All the Tsar’s Men
Why Mobilization Can’t Save Putin’s War
THE recent evolution of the Soviet Union has been overwhelming in its surprises. These surprises have recently become so disconcerting that many Russians, Communists and non-Communists alike, as well as many foreign observers accustomed to speak with assurance on all things Russian, are abandoning attempts to find a rational explanation for them, to discover in them an inner logic, a sense of direction. Yet certain definite theories exist about the cataclysmic events which have so perturbed the Communist movement in recent months and so perplexed the most self-satisfied foreign observers. The present article will not attempt to choose between these theories. All it purports to do is furnish the reader with some light on them as a means of distinguishing, even if only vaguely, the various political currents which seem to be operating in Russia as the Soviet régime approaches its twentieth birthday.
The observers who throw up their hands in bewilderment are exemplified in an extreme form by those who say that Stalin is insane. Rumors to this effect have circulated in Moscow since May 1931. But insanity is too simple and neat a way of explaining the acts of a man who controls the life of an immense realm containing a population of 170 millions. History does not allow absolute rulers -- whether sovereigns, dictators, or "leaders" -- to do anything so banal as to lose their reason. This privilege is reserved for private citizens. Loss of reason or weakness of will in a man who commands thousands of subordinate leaders, and through them millions and millions of men, can have reality as a political factor only if it is the supreme expression of some fatal malady in the body politic. Such was the case in Russia of the Tsars. On the eve of the Revolution, the fate of the régime and of Russia itself was in the hands of an hysterical woman, an ignorant sorcerer, and a minister stricken with complete paralysis.
But at the time the Zinoviev-Kamenev affair burst on the public in July 1936 the Soviet régime seemed never to have been stronger. The economic situation had recently been improving. Certain branches of industry had been making distinct progress. Relations between the Government and the people had noticeably diminished in tenseness, and in any case were very different from what they had been in 1928-33 when wheat was requisitioned and agriculture collectivized. In certain fields, e.g. national defense and public instruction, responsible Soviet leaders seemed to be agreed on matters of policy. They seemed willing to abandon many of the exaggerations and fantasies of the purely revolutionary period. The recreation of a Russian national patriotism, the first signs of a more tolerant attitude towards religion (even if this was primarily prompted by a desire to conciliate foreign opinion), the reëstablishment of grades in the Army, the adoption of exceptions (slight to be sure) to collectivism in the rural areas -- all these things reflected an interesting evolution in the Communist mind. We can take it for granted that they corresponded to the mentality and aspirations of the new generation of Russians now taking their place in all branches of the country's governmental and economic life. True, the reversal of policy which these developments represented was prompted in part by the threat of external danger; also, it did not affect all phases of life equally and often it took bizarre forms. Still the fact remains that the evolution was a sign of improving health rather than decay, of a return to reason rather than an excursion in madness.
The tendency towards normalcy received political expression in the new Constitution adopted December 5, 1936.[i] The régime continued exclusively in the hands of only one political party, to which the Constitution gave plenary powers and complete control over all public institutions and associations. Democracy was very far from having arrived. Nevertheless, if we remember how for eighteen years Communist leaders had been haunted by the fear of a secret vote and of universal, direct and equal suffrage, then we can get some idea of how great a change the institution of even the appearance of those things betokened. Just as the Devil blessed the water, so the Government began to feel itself sufficiently strong to risk making a pretense of replacing the Soviet régime by a more normal régime of popular representation. To state that one of the Government's motives was probably to give the Soviet régime a better reputation in democratic circles abroad does not invalidate the belief that the Government leaders had two other objectives as well: (1) to give some satisfaction to the masses, who aspire to participate more directly in the affairs of the state; (2) and to give a sop to the peasantry, against whom the former electoral system particularly discriminated.
Thus the Government appeared to be resting on fairly solid foundations. The régime was moving to acquire increased domestic stability and the people were taking hope of a better future. The atmosphere that prevailed in Moscow in the spring and summer of 1936 is described by a Soviet functionary -- an old militant Communist who had belonged to the Party under the ancien régime, who had known both prison and Siberia, and who now belongs to the category called by Stalin "the officers of the Party" [ii] -- in an extremely interesting letter which first appeared last winter in the Socialist Messenger, the émigré organ in Paris of the Russian Social-Democratic (Menshevik) Party.[iii] "Looking back today," wrote this veteran Communist at the end of 1936, "one recognizes certain symptoms which might have given ground for concern. But that is being wise after the event. In reality, everyone was convinced that the worst had passed, and that a period of economic and political improvement had begun, which, though slow, would, nevertheless, be certain."
Suddenly came the Zinoviev-Kamenev trial and a series of bloody executions and reprisals. To the author of the letter just quoted and to other "officers" and "non-commissioned officers" of the Communist Party the whole affair was a thunderbolt from a cloudless sky. The Russian public was also surprised, but not in the same way. It did not become unduly excited and its astonishment was mixed with no little satisfaction. It had known nothing of the struggle which had been going on in the top ranks of the Communist Party for over a year. Numerous observers agree that the man in the street -- the functionaries, the technicians, the workers, the non-Party masses -- saw with considerable pleasure the execution or imprisonment of the men whom they regarded as personifying the most terrifying periods of militant Bolshevism. The names of Trotsky, Zinoviev, Yagoda evoked many unpleasant memories.
