1930s >> 1939 >> no-423-november-1939

Changing Russia

 The repercussions of the Soviet-German Pact on Communist influence have been far-reaching. Mr. H. N. Brailsford, an old supporter of the Soviet Government, urged his friends to restrain the “bitterness in their hearts” (Reynolds’s, October 8th, 1937). We suspect that Mr. Brailsford’s restraint is governed by the hope that Russia will yet side with the Allied Powers.

 Mr. Louis Fischer, in an article in Reynolds’s (October 1st, 1939) feels no urge for such restraint. He is an American journalist, has spent many years in Russia and, until now, has been regarded as one of the staunchest and ablest supporters of the Russian Government outside of Russia. After enumerating facts which are now familiar as history, Louis Fischer says:–

       I see two chief reasons for Russia’s new foreign expansion : (1) Domestic difficulties, and (2) the revival of Russian nationalism.
       Several years ago. Stalin started out to build Socialism in one country. But Socialism is a travesty without pants and without freedom. The supply of consumers’ goods (except food) and of housing in Russia is most inadequate, and little progress has been made during the last three years.
       The nation was ready to sacrifice a great deal, and it did, for the sake of the better life that had been promised. But this is the twenty-second year of the revolution, and people get tired investing in a future which never arrives. They grow especially depressed when they see stagnation instead of improvement.
       The objective truth of the Soviet goods shortage is the long queues outside town and village shops, and speculation.
       Neither quantitatively nor qualitatively are the needs of the Soviet population being met.

 The New Soviet Constitution of 1936 Fischer interprets as an attempt to meet the “yearning of the population met with disappointment—the yearning for freedom.”

 Hopes were dashed, however, and “the purge continued to every nook of the vast Soviet Union, and hundreds of thousands suffered. . . .  A deadly fear was injected into those whom the authorities did not molest.”

And of the Army: —

       In 1936, Moscow created the rank of Army Marshal and raised five men to that rank : Voroshilov, Tukhachevsky, Yegorov, Bluecher and Budenny. Children treasured a widely published photograph of these five national heroes. Before long, the children had to cut off the face of Tukhachevsky. Executed as a traitor. In a short time Yegorov’s features had to be eliminated. And then Bluecher’s.

And journalists: —

      Hundreds of journalists, writers, professors, politicians and outstanding Communists who had enjoyed general confidence, turned out, according to the official version, to be anti-Soviet. Then how could the ordinary mortal know that the man whose speech he heard to-day, whose article he read to-day. whose orders he was obeying to-day, might not be annihilated to-morrow as a foe of the State?
       Since everybody was a potential spy or traitor, everybody hesitated to talk to or associate with everybody else.

 Well might Fischer add that “the arrests and shootings demoralised the population”! He speaks of watching these events from “near and afar with mounting disappointment and concern.  . . .  But while the Soviet Government helped the Spanish Republic, I, who had hoped that victory in Spain might save Europe from war and Russia from reaction, imposed silence upon myself.” He goes on to add that “ with one exception, every important Russian who returned from Spain has been executed or arrested.”

 Fischer’s observations on the growth of Russian nationalism are worth quoting, though they are long: —

       As long as the Soviet Government behaved like a sincere advocate of world peace and helped the victims of Fascist aggression, I was willing to moderate my criticisms of its deed. But now the Russians have made a deal with Hitler. Now I am afraid Russia has set out on the road of Pan-Slav expansion.

      In his speech on May 31st, 1939, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Molotov launched a just attack on the Anglo-French policy vis-à-vis Czechoslovakia, and said that at Munich “the large Slav nation of Czechoslovakia ” had been destroyed. This is the first time the word “Slav” has been used in such a connection by a Soviet statesman.

       When all else fails to stir the imagination or insure the loyalty of a citizenry, patriotism is a shrewd expedient. About 1936, the Bolsheviks began putting tremendous emphasis on patriotism and on love of fatherland. This was new in Soviet propaganda. Theretofore, the accent had been on internationalism. It changed abruptly to nationalism.

         I have never thought that these vaccinations ever “took.” On the contrary, it was Spain which excited the Soviet masses more than anything else in half a dozen years.

        Lenin had strongly imbued the Soviets with the spirit of international solidarity. He did not have to teach the inhabitants of the country to hate the black, Tsarist past of Russia. But now a new cult of Russianism arose.    

      Pre-revolutionary Russian history was reinterpreted to make it palatable to the Sovietised generation. Peter the Great, reviled for his cruelty by all who read, was furbished up for modern heroism. A whole galaxy of Tsarist notables reappeared out of the dustbin into which a proper assessment of their anti-labour and anti-peasant activities had thrown them. Pokrovsky, a veteran Soviet historian of Russia’s past, was discarded.

     Figures like Alexander Nevsky were brought forward out of the mist of the Middle Ages and popularised in the films, in this case, paradoxically, to breed contempt for Germany.

       Art, literature and politics received a deepening Russian tinge, while minor nationalities receded somewhat out of focus. In the same period the Comintern was eclipsed, and agitation for the world revolution moved behind a thick cloud. Acquisitive Nationalism became the guiding star of Soviet foreign and domestic policies.

       I believe this is the broad background against which the Bolsheviks’ rapprochement with the Nazis and their subsequent military moves can best be viewed.

 Well might the Communists put up Mr. Pat Sloan at a public meeting in order to “Answer your doubts about Russia.” (How long has it been admitted that Communists might have doubts?)

It would seem that the chant, “ Trotskyism,” no longer convinces the faithful!    

Harry Waite

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