"Do the men work?"
"Well," he said, "we thought that when the factory was in their own hands they would work better, but we do not think they do so, not noticeably, anyhow."
"Do they work worse?"
"No, that is not noticeable either."
I tried to get at his political views. Last summer he had told me that the Soviet Government could not last more than another two or three months. He was then looking forward to its downfall. Now he did not like it any better, but he was very much afraid of war being brought into Russia, or rather of the further disorders which war would cause. He took a queer sort of pride in the way in which the territory of the Russian republic was gradually resuming its old frontiers. "In the old days no one ever thought the Red Army would come to anything," he said. "You can't expect much from the Government, but it does keep order, and I can do my work and rub along all right." It was quite funny to hear him in one breath grumbling at the revolution and in the next anxiously asking whether I did not think they had weathered the storm, so that there would be no more disorders.
Knowing that in some country places there had been appalling excesses, I asked him how the Red Terror that followed the attempt on the life of Lenin had shown itself in their district. He laughed.
"We got off very cheaply," he said. "This is what happened. A certain rich merchant's widow had a fine house, with enormous stores of all kinds of things, fine knives and forks, and too many of everything. For instance, she had twenty-two samovars of all sizes and sorts. Typical merchant's house, so many tablecloths that they could not use them all if they lived to be a hundred. Well, one fine day, early last summer, she was told that her house was wanted and that she must clear out. For two days she ran hither and thither trying to get out of giving it up. Then she saw it was no good, and piled all those things, samovars and knives and forks and dinner services and tablecloths and overcoats (there were over a dozen fur overcoats) in the garrets which she closed and sealed, and got the president of the Soviet to come and put his seal also. In the end things were so friendly that he even put a sentinel there to see that the seal should not be broken. Then came the news from Petrograd and Moscow about the Red terror, and the Soviet, after holding a meeting and deciding that it ought to do something, and being on too good terms with all of us to do anything very bad, suddenly remembered poor Maria Nicolaevna's garrets. They broke the seals and tumbled out all the kitchen things, knives, forks, plates, furniture, the twenty-two samovars and the overcoats, took them in carts to the Soviet and declared them national property. National property! And a week or two later there was a wedding of a daughter of one of the members of the Soviet, and somehow or other the knives and forks were on the table, and as for samovars, there were enough to make tea for a hundreds."
A THEORIST OF REVOLUTION
After yesterday's talk with a capitalist victim of the revolution, I am glad for the sake of contrast to set beside it a talk with one of the revolution's chief theorists. The leather-worker illustrated the revolution as it affects an individual. The revolutionary theorist was quite incapable of even considering his own or any other individual interests and thought only in terms of enormous movements in which the experiences of an individual had only the significance of the adventures of one ant among a myriad. Bucharin, member of the old economic mission to Berlin, violent opponent of the Brest peace, editor of Pravda, author of many books on economics and revolution, indefatigable theorist, found me drinking tea at a table in the Metropole.
I had just bought a copy of a magazine which contained a map of the world, in which most of Europe was coloured red or pink for actual or potential revolution. I showed it to Bucharin and said, "You cannot be surprised that people abroad talk of you as of the new Imperialists."
Bucharin took the map and looked at it.
"Idiotism, rank idiotism!" he said. "At the same time," he added, "I do think we have entered upon a period of revolution which may last fifty years before the revolution is at last victorious in all Europe and finally in all the world."
Now, I have a stock theory which I am used to set before revolutionaries of all kinds, nearly always with interesting results. (See p.118.) I tried it on Bucharin. I said:-
"You people are always saying that there will be revolution in England. Has it not occurred to you that England is a factory and not a granary, so that in the event of revolution we should be immediately cut off from all food supplies. According to your own theories, English capital would unite with American in ensuring that within six weeks the revolution had nothing to eat. England is not a country like Russia where you can feed yourselves somehow or other by simply walking to where there is food. Six weeks would see starvation and reaction in England. I am inclined to think that a revolution in England would do Russia more harm than good."
Bucharin laughed. "You old counter-revolutionary!" he said. "That would be all true, but you must look further. You are right in one thing. If the revolution spreads in Europe, America will cut off food supplies. But by that time we shall be getting food from Siberia."
"And is the poor Siberian railway to feed Russia, Germany, and England?"
"Before then Pichon and his friends will have gone. There will be France to feed too. But you must not forget that there are the cornfields of Hungary and Roumania. Once civil war ends in Europe, Europe can feed herself. With English and German engineering assistance we shall soon turn Russia into an effective grain supply for all the working men's republics of the Continent. But even then the task will be only beginning. The moment there is revolution in England, the English colonies will throw themselves eagerly into the arms of America. Then will come America's turn, and, finally, it is quite likely that we shall all have to combine to overthrow the last stronghold of capitalism in some South African bourgeois republic. I can well imagine," he said, looking far away with his bright little eyes through the walls of the dark dining room, "that the working men's republics of Europe may have to have a colonial policy of an inverse kind. Just as now you conquer backward races in order to exploit them, so in the future you may have to conquer the colonists to take from them the means of exploitation. There is only one thing I am afraid of."
"And what is that?"
"Sometimes I am afraid that the struggle will be so bitter and so long drawn out that the whole of European culture may be trampled under foot."
I thought of my leather-worker of yesterday, one of thousands experiencing in their own persons the appalling discomforts, the turn over and revaluation of all established values that revolution, even without death and civil war, means to the ordinary man; and, being perhaps a little faint-hearted, I finished my tea in silence. Bucharin, after carelessly opening these colossal perspectives, drank his tea in one gulp, prodigiously sweetened with my saccharin, reminded me of his illness in the summer, when Radek scoured the town for sweets for him, curing him with no other medicine, and then hurried off, fastening his coat as he went, a queer little De Quincey of revolution, to disappear into the dusk, before, half running, half walking, as his way is, he reached the other end of the big dimly lit, smoke-filled dining room.
EFFECTS OF ISOLATION
I had a rather grim talk with Meshtcheriakov at dinner. He is an old Siberian exile, who visited England last summer. He is editing a monthly magazine in Moscow, mostly concerned with the problems of reconstrucition, and besides that doing a lot of educational work among the labouring classes. He is horrified at the economic position of the country. Isolation, he thinks, is forcing Russia backwards towards a primeval state.
"We simply cannot get things. For example, I am lecturing on Mathematics. I have more pupils than I can deal with. They are as greedy for knowledge as sponges for water, and I cannot get even the simplest text-books for them. I cannot even find in the second-hand book stores an old Course of Mathematics from which I could myself make a series of copies for them. I have to teach like a teacher of the middle ages. But, like him, I have pupils who want to learn."
"In another three years," said some one else at the table, "we shall be living in ruins. Houses in Moscow were always kept well warmed. Lack of transport has brought with it lack of fuel, and water-pipes have burst in thousands of houses. We cannot get what is needed to mend them. In the same way we cannot get paints for the walls, which are accordingly rotting. In another three years we shall have all the buildings of Moscow tumbling about our ears."
Some one else joined in with a laugh: "In ten years we shall be running about on all fours."
"And in twenty we shall begin sprouting tails."
Meshtcheriakov finished his soup and laid down his wooden spoon.
"There is another side to all these things," he said. "In Russia, even if the blockade lasts, we shall get things established again sooner than anywhere else, because we have all the raw materials in our own country. With us it is a question of transport only, and of transport within our own borders. In a few years, I am convinced, in spite of all that is working against us, Russia will be a better place to live in than anywhere else in Europe. But we have a bad time to go through. And not we alone. The effects of the war are scarcely visible as yet in the west, but they will become visible. Humanity has a period of torment before it . . . ."
"Bucharin says fifty years," I said, referring to my talk of yesterday.
"Maybe. I think less than that. But the revolution will be far worse for you nations of the west than it has been for us. In the west, if there is revolution, they will use artillery at once, and wipe out whole districts. The governing classes in the west are determined and organized in a way our home-grown capitalists never were. The Autocracy never allowed them to organize, so, when the Autocracy itself fell, our task was comparatively easy. There was nothing in the way. It will not be like that in Germany."
AN EVENING AT THE OPERA
I read in one of the newspapers that a member of the American Commission in Berlin reasoned from the fact that the Germans were crowding to theatres and spectacles that they could not be hungry. There can be no question about the hunger of the people of Moscow, but the theatres are crowded, and there is such demand for seats that speculators acquire tickets in the legitimate way and sell them illicitly near the doors of the theatre to people who have not been able to get in, charging, of course, double the price or even more. Interest in the theatre, always keen in Moscow, seems to me to have rather increased than decreased. There is a School of Theatrical Production, with lectures on every subject connected with the stage, from stage carpentry upwards. A Theatrical Bulletin is published three times weekly, containing the programmes of all the theatres and occasional articles on theatrical subjects. I had been told in Stockholm that the Moscow theatres were closed. The following is an incomplete list of the plays and spectacles to be seen at various theatres on February 13 and February 14, copied from the Theatrical Bulletin of those dates. Just as it would be interesting to know what French audiences enjoyed at the time of the French revolution, so I think it worth while to record the character of the entertainments at present popular in Moscow.
