Bolshevism From the Inside


‘BOLSHEVISM is the worst enemy of the working classes’ — ’The Soviet government has first deceived, and then strangled labor.’ This is the judgment of many Russian labor leaders who have succeeded in escaping beyond the eastern frontiers of the Baltic provinces. Early in March, Gregoire Alexinsky, the well-known labor leader and representative of the Petrograd workmen in the second Duma, one who has spent almost as much time in exile or in prison as in championing the rights of the lower working classes, wound up a long talk with the words: ‘I have consecrated my life to the cause of labor; that means now — to defeat Bolshevism.’ This standpoint may be in part owing to Alexinsky’s experience in a Soviet hospital, where the orderly, failing in an attempt to strangle him with his blanket, ran off with his valuables.

All legislation enacted since the New Year has been particularly directed against freedom of thought, speech, and action in the working classes, and to this end it has sought to crush their two representative bodies, the Coöperative Societies and the labor unions, or, rather, the professional unions, as these include in Russia the unions, not only of laborers, mechanics, and artisans, but also those of the professional men and artists.

The present tremendous effort toward economic reconstruction has resulted in the Soviet leader’s frank announcement that the republic can be saved by the employment of all males and females capable of working, in any manner, at any place, and for any length of time which the National Soviet of Supreme Economy may deem wise. Labor thus becomes a far more pliable tool than even soldiers in a great army. The laborer is to have no will or initiative of his own. Trotzky, expecting a remonstrance from the labor ranks throughout the world, anticipated this by stating that, the Soviet government has destroyed the so-called capitalistic principles of free labor. Mobilizing it is the keystone of Bolshevist economy. ‘Labor duty,’ says another leader, ‘means that a laborer must go whenever and wherever he is told to.’ The laborer, in other words, becomes, according to American ideas, nothing but a slave.

Again, Trotzky attempts to defend the procedure required to maintain the rule of himself and his communistic comrades by declaring that ‘The leading classes of labor have the right to force upon the other undeveloped portions of the labor masses the laws of labor duty.’ Poor undeveloped portions! How their undeveloped state has been offered as an excuse for the tyranny of the dictators or the minority. Less than two per cent of Russia’s one hundred and sixty millions acknowledged themselves out-and-out Communists, and many of these merely from fear.

Brother Goldmann of the All-Russian Union of Metal-Workers recently gave this official opinion on labor unions: ‘The professional unions have long since destroyed ideals.’

How has Bolshevism met the various points at issue with American labor? The question of working-hours — by increasing them and abolishing the Saturday half-holiday; the vote — by placing it entirely in the hands of Communist leaders, a small unrepresentative minority; physical conditions — by making them as bad as the world has ever seen; the question of wages and luxuries — by granting wages insufficient to supply the necessaries of life, to say nothing of luxuries.

New decrees have been issued, promising insurance against sickness, accidents, old age, motherhood, widowhood, orphanage, and, in some cases, unemployment. The term ‘insurance,’ dating from ‘ bourgeois ’ days and signifying reparation for damages, has been supplanted by ‘social support.’ All the old insurance companies have been closed, their books and funds taken over by the government, and the entire subject of insurance of all kinds placed under the Department for Social Support.

The workmen I have questioned as to what sums they received when disabled have answered that as yet the organization of Social Support had not progressed sufficiently to allow payments; but the objectionable methods and the niggardly amounts wrung out of Western capitalists had been done away with; and as the state has always some kind of work for everybody, little ‘social support’ will be needed for nonemployment.


Nowhere in the world was the Cooperative movement so highly developed as in Russia, where the Cooperatives played a great rôle in the nation’s economic life and secured real benefits for the lower classes. As they no longer exist, it is a farce for any foreign government to emphasize its intention merely to trade through, or deal with the Russian Coöperatives, while avoiding the contamination of the Soviet government.

