Lost illusion -Freda Utley – book
JAPAN’S FEET OF CLAY
LANCASHIRE AND THE FAR EAST
THE DREAM WE LOST
LAST CHANCE IN CHINA
FIRESIDE PRESS, INC.
WASHINGTON SQUARE PHILADELPHIA
COPYRIGHT, 1948, BY FREDA UTLEY
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
TYPOGRAPHY, PRINTING, AND BINDING IN THE U.S.A. BY
KINGSPORT PRESS, INC., KINGSPORT, TENNESSEE
TO MY SON, JON,
In mmnory of his father.
How I Became a Communist
I Marry a Russian
Honeymoon in the Far East
Soviet Social Register
Revival of Serfdom
Arcadi Caught in the Web
I Learn About Soviet Hospitals
Life in Moscow
A Home at Last
My Son Is Born
My Institute Is Purged
Tricks with Statistics
The High Cost of Communism
F REDA UTLEY’S life story as a communist who learned
the rigors of totalitarian life in Russia the hard way, was
published shortly before Pearl Harbor. The original limited
edition could not compete with the turbulent emotions of
our country on the verge of war.
I was one of those who read and admired Freda Utley’s
book, “The Dream We Lost,” and urged her at the end of
the war to condense and revise it for republication as an
important human document, particularly in the light of
Freda Utley has now rewritten her book and given it a
I new title, “Lost Illusion.”
The dream that Freda Utley lost during her six years in
the USSR where she lived as a Russian, was a personal sort
of disillusion. Today, aspects of her shattered dream are
shared by so many others that her book now has a universal
quality. Without ever having lived through the experiences
which Miss Utley retails so vividly, most of us who read
her book hoped that at the end of World War II Russia
would take her place beside the capitalist nations to form one
We hoped and believed that, by diplomatic give and take
and for reasons of mutual self-interest, we could do business
with Stalin and the Kremlin. Stalin himself, if one remembers
correctly, concurred in that belief. Now, as we survey the
recent wrecks of illusion, Miss Utley’s account of her stay
in Soviet Russia assumes a new importance.
The more we can learn about the Russian mind, and how
it works under its present controls, the better we will under-
stand events and attitudes that seem incredible to us. “Lost
Illusion,” more than any other book with which I am famil-
in giving a comprehensible picture of this mind.
One of its great beauties is that the author never set out
consciously to do so. She has achieved it by indirection.
There are, one recalls, several other narratives, widely
read and designed along similar lines. Among them, Eugene
Lyons’ “Assignment in Utopia” comes first to mind, but Mr.
Lyons, though once as much an enthusiast for the Com-
munist experiment as Miss Utley, stepped behind the Iron
Curtain as a newspaperman
and an American citizen.
Freda Utley went from England with her Russian husband
prepared to throw in her lot with the people. She was a unit
of the Marxist State, and one of the few who have escaped
tell. “I Chose Freedom” is a more recent book, but its author,
Victor Kravchenko, was a Russian, reared in the Russian
Communist party, and consequently speaks across the Rus-
Freda Utley was born an English woman, taught in the
best British tradition and became a trained observer and an
excellent writer. Thus she can describe her Russian adven-
tures in terms that are to us here entirely understandable,
with reactions close to what ours might be in a similar situa-
No other Westerner who broke with the Communists
has had quite her intimate experience with the Russian way
of life. No Russian, or other foreigner, has been able to
describe as she has the details of crowded living, servants,
childbirth, the decline of belief in standards of behavior, the
loss of integrity under police state government.
“Lost Illusion” is a moving and tragic human document.
Yet though it is written with deep emotion and conviction,
it is also written with honesty, fairness and detachment.
There could not be a better time than now for presenting a
new and revised edition.
October I, 1947
JOHN P. MARQUAND
Xow I Became a ~om7iwnist
FIRSTVISITED SOVIETRUSSIA in the summer
of 1927, when Lenin’s “New Economic Policy” was
still in force and Trotsky not yet exiled, although he had
been eliminated from the political scene. The people
were enjoying a measure of prosperity and a degree of
liberty unknown three years later. There was still a so-
ciety which might be called semi-socialist, but signs of
degeneration were perceptible if I had had the wit to
But I did not see them. As a delegate, an enthusiastic
and youthful Communist recently emerged from the
chrysalis of the British Labor Party, I believed most, if
not all, I was told. I was without previous experience of a
police state to teach me that no one in Russia would dare
speak his mind to a foreigner. My own days as a resident
of Moscow were still far off. Such Russian friends as I
had, although not all were Bolsheviks, fervently believed
in the “good society” being created in the USSR.
“One’s character is one’s fate,” and character is mainly
the product of environment. It is only in middle age one
sees how the influences of youth have determined the
course of life. Those influences in my case were both
2 Lost Illusion
socialist and liberal. A passion for the emancipation of
mankind, rather than the blueprint of a planned society
or any mystical yearning to merge myself in a fellow-
ship, led me to enter the Soviet Union and to leave it
six years later with my political beliefs and my personal
happiness alike shattered.
I came to communism via Greek history, the French
revolutionary literature I had read in childhood, and the
English nineteenth-century poets of freedom. I came,
not in revolt against a strict bourgeois upbringing, nor
because of failure to make a place for myself in capitalist
society, but profoundly influenced by a happy child-
hood, a socialist father, and a Continental education. For
me, then, the communist ideal seemed the fulfillment of
the age-long struggle of mankind for freedom and jus-
My studies, both of ancient history and modern eco-
nomics, made me abhor servitude in any form, and the
Communists seemed to me to be the only socialists who
really believed in world-wide equality and liberty. Yet
the same influences which turned my hopes toward Rus-
sia were to make it impossible for me to accept the Soviet
regime once I came to know it intimately.
I was, in Stalinist phraseology, a “rotten liberal,” a
“petty bourgeois intellectual”-one who foolishly de-
sired social justice, freedom, and equality, and who im-
agined that socialism meant an end to oppression and in-
My mother, daughter of a radical Manchester family,
How I Became a Communist 3
had met my father, William Herbert Utley, at the age
of sixteen. Edward Averling, the son-in-law of Karl
Marx and the translator of Das Kapital, brought him to
my grandfather’s house. My grandfather, although a
“bourgeois,” being a manufacturer, was a free-thinker
and a republican, and boasted of how his wife’s mother,
when old and very ill, had hidden the great Chartist
leader, Feargus O’Connor, in her bed when the police
were searching the house for him.
My mother, one of nine children, had shown unusual
independence by leaving her comfortable home to train
as a nurse in London. There she secretly married my
father against the wishes of my grandfather, who con-
sidered marriage to a poor journalist most undesirable.
My father was then editorial writer and music critic on
the London Star, the most famous liberal newspaper of
the time. George Bernard Shaw, its dramatic critic, was
his friend, as also were Sidney and Beatrice Webb and
other Fabians. For a time my father acted as Secretary of
the Fabian Society.
He would have stood for Parliament as a Socialist had
not my arrival prevented it. Members of Parliament were
not paid a salary in those days and I was the second child,
so a political career was out of the question. In the years
before he had a family to support, my father had taken
part in the great labor struggles of the late eighties and
early nineties. He had been arrested with John Burns at
a demonstration of the unemployed in Trafalgar Square
and had spoken from the same platform as Friedrich
4 Lost lllus~on
Engels in Manchester. Half a century later I was to find
my father’s name on documents in the library of the
Marx Engels Institute in Moscow.
His influence over me was profound, and he early im-
planted in my mind those libertarian values which have
consciously or unconsciously motivated my life. His so-
cialism, like that of many other Englishmen, was colored
and humanized by the nineteenth century liberal atmos-
phere. It was the kind of socialism believed in by Wil-
liam Morris, the romantic Victorian rebel artist-poet
whom my father had known in his youth, and whose in-
fluence over the British Socialist movement was far
greater than that of Karl Marx. Morris has been de-
scribed as an emotional socialist. The basic difference be-
tween him and the Marxists whose philosophy he re-
pudiated, is that Morris was in revolt against poverty
and oppression in any form and denounced the material-
ist concepts of the age. He hated the sordid ugliness of
nineteenth century industrialism and the values of capital-
ist society and wanted men to think and feel differently.
He was also contemptuous of Marx’s elaborate “scien-
tific” theories about capitalism and class war.
The early influences which shaped my thoughts and
feelings were thus essentially liberal, based on belief in
reason and logic and the desire for the emancipation of
mankind in body and spirit. I failed in my youth to
perceive that communism is a substitute for religion and
is essentially irrational in its mystical belief in inevitable
progress through revolution. Perhaps, however, in my
case as in that of many young people today, the instinc-
How I Became a Communist 5
tive desire for a religion was the compelling force leading
me, step by step, into the Communist trap.
The experience of going to an expensive boarding
school in England no doubt contributed to the psycho-
logical foundations in my subconscious mind for the
militant communism which in my twenties supplanted the
From the age of nine to thirteen, I lived on the Con-
tinent. I traveled with my parents until, when I was
eleven, I went to boarding school on Lake Geneva.
Those two years in French Switzerland among German
girls “finishing” their education, were one of the happiest
periods of my life; the four succeeding years at boarding
school in England among the most unhappy.
At first I was the only English pupil in the Swiss
school, and later one of two. I was also the youngest.
The atmosphere was not unlike that of my home-
studious, tolerant, kindly, and healthy. We skated, skied,
and tobogganed in winter, bathed in Lake Geneva, and
rowed and walked in the summer. But sport was re-
garded as a pleasure, not as a duty, and study-real hard
study-was demanded of us all.
My brother was at a boy’s school a quarter of a mile
away across the fields, and I had the run of his school as
well as of my own. There were boys there from at least a
dozen countries and of all ages from twelve to eighteen.
I went there for fencing and riding lessons, and one
summer I went hiking for a fortnight with the boys of
his school, dressed as a boy and climbing the same moun-
tains as youths of seventeen and eighteen.
6 Lost Illusion
In that period of my life I had no feeling that boys and
girls were so very different; and mixing with English,
Germans, French, Swiss, Italians, and other nationalities,
speaking French fluently and German almost as well, I
was little aware of national barriers. I naturally developed
an international outlook which neither my father’s in-
fluence nor theoretical socialist teaching alone could ever
have given me.
From those pleasant days in Switzerland, I was
plunged into the frigid, mentality-destroying atmosphere
of an English boarding school for girls which aped the
British public schools for boys. There was no hazing and
physical brutality but there was mental, or perhaps one
should call it social, bullying of the worst kind.
The greatest offenses against the social code which
ruled our school were to study hard, or to show any
originality in dress or behavior. I was handicapped from
the start by having a slightly foreign accent. I can still
remember being made to stand up in class to say “stir-
rup” over and over again, unable to pronounce the r in
the English way.
I refused to be dictated to as to whether I should wear
a black or a colored ribbon in my hair and avoided the
disciplined games which bored me. My sins against the
code were at first unconscious, then deliberate. The
spirit of rebellion now, for the first time, had been
awakened. Dimly I began to feel that the social hierarchy
and the social code which governed our school were
precisely that “capitalist system” which, as the daughter
How I Became a Communist 7
of a socialist, I had learned to think was the cause of all
The girls at my school came in later life to symbolize
“the imperialist English bourgeoisie” in my subconscious
mind: class-conscious, sublimely self-confident and
scornful of learning.
Of course I made some friends, but they were rebels
like myself. I was a favorite of the head mistress, who
imagined I was going to reflect glory on the school by
future academic distinction. She gave me special facilities
for study, in particular a room to myself, but in the end
did more to awaken my budding revolutionary outlook
than anyone else.
When the war came in 19×4, my father was ruined. I
was sixteen and had already passed Cambridge Uni-
versity’s entrance examination. Mrs. Burton Brown, the
head mistress, still thinking I would go to the University
and win laurels for the school, gave me a year’s free tu-
ition. I began working for a scholarship to Cambridge.
But it soon became clear that when I got it I should not
be able to go to the University, because my father was
dying of tuberculosis and I should have to start earning
money as soon as I left school.
Then the head mistress began to make me feel that my
presence was no longer desired. Instead of arranging for
me to go to London University-where, as I learned
later, I could have obtained a scholarship sufficient to
keep me-she cast me off, as no longer of any interest or
value to the school. She let it be known that I was in
8 Lost Illusion
the school free and that my people were now almost
My home world had fallen to pieces, my brother was
in the army, my father was so ill that we knew he would
soon die. So at the age of seventeen I left school with no
regrets, and with personal experience to teach me that
the social system could fling one into poverty from se-
curity, and prevent one from having an education even
when one had proved one’s mental qualifications.
At school I had been purposeful, wary, oversensitive
and on guard against my fellow creatures, and, I imagine,
sadly lacking in a sense of humor. Life was serious, life
was earnest, and one must struggle without ceasing
against one’s environment. But I began to find the world
as friendly and decent a place as I had thought it when I
lived in Switzerland, or traveled in France and Italy with
my parents, once I began to work at the War Office.
The white collar workers were friendly, kind, and pleas-
ant people. I even learned to laugh.
The death of my father in January 1918 was the first
great grief of my life. I had loved him very dearly, and I
had thought him the most wonderful person in the
world-wise, tolerant, kind, never ill-tempered, and un-
til the last absorbed in the course of history rather than
He died in extreme poverty in a tiny cottage in Corn-
wall, so primitive that my mother had to fetch water in
a bucket from a pump across the fields. I had seen him
choking to death as his exhausted heart could no longer
pump blood th rough his diseased
lungs. Half unconscious
How i Became a Communist 9
at the end, he murmured Shakespeare’s words about the
bourne from which no traveler returns, and said to us
he was now only curious to know whether he was right
in thinking that death was nothingness.
I brought my mother to London. She was broken in
health by sorrow and the hard life she had lived nursing
my father alone in Cornwall. My brother was far off in
the war in Mesopotamia, and for a time I was my
mother’s sole support. My grandfather had stopped the
few shillings he had grudgingly allowed during the last
months of my father’s life. He considered my mother’s
poverty a just punishment.
Mother and I lived on about eleven dollars a week I
was earning at the War Office. With rent of three dollars
a week and war prices for food, we were sometimes
hungry. My brother, transferred to France in the sum-
mer of 1918, was wounded for the second time just be-
fore the end of the war, but by 1919 he was with us and
life became a little easier.
Although I worked as a clerk in the War Office at a
small salary, my father’s teachings and my Continental
education prevented me from becoming a “war patriot.”
I never thought of the Germans, among whom I had
been at school from the age of eleven to thirteen, as any
worse than the English. The overdose of French litera-
ture I had swallowed had given me a slight prejudice
against the French whom I regarded as the most chau-
vinist and military-minded nation in Europe, eternally
seeking la gloire and honoring the Napoleonic tradition
above the revolutionary one.
IO Lost Illusion
At the War Office I became branch secretary of a
trade-union, the Association of Women Clerks and Sec-
retaries, then endeavoring to organize women office
workers. Through this union I obtained, in 1920, a
scholarship at London University where my brother
Temple was enrolled on a grant from an officers’ fund.
Active now in the socialist movement, I served as
secretary of the King’s College Socialist Society, and
later as chairman of the London University Labor Party.
Our scholarships were not sufficient for us to live on
and support our mother, so my brother and I gave Eng-
lish lessons to foreigners. My brother had pupils at the
Czechoslovak Legation-his “checks” we called them-
and I had Russians, employees of the Soviet Trade Dele-
gation who first brought me in contact with Soviet of-
From the beginning I had been a defender of the
Russian Revolution; but I had no more knowledge or
understanding of communist theories than the Park
Avenue pinks of today have of Marx. Nor did my pupils
enlighten me, for they were high Communist Party of-
ficials out to enjoy life in the “capitalist world” after the
rigors of Moscow. They confined their propaganda to
jokes about England.
Then I met Boris Plavnik, an Old Bolshevik exiled i
after the revolution of 1905, to whom Communist theory Aj
was the breath of life. He was honest and sincere, al-
though extremely vain. His English lessons usually be-
came my German lessons and lessons in Marxist theory,
from which, however, I might have benefited more had
How I Became a Communist II
his arguments been less philosophical, dialectic and in-
I was by this time an ardent and active member of the
Independent Labor Party. I admired the Soviet Union
and was becoming convinced that the official British
Labor Party was too reformist ever to establish socialism,
and was thoroughly “imperialist.”
Plavnik was the most humane of men, and later on in
Moscow where he remained my friend, he sank more
and more into his shell, unable to defend, but unwilling
to condemn outright, the atrocities committed by Stalin.
Like many Old Bolsheviks whom I met later, he would
not let himself face the fact that the revolutionary move-
ment to which he had given his life had failed and de-
generated into tyranny.
We saw less and less of him because meetings were
too painful between friends who dared not speak out
their thoughts to each other. Plavnik was lucky enough
to go into an insane asylum just before the great purge
began. At least that is where he was supposed to be, and
we knew his mental faculties had been failing since the
death of his wife a year or two before.
As a passionate defender of the Soviet Union, I was
the speaker in a college debate on Russia, together with
H. N. Brailsford. Our opponents were C. H. Driver, a
fellow history student, who later became a Professor at
Yale, and Sir Bernard Pares. When next I met Pares
twelve years later, he had become the defender of the
USSR and I was back in England, hating Stalin’s Russia,
but holding my tongue for my husband’s sake.
12 Lost illusion
From 1925 onwards I was drawing ever closer to the
Communists. I stood with them against the right wing in
the London University Labor Party, and in the Uni-
versity Labor Federation. The only influence which de-
layed my joining the Communist Party was that of
Bertrand Russell, and unfortunately it was insufficient. I
had met Russell when he came to speak for the King’s
College Socialist Society, and this led to a friendship
which has been one of the most precious experiences of
In the Easter vacation of 1926 I spent a month with
him and Dora Russell in Cornwall, teaching his young
son in the mornings, walking, talking, and bathing in the
afternoons, reading aloud in the evenings. Bertrand
Russell tried hard to convince me that the Marxist
theory was untenable in the light of modem physics.
He set me to reading the A.B.C. of Relativity and
when I found I could not understand it he told me to
read the A.B.C. of Atoms first. He hoped that if he ex-
plained the difficult passages
in these books I would be
able to grasp the fact that Einstein had destroyed the
basis of Marxist theory. As I wrote my brother at the
time, I was being driven to study the theory of relativity
in order to understand what Russell thought about
Unfortunately I failed to appreciate the philosophical
and political significance of Einstein’s discoveries. In
spite of Russell’s patience and the time he was prepared
to waste on my education, I could not understand either
Einstein or the basic connection between Communism
How I Became a Communist ‘3
and Newton’s theory of gravity. Some of the Bolsheviks,
however, understood it very well.
The writings of Einstein were banned in Soviet Russia
while I lived there. For all I know, Russia’s failure to
keep abreast of America in physics, particularly the atom
bomb, may be largely due to the communist sacrifice of
scientific truth for political expediency.
Russell also failed to convince me of the truth of his
Theory and Practice of Bolshevism This book, written
in 1920, is uncannily prophetic of present day Russia.
Bertrand Russell was one of the very few who, in the
earliest days of the Revolution, were able to perceive
what manner of tree would grow from the seed which
Although only experience could teach me the truth of
Bertrand Russell’s analysis and philosophy, and he failed
to prevent my making a mess of my life, his teaching
did at least help to save me from becoming a Trotskyist
when I revolted against Stalinism.
When I came back to England from Moscow in 193 I
and stayed at his house, I was still convinced that the
horrible society being created in Russia was Stalin’s
,fault, and that if Lenin had lived or if Trotsky’s policy
had been followed, all would have been well.
Bertie would bang his fist on the table and say, “No!
Freda, can’t you understand, even now, that the condi-
tions you describe followed naturally from Lenin’s
premises and Lenin’s acts.
> Will you never learn and
stop being romantic about politics?”
The General Strike of 1926 was the turning point of
‘4 Lost Illusion
my political development. The betrayal of high hopes
by the Trade Union Congress and the Labor Party led
me into the Communist fold, convinced of the reality
of the class war, and that socialism could not be ob-
tained gradually. It seemed to me that there was no solu-
tion for unemployment and low wages under capitalism,
and that only the overthrow of the capitalist system and
the “unity of the workers of the world” could save
The General Strike stirred all my emotions, and the
more so as I was then living at Westfield College of
London University as research student among the most
conservative set of University teachers I had ever met.
My crude, somewhat childish, but I believe sincere, rev-
olutionary reaction is expressed in the following letter
written to my mother in Devonshire on May IO, 1926:
“I have never lived through such a terrible week. I
feel all hot inside and trembling all the time. It is such an
unequal fight for us, and I want so much to help. I am
speaking tonight at Edgware, I am glad to say. I wish I
could speak all day-never was there a more unjust issue
and more lies told by a government.
“Yet the Government is so ruthless it may win. It is
parading armored cars about and soldiers are all over the
place. The buses are running with two policemen on
each and volunteer O.M.S. labor. Everything is quite
safe for ordinary people like me-1 almost wish it were
not! I cannot write properly, dear, I am too worried and
How I Became a Communist 15
“It is so dreadful not to be able to help and to have to
listen to the misrepresentations of the capitalists. West-
field is impossible except for a few students. I saw Wil-
mot, (a minister in the British Labor Government of
x945-6) who is half expecting to be arrested for sedition.
Anything almost can be called sedition. The Archbishop
of Canterbury and the churches proposed terms of
peace: withdrawal of both lockout and strike. The Gov-
ernment would not allow the proposal to be broadcast!
It would be acceptable to us and not to them.”
A few years later I was to realize that the behavior
of the British Government was like that of a loving
mother in comparison to that of the Soviet Government
toward the Russian working class. But I still remember
the passionate anger I felt in 1926 against the “capitalist
government” and its most ruthless member, Winston
Churchill, who was responsible for the show of armed
force and whom we accused of being prepared to have
the workers shot at if the strike went on.
Long afterwards when Hitler went to war against
Russia, Winston Churchill was to become the darling of
the Communists and their fellow travelers; following
Hitler’s defeat, he once again became the Kremlin’s
I was invested with my M.A. degree the day the Gen-
eral Strike was called off. After bicycling across to the
Senate House at South Kensington and sitting impa-
tiently waiting in a borrowed cap and gown to receive
my scroll, I tore off to the Trades Union Congress head-
16 Lost Illusion
quarters. The bitterness of defeat and the long agony of
the miners which was to follow the General Strike have
quite obliterated from my mind any feelings of satisfac-
tion I may have had in receiving an M.A. degree with
A year later I was invited to visit the Soviet Union as
representative of all the Labor and Socialist clubs in
British universities (the University Labor Federation).
My writings had attracted the attention of Ivan Maisky,
then Counselor of the Soviet Embassy in London. I had
met Petrovsky, the Comintem representative in England
during the General Strike, and had become very friendly
with him and his wife.
I was regarded, I suppose, as a promising young “rad-
ical intellectual” whose complete conversion would be
‘useful, and who had shown some understanding of Bol-
shevik theory in the articles I was contributing to the
New Leader, the Socialist Review, and the Labowr
Monthly. I intended to join the Party as soon as I re-
turned for the propaganda effect would be greater if I
became a member after, not before, I visited Russia.
My excitement at the coming trip to the Land of
Promise knew no bounds. My brother, from his bed in
a tuberculosis sanitarium in Surrey, wrote me a few last
words of caution:
“My dear Freda:
“This is just to wish you luck in your adventure. I
think in one way you are quite right. I would do the
same thing if I wanted to, I expect. After all, one must
How I Became a Communist 17
follow one’s own thinking and one’s own desires. It is an
adventure, but I do not expect for a moment that you
will find what you are seeking for intellectually. Men
are much of a muchness everywhere, and they behave
much in the same way whatever they profess to believe.
“Of course you will see the country and the people
and society as you wish to believe they are, at first. But
later, your skepticism will reassert itself.
“But don’t join the Communist Party. It seems to me a
terrible thing for any intelligent person to adhere to any
creed or dogma; to have to say that you accept any
empirical generalization as an article of faith. I do not
see why you should not work for them and with them
and yet reserve your opinion about their fundamental
“The best of luck, my dear. All my love-
I brushed aside my brother’s arguments as I had those
of Bertrand Russell. I couldn’t see that they had anything
to do with the question of how to achieve socialism. I
replied to Temple from Moscow: “In spite of what you
say, I must join the Communist Party. I cannot live
without feeling I am doing worth-while work, and I see
no hope in the Labor Party. I think the Communist
thesis is right.”
LMarry a %&man
TRAVELED FROM BERLIN TO uoscowwith
Ivan Maisky and J. W. Brown, secretary of one of the
most militant trade unions in England, the Clerical As-
sociation, made up of office workers in the Government
Service. Maisky, then Counselor of the Soviet Embassy,
later became Ambassador to England.
Two days after our arrival we stood in the Red Square
in Moscow to witness the funeral of Voikov, murdered
in Poland. This was the first demonstration I saw in the
“socialist fatherland.” I still remember vividly the exalta-
tion, triumph, and excitement which filled my heart and
mind as I stood close to Lenin’s mausoleum in the sun-
light under a blue sky and saw the Red Army parade,
and the thousands upon thousands of demonstrators. My
mind was full of romantic libertarian images.
I wrote my mother after the demonstration, “People
in the street look well enough fed though poorly clothed,
and there seems to be such vitality and purpose among
the people one meets. , . , The soldiers in the demon-
stration especially looked so splendid-more like the
Greeks of Xenophon must have looked than like the
usual wooden soldiers. . . .”
I Marry a Russian ‘9
Visitors to the Soviet Union in those days were com-
!P aratively rare. Only invited delegates from trade unions
: and Labor Parties got the chance to travel over Russia.
There was no Intourist which was organized later as a
propaganda and money-making service to bring visitors
I was surrounded by kindness, hospitality, and good
fellowship. The market places of Moscow and other
towns I visited were filled with vegetables, dairy
produce, milk, and other foods. New apartment houses
and office buildings were being built in the severe but
pleasing style introduced after the Revolution.
There were no line-ups for bread and other foods at
the state and co-operative shops, and one could buy the
most delicious pastries for only five kopeks. There was a
shortage of manufactured goods, but it was not to be
compared to the shortage which came later after the
“gigantic successes on the industrial front.”
One is tempted to imagine what Russia might have
become if the New Economic Policy had been con-
tinued. As early as 1924 the “Scissors Crisis” (the dis-
proportion between the price of manufactured goods
and agricultural produce) had split the Central Com-
mittee of the Bolsheviks into left and right factions.
Disagreements began over how much to take from the
peasants for industrial development, and ended in the
bitter controversy over collectivization. With the aid of
Bucharin, Tomsky, and the others on the right who
maintained that any attempt to force the pace of in-
dustrialization would destroy the stimulus to labor,
20 Lost Illusion
Stalin had overcome Trotsky and was soon to exile him
and the rest of the left opposition. Once rid of the
Trotsky&, Stalin, in 1929, was to wipe out the right
opposition and embark upon an ultra-left policy of
forced collectivization and intensive industrialization.
The USSR was soon to become a country of starved
peasants and undernourished workers, cowed and
whipped by fierce punishments to toil endlessly for a
state which could not provide them even with enough to
eat. But, unfortunately for my own future, I saw the
USSR during the brief period of prosperity which began
in I 924 and ended in 1928.
In September 1927 1 returned to England full of en-
thusiasm and prepa,ed to tell the world of the wonders
of the Russian socialist fatherland. I left the Independent
Labor Party, joined the Communist Party, and addressed
meetings all over England.
I admitted that the standard of life in Russia was lower
than in the Western capitalist countries; but I explained
the need to accumulate capital for industrialization and
demonsuated how, because there was no capitalist class
to exploit the workers, the burden of saving was borne
equally by all.
I said that there was therefore no such acute misery as
in the era of Britain’s industrialization in the early nine-
teenth century, and that all Russians were enthusias-
tically collaborating in constructing socialism. I felt
that the gates opening upon the road to Paradise had
been unlocked to mankind, and all I had to do was to
I Marry a Russian 21
help convince the workers of my own country of the
need to overthrow the capitalist class and join up with
Looking back on that distant time, I now wonder, did
I really believe it? I suppose I did, or I should never have
thrown up my job in the capitalist world and gone off
with my husband to take part, as we thought, in the con-
struction of socialism.
Arcadi Berdichevsky, who became my husband in
1928, was a Russian Jew, who had studied at Zurich
University and emigrated to the United States in I 9 I 4.
In 1920 he had quit a good job in New York to work for
the Soviet Government in London in their trading mis-
sion. He was not a Bolshevik, but had been a member of
the Bund, the Jewish Social Democratic party in Russian
Poland, where he had lived before he went to study in
Arcadi knew less about Soviet Russia than I did since
he had spent his whole time in England since 1920. But
he knew the old Russia too well not to perceive the
naivete of the picture I painted of the USSR. Neverthe-
less he was a sincere Socialist and believed as I did that a
new and better world was being created in Russia. He
wanted to take part in the building of the new socialist
We knew that material conditions of life would be
hard, that living space was difficult to obtain, and that
the conveniences, the comforts and pleasures, which he
had for many years enjoyed abroad, were not obtainable
22 Lost Illusion
in Russia. We also knew that, since he was not a member
of the Communist Party, he could never rise to the
highest positions in the Soviet state.
In 192 3 Arcadi had been asked to join the Party, but
he had the typical intellectual’s feeling that as he had
played no part in the Revolution, he could not join now
that the fighting was over. Also, he had something of my
brother’s distrust of adherence to any creed or dogma.
He worked with and for the Bolsheviks, but he was not
prepared to subscribe entirely to their philosophy.
Arcadi had reached a stage in which neither his per-
sonal life nor his comfortable “bourgeois” existence in
London as a well-paid Soviet specialist satisfied him. He
had a wife and a young son, as years before in New York
he had married the daughter of a well-to-do Jewish fam-
ily of Russian extraction. They had become estranged
when he gave up an income of $600 a month in the
United States to work at Arcos for $ I so.
By the time I knew him, Arcadi’s monthly salary had
been increased to $500. But his wge, Anna Abramovna,
had neither understanding nor sympathy for his political
views and could not see why he was not satisfied with a
comfortable home, a pretty wife, and a secure job. To
the last she never understood why he had left her for me
since, as she told her friends, I was not pretty and would
never make him comfortable.
Arcadi and I knew that we loved each other after
only a few meetings, but his separation from Anna
Abramovna was a long and painful business. In January
1927 he asked her to divorce him, but she begged him
I Marry a Russian 23
to wait until she could join either her brother in New
York or her sister in Paris. She said she could not bear
the thought of their friends in London knowing he had
left her. Later it became clear that she hoped all along
that his feeling for me was a temporary infatuation and
that if they continued to live in the same house he would
return to her.
Arcadi tried without success to obtain a visa for Anna
Abramovna to go to the United States but eventually
secured a visa for France. However, by that time he him-
self was being expelled from England, and unfortunately
for her own future she insisted on following him to
Moscow. Since I had remained in England to finish my
work, she continued to hope he would change his mind.
When I finally came to Moscow they were divorced.
Too inexperienced fully to appreciate Arcadi’s dif-
ficulties, I had rebelled at his long delay in freeing him-
self to be with me. I felt that he should either leave his
wife at once or give me up. I knew that leaving his son
was very difficult for him, but I failed to understand that
the ties between a man and a woman who have loved
each other are hard for a sensitive man to break when
the woman tries with every means at her disposal to
maintain the old relationship.
Moreover, in leaving his wife, Arcadi was making a
break with the “bourgeois” life he had lived since finish-
ing his studies in Switzerland. For him I was a symbol
as well as the companion in the new life in socialist
society which we both expected to lead. Nearly ten
years later the OGPU deprived me of the letters Arcadi
had written to me. But by chance one he wrote during
this difficult period of our relationship remained hidden
between the pages of a book. I quote from it here as re-
vealing a little not only of Arcadi’s state of mind, but
also as showing his attitude toward the Communists with
whom he had decided to throw in his lot:
“I suppose you are right in your own way, your brutal
way, and that I shall never be able to satisfy you as to the
validity of my reason for acting in the way I do.
“I shall not pick a quarrel on what you say about my
playing about with the idea of living a different sort of
life; desiring to go on the same way as before and a
number of other things read at the bottom of my heart.
There is no use to argue about things on which we can
never agree, and I shall not appeal to you to reverse your
decision until I can tell you that the way is clear for_my
giving you as much of myself as you can desire.
“I love you and I cannot and shall not believe that I
everything is over until you refuse to come to me when I
shall ask you to do so on the strength of changes in my 1
family life. There are for me two possibilities only in
the future: either I shall embrace fully to the extent of
IOO percent the creed which will keep me going and
make me forget you, or I shall accept it partially as I
have done until now and you will be my beloved com-
rade in fighting all doubts which will arise. Nothing else i
is possible and the desire to go on the same way as before I
is death, which I do not feel I am ready to accept.” I
I Marry a Russian 2s
In September I 92
7, while I was in Russia on my first
visit, Arcadi was suddenly told by the British Home Of-
fice that he must leave England at once. He thought his
expulsion was due to the indiscreet and fervent letters I
had sent to him from Russia, but it probably was be-
cause the chairman of Arcos had detailed him as a trusted
“specialist,” to be one of the few Soviet employees al-
lowed to remain on the premises when the British Home
Secretary, Joyson-Hicks, raided the Arcos offices in
Although I was flattered to think that I was regarded
as a dangerous revolutionary by the British Home Office,
it was a great blow to have Arcadi expelled. I was very
much in love, but I never for a moment thought of giv-
ing up my work in England to go with him to Berlin
where he was stationed for the next nine months.
I visited him in Berlin during the 1927 Christmas va-
cation but, so seriously did I take my political work that
when, in February 192 8, he was allowed to come to
London for ten days to represent Arcos in a lawsuit, I
did not give up one single evening to him. I was then
campaigning as the Communist Party’s candidate in the
London County Council elections and was speaking
either to indoor meetings or at street corners every after-
noon and evening.
Meanwhile I was earning a living, with the indulgence
of C: M. Lloyd, my Director of Studies, as the holder of
the Ratan Tata Research Fellowship at the London
School of Economics. I also took Workers’ Educational
Association classes, reviewed books, and wrote articles. I
26 Lost Illusion
was making a good living, and my mother had inherited
a small income from her father.
Although being a Communist was a handicap, my
academic distinctions and the tolerance which distin-
guishes most English universities ensured me a secure
and pleasant career. But I scorned the fruits of past years
of hard study and never paused to regret the life I was
leaving. The study of history could not satisfy. I yearned
to take part in making it.
My fellowship came to an end in June 1928; Arcadi
was in Russia but expecting to be sent to Japan, so I
joined him in Moscow. Japan was the one country I
particularly wished to visit, since my research work at
the London School of Economics had concerned Eastern
competition with the Lancashire cotton industry. This
may sound dull but for me it meant a study in modern
I had chosen the subject immediately after having
written an M.A. thesis on the trade guilds of the later
Roman Empire, because I thought there was a parallel
between the effect of slave labor on the conditions of
free labor in the ancient world, and the effect of colonial
labor on Western labor standards in the modem world.
In the course of my studies I had become interested in
Japan and wished to see that strange semi-feudal, semi-
modern imperialist state. If we could not yet live in
Moscow, I was glad to get a chance to go to the Far East.
This time no smiling delegation met me at the Moscow
station, and no luxurious quarters at the New Moscow
I Marry a Russian 27
Hotel awaited me. Arcadi took me to a tiny room, not
more than fifteen by twelve feet, with a single bed, a
chest of drawers, and two straight chairs. We did not
even have a table, and I used to cook and iron and write
on the window sill.
But the kvartira, or flat, was clean, and there was only
one family in each of the four rooms. For Moscow that
was not too bad. Unfortunately the room was not ours,
but only lent to my husband for a few weeks. During
the three months we lived in Moscow we moved twice.
Arcadi’s salary was 300 rubles a month. Since we were
expecting to leave for Japan, I could not take a regular
job. We just managed to live. Our rent was 50 rubles.
Meals at a cheap restaurant cost a ruble each. But bread
was still cheap; and butter, when obtainable, about the
same price as in England, with the ruble stabilized at
Cigarettes were our greatest extravagance and dif-
ficulty. At the end of the month I used to cart bottles
out to sell, or rake through our pockets for forgotten
kopeks, to raise the price of a meal. We were very
happy. Discomfort and comparative poverty do not mat-
ter much so long as one has faith. And we both still had
faith. I wrote to my mother:
“I feel sometimes that having found Arcadi is too good
to be true. . . . I feel that the fact that we have been
able to be happy together in these conditions augurs well
for the future. We have begun life together in the worst
material conditions instead of the best. . . . All the
28 Lost Illusion .
same, we both look forward to the day when we have a
bed each and spoons and knives, and a bath and toilet of
I was kept busy for a time finishing a translation from
the German, begun in England, of the Illustrated History
of the Russian Revolution, but I found it very hard to
work that summer.
I attended the sixth Congress of the Comintern as a
translator, listened to Bucharin from the visitors’ gallery
and saw Michael Borodin, back from China, walking in
the corridors, already disgraced but still a romantic
figure. I thrilled at the sight of Comintern delegates,
white, black, brown and yellow, from every corner of
the globe assembled in the socialist capital, visible wit-
of the “Unity of the Workers of the World.”
Even in those days I had some deviations which is the
Communist Party expression for “heresy.” I thought of
Trotsky as the greatest leader, and my communism was
essentially internationalist. But I never dreamed that
Stalin would have the power to destroy all that Lenin
and Trotsky and the other Old Bolsheviks had created.
Nor had I any inkling of the fundamental cancer at the
root of the Marxist doctrine. You believe what you wish
to believe, until experience bangs your head against the
wall and awakens you from dreams founded on hope, a
misreading of history, and ignorance both of human psy-
chology and science.
At last, after the OGPU had fully satisfied itself con-
cerning my husband, he obtained his passport to go to
Japan for the Commissariat of Foreign Trade. We left
I Marry a Russian 29
early in October, in the chill wet Russian autumn, with
the first signs of coming hardships already visible in
For some weeks I had been spending more and more
time chasing after food supplies from one shop to an-
other. Rationing had not yet been enforced, but the
peasants were refusing to sell their produce in return for
money which could not buy them the clothing and other
manufactured goods they required. Russia was on the
eve of the Calvary of forced collectivization.
Xoneymoon in the j?a’ar East
E STARTED OUR JOURNEY FROM MOSCOW
to Siberia in a compartment for two, traveling in “soft
cars,” as second class is called in Russia. Unfortunately
the Soviet Russian railroads do not trouble to separate
men and women in making reservations for sleeping cars
even for foreigners or top flight Communist officials.
Madame Anikeeva, wife of the Soviet Trade Repre-
sentative in Japan, happened to be on the same train, and
very much objected to sharing her compartment with a
strange man. So we reluctantly agreed to be separated
and let Anikeeva share the humbler compartment with
me while Arcadi removed himself to the Pullman. How-
ever, she was a very nice woman and we had a pleasant
My greatest problem was to hide from Anikeeva the
fact that the Comintem in Moscow had entrusted me
with secret papers to take to China, and to invent a con-
vincing story to explain why I was going to leave the
train at Chita in Siberia to travel later to China alone, in-
stead of directly to Japan. I managed it somehow but she
must have suspected the truth.
The day before I left Moscow I hunted in the shops
Honeymoon in the Far East 31
for a corset in which I could hide the papers in approved
secret service style. I was extremely uncomfortable, but
the thrill of conceiving of myself as a real revolutionary,
helping to fan the flames of world revolution and liberate
the “oppressed colonial workers” sustained me even
through the ordeal of being corseted for the first time
in my life.
All I remember of Chita is the intense cold, and the
memorials of the Decembrists, the ISO exiled revolu-
tionaries of I 82 5 who had dreamed of liberty, equality,
and fraternity under the Iron Tsar, Nicholas I.
Only later was it to be borne in on me how mild had
been the tyranny of the Tsars compared to that of Stalin.
All those nineteenth and early twentieth century revolu-
tionaries whose lives were spared and who were allowed
to live in Siberia with their families were in exile, it is
true, but for the most part not in chains nor herded in
concentration camps. They were abIe to escape abroad
with ease if they were so minded. Today in Stalin’s
Russia such humane and civilized treatment of political
opponents is unheard of.
I was looked after in Chita by a little OGPU man who
had formerly been a sailor on American boats, and whom
I was to meet years later in Moscow at the Comintem.
He was the sort of person who loves being conspiratorial
for its own sake, and his manner of putting me on the
train two days later, from the tracks instead of the plat-
form, into a specially reserved compartment, should have
aroused the suspicion of the Japanese or Chinese spies, if
there had been any.
32 Lost Illusion
I went through a bad half-hour at the Manchurian
border. A German on the train remarked to me at the
passport and customs-control office, that the system was
to watch the faces of the travelers rather than to search
their baggage carefully. A row of huge White Russian
guards stood behind the Chinese customs officials staring
at the passengers. I had an innocent face and a British
passport, and they would need to have been very sus-
picious to search the person of a British subject. My
papers remained safe “in my bosom,” as the old novels
would have said.
The Comintem, with the inefficiency characteristic of
all Russian institutions, had been unaware that the fight-
ing going on in North China had stopped passenger
traffic on the railway to Peking, and that I would there-
fore have to get to Shanghai by sea from Dairen. The
money the Communist International gave me for my
journey was insufficient to meet the extra expense of
waiting in the hotel at Dairen for passage
on the crowded
boats, and I had hardly a cent of my own.
So in order to save enough to exist on in Shanghai for
the ten days I planned to stay there, I economized in
Dairen by eating only one meal a day. I took the table
d’hote midday dinner at the Yamamoto Hotel and ate
all through every one of its six or seven courses under
the astonished and amused eyes of the Japanese waiters.
Eventually I got a ship to Shanghai and delivered my
documents. To do that I had to go to the Palace Hotel
and telephone to a certain business office, ask for a Herr
Honeymoon in the Far East 33
Doctor Haber, and tell him I had brought the samples
of silk hosiery. I enjoyed it all immensely, especially as
I was allowed two days later to come and meet some of
the Comintem agents in Shanghai, who plied me with
questions about happenings in Moscow which, in my in-
nocence, I was unable to answer.
The agents I met, who were for the most part either
Americans or Germans, were, if not Trotskyists, at least
extremely unhappy revolutionaries. They had witnessed
Stalin’s callous and cynical sacrifice of the Chinese Com-
munists in 1927 and were watching with dismay the be-
ginnings of his transformation of the Comintem into a
mere sub-office of the Russian National State.
For a couple of weeks I lived a double, or rather a
triple life in Shanghai. I spent part of my time as a serious
academic investigator of conditions in the cotton in-
dustry, other hours as the guest of “British Imperialists”
at luxurious dinner parties and dancing or going to
theatres with them; and yet other hours in the secret
meeting places of the Comintern’s agents.
It was part of the Comintern game that I should mix
with the “bourgeoisie,” and appear quite innocent of
revolutionary activity; and my cotton industry investiga-
tions were in any case absolutely genuine. I should not
have been much good as a conspirator if any hard task
had been assigned to me. My English upbringing and my
character unfitted me for deceit, and my conception of
a Communist was one of an honest and bold revolu-
tionary. I was too eager to argue with the capitalists
34 Lost illusion
about what I believed to be the rottenness of their sys- .
tern, and the cruelty of their exploitation of colonial
peoples, to have been an underground worker.
