A Fascinating Interview About Russia During World War II

From Hubert Renfro Knickerbocker’s book ‘Is Tomorrow Hitler’s?’, published in 1941.

What is the best way for the United States to help the Russians fight the German Army?

H. R. Knickerbocker:

The best way for the United States to help the Russians fight the German Army is for us to go to war against Germany. Our declaration of war against Germany would be of more value to Russian resistance than all the war supplies we shall ever be able to send to the Soviet Union. We ought to try to send the Red Army as much as we can spare of airplanes and arms and anything else it needs to help it hold the Germans, but all such aid would be trivial compared with the effect of our declaration of war.

Why? What practical effect on the Russian war effort would we have by going to war with Germany?

It would have the moral effect of convincing the Russians that they would win in the long run; hence it should obviate any chance, however faint, of Stalin’s capitulating. As we have said before, it would convince the Germans they would lose the war and hence would halve their determination to go on. It would triple our war effort overnight, and result speedily in a vast increase of production here of the materials the Russians as well as the British need to carry on the war. It would enable us to base our Pacific Fleet on Singapore and other British bases in the Far East, and our Air Force, if it were found expedient, on Russian bases in Kamchatka and near Vladivostok within bombing distance of Tokyo. This would not only check the Japanese from advancing farther south but from indulging in any military adventure, such as attacking Siberia, while the danger existed of our immediate intervention against them. This would relieve pressure on the Far Eastern Red Army and permit it to send urgently needed reinforcements to the troops fighting the Germans in European Russia.

The use of our Atlantic antisubmarine vessels in complete cooperation with the British Navy in all the war zones would help break the German counter-blockade and permit a greater quantity of supplies to reach the British armed forces. It would enable us to seize those positions we need off the west coast of Africa and on the coast, and thus provide the first step toward establishing another take-off place for an expeditionary force against the Reich. The example of America’s entering the war could lead Weygand, or other authorities in Morocco, to consider collaboration with us instead of with the Germans; the north African coast has long been kept in mind as a possible springboard for invading Europe. America’s entry into the war would for the first time enable the British to attempt invasion of the continent. Until now the British have had to keep at home more reserves than they would need if they knew the American Army would soon be at their side.

Even with our Army in its present state of semi-preparedness, we have enough completely trained Regular Army and Marine units to be able to send abroad for active service an important contingent which would either take its place immediately in an invasion force or replace British units assigned to that task. The first effect upon the Germans of the intelligence that the British were seriously preparing to attempt an invasion would be to compel them to send back troops from Russia to threatened points in Europe.

Finally, from the broadest strategical standpoint, the entry of the United States would turn the tables on the Germans who until now have had the advantage of initiative and surprise. Throughout the world until now Hitler has kept the world wondering “where is he going to strike next?” With the United States in the war, it would be the turn of the Axis powers to wonder where the Anglo-American-Russian forces were going to strike next, and Hitler would be forced to keep large numbers of troops stationed at every point where our forces could possibly attack.

The Russian resistance to the German attack seems to have surprised nearly everybody. How do you explain it?

There are many reasons for it. It is true that almost every expert expected the Russians to collapse within a few weeks after Hitler began his drive. Walter Duranty is the only one I know who said from the outset that the Red Army would hold much longer than the outside world seemed to expect.

The first reason for Russian resistance is that this was the first time Hitler ever tackled a country with lives to waste and miles to waste. Its 200,000,000 population lived almost like animals, but most of them flourished like healthy animals on their black bread and cabbage and made sturdy fighting material. They claimed around 12,000,000 soldiers in their standing army and reserve. Thus they could lose as many men as the entire German Army and still have left an army as big as the former French Army. In fighting against the Germans they could afford to lose two to one and still have superiority in numbers. Their high command knew this and wasted lives with abandon but sometimes to advantage. The same advantage in size held with respect to terrain. They could afford to retreat over distances equivalent to the width of many European countries and still have room to live in, just as the Chinese did.

The second reason for Russian resistance is that this was the first time Hitler had ever struck an army and a generation untouched by the humanizing influence of Christianity, immune to any form of pacifism, unsoftened by Western civilization. It was the first time Hitler had ever struck an army that had been taught that all life is struggle, that to fight for the Soviet Union was the noblest thing a man or woman could do, the first time the Nazis had met a fanaticism sharper than theirs. The Bolsheviks invented totalitarian fanaticism; the Nazis only copied it.

It was the first time the Germans had come up against a people more savage than themselves. The Bolsheviks were ahead of the Nazis in pronouncing that the end justifies the means, and the oriental Russians surpassed the occidental Germans in cruelty. The Germans have known Hitlerism only since 1933 and until that time they had normal contacts with the outside world. The Russians have known nothing but Bolshevism since 1918 and from that moment on have been hermetically sealed from the outside world.

For war-making this savage insularity has its uses. The Red Army is even more fanatically homogeneous in its political faiths and hatreds than is the Nazi Army. Everybody under the age of forty in Russia today has experienced either throughout life or in adult life nothing but the Soviet regime. The Russians have the advantage that they have been practicing totalitarians all their lives and are used to it. For the civilian population not immediately in the path of the battles there was less change in the move from peace to war in the Soviet Union than in any other belligerent state, because the Russians have been living on a war footing since 1918.

During this generation of hardships their Asiatic characteristics have been deepened, their fatalistic contempt for death increased. They are content to let the Party guide their emotions. There are no Hamlets among them. The Russians Dostoevsky wrote about, who dreamed and sorrowed and could not act—all these have long been eliminated. Also no living inhabitant of the Soviet Union has been corrupted by ease or luxury! Yet because they are completely cut off from the outside world the Russians think the Soviet Union superior to any other country. This is an advantage in war.

Isolated and youthful, the Russians after twenty-three years of suffering and historically unparalleled loss of life through revolution, famine, and terror, still were not disillusioned by a political, social, and economic system which had given them a standard of living and culture beneath that of any large white community in the world. There were no ideological divisions to rend the nation, since all who differed with the ruling clique were liquidated the moment the difference became apparent. Hence there was no Fifth Column in Russia. Since Soviet justice or Stalin policy goes on the principle that it is better to execute a hundred innocents than to let one guilty escape, the purge of 1934-1938 probably did eliminate important Fifth Columnists, together with many valuable military and industrial leaders.

A third reason for the strength of the Russian resistance is that the Red Army for the past twenty-three years has received a larger share of the national income in peacetime than any other defense force of any nation has ever enjoyed, including Germany. Though Russia starved, the Red Army ate well. On the four occasions—1925-1927, 1930, 1934, and 1937—when I visited the Soviet Union and worked there as a correspondent, I noticed that no matter how poorly the rest of the population was dressed, Red Army soldiers always wore good uniforms and strong leather boots. This was because ever since the Soviet Union was born, every leader from Lenin and Trotzky to Stalin was profoundly convinced that “the capitalist world will never permit the Socialist State to exist and some day will seek to destroy us.”

Of course this attack of Hitler’s is not the attack of the capitalist world upon the Socialist State, and the Socialist State now finds the capitalist world its only ally. Nevertheless the unshakable and correct Bolshevik belief in inevitable war led the regime to impose the greatest sacrifices upon the people for the sake of the armed forces, and even though the Soviet economy was most backward, the enormous amounts expended were bound to have effect.

Even in American terms the Soviet defense budget was large. In 1940 it was the equivalent of $11,000,000,000, and represented one-third of the national expenditure. Measure this against the fact that the infinitely richer United States will approximate the expenditure of that much yearly only in 1942 after two years of our greatest defense effort.

Most of the money spent on the Red Army and Air Force went for machines of war. Twenty-three years ago when the Bolshevik revolution took place there were few machines in Russia. Marx said Communism must come in a highly industrialized society. The Bolsheviks identified their dreams of socialist happiness with machines which would multiply production and reduce hours of labor until everyone would have everything he needed and would work only as much as he wished. Somehow this has not come about, but the Russians still worship machines, and this helped make the Red Army the most highly mechanized in the world, except perhaps the German Army now.

Like Americans, the Russians admire size, bigness, large numbers. They took pride in building a vast army of tanks, some of them the largest in the world, armored cars, airplanes, motorized guns, and every variety of mechanical weapon. Their quality was seldom the best. Few things produced in the Soviet Union have attained high quality, but the attempt is made to compensate by quantity.

Bolshevik love of novelty, eagerness to experiment and try new things (they invented parachute troops), their willingness to discard traditional methods, and their liking for youthful leadership all were advantages. The Red Army apparently was the only one to learn from the lessons of the German campaign in Poland—which were open for the instruction of the French, British, Dutch, Belgians, and every other country in Europe, but were ignored by all of them. Stalin’s purge of the Red Army wherein he executed or otherwise eliminated one-fourth of the senior officers was believed at the time to have done unmitigated harm, but besides the probability that it disposed of some real Fifth Columnists, it destroyed nearly all the older generals, and left the field for men under fifty. Voroshiloff and Budenny were vestigial exceptions. In this day of brand-new warfare youth has an advantage.

