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Russia in 1919 by Arthur Ransome

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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

"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.


February 14th.

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

"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

"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."


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

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

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

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?


February 15th.

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

"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

"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

"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

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

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.


February 17th.

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

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.


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

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.


February 20th.

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

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

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

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

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.


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

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

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

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.


February 21st.

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!


February 22nd.

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

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."


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,


February 25th.

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.


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.


February 26th.

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

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

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

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.


February 28th.

This morning I went round to the Commissariat of Labour,
to see Schmidt, the Commissar. Schmidt is a
clean-shaven, intelligent young man, whose attention to business
methods is reflected in his Commissariat, which, unlike that
of Foreign Affairs, is extremely clean and very well
organized. I told him I was particularly interested to hear
what he could say in answer to the accusations made both
by the Mensheviks and by the Extremists on the Left that
control by the workers has become a dead letter, and that a
time will come when the trades unions will move against
the state organizations.

Schmidt answered: "Those accusations and suggestions are
all very well for agitational purposes, but the first to laugh
at them would be the trades unions themselves. This
Commissariat, for example, which is the actual labour
centre, is controlled directly by the unions. As Commissar
of Labour, I was elected directly by the General Council of
the Trades Unions. Of the College of nine members which
controls the whole work of the Commissariat, five are
elected directly by the General Council of the Trades
Unions and four appointed by the Council of People's
Commissaries, thus giving the Unions a decisive majority
in all questions concerning labour. All nine are confirmed
by the Council of People's Commissaries, representing the
state as a whole, and the Commissar is confirmed by the
All-Russian Executive Committee."

Of course control by the workers, as it was first introduced,
led speedily to many absurdities and, much to the
dissatisfaction of the extremer elements, has been
considerably modified. It was realized that the workers in
any particular factory might by considering only their own
interests harm the community as a whole, and so, in the
long run, themselves. The manner of its modification is an
interesting example of the way in which, without the
influence of tanks, aeroplanes or bayonets, the cruder
ideas of communism are being modified by life. It was
reasoned that since the factory was the property, not of the
particular workmen who work in it, but of the community
as a whole, the community as a whole should have a
considerable voice in its management. And the effect of
that reasoning has been to ensure that the technical
specialist and the expert works manager are no longer at the
caprice of a hastily called gathering of the workmen who
may, without understanding them, happen to disapprove of
some of their dispositions. Thus the economical,
administrative council of a nationalized factory consists of
representatives of the workmen and clerical staff,
representatives of the higher technical and commercial
staffs, the directors of the factory (who are appointed by the
Central Direction of National Factories), representatives of
the local council of trades unions, the Council of Public
Economy, the local soviet, and the industrial union of the
particular industry carried on in the factory, together with, a
representative of the workers' co-operative society and a
representative of the peasants' soviet of the district in
which the factory is situated. In this council not more than
half of the members may be representatives of the workmen
and clerical staff of the factory. This council considers the
internal order of the factory, complaints of any kind, and
the material and moral conditions of work and so on. On
questions of a technical character it has no right to do more
than give advice.

The night before I saw Schmidt, little Finberg had come to
my room for a game of chess in a very perturbed state of
mind, having just come from a meeting of the union to
which he belonged (the union of clerks, shop assistants and
civil servants) where there had been a majority against the
Bolsheviks after some fierce criticism over this particular
question. Finberg had said that the ground basis of the
discontent had been the lack of food, but that the outspoken
criticism had taken the form, first, of protests against the
offer of concessions in Chicherin's Note of February 4th,
on the ground that concessions meant concessions to
foreign capitalism and the formation in Russia of capitalist
centres which would eventually spread; and second, that the
Communists themselves, by their modifications of
Workers' Control, were introducing State Capitalism
instead of Socialism.

I mentioned this union to Schmidt, and asked him to
explain its hostility. He laughed, and said: "Firstly, that
union is not an industrial union at all, but includes precisely
the people whose interests are not identical with those of
the workmen. Secondly, it includes all the old civil
servants who, as you remember, left the ministries at the
November Revolution, in many cases taking the money
with them. They came back in the end, but though no
longer ready to work openly against the revolution as a
whole, they retain much of their old dislike of us, and, as
you see, the things they were objecting to last night were
precisely the things which do not concern them in
particular. Any other stick would be as good to them.
They know well that if they were to go on strike now they

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