Thinking on one occasion to pour oil on the waters
agitated by the views I had expressed, I told a Shanghai
dinner party that I was doing some correspondence for
the Manchester Guurdian. This was true, and I thought
it should establish my bona @es in the capitalist world.
However, all values are relative. To my mind the Man-
chester Guurdian signified the capitalist press, but to my
compatriots in Shanghai it was “that Red rag,” the paper
for which “that awful fellow Arthur Ransome” wrote.
This book is not about my adventures in the Far East,
so I will pass over the year I spent in Japan with my hus-
band. It was the happiest year of my life. We were in
love. We had no money worries, for my husband was
earning what seemed to me the princely salary of $500
a month. I was investigating Oriental labor conditions,
calculating costs of production in the cotton industry,
studying Japanese economics and politics, doing a series
of well-paid articles for the Manchester Guardian Com-
mercial, and writing my first book, Lancashire and the
Japan, however, gave me my first experience of a
police state. Happy as I was under its blue skies, enjpying
harmonious companionship with the man I loved, the
shadow of the tyranny under which the Japanese lived
kept my revolutionary fervor alive. Moreover, what my
brother used to call my Puritan conscience soon made
me restless. Surrounded as we were by poverty and op-
Honeymoon in the Far East 35
pression I had a deep conviction that it was wrong to be
living comfortably and enjoying the greatest happiness
which life can give, life with someone I loved more
and more dearly as the days passed.
My letters to my mother expressed both my wonder
and joy at my great happiness and my inner misgivings.
I wrote that I could never have believed ten years before
that life could be so complete and beautiful, but that my
happiness was too great to last; that I must do something
to deserve it. I must come back to England and work
for what I believed.
Of course, no one knows his real motive. Perhaps it
was not really my feeling that no one has any right to
great personal happiness so long as the majority of man-
kind starve and toil without joy. It may have been love
of power or the desire to make my mark in the world,
which is the same thing as love of power, which impelled
me to leave Arcadi and return to work in the Commu-
nist Party in England.
Also, it may have been the feeling I expressed in an-
other letter to my mother, the feeling that Arcadi’s love
for me was founded upon his conception of me as a
revolutionary, an intellectual, an independent woman,
not a mere wife. I felt that if I lost myself in his love I
might lose it, that I must somehow continue being what
I had been when he began to love me.
Today I regret nothing more in my life than not hav-
ing savored my happiness to the full and lived out the
brief period Arcadi and I might have had together before
we were engulfed in a hell of disillusionment and suffer-
36 Lost Illusion
ing in Soviet Russia. Today, I not only know that the
gods are jealous gods, but that the only way to cheat
them is not to be afraid of them.
To be alive at all is wonderful, and to have known,
even for only a short while, the greatest happiness which
life can give-to love and be loved utterly-gives life a
savor even if it has ended in tragedy.
Although Arcadi knew he would be terribly lonely,
he encouraged me to go back to England. For he, even
as I, believed in what the Webbs call “the vocation of
leadership”- that is, the duty of the Communist to sacri-
fice personal happiness to political work. Yet we had
already seen something in Japan of what Soviet society is
The intrigues, the calumnies, and the factional strug-
gles which went on in our small Russian colony of em-
ployees at the Trade Representation and the Embassy
in Tokyo should have taught us what to expect in the
USSR. But we ascribed these jealousies in the Russian
colony to the “intellectuals.” We believed that in Russia
the proletarians ensured a cleaner atmosphere.
Moreover, both the Ambassador, Troyanovsky, and
the Trade Representative, Anikeev, were decent men.
The same could be said of my old acquaintance Ivan
Maisky, at this time Counselor of the Embassy in Tokyo.
But his wife, Maiskaya, and Madame Anikeeva were at
daggers points. A telegram had to be sent to Moscow to
settle the delicate question of precedence at Embassy
dinner parties and Japanese state functions between the
Honeymoon in the Far East 37
wife of Maisky, and the wife of Anikeev, the Trade
As I remember it, the question was settled in Madame
Anikeeva’s favor, but the whole Russian colony was split
into factions by the antagonism between these two
women. They were fairly evenly matched, because al-
though Maiskaya was a member of the Party and Ani-
keeva was not, Maisky had not joined the Bolsheviks
until 1924, whereas Anikeev was not only an Old Bol-
shevik but also of proletarian origin, having once been a
Anikeeva being both a beautiful and an intelligent
woman, became a sort of First Lady, in spite of Mais-
kaya’s qualifications. Troyanovsky’s wife, who later ac-
companied him to Washington when he became Am-
bassador to the United States, was an unassuming lady,
and played no part in the factional fights of “Red so-
Troyanovsky’s first wife had been a Bolshevik when
he was a Menshevik, and the story was told that during
the civil war she had condemned her husband to death
when he was brought before her as a prisoner. Lenin
himself had talked Troyanovsky into joining the Bolshe-
viks and saved him from the death sentence imposed by
his wife. I cannot vouch for the truth of this story, as
whispered to me in Tokyo. But at least it explained
Troyanovsky’s choice of a nonpolitical, rather colorless
lady as his second wife. It is more pleasant to have a wife
not likely to shoot you because of your political beliefs.
38 Lost Illusion
Soviet society cannot be described without some ac-
count of the human factors. Russian women are just as
prone to social discrimination, pride in their social status,
love of fine clothes and admiration, as women in “bonr-
geois society.” Soviet society has its hierarchies and its
jealousies and is not composed of simple-minded, ardent
revolutionaries with red cotton handkerchiefs on their
heads, intent on constructing socialism regardless of per-
sonal advancement and the material comforts such ad-
The simply dressed men and women who march in
the demonstrations of the proletariat for the newsreel
cameras and the admiration of foreign tourists, are most
of them longing to change places with the boyars of
Communist bureaucracy who watch them from the re-
served seats in the Red Square.
Back in England I threw myself into the work of the
British Communist Party, and tried to bury in my sub-
conscious the growing suspicions concerning Soviet so-
cialist life which had been engendered by my year in
Tokyo, and by the fortnight I had spent in Moscow on
my way home at the end of 1929.
I campaigned for the British Communist Party among
the textile workers in Lancashire and for the Communist
candidate for Parliament at a by-election in Sheffield.
I became a member of the Industrial Committee of the
Party in London, wrote articles for Communist publica-
tions, and a pamphlet on “What’s Wrong with the
My husband sent me money to live on, and I didn’t take
Honeymoon in the Far East 39
a penny from the Communist Party, even for my articles
and pamphlets. I studied the works of Marx and Lenin,
conscientiously and thoroughly, and tried to explain in
simple language the basic tenets of Marxism to make
them understand that only through the unity of the
workers of the world could living standards be improved
and unemployment eliminated.
In speaking to the Lancashire cotton operatives and
writing for them, for the first time I came up against the
basic dilemma of the Marxist revolution, and also against
the obstacle of the Cornintern’s cold and selfish indiffer-
ence to the troubles of the working class, or its fate out-
side of Russia.
How could I convince the Lancashire cotton opera-
tives that they should refuse to allow the cotton industry
to be rationalized, refuse to work more looms, and go on
strike for higher wages, when they knew as well as I did
that the immediate result of such action would be more
unemployment through the loss of markets to Japan and
the other competing countries?
To my mind it seemed clear that the basic need was to
explain Marxist theory, to make them understand the
meaning of “workers of the world, unite” by showing
that if all textile workers in all countries got together in
one organization they could establish higher wages for
I tried to make them understand that the capitalist
system, based on production for profit, inevitably
doomed them to increasing poverty now that other
countries besides England were industrialized, and work-
40 Lost Xllusion
ers in the East with lower standards of life competed
But now I came up against the Comintern, which was
pursuing an ultra-left policy and insisting that agitation
and agitation alone, was the task of the Communist. We
were ordered not to make theoretical explanations, nor
to waste our time or energy in exposing the dynamics of
capitalism. We were only to foment strikes; to tell the
workers to strike and strike whatever the consequences!
The Comintern, in fact, was not concerned with the
livelihood of foreign workers; it wished only to weaken
the capitalist countries by continual strikes and the dis-
location of economic life. The sole objective of the
Communist International was the safety of Soviet Russia,
and it recked nothing of the interests or sufferings of the
One day in Blackburn, the great weaving center of
Lancashire, an elderly textile worker complained bitterly
to me that it was all very well for the paid officials of
the Communist Party to get themselves arrested for de-
liberately and unnecessarily holding meetings where they
obstructed traffic, but how could we expect men with
families to do so, especially since it was an utterly useless
Of course, he did not know how proud Communist
Party members were if, when they went to Moscow,
they could boast that they had gone to jail in the class
struggle. Such an accomplishment might be held to wipe 1
out the stigma of their non-proletarian origin. I
Finally I got myself into trouble with the Politbureau :
Honeymoon in the Far East 4’
of the Party in London by writing an article which the
editor of the Commmist Review had inadvertently al-
lowed to be published. I had been reading Lenin’s writ-
ings of the “Iskra period” and had discovered that he
had condemned the “Economists,” who maintained that
the intellectual has no role to play in the Party and that
the socialist idea can spring “spontaneously” out of the
experience of the working class.
Lenin had insisted that the ordinary worker, by the
experience of his daily life, develops not a full revolu-
tionary class consciousness but only that of “a trade-
unionist.” Clearly, to my mind, in this period of declining
markets for Britain, the workers’ trade-union conscious-
ness was likely to impel him to accept wage reductions
and join with the bosses in attempting to recapture their
markets. I did not, of course, foresee that this would lead
all Europe to the development of increased nationalism
and Germany to the horrors of National Socialism.
But I dimly perceived that unless the Marxist concep-
tion of international working-class unity could be put
across to the workers, they would unite with their em-
ployers against other countries. We have since seen how
Hitler and Mussolini roused their people to fight under
the slogan of the proletarian nations against the “pluto-
Although my article was buttressed by quotations
from Lenin, I was told by my Communist superiors that
I had deviated seriously from the Party line by maintain-
ing that theory was of primary importance and that the
intellectual. accordin&. need not nlav at beinp a nro-
42 Lost Illusion I
letarian, since he had an important part to perform in
bringing knowledge of socialism to the working class.
I was not directly accused of Trotskyism, but I was held
to be slightly tainted with heresy.
Nevertheless at this stage of my Communist experience
I did not have enough sense to see that nothing good
would come out of Soviet Russia and that the foreign
Communist parties were already corrupted and impotent.
I had a great respect and liking for Harry Pollitt, Secre-
tary of the British Communist Party, who had encour-
aged me and backed me up, and prevented the little
bureaucrats in the Agitprop department from sabotag-
ing my pamphlet and my Party work.
To this day I find it difficult to understand how this
British working-class leader of nonconformist traditions
came to subordinate his conscience and sacrifice his per-
sonal integrity to become a tool of Russian tyranny. The
fact that Pollitt led the British Communist Party deluded
me into thinking that it was still a revolutionary work-
ing-class party seeking to establish liberty and social
After a year’s work in England I went to Moscow,
Arcadi having written that he would join me there from
Japan. Before leaving England I spent a few days with
my brother on the yacht in which he was preparing to
sail across the Atlantic and on to the South Seas. He
wanted me to sail with him at least as far as Spain; but
I was, as usual, driven by that nervous sense of urgency
which has so often made me miss the greatest pleasures
Honeymoon in the Far East 43
I expected Arcadi soon to reach Moscow from Japan,
and, much as I loved sailing, I felt I could not just dash
off like that to no purpose.
My brother and I were more intimate those last days,
sailing down the English coast to Cornwall, than since
our childhood. His skeptical outlook on life, his avowed
lack of any exalted motives, and his insistence on both
the joyousness and futility of life, now seemed to me
less reprehensible than a few years before.
The same Norse sagas and Greek legends which had
inspired me to dreams of human liberty through the eco-
nomic reorganization of society, had led him to throw
up his job in London to sail to the South Sea Islands, of
which he had dreamed since childhood. Perhaps his
dream was as worthy and no more futile than mine. This
I would not yet acknowledge, but at least I had grown
tolerant enough not to reproach him.
In the night watches, sitting together on deck under
the stars, Temple warned me of the certain disappoint-
ments which awaited me. He knew the motive forces of
my life better than I knew them myself. For me, as he
realized, the concept of human freedom formed the axis
of my socialist beliefs.
I was in revolt against tyranny and oppression-not,
as in the case of so many of those who have accepted
Stalin’s tyranny, a craving to lose myself and my reason
in a universal brotherhood. In my mind Pericles’ funeral
speech, Shelley’s and Swinburne’s poems, Marx’s and
Lenin’s writings, were all part and parcel of the same
44 Lost Illusion
striving for the emancipation of mankind from oppres-
Temple foresaw that I would not be able to accept
and condone a new kind of oppression, even if tyranny
wore the mask of socialism.
“You will probably end up in a Siberian prison, my
dear,” he said. “But so long as you don’t deceive your-
self, they will not break you. Only don’t ever be a hypo-
crite to yourself. That is the only real sin against the
Temple sailed away from Newlyn Harbor toward the
setting sun one golden September evening. We never
saw each other again, for he died five years later in Fiji.
During those years we were about as far away from each
other as one can be on this earth. But I remembered his
farewell warning to me against hypocrisy. You can pre-
serve your inner integrity anywhere, even under Com-
munist tyranny, if you do not seek escape in illusions and
deceive yourself in order to be comforted.
i er’s Web
FTER HURRYING TO MOSCOW to meet Arcadi
late in September, I was disappointed to learn that my
husband had been ordered to make a trip to China before
coming to Russia. He did not join me until the following
January. I had three months alone in Moscow during
which I was at last made aware of what manner of so-
ciety and government was being created under Stalin.
Yet I did not have the sense to dash off to China to
stop my husband from entering the country. How often
in future years was I to regret my stupidity! Or was it
some last lingering hopes which led me to allow him to
walk into the spider’s web from which he could never
again be extricated?
For it was soon made clear to me that if Arcadi re-
turned to Russia, he would never get out again. Almost
all the non-Party specialists had been recalled from
abroad and now no passports were issued except to those
of unimpeachable proletarian origin or to Communist
Party members of long standing.
The first great purge had begun, the purge which was
to kill off so many of the old intellectuals–the engi-
neers, technicians, scientists, and administrative personnel
46 Lost Illusion
who had been educated under the Tsarist regime, but
had not run away after the Revolution, and had been
working loyally for the Soviet state ever since the intro-
duction of the New Economic Policy.
The Commissariat of Foreign Trade, anxious to keep
a few qualified men abroad, wanted my husband to go
to the United States to work at Amtorg. They cabled
him to proceed straight to America from Shanghai, and
offered to pay my fare to join him in New York via
Arcadi insisted upon returning to Moscow. He wrote
to me that after his long exile he wanted to play his part
in the great creative work going on in the USSR. I
realized later that he wanted to drown his doubts in work
and to merge himself in the collective human effort with
a subconscious desire to atone for his long years of di-
vorce from the socialist movement, and for the indi-
vidualism of his nature.
Arcadi was an acutely sensitive person, reserved and
somewhat unsocial by nature. He concentrated his love
and affection upon very few individuals and rarely
lowered the barriers of his reserve to any human being.
For that reason, perhaps, he desired in a way which I
often found difficult to understand, to merge himself in
the stream of humanity, and to share a fraternal passion
with those who, as individuals, repelled his fastidious
standards of behavior.
A keen sense of humor and a quick wit saved him from
being a misanthrope. He could always ward off threats
to his privacy by a joke and, although his wit could be
Spider’s Web 47
sharp and cutting, he directed it too frequently against
himself for it to arouse rancor.
Arcadi had convinced himself that it was immoral to
continue to be a privileged intellectual working and liv-
ing in comfort abroad and that he ought to come home
and suffer with the mass of his people. Although a Jew,
he was also a Russian; and Russians appear to have a kind
of mystical urge to immolate themselves, to castigate and
Russians seem to be the least individualistic of peoples
and the most prone to servility and a kind of mystical
masochism. Arcadi was essentially Western in education
x and ideas, but even he suffered for a while from the Rus-
sian martyr complex, so incomprehensible to those of us
born and brought up in England or the United States.
His tragedy was that, although he shared the Russian
! intellectual’s desire for self-immolation upon the altar
of an ideal and the Russian desire to merge his individu-
i ality in a totality, he did not share the Russian aptitude
for servility and sycophancy. He was unable to fawn
upon the great or wheedle favors from the Communist
Thus he could never adapt himself to Soviet condi-
tions of life. Yet he would not, or could not, break away
from Russia. He preferred working at a low salary with-
out privileges to abasing himself sufficiently to obtain
food supplies, a flat, and other perquisites. He was too
much of a Westerner to fawn and beg; too much of a
Russian to cut loose and escape.
Narcomvneshtorg, the Commissariat of Foreign Trade,
thought so highly of Arcadi’s ability and knowledge,
and was so certain that if he returned to Moscow the
OGPU would not permit them to send him abroad again,
that they eventually offered me my full fare to China,
and thence to the United States, if I would go and per-
suade him to sail for San Francisco. But I knew Arcadi
too well to believe I could get him to change his decision.
Perhaps my English capacity for straight thinking had
been dulled by the gray and leaden Moscow atmosphere.
The terror, which now began to oppress my spirits, pre-
vented my writing to him fully and frankly.
Even if I could have got a letter smuggled out to be
posted in England, I had no other address than his office
in Shanghai, where his mail probably was opened and
read by an OGPU agent. If I told the truth about condi-
tions in Russia, he might not believe me. Anything I
wrote critical of the Soviet Union would endanger his
life if after all he decided to return to Russia.
Although I was aware in my subconscious that our
dream was already lost, I clung to my illusions. I would
not as yet admit even to myself that Russia had already
gone too far along the road to bureaucratic tyranny for
there to be any hope of turning back to the ideals of the
Nor could I, being English, really accept the fact rhat
if later we wished to leave Russia, my husband would
not be able to do so. I sent telegrams, but I did not go to
China, I waited in Moscow hoping against hope that he
would not come, yet not daring to admit, even to myself,
how fearful I was of the future should he come.
Spider’s Web 49
During this period I wrote two letters to my mother
in England. In the first, I said:
“Even Pickman-(an old Party member whom I had
known in London) says it is just as well for Arcadi to
spend the coming year in America. The fact of the mat-
ter is that the economic position is so strained that there
is no confidence in anyone, and the conditions of work
for all intellectuals are very difficult indeed. Arcadi is
one of the very few competent people left in whom they
still have confidence.”
A month later I realized it was dangerous to give even
a hint of conditions in letters sent through the mail, and
I sent a note through the hand of E. F. Wise, the English
adviser of Catrosoyus, the Central organization of the
Russian Co-operatives. Wise was not a Communist and
I was fairly confident he would not show my letter to
anyone, but I was not quite sure. So I tried to write
guardedly but to convey my state of mind:
“Only workers from the factory or men of proletarian
origin are now allowed to go abroad. Whether Arcadi
realizes the position or not I do not know. . . . The way
business is now being run is hopeless. They put abso-
lutely useless people into leading positions just because
they are of proletarian origin. I suppose it can’t go on
and there will be a reaction soon, but in the meantime
it means the most terrible waste and inefficiency.
“Things are very different from two years ago. Per-
haps, dear, in the end I shall go back to being a historian.
Only now am I beginning to learn a bit about mankind
and its queerness. To understand a little what is meant
so Lost Illusion
by Menschen sind Menschen. To understand that life is
not so simple, so to speak. I am still pretty certain of my
main ground but the carrying out of what is wanted is
not so simple.”
I added a postscript not so much, I imagine, to reas-
sure my mother as to allay suspicions should my letter
fall into the hands of the secret police. I wrote: “Dear,
you know it is the most interesting country in the world
to be living in, and one must be philosophical enough to
take the bad with the good, so long as one believes that
in the end there will be more of the latter.”
Life in Russia as I was soon to find out, consisted in
learning the painful lesson that there was far more bad
than good, and that the good was disappearing so rapidly
that there was soon nothing but bad.
While awaiting Arcadi’s arrival from the Far East I
lived with his sister, Vera, and her two sons in their tiny
two-room apartment in the Dam Politkatajan on Pok-
rovka Street. This was the House of the “Political Hard-
Labor Prisoners” -meaning those who had done hard
labor in Siberia under the Tsar.
Vera had been sent to a Siberian prison from Lodz in
Poland while still in her teens. First, like Arcadi, a mem-
ber of the Bund, she had become a Social Revolutionary
in Siberia. She had joined the Bolsheviks in I 9 I 7, and had
fought against the Japanese in the Intervention. Vera
had been imprisoned by them but escaped.
Vera’s life had been one of adventure, hardship, and
sacrifice. But now she had a good job and was full of
confidence in the future. She radiated happiness. Her
first child had died as a baby on the long trek in the snow
across Siberia to the prison camp. Trying to shield it
from the cold, she had suffocated it in her arms.
Her second son, Shura, survived the rigors of prison
and exile, and was now a youth of eighteen studying
engineering at the Moscow University. Vera also had an
adopted son, Grischa, whom she had taken in infancy
from a poor peasant family in Siberia which had so many
children it could not feed them.
The two boys were devoted to each other and to their
mother. They called her Vera and treated her as an elder
sister. Vera’s husband had died fighting in the Red Army,
but I gathered he had been a bit of a ne’er-do-well, and
little love had been lost between them.
Vera and my husband had been very close to each
other in their youth. They had a stepmother who treated
them cruelly, and they both became revolutionaries at
about the same time. Curiously enough, the harsh treat-
ment they experienced in childhood and which made
Arcadi so distrustful of individual human beings did not
affect Vera. She was very sociable and trustful of others
and almost childlike in her faith.
When they had met in Moscow in 1928 they had not
seen each other for twenty-two years. It was typical of
that meeting that Arcadi, when he saw Vera approach
his oflice desk, merely said: “Hello Vera, how are you?”
She had tears in her eyes and embraced him in front of
everyone. During those twenty-two years Arcadi had
52 Lost 1hsion
studied in Zurich, worked in business in England and the
United States, and acquired a Western manner and a
truly English reserve.
Vera’s life had been entirely different. She had had
little education, had participated in the revolutionary
struggles of two decades, had known hunger and cold,
and in general lived a life of great hardship. She had
often been in danger, but she had always lived among
“comrades,” and never struggled on her own in an alien
Her attitude toward Arcadi retained something of the
flavor of their youth. He was the educated clever elder
brother who had instructed her in Marxist theory long
ago in Poland. Although he was not a Party member, she
felt no superiority.
Her fate and Arcadi’s were to be similar. She was ar-
rested and disappeared in 1937, a year later than Arcadi,
when most of the inhabitants of the Hard Labor House
were purged because their revolutionary pasts made
Stalin fear that they might turn their revolutionary tech-
niques against him.
Vera was very proud of Shura, who, in Siberia before
they came to Moscow, had been elected representative
of all the Comsomols, members of the Young Communist
Leaguk, of the Irkutsk region. But at the time I lived
with them in Moscow he was causing her much anxiety.
He did not conform sufficiently at the university, was
apt to ask awkward questions at Young Communist
meetings, and was in danger of being expelled from the
Comsomols. His mother’s reputation and influence had
so far prevented this, but she was always begging Shura
to hold his tongue.
Shura once said to me: “How simple life was in Vera’s
youth and how good it must have been. One was a revo-
lutionary and one struggled against Tsarist tyranny. But
now . . . ?
What Shura meant was what I often felt myself.
Those very impulses of generous youth which in the old
days had led so many of the students to become revolu-
tionaries, now impelled them to protest against Soviet
tyranny and injustice. Such protest today means being
denounced as a counter-revolutionary.
Vera was a product of the romantic past; Shura was a
product of the disillusioned present, Whereas Vera knew
little about theory, Shura was being educated in it, and
the writings of Marx and Lenin impelled him to see
clearly than his mother the difference between theory
and practice in the Soviet Union.
Marx and Lenin were still available to all in unexpur-
gated editions but Iater the government saw to it that the
originals were hard to come by except for high Com-
munist Party members with a ticket to the Party Book-
The Kremlin now permits only carefully edited ex-
tracts from the books of Marx and Lenin for the educa-
tion of the masses. Stalin’s speeches and writings have
taken their place.
Before I left Russia, Shura had ceased to take any in-
terest in politics. Like so many of the best elements
among the Soviet youth, he had become a cynical young
54 Lost Illusion
man, philosophically accepting life as it came, and no
longer yearning for the fulfillment of the forgotten
hopes of his early youth. Intent only upon earning
enough to keep his young wife and child in reasonable
comfort, he spent several years as an engineer in the Far
North where the pay was highest.
With her Jewish sense of family solidarity and her
Siberian tradition of hospitality, Vera unquestioningly
gave me shelter and shared her food with me. Having no
job, I had no bread card and nowhere to get a meal. A
post was offered me at the Marx Engels Institute, but
only if I signed a contract for three years. Since I did not
know whether or not Arcadi and I were going to Amer-
ica, I could not take it. I got translating and editing work
to do and wrote some articles, but this did not produce
a food card.
Those were cold and hungry days. In the morning WC
had a meal of potatoes, bread, and herring. Unable to
swallow the raw salted herring which is the most nour-
ishing food available to the poorer Russians, I subsisted
on bread and potatoes until 5 P.M. when the four of us
shared the dinner for three to which they were entitled
from the communal kitchen of the apartment house. It
cost 65 kopeks (32 cents) a head and usually consisted
of cabbage soup and chopped meat balls or pike, that
heavy and unappetizing member of the shark family,
which seems to have been the only fish to survive the
Revolution. We never tasted butter, but the two boys,
as industrial workers, got a monthly allowance of two
pounds of margarine.
Spider’s Web 55
Twice a month Vera received the family’s meat ration.
She would then telephone to her friends, and invite them
to come and eat it with us. She made delicious Siberian
meat dumplings in soup; and for one evening we would
eat to repletion.
She never thought of making the meat last several
days. Vera had the old exile’s feeling that we should
share all good things with our comrades, and like most
Russians she was generous and had no disposition ever to
There would be vodka and sweet Crimean wine, hard
candies, and tea to follow, and we would sit around the
table for hours talking and singing. I had a glimpse of the
kind of people and the atmosphere of the old revolu-
tionary days. These men and women, all of them former
exiles and not yet corrupted by the privileged position
the revolution had given Communists, were the salt of
They were simple people, hearty and jolly, and full
of faith. Times were hard, but they thought this was only
a temporary phase. Mistakes were being made, but they
would be rectified and socialism would soon be created.
How could it not be so since “The Revolution” had
been victorious? In contrast to the Communists of higher
rank, they were comradely in their personal relations
and were not acquisitive.
For all her revolutionary Past, Vera was very house-
proud, orderly and feminine. Her little flat was as clean
as a pin. She hung lace curtains at the windows, she
looked pained if a single object were out of place, she
56 Lost Illusion
dressed neatly, took great pains to arrange her flaming
red hair becomingly, loved nice clothes although she
had none, and told lies about her age. These lies were
very naive. If she had been only as old as she said, she
would have been a prisoner in Siberia and mother of a
child at the age of fourteen.
She was the soul of hospitality, emotional and tender,
always full of vitality, good-tempered and sensitive to
human suffering. Later I was to meet the type of Com-
munist who would roughly turn a starving child from
the door and warn me that I must on no account give
anything to these little beggars since they were prob-
ably the children of Kulaks. But Vera would always
give a piece of bread or sugar to the destitute, although
she knew that as a “good Bolshevik” she should not.
Besides Vera, Shura, Grischa, and myself there was
usually at least one other guest sleeping in our tiny
rooms. Siberian friends passing through Moscow, or
temporarily homeless in the capital, came to sleep on the
floor or in one of the boy’s camp beds.
We ate in the kitchen, which was also the bathroom.
Getting a bath was a matter of luck, since we never
knew at what hour and on what days the water would
be heated for the hundreds of flats in our building. We
were among the privileged. Rarely again in Moscow was
I to live in a house where hot water was supplied even
once or twice a week.
Vera and the boys spoke only Russian. Since I knew
only a few words, we communicated at first largely by
signs. I made more rapid progress in the language than
Spider’s Web 57
at any later period and learned to make one word do the
work of many.
For instance, I can remember once wanting to convey
to Shura the idea that I could see he was depressed. So
I said to him “bad weather here” pointing to his head and
heart. And he understood me and gave me the word
nastrayenia for “mood.” Sometimes my limited vocabu-
lary caused jokes at my expense as when I said over the
telephone I desired a man, thinking I was saying that I
wanted to speak to him.
Vera’s greatest friend, Nina, was often with us, a
woman of peasant origin, also a Communist Party mem-
ber but hard put to it to support her two little girls living
with their grandmother in the village. Her husband had
deserted her years before, and she received no alimony.
Nina knew a few words of English to help out our
conversation, and I got very friendly with her and later
visited her village. Plain in appearance and dressed almost
like a man, she was gay and kind, full of enthusiasm and
vitality, and particularly interested in the Communist
Our life in the two small rooms was jolly and friendly
and had for me a little of the flavor of adventure and
that precious atmosphere of comradeship which was so
rapidly fading elsewhere. Evenings at the flat kept my
spirits up, but my days were dreary. I wished I had
stayed in England until Arcadi arrived from the East, I
wished even that I had sailed with my brother across the
Atlantic as he had suggested.
Since my association with Russia began, I had con-
58 Lost Illusion
t&ally been hurrying off somewhere and then been
forced to wait weeks and months with nothing to do. It
had been so in 1928, and now it was so again. I had
rushed away from England without even waiting to ar-
range publication of the book I had written for the
London School of Economics. I had refused the joy of
sailing at least as far as Spain with Temple; and here I
was pacing the streets of Moscow with nothing to do.
Early in November I spent a few days in Leningrad
where Dementiev, a friend of Arcadi’s just arrived from
Japan, was working. We went outside the town to look
at the sea-a cold gray sea and a flat shore-but the sea
nonetheless. I wished more than ever that I were with
Temple on the high seas,
since after all I could have gone
with him instead of waiting so long for Arcadi in Russia.
Nothing is more depressing than autumn in Moscow.
It rains and rains. The streets are half-flooded, for the
gutters don’t work properly. It is cold; and there is only
occasional heating of the houses. We were expected to
keep the windows shut all the time and preserve the
warmth for three days until the house management put
the heating on for another twelve hours.
As I walked the streets the sadness of the atmosphere,
the drab, grim-faced crowds, the miserable peasants sell-
ing a few rotten apples or pickled cucumbers at the street
corners, the homeless children, wet and hungry, de-
pressed my spirits.
I spent a good deal of time going to offices inquiring
about the flat which had been promised to us, and for
which we had already paid $500 in foreign currency and
Spider’s Web 59
far more in rubles. I was also negotiating for a Russian
language edition of my Lancashire md the Far East,
getting translation and other work, and seeing English
and American comrades at the Comintem, the Marx
Engels Institute, and the Lenin School.
Already the world of these foreign Communists in
Moscow seemed far removed from my own. Most of
them lived in the Lux Hotel and had no worries about
food or shelter. They knew nothing of the life of the
ordinary Russians, and spent their time discussing theory,
organization, and foreign affairs, or gossiping about each
other within their own closed-off world.
I felt a growing barrier between them and myself, a
barrier caused by the constant need to put a half-hitch
on my tongue, as they say in Devonshire. For them, all
was for the best in the best of all possible worlds, the
USSR. To question it even when the evidence was com-
pletely to the contrary was dangerous heresy.
The only man at the Lenin School who dared to ex-
press some doubt to me was a Yorkshire miner whom I
had known in England. There he had been unemployed
but had lived in a three-room house with his wife and
one child. In Moscow no employed worker dreamed of
owning more than two rooms, and felt himself very
lucky if he had one.
I had other friends, Russians whom I had known in
London at Arcos and at the Russian Trade Representa-
tion, now occupying high positions in Moscow. The old
friendliness persisted, but I thought they must be aware
that I was no longer the naive enthusiast of two years
60 Lost n1usion
before. I even felt a certain embarrassment on their part
at the difference between the idealized picture of Russia
they had painted for me in London and the stark reality
of the Soviet Byt (way of life).
My conversation was guarded, but probably I failed
to display the required enthusiasm when they held forth
about the sacrifices “we are making” for the industrializa-
tion of the Soviet Union. They were no fools, nor was
I. They must have known that I perceived that high
Communist Party functionaries were getting the best of
everything and that all the sacrificing was being done by
the dumb crowds, the dragooned peasants and the help-
&viet JociaZ 5Qgister
T HE VERY FIRST WEEK I WAS IN MOSCOW
as a resident I discovered that my old friends the Plav-
niks had supplies of good food when they invited me to
dinner. Plavnik and his wife were old Socialists, who had
spent a large part of their lives in exile in Germany, and
were essentially Europeans with a civilized outlook and
standard of personal behavior and honor. They were
therefore apologetic about receiving more and better
food than the workers. But others were not ashamed at
In fact, a year or so later I heard wives boasting of the
special stores at which they were entitled to buy since
this showed the high rank of their husbands. I soon
realized that there is social discrimination in Russia. The
Soviet Social Register is written on the ration cards of
the favored Communist bureaucracy, the new Russian
nobility. I learned of the existence of exclusive shops
catering to privileged high Party officials and called
“closed distributors,” which sold foodstuffs and clothing
unobtainable elsewhere, or only to be purchased on the
“free market” at exorbitant prices.
Other closed distributors with less attractive wares
62 Lost Illusion
were opened later for lower grades in the social hier-
archy, for second-class Party functionaries and non-
Party specialists and for the workers in heavy industry.
There came to be, roughly speaking, the following
grades: First, what Russians call the Kremlin people,
commissars, chairmen of big trusts, members of the Cen-
tral Committee of the Soviets and of the Party-all the
highest Communist Party members.
Next came the OGPU shops which served food almost
as good and as plentiful as the shops for the Krmdovsky
(Kremlin) people. Then, Gort A, for high officials-all
Party men-and for a very few specially favored scien-
tists and engineers. Next, Gort B, for the “middle class”
-that is, Party men of lower rank and highly qualified
In addition there were well-stocked shops for the Red
Army officers. There were also the various closed dis-
tributors for the factories producing capital goods. These
varied greatly from place to place. In some the workers
could obtain the official ration of butter and milk and
meat. In others none of these luxuries were ever on sale.
But the Krelnlovsky shops, Gort A, and Znsnab, (the
Foreigners Store) were always well stocked with food
and clothing unavailable to the average Russian.
My husband, as a specialist, eventually received a book
for the Gort B shop allotting him two pounds of meat
and two pounds of butter a month and a small ration of
other food and some clothing. But this was not until
more than a year after his return. His rations from Gort
B were about the same as Vera received in her “Political
Soviet Social Register 63
Hard Labor Distributor.” Typical of the kind of joke
that I heard in Moscow was a story about Vera’s shop
where it was said that jam was on sale with a sign over
it reading: “For sale only to regicides.”
As my husband remarked, the Communist Party peo-
ple and the other ex-revolutionaries were now drawing
dividends on their investment in the Revolution years
Gradations of social rank in Russia went according
to our food ration much as in the ancient Byzantine Em-
pire the salaries of imperial officials and generals were
reckoned in measures of corn, wine, and oil.
Only top-flight Communists were favored by ample
supplies of food and clothing. This device of Stalin’s,
which directly violated both Lenin’s formula of the
Party maximum, and Marx’s injunction that the official
was to be paid no more than a worker, was designed to
keep Party men loyal to him personally.
Any deviation from the Party line involved expul-
sion from the Party and the loss of these precious food
supplies. It also meant the withdrawal of many other
privileges awarded in kind and not in money: use of an
automobile, the pick of housing accommodations, special
hospitals, and an exclusive medical service reserved for
the new aristocracy alone.
The closed distributors also enabled the government
to discriminate in favor of the aristocracy with the
scarcest goods, such as fruits, fresh vegetables, cocoa,
chocolate, and butter and eggs. This system had the
additional advantage of permitting the Soviet Govern-
ment propagandists at that time to tell the world that
Communist Party members never received salaries higher
than the Party maximum of 300 rubles.
Actually the salaries of high Communists were worth
ten to twenty times as much as those of the non-Party
specialists, who in theory were supposed to be getting
more, and than those of the skilled workers, who were
supposed to be paid about the same as the Party func-
I soon ran into the snobbishness of the Communist
Party members. Friends from London who had known
my husband and me there would try to ask me to parties
without him because he was not a member of the Com-
munist Party. Or if he were invited and went he was
made to feel a social inferior.
Although I had been very poor in England, I had
never in my life before had any feeling of social in-
feriority. Although I myself was treated as an equal be-
cause I was a member of the British Communist Party, I
was infuriated at the attempted social ostracism of my
husband, who, as I knew, did work of far greater value
than most of the Party functionaries and got much less
than they did from the “socialist state” for doing it.
Before Arcadi arrived, Mrs. Khinchuk, wife of the
Soviet Trade Representative in Berlin, whom my friend
Jane Tabrisky and I had known in London, asked her
one day how I, a Party member, had happened to marry
beneath me. Not that she was a Party member herself,
but any Soviet woman not too unattractive or of too bad
Soviet Social Register
social origins endeavored to secure a Party man for a
Just as a “bourgeois” woman in capitalist society is
expected to marry into her class and not into the labor-
ing class, so in Soviet Russia you were declassk if you
married outside the Communist Party. A woman was
debarred from entry to the “best society” if she were not
either herself a member of the Party or married to a
Mrs. Kbinchuk was the perfect example of the new
Moscow socialite, Soviet snob and hypocrite, but she
was only one of thousands. She did no work, she shopped
and visited in an automobile which she did not “own,”
but which with its chauffeur was at her disposal day
and night. And she loved to hold forth about the sacri-
fices “we are making.”
Jane Tabrisky, who was staying at the Khinchuk’s
flat while awaiting the room promised her by the Marx
Engels Institute, got so disgusted that she often came to
Vera’s in order to get away from the society of the
privileged. Khinchuk himself was decent and hardwork-
ing, but as I had already perceived in Japan, it was the
wives of the Bolsheviks who led the parade in the de-
generation of the Party and showed so obviously the
characteristics of the nouveau riche society then coming
Jane, who had been a member of the British Commu-
nist Party since she was sixteen, who had been secretary
of the London University Labor Party when I was chair-
66 Lost Illusion
man, and who had also been in the same Communist Party
local with me in North London, had arrived in Novem-
ber to take the job at the Marx Engels Institute which I
had had to refuse. Her arrival in Moscow was my great-
est joy while waiting for Arcadi in the autumn of 1930.
She was an old and real friend to whom I could speak
freely, and in Moscow this was a blessing above all
@yival oj’ Serfdom
ANE AND I LEARNED RAPIDLY, COkCtiViZatiOIl
of agriculture, and the Five Year Plan in Four Years,
were no longer matters of abstract theory to be discussed
ad infinituwz in Party meetings in the comfortable bour-
geois world of London. They had become painful reali-
ties of our existence and of the lives of those around us.
They meant starvation for many and near starvation for
Collectivization and industrialization meant the forma-
tion of a privileged aristocracy as cut off from the masses
of the people by the conditions of their lives as the
nobles of the an&n regime in France.
Our lives were spent mainly with ordinary “middle
class” Russians and what was going on around us could
never again be for us just a remote social experiment. It
was a terrible and moving reality involving untold suffer-
ing for millions whom we could not regard as human
guinea pigs in a social laboratory, as did the “Friends of
the Soviet Union” abroad.
We knew, of course, why there was famine in Russia,
and the situation which had led up to the “liquidation of
the Kulaks” with all its attendant cruelty and dislocation
of the country’s economy. In 1927 and 1928 when I had
received my first false impression of Soviet Russia, there
had already been an economic and political crisis.
The New Economic Policy, allowing limited free en-
terprise, which had brought prosperity before Stalin
stopped it, had also almost led to the revival of capitalism
By 1926, nearly two-thirds of the grain on the market
was being sold by a mere six per cent of the peasants, the
Kulaks. These Kulaks were selling to middlemen; and a
new “petty bourgeoisie” of shopkeepers, restaurant op-
erators, and small industrialists had cropped up like mush-
rooms after a ram. The state could no longer lay its
hands on enough grain to export even a small quantity
to pay for the importation of machinery. Handicraft in-
dustries were reviving to serve the local needs of the
The peasants were creating their own self-subsistent
economy outside the sphere of control of the Soviet
state. The working class in the state industries suffered,
and the elected local Soviets came more and more to
represent the interests of the peasants. Stalin in I 92
still going with the tide.
Anxious to secure his own power by enlisting the sup-
port of the right wing of the Party against Trotsky, he
had contemplated in 1925 giving each peasant a forty
years tenure of his land. As against this “denationaliza-
tion” of agriculture and stagnation of industry, which in
truth must have led to the USSR becoming a semi-
capitalist country, Trotsky proposed collectivization-
Revival of Serfdom
not the collectivization at the point of the bayonet which
Stalin was later to enforce, but gradual collectivization
through the grant by the government of credits and ma-
chinery to those poorer peasants who would voluntarily
join a collective farm. This could, however, be accom-
plished only if the richer peasants were heavily taxed to
finance the collective farms and to enable the state to
import machinery for the manufacture of farm imple-
ments, for the erection of power stations and for indus-
Heavier taxation of the Kulaks would not only stunt
the growth of this new capitalist class, but would enable
the government to produce more manufactured goods,
lower prices, and break the strike of the peasants. The
farm population was responding to the shortage of in-
dustrial goods by working less, consuming more of their
own produce, and disposing of the rest to the Kulak
middlemen, who, instead of selling it to the government,
used it to support local handicraft industries. But, said
the right opposition, if you bear down too hard on the
Kulaks we shall have war between town and village.
The difference of opinion between the right and left
wings of the Bolshevik Party on the policy to be pursued
was distorted by the struggle for personal power.
Stalin had little theoretical knowledge, and in any
case was not in the least concerned with the rightness or
wrongness of a policy. He wanted absolute power, and
he-saw his way to get it by crushing Trotsky and his
left opposition with the aid of Bucharin and the right
wing, and then to eliminate the right opposition by pur-
70 Lost illusion
suing a policy far more left than Trotsky’s. The final
result was that the worst features of the policies of both
sides were adopted by Stalin as the Party line.
Stalin brought about super-industrialization on a scale
never dreamed of by the left opposition, accompanied by
the destruction of the elements in the Bolshevik Party
most capable of carrying out such a policy, accompanied
by accumulation of capital for industrial construction by
robbing the peasants, and accompanied by the liquida-
tion of the technicians and administrative personnel who
alone could have made the new industries function effi-
By 1928 the truth of Trotsky’s prophecies had become
so obvious that he and his followers had to be eliminated
if he were not to take Stalin’s place. The decreasing food
supplies in the towns were convincing the proletariat
that Trotsky was right in predicting the return of capi-
talism. The workers of Leningrad appear to have been
behind Trotsky almost to a man. The Kulaks were by
now holding up food for the cities to force a rise in the
price of grain. Trotsky and the left opposition leaders
were arrested by the OGPU, which Stalin controlled,
and imprisoned or exiled.
