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Russia Vindicated

ISSUE:  Spring 1942

The Kremlin and the People. By Walter Duranty. Rcynal and Hitchcock. $2.00. The Soviets Expected It. By Anna Louise Strong. The Dial Press. $2.50. Hitler Cannot Conquer Russia. By Maurice Hindus. Doubleday, Doran and Company. $2.00. Mission to Moscow. By Joseph E. Davies. Simon and Schuster. $3.00.

War is implacable,” wrote Lenin in 1921. “It puts the question with merciless sharpness. Either perish or overtake the advanced countries and surpass them.” Lenin taught that to energize a people for peace and war involved taking the program to the masses, stirring up new driving forces for the release of the greatest popular initiative and energy, criticism and self-criticism in all occupational groups. Following Lenin, the Soviets adopted a unified co-ordinated economic program for both industry and defense, and, in foreign relations, a policy of peaceful collaboration and collective security. The latter was rejected by the Western Powers, as Winston Churchill recently admitted; the Soviets exploited the former to the fullest, at a great immediate sacrifice to themselves, convinced that it was necessary for national survival. Through education and propaganda they made an appeal to the loyalty of the masses, and they employed force unhesitatingly when it was necessary. The Nazi revolution too claimed to be a movement of liberation directed against plutocracy, and its propaganda also made an appeal to the loyalty of the masses. For a long time the two totalitarian schemes confused the public mind. But the attack upon Russia on June 22 revealed the Nazi revolution for what it is, an intensely reactionary movement designed to reduce the masses to a condition of industrial and military feudalism. Then the attack on Pearl Harbor further clarified the issues involved. It is clearly not an accident that the Fascist Powers are aligned in a war against the Powers representing the anti-feudal forces of civilization, whether they go by the name of democracy, socialism, or liberalism.

There is no place for division today about Russia’s place in the common struggle against the Nazis. The four books under review tell us clearly that the conflicts and cross-currents of policy and diplomacy are no longer seen as through a glass darkly. Walter Duranty, writing on “The Kremlin and the People,” has the longest record of journalistic experience in the Soviet Union. His volume is almost entirely taken up with the history of the trials and purges, and although he maintains that they have done Russia incalculable harm, he says convincingly that the trials revealed Germany as Russia’s ultimate foe; that they were also the main reason why Russia has remained united in war; and that in the light of subsequent events, the Kremlin has played a most difficult diplomatic game, with no little dexterity, because “it had clearer and more penetrating eyes than its contemporaries.” At another place he records: “I cannot forget what a high-placed and saddened Frenchman told me recently in Washington when we were discussing the Purge. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘it must have been awful, like a madness, as you call it. But don’t forget, mon ami, that in Russia they shot the Fifth Columnists, and in France we made them Cabinet Ministers. You see both results today . . . at Vichy, and on the Red war-front.’”

According to Mr. Duranty, Russia’s hour of “greatest humiliation” came after the Munich agreement, which signalized her isolation and the utter collapse of her foreign policy of collective security. There was then no way out, and “the Soviet nation took a big gulp and swallowed the pact with Germany [knowing that] the respite was only temporary.” The subject of the pact is the main theme of Anna Louise Strong’s “The Soviets Expected It.” She writes as a journalist-historian and student of social science, in a style remarkably vivid, clear, and simple, weaving together the dry facts of economic statistics and diplomatic materials, relating them at all points to the living body of the people and the nature of the world crisis. Miss Strong covers the various phases of Russian economy and politics since 1917, showing particularly how in the past fifteen years “the vast geography of Russia has been consciously organized for the plan of total defense” without relaxation of effort. She presents the best available summary of the events preceding and following the Soviet-German pact, which she considers to have been in reality a method of building up a “buffer belt” and blocking Hitler in his expansionist ventures, a belt intended to strengthen Soviet defenses against the time when Hitler should strike.

I would describe Maurice Hindus’s contribution as an exploration in depth, a delving into the subsoil of Russian nationality and Russian humanity in order to explain why “Hitler Cannot Conquer Russia.” He finds the answer in the stake the various orders of men, races, regions, and classes now have in the achievements of the Revolution. There is a new man in Russia today, modern, more complex, with new demands on life, with new inward assets, with technical efficiency and the capacity to resist the invader. Besides, there is the old revolutionary tradition of resistance and plotting, its scorn of ordinary comforts, its ability to withstand privation and reprisals. Mr. Hindus sees the Soviet Union after the war as a country devoted to a policy of acquiescence to the wishes of the people and co-operation with the democratic forces of the world, because a war-scorched and crippled Russia would be interested primarily in healing her own wounds, and will require the assistance of the highly industrialized nations for the work of rehabilitation.