Opera at the Great Theatre.—"Sadko" by Rimsky-Korsakov and "Samson and Delilah" by Saint-Saens.
Small State Theatre.—"Besheny Dengi" by Ostrovsky and "Starik" by Gorky.
Moscow Art Theatre.— "The Cricket on the Hearth" by Dickens and "The Death of Pazuchin" by Saltykov-Shtchedrin.
Opera. "Selo Stepantchiko" and "Coppellia."
People's Palace.—"Dubrovsky" by Napravnik and "Demon" by Rubinstein.
Zamoskvoretzky Theatre.—"Groza" by Ostrovsky and "Meshitchane" by Gorky.
Popular Theatre.—" The Miracle of Saint, Anthony" by Maeterlinck.
Komissarzhevskaya Theatre.—"A Christmas Carol" by Dickens and "The Accursed Prince" by Remizov.
Korsh Theatre.—"Much Ado about Nothing" by Shakespeare and "Le Misanthrope" and "Georges Dandin" by Moli=8Are.
Dramatic Theatre.—"Alexander I" by Merezhkovsky.
Theatre of Drama and Comedy.— "Little Dorrit" by Dickens and "The King's Barber" by Lunacharsky.
Besides these, other theatres were playing K. R. (Konstantin Romanov), Ostrovsky, Potapenko, Vinitchenko, etc. The two Studios of the Moscow Art Theatre were playing "Rosmersholm" and a repertoire of short plays. They, like the Art Theatre Company, occasionally play in the suburban theatres when their place at home is taken by other performers.
I went to the Great State Theatre to Saint-Saens' "Samson and Delilah." I had a seat in the box close above the orchestra, from which I could obtain a view equally good of the stage and of the house. Indeed, the view was rather better of the house than of the stage. But that was as I had wished, for the house was what I had come to see.
It had certainly changed greatly since the pre-revolutionary period. The Moscow plutocracy of bald merchants and bejewelled fat wives had gone. Gone with them were evening dresses and white shirt fronts. The whole audience was in the monotone of everyday clothes. The only contrast was given by a small group of Tartar women in the dress circle, who were shawled in white over head and shoulders, in the Tartar fashion. There were many soldiers, and numbers of men who had obviously come straight from their work. There were a good many grey and brown woollen jerseys about, and people were sitting in overcoats of all kinds and ages, for the theatre was very cold. (This, of course, was due to lack of fuel, which may in the long run lead to a temporary stoppage of the theatres if electricity cannot be spared for lighting them.) The orchestra was also variously dressed. Most of the players of brass instruments had evidently been in regimental bands during the war, and still retained their khaki-green tunics with a very mixed collection of trousers and breeches. Others were in every kind of everyday clothes. The conductor alone wore a frock coat, and sat in his place like a specimen from another age, isolated in fact by his smartness alike from his ragged orchestra and from the stalls behind him.
I looked carefully to see the sort of people who fill the stalls under the new regime, and decided that there has been a general transfer of brains from the gallery to the floor of the house. The same people who in the old days scraped kopecks and waited to get a good place near the ceiling now sat where formerly were the people who came here to digest their dinners. Looking from face to face that night I thought there were very few people in the theatre who had had anything like a good dinner to digest. But, as for their keenness, I can imagine few audiences to which, from the actor's point of view, it would be better worth while to play. Applause, like brains, had come down from the galleries.
Of the actual performance I have little to say except that ragged clothes and empty stomachs seemed to make very little difference to the orchestra. Helzer, the ballerina, danced as well before this audience as ever before the bourgeoisie. As I turned up the collar of my coat I reflected that the actors deserved all the applause they got for their heroism in playing in such cold. Now and then during the evening I was unusually conscious of the unreality of opera generally, perhaps because of the contrast in magnificence between the stage and the shabby, intelligent audience. Now and then, on the other hand, stage and audience seemed one and indivisible. For "Samson and Delilah" is itself a poem of revolution, and gained enormously by being played by people every one of whom had seen something of the sort in real life. Samson's stirring up of the Israelites reminded me of many scenes in Petrograd in 1917, and when, at last, he brings the temple down in ruins on his triumphant enemies, I was reminded of the words attributed to Trotsky:- "If we are, in the end, forced to go, we shall slam the door behind us in such away that the echo shall be felt throughout the world."
Going home afterwards through the snow, I did not see a single armed man. A year ago the streets were deserted after ten in the evening except by those who, like myself, had work which took them to meetings and such things late at night. They used to be empty except for the military pickets round their log-fires. Now they were full of foot-passengers going home from the theatres, utterly forgetful of the fact that only twelve months before they had thought the streets of Moscow unsafe after dark. There could be no question about it. The revolution is settling down, and people now think of other matters than the old question, will it last one week or two?
THE COMMITTEE OF STATE CONSTRUCTIONS
I went by appointment to see Pavlovitch, President of the Committee of State Constructions. It was a very jolly morning and the streets were crowded. As I walked through the gate into the Red Square I saw the usual crowd of peasant women at the little chapel of the Iberian Virgin, where there was a blaze of candles. On the wall of what used, I think, to be the old town hall, close by the gate, some fanatic agnostic has set a white inscription on a tablet, "Religion is opium for the People." The tablet, which has been there a long time, is in shape not unlike the customary frame for a sacred picture. I saw an old peasant, evidently unable to read, cross himself solemnly before the chapel, and then, turning to the left, cross himself as solemnly before this anti-religious inscription. It is perhaps worth while to remark in passing that the new Communist programme, while insisting, as before, on the definite separation of church and state, and church and school, now includes the particular statement that "care should be taken in no way to hurt the feelings of the religious." Churches and chapels are open, church processions take place as before, and Moscow, as in the old days, is still a city of church bells.
A long line of sledges with welcome bags of flour was passing through the square. Soldiers of the Red Army were coming off parade, laughing and talking, and very noticeably smarter than the men of six months ago. There was a bright clear sky behind the fantastic Cathedral of St. Basil, and the rough graves under the Kremlin wall, where those are buried who died in the fighting at the time of the November Revolution, have been tidied up. There was scaffolding round the gate of the Kremlin which was damaged at that time and is being carefully repaired.
The Committee of State Constructions was founded last spring to coordinate the management of the various engineering and other constructive works previously carried on by independent departments. It became an independent organ with its own finances about the middle of the summer. Its headquarters are in the Nikolskaya, in the Chinese town, next door to the old building of the Anglo-Russian Trading Company, which still bears the Lion and the Unicorn sculptured above its green and white fa=87ade some time early in the seventeenth century.
Pavlovitch is a little, fat, spectacled man with a bald head, fringed with the remains of red hair, and a little reddish beard. He was dressed in a black leather coat and trousers. He complained bitterly that all his plans for engineering works to improve the productive possibilities of the country were made impracticable by the imperious demands of war. As an old Siberian exile he had been living in France before the revolution and, as he said, had seen there how France made war. "They sent her locomotives, and rails for the locomotives to run on, everything she needed they sent her from all parts of the world. When they sent horses, they sent also hay for their food, and shoes for their feet, and even nails for the shoes. If we were supplied like that, Russia would be at peace in a week. But we have nothing, and can get nothing, and are forced to be at war against our will.
"And war spoils everything," he continued. "This committee should be at work on affairs of peace, making Russia more useful to herself and to the rest of the world. You know our plans. But with fighting on all our fronts, and with all our best men away, we are compelled to use ninety per cent. of our energy and material for the immediate needs of the army. Every day we get masses of telegrams from all fronts, asking for this or that. For example, Trotsky telegraphs here simply "We shall be in Orenburg in two days," leaving us to do what is necessary. Then with the map before me, I have to send what will be needed, no matter what useful work has to be abandoned meanwhile, engineers, railway gangs for putting right the railways, material for bridges, and so on.