Russia gave the Cooperatives their death-blow early last autumn. During the first half of 1919 the sales of the Moscow head office alone amounted to almost half a billion roubles. The Cooperatives had been a factor with which even the Tsar’s government was forced to reckon. The Soviet government has, from an economic point of view, taken no step which has more effectually brought Russia to the verge of ruin than by dissolving the Coöperative Societies — retaining merely their central organization and the empty framework. The Coöperatives are at present, as Krassin quite rightly states, mere government organs without purchasing, selling, or distributing power; and such work as they still perform is done by the order or with the sanction of the government. The financial independence which the Coöperatives still possessed after private initiative had been killed by the nationalization of the banks kept, for a while, their heads above water. The nationalization of the People’s Bank in Moscow completed their financial ruin, and the subsequent independent establishment by the government of ‘consumers’ communes’ forced the Coöperatives to give up the unequal struggle.

And now that the Coöperatives no longer exist, what is the result? A horse capable of hauling cost a purchaser, after close bargaining in Petrograd, a quarter of a million roubles; a cow, about half as much. Bread cost in the capital 240 roubles a pound, rye and barley, from 300 to 400. Beef brought 450 roubles a pound and eggs 100 roubles apiece. There are two prices for everything, and most of the shops can sell only upon government order. This has, of course, its good as well as its bad side. On presenting at a government shop an order to purchase a hat or a pair of shoes, you pay from 80 to 90 roubles for the articles in question, while the speculators in the market round the corner charge you from 4000 to 5000 roubles.

The amount you can buy is as restricted as the price set upon it. King Edward VII’s wardrobe would scarcely have met the approval of the inspectors of the Commissariat of National Economy. A friend of Tchitcherin’s mistress, when discoursing upon the lady’s good fortune and extravagance, exclaimed, ‘Why, she even has three coats!’

A Moscow shopkeeper was recently asked: ‘ What do you want most of all ? ’

‘I wish the doors of the Coöperatives were open once more, so that I might buy all the old things at the old prices.’


The Soviet government has not yet dared to come out flat-footed for the nationalization of all land, but has published a decree that the land has been given the peasants only on lease. Despite this the government has been beating round the bush, knowing what it would mean if it insisted upon taking away from the peasants what they have finally succeeded in acquiring after centuries of longing. The peasant class was very largely willing to fight, against Denikin, Kolchak, and Judenitch, merely because they were told and believed that the White generals would, if victorious, once more deprive them of their land. In addition, they feel none too certain of their actual right of possession. Numbers of them have replied to my questioning, ‘ We have nothing with which to prove that the land now really belongs to us.’ The peasant who has seized his landlord’s property has in reality become a small bourgeois, antagonistic to Communism and upholding the rights of private ownership of property. And it is not a paradox to say that Russia has become, for the first time in her history, a bourgeois country, and that the process of embourgeoisemerit is continuing under the cloak of Communism. Foreign powers, considering how and when to act on the ‘Russian problem,’ have here something on which to reckon and build.

As a result there will inevitably come a sharp clash between the masses of the people, clinging to belief in capitalistic economy and private ownership, and the Bolshevist government, antagonistic to the wishes of these classes and obstructing their free development.

The government argues that economic conditions do not just yet allow the introduction of ideal agricultural organization and management on a communistic basis. The time is, in other words, not yet opportune for a complete nationalization of all property; but when they decide that it has come, very possibly one of the last acts of the Bolshevist drama will be played. An entirely new landowning class has sprung up. The poor middle class and wealthy peasants have been more or less transformed into an average wellnourished lot of farmers, far better fed than ever before, unwilling to sell anything to the government or cities for money, of which they have already an embarrassing quantity on their hands; and, furthermore, there is a smaller number of well-to-do farmers who have increased their holdings by more or less dishonest means. The last Moscow statistics state that, according to the reports from thirty-one provinces having about twenty-four million dessiatines of land that can be cultivated, 86 per cent is now in the hands of peasants, 9 per cent is Soviet farms, 2.5 per cent belongs to the parishes, and 2.5 to government institutions. All the largest estates have been kept intact, and for government purposes.

The peasantry is the backbone of Russia and the Soviet government has this fact always in mind. The entire agricultural and industrial system has been upset by the lack of food-stuffs in certain regions; and as a result, the peasants, who previously planted and grew flax, hemp, or cotton, or bred cattle, have now seeded their fields with rye, wheat, barley, and oats. The area on which flax was formerly grown has thus decreased 30 per cent since prewar times. Of hides only one million were collected in 1919, and only half as many are expected this year.