But the execution of Marshal Tukhachevsky and seven other generals in June 1937 was a different matter.[iv] Their political past had been forgotten or ignored. For years the Government had done everything to increase their popularity. But even so their deaths produced no excitement. The army itself remained calm. The Government was, in the traditional phrase, master of the situation. It was able to continue removing, imprisoning and executing a series of other high functionaries and members of the Party, often without any pretense of public trial, often for failures less of the individual than of the system, often, doubtless, to satisfy personal grudges -- and all without encountering resistance. The machine of repression functioned perfectly. The people, as in the last act of Pushkin's Boris Godunov, "remained silent."
Some observers interpret this silence as the worst possible sign. This apathy, they assert, proves that Russia is sick, that it is overcome with debility, that it is able to be no more than a passive witness of the death agony of the Revolutionary régime and the continuing internecine strife within the Communist dictatorship. The outcome, say these observers, must be a Fascist or Bonapartist régime.
This thesis is upheld by the Russian Mensheviks who regard themselves as the only true revolutionary Marxists. In their periodical, the Socialist Messenger, observers like Theodore Dan and Raphael Abramovitch describe the Soviet régime as entering its last crisis. For them, the dénouement is close at hand. Stalin, they say, plans to continue his personal rule in the transformed régime with the aid of the new "privileged class," i.e. those who have profited from the Revolution, those who hold permanent posts in the civil and military bureaucracies and in the administrative and technical personnel of industry. This social class is free from all revolutionary tradition. It has no ideology, except that of the totalitarian state; no ideal except, to borrow Stalin's words, an "easy and pleasant life." To smooth the way for this avid, rapacious, impudent horde Stalin is, according to the Menshevik theory, getting rid of the old revolutionaries. True, most of the latter have now settled down as peaceful bureaucrats. But Stalin remembers their past and does not trust them in the new scheme of things.[v]
But, the Mensheviks continue, Stalin was not alone in aspiring to a Thermidorian dictatorship or a Cæsarian one. Other men were dreaming the same dream. To forestall these, the Georgian first thought of going before the people and, with the aid of the new Constitution, submitting his policies to a plebiscite. Then, determining to take a short cut to get his rivals out of the way, he decapitated the OGPU of its leaders -- Yagoda, Prokofiev, etc. -- relying meanwhile on the army. He then, against the wishes of the army, appointed his own man, Yezhov, chief of the political police. Thus prepared, he turned on the high military command, particularly on the man whom he suspected of longing to be the new Bonaparte. Today it is Tukhachevsky who is executed; tomorrow it may be Voroshilov. The only end to this bloody race is a plebiscite or a coup d'état -- unless the industrial proletariat awakens and finds ways of imposing a political democracy.
The Socialist Messenger in its issue of July 5, 1937, places no credence in the accusations of espionage and treason to Russia made against Tukhachevsky and his colleagues. "It is one of those detestable calumnies by means of which Stalin tries to strangle his victims morally." The Messenger thinks the execution of the generals could be interpreted as an act of madness had there not really been in the army a movement directed against Stalin. It admits the existence of a pro-German tendency in the top civil and military groups. This may have been tolerated by Stalin himself until recently as a "reserve credit" in case of an eventual change in Russian foreign policy. But in the eyes of the Mensheviks the pro-German tendency does not by itself explain the execution of the eight generals.
The Menshevik thesis is ingenious. Its weakness is its desire to make events fit a theory. Since 1918 the Mensheviks -- the "real" Marxists -- have been looking for parallels in the course of the French Revolution. During the years of the New Economic Policy (1921-1929) they predicted the imminence of a reaction -- of a Thermidor -- and at least the partial restoration of the capitalist system. Actually, Stalin abandoned the NEP, destroyed the new bourgeoisie, expropriated nearly a million farmers, and created a formidable state-owned industry. It must be in the interests of the leaders of this industry that Stalin and those who agree with him now prepare the way for a counter-revolutionary "régime of order." Then why should the generals plot against Stalin if they were pursuing the same ends as he?
Professor Miliukov, the leader of the Democratic Republicans of the Russian emigration, launches quite a different theory. According to a report from "a foreign source" published in his newspaper, Les Dernières Nouvelles, the executed generals were opposed to a pro-German foreign policy and plotted against Stalin with the idea of establishing a democratic régime.
Kerensky, who seems to share this opinion, has published another report from a "Russian source," the authenticity of which he guarantees. He says that his information confirms the existence of the plot and he gives further details. The plot was discovered "because of delay on the part of the conspirators and the fact that among them there was not a man possessing the unchallenged authority of leader." But Kerensky's informer is strangely silent on the foreign policy of the conspirators. He limits himself to saying that Stalin "had not renounced internationalism," that he was "incapable of reëstablishing the military power of Russia" and that "his government was at heart defeatist." As for the internal policy of the Tukhachevsky group, he defines it thus: "The conspirators firmly opposed a social régime based on undirected private capitalism. Consequently they did not have the intention of setting up in Russia all the accepted institutions of democracy. They believed that the state must remain owner of the great industries." This would lead one to infer that the executed generals were friends of the small proprietor. Yet, according to Kerensky's informer, they renounced "international proletarian socialism" and espoused national coöperation within the national borders, in other words, "state socialism."
Thus for Kerensky and his informer Stalin remained what he had always been, the old international revolutionary, the destroyer of Russia. But if Stalin was still an internationalist, why did he shoot the internationalist Trotskyites?
