Notes By The Way: Compulsory Confessions in Russian Jails

Compulsory Confessions in Russian Jails.


A recent incident reported from Russia should be noticed by those who scouted the possibility that the prisoners in the political trials of the past few years might have been forced to confess to actions they had not committed. A brief report from Moscow, published by the News Chronicle (January 16th, 1939) reads: —


  Five officials of the Commissariat of Internal Affairs have been shot in the Moldavian Soviet Republic for fabrication of evidence, illegal arrests and extraction of confessions by illegal methods.

A report of the trial, from the Moscow correspondent of the Daily Telegraph (January 3rd), said that one of the specific charges against them was having invented “a counter-revolutionary Fascist youth organisation,” and then, by “criminal methods,” forcing ten local teachers to confess that they belonged to this imaginary organisation. The result was the long imprisonment of the teachers.


All five of the prisoners pleaded “guilty,” but all ”tried to throw the blame on their superiors.”


It looks as if the Russian police and prison system needs some pretty drastic investigation.


Daily Worker” Misleads its Readers about Russia.


Readers of the Communist Daily Worker might reasonably expect that reliable news about Russia should be a prominent feature of that: paper. Here are two recent examples of what the readers get instead of news.


On January 6th the Daily Worker reported that the Russian soldier’s oath of allegiance had been changed, and explained that the “essential difference between this oath and the pledge previously given is its individual character. In the past, Red army men have taken the oath collectively. From February 23rd every Soviet citizen accepted into the fighting services will pledge himself individually. . . .”


Now read the report published a day earlier by the News Chronicle, from Moscow: —


  Significant changes are contained in the new oath to be taken by the Soviet Army on February 23rd, which is published here to-day.
The oath aims rather at developing patriotism towards the Soviet Union than towards the international working class.
Men will pledge their loyalty as citizens of the Soviet Union and not as “sons of the working class.” In addition, the pledge will be made to the Soviet Government and not before “workers of the whole world,” as was the case with their former oath adopted after the revolution.
Soldiers must swear individually not to spare their blood in national defence.—Reuter and B.U.P.

Did the Daily Worker really think that the “essential difference” was that the oath is now taken individually?—or did the real difference escape their notice because of their own conversion to Communist nationalism?
The second instance was the reporting of the Russian Government’s new regulations about factory discipline and social service benefits.


According to the Daily Worker (December 30th, 1938) the new regulations provide for: —


  Differentiated payment of social insurance benefits in accordance with the worker’s period of employment in a given enterprise. Other advantages are allowed workers and employees who work in a given enterprise for a long period.

The whole report was headed “Soviet Creates New Order of Labour Heroes,” this relating to orders and medals for Labour Valour and “Outstanding Services.”


All very interesting and harmless, but will the reader of the Daily Worker realise from the above that the regulations mean a drastic worsening of the social services? The “differentiated payment of social insurance benefits,” translated into plain English, means, according to Forward (January 21st), that in future the full benefits will not be paid unless a worker has been regularly at work in the same works for a period of six years or more. If he has worked for only two years at the same works his sickness benefit will be cut to half of his wage. For two to three years he gets sixty per cent, and for three to six years eighty per cent.


Maternity benefits are cut from four months to sixty-three days.


Workers who are late for work three times in a month become liable to punishment, in the first instance to be reduced to a less paid job for three months. Workers who leave work or are dismissed for breach of labour discipline are to be ejected from their homes “without being offered alternative accommodation.”


It may be said that the Russian social services are still generous in many respects by comparison with those in many other countries, but that is not the point. What the reader of the Daily Worker is entitled to be told is why a drastic worsening masquerades in carefully chosen phrases which make it appear to be rather an improvement.


Pray, Seats for the Privy Council.


Lord Chancellor Maugham, in a letter to The Times (December 16th, 1938) reveals a cruel state of affairs at meetings of the Privy Council. He writes: —

  Members of the Privy Council who attend His Majesty to pass Orders in Council, do not sit; they stand . . .

Something must be done about it.


The Blessings of Insurance.


The Trust of Insurance Shares, Ltd., in an advertisement in the News Chronicle (January 11th, 1939), show what a wonderful thing insurance is— for the shareholders.


Taking a representative selection of insurance companies’ shares, the advertisement states that the average yield to investors has risen steadily from £4 18s. 8d. per cent, in 1913 to £6 0s. 9d. per cent, in 1918, and to £15 15s. l0d. per cent, in 1937.


The investor whose insurance shares were worth £100 in 1913 has seen their value rise almost continuously, so that, in 1937, they could have been sold for £479 10s. 0d.


Sir John Ellerman and the “Daily Herald.”