Thus far the peasants have been operating on their former equipment and stocks, but now, if a plough or a saw breaks, it cannot be replaced, and it is the knowledge of this which seems, above all else, to make the peasants to whom I have spoken restless. Formerly a peasant had four horses; then he came down to two; in the Petrograd government the commissars have ordered all peasants who have two horses to give up one. As most of the farming machinery cannot be operated with only one horse, the owner is now in the position of a man with one trouser-leg.

So far the peasants have in reality suffered comparatively little at the hands of the Communists. It must be remembered that the Red armies consist principally of peasants. As soldiers who received good rations,they had been quite content, and indeed had little cause for complaint. Their main desire has naturally been for the fighting to cease, that they might return to their farms. Their clothes they can spin themselves. They certainly are adverse to changing their products for anything as valueless as the city’s moneys; but for salt or for a new saw, or furniture, they will produce from their hidden stores.


Never has starvation or malnutrition taken place on so huge and hideous a scale. No, not even in Indian famines. Until now, the lack of nourishment has, from one point of view, rendered the intelligent and educated classes so weak and apathetic that they have lost all will-power and initiative. They have no thought for anything except the pangs of hunger. During Judenitch’s retreat from Krassnaja-Gorka, I felt again and again as if I were face to face with a race of a new color. They had not the pallor of the corpses along the roadside, but were, rather, of an ashen-gray hue, like clayey soil or soapy water. Women and children walk hundreds of versts from village to village, searching for a few poods of flour in exchange for the clothes they can spare. My companion of this afternoon, who is just back from Petrograd, told me that he was waked night before last by the pitiful cries of children outside his car which had been side-tracked at Gatchina. He found two twelve-year-old boys who were returning to their mothers in Petrograd with fifteen poods of flour they had finally discovered in a country village. After tramping for five weeks before securing the precious bundle, they were being robbed by agents of the local Soviet.

The Food Commissar had on January 1 collected about, ninety million poods of grain. The Central Russian grain dépôts contain to-day a sufficient, supply for the laborers and peasants for three months, on the rations now allowed. This does not exactly spell success in one of the first, grain-producing countries of the world.

The soldiers have received, not only the best rations, but sufficient to keep them in first-class fighting condition — a very vital factor in the willingness of many to join the colors, and, not the least, of the officers of the old régime, to whom the new cause was exceedingly repugnant.

A very small leaf has been stolen from Hoover’s book in the attempt to organize food-distribution in the large cities and feed the populace through soup-kitchens. These are divided into two groups: public and local kitchens. In Moscow alone, where Butiagine is food-dictator, over 370,000 receive what is probably their only square meal in a day. How little one such dinner satisfies hunger is best proved by the workingmen, who are allowed two meals, one on top of the other, the two containing four times the food of the non-workingman’s meal. An evening supper of tea and sandwiches is also served in Moscow to some 200,000, also through public kitchens, local or factory kitchens, and workingmen’s clubs. These are located in what used to be fashionable restaurants. The pianos are still on the stage, and bookshelves with reading matter have been added to the old decorations. Many of the fashionable diners of the old days are grateful now for permission to eat the third-class soup, with its floating bits of cabbage and herring, seated in the very same chairs where but a few years ago they complained if their caviar and champagne were insufficiently cooled.

The Bolshevist government is fully aware of the necessity of fighting against the ever-growing speculation. Some of the leaders were so fortunate as to send, at an early date, large sums abroad, procured either through theft or sales of other people’s property, and to make good foreign investments. But such golden opportunities came to but few. The closing of all shops, with the exception of government stores and warehouses, naturally increases illegal buying and selling, and those who have the opportunity neither to steal nor to graft can live only by speculation. That the only alternative to this is starvation is clear when the maximum wages, with the exception of those paid commissars, amount to from 3000 to 5000 roubles a month, and the very least sum on which one can live in Petrograd is 100,000 roubles a month. Even the little children speculate. Every once in a while the government vultures swoop down on the speculators in the Alexandrovsky Market in Petrograd and the Soukharevka Market in Moscow, and make a rich harvest of everything there for sale. And this is, literally, everything. There are even booths where the slacker, strong and healthy, can procure, for 40,000 roubles, on the day following his application, a paper properly stamped by innumerable soviets and commissaries exempting him from military service. The healthier the man, the higher the price. The raid being over, the excited cries and imprecations subside and speculation starts afresh. Minor Soviet officials are able to eke out their meagre salaries by selling government stores to the Jews.

