success in giving them a bombshell instead of a bouquet, with one stout fellow on one arm, another on the other, two or three more listening in front and behind, continued rubbing it into them until we reached our wagon, when, after a general handshaking, they disappeared into the night.


Trade Unions in Russia are in a different position from that which is common to all other Trades Unions in the world. In other countries the Trades Unions are a force with whose opposition the Government must reckon. In Russia the Government reckons not on the possible opposition of the Trades Unions, but on their help for realizing its most difficult measures, and for undermining and overwhelming any opposition which those measures may encounter. The Trades Unions in Russia, instead of being an organization outside the State protecting the interests of a class against the governing class, have become a part of the State organization. Since, during the present period of the revolution the backbone of the State organization is the Communist Party, the Trade Unions have come to be practically an extension of the party organization. This, of course, would be indignantly denied both by Trade Unionists and Communists. Still, in the preface to the All-Russian Trades Union Reports for 1919, Glebov, one of the best-known Trade Union leaders whom I remember in the spring of last year objecting to the use of bourgeois specialists in their proper places, admits as much in the following muddleheaded statement:—

"The base of the proletarian dictatorship is the Communist Party, which in general directs all the political and economic work of the State, leaning, first of all, on the Soviets as on the more revolutionary form of dictatorship of the proletariat, and secondly on the Trades Unions, as organizations which economically unite the proletariat of factory and workshop as the vanguard of the revolution, and as organizations of the new socialistic construction of the State. Thus the Trade Unions must be considered as a base of the Soviet State, as an organic form complementary to the other forms of the Proletariat Dictatorship." These two elaborate sentences constitute an admission of what I have just said.

Trades Unionists of other countries must regard the fate of their Russian colleagues with horror or with satisfaction, according to their views of events in Russia taken as a whole. If they do not believe that there has been a social revolution in Russia, they must regard the present position of the Russian Trades Unions as the reward of a complete defeat of Trade Unionism, in which a Capitalist government has been able to lay violent hands on the organization which was protecting the workers against it. If, on the other hand, they believe that there has been a social revolution, so that the class organized in Trades Unions is now, identical with the governing, class (of employers, etc.) against which the unions once struggled, then they must regard the present position as a natural and satisfactory result of victory.

When I was in Moscow in the spring of this year the Russian Trades Unions received a telegram from the Trades Union Congress at Amsterdam, a telegram which admirably illustrated the impossibility of separating judgment of the present position of the Unions from judgments of the Russian revolution as a whole. It encouraged the Unions "in their struggle" and promised support in that struggle. The Communists immediately asked "What struggle? Against the capitalist system in Russia which does not exist? Or against capitalist systems outside Russia?" They said that either the telegram meant this latter only, or it meant that its writers did not believe that there had been a social revolution in Russia. The point is arguable. If one believes that revolution is an impossibility, one can reason from that belief and say that in spite of certain upheavals in Russia the fundamental arrangement of society is the same there as in other countries, so that the position of the Trade Unions there must be the same, and, as in other countries they must be still engaged in augmenting the dinners of their members at the expense of the dinners of the capitalists which, in the long run (if that were possible) they would abolish. If, on the other hand, one believes that social revolution has actually occurred, to speak of Trades Unions continuing the struggle in which they conquered something like three years ago, is to urge them to a sterile fanaticism which has been neatly described by Professor Santayana as a redoubling of your effort when you have forgotten your aim.

It 's probably true that the "aim" of the Trades Unions was more clearly defined in Russia than elsewhere. In England during the greater part of their history the Trades Unions have not been in conscious opposition to the State. In Russia this position was forced on the Trades Unions almost before they had time to get to work. They were born, so to speak, with red flags in their hands. They grew up under circumstances of extreme difficulty and persecution. From 1905 on they were in decided opposition to the existing system, and were revolutionary rather than merely mitigatory organizations.

Before 1905 they were little more than associations for mutual help, very weak, spending most of their energies in self-preservation from the police, and hiding their character as class organizations by electing more or less Liberal managers and employers as "honorary members." 1905, however, settled their revolutionary character. In September of that year there was a Conference at Moscow, where it was decided to call an All-Russian Trades Union Congress. Reaction in Russia made this impossible, and the most they could do was to have another small Conference in February, 1906, which, however, defined their object as that of creating a general Trade Union Movement organized on All-Russian lines. The temper of the Trades Unions then, and the condition of the country at that time, may be judged from the fact that although they were merely working for the right to form Unions, the right to strike, etc., they passed the following significant resolution: "Neither from the present Government nor from the future State Duma can be expected realization of freedom of coalition. This Conference considers the legalization of the Trades Unions under present conditions absolutely impossible." The Conference was right. For twelve years after that there were no Trades Unions Conferences in Russia. Not until June, 1917, three months after the March Revolution, was the third Trade Union Conference able to meet. This Conference reaffirmed the revolutionary character of the Russian Trades Unions.

At that time the dominant party in the Soviets was that of the Mensheviks, who were opposed to the formation of a Soviet Government, and were supporting the provisional Cabinet of Kerensky. The Trades Unions were actually at that time more revolutionary than the Soviets. This third Conference passed several resolutions, which show clearly enough that the present position of the Unions has not been brought about by any violence of the Communists from without, but was definitely promised by tendencies inside the Unions at a time when the Communists were probably the least authoritative party in Russia. This Conference of June, 1917, resolved that the Trades Unions should not only "remain militant class organizations... but... should support the activities of the Soviets of soldiers and deputies." They thus clearly showed on which side they stood in the struggle then proceeding. Nor was this all. They also, though the Mensheviks were still the dominant party, resolved on that system of internal organizations and grouping, which has been actually realized under the Communists. I quote again from the resolution of this Conference:

"The evolution of the economic struggle demands from the workers such forms of professional organization as, basing themselves on the connection between various groups of workers in the process of production, should unite within a general organization, and under general leadership, as large masses of workers as possible occupied in enterprises of the same kind, or in similar professions. With this object the workers should organize themselves professionally, not by shops or trades, but by productions, so that all the workers of a given enterprise should belong to one Union, even if they belong to different professions and even different productions." That which was then no more than a design is now an accurate description of Trades Union organization in Russia. Further, much that at present surprises the foreign inquirer was planned and considered desirable then, before the Communists had won a majority either in the Unions or in the Soviet. Thus this same third Conference resolved that "in the interests of greater efficiency and success in the economic struggle, a professional organization should be built on the principle of democratic centralism, assuring to every member a share in the affairs of the organization and, at the same time, obtaining unity in the leadership of the struggle." Finally "Unity in the direction (leadership) of the economic struggle demands unity in the exchequer of the Trades Unions."

1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse