The Bolsheviks Come into Power — a sketch of Lenin and Stalin with the Red Guards in the Smolny Institute, Party headquarters, 1917
Foreword: This article was published in the February 1944 “American-Russian Frontiers” issue of Survey Graphic, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, p. 95. The photo above is from a different article in the same issue, “Our Ally — Soviet Russia” by Walter Duranty, p. 118.
“Under The Soviet Rainbow” by Louis Fischer holds the keys to the 1982 Charter imposed on homogeneous Canada by Pierre Elliott Trudeau, to the anti-white racist epithet “white supremacist” and to mass immigration of foreigners into the west. We are being Sovietized!
Under the Soviet Rainbow
Not pots of gold — but vessels of human clay in which millions of non-Russians are bound together by a “common experience of constant growth and flowering.”
By Louis Fischer
“The United States has been called a “melting pot”; in it, white immigrants from all the world merge to form an American pattern. But Maxim Litvinov called the Soviet Union a “league of nations.” There each race — Ukrainians, Tartars, Chuvashi, Mordvins, Russians, Chechentsi, Armenians, Georgians, Buryat-Mongols and 180 others — received at the hands of the Bolshevik Revolution the right, indeed the injunction, to retain its separate individuality (language, customs, costumes). Since Leninism abhorred national superiority; or national inferiority, all nationalities were considered equal.
The 1917 Revolution could preach internationalism abroad and freedom for subject colonies because it immediately created its own International inside Old Russia and freed its subject races. The domination of the Slavs and the cult of Pan-Slavism yielded to the supremacy of workers and the dictatorship of the Communist Party. The Russian worker regarded the Russian capitalist as his enemy and the Uzbek worker or the French worker as his friend and ally. This was not mere dogma; Soviet citizens felt it. Blood ties ceased to count in the new Soviet league of nations. Since nationalities were equal in the Soviet Union, militant nationalism began to fade away.
Soviet scientists have counted 189 races in the USSR. But there is no guarantee that others will not be discovered. Of 195,000,000 Soviet inhabitants in peacetime, only 80,000,000 were Russians.
The Soviets catalogued men not according to blood and birth but by class, occupations, and ideas. That is why the theory of Bolshevism is the extreme opposite of fascism.
Under the autocratic Tsars, the Russians ruled and all the other races were “aliens” whom St. Petersburg tried to “russify.” Where this attempt to foist the Russian language and Russian traditions on non-Russian or anti-Russian peoples failed, the Cossacks stepped in with their guns and knouts, or one race was set against the other. Ukrainians pogromed Jews; Armenians and Tartars engaged in mutual slaughter in the Caucasus; and other minorities fought interminably. The authorities looked on when they did not feed these feuds. Division helped the “Tsar of all the Russias” to rule. “Russia” meant nothing to the Tadjiks of Central Asia or the Ossetians of the North Caucasus except Tsarist oppression.
This “prison of subject races” was converted into a peaceful “league of nations” by the simple expedient of abolishing the supremacy of the Russian and Slav. The hatred of the national minorities for the Tsar thereupon began to melt into eager cooperation with Soviet Moscow.
The numerous races inhabiting the long periphery of what had been Russia now felt that they “belonged.”
A Red Emancipation Day
On November 15, 1917, eight days after the Bolsheviks came to power, a Soviet decree signed by Lenin, the Russian, and Stalin, the Georgian, proclaimed “the right to free development of all national minorities” and “their self-determination including separation.” Lenin conformed to the principle of self-determination when he facilitated or refrained from obstructing the independence of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland which had been annexed by Tsarism. These non-Russian lands were never regarded as Soviet irredenta, and Stalin did not except them he declared in 1936: “We want no foot of foreign territory.”
He did not say: We want no foot of foreign territory except the border republics once conquered by the Tsar. He said, “We want no foot of foreign territory.” This Stalin slogan was in the spirit of Leninism — and Bolshevik speeches, banners, broadcasts and articles repeated it millions of times.
The principle of “free development of all national minorities” inside the Soviet Union was adhered to even more loyally by the Soviet government. In fact, the treatment accorded to races is the brightest page in the political history of the Soviet Union.
Persecution of national minorities or discrimination on account of race was made tantamount to counter-revolution in revolutionary Russia. To be anti-Tartar or anti-Jewish, or to exalt the Slav or Russian, was a crime against the socialist state, and was mercilessly punished. Just as Hitler later deliberately fostered race hatred in Germany in order to divert attention from the class war and to intensifv German nationalism, so the Bolsheviks curbed racial passions and nationalism and emphasized the class war.
