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Nationalist Soviet Russia

ISSUE:  Summer 1944

Soul of Russia. By Helen Iswolsky. Sliced and Ward. $2.75. Our Soviet Ally. Kditcd by Margaret Cole. George Koutledge and Sons. 7s. 6d. 77i<? Russian Army. By Walter Kerr. Alfred A. Knopf. $2.75. No Quarter. By Konstantin Sinionov. I,. 11. Fischer. $2.75. Russian Cavalcade: A Military Record. By Albert Parry. Ives Washburn. $3.50. Russia and Postwar Europe. By David J. Uallin. Yale University Press. $2.75.

Taken collectively, the books under review are concerned, directly or indirectly, with Russia’s past traditions and fundamental, living concepts of social organization as they are likely to affect the present-day domestic and international situation. Remotest in time is Miss Iswolsky’s fine study of the social and religious aspirations which constitute the “Soul of Russia.” We have here the lives and deeds of national Christian saints seeking not so much bodily mortification as self-identification with the despised and the oppressed, such as Theodosius, Sergius, Av-vakum, and Seraphim, men who were to fertilize the Russian imagination until it bore fruit in the literary and religious masterpieces of the nineteenth-century populists and humanists. There is historic continuity in Russia’s spiritual dynamism for social reform, reflecting itself in the revolutionary maximalism of 1918, in the Russian impulse to go to extremes, “to wander on the brink of precipices.” Quite rightly Miss Iswolsky stresses the fact that forms of Russian socialism and populism had their origin independent of Marxist influences, in such forms of collectivism as the village “mir” and the industrial “artel,” and particularly in the spiritual ideal of “sobornost” which may be defined as the feeling for human solidarity, mutual responsibility in the face of emergency, and brotherhood in labor and in suffering. No doubt the dynamic factor in the miracle of Russian resistance in war is the ancient tradition deeply ingrained in the national soul, yet the reader may question the author’s bias in regarding Sovietism as a denial and rejection of Russia’s historic spiritual mission of universal brotherhood. It might be treated as a fulfilment.

The authors of “Our Soviet Ally,” writing under the able editorship of Mrs. Margaret Cole, deal with special topics of politics and economics, trade unionism, races, education, and culture. They uphold a common thesis that a country may pass through a great revolutionary change without losing, rejecting, or destroying the values of its own past. These British citizens have come to the conclusion that the peoples of all races and nationalities of the U. S. S. R. have unbounded confidence in and enthusiasm for their own form of government, and that their social security and opportunities for social development (not material standards of consumption, mind you) are “immensely higher than that of the majority of people” in England itself. They are particularly impressed, as citizens of an empire, that the world can learn instructive lessons from Soviet experiences in developing backward areas, in elimination of racial aversions and prejudices, and in planned economic life. They believe, too. that the cultural universalism of the Soviet Union is of the old type of Russian humanism, that it has been enriched by Marxism, that there has been no rejection of the national values.

We may now turn to the evidence of war correspondents. In “The Russian Army” Walter Kerr of the New York Herald Tribune gives his entire attention to the epic battles of Moscow and Stalingrad, with a wealth of analytical details about the cavalry, infantry, and artillery, including army discipline, equipment, and war production. He finds that the generals are “all loyal to Stalin, all polite, all easy-going, authoritative, sometimes curt, always disciplinarians . . . they are the party just as much as the people’s commissars are the party.” Mr. Kerr’s judgments are simple and direct, based on experience at the front: The Russian soldier hated the German invader, and from this hatred, coupled with his training, discipline, and equipment, came; the courage and the will to fight; though weaker in tank power and air defense, they more than made it up in the courage and skill of their infantry and artillery. They were trained to believe in attack at all times, even in retreat, even without tank and air protection.

From the front, too, running from Sevastopol to Petsamo, we have the unforgettable pen pictures of soldiers, commanders, and scouts by the correspondent of the Red Star, Konstantin Simonov. His are thumb-nail sketches of combats, reconnaissance trips, captures, escapes, stories of why men fight and die, why Russian men and women are great in endurance and terrible in anger, why they advance as if lifted up by some mysterious force. He finds in all hearts the deep desire for revenge, yet deeper is their self-sacrifice and the feeling that each one is indispensable to his native land, that everybody’s “personal presence is needed on the fields where the fate of his people is being decided in blood and fire.” The story told of a commissar is especially revealing. He had the same yardstick in measuring danger for himself and for others, and his theories of military conduct were simple. “Men die—that’s what war is for, but brave men die less frequently.” “Always move quietly forward, and nothing will hit you.” One more: “I don’t believe that anyone dies at all,” which, in the reviewer’s opinion, is the simplest way of stating the idea of life after death, the immortality of the soul, the Pauline faith that the incorruptible part of man eternally survives his corruptible flesh.

