Memorandum Appendix XV. Interview with Gregory Alexinsky
INTERVIEW WITH GREGORY ALEXINSKY.
[Copenhagen Socialdemokraten, June 17, 1919.]
Our party colleague, Gregory Alexinsky, former Social-Democratic member of the Duma for Petrograd and of the Central Committee for the Social-Democratic Organization “Edinstvo” (the Marxist group founded by Plekhanov), has been in Copenhagen for the past few days. He has come from Moscow by the route Petrograd-Reval and has visited our editorial office, on which occasion we requested him to give our readers a picture of the situation of present-day Russia. With great willingness our party colleague placed himself at our disposal for an interview, and we let him speak for himself in the following:
"I left Moscow on May 3," he states, "and left Petrograd on May 17. Thus the news of my country I can give you is fairly fresh, particularly if you take into consideration the difficulties existing at the time in communication between Russia and Europe. At the time of my departure from Petrograd the condition of affairs in Bolshevist Russia was very distressing. The majority of the industrial enterprises are not operating. In the Moscow district 63 textile factories stopped working last fall, and the same picture appears with respect to the textile industry in the vicinity of Ivanovo-Voznesensk, near Petrograd, etc. The chemical industry, the paper industry and many others are likewise in a miserable condition. "
But the metal industry? we ask. The munitions factories?
"Yes, " Mr. Alexinsky answers, "in this instance the Bolshevist Government has done everything to keep the work going in the plants that produce ammunition, but nevertheless many of them are shut down. Owing to the lack of rolling stock transportation is not good either, The number of' 'sick' locomotives and cars is so large that the workshops are unable to cope with the repairs."
How are conditions with respect to the taking over by the Bolsheviks of means of production, and to wages?
"In this respect the Government has entirely deserted the principles it had promised to apply. In order to increase the production it has already reintroduced the forms which existed prior to the socialization, particularly payment on piecework, the premium system, etc. In short, parity of wages does not exist.
"Among the causes which have prevented the socialization being carried through successfully the following must be emphasized: (1) Shortage of fuel and raw material; (2) our proletariat's inadequate preparation in technical, social and psychological respects, because instead of conceiving of socialization as an increase of its productive work the insufficiently developed and short-sighted workman looked upon it exclusively as an increase of wages, an increase which is purely imaginary because the price of provisions is increasing steadily.
"But, in particular, Russia, which was in a precapitalistic stage of development, could not in the nature of affairs realize the socialistic order of its industries because - as Marx and Engels have established in general and their pupil Plekhanov for Russia - the socialistic order can not be invented according to the will of a few leaders, but must be the result of the consummation of the capitalistic development."
We requested our party colleague to explain what effect this dismal situation of Russia's industry, which he documented in the above, has had upon the position of the working population, and, in particular, we asked for some practical examples as illustrations.
"This lamentable picture of our industry's decay has," he continues, "led to terrible complications for the workmen on account of the great shortage of provisions and an enormous increase in prices. Bread, 'black bread' - rye bread because there is no wheat left - costs 35 to 40 rubles per pound in Petrograd; sugar, 180 to 200 rubles per pound; butter 140 to 180 rubles; tea, 200 rubles; men's footwear, 1,200 to 1,500 rubles per pair, etc. Horse meat costs 30 rubles per pound. In Moscow prices are about on the same scale. On the big market in Moscow (Sukharev) dog meat is being sold openly, and the official financial gazette publishes statistics showing fluctuations in the price of such meat (5 to 7 rubles per pound). Even a box of matches costs between 3 ½ and 4 rubles.
"I could mention many more such figures, but I believe that these are sufficient to prove to you how great the material sufferings are, which Russia's population must bear, even though it was promised a communistic paradise. Oh, it has obtained a very unsatisfactory position.