We have to include here also the fact that the Russian is an excellent pilot. He has reckless courage, keen eyesight, abounding health, contempt for the enemy, and fanatical belief in his cause. The Russians have a word they like to apply to themselves, Shirokaya Natura, meaning broad-natured, lavish-tempered. That is a characteristic of all the good pilots I have ever known. It means they are ready to spend themselves, their lives, as readily as they spend their money. The R.A.F. has it, Udet has it, Goering has it, the American and Canadian pilots have it, and the Russians have it. I dare say Lindbergh must have had it once. There are millions of boys in Russia of pilot age.

The fourth set of reasons for Russian resistance is based upon the immense benefit the Red Army won through the occupation of the Finnish Mannerheim line, the Baltic states, Eastern Poland, and Bessarabia during the time Hitler was busy conquering the rest of Europe. This action of Stalin’s was typical of the principle that the end justifies the means. If you believed in this principle and in the righteousness of the Soviet cause, you would now have to admit that the end did justify the means in this case, since the creation of this screen of territory enabled the Red Army to defeat the Blitz.

The term Blitzkrieg, frequently misused, technically means the destruction of your enemy by action so swift that he is not able to mobilize, or bring up his forces to meet yours at the decisive point. The screen of occupied territory slowed up the Germans long enough for the Red Army to mobilize fully. Thereafter the great distances, the bad roads, the unfavorable weather, and the scorched-earth policy impeded the German advance, while Russian guerilla warfare proved more effective than anything of the kind the Germans had ever met.

Russian guerilla fighting is not the old-fashioned kind, where a farmer hides with a shotgun to catch an enemy sentry with his back turned. During the Russian Civil War, the most ferocious conflict of modern times until its Spanish equivalent, the Reds especially developed Partisan warfare. This consisted in deliberately hiding companies of several score or hundred heavily armed men until the enemy passed forward. These guerillas would then attack from the rear, usually by night, and often annihilate whole detachments of the enemy. Their ambushes, ruses, and surprises were endlessly ingenious. The guerillas seldom wore uniforms. They were invariably shot if captured. They also never took prisoners except to obtain information by torture. They were extremely successful. Heretofore the Germans have been able to terrorize their conquered populations by the exercise of utterly ruthless Terror. They will have less success with the Russians than with any people they have yet tried to break, except perhaps the Serbs.

But that is a very long list of reasons for Russian resistance. Can’t you sum them up for us in a word?

Yes, the answer is morale, or better, faith. That word with its deep Christian connotations may sound blasphemous when applied to the atheist Bolsheviks, but it is a true faith, in reverse, founded upon hatred. It may be objected that faith is a positive force and it may be asked in what do the Russians have faith? In their dogma, their doctrine, their nation, or faith in themselves, or the faith that lies in their deep attachment to their soil? Or is it not their faith in the unspeakably evil character of their enemies? I think it is the last. The Bolsheviks have taught all Russians to hate the Fascists, as they generically call the Nazis, with a ferocity which surpasses anything in our experience. This sort of faithful hatred is a terrific force. It inspires to limitless valor. It is a priceless asset in war. The Russians see the Nazi legions as the incarnation of wickedness, led by the devil himself. They are right. Furthermore they are inspired to fight by the belief, also correct, that if they lose they will suffer intolerable punishment. Unlike the French they have no illusions about the fate that awaits them at the hands of the man who has called them the “scum of the earth.”

This hatred of their enemies and fear of the consequences of defeat are probably the strongest feelings animating the Russians in battle, but they have also an incredible faith in themselves. It makes no difference that this faith is founded for the most part on lack of knowledge of the outside world, and the absence of any chance to compare themselves with other nations and other systems: they are unshakably convinced that they are what would have been called in another time and another place, “God’s anointed.” An American general defined morale as “when a soldier thinks his army is the best in the world, his regiment the best in the army, his company the best in the regiment, his squad the best in the company, and that he himself is the best blankety-blank soldier man in the outfit.” This is what the Red Army soldier thinks. The Red Army was not impressed by the German victory in France. After all, the defeated were “just Frenchmen, just bourgeoisie.”

The average Russian has a strong conviction, unspecified and unsupported by evidence, but forming a subconscious background for all his thinking about the war, that the citizens of the outside world, in “capitalist-imperialist” and “capitalist-fascist” states alike, are composed of two classes, depraved slave drivers and spiritless slaves. He even looks down on the proletariat abroad which has gone these twenty years without making the revolution the Russians made. It was a bitter revelation to many an American and other foreign Communist leader on visiting Moscow the first time, to be assigned a cubbyhole in the old Lux Hotel, and to be forced to wait hours for an audience with a Russian official who scarcely troubled to conceal his contempt for the inferior foreign communist.

We are surprised that the Russians, after all these years of starving and pain and suffering, should still possess the morale to fight, but we overlooked the fact that faith thrives on tribulation. The British had no faith and no morale until they were threatened with death and punished with fire. Today they have a faith in their cause such as they have not had since they became a nation, and now they announce they will scorch the earth, and if necessary burn London before the advance of an invader. Today the British are poor in food and clothes and lodgings, but rich in spirit. The Russians are likewise, and though it is painful to say it, so are the Germans. We alone among the nations are still rich in material goods and poor in spirit, for we lack faith. Where are those among us furious to fight for liberty and democracy?

Do you mean to say the Russians have more faith in their cause than we do in ours?

I do.

How can you say such a thing, how do you mean it?

I think you are surprised because you confuse faith and morality. They have nothing to do with each other.

The morality of the Nazis and the Bolsheviks is abhorrent. That has nothing to do with the fact that their faith was strong enough to make them great warriors. The best fighters in the Spanish Civil War, Ernest Hemingway testifies, were the Moors. Those skinny brown men, who looked so insignificant and whose behavior was so abominable, were always chosen, if available, to be the shock troops, as when they relieved the Alcazar. They fought with the bravery traditional of the Mohammedan warrior from the Ottoman Turks to the Afghans. Their morals were criminal. They butchered, looted, raped with neither compunction nor discrimination.

I have seen them walking down a village street laden with sewing machines, women’s clothing, surgical instruments, and chicken feed to set up shop in a Cathedral underneath the image of the Saviour whose head they had hacked off. Decent folk on Franco’s side were appalled, but Franco could not do without them. They had a faith that only the Catholic Requetés on the one hand and the Communists on the other could equal, and when they went into battle the Moors sang. I have heard them and reflected that good and evil have nothing to do with faith which moves mountains and wins wars. Are we today in the United States going into battle singing? We are not even going into battle, although we admit it is ours.

Do you mean to say the Moors fought for the Mohammedan faith in Spain?

I do not. I mean to say that they fought because they believe the profession of a man is to fight, and in fighting they are upheld in spirit by their belief in Allah, and their faith in his promises.

What do the Russians fight for? They have no Allah and believe in no hereafter.

I am not sure that either of those statements is correct. The images of Lenin, Stalin, and Marx blend in the primitive Soviet Russian mind together with dim memories of Orthodox ritual to make up a kind of ikon of Communism. In some minds it may be only the figure of Father Lenin, now mummified, deified, or at least sanctified, in his glass coffin on the Red Square, but in all save the minds of the intellectualized leaders there is some personification of the faith. As for belief in a hereafter, I have sometimes wondered if even the highest leaders of the Party are always as sure as their Bezbozhnik Society, the Society of the Godless, professes to be.

The Bezbozhniks’ battle against God would be meaningless unless they thought, however subconsciously, that there must be something there to fight. Twice I have seen Stalin stand at the graveside of a lifetime comrade, once at the burial of Frunze and once at Kirov’s, and each time as the final words were spoken and the earth fell and the bells of the Kremlin tolled, I scrutinized his face for a sign of his thoughts and under the spell of the moment I always thought I could see the flicker of a question across his gloomy face. As a matter of fact I suppose he was absorbed in thinking how to finish the ceremony as quickly as possible in order to get back to his office and ensure that a good Stalin man succeeded the dead.

Is it true that in order to curry favor with the outside world the Soviet government has restored freedom of worship?

Freedom of worship in the Soviet Union was never frankly and publicly prohibited; it was merely quietly strangled. Today its public restoration is a gesture toward the outside world and an effort to canalize even the religious energies sleeping in the hearts of the older people, into national defense. All the old shibboleths of religion and patriotism and nationalism and local pride and mystic faith in Holy Russia which for two decades had been banned have now been revived. In the supreme trial of war the Russian people have returned instinctively to the deep primitive traditions common to man everywhere. Their Bolshevik masters have apparently recognized the desirability of kindling fighting energy from any fuel, and have permitted a veritable carnival of emotions which a short while ago would have been condemned as “bourgeois” and “counterrevolutionary.” Who knows what further changes the war may bring?

American friends of the Soviet Union claim that her present resistance to the Germans entitles her now to our moral approval, and that we are obligated to give it to our “Ally.” Is this true?

I am sure Stalin does not care for our moral approval. He would much rather have our material support. Those Americans who changed their views of the Soviet Union either when Stalin signed his pact with Hitler in August 1939, or when the Red Army attacked Finland, or when it marched into Poland, the Baltic states, and Bessarabia, or again when the Germans attacked Russia and the Red Army fought back—such observers only proved that their judgment of Stalin’s system was founded on mere day-to-day, surface events. When they approved of the Soviet Union it was for wrong reasons; when they disapproved it was for wrong reasons.