"Indeed, the biggest piece of civil engineering done in Russia for many years was the direct result of our fear lest you people or the Germans should take our Baltic fleet. Save the dreadnoughts we could not, but I decided to save what we could. The widening and deepening of the canal system so as to shift boats from the Baltic to the Volga had been considered in the time of the Tzar. It was considered and dismissed as impracticable. Once, indeed, they did try to take two torpedo-boats over, and they lifted them on barges to make the attempt. Well, we said that as the thing could be planned, it could be done, and the canals are deepened and widened, and we took through them, under their own power, seven big destroyers, six small destroyers and four submarine boats, which, arriving unexpectedly before Kazan, played a great part in our victory there. But the pleasure of that was spoilt for me by the knowledge that I had had to take men and material from the building of the electric power station, with which we hope to make Petrograd independent of the coal supply.
"The difficulties we have to fight against are, of course, enormous, but much of what the old regime failed to do, for want of initiative or for other reasons, we have done and are doing. Some of the difficulties are of a most unexpected kind. The local inhabitants, partly, no doubt, under the influence of our political opponents, were extremely hostile with regard to the building of the power station, simply because they did not understand it. I went there myself, and explained to them what it would mean, that their river would become a rich river, that they would be able to get cheap power for all sorts of works, and that they would have electric light in all their houses. Then they carried me shoulder high through the village, and sent telegrams to Lenin, to Zinoviev, to everybody they could think of, and since then we have had nothing but help from them.
"Most of our energy at present has to be spent on mending and making railways and roads for the use of the army. Over 11,000 versts of railway are under construction, and we have finished the railway from Arzamas to Shikhran. Twelve hundred versts of highroad are under construction. And to meet the immediate needs of the army we have already repaired or made 8,000 versts of roads of various kinds. As a matter of fact the internal railway net of Russia is by no means as bad as people make out. By its means, hampered as we are, we have been able to beat the counter-revolutionaries, concentrating our best troops, now here, now there, wherever need may be. Remember that the whole way round our enormous frontiers we are being forced to fight groups of reactionaries supported at first mostly by the Germans, now mostly by yourselves, by the Roumanians, by the Poles, and in some districts by the Germans still. Troops fighting on the Ural front are fighting a month later south of Voronezh, and a month later again are having a holiday, marching on the heels of the Germans as they evacuate the occupied provinces. Some of our troops are not yet much good. One day they fight, and the next they think they would rather not. So that our best troops, those in which there are most workmen, have to be flung in all directions. We are at work all the time enabling this to be done, and making new roads to enable it to be done still better. But what waste, when there are so many other things we want to do!
"All the time the needs of war are pressing on us. To-day is the first day for two months that we have been able to warm this building. We have been working here in overcoats and fur hats in a temperature below freezing point. Why? Wood was already on its way to us, when we had suddenly to throw troops northwards. Our wood had to be flung out of the wagons, and the Red Army put in its place, and the wagons sent north again. The thing had to be done, and we have had to work as best we could in the cold. Many of my assistants have fallen ill. Two only yesterday had to be taken home in a condition something like that of a fit, the result of prolonged sedentary work in unheated rooms. I have lost the use of my right hand for the same reason." He stretched out his right hand, which he had been keeping in the pocket of his coat. It was an ugly sight, with swollen, immovable fingers, like the roots of a vegetable.
At this moment some one came in to speak to Pavlovitch. He stood at the table a little behind me, so that I did not see him, but Pavlovitch, noticing that he looked curiously at me, said, "Are you acquaintances?" I looked round and saw Sukhanov, Gorky's friend, formerly one of the cleverest writers on the Novaya Jizn. I jumped up and shook hands with him.
"What, have you gone over to the Bolsheviks?" I asked.
"Not at all," said Sukhanov, smiling, "but I am working here."
"Sukhanov thinks that we do less harm than anybody else," said Pavlovitch, and laughed. "Go and talk to him and he'll tell you all there is to be said against us. And there's lots to say."
Sukhanov was an extremely bitter enemy of the Bolsheviks, and was very angry with me when, over a year ago, I told him I was convinced that sooner or later he would be working with them. I told Pavlovitch the story, and he laughed again. "A long time ago," he said, "Sukhanov made overtures to me through Miliutin. I agreed, and everything was settled, but when a note appeared in Pravda to say that he was going to work in this Committee, he grew shy, and wrote a contradiction. Miliutin was very angry and asked me to publish the truth. I refused, but wrote on that day in my diary, Sukhanov will come. Three months later he was already working with us. One day he told me that in the big diary of the revolution which he is writing, and will write very well, he had some special abuse for me. 'I have none for you,' I said, 'but I will show you one page of my own diary,' and I showed him that page, and asked him to look at the date. Sukhanov is an honest fellow, and was bound to come."
He went on with his talk.
"You know, hampered as we are by lack of everything, we could not put up the fight we are putting up against the reactionaries if it were not for the real revolutionary spirit of the people as a whole. The reactionaries have money, munitions, supplies of all kinds, instructors, from outside. We have nothing, and yet we beat them. Do you know that the English have given them tanks? Have you heard that in one place they used gases or something of the kind, and blinded eight hundred men? And yet we win. Why? Because from every town we capture we get new strength. And any town they take is a source of weakness to them, one more town to garrison and hold against the wishes of the population."
"And if you do get peace, what then!"
"We want from abroad all that we cannot make ourselves. We want a hundred thousand versts of rails. Now we have to take up rails in one place to lay them in another. We want new railways built. We want dredgers for our canals and river works. We want excavators."
"And how do you expect people to sell you these things when your foreign credit is not worth a farthing?"
"We shall pay in concessions, giving foreigners the right to take raw materials. Timber, actual timber, is as good as credit. We have huge areas of forest in the north, and every country in Europe needs timber. Let that be our currency for foreign purchases. We are prepared to say, 'You build this, or give us that, and we will give you the right to take so much timber for yourselves.' And so on. And concessions of other kinds also. As a matter of fact negotiations are now proceeding with a foreign firm for the building of a railway from the Obi to Kotlas."
"But part of that district is not in your hands.
"If we get peace we shall be able to arrange that without difficulty."
Just as I was going he stopped me, and evidently not in the least realizing that English people generally have come to think of him and his friends as of some strange sort of devils, if not with horns and tails, certainly far removed from human beings, he asked:—
"If we do get peace, don't you think there will be engineers and skilled labourers in England who will volunteer to come out to Russia and help us? There is so much to do that I can promise they will have the best we can give them. We are almost as short of skilled men as we are of locomotives. We are now taking simple unskilled workmen who show any signs of brains and training them as we go along. There must be engineers, railwaymen, mechanics among English socialists who would be glad to come. And of course they need not be socialists, so long as they are good engineers."
That last suggestion of his is entirely characteristic. It is impossible to make the Bolsheviks realize that the English people feel any hostility towards them. Nor do they feel hostility towards the English as such. On my way back to the hotel I met a party of English soldiers, taken prisoners on the northern front, walking free, without a convoy, through the streets.
THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE AND THE TERROR
My general impression that the Soviet revolution has passed through its period of internal struggle and is concentrating upon constructive work so far as that is allowed by war on all its frontiers, and that the population is settling down under the new regime, was confirmed by the meeting of the Executive Committee which definitely limited the powers of the Extraordinary Commission. Before the sitting was opened I had a few words with Peters and with Krylenko. The excitement of the internal struggle was over. It had been bitterly fought within the party, and both Krylenko of the Revolutionary Tribunal and Peters of the Extraordinary Commission were there merely to witness the official act that would define their new position. Peters talked of his failure to get away for some shooting; Krylenko jeered at me for having refused to believe in the Lockhart conspiracy. Neither showed any traces of the bitter struggle waged within the party for and against the almost dictatorial powers of the Extraordinary Commission for dealing with counter-revolution.
The sitting opened with a report by Dserzhinsky, that strange ascetic who, when in prison in Warsaw, insisted on doing the dirty work of emptying the slops and cleaning other people's cells besides his own, on a theory that one man should where possible take upon himself the evil which would otherwise have to be shared by all; and in the dangerous beginning of the revolution had taken upon himself the most unpopular of all posts, that of President of the Extraordinary Commission. His personal uprightness is the complement of an absolute personal courage, shown again and again during the last eighteen months. At the time of the Left Social Revolutionary mutiny he went without a guard to the headquarters of the mutineers, believing that he could bring them to reason, and when arrested by them dared them to shoot him and showed so bold a front that in the end the soldiers set to watch him set him free and returned to their allegiance. This thin, tallish man, with a fanatic face not unlike some of the traditional portraits of St. Francis, the terror of counter-revolutionaries and criminals alike, is a very bad speaker. He looks into the air over the heads of his audience and talks as if he were not addressing them at all but some one else unseen. He talks even of a subject which he knows perfectly with curious inability to form his sentences; stops, changes words, and often, recognizing that he cannot finish his sentence, ends where he is, in the middle of it, with a little odd, deprecating emphasis, as if to say: "At this point there is a full stop. At least so it seems."
