Six Red Months in Russia

by Louise Bryant



LENINE and Trotsky! How inflamed we become at the mere mention of those names. After our written sentences, after our thoughts, follow violent vociferations, ejaculations, roars of impatient disapproval; it appears impossible for Anglo-Saxons to judge these men calmly and yet judge them we must and with the finest degree of deliberation. In all fairness to ourselves and the cause of liberty, we must make an unprejudiced decision. They have come to stand for certain ideals of internationalism behind which are certain powerful and growing world forces; we must choose them or men like them, who follow in their footsteps, for friends or enemies. They have become symbols and symbols are as hard to efface as mountains. Symbols cannot be kicked over in sudden anger, passed by with a shrug of the shoulders; symbols decide our destinies...

Why do you take off your hat when you stand at the grave of Lincoln? He has become a symbol. Why do you centre your hate on Wilhelm II instead of his millions of subjects? He has become a symbol. President Wilson is a symbol; he has become the interpreter of the Allied war aims. As a personality he is quite detached, but he represents a national ideal. Lenine and Trotsky, especially Lenine, are symbols representing a new order. Lenine stands before us, spokesman of the Soviets, and the Soviets are Russia. We must be intelligent and we must reckon with Lenine. It would be a sad fact to prove that there is no basis for friendship between two great republics. I know there cannot be friendship between the Imperial German Government and the Soviets, but I sincerely believe understanding is possible between the United States and Russia. I give such facts as I have toward that proof:

Friendship must be built on understanding, on frankness. Reports about Russia should not be coloured by imagination, personalities must not enter in. Supposing that we grant that the ideals of the Soviet government are not the ideals of the American democracy. And supposing, after careful consideration, we grant also that the ideals of other nations, entirely friendly toward us, are also not our ideals. Take Japan, for example, or Korea --there is a wedge for common ground. If we could. "wash our hands of Russia" as one statesman so unwisely said, we would not have to be bothered by weighty considerations; but that is not possible. To do so would be to voluntarily give Germany such added power as to make her invincible; when Germany is able to swallow the Russian revolution, she will be able to swallow the rest of the world. And above all, to abandon Russia or to allow her destruction would place us in the embarrassing position of abandoning our main reasons for entering the war--"making the world safe for democracy" and the "self determination of peoples."

It is not easy to write fairly of Lenine, I confess that. For example, if a reporter were to interview two representative Russians, Lenine and Kerensky, he might easily throw all the weight of his argument in favour of Kerensky because he liked him best. Kerensky has "personality plus," as Edna Ferber would say; one cannot help but be charmed by his wit and his friendliness; he is a lawyer and a politician. On the other hand, Lenine is sheer intellect--he is absorbed, cold, unattractive, impatient at interruption. And yet here are the facts: Kerensky is spokesman for the defunct Provisional Government; he is discredited; he has no power in Russia. It would be as silly to try to reestablish him as if some outside force would try to place William Jennings Bryan in the White House and eject Wilson. Lenine has tremendous power; he is backed by the Soviets. Therefore, if the people of Russia have eliminated Kerensky, we must also eliminate him in our Russian relations. As long as Lenine is head of the Soviet government we must assuredly deal with Lenine.

Our most deep-rooted prejudice against Lenine is that he is accused of being pro-German. I could never find evidence of that; I tried very hard. All I could find out about Lenine forced me to the opposite conclusion; to the conclusion that he plans the destruction of every great German institution, especially Prussian militarism. Lenine's coworkers in Germany are Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, revolutionists and arch enemies of the German government. We, as Americans, are more or less committed to that stand--we have avowed a desire that the present German autocratic government be overthrown. The only element in Germany striving toward that end are the followers of Lenine's philosophy. And if it comes to a choice of accepting as allies one or the other of those two diametrically opposed forces, Prussianism or Socialism, in a fight for world freedom, we cannot hesitate to choose Socialism; and by that I do not mean we have to embrace it.

Lenine is a master propagandist. If any one is capable of maneuvering a revolution in Germany and Austria, it is Lenine. He has lived long in Germany, and he understands German psychology. Gorky has described him as a chemist working with human material instead of chemicals; working just as coldly and as disinterestedly--without regard to human life. So worked all the conquerors, Charlemagne, Napoleon, William Pitt... Lenine is monotonous and thorough and he is dogged; he possesses all the qualities of a "chief," including the absolute moral indifference which is so necessary to such a part.

He writes treatises on philosophy and philosophic method; he is an authority on economics; he writes books so scholarly that only sociologists can comprehend them and, at the same time, he appeals to the peasants with pamphlets that are marvels for simplicity.