None of the events just named meant any change in the nature of the Soviet regime. If one approved of it today for resisting Germany, one ought to have approved of it in August 1939 for having signed up with Germany. Both acts had the same motive: the self-interest of the Stalin regime.

Whether we wish to extend our moral approval to the Stalin regime or not, we all owe profound gratitude and respect to the Russian people. It is said that every people gets the kind of government it deserves, but I do not think this has ever been true of the Russian people; they have never had as good a government as they deserved. Today they are demonstrating a spirit on the battlefield which places us forever in debt to them. Whatever his regime, the Russian soldier is giving his life to defeat the Germans and every sacrifice of a Russian life means the possible saving of an American life.

To the Russian people we owe our friendship as well as all our support. Our support can reach the Russian people only through their regime. Let us keep the distinction sharp and the supplies moving.

Aren’t we running a risk if we support the Russians?

Yes, we are compelled to run a risk no matter what we do. The time when we could have made ourselves secure without risk is long past; our isolationists saw to that. Today we risk much if we support the Soviet Union, but we risk more if we do not. If we do not support her, we risk Hitler’s winning the resources of Russia. If we do support her, we risk two things, first, that after we have poured supplies and munitions, airplanes, gasoline, and guns into Russia, Stalin might capitulate and these war materials would fall into the hands of the Germans.

The other risk is that with our help the Red Army should not only hold the Germans but actually defeat them and invade and occupy Germany. I purposely draw this picture crudely. This is a small immediate risk, for the Red Army has not the offensive power to do it. But suppose the Red Army were able to hold the Germans for another year, the while Britain with the United States’ help grows strong enough in the air to obtain supremacy over the Luftwaffe on the Western Front. Suppose during this time, with the aid of shipments from the United States the Red Air Force recovers and also grows strong enough to dominate the Luftwaffe on the Eastern Front. It is then possible to imagine a time when the Germans, disintegrating from within, would begin to withdraw from the East and the Red Army begin to attack.

When once Germany begins to crumble, it is the conviction of all who know that brittle country that she will fall apart at once. It will be a miracle, indeed, if she finds a Hindenburg to lead her armies home and demobilize them in orderly fashion. It will be more of a miracle if a Prince Max of Baden can be found in Germany to apply for an armistice or negotiated peace.

The German Army will have been defeated, disrupted, demoralized. For a time there will be anarchy. Then all will depend upon which forces reach German territory and the German capital first, the Red Army or the armies of the West. If we have stayed out of the war, or have participated only as a naval and air power; if the Western Allies have conquered Germany on the sea and in the air, but have left the land to be conquered by the Red Army; then if the Red Army pushes into Germany before our forces can arrive, it will mean Communist revolution throughout Europe.

Why has the world not gone Communist long ago? It is because Communism, or its Soviet version, in the only country it was ever tried, had been a peacetime failure. Let us not argue the definition of Communism and whether we ought to call it State Capitalism. The world had made up its mind that the collectivist system as practiced by the Russians could not produce enough to make its population as well off as the people were even under old-fashioned, broken-down, rickety capitalism. Now, victory by the Red Army would be evidence that Russian Communism could do what Western capitalism could not do—defeat Hitler. The populations of Europe would count that power victorious whose land armies were on the spot to occupy the territory of the defeated. If the Red Army were to get there first, it would prove to millions of uncritical observers that the Soviet system had won, that it was a success to be emulated, and in the circumstances of disorder and unemployment which would prevail at the conclusion of the war, such a judgment could lead to continental upheaval.

How can we prevent this and at the same time see that Nazi Germany is defeated?

Only by going to war against Germany now. Never since the war began have we had any stronger reasons for entering the war than now. We cannot afford to stay out and allow Hitler the possibility of winning the war by getting Russia. We cannot afford to stay out and allow the Bolshevik regime the possibility of winning the continent of Europe to Communism.

But can Stalin be trusted?

Certainly not. His agreement with Churchill not to conclude a separate peace is worth even less than the solemn promise the French government made on March 28, 1940 to make no separate peace, just three months before it made a separate peace over the protest of its Ally, Britain.

Why do you say Stalin’s promise is worth even less than that?

Because Bolsheviks, from whom the Nazis have copied their ethics, do not believe in keeping their word. I do not mean this frivolously or cynically. On page 323 of volume XVII of the collected works of Lenin, the father of Bolshevism wrote: “Morality is that which serves the destruction of the old exploiter’s society … which creates a new society of communists. Communist morality is that which serves this struggle…. We do not believe in eternal morality and we expose the deceit of all legends about morality.” As the end justifies the means and the end is the State, so treaty breaking is justified when it serves the State. For a Bolshevik or a Nazi, one of the most absurd phrases in the Bible is the reference to the obviously bourgeois simpleton who sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not. For both Bolshevik and Nazi the theory is that individual honor must always be sacrificed if necessary to the State, and the State itself has no obligation of honor to any other State, or individual.

You may say that the only difference between a Bolshevik’s or Nazi’s breaking his word and a bourgeois’ doing the same is that the Bolshevik or Nazi would be proud of it and the bourgeois would not. True enough, and that makes all the difference between a moral world and an amoral world. It is the difference between the recognition of morality and the defiance of it—the difference between civilization and the jungle. This jungle attitude we hope to eliminate by defeating Hitler.

How do you expect to eliminate this jungle by fighting on the side of the Bolsheviks?

We would not be “fighting on the side of the Bolsheviks.” We would be fighting disease with disease. As a youth I studied medicine for a while in Vienna, and one of my professors was the great Wagner-Jauregg, the discoverer of the malaria treatment for the tertiary stage of syphilis. Wagner-Jauregg observed that some of his paretic patients who contracted another disease accompanied by high fever would after the recession of the fever often be almost cured of their syphilitic disabilities. He began to inoculate his syphilitic patients with malaria and thus by using one disease against another won a considerable number of victories over the more dangerous of the two afflictions. After curing the syphilis it was relatively easy to cure the malaria. Nazi Germany is at this moment as much more dangerous than Bolshevik Russia to our world as syphilis is more malignant than malaria.

So you think Bolshevism, after it has helped eliminate Nazism, will be as easy to cure as malaria?

Probably not, but we may entertain reasonable hopes that in case the Red Army as distinct from the Bolshevik Party is victorious, or even semi-victorious over the invading Germans, it will have more to say in the affairs of Russia than ever in the past.

Do you consider that would be an improvement?

Decidedly. Armies are usually conservative and pacifist. If we want to get rid of the Communist International and have Russia re-enter the family of nations, let the Red Army take hold of affairs in the Kremlin. Stalin is afraid of it.

In the purge of 1934-1938 Stalin arrested no less than 30,000 officers according to an estimate quoted by Louis Fischer. He started by executing the head of the army, Tukhachevsky, and seven other of the highest generals, then three more, and so on until there were left of the original staff only Voroshiloff and Budenny. Some may have been guilty of wishing to cooperate with the Nazis, but most were killed because Stalin feared they were plotting against him.

Stalin’s principal instrument of espionage against his own army is the system of political commissars, whereby a Stalin party man is allocated to each Red commander, with the prime duty of watching his every move, listening to his every word, and if possible trapping him into an indiscretion. This obviously hinders military efficiency, and in times when Stalin feels safe or when he wants military efficiency more than an immediate sense of personal security, he gives it up.

When he attacked Finland, for example, he felt strong enough personally to give it up, and the Red Army improved sufficiently to win. There was much boasting among Communists that the Red Army now no longer would need political commissars again, but to their disappointment, shortly after the German attack on Russia, Stalin reinstalled his commissars. This at the moment when the Soviet Union was more gravely threatened than ever in its history meant that Stalin felt himself less menaced by the defeat of the Red Army than by the Red Army itself.

Is it farfetched to imagine that since Stalin has played the part of a super-Robespierre, the time may come when he will suffer Robespierre’s end?

If you say, as you did, that Stalin would make a separate peace if it suited him, despite his agreement not to do so, what was the use of Britain’s offering and entering into such an agreement?

It was useful to make the agreement in order to convince Stalin that Britain, for her part, intends to keep on fighting no matter what happens. This might encourage Stalin to fight a little longer than he might have done if he thought that at any moment he might be deserted by his Ally. You remember the New Yorker anecdote about the suburbanite who met the town Communist soon after Germany attacked Russia, and twitted him about the German-Soviet pact, but without results.

The Communist said blandly that it was only to be expected, that it proved Russia was the dominant figure on the international scene, and so on. Then he added: “The only time I was worried was when I was listening to Churchill’s speech on the radio. For a minute, at the beginning, I thought he was going to rat on us.” So the Anglo-Soviet agreement is strictly one-way, but it has its uses. It may persuade Stalin that Churchill is not going to rat on him!

Under what circumstances do you think Stalin would make a separate peace?

