Book Review: ‘Before and After Stalin’
Heroine and Victim
‘Before and After Stalin’, by Aino Kuusinen. Michael Joseph, £3.50
The days of my youth were spent mainly in Moscow, the throbbing heart of Revolutionary Russia.
In those days, a few years after the revolution, we frequently saw, though always in the background, at the huge “Comintern” building, or more often at the notorious “Lux” hotel (where we all lived) a stunningly beautiful young woman, who made most of the film stars and sex-symbols look like catsmeat; ash-blond hair, blue eyes, cream-and-roses complexion. “Who’s that?” we would enquire, eagerly agog with male curiosity. “Oh! that!” was the reply. “That’s Otto Kuusinen’s wife.” And who, you may well ask, is Otto Kuusinen?
Otto Kuusinen, dear reader, was the supreme Stalinist toady. General Secretary of the Executive of the Communist International from its inception in 1919 till Stalin killed it in 1936. The shadow behind every intrigue and plot to destroy rivals, whether Trotsky or his own native erstwhile comrade Karl Manner; who never put his own signature to a document but always had a front-man to carry the can. Indeed the ultimate intriguer, who watches his wife endure eighteen years in Stalin’s labour camps, who refused to utter a word when his own son was imprisoned and shot, and whose daughter only escaped Dracula Stalin by luck; during all of which he kept dead silent. The only “foreign communist” who made it to the Vice-Presidency of the Soviet Union and the eventual membership of the holy of holies, the Polit-Bureau of the Party: after all the others had been shot.
This book Before and After Stalin by Aina Kuusinen his life unwittingly tells his story.
In 1930 she was sent by her old man (as secretary of the Comintern) to America to help the gang at the head of the American Communist Party to nobble the funds and buildings of the Finnish Immigrant Workers’ Clubs. It never succeeded and she eventually refused to do it. Returning to Moscow she was amazed to be ordered to Tokyo to establish herself as a Soviet agent.
There she encountered the most notorious double agent of all time, Richard Sorge, the villain who worked for Stalin while reporting to Hitler as Tokyo correspondent of the Frankfurter Zeitung. Sorge actually telegraphed advance information of the German invasion to Stalin, who in his conceit ignored it.
Her book is all the more impressive for its forbearance and toleration. So far from denouncing, she tries to “explain” him and his actions, by references to the political environment in which he worked. She calmly records endless interrogation and indignities. She was slung in a cell in the dreaded Lubyanka prison; the top torturers of the NKVD gave up after long interrogations [failed] to make her sign phoney “confessions”.
At the age of seventy, she describes how she was finally “rehabilitated” after Stalin’s death, released and arrived back in Moscow without money, adequate clothing, identity cards, job, food or shelter. She wrote to the General Secretary of the Communist Party walked into the office with the letter and was told to wait outside on the pavement, in the depths of a Moscow winter.
Her book carries the ring of truth. It is an inspiration for generations to come, who will one day break the chains of the foul Russian Bolsheviks’ dictatorship.