Racism is to fascism as racial equality and internationalism are to Bolshevism.
Fractions and Federalism
The Soviet regime did not merely end discrimination against national minorities. It discriminated in favor of national minorities so as to wipe out their cultural, political, and economic lag. Every opportunity, encouragement, and aid was given to the races of Soviet Asia, the Caucasus, the Volga region, the Ukraine and White Russia — to educate themselves, to develop the economic wealth of their areas and, as far as was practicable within a highly centralized country, to enjoy political autonomy. Each large national minority, like the Ukrainians, Georgians, Uzbeks, White Russians, and Armenians, constituted an independent republic inside the federal union.
But in Georgia, for example, there is a race called Adjari, numbering a few thousand, who live in and around the Black Sea port of Batum, and another race of Abkhazi at Sukhum. So the Union Republic of Georgia includes the autonomous subdivisions of Adjaristan and Abkhazia. Like all other subdivisions and republics of the national minorities, Adjaristan and Abkhazia use their own racial language in their schools and government offices. Most of their officials are members of these races.
Soviet economy is planned in and directed from Moscow. The federal government owns all land, large factories, oil wells, railroads, mines, lines of communication, wharves, ships — all forms of capital. The federal government operates all important industrial units and also controls the finances and domestic and foreign trade of the entire country. Moreover, the communists are the only political party and their primary allegiance is to Moscow. The secret police — keystone of any dictatorship — the Red Army, Air Force, and Navy, are likewise functions of the central government in Moscow. The powers and responsibilities of the regional autonomous republics and territorial subdivisions which constitute the Soviet Union are therefore, of necessity, severely circumscribed. Yet in the central government, Russians have had no monopoly. Many Soviet leaders of the past, Dzerzhinski, Trotsky, Svcedlov, Zinoviev, Rakovski, Kamenev, Ordzhonikidze, Yagoda, and so on, were non-Russian. Stalin is a Georgian; Mikoyan, Commissar of Trade, an Armenian; Kaganovich, the able industrial organizer, a Jew.
Every Soviet citizen knows that racial origin has not been a bar to the attainment of the highest goals.
Virgin Human Soil
Even the limited political and Economic rights and prerogatives which the national minorities enjoy in their autonomous regions have infused them with a sense of dignity. New opportunities have fired their ambitions and given them a mighty incentive to achieve progress and knowledge. The country’s tremendous expansion in the economic and educational fields created a vast demand for talent and ability. The national minorities, especially, answered the call, since many of the new industries were located in the peripheral areas — the Caucasus, Central Asia, Siberia — which are largely peopled by non-Russians and which Tsarist Russia had exploited in the usual imperialist manner.
In some cases, the human soil was almost completely virgin. I visited Central Asia in 1930 when the ambitious Turkestan-Siberian railway was opened. Bill Shatoff, former Chicago revolutionist who supervised the construction of the line, told me that one of his chief difficulties was building a railroad with labor that had never seen a railroad. By labor he meant the Kazakh nomads of the vast empty spaces bordering on China.
These are more Chinese than Russian and they had not yet reached even the agrarian stage of civilization. They live in cylindrical or conical felt yurts (cousin of the wigwam) and followed the grass crop with their flocks. They rode ponies. In fact, they seemed to live on their ponies. I saw thousands of them, assembled from the endless domains of Central Asia, listen to many speeches while sitting in their saddles. The women did the hard chores, and the men, Shatoff said, consequently had “lady fingers” and suffered from the unaccustomed work of building the railway.
The moment they accepted employment, the Soviet authorities started teaching them to read and write and to be loyal citizens. In Ain Bulak, a Kazakh settlement on the new Turk-Sib line, a native bard, strumming a gourd-like instrument, sat on the rails and extemporized couplets about “giant bands of steel” and “the iron chug horse.”
Amid the Caucasus Mountains, under the shadow of Mt. Elbrus which is higher than Mt. Blanc, dwell the Swannetians who saw Soviet airplanes fly over them before they themselves were sufficiently advanced to use wheeled vehicles. At a lower altitude in the same region, I met Kevsurs who wore coats of mail and claimed to be descendants of the Crusaders.
Even these very retarded peoples moved forward rapidly with Moscow’s aid and under communist prodding. Betal Kalmikov, a Kabardinian married to a Polish woman, acquired an all-Soviet reputation for the skillful administration of his native Kabardino-Balkarian Republic in the North Caucasus near Pyatigorsk, and he was only one of a new generation of leaders and executives which quickly emerged under the warm sun of racial opportunity.
Soviet experience has demonstrated that “backward” races quickly lunge forward when they are no longer held back.