At any time Hitler would let him have peace and remain in power and retain sufficient of the framework of the Soviet system to promise its continuance after the Western powers had defeated Hitler. It is plain now that, once the Germans had attacked, Stalin must have realized he had to fight or die, for Hitler was evidently sure of quick, complete victory. If Stalin had tried to capitulate, as some thought he would, without fighting, he could have obtained nothing better than obliteration of himself and his regime. Therefore Stalin fought, but this does not necessarily mean he intends to fight to the bitter end, with the Red Army backing up to the Urals, to Siberia, and the Soviet government moving to Sverdlovsk or Novosibirsk, as romantic enthusiasts would have it.

Stalin probably defines his task to fight Hitler so well, make it cost the Germans so much, that Hitler will finally offer a peace Stalin could afford to accept on the basis of his expectation that Germany would in the long run lose the war. The Bolshevik surrender at Brest-Litovsk in 1918 was based on similar reasoning, that the Bolsheviks’ enemy, Germany, would eventually be removed by world revolution and that good Bolshevik strategy would seek first to preserve the structure, if only a skeleton structure, of the Soviet Socialist State, at any cost of immediate humiliation and suffering.

The Russians have proved now by their destruction of the great dam at Dniepropetrovsk that they mean truly to scorch the earth before Hitler even if it means the destruction of their most precious possessions. The destruction of the Dnieper dam was to my mind the most important single event of the Russian-German war.

Why was the blowing up of the Dnieper dam so important?

Because Dnieprostroy was an object almost of worship to the Soviet people. Its destruction demonstrates a will to resist which surpasses anything we had imagined. I know what that dam meant to the Bolsheviks. I visited it in 1930 when it was being built under the supervision of the American engineer, Hugh Cooper. It was the largest, most spectacular, and most popular of all the immense projects of the First Five-Year Plan. It was the principal source of hydroelectric power for the Ukraine.

During all the years under the Soviet government the Russian people had to do without romance, until the Five-Year Plan was begun. Then they began to find glamour in statistics. They glorified in figures showing that this or that project in the Soviet Union was the largest of its kind in the world. The Dnieper dam when it was built was the biggest on earth and so it occupied a place in the imagination and affection of the Soviet people difficult for us to realize. I remember standing in the middle of the mile-long dam and listening to a young Soviet engineer rhapsodically exclaim: “You see there, that forest of cranes, that army of excavating machines! There is more machinery concentrated on this construction site than was ever concentrated anywhere in the world! Look at those gravel mixers. We are pouring here five thousand cubic meters of gravel, more per day than any body of men ever poured in the history of the world! See those immense snail-shaped turbo dynamos! They are the biggest ever made. We will supply more electricity from a single point than ever….” And so he went on endlessly, and back in Moscow people would eagerly scan the newspapers for the latest bulletins on Dnieprostroy.

Stalin’s order to destroy it meant more to the Russians emotionally than it would mean to us for Roosevelt to order the destruction of the Panama Canal. Suppose our troops defending the canal were to have been driven back by the invading Japanese until it became evident they would capture the canal if we did not destroy it. If our troops then blew up the locks, it would be an act of determination which could be compared to that of the Russians in blowing up the Dnieper dam.

Well then, doesn’t this prove that the Russians will fight to the bitter end and never make a separate peace?

Perhaps, but not necessarily. They may fight to the bitter end but even the Dnieper dam does not prove it. The task of Stalin, it appears now, is by just such a demonstration of stubborn courage, to whittle down Hitler’s demands until they reach Stalin’s ability to accede to them. If he can get Hitler to offer to keep the Soviet government and bureaucracy in power and to withdraw the bulk of the German troops, and not to demand too much in the way of demobilization of the Red Army, the two tyrants might once more get together.

But why should Stalin quit? Why should he ever be willing to make such a compromise peace if in the long run he believes Germany will be beaten?

Because the Soviet Union is not strong enough economically to go on fighting indefinitely, particularly if the industries and mines and agriculture of Southern Russia are cut off by the Germans. It would be a miracle if the Russians could endure a long war. Most peoples have a surplus they can do without in wartime. The Soviet Union has no surplus.

What about the Chinese? They didn’t seem to have a surplus either, but they have gone on fighting the Japanese now for over four years.

That is true and important, but the Chinese economy was decentralized. The Chinese lives locally. Chinese communities could be cut off from the outside world and live almost normally. The Soviet economy is centralized, a closely knit system of collective farms-mines-factories, which if ruptured at one point would tend to go to pieces. Nevertheless there is a significant similarity between the primitive character of the Russian and the Chinese peasants, and their ability to improvise a living and keep on fighting when more highly civilized folk, as the French, would give in.

Under what circumstances do you think Hitler would offer Stalin a compromise peace?

The moment he believes he has defeated the Red Army sufficiently to force Stalin to accept a peace which would include substantial demobilization of the Red Army—enough to ensure that it could not be used for a sudden attack on the German Army after it had returned its attention to the West. It is probable that Hitler had much more totalitarian goals in view when he first attacked Russia; but the Red Army has probably made him content for the moment with less.

Isn’t there some evidence that Hitler is after an all-out victory over Russia and intends no compromise, but complete conquest?

Yes, the most direct evidence we have of such an intention is contained in his speech of September 12, 1936 at Nuremberg, when he said: “If the Ural mountains with their immeasurable wealth of raw materials, Siberia with its rich forests, and the Ukraine with its immense grain fields, were lying within Germany, this country under National Socialist leadership would be swimming in wealth. We would produce so much that every single German would have more than enough to live on.”

This does not sound as though he intended to stop short of anything, but the fact still remains that unless he believes he can make peace with the West (and he cannot have much hope for that after the Roosevelt-Churchill proclamations of peace terms), his most advantageous solution of the war would be compromise, with Stalin or some other Russian leader as his Gauleiter.

Wouldn’t Hitler obtain more supplies if he took them than if he trusted to the Soviets to deliver them, even if they promised to do so after having been conquered?

Not for a very long time, probably several years. If Hitler, completely defeating the Red Army, were to try to replace the Soviet system with something of his own devising, imagine the chaos! There are several million employees of the Soviet bureaucracy. Suppose they all sabotaged as the Czarist bureaucracy sabotaged the Bolsheviks when they seized power. It took the Bolsheviks five years to work back up from starvation in 1918 to the level of subsistence in 1923.

Suppose the scorched-earth policy is extended to the oil fields of the Caucasus. Really determined skilled effort can make an oil field unproductive for a year or more. To pursue the Red forces into the Urals and beyond and then to hold down the whole country would be a task which would absorb the energies of even the German war machine. There would thus be bargaining points on both sides.

Hitler could say to Stalin: “I can utterly destroy you and your system if I choose.” Stalin could say to Hitler: “Yes, but I can make your conquest futile as far as supplies are concerned, and if you try to destroy me and my system I will starve you and tire you until you are too weak to win in the West.” Stalin’s argument might well run that by making a compromise peace he could save something, including his own job, from the wreck; then by waiting patiently for the victory of the Allies which he probably foresees in the long run, he would win back everything, just as the Bolsheviks did after they had deserted the Allies in the first World War.

Hitler, on the other hand, knows that without Stalin’s help he cannot begin to obtain the materials he needs from Russia in time to serve his necessity. Douglas Miller points out that in the two summers of 1917 and 1918 when the Germans occupied the Ukraine, they got only 43,000 small carloads of grain, which scarcely paid the costs of occupation. Only with Stalin as his Gauleiter can Hitler make his Russian investment pay economically during the critical next two years.

What would be the effect of such a compromise peace between Germany and Russia on the United States and Great Britain?

It would be a disaster even worse than the signing of the original Soviet-German pact in August 1939.

Why worse? It would be just about the same, wouldn’t it?

No, because this time Hitler would have obtained what he thought he had obtained but had not obtained from Russia through his 1939 pact. He would have nearly complete security on the Eastern frontier and would not have to pin down there more than a fraction of the divisions he had there from 1939 on.

He would have obtained guaranteed deliveries of the oil and grain and other products he needs. His guarantee would be the disarmament of the Red Army to the point where the Germans could march in at any moment and enforce their demands. He would also have obtained the right to march his troops across the Ukraine, or sail across the Black Sea and from the Caucasus drive at Suez, or eventually India. Furthermore the re-neutralization, or the military emasculation, of the Soviet Union would free Japan’s rear from the danger of attack, and would proportionately increase the chances of Japan’s attacking southward in the area of our vital interests. Such a compromise peace would enable Hitler to endure many years longer than if he had to fight on to the complete conquest of Russia, against a nationwide, scorched-earth, guerilla warfare.

You make it seem as though a compromise peace were quite possible. Why then did Stalin fight at all?

You mean, when the Germans attacked? Because he was given no choice. There was rumor of Hitler’s having submitted an ultimatum or terms to Stalin, but as it turned out Hitler submitted no demands at all; he simply attacked.

Why didn’t Hitler at least make the attempt and demand of Stalin the things he wanted, including the demobilization of the Red Army?

I suppose he knew that even Stalin could not successfully order the demobilization of the Red Army without suffering the danger of revolution. Hitler had successfully brought the armies of several powers under his control without fighting: Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, but they were small states which would never have stood a chance for more than a few hours or days of resistance against the Germans. It seemed to many people that Hitler could have done the same with Russia. The acquiescence of Stalin in every other German demand encouraged this belief. But Hitler never made the trial.