The thesis put forward in only slightly different terms by Kerensky and Miliukov stands in opposition to that of a number of British, French, Baltic and Czech observers, both foreign service officials and publicists who in the past have shown themselves well-informed. According to them, the plot of Tukhachevsky and his group was not merely directed against Stalin but was undertaken in conjunction with the leaders of the Reichswehr with the idea of creating a military dictatorship and concluding a Russo-German understanding.
The English publicist Wickham Steed goes even further. He believes that the plot was part and parcel of a long-range plan of the German high command directed against the Western Powers. The plot if successful would have neutralized the Russian Army in case of a war in Western Europe. "Hitler," Mr. Steed wrote, "was broadly informed and may or may not have suspected that, once the Russo-German alliance was concluded and Russian friends of the Reichswehr in control at Moscow, the German Reichswehr no longer would be content to obey Hitler in Germany. At all events, news of the Russian executions caused consternation in the German higher command. The neutrality of the Russian Army having become uncertain and the economic situation in Germany being extremely critical, the Reichswehr was obliged to go slow while Hitler grew more independent of its political control."[vi]
In the usually well-informed European circles to which I have just alluded the belief is held that the purging of the Russian Army and the extermination of the old Communist leaders was intended to end once and for all the pro-German tendencies in Soviet Russia and to guarantee the continuity of Litvinov's foreign policy of collaboration with the Western democracies to save peace in Europe. The series of executions was the counterpart in Russia of Moscow's policy at Geneva. According to this thesis, the whole affair, action and reaction, was quite in the Russian manner. The Trotskyites and Zinovievites were implacable adversaries of the League of Nations and " British-French imperialism." They were convinced that world revolution was the indispensable condition for the success of the Russian socialist experiment and that this revolution would only come as the result of a new world war. Hence, as true adventurers, they worked to provoke incidents which might bring about the conflagration. They were the men who in 1923, during the occupation of the Ruhr by French troops, collaborated with the German Nationalists and the German magnates of heavy industry, in the hope of creating a national Bolshevik revolution in Germany and possibly war on the Rhine. In March 1923 Zinoviev had put Radek and Pyatakov in charge of plans for the German revolution. Trotsky, set aside for personal reasons, reproached them for lacking decisiveness.
After these agitators had fallen into disgrace they consorted with certain army officers who were ambitious, who were discontented with Litvinov's policy of pacifism, who were convinced of the superiority of the German Army and who were unfriendly to the Western democracies. The proponents of this theory put Tukhachevsky's name at the top of the list of those mainly ambitious; the officers most impressed with German military strength were supposed to be General Putna, who before going as Russian Military Attaché at London had held the same post in Berlin, and General Kork, who had received his military education in Germany (and who, incidentally, had been Putna's predecessor as Military Attaché in Berlin). These officers were ready to conclude any kind of an alliance which promised to allow Russia to keep her frontiers or even perhaps to enlarge them at the expense of the border states. They regarded themselves as good nationalists and good Communists after their fashion, and were not defeatists like the pure Trotskyites. They would never have dreamed of ceding the Ukraine to the Reich or Siberia to Japan. But they did wish to avoid the risk of a war on two fronts. They considered Japan for the time being as the principal enemy. Hence they argued that Russia should reach an understanding with Germany at the expense of Poland, i.e., return to much the same foreign policy as prevailed from 1922 to 1933.
Interesting sidelights are thrown on the part of this thesis which touches German participation in the plot in the "Letter of an Old Bolshevik" already quoted above. I regard this letter as a document of primary importance and ask attention to the following passages:
In the first few months after Hitler's seizure of power, it seemed to us[vii] in Russia that the Third Reich would be merely a passing phase in Germany's history, that Hitler would be able to remain in the saddle only a few months, to be followed quickly by severe crash and revolution. That the "imperialists" of England and France would permit Germany, their "hereditary foe," to carry out her rearmament plans was generally regarded as impossible; neither were Hitler's mouthings about a campaign against Russia taken seriously. Gradually, however, we began to realize that the situation was far more serious than we had thought, that no preventive measures against Hitler by the Western Powers could be expected, and that preparations for a campaign against Russia were in full swing. A big stir was produced by the investigations into and the disclosures regarding German propaganda in the Ukraine, and particularly with regard to the so-called "homosexual conspiracy." The particulars of that conspiracy, which was discovered at the end of 1933, were as follows: An assistant of the German military attaché, a friend and follower of the notorious Captain Roehm, managed to enter the homosexual circles in Moscow, and, under cover of a homosexual "organization" (homosexuality was still legal in Russia at that time) started a whole network of National-Socialist propaganda. Its threads extended into the provinces, to Leningrad, Kharkov, Kiev, etc. A number of persons in literary and artistic circles were involved: the private secretary of a very prominent actor, known for his homosexual inclinations, an important scientific collaborator of the Lenin Institute, etc. These connections were utilized by the Germans not only to procure military information, but also to sow disintegration in government and Party circles. The aims of those directing this conspiracy were so far-reaching that the leaders of Soviet policy were compelled to intervene. Thus, there gradually ensued the change in foreign policy which soon led to Russia's entry into the League of Nations, and to the creation of the "Popular Front" in France. Naturally, this change did not take place without a great deal of discussion. It was not easy to overcome the old, deeply-rooted orientation for an alliance with Germany, even with a reactionary Germany, for the purpose of bringing about an explosion in the victorious countries. This was all the more difficult because it was clear that a new orientation in the direction of the democratic parties of Western Europe would inevitably lead to considerable changes in the internal policy of the Soviet Union.