Alphabets and Unity
The overwhelming majority of the members of the national minorities were illiterate before the Bolshevik Revolution. That was because the Empire had not devoted itself to the education of Russians much less non-Russians and, equally, because where schools were established their language of instruction was Russian — an often hated tongue to the racial groups.
The Soviet regime reversed this. Teachers began to teach in the national language of each race. If there were enough Jewish pupils to constitute a class or school in a Russian or Ukrainian or Tartar region a class or school was opened for them in Yiddish. Just as Russians were no longer able to impose the Russian language on Ukrainians or Georgians, so the Ukrainians could not impose Ukrainian on Germans, Poles or Jews nor could Georgians impose Georgian on Russian or Armenian or Turkic inhabitants of Georgia.
Some nationalities were so backward that they possessed no written language or grammar. Soviet scientists evolved these for them. Literacy in some races was particularly low because they used the complicated, cursive Arabic script. The Soviet government substituted the simple Latin alphabet for this script and the result was a sharp rise in literacy in the Caucasus and Central Asia. By creating a script-gulf between the Turco-Turanian peoples of the Soviet Union and their kin abroad, this innovation, incidentally, was calculated to weaken the Pan-Turanian movement.
Moreover, through the industrialization and modernization of the country, Bolshevism served to Europeanize Russia. The grant of culture to the eastern nationalities was a further westernizing influence. In the primitive hills of the Caucasus I once met a young Ossetian who had learned the Latin alphabet. I showed him an American magazine and he slowly spelled out the syllables, although he could not understand the words. This feat gave him the sense of having performed a miracle. He said, “I have jumped across an ocean and I have touched America.”
He felt as if he had risen into interplanetary space on the vehicle of language.
“None of my ancestors back to birth of the earth,” he said, “could ever read his own language. Now I can read yours.”
In my fourteen years in the Soviet Union, I traveled a good deal among the national minorities because there the creative processes released by the Revolution were most exciting. A few hours’ trip took one from the home of one race to the home of a very different race bound to its neighbor by the new and common experience of constant growth and flowering.
Daring and Consistency
Literacy plus, of course, dynamic Soviet politics, helped to break the influence of religion — especially of the Moslem and Buddhist churches — in the retarded regions of the minorities. The emphasis of scientific teaching in Soviet schools and, in general, the rationalistic nature of communist theory served to further undermine religion.
It is impossible to assume that Stalin would give up Soviet centralism in the midst of a war that requires the highest concentration of political authority and military organization. Moscow’s decision to accord the sixteen constituent Soviet republics the right to maintain their own armies and to have their diplomatic representatives abroad was published just as the Red Army touched Estonian soil and when the Soviet penetration into Poland began to develop. It is logical to suppose, therefore, that Stalin hoped his promise of separate armies and separate foreign representation would weaken the resistance of Baltic nationalists to what they might otherwise regard as the total extinction of their countries. The same promise may stimulate the desire of Balkan peoples to solve their problems by merging with the Soviet Union.
Occasionally, Soviet minorities have given Moscow plenty of trouble. Ukrainians or Georgians or Armenians have been accused of wishing to expand their nationalism to a point where it might lead to secession.
The Ukrainians were thus charged with dreaming of an independent Greater Ukraine embracing the Ukrainians of the Soviet Union, Poland, Rumania, and Czechoslovakia. Such designs were branded as “bourgeois” and those accused of harboring them were liquidated. In several instances, the number of liquidated Ukrainians was large. But in view of Russia’s pre-revolutionary past and the variety of social, political, economic and cultural levels, the unity which the Soviet Union achieved has been truly remarkable.
Freedom under Moscow pleased the racial minorities which had been irked by Russian supremacy.
All the minorities have forged ahead very rapidly in cultural attainments and economic development. There has also been much intermarriage between races! Peoples that were anathema to one another and traditional enemies — like the Armenians and the Tartars, the Ukrainians and the Jews — have intermarried in considerable numbers. Racial divisions mattered less because the full expression of racial personality was unimpeded by the Soviet government. No one “superior” race made the others race-conscious. In Samarkand I once asked an Uzbek woman whether the child she had by her Russian husband would be an Uzbek or a Russian.
“He will be a Soviet citizen,” she answered.
In his book, “The Soviets,” Albert Rhys Williams describes Tsarist policy as “One Tsar, One Religion, One Language,” or, in the more abstract formula, Autocracy, Orththodoxy, and Nationalism — meaning by the last the culture, customs and institutions of the Great Russians.” This is a profound truth. Not only Russian nationalism but monarchy and the Orthodox Church conflicted with Bolshevism; it was no accident that the Soviet regime opposed all three.