I still do not see why he did not try.

Perhaps because of Napoleon. This is only a theory of mine, but in analyzing Hitler’s motives for attacking Russia, it struck me that his vanity may have led him to wish to impose his will by force upon Stalin, his only remaining rival on the continent, and to do the thing Napoleon failed to do, conquer Russia. Hitler is an admirer of Napoleon. When he first visited Paris he spent half an hour alone by the tomb of Napoleon, then ordered the remains of Napoleon’s son brought from Vienna to be re-interred beside his father. Hitler does not collect ordinary Napoleonana as Mussolini does. Hitler collects the same countries which Napoleon once collected or tried to collect. He is not merely going over the same territory, he is consciously emulating Napoleon.

The French Emperor’s excuse for attacking Russia was that Alexander refused to join Napoleon’s blockade of England, the “Continental System.” Historians now agree, however, that Napoleon went into Russia in 1812 chiefly to satisfy his vanity and his lust for war and to appease his jealousy of Alexander, his only remaining rival on the continent. Alexander was willing to do almost everything Napoleon wanted, but Napoleon wanted to impose his will by force. So with Hitler. He had even less excuse than Napoleon for attacking Russia.

I share the opinion of many observers that Hitler could have had anything he liked from Stalin, beginning with the delivery of all available materials even if it meant stripping the Russians, and including the permission to pass troops through Russia, and even including perhaps consent to as much of a demobilization of the Red Army as Stalin believed he could order without danger of revolt—possibly enough to have satisfied Hitler that the Red Army could not attack him. Nor does it seem likely that the Red Army ever would have attacked the Germans except after they had definitely lost the war in the West, and then it would have made little difference who delivered the final blow.

The Russians would probably have behaved toward Germany exactly as the Italians behaved toward France. In their anxiety to run no risks, the Italians waited until their intervention made no difference; the French were already defeated. So Stalin would probably have waited until the German Army was knocked out before he moved.

But wasn’t it likely that Stalin would have attacked if Hitler attempted to invade the British Isles?

Not unless it had become apparent that the invasion had not only failed but that the German Army had lost practically all its Air Force and was about to collapse. If this contention is correct, there was no danger to Hitler from the Russians, and the material supplies he seeks could certainly have been obtained in greater quantity by peaceful coercion than by war.

You have given us quite a number of strong points of the Soviet Union. Can you outline its weak points?

Without pleasure. It is no pleasure to expose the demerits of a force which for the time being, at any rate, is fighting against our major enemy, and has fought gallantly and has lost more blood than all the other opponents of our enemy put together. Yet it seems to me useful always to keep our eyes open and to know as much as we can about the characteristics of friend and foe and especially of the sort of ally which has the ambiguous role of the Soviet Union toward both Britain and America, neither friend nor foe, but possessed merely of the same enemy.

The fundamental weakness of the Soviet Union and the root of all its evil is the fact that the Bolsheviks believe and practice as their first rule of political conduct that the end justifies the means. This rule led to adoption of the Terror as the chief weapon in the struggle to establish Socialism, and the Terror in turn made it impossible to establish Socialism. The Terror destroyed democracy. Without political democracy, the vaunted economic democracy of the Soviet Union became a farce. Constant coercion of the masses through the Terror benumbed them. Production was concentrated on war materials and the output of consumption goods never rose above subsistence level. The Soviet Union became a permanent pauper state. The level from the standpoint of culture and comfort remained barbarian, but the Russians showed they had the virtues of barbarians. When the time came to fight they proved they could stand up better to their Nazi brother barbarians than any of the civilized folk of Europe.

The principle that the end justifies the means works in wartime as it is a barbarous principle and war is a barbarous business, and that is one reason why the Russians have done as well as they have against the Germans. In peacetime the principle that the end justifies the means defeats itself because peaceful processes are not promoted by violence. The Bolsheviks used the Terror to force every member of the vast community of Russia into a pattern of National Planned Economy, but after thirteen years of watching the Five-Year plans, now in the midst of the Third, we can scan the whole Russian scene and soberly observe that National Planned Terror plus Bolshevik zeal have not been able to produce anything like as much for the whole population as free capitalist economy running on the profit motive with a competitive labor market. I am not for Hoover capitalism, but even it is incomparably better than Stalin’s economy.

What authority have you to speak about Russia?

Possibly no authority, but a good deal of experience. I was for two years a correspondent in Moscow, from 1925 to 1927—that was during the NEP—and thereafter made three long trips and visited every part of the country from Vladivostok to Odessa and Leningrad to Tiflis. I was the first correspondent to visit the huge industrial plants of the First Five-Year Plan from the Urals to the Caucasus, and after a 17,000-mile trip which lasted three months I wrote a series of twenty-four articles, which were given a Pulitzer prize. That was in 1930, and I made another study trip in 1934 and another in 1937. I keep up as well as one can by diligent reading and contact with friends fresh from the Soviet Union and it appears that the conditions there today, aside from the war, are about as they were when I was last there. Most capitalist critics of the Soviet Union oppose it because it has done away with the institution of private property and of profit, and substituted a collectivist system. It would not make much difference to these capitalist critics whether the Soviet collectivist system worked or not. What irks them is that it has eliminated the form of economic organization which has enabled them to become well to do.

This is not of any interest to me. The only thing that interests me about the Soviet collectivist system is whether it works or not. If it works better than ours, to bring more happiness to everybody in the community than our system, then let us have it. But the trouble with the Soviet collectivist system is that it simply does not work to make men happier. It’s only success has been to make men fight. That is what we need now, but it is not enough.

Can you prove that the Soviet system does not work?

I am not going to try to do it with statistics. I have played and worked and sweated with Soviet statistics as much as the next man, but if there ever was a country on earth where the old saying, “Figures don’t lie but liars figure,” is true, it is the Soviet Union, where avowedly and openly it is announced that the Statistical Office must consider itself in the service of propaganda for the national good. I can give you only a reproduction of the impressions I had, and which you would have had if you had been with me.

The two chief impressions you get from the Soviet Union are its extreme poverty and the all-pervading Terror. True, the Terror diminishes as one gets away from Moscow and the large cities, but it is present in greater or less degree everywhere. The population as a whole is desperately poor and always afraid. I thought when I read of the German attack on the Soviet Union, and then of the valiant initial Soviet resistance, that the war must have come to the Soviet population as a sort of release.

Although “the NKVD instituted severe police measures to round up Fifth Columnists,” nevertheless the net effect of the impact of the war upon the Soviet population must have been very much like the opening of jail doors. The national emergency and the necessity for all to get together and fight for their lives, I am sure had an inspiriting effect even greater than it would have in a less primitive Western community. That wartime spirit of exaltation is not true of the Soviet Union in peacetime. In ordinary times, the Soviet population is surely the unhappiest 200,000,000 ever to live under one flag in one vast succession of barracks and slums covering one-sixth of the land surface of the globe and stretching from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea and from the Sea of Okhotsk to the Baltic. Think of that immense area with its huge population and reflect that from one end of the country to the other there cannot be found a single household (aside from those of high Soviet officials, and a few artists, journalists, and other privileged classes—not more than a few thousand out of 200,000,000) possessing the food, clothing, furniture, the necessities and conveniences of an ordinary workman’s family in the United States.

After two years of warfare and bombing and blockade it would be difficult to find in all England a workman compelled to live as uncomfortably, unhygienically, and with as poor food and clothing as the ordinary Moscow workman. The average family on relief in America lives better than the privileged Moscow workman’s family. I particularly emphasize “Moscow workman” because he is the best-off person in the Soviet Union with the exception of the tiny privileged group I have mentioned. The revolution was made for the proletariat and what there is to enjoy goes to the workman.

The peasants on their collective farms live on the whole on a level beneath that of any large group of white people in the world. The Soviet peasant’s condition is substantially that of a serf. He is bound to his collective and may not leave without permission. He is paid chiefly in kind and his pittance of cash is almost useless, since there are such small supplies of anything in the stores to buy. He eats day in and day out, year in and year out, for breakfast, dinner, and supper black bread and cabbage soup and little else.

The average Russian peasant does not taste meat more than a few times a year. He is able to live on this diet because his black rye bread contains everything necessary for complete nutrition save fat, which he gets from a meager ration of salt pork. His relationship to the collective is the relationship of serf to master. The serf under the Czar could be punished by his master; so can the Soviet serf be punished by the NKVD, without trial, and whereas under the Czar the landowner had no power of life and death over his serfs, the NKVD has that power not only over the peasants but over every human being in the Soviet Union except Stalin himself and his immediate cohorts.

If the peasant is such a serf, why has he not revolted now that the advance of Hitler’s armies has given him a chance to do so?

It may sound flippant but it is the sober truth that the Russian peasant serf does not know that he is a serf; he is convinced that he lives better than any farm hand in the world. He has utterly no standard of comparison. He is as incapable of judging his position in the world as the Eskimos in Kabloona who had never seen a white man until Gontran de Poncins visited them. The Russian peasant is as shut off from the outside world as an inhabitant of old Japan before Perry. Within his world he has no neighbors better off than himself. This makes him a happier man than if he were able to observe and become envious of more pleasant ways of life.