Mr. Parry’s war book, “Russian Cavalcade,” is from the military front of Russia’s entire history. He treats of the heroes of yesterday, devotes chapters to Suvorov and Kutuzov, and to the Sevastopol of 1854, and rounds out the story with accounts of present-day generals of the greater and lesser galaxies. Rut today, as yesterday, the real heroism is found in the achievements of the common soldier and the common people in arms, and not in the strategy of any outstanding leader: always the paramount and the unchangeable truth about the determination of the common man to lav down his life for his native soil. Nor does Mr. Parry minimize the discipline, the plenitude and variety of equipment, the years of careful organization of men and materials, the training and efficiency of officers, and the quality of political leadership that have gone into the making of contemporary Soviet Russia. It was the new leadership, he says, that not only directed the Russian Ivan in creating that novel Soviet society but also supplied him with arms and captains to fight for the homeland and its own way of life; at the same time he gives full recognition to the new healthy nationalism which is gaining over the revolutionary internationalism of 1918. This new Ivan “will not march to the ends of the earth and to strange conquests in that blind obedience and suicidal fury which is the awful trait of an average Teuton.” If anything, the author holds, the Red Army will prove to be less impetuous and more cautious than the tsar’s armed force, and the Red leaders shrewder than the tsar’s ministers, by the virtue of being closer to the fundamental desires and ideals of the Russian masses. The experiences of war, the need of reconstruction of the wasted lands, let alone the need of assistance from Britain and America for rebuilding, will bring about the change in home and foreign policies, provided also that Britain and America avoid a postwar reaction in their foreign relations with their ally.

Mr. Dallin has recently achieved the distinction of being the most enlightened writer in English on Soviet foreign policy. “Russia and Postwar Europe” is his second work within two years. His theme is that the concept of democratic foreign policy, if taken to imply self-limitation and renunciation of expansionist aims, is too vague. It does not mean, of course, that Russia will return to old tsarist imperial nationalism. But Soviet policy supports and stimulates local revolutionary movements, and Soviet revolutionism has not set itself any limits in principle, for it cannot recognize lasting alliances with capitalist powers except agreements of limited content. Yet the theme is not presented in dogmatic fashion. Mr. Dallin recognizes that the present war is a national war, and that the old slogans of revolution have disappeared from the official vocabulary. He sees that the great Red Army has come to be a peasant army, more conservative-minded in the ranks, that a new officer corps, representing the cream of Russia’s manhood, with a traditionally broader outlook upon life, commands today the loyalty of the masses. Bravery, culture, education, habits of leadership, energy, loyalty, and experience are on their side. They will remain a firm political element in Russia’s public life. Mr. Dallin holds that the Army has already achieved a victory of national principle over party ideology; moreover, under the Kremlin’s own leadership, the entire ideology of the Army has been purged of old elements of class struggle, world revolution, and similar political planks. Just the same, the inescapable fact of political realism demands a policy of expansion and territorial security as one of the state’s highest goals, as the only means of preventing future wars. It means that the admission of new territories and states into the Union would transform them into component parts of a vast socialist association within which wars are regarded as impossible. Therefore “it is not likely that the solution of the problem will have to await the peace conference. . . . If the Allies fail to come to an agreement, the question of frontiers and spheres of influence will be resolved by the actual situation on the war fronts.”

However, the author’s thesis is not presented in conclusive terms. Russia may yet see the danger of including in the Union the whole belt of Eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Bosphorus as a source of future weakness, and therefore prefer to seek her security in alliances with the great nations of the West rather than with the multitude of small Eastern nations. In other words, Russia may renounce her social messianism, and so offer Europe a new policy based upon mutual trust and co-operation. There is need for restraint among the United Nations as a principal condition for a long and lasting peace. “Restraint at the moment of military victory is as necessary, though sometimes as difficult,.as the achievement of victory itself,” is Mr. Dallin’s conclusion.


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