Stalin was able to do this because he had the support of
Bucharin, Tomsky, Kalinin, and the rest of the right
wing of the Party. These men had no conception of
Stalin’s real intentions until it was too late. They were
sincere, and none of them appeared anxious for personal
They were probably right in thinking that Trotsky’s
Revival of Serfdom 7’
policies would have led to civil war between town and
country and a revival of the horrors of the early Com-
munist period. They did not dream that Stalin was plan-
ning a civil war far more bloody than anything Trotsky
had desired, and to be carried out in such a fashion as to
destroy all hope of socialism in Russia.
In July 1928, Stalin was still insisting that individual
cultivation of the land must be supported, and collectivi-
zation would be a mistake. But by October Stalin had
reversed himself and Bucharin, Rykov, and Tomsky
were being condemned as bourgeois liberals who desired
the restoration of capitalism. Stalin was preparing to
sponsor an adventurist policy of super-industrialization,
complete collectivization, liquidation of the Kulaks, and
savage coercion of the peasantry.
The Kulaks were holding the government to ransom;
less and less food was procurable in the towns, and the
workers began to suffer. Grain stocks were seized from
the Kulaks and even from the middle peasants. Those
they had employed found themselves without work,
since the Kulaks naturally saw no point in cultivating
large farms if the produce was to be confiscated.
By December 1928 the food shortage was making it-
self felt even in Moscow, the most favored of Russian
cities. Just after we left for Japan bread cards were in-
troduced, unemployment increased, and real wages fell.
Forced buying from the peasants at an unremunerative
price and heavier taxes on the Kulaks could not solve the
The peasants hid their grain or refused to sow it and
72 Lost lllzlsion
murdered the Party functionaries who seized their crops.
Military force might confiscate the food in the villages.
But it could not, so long as individual farming persisted,
coerce the peasant population to work for the benefit of
Coercion and intimidation were impracticable unless
the peasants could be herded together like the workers
in the factories. Collective farming was therefore or-
dered by decree- not the voluntary pooling of resources
by the poorer peasants, encouraged by state credits and
able to produce more than individual farms by being
supplied with machinery, which Trotsky had advocated
-but collectivization by the knout.
Not collectivization with the purpose of immediately
increasing the productivity of the land by means of ma-
chinery and modern methods of production, which ob-
viously could not be introduced on small individual
holdings, but collectivization with equipment suitable
only to small-scale farming, with the object of getting
all the peasants together under the control of the secret
police so that they could be forced to labor.
In November 1929, Stalin announced the end of indi-
vidual farming, ordered the liquidation of the Kulaks as
a class, and the establishment of collective farms every-
where and for everyone. He had decided to solve the
agricultural problem “in a socialist sense” by violence
If collectivization had been accompanied by a rapid
increase in the supply of manufactured goods to the vii-
lages the peasants might perhaps have been reconciled
Revival of Serfdom 73
to the new system. But Stalin had simultaneously inaugu-
rated the Five Year Plan for industrial development,
which concentrated all the resources of the country on
the production of capital goods and armaments. The
peasants were expected to work practically for nothing
since the government could not supply them with cloth-
ing and other manufactures of prime necessity.
Then began the wholesale murder of the Kulaks by
the Soviet state, which is almost unparalleled in history
for its cruelty. I use the word murder deliberately, for
although the Kulaks were not lined up and shot, they
were killed off in a manner far more cruel. Whole
families, men, women, children and babies, were thrown
out of their homes, their personal possessions seized, even
their warm clothing torn off of them. Then, packed in-
to unheated cattle cars in winter, they were sent off to
Siberia or other waste parts of the Soviet Union.
Some survived to start life again and build farms in
the waste lands into which they had been exiled. Women
and children perished. Hundreds of thousands of peasants
were herded off to the timber prison camps in the Arctic
regions, to die like flies from hunger, cold and exhausting
labor, whipped by the OGPU guards and treated like the
slaves of Pharaoh or of an Asiatic tyrant.
Shura told me terrible stories of what was going on.
He and Grischa had been sent on their vacation with
other young students to help institute by these horrible
cruelties a “socialist agricultural system” in the villages.
A friend of Arcadi’s who worked in the Timber Export
organization made my blood run cold with his account
74 Lost illusion
of the merciless treatment of the political prisoners at
Archangel where the ex-Kulaks in chain gangs loaded
wood for export.
When the father of a Kulak family was arrested, all
food in the house was confiscated, down to the last
sack of flour. The wife and children were left to starve
to death. Mothers sometimes killed their babies to save
them from lingering death by famine. The story re-
ported by Malcolm Muggeridge, then correspondent of
the Manchester Guardian in the USSR, is typical of
many of the gruesome tragedies of that terrible time.
A woman in a Cossack village in the Caucasus, whose
husband was arrested and taken off to forced labor as a
Kulak, had her last sack of flour confiscated by the
OGPU officer, Comrade Babel. When he had left she
looked at her three children asleep by the stove. There
was no food and no hope of securing any. She got an
axe and killed the children as they slept.
Then, after tying each child up in a flour sack, the
mother went to town and reported to Comrade Babel
that she had decided she ought no longer to defy the
Dictatorship of the Proletariat, and confessed that she
had three more sacks of flour hidden away. Comrade
Babel went back with her, along the snowy road, to
her house. She took him up to the loft and showed him
three bulging sacks. As he bent under the rafters to
look, she killed him with the axe.
Of course the woman was shot, and Comrade Babel’s
heroic death “on the class-war front” was reported in
Moscow newspapers. Pravda spoke of the “plots” of
Revival of Serfdom
the class enemy, of the need “to root out mercilessly all
hostile elements in the villages.” The case was reported
as one in which “a notorious counter-revolutionary, wife
of an exiled Kulak, lured Comrade Babel to her house
with false promises and murdered him in the loft with
Such incidents as these were not recognized as acts
of blind revenge. They were represented as “sympto-
matic of the new tactics of Kulak elements” seeking to
destroy the socialist state.
Fear of reprisals by the desperate, starving, expro-
priated peasants drove the Party to attempt to extermi-
nate their victims. “We must destroy our enemies until
not one is left,” was the daily cry in the newspapers.
An orgy of cruelty raged in the countryside. We must
go back to the days of the Mongol hordes sweeping
across Asia and eastern Europe in the thirteenth century,
or to the massacres by the Assyrians in Biblical times,
for an historical parallel with the Communist “class
war” against the Russian peasants.
Many motives, fanatical faith, fear, sadism, revenge,
played their role in this horrible massacre of the inno-
cents by famine and the firing squad. Jews who re-
membered old pogroms in the Russian villages, workers
who had suffered under the Cossack whips in Tsarist
times, gave vent to dusty and dim hatreds sanctified
under the banner of the class war.
Earnest young men and women whose best instincts
were perverted by orders given them by the Communist
Party, convinced themselves that in depriving the peas-
76 Lost illusion
ants of their last stores of food they were helping to
build a socialist society. OGPU and Red army officers
sent to carry on the “war on the agrarian front” feared
that if they were not absolutely merciless they would be
stabbed in the back on dark nights by desperate peasants.
The Kulaks, now declared enemies of the state, were
in theory the exploiting peasants, those who rented extra
land and employed hired labor, or who advanced money
or seed at high rates of interest to the poorest peasants.
Kulak means a fist, and the word originally signified
an exploiter and a usurer. Under Stalin the word came to
mean any peasant who dared to oppose collectivization.
Long before the period of forced collectivization, the
Bolsheviks had endeavored to break the solid front which
the villages presented to the cities and the Soviet state,
by promoting a class war in the villages. It was hoped
that if some peasants could be set against others, it
would be possible to break the solid opposition of the
peasants to what they viewed as an exploitation of the
agricultural population for the benefit of the city
So in the New Economic Policy period, the state,
which was encouraging the Kulaks with one set of
decrees to “get rich” by producing more, was discourag-
ing them by treating every prosperous peasant as a
social outcast and inciting the poorer peasants against
them. It was little wonder that the peasants brought
less and less grain to the market. /
In order to stimulate class warfare, the peasants were
registered in three classes: Kulaki, Seredniaki (middle
Revival of Serfdom
peasants), and Bedniaki (poor peasants). In villages
where there was a dead level of poverty, the local Com-
munists were nevertheless ordered to find Kulaks even
where none existed.
A story was told me of how in one village the local
chairman of the Committee of the Poor exibited a
family of Kulaks quite in the manner of showing a
family of lepers on whom the judgment of God had
fallen. He regarded them with hopeless pity and said
that all the troubles in the village dated from the time
when the villagers had been compelled to divide them-
selves into the three classes.
When the query was put as to why the family was
regarded as Kulaks, he replied that someone had to be
a Kulak, and that this family many years before had
owned a village inn. They no longer had it, but there
was apparently no hope of their ever losing their status
as a K&k family.
If they should there would be no other family to take
their place as the local Public Enemy, and for some
reason unknown to anyone, the Soviet Government in-
sisted that each village must produce at least one Kulak
family to be hated and oppressed.
These KuZaki had no electoral rights, had to pay
forty per cent of their miserable income to the state, and
their children were not allowed to go to school. Thus
Stalin used the technique of artificially focussing hatred
on the innocent, which Hitler copied in the case of the
In practice, since in many parts of the country real
78 Lost Illusion
Kulaks who “exploited” other peasants were hard to find,
the designation was applied to every peasant who was a
little better off than his neighbors, to anyone who owned
two horses and two cows, or had managed in some way
to lift himself a little above the miserably low general
standard of life in the Russian village. It meant that
hard work and enterprise were penalized wherever they
were found. What Tartar invasions and long centuries
of feudal oppression had begun, the Soviet Government
The Russian peasant sank further into slothfulness and
hopelessness. Since to raise himself above the level of
his beasts of burden was now accounted a crime against
the state, he worked as little as possible, and ate and
drank whenever he could without thought of the mor-
row, which was almost certain to be worse than today.
The fecklessness of the Russian character was the
result of Russian history, but it was left to the Soviet
Government to make laws penalizing all who worked
hard and took thought for the morrow. Its treatment of
the best and most progressive elements among the peas-
antry might have been expressly designed to prove the
truth of the old arguments against socialism.
Precisely those peasants who had the knowledge,
skill, and industry to raise Russian agriculture above its
medieval level were liquidated. The collective farms were
deprived of the men who could have made them function
The army of city workers sent down to coerce the
peasants and manage the collectives took far more from
Revival of Serfdom 79
the villages in the shape of wages than the Kulaks had
ever taken as profit. If, by allowing them a larger share of
the produce than the other peasants, the Kulaks had been
persuaded to run the new farms, instead of being killed
off or imprisoned, the system might possibly have
It was, of course, argued that the Kulaks were irrec-
oncilably hostile to the Soviet state. But they had never
been given a chance to be other than hostile. The govern-
ment discriminated against them, reviled them, and in-
stigated everyone to loathe them. Naturally they hated
the Soviet Government. But to argue that they were
irreconcilable enemies of the Soviet state is like saying
that the Jews in Germany deserved what they got
because they hated the Nazi Government which op-
It was not only the Kulaks who were expropriated,
exiled, or imprisoned. Except for the minority of land-
less peasants, all regarded collectivization as expropria-
tion. Ordered by the state to pool all their property and
to give everything up to the Kolkhoz (collective farm),
and faced with exile to Siberia or with slave labor in the
concentration camps if they refused to join the Kolkhoz,
the peasants naturally killed their pigs, their sheep, their
cows, and their chickens, and ate them or sold the hides
and the meat for money, which could be hidden. By
1934, the number of horses in Russia was half what it
had been in 1929, and the sheep and pigs less than half.
Trotsky described the process in the following words:
“Twenty-five million isolated peasant egoisms which
80 Lost Illusion
yesterday had been the sole motive force of agriculture-
weak as an old farmer’s nag, but nevertheless forces-the
bureaucracy tried to replace at one gesture by the com-
mands of 2,000 collective farm administrative offices,
lacking technical equipment, agricultural knowledge, and
the support of the peasants themselves.”
Trotsky called Stalin’s program a blind, violent gam-
ble. The left opposition had never advocated anything
so drastic, so rapid, and so unprepared. It had envisaged
gradual collectivization over a period of fifteen years.
Stalin, having at last decided upon collectivization,
thought he could force it through by terror exercised
against the whole peasant population.
He laid waste the countryside and caused the death
of between five and ten million peasants by starvation.
Russian morale has never recovered from those terri-
ble years. The Communist Party and the Comsomols be-
came the expropriators of the people, an army of oc-
cupation in their own country.
Decent young men and women sent to the villages
were persuaded that it was their duty as Communists to
stifle all humanitarian scruples while driving the be-
wildered, sullen, and resentful peasants into the collective
farms, and to confiscate grain, milk, and meat from men
and women whose children would starve to death in
Those who would not perform the terrible deeds ex-
pected of them were expelled from the Party as “rotten
liberals.” Both duty and hopes of a career compelled the
Party member and the Comsomol to utter ruthlessness and
Revival of Serfdom 81
inhumanity. Many of the young people became hardened
and cynical careerists prepared to commit any atrocity
commanded by Stalin. Some thus became moral perverts,
sadists who enjoyed the tortures which they were
ordered to inflict on the helpless victims of the OGPU.
The war on the Russian peasants was more brutalizing
than war against another nation, for the peasants were
unarmed and defenseless. The present generation of
Communists was brutalized in youth by the pogrom con-
ducted against the peasants.
Meanwhile the workers in the factories found them-
selves suffering almost as great a degree of privation as
in the years of civil war. Not only did Stalin’s violent
agrarian policy drastically reduce the amount of food
produced in Russia; his industrialization plans caused
food and manufactures to be exported from Russia to
pay for machinery imports. Butter and eggs disappeared
from the worker’s table and were dumped abroad. Meat
and even herring became a rare luxury.
During my first year in Moscow it was believed that
if once the peasants could be forced into the collective
farms, the food problem would be solved. But, although
by I 93 I most of the land had been taken over by col-
lectives, the peasants had not yet been coerced to work
for the profit of the state.
Incentive was gone. Since they no longer owned the
land, since intensive industrialization and concentration
on the production of capital goods meant that the state
had even less to sell them than before in the way of con-
sumers’ goods, and since the state virtually confiscated
82 Lost Illusion
the grain by taking it at nominal prices, the collectivized
peasants worked less than ever before.
They opposed the government by the same passive re-
sistance as before the New Economic Policy was intro-
duced, afid sowed and reaped just enough to feed them-
selves. This fact, coupled with drought in the Black Soil
region, reduced the harvest to a much smaller amount
than in previous years. But the government nevertheless
enforced its full demands, telling the peasants that it was
their own fault if they were short of food, and leaving
them to die of starvation.
A terrible famine set in, especially severe in the rich
corn-bearing lands of the Ukraine. This time there was
no food relief poured in to Russia from the United States
as it was in 1922 under the leadership of Herbert Hoover,
since the Soviet Government denied to foreigners that
there was a famine.
Foreign journalists were not allowed to visit the South.
All Russia knew what was happening; but the hacks of
the foreign press, obedient to Stalin for fear of losing
their jobs, sent out no word. Only a few brave and hon-
est correspondents like Eugene Lyons of the United
Press, William Henry Chamberlin of the Christian Sci-
ence Monitor, and Malcolm Muggeridge, then corre-
spondent of the Manchester Guardian, told the truth and
were expelled from Russia, or put in a position in which
they were ultimately forced to leave. Others followed
the lead of Walter Duranty of the New York Times and
denied the existence of a famine, until years later.
Revival of Serfdom 83
Foreign visitors, carefully shepherded by Intourist,
and given huge meals in the hotels of the starving land,
went home to deny the rumors of famine. I well remem-
ber the delegation from England in 1932 which included
Mrs. G. D. H. Cole and various professors from London
University. One of them, a lecturer at the London
School of Economics, told me as we ate a bountiful meal
at the New Moscow Hotel (at his expense) that it was
all nonsense about the famine, for at Kiev he had been
given caviar, butter, eggs, and coffee for breakfast! I had
to let him talk, for I knew if I told him the truth and he
repeated it, my husband would be sent to prison.
Stalin’s utter ruthlessness won the day. The resistance
of the peasants was broken. Since 1932 they have known
that they wili starve unless they produce the quota taken
by the government and in addition enough to feed tliem-
selves. They have been forced to work on the govern-
ment’s terms. They have become serfs again. Their work
on the collective farms is forced labor, and corresponds
to the labor service rendered to his overlord by the serf
in medieval times.
By 1935 it was recognized that the economic forces
pulling Russia back to individual farming and private
property were too strong even for a government main-
tained by naked force. The peasants were given per-
mission to sell on the free market any produce they could
spare from their own subsistence after the government
had collected its quotas which were always very large.
More important was authorization to cultivate a small
84 Lost Illusion
allotment of ground to grow vegetables, fruit and some-
times a little grain. The peasant was also allowed to own
a pig, a cow or a goat as his private property.
On this allotment he can work after hours for his own
benefit. His labor on the collective farm produces a
minimum for subsistence in good years. But since he
knows that the government will always cheat him if, it
can, he has no incentive to increase the productivity of
He knows that should the communal land be made to
yield more, the state collections will be raised, or the
amount set aside for capital improvements increased.
Bitter experience has taught him that he cannot raise
his standard of life, since a jealous government will in
one way or another deprive him of all profit of his
labors. Hence the veritable stagnation of Soviet agri-
In the following years the peasants naturally spent all
the time they dared on cultivating the little personal
plots of land, the produce of which they could eat them-
selves, or sell for their own profit. This budding of
private enterprise was blighted by the government by a
series of decrees in 1939.
These decrees declared that the peasant’s private al-
lotment had been losing its subsidiary character and in
many cases had been converted into the main source. of ’
income of the collective farmer. Consequently work on
the collective farms had been neglected.
Henceforth the maximum size of individually owned
plots of land was strictly limited and a minimum number
Revival of Serfdom 85
of days set during which the peasant must work on the
collective farms. Recalcitrant peasants were threatened
with expropriation and exile called “transportation to
sparsely populated regions.”
The new drive against the peasants inaugurated just
before the Second World War no doubt explains why
the Germans succeeded in getting whole battalions of
Russians under General Vlassov to join them. But the
Germans, like Napoleon a century earlier, passed up
a great opportunity to alter the course of the war.
Napoleon in his memoirs wrote that if he had freed
the Russian serfs he would not have been defeated, and
that he had not done so because he had always been in
favor of law and order. The Germans in the Ukraine,
although allowing a limited return to private ownership
of the land, were too anxious to get food from the coun-
try to abolish the collective farms. They retained the
Soviet system of squeezing the people.
Collectivization has never surmounted the crisis of the
twenties. The shortage of consumer’s goods remains
acute, and has ever since 1936 been intensified by the
diversion of industry to the supply of armaments. The
disparity between the prices of industrial goods and the
prices at which the agricultural population is forced to
sell its produce to the state has grown much greater, not
smaller, during the past decade.
What collectivization has done is to make the state
confiscation of crops by forced grain deliveries much
easier. A small detachment of OGPU soldiers in each
district can terrify the collectives into giving up the
86 Lost Illusion
greater pan’of the harvest, whereas an enormous number
of troops would be required to terrorize each individual
peasant cultivating his own farm.
All the much-vaunted use of modern farm machinery
imported or produced at tremendous sacrifice in the
USSR has not increased the yield of the land or lowered
the real cost of production. The tractors and other
modem farm implements have not compensated either
for the destruction of livestock in 1930 and 193 I, or for
the lost incentive of the peasant to labor.
The machinery paid for by the blood and sweat of a
whole generation of Russians is often entirely useless
because it has broken down and cannot be repaired, or
partly wasted because it is not used to its full capacity.
Neither the peasant nor the state has reaped any real
benefit from the mechanization of agriculture concern-
ing which the Soviet Union boasts so extravagantly.
The net result of Stalin’s socialism is the reduction of
the standard of living of the Russian people, while in-
creasing taxation to support the Communist bureaucrats,
the secret police and the Red Army. The income from
the bread tax has been the largest item in the revenue of
the Soviet Government. The peasants, like the city work-
ers eat less and are worse clothed than they were under
d..cadi ~azqht in the Web
ANE TABRISKY AND I were not long in Moscow
without sensing the terror then in full operation against
non-Party intellectuals. Communist Party members still
felt comparatively safe. They were not as likely to hear
the fatal knock at the door in the night which meant
that the OGPU had come to claim a victim.
Every specialist, however loyal and long his service,
feared arrest, for the government was attempting to lay
the blame for the food shortage brought about by its
agrarian policy upon the wretched non-Party engineers,
agronomists, technicians and administrators, scientists
and professors. Like Hitler, Stalin sought scapegoats for
the masses, so that they would not blame the ruling
party for the shortage of food and clothing and houses to
live in, or for the universal misery and disorganization
They must be made to believe that “wreckers” were
responsible, and lay the blame for their ever-increasing
misery upon agents of the “foreign bourgeoisie” and
Tsarist elements inimical to the proletariat and to the
construction of socialism.
Hence the increasing arrests of the non-Party spe-
88 Lost illusion
cialists. This term included not only engineers, pro-
fessors, and scientists, but all the educated: accountants,
technicians, teachers, doctors, and those with admin-
istrative experience, or knowledge of trade and finance.
Stalin, whose pathological hatred for educated men
and women was as yet restricted in its operation to those
outside the Party, was doing his best to liquidate the
intellectuals as a class. This senseless
terror, which struck
down or demoralized men essential to any successful in-
dustrialization of the country, was perhaps as funda-
mental a cause for the failure of the Five Year Plan to
raise the standard of life of the Russian people, as the
forced collectivization of agriculture.
I remember the case of Arcadi’s friend, a gentle,
elderly Jew named Kipman, which illustrates both the
cruelty and stupidity of the OGPU. He was arrested
the winter of 193 I on returning with his wife from
London, where he had worked for several years at the
Soviet Trade Representation. He was accused of having
embezzled I 0,000 pounds.
My friends who knew him were certain that he was
absolutely honest. It was moreover obvious that if he
had taken the money he and his wife, who were both
over sixty years old, would have stayed in London and
lived on it for the rest of their lives. However, Kipman
“confessed” to the crime and was sent to a Siberian
prison for five $years.
His wife, in spite of her age and failing health, strug-
gled valiantly for years to get him out of prison. She
appealed, she made representations, she produced proofs
Arcadi Caught in the Web 89
of the falseness of the charge. At the end of three years
she succeeded in getting his case re-examined. It was
then found that the money had, in fact, never been
lost, but there had been a mistake made in the accounts
for which Kipman was in no way responsible.
He was brought back to Moscow and set free, but a
few days before he arrived his wife died, worn out by
anxiety, poverty and her efforts to secure his release.
I remember seeing Kipman in the Narcomveshtorg
Stolovaya (Dining Room of Peoples Commissariat for
Foreign Trade) one day, white-haired, stooped, with
When I asked him later why he had confessed to a
crime he had never committed, he said it was because
the OGPU threatened to imprison his wife as well if
he didn’t, and had promised him to leave her free if he
confessed. The ruin of the lives of these two innocent
old people was typical of countless human tragedies.
I felt the prison house was closing in upon me. As it ap-
peared more and more certain that Arcadi would come
to Moscow my spirits sank. Whereas in 1927 and even
in 1928 I had longed to live in the USSR, now I dreaded
it. I was being rapidly initiated into the terror and the
ghastly suffering of Soviet life.
Finally, one cold December evening Pickman brought
me the news that Arcadi was already on his way and
would be in Moscow by the end of the year. My heart
sank. For a moment I had a vision of the future, saw us
both caught in the web.
But I had to keep up appearances. Although my visitor
90 Lost Illusion
was an old friend and a most decent person, I knew
how dangerous it was to let even my best friends guess
my real thoughts.
So I smiled and said how pleased I was, offered him a
drink, and together we “celebrated” Arcadi’s approach-
ing return. Shura could see I was unhappy and tried to
cheer me up, but Vera rejoiced.
Early on New Year’s Day, 193 I, I met my husband
at the station. Coming from the Far East he was numbed
by the bitter cold of that snowy and windy January
day. We met, not quite as strangers, but as two people
who had to get to know each other again after nearly a
year and a half’s separation.
I was already on the road to utter disillusionment.
Arcadi was determined to believe. We began life to-
gether, as before in one small room, as before loving
each other, but invisibly separated by my lost hopes and
the hopes he was determined not to lose.
I had begun working at the Comintern before he ar-
rived. He took up work at Promexport. Each evening I
cut him with my cynical comments upon my futile work
in the Comintem, and gibed at the marvels of Soviet
“socialist” construction, which I said could better be
called the construction of conditions for famine. He im-
mersed himself in his work and closed his ears to my bit-
Our love was not dead, but the old intimacy was lost.
We had come together largely as the result of shared
beliefs, and both of us had put political duty before the
Arcadi Caught in the Web 9’
pleasure of being together. Now we no longer had be-
liefs to share, andmwere not yet drawn to one another as
the only refuge in a purgatory of our own blind choos-
ing. The gaiety had gone out of our relationship, al-
though later it was to return as a refuge from sorrow.
Meanwhile the Terror struck closer and closer home,
carrying off to the concentration camps men with whom
Arcadi had worked abroad, men whom we knew as loyal
and selfless specialists. He could not believe them guilty
of counter-revolutionary activity and sabotage, but he
would not admit that their arrest was other than acci-
. dental, a mistake which would be rectified.
The daily struggle for food and the recurring search
for a room soon absorbed all my energies outside my of-
fice work. I was brought down to the plane on which life
is lived by most Russians, the plane of bitter primitive
struggle for the primary necessities of life: food and
In that first year, before either of us had access to a
closed distributor, I learned what the life of the Russian
masses is like. I learned also to be a wife in its primitive
sense. It was my job to keep my man alive by seeing that
he was fed and had shelter. He worked so hard and so
late at the office that I, with my regular seven hours of
useless labor at the Comintern, took over the job of
shopping, cooking, cleaning, and washing.
Of these domestic tasks it was the shopping which ex-
hausted me. The search from shop to shop for food, the
long standing in line to obtain our bread ration every
92 Lost Illusion,
evening, the bargaining with the peasants at the street
corner in exchanging bread for milk became my real
The peasants, deprived of all their grain and fodder
by a merciless government, wanted bread to feed their
cows. There had developed a “new and higher form of
economy” under the Soviets whereby the peasants pro-
duced milk for the townspeople in exchange for bread
to produce that milk.
Hundreds of thousands of peasants near the cities of
Russia spent at least half a day traveling to and from
their farms and standing in the market or at street cor-
ners selling milk or a few miserable vegetables. To ar-
range that one of their number should do the selling
while the others worked on the land was forbidden.
The seller would have been punished as a middleman,
a speculator. Stalin had found a novel way to banish
unemployment by forcing each peasant, with milk or
other produce to dispose of, to spend the greater part of
the day selling it to the consumer.
I managed to rent a room in a new flat on Novinsky
Boulevard. The owner, once a sailor on the famous ship
Potemkin, whose crew had mutinied in 1905, was work-
ing at the Soviet Consulate in London. His two daughters
rented me a room at the “commercial price”-that is to
say, I paid more for the one room than they paid for the
This was usual in Moscow at the time, although the
subletting of rooms and country houses by privileged
Party members was not yet the source of rentier income
Arcadi Caught in the Web 93
it later became. Subletting was also done by non-Party
people; but, since it was the Communist Party members
who secured most of the new flats, they were pre-
dominantly the landlord class.
Jania, the elder daughter of our landlord, was typical
of the girls of the new aristocracy. She dressed well, she
enjoyed life, and she had a job. Her work, however, did
not provide her with half her income. She not only let
a room, but she sold at commercial prices the large ration
of eggs, butter, and other “luxuries” which it was her
father’s privilege to receive as a member of the Moscow
The fact that he was working and living abroad and
had Jania’s stepmother with him in London, did not
mean that his ration was cut off. Jania drew eleven
pounds of butter and a large number of eggs every ten
days, Sold at commercial prices (about five times as high
as the price she paid) these supplies produced an income
equal to more than half her monthly salary as a clerk in
Jania’s flat was always full of young men in the
evenings, and when I once remarked to her how popular
she was, she replied seriously,
“Oh, no, it isn’t that; they just all want to marry me
because we have a flat.”
Jania was a decent sort and honest. She made no pre-
tense of admiring or believing in Soviet policies and
eventually married beneath her. She was in love with a
young engineering student who was not a Comsomol
and could never be a member of the Communist Party,
94 Lost Illusion
because his father, a highly qualified engineer, was of
Years later I met Jania for the last time before leaving
Russia. She was working in the Intourist office in Mos-
cow where I bought my ticket to England. Very pale,
very thin, all the gaiety and youth gone from her face,
she was dying of tuberculosis and knew it.
Because she had married outside her class, her father
no longer had anything to do with her. Jania and her
husband and child all lived in one room. She had, of
course, no hope of getting to a sanatorium, since neither
she nor her husband were members of the Communist
Our flat, on Novinsky Boulevard, was in an ultra-
modern duplex apartment house completed in 1930. It
was built on supporting pillars like a lake-dwelling, and
a broad covered way ran along the front of each story.
One side of the house was all glass, and no doubt it
would have been very healthy and hygienic and com-
fortable if there had been sufficient heating, or if only
one family had inhabited each apartment. But to house
several families, as most Russian flats do, it was most in-
conveniently built. There was a large studio-type room,
in which the second room was an open balcony above.
Only the third room had both a door and a ceiling, and
so some privacy.
At first I slept in the hall-like room below, overlooked
by Jania’s sister above and unable to go to bed or to work
when the latter entertained her boy friends. When Ar-
Arcadi Caught in the Web 9s
cadi arrived, I persuaded Jania to let us have the enclosed
room with tht! door on the balcony.
The floors were of stone and we had no carpet. The
only furniture was a single bed I had brought from
England, a small table I had managed to buy, and three
hard chairs. We kept our clothes in our trunks and our
books and toilet articles on the window sill or on the
Nevertheless, life on Novinsky Boulevard was the best
we were to know for many a year. There was a bath-
room with a hot-water heater, and there was a gas stove
in the kitchen. Also, this being a house occupied by im-
portant Soviet officials, there was a communal kitchen
where one could buy much better dinners than at
Unhappily, Jania’s father returned to Moscow in the
summer of I 93 I and we had to move. I was at that time
in London arranging the publication of my first book,
Lancashire and the Far East, which, originally accepted
for publication by the School of Economics, had been
turned down by Sir William Beveridge, the Director of
the School, after my departure from England.
C. M. Lloyd, Director of the Social Science Depart-
ment, had written to me that it could only be published
by the School if I would modify my chapters on India.
Rather than abate by a jot my indictment of British im-
perialism, I had gone to England to arrange publication
myself, with the assistance of C. M. Lloyd.
When I returned to Moscow in September, 1931,
96 Lost Illusion
Arcadi had moved into a very small furnished room near
the Sukharevsky Market. For this room and the right to
share the kitchen and bathroom with the landlord’s fam-
ily, we paid IOO rubles a month out of Arcadi’s salary of
300 and mine of 275.
Our landlord paid only 45 rubles monthly rent for the
whole three-room flat. Our rent was cheap as rooms
went; many people had to pay more. It was a cooperative
apartment house. This meant that the landlord had
acquired it by paying monthly installments into a co-
operative building society. Like most other owners of
apartments, he rented one of his three rooms and so se-
cured a return on the capital he had invested.
Being non-Party, he had had to wait years and pay
several thousand rubles before getting his flat. Com-
munist Party men, if not already in possession of a de-
cent apartment built before the Revolution, and taken
possession of during its early years, often secured a new
flat without payment, or by only a year or so of mem-
bership payments to a Cooperative.
In any case, the Party men always had priority, and
thus could secure the precious capital which a flat rep-
resented without a large previous investment. Most own-
ers made a super-profit on renting rooms, but whereas
the Communist Party member could charge anything the
market would bear, the non-Party man was afraid of
doing this, for he might be accused of speculating.
It was here in our room on Tmbnaya UZitsa, near the
Sukharevsky Market, that I first witnessed the terrible
exploitation of servants, Jania had done her own house-
Arcadi Caught in the Web 97
work and so did I. But our landlord and landlady here
had a “domestic worker.”
She was, like nearly all Moscow servants, a peasant
girl. She worked from 7 A.M. until nearly midnight,
cleaning, cooking, washing, and standing in line at the
shops. The latter occupation was the most strenuous part
of her labors and the most painful. For to stand in line in
the cold Russian winter when you have neither proper
footwear nor a really warm coat is agony. This girl had
neither. Nor did she eat the good meat or fish meals she
prepared. She lived on soup, black bread, and cereals,
with an occasional bit of herring.
At night she slept on the floor of the kitchen. The
Kazaika (house mistress) cowed her, bullied her, and
drove her. The girl was often in tears and always sad and
miserable. When we asked her why she did not leave, she
said she would be treated just the same anywhere else,
and she couldn’t go to work in a factory since she had no
room to live in.
All through my stay in Moscow I found the same
conditions for servants. In some of the old apartment
houses I saw as many as five or six families all sharing one
kitchen. A young Russian whom I had formerly known
at the London School of Economics, and who lived in
one room with his wife and child, shared a toilet and
kitchen with 35 other people in the same flat.
Several of the families housed in one apartment would
each have a servant. It was not uncommon for three or
four servants to sleep together in the kitchen, side by
side on the floor or on the kitchen table. Bugs ran over
98 Lost Illzlsion
them at night, and the atmosphere was so fetid and foul
that one hesitated to go in to boil water for tea or to
The employers of these girls were often little better
off themselves. A family of four to a room, feeding
poorly, would hire a servant mainly in order to have
someone to stand in line at the shops for food. Even the
limited rations called for by the food cards could not be
obtained without a long wait; and this, together with
foraging around for unrationed food occasionally avail-
able in the shops, was almost a full-time occupation.
The waste of labor entailed in the socialist fatherland
by the hopelessly inefficient distribution system, and by
the shortage of food and clothing, was such as to make
it easy to believe that there could be no unemployment
problem. If husband and wife both worked at a large
enterprise and there were no children, a maid could be
dispensed with since they could eat dinner in the stolo-
vaya (restaurant) of the factory or office.
But if there were children, food must be found for
them somehow. Party men of high standing kept maids
to spare their wives labor, but the great majority of the
families who employed domestic workers did so in spite
of their poverty, or because of their poverty. Enough
food for the children could be bought only if both
parents worked; but someone must do the shopping.
Hence the necessity of having a servant.
The terrible exploitation of domestic labor was in
part due to the poverty of the employers, and in part to
the exodus of peasant girls from the hunger-stricken
Arcadi Caught in the Web 99
villages. To be allowed to live in the towns and get
some sort of a meal every day was to be incomparably
better off than in the village, even if the girl had to work
sixteen hours out of twenty-four.
Work in the factories (even if obtainable without
close probing into why they had left the village and as to
whether their parents were Kulaks) could not secure
them a shelter. So they went to work as servants.
Servants were consequently easy to get and, being un-
protected by Soviet law or by Russian custom, could be
exploited mercilessly. There was no alternative for them
except starvation, and they were practically slaves. On
the other hand, they naturally had little moral sense.
Their village world had been destroyed, they or their
peasant neighbors had been expropriated and robbed by
the state, and their religion vilified and reviled.
To be religious was tantamount to being considered
counter-revolutionary. So freed of moral and religious
inhibitions, they stole whatever they could lay their
hands on. Russian housewives locked up every bit of
food and kept a strict watch upon their scanty ward-
It was typical of the relation between mistress and
maid in the Soviet Union that when the German Com-
munists, who still retained the socialist ideal of human
equality, wanted their servants to sit and eat with them,
they found themselves misunderstood.
“The Kazaika,” the servants said, “is so afraid of our
eating too much that she forces us to sit with her at table
to keep an eye on how much food we consume.”
100 Lost Illusion
Servants were still treated like serfs by the Russians
even when their conditions of life allowed them to give
some elementary comforts to their domestic employees.
Party men who secured large flats rarely provided their
maids with a room of their own to sleep in. Even a
family with four or five rooms at its disposal made the
servant sleep in the kitchen, or at best in a kind of open
cupboard, constructed over the front door in the most
modern flats especially for servants to sleep in.
For me the servant problem was at first insoluble. I
could not drive people to work, and, being what the
Russians, called a “petty bourgeois idealist,” I felt it was
indecent to lock up our bread, sugar, and butter in a
cupboard, and periodically to search the domestic work-
er’s basket or suitcase for stolen goods.
So after a couple of months during which a large part
of my precious foreign clothing was stolen and our food
supplies mysteriously disappeared, I went back to doing
the housework myself. The difficulty was that we could
never be sure whether the servant or the landlady had
stolen our missing stuff. Each accused the other. I
thought it was quite likely to have been the landlady,
but, since she was already eager to turn us out of our
room and we had nowhere to go, I could do nothing.
We were paying “only” IOO rubles a month for our
room, and by this time it was becoming easy to let rooms
for IJO or 200, so we were no longer welcome. Arcadi
was making the 300 ruble Party maximum, but he had no
Party privileges. I also was now earning 300 rubles, hav-
ing become a “textile specialist” at Promexport. All
Arcadi Caught in the Web 101
Arcadi’s savings from his years of work in England had
been spent to buy a room in Moscow for his former wife
Out of our joint earnings, we now had to support
Anna Abramova and the boy Vitia, so there was little
left to feed ourselves after IOO rubles had gone for rent.
As yet neither of us had a closed distributor but we did
have first category food cards like industrial workers.
So we each got two pounds of bread a day, half of
which we exchanged for milk from the peasants on the
street corner. We also received some sugar and two
pounds of meat a month per person. Everything else had
to be bought on the free market at high prices.
Our only solution was extra work. Editing and trans-
lating were easy to come by, but Arcadi worked late at
the office every evening, and I couldn’t do Russian
translations without him. Luckily, I got an advance of
2500 rubles for the Russian edition of Lancashire and the
Fur East, but we paid 1600 rubles of this into the Hous-
ing Cooperative I had joined in 1928.
In October we had managed to buy putofkas (accom-
modations) in a Rest House at Gagri in the Caucasus.
Here in the Land of the Golden Fleece, where Jason
found Medea, we enjoyed our first relaxation together
since Japan. Gagri is one of the loveliest places in the
world and by its blue sea with the Caucasian mountains
rising behind us we could almost forget the pushing,
crowded petty life of Moscow.
In the Caucasus there were very few signs of the
“construction of socialism.” At Gagri there were ruins
102 Lost Illusion
of a castle of Mithridates whom Great Pompey con-
quered and who had fled from the Roman legions to die
in the Armenian mountains to the south. There was also
a small Byzantine church of the Fifth Century which
had withstood the ravages of the many races which had
passed to and fro along this land bridge between Europe
It was a hungry holiday but a happy one. We used to
supplement the meager food supplied by the Rest Home
by eating large quantities of walnuts, the only reasonably
cheap food obtainable in the few shops of the small town.
Occasionally we bought grapes but they were very ex-
pensive. The sea was still warm enough for swimming
and the mountain walks were beautiful and gave us a
feeling of release.
Back in Moscow, securing a flat again bcame our main
preoccupation. Since Arcadi’s hopes of getting the rooms
long since promised, and long since paid for, were fad-
ing, we began to concentrate on home hunting in my
name instead. Since I was still a member of the British
Communist Party, I had a better chance of securing
something. Unfortunately, however, I had become a
member of the Railway Worker’s Housing Cooperative
up in Grusynski Val near the Alexandrovsky Station,
and railway workers at that time were not a favored
I had joined it originally in 1928, through MOPR (In-
ternational Class War Prisoners Aid ) with which it was
affiliated. The apartment house this Cooperative was
building progressed very slowly because of lack of ma-
Arcadi Caught in the Web 103
terials, labor, and money. I had a friend on the board of
the Cooperative, a Polish Communist Party member
called Lofsky, whom I met when I was a delegate to
Russia in 1927, and who had since been off on secret
Comintem work in South America. He advised me to
present the Chairman of the Cooperative with an Eng-
lish woolen sweater and promised to keep an eye open
in my interest.
The art of securing the flat to which payments en-
titled us consisted in haunting the premises of the Co-
operative at the time when flats were being completed
and about to be allocated. If around and about at the
right moment a flat might be obtained. Otherwise unless
the person were an important Communist Party official
he would be overlooked no matter how high his priority
number might be.
Unfortunately, Arcadi was always working so hard
at the office that he couldn’t hang around his Cooperative
and kept on being passed over. My own hopes faded
when Lofsky was again sent abroad. I never got my flat
through all the succeeding years, nor was I able, when at
last Arcadi got his, to secure the reimbursement of the
4500 rubles I had paid down years before.
For years every letter I wrote to my mother referred
to our housing problem-the hope for an apartment in
the spring, then in the autumn, then for the following
year. At first I believed the promises; but after two years
I was writing that I had given up having any confidence
in Russian promises.
The first lesson the Soviet citizen has to learn is that
104 Lost Illusion
promises and contracts mean nothing at all. The govem-
ment cheats its citizens all the time in big things and
little, and every official behaves in the same way. Only
foolish foreigners, newly arrived in Moscow, think that
the letter of the law, or the written contract, or the
spoken promise have any meaning in Russia.
There stands out in my memories of life in Moscow, a
picture of the snowy street outside our apartment house
along which I went to the office. Some construction
work was going on near by, and every morning I saw
carts full of bricks or wooden planks drawn by thin,
Often the carts got stuck in the ruts in the thick snow,
and the drivers dressed in rags of sacking whipped the
horses mercilessly. The breath of the struggling horses
and men formed a thick steam in the cold wintry air. I
used to hurry along trying not to see the sores on the
horses nor to hear their panting. Horses and men alike
were starved, and the sufferings of the animals were
only one degree worse than those of the wrecks of
human beings who drove them.
It was said that on the collective farms the peasants
deliberately worked the horses to death so that they
might get meat to eat. An inhuman system made men
treat their beasts as cruelly as the government treated
them, and with as little thought of preserving life, Cold,
snow, misery, and want were the background of life in
I &earn dbozlt &Get
HAD MY FIRST INTIMATE EXPERIENCE
with the free medical service and the hospitals which
foreign visitors to the Soviet Union describe in such
glowing terms, during my second winter in Moscow.
I was pregnant, and I was foolish enough, on New
Year’s Eve, to carry home twenty-two pounds of po-
tatoes which I had miraculously secured. The tram, as
usual, was chock full and in the scuffle to get through it
and out at the front my glasses were knocked off. In my
near-sighted efforts to retrieve them, I was rather badly
I reached home exhausted and trembling but did not
know I had injured myself. That night we went over to
a New Year’s Eve party at Jane?. By midnight I was
feeling ill, so we spent the night in Jane’s large room
with her and Michael, another old friend, who had come
to Moscow from England early in 193 I, and who was
also a member of the British Communist Party.
Next morning, alone with Michael after Jane and
Arcadi had gone to work, I had the miscarriage. Michael
106 Lost Illusion
could not get Arcadi by phone, for there was only one
line at his office and it was out of order. So he fetched
Jane home and went off in a droshki for Arcadi.