"On account of the shortage of provisions, fuel, soap, and other commodities that are absolutely indispensable for the public health and welfare, contagious diseases are spreading everywhere. In Moscow the official statistical bureau calculates 10,000 cases of contagious diseases per week. Of that number 8,000 cases are typhoid fever (typhus exanthematicus). In Petrograd 30 per cent of the patients in the communal hospitals die of ordinary consumption which is the result of famine. Coffins for burying the dead are lacking, and in Moscow the same coffin is used for various
interments; a corpse is transported to the grave in a coffin, buried without the coffin, which is sent back to the city to be used for the transportation of the next corpse, etc. * * *
"But," said Alexinsky, changing the subject, "I will not bore you and sadden you with all of these disconsolate descriptions. Let me tell you that I have stood in the ranks of Russian Social-Democracy for almost 20 years, and that it is naturally the interests of the workmen that occupy me most. In that respect I must state that these interests have suffered immeasurably through the present crisis. In Petrograd there are only about 700,000 inhabitants left out of two and one-half millions. Two-thirds of the city's labor population, which I represented in the Duma, no longer exists; a part migrated into the country, another part died of starvation, etc. Some believe that we can only count on two to two and one-half million industrial workmen instead of the ten to twelve millions Russia had prior to the war and the domestic crisis. The remainder has spread like chaff before the wind, among the small bourgeoisie and the agricultural population. To use a comparison, I might say that the industrial proletariat's oases in Russia have been devoured by mighty stretches of sand out in the country's desert, and now it is the country that rules over the towns.
"This economic phenomenon is not favorable for us socialists, because we lose the ground on which we had worked hitherto, we lose the proletarian masses which had been our circle, our field of action. Therefore, we Marxian Social-Democrats, we representatives of scientific socialism, can by no means approve of the Bolshevist Government's economic and political activity, and we recollect Engels’s prophetic words when he said that the worst misfortune that can happen to the proletariat is to assume the power prematurely, i.e. at a moment at which the country's general conditions are not sufficiently mature for the realization of genuine socialism. This disaster, our Russian party colleagues exclaims, has now dealt Russia's proletariat an economic and social blow which is appalling."
But the peasants' position, we interject, is that so brilliant?
"By no means," he answers. "From a material point of view they lack supplies and necessities. For instance, they have no petroleum and must illuminate their huts with ordinary bits of wood that are used as small torches and give very little light, but a lot of smoke. As they have no factory-woven stuffs, they must fall back on their grandmother's old methods and weave for themselves what they need in the clothing line.
"But it is of the utmost importance that the peasants have received the land as their property, and the land question is perhaps the only one that has been more or less solved by the revolution, in favor of the wide masses of the population. They all understand that, and even the old estate owners do not take any stock in the possibility of a return to former agrarian conditions. The White leaders also realize it, and Admiral Kolchak has issued a proclamation in which he promises the peasants that the estates they have taken away from the former owners shall remain in their possession until the all-Russian national assembly makes its decision. The leader of the Whites who occupied the towns of Pskov (Pleskau) and Gdov (along the front between Petrograd and Pskov) issued a similar proclamation to the peasants. Thus one can state that under the exterior forms of "communism" and" socialization" the process of the transfer of land ownership from estate owners to peasants is being consummated in Russia. And that is the real import of the "Social Revolution" in our country.
"Accordingly simultaneously with the destruction of capitalism in its highest grades of development in big industry and big business, it is being reborn from below and penetrating all pores of national economics in Russia. And Lenin himself has had to admit in a speech he recently made, that in place of the old bourgeoisie a new bourgeoisie is arising and becoming more and more numerous.
"That is what I am able to relate to you concerning the general character of conditions in Russia. With respect to the political and military situation, there is naturally a great deal more to tell, but perhaps I can speak of that some other day. * * * "
In that manner our party colleague who was Russian delegate to the congress at Basle, closes his instructive narrative. But before he leaves us he reports the sad news that death has taken away Vera Zasulich, whose name in the ranks of Russian Social-Democracy is familiar to our readers, inasmuch as she founded the first Social-Democratic labor organization in Russia (1883) together with Plekhanov and Leo Deutsch. She died at Petrograd on May 9, after a long siege of sickness, due to inadequate food, as well as psychic collapse owing to her deep sorrow at witnessing the errors and disasters of her country's proletariat. Vera Zasulich lies buried in the Volkovo cemetery, by the side of Plekhanov, whose theoretical and political views she shared up to her last breath.