He gave a short colourless sketch of the history of the Extraordinary Commission. He referred to the various crises with which it had had to deal, beginning with the drunken pogroms in Petrograd, the suppression of the combined anarchists and criminals in Moscow (he mentioned that after that four hours' struggle which ended in the clearing out of the anarchists' strongholds, criminality in Moscow decreased by 80 per cent.), to the days of the Terror when, now here, now there, armed risings against the Soviet were engineered by foreigners and by counter-revolutionaries working with them. He then made the point that throughout all this time the revolution had been threatened by large-scale revolts. Now the revolution was safe from such things and was threatened only by individual treacheries of various kinds, not by things which needed action on a large scale. They had traitors, no doubt, in the Soviet institutions who were waiting for the day (which would never come) to join with their enemies, and meanwhile were secretly hampering their work. They did not need on that account to destroy their institutions as a whole. The struggle with counter-revolution had passed to a new stage. They no longer had to do open battle with open enemies; they had merely to guard themselves against individuals. The laws of war by which, meeting him on the field of battle, the soldier had a right to kill his enemy without trial, no longer held good. The situation was now that of peace, where each offender must have his guilt proved before a court. Therefore the right of sentencing was removed from the Extraordinary Commission; but if, through unforeseen circumstances, the old conditions should return, they intended that the dictatorial powers of the Commission should be restored to it until those conditions had ceased. Thus if, in case of armed counter-revolution, a district were declared to be in a state of war, the Extraordinary Commission would resume its old powers. Otherwise its business would be to hand offenders, such as Soviet officials who were habitually late (here there was a laugh, the only sign throughout his speech that Dserzhinsky was holding the attention of his audience), over to the Revolutionary Tribunal, which would try them and, should their guilt be proved, put them in concentration camps to learn to work. He read point by point the resolutions establishing these, changes and providing for the formation of Revolutionary Tribunals. Trial to take place within forty-eight hours after the conclusion of the investigation, and the investigation to take not longer than a month. He ended as he ended his sentences, as if by accident, and people scarcely realized he had finished before Sverdlov announced the next speaker.
Krylenko proposed an amendment to ensure that no member of the Revolutionary Tribunal could be also a member of the Extraordinary Commission which had taken up and investigated a case. His speech was very disappointing. He is not at his best when addressing a serious meeting like that of the Executive Committee. The Krylenko who spoke to-night, fluently, clearly, but without particular art, is a very different Krylenko from the virtuoso in mob oratory, the little, dangerous, elderly man in ensign's uniform who swayed the soldiers' mass meetings in Petrograd a year and a half ago. I remember hearing him speak in barracks soon after the murder of Shingarev and Kokoshkin, urging class struggle and at the same time explaining the difference between that and the murder of sick men in bed. He referred to the murder and, while continuing his speech, talking already of another subject, be went through the actions of a man approaching a bed and killing a sleeper with a pistol. It was a trick, of course, but the thrilling, horrible effect of it moved the whole audience with a shudder of disgust. There was nothing of this kind in his short lecture on jurisprudence to-night.
Avanesov, the tall, dark secretary of the Executive Committee, with the face of a big, benevolent hawk hooded in long black hair, opposed Krylenko on the ground that there were not enough trustworthy workers to ensure that in country districts such a provision could be carried out. Finally the resolution was passed as a whole and the amendment was referred to the judgment of the presidium.
The Committee next passed to the consideration of the Extraordinary Tax levied on the propertied classes. Krestinsky, Commissary of Finance, made his report to a grim audience, many of whom quite frankly regarded the tax as a political mistake. Krestinsky is a short, humorous man, in dark spectacles, dressed more like a banker than like a Bolshevik. It was clear that the collection of the tax had not been as successful as he had previously suggested. I was interested in his reference to the double purpose of the tax and in the reasons he gave for its comparative failure. The tax had a fiscal purpose, partly to cover deficit, partly by drawing in paper money to raise the value of the rouble. It had also a political purpose. It was intended to affect the propertied classes only, and thus to weaken the Kulaks (hard-fists, rich peasants) in the villages and to teach the poorer peasants the meaning of the revolution. Unfortunately some Soviets, where the minority of the Kulaks had retained the unfair domination given it by its economic strength, had distributed the tax-paying equally over the whole population, thus very naturally raising the resentment of the poor who found themselves taxed to the same amount as those who could afford to pay. It had been necessary to send circular telegrams emphasizing the terms of the decree. In cases where the taxation had been carried out as intended there had been no difficulty. The most significant reason for the partial unsuccess was that the propertied class, as such, had already diminished to a greater extent than had been supposed, and many of those taxed, for example, as factory owners were already working, not as factory owners, but as paid directors in nationalized factories, and were therefore no longer subject to the tax. In other words, the partial failure of the tax was a proof of the successful development of the revolution. (This is illustrated by the concrete case of "Uncle" recorded on p. 73.) Krestinsky believed that the revolution had gone so far that no further tax of , this kind would be either possible or necessary.
NOTES OF CONVERSATIONS WITH LENIN
Whatever else they may think of him, not even his enemies deny that Vladimir Ilyitch Oulianov (Lenin) is one of the greatest personalities of his time. I therefore make no apology for writing down such scraps of his conversation as seem to illustrate his manner of mind.
He was talking of the lack of thinkers in the English labour movement, and said he remembered hearing Shaw speak at some meeting. Shaw, he said, was "A good man fallen among Fabians" and a great deal further left than his company. He had not heard of "The Perfect Wagnerite," but was interested when I told him the general idea of the book, and turned fiercely on an interrupter who said that Shaw was a clown. "He may be a clown for the bourgeoisie in a bourgeois state, but they would not think him a clown in a revolution."
He asked whether Sidney Webb was consciously working in the interests of the capitalists, and when I said I was quite sure that he was not, he said, "Then he has more industry than brains. He certainly has great knowledge."
He was entirely convinced that England was on the eve of revolution, and pooh-poohed my objections. "Three months ago I thought it would end in all the world having to fight the centre of reaction in England. But I do not think so now. Things have gone further there than in France, if the news as to the extent of the strikes is true."
I pointed out some of the circumstances, geographical and economical, which would make the success of a violent revolution in England problematical in the extreme, and put to him the same suggestion that I put to Bucharin (see page 81), namely, that a suppressed movement in England would be worse for Russia than our traditional method of compromise. He agreed at once, but said, "That is quite true, but you cannot stop a revolution . . . although Ramsay MacDonald will try to at the last minute. Strikes and Soviets. If these two habits once get hold, nothing will keep the workmen from them. And Soviets, once started, must sooner or later come to supreme power." Then, "But certainly it would be much more difficult in England. Your big clerk and shop-keeping class would oppose it, until the workmen broke them. Russia was indeed the only country in which the revolution could start. And we are not yet through our troubles with the peasantry."
I suggested that one reason why it had been possible in Russia was that they had had room to retreat.
"Yes," he said. "The distances saved us. The Germans were frightened of them, at the time when they could indeed have eaten us up, and won peace, which the Allies would have given them in gratitude for our destruction. A revolution in England would have nowhere whither to retire."
Of the Soviets he said, "In the beginning I thought they were and would remain a purely Russian form; but it is now quite clear that under various names they must be the instruments of revolution everywhere."
He expressed the opinion that in England they would not allow me to tell the truth about Russia, and gave as an example the way in which Colonel Robins had been kept silent in America. He asked about Robins, "Had he really been as friendly to the Soviet Government as he made out?" I said, "Yes, if only as a sportsman admiring its pluck and courage in difficulties." I quoted Robins' saying, "I can't go against a baby I have sat up with for six months. But if there were a Bolshevik movement in America I'd be out with my rifle to fight it every time." "Now that," said Lenin, "is an honest man and more far-seeing than most. I always liked that man." He shook with laughter at the image of the baby, and said, "That baby had several million other folk sitting up with it too."
He said he had read in an English socialist paper a comparison of his own theories with those of an American, Daniel De Leon. He had then borrowed some of De Leon's pamphlets from Reinstein (who belongs to the party which De Leon founded in America), read them for the first time, and was amazed to see how far and how early De Leon had pursued the same train of thought as the Russians. His theory that representation should be by industries, not by areas, was already the germ of the Soviet system. He remembered seeing De Leon at an International Conference. De Leon made no impression at all, a grey old man, quite unable to speak to such an audience: but evidently a much bigger man than he looked, since his pamphlets were written before the experience of the Russian Revolution of 1905. Some days afterwards I noticed that Lenin had introduced a few phrases of De Leon, as if to do honour to his memory, into the draft for the new programme of the Communist party.