Arcadi tried for two hours to get a doctor and finally
came with one he had secured “commercially.” The
doctor to whose services my trade-union membership
entitled me arrived about six hours later and was ob-
viously not a doctor at all, but a bedraggled, dirty, hag-
gard young woman whom I would not have allowed to
touch me. Her only use to me was to sign the necessary
certificate for my office that I was ill.
By evening the pain had lessened and the real doctor
said if it did not get worse again I need only lie still. If
the pain returned, I must go to the nearest “abortion
house” and be scraped.
Next day at noon I was in agony. Michael, having
telephoned to Arcadi, sat beside me trying to soothe me
until Arcadi managed at last to secure a taxi to move me
to the hospital. There he had to leave me. I was strapped
down upon an operating table and scraped by a “sur-
geon” who did not even wash her hands before operat-
ing, and whose whole painted appearance suggested a
prostitute rather than a doctor.
I was given no chloroform and the pain was excruci-
ating. Then I was taken upstairs to a small room about
twelve by twelve feet, with five beds in it. I was given
an ice pack and then they left me. No one came near me,
no one washed me. There was no nurse or attendant of
any kind. The other patients begged me for the piece of
soap I had brought with me. I was the only one of the
I Learn About Soviet Hospitals ‘07
five patients who had soap and none was provided by the
At about eleven o’clock the following morning, after
a breakfast of thin gruel, I was ordered to get up and
come downstairs. I protested that I was bleeding and
should not walk. No one paid any attention. Downstairs
I was again put on the operating table, held down by
four attendants, and scraped again.
I yelled, “Why twice?”
But no one paid any attention. After this I broke down
and found myself weeping. I had been suffering for
forty-eight hours, the pain was agonizing, the place was
filthy, and I felt I was in a nightmare. When I asked for
something to wipe away the blood, the “nurse” picked a
dirty piece of cotton off the floor and handed it to me.
I determined to get out of this terrible “hospital” be-
fore I caught some awful disease. I sent a note to Arcadi
telling him he must get me out somehow. At first they
wouldn’t allow me to go, but after he had told them I
was an English journalist, they got frightened.
A nice, clean young woman doctor speaking French
came to see me. She finally explained to me that the first
“doctor” had forgotten to write down on my case sheet
that I had already been operated upon; hence the second
Jane offered to nurse me and I was permitted to leave.
I remember very vividly the joy of being back with her
and Michael in their clean room after that terrible hos-
pital. For a week I lay there in bed, Arcadi coming in
the evenings for the dinner which Jane cooked for us
108 Lost Illusion
all. Poor Arcadi never got away from the office ,for
dinner till eight or nine at night and then still had to get
home by streetcar. He looked far more ill and exhausted
than I did, and my experience had upset him badly.
It was as well I did not have the baby, although I was
very disappointed at the time. We did not secure a
permanent room of our own until nearly two years later.
What we should have done with a baby on our con-
tinued moving from room to room I do not know.
The companionship of Jane and Michael that winter
lightened our hearts. Michael and I had worked at home
in the same local of the British Communist Party. We
had sold the Daily Worker together and he had been my
bodyguard when I spoke from a soap box in the streets
of London. So long as he and Jane Tabrisky remained in
Russia I had trusted friends to whom I could open my
heart and speak freely, for their reactions to Stalin’s
Russia were the same as my own.
Not that we agreed about everything. Liberals never
do. And we were all liberals in the original sense of
the word; none of us was seeking a career in Russia at
the expense of our integrity or our friends. Arcadi did
not easily make friends or give his confidence to anyone,
but Michael and he liked each other immensely.
Michael, like Arcadi, had had an unhappy childhood,
and like him had learned at an early age to hide his feel-
ings from a hostile world, and to take refuge in humor
from the hurts which his sensitiveness would otherwise
have found intolerable. When I would boil with rage
and indignation at the divergence between Soviet pro-
I Learn About Soviet Hospitals 109
fessions and Soviet practice, Michael and Arcadi would
make a joke of it. Whereas I hated Stalin as the brutal
and callous oppressor, Michael and Arcadi saw him not
as a bloodthirsty tyrant, but as an historic phenomenon.
They argued that if there had been no Stalin, there
would have been someone else like him. I then had lean-
ings toward Trotskyism and was still convinced that if
Trotsky instead of Stalin had led the Bolshevik party
there would have been no famine, and no perversion of
the revolutionary movement.
They assured me that Trotskyism was sheer romanti-
cism, and that the course which history was taking in
i the Soviet Union followed logically from the founda-
tions Lenin laid. Since this was so, it had to be accepted
as socialism; and one could only hope, and work, to make
it a little more tolerable. Life might be a tragedy to
those who felt deeply but the wap to keep sane was by
seeing it as a comedy.
Michael had gone into the British army in the First
World War at the age of sixteen and nearly died after-
wards of tuberculosis. He had something of my brother’s
cheerful skepticism and good humor, and like Arcadi had
no great hopes that the world was at all likely to be run
rationally and intelligently or justly.
To Michael, Marxism was a tool, not a dogma, an aid
to the understanding of history, past and present, not a
revelation. What was happening in Russia must be ac-
cepted as the consequence of the socialization of the
means of prdduction and distribution by a minority in a
backward country. Here was no society of the free and
I IO Lost illusion
equal, nor was it likely to become so. It was no use to
get indignant because the new society was so very dif-
ferent from what men had hoped for.
Michael’s view of the Soviet Union was very much
like that expressed years later by Max Eastman in Stalin’s
Socialism. Since this was the society which had come out
of the socialization of land and capital it was socialism.
The fact that it bore no resemblance to the society which
Socialists had envisioned and that there was even greater
social and material inequality than under capitalism did
not prove that it was not socialism.
Michael and Arcadi were extraordinarily impersonal
in their judgments. They saw men as moved by forces
they could not understand, and the ills of the Soviet
world as due more to the stupidity of its rulers than to
their malignancy or wickedness.
They taught me not to regard Stalin as a personal
devil but rather to see him as the result of Russia’s past
history and of the Bolshevik Revolution, not as a cause
but as an effect of historical circumstances. I could not,
however, at first accept their view that under Lenin or
Trotsky it would have been essentially the same.
Jane, whose knowledge of the writings of Marx and
Lenin was exceptional, reminded us that Lenin himself
had prophesied in 1905, that “anyone who attempts to
achieve socialism by any other route than that of political
democracy will inevitably arrive at the most absurd re-
actionary deductions, both political and economic.”
Michael, Jane and I would discuss by the hour the
theory and practice of Bolshevism and the whys and
I Learn About Soviet Hospitals III
wherefores of Russia’s present miserable situation. Mi-
chael always took the Marxist point of view that history,
in broad outline, would have followed the same course
had Lenin lived. Jane said that if Lenin had lived he
would have shared Trotsky’s fate.
I argued that then, at least, it would have been obvious
to the whole world that there had been a counter-revolu-
tion. That a Stalin who ousted Lenin would never have
been able to win influence over the radical movements
of the West. The Revolution would have been buried
instead of its corpse poisoning the air of a whole genera-
tion of progressives in Europe and America. As it was,
Stalin had been able to camouflage his counter-revolu-
tion, and to confuse socialists and liberals all over the
world by his zigzags from right to left and back again,
so that the very terms had lost all meaning.
Arcadi, on the rare occasions when he had the leisure
to join in our discussions, would remind us that it was
Lenin himself who had laid the foundation for the
Russia we were living in. He had himself met Lenin and
heard him speak in Switzerland in the years before the
First World War when Arcadi had been a student at
My husband had been repelled by Lenin’s views at the
time since they denied the democratic basis for socialism.
Yet now, Arcadi was arguing that, after all, Lenin might
have been right, and perhaps the present period of terror
and want in Russia would lead to an era of plenty and
He refused, as yet, to recognize that in considering the
II2 Lost Illusion
ultimate aim all important, and the means unimportant,
Lenin had established the foundations for the permanent
despotism of an aristocracy of Communists over the
mass of the people.
Jane would then quote Plekhanov, the father of Rus-
sian Socialism who as early as 1907 had prophesied what
Lenin’s policies would lead to, saying: “At the bitter
end, everything will revolve around one man, who will
ex pmvidentia unite all powers in himself.”
Marx, although rather vague concerning the “dictator-
ship of the proletariat,” had had no doubt that it was to
be absolutely democratic, for in his view socialism was
to come after capitalism had reduced all but a small
minority to the condition of “proletarians.” For him,
seizure of power by the proletariat meant the over-
throw of a small group of capitalist exploiters by the
overwhelming majority of the people.
Socialist society was to be the only truly democratic
society since socialism alone could deprive an exploiting
class of its economic and political power. Engels, com-
menting upon Marx’s vindication of the Paris Commune
of I 87 I, had proclaimed that absolute democracy was
the natural form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. As
we have seen, Lenin himself in 1905, had declared that
without democracy there could be no socialism.
Nevertheless Lenin, in his insistence from 1907 on-
wards that the Social Democratic Party should be com-
posed of professional revolutionaries, was denying the
democratic basis of Marxian socialism. This was realized
by the minority of the Russian Social Democratic party
I Learn About Soviet Hospitals I’3
(the Mensheviks) and originally by Trotsky, who did
not join the Bolsheviks (the majority party) until 1917.
In effect, Lenin saw what the Social Democrats failed
to see, that the working class did not naturally desire
socialism, and that if one waited for it to become revo-
lutionary by itself, one might wait until the end of time.
Marx had believed that the course of capitalist de-
velopment would of itself turn the working class into
revolutionaries. Lenin saw before 1914 that it wouldn’t,
and after 1914 that the workers were patriots first and a
cIass-conscious proletariat second. He did not on that
account reject Marxism. His solution was a revolution,
led by professional revolutionaries who knew better
than the workers what the latter needed for their own
good: socialism. All along, Lenin distrusted “the masses”
and saw “the Party” as necessary to prevent their falling
away from the revolutionary path.
This transmutation of Marxism was the easier for
Lenin because he was a Russian. The belief in democracy
was inherent and deep-rooted in the minds of the Marx-
ists of Western Europe; and it was the rational side of
Marx, not his mystical belief in the inevitability of
progress, which appealed to them.
But Lenin was a Russian, and his ideas were un-
consciously affected by the fanaticism and naivete of his
country and his people. For him the bedrock belief that
history was “inevitably” leading mankind to a better
social system, was fundamental. Marxism was a creed and
a body of dogma which Lenin could interpret according
to the practical needs of the moment. This made him far
I ‘4 Lost illusion
more resolute and immediately successful then the hes-
itant, tolerant, and essentially humanitarian leaders of the
western Social Democratic parties; but it also made pos-
sible the later grotesque distortions of the aims of the
Revolution by Stalin and his henchmen.
Lenin wrote that the Bolsheviks should not “shrink
from barbarous methods to fight barbarism,” nor be
afraid to hasten Russia’s assimilation of Western civiliza-
tion by dictatorial methods. He failed to perceive until
too late that these precepts would lead to his party be-
coming the instrument of a savage and barbarous Asiatic
Before his death Lenin made unfailing efforts to stem
the tide which was sweeping the Russian people toward
a tyranny worse than that of the Tsars. But he could not
command the waves to retire.
When I saw Lenin’s embalmed body in the Red
Square it seemed to me that his lips were set in a sardonic
and bitter smile. In his last hours he had no God to whom
to cry, “Why hast thou forsaken me? ” But his ex-
pression suggested the realization that his life’s work had
borne a bitter and unwholesome fruit. His goal had been
human freedom. But by sanctioning the ruthless use of
power by an elite minority, and by inflaming the hatreds
of mankind, he had laid the foundations for a worse
tyranny than the world had yet known,
Friendship is very precious in an uncertain, savage
and strange world, where everyone’s hand is against his
neighbor, and fear and the struggle for bare subsistence
drive even decent men and women to spy upon and to
I Learn About Soviet Hospitals “5
denounce one another. Life is endurable only if you
have at least one human being to whom you can speak
your mind freely and without fear. I had to come home,
close the door, and shut out the world in which life was
one continual pretense, a perpetual licking of the hand
which smites you.
A little freedom of expression, honesty of thought and
speech, are as necessary as air. Without them one would
suffocate in the foul Moscow atmosphere. The glaring
contradictions between theory and practice, between
what was supposed to be and what was, and the constant
effort to say and look the opposite of what one thought,
were by no means the least strain in Soviet life. I began
to understand why so many Russians sought escape in
drink, why the vodka shops were never empty, and why
men lay drunk in the snow by the roadside.
Such conditions draw you ever closer to the few
people you love and trust. Like primitive man sheltering
with his mate in a cave against the violence of the ele-
ments and the fear of wild beasts, so in Soviet Russia you
sheltered with your family in your room or corner from
the storm of terror, hate, regimented sadism, hunger,
cold, and wretchedness, and the nauseating cant and
hypocrisy of Soviet life.
Arcadi is lost to me, but to this day Jane in England
and Michael now in the United Stares remain friends
with whom the ties forged in that period of disillusion-
ment and horror are stronger than the ties of friendship
with anyone else in my life.
We three talked ceaselesslv evening- after eveninp. and
116 Lost Illusion
this saved me from what would otherwise have been in-
tolerable loneliness and long hours of brooding. For Ar-
cadi was working literally twelve or thirteen hours a
day. He came back late at night so tired out after a day
at the office, practically without food, that my one care
and interest was to feed him and get him to bed. Break-
fast was the only meal at which we had much chance to
talk. He often had to work even on his free day.
CArcad? s &wakening
HEN I RETURNEDTOMOSCOW in September
1931, after three months in England arranging for the
publication of my book, Lancashire and the Far East, I
found my husband thin and pale and so nervous and
worn out I was frightened. It was almost as if he wished
to kill himself with work. Yet conditions for the non-
Party men were such that most of his time and energy
were wasted. Whatever he did to improve efficiency
would be undone by someone else. Moreover, like the
other specialists, Arcadi was in constant danger of being
arrested as the scapegoat for the mistakes of his Com-
munist Party supervisors.
Toward the end of the year we received a visit from
C. M. Lloyd, head of the Social Science Department of
the London School of Economics, who had directed my
research there. He was also Foreign Editor of the New
States-man. Lloyd was a friend, intelligent and discreet,
and I talked to him freely.
Arcadi challenged my statements and denied the truth
of what I said, or modified it. He convinced, or almost
convinced, Lloyd that a socialist society was being cre-
ated in the Soviet Union. Arcadi argued that the special
118 Lost Illusion
privileges of the Communist Party members and the suf-
fering of the people would pass, were not important, or
Since he cared very little whether or not he shared
those privileges, he dismissed them as unimportant. I was
convinced they were the basis of all the corruption and
distortion of the socialist idea. Lloyd went home and
wrote a series of articles in the NOW Statesman which,
although cautious in their optimism, showed his confi-
dence in the Soviet system.
After Lloyd had gone we continued the argument.
Arcadi and I had our first, and I think our last, real
quarrel. For weeks we were estranged. Arcadi, in op-
posing me, as he later acknowledged, was really fighting
his own doubts about the Soviet Union. He almost hated
me for a while. I was miserable, but I could not recant.
I still saw the English papers and the trickle of in-
formation there about the ghastly conditions in the
timber prison camps, and the famine in the Ukraine was
confirmed not only by rumors in Moscow, but by the
sight of the starving peasants.
The food situation in Moscow during my second
winter was far worse than the winter before. By this
time Arcadi had Gort B rations and I had Ins-nab, the
store for foreign specialists and Communists working in
Moscow. This meant that we were infinitely better off
than most people. Many of our acquaintances were half
starving and were grateful for the gift of a pound of
cereal from my rations.
I had left my job in the Comintem to work as a
Arcadi’s Awakening “9
textile specialist in Promexport, the organization ex-
porting manufactured goods. My visits to the textile
districts in the course of my duties showed me the pitiful
condition of the working class which was supposed to be
the ruler of the country.
At Ivanova Vosnysensk I had seen wretched men
and women striving to “fulfill the plan” on a diet of
black bread and mush. In the textile factory stolovayas
the dinner consisted of millet with a little sunflower-seed
oil. There was no herring to be had in the shops.
A meat dish of sorts could be bought for two and a
half rubles in a restaurant, but as the average monthly
wage of the mill workers was only 70 or 80 rubles, few
could afford it. The contrast between my living standard
and that of ordinary Russian workers was greater than
between ours and the Communist hierarchy. Workers
still lived in barracks or in hovels and as one elderly
woman said to me, “at least under the Tsar we had
enough bread to eat.”
I was receiving over four pounds of butter, thirteen
pounds of meat, and thirty eggs a month, besides cheese,
flour, millet, buckwheat, semolina, and even one pound
of rice-most precious cereal in Russia. I could also buy
milk if I arrived at the Insnab store at the right time,
and quite often I could obtain metana and prostakwasha
(sour cream and sour milk.)
Sometimes vegetables, fruit and chocolate were also on
sale. Arcadi’s ration was a good deal smaller than mine
but compared to that of the workers, and that of the
ordinary run of employees, we were rich. We could also
120 Lost Illusion
buy cigarettes and soap, which had become almost as
great a luxury as butter.
Arcadi finally broke down when he went on a Ko-
rvtanderofka to Odessa in April I 93i. He came back
white and miserable and shaken. In the South he had
seen the starving and the dead in the streets. At each rail-
way station en route there had been hundreds and hun-
dreds of starving wretches, emaciated women with dying
babies at their milkless breasts, children with the swollen
stomachs of famine, all begging, begging for bread.
In station waiting rooms he had seen hundreds of
peasant families herded together awaiting transporta-
tion to imprisonment in the concentration camps. He had
seen children dying of starvation and typhus, scare-
crows of men and women pushed and kicked by the
OGPU guards. It sickened even those of us who were
hardened to the sight of suffering in the Far East.
Arcadi had relatives in Odessa. From them he learned
the facts of the Ukrainian famine. The picture he painted
for me, a picture which had seared him to the soul and
shattered the optimistic view which he had until then
insisted upon preserving, bore out all the rumors we had
heard-was in fact worse.
What perhaps shocked Arcadi most of all was to find
that the train guards, conductors, and attendants were
apparently all black market speculators. They were buy-
ing food in Moscow, always better provided for than
other cities, and selling it at fantastic prices down in the
stricken southern land.
Starving children are the most pitiful sight on earth.
Arcads’s Awakening 121
There were enough of them in Moscow to make one’s
heart ache, but in the Ukraine they were legion.
Bodies of the starving lay in the streets, and pitiful
wrecks of humanity with great watery blisters and boils
on their feet, legs, and arms, dragged themselves from
place to place till they died in the vain quest for work
That summer we went on a holiday to the Crimea,
taking with us my mother, who had just come from
England. We left Moscow well provided with food for
the long journey. But by the end of the first day my
mother had given it all away to the starving wretches at
the country railway stations.
With tears streaming down her face she called my at-
tention to one wretched beggar after another, especially
to the pitiful children. That journey was an ordeal I
shall never forget. It was a sea of misery which the few
bits of food we had could do nothing to assuage.
“Totia dai Kleb, Totia dai Kleb” (Auntie, give
bread), will always ring in my ears as the national song
of ‘Socialist Russia.”
As in China, so in Russia you had to harden yourself
to the sight of suffering in order to live. But at least in
China the government does not hold it a crime to give
aid to the starving. In Russia the officials told you that
the starving were Kulaks or counter-revolutionaries not
to be helped, although in reality they were bewildered,
ignorant, powerless wretches sacrificed to the insensate
ambitions and fanaticism of a man and a party,
It was the contrasts which were always so appalling.
122 Lost Illusion
The fat officials in the dining car, the well-fed callous
OGPU guards, and the starving people. We and they, we
and they, rulers and ruled, oppressors and oppressed.
In the rest home in the Crimea, where we had got
places, there was abundant food. So abundant that bread
and fruit, ices and cake were thrown away when left on
the plates of the guests, for whom too much had been
provided. This rest home belonged to the Central Com-
mittee of the Soviets of the Crimean Republic, and we
were there by the grace of Berkinghof, whom we had
known in London. He was a prominent Bolshevik who
belonged to this part of Russia.
It was so very “upper class Communist” that we really
had no business there, but it gave us an insight into the
life of the Party aristocracy. The sight and 6ound of the
starving was shut out from these former palaces and
country houses of the Russian nobility, now as in the
past. Now there was a new aristocracy. That seemed to
be the only difference.
This new Soviet aristocracy and its hangers-on were
even more grasping, cruel, and ruthless than the old
Tsarist aristocracy which had lived in conditions of less
general want and misery. The Soviet bureaucracy and
their employees were like the people in a shipwreck who
have managed to get into the few lifeboats not smashed
to pieces. If they helped the drowning wretches in the
sea of misery into the boats, all would drown. So the
lucky ones beat back the masses of the unfortunate with
Arcadt’s Awakening 123
Those who did not starve in the Soviet Union thus
aided the government in repressing the masses who did,
and denounced as counter-revolutionaries the famished
who had once followed the Bolsheviks under the delu-
sion that they would create a just social order and a
There was, of course, a convenient theory to justify
the terrible social and material gulf between the rulers
and the ruled. The rulers were held to be “indispensable”
as the “builders of socialism.” They were so important
that they must always be well fed and enjoy comfortable
holidays in luxurious sanatoria and rest homes, else they
would be unable to bear the great burden of their re-
The wretches dying of starvation and the ill-fed
workers and peasants were just cannon fodder in the
battle of socialism. If there were not enough food to go
around, the officers of the socialist army must be well
fed even if everyone else went short. In the future every-
one would have plenty if the rulers were ruthless enough
now to see millions die in the cause of industrialization.
This theory did not explain why the survival and com-
fort of the wives and children and mistresses of the Com-
munist Party bureaucracy were also essential to the
Revolution. I suppose it could be argued that the peace
of mind of the rulers must also be preserved.
Thus have aristocracies in all historical periods justi-
fied their privileges. The Soviet aristocracy is no excep-
124 Lost Illusion
Life in the Soviet Union might be uncomfortabIe and
saddening, tragic and repulsive, but it taught us politi-
cally as no other experience could have done. Michael,
Jane, and I felt this even when the process of being edu-
cated was most painful. We learned to recognize reality
under false labels and were cured of political illusions,
or at least of the propensity to fall for slogans, facile
panaceas, and hypocritical pretenses.
Ever since I lived in Russia it has been almost impos-
sible for me to accept professions and declared aims at
their face value anywhere. Perhaps I have gone too far
to the other extreme, being now inclined to think that
those who profess least virtue are likely to have most. In
any case I am, I believe, forever cured of the Western
intellectual’s preoccupation with external forms and
I cannot accept tyranny, cruelty and starvation as
justified because they are being inflicted on people in
the name of a humanitarian ideal. Nor can I understand
how Western intellectuals who call themselves liberals
or socialists can seek to bring on their own countries the
Russian pattern of blood-stained dictatorship, misguid-
edly called a “classless society.”
Life in the Soviet Union also made me realize that
some absolute standards of behavior are essential to man-
kind if we are not to return to the level of the brute.
Voltaire’s saying that if God did not exist, He would
have to be invented, needs restating in new terms. Russia
taught me that even if one does not believe in God one
must have a moral code, must accept certain social values
Arcadi’s Awakening 125
as absolutes, and allow some freedom to the individual
How can a just and humane social order be created if
we root out our own humanity in the process of destroy-
ing the old society? After long years of bitter experience
I have come to accept Bertrand Russell’s social phi-
I have learned that absolute power will corrupt any
minority, that more evil is caused by fanatics than by
wicked men, that no movement or individual can be
certain enough of the effect their actions will have, to
subordinate means entirely to ends. Six years in Soviet
Russia have convinced me that democracy for all its in-
efficiency is likely to secure more justice than any despot,
however benevolent he may be or may profess himself
Why is it that only personal experience of Communist
tyranny and terror, with the never-absent physical fear
of the secret police, can shatter the illusions of those of
us who call ourselves Western liberals, men like Henry
Wallace who glibly speak of “our overemphasis on Bill
of Rights democracy” and the superiority of Russia’s
so-called economic democracy?
Why is it that we who have enjoyed the human free-
doms which our forefathers fought so hard to win and
to bequeath to us, do not, with the example of Russia
before us, realize the horrors of life without freedom?
Why is it that we cannot understand that there is no such
thing as embracing Communism as an experiment? It is a
one-way street, ending in a cul de sac of secret police
126 Lost Illusion
terror, firing squads for the intellectuals and leaders and
concentration camps and slave labor for the masses.
There is no turning back; there is no escape.
The coalescing of political and economic power which
is taking place everywhere and has reached its consum-
mation in totalitarian states, confronts mankind with new
problems in urgent need of solution. A new set of prin-
ciples and a new morality are needed to secure order,
social unity, liberty, and the rational use of the vast pro-
ductive forces science and technology have created.
Yet instead of seeking for a way to combine order and
control with individual liberty, most of our “progressive”
intellectuals of recent years have taken refuge under the
mantle of Stalin’s cruel despotism. Their critical faculties
have become atrophied together with their liberalism;
and, while barricading the front door against Brown Na-
tional Socialism, they opened wide the back door to the
Red variety of the same thing.
Whether or not we can ever deepen and widen our
democracy to control economic as well as political
power, and thus cope with the problem of an over-ripe
capitalism without destroying the liberties to which
capitalism gave birth, is perhaps doubtful. But there
would be a little more hope of our doing so if our one-
time liberals had not been lured along the totalitarian
path by the blood-red light of Stalin’s “socialism.”
+ I also learned in the Soviet Union how slight are the
differences between men, between the “good” and the
“bad.” I remember one evening how Michael said to
Jane and me:
Arcadz’s Awakening ‘27.
“Can’t you realize now that you and I, all of us, every-
one we know, is capable here of deeds at which we now
What seems to differentiate men most, is their greater
or lesser degree of courage-in particular the moral cour-
age to face the fact that they have been mistaken in their
beliefs. This was particularly obvious in Russia where the
decent, humane and altruistic types of Communist too
often recoiled before the realization that they had wasted
their lives, sacrificed their personal happiness, and en-
dured prison and exile to accomplish the opposite of
what they had planned.
Rather than acknowledge so terrible a truth they
buried their heads in the sand and drowned their doubts
in work or even in excessive cruelty to others. My
brother had spoken more wisely than he knew when
years before he had warned me that self-deception is the
root of evil. But he who had never left the free Western
world could never have imagined the compulsions which
drive men under Communist dictatorship to drown their
doubts and bow their heads before a hypocritical
Even men of high courage and integrity can be broken
by an inhuman system. Men who can face hunger and
prison and even torture for themselves cannot endure
the starvation of their children. That breaks the hardiest
spirit and enslaves the boldest.
The American workman who goes on strike may be
willing to see his children hungry if there is some hope of
victory. But few men can face the prospect of their
128 Lost Illusion
wives and children being tossed out into the snow to die
of starvation and cold, when they know there is no hope
of winning out against the state which is employer,
policeman, judge and executioner.
Often in Russia I repeated to Arcadi the words which
Euripides put into the mouth of Andromache when,
after the fall of Troy, they take her little son away to be
killed: “Oh, ye have found an anguish to outstrip all
tortures of the East, ye gentle Greeks.”
The Soviet state had found a more certain method of
breaking human beings than the crude physical tortures
inflicted by the Nazis on their victims. The Kremlin
learned that the surest way to break resistance to tyranny
was by threatening men through their wives and chil-
dren. How can the Russian worker strike when he knows
that not only will he be imprisoned but also that his
family will be thrown into the street immediately, and
his wife refused employment?
How can the intellectual refuse to write or speak the
lies demanded of him, when the NKVD tells him that if
he will not his wife will also be imprisoned and his chil-
dren left to become homeless waifs? Only the peasants,
too brutish and too tough, may occasionally defy the
Soviet Government by passive resistance.
The Kremlin also knows that, whereas some men can
face torture and death and even the reprisals inflicted on
those they love, provided their sacrifice will inspire
others to revolt, few men can bear to die behind closed
doors without the opportunity to testify to the world
what they are dying for.
Arcadr’s Awakening ‘29
When Christian martyrs faced the lions in the arena,
or when in the religious wars Protestants or Catholics
were burned at the stake, they could go to their death
knowing that they had lighted a torch which others
would carry on. They could endure tortures because
they were convinced the sacrifice would not be in vain.
But would they have suffered unflinchingly to the end
if they had been shot without trial in some dark cellar,
knowing that they would be accused, not only of crimes
they had never committed, but of having aimed at the
overthrow of what they were trying to save?
An open counter-revolution in Russia might have left
Communists and Socialists believing in their cause and
prepared to start the struggle for social justice and lib-
erty over again. But Stalin’s counter-revolution had been
a long, secret, and disguised process. Men were not ex-
pected to repudiate the old aims. They were instead re-
quired to mouth the old slogans and testify to their be-
lief in the old faith while the meaning of the slogans,
theories, and words had been completely changed.
The result necessarily was a mental, moral, and politi-
cal confusion in which men could no longer clearly see
the road before them.
Arcadi, now revolted by the cruelty of the Commu-
nist Party and its perversion of the Revolution, doubted
whether there was any practical alternative to Stalin’s
“socialism.” Although he was convinced that the gravest
mistakes had been made, he was doubtful how they could
now ever be remedied.
I saw how the Russians, deprived of faith and of hope,
130 Lost Illusion
sank into apathy and skepticism, or made up their minds
to do the best they could for themselves in this new
anarchic, cruel world in which pity was a crime and
fraud and hypocrisy the qualities essential for survival.
The fight for bare existence absorbed the minds and
energies of the masses, while the struggle for position
and affluence seemed the main preoccupation of most of
those fortunate enough to belong to the Communist
The best way, in fact the only way, to preserve your
integrity and your life if you were an intellectual in
Soviet Russia was to give up all expectation or desire for
advancement and honor, and never to talk about any-
thing but trivialities even to your closest friends. There
were men of education who took jobs selling newspapers
and books or cigarettes at street kiosks, happy to have
found a niche where they were likely to be let alone,
where no one would envy them or suspect them. Only
by burying themselves could they call their souls their
Specialists known to have exceptional qualifications
could not thus hide themselves. The state insisted upon
their working in factories, mines, and offices, on the rail-
ways and communications. Here they were always in
danger of being made into scapegoats. But if they could
secure a Party patron likely to be “permanent” (the
Soviet expression for a Party bureaucrat so well con-
nected as to be unlikely to fall from favor), and toil
loyally and unselfishly for him, letting him take the
credit .for their cleverness and hard work, they might ’
Arcadi’s Awakening 131
hope to survive. It was rather Iike the old Roman system
of senators and clients.
The word “protection” was openly used in the USSR.
“So-and-so,” it would be said, “has a powerful protec-
tion; he’s likely to be all right.” If a non-Party man could
marry his daughter to a high Party official he felt very
secure, but this was difficult unless she were particularly
attractive, for Party men naturally wished to ally them-
selves to those who could be of use to them, not to non-
Of course, in the holocaust of Party members in the
late thirties, the protection of the highest often came to
mean disaster to his prottgb. When a powerful man
was purged, a whole row of small skittles was knocked
down with him. It was a storm in which the highest trees
as well as the lowest were struck by the lightning, and
no one felt safe.
Sometimes I am asked about the Soviet educational
system; questioned as to whether a great deal has not at
least been done for the children. And I remember the
homeless kids who slept in the loft above our flat in
Ordinka and begged for crusts and hot water. I remem-
ber the pale children of the textile workers at Ivanovo
Vosnysensk, living crowded together in the tenements
without beds to sleep upon.
I remember the charwoman at Promexport who lived
in a hallway with her two young children and considered
that a soup made of bones was a great luxury. I remem-
ber the babies at the Consultazia for mothers, where I
took my son each week to be weighed. The mothers
132 Lost Illusion
could get free medical advice, but they could not afford
milk, and had to feed their babies on black bread soaked
in water. They took a photograph there one day of my
son to exhibit because he was almost the only baby who
did not have rickets.
And I remember the children in the queues at the
prison where I went with food after my husband’s arrest.
One morning there was a boy who could not have been
more than nine or ten years old, bringing a sack of food
for his mother. When I showed my ignorance of the
procedure he asked me with astonishment: “Is this the
first time you have been here? ”
There are brave children in Russia inured to “eating
bitterness,” as the Chinese say; children sometimes left
alone in an empty room when their parents are both ar-
rested, and who sell all the pitiful small possessions of the
the family to take food to their parents. If there is no
relative to shelter them and neither parent comes home,
they join the hordes of homeless children and learn to
beg, to thieve and to live like little wild animals in the
savage Soviet world. That is one kind of Communist
Of all the cruel acts of Stalin the most horrible was the
provision for the liquidation of the older homeless chil-
dren. In 1935, when by decree the death penalty for
theft was made applicable to children from the age of
twel;e, the police were given the power to rid Soviet
society of the unwanted children of the unfortunate.
If your mother and father are docile, careful never to
breathe a word of criticism of the government, work
Arcadi’s Awakening ‘33
hard, and are lucky, you may get a different sort of edu-
cation. You may learn how wonderful Communism is,
how many tons of iron and steel the Soviets can produce,
and how many more they hope to produce; and how
much more terrible is the life of the working class in the
capitalist United States of America than in Russia.
You will be taught to sing patriotic songs and do mili-
tary exercises and to worship the great Stalin. You may
even get the chance later to study to be an engineer or
a pilot, or b t
e rained for some other profession if your
social origins are all right and if you have carefully con-
formed throughout your school life.
If you are the son or daughter of a prominent Com-
munist Party member in Russia, the way will be made
smooth for you and you will enjoy the same privileges as
the children of the rich in any capitalist country. You
will go to a select school with airy classrooms and the
best teachers. At home you will have a room of your
own to study in and plenty of books instead of trying,
like the children of the workers, to do your homework
in a small room in which your father and mother,
brothers and sisters live and sleep.
You will sleep in a good bed, not on the floor or in the
same bed as your brother and sister. You will eat the best
food and have long holidays in the country instead of
feeding on black bread, cabbage soup, and cucumbers
and spending the hot summer in the city. You will have
servants to wait upon you instead of having to stand in
line yourself at the shops when you come home from
‘34 Lost Illusion
Equality of opportunity in the Soviet Union is a myth.
There are different schools for the masses and for the
Communist aristocracy. There can be no equality in edu-
cational opportunity where some children are under-
nourished and housed little better than pigs, while others
live in comparative luxury,
afe in 3kzbscow
Y SEARCH FOR SOME USEFUL WORK t0 per-
form in Soviet society had caused me to change my job
almost as frequently as we had changed rooms. My first
work, that of a referent in the Anglo-American section
of the Communist International, had been utterly futile.
True that part of my job was to read and mark the Eng-
lish language newspapers, and this at least kept me in
touch with foreign affairs.
But for the rest, I spent my time participating in use-
less post-mortems on the activities of the British and
American Communist Parties, and in assisting in writing
memoranda and directives which were supposed to tell
the English-speaking comrades what they ought to do.
The directives were drawn up mainly with an eye to
self-insurance, so that whatever happened the blame
would not be placed on us. They consisted mostly of a
lot of Party platitudes and abstract principles.
Consequently, our directives were worse than useless
as guidance to the British Communist Party and were
probably never read. Instructions as to the Party line at
any given moment came from higher sources in the
136 Lost Illusion
Kremlin, and they were all the foreign parties needed to
pay keen attention to.
Fed up with the futility of my work at the Comintern
and fearing also that if I continued in so-called political
activity, I should soon be spotted as an unreliable heretic,
I took advantage of an offer to work as a specialist on
textiles. After six months work at Promexport I accepted
the offer of a job at the newly created Commissariat of
In these two posts I learned enough about how the
Soviet economy functioned to understand why all the
heavy labor and bitter privations of the Russian people
failed to give them a tolerable existence.
For months, our struggles to acquire a flat, or at least
a room of our own, continued. For some weeks in the
spring of 1932, we lived at the New Moscow Hotel, our
room paid for by Lecterserio, the export organization of
which Arcadi had been made vice-chairman. This room
cost 25 rubles a day, which we could not, of course, have
paid ourselves. The manner in which it was secured for
us revealed to me something of the corruption now rife
in Soviet life.
Being without a room of any kind, Arcadi was living
three in a room with Jane and Michael in Jane’s room at
the Marx Engels Institute, while the Anikeevs were
kindly putting me up. Anikeeva whom I had met in
Japan was a dear, and never became a Soviet snob. In
spite of her husband’s high position, they both remained
Life in Moscow ‘37
Not to have a home was bad enough, but we couldn’t
continue to impose indefinitely upon our friends. So
Arcadi and I more or less camped in the office of the man
at Narcomuneshtorg who was supposed to secure rooms
for employees of this Commissariat. We spent a whole
day there, from IO A.M. to 7 P.M., refusing to budge until
something was done for us.
By now we understood a little of the Soviet way of
life and only this kind of sit-down protest seemed likely
to assure Arcadi his rights. For Nmcomzmesbtorg had
promised him a room many weeks before if he would
take the vice-chairmanship of Lecterserio, and in so
doing give up the room he was to receive from Promex-
The Communist Party member in charge of rooms at
the Commissariat of Foreign Trade had over and over
again promised Arcadi this room or that, only to give it
to someone else. Arcadi had been absorbed in his work
and was always passed over. Now we were determined
to force the Commissariat to honor its contract.
Finally, in the late afternoon, Comrade X got on the
phone to the manager of the New Moscow Hotel. A
long conversation followed. The manager of the hotel
wanted a quid pro quo. He had been trying to get a
Gort A ration book for one of his assistants not really
entitled to it. If Comrade X would secure this for him,
he would let us have a room at the hotel. But Comrade X
only had a limited number of Gort A books to give
away, and he wanted them for his own cronies. Getting
138 Lost Illusion
a room for a non-Party man was a small return for the
Gort A book, since a non-Party man had no patronage
with which to pay for a room to live in.
Arcadi went off to Philip Rabinovitch, ex-chairman
of Arcos in London, now high up the Soviet ladder of
success, and almost a Vice-Commissar. Rabinovitch
phoned Comrade X and told him to come up and talk to
him. Finally we were saved. Reluctantly, Comrade X
agreed to give the precious Gort A book to the Intourist
manager’s assistant in return for a room for our humble
selves. Triumphantly, we presented ourselves at the
New Moscow Hotel.
Food was now our greatest problem. I had Znsnab and
Arcadi had Gort B rations, but how could we cook? In
the New Moscow Hotel dining room a dinner cost about
20 to 25 rubles, and so was out of the question. How-
ever, Arcadi had brought a little electric saucepan and
an electric kettle from Berlin in 1928, and with these
I managed to make meals of a sort.
Disposal of the rubbish was the greatest problem, since
cooking in our room was forbidden. We solved it by
carrying out potato peelings and other refuse in neat
brown paper parcels which we disposed of in the street
dustbins on the way to work.
We were better off than many other people in our
hotel. A few doors away lived Soermus, the well-known
Finnish violinist who had played in the streets in England
to collect money for the striking miners in 1926. His
wife, an Irishwoman, had nothing to cook on except an
electric iron. Ingeniously, she turned it upside down, put
Life in Moscow ‘39
a saucepan on it full of vegetables and meat, and left it to
simmer all day.
Once or twice a month we treated ourselves to a real
dinner in the hotel dining room, and very occasionally a
friend or acquaintance from England who was on a trip
to Russia would give us some of his Intourist meal tickets
entitling us to a free breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
The manager of the restaurant, a Caucasian, spoke per-
fect English and said he had been the headwaiter at the
Ritz in London. I discovered this through a casual refer-
ence to horse racing as the “opium of the people” in
England. He remembered the name of every Derby
winner for goodness knows how many years, and was so
delighted to find someone who at least knew what horse
racing meant, that he treated me to real coffee several
Coffee-even now, years afterwards, I remember the
delight with which we drank coffee in Moscow! Rarest
of luxuries, greatest of joys! Whenever anyone I knew
came to visit Russia, I asked them to bring coffee, coffee
above all else, and secondly, soap and toilet paper.
Even in this Intourist Hotel toilet paper was unknown
for a long time. Then one afternoon, returning from
work, the floor manageress took me by the arm, marched
me triumphantly into the shower room and toilet, and
pointing towards a few sheets of thin gray paper, ex-
claimed, “Look-Kultur! ” However, this concrete evi-
dence of Soviet Kultur was a fleeting phenomenon. The
gesture made, the supply soon gave out and was not re-
140 Lost Illusion
Living in the New Moscow Hotel I also got an inkling
of the luxurious lives of the secret police officers who
occupied many of the rooms. Enormous meals were
sent up to the next room to ours, and the sounds of
drinking and song and laughter came through the wall
late at night, when our OGPU neighbor entertained his
friends. The diners in the restaurant were either for-
eigners or OGPU officers, with very occasionally a
couple of ordinary citizens blowing a quarter or half a
month’s salary on a “bust.”
I wrote to my mother in February 193 t :
“I leave the office usually at about 4:45 or 5 o’clock,
and rush up to the hmab shop to buy bread, and milk if
there is any-which is very seldom now. I get home
about seven o’clock and have some kind of a meal. Then
I try to do some work -translation or editing. Or Jane
and Michael come around and we talk or play cut-throat
“Then Arcadi comes home much later and I make tea
for him and something to eat. You can have no concep-
tion how complicated life is and how much time one
wastes over simple things like buying bread. . . .
“I am sorry if I sound depressed, dear. I am not un-
happy only I have never before in my life had work to
do which was rather dull, and did not have to exercise
my faculties to the full and felt that I was making no
progress of any kind. . . . I suppose that most of all I
miss the very full political life I had in England: speak-
ing, writing, and so forth. I feel I am rusticating and
losing all my mental faculties.”
Life in Moscow 141
Our semi-luxurious existence in the New Moscow
Hotel came to an end late in April. May Day was ap-
proaching, and we were told that all Russians (except,
of course, the OGPU) must clear out to make way for
the valzcta-paying foreigners.
Again we were homeless. This time we both went
over to Jane’s room. For a few days all four of us lived
together. Eventually we secured, temporarily, the use of
two rooms on Ostejenka Street in the flat of Gavrilov,
an old Party member, whom we had known in England
and who was again working abroad. For the first time
since we came to Moscow we had two rooms in a mod-
I at once brought my mother from England. I could
not send her any money, owing to the impossibility of
exchanging rubles into foreign currency, and her own
income was very small indeed. So the only solution was
to have her live with us for a time. Her coming was in
any case a great pleasure. At sixty-two she was still
young, and the novelty of life in Russia pleased her.
She loved the Russians, who are, in fact, a kindly
people when not driven to be brutal by the government
and by economic difficulties. Our Russian friends, for
their part, thought Mother a wonderful woman, for her
vitality, youthful appearance, and zest for living were
unknown among old people in Russia.
I got a servant, a nice clean German girl from the
Volga. Her village had been devastated-no other word
can convey my meaning-by the liquidation of the
Kulaks. In the German Volga Republic the peasants,
142 Lost Illusion
who had been settled there two hundred years before to
set an example to the Russians, had been better farmers
and so enjoyed a higher standard of life than most peas-
ants in Russia. Consequently, the greater part of them
were classified as Kulaks and liquidated.