What is the NKVD?

That is the name given the Soviet Political Police in 1934. It has had three names, first the Cheka, then the G.P.U., pronounced Gay Pay Oo, and now NKVD, pronounced En Kah Vay Day, which is an abbreviation for the Narkomvnudel, itself an abbreviation of four Russian words meaning Peoples Commissariat of Internal Affairs. Whenever the Political Police has accumulated too much blood on its name, it is changed, but its functions remain the same: to administer the Terror.

Are the people in the collective farms better off than when they were individual farmers?

I did not know the Russia of the Czars, but the peasant himself gave a very good answer to that when he refused to go into the collectives, and rather than enter with his livestock, killed it by the thousands of head, until within a year more than half the cattle, horses, pigs, and sheep of the country had been slaughtered. The Soviet Union has not yet entirely recovered from this animal massacre. The peasants slaughtered their livestock because once collectivized, the livestock passed completely out of control of the peasants. Stalin later conceded each collective farm peasant the right to own one cow and one pig as his private possession. Otherwise the members of the collective may not dispose of the product of their own toil.

But isn’t that precisely the nature of a collective, for all members to pool their resources and labor and then draw the dividends?

That is the theory, but the dividends for the Soviet peasant consist of the barest subsistence. They must turn over to the State trusts a stipulated amount or share of whatever their collective produces, wheat, or dairy products, beef or pork, and this share is usually so high that there is nothing left for the peasants to eat but black bread and cabbage. It is the settled policy of the Five-Year Plans to take from the soil all its produce except the minimum subsistence for the peasants and devote it to industrialization, by distribution at high prices to the workmen, and by export, in exchange for machines from abroad.

Then, surely the Russian workman is much better off, since the whole system is supposed to be for the benefit of the proletariat.

He is better off than the peasant, but he is worse off than any other white workman in the world. In the winter of 1934-1935 I made a survey of the Russian standard of living and compared it with the standard of living in capitalist states. In order to make the comparison as fair as possible I chose the little capitalist states which used to be a part of Imperial Russia—Finland, Esthonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.

First I spent two months in Moscow, studying the standard of living of the workmen in the best Moscow factories. These workmen were more favorably situated than any others in the Soviet Union. Then I spent three months studying the standard of living of typical working-class families in the little capitalist states. To my surprise I found that the poorest workmen’s families in the capitalist states lived considerably better than the Moscow workers, who were the most prosperous in all Russia.

This was after seventeen years of Communism, and the capitalist states used for comparison were among the poorest in the world. They had all suffered more from the World War than Russia as a whole had suffered, and they began their new national lives from scratch, without capital or credit. Yet the average workman in Finland, Esthonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland was living at least twice as well as the best-off workmen in the Soviet Union.

How did you get your facts?

By visiting scores of homes and talking with the housewives. I asked each one fifty to a hundred questions, and found out the total family income, how it was earned, and how it was spent. Then I made up a theoretical basket, to contain a week’s supply of food for a workman, and found out by direct inquiry the number of hours a man would have to work to earn the basket. I found that in order to buy the basket the Soviet workman had to spend an average of twice as many working hours as his fellow worker in the small capitalistic states, while he would have to spend over three times as many working hours as a workman in the United States.

The Moscow workers, as the workers in most parts of the Soviet Union, live in barracks, one or more families to a room, brutally overcrowded. The Soviet Union has never succeeded in solving its housing problem and seems, indeed, to be slipping steadily backward, each year jamming more and more people into tenements fantastically full. It is not unusual to find four families sharing a single room. Imagine how much privacy they have, with each family’s quarter of the room partitioned off by a hanging sheet. In the little capitalist states, many workmen had their own cottage homes, a thing utterly unknown in the Soviet Union.

The food eaten by the capitalist workmen was incomparably better in quality and greater in quantity than the Soviet workman’s food. The clothing worn by the Soviet workmen and their families was pathetically threadbare, sleazy and cheap, while the capitalist workmen were well-dressed in comparison. Now these Russian workmen, it must be remembered, were in the midst of their Second Five-Year Plan, and were the recipients of the cream of its production. They were the beneficiaries of that vast scheme of National Planned Economy which was to produce so much more efficiently than the capitalist system that before long everybody in the Soviet Union would be living like rich men in the United States. It was their idea that the time would soon come when production of every conceivable kind of commodity would be so prolific in the Soviet Union that everybody could have his every material want satisfied. “From each according to his ability—to each according to his need,” the classic Communist ideal would be finally attained.

Now after twenty-three years of trial it seems certain that in place of Soviet State Capitalism, any form of private capitalism under a democracy would have given Russia not only the blessings of individual liberty, but far greater industrial production, which of course is the prime measure of any economic system’s success. This is not a mere speculation. If you take the graph of Imperialist Russian industrial production before the last war, and prolong it over the next twenty-three years at the same rate of increase as the years 1900 to 1914, you will find that Czarist Russia would have produced more in 1940 than the Soviet Union with all its Five-Year Plans. What Russia could have accomplished under a liberal democratic, or a free democratic-socialist regime, we can only guess.

Both Lenin and Trotzky once remarked that no matter what else the Soviet Union did, if it did not succeed in producing more than the capitalist system produced, the Soviet system must be called a failure. If it is objected that the Soviet Union had to spend its surplus on defense, one can reply that a system which is so poor that the population has to live on a bare subsistence level in order to maintain its armed services, is a failure also. Twenty-three years is a long enough trial for any system to show at least some hope.

What is State Capitalism and what has this to do with the war?

It has a great deal to do with the war, because Soviet weakness tempted Hitler to attack and Soviet weakness is a direct outcome of Soviet State Capitalism. This term means that the State is the monopolizer of all industry, trade, and agriculture. It is the sole employer. It is the owner and manager of all factories, mines, shops, farms, fisheries, transport systems, in short of every means of production and distribution in the country.

No one can work for any other employer except the State and the State has absolute power to order every minute detail of the daily lives of its employees, the whole population. The Soviet workman is no less a serf than the Soviet peasant, for the workman also cannot leave his job without permission, and he also has no control of any kind over his employer, no means of bringing pressure on him, because his employer is the State and the State is not elected, but its representatives are appointed from the top down, beginning with Stalin.

You say the State is not elected, but how about the Soviet elections we hear about?

The voters are presented with a ticket chosen by the Party and they are allowed to accept the Party candidates. Citizens of the Soviet Union have exactly as much voice in their government as citizens of Nazi Germany have in theirs, that is, none at all. It is nevertheless interesting to note that the tyrant in the Soviet Union still thinks it worth while to preserve the farce of elections while the tyrant in Germany has apparently dispensed with them altogether.

But cannot the Soviet workmen bring pressure to bear on the authorities by striking?

Strikes have been outlawed de facto in the Soviet Union since its earliest years. Soviet trades unions are merely the instruments for helping the State enforce discipline. They are the classic type of company unions. We can sum up this aspect of Soviet State Capitalism by saying that whereas this form of collectivism was intended originally to free the workman from all the disabilities, injustices, and inequalities suffered by the workman under the individual capitalist employer, all that has happened is that the workman has exchanged a comparatively weak, sometimes well-meaning, individual or corporate capitalist employer for a monster, all-powerful, completely egocentric, impersonal, soulless monopoly, the State, which has all the faults of the worst individual employer multiplied a millionfold. It is just as greedy as the worst individual, but has no check upon its greed, and it is never as efficient as the least efficient individual. It is Jack London’s Iron Heel in reverse.

It was the original Bolshevik theory, was it not, that their Planned National Economy would be superior to Unplanned Capitalist Economy because it would prevent the cyclic recurrence of economic crises, such as 1929-1930? It was to end all booms and depressions by ending overproduction. Hasn’t the Soviet Union done at least that much?

We cannot tell, because the Soviet Union has never, in the twenty-three years of its existence, had anything like sufficient production, much less overproduction.

Why couldn’t the Soviet Planned Economy succeed?

We can split the total failure into five parts: First, failure adequately to replace the profit system; second, failure of planned production; third, failure of planned distribution; fourth, failure of the monetary system; fifth, failure of Soviet construction to keep up with deterioration. Behind all these four failures looms the black father of them all, the Terror.

Why do you devote so much importance to the Soviet Terror?

From having witnessed its importance in the Soviet Union. Aside from that, we ought to be able to recognize purely theoretically its paramount role in any attempt swiftly to transform an individualistic society into a collectivist society. For thousands of years men have been living more or less free individual lives. Suddenly it is decided to create a collective, as the Bolsheviks decided in Russia. At the time of the Revolution there were said to have been no more than ten thousand Bolsheviks. Eventually they were to impose their will upon 200,000,000 people and reorganize them into a vast, badly functioning, but nevertheless authentic anthill. To do this as swiftly as the Bolsheviks wanted it done required compulsion, applied without stint, to every unit in the ant heap. Having no say in the matter these multitudes of human beings were required to change every habit of their lives; were ordered even to change their instincts. It took unlimited compulsion to achieve a semblance of the goal. The instrument of compulsion was the Terror.