Joseph E. Davies’s absorbing and at times breathtaking “Mission to Moscow” is completely surprising, coming as it does from a man inordinately proud that he is an individualist, a capitalist, a devout Congregationalist, a man anchored in his experience of law, traditional politics, and public affairs. It is not a sufficient explanation to say that he was curious and accustomed to making his decisions from facts; that he visited farms and factories from Leningrad to Baku; that he asked questions and took notes, was a good listener and was careful to check his impressions against the conclusions of others. It is not enough to say that he was a hard worker, impartial and unprejudiced, on guard against gossip and class antagonism. These facts alone cannot explain the secret that is Mr. Davies. I believe that the secret lies in his great awareness of life, in his great acuteness and wisdom, in his frankness with himself and others. These qualities shine through his writing; one recognizes in him at once a man who judges accurately, without presuming to judge as one in the seat of the mighty. Furthermore, Mr. Davies has the robust, open, confident, and all-too-human traits of our American democratic tradition and pioneering. He understood the clean energy of Russia. He was fascinated by the pace and scope of Soviet enterprises, fascinated by the cool, practical realism of Soviet managers, by their will and resolution in the conquest of great spaces, and by their passionate desire for peace and order. He was charmed by their concern for the welfare of generations yet unborn, impressed by their quiet and studious manners and their reserve in executive strength. He wrote to President Roosevelt: “What these people have done in the past seven years in heavy industry is unique. They have painted on a ‘ten-league canvas with a brush of a comet’s hair.’ ” And because he was a man of understanding, the Russian leaders, in return, recognized in him a man to their own heart, and they treated him with the frankness they withheld from other diplomatic representatives in Moscow.

There was much that Ambassador Davies did not understand or like about Russia. He did not understand how productive wealth could be social, how it could belong to nobody and therefore to everybody; how the Russians could be interested in hanging up records in efficiency and achievement; he believed that unequal rates of payment would resuit in a new class society; it also appeared to him that the Soviet system of socialism operated on capitalistic principles. He did not like, for instance, the apparent lack of freedom of thought and speech, religious intolerance, the sacrifice of individual rights, the worship of absolute Communist dogma, and the unquestioning adherence to the Party line. But Mr. Davies failed to see the logical connection between these shortcomings and the efforts of the Russian government to obtain the maximum degree of security. Our own Alexander Hamilton is of great aid to us here. He wrote in “The Federalist”: “Even the ardent love of liberty will after a time . . . compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become more willing to run the risk of being less free.” However, the record shows that Mr. Davies was able in 1937 and 1938 to grasp the meaning of the treason trials, after watching the men in the dock and the court procedures with the eye of a lawyer. He is entitled to recall with a sense of vindication his predictions, made in 1938, that the quality of Russian resistance would amaze the world. He noted then in his diary that the Russian government had to make sure that “there was no treason left which could co-operate with Berlin or Tokyo” and added that the members of the diplomatic corps in Moscow, with one exception, were convinced that the treason proceedings clearly established the existence of a political plot to overthrow the government.

Only the future historian will be able to determine to what extent the Soviet regime, and the world, lost or gained through the wholesale trials and purges; to what extent the British and French foreign policy, aimed at isolating Russia and forcing her into a single-handed war with Germany, must bear the guilt of perfidy; and to what extent Stalin’s pact with Hitler served Russia’s purpose of neutrality. Perhaps the authors of the books considered here exaggerate when they claim that the sole object of Britain and France was to turn Germany’s war effort against the Soviets; perhaps they do not give sufficient weight to the fear of revolution in the West, and to a not unreasonable desire to check Russia’s influence, which prevented England from carrying out her old policy of the balance of power, and resulted in her refusal in the fateful months of 1939 to give Russia any sense of security against Hitler. It is not easy to decide what lay at the bottom of democratic disunity—political and economic blindness or an overwhelming fear of war. But there is no doubt that the purge trials resulted in a loss of confidence in Russia as a military power. Mr. Davies states that Chamberlain placed his confidence in Beck’s Polish armies and passed up the Soviet strength. If so, that brings into question not the fact of the trials as such, but the willful interpretation placed upon them by the foreign diplomats in Moscow, the guilt of men who knew better but chose not to report at all or to misinform their home governments. Thus Sir Hudson, President of the British Board of Trade, after a chat with Mr. Davies, appeared “surprised—even startled,” saying, “Why don’t we get these same reports [about Russia] from our people in Moscow? Their reports are definitely to the contrary.” In answer, Mr. Davies defended himself on the ground that he was not in Moscow as a “professional diplomat” but as lawyer and businessman accustomed to make judgments on situations, to recognize facts when he saw them and not to misread them. Of one famous diplomat in Moscow, Mr. Davies writes: “In discussing the trial he said that the defendants were undoubtedly guilty; that all of us who attended the trial had practically agreed on that; that the outside world, from the press reports, however, seemed to think that the trial was a put-up job . . . that while he knew it was not, it was probably just as well that the outside world should think so.” The diplomats knew that the army was loyal to the Kremlin, they admitted that the Soviet regime was more firmly entrenched in power and more popular than it was before the trials, but they chose to ignore these matters. It is not surprising that early in 1939 Mr. Davies reached the conclusion that the reactionaries of England and France had deliberately isolated Russia on the grounds that a war would bring Communism to a defeated Germany and Central Europe, a fear which Mr. Davies described as “plain bunk.” Germany was then able to work upon these fears, to promote them, in order to divide and confuse the democracies of the West.


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