What had been a region of model farming became
almost a desert, for more than half the population was
exiled or sent to concentration camps. The young people
left the villages, the boys to go to the factories if they
could get jobs, or to become vagabonds if they couldn’t.
The girls came to the towns to work as servants, and
were highly prized, since they were more competent,
cleaner, more honest and self-respecting than the Rus-
sian peasants. Curiously, they were the most purely
Teutonic Germans I had ever seen, Germans like the
pictures in Hans Andersen fairy tales, blue-eyed, with
long golden plaits and lovely, fair skins. Being Protes-
tants, and regarding the Russians around them as no
better than barbarians, they had intermarried little and
retained a racial purity which would no doubt have de-
An echo of the tragic fate of Russia’s German Protes-
tant population reached the world when the Mennonites
flocked to Moscow and sought permission to leave the
country. Some of these Germans had tried to obey the
government and had formed collective farms, only to
have them liquidated as Kulak collectives. Being first-
class farmers, they had committed the crime of making
even a Kolkhoz productive and prosperous.
Others had quite simply been expropriated from their
Life in Moscow 143
individual holdings. All were in despair. Few were al-
lowed to leave Russia. They were sent to Siberia to die,
or herded into slave labor concentration camps. The
crime of being good farmers was unforgivable, and they
must suffer for this sin.
My Hilda seemed a treasure. She could cook, she could
read and write, she kept herself and the rooms clean and
looked like a pink and flaxen doll. I could treat her as an
equal without finding that this led to her stealing my
clothes and doing no work.
The servant problem in Moscow for Jane and me lay
in our inability to bully and curse and drive, which was
the only treatment the Russian servant understood. It
was quite natural that this should be so, since Soviet
society, like Tsarist society but to a far higher degree,
was based on force and cheating.
Cheat or be cheated, bully or be bullied, was the law
of life. Only the German minority with their strong re-
ligious and moral sense-the individual morality of the
Protestant as opposed to the mass subservience demanded
by the Greek Orthodox Church and the Soviet Govern-
ment-retained their culture and even some courage
under Stalin’s Terror.
I was amazed at the outspoken way in which Hilda
and Sophie (another German girl who worked for Jane)
voiced their hatred and contempt of the Soviet Govern-
ment. Sophie, one of thirteen children of a bedniak
(poor peasant) would shake her fist and say:
“Kulaks! The Kulaks are up there in the Kremlin, not
in the village.” Since the word “Kulak” originally signi-
‘44 Lost Illusion
fied an exploiter and usurer, her meaning was quite plain.
After a few months of civilized existence on Ostejenka
Street, the Gavrilovs returned, and we were once more
homeless. I sent my mother back to England with Jane,
who was about to leave on a vacation. Michael had left
Russia for good a short while before.
Arcadi and I once again got a room at the New Mos-
cow Hotel, This time we also had Hilda living in the
room with us, sleeping on the couch. She had to manage
the secret cooking on the electric stove.
There was a young American named Clark Foreman
living in the New Moscow Hotel who, years before, had
been a friend of Jane’s when they were both students at
the London School of Economics. He was in Russia
studying social services for the Julius Rosenwald Foun-
dation. Thanks largely to Jane and myself and to a Rus-
sian friend of ours, Clark Foreman was one of the very
few foreign visitors to learn something of the inside
realities of Soviet life.
A cheerful and intelligent young man with progressive
views and few prejudices, he did not take the socialist
tragedy as seriously as we did, but neither did he fail to
see it. His American light-heartedness relieved the at-
mosphere in which we lived, and through him we were
brought into somewhat unwilling contact with other
We met Bernal, the Cambridge scientist who was to
become an ardent Stalinist, and others like him in whose
presence we had the greatest difficulty in keeping our
mouths shut. Foreman was very loyal to all of us. How-
Life in Moscow ‘45
ever, he later forgot or chose to ignore the lessons he had
learned.in Russia. In 1943 he became the organizer in
New York for the Political Action Committee.
Occasionally we went to those parties of the foreign
colony in Moscow which Malcolm Muggeridge has de-
scribed with biting irony in his book, Wtinter in Mos-
cow. At these parties one found foreigners trying to
recreate the London and New York radical Bohemian
atmosphere of hard drinking and easy loving. But it was
no longer youthful and harmless. It had been poisoned
and become rather loathsome against the starvation and
misery of the Russian background, and by the cant and
hypocrisy of the Communists and the fellow travelers.
Moscow’s Bohemia was not that of struggling writers,
journalists, poets, artists, and students. It consisted of the
fortunate, the doctrinaire and hard-boiled foreign Com-
munists, and those foreigners of various kinds working
in Moscow because they were failures at home, who en-
joyed favors which their own merits could never have
secured to them.
They dined and wined on the produce bought at
Insnab, while most Russians were starving. Michael pro-
fessed to find it all a huge joke, but he did not relish this
society any more than Jane or I did. Arcadi was far too
busy for such parties, and anyhow had no liking for
drink or salacious stories and songs.
An English newspaperman, editor of the Moscow
Daily News, who in his youthful revolutionary days had
been a member of the International Workers of the
World, but who was now a debauched, fat little man,
146 Lost Illusion
would lead in the singing of songs which might some-
times be funny but were usually just nasty. He was
known to be a homosexual, and was later expelled from
the Soviet Union for corrupting young men.
His immorality was, however, more honest than that
of many who, under the guise of being Marxists, had
come to the Soviet Union in order to find a society with-
out restraints. In this they were mistaken. Russian society
was not for the most part sexually licentious except per-
haps in its upper ranks. Most Russians were far too busy
struggling to live at all, to have time or energy to imi-
tate the vices of Greenwich Village liberals, and mar-
riage was usually a serious partnership, not a light liaison.
In the midst of my disillusionment about Soviet Rus-
sia, I found secret pleasure in the disappointment of
youthful American and English Communists when they
learned how difficult it is to enjoy light love affairs in
Moscow. Many came to Russia to seek an unrestrained
Bohemian paradise while posing as revolutionaries. They
quickly learned that life is too grim and earnest for erotic
pleasures. Romance dissolves when they discover that
their mistresses are promptly enrolled by the secret po-
lice to spy upon them.
I remember leaving a party in the early hours of a
spring morning with Jane and Michael, and Temple’s
friend Rab, who had come from England to visit us.
They walked home with me up Kropotkin Street. Out-
side one of the stores a long queue of weary men and
women had already formed waiting for it to open at
Life in Moscow ‘47
9 A.M. These people were standing in line to receive a
small ration of food.
We had left a party where caviar, hors d’oeuvres, ham,
wine, vodka, chocolates, and fruit had been consumed
in abundance, and where as we said goodbye, they had
been singing revolutionary songs in drunken voices.
They may of course have been drowning their carefully
hidden disillusionment in this way.
All this time, in spite of our housing difficulties, our
standard of life was far above that of the majority of
workers and employees. We,did not rank with the Com-
munist aristocracy, but we were upper middle class. I
myself, with my h-nab ration book, could in fact be
counted as an aristocrat insofar as food was concerned.
But, although our living conditions were far better
than a year or two before, life for most people, that
winter of 1932-33, was more miserable than ever. The
scanty meat and butter rations which the industrial
workers were supposed to be able to buy were usually
unobtainable. Most Russians lived on black bread, millet,
That winter commercial shops began to be in evidence
in Moscow-that is, state stores where meat, butter, eggs,
vegetables, and clothing could be bought by anyone at
prices at least ten times higher than those paid for the
rations available to the privileged.
Butter, which cost us three and one-half rubles a kilo
could be bought in commercial shops for forty rubles;
meat for ten rubles a kilo against the ration price of two
148 Lost Illusion
rubles; sugar at fifteen rubles a kilo instead of the one
ruble we paid. Gradually the commercial prices were
lowered to nearer five times the ration prices as a pre-
liminary step to the derationing of food and clothing in
These commercial shops benefited the middle classes
most. They were the specialists and employees who had
no closed distributor, but whose salaries of 400 to 600
rubles a month enabled them to buy some food at com-
mercial prices, The shops also helped the small and select
group of writers, dramatists, actors, and musicians, some
of whom earned very large sums of money and could
now buy as much as they needed of all essential foods.
Previously they had bought on the restricted free
market directly from the peasants, at prices higher than
those in the new commercial shops. People like ourselves,
who earned extra money by translation work or writing,
could enjoy more food than allowed on our ration books.
Money again came to have some value, and men often
took on two jobs to earn enough to buy food at the new
There was a story told that winter of a Russian who
returned from several years’ work abroad and went
around seeing his friends. Each in turn told him of his
difficulties. One had a salary of 600 rubles, but since he
got only bread and sugar on his food card and had to buy
everything else at commercial prices, life was very diffi-
Another with a salary of 500 rubles had the same tale
to tell: only bread and sugar on the food card, and every-
Life in Moscow ‘49
thing else to be bought at commercial prices. “We hardly
ever taste meat, and butter is our greatest luxury.” After
questioning many people and always receiving the same
answer, he met a girl who used to be his secretary.
“And how are you ? he asked. “You must be finding
life very hard.”
“Oh, no,” she replied, “I’m doing fine. My salary is
only I 20 rubles, but that provides me with a food card
and so with bread and sugar; for the rest I undress at
Incidentally, this story illustrates a fact ignored by the
tourist, who believed what he was told about the disap-
pearance of prostitution in Soviet Russia. It had only
disappeared in the sense that every prostitute needed
some kind of a regular job to ensure possession of a food
card. The job need not be her main source of income.
There was also a joke in those days about giving to
Mikoyan, the Commissar of Internal Trade, the task of
“Well, because everything else he controls disap-
Even the commercial shops were not supplied with
abundant quantities of essential foods. Long lines formed
to secure milk, butter, eggs, and meat, even at the fan-
tastically high prices at which they were sold.
The other new shops which now opened up in one
district after another were the Torgsin shops. Here one
could buy better and more abundant supplies than any-
where else except in the Kremlovsky distributors-if one
150 Lost Ilhsion
had gold or foreign currency. Prices for food at Torgsin
were not much higher than world prices, and less than
double pre-war Russian prices. Everyone who had the
tiniest bit of gold–a ring, a bracelet, or jewels-could
exchange it for Torgsin tokens and secure food.
The only snag was that the OGPU was also on the
lookout for possessors
of gold, and might at any moment
arrest you and force you by torture to disgorge any
hidden wealth you had. So people went in fear and
trepidation to Torgsin, driven by hunger but fearful of
the OGPU. Torgsin was an outstanding example of the
mixed system of terror and reward by which the Russian
government seeks to increase its revenues.
The greatest source of income of the Torgsin shops
was remittances from abroad. Jews, in particular, often
had relatives in foreign countries-in Poland, in Ger-
many, and above all in the United States-who would
send them a few dollars a month to save them from
starvation. The percentage of Jewish people standing in
the Torgsin queues-there were lines even at these shops
since there were never enough sales people-was very
Anti-Semitism, although officially condemned, took
a new lease on life when the Russians saw their Jewish
neighbors in the apartment kitchens cooking good food
which they never had a chance to buy. A few years later,
in the.great purge, countless Jewish families suffered for
their past enjoyment of a little food bought with money
received from abroad.
By 1936 it was held to be a crime to have relatives out-
Life in Moscow 151
side of Russia. The Torgsin shops had been closed down,
and many Jews were arrested and sent to concentration
camps for the “crime” of having corresponded with for-
eign relatives. But from 193 2 to 193 5, the Soviet State
was anxious to secure valuta, foreign exchange, at any
cost and Torgsin served to produce a large revenue.
There was a story told in Moscow of two Jewish
women friends who met after many years. One asked the
other, a widow, how she was managing to live.
“Oh, I’m all right,” she said. “My son provides for
“Oh,” said the other, “is that your eldest son Boris,
whom I remember as a lad?”
“No, not Boris; he’s an engineer in Sverdlovsk earning
500 rubles, and since he has a wife and child he can’t, of
course, spare me a kopek.”
“Is it your son Ivan, then?”
“No, Ivan is chief accountant at an export organiza-
tion, and of course he can’t allow me anything out of his
salary of 400 rubles.”
“How, then, do you live?”
“I’m all right because my youngest son, Grischa, is
unemployed in America! ”
It was in fact the case that even two or three dollars a
month could ward off starvation, could enable the re-
cipient to buy a little flour and fat at a cost of one-tenth
of the prices paid for the same foods in Russian currency.
Neither Torgsin nor the new commercial shops pro-
vided relief except for a very small minority of the Rus-
sians who had relatives abroad willing to send them dol-
‘52 Lost Illusion
lam, pounds or other foreign currency. The wages of
most people were too low to permit them to buy at the
commercial shops, and the gulf between the privileged
and the oppressed was daily growing wider.
Life that winter of 1932-3 3 became almost as hard for
the majority of the people as in the famine of 192 I. As
the Kremlin’s plans became more and more grandiose,
and as the plaudits for the “gigantic successes of Soviet
industrialization” swelled into a paean of praise, the con-
ditions of life for workers, peasants, and employees be-
came more and more terrible.
I came to dread reading in the newspapers of great
successes on the industrial front or of the “approach of
socialism” because such announcements almost always
heralded some new measure of oppression, some new
A little Italian Communist from Trieste, who worked
with Michael at the State Publishing Office, one day
graphically expressed what we all felt. Dinner in Russia
is eaten in the late afternoon and it was customary for a
glass of “tea” to be served at the office a little before
noon. One morning the “tea” was not even faintly yel-
low; it was just plain water. Michael looked at it in dis-
gust, and the Italian grinned.
“When I first came to Russia,” he said, “we were
served real tea with lemon and sugar in a glass on a
saucer with a spoon. A year or so later there was no more
lemon. The following year they started to give us ersatz
tea made of dried carrots. Next there was no more sugar.
Then there were no more spoons. Now, apparently they
Life in Moscow ‘53
have run short of the ersatz tea. But, Michael, cheer up,
the water is still hot. We haven’t got socialism yet! ”
The workers could not easily be induced to accept
Stalin’s brand of socialism. Like the peasants they mi-
grated from place to place in search of a job with suffi-
cient food and a room to live in.
The government retaliated with ever increasing meas-
ures of compulsion. First it introduced the work certifi-
cate, the device subsequently copied by Hitler to ensure
the obedience of the working class to the all-powerful
State and Party.
This certificate was like a criminal dossier. In it was
written the social origins of each worker, any fines he
paid, any crimes he had committed, and the reasons for
his dismissal from his place of employment. If he could
not show good cause for having lost his job he was not
to be allowed to work elsewhere. This meant starvation.
Industrial workers were being reduced to the same
servitude as the peasants. Whereas the workers were
forbidden to leave their jobs, however bad their condi-
tions of work, the various trusts were given the right to
transfer them at will from one town or province to an-
other, regardless of their wishes.
This was all the more terrible in Russia, as compared
with Germany, where the Nazis instituted a similar mo-
bility of labor, because in the Soviet Union the shortage
of housing accommodations was so acute that being
evicted from home and sent to another town often meant
being unable to find a room to house your family.
The Labor Exchanges were closed down and unem-
‘54 Lost Illusion
ployment relief abolished. The unemployed were told
to go wherever they were sent and to whatever job the
Another cruel decree was issued punishing the worker
by dismissal if absent for a single day from the factory.
Even if ill he must produce a certificate showing that he
had a high temperature. Heavy fines were imposed for
being a few minutes late to work.
The cooperatives were placed under the direction of
the factory management, so that a worker leaving his
job or dismissed immediately lost his own and his family’s
The successive decrees tightening up labor discipline
made us realize we were living in a world in which the
working class which was supposed to be the master of
the state had lost all liberty and human rights. Anyone
who incurred the displeasure of foreman or manager
could be thrown out of his job and deprived of room
The workers had long since lost the right to strike.
Stopping work was equivalent to treason. The trade
unions were deprived of even the nominal right to nego-
tiate wages, which were already lower in terms of pur-
chasing power than they had been under the Tsar.
Even in 1936, the best year we have on record since
the twenties, the price of bread was fifteen times higher
than it had been in I 9 14 and the price of meat about
twelve times higher, The cost of clothing had risen even
more steeply. Yet even according to Soviet statistics the
average wage had risen only fourfold.
Life in Moscow ‘55
Few tourists, however, ever troubled to enter the
shops and compare the prices of necessities with wages
earned, and foreign Communists in spite of evidence to
the contrary, spread propaganda that material conditions
of the Russian workers had been greatly improved in
I remember once in Moscow reading in the Mmches-
ter Guardian how a careful British worker spent his un-
employment dole. Arcadi and I calculated that to buy the
diet available to an unemployed worker’s family in Eng-
land one required at least IOOO
rubles in Moscow, which
meant at least five times as much money as workers of
average qualifications were then earning in Soviet Russia.
All the penalties and terror could not prevent starving
men from leaving their jobs. The Soviet press was filled
with complaints about “flagrant violations of labor dis-
In a final attempt to tie the hungry workers to their
jobs, and the dissatisfied peasants to the collective farms,
Stalin resorted to an old Tsarist police measure in a more
universal and rigorous form. The internal passport sys-
tem was revived.
The whole urban population, and the peasants living
near the large towns, had to secure residence permits.
Subsequently no one was allowed to move from the
town or village in which he lived, even for a single night,
without permission from the police.
The internal passport, in which the social origins of
each citizen were written down, was designed to clear
out, and keep out, of Moscow and other large towns the
156 Lost Illusion
floating population drawn there by the slightly better
food supply available in the cities.
Violation of the internal passport regulations swelled
the millions of Russians condemned to forced labor in
concentration camps. Slave labor had become an essen-
tial factor in the economy of Russia, not too unlike the
dependence of the Southern States on negro slavery be-
fore the American Civil War.
Life as a so-called “free-worker,” bereft of nearly all
freedom is bad enough; but the life of a slave laborer
working for the vast organizations controlled by the
NKVD is indescribable in its inhumanity and brutality.
Perhaps the breaking of the human spirit into submis-
sive, thoughtless robots is the most terrible feature of
Stalin’s Russia. Humanity is bowed down. Every one
cringes before his superiors, and those who abase them-
selves seek outlets in bullying and terrifying the unfor-
tunates beneath them. Integrity, courage and charity
disappear in the stifling atmosphere of cant, falsehood
Jane and I decided that the best term to apply to the
“new and better” society being created in Soviet Russia
was industrial feudalism Freedom of movement, collec-
tive bargaining for wage increases, strikes and other such
evils of capitalist society had been finally abolished. The
workers as well as the peasants bad become serfs of the
Party which owned the state.
4 Wome at cast
1 B OTH JANE AND I HAD VOLGA GERMAN GIRLS
working for us, when it was specially decreed that all the
German peasants should return home. My Hilda had no
parents and Jane’s Sophie was one of thirteen children
of a poor peasant. We both moved heaven and earth to
keep them from the death by starvation which they
assured us awaited them at home.
In Hilda’s case the decree was particularly brutal since
the spring floods had cut off her village from the nearest
railway station forty miles away. Hilda wept and wept,
and each day we tried to get her a permit to stay in
Moscow. I spent hours at the Militia (police) station,
and hours at the Public Prosecutor’s, pleading, begging
that at least she be allowed to stay with me until the
spring floods subsided. All ordinary avenues of appeal
Hilda’s aunt worked for Max Hoeltz, the famous Ger-
man Spartacist leader. Early one morning we went to the
Hotel Metropole to ask his help. I did not then know that
he was practically a prisoner. Shortly after I talked to
him about Hilda he was murdered by the OGPU. His
insistent demand that he be allowed to return to Ger-
158 Lost Illusion
many to fight the Nazis had aroused fears in the Comin-
Hoeltz was known to be more popular with the Ger-
man working class than any of Moscow’s appointed
leaders of the German Communist Party. He had been
a modem Robin Hood in Germany in the Twenties and
never an obedient servant of the Comintem. It was
feared that if he got back to Germany he would success-
fully oppose the Cornintern line of collaboration with
the Nazis to overthrow German democracy in hopes of
a Nazi-Communist alliance against the West.
I knew nothing of his situation that morning that I
talked with him in the Metropole Hotel about Hilda. He
told me he had no influence. He had tried in other cases
This tall, handsome man sat disconsolate, sad and suf-
fering at the universal misery which surrounded him.
He did not even attempt to pretend to me that there
was any justification for the inhuman cruelty of Stalin’s
government. Hoeltz was the only foreign Communist
leader I met in Moscow who retained his integrity and
his human sympathy for the oppressed and powerless
common people, in whose name the Revolution had been
carried out. Although he could not help Hilda, he treated
her as a friend whose troubles were as important as his
Max Hoeltz’s end was tragic but at least he went down
fighting. Before he was liquidated by the OGPU he beat
up Fritz Heckert, the German representative in the
A Home at Last ‘59
Comintem who had announced that Hitler’s victory was
not a defeat for the German working class.
Some of my Moscow memories have faded, but I still
remember as clearly as if it had happened yesterday my
visit to Max Hoeltz a few days before his “suicide” was
announced. He was shot and his body flung into the
Volga by the secret police. I shall never forget that’ he
thought the life of an obscure servant girl was worth
saving at a time when he had already decided to sacrifice
A few days later I went to a friend of ours who had
been and probably still was, in the secret police. He was
a decent little man, very fond of a good joke and relish-
ing my husband’s wit. Completely cynical, a bon vivant,
a beautiful singer and a strong drinker, he was also kind-
hearted and had heaps of friends. He gave me a note to
a high Militia official. At last I had secured the right
patronage. Hilda was saved.
The sad end of the story of Hilda is that she was de-
moralized by fear and idleness. During the month I had
struggled to save her life, she had done no work. She had
wept and stood in queues and wept again. Slowly she
degenerated in the atmosphere of the New Moscow
Hotel, and I am afraid eventually became “one of those
of whom we know there are none,” as E. M. Delafield
describes the prostitute she saw in the Metropole Hotel
Michael had already gone home to England and soon
Jane felt she could no longer stand living in Moscow.
160 Lost Illusion
There was no reason for her to remain. She was not tied
to unhappy Russia by a husband she loved and she pined
for the freedom of England.
My mother had been living in Jane’s room and Jane
took her back to England with her. We now had no
place for mother to stay and she had accumulated
enough of her tiny income and the rent from her apart-
ment in London to live for a while at home. For the first
time since Arcadi came from China I was alone with him
in the Russian wilderness where I dared take no one else
into my confidence.
I took over Jane’s servant, Sophie, for whom she had
finally also won the passport battle. Sophie was a treasure;
but I lost her, too. She went home to her village a year
later for a vacation, and being cleaner, better dressed,
and generally far more “cultured” than the peasant girls,
succeeded in marrying the catch of the village, the trac-
tor-driver Party member. Presumably by now having
joined the village squirearchy, Sophie has forgotten her
former hatred of the Soviet Government.
We had an anxious time securing a Moscow passport
for Arcadi’s former wife and her son. She had a job by
this time, but her social origins were exceedingly bad.
Her father had been a wealthy merchant who fled to the
United States at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution
and her brother was an engineer with the General Elec-
tric Company in New York, where Arcadi had met and
Partly out of fear that his son would be sent away
from Moscow, and partly because they now had no room
A Home at Last 161
of their own but were sharing one with relatives, Arcadi
and I gave them one of the two rooms which we at last
obtained in February 1933. Her passport was then se-
cured as Arcadi’s dependent living under his roof.
The position of ex-wives and also of mistresses under
Soviet law as interpreted by the courts was very pe-
culiar. Although it was expressly stated that bigamy was
illegal, a man was forbidden to turn out of his apartment
or to refuse to support any woman by whom he had had
a child, whether the child had been born in or out of
A case referred to by N. V. Krilenko when Commis-
sar of Justice, in an article written in the Bolshevik in
September 1936, is an illustration.
“We shall give several examples showing the influence
of the old social order on Soviet family relations, and the
revolutionary effect of Soviet law as it protects the
family and teaches those who still follow the old customs.
“Here is the case of Citizen and Citizeness Gentschke,
who dismissed their servant Lebedeva and ordered her
to leave their flat. Lebedeva had worked for Gentschke
as a servant from I 927 to 1929. In 1929 Lebedeva ceased
to receive payment for her work, for Citizen Gentschke
started to have sexual intercourse with her. In the year
193s the Gentschkes terminated the labor contract with
Lebedeva and told her to clear out.
“Lebedeva appealed to the court and said she was not
a servant but in fact the wife of Gentschke. In her pass-
port, which had been obtained for her by Gentschke,
162 Lost Illusion
she was shown as his dependent, and this is why she had
a right to live in his flat. Lebedeva, an illiterate young
woman, proved that she had been violated by Gentschke
and had lived with him from 1929 to 1935.
“The higher court to which the case was eventually
transferred, did not recognize her as Gentschke’s wife
because Soviet law only recognizes a marriage if a com-
mon life together has been declared, differing only from
a registered marriage by the fact that no registration has
“If the Court had recognized Lebedeva as a legal wife
it would have meant recognizing a double marriage,
which is not permissible in our law. Gentschke’s be-
havior from the point of view of civil rights deserved
criminal punishment for deceit and exploitation.”
It is nevertheless implied that Citizen and Citizeness
Gentschke had to allow Lebedeva to continue living in
their flat. In another case of which details were given, a
servant called Rakitnikova who had been the domestic
worker of a Dr. Levinson, and had had two children by
him, won her case in the courts when the doctor wanted
to turn her out of his house. It was decided that he must
give her a third of his flat. In the case of a mistress who
had had children by a man, he must allow them all to
live in his flat and must help to support them, or support
them entirely if the woman is not working.
Anna Abramovna, having been Arcadi’s wife before
he divorced her in I 928 and having in addition had a
son by him, had a legal right to obtain a passport as his
A Home at Last ‘63
Marriage and divorce prior to the tightening up of the
laws in 1936 entailed merely a visit to Zaks for registra-
tion, or, in the case of marriages, it was enough to regis-
ter with the House Committee of the apartments as hus-
band and wife jointly occupying a room or flat. This
constituted a common law marriage, and by it the wife
secured the same rights as if the marriage had been regis-
tered at the Zaks.
Arcadi and I were thus married in common law, but
we had never registered at the Zaks because I was afraid
of losing my British citizenship if I did. Originally I had
wished to retain my British passport in order to be able
to travel abroad freely, for Russian citizens had the
greatest difficulty in obtaining visas to enter foreign
countries. Later it became a question, not of the value
of my British passport in entering other countries, but
of its value in permitting me to escape from the Soviet
Divorce in Russia until 1935 required only a statement
at Zaks by either husband or wife that the marriage was
annulled. Today it is harder for one of the parties to
obtain a divorce without the consent of the other, and
the fee for a divorce has been made almost prohibitive
for the mass of the population. It used to cost only a
ruble or two. Now the cost is hundreds of rubles and in-
creases so steeply after the second divorce that only the
rich can afford several divorces.
Most of the domestic relations cases brought before
the courts arise from the difficulties caused by the hous-
ing problem. Even when both husband and wife wish to
‘64 Lost Illusion
separate, it is almost impossible for them to do so because
neither can find a room to move into.
One couple of our acquaintance who had twice di-
vorced each other always got together again because
they had to go on living in the same flat. Since most
families have only one room it is almost impossible to
separate, just as young people are often unable to get
married and therefore have light affairs instead because
they cannot get a room to live in.
Often married couples have to share the one room
occupied by mother and father and brothers and sisters.
A girl I had known in London lived with her mother
and husband, who was also her uncle, in one very small
room for years. Her uncle was a composer and the piano
occupied nearly half their living space.
The Soviet Government, however, ascribes all the
misdemeanors of its citizens as due to the “remnants of
bourgeois ideology,” and to the “rottenness of the old
world, which still continues to poison the Soviet atmos-
Krilenko cites a number of cases in which men tried
to turn their former wives, or even their children by a
former wife, out into the street in order to make room
for a new one. He gives the following example of a
wicked worker whom bourgeois ideology had caused to
behave in a most shameless way:
“To illustrate the influence of old traditions, even
among working class people, we will cite the case of
Alexander Maloletkin, a worker in a machine tool fac-
tory in Moscow. He looked on woman as a chattel. He
A Home at Last 165
showed an unbounded cynicism in his sexual relations.
“Maloletkin met a woman working in the same fac-
tory. He swore that he loved her and promised to marry
her. Two days later he told her that he did not intend
to marry her and did not want to see her again. He did
the same thing to another woman in the same factory,
and to another woman in a different factory. He had
sexual intercourse with all these women and then mocked
them and abandoned them.
“The women took the matter to court. . . . Unfortu-
nately the judge then officiating had the same conceptions
as Maloletkin. Maloletkin explained that he could not
have married any of these women because in the first
place they were light women, and in the second place be-
cause he had no room of his own. In the third place he
said that he was married already and had a wife in the
village. All these excuses were due to the strong influence
on his mind of capitalist conceptions of woman and the
“In the sentence of the court it was written:
“0. knew perfectly well that Maloletkin had no room
and could not get married. Therefore if he made a prom-
ise of marriage, the woman should have understood that
a man may promise a lot of things at a moment of sexual
excitement and should not have taken the promise seri-
“This Court decision, which is impregnated with con-
ceptions and a morality alien to us, was quashed in the
Higher Court and the judge was dismissed.”
As Marx had said, the cultural level cannot be higher
I66 Lost Illusion
than the material conditions on which it is based, and
the Soviet theoretical conception of marriage has no
reality in the absence of improved living standards-in
particular housing accommodations–which would make
a “new and higher morality” possible.
The abolition of legal abortions since 1935 has, of
course, made life for Russian women very much harder,
and intensified the housing shortage. The upper classes,
as elsewhere, are little affected by the change. They can
buy contraceptives or they have a high enough “cultural
level” to avoid excessive childbearing.
But the women of the working class and the peasants
now either have to resort secretly to unqualified abor-
tionists, or maintain families of five, six, seven or more
children in one room. Contraceptives are very rarely
available for sale to the majority of the population.
For five months Arcadi and I lived under conditions
unbelievable except in Moscow. We shared our kitchen
and bathroom with Arcadi’s divorced wife and child,
and with another family of three persons, mother, father,
and a boy of fourteen, who occupied the third room in
Anna Abramovna hated me so much that she always
left the kitchen when I entered, and she forbade Arcadi’s
son to come into our room. If he wanted to talk to his
father, he had to stand on the threshold. Her hatred did
not prevent her accepting the share of my munificent
h-nab rations which I regularly sent in to her.
But never once in those five months did we speak to
each other, although inevitably we saw each other every
A Home at Last ‘67
day. I was quite willing to be friendly, but she nursed
her hatred and sought to make Arcadi’s son hate him
as well as me. In her, indeed, what the Soviet press
termed “the remnants of bourgeois ideology” were very
strong. At last she secured a room elsewhere and for a
few weeks we had our two rooms to ourselves.
Then I went to England to bring mother back to
Moscow again. On this visit I found it even more diffi-
cult than on previous occasions to hold my tongue.
Often in subsequent years I tried to recall what I may
have said to be brought up against Arcadi later. I knew
that no one in England had the remotest conception of
what terror means. I knew that if I told them the truth
about Russia they might unwittingly betray me.
But it was so hard to keep silent when such foolish
nonsense was being talked about Russia. One of the
hells that Dante never thought of is that of knowing the
truth and not daring to speak it for the sake of those you
love. I was probably indiscreet but the only two people
to whom I freely unburdened my heart were Bertrand
Russell and C. M. Lloyd, the Foreign Editor of the
iVm Statesmn. Both were discreet and intelligent and
I know they never betrayed my confidence.
But there were others, whom I subsequently learned
had spoken of my “anti-Soviet” attitude in spite of their
promises. Yet I cannot blame them for in truth they
knew not what they did. Few people brought up in the
free atmosphere of England and America can have any
conception of what terror means. During my short va-
cations in England I felt like a prisoner out on parole.
168 Lost Zltmion
My most lasting memories of life in Moscow concern
the three years Arcadi and I spent in our two rooms on
Ordinka near the Moscow River. They were our first
home together and our last, for we did not secure our
long-promised flat until three months before Arcadi’s
arrest in April, 1936.
Badly built, with doors and windows of unseasoned
wood which would not shut properly, unpapered and
thinly whitewashed walls, these two rooms were home.
They were ours, not a temporarily secured shelter out
of which we must move when the owners returned.
By American or English standards, we were living in a
squalid tenement house. But by Soviet Russian standards
we were housed almost like Communist aristocrats. We
not only had two rooms to live in, but we had the luxury
of gas for cooking instead of a smelly oil stove. And
best of all we had a bathroom with a lavatory, which we
had to share with only one other family.
My mother whom I had brought to Russia for the
second time stayed with us a year and a half. After my
baby was born Arcadi and I had little privacy, but we
were happy in Ordinka Street.
The Bar-skis in the third room of our apartment were
pleasant, cultured people who had lived for some years
in South America. Sharing the small kitchen and the
bathroom and toilet, we rarely quarreled and could
cooperatively keep things decently clean. We even man-
aged to get the flat more or less clear of the bugs which
haunt most apartment houses in Moscow. This can only
A Home at Last
be done by scrupulous cleanliness and constant paraffin-
ing of floors and woodwork.
In the flats where we had occupied only one room,
the bug plague could not be coped with since our neigh-
bors’ bugs would always invade us. Even in Ordinka we
could not avoid occasionally bringing home bugs on
our clothing after standing in the crowded streetcars.
I protected my baby by standing the legs of his cot in
tin cans filled with water.
I considered myself an expert bug-catcher. They bite
you at night in bed and the art of catching them consists
in switching on the light and turning down the bed-
clothes all in a second. You then catch the bug in the act
of retreating at top speed into the darkness under the
At the beginning we had a gas water heater for the
bath, and this in itself was a rare luxury in Moscow.
Unfortunately, one morning a month or so before my
son was born, it blew up while I was waiting for my
bath. A shower of bricks fell around me, and Mrs
Barski rushed off for smelling salts, expecting at least
a premature birth. We could never get the heater re-
paired, so future baths could be taken only by boiling
kettles of water.
One of the minor annoyances of Soviet life was the
impossibility of getting repairs done. Repairs are im-
portant when the standard of living is low, but they were
not regarded as sufficiently important for State planners
to recognize them officially. The government provided
170 Lost 1llus~on
none, and any individual who set himself up as a tinker,
tailor, or whatnot, was classed
as a petty bourgeois and
an enemy of the state. So naturally there was never any
way of getting things mended, unless you were handy
with hammer and saw and could obtain precious nails.
Our flat was on a top floor lately added to an old
house. Above us was a great loft with beams which
barely kept out the rain and snow. Up in that freezing
cold loft at night, there would be dozens of starving
-mostly children. These wretched
little waifs, the bez~rizmnii, came daily to plead for
Shivering with cold, they held out old tin cans for hot
water. If one gave a piece of sugar
to these poor children
an ecstatic smile would break over their pale faces. Peri-
odically the police would hound them out of their
wretched shelter into the street, but after a few days
there would be others.
One of the most terrible and pitiful sights I saw was
one late afternoon in November 1933. Looking out of
the window I saw police driving some wrecks of human-
ity down into the cellar of our building. More and more
people were brought in as the evening fell. Going down
into the courtyard I was told by other occupants of our
what was happening.
The police were rounding up all the beggars
in the city prior to the November Revolution
celebrations. The foreigners must not see the starving,
hordes, so they were all to be dumped outside
A Home at Last 17.1’
Our cellar was one of the collection depots. Late in
the evening trucks arrived, and the beggars were pushed
into them. Some were sick, others lame. Many were
,I children. They were to be taken forty or fifty miles
outside Moscow and dumped on the road to die, like
I’ abandoned dogs or cats. If the stronger ones managed
to straggle back to Moscow the celebrations would be
1 over by the time they got there.
/ We all watched that pitiful exodus from our windows.
A thin rain was falling and the air was damp and chilly.
Although by this time I should have been conditioned to
brutality, I was pregnant and it made me sick. Those
mothers down there with their cold and hungry children
being driven out into the desolate countryside must be
;; suffering unbearable anguish. It would have been more
1 merciful to shoot them outright.
I shivered with icy foreboding at the world into
which I should soon bring a child. But I am blessed, or
cursed, with a sanguine temperament; and although I
knew with my mind that one cannot escape from the
Soviet Union, I still went on deluding myself in my
heart that some day, somehow, Arcadi and I might get
My moral and political degeneration in the communist
atmosphere had proceeded so far that I no longer hoped
for the liberation of the Russian people. I dreamed of
escape from the horrors of Stalin’s Russia, not of the
overthrow of his tyranny.
In my imagination I conceived of my brother Temple,
back from the South Seas, sailing his yacht to the Black
Sea and rescuing us. My mind played around with the
idea. Arcadi and I could pretend to be going for a sail.
Could I teach Arcadi to swim well enough to reach the
yacht at night through the warm Crimean Sea?
Escape in fantastic day dreams about which I never
told Arcadi helped make life bearable. He would have
laughed at such romantic fantasy. We hardly ever spoke
of our desire to get out of the Soviet prison house. It
was too painful to talk about and too dangerous even to
think of for fear our thoughts might later inadvertently
become words and betray us.
Arcadi seemed to have resigned himself to life in
Russia. He still got some satisfaction and comfort out of
doing his job. After long hours of work he came home
too tired to think very much.
I had less strenuous work and too much time for think-
ing. Since Jane’s and Michael’s departure I had felt my-
self cut off entirely from my old life in England. I
keenly missed my two friends with whom I could talk
freely in the long hours when Arcadi was still at the
office and I sat at home waiting for him.
In those first years in Moscow I had believed that one
day we should all get out into the free world again. Now
I knew that the past was utterly past, that we were in-
extricably caught in the Soviet web, and that a long vista
of years in Russia stretched ahead of me. I myself could
escape but since Arcadi could not it was futile to long
for the free world we had both once lived in and fool-
Arcadi and I loved each other dearly and we were
together and soon we should have a child. After all,
A Home at Last ‘73
that was more than many people ever got out of life
even in the free world outside. Our love knew neither
jealousy nor antagonism. We were comrades in a real
sense, helping each other, considerate of each other, and
so close in thought and feeling that we had little need for
words to reassure one another of the depth of affection
Arcadi had a boyish playfulness which sweetened our
relationship and kept him young in spite of his exhaust-
ing office life. Illusions and false political beliefs had
originally brought us together. Disillusionment, trouble,
and hardship, the need each of us had of the other, and
an attraction which the years had welded into a oneness
of body and spirit, had firmly united us.
We had lived so long in one tiny room, adapting
ourselves the one to the other and never quarreling over
small things as so many people with whole flats to live
in do. I still felt, and I know Arcadi felt it too, that to
be in prison-like Russia together was infinitely better
than being separated in a free world.
Arcadi would again and again tell me to save myself,
to leave him and go back to England. But he knew I
never would. I had wept when I left England after the
few months I spent there in the summer of 1933. I
would have given up almost anything in the world, ex-
cept Arcadi, to get out of Russia. But I had at long last
adapted myself, learned to hide my thoughts and feelings
in public, learned to avoid any political subjects in con-
versation, and to talk only about food or rooms or
scandal, except to one or two intimate friends.
Material conditions had become sliphtlv better. After
‘74 Lost Illzbon
the hellish years of starvation, life in 1934, 1935 and 1936
seemed almost tolerable. We did not know that soon
starvation was to return, and that even the poor life of the
middle thirties was to be but a breathing space between
two eras of famine and terror.
In the last years of my life in Moscow conditions
were both better and worse than in the days when I
first lived the life of a Russian. We ourselves were
better off and the mass of the people were suffering a
little less than before or afterwards. But there was an
ever increasing differentiation in the living standards be-
tween the rulers and the ruled, and between the skilled
workers and the unskilled.
There was less actual starvation but the privileged
were now more privileged and class distinctions more
openly displayed. More and more commercial shops
were opened with their windows full of food and cloth-
ing which ordinary people could not afford to buy.
Earlier when the meat, butter, chocolates, fruit, shoes
and clothing had been supplied to the Communist aris-
tocracy in closed distributors the masses were not fully
aware of the great gulf between them and their rulers.
Luxury had not been openly displayed but hidden and
unavowed. Now it was obvious to the dullest intelligence
that the fruits of their labor were not for the working
class and probably never would be. A bitter saying began
to be heard in Moscow,
“Yes, they have constructed socialism for themselves.”
3bzy ao?z Is Boni?
Y SON WAS BORN on March IO, 1934, and 1 be-
gan the happiest period of my life in Moscow. In any
society at any historical period men and women have the
same fundamental needs and satisfactions, and perhaps
children are the greatest of these. With my son’s birth I
began to accept life, to be more restful and more calm.
I could even forget politics for long periods and be-
come absorbed in Jon’s needs and his development. In
fact, I became far too absorbed and was abruptly awak-
ened one day by Mark Kazanin saying to me that it
would matter far more to my son in the future, what his
mother was and had done, than the fact that I had per-
sonally attended to all his wants.
Mark, an intellectual of the type one rarely finds out-
side Russia, considered me far too much of the earth
earthy and resented both my love for my husband and
the fact that I had been so human as to have a child at
all. But he was good for me, both as a stimulant and an
irritant. Without his suggestions and encouragement I
should probably never have written Japan’s Feet of Clay
and would thus have failed to keep my link with the
Western world outside. It is probable that this book
176 Lost Illusion
saved me from being arrested with my husband two
years after my baby was born.
Jon’s birth was a long and painful business. I was
thirty-six and he weighed nine pounds. I spent two
nights and a day in a ward with nine other women who
screamed most of the time. I had arrived about 4 A.M.
after waiting two hours for Arcadi to find a taxi to get
me to the maternity hospital. The doctors and nurses,
working twelve-hour shifts, had no time to pay atten-
tion to a pregnant woman except at the actual moment of
Three times in the second night I was brought into the
delivery room, only to be taken back to the ward when I
failed to give birth. No one offered me any advice or
help, and no relief was prescribed for the pain. Narcotics
of any kind were ruled out, since the hospitals had none.
During the time I spent in the delivery room I saw many
children born, for there were no screens and I just lay
in pain watching the babies of others being delivered.
Finally at about nine o’clock on the second morning,
at the changing of the shifts, a doctor examined me and
decided that my baby’s heart might soon cease to beat.
He gave me an injection to revive my strength, and he
and another doctor threw themselves in turn upon my
chest and abdomen. Meanwhile a third doctor cut me a
little, and at last my son was born.
I lay and watched my screaming baby being cleaned
and dressed, and then a ticket with his number was tied
around my wrist. I was given a bowl of soup where I lay
flat on my back on the padded table, and I wrote a note
My Son Is Born 177
to my husband waiting anxiously downstairs. I was then
left where I was until three o’clock that afternoon before
anyone had time to stitch me up. This was finally done
without an anesthetic.
After that I was moved into a comfortable bed in a
ward for eight persons. The room was clean, but the
windows were tightly shut. Here I remained eight days
without seeing Arcadi or my mother, since no visitors
were allowed in the hospital for fear of infection.
I was in one of the best maternity hospitals in Russia,
the Clara Zetkin Birth House, where I had made a res-
ervation months before by a combination of wangling
and money. The food was ample; but I nearly suffocated
for lack of fresh air.