Though all buildings are nationalized and their sale is prohibited, the owners sell them over and over again, each new buyer basing his purchase upon the ultimate fall of the present government and the return of property to its original private ownership.

Any man traveling takes along the old clothing he can spare, to barter for flour or other needed commodities.

Kameneff, who secs the seriousness of the situation, recently stated: ‘ Speculation is now destroying the very tissue of socialistic economy. All forces must be turned against it and then one of Socialism’s last battles will be fought.’ And Trotzky has seen, ‘to his humiliation and shame, that the proletariat has turned to retail speculation.’ This astute observer has himself never done anything except at wholesale. Bribery in the government circles of Moscow is far worse than in Petrograd; in the former it exceeds the worst periods of the Imperial régime.


The greatest problem facing the Soviet government at present is that of transportation. This is almost paralyzed. The inefficiency and corruption of the Tsarist government, the wear and tear of war, when everything was sacrificed to meet temporarily the demands of the Western front, and finally the incompetency and negligence of the Soviet government, are now all bearing fruit. Rolling-stock cannot be renewed, as there are no domestic workshops and no foreign deliveries. Such skilled workmen as Russian railroads possessed were either called to the Red colors or, as is the case to a great extent, have become commissars and refuse to turn back into mechanics and engineers. Stecklov recently stated that foreign engineers, skilled workmen, and mastermechanics were just as badly needed by Russia as foreign locomotives and cars. It is now hoped that Scandinavian mechanics, and especially Swedish, of Socialistic and Communistic tendencies, may be lured to Russia by liberal pay and assurance that their families will be taken care of during their absence. The very best mechanics, especially from the metal and textile industries, were early sent to the front with the first detachment of soldiers from Petrograd and Moscow; most of these perished along the Don and in the Ukraine. The Red armies swallowed up what skilled mechanics were left, as well as the best workmen from Petrograd, Moscow, IvanovoVosnessensk, and the Ural.

Lomonosoff, who is considered an expert in everything pertaining to railway matters, returned to Russia from America last year. He has just declared that, traffic could be kept up, even to its present miserable condition, only if the Bolsheviki repair five times the number of locomotives they are now repairing, namely, ten per cent instead of two per cent of those now broken down. Russia has only about 2700 ‘sound’ locomotives. Firewood being the only fuel naturally decreases capacity. Before the war the average through t rain made about one hundred versts a day, but the present speed of the few trains that are despatched and not stopped or robbed en route is about sixty versts. Sixty per cent of the scanty and wholly insufficient pre-war engines are now out of commission, and almost all are badly worn. About two hundred are discarded every month.

Lomonosoff looked facts in the face when he concluded a recent speech in Petrograd by saying: ‘The facts are very simple: as we have no engines, we cannot carry goods. Superhuman efforts are needed. If we continue as heretofore, spring will find us with 80 per cent of the engines out of commission, and this means that our trains will stop. Even if our negotiations with the Western Powers and the United States are successful, we shall get nothing for some time. Orders for engines taken now would mean November deliveries. . . . The fate of the republic depends to-day upon its railways, and these upon the engines. Three months ago Brother Trotzky cried: “Proletarians — to horse!” The Russian proletarian mounted, and the victory was won. Let the cry now be: “Proletarians—to your lathes! We have succeeded in defeating Kolchak and Denikin; now we must defeat engines.’”

In Southeast Russia, in the Ural and Ufa districts, enormous grain stocks, enough to feed starving Russia and Western Europe, are rotting in storehouses and granaries. Those who could repair locomotives and freighters are permitted to use the small available rolling-stock for the transport, of a load of produce to their own factory or village. Such precious freight must, however, be well guarded on the way, and the percentage of food-trains which have been started and have got through to Petrograd and Moscow has been exceedingly low.