The reversal of Government foreign policy mentioned by the "old Bolshevik" was carried out during the course of 1934. At the beginning of that year the Comintern still was adhering to its tortuous and complicated plan of action. It was anticipating a war of the imperialist Powers and hoping that the beneficiaries might be Russia and the world revolution. In France the local Communists were protesting against increased rearmament, were extolling revolutionary defeatism, and at the time of the riots of February 6 demanded the arrest of Daladier. The change from this policy was radical. On September 18, 1934, Soviet Russia became a member of the League of Nations. In May 1935 she concluded the Treaty of Mutual Assistance with France. Stalin promised Laval that henceforth the French Communists would not sabotage plans for French national defense. Parallel to this evolution came a slackening of the economic and military ties which had existed between Moscow and Berlin since the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922. There had been some 70,000 German officers, engineers, technicians and workmen in Soviet Russia. Numbers of these now left. Soviet business concerns in Germany were closed. There may have been one exception to the operation of the new policy. According to details given from apparently well-informed Russian sources in the Basler Nachrichten for June 27, 1937, certain officers of the Red Army, including Tukhachevsky, had agreed to continue to remain in contact with their German colleagues. Stalin approved -- it was useful to have this card up his sleeve. We naturally cannot verify this hypothesis, which, however, coincides with the views put forward by the Socialist Messenger. Other reports published in the Basler Nachrichten virtually coincide with those of Wickham Steed.[viii]
And now let me add to this mélange of views one given me recently by a Soviet leader who must obviously remain anonymous. His statement confirms in many respects the general thesis which I have said is held in many European foreign offices and by various leading publicists, as also much that is written by the "old Bolshevik." The Soviet functionary spoke as follows:
Obviously, the charges of espionage and treason against the generals should not be taken literally.[ix] The charges were framed so as to impress the masses and deprive friends of the conspirators of any opportunity to stir up public opinion against the Government. Nevertheless, there really was a Fascist and pro-German plot. The eight men shot had received training in Germany. During ten years of collaboration with the Reichswehr, in the period when Germany and Soviet Russia were following the Rapallo policy, they had formed numerous contacts with German officers. You may not know, but now I can tell you, that at certain times between 1923 and 1933, half of the German army was on Russian soil. Not for nothing did Krupp obtain tremendous concessions of lands in Russia. After the end of the Rapallo policy in 1933, Tukhachevsky, Uborevich and others remained firm in their conviction of the superiority of the German military technique and ideas. Naturally: military matters were their business. Then, too, Lenin taught us that we must assimilate the methods of our class enemies. Hence we sent dozens of young officers to study in military academies in Germany and Japan, just as today we send them to Belgium and France. If it had not been for the Spanish war, we still should be believing in the superiority of Germany strategy and armaments. But the first Soviet aviators who saw action in Spain in 1936 found out that all they had been told about German military superiority was nonsense.
Even as early as the conversations which prepared the way for the Treaty of Mutual Assistance between France and Russia, our attention had been drawn to Kork, the Director of the War College in Moscow, who was accused of having suspicious relations with Germany. We did not believe the charge. A year later we learned that Paris did not consider Tukhachevsky to be entirely trustworthy. We put the accusation down to malice, for we always had the highest opinion of his abilities. But France, and Czechoslovakia too, continued to be uneasy.[x] Both countries naturally had to be certain that Soviet Russia would not turn out to be an untrustworthy ally because of any sympathy between high Soviet generals and the Reichswehr. Our eyes were opened unexpectedly by the discovery of irrefutable proofs. You recall that just before he was removed and executed the Marshal had been appointed the official delegate of the U. S. S. R. to the Coronation of George VI. General Yakir was arrested only a few days after his appointment as head of the Leningrad military district. You will agree that a government doesn't take steps in that sequence unless it has good reasons!
Do we have proofs that the plot against Stalin and the Government went so far as to include treason to Russia and connivance with Germany? I can only tell you this. After the arrest of Yagoda, former chief of the OGPU, his successor, Yezhov, discovered some interesting clews in the secret dossiers. His subsequent investigations, plus evidence obtained from counter-espionage, confirmed many of the accusations earlier levelled against Tukhachevsky and Kork. We learned that General Putna, the Russian Military Attaché at London, possessed the confidence of the German Military Attaché and was the intermediary between Moscow and Berlin. We pieced together how General Uborevich spent his time when he vacationed in Germany last summer. Besides these proofs on the Russian side, I suspect that the French "Second Bureau" has some interesting facts. At any rate, our General Staff gave the French officers who were in Moscow in June and July of this year all the evidence accumulated against Tukhachevsky.[xi]
You ask whether the execution of Marshal Tukhachevsky will weaken the prestige of the Soviet Army in the countries linked with the U. S. S. R. by pacts of mutual assistance, in particular whether France will agree to make the military alliance which Moscow has long and insistently demanded. We need not bother too much about the reaction of the French press. What matters is that the men at the top, whose opinion is decisive in great affairs of this sort, should know the facts. And they do. As for the Red Army, it contains plenty of excellent officers. Those who have succeeded the traitors are men of first-rate ability, among them, to name only a few, Egorov, Fedko and Belov.
Regarding the domestic program of the conspirators my informer limited himself to saying that they were for "the restoration of capitalism." This must be accepted with reserve. Orthodox Communists regard the slightest deviation from the official policy of the Party as preparing the way for capitalism. The formula put forward by Kerensky, that the idea was to set up a limited "state socialism," seems to me more likely to suit the mentality of the people who the conspirators hoped would follow their leadership. Nor, of course, does that formula exclude a possible foreign orientation towards Germany. Quite the contrary.