Our babies were brought to us to be fed all swaddled
up, but my son was allowed to have his head uncovered
because he had so much hair. I longed to relieve him of
the weight and discomfort of his swaddling clothes, and
did so at once when I got him home.
A few days after I came home Arcadi became terribly
ill. They feared he had typhus, but in the end it wasn’t
this dread disease and he recovered. The Russian servant
I then had, Masha, quit in a panic when Arcadi became
sick. It was impossible to hire a trained nurse and with
only my mother to nurse him I had to get up. However,
having a child agreed with me. I felt well, I looked years
younger, and I had plenty of milk.
Mrs. Barski, in the third room of our apartment, was
kind and helpful. Her only fault was her incessant
chatter. In the morninm she would follow Arcadi around
178 Lost Ikrion
talking, even into the bathroom while he shaved. On the
rare occasions when I quarreled with her she would ob-
ject to my hanging my baby’s diapers in the hall to dry
and treat us to a few days of dignified silence. When we
were friendly, Arcadi, exasperated by her unceasing
conversation would say to me privately: “Can’t you
pick a quarrel with Mrs. Barski so that she won’t talk so
Soon after my son was born I acquired Emma, the last
and best of the Volga German servant girls I employed.
She became a devoted friend, and was the only human
being besides Arcadi’s sister who still dared to corre-
spond with me after my husband was arrested.
Emma had red hair and a quick temper. She horrified
our Russian friends by “thouing” Arcadi and me and in
general behaving like one of the family. She loved my
son and she loved us, and, although I had to teach her
everything, she was intelligent and quick to learn.
I had to bring my boy up on a book and with my
mother’s help, for Russian ideas about babies were almost
medieval. Babies were all swaddled both when they went
out and in their cradles, windows were. never opened,
and the doctors at the Conrultatia (advisory clinic for
mothers) said one must on no account hold them out
before they were six months old.
It was accepted that a baby should either be consti-
pated or have diarrhoea. I had to trust to the instructions
in the Truby King book I had and to such advice as I
could get by air mail from an old school friend in
My Son Is Born ‘79
However, since I was able to nurse Jon entirely for
six months and partly for nine, he was a healthy, happy
baby and nothing ever went seriously wrong There
were, of course, no baby foods to be had in Russia. If a
mother could not nurse she had to give plain cow’s milk
and water. Luckily some Australian Communist friends
of ours, the Baracchis, were then living on foreign cur-
rency exchange at the New Moscow Hotel, and had an
h-nab ration book.
They gave me their rations for four months, and this
enabled us to live so well that I kept up my strength
even when I went back to work and had to rush home at
twelve and climb five flights of stairs to nurse Jon. We
had plenty of money, for my Lancashire and the Far
East had at last after many delays, been published in
Moscow. I had received several thousand rubles in
royalties, and this lasted a long time.
The vicissitudes of publication in the USSR are well
illustrated by what happened to my book. It was trans-
lated originally in 193 I and an advance on royalties was
paid to me. Then publication was delayed because an
introduction praising it had been written by Safarov,
who promptly thereafter fell into disgrace.
Next the Russian manuscript was lost when the Com-
munist Party publishing office moved to a new location.
Finally two years later Karl Radek discovered the Eng-
lish edition, sent for me, praised it very warmly, and
arranged for its immediate translation and publication. It
was once again translated into Russian and finally pub-
lished, and I got a new contract and was paid over again.
180 Lost Illusion
Since the autumn of 1932 I had been employed by the
Institute of World Economy and Politics, and my work
there required no regular hours of attendance, although I
had to spend a good deal of time away from home in
When my son was nine months old I paid a flying
visit to England to make a contract for my projected
book on Japan.
Soon after my return, in March 1935, my mother went
home. She had been with us a year and a half on this
second visit and now that we had Jon, life in Moscow in
two rooms for five of us, including Emma, had become
I was trying to provide English hygienic conditions
for Jon, which meant his sleeping with the transom open
in winter in a dark room. So in the evenings we all had
to sit in the other room. At night Arcadi, Jon and I
shared one room and Emma and my mother the other.
The night my mother left I received a cable from
Temple’s friend, Rab, in London that my brother had
got blood poisoning in Fiji and might die. My mother
was already on her way to England, and it was too late
to stop her. She had to face the news of his death alone
ten days later. That was in April, just a year before I was
to lose Arcadi as well.
Temple’s death brought home to me the passing of the
years and of the hopes which had gone with them. I re-
membered our happy childhood together, our college
days after the war when the world had seemed to me a
place of infinite promise, a progressive world on the way
My Son Is Born 181
to the establishment of a just society. Temple had never
believed this. Romance for him had not lain in politics
but in the South Seas, in getting away from civilization,
not in remolding it nearer to the heart’s desire.
He had died in the warmth and beauty of the tropics,
but for him too the dream world in which he sailed
freely for a while had become, after his second marriage,
the humdrum provincial life of Suva where he had settled
down to practice medicine. In one of the last letters he
ever wrote he said to my mother: “Freda’s letter to me
was in tone and spirit very sweet. Neither of us quite
seems to have found our new world. Moral-do not read
your children romantic tales in their infancy. However
hard-boiled they may become afterwards, the original
That last summer Arcadi and I took a datcha in the hot
summer months because of Jon. Life at the datcha was
wearing because in these wooden houses in the villages
outside Moscow everything was primitive. Cooking had
to be done on oilstoves, water had to be fetched in
buckets, and food was obtained mainly in the city and
carried the long distance from the local station.
Our servant could not possibly do everything and
look after my young child. So I had to do a great deal of
the housework myself as well as travel to Moscow once
or twice a week to the Institute. At the same time I was
endeavoring to write Japan’s Feet of Clay.
Arcadi could not get to the datcha every evening, but
he was always with us over the weekend, and I some-
times spent a night in town.
182 Lost llliwion
The datcha we lived in was a large house which KaI-
manofsky, the Chairman of Promexport, got from the
Soviet for the summer for about 600 rubles and which he
exploited by renting out separate rooms at 500 rubles
apiece. This was the normal practice. We had two rooms
and a terrace. The other three families living in the
house had only one room each. Kalmanofsky used two
for himself, his beautiful wife, a well-known actress, and
for his brother, who was a non-Party engineer.
The other women in the datcba thought me very bold
because I dared to walk alone in the dusk from the rail-
road station along the narrow path through the forest.
It was true that murders were reported with disquieting
frequency, murders committed merely for the purpose of
stealing the victim’s clothing. But, as I wore only a simple
sarafan (a sleeveless cotton dress held up by straps) in
the hot summer, I felt pretty safe.
Russian women are usually very timid, as I had learned
long before in Tokyo, where they had been afraid to go
alone down the dark lane behind the Trade Representa-
tion building. But Emma feared neither men nor gov-
ernments. Superbly built, with arms strong enough to
knock a man down, she had a scornful contempt for the
pretty, delicate Kazaikas (housewives) who neither
toiled nor spun, and who, even if their husbands were
poor, spent their time in idleness.
In late August and September when the weather was
chilly, we longed for wood to make a fire. But I could
not buy fuel in the village, although there was a forest
all around us. One day there was a mighty thunder-
My Son Is Born 183
storm, one of the most magnificent I have ever seen.
Three trees in the datcha garden were struck by light-
ning, one falling over the terrace and just missing our
We were delighted. Here was some wood at last. It
was forbidden to cut trees-they belonged to the village
Soviet-but we might take the branches. So we started
to work, and Emma and I filled our terrace with enough
wood to burn for many days. The other wives sent their
servants and looked upon me with disapproval because I
demeaned myself by such physical labor.
“How can you, ” one of them asked, “an intellectual,
a writer, go out with the servants to cut wood!”
Five years before, no such remark could have been
made. But already the Soviet upper classes had developed
their caste theories. Moreover, since Russian men for the
most part preferred ultra-feminine women, all who could
do so lived up to this ideal.
They pi-inked and painted, wore the highest heeled
shoes they could find, would go without food to buy the
fantastically expensive materials now on sale at a few
shops, and considered me a hopeless blue-stocking and
far too democratic in my behavior. The fact that Emma
called me and Arcadi by our first names shocked them.
What they really objected to was Emma’s status in my
household. It made their own servants discontented to
see us treat her as our equal and our friend.
Russian summers are usually lovely and warm, but that
summer at the datcha it was rainy and cold. Having
spent so much money on the rental so that Jon might
184 Lost Illusion
have air and sunshine, we found the weather very disap-
pointing. I was working hard and getting very little
sleep as I used to arise at six o’clock with Jon. Although
we were living in the country we now had much less
nourishing food than at any time since the first year of
our life in Russia.
Znsnab had been discontinued in the early summer.
Gort closed down in the fall. Everything had to be
bought in the commercial shops or at the peasant markets
at commercial prices. Arcadi’s salary remained at the
same level of 600 rubles which he had been earning for
two years past, and while working on my book I was
making only my minimum salary of 300 rubles.
We sold some old clothes, and Arcadi got one month’s
extra salary as a bonus. I had received a few English
pounds as an advance on my book, which we spent
gingerly at Turgsin. We managed to feed Jon well and
to live, but we went rather short of food and I twice
came down with ‘flu. Temple’s death had saddened me,
and I felt ill and old and depressed. I wrote to my mother
that I realized the best of life is over before one knows it
Finally in the fall after we returned to Moscow, I had
a breakdown which the doctor called a heart neurosis or
something like that. The Institute of World Economy
and Politics which employed me sent me to a very good
sanatorium for five weeks, It was reserved for scientific
workers of high qualifications or Party members. The
food was excellent and I had a beautiful room to myself.
Soon I recovered the health which had enabled me to
My Son Is Born ‘85
stand all the rigors of life in Moscow, and bear up under
the physical and nervous strain to which even privileged
mothers are subject in Soviet Russia. Emma had looked
after Jon and Arcadi during my absence but I had wor-
ried about them and was happy to return to Ordinka
ay Institute Is Twged
HEN I RETURNED TO MOSCOW 1 felt Wd
again and the depression had lifted from my spirits. I set-
tled down to intensive concentration on my book. This
writing and the previous research work I had done at the
Institute of World Economy and Politics gave me a good
deal of satisfaction. The Institute provided me with
about the best employment I could have found in all
As a “senior scientific worker” in the Pacific Ocean
Cabinet, for three years I did research work on Japan in
particular and the Far East in general. I received a reg-
ular salary and in addition was paid for every article or
report I wrote. We scientific workers had our own in-
dividual plan to fulfill and worked very much as we
liked. I had to attend meetings of various kinds, but
otherwise I spent only as much time at the Institute as I
pleased, or as I felt my work required.
The head of the Institute, the well-known Hungarian
Marxist, Eugene Varga, was a decent, kindly, and intelli-
gent old man. He always toed the Party line and sur-
vived successive waves of purges, but he was a real
worker and tried to keep out of his Institute unqualified
My Institute Is Purged ‘87
Party men looking for a soft job. Some attention was
paid to scientific exactitude. Figures might be twisted to
have various meanings, but at least the figures were ac-
The Institute contained many sections. There was a
statistical bureau producing a Konjunktur journal on
the model of a German business conditions publication,
and there were various other divisions studying and
analysing economic conditions in every part of the
world. Since my assignment was Japan, and since, luckily
for me, Japan remained unfriendly to the USSR all the
time I worked at the Institute, I could do real research
and honest writing.
We had a wonderful library containing practically
every book, old or new, in English, German or French
I needed or desired to read. We had the newspapers
from all countries and an excellent press-clipping depart-
ment for reference purposes. It was, in fact, a first-class
research institute, where, because it was occupied in
making reports on economic and political conditions and
developments abroad, I could do satisfactory work.
The Central Committee of the Russian Communist
Party, and the Commissariat of Foreign Trade, as well as
the Comintem used the reports we produced. They
might make queer uses of them, but that did not directly
concern us nor greatly affect the quality of our work.
There was a good story told about Varga which il-
lustrates the little value of the political side of our efforts.
While in Berlin, Varga received a telegram from the
Central Committee of the Communist Party in Moscow
188 Lost Illusion
demanding that he should at once prepare a report on
economic conditions in Europe. A few days later he
“Analysis ready, telegraph at once what perspectives
should be given.”
In plain English, Varga was asking for instructions as
to what he was required to prove by his figures. The
story could have been an invention, but it illustrates
perfectly how Communists use economic facts to prove a
political thesis decreed from above, instead of deducing
the political developments from the economic conditions,
as intelligent Marxists are supposed to do.
At the Institute I knew many decent and intelligent
men and women. There was a somewhat cleaner and less
hypocritical atmosphere than in most other Soviet insti-
tutions, a little less frantic pushing and jealous denuncia-
tion, a little more interest in work, and generally a
“higher level of culture,” as the Russians would describe
it. I never dared to speak freely or openly, but I felt that
many of my Communist co-workers knew that I knew
that they knew what was the real state of the USSR and
of research work under Stalin’s tyranny.
I was in and yet not of the life of the Institute. I was a
foreigner and an English citizen. English and Americans
were then the most favored foreigners in Moscow. This
was the period of the Popular Front line in Comintern
policy, and every effort was being made to conciliate
British and American public opinion.
I spoke Russian very badly. I deliberately did not at-
tempt to improve my pronunciation or my grammar
My Institute Is Purged ‘89
since I could take refuge in language difficulties to save
myself from the necessity of making speeches at meet-
ings. So I escaped the necessity of lying and being a
hypocrite and the dangers of denunciation if I did not
I did my work conscientiously. As I am naturally of a
friendly disposition, people did not dislike me. In fact
they were very nice to me. I never sought to acquire a
higher position by calumniating others, and I suppose
that most of my fellow scientific workers felt I was
harmless and lacking in ambition and might as well be
Upon one occasion when it was reported to me that I
had been criticized behind my back, I took the bull by
the horns, marched in to Voitinsky, and demanded, in
what Jane used to call my best British imperialist man-
ner, an investigation of the accusation. My reaction was
so unexpected and unusual that it took Voitinsky aback,
and the attack on me was quashed.
Mark, who also worked at the Institute as an expert on
China was highly amused. He said that the normal Rus-
sian way of dealing with such denunciations, would
have been to start a counter-whispering campaign against
the man who had accused me. But my English lack of
finesse and method of direct attack were so unusual and
unexpected as to have disarmed my enemies. However, I
fully recognized the fact that only my British passport
had enabled me to get away with it. No Russian could
have dared to risk it.
The German Communists at our Academy, and also
190 Lost Illusion
at the Marx Engels Institute nearby where Jane had
worked, were in a most unhappy situation. Their excess
zeal and very sincerity got them into trouble. They
worked hard to learn the Russian language and to be-
come an integral part of Soviet society.
They religiously studied their Pravda and Izvestia and
the Communist Party resolutions. They took the Party
line seriously, and tried to understand it. In consequence
they often rushed in where angels feared to tread.
Germans were happy and proud to be able to make
speeches and to show how thoroughly they understood
Communist Party doctrine. Since the Party line and the
interpretation of the sacred texts varied from season to
season, this was a very dangerous way to behave.
My complete withdrawal from politics, my indiffer-
ence to the whole sorry game, and my poor knowledge
of the Russian language enabled me to sit or stand
through the meetings in safety, my thoughts miles away.
But the Germans wanted to testify, and this often
brought them to disaster. The poor devils still believed in
Communism and were bewildered, confused, and un-
done when the Party line changed overnight, or a new
interpretation was given to last month’s Party resolution
which they had so carefully studied.
Also the Germans, many of them refugees from fas-
cism, some of them escaped prisoners from German con-
centration camps, were usually honest and painfully
sincere. Nor had they lost their personal integrity. It was
difficult, almost impossible, for them to lie and cheat.
I remember the case of one German couple at the
My Institute Is Purged ‘91
Institute. The husband was condemned to prison as a
Trotskyist. The wife was told she could keep her job if
she would publicly denounce him as a Trotskyist spy,
and repudiate him. She protested his innocence and re-
fused to do so. So she was thrown out, to starve. How-
ever, there was a rumor that Varga, who was a very,
humane man, secretly secured her a job as a factory la-
borer in a remote provincial town.
The spirit of many of the German Communists who
had taken refuge in the Soviet Union was broken in
time. Looked upon always as potential foreign spies, dis-
liked or envied for their superior knowledge or intel-
ligence or diligence, with no government to protect
them, and persuaded or forced to become Russian citi-
zens, they were completely at the mercy of the Soviet
Those who had been active revolutionaries in Ger-
many were most suspected, and thousands disappeared
during the great purges. Others became as shameless as
the Russians in calumniating their comrades to try to
save themselves by lying, hypocrisy, and false accusa-
American and British Party members, and in lesser de-
gree the French, were then on the contrary the favored
sons or daughters of the Soviet fatherland. There were
so few Communists in the West that minor deviations
were forgiven them. In Moscow they could count upon
an easy life and a good position without any great effort
on their part.
I was no longer a member of the Communist aristoc-
192 Lost Illusion
racy. I had let my membership in the British Communist
Party lapse and had not tried to transfer to the Russian
Communist Party. Nevertheless as an Anglichanka
(Englishwoman) I was in a privileged position. More-
over the fact that I had had a book published both in
England and the Soviet Union added greatly to my
Some of the reports I had written on Japanese eco-
nomics had been very favorably received. One of them,
on Japan’s food resources and the likely effect of war on
her economy, had been utilized by the Central Commit-
tee of the Bolshevik Party, which in effect meant the
Soviet Government. So my stock was pretty high in
spite of the fact that I was no longer a member of the
Only once was I seriously attacked. This was at a
chiska shortly before my son was born. At these periodic
“cleansings of the apparatus” everyone had to appear in
a large assembly room before all his or her fellow work-
ers to be questioned concerning social origins, work, gen-
eral behavior and worthiness. I was denounced on this
occasion on the charge that five years or so before I had
written articles for the “capitalist press.” Had I not been
a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian while in
It was still the ultra-Left period of Comintem history.
The Popular Front and democratic masquerade did not
start until I 935. So the accusation was quite a serious one.
However I was saved by a friend rising to my defense to
point out that my work for the Manchester Gmwdia7t
My Institute Is Purged
had been a permissible camouflage for my revolutionary
activities in the Far East.
Others did not escape so easily. There was one poor
Jewish woman, a widow with two children to support,
who was denounced for having had her son circumcised
fourteen years earlier. She could not deny the accusation
and she lost her Party card and was dismissed from our
The Soviet Government even in those days denied
that it persecuted religion but it was a fact that anyone
known to go to church or to a synagogue, or to have any
religious beliefs, could rarely, if ever, obtain a good job.
Membership in the Communist Party with the privileges
this gave was, of course, out of the question for either
Christians or orthodox Jews.
My work at the Communist Academy kept me in
touch with the outside world, kept my intelligence alive,
and enabled me to earn a living without selling my soul.
It also gave me the opportunity to write Japan’s Feet of
Clay, which in the future was to save me and my son
from destitution in England. The prestige of writing a
book for publication in England rendered me almost im-
mune from attack, and the work on it gave me immense
My detestation of Japanese tyranny and hypocrisy
was second only to my hatred of Soviet tyranny and
hypocrisy, and it seemed to me that the world had almost
as many illusions about Japan as about Russia. I could
not do anything about the Russian illusions, but at least
I could tear the veil from the face of Japanese tyranny.
194 Lost Illusion
At the Institute I had access to an immense quantity of
material and time to do real research work, and the year
I had previously spent in Japan gave me the necessary
background. The fact that I had managed to make a
contract for the book with Faber and Faber in England
before I wrote it, so impressed the Institute that I was
allowed to spend a year working on it without interfer-
ence or supervision.
I remember, though, that when it was finished and I
had given some chapters to one of my few trusted
friends to read he advised me to take out what I had writ-
ten concerning outward conformity to the state creed
and expressions of enthusiastic loyalty under a tyran-
nical government. It was too obvious, he said, that I
really meant the USSR when writing about Japan!
The Pacific Ocean Cabinet of our Institute became
the Russian branch of the Institute of Pacific Relations
when the Kremlin switched over to the policy of estab-
lishing good relations with liberal capitalist organizations
and groups abroad. To keep up appearances a room was
taken in another part of the town and a notice put up on
the door saying “Soviet Council of the Institute of
Pacific Relations.” When representatives of the Amer-
ican Council visited Moscow a few members of our
Institute would be delegated to sit in this room and re-
ceive the foreigners.
In 1936, however, the whole staff of our Pacific Ocean
Cabinet had an all-day long session at the Institute with
E. C. Carter, Owen La&more and Harriet Moore, lead-
ing lights of the Institute of Pacific Relations. I was a
My Institute Is Purged 19s
little surprised at the time that these Americans should
defer so often and so completely to the Russian view-
I was still more astonished in the evening when Mr.
Carter addressed a large gathering of Moscow Com-
munist “actives” as leading members of the Party were
called. Afterward Philip Rabinovitch remarked to me
with a smile that it was strange that Mr. Carter who had
formerly been Secretary of the World Y.M.C.A. spoke
almost like a good Bolshevik.
Owen Lattimore found it difficult at first to submit to
the discipline required of Friends of the Soviet Union.
He told me a few months later in London how he had al-
most lost his job as Editor of Pacific Aflairs because he
had published an article by the Trotsky&, Harold
In later years in the United States it did not astonish
me to find the Institute of Pacific Relations following the
same general line as the DaiZy Worker in regard to China
I imagine the Institute of World Economy and Politics
must have greatly changed since my day. In 1936 the
great purge was seriously affecting our organization.
When the leaders in the Communist Party fall they drag
down many lesser men with them.
For instance, when Madyar, who had been the chief
theoretician of the Chinese revolution, was disgraced and
imprisoned after Kirov’s murder at the end of 1935,
there began a strenuous heresy hunt.
The Red professors and scientific workers who spe-
196 Lost Illusion
cialized on China all started thumbing through each
other’s old books and articles to discover Trotskyist
deviations or signs of Madyar’s influence. Since Madyar’s
word had been law to us, this was not difficult. Many a
co-worker of mine in the Pacific Ocean Cabinet felt im-
periled and tried to denounce his neighbor to prove his
loyalty to Stalin and to escape being denounced himself.
The situation was all the worse because Voitinsky, the
chief of our department, had played a prominent role in
the Comintern in I 92 7 and had then been made a scape-
goat, together with Borodin, for the tragic fiasco of the
Voitinsky had come back into favor only a few years
before, and it is always those who have “deviated” and
been disgraced in the past and then reinstated who are
most unscrupulous about others. When the purge be-
came serious, Voitinsky started accusing almost every-
one under him. All those who worked on China feared
for their jobs or their lives.
Soon the whole Institute was panic stricken by the
purge. Varga dismissed his brilliant Vice-Director, Mel-
nitskaya, a woman of great intelligence and character
and a real scholar. She managed to survive by taking an
obscure position helping to produce the Encyclopaedia
then being completed, but she has probably been liqui-
dated by now. The other woman Party members were
very jealous of her. She had been a Trotsky& years be-
fore. Her husband, who worked at the Marx Engels
Institute, was already under suspicion.
I left Soviet Russia before the storm reached its height,
My Institute Is Purged ‘97
I so the fate of most of the men and women I worked with
for three and a half years is unknown to me. But by
noting the names of those who still write for the publi-
cations of the Institute, I perceive that the non-Party men
The Communists I knew have generally disappeared.
One exception is Rogoff who had the desk next to mine
and whom I met in China as chief Tass correspondent
in 1938. He had never written a book and was not much
of a scholar so I suppose he never had any provable
Mao Tse-tung and the other Chinese Communist lead-
ers remained prudently in Yenan in their own Soviet
Chinese territory where they could not easily be inter-
fered with although they accepted Moscow’s orders.
We, the scientific workers at the Communist academy
together with the personnel of the China division of the
Comintem, were held responsible for their mistakes,
failures and deviations. We who supplied them with
their theoretical and practical instructions had to make
quick turns when the Comintern line changed.
Early in I 93 5 the Seventh Congress of the Comintem
switched all the Communist parties of the world over to
the Popular Front line or Trojan horse tactic. The Social
Democrats, Labor Parties and Trade Unions of the West
whom we had hitherto denounced as Social Fascists,
worse than outright Nazis, were now to be counted as
Similarly, in China, the Communists were instructed
to cease fighting Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang
198 Lost Illusion
and to try to make an alliance with them against Japan.
The Chinese Communists were further instructed to
cease killing landowners and to represent themselves as
liberal agrarian reformers.
Thus overnight everything we had said and written in
previous years became heresy. The wise so-called scien-
tific workers were those who had always taken care to
say opposite things at the same time, and thus ensure
themselves against sudden changes in the Party line.
Everyone of us bore in mind the old Soviet precept:
If you think don’t speak!
If you speak don’t write!
If you write don’t pvblish!
If you publish recant immediately!
Tricks with Statistics
T IS ONLY WHEN THE PEOPLE submitblindly
that a master can order tremendous sacrifices to produce
Thus spoke the AbbC Custine concerning one of
Stalin’s prototypes, the “Iron Tsar,” Nicholas I, who
made it a crime for workers to strike. In the Abbe’s eyes
the edifices erected by the Tsars represented “not the
force of a great country, but the uselessly wasted sweat
of a great people.”
Tourists from the “capitalist world” to Stalin’s empire
were less perceptive than the clerical visitor from France
to the nineteenth-century empire of the Romanovs. They
admired the gigantic edifices and were indifferent to the
wasted sweat and the misery of the Russian people.
Communists and fellow travelers, many of whom at
home had never seen the inside of a factory or a power
station, journalists and authors, school teachers and “in-
tellectuals” of all kinds, came on conducted tours of the
Soviet Union and worshipped before the shrine of the
It reminded me of the story I was told in Moscow by a
Jewish-Russian immigrant to the United States. He came
200 Lost Illusion
with other emigrants from a village in South Russia. Ar-
rived in Philadelphia, he and his fellow villagers were
astounded at the streetcars, the automobiles, and the fac-
They had never in their lives seen these things before.
They did not know that they existed in Europe, and
therefore became firmly convinced that the United
States was the most wonderful country in the world.
Many of the tourists to the Soviet Union were like
this. The factories and power stations in the USSR were
something they had never seen before at close quarters
in their own countries, and they felt sure it was socialism
which had created them.
Nor apparently were they aware that the crkches, ma-
ternity homes, kindergartens, and other social services so
much boasted about in Russia were far more widespread
and available to a larger proportion of the population in
England, Germany, Austria and Scandinavia.
For the tourists I met in Moscow it was enough that
new factories and power stations, had been erected in
Russia since the Revolution. They were not interested in
the social cost or in the utility of these concrete signs
of Soviet industrialization.
Yet for the Russian people the much-admired “‘gi-
gantic successes on the industrial front” meant only
hardship, undernourishment, and overwork. These great
edifices did not minister to their wants, and never would.
The story of the peasant woman who saw a tractor for
the first time, and exclaimed sadly and longingly, “What
Tricks with Statistics 201
a lot of nails could have been made out of all that iron,”
illustrates the tragic farce of the Five Year Plan.
The people required food, clothing, shoes, and houses,
and ordinary tools to’ make a living. They were given
instead a stone, in the shape of a few great factories pro-
ducing either goods for export to obtain money to import
more machinery, or armaments to defend the Soviet
state. Not to defend the people for they had literally
“nothing to lose but their chains.”
One May Day, I marched in the procession in Moscow
side by side with an Austrian Communist who had seen
service with the Red Army in the civil wars as an aviator.
Not yet having learned to hold my tongue on all occa-
sions, I could not help remarking, as we passed the foun-
dations of the Palace of Soviets, that it would have been
better to have built flats for the workers first.
“Ah,” he said, “don’t you realize that this is an Asiatic
people? In order to make them obey the government,
palaces must be built to overawe them with concrete
proof of the power and glory of the government. This is
far more important for social stability than giving the
people decent houses to live in.”
Admirers of the Soviet Union point to the statistics of
industrial growth-so much more iron and steel pro-
duced, so many more industrial workers, so huge an in-
vestment in capital construction. The cost is never
reckoned, and no comparison can be made between the
social cost under Stalin’s so-called socialism and cap-
italism. We do know, however, that the cost of the con-
202 Lost Illusion
struction carried out under the First Five Year Plan was
very much higher than had been reckoned.
The tourists were incapable of judging whether the
“Giants of the Five Year Plan” functioned to their full
capacity or not. But everyone in Russia who had any-
thing to do with industry or trade knew that jerry-build-
ing, poor materials, incompetent or skimped work, and
hidden defects, made the factories and power stations
erected at the cost of so much sweat and misery and
hunger incapable of turning out more than a fraction of
what they had been planned to produce.
The machines imported in exchange for the food and
manufactured goods so sorely needed by the Russian
people, or in return for the timber produced by
wretched slave laborers of the secret police, deteriorated
rapidly and soon became defective or unworkable. These
defects and shortcomings were often referred to in the
Soviet Press. But they were always ascribed to sabotage
or to the ignorance or inefficiency of individuals, never
to the system which was in fact responsible.
Yet it was the system to force engineers and tech-
nicians, all the qualified experts, to work under Com-
munist Party bosses who knew nothing about the enter-
prises of which they were in charge, and could always
put the blame on the non-Party specialists when things
went wrong. However well or badly they worked, the
result was the same: the concentration camp awaited the
specialists in the short or the long run, so they tried to
make the run as long as possible.
The best way to put off the evil day of arrest was to
Tricks with Statistics 203
skimp work and allow others to skimp it, to close one’s
eyes to defects, to say that everything was going splen-
didly, and to flatter the Party boss who stood over you.
Any specialist whose conscience drove him to the in-
discretion of questioning or criticizing the orders of the
ignorant Party chief was in for it.
The social cost of the “gigantic successes on the in-
dustrial front” cannot be calculated. For as early as 1930
the state Planning Commission was purged of the non-
Party experts capable of computing it. Thereafter it was
decreed that statistics must “play a practical part in the
war of Communism against Capitalism”; that there must
henceforth be only “class statistics.”
This was an indirect way of saying that statistics
henceforth should not be reliable, but should serve the
needs of progapanda. Since that date, statistics which
could not be manipulated to prove the successes of “so-
cialist construction” have simply not been issued at all.
Included are statistics dealing with prices, currency,
housing, and the cost of living.
The Soviet Government has discovered all sorts of in-
genious ways to delude simple-minded tourist friends
from England and the United States. When you visit a
factory in Russia, it is usual in reply to questions to be
given misleading statistics, the planned figure, not the
In the course of my work at the Commissariat of Light
Industry, I visited many textile factories. At Ivanovo
Vosnysenk, I was handed a production report by the
manager which I could not reconcile with what I had
204 Lost illusion
learned in the weaving rooms from the workers them-
selves, or with my experience at Promexport of what
this factory had been able to send to us for export.
At last, after I had questioned the manager until he
was weary, he exclaimed,
“Oh, I see now; you want the facticbiske figures, not
those po planu. All right, here they are.”
The factual figures turned out to be about 35 per ten;
less than the theoretical planned statistics. Since I was a
foreigner, he had naturally given me the planned figures,
not the real ones, as that was the customary procedure
Successes are usually claimed on the basis of figures
stated in ruble values, not in units of production. The
statistics of production as given in rubles are useless since
prices are changeable and arbitrary. For instance, it may
be stated that the production of shoes in a given year is
to total 1,000 million rubles, as against 500 million in a
previous year. But no one knows, and no one can com-
pute, just how many pairs of shoes are made, or just
what the value of the ruble is going to be, or what it was
in the year used as a basis for comparison.
Again, if retail trade turnover figures in a certain
year are much higher than in the previous year, this does
not necessarily mean that more goods became available
for the consumers. There may have been fewer units of
goods, but the state may arbitrarily have increased its
profits on such sales by raising the price.
When Stalin, after the conclusion of the First Five
Year Plan, announced its realization as 93.7 per cent, and
Tricks with Statistics 205
said this meant that industrial production was three times
the pre-war figure, he implied that he was speaking of
volume or quantity. In reality he was basing his calcula-
tion on arbitrary values translated into more or less
No one knows therefore what was in fact accom-
plished. In those branches of industry for which volume
or quantity figures were published, production fell short
of the Plan. This was notably the case with regard to
iron, steel, and electricity.
Coal, which made a better showing, was fourteen per
cent below the planned figure. Since the factories could
have fulfilled their production plans only if provided
with the necessary fuel and raw materials, it is obvious
that the shortages in fuel, iron, and steel production in-
volved the failure of other industries for which no figures
except the ruble value of their output were ever pub-
It was claimed that the metal and machine-building
industries had greatly exceeded their planned figures of
production. Either this was a plain lie, or the Plan never
was a plan. An economy in which there was so little co-
ordination between the parts that the planned produc-
tion of iron and steel was vastly in excess of the planned
production of the heavy industries as a whole, cannot be
called a planned economy. Either there was no real plan
or it failed.
Soviet statistics have become more and more incom-
plete and obscure in order to hide the failures. The “con-
trol figures” in the basic industries appear to have been
206 Lost Illusion
slashed again and again in 1938 and I 939 to make it seem
that the Plan was being fulfilled ninety per cent whereas
in reality only about fifty per cent of the original
planned figure had been produced. Since 1939 no official
figures have been published.
Russia’s vaunted planned economy has in fact almost
ceased pretending to be anything of the kind. If year by
year and quarter by quarter, the Plan is altered to fit in
with the failure to execute it, and production in one
branch of industry no longer bears anything but a hap-
hazard relation to production in an allied branch, there
cannot be said to be a Plan at all.
Each industry is producing just what it can regardless
of the Plan, or its former capital investment, or its
theoretical capacity. Soviet economy is more anarchic
than a capitalist free enterprise economy.
The increased output of coal, iron, and steel prior to
the war was won at a human cost which no country not
ruled over by a ruthless and all-powerful despotism
could contemplate. It is also doubtful whether the de-
velopment of Russian heavy industry compensates, from
the point of view of national strength, for the degrada-
tion of agriculture and the drastically reduced standard
of living and morale of the working class which ac-
The official statistics do not reveal anything as to
quality of production. In the textile industry, in which I
worked, it was “normal” for eighty per cent of the cloth
to be defective. It was, of course, sold. But we had the
Tricks with Statistics 207
greatest difficulty in securing a sufficient quantity of un-
damaged goods for export.
Stalin’s remedy for the disastrous results of the speed-
up, undernourishment, and ignorance, was, of course
drastic punishments. During the second Five Year Plan
he ordered five years’ imprisonment for bad workman-
The results of neglecting the human factor were most
clearly demonstrated by inability to increase the output
per worker. In spite of piece-work wages, threats, and
paltry rewards, the undernourished, badly housed, and
over-driven Soviet worker could not be forced to work
harder. It was physically impossible for him to do so.
The output per worker was planned to be increased by
IOO per cent during the first Five Year Plan. The result
showed that it can have increased little, if at all, since
the number of wage-earners, planned to increase from
I I ,3 million to I 5.8 million actually went up to 2 2.8
million. In other words, seven million more workers
were needed than had been estimated as necessary to
produce the f~lZ planned figures of production.
The cost of the “gigantic successes on the industrial
front”-the actual investment in industrialization during
the First Five Year Plan-came to I 20 milliard rubles in-
stead of the 86 milliard planned.
The finances of the country got into such a chaotic
state that the State Bank stopped publishing balance
sheets. The people paid through inflation and a sharp
rise in prices for the government’s underestimate of the
208 Lost Illusion
real cost of its planned investment, and for the terrific
wastage entailed by the Soviet system.
The rise in prices in the four and a half years of the
Plan gave the ruble only something like one-tenth of its
previous value insofar as commercial prices were con-
cerned. In view, however, of the rationing system and
the special distributors, the ruble had all sorts of values
depending on the social status of the purchaser.
Although the results of the tremendous investment of
human misery in the development of Russian industry
were so meager, there was at least something to show for
all the sacrifice. In agriculture there was no progress at
all, but a terrible decline. So disastrous and wasteful had
the First Five Year Plan proved in the field of agricul-
ture that even Stalin saw he must not try to repeat it.
The ravages must be repaired; the wounds of society
The Russian people, that sorry and starved nag which
Stalin had harnessed to the heavy machine of “socialist
construction,” had to be allowed a little rest and a little
nourishment if it were not to collapse altogether. No
Plan at all was produced in 193
3, and the Second Five
Year Plan, when it came, provided for a more modest in-
crease in production.
The famine continued and was even intensified
through the terrible winter of 1932-3 3 and on into the
spring. Then, as if Providence were taking pity on the
most afflicted people on earth, the weather helped to pro-
duce the best harvest in years. It was still below the
pre-war level, but the numbers who died of starvation
Tricks with Statistics 209
decreased. In Socialist Russia one accounted it as wonder-
ful happiness if there was nearly enough bread for every-
Until 193 5 cost accounting was at a discount in the
Soviet Union. Everything was being done by threats and
force. Since the general scarcity of food and manufac-
tured products for all but the families of the Communist
Party bureaucracy was so great that money had almost
lost its function as a measure of vaiue, the money cost of
construction was regarded as of minor importance. It
was assumed that as long as the construction plans were
realized, nothing else mattered, so inflation was rapid and
The individual citizen was also affected. Money
seemed to us comparatively unimportant. Privilege or
priority was what mattered. To this day I have remained
affected by the years in Moscow when I purchased any-
thing available almost regardless of the cost. Money was
comparatively easy to come by. Goods were more pre-
cious than paper rubles.
Finally the government recognized that some sta-
bility must be given to the ruble if rationing were ever
to be abolished. From I 935 on, the Bolshevik leaders
started to demand cost accounting in all enterprises, and
to stress the importance of the bookkeeper. The
wretched accountants who had belonged to the lowest
social strata suddenly found themselves elevated to al-
most as hi& a rank as the engineers.
However, the dearth of skilled accountants, the fact
that they were almost always non-Party men, and their
210 Lost Illusion
subordination to Communist Party chiefs whose main
concern was to make a good showing, rendered the keep-
ing of accounts in Soviet enterprises too often the work
of clever swindlers rather than of experts.
Ordjonikidze, Commissar of Heavy Industry, railed
against the managers who “kicked out their bookkeepers
because they conscientiously did their jobs”; but few
dared to go against the orders of the Communist Party
boss on whom their living depended.
Nevertheless the keeping of accounts has at least done
something to restrain the anarchy of Soviet economy,
even if the figures are often “cooked.” Unfortunately
the Soviet Government, unwilling to let its own people
or the outside world know how far performance falls
short of the Plan, has published fewer and fewer statistics
since I 93 5, and ceased
publishing them altogether during
and since the war.
Soviet propagandists have sought to throw dust in the
eyes of the world by their boasts as to the size of the new
factories and power stations. The planners of the West-
em world have faithfully mimicked them. It came to be
argued that if socialist construction in the USSR had
produced something larger than anything in the cap-
italist world, then of necessity socialism was superior to
It was perhaps unconsciously felt that since the United
States, the most advanced capitalist country, had the tall-
est buildings in the world, if Russia could produce the
biggest industrial enterprises she would somehow have
proved herself superior. This Asiatic conception of
Tricks with Statistics 211
progress and grandeur has been accepted and adopted by
many American admirers of the Soviet Union.
In a backward country such as Russia, only the en-
slavement of the people could make possible the rapid
erection of gigantic power stations, canals, roads, and
factories without credits from industrially advanced
countries. The Pyramids could not have been built ex-
cept by slave labor, and the same is true of the Russian
“Giants of the Five Year Plan.”
Some American liberals go so far as to excuse even
the slavery practiced in Russia, such is their worship of
the machine and of planning. But for the most part, the
admirers of the Soviet Union stubbornly maintain, in
face of all the evidence to the contrary, that the in-
dustrialization of the Soviet Union has been carried out
at the same time as an iwzprovement in working-class
Of course, the nearer a country’s basic living level is to
zero, the more imposing can its progress be made to ap-
pear if reckoned in percentages.
Up to 193 2 the Soviet Government still could count
upon the enthusiastic labor of a section of the workers.
But after 1932 nearly everyone lost faith. Exhausted and
dissatisfied, the Russian workers are anxious to secure a
soft job instead of working hard. Moreover, two factors
militate against any possibility of repeating the effort of
I 928 to I 932. Too many engineers, technicians, admin-
istrators, specialists of all kinds, have been killed in the
purges or are now human wrecks in NKVD slave labor
212 Lost Illusion
The qualified personnel inherited from the Tsarist
regime has been willfully destroyed by Stalin, and the
new Soviet intelligentsia has not the knowledge, experi-
ence, or devotion to its work of the old bourgeois spe-
cialists. Nor is there any longer any class left possessing
tangible wealth tihich can be seized to pay for new im-
ports of machinery.
All the gold in private possession came into the hands
of the Russian Government long ago either through
Torgsin or extorted by the tortures of the secret police.
Except for their privately owned livestock, there is no
longer anything left of which the peasants can be ex-
propriated. The standard of life of the workers cannot
be reduced further.
In a word, the Soviet Government had exhausted all
Russia’s fat, before the country was devastated by Nazi
Germany. The Kremlin must now rely on increased pro-
duction or foreign conquest to provide for necessary im-
ports. Increased production is precisely what cannot be
achieved under the Soviet system, which helps to explain
Russia’s growing appetite for looting foreign countries.
After I 93 7, industrial production slipped backward.
The purge of 1936-39 had the inevitable result of dis-
organizing the national economy. How could enter-
prises function according to any kind of plan when man-
agers, accountants and clerks were being arrested by the
thousands and herded off as prisoners to cut timber or
slave in the mines under the NKVD guards?
Those who escaped arrest were too frightened and
demoralized to work efficiently. The decline in produc-
Tricks with Statistics 213
tion was cumulative, since the less consumption goods
were produced the less incentive the workers had to try
to increase their earnings.
Above all, the Stakhanov system-the tremendous
speeding up without regard to its effect on men or ma-
chinery-had the unavoidable result of decreasing pro-
duction from year to year as more and more machinery
Despite all the disillusionment, the idea persists in
Western countries that Russia is a “socialist state,” still
sanctified even if she has sinned. The pathetic belief in
Russia of the die-hard Stalinists is based on their ob-
session with the socialist formula. They argue that since
there is state ownership of the means of production and
distribution, there can be no exploiters in the Soviet
Union and the condition of the working class must have
The claims of a planned economy are as much of a
pretense as that collectivism has improved the condition
of the masses. Obviously, if one branch of industry, or
even certain factories within one branch, overfulfills its
plan, it must have procured a larger amount of raw ma-
terials than it was entitled to under the plan and so made
its record at the expense of some other industry. If, on
the other hand, another industry has failed to fulfill the
Plan, it will have precluded fulfillment of the Plan by an
industry dependent upon it for raw materials.
Soviet statisticians endeavor to convince the world
that the production plans have been fulfilled by dis-
counting failures on one front by successes on another.
214 Lost Illusion
But any-economist knows this cannot be done. To take
the simplest example, if the iron-ore production plan has
been exceeded, and the coal production plan has failed,
a lesser amount of steel is necessarily produced. Nor can
the Plan for consumers’ goods production be said to have
been fuElled if the planned figure for perfumery pro-
duction has been exceeded and that for textiles fallen
The Third Five Year Plan was not announced until
1939, and even then full details were not given as had
been done for the previous plans. Obviously conditions
were not such as to make it desirable for the government
to publish statistics which would either reveal the de-
cline in production or make it appear that little increase
was contemplated in the production figures.