While cabinets and labor unions are squabbling in Western Europe and America about tenand eightand six-hour working-days, despite the crying necessity of ‘speeding up’ production, the Soviet government, anticipating a similar danger, passes resolutions for a double and triple shift on its railroads and in its boiler-works. The working-day is prolonged beyond eight hours, and the Saturday halfholiday goes by the board. Even the First of May, the great fête-day of the proletariat, is to be celebrated as a day of unusual toil, and all between the ages of eighteen and fifty, who have, during the last two years, done any raihvay work whatever, have been mobilized for this purpose.

The few trains running are practically at the service only of the military or government officials. Much ‘pull’ and many permits are requisite to procure a ticket, while the general public is forbidden access to the stations.

The case of the Moscow textile district, which requires a monthly delivery of over half a million poods of Turkestan cotton, illustrates sufficiently how industry is affected by the lack of rolling-stock. At present only two trains a month arc running, and at this rate it would take more than a score of years to deliver the eight, million poods of cotton now awaiting transportation to the factories. An equal period would be required for the delivery in Central Russia by the one monthly train of the ten million poods of metals stacked in the Ural district.

When the Soviet government ‘took over,’ it found nothing but worn-out machinery from which the more valuable parts, such as copper, brass, and bronze, had been removed. Belting had all been cut up for shoe-soles. The existing machinery is principally ‘scrap’; factories must be reëquipped if industrial life is to be started on the most modest basis. Indeed, so far as industrial undertakings go, the Soviet government has to a certain extent been forced to acknowledge its erroneous course. It has recognized that it is impossible to run elaborate machinery and intricate manufacturing without technical expert s and men of trained organizing and managing capacity, who could now be found only among the detested bourgeoisie.

The All-Russian Council has thus recently been obliged to acknowledge the necessity of seeking technical experts among the bourgeois class, and has even urged the Communist workmen to receive them in a spirit of comradeship. ‘The Council believes that a blinding self-conceit led the working class to believe it could solve the vital questions now facing Russia without employing bourgeois specialists in responsible positions.’ The pill is sugared by all manner of further recommendations as to a rapid technical education of the proletariat, which would fit its members in the immediate future to assume positions of responsibility in the management of industry. Commissars of trade are to be appointed, standing in the same relationship to the general managers of all plants in which the military commissar stands to the regimental commander. No doubt the industrial chiefs’ life will thereby be made as thoroughly miserable as that of many an officer whom I have heard bless the fate which delivered him from the claws of his tormentor.


What does not Russia need ? First of all, true, unselfish friends. How many of her own brave and devoted sons have gladly given their lives to bring peace out of the present conditions! I have seen thousands of them glad to die if it could only help.

But apart from human sacrifice, she needs the wherewithal to start work — tools and agricultural machinery and medicines and, most of all, rolling-stock and the food this can distribute.

The smaller Russian industries have been consolidated into larger institutions under government control, or absorbed directly by the government. About four thousand larger plants have been nationalized, or, to use Rykoff’s recent words, ‘The entire Russian industry has been transferred to the hands of the government and Soviet institutions and private industry is destroyed. Of Soviet Russia’s entire industry, 41 per cent, employing 76 per cent of the laborers and representing three fourths of the national production, is now carried on by nationalized factories.’ Power-plants are being erected for their supply, and new branches of industry are being developed, since Russia was forced by the blockade to depend upon herself. The procuring of all raw stuffs, as well as their distribution, is controlled by the Supreme Soviet of National Economy, assisted by the numberless affiliated local economic soviets.

Russia’s principal industries are textile and metal. Of the 1191 metal industries, 614 have been nationalized and 116 united into trusts. Russia now produces about one third of the machinery she made before the war, when most of her stock was reasonably new and whole. Only seven per cent of her 7,000,000 spindles are at work and only eleven per cent of her 164,000 looms are weaving. The textile industry, which, in pre-war days, was surpassed by England and Germany only, is completely broken down. These are appalling figures and facts, but they are quoted from the best authorities.