We have very little basis for judging the accuracy of all the various statements, many of them irresponsible, now being made about Tukhachevsky. A French officer, Pierre Fervacque, who had been his companion when both were prisoners of war in Germany in 1916, describes the former ensign of the Guards as a courageous man, patriotic, sincerely nationalist, and extremely ambitious. He had adhered to Bolshevism because of the prospect of new revolutionary wars and a resolve to obtain revenge for the shame of Brest-Litovsk. In an article published in Le Temps for July 24, 1937, M. Fervacque refrained from alluding to the late Marshal's ideas on foreign policy, although he had recently had a private talk with him. He merely brought forward the hypothesis that the "mystic" army chief's "Pan-Slavist" and expansionist projects conflicted with the "cold resolution" of the more prudent Soviet dictator.
As a matter of fact, there is no doubt that after 1917 Tukhachevsky was indeed a resolute partisan of "revolutionary imperialism" and dreamed of carrying the Revolution to neighboring countries at the point of the bayonet. Trotsky, who held the Marshal in great esteem (General Putna also), wrote recently that Tukhachevsky had long ago insisted on the creation of a "world general staff" which was to exist side by side with the Communist International.[xii] For a short time, when his troops approached Warsaw in August 1920, he believed that his ambitious plans would be realized. But then occurred his first clash with Stalin. The latter, then political commissar with the Army of the South, deflected his forces from Warsaw contrary to the orders of Tukhachevsky and directed them against Lwów in the hope of conquering Galicia. Budenny and Egorov were with Stalin at that time. Tukhachevsky attributed his defeat before Warsaw to this deflection. Trotsky has expressed the same idea in his autobiography. In a recent article published in a Soviet military review, Tukhachevsky criticized in retrospect, without mentioning names, the military ideas of "the group infested with Tsarism" which during the civil war had been in violent conflict with Trotsky, the head of the Red Army. The group he referred to was the group dominated by Voroshilov and Stalin!
Then was Tukhachevsky a Trotskyite? But how reconcile this idea with the pro-German plot, with the nationalistic direction of his socialism and with his condemnation of internationalism? With determination and the use of Marxian dialectic it is not entirely impossible. We should not forget that in 1923 Trotskyites like Radek and Pyatakov were on good terms with German magnates like Stinnes, Krupp and Schlageter. Tukhachevsky was above all an ambitious general. To him the means to his end mattered little.
Trotsky's recent writings show how a man can find arguments to justify any kind of an adventure. He energetically condemns Stalin's thesis that Nazi Germany is the principal threat to the peace of Europe. In this respect he makes no difference between Germany and the Western democracies. In the Bulletin de l'Opposition (December 1935, No. 46) he wrote of the "superficial not to say trite idea of international relations" which merely substitutes "Fascism" for the "Prussian militarism" of the period 1914-1918 and which arraigns "Democracy" again in opposition. In another article published in April 1936, dealing with an interview given to Roy Howard by Stalin, Trotsky said: "Russia's true means of defense consists in weakening the position of imperialism and reinforcing that of the proletariat and colonials the world over. Although we are determined to preserve the fundamentals of the Revolution, an unfavorable situation may force us to cede various 'bits' of land, as we did in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. On the other hand a favorable situation obliges the Workers' State to aid revolutionary movements in other countries. The assistance should be not only moral but material. Wars of liberation are preludes to wars of revolution." Again, Trotsky attributes Hitler's rise to power to Stalin's weak policy. Thus he wrote in February 1934: "If the Government of the U. S. S. R. had stated at the opportune moment that it considered the rise of Hitler as a threat, if taking advantage of the situation in Europe it had at once resorted to military measures along Russia's western frontier, it would have reassured the German workers and Germany could have become a Republic of Soviets."
So much to indicate the ideas which can find place in a mind dominated by dialectic. We are led back to a statement made earlier in this article which clearly seems true. Trotsky and Zinoviev became unpopular in Russia because of their political adventurousness. The Revolutionary romanticism of 1918-1919 is out of fashion. Russians want peace so as to be able to build their state, their economy and their private lives without the interruptions of foreign war. Here probably is one of the secrets why Stalin's violent purges could be accomplished without resistance.
If the conclusions drawn by the Mensheviks and by Trotsky are alike too hasty, those of the Fascists are evidently the product of wishful thinking. Thus the Critica Fascista, edited by Signor Bottai, believes that Stalin is developing towards "an organized authoritative national democracy, with forms of state ownership and management of industry existing side by side with forms of private property." Another article in the Critica entitled "Stalin's Fascism" concludes that Stalin's evolution since 1935 proves the natural power of expansion possessed by Mussolini's ideas of revolution. Yet obviously on the vital issue, the nature of the economic régime, Stalinism differs radically from Fascism.
In trying to understand what is taking place in Russia, one evidently must renounce in advance all the ready-made formulæ and criteria which might serve in discussing a state with a normal life -- a state possessing an adequate defense, a loyal army, established laws and a seasoned civilization. In Russia everything is still new. We are watching the elaboration of a new state and a new society. The counterpart has never existed in history. To predict what will eventually emerge we should be obliged to penetrate into Carlyle's "dim regions" and "imponderables of history." The future Russian state will be, I believe, the resultant of blind historical forces. Those are the forces which have caused the great zigzags of Soviet evolution, each of them drenched in blood, each of them exacting its toll of human victims.