Talking of the lies that are told about Russia, he said it was interesting to notice that they were mostly perversions of truth and not pure inventions, and gave as an example the recent story that he had recanted. "Do you know the origin of that?" he said. "I was wishing a happy New Year to a friend over the telephone, and said 'And may we commit fewer stupidities this year than last!' Some one overheard it and told some one else. A newspaper announced Lenin says we are committing stupidities' and so the story started."
More than ever, Lenin struck me as a happy man. Walking home from the Kremlin, I tried to think of any other man of his calibre who had had a similar joyous temperament. I could think of none. This little, bald-headed, wrinkled man, who tilts his chair this way and that, laughing over one thing or another, ready any minute to give serious advice to any who interrupt him to ask for it, advice so well reasoned that it is to his followers far more compelling than any command, every one of his wrinkles is a wrinkle of laughter, not of worry. I think the reason must be that he is the first great leader who utterly discounts the value of his own personality. He is quite without personal ambition. More than that, he believes, as a Marxist, in the movement of the masses which, with or without him, would still move. His whole faith is in the elemental forces that move people, his faith in himself is merely his belief that be justly estimates the direction of those forces. He does not believe that any man could make or stop the revolution which he thinks inevitable. If the Russian revolution fails, according to him, it fails only temporarily, and because of forces beyond any man's control. He is consequently free with a freedom no other great man has ever had. It is not so much what he says that inspires confidence in him. It is this sensible freedom, this obvious detachment. With his philosophy he cannot for a moment believe that one man's mistake might ruin all. He is, for himself at any rate, the exponent, not the cause, of the events that will be for ever linked with his name.
THE SUPREME COUNCIL OF PUBLIC ECONOMY
To-day was an unlucky day. I felt tired, ill and hungry, and had arranged to talk with both Rykov, the President of the Supreme Council of People's Economy, and Krestinsky, the Commissar of Finance, at such awkward times that I got no tea and could get nothing to eat until after four o'clock. Two such talks on an empty stomach (for the day before I had had only a plate of soup and a little scrap of fish) were a little too much for me, and I fear I did not gather as much information as I should have collected under better conditions.
I had a jolly drive, early in the morning, through the Chinese Town, and out by the gate in the old wall, up Myasnitzkaya Street, and round to the right to a building that used to be the Grand Hotel of Siberia, a loathsome place where I once stayed. Here in the old days provincial merchants put up, who did not mind high prices and a superfluity of bugs. It has now been turned into a hive of office work, and is the headquarters of the Supreme Council of Public Economy, which, controlling production and distribution alike, is the centre of the constructive work going on throughout the country.
This Council, the theorists tell me, is intended to become the central organization of the state. The Soviets will naturally become less and less important as instruments of political transition as that transition is completed and the struggle against reaction within and without comes to an end. Then the chief business of the state will no longer be to protect itself against enemies but to develop its economic life, to increase its productivity and to improve the material conditions of the workers of whom it is composed. All these tasks are those of the Supreme Council of Public Economy, and as the bitterness of the struggle dies away this body, which came into being almost unnoticed in the din of battle, will become more and more important in comparison with the Soviets, which were in origin not constructive organizations but the instruments of a revolution, the hardest stages of which have already been accomplished.
It is perhaps worth while to set out here the constitution of this Council. It is considered at present as the economic department of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, to which, and to the Council of People's Commissaries, it is responsible. It regulates all production and distribution. It reports on the various estimates of the state budget and, in conjunction with the Commissariats of Finance and State Control, carries out the financing of all branches of public economy. It consists of 69 members, and is composed as follows:—Ten representatives from the All-Russian Executive Committee, thirty from the All-Russian Industrial Productive Union (a union of Trade Unions), twenty from the ten District Councils of Public Economy, two from the All-Russian Council of Workers' Cooperative Societies, and one representative each from the Commissariats of Supply, Ways of Communication, Labour, Agriculture, Finance, Trade and Industry, and Internal Affairs. It meets as a whole at least once in every month. The work of its members is directed by a Presidium of nine members, of which it elects eight, the President being elected by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, and enjoying the rank of a People's Commissar or Minister.
I had a long talk with Rykov, the President, or rather listened to a long lecture by him, only now and then succeeding in stopping him by forcing a question into the thread of his harangue. He stammers a little, and talks so indistinctly that for the first time (No. The first time was when Chicherin gabbled through the provisions of the Brest Treaty at the fourth All-Russian Assembly.) I felt willing to forgive normal Russians, who nearly always talk as if they were in Petrograd and their listener in Vladivostok.
Part of what he said is embodied in what I have already written. But besides sketching the general aims of the Council, Rykov talked of the present economic position of Russia. At the moment Russian industry was in peculiar difficulties owing to the fuel crisis. This was partly due to the fact that the Czechs and the Reactionaries, who had used the Czechs to screen their own organization, had control of the coalfields in the Urals, and partly to the fact that the German occupation of the Ukraine and the activities of Krasnov had cut off Soviet Russia from the Donetz coal basin, which had been a main source of supply, although in the old days Petrograd had also got coal from England. It was now, however, clear that, with a friendly Ukraine, they would have the use of the Donetz basin much sooner than they had expected.
The Brest peace and the deprivations it involved had made them consider the position of the industrial districts from a new standpoint, and they were determined to make Petrograd and Moscow as far as possible independent of all fuel which had to be brought from a distance. He referred to the works in progress for utilizing water power to provide electrical energy for the Petrograd factories, and said that similar electrification, on a basis of turf fuel, is planned for Moscow.
I asked how they were going to get the machines. He said that of course they would prefer to buy them abroad, but that, though this was impossible, the work would not be delayed on that account, since they could make a start with the machines they had. Turbines for the Petrograd works they still hoped to obtain from abroad when peace had been arranged. If the worst came to the worst he thought they could make their own. "That is one unexpected result of Russia's long isolation. Her dependence on imports from abroad is lessening." He gave an example in salt, the urgent need of which has led to the opening of a new industry, whose resources are such as to enable Russia not only to supply herself with salt, but the rest of the world as well if need should be.
I asked what were their immediate plans with regard to the electrification of Moscow. He said that there was no water power near Moscow but big turf deposits which would be used as fuel. In order not to interfere with the actual lighting of the town from the power-station already in existence, they are taking the electric plant from the Provodnik works, which will supply enough electricity for the lighting of the town. As soon as that is set up and working, they will use it for the immediate needs of Moscow, and set about transferring the existing power-station to the new situation near the turf beds. In this way they hope to carry out the change from coal to turf without interfering with the ordinary life of the town. Eventually when things settle down they will get a larger plant.
I said, "Of course you have a double object in this, not only to lessen the dependence of the industrial districts on fuel that has to be brought from a distance, and of which you may be deprived, but also to lessen the strain on transport!"
"Yes," he said. "Indeed at the present moment the latter is our greatest difficulty, hampering everything we would wish to do. And transport we cannot put right without help from abroad. Therefore we do everything we can to use local resources, and are even developing the coal deposits near Moscow, which are of inferior quality to the Donetz coal, and were in the old days purposely smothered by the Donetz coal-owners, who wished to preserve their monopoly."
I asked him if in his opinion Russia could organize herself without help from abroad. He said, "I rather think she will have to. We want steam dredgers, steam excavators, and locomotives most of all, but we have small hope of getting them in the immediate future, because the effects of the war have been so serious in the disorganization of industry in the western countries that it is doubtful whether they will be in a position to supply even their own needs."
While we were talking Berg, the secretary, came in. I asked him how his Soviet matches were progressing, and he said that the labels were being printed and that the first lot would soon be ready. They will be distributed on the card system, and he had calculated that they could sell them at twelve kopecks a packet. I paid a rouble for a box of ordinary matches at Bieloostrov, and a rouble and a half here.
THE RACE WITH RUIN
After leaving Rykov I went to see Krestinsky, the Commissar of Finance, the curious little optimist whose report on the Extraordinary Tax I had heard at the last meeting of the Executive Committee. I found him in the Ilyinka street, in the Chinese town. I began by telling him that I did not believe that they meant to pay the loans. He laughed and gave me precisely the answer I had expected:— "Of course we hope there will be a revolution in other countries, in which case they will repudiate their debts and forgive us ours. But if that does not happen we know very well that we shall have to pay, and we are prepared to pay, and shall be able to pay, in concessions, in raw material which they need more than they need gold."
Then, being myself neither an economist nor a theoretical socialist, I put before him what had been said to me in Stockholm by an Englishman who was both one and the other; namely, that, being isolated from European finance, the Soviet Government of Russia was bound to come to an end on economic and financial grounds alone.