The section of the Donez Basin was naturally of enormous importance to the Bolsheviki; but there again they are helpless, from lack of cars and the destruction of the bridges.

The desperate economic conditions are being met by conscription of labor and the conversion of various armies into so-called ‘Labor Armies.’

With the defeat of the White armies’ and the resulting reduction of the Red forces, the Soviet government has been faced with the same problem as all other participants in the Great War — namely, how to assimilate its soldiers. They were of particular danger to the Soviet republic. Trotzky and Lenin conceived the idea of labor armies, thus putting off the evil hour. They have assisted the government on an enormous scale, in chopping trees, sawing wood needed for fuel, clearing streets and railroads, repairing roads and bridges, mending broken agricultural implements, accumulating and concentrating food-stuffs, and meeting in every way the transportation difficulties, and in fact rehabilitating industry, as well as agriculture, by ploughing and seeding the fields.

The trade unions have vigorously opposed the complete enslavement of labor, with the result that, they have been loudly berated by the Soviet government.

Discipline in the Red armies improved greatly as time went on. Punishments were frequent and merciless. It is naturally far more difficult to maintain discipline in regiments roaming over several square miles of forest, or over the horizon-wide polia. The soldiers cannot see why they should not be filling their own wood-sheds or ploughing behind their home barns. As a resuit, desertions have occurred on a large scale, and ‘starvation punishments’ have been imposed.

Many of the skilled laborers have left the factories, tempted by the larger prospects of speculation. The Ekonomitcheskaje Zhisn quotes a recent congress as follows: ‘Inasmuch as enormous masses of laborers have run away from cities into villages, labor-mobilization had best take place in the matter.’ Premiums are paid in the form of increased rations or pay for exemplary Tabor behavior,’ while special prison camps have been established lor the deserters, as also punitive deserter-laborcompanies, whose duties are far from pleasant.

It is doubtful whether the labor-armies will, as Trotzky believes, acquire the military qualities which are of vital importance — namely, promptness and the same obedience that would be given to military orders. According to Sinovieff, the future outlook of the labor armies is not very cheerful. ‘They will have to remain mobilized for several years.’

All labor soldiers are provided with labor books, which must always be found in order when inspected if the holder is to receive his allotted rations.

It speaks volumes for the extraordinary power exercised by the government that the weak and unhomogeneous Russia of to-day is capable of putting forth, if only temporarily, so mighty an effort toward economic reconstruction as that of the labor-armies.

The Soviet government, knowing very well how little is to be expected from the Great Powers, really believes that a pound of flesh will be exacted in return for everything that is given. Convinced that it must rely upon itself and its own energy, it follows that any regeneration must very largely come from within — from Russia herself. Every other nation, if sane, is busy setting its own house in order. America alone might enter Russia with altruistic motives. Her Red Cross or childfeeding organizations might be willing to labor in the name of charity. All others will come for concessions and selfish gain. The Bolsheviki have no illusions. Radek, the world’s first propagandist, also knows that a worldrevolution is for the time being out of the question, and that any rapprochement to the Western world is possible only if the Bolskeviki first promise to stop their propaganda. As a result, the Soviet government is now ready to promise this or anything else demanded in order to reëstablish relations. The future will take care of itself, and, the doors once open, it will undoubtedly prove very easy to start the old underground propaganda machinery going all over the world.

Nothing has done more to weld the various parties together in Russia than the creation and fighting of the White armies and the Allied assistance furnished them, half-hearted as it was. Any general advance against Moscow attempted by the traditional enemy, Poland, would rally to the Red colors volunteers from every class. Almost all who fought in the Red ranks, whether from volition or compulsion, felt that they were fighting for Russia, either against foreign gold and hist, or against Russians who did not have the cause of Russia, right or wrong, at heart. The Red Army believed that the success of Denikin, Kolchak, and Judenitch would mean a return of reactionary forces and much of the old detested order of things. The immense territories conquered by the White armies in their great advances were misruled, or, rather, unruled, as never before, and nothing was done to dispel doubts or inspire confidence, until it was too late.