The immediate future, meanwhile, depends on two factors: the Communist Party, or rather Joseph Stalin; and the character and temperament of the new Soviet generation mentioned above.
As for Stalin, I personally incline to believe that he still cherishes the ideal of a classless society, that he has remained faithful to Lenin, remembering better than others, perhaps, what the Master taught about the world revolution: power first of all! All means are good to come to power. Once established, all means are good to retain power, even, if necessary, the renunciation provisionally of some parts of the program. What is forbidden Social Democrats is allowed to Communists. The former are still agents of the bourgeois influence even when they indulge in revolutionary acts; the latter are the sole representatives of the revolution of the proletariat even when they make working alliances with the bourgeoisie. On this much Stalin was in agreement with the other heirs of Lenin. But at each crisis of the Revolution serious divergencies regarding practice arose between the heirs. Each conceived himself to be the only true interpreter of the Revolutionary will of the proletariat; each tried to eliminate his adversaries by accusing them of falling prey to bourgeois influence. This is the key to the steady internecine strife within the Communist Party. And the result? Stalin manœuvred better than Zinoviev, Trotsky and Bukharin -- that is all. He frequently borrowed largely from the program of his opponents, but always when it was least dangerous for the Party and himself. Although a temporizer by nature, whenever he resolved to act he stopped at nothing and hesitated not at all to use the most violent and cruel means. In this respect he resembles Peter the Great, for whom he has vast admiration. Thanks to his theory of "socialism within one country," he has known how to avoid the foreign adventures into which Trotsky and Zinoviev would have plunged headlong. He has made the Comintern a docile instrument of his policy; and with the aid of Voroshilov, Tukhachevsky and Germany (let us not forget Germany: where would Russian armaments be without German financial, commercial and technical help?) he has forged a powerful army, created a war industry, developed a first-rate flying corps and a submarine flotilla, and is now building a navy.
How will he use his formidable new military machine? Will he be tempted, now that the opposition is exterminated, to borrow their foreign policy of world revolution? With the blood of the pro-German generals still fresh on his hands, will he choose their policy, try to reconcile Russia and Germany? The answer to these questions will depend on the development of the general international situation and on the domestic situation in Russia. With regard to the latter, Stalin must certainly take into account the attitude of the new Soviet generation, the second of the two factors which I ventured to call decisive for the next few years.
A foreigner finds tremendous difficulties in understanding the new élite which now is taking its place in all the organs of Soviet life. Western ideas of liberty, of tolerance, of goodness are quite foreign to a generation hardened in the frightful Revolutionary years and nurtured daily on an implacable propaganda to hate. Marxism, the Russian Asiatic atavism, the instinctive generosity of the Slavic nature, the thirst for knowledge, an unconscious national pride, the elementary desire to live and to create -- these mighty and conflicting conditions and aims have set the minds of the young men of Russia in a most extraordinary whirl. But neither the faults of the Soviet schools nor the stifling environment of dictatorship have been able to change essentially the Russian people. They are extremely gifted and, whatever may be said, they possess a profound political instinct. Did they not build an immense empire? The new generation does not lack able men. They have already distinguished themselves in various domains of technology and science. It does not lack men sincerely devoted to their country, who wish it to be great, rich and happy. What the younger generation does lack is contact with the civilized world, participation in the heritage of abstract knowledge and the free circulation of ideas. Even so, in the course of climbing towards the top of the new Russian social hierarchy these young men from country regions and workers' suburbs have unavoidably heard murmurs about the eternal problems of the mind and soul for which Communism leaves no place -- about religion, about canons of beauty, about the family. They have come to know something, somehow, about French styles; they even know about democracy and private property. They will end by knowing about Europe and America.
I have had the opportunity to talk at length with several representatives of this new Russian élite, and I need no excuse, I think, for reproducing the views of one of them as a document bearing on our inquiry. This man, thirty or thirty-five years old, is the son of an artisan and obtained his engineering diploma in Germany. He is an orthodox Stalinite. I put to him the question about the orientation of Russian foreign policy, and added a word designed to bring out his interpretation of the recent executions. Here is his reply:
We Russians begin from the premise that war is inevitable. If we could be sure of having peace for at least twenty-five years, our policy, particularly at home, would be different. We shall do nothing to provoke war; we shall delay it as long as possible. But we must prepare seriously for it. Our foreign office works, or is ready to work, with all states that are democratic and pacifist. We also should like to collaborate with Italy. There was a time when Russia and Mussolini worked together very well; but that changed when Mussolini saw a chance to gain other allies closer home. So he joined in the chorus about the Communist danger.
Of course, the ultimate goal of our external policy still is to liquidate the capitalist system. But we have abandoned the methods of Zinoviev and Trotsky. We are through with adventures. There have been enough in the past -- in China, in Germany, in Estonia. They cost us dear. Zinoviev and Radek fed us fairy stories about the strength of the German Communists. They were supposed to number five million. What became of them in the moment of crisis? Hitler seized power without having to strike a blow. Not one Communist stirred. Now we have better information about the real strength of Communists abroad.
Our desires can be put in a few words: to be left alone so that we can build our socialist society, develop the country, raise the standard of living, and transform the ignorant and barbarian Russian peasants of former times into agricultural workers associated in the kolhoz. A tremendous amount remains to be done in every field. We must push on as fast as possible.