A hand-bill written by Lenine and signed by both Lenine and Trotsky, was brought to me from the German trenches by a Russian soldier who went over the lines during the armistice. I quote illuminating portions:

"Brothers, German soldiers, follow the example of your great comrade, Karl Liebknecht, leader of international socialism, who in spite of terrific difficulties has carried on a brave struggle against the war--by means of hand-bills and newspapers, numberless strikes and demonstrations. In this fight your government has put thousands of your comrades in jail.

"Finally, there was the heroic stand of the sailors in your fleet, which was very reassuring that fully half the intelligent working people of your country are now prepared for a decisive struggle for peace.

"If you will be helpful to us in our undertaking to establish the union of the workers and peasants and the gradual transition to Socialism in Russia --an undertaking which presents for Russia alone many grave difficulties--then with your capacity for organisation, your experience, your preparation in working class development, we will be infallibly assured of the transition to socialism.

"Hasten to our help in the name of the Workers' and Peasants' Government. .. ."

It would have been impossible for the German officials to have given permission that such propaganda be distributed broadcast under any circumstances. The effects are already too evident.

Louis Edgar Browne, correspondent for the Chicago Daily News and the New York Globe, recently returned from Russia, makes the following statement :

"Bolshevik culture, through underground methods, is undermining the Austrian Empire. There are 20,000 Bolshevik agitators and revolutionists hard at work in Austria. These agitators are all paid agents of the Soviet government." And as we are well aware, Austria is cracking open with the fires of revolution.

To-day German papers are forced to admit that German prisoners fighting with the Red Guards, when captured by their countrymen and asked to explain their extraordinary conduct, state that they are internationalists, fighting for the principles of internationalism as opposed to German imperialistic principles.

Trotsky is much more human than Lenine. Nothing could illustrate this better than their controversy over the signing of the Brest-Litovsk treaty. Lenine wanted to accept the first German peace terms, bad as they were; Trotsky wanted to fight for better ones. Trotsky it was who staged the Brest-Litovsk negotiations and insisted that the negotiations be public. He played for three things: that the Allies join in, that the German revolution commence and that the aims of the Soviets be known throughout the world. Lenine believed that it was absolutely necessary to have a respite, time to firmly establish the Soviet state and to organise an army and propaganda against the German government. Everything turned out as he predicted at Brest. It was all disastrous, yet President Wilson, himself, praised the honesty of Trotsky's stand. Trotsky did not want to sign the treaty and refused to do so. When his hopes of a German revolution were disappointed, his desire was to call all Russia to arms, as the French rose in 1792 to protect their revolution. Trotsky had timed a revolution in Finland, a revolution in the Ukraine and one in Germany and Austria. The last failed to materialise. Lenine, in anger at his failure, called him a "man who blinds himself with revolutionary phrases." Both men now agree that a huge fighting force is necessary for Russia. Lenine's idea is to save as much of Russia as possible by a temporary peace and, in the meantime, to build up the army, systematically, instead of trying to fight trained German soldiers with hastily constructed forces. To use his own words:

"We are compelled to submit to a distressing peace. It will not stop revolution in Germany. We shall now begin to prepare a revolutionary army, not by phrases and exclamations ... but by organised work, by the creation of a serious, national, mighty army."

It was the adoption of Lenine's decision by the Soviets that led Trotsky to give up his position as Minister of Foreign Affairs and become Minister of War, bending all his energies towards forming an adequate Red Army. He has stated that he will accept the services of American officers in training that army; he sees "no reason why Russia and America should not ride in the same car for a way as long as they are following the same road. .. ." There is evidence that American opinion is slowly swerving also to that view. The Chicago Daily News prints the following editorial, which shows an intelligent and sympathetic understanding of our future relationship to the Soviets and their leaders:

"Most of us in America do not believe in Lenine, most of us do not believe in the Bolsheviki. Very well. But it is absolutely necessary for us to Believe in the Soviet. The strength of our belief in the Soviet is the strength of our chances of success in Russia.

"The Soviet is the soul of Russia--and more....the Soviet has become its communicating nervous system and its deciding brain.

"Between the Soviets and us there is a bridge--the bridge of common belief in common humanity. Let us cross that bridge now. ... Beyond it lies the heart of Russia. And through that heart lies the only road to a re-establishment of the Eastern Front.

"Let us abandon every word of unnecessary criticism against Russia. In Russia's house we shall be guests. It is a Soviet house. If the Soviets choose Lenine to rule their house, it is their house. If they choose some one else to rule their house, it is their house.

". .. It is a republic of Soviets, in the mouth of every American the word Soviet must become a word of friendship, a word of comradeship, a word of great hope for a great irresistible alliance against Berlin."