The Daily Express (January 11th) published the following: —


Daily Express” Staff Reporter.
The Socialist Daily Herald may eventually have multi-millionaire Sir John Ellerman and his associates as its controllers.
At present Odhams Press, Limited, have financial control of the Daily Herald (1929). Limited, by holding fifty-one per cent, of its shares; but control of policy is reserved to the Trade Union Congress.
Sir William Cox, manager of Sir John’s £40,000,000 fortune, has become a director of Odhams Press, Limited.
Sir William Cox has bought 480,000 4s. Ordinary- shares in the company for £96,000. Sir John Ellerman already has 10,000 Ordinary shares of his own in the company.
Between them they, have now acquired a directorship and more than a tenth of the Ordinary shares.
Sir John Ellerman has lately shown an inclination to take part in the newspaper industry.
Through Sir William Cox he obtained in 1937 a controlling interest in Illustrated Newspapers, Limited, owners of the Bystander and Tatler.
Sir William Cox is now joint vice-chairman of that company. Lord Southwood is chairman of both Illustrated Newspapers and Odhams Press.

Another very interesting disclosure from the same source is that the £18,000,000 fortune left by his father to Sir John Ellerman in 1933 has, in the intervening five years, increased to £40,000,000.


Sir John will be able to read from time to time in the Daily Herald that hoary old Liberal-Labour theory that the development of social reforms is whittling away the great fortunes and securing a more equal distribution of wealth. Then he will laugh and grow fatter, and say what a good thing it is for capitalism to have such fallacies kept alive.


Imperialisms: The Japanese Mote and the British Beam.
The Manchester Guardian, in an editorial satirising some Japanese imperialist propaganda, ends on a sarcastic note:—


  Nothing is said about Europe, so perhaps we shall be allowed to keep the Channel Islands for the time being, or at least until Japan is ready for them.

The writer of that, no doubt, genuinely believes that it is outrageous for one small capitalist country off the mainland of Asia to want to overrun Hong-Kong, Shanghai and all of China, thus destroying British possessions and poaching on an Anglo-French-American trade preserve. He should ask Indians and Chinese and Japanese what they think of another small capitalist country off the mainland of Europe which has imperialist interests in every continent and on every ocean on the globe.


Or ask a Spaniard what he thinks of Gibraltar being a British fortress.


Incidentally, it was recently pointed out in the same newspaper that Gibraltar was seized by Britain during a Spanish civil war about 200 years ago. Rather a hard nut for the pro-Franco imperialists who argue that a permanent German-Italian occupation of Spanish territory is not to be feared because the proud Spaniards always throw out foreigners. If the Spaniards succeed in throwing the present invaders out it may whet their appetite for Gib.


Postmaster-General’s Joke about State Capitalism. 


Forward (December 24th, 1938) and The Star, from which it quotes, both fell into a trap laid for the Labour M.P.s by the Postmaster-General, Major Tryon. On December 14th, in the House of Commons, there was a debate on nationalisation of the land, on a motion put forward by the Labour Party. When the Labour M.P.s saw that the Government had put up the P.M.G. to reply, they should have suspected that there was some particular reason. Instead, they, and The Star and Forward, thought they had got the Government in a very awkward situation. ” Major Tryon,” said The Star, “ is the Minister responsible for our nationalised Post Office—the most important nationalised service in the world, and the most efficient, too.” But the joke was really on the Labour M.P.s, for Major Tryon wound up his speech by quoting from a speech by the Leader of the Labour Party, who had admitted that “the difficulty is that the Post Office is not an example of Socialism, but of State capitalism.”


The Late Lamented Kemal Attaturk.


The French Communist news summary, France Monde (November 12th, 1938), publishes from the Moscow paper, Izvestia, the latter’s comment on the death of Kemal Attaturk, the Turkish dictator. Typical passage: “All sincere friends of the independence of Turkey have received with great sadness the news of the death of this eminent statesman. . . . The death … is a great loss for the Turkish people.”


Izvestia credits him with having carried through “a series of important political and cultural reforms which completely transfigured Turkey,” and remarks that he was “President of the Republican Popular Party.”


What Izvestia does not relate is that this brutal, ambitious and unscrupulous political schemer had to his credit the deliberate sabotage of the growing movement towards Parliamentary Government. The precious “Popular Party,” of which he was President, is the Turkish equivalent of Hitler’s Totalitarian Nazi Party—no other parties are allowed. The full story is available in “Grey Wolf” (Penguin, 6d.).


This flattery of Kemal shows the real attitude of the Bolshevists towards Parliamentary Government and democracy.


German and British Naval Authorities See Eye to Eye.


In an article on the Anglo-German Naval Pact, Mr. Winston Churchill, himself a former First Lord of the Admiralty, lets in a little light on the mentality of those who control the Navy: —


  When it was pointed out by me that the building by the Germans of a new navy one-third the tonnage of the then antiquated British Fleet would entail the complete rebuilding of the British Fleet, the Admiralty remained quite cool. They welcomed the German construction as a spur and pace-maker, which would procure the necessary funds from the British Government. Thus the Agreement passed smoothly through the House of Commons, and all protests and warnings were unavailing.—(Daily Telegraph, January 12th, 1939.)

These are the people who profess to want disarmament.


Edgar Hardcastle