He said: "That would certainly be so, if rising prices, rising wages, were to mean indefinitely increased demands on the printing machines for paper money. But, while we are at present forced to print more and more money, another process is at work which, in the long run, will bring this state of things to an end. Just as in our dealings with other countries we exchange goods instead of paying in money, so within our own frontiers money is ceasing to be the sole medium of exchange. Gradually the workmen are coming to receive more and more in other forms than money. Houses, for example, lighting and heating are only a beginning. These things being state monopolies, the task of supplying the workman's needs without the use of money is comparatively easy. The chief difficulty is, of course, food supplies, which depend on our ability to keep up an exchange of goods with the villages. If we can supply the villages with manufactured goods, they will supply us with food. You can fairly say that our ruin or salvation depends on a race between the decreasing value of money (with the consequent need for printing notes in ever greater quantities) and our growing ability to do without money altogether. That is of course, a broad view, and you must not for a moment suppose that we expect to do without money in the immediate future. I am merely showing you the two opposing tendencies on which our economic fate depends."
I will not set down here what he said about the Extraordinary Tax, for it was merely a repetition of what I had heard him say in committee. In connection with it, however, he admitted that capitalism and profiteering were hard things to root out, saying that they had great difficulty in getting at what he called "the new bourgeoisie," namely the speculators who have made fortunes since the revolution by selling scarce food products at fantastic prices. It was difficult to tax them because they carried on their operations secretly and it was next to impossible to find out who they were. They did not bank their money, and though an attempt had been made to get at them through the house committees, it was found that even these committees were unable to detect them. They will, however, be made to disgorge their ill-gotten gains when the measure first proposed by Sokolnikov last summer is put into practice. This is a general exchange of new money for old, after which the old will be declared invalid. "Of course," said Krestinsky, "they will cheat in every possible way, scattering out the money among a number of friends and relations. But something will have been done in cleaning them up, and that process will be completed by a second exchange of money later on."
Fifteen milliards of new notes for the first exchange are already printed, but they think that twenty milliards will be necessary.
I asked if the new money was better looking than the old, if it looked more like money that was worth having than the wretched little notes printed by the Provisional Government and scornfully called "Kerenkies" by the populace. Krestinsky said he was afraid not, but that the second and final exchange would be made in notes which they expected to be permanent. They did not expect the notes of the first exchange to circulate abroad, but the notes of the second would carry with them state obligation and they expected them to go into general currency. He added, smiling that the words "Proletariat of all lands, unite," were to appear on the notes in eight languages. The question of the look of the notes, of their ability to inspire confidence by their mere appearance, is of real importance in a country where so many of the peasantry will judge their value by nothing else.
I reminded him of the hostility roused in some villages by mistakes in the assessment and collecting of the Extraordinary Tax, mistakes which (so other Communists had assured me) would cost them more, politically, than the tax was worth to them, and asked him, "Will you not have great difficulty in getting the exchange made, and are you not running the risk of providing the reactionaries with a new profitable basis of agitation?"
He said that of course they would not make the attempt unless they felt sure they were politically strong enough to carry it through. "If it is properly explained to the villages there will be nothing to fear, because the measure will not threaten any but the rich and therefore the small minority of the peasantry. It would be a different matter if the same thing were to be tried by the counter-revolutionaries, because they would not discriminate in favour of the poor. If Kolchak and Company overthrow us and try to substitute their money for ours, their action would affect rich and poor alike, minority and majority together. If there were not a hundred other causes guaranteeing the insecurity of their position, the fact that they will be unable to get rid of our money without rousing the most violent opposition in the masses throughout the country would alone be sufficient to do it."
I asked whether that was the reason why they intended to print on the notes "Proletariat of all lands, unite," so that the counter-revolutionaries, unable to tolerate money bearing that hated phrase, should be forced to a step disastrous for themselves.
He laughed, and said that he did not think counter-revolution in the least likely unless brought in by invasion, which he did not think politically possible.
A PLAY OF CHEKHOV
I saw Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" acted by the cast of the Art Theatre in the First Studio. This is a little theatre holding just over 200 people. It was of course full. It was curious to see how complete the revolution had been in a social sense. It was impossible to tell to what class in pre-revolutionary days any particular member of the audience had belonged. I was struck by the new smartness of the boy officers of the Red Army, of whom a fair number were present. As we waited for the curtain to rise, I thought how the mental attitude of the people had changed. A year ago, we lived with exhilaration or despair on a volcano which might any day erupt and sweep away the new life before any one had become accustomed to live it. Now the danger to the revolution was a thousand miles away on the various fronts. Here, in the centre, the revolution was an established fact. People had ceased to wonder when it would end, were settling into their places in the new social order, and took their pleasures not as if they were plucking flowers on their way to execution, but in the ordinary routine of life.
The play is well known, a drama of bourgeois society in a small country place. A poor landowner scraping money for an elder brother in the town, realizing at last that the brother was not the genius for whom such sacrifice was worth while; a doctor with a love for forestry and dreams of the future; the old mock-genius's young wife; his sister; his adoring mother; the old nurse and the ancient dependent adopted, as it were, with the estate; all these people in their own way make each other suffer. Chekhov's irony places before us wasted lives, hopelessness, exaggerated interest in personalities, vain strugglings after some better outlet for the expression of selves not worth expressing.
That play, acted to-day, seemed as remote as a play of the old regime in France would have seemed five years ago. A gulf seemed to have passed. The play had become a play of historical interest; the life it represented had gone for ever. People in Russia no longer have time for private lives of such a character. Such people no longer exist; some of them have been swept into the flood-tide of revolution and are working as they never hoped to have the chance to work; others, less generous, have been broken and thrown aside. The revolution has been hard on some, and has given new life to others. It has swept away that old life so absolutely that, come what may, it will be a hundred years at least before anywhere in Russia people will be able to be unhappy in that particular way again.
The subject of "Uncle Vanya" was a great deal more remote from the Russian audience of today than was the opera of "Samson and Delilah" which I heard last week. And, if I realized that the revolution had come to stay, if I realized that Chekhov's play had become a play of historical interest, I realized also that Chekhov was a great master in that his work carried across the gulf between the old life and the new, and affected a revolutionary audience of to-day as strongly as it affected that very different audience of a few years ago. Indeed, the play seemed almost to have gained by the revolution, which had lent it, perhaps, more irony than was in Chekhov's mind as he wrote. Was this the old life? I thought, as I stepped out into the snow. If so, then thank God it has gone!
This morning I drove to the Dielovoi Dvor, the big house on the Varvarskaya Square which is occupied by the central organization of the textile industry. The head of this organization is Nogin, an extremely capable, energetic Russian, so capable, indeed, that I found it hard to believe he could really be a Russian. He is a big man, with a mass of thick brown shaggy hair, so thick that the little bald patch on the top of his head seems like an artificial tonsure. Nogin sketched the lines on which the Russian textile industry was being reorganized, and gave orders that I should be supplied with all possible printed matter in which to find the details.
The "Centro-Textile" is the actual centre of the economic life of Russia, because, since textiles are the chief materials of exchange between the towns and the villages, on its success depends the success of everything else. The textile industry is, in any case, the most important of all Russian, industries. Before the war it employed 500,000 workmen, and Nogin said that in spite of the disorganization of the war and of the revolution 400,000 are employed to-day. This may be so in the sense that 400,000 are receiving pay, but lack of fuel or of raw material must have brought many factories to a standstill.
All the big factories have been nationalized. Formerly, although in any one town there might be factories carrying out all the different processes, these factories belonged to different owners. A single firm or bank might control factories scattered over Russia and, so that the whole process should be in its hands, the raw material travelled from factory to factory through the country, instead of merely moving about a single town. Thus a roll of material might have gone through one process at Jaroslav, another at Moscow, and a third at Tula, and finally come back to Jaroslav to be finished, simply because the different factories which worked upon it, though widely scattered, happened to be under one control. Nationalization has made possible the rational regrouping of factories so that the complete process is carried out in one place, consequently saving transport. There are twenty-three complete groups of this kind, and in the textile industry generally about fifty groups in all.
There has been a similar concentration of control. In the old days there were hundreds of different competitive firms with their buildings and offices in the Ilyinka, the Varvarka, and the Nikolskaya.* [(*)Streets and a district in Moscow] The Chinese town* [(*) See above.]was a mass of little offices of different textile firms. The whole of that mass of struggling competitive units of direction had now been concentrated in the house in which we were talking. The control of the workers had been carried through in such a way that the technical experts had proper weight. (See p. 171.) There were periodical conferences of elected representatives of all the factories, and Nogin believed that the system of combined elective workmen's and appointed experts' representation could hardly be improved upon.