It produced an ant heap, but the ant heap never was able to do more than provide minimum food, lodging, and clothing for its ants. For a long time outside observers leniently agreed that this must be due to the strain of reorganizing an individualistic into a collectivist society, but now that a generation has passed, the tendency is to consider that more fundamental faults are to blame.

First, it appeared that the motive for work was not so effective in the ant heap as it was in the outside world, since from the day of its foundation until this moment the Soviet workman has produced less per capita per hour than capitalist workmen anywhere in the world. Furthermore, higher ranks, as engineers, technicians, superintendents, managers, and directors in the Soviet Union were so notably inefficient compared with their capitalist colleagues that for a time the anthill authorities imported and paid highly trained specialists from the outside world to set an example and teach.

This effort too was a failure, as Soviet production usually declined to its original level after departure of the foreign specialist. Also the men of enterprise who in a free society risk their capital and brains to found factories, dig mines, and sometimes swindle their fellow men, were assigned in the anthill to the Gosplan, the Government Planning Commission. There, in the effort to plan production for 200,000,000 people, the anthill failed most dismally. The conclusion was that the collective with its rigid wage scales, limited incomes, prohibited labor market, and ban on profits had not provided a motive for work as stimulating and productive as the profit motive and the competitive wage system in the free capitalist world.

How can you call it a free capitalist world? There isn’t any freedom left in the capitalist world. Look at all the checks on business here in the United States. Do you consider our farmers free? They can’t even plant what they want.

Yes, I call it free, as free as bird life compared with the Soviet Union or with Nazi Germany. The trouble with you and with all of us who complain about the checks on business, on agriculture, and so on, is that we lack the experience of being really without freedom. Unless you have lived in a slave state, under a real tyranny, you simply do not know what freedom means. All these checks about which you complain are legal checks imposed by law made by representatives of your choosing and passed upon by courts which are eventually also of your choosing, and drawn within a constitution which was also chosen and is now maintained by the people’s free will. If you dislike any of these checks, you have only to get a majority to agree with you and you can change it. To compare the lack of absolute freedom in our world with the absolute lack of freedom in the totalitarian world, whether Bolshevik or Nazi, is the same as to compare a traffic policeman with the warden of a penitentiary.

It was precisely this effort at penitentiary production on a continental scale that broke down the Russian effort at planned national economy. It proved impossible to plan effectively for so enormous an aggregate of human beings every detail of their production. A few of the population, perhaps two per cent, were zealous Communists who were willing to work harder to make the collective successful than they would have worked for any amount of profit.

Terror was used to make the other ninety-eight per cent fit in and work. But the Terror took away from the managers, supervisors, and technicians the willingness to take responsibility. A mistake, honest though it might be, could cost a factory manager his life. In the Soviet Union the man who makes a mistake is automatically suspected and accused of sabotage. The only way to be safe is to make no decisions, pass every responsibility to a higher authority. This is the rule today throughout the Soviet economic apparatus.

Parallel with this effect of the Terror is the benumbing influence of the unforgiving rigidity of the Plan. Each factory manager is given a quota to fulfill. Quotas are calculated at a trifle more than normal maximum capacity. No excuses are accepted for nonfulfillment. In the chaos of Soviet economic life it is seldom that raw materials, fuel, tools, and labor can easily be brought together to fulfill a quota, yet failure may cost the factory manager “liquidation,” which means anything from dismissal or exile at hard labor to death.

Consequently, nearly all quotas are fulfilled in quantity, but quality is in practice ignored. The number of units of production is easily checked; quality is more difficult to check. Hence, Soviet industrial production is lower in quality than in the capitalist world, and this is a partial explanation for the divergence between Soviet industrial statistics which show a high level of production, and the facts of Soviet economic life which demonstrate to the naked eye how low the level of production is. Some observers have estimated that at least thirty per cent should be taken off all Soviet industrial production statistics to allow for the quantities of entirely unusable goods produced.

But we used to prize highly many objects of Russian manufacture, and you can still see in jewelry and antique stores all kinds of finely made things, enamel work, and leather goods, wonderfully printed books. What has become of them?

Nearly all that fine handicraft is gone now. The Russian artisan used to be one of the best in the world. Home handicrafts formerly supplied a sizable fraction of Russian consumption goods, not only the things you mention, but furniture, pottery, textiles—wonderful hand-woven linen and wool—and lacquer work. Most of these artisans, or such of them as outlived the hardships of the Revolution, have been forced into factories today to turn out mass production articles inferior to any in the world, including the Japanese.

I often wonder what a Moscow citizen would say if he could walk through an American five-and-ten-cent store. I am sure he would think he was being deceived. He could not imagine such a wealth of high-grade, luxurious articles. Once one of the younger members of the Rosenwald clan visited Moscow and as we looked in the pitiful shopwindows I remarked that if he wanted to start a revolution in Russia all he would have to do would be to distribute a few million Sears Roebuck catalogues among the workers and peasants of the greatest poorhouse in history. Such a system of nationwide mail-order distribution would be utterly beyond the comprehension of a Soviet citizen, for one of the weakest links in the weak chain of Soviet economy is the distribution of goods.

Poor as the goods are, they are not so poor as the method of putting them in the hands of the consumers. Since there is always a goods shortage, the consumer is placed in the permanent position of a supplicant, glad to get anything even if it is a substitute for a substitute for the article he wants. Allocation of the scanty supplies is made from the top down. The local community is not asked what it needs. The Planners arbitrarily ship certain quantities of shoes, hoe handles, and seed, and the recipients have learned to be grateful, no matter if what they needed was kerosene, matches, and cloth.

But you said something about the monetary system, that it had failed too. How can a monetary system fail in a completely planned national economy?

The monetary system under the Soviets seems just as difficult to handle as it is in the capitalist system. The authorities incessantly juggle wages against prices, raising the one, lowering the other, inflating the currency, selling bonds and even lottery bonds, as blatantly gambling as the old Louisiana lottery. Yet the answer never seems to be achieved satisfactorily. Always the citizen’s purchasing power is behind his needs. Fundamentally, of course, the answer is that there is never enough of anything to go around.

But isn’t the answer to that the fact that the Soviet State is taking away from the citizens today in order to invest in productive industry from which the citizens will draw a dividend tomorrow? At least I should have thought that was the theory.

That is the theory, but one of the tragic aspects of the epic struggle of the Russian Bolsheviks to make their collectivist system work is that their investments in factories and machinery wear out almost as fast and sometimes faster than they can replace them and build new ones. The bad workmanship of the buildings and the poor quality and rough handling of the machines results in a speed of deterioration far beyond the normal in the capitalist world. If they had given their population slightly better food and living conditions and had therefore been compelled to limit their investment in new buildings and machines to something like a capitalist standard of new investment, deterioration would probably have taken away more plant than they could replace.

How do you explain such inefficiency and wastefulness?

For all the reasons given before, and for another which I left for a different category since it is, so to speak, historical, while these reasons we have discussed are current. The historical fact of import at least during the life of this generation is that the Bolsheviks twice in twenty years exterminated their ablest people in the country, or rather I should say, the Bolsheviks first killed off the ablest people of old Russia and then Stalin killed off the ablest Bolsheviks. It has been so long ago, and the popular interest and sympathy in the Soviet experiment was at the time so great, that we have almost forgotten what the Bolsheviks did to their own countrymen.

Their conviction was that they could not establish Communism, or Socialism, without physically exterminating the persons who had become, under capitalism, better off than the mass of the people. They reasoned that no capitalist, and by that they meant any person who lived a little better than the poorest member of the community, would ever tolerate willingly the establishment of a Socialist State. They believed all such people would attempt to wreck the new Socialist economy. The professional revolutionaries had spent half their lives attempting to wreck the capitalist system, and they attributed to the capitalists a similar resolution.

In Germany, the Nazis succeeded in coercing the capitalists into becoming useful members of the National Socialist Collective. In Russia, the Bolsheviks set out to destroy the capitalists as a class, or rather every human being who by his birth, or position, or accomplishment, had become identified as an active member of the old system. First, they killed off the aristocracy and landed proprietors, numbering several hundred thousand, and including of course the Czar and his family. Then they exterminated the industrialists, not very numerous, because Russia was the least industrialized of the great nations. Nevertheless they were important. With them a little later were exterminated the managers, supervisors and technicians, the scientists, the professional men, dentists, surgeons, lawyers, teachers, and judges. These numbered a million or more.

By the time I got to Russia in 1925 all these were fully exterminated. By extermination I mean just that. They were either shot, or sent into exile in the Arctic or the deserts of Central Asia, or condemned to penal labor under such conditions that they died within a few years. They were nearly all killed. Only the most meager remnant remained, a few accidents of survival. I shall never forget the man who peddled cigarettes. I shared a house in Moscow with Theo Seibert, correspondent of the Hamburger Fremdenblatt, today, alas, editor of the Voelkischer Beobachter. Theo and I used to try to get the old man to talk, but he was too frightened to make much sense. The baldheaded trembling man who begged us to buy his cigarettes had been a Justice of the Moscow Supreme Court! His survival was just an accident.