We are afraid the capitalist states will not tolerate the firm establishment of a socialist state covering one-sixth of the globe. They know what an inspiration that would be for their own proletariat. Bourgeois statesmen already envisage a preventive war to destroy the source of Communist contagion. Even the democratic countries will turn against us when their liberals and radicals find the sacrosanct institutions of private property threatened.
Here I interposed an objection. I said:
Even the conservative bourgeoisie will not attack Russia, for the mere reason that the Russian economic régime is too different from that of other countries. Apart from Germany and Japan, Russia has no national enemies. Russia will acquire other enemies only if she does certain things: (1) If she competes too strongly with them for world markets. This quarrel would be the same as that between the capitalist countries themselves. (2) If she intervenes in their domestic affairs and endeavors to introduce Communist methods into their social development. In that case Russia risks acquiring the hostility not only of the upper bourgeoisie but also of the petty bourgeoisie and the workers.
The young Russian rejoined:
You know we have changed our tactics. We must rally the lower classes. The orders of the Comintern now are not to touch small individual holdings of property. Now don't tell me that this is being untrue to ourselves. Of course we cannot renounce giving help to the working class when it comes in open conflict with Fascism. We are aiding the workers in Spain and we shall always aid those in a similar situation. That does not mean that we are in favor of Sovietizing Spain. I repeat, we are opposed to adventures. But the imponderables are working on our side. Armed conflict everywhere between the proletariat and bourgeoisie is inevitable.
To my question how he explained Stalin's purges, he answered:
There are two parallel sets of purges. The first is that of the Trotskyites, adventurers, and spies. The second is that of corrupt bureaucrats and the profiteers of the Revolution who at the present time are directors of industry or ministers of state and believe they can do anything.
You cannot imagine all the harm which the Trotskyites have caused. When the Master [Stalin] surveyed the field of public education what did he find? The Trotskyites held all the teaching posts and had suppressed the teaching of history. Our children were no longer going to know the great past of Russia. How were the Trotsky-inspired histories interpreting the past? Peter the Great was a drunkard, Catherine the Great a tart. True, Catherine had her paramours, but she continued Peter's work of making Russia great. The Trotskyites told the youth nothing of the Russian poet, Pushkin. If they had had their way, they would have suppressed the theater and the ballet of which Russians ought to be proud. In place of the thought of the best Russian thinkers, they substituted doctrines imported by Austrian or German émigrés. They made out the very greatest Russian painters, Repine and Sourikov, and the national sculptor, Antokolski, as ridiculous, as reactionaries. They forbade the music of Glinka and Borodin. In a word, everything Russian was suspect. But Russia is still alive.
I tried to find out how it had come about, in the theory of Stalin's young adherents, that the men who after all had helped make the Revolution could become spies in the service of Germany or Japan. This was the answer:
We discovered some extraordinary things in studying the old dossiers. Many of these who later became Trotskyites and Zinovievites were in contact with German spies during the World War. I should not be surprised if some day documents were published revealing that in 1917 some of the immediate entourage of Lenin were German spies. You recall the story of the sealed train ? Where there is smoke there is fire. Then, too, we naively received with open arms all the Communists that Germany, Austria and Hungary expelled. There was a good percentage of spies among them. As to the Communist leaders suspected at various times of espionage -- Kamenev, Pyatakov et al -- they were pardoned twenty times, given important positions, and each time resumed their intrigues. We could not condone them forever. It was necessary to have a final cleanout.
There also had to be a purge of another sort of dangerous characters, and this has been only partly accomplished. Many local tyrants and venal administrators still remain to be unmasked. We will do this when we can hold elections. We shall be pitiless in expelling all who have earned the hostility of the population. It was unavoidable that many should fall victim to the possession of unlimited power. One automobile was no longer sufficient, they must have one for their wife, another for traveling. They must have a villa and trips abroad. Then there are others who try to live just on memories of the struggle against Tsarism and the civil war. They did their bit once and now suppose it is enough for them to make speeches and draft resolutions. We are through with them, too. We need men who know their business. We no longer need theoretical revolutionaries. Finally, there are those who dream of new battles. Before dying they wish to command a division of the Revolutionary Army in England or in Italy. We are through with these adventurers too.
I said that this was all very well, but didn't he think that instead of combating corruption by arbitrary action it would be much simpler to establish freedom of the press and give the people the possibility of controlling their government? The young Stalinite replied:
You mean freedom to establish political parties, to found newspapers? What good are these institutions? We do not want the confusion we see in many parts of Europe, with dozens of parties battling among themselves. We are surrounded by enemies. We cannot afford to talk about principles. We have a nation of 170 millions to keep in order.
The "old Bolshevik" whose letter I cited earlier in this article gave objective recognition to the validity of the complaints formulated against some members of his generation by my "young Bolshevik" friend. But neither of them mentions another cause which contributed to the purges. The progress of Soviet industry in 1935 and 1936 was accompanied by innumerable accidents, caused by badly handled or worn-out machinery, insufficient technical preparation, lack of organization, and feverish haste. The product naturally suffered both in quality and in volume. During the first six months of 1937 industrial production fell behind schedule. As usual, scapegoats had to be found. The villains were sought out. They were accused of sabotage and, if they were so unfortunate as once to have admired Trotsky, they were shot or jailed.