Nationalization had had the effect of standardizing the output. Formerly, an infinite variety of slightly different stuffs were produced, the variations being often merely for the sake of being different in the competitive trade. Useless varieties had now been done away with, with the result of greater economy in production.
I asked what he could tell me about their difficulties in the matter of raw material. He said they no longer get anything from America, and while the railway was cut at Orenburg by the Cossacks, they naturally could get no cotton from Turkestan. In fact, last autumn they had calculated that they had only enough material to keep the factories going until December. Now they found they could certainly keep going to the end of March, and probably longer. Many small factories, wishing to make their cases out worse than they were, had under-estimated their stocks. Here, as in other things, the isolation of the revolution had the effect of teaching the Russians that they were less dependent upon the outside world than they had been in the habit of supposing. He asked me if I knew it had been considered impossible to combine flax and cotton in such a way that the mixture could be worked in machines intended for cotton only. They had an infinite supply of flax, much of which in the old days had been exported. Investigations carried on for the Centro-Textile by two professors, the brothers Chilikin, had ended in the discovery of three different processes for the cottonizing of flax in such a way that they could now mix not only a small percentage of their flax with cotton and use the old machines, but were actually using fifty per cent. flax and had already produced material experimentally with as much as seventy-five per cent.
(Some days later two young technicians from the Centro-Textile brought me a neatly prepared set of specimens illustrating these new processes and asked me to bring them anything of the same sort from England in return. They were not Bolsheviks—were, in fact, typical non-politicals. They were pleased with what the Centro—Textile was doing, and said that more encouragement was given to research than ever formerly. But they were very despondent about the economic position. I could not make them understand why Russia was isolated, and that I might be unable to bring them technical books from England.)
Nogin rather boastfully said that the western linen industry would suffer from the isolation of Russia, whereas in the long run the Russians would be able to do without the rest of the world. With, regard to wool, they would have no difficulty now that they were again united with a friendly Ukraine. The silk industry was to be developed in the Astrakhan district where climatic conditions are particularly favourable.
I asked about the fate of the old textile manufacturers and was told that though many had gone abroad many were working in the nationalized factories. The engineering staff, which mostly struck work at the beginning of the revolution, had almost without exception returned, the younger engineers in particular realizing the new possibilities opening before the industry, the continual need of new improvements, and the immediate welcome given to originality of any kind. Apart from the question of food, which was bad for everybody, the social standard of the workers had risen. Thus one of their immediate difficulties was the provision of proper houses. The capitalists and manufacturers kept the workers in barracks. "Now-a-days the men want better dwellings and we mean to give them better. Some have moved into the old houses of the owners and manufacturers, but of course there are not enough of these to go round, and we have extensive plans in the way of building villages and garden cities for the workmen."
I asked Nogin what, in his opinion, was most needed by Russia from abroad, and he said that as far as the textile industries were concerned they wanted machinery. Like every one else to whom I put this question, he said that every industry in Russia would be in a better position if only they had more locomotives. "Some of our factories are stopping now for lack of fuel, and at Saratov, for example, we have masses of raw material which we are unable to get to Moscow."
MODIFICATION IN THE AGRARIAN PROGRAMME
In the afternoon I met Sereda, the Commissar of Agriculture. He insisted that the agrarian policy had been much misrepresented by their enemies for the purposes of agitation. They had no intention of any such idiocy as the attempt to force the peasants to give up private ownership. The establishment of communes was not to be compulsory in any way; it was to be an illustrative means of propaganda of the idea of communal work, not more. The main task before them was to raise the standard of Russian agriculture, which under the old system was extremely low. By working many of the old estates on a communal system with the best possible methods they hoped to do two things at once: to teach the peasant to realize the advantages of communal labour, and to show him that he could himself get a very great deal more out of his land than he does. "In other ways also we are doing everything we can to give direct help to the small agriculturists. We have mobilized all the agricultural experts in the country. We are issuing a mass of simply written pamphlets explaining better methods of farming."
(I have seen scores of these pamphlets on forestry, potatoes, turf, rotation of crops, and so on, besides the agricultural journals issued by the Commissariat and sent in large quantities to the villages.)
I told Sereda I had heard that the peasants were refusing to sow more than they wanted for their own needs. He said that on the contrary the latest reports gave them the right to hope for a greater sown area this year than ever before, and that even more would have been sown if Denmark had not been prevented from letting them have the seed for which they had actually paid. I put the same question to him that I put to Nogin as to what they most needed; he replied, "Tractors."
FOREIGN TRADE AND MUNITIONS OF WAR
I had a talk in the Metropole with Krasin, who is Commissar for Trade and Industry and also President of the Committee for Supplying the Needs of the Army. He had disapproved of the November Revolution, but last year, when things looked like going badly, he came to Russia from Stockholm feeling that he could not do otherwise than help. He is an elderly man, an engineer, and very much of a European. We talked first of the Russian plans with regard to foreign trade. All foreign trade, he said, is now concentrated in the hands of the State, which is therefore able to deal as a single customer. I asked how that would apply to purchase, and whether they expected that countries dealing with them would organize committees through which the whole Russian trade of each such country should similarly pass. Krasin said, "Of course that would be preferable, but only in the case of socialist countries. As things are now it would be very much to our disadvantage. It is better for us to deal with individual capitalists than with a ring. The formation of a committee in England, for example, with a monopoly of trade with Russia, would have the effect of raising prices against us, since we could no longer go from a dear shop to a cheaper one. Besides, as socialists we naturally wish to do nothing to help in the trustification of English manufacturers."
He recognized that foreign trade on any large scale was impossible until their transport had been improved. Russia proposed to do her paying in raw material, in flax, timber, etc., in materials of which she had great quantities although she could not bring them to the ports until her transport should be restored. It would, therefore, be in the foreigner's own interests to help them in this matter. He added that they were confident that in the long run they could, without foreign help, so far restore their transport as to save themselves from starvation; but for a speedy return to normal conditions foreign help was essential.
The other question we touched was that of munitions. I expressed some surprise that they should be able to do so well although cut off from the west. Krasin said that as far as that was concerned they had ample munitions for a long fight. Heavy artillery is not much use for the kind of warfare waged in Russia; and as for light artillery, they were making and mending their own. They were not bothering with three-inch shells because they had found that the old regime had left scattered about Russia supplies of three-inch shells sufficient to last them several years. Dynamite also they had in enormous quantities. They were manufacturing gunpowder. The cartridge output had trebled since August when Krasin's committee was formed. He thought even as things were they could certainly fight for a year.
THE PROPOSED DELEGATION FROM BERNE
I do not remember the exact date when the proposal of the Berne International Conference to send a Commission of Enquiry to Russia became known in Moscow, but on February 20th everybody who came to see me was talking about it, and from that date the question as to the reception of the delegates was the most urgently debated of all political subjects. Chicherin had replied immediately to Berne, saying that "though they did not consider the Berne Conference either socialist or in any degree representative of the working-class they nevertheless would permit the Commission's journey into Russia, and would give it every opportunity of becoming acquainted from all sides with the state of affairs, just as they would any bourgeois commission directly or indirectly connected with any of the bourgeois governments, even with those then attacking Russia."
It may well be imagined that a reply in this style infuriated the Mensheviks who consider themselves more or less affiliated to the parties represented at Berne. What, they shrieked, Kautsky not a socialist? To which their opponents replied, "The Government which Kautsky supports keeps Radek in irons in a gaol." But to me the most interesting thing to observe was that Chicherin's reply was scarcely more satisfactory to some of the Communists. It had been sent off before any general consultation, and it appeared that the Communists themselves were widely divided as to the meaning of the proposal. One party believed that it was a first step towards agreement and peace. The other thought it an ingenious ruse by Clemenceau to get "so-called" socialist condemnation of the Bolsheviks as a basis for allied intervention. Both parties were, of course, wrong in so far as they thought the Allied Governments had anything to do with it. Both the French and English delegates were refused passports. This, however, was not known in Moscow until after I left, and by then much had happened. I think the Conference which founded the Third International in Moscow had its origin in a desire to counter any ill effects that might result from the expected visit of the people of Berne.