After this initial massacre the Bolsheviks let a pause ensue and for several years no great killings took place, just the routine score or so of executions per month. But when the Five-Year Plan was inaugurated, the decision was made to exterminate the kulaks. A kulak was the term applied originally to a peasant who had risen sufficiently above his neighbors to employ labor. That made him an exploiter, a person who lived from the surplus value produced by his hired hands. The Bolsheviks, however, chose to amplify this category to include all peasants who, even if they did not employ labor, had become in the least degree more prosperous than their neighbors. This prosperity, based for the most part upon the individual industry and sagacity of the kulak, might consist in the possession of two cows to the neighbor’s one. In any case the reasoning of the Bolsheviks was that they could not afford to tolerate the existence of any peasant who, forced to join a collective farm, would at the beginning have to live worse than he had lived as an individual farmer.

Such peasants, the Bolsheviks reasoned, would be just as incorrigible enemies to collectivism as the aristocrats and industrialists. They had to die. They did die. This was the greatest Soviet mass slaughter, because there were a great many more such peasants than there were aristocrats, or industrialists, or intelligentsia. It took about two years to do away with the kulaks. Tens of thousands of G.P.U. troops and agents sought out every family of better-than-average peasants throughout the entire Soviet Union, and forced them into boxcars and herded them off to places of exile, down to Kazakstan or up to Narimsky Krai, to places where it was too hot or too cold to live. It is a conservative estimate to say that some 5,000,000 of these more enterprising farm workers and their families died at once, or within a few years.

This process destroyed what there was left of the originally non-Communist party talent in Russia. You would have thought that this ought to satisfy the Bolsheviks. It did, but it did not satisfy Stalin. There was no more opposition to the Bolshevik program. There was not a human being left in Russia who had any connection with the old regime. Not in modern history has there been such a clean wiping of the slate. The Bolsheviks were left not only as absolute masters, but containing a country in which every living person was their hopeful or cowed collaborator. Then came the fatal quarrel between Stalin and Trotzky. Out of this quarrel came the great purges by Stalin which destroyed for the second time within a generation the principal talent of Russia.

This may be regarded as the most fateful slaughter of all. Bolsheviks could argue that the extermination of every vestige of Czarist Russia could be justified on account of the inefficiency, inhumanity, unproductivity of the old regime, and the fact that, according to Bolshevik reasoning, members of the old regime would never cooperate with the new. But now Stalin was destroying not the old, but the new regime, all its talents, its best intellects, its best characters if you like.

Beginning with the politicians, he killed off in the course of four years of uninterrupted purges, the top fourth or fifth, to estimate it conservatively, of the Party itself, of the Army, Navy, and Air Force leaders and then of the new Bolshevik intelligentsia, the foremost technicians, managers, supervisors, scientists. There is, of course, enough youth among 200,000,000 for the nation to recover even after such a purge. The youth whom Stalin spared have proved in battle how boundless are the forces of Russia, the first country Hitler ever tackled with lives to waste!

You have not made it clear, if the Soviet system is so brutal a tyranny, how it is that the Red Army has been able to stand up so well to the Germans.

The answer is that the Red Army has fought as Russians have always fought under any regime, bravely, enduringly, stubbornly, gallantly. Russians have always had to fight despite their government; as they did in the last war, as they are doing in this war. The general distaste of the outside world for the Bolshevik system led many to forget that the Russian soldier retains in the Red Army all the martial virtues he possessed in the past. And have we forgotten that the Imperial Army in the last war held the Germans for three years? If the Red Army does as well we will be eternally thankful. True, the Germans in the last war had to divide their forces into two fronts, while today the Red Army has to bear the shock of nearly the full force of the whole German land forces. The task of the Red Army is accordingly heavier.

But our appraisal of the Red Army’s resistance has been strongly influenced by an element which has colored and distorted our judgment of the quality of any army which faces the Germans. That element is our recollection of the collapse of the French Army, which was due to a score of causes besides the excellence of the German Army. It was so overwhelming, bewildering, and impressive that it gave rise to the involuntary, subconscious feeling that the Germans were invincible. Now when any troops stand up to the Germans we are inclined to judge it a miracle of valor and military effectiveness. This is not to take away one whit of the immense credit due the Russians for holding up Hitler’s juggernaut but it is fair to point out that if we had not seen France fall, if for example Germany had attacked Russia before attacking France, everybody would have expected the Russians to put up just about the resistance they have put up. After all, Russia is a nation of double the population of Germany, with incomparably greater natural resources, and with twenty-three years of unflagging preparation for precisely this war. If there had been the exceptional virtue in the Soviet collectivist system which is ascribed to it by its disciples in America, it should not merely have stopped but should have defeated, routed, and conquered the Germans.

Aside from the fact that everybody was influenced by the French example, most military experts seem to have been deceived about the fighting ability of the Red Army. Why was that?

It seemed almost as though Stalin wanted the outside world to think his army less strong than it was. None but the most acute of professional observers, among them Colonel Faymonville, for years American military attaché to Moscow, and now a member of the Allied military mission there, had a correct view of the Red Army. Hitler for the first time in his life admitted he had “had no idea” how strong the Red Army was. No outsider was ever allowed to see more than fragments of it. No newspaper correspondent, for example, ever put foot over the threshold of a Red Army barracks. Maneuvers were nearly always carried out in secret without the presence of military attachés. One almost had the feeling that Stalin had deliberately arranged the initial debacle of his attack on Finland in the first Soviet-Finnish war in order to deceive the world into thinking his army inferior to its real strength. Of course that makes no sense, and the fact was that Stalin had been led to think he could walk over Finland with ease and hence had not properly prepared his attack. Nevertheless the net effect of the first Finnish war combined with the secrecy thrown about the Red Army was to make even military attachés in observation posts around Russia believe the Red Army extremely weak. There was always the greatest difficulty in obtaining the most elementary facts about the Red Army. The Soviet government published less about its military establishment than any other great power. It kept concealed the very existence of important armaments factories; it never published production figures in the arms industry; it furnished the League of Nations less information about its vast army than any other members of the League. The G.P.U. Terror made it possible to envelop the Red Army in an impenetrable blanket which even the Germans were not able to pierce.

This secrecy emphasized the surprise that many felt at the outbreak of the war, when the Soviet economy was now indisputably revealed to have been a totally one-purpose economy, for the single end of making war. Every student of the Soviet Union had realized the great emphasis laid upon national defense, but everyone had supposed that at the same time the Soviet Planners were working primarily, if ineffectively, to create a thousand-purpose economy for the satisfaction of the myriad needs of the population. No one had divined what turned out to be the fact, that this huge economy was being organized for nothing but fighting.

It proved effective, as was to be expected. A brutal, simplified economy which ignores most of the people’s wants and devotes all its energy and materials to preparing for war, is better able to prepare and to make war than a more complete economy devoted to satisfying its people’s peacetime needs. Sparta was stronger in battle than Athens, but should we measure the value of a society by the efficiency with which it makes war? If so, we ought to value the Nazis above all others, since they are still leading in this activity. Hitler’s society took Sparta as its model; Stalin’s took Spartacus. The Nazis met their identical twin when they struck the Red Army in battle. Hitler wishes us to believe he is crusading against a fundamentally different regime in a “crusade for civilization.” We shall not be deceived.

What would be the result if Stalin were really to try to hold out indefinitely? Could he do so? Has he the resources in the Urals to carry on there?

He has almost everything he needs in the Urals except sufficient oil. If he were cut off from oil in the Caucasus, he would have to import supplies over the trans-Siberian, already overburdened. If he really were determined to carry on in spite of all odds, and could make Sverdlovsk or Cheliabinsk another Chungking, it would compel Hitler to keep an important fraction of his total forces in action in Russia; it would probably prevent Hitler from being able to attempt to invade England; it would lead to a deadlock which could be turned into victory by our intervention.

Would it be possible for us to supply the Russians with sufficient to make up for their losses? Could we enable them to carry on?

Our shipments to Russia are as important morally as materially; indeed their token strength is greater than their real strength. We shall never be able to make up for the territory Russia has lost to the Germans—60 per cent of their steel supply, 45 per cent of their manganese, 49 per cent of their tire production, and so on. Our shipments will always be limited by the transportation facilities of the trans-Siberian railway and the route through Iran, both of which are long and time-consuming. Actually we can scarcely hope to get enough American supplies in the hands of the Red Army to make much real difference before next spring, no matter how hard we try, and we ought to do our best. It is the publicly announced policy of both Washington and London that Russia shall have priority on the vital war materials. But everything is up to Stalin. If he wishes to quit and announce that he had not received sufficient aid from Britain and the United States, he will be able to do so any time during the next several months, and make a case at least among his friends.

If Stalin decides to hold on, we have a two to one chance to beat Hitler in the long run; if he decides to quit it means we face much worse odds. There is only one way we can persuade him that we are going to put our full powers into the struggle. It is our crystal-clear duty to ourselves, our children, and our national future to keep Stalin in the war by ourselves going formally to war against Germany. It is a crime against America to wait.


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