Another factor contributed to racial peace within the Soviet Union: total employment! and the elimination of an exploiting class. Beginning in 1928, on the eve of the introduction of the First Five-Year Plan, unemployment ceased; later, indeed, manpower shortage became the rule. In this circumstance, no one could feel that another person was keeping him out of work. Moreover, given the Soviet monopoly of domestic trade, no middleman exists who can be blamed for high prices, for cheating in weights and measures, for cornering the market. I think this condition has helped to diminish anti-Semitism and to improve relations between the many Soviet races and the Armenians and Tartars who formerly bulked large in retail business.
Religion counts for very little to the new generation of Soviet Jews educated by the Revolution — and that means all Jews thirty-six years old or younger. They have had no Hebrew education and they do not yearn for Palestine. Anti-Semitism is too weak to reinforce their Jewishness or to make them want to be less Jewish. I have talked to Jewish parents in the Ukraine who did not send their children to the government-encouraged Yiddish-language schools on the ground that pupils who acquired their knowledge in Yiddish would be handicapped in using it among non-Jews — say as teachers, physicians, or agriculturists. For this practical reason, many Jews prefer Ukrainian schools to Jewish schools and, elsewhere in the Soviet Union, Jews frequently attend Russian-language schools.
When Lenin died in 1924, Alexei Rykov became Prime Minister not because he was most fitted for the position but because he was a Russian, whereas Boris Kamenev, who might have met the requirements better, was a Jew; and Stalin, whose power could have given him the job, was a Georgian. But I remember how apologetically communists, then, explained this by the backwardness of the Russians.
In 1924, I visited Soviet Georgia together with a German newspaperman. Georgian officials entertained us in a huge wine cellar in the wild mountains of Kakhetia. General Tchaikovsky, a Russian commanding a cavalry regiment stationed in that area, was also present. A Georgian filled his ram’s horn with wine and spoke a toast to “our three guests.” Tchaikovsky remarked that there were only two guests. “A Russian is always a guest in Georgia,” the official replied. Even as late as 1936, I encountered resentment in the Caucasus against the presence of officials who were Russian. Such instances were exceptions.
Gulfs widened by fear and hatred are bridged by tolerance.
The Nub of the Question
Soviet citizens have a remarkable blind spot for differences of race, religion, color, and place of birth. They like foreigners even when they fear to associate with them. Our American Negroes are special favorites in Soviet society. In Soviet factories, offices, social gatherings, racial distinctions seem to pass unnoticed.
The Soviet policy of equal opportunity for all nationalities was practical and logical. It offended no one and satisfied everyone except perhaps some Great Russian chauvinists and a few extreme anti-Bolshevik nationalists among the minorities. It made administration of far-off areas easy and it accelerated progress throughout the land. It had everything to recommend it. Its concrete advantages and benefits might recommend it to other countries.
The Soviet policy towards national minorities had a particularly interesting effect on the teaching of history in the Soviet Union. Russian history before the Revolution celebrated the works of monarchs, princes, generals who had ruthlessly conquered the territories inhabited by the national minorities; it glorified the classes that had exploited the common people. It was, above all, the history of Russians. Russia’s racial stepchildren had no part in it. The Tsar’s imperialistic dream about the Balkans was disguised as the “Little Father’s” tender concern for “Brother Slavs.” For all these reasons, the Bolsheviks rewrote the history books and showed the past in a very unfavorable light, a light which reflected the abhorrence which all good Soviet citizens — and especially the racial minorities — felt towards the deeds of the Tsarist regime. This is the nub of the entire race question in the Soviet Union.
The Bolsheviks were able to establish racial peace at home because they broke with the past. That is also the key to world peace. There is no peace in the past.
— A Philadelphian who first set out for Moscow in 1922 — Mr. Fischer’s encounters for fourteen years were not only with Russian leaders who planned and wrought greatly but with workers, collective farmers, racial minorities. His abiding faith in the future of the Soviet Republic has been matched by open-mindedness as an observer, and independence as an assessor of such issues as purges and pacts.
Long time correspondent of The Nation, and other journals, Mr. Fischer’s Russian books include “The Soviet and World Affairs,” 2 vols. (1930); “Why Recognize Russia?” (1931); “Machines and Men in Russia” (1932); “Soviet Journey” (1935).
Since 1936, along with lecturing at home, has come his interpretation of civil war in Spain, India in tension. Meanwhile he has distilled the meaning of our times in an autobiography, “Men and Politics” (1941); “Empire” (1943).