Litvinov said he considered the sending of the Commission from Berne the most dangerous weapon yet conceived by their opponents. He complained that he had been unable to get either Lenin or Chicherin to realize that this delegation was a preparation for hostilities, not a preparation for peace. "You do not understand that since the beginning of the war there has been a violent struggle between two Internationals, one of which does not believe in revolution while the other does. In this case a group of men already committed to condemn the revolution are coming to pass judgment on it. If they were not to condemn the revolution they would be condemning themselves. Chicherin ought to have put a condition that a delegation of Left Socialists should also come. But he replied within an hour of getting the telegram from Berne. These idiots here think the delegation is coming to seek a ground for peace. It is nothing of the sort. It is bound to condemn us, and the Bourgeois Governments will know how to profit by the criticism, however mild, that is signed by men who still retain authority as socialists. Henderson, for example (Henderson was at first named as one of the delegates, later replaced by MacDonald), will judge simply by whether people are hungry or not. He will not allow for reasons which are not in our control. Kautsky is less dangerous, because, after all, he will look below the obvious." Reinstein remembered the old personal hostility between Lenin and Kautsky, whom Lenin, in a book which Reinstein thought unworthy of him, had roundly denounced as a renegade and traitor. The only man in the delegation who could be counted on for an honest effort to understand was Longuet.
As the days went on, it became clear that the expected visit had provided a new bone of contention between the Russian parties. The Communists decided that the delegates should not be treated with any particular honour in the way of a reception. The Mensheviks at once set about preparing a triumphal reception on a large scale for the people whom they described as the representatives of genuine socialism. Demian Biedny retorted in an extremely amusing poetic dialogue, representing the Mensheviks rehearsing their parts to be ready for the reception. Other Communists went to work to prepare a retort of a different kind. They arranged a house for the Berne delegates to live in, but at the same time they prepared to emphasize the difference between the two Internationals by the calling of an anti-Berne conference which should disclaim all connection with that old International which they considered had gone into political bankruptcy at the outbreak of the European war.
THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE ON THE RIVAL PARTIES
In the afternoon I got to the Executive Committee in time to hear the end of a report by Rykov on the economic position. He said there was hope for a satisfactory conclusion to the negotiations for the building of the Obi-Kotlas railway, and hoped that this would soon be followed by similar negotiations and by other concessions. He explained that they did not want capitalism in Russia but that they did want the things that capital could give them in exchange for what they could give capital. This was, of course, referring to the opposition criticism that the Soviet was prepared to sell Russia into the hands of the "Anglo-American Imperialistic bandits." Rykov said that the main condition of all concessions would be that they should not effect the international structure of the Soviet Republic and should not lead to the exploitation of the workmen. They wanted railways, locomotives, and machines, and their country was rich enough to pay for these things out of its natural resources without sensible loss to the state or the yielding of an inch in their programme of internal reconstruction.
He was followed by Krestinsky, who pointed out that whereas the commissariats were, in a sense, altered forms of the old ministries, links with the past, the Council of Public Economy, organizing the whole production and distribution of the country, building the new socialist state, was an entirely new organ and a link, not with the past, but with the future.
The two next speeches illustrated one of the main difficulties of the revolution. Krasin (see p. 153) criticized the council for insufficient confidence in the security of the revolution. He said they were still hampered by fears lest here or there capitalism should creep in again. They were unnecessarily afraid to make the fullest possible use of specialists of all kinds who had taken a leading part in industry under the old regime and who, now that the old regime, the old system, had been definitely broken, could be made to serve the new. He believed that unless the utmost use was made of the resources of the country in technical knowledge, etc., they could not hope to organize the maximum productivity which alone could save them from catastrophe.
The speaker who followed him, Glebov, defended precisely the opposite point of view and represented the same attitude with regard to the reorganization of industry as is held by many who object to Trotsky's use of officers of the old army in the reorganization of the new, believing that all who worked in high places under the old regime must be and remain enemies of the revolution, so that their employment is a definite source of danger. Glebov is a trade union representative, and his speech was a clear indication of the non-political undercurrent towards the left which may shake the Bolshevik position and will most certainly come into violent conflict with any definitely bourgeois government that may be brought in by counter-revolution.
In the resolution on the economic position which was finally passed unanimously, one point reads as follows: "It is necessary to strive for just economic relations with other countries in the form of state regulated exchange of goods and the bringing of the productive forces of other countries to the working out of the untouched natural resources of Soviet Russia." It is interesting to notice the curiously mixed character of the opposition. Some call for "a real socialism," which shall make no concessions whatsoever to foreign capital, others for the cessation of civil war and peace with the little governments which have obtained Allied support. In a single number of the Printers' Gazette, for example, there was a threat to appeal against the Bolsheviks to the delegation from Berne and an attack on Chicherin for being ready to make terms with the Entente.
The next business on the programme was the attitude to be adopted towards the repentant Social Revolutionaries of the Right. Kamenev made the best speech I have ever heard from him, for once in a way not letting himself be drawn into agitational digressions, but going point by point through what he had to say and saying it economically. The S.R.'s had had three watchwords: "War and alliance with the Allies," "Coalition with the bourgeoisie," and "The Constituent Assembly." For over a year they had waged open war with the Soviet Government over these three points. They had been defeated in the field. But they had suffered a far more serious moral defeat in having to confess that their very watchwords had been unsound. "War and Alliance with the Allies" had shown itself to mean the occupation of Russian territory by foreign troops in no way concerned to save the revolution, but ready, as they had shown, to help every force that was working for its suppression. "Coalition with the Bourgeoisie" had shown itself to be a path the natural ending to which was the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie through military force. "The Constituent Assembly" had been proved to be no more than a useful mask behind which the enemies of the revolution could prepare their forces and trick the masses to their own undoing.
He read the declaration of the Right Social Revolutionaries, admitting that the Soviet Government was the only force working against a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, and calling upon their troops to overthrow the usurping governments in Siberia, and elsewhere. This repentance, however, had come rather late and there were those who did not share it. He said finally that the Executive Committee must remember that it was not a party considering its relations with another party, but an organ of government considering the attitude of the country towards a party which in the most serious moment of Russian history had admittedly made grave mistakes and helped Russia's enemies. Now, in this difficult moment, every one who was sincerely ready to help the working masses of Russia in their struggle had the right to be given a place in the ranks of the fighters. The Social Revolutionaries should be allowed to prove in deeds the sincerity of their recantation. The resolution which was passed recapitulated the recantations, mentioned by name the members of the party with whom discussions had been carried on, withdrew the decision of June 14th (excluding the S.R.'s from the Executive Committee on the ground of their counter-revolutionary tendencies) with regard to all groups of the party which held themselves bound by the recently published declarations, gave them the right equally with other parties to share in the work of the Soviets, and notified the administrative and judicial organs of the Republic to free the arrested S.R.'s who shared the point of view expressed in the recantations. The resolution was passed without enthusiasm but without opposition.
There followed the reading by Avanesov of the decree concerning the Menshevik paper Vsegda Vpered ("Forever Forward," but usually described by critics of the Mensheviks as "Forever Backward"). The resolution pointed out that in spite of the Mensheviks having agreed on the need of supporting the Soviet Government they were actually carrying on an agitation, the effect of which could only be to weaken the army. An example was given of an article, "Stop the Civil War," in which they had pointed out that the war was costing a great deal, and that much of the food supplies went to the army. On these grounds they had demanded the cessation of the civil war. The Committee pointed out that the Mensheviks were making demagogic use of the difficulties of the food supply, due in part to the long isolation from the Ukraine, the Volga district and Siberia, for which those Mensheviks who had worked with the White Guard were themselves partly responsible. They pointed out that Russia was a camp besieged from all sides, that Kolchak had seized the important centre of Perm, that Petrograd was threatened from Finland, that in the streets of Rostov and Novo Tcherkassk gallows with the bodies of workmen were still standing, that Denikin was making a destructive raid in the northern Caucasus, that the Polish legionaries were working for the seizure of Vilna and the suppression of Lithuania and the White Russian proletariat, and that in the ports of the Black Sea the least civilized colonial troops of the Entente were supporting the White Guards. They pointed out that the Soviet Government had offered concessions in order to buy off the imperialistic countries and had received no reply. Taking all this into consideration the demand to end civil war amounted to a demand for the disarming of the working class and the poor peasantry in the face of bandits and executioners advancing from all sides. In a word, it was the worst form of state crime, namely, treason to a state of workers and peasants. The Committee considered useful every kind of practical criticism of the work of the Soviet Government in all departments, but it could not allow that in the rear of the Red Army of workers and peasants, under that army's protection, should be carried on unrestrained an agitation which could have only one result, the weakening of Soviet Russia in the face of its many enemies. Therefore Vsegda Vpered would be closed until the Mensheviks should show in deed that they were ready to stand to the defence and support of the revolution. At the same time, the Committee reminded the Mensheviks that a continuation of their counter-revolutionary work would force the Soviet Government "to expel them to the territories of Kolchak's democracy." This conclusion was greeted with laughter and applause, and with that the meeting ended.