I can best indicate what I tend to believe is Stalin's internal policy by saying that he is trying to keep pace with the ideas forming in the minds of the young Soviet generation. These, as we have seen, are ill-defined, often contradictory, but turn principally about the desire for a more regular life. Only slowly and through experience does the new ruling class discover truths; but, once known, these appear elementary. Each time a group which belonged to the Bolshevik Party in the old days attacks the new empirical truths, Stalin labels their criticisms as "Trotskyite." Incidentally, he seizes the occasion to excuse some of the failures of the Communist system or of his régime by putting the blame for such failures on "saboteurs," "spies," "foreign agents" and "enemies" of all sorts.
Up to the moment of Hitler's advent in Germany there was room in Soviet Russia for some differences of opinion as to the most advantageous foreign policy to follow. But after the Nazis took power it became plain that democratic and Fascist governments were not equally dangerous to Soviet Russia. Those who had urged that the German Communists be instructed to make trouble for the German Republic by helping the Nazis, on the theory that in the ensuing chaos the Communists could seize power in Germany, had been proved wrong. To urge that kind of adventurous foreign policy no longer represented a tolerable divergence of opinion. Peace had to be saved for Soviet Russia; Fascism had to be checked before it became a preponderant force in the world; Communism had to be developed at home, not fought for abroad. Yet the group which can roughly be labeled as Trotskyite continued to hold to some of their former ideas. They favored making terms with Germany, perhaps with Japan, as the most promising means of keeping Russia at peace. Germany and Japan would then be free to turn their attention to their other neighbors; and if wars were perchance to ensue, so much the better -- Soviet Russia would remain aloof, and international Communism might profit in the ensuing social chaos. Against this view Stalin and Litvinov set themselves strongly. They favored maintaining peace for Russia by joining the collective system, by working with the democratic countries in the League of Nations. The sort of difference of opinion which in 1929 had led simply to the expulsion of Trotsky rather than to his execution, led in 1936 to the execution of those who still pursued some of his policies. Stalin brushed aside Lenin's warning not to fall into the Jacobin error of "mutual extermination." His dictatorship had come to the logical conclusion of all dictatorships: any difference of opinion is treason.
Outside these two ideological groups, or rather as an adjunct to one of them, was the military clique headed by Tukhachevsky. These officers were intent on creating a Red Army free from Party control; they were partisans of the policy of making terms with Germany; it seems that they went further and plotted with the Reichswehr; at all events -- and it was enough -- they were rivals of Stalin and would-be inheritors of his power. Tukhachevsky thought that he could make himself the Bonaparte of the revolution. He met a dictatorial will more ruthless than his own.
[i] Since given effect in the electoral law of July 9, 1937.
[ii] According to statistics presented by Stalin to the plenary session of the Central Committee on March 3, 1937, the Russian Communist Party includes: 3,000 to 4,000 "superior leaders" (the "generals" of the Party); 30,000 to 40,000 "middle leaders" (the "officers"); 100,000 to 150,000 "minor leaders" (the "non-commissioned officers").
[iii] Paris, December 22, 1936, and January 17, 1937. The letter attracted wide attention. It was published in English by the Secretariat of the Labor and Socialist International ("Documents and Discussions," Vol. XIV, No. 2, Brussels, February 20, 1937); and by the Rand School Press, New York, under the title "Letter of an Old Bolshevik" (62 p. 25 cents).
[iv] The officers and the posts they had recently held were as follows: Marshal Mikhail N. Tukhachevsky, Vice-Commissar for Defense; General A. I. Kork, Director of the Red Army War College; General I. E. Yakir, former Commander-in-Chief of the Ukraine forces at Kiev, later Commander of the Leningrad military district; General I. P. Uborevich, Assistant People's Commissar for War and Vice-President of the Revolutionary Military Council; General Robert P. Eideman, Chief of the Home Defense organization for training military reserves; General B. M. Feldman, Chief of Personnel of the General Staff; General K. V. Putna, former Military Attaché in London, arrested in August 1936; General V. M. Primakov, Deputy Commander of the Leningrad military district.
[v] Leon Trotsky shares this opinion, affirming that Stalin has already replaced the "real" Communists with deserters from other parties.
[vi]New York Times, July 4, 1937.
[vii] The "old Bolshevik" is writing, remember, as one of the "officers" of the Communist Party.
[viii] Thus in March 1937 the Basler Nachrichten reported that opinion was divided in Moscow, and continued that Tukhachevsky, pointing to the Spanish war, argued that the Western Powers were seeking to exploit for their own benefit the hostility between Germany and Russia. He declared for an alliance with Germany which would give Russia a free hand in the Baltic countries, Poland, Rumania and Bulgaria.
[ix] This admission, made quite simply, is in the best Communist tradition. One sample will suffice. Pravda published last January a letter which Lenin had addressed to the Commissar of Justice in 1922, containing the following: "I think that it is necessary to widen the application of capital punishment to include all forms of activity by Mensheviks, Social Revolutionists, etc. It is necessary to find a formula connecting these activities with the international bourgeoisie and its fight against us."
[x] Reports to this effect have since been given currency in many places. The Week, London, stated, June 30, 1937, that the French Military Attaché in Moscow had commented on Tukhachevsky's "hostile attitude." This article is reprinted in Soviet Russia Today, New York, August 1937. See also an article by Pierre Dominique in L'Europe Nouvelle, Paris, June 19, 1937.
[xi] The French journalist, "Pertinax," who has the confidence of members of the French General Staff, accepts the theory that Tukhachevsky et al were in contact with Reichswehr officers, were attempting to free the Red Army of Party control, and wished to act with rather than against Hitler.
[xii] "The Revolution Betrayed," New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1937, p. 211.