If we are really able to accomplish what the Daily News suggests, we will have solved the problem. We will have thwarted the scheme of German agents and ultra-conservatives to create in America an irreconcilable hatred against the Soviets and their representatives.

In appearance, Lenine is very different from the old prison photograph, now used by newspapers, which was taken years ago when he was sentenced to Siberia. He is a little round man, quite bald and smooth-shaven. For days he shuts himself away and it is impossible to interview him. We used to catch him after lectures--then he would chat of inconsequential things.

Lenine comes from an old Russian family and his real name is Ulianov. He is not a Jew. His brother was one of the revolutionary martyrs, and was publicly executed. His father and Kerensky's father were directors in the same school. The execution of Lenine's brother is said to have been one of the greatest influences in Kerensky's life. Neither Lenine nor Trotsky were forced into the revolutionary struggle by circumstances. Their people were not peasants. Trotsky's father was a wealthy Moscow merchant.

Lenine objected to elaborate legal plans for transferring either lands or industries into the hands of the proletariat. He believed that the central authority should have nothing to do with this transference, that it should be accomplished by direct revolutionary action on the part of the local workers and peasants. As early as the end of November all the landlord holdings in Russia had passed into the hands of the peasants and if the Soviet Government had fallen then, still it would have been impossible to return the land to its owners. The same thing was largely true of the factories. This is, of course, the factor which makes it so particularly difficult for the Germans to restore capitalism in Russia--without which all attempts of the Germans to exploit Russia are absolutely futile.

During the first days of the Bolshevik revolt I used to go every morning to Smolny to get the latest news. Trotsky and his pretty little wife, who hardly ever spoke anything but French, lived in one room on the top floor. The room was partitioned off like a poor artist's attic studio. In one end were two cots and a cheap little dresser and in the other a desk and two or three cheap wooden chairs. There were no pictures, no comfort anywhere. Trotsky occupied this office all the time he was Minister of Foreign Affairs and many dignitaries found it necessary to call upon him there.

Outside the door two Red Guards kept constant watch. They looked rather menacing, but were really friendly. It was always possible to get an audience with Trotsky.

Running a government was a new task and often puzzling to the people in Smolny. They had a certain awe of Lenine, so they left him pretty well alone, while every little difficulty under the sun was brought to Trotsky. He worked hard and was often on the verge of a nervous breakdown; he became irritable and flew into rages. For a long time he refused to use a stenographer and laboriously wrote out all his letters by hand. A few months of experience, however, made him change his methods. He got two efficient stenographers and the Red Guards were replaced by aides who had once been officers in the regular army.

Trotsky is slight of build, wears thick glasses and has dark, stormy eyes. His forehead is high and his hair black and wavy. He is a brilliant and fiery orator. After knowing him the stories about German money seem utterly absurd. He steadfastly refused to take money from his father, in exile he was desperately poor. Both Lenine and Trotsky live with great frugality. Both receive, at their own request, but fifty dollars a month as the highest officials of the Russian government. I think a psychoanalyst would say of Trotsky that he has a "complex" about money. He was so afraid of plots to implicate him that he threw people out of his office when they came to offer honest and legitimate financial aid to Russia.

Lenine and Trotsky are always menaced by assassination. I once was present when three shots were fired at Lenine. He was as cool as if he had been made of stone. In spite of these attempts they go about freely and unprotected. I attach no political importance to these attempts. They are individual acts of violence countenanced by no large group.

The most ludicrous piece of team work ever performed by Lenine and Trotsky was their action in connection with the Roumanian Ambassador. Some Austrians had disarmed a whole division of Bolshevik troops on the Southwest Front (in Roumania) while the fraternising was going on. Trotsky was at Brest and he immediately telegraphed to Petrograd ordering the arrest of the Roumanian Ambassador. No one had ever heard of such a performance, just as they had never heard of publishing secret documents and other unprecedented acts. The next day the entire diplomatic corps in Petrograd went in a body to Smolny. I believe there were thirty-nine. Lenine, when he first beheld them, thought for a joyful moment that all the nations of the world were sending their representatives to recognise the Soviet government.

Lenine was in high good humour; it was not his wish to put out the pleasant gentlemen who called and protested. If it was so unprecedented, if they really did feel so badly because of the imprisonment of their colleague, he assured them politely that he would issue orders for his immediate release. He shook hands with all the thirty-nine and the affair seemed happily ended.

But alas! No sooner had the diplomats rolled home in their comfortable cars and sat down to dinner and began to remark that Lenine and Trotsky were, after all, not such unreasonable fellows than couriers came in with the alarming news that while the Ambassador had indeed been given his freedom, a new order had just been issued calling for the arrest of the Roumanian king! The diplomats sighed hopelessly, for, after all, a king is just a king and entitled to no diplomatic courtesies. ...