Today, however the Soviet government can ascribe
all its failures to the German invasion. Those who never
knew Russia before 1941 are easily convinced that the
misery, starvation and lack of the necessities of life are
all due to the war. The few of us who lived in Russia
earlier know that even in the best years preceding the
Nazi attack the standard of life of the mass of the Rus–
sian people was lower than under the Tsars. I
The High Cost of Commzlnism
T HE COST OF FINANCING the much boastedin-
dustrialization of the USSR has been borne principally
by the peasants, and in general is based on an enormous
tax on food and a very large tax on all manufactured
goods sold to the consumers.
The Soviet Government collects from the peasants, in
one form or another, nearly half of the produce of their
labor on the collective farms, at a price which bears no
relation at all to the cost of production. It sells this
produce to the consumers at a profit of several hundred
per cent. In this way it obtains, as the monopoly pur-
chaser, not only the food to keep the urban workers
alive, but also raw materials for industry, such as cotton,
flax, wool, and hides, at similar arbitrary prices.
The Soviet state sells manufactured goods for mass
consumption at a price which averages double what it
costs to produce them. Insofar as manufactured goods are
concerned, the state exploits the consumer rather than
But since producers and consumers are in the main the
same people, it is really immaterial whether we say that
the workers’ wages represent only a tiny fraction of
216 Lost Illusion
the value (selling price) of the goods they produce, or
whether we say that the state takes advantage of its
monopoly position to force the workers to pay double
the worth of the goods they consume.
The state’s enormous profit on the goods it sells is
taken in the form of a turnover tax-that is, a sales tax
rather than a trading profit. In other words, the state’s
profit is not collected at the factory as employer’s profit,
nor at the state stores as a trader’s profit, but is collected
in the form of a tax, which is paid in the end by the
In this way losses on capital goods are made up out of
the profits on consumers’ goods. Both the cost of in-
dustrialization and the losses due to the inefficiency of
the greater part of heavy industry are paid for by the
peasants as producers and consumers and by the workers
and employees as consumers.
Put in Marxist terminology, the surplus value created
by the labor of the peasants and workers is appropriated
by the state, which uses it as the government decrees.
Since the people have no voice in the government,
Soviet economy is a perfect example of state capitalism.
The turnover tax has constituted the government’s
largest source of income. In 1939 it provided 70 per cent
of the total state budgetary revenue. Of this total, the
tax on bread and other foods usually constitutes more
than two-thirds. The turnover tax on manufactured
goods varies according to the nature of the articles.
Usually it is highest on goods of mass consumption
The High Cost of Communism 217
and lowest on luxury goods not purchased at all by the
mass of the people. In general the tax is levied at a rate
sufficiently high to prevent demand from outrunning
the supply of any particular article. But since there is
always a shortage of the goods of mass consumption,
long lines of customers along the street leading to the
shop doors have remained a permanent feature of Soviet
When the output of light industry falls far short of the
plan, as frequently occurs, or when the cost of construc-
tion of new enterprises is higher than the estimate, as al-
most always happens, the turnover tax is increased to en-
sure necessary government revenue.
The newspaper Finansoya Gazetta of January IO,
1940, gave the actual yield of the turnover tax in 1939 as
96.5 billion rubles as compared with 80.4 billion rubles
in 1938. This increase of 16 billion rubles is the largest
advance recorded over the preceding five years, and it
coincided with an increased scarcity of consumers’ goods.
Since the scarcity of manufactured goods on sale in 1939
was more marked than in any year since 1935, it is ob-
vious that the increased revenue from the turnover tax
was due to inflation.
What socialism has come to mean for the Russian
people is illustrated by a story told in Moscow. A Com-
munist Party propagandist goes to a village and gives
the assembled peasants a glowing account of the wonders
of construction of socialism. After he has spoken, one of
the old peasants gets up and says:
218 Lost Illusion
“Yes, comrade, it sounds wonderful, but look at our
clothing-nothing but rags to wear and nothing to be
bought in the village shop.”
The Communist answers him angrily and scornfully:
“You making all that fuss about clothes! Why, in places
like Africa and the South Seas people have no clothing
The peasant scratches his head and then says thought-
fully: “I suppose they’ve had socialism for a long time
It is, of course, absurd to suppose that the Russian
people, workers, employers, or peasants, really desire to
go on living on the barest level of subsistence under re-
peated promises that it is for the benefit of future gen-
erations. Only force can compel them to do so.
If Soviet democracy were a reality, the planners
would provide for a rapid increase in the production of
consumers’ goods. Such an increase would probably
lead to a more rapid development of heavy industry and
light industry than has been accomplished by Stalin’s
forced depreciation of the general standard of living to
squeeze out capital for industrialization.
No people can work efficiently on the meager diet of
the Russian worker, living as he does in crowded tene-
ments and forced to spend much of his “leisure” standing
in line to secure food, clothing and other necessities, or
attending long, dreary meetings where the sorry farce of
pretending that “life is joyous” has to be played over
and over again. The psychological strain of pretending
that they are happy, and of always saying the opposite of
The High Cost of Communism 219
what they think, and the constant fear of arrest con-
tribute to impairing the efficiency of the Russian
Slave labor long ago was recognized as unprofitable.
Serfdom in most of Europe gave way to private owner-
ship and free enterprise because the latter were more pro-
ductive. These economic truths have been proved once
again in Soviet Russia.
The official Soviet figures of Russia’s total grain pro-
duction bear wimess to the fact that the land yields no
more, if as much, as in Tsarist times. It would, of course,
be unfair to judge by Russia’s food production since the
Germany’s devastation of White Russia and the
Ukraine has produced famine conditions for which the
Soviet Government is not responsible. But in the years
immediately preceding the Second World War the total
grain yield was only a little above the pre-Revolutionary
level in spite of all the capital invested in agriculture in
the shape of tractors and other modem farm machinery.
The total, in millions of tons, for the three years 1936-
1938 averaged 99.3, as against 94. I in 1913. As regards
meat and dairy produce it is well known that Russia has
never recovered from the slaughter of livestock during
the battle of collectivization.
Thus the blood, sweat and tears of the expropriated
peasant population have produced nothing but a barren
claim on the part of their rulers to have socialized the
Since the peasants have to support a small army of
220 Lost Illusion
managers, controllers, accountants, tractor driver me-
chanics and secret police, the overhead cost of producing
food is undoubtedly higher than in Tsarist times when
only the land-owners and usurers lived off the peasants’
Toward the end of the period I lived in Soviet Russia
the government claimed that the incomes of the peasants
had trebled since 1913, but no mention was made of the
ten to twenty-fold increase in the price of clothes, boots
and other manufactured goods the peasant needs to buy.
If the Soviet Government were not forced by its own
policy to maintain millions of soldiers, militia, armed
guards, and NKVD spies to keep the people in subjec-
tion, it would have far greater resources for industrializ-
ing the country.
There is little doubt that the percentage of population
employed by the Russian Government to coerce and
terrorize the peasants and workers is a good deal larger
than the “capitalist class” in most other countries.
If one also takes into account the huge Soviet bureau-
cracy, it is obvious that under Stalin’s collectivism the
actual producers of the country’s wealth have to support
a larger number of persons performing no productive
labor than is the case under the capitalist system.
The Friends of the Soviet Union, in the United States
and England, when driven into a comer, will still fight
on with the statement that unemployment has been abol-
ished in the USSR. But even if the Soviet Government’s
contention were true, which it is not, the same could
have been said of Nazi Germany.
The High Cost of Communism 221
If the state has the power to compel men to labor for
the barest subsistence on the production of armaments
and military fortifications, or if, as in Soviet Russia, it
herds millions into concentration camps where they labor
as slaves in building roads, canals, and railways, or in
cutting timber and working in mines in the Arctic, un-
employment can, of course, be liquidated.
Undeveloped countries under the capitalist system,
such as the United States during most of the nineteenth
century, and also Canada and Australia, did not suffer
The enslaved negroes of Africa, forced to labor under
European masters on the plantations, are never unem-
ployed. If this is all the Soviet-loving liberals of Western
Europe and America care about, they ought also to ad-
mire the Nazi system, and the methods of exploiting
colored races adopted by imperialist powers.
The simple means adopted by the Soviet Government
to cure unemployment during the First Five Year Plan
was physical liquidation of the unemployed and the
underemployed, or their conversion into convicts doing
forced labor in the Arctic timber camps and construct-
ing roads, railways, and canals. Any “capitalist” govern-
ment able and willing to herd all the millions of unem-
ployed into slave gangs, constructing public works or
palaces for the ruling class, herded into barracks at night,
and fed worse than pigs, would have little difficulty in
solving the unemployment problem.
It is to be surmised that the crisis in Russia’s national
economy, which had been growing in intensity from
222 Lost illusion
1936 to 1939, was the basic cause for the Russo-German
Pact. In the first place, Stalin knew that the Red Army,
if put to the test of a one-front war against Germany
would crumple up before the German Army, and that
neither Soviet transport nor industry could supply the
army for any length of time.
Secondly, it was essential for the USSR to import
new machinery and enlist the aid of foreign technicians.
Since it was impossible to pay out cash or goods for this
assistance, Germany was the only country with whom
barter credits could be arranged on a big scale. By 1939
German economic and technical aid had become es-
sential to the survival of the Stalinist regime. Following
1941 American Lend Lease saved Soviet Russia.
Soviet aggression can in part be explained as due to the
failure to increase the productivity of the country, and
to the meager returns from the large capital investments
in industry. Looking for new sources of capital ac-
cumulation, and hoping to reinvigorate the decaying
Soviet state by the tonic of national aggrandizement,
conquest and glory, the Soviet Government in 1939 se-
cured temporary new sources of revenue through the
expropriation of the property of conquered Poles and
Finns. After Germany’s defeat it followed the same
Stalin’s socialist government having started by en-
slaving the Russian peasants and workers, must continue
to enslave other peoples in order to survive.
NCEWEHADSETTLEDD~WN~~ life in RUS-
sia, and the shock of discovering the harsh reality behind
the communist facade had worn off, we tried to de-
termine the real nature of the society in which we lived.
It seemed to us that Soviet economy had become the
most perfect example of state capitalism in existence,
since the state exploits (takes profit from the labor of)
all the people. But this was only part of the picture.
Since in Russia the people do not participate in the gov-
ernment and have no control over it, the new society
combines the methods of government of an oriental
despotism with the worst features of capitalism.
The Russian workers, like the peasants, have no say
at all as regards the disposal of the wealth created by
their labor. The Communist Party, although not in
theory the “owner” of the means of production, ap-
propriates to itself or for its own purposes the profit and
benefits derived from the labor of the rest of the popula-
tion. One can call the system state capitalism with the
Bolshevik Party drawing the dividends.
If a group of capitalists in the United States were able
to acquire control of all land and productive capital, to
224 Lost Illusion
abolish representative government, and to draw their
dividends not as individual owners but as a ruling and
managerial clique, the result would be in essence the
same economic and political system as that of Soviet
It would, of course, in the United States be a far more
efficiently run operation, and it is unlikely that large
numbers of people would starve, as they do in Russia.
But basically it would be the same type of state cap-
The fact that the ruling group in the USSR is com-
posed of men who did not start life as capitalists makes
no vital difference. It means that they are far more in-
competent, but it does not mean that they are not ex-
ploiters. Collective exploitation is no more moral than
individual exploitation nor is it any more bearable for
those who are exploited.
It is an extraordinary proof of mankind’s inability to
see realities behind faqades, and its incorrigible pro-
pensity to examine the label on the bottle instead of the
contents, that so many of our American liberals and
socialists fail to realize the true nature of the Soviet
state. They think that because there are no capitalists in
the USSR there cannot be any exploiting class, and that
therefore of necessity Russia is a socialist state according
to the original conception of the word socialism.
There is in the Soviet Union a new society, a society
in which the method of exploitation is new. Instead of
the worker and peasant being exploited by a capitalist
Red T& 225
or a landowner, he is exploited by the state. The state
appropriates the produce of all men’s labor beyond what
is required to keep them alive at the lowest level of sub-
sistence. Since the Communist Party has a monopoly of
political power it owns the state. There is therefore col-
lective exploitation by a group.
The profits derived from the labors of the Russian
people are disposed of as the Communist ruling class
decrees. After allocating to itself the income it sees fit,
it uses the remaining profits for the maintenance of the
Army and the secret police and for new investments in
The number of functionaries in Russia has been com-
puted by Stalin as eight millions. Some of these millions
-the engineers, technicians, accountants, qualified ad-
ministrators, clerks and typists-are performing labor as
socially necessary as the workers and peasants.
Others are engaged in such labors as praising Stalin and
other advertising and public relations activities. A large
but unknown number are engaged in spying on the pro-
ductive workers, technicians and managers, in subjecting
them to mental or physical tortures, and in guarding the
Another function of the parasitic Communist Party
members is to occupy positions as commissars or as chair-
men and directors of the state office organizations, or as
directors or managers of factories, in which capacity
they interfere with and ruin the work of the non-Party
specialists. They further perform the “labor” of driving
226 Lost Illusion
others to work. In Russia there is a stock joke about be-
ing “a responsible worker” as signifying the man who
stands by and looks on while others labor.
Of course, if you are a mystic, you might say that
Stalin is the Supreme Father, or a kind of proletarian
Russian Mikado who in some mysterious way unites in
himself the souls of all his people and leads them by
divine inspiration, in a spirit of true democracy. You
may believe that, in sacrificing both material well-being
and liberty to Stalin, the people are sacrificing to them-
selves, since he is their god in their own image.
This deification is Stalin’s own conception of himself,
as he testified at his sixtieth birthday:
“Your congratulations and greetings I credit to the
account of the great party of the working class, which
gave me birth and raised me in its own image.”
The semi-mystical, semi-religious and altogether nau-
seating outpourings in the Soviet Press in praise of
Stalin assign to him such a universality. He is represented
as the fountain of all goodness and all strength and of all
achievement of the whole Russian people.
Stalin is the divine Vozd (The Russian translation of
Fiihrer, or leader.) He is the nation as a totality, the
“image” of themselves set up by the working class. By
praising him, the working class is supposed to adore it-
Stalin is the “infallible,” the “incomparable,” “our
sun” and “our soul.” He is the proletariat’s-or the Rus-
sian’s-god “created in its own image.” He is the Red
Tsar, and “Little Father” of his people.
Red Tsar 227
The Soviet apologist who is not satisfied with the
mystical explanation for the deprivation of guarantees
of human rights to the workers and for their oppression
by the state, will argue that since the profit obtained
from the labor of worker and peasant is invested in capi-
tal construction for the future benefit of “all the toilers,”
they have nothing to complain of.
This argument ignores several pertinent facts. In the
first place, the profit is often wasted in new enterprises
which are so badly run that they fail to pay the social
cost of their construction before the machinery wears
In the second place, much of the profit goes to supply
a comparatively luxurious life for Communist Party
leaders, the Red Army officers, the police and the bu-
reaucracy, instead of to raise the general standard of life.
Thirdly, more and more of the national income has of
recent years gone to support the armed forces and secret
police which keep the workers and peasants in subjec-
Whereas those who are moved by the humanitarian
and libertarian hopes formerly held out by socialists have
already turned their backs on Stalin’s Russia, there re-
main many people whose sole interest in socialism is in
seeing an “orderly and planned” economy take the place
of “capitalist anarchy,” and who accept paper plans in-
stead of the evidence of their eyes when they visit the
These visitors are not in the least interested in the
emancipation of mankind. They think that “planning”
228 Lost Illusion
justifies all, excuses all, and they desire to see everyone
put to school and subjected to strict discipline for their
People of this type of mind look upon the Russian
masses as so many guinea pigs in a laboratory, subjects
for a “great social experiment” which is going on too far
.away to menace the comfortable security of enlightened
It was only when Stalin, in 1939, began to inflict on
other peoples the treatment which he had hitherto only
been able to impose upon his own, that many of the ad-
mirers of the USSR began to recoil. Yet, as Max Eastman
has expressed it, the bombing of Finland in 1939 was a
polite and civilized gesture compared to Stalin’s domestic
The reality of Stalin’s Russia is in fact so horrible that
most people, even in this age of conditioning to horror,
refuse to believe that such things can be. The truth is dis-
missed as an atrocity story; and so anxious are men to
believe in the existence of the socialist heaven that they
accept the crudest Communist propaganda as gospel
truth. Those who have accepted Russian Communism as
a religious faith, and whose reasoning powers have be-
come atrophied, will no doubt continue to worship their
bloody idol and to glorify the human sacrifices made to
But it is still possible that those whose adherence to
Stalinism is due to ignorance of what the Soviet Union
is really like, and to the generous impulses which impel
men and women to struggle for a better social order,
Red Tsar 229
will realize in time that slavery is slavery, even if coated
o’er with a thin cast of Marxist dogma.
Such writers as Sidney and Beatrice Webb did untold
harm to the liberal and progressive movement of West-
ern Europe. No Nazi or Communist Fifth Columnist
could do so much to undermine democracy as Soviet
Russia, A New Ciuilization, the book which stamped
Soviet Russia with the approval of two of the best known
liberal sociologists in the Western World.
With the immense prestige of their long life of service
in the British labor movement, and of their published
works of careful historical research, these elderly British
socialists who had founded the Fabian Society in their
youth, led the procession of socialists and liberals into the
abyss of totalitarianism.
The conception of socialism as a juster, better social
order, which was once a beacon to those who desired
human freedom, has become a blood-red light of warn-
ing. Socialism has been degraded to the level of the beasts,
become synonymous with injustice, cruelty, oppression,
Liberalism has been corrupted, deprived of meaning.
Anyone whose human sympathies and intelligence are
not atrophied must exclaim: “If Stalin’s Russia is what
these socialists and liberals want, give me the most reac-
tionary capitalism! ”
The Webbs and their disciples and colleagues in Eng-
land and America made the Soviet Union not only re-
spectable, but admirable. With their Fabian mantle they
hid the horrors, the starvation, the misery, the degrada-
230 Lost Illusion
tion of the human spirit and the barbarous methods of
government of Stalin’s Russia.
Not only this, their support emboldened Stalin to
throw aside all restraint. If the Webbs could swallow
the purges and the terror, the whole Western socialist
and radical movement could be made to swallow atroc-
Prior to the Russo-German Pact, Stalin was courting
the democracies, and had it not been for the chorus of
praise which went up from the Western liberals, he
might not have dared to execute untold thousands and
condemn millions to slave labor without trial. By shut-
ting their eyes to the atrocities committed by the Stalin
regime, or sealing their lips, many so-called liberals made
themselves accomplices to these crimes.
No recent phenomena have been more sickening to
the soul than the cold-blooded disregard of the lives of
millions displayed by a multitude of deluded liberals in
Western Europe and the United States.
Liberal journals refused to publish condemnations of
the Moscow trials, lied to their readers, put new mean-
ings on old words. They redefined liberty to mean sub-
ordination; they justified executions, tortures, imprison-
ment of innocent men and women, even the shooting of
children for theft, because it was done in the name of
“planned economy.” Sadism became a virtue if it was
socialistically administered sadism.
Consciously or unconsciously, they subscribed in their
writings to the Soviet newspapers’ concept that “infor- (
mation does not consist in the dissemination of news, but
Red Tsar 231
in the education of the masses.” “Information is an in-
strument in the class struggle; not a mirror to reflect
events objectively.” To he was to protect the socialist
fatherland; to tell the truth was to be a reactionary or
The primary question is precisely the one which the
Webbs completely ignored: Who owns the state? Their
twaddle about the “vocation of leadership”-a euphe-
mism for Communist tyranny-proves only their perver-
sion of history and of psychology, and their willful
blindness to the constraints which keep the Russian
people subservient to totalitarian tyranny.
Not only were the Webbs naive, they also made many
statements which are positively untrue, as, for instance,
when they wrote that “to this day the rulers of the USSR
receive only the equivalent of the earnings of the most
highly skilled and zealous craftsmen.”
The party maximum which in Lenin’s day was a
reality, had long ceased to be anything but the thinnest of
pretenses when the Webbs visited Soviet Russia. All it
meant was that the greater part of the income of the
rulers was paid in kind.
Since I 935 the profits taken from the productive labor
of the Russian people by the Bolshevik party have not
been hidden, and have also steadily increased in-volume.
But long before 1935 the style of living of the Commu-
nist Party bureaucracy, as compared to that of the
workers and specialists, revealed how large a dividend
it was drawing from its investment in Stalin’s counter-
232 Lost Illusion
Since the abolition of the closed distributors in 1935,
the salaries of high officials have been anything from ten
to thirty times as high as the wage of a worker of average
When I left the Soviet Union in the summer of 1936,
chairmen of large enterprises were paid salaries of 2,000
to 3,000 rubles a month. Although no one knew for cer-
tain the amounts being paid to Commissars and others
holding the highest positions in the state, it was generally
believed in Moscow that they were receiving 7,000 or
The Soviet Government never publishes figures show-
ing the salaries of such high functionaries as Molotov and
Vishinsky nor does it reveal the distribution of the na-
tional income. Such statistics would make it too glaringly
obvious to the outside world that Russia is as far from
being a classless society of the equal as it is of the free.
Our friends the Rabinovitches, who ranked as just
below the top Party bureaucrats, had a large modern flat,
a big datcha, and a private automobile all paid for by the
Commissariat of Foreign Trade for which Philip Rabi-
novitch worked. One of their two servants was also paid
for by the Commissariat, and Philip received a handsome
entertainment allowance over and above his salary. The
Rabinovitches were higher in the Communist social scale
than anyone else we knew, but their standard of life was
far below that of others we heard of.
The luxurious life lived by the Soviet aristocracy,
which the ordinary citizen glimpses only from afar, and
which is a direct violation of Lenin’s injunction that the
Red Tsar 233
Party members should receive salaries no higher than a
worker’s wage, is one of the most striking features of
A little of the puritanical and self-sacrificing spirit
which had originally permeated the Bolshevik Party still
survived when I first went to live in Russia. All restraints
were openly discarded when Stalin told his henchmen
to “live joyously,” obviously seeking thus to buy the
loyalty of the Party members.
Since 1935 the expectation of life of a Communist
Party member has not been long. Any moment he may
lose Stalin’s favor, or be ruined by accusations leveled
at him by men on the next rung of the ladder seeking to
But while the going lasts it is exceedingly good, and
since the poorest worker is as liable to be arrested as the
high and mighty Party boss, the latter may well consider
it worth while to gather as many rosebuds as he may,
and as quickly as possible.
At least when he comes to face the firing squad in the
cellars of the Lubianka Prison, or finds himself a slave
laborer in a concentration camp, he will have the satis-
faction denied to the workers and peasants of knowing
that he has enjoyed a good time for a few years.
in the Commissariat of Light Industry, I was continually
amazed at the number of specialists who, in spite of every
discrimination against them and the overwhelming diffi-
culties of their work, continued loyally and conscien-
tiously to carry out their duties.
It was the non-Party specialists who had ensured the
reconstruction of industry and transport after the break-
down of the Bolshevik Revolution. Even now, when
they went in constant fear of arrest, most of them con-
tinued to devote their brains and energies to their work.
Their material rewards grew smaller and smaller. They
worked twelve to fourteen hours a day to overcome the
muddles created by their superiors, the Communist Party
bosses, and whenever there was a serious failure they
were blamed for it and accused of being “wreckers.”
The tragedy of these people was that in the very effort
to work conscientiously and honestly they endangered
their existence. Specialists who perceived that a plan
could not be carried out without wrecking machinery or
fatally depreciating it, were accused of sabotage and of
being counter-revolutionaries preventing the construc-
tion of socialism.
Statisticians who made careful estimates based on an
intelligent survey of materials available or production
capacities were fdung into concentration camps.
For insc wha$?bCosplan specialists who drew up the
original Five Year Plan were shot for sabotage. Yet in
193 2 it was found that the actual achievements under the
Plan came to just about the figures of increased produc-
tion which the executed men had estimated could be
I knew an engineer in Moscow who was a friend of
Arcadi’s, who had been in and out of prison three times.
He was by then quite philosophical about it. He was
highly qualified, and between imprisonments he received
a good salary and lived well. He was conditioned to in-
justice and had no hope for the future. His wife always
had a suitcase packed ready for the moment when the
secret police should once again knock at the door and
take him away.
This man’s position was better than that of many, for
his qualifications were so special that he told us he felt
pretty confident he would never be shot, however often
he was made into a scapegoat and arrested. Even during
the periods he was an unwilling guest of the OGPU he
was comparatively well treated.
I remember a young agronomist, a distant relative of
my husband’s, who came to visit us in Moscow one eve-
ning. He was faced, he said sadly, with the choice of
236 Lost Illusion
either going to prison that year for drawing up a plan
for beet production which could be fulfilled, or of going
to prison later for drawing up one which would satisfy
the Party authorities, but could not possibly be fulfilled.
In agriculture as in industry, St& +manded impos-
sible plans which either could nut a!%.. w which
would cause terrible distress if carried out. Then he per-
secuted both those who said the Plans were impossible
of achievement and those who of necessity failed to
carry them through.
The position of the non-Party specialists was particu-
larly difficult in that they were everywhere working
under the orders of a Communist who knew nothing and
need learn little about the enterprise he controlled. His
retention of the post and of the privileges which went
with it depended not on knowledge, conscientiousness,
or administrative capacity, but upon his being politically
reliable; in other words, upon his being a Stalin yes-man
and a good slave-driver.
When things went wrong the communist manager
or director could always lay the blame upon the non-
Party specialists who worked under him, accusing the
latter of being wreckers and counter-revolutionaries.
Although the shadow of the concentration camps
hung over everyone I worked with, they rarely if ever
spoke of it. Expression of your fears might bring about
the very thing you dreaded.
The very few people who managed to survive a term
of forced labor under the secret police and returned to
Moscow dared not speak openly of their experiences lest
they be sent back to the living death they had been re-
One evening my husband brought home with him a
friend of his youth whom he had by chance encountered.
This man, whose name I will not mention since it is pos-
sible he still lives, had been in prison both under the Tsar
and under Stalin.
Arcadi came to me in the kitchen to warn me not to
ask him questions.
“None of your English frankness, darling,” he said.
“He has probably been warned not to talk as the price
of his liberty. Let him talk if he will, but don’t ask ques-
Our visitor gave us no details, but one remark was as
revealing as any description of his suffering or that of
others could have been. He said,
“We ought to have thanked God for the mercy of the
Year by year the slave labor camps became a more
integral part of the Soviet system. They had been begun
as places of punishment and of warning. Fear of being
delivered into the cruel hands of the secret police drove
the workers to accept regimentation, the deprivation of
the last vestiges of trade-union rights, and the speed-up.
Gradually, however, the secret police, by sweeping
millions of victims into its camps, came to exercise a
dominant role in the economic life of Russia. By the time
its name had been changed to NKVD, the secret police
238 Lost Illusion
owned factories and farms as well as being in charge of
the timber camps, canal construction, road and railway
building and other public works.
The number of slave laborers in Russia today is known
to be larger than ever before, but it was already calcu-
lated to be about ten million when I lived in Moscow.
The Soviet brand of “democracy” averages two to three
political prisoners for every enrolled Communist Party
member in Russia. The Soviet economy could no longer
function without slave labor.
To retain its labor force the NKVD practiced cruel
jokes upon the prisoners who had lived through their
term of purgatory. For instance it was announced in the
Russian press that the prisoners liberated on completion
of the White Sea-Baltic Canal “had become so fond of
working collectively,” that they were being “allowed” to
take part in another great construction project, the
New categories of victims were sought periodically to
replenish the NKVD’s forced labor battalions, contin-
ually depleted by the high death rate among the over-
worked half-starved slaves.
One day I found an American friend, Milly Mitchell,
in tears in her hotel room. The secret police had taken
her Russian husband, an actor, accusing him of the crime
of homosexuality in an earlier period of his life.
Russian friends regarded me as naive when I asked
why such and such a person had been arrested and
shrugged their shoulders. Arrest was regarded like death;
the reaper who might strike anywhere.
What was regarded as a funny story in the grim at-
mosphere of our lives, was told me by our friend Erbes-
feld who had worked for a time at Archangel. One day
in the Stolovaya of the Timber Trust some bad mutton
had been served. An employee called Boris had joked
about it saying, “Stalin loves mutton but he wouldn’t
Next day Boris did not come to work. His disappear-
ance was at once ascribed to his having used Stalin’s
name in jest. It seemed quite natural to his comrades that
he should have been arrested.
What had actually happened to Boris was little less
fantastic. He had in fact been summoned to the secret
police offices. While waiting in the courtyard a gang of
ex-Kulak slave laborers was driven in after a long march.
When they were rounded up to proceed to their pIace
of work, Boris was pushed in with them. He protested
that he was not one of the gang, but a soldier prodded
him with a bayonet and forced him to march.
Meanwhile the OGPU was hunting for Boris, and
decided he must have run away. They instituted a search
for him and finally after six weeks discovered he was in
one of their own slave camps. The story had a happy
ending for Boris was released. The secret police had
called him for questioning on a matter which did not
concern him personally. The mutton had nothing to do
The only way in which the specialists could save their
lives and liberty was to make themselves indispensable to
their Party bosses, either by helping them to “cook ac-
240 Lost illusion
counts,” put on false fronts, and in general make it ap-
pear that the enterprise was fulfilling the Plan, or even
overfulfilling it, when in reality production was defec-
tive, machinery deteriorating, and insufficient quantities
of goods being produced. The best way to make a good
showing and earn praise and rewards was to produce as
large an amount as possible without paying any attention
The great art in Soviet Russia, as practiced in particu-
lar by clever and not too scrupulous specialists in the
service of their Party masters, was blat, a word difficult
to translate but meaning wangling, camouflage, favors
done for favors received, the working out of personal
combinations which make it possible to get around the
obstacles created by the Plan which is no plan.
In every enterprise the blatmeister is more indispen-
sable than the expert. It is he who can convince visiting
commissions and the NKVD that all is going according
to plan, when in reality everything is in a mess. It is he
who can obtain the materials necessary for fulfilling the
quota, but unobtainable through normal channels.
By providing the head of another enterprise with what
he lacks, or by connections in high places, the blatmeister
is able to secure materials to fulfill or overfulfill the PIan.
Th e quotas having been drawn up without regard to real
possibilities, and industry being continually disorganized
by attempting overfulfillment of the Plan by those seek-
ing honors and advancements, there are never enough
materials for the fulfillment of the plans of all the enter-
prises. So only those who do not rely on the official chan-
nels for securing supplies can hope to obtain enough
materials to fulfill their quota.
Suppose, for instance, that I am the head of a rubber
goods factory which badly needs some chemical to con-
tinue manufacturing overshoes. The supply of this
chemical is limited, so that I am unlikely to be able to
obtain a sufficient quantity of it to fulfill my plan if I
rely upon an official application in the normal way.
My blatmeister, however, finds out that one of the de-
partmental chiefs of the Chemical Trust, Comrade
Gromyko, wants some building materials to finish his
new summer residence outside the city. Though I have
no such materials at my disposal, the director of the
Building Cooperative of the Rosa Luxemburg Machine
Tool factory has.
By furnishing the latter with a supply of galoshes for
his factory workers, I obtain the building materials for
Comrade Gromyko, and the latter in return supplies me
with my chemical, Thus-not according to the plan-do
Soviet industry and trade function after a fashion.
One of the best blatmeisters I ever met was a certain
Manevitch at Promexport, who was a genius not only
at working out combinations to secure delivery of our
goods but also at presenting figures in such a way as to
make it appear that our quota had been more than ful-
He was so useful to the chairman of our organization
that ‘the latter-an old Party member-managed to
wangle him into the Party. This was no mean feat, for
at that time the proverbial camel had about as much
242 Lost Illusion
chance of passing through the needle’s eye as most intel-
lectuals of entering the Communist Party. Manevitch
was promoted to be vice-chairman, but eventually was
arrested when an investigation revealed Promexport’s
exaggeration of our achievements. The chairman, of
course, abandoned him to his fate.
But even the OGPU recognized Manevitch’s useful-
ness, and he was soon put in charge of a section of the
construction work on the Volga-Moscow canal. An-
other blutmeister at our office, the head of the transport
section, was invaluable at securing railway freight cars
for our goods at the expense of other factories. But he
was too obviously cynical and too frequently drunk to
join the Party, and eventually got himself arrested for
trying to supply a hospital, which badly needed sheets,
with some from our export stock. Both Manevitch and
the transport chief were decent fellows, not informers
but wanglers. It was the conditions of work in the
Soviet Union which drove them to turn their talents to
A far more unpleasant type of blatmeister was the
titular head of one department at Promexport, who
acted as general factotum and toady to Kalmanofsky,
the chairman under whom I worked. He attended to the
letting of the chairman’s datcha and to other personal
affairs. He was always at Kalmanofsky’s side, fetched
and carried for him, flattered him, and made himself
useful in innumerable ways.
Quite useless at his office job, this blutwzeister was in-
valuable to the chairman for securing whatever he per-
sonally required and in general in attending to his private
affairs. He had no dignity at all. The chairman often
treated him like a dog, stormed at him and vented his
temper on him.
Kalmanofsky was not stupid. He was in fact an able
and intelligent man, an educated Jew who could ap-
preciate merit and liked men like my husband who stood
their ground and were never subservient. Under the
capitalist system Kalmanofsky might have been an able
and even an honest executive.
But the Soviet system drove him to reward his blat-
meisters, and to sacrifice real efficiency and profit on
foreign trade for the sake of making a good showing. He
and Manevitch together were so clever at window-
dressing that Promexport got a banner as the best export
organization, and Kalmanofsky received a decoration
and a private motor car. In fact, according to my hus-
band’s experiences in other export offices, Promexport
was much better run than most Russian enterprises.
Arcadi went back to work at Promexport in 1933,
finding his position there as finance manager under
Kalmanofsky preferable to the higher rank of vice-
chairman of Lecterserio. Being a vice-chairman, if you
were non-Party, was a rare distinction; but Arcadi found
it an impossible assignment. Decisions concerning the
work were arrived at in the Communist Party nucleus,
which he was not entitled to attend, and yet he was made
responsible for the results.
His chief at Lecterserio, Comrade Berkinghof, al-
though a friend of ours and a decent chap, was entirely
244 Lost Illusion
unsuited to his job. He was voluble, excitable, full of
vigor and the joy of life, a keen Communist Party mem-
ber of the sincere kind who had been an excellent officer
in the Red Army during the Civil War, but had no ad-
ministrative ability or business knowledge. Everything
was thrown on Arcadi’s shoulders, and his being non-
Party made him too vulnerable and aroused too much
Arcadi was glad to go back to work under Kalmanof-
sky, who, although not as honest as Berkinghof in
either his personal dealings or the manner in which he
ran his enterprise, was much cleverer and cannier and a
safer person to work for. Or so it seemed to us at the
time. Both of these chiefs of Arcadi’s were liquidated
later in the great purge-Kalmanofsky only after he had
first thrown many of his subordinates to the lions, Berk-
inghof early in 1936.
The most honest and conscientious specialists usually
came off worst. Engineers who could not bear to see
beautiful new machinery shattered by reckless speeding
up, or rapidly deteriorating through neglect of cleaning
and repairs, the carrying out of which would involve a
slackening in the mad pace of production; accountants
trained in “bourgeois methods” who could not bring
themselves to cook accounts in the interest of the direc-
tor or chairman; heads of export departments who en-
deavored to get a fair price abroad for goods sold, and
accordingly managed to sell smaller quantities at higher
prices than those who had over-fulfilled the plan by
selling far below the world price level-these were the
kind of specialists who inevitably, sooner or later, found
themselves accused of sabotage, wrecking, and counter-
revolution, and disappeared into the concentration
It was the flatterers, the sycophants, the men without
dignity or pride, who got on well with the Party bosses
by constant bootlicking, who secured promotions. The
wonder was that so many of the old educated class, the
men who had received their training under the Tsarist
regime and whose cultural standards were bourgeois,
continued to work as well as they were permitted to,
without hope of reward and without losing their dignity
Of course conditions varied in different enterprises,
some Party men being decent, honest, and anxious to do
their jobs as well as possible. But such Communists rarely
got to the top. The Communist who devoted his main
energies to mastering his job, learning from his specialists
and from experience, had no time to spend making up to
the great, and thus to secure promotion.
An Italian writer described Soviet society as a society
based on calumny instead of competition. Calumny was
another important method of securing promotion, espe-
cially among Party members from 1935 onward in the
period of the great purge. If you could discredit, slander,
and accuse your superior or your rivals, and get them
expelled from the Communist Party or arrested, you
might secure a better job.
Often the surest way of protecting yourself from an
accusation which would ruin your life or cause your
244 Lost Illusion
death was to get in your accusation first. This applied
with particular force to the so-called scientific institu-
tions, like the Communist Academy-later christened
the Academy of Sciences-where I worked my last three
and a half years in Moscow. Here research work often
consisted of a careful perusal of other people’s writings
to spot their deviations from the Party line and then to
My claim to be a textile specialist rested on my book,
Lancashire and the Far East. I did in fact know a good
deal about market demands, prices, and costs of produc-
tion from the studies I had made in the factories of Lan-
cashire and Japan. I thought that in the job offered me
at Promexport I should experience something of the satis-
faction my husband found in doing real work instead of
talking and writing a lot of foolishness and lies. I was to
find myself much mistaken.
Arcadi knew his people, and understood how to get
really useful work done in spite of the many obstacles.
He had tact and an uncanny understanding of men’s
minds which enabled him to make his Party boss think
he had made a decision himself, when in reality he had
adopted one of Arcadi’s suggestions.
Being without vanity or personal ambition, my hus-
band was content if he could get a job well carried out
even if he received no personal credit for it.
Arcadi was respected by the better type of Commu-
nist Party men, who recognized his ability, his real quali-
fications and wide knowledge, and his integrity. He also
had a dignity and a spirit which made it impossible for
anyone to bully him. I think his long residence abroad
and his Western manner and behavior over-awed even
his Party bosses at times. At any rate, Arcadi survived
the purge of the non-Party specialists in 1930-32.
I, however, was treated at Promexport like a valuable
ornament. The chairman and vice-chairman liked being
able to say that they had a foreign specialist in their
enterprise. They were extremely polite and even
friendly, occasionally consulted me when they had men
from other export organizations or commissariats in the
office, took me to dinner with visiting foreign buyers,
and for the rest did not care a rap what I did with my
My immediate superior, the chief of the textile export
department, was the afore-mentioned blameister Mane-
vitch. A nice little man who had worked in England for
some years and knew the language perfectly, he had little
time to spare from blatnwistering to attend to his own
department. The assistant manager was an ignoramus
called Bessonoff, who knew nothing and did no work at
all as far as I could see. But he had once been Lenin’s
chauffeur, and this entitled him to a soft job for the
rest of his life.
The real responsibility fell on a poor man who had
been the manager of a department store in Tsarist times.
He was tall and stooped, with a drooping mustache, and
prematurely aged. Kind-hearted, extremely courteous to
everyone, conscientious and hard-working, he had
neither the knowledge nor the capacity to run an export
business of these dimensions.
We were exporting cotton goods all over the world:
to China, the Dutch East Indies, India, Persia, the Argen-
tine, and some European markets. Persia was our largest
market and the traditional outlet for Russian textiles.
The Russian industry was adapted to this export trade,
which had been carried on in Tsarist times. The taste of
the Persians was known and catered to, and in any case
the Soviet Union practically had a monopoly there.
But our other export markets were far more difficult.
Here we succeeded in selling only because we were
ready to undercut every other country. My job was sup-
posed to be that of advising what kinds of cotton cloth
should be exported to different countries, and at what
prices they should be sold.
Obviously the price question should have been the
affair of the Russian trading organizations on the spot,
but at that date few qualified men were allowed to work
abroad. Men like my husband, of long experience in for-
eign trade and finance, were no longer permitted to leave
The employees of the Commissariat of Foreign Trade
from 1930 on had to be Communist Party members of
proletarian origin, or old Bolsheviks without taint of
heresy. Men of such qualifications rarely had any others.
Nor could they usually speak any foreign language, and
they often had not the faintest idea of how to trade.
A Russian-speaking friend of mine at Arcos in London
was asked by the Russian in charge of the department
where he worked what a bill of exchange was. He found
it difficult to get the Russian to understand because he
had not the most elementary notion of the functions of a
bank. Eventually the foreign staffs, which had become
so useless, were drastically reduced.
The export organizations, thereafter, had to do most
of their trading at long distance from Moscow. Foreign
buyers were advised to come to Moscow to make their
purchases, and we had fairly frequent visits of big mer-
chant buyers from England and Germany. In conse-
quence of the utter uselessness of our trading represen-
tatives abroad, we took to exporting through middlemen.
Our sales to the Argentine were effected through the
Manchester firm of Bakerjan, and those to the Dutch
East Indies through a large London firm of merchant
shippers. Mr. Bakerjan was an amiable Armenian who
no doubt made a huge profit on the Soviet exports which
he sold in competition with Lancashire goods, but who
was very polite about it.
For hours the vice-manager, Mr. Bakerjan and I
would sit over the pattern books while he chose his
stock. Often, however, what he ordered could not be de-
livered and we had to pay penalties under our contracts.
The real live wire of our department was a young non-
Party technician, called Volovitch, who knew the Rus-
sian cotton industry from A to 2. He would be able to
say from memory not only which factory could produce
which goods, but also which one was actually likely to
be able to produce them under pressure.
When Mr. Bakerjan, or the representative of the Eng-
lish firm which sold our textiles in the Dutch East Indies,
pleaded for wider cloth, or bleached goods, our techni-
250 Lost Illusion
cian went off to visit the factories in Ivanovo Vosnysenk
and Tver to try to get them produced. Volovitch not
only worked, but continually studied. He had all sorts
of ideas for improving production. He made gallant ef-
forts to secure export prices which would give us a little
profit, and he never pretended that he had succeeded in
exporting the planned quantity of goods when he hadn’t.
Of course he ended up in prison. He was non-Party;
he was of bourgeois origin, and he was well qualified
and keen about his job. Few men of this type survive in
It was from him that I learned of the virtual extinction
of the vast textile handweaving industry which had
existed in Russia before the First Five Year Plan. The
Soviet Government had liquidated this industry by treat-
ing the village and small town weavers as capitalists.
At first I used to spend much of my time making
elaborate calculations of the price at which our goods
could be sold in competition with English and Japanese
cloth of the same kind. If the Japanese sold prints of such
and such yarn with so many threads per inch at so much,
we could, I argued, sell similar cloth by asking a price
just a little lower.
Manevitch let me do my petty calculations in peace,
but got really irritated if I wanted him to make use of
them. What did he, or the chairman, care whether or not
we secured a fraction of a penny more a yard on our
goods? Neither he, nor Promexport, nor the Commis-
sariat of Foreign Trade would get any credit for that.
All that mattered was to fulfill the Plan, and the Plan
demanded the export of so many hundreds of thousands
of yards of cloth a month. Price was a secondary ques-
tion, and if they stopped to bother too much about that
they would fail to fulfill the Plan. Moreover, it was easier
to secure foreign currency by exporting a large quan-
tity of goods at a very low price than to export a smaller
quantity at a higher price.
The ruble having a shifting and largely fictitious value,
the factory cost of production and freight charge had
little to do with the prices at which Soviet goods were
sold abroad. If we obtained zo or 25 per cent of the fac-
tory’s production cost, we had done brilliantly. It was
more usual in the case of textiles to get about I 5 per cent
of it. This percentage was called the pmecreta, and, al-
though it varied considerably for different types of
goods, it gave some indication of the real value of the
The perecreta was kept secret to avoid foreign accusa-
tions of dumping, and in order that gullible Communist
tourists might continue to tell the folks at home what
high wages the Russian workers were earning. For, of
course, the same cloth we sold abroad for a song was also
sold in Soviet shops-when available at all for the in-
ternal market-at the full cost of production plus a big
profit for the Soviet state. The Russian people as con-
sumers subsidized our exports by the high price they
paid for textiles.
I started on my work at Promexport full of enthu-
siasm. With Volovitch’s assistance I visited factories in
different parts of the country and found out what they
252 Lost Illusion
were capable of producing. I advised my chiefs of the
needs and tastes of foreign markets: widths, designs,
quality, and so forth.
I produced long reports concerning the possibilities
of manufacturing goods of the required width and
quality at our various factories, and made careful calcu-
lations concerning competitive prices at which Soviet
cloth could be sold in different countries.
My reports on my visits to the textile districts were
received politely, sometimes even with enthusiasm. I was
given a foreign specialist’s food card, which was worth
literally thousands of rubles.
Although I was treated with honor and ensconced in
a soft job, my work was absolutely useless. The Prom-
export charwoman who received ninety rubles a month,
lived with her children in a hallway and existed on black
bread, cabbage soup, and an occasional herring, was per-
forming a more useful social function than I was.
No notice was taken of my reports for the simple rea-
son that my suggestions, if acted upon would have made
it appear that neither the textile factories nor the export-
ing organization were fulfilling the Plan. To give a con-
crete example: the factories working for textile export
had in many cases looms wide enough to produce the 27-
inch cloth required to make a pair of Chinese trousers,
and China was one of our principal markets at that time.
But to have made the required width would have
meant producing a lesser number of thousands of yards
per quarter year, than if they continued to manufacture
the traditional Russian width of 24 inches.
To produce a lesser number of yards would have
meant nonfulfillment of the Plan; and a lot of people
would have been shot or sent to concentration camps.
The export organization in its turn would have been able
to export only a smaller yardage than before and would
also have failed to fulfill its quota. So we continued to
sell a narrow cloth at great loss, since naturally the
Chinese would buy a cloth too narrow to be convenient
only if it were offered at bargain prices.
It was simpler and safer for us to denude the Soviet
market of the cloth of which the Russian people were in
desperate need than to export a smaller quantity of the
right kind of cloth at a higher price.
The textile and other departments of Promexport
made so good a showing in those years that Kalmanof-
sky, as I have already related, was given a decoration and
presented with a private automobile. This was done at
the cost of stripping the Russian home market of vital
necessities, and for a return in foreign currency which
was pitifully small in comparison with the sacrifices made
by the Russian population.
The cloth we sold was very defective because the
workers were forced to work at top speed on machinery
which was often old and almost always neglected as re-
gards cleaning and repairs. They could earn a living only
if they paid no attention to quality. They too had their
quota to fulfill, or woe betide them. Losing your job is
no joke when it also entails losing your ration book, your
room, and having your family turned into the street.
At one period the percentage of defective cloth, even
254 Lost Illusion
in the good factories-which meant those working for
export-was as high as 80 per cent of their total produc-
tion. It all had to be printed, since bleached or dyed cloth
showed up the defects too clearly.
The bad quality of Soviet production was largely due,
insofar as the textile industry was concerned, to the in-
troduction of what was called the functional system-
an imitation of American mass production methods
which were entirely unsuited to the old looms and con-
fined space of the Russian factories, and to the lack of
skill of the average worker.
When I was assigned to the Commissariat of Light In-
dustry and tried to point out the disastrous results of
setting a weaver to perform one function on 20 to 30
looms working at top speed, instead of all functions on
two looms, as she had been accustomed to do, the Rus-
sian specialist who worked beside me told me I had
better shut up, since several Russian engineers who had
made the same kind of criticism had been arrested for
A year or two later the functional system was abol-
ished, and those made to bear the responsibility for its
adoption were accused of wrecking. Thus are mistakes
rectified in the Soviet Union after they have caused un-
told loss, and after those who originally pointed out and
tried to prevent the mistakes have been liquidated.
I transferred to the newly created Commissariat of
Light Industry in the early spring of 1932, hoping that,
having failed at Promexport to find work to do which
would enable me to earn, as well as to receive, my bread,
I might find a useful function to perform if I got closer
to the direction of industry itself.
However, my work at the Commissariat proved to be
more futile even than at Promexport, where I had at least
done the useful job of putting into correct English the
letters we sent abroad.
At the Commissariat I did a lot of traveling around,
and got an intimate close-up of the terrible living and
working conditions of the Russian textile workers. I am,
of course, not an engineer, and that was the kind of spe-
cialized knowledge I now required. But even if I had
been so qualified no one would have paid any attention
to my recommendations.
After a year’s work as a textile specialist I was glad to
accept an offer to join the Institute of World Economy
and Politics at the Communist Academy, later renamed
the Academy of Sciences. Here I could at least cultivate
my own garden, study and learn, read and write. After
my experience of Soviet industry and trade I relished the
peace and quiet.
Petrov’s delicious satire, The Little Golden Calf, pub-
lished years ago when a little dangerous thinking was still
permitted in the USSR, provided it took a humorous
form, gives a picture of how work is done and how life
is lived in the Soviet Union, which is a masterpiece of
One chapter tells of an accountant in a Soviet office
who, in order to escape one of the periodic “cleansings
256 Lost Illusion
of the apparatus” and to get a little peace, manages to
convince people that he is mad and to get himself sent
to a lunatic asylum.
Eventually his deception is discovered, and he is sent
back to work at his old job. The other clerks and ac-
countants cluster around him to hear of his experiences
and he says: “Comrades, it was simply wonderful; of
course it was a bedlam there too, but at least in that bed-
lam they didn’t think that they were constructing so-
You could not work long at a Soviet institution with-
out realizing that it was all a bedlam. But if you were
wise, you did at Rome as the Romans do. You continued
to pretend that you were constructing socialism even if
you knew very well that you were only helping to
create chaos, and playing a part in a gigantic hoax which
might have been funny were it not so tragic.
The German specialists were the ones who found it
most difficult to adapt themselves to the bedlam. One of
the characters in The Little Golden Calf is a German
specialist brought to the Urals, who waits week after
week, and month after month, to start work. The direc-
tor of the trust who is supposed to give him his orders is
Either there is a notice on his door saying, “Just gone
out for a few minutes” or another notice saying, “Very
busy, cannot be disturbed.” At all other times he is away
traveling on a Komnderofka.
The German gets more and more exasperated and
angry. The Russians simply can’t understand him.
“Why,” they say, “the man is drawing a huge salary and
has nothing to do; why on earth isn’t he satisfied?”
Such conditions as those I found in the textile industry
were, of course, not peculiar to it. The same causes led
to the same results in other industries. Defective work-
manship and inefficiency were inevitable, since every
man’s job, and frequently his life and liberty, depended
upon his fulfilling a plan which had been drawn up at
the command of dictator Stalin without reference to in-
dustrial or human capacity.
Soviet industry and transport, which recovered from
the destruction and neglect of the Civil War period have
never recovered from the mass arrests and imprisonment
of experts in every field in the purge of the early thirties.
Most of these experts had worked loyally for the Soviet
power since 1920, although not pretending to be Com-
Stalin’s utter stupidity in liquidating or demoralizing
qualified personnel has been one of the tragedies of Soviet
Russian history. With power stations, blast furnaces, and
factories being built by the colossal sacrifices of the Rus-
sian people, it was essential to secure the willing and
wholehearted collaboration of scientists, engineers and
technicians, of statisticians, and of men with administra-
But Stalin has always imagined that compulsion and
terror were the best way to secure efficient service. In-
stead of continuing Lenin’s practice of conciliating the
258 Lost Illusion
specialists and rewarding loyal service, Stalin inaugu-
rated a policy of arresting, shooting, or terrorizing non-
Each year the muddle and waste became worse, and
more and more of the honest and well-qualified Russians
were liquidated or in fear and despair gave up trying to
* bring order out of chaos. By the time the Soviet Gov-
ernment started relaxing class distinctions, and modify-
ing the terror against the non-Party specialists, it was too
late to undo the damage, In any case there was only a
brief respite. Soon bigger and better purges began which
swept Communists and non-Party people alike into the
There is a terrible retrogressive force inherent in the
use of terror and repression as a means of government.
The greater the fear of the government the greater the
desire to overthrow it. Terror and compulsion by gener-
ating ever greater discontent call forth more terror and
increasingly drastic punishments.
This negative progression is accelerated in Russia by
the government’s continual search for scapegoats on
whom to lay the blame for the intolerable conditions of
life of the people. By indiscriminate arrests of those to
whom it ascribes the blame for the ills caused by the sys-
tem, the Soviet Government intensifies the economic dis-
order. For inefficiency is the offspring of fear.
The rulers of Soviet Russia are caught in a descending
spiral they cannot escape from. The more the people
fear them, the greater their own fear of the people. To
prevent revolution and keep themselves in power, Stalin
and his henchmen must continually exert more pressure
to hold the lid down on the seething cauldron of popular
hatred of their dictatorship.
Any relaxation of the terror would open the flood
gates to revolution.
When an explosion seems imminent Stalin provides a
safety valve by diverting popular hatred of the govern-
ment to individuals. Hence the recurrent search for new
and better scapegoats at home and abroad.
During the years I worked as a foreign specialist the
scapegoats were found among the qualified non-Party
men of bourgeois origin, and peasants who clung to
private ownership of their farms.
By 1935, however, it was no longer possible to al-
leviate popular discontent by the sacrifice of a dead or
dying class. New victims were required. The Revolution
started to devour its progenitors, the original members
of the Communist Party.
In the great purge which gathered momentum in 1936
and increased in intensity up to the eve of the world war,
Stalin disposed of the Communists who wanted to re-
treat before the whirlwind of popular hatred and might
have deposed him. He not only got rid of his enemies,
he also used them as scapegoats.
The ills of Soviet Russia were ascribed to the “Trot-
skyist-Bucharinist-Fascist Vermin;” Russian agents of the
British, French, Nazis and Japanese were alleged to be
hiding in every branch of Soviet economy, and to have
occupied the highest positions in the government.
The falling of so many heads undoubtedly gave some
260 Lost Illusion
satisfaction to the workers and peasants who hate the
Communist bureaucrats with a bitter hatred. But no
amount of blood letting could restore health to the
Soviet economy or alleviate the misery of the Russian
It also seemed to me that having created a social sys-
tem where want, misery, social injustice, and terror
reigned supreme, a society which was the very antithesis
of the system of plenty and social equality which had
been the aim of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917, Stalin
set out to destroy all those who still retained any vestiges
of the Marxist faith.
The names of the executed and imprisoned which ap-
peared in the press may have meant little to the foreign
reader. But to us in Russia they read like a Who’s Who
of the men and women who had led the Revolution in
The unjust perished with the just, the corrupt and op-
pressive officials with the best and most honest, Stalin’s
oldest friends together with his old enemies who had
recanted of their Trotskyist or Bucharinist heresies but
had never been forgiven. With the great, fell countless
minor victims whose names never appeared in the press
and who disappeared without trace or trial.
Only when all fear for themselves, their friends, and
their families, could Stalin feel safe. According to the
Trotskyists Stalin years ago revealed to his closest friends
his great sociological and historical discovery: that all
regimes in the past fell only because of the irresolution
and vacillation of the ruling class.
According to this Stalinist doctrine any ruling class if
ruthless enough in its struggle against its enemies can
cope with all dangers. This theory would explain Stalin’s
partiality for Hitler in 1939.
Stalin could terrorize men by his utter ruthlessness, he
could even force them to do work of a sort without hope
of reward beyond a mere subsistence for their families.
He could speed up the workers and lay heavy tribute on
the peasants. But one thing he could not do: he could
not terrorize machines into submission.
Hard-driven and neglected machinery, rails and
freight cars worn out by too heavy loads, trucks shaken
to bits on bad roads, driven by men whose sole concern
was to get through their allotted tasks and save their jobs
-all these could not be forced to continue working by
threats of starvation or imprisonment. Men might bow
down before Stalin, but machinery he could only break.
In every enterprise broken machinery and flagging
production could be camouflaged only for a time. In a
society where everyone was constrained by fear to cover
up deficiencies and mistakes instead of setting them right,
pretense, cheating, and camouflage became a fine art,
and to lay the blame on someone else became the first
lesson of the young Soviet worker.
Everyone conspired to hide the defects in his own
work and to denounce others lest he himself be de-
nounced. When total breakdown threatened ,an enter-
prise, the NKVD would shoot or imprison a few expia-
tory victims and the game of camouflage would begin
again under new management.
262 Lost Illusion
Soviet economy experiences crises far more acute than
the cyclic depressions in a capitalist economy. They are
temporarily overcome by executions instead of bank-
Ever since I lived in Russia I have known by the news
items from the Soviet Union when a crisis has arisen. For
a few weeks the grievances of the workers are aired in
the press. The discontent which has reached the boiling
point is cooled by the dismissal, shooting or imprison-
ment of the individuals singled out for blame. Like
Moloch the Soviet state periodically demands the sacri-
fice of innocent human beings.
To maintain themselves in power, however, the rulers
of the Soviet Union cannot rely entirely on the terror
within their realm. They also frighten their people with
an external menace.
Before and during the Second World War no bogey
had to be invented. There was a real threat from Nazi
Germany. But before Hitler came to power, as now,
Stalin conjured up a vision of capitalist encirclement.
Today the exhausted Russian people is warned to bear its
trials patiently and support its tyrannical government,
lest worse befall them. The “reactionary capitalists” of
the United States and England are represented as waiting
only for the opportunity to devour them.
T LONG LAST ARCADI AND robtainedourown
flat, in January 1936. Paid for years before in foreign
exchange and in rubles, and long since due to us by the
length of our membership in the Cooperative, we had al-
most given up hope of ever getting it. Now suddenly it
was ours. Not without a struggle, not without another
bold threat by Arcadi to leave Promexport if the chair-
man would not help him to secure his rights, but finally
We had to move in the middle of the night because a
fight was going on between contenders for our old
rooms at Ordinka. Both the Commissariat of Foreign
Trade and the Commissariat’s Cooperative into whose
block of flats we were moving, claimed possession. If we
didn’t let in the people to whom the Cooperative had
allocated the rooms, they would not give us the key of
our new flat.
So we made a lightning move at one o’clock in the
morning. We sent Emma on first with my sleeping son
in her arms to take possession and sit on the floor with
him till we arrived with the furniture after admitting the
new occupants to our old rooms.
264 Lost Illusion
Our new flat had three rooms, a kitchen, and bath-
room, but alas, no bath. After nearly two years with a
bath and no hot-water heater we now had a hot-water
heater and no bath. Such is life, but we were too happy
at getting the flat to complain.
We sold Arcadi’s bicycle and typewriter brought
originally from Japan, to buy furniture. We reveled in
our possession of a flat all our own. No longer had we
to share a bath and lavatory, no longer tumble over
another family in the kitchen. We ate and slept in a
different room. We had real privacy at last.
We should have known that misfortune awaits the
fortunate. I remember saying to Arcadi after we moved
in that, having at last got a home of our own in Moscow,
we should perhaps now soon be leaving Russia. For all
my life I had been giving up homes as soon as I was
comfortably settled. When I was eleven we had left our
London home to go abroad on account of my father’s
tuberculosis. In 19 14 the war had deprived us of our
Surrey country home. In 1928 I had abandoned the little
flat in London where my mother and I had lived since
my father died and which I had been able to make corn-’
fortable only a short while before leaving England. I had
left Japan just after we had started living in a little house
where we alone were the tenants. Now, after nearly six
years of waiting, we had our own flat in Moscow. It
would surely be our fate to move again soon.
For the first time in all those years we could unpack
our books and trunks and have ample space for every-
thing. For the first time my son Jon had a large floor
space to play in.
I finished Japan’s Feet of Ctay early in March, but it
took me three weeks of wangling to secure the paper
on which to have it typed. Ordinary Russian paper was
gray, soggy stuff, a little like blotting paper. It was
admitted that it would be a disgrace to have my manu-
script presented to an English publisher on such paper.
But I could not secure a supply of better until Varga
had himself spoken to a Vice-Commissar at the Commis-
sariat of Light Industry. That three week’s delay pre-
vented my being in England when they arrested Arcadi.
On March IO, 1936 we had a housewarming party to
celebrate Jon’s second birthday. But without Jane and
Michael, parties were rather dull and lifeless. Our old
friend from Japanese days, Mentich, was visiting Moscow
from the South, where he worked.
To him I opened my heart freely, knowing he was as
loyal and devoted a friend as one could possess.
munist Party member who had fought gallantly in the
Civil War, he took no pleasure in the material privileges
he received. He longed for the good old days when a
revolutionary’s life was honest and dangerous, and was
trying to get himself sent on an Arctic expedition.
Mentich was a true Russian, huge, blond and blue-
eyed, ponderous as a bear and with a laugh which
warmed one’s spirit. He was arrested a month or so
after Arcadi, and I have always hoped that they got
sent to the same concentration camp, for on the postcard
266 Lost illusion
I received later from Arcadi from Archangel he said he
had found an old friend among the prisoners.
On the night of April tenth, Arcadi awakened me
“We have visitors! ”
I sprang out of bed to see a soldier in the hall. Two
secret police officers in uniform were in our sitting room,
together with the janitor of our block of flats.
The secret police officers warned us we must not
speak to each other, and started on a methodical search
of the whole flat. We had hundreds of books, and they
went through every one of them, shaking out their
leaves, scanning the titles.
They went through all my papers as well as Arcadi’s,
but they couldn’t read English, and, strangely enough,
they accepted Arcadi’s word for the contents of my
manuscript and other notes.
We sat silent and tense. The slight up-and-down
movement of Arcadi’s right foot crossed over his left
was all that betrayed his feelings. As the hours passed
and the search went on, I said to myself over and over
“They will find nothing and then they will go. They
will find nothing and then they will go.” Thus defen-
sively did I try to keep up my courage, although I knew
only too well that the innocent were just as likely to be
arrested as the guilty.
When Arcadi’s eyes and mine met, we gave each other
a smile and a look of confidence and calm. One must
keep calm. Is it a dream? Has the end come? Is this now
happening to us which happened to so many others?
Will the nightmare pass, or is this the end of our life
and our love?
Slowly the dawn came, but the search went on. The
secret police officers were polite, silent, methodical.
They selected a few books to take away, including a
volume of Marx and one of Keynes.
They took all my letters from Arcadi, preserved
through the years. They took my address book. These,
some office papers Arcadi had been working on at
home, and the books they packed in a bag. At seven
o’clock Jon awakened, and we gave him breakfast.
At eight o’clock they told Arcadi they were taking
him away to be examined, but the search was not yet
completed. I made him coffee. My mind now was filled
with only one purpose: to strengthen him for the ordeal
I knew he was innocent, but I also knew of the terrible,
long, exhausting examinations to which the secret police
subjects its victims. Arcadi had been up all night, and
might be confused, too tired to think clearly. By this
time they allowed us to talk a little. Jon was around the
place, and him they could not silence.
I might have asked Arcadi what I should do when he
was gone; what I should do if he were imprisoned. But
I still hoped he would come home in a few days or a
few weeks. I wanted only to give him strength and
I asked him no questions. I let him rest half-sitting,
half-lying on the couch with his head sunk down and
268 Lost Illusion
his face very pale. I packed a small suitcase with brush
and comb, soap, toothbrush, and a change of linen.
At about nine o’clock they took him away. We
kissed for the last time. At the door I said, “What can
I do? To whom shall I go?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “No one can help,” he
No words of love passed between us. They were not
needed. Reserved to the last and calm to the last, he
gave me a gentle smile and was gone.
I never saw him again. He passed out of my life on
that lovely April morning, in his English flannel jacket,
his black head hatless, a slight figure between the two
khaki-clad Soviet secret police officers.
Emma was in tears. I sent her out with Jon. I walked
from room to room trying to think what I could do,
to whom I could go, where I could discover what Arcadi
was accused of. Finally I found myself vomiting. Fleet-
ingly I remembered learning in a psychology class that
the stomach, not the heart, is the seat of the emotions.
“It must be a mistake,” I reasoned to myself. Queer
things were going on at Promexport. The manager and
assistant manager of a department had been arrested a
few days before. That last evening Arcadi had told me
about it, but he had not suggested that he himself was
In order to maintain Promexport’s position as the
leading export organization, Kalmanofsky, the chairman,
had continued to sell certain goods abroad which should,
according to a new policy have been retained for use in
Russian industry. This had just been found out by the
Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection authorities.
Kalmanofsky had placed the blame upon the manager
of the department in question, although this man had
only carried out Kalmanofsky’s orders and, being non-
Party, would have lost his job had he refused to do so.
As finance manager of Promexport, Arcadi signed alI
contracts. Although he was in no way responsible for
the kind of goods exported, it would have been a more or
less normal procedure to rope him in for examination.
This was, I believe, from what I learned later, the actual
reason for his arrest.
But once you are in the hands of the secret police,
they don’t let you go easily. If they find nothing against
you on one count, they hunt around for some other
The concentration camps are always hungry for more
men, always in need of more labor. Almost every citi-
zen has at some time or another said something, or been
reported to have said something, critical of the regime,
or of the Party line. Or perhaps it can be established
that he has been friendly with an accused or condemned
That first morning I went to the secret police office in
Petrovka, where the officers had told me I could get
information as to the reason for Arcadi’s arrest. It was
the free day and it was closed. Next day I went again
and waited in a line-up with others, only to be told that
no information could be given me yet. I went each day,
and was always given the same answer.
270 Lost Illusion
I went to the Commissariat of Foreign Trade. No one
could or would help me. But Philip Rabinovitch, always
kind, told me not to worry, and said of course Arcadi
was innocent and would be home again soon.
Others avoided me. Friends were afraid to speak to me.
When some one is arrested in the USSR it is as if the
plague had struck his family. All are afraid of any con-
tact, afraid to be seen talking to the stricken relations.
I was comparatively lucky. Several friends stuck by me.
Mark Kazanin and other friends at the Institute were
as friendly as before. Sophie Rabinovitch told me to come
to their flat, in the same block as ours, whenever I felt
like it. She and Philip had lived for years in the United
States and England and had not lost all their decency
and courage. Anikeeva, my friend since the distant days
we had lived in Tokyo, tried to give me comfort.
At the Institute many shunned me, but I was not
dismissed. Varga was kind to me and tried to get in-
formation as to why my husband had been arrested.
One man at the Institute whom I had known years
before in London attempted to console me by showing
me that mine was the lot of all. He said, “I don’t suppose
there is a family in Moscow which has not lost at least
one member in the past years either through arrest or
I went to Kalmanofsky, the Chairman of Promexport,
in his home. He faced me in a dark room lit by a small
lamp on his writing table. He was nervous and ill at ease.
His fine Jewish eyes showed panic. I could see he was
already afraid for himself, and that no help could come
from him. Perhaps it was he who had falsely accused
Arcadi to save himself.
I went to an ex-OGPU friend. He promised to make
inquiries. Two days later he told me I had nothing to
fear, Arcadi was being held for questioning in connection
with the case of the other Promexport men arrested and,
since he could not be held responsible merely because
he had signed the fatal contract as finance manager, I
had nothing to worry about. I was advised to go to
England with my book; and by the time I came back
he was sure Arcadi would be free.
I then made my decision. I already had my visa to
go to England and return, having applied for it through
the Institute before Arcadi’s arrest. I had even managed
to secure permission to exchange rubles for thirty pounds
for my trip to England to see Japan’s Feet of Clay
through the press.
I could take Jon out of the country into safety and
return. All through that long week of anxiety, of
traipsing from place to place and person to person, I
had feared for our son. He was not a British subject
because he had been born in Moscow.
I knew how the secret police took hostages, how they
frightened men into false confessions by threatening re-
prisals on their children. I must get Jon out of the
country while I could. Arcadi would want me to save
him whatever happened.
So I left Moscow one evening ten days after Arcadi’s
arrest. Before leaving I handed a letter into the Lubianka
prison for him, saying I was going but would return. I
272 Lost Illusion
shall never know whether or not the secret police let
him have it.
After we had crossed the Russian Frontier into Poland,
the sick feeling I had had for days began to pass. My
heart sang, “Jon is safe; Jon is safe.” I could breathe
again. Looking after him on the three-day journey with-
out a sleeper took all my energy and thoughts. Jon, now
two years old, was excited and restless. In the first days
after Arcadi’s arrest he had hunted for his father all
over the flat in cupboards and even under the beds.
At Berlin, where we waited three hours between trains,
we had a bath, and I gave Jon the first banana he had
ever tasted. Arrived in London at my mother’s flat, I
wept for the first time. I think I determined then that
somehow or other I would keep Jon in England. He
must not grow up in Russia in that terrible atmosphere
of cant and lying and cruelty and militarism. I must get
him safely to England, and he must stay there.
My delay, first in getting typewriter paper and then
in waiting after Arcadi’s arrest, had made it too late for
Faber’s to publish my book that season. It would have to
wait until September. Their reader, G. F. Hudson,
Fellow of All Souls at Oxford, who was unknown to me
then but who in future years became one of my best
friends, sent in a very favorable report.
Mr. Faber, who had had sufficient confidence in me to
contract for the book and pay me an advance on royal-
ties a year before, encouraged me to hope the book
would be a success. I began to think that if Arcadi were
imprisoned and I could make a reputation in England
it might help me to get him out.
Vera telegraphed that they were taking away our flat,
and I must come at once. Leaving Jon at a small nursery
school in Sussex, for my mother was too old to look
after him alone, I hurried back to Moscow.
Emma had saved the flat by barricading herself in it
for three days. She had bolted the door and refused to
open it. Armed with a letter from Varga, I went to the
house management and raised hell. They had intended to
put in a friend of the House Committee chairman. Once
I showed them that I was no cowed wife of a secret police
victim, but a foreigner still employed at the Academy of
Sciences, they abased themselves in Russian Soviet style
with profuse apologies.
The flat was saved for the time being, but the news
about Arcadi was very foreboding. His sister, Vera had
ascertained that he was now accused of a political
offense. What offense they would not tell her, but
everyone knew that a political charge was far graver
than a mere accusation of having done wrong in business.
There began for me the saddest, gloomiest, most try-
ing and anxious period of my life. Day after day I went
to the Public Prosecutor’s office and stood in line wait-
ing my turn to speak to an official there. According to
the Soviet Constitution, the State Prosecutor has “super-
vision of the exact observance of the laws,” and “no one
may be subject to arrest except upon the decision of a
court or with the sanction of the Prosecutor.”
274 Lost illusion
So in theory the Prosecutor is supposed to know why
a man or woman is arrested, and one is supposed to be
able to obtain information at his office as to the charge.
One would imagine that the Prosecutor should sign the
warrants of arrests executed by the NKVD, as the secret
police was now called.
Actually, when Arcadi was arrested, no warrant or
any kind of paper was shown to us. Perhaps the Prose-
cutor does sign a batch of blank slips for the NKVD to
fill in, but such a formality, if it does take place, is mean-
After, as before, the promulgation of the New Con-
stitution, the power of life and death was left in the
hands of the NKVD, which continued to arrest anyone
it pleased. The only difference the “inviolability of the
person” clause in the Constitution made was that citizens
now had to try to ascertain at the Public Prosecutor’s
office why an arrest had been made, and to send in
appeals through him instead of directly to the NKVD.
Each time I finally got to see an official at the Prose-
cutor’s, I was told to come back in four days or in a
week’s time. When I came back, and had again spent
hours standing in line, I was told that the case was now
in the hands of another official. When I got to the other
official the process was repeated.
After five weeks of this I finally managed, through the
help of an influential Party member to get to one of the
Assistant Prosecutors, called, as far as I remember, Le-
vine. He spoke German, and our conversation was brief:
“Ihr Mann bat im Au.rhnd gearbeitet?”
“Nz112, er bat dart was gesagt dasr er nick sagen
That was all. Arcadi was in prison because of some re-
mark he had made six or seven years before in Japan.
Perhaps Anikeev was right. Perhaps it was one of his
jokes which had been reported and filed away in his
dossier, which had got him into trouble.
I started to appeal. I wrote appeals to the Prosecutor,
to Yezhov, then Assistant Commissar of the Commis-
sariat of the Interior, (NKVD), and finally to Stalin
I never received even an acknowledgment of any of
Meanwhile I was going twice weekly to the NKVD
to fill in a form asking to be permitted to visit my hus-
band. Nothing ever came of this either.
Arcadi had been moved in May from Lubianka to the
Butirky Prison. This meant either that his examination
was completed or that the Lubianka was so full that he
had been transferred while awaiting further examination.
We could not know which of these alternatives it
meant. If he were already condemned we had to go to
the prison every three days to see if his name was yet
posted on the list of those being sent away to a concen-
The NKVD does not even inform the arrested man’s
family when he has been condemned and is to be sent
276 Lost Illusion
away. The family must watch the lists. It might be days
or months before the arrested person was removed to a
distant prison or concentration camp, and one had no
means of knowing whether he or she had already been
sentenced or not.
Vera had a friend who knew a woman whose husband
was a sort of a trusty among the condemned political
prisoners in the Butirky Prison, and who was allowed a
visit from his wife once in twelve days. Through this
woman we found out that Arcadi was not among those
already condemned, so he was evidently still in soli-
tary confinement, or with others still under examina-
No one in the queues at the prison and at the Prose-
cutor’s expected an arrested relative to be given a trial.
It was taken for granted that all would be condemned
without trial in secret, or, if a miracle occurred, released
similarly without trial.
The articles in the New Constitution guaranteeing
trial in open court “with participation of the people’s
associate judges” (Articles I 03 and I I I) were a dead
letter from the beginning, for they contained a joker:
“with the exception of cases specially provided for by
law,” or “except in special cases.”
These articles were only intended to delude gullible
foreign “Friends of the Soviet Union,” who failed to
appreciate the significance of the addition of the words
“except in special cases.” No citizen of the USSR took
the New Constitution for anything more than was in-
tended, a thin fa$ade to cover the naked police regime,
a cruel mockery of the millions condemned without
Now that Arcadi had been transferred to Butirky
Prison I could deliver food for him every eight days
and a change of linen every sixteen days. To do this I
went early in the morning with a sack or pillowcase and
stood in line after filling in a form stating exactly what
was in the sack. If anything forbidden, like cigarettes,
was included, everything might be rejected.
The first time I went, a friend of Vera’s, an old
Social Revolutionary from Siberia, went with me to
help. For the form had to be carefully filled out, and I
might make a mistake over some of the Russian words.
Vera’s friend was a Socialist of the old school.
For hours that morning she helped poor, illiterate
women in the line-up who could not write and feared
their pitiful supplies of black bread and onion might be
rejected unless they could sign their names on the form.
Many of the women with their breadwinners arrested
and children to support were obviously half-starved
themselves, but they brought bread for their husbands.
The case of most of the people waiting with us was so
much more terrible than mine that I began to be almost
ashamed of my grief. I had food and Jon had food.
I could .support him and, being English, I was not
likely to be arrested myself. But these wretched women
faced starvation for themselves and their children.
There was no poor relief in Russia. Their neighbors
and relatives were too poor to help or were too afraid to
help. Even if their children were old enough to leave
278 Lost Illusion
alone, it was almost impossible for women whose hus-
bands had been arrested to get work.
The proportion of working-class people standing in
line seemed to be very high. There were different days
for different letters of the alphabet. As far as I remember
our day included all those whose names began with A,
B, C, and D. At this one prison it took hours before my
turn came to hand in my sack to the NKW official. It
was therefore obvious to me that the prison was full of
Strangely enough, there seemed more good will and
friendliness among these people than in other line-ups in
Moscow-a comradeship of the damned. They had little
left to fear or hope for. The worst had befallen them
On May Day, while I was in England and Vera
stood in line for me, she heard a man ahead of her say,
“Half of the population of Moscow is demonstrating to-
day, while the other half is either in prison or waiting
at the prison gates.”
The great consolation we got by sending in food at the
prison was the proof this afforded that husband or
brother, father or wife or son still lived. For in the later
afternoon we were given a receipt signed by the prisoner
himself, and on the days for handing in clean clothing
we received back the soiled linen.
When I got Arcadi’s soiled underwear back for the
first time after his arrest I broke down and cried. It was
five weeks since they had taken him away, and this was
the first occasion we had had to supply him with a clean
shirt, pants, and socks. The stuff we got back was filthy,
sweat-stained, black with grime. Somehow this brought
home to me more vividly than anything else what he
must be suffering.
The prisons were terribly crowded, and I pictured
Arcadi in the heat and dirt of a crowded cell. There
would certainly be bugs. He would be sleeping on a
plank bed, and the room would be airless. Arcadi who
was so fastidiously clean had had to wear the same
clothing for weeks.
Yet I comforted myself in remembering his philoso-
phic spirit, and his gift for understanding men and never
losing his self-control. He would know from the foreign
chocolates and soap I had sent him that I had been to
England and come back and was still at liberty. That
should give him good heart to endure.
He might guess that I had left Jon safely in England.
In any case, he knew I could provide for our son, and
that I could fight for myself. The NKVD would not be
able to force him to a false confession through threats
It was a perfect summer in Moscow. One lovely day
succeeded another. I would sit on the balcony in the
evenings looking down and hoping against hope that
Arcadi might come walking along. I imagined the smile
and the light or joking words he would surely use when
he came home. I shut my mind to the terrible fears
which returned with the darkness.
One day in the street I met Berkinghof’s wife. He had
been taken off the train to prison on his arrival from
280 Lost Illusion
Mongolia, where he had been the Soviet Trade Repre-
sentative. She and their young son had been brought to
Moscow by the lure of a false telegram purporting to
come from him. They had lived well for years, but
practically everything they possessed was in Mongolia.
Varya was haggard and white, fearing most for the fu-
ture of their small son, whom they adored. She was
trying to get a job, but was refused employment every-
I heard of one arrest after another among our friends
and acquaintances. The scythe was sweeping higher.
Important people were being taken. Everyone I knew
looked afraid. Panic spread. It was clearly hopeless now
to try to get anyone to help. All were consumed by fear
The radios in the street blared out, “Life is happy!
Life is joyous ! ” Varya and I smiled bitterly as we said
good-bye in Tverskaya Street.
Vera did all she could about Arcadi, showing the
same bold spirit as in her youth. But she was as helpless
as I. She bravely assured me that no innocent man would
be allowed to suffer. Since Arcadi was of course inno-
cent, he would eventually be released.
.Poor Vera was still clinging to her belief in the Com-
munist Party. A year later, in April 1937, she was ar-
rested herself when nearly all who belonged to the
proud category of those who had done hard labor as
political convicts in Tsarist prisons were purged by
Stalin. The revolutionaries of the past were all suspect to
Finally, late in July, I received a cable from my pub-
lishers in London that I must come at once to correct
final proofs on my book due to go to press. It was im-
possible to tell how long Arcadi’s examination would
last. It might be months more or only weeks. I had begun
to think that the only way I could help was to go to
England and there try to exert pressure on Moscow.
Standing in line at the Public Prosecutor’s and sending
in appeals was clearly absolutely useless. Moreover, my
son had to be provided for in England. I must make some
money. I. had plenty of rubles, since the thousands we
had received from the sale of the typewriter were only
partially expended, but none of this could be exchanged
for English currency.
I decided to fly to England and come back after my
Y book was published. This time, however, I could not
secure a return visa. The Russians gave me an exit visa,
but told me to get my return visa in London because my
British passport was about to expire.
This was a valid reason, but I could not be sure that
it was the real one. However, I had no choice. I must
go to England and could only hope it was true that a
visa to return to the Soviet Union would be given me in
All this time the treatment I myself had received en-
couraged the hope that they were not going to imprison
Arcadi indefinitely. True that I was English, but other
foreigners had been arrested and examined. Surely if
they were trying to frame Arcadi they would do some-
thing to implicate me as well.
282 Lost Illusion
I had the terrible feeling all along that perhaps he
was suffering for my sins. I had never done anything
against the Soviet Government, but I had thought a lot
against it. I had not always been cautious enough when
on trips to England.
Occasionally I had revealed a little of the truth on
conditions in the USSR to intimate friends. Arcadi, on
the other hand, had not only never spoken dangerous
thoughts, but had in fact accepted the USSR and had
been convinced that no change for the better was pos-
sible through a change of government.
He had worked extremely hard, giving all his knowl-
edge, energy, and talents to his job, feeling that this was
the only way for conditions to be improved.
Being a Jew and a Russian, he was far more of a fatalist
than I, far more resigned and philosophical concerning
ills that could not in his view be cured, but could be
ameliorated if everyone tried to do his own job as well as
possible. Indignation and anger were in his view unneces-
sary and futile.
I left everything I possessed
behind in Moscow: books,
clothes, linen, furniture, and of course money. The
money I left with Vera, telling her to continue to pay
the zoo rubles a month we always allowed to Arcadi’s
former wife, Anna Abramovna, and Arcadi’s son Vitia.
Anna Abramovna had had a job for some years past,
and Vitia was now in his ‘teens.
To keep the flat safe and occupied, I had already in-
stalled in it a man and his wife whom I knew to be
decent people who would vacate it if and when Arcadi
was set free. They were glad to take Emma on as their
servant. In the second room I placed Vera’s son and his
wife and child, leaving Emma the smallest room as hers
by right, whether employed by the other inmates or not.
The last night I did not go to bed at all. After packing
up everything we possessed, I sat down to write a long
letter to Arcadi in case he should come home or be sent
away before my return-or in case I never got back.
I assured him that whatever happened, even if I did not
see him for years, I would continue to love him. Life
without him was unbearable and unthinkable and I
promised that if he were condemned, I would return and
try to be near him, but would leave Jon in England. I
left the letter with friends, but Arcadi was never allowed
to receive it.
I left Moscow by airplane at four o’clock in the morn-
ing. Emma tried to see me off but was not allowed to
come to the airport. She wept and clung to me, saying
good-bye forever. I assured her I should come back. She
was certain that I would not.
Emma was right and I was wrong. I myself feared she
might be right as I said good-bye to Moscow, where I
had known such joy and such grief.
Lovely Moscow in the early morning sun with the
blue sky over the Kremlin. One of the loveliest cities in
the world, and the grave of Communist hopes and of
Nine years before, almost to a day, I had stood in the
Red Square for the first time, my heart full of enthusiasm
and faith. Now I was flying away to the west leaving
284 Lost Illusion
the dearest person in my life inside the prison house
which the Soviet Union had become. Tears blinded my
eyes as the plane rose into the air.
I never got back to Soviet Russia. For two years I tried
again and again in London to get a visa, but each time
was put off by my old friend, Ambassador Maisky. He
told me to be patient and to wait, until at last I realized
that it was hopeless.
Perhaps Maisky feared that I should be arrested too if
I went back, and in that event he would have a lot of
trouble with the British Foreign Office. Or perhaps he
had been forbidden to give me a visa.
Late in August 1936 Arcadi was sentenced to five
years ‘imprisonment. Vera telephoned from Moscow to
London to tell me. If I had been in Moscow I might have
seen him once for a few minutes before he was sent off to
an Arctic concentration camp. Vera saw him behind bars
separating them by several feet.
From Archangel he sent me a postcard assuring me of
his love and telling me to be cheerful. Early in 1937 I
received a second postcard, this time from Ust Usya in
the far north of Siberia, where there was a mining con-
centration camp. In May 1937 I received a third and last
postcard telling me he was well and that he had now been
given office work. This implied that previously he had
been doing physical labor in the mines.
I have never had another word from him to this day.
Perhaps the first year of hard labor had ruined his health,
for his heart was already strained and enlarged from
overwork when we lived together. Whether Arcadi was
shot or whether he died from hardship, ill treatment,
cold, or lack of food, I shall never know. It is scarcely
possible that he still lives, broken in health, and deprived
of all hope of release.
Perhaps of all my many letters and postcards to him
not one was ever delivered, and, feeling that I had
abandoned him, he ceased to write. This is the bitterest
thought of all, but I do not believe he would doubt my
love and my loyalty.
His three postcards were full of confidence in my af-
fection and in his own. In the last one he had said that
one year of our five years’ separation had already passed,
and he lived for the day when we should be together
If by some miracle he is still alive it is impossible that
we should ever meet again, since I can never return to the
USSR and he can never leave it. But for years I have felt
that he is dead.
Emma continued to write to me and to send parcels of
food to Arcadi until the late summer of 1937. Then I
ceased to hear from her for four months. Finally, in
December of I 93 7, I received a letter from her saying she
had been four months in the “Krankenhaus” (obviously
meaning prison) and had been very frightened, but that
now she was out and had at once sent Arcadi a food
parcel. She also sent me a new address for him. After
that I never heard from Emma again.
Perhaps she was arrested again. Perhaps her letters
were stopped. She had proved the most loyal and fearless
of my friends. Only she had dared to go on writing to me
286 Lost Illusion
after Vera was arrested. She had been my last link, my
last source of information about Arcadi.
Our flat had been confiscated, and the friends I had
installed there thrown out. My money left with Vera
had been taken by the secret police. Emma had my
clothes and my books. I had told her to try to keep my
books safe, but to sell my clothes and linen to buy food
for Arcadi. When Emma was silenced, I was as cut off
from Arcadi as if he were on another planet.
In the summer of 1938, while I was in China, Am-
bassador Maxim Litvinov told Lord Chilston, the British
Ambassador, that Arcadi Berdichevsky was still alive.
But Litvinov offered no proof, and it was obviously to
the Soviet Government’s advantage to keep my mouth
shut by an assurance that my husband was still living. So
long as I had hope, I would keep silent and not expose
the truth about Russia, which I, having lived there so
long as an ordinary Moscow resident know so much bet-
ter than most foreigners.
I did not ask the help of the British Foreign Office un-
til 1938, because I feared to harm Arcadi by doing so.
When I did go to the Foreign Office the official there did
all he could to help me. I sent appeals from England to
Moscow. One was signed by Professor Harold Laski,
Bertrand Russell, Kingsley Martin (Editor of the New
Stateman), and C. M. Lloyd, with accompanying letters
supporting the appeal from George Bernard Shaw, and
Beatrice and Sidney Webb.
Both George Bernard Shaw and the Webbs had
known my father, but it was Bertrand Russell who made
them support the appeal. Professor Laski sent off the ap-
peal and he said he sent repeated reminders afterwards.
But he never got any acknowledgment.
It would be wearisome to tell of all the appeals and all
the people whose aid I enlisted. It was all futile. The
Soviet Government, assured of the enthusiastic support
of so many liberals, disregarded my case.
Vera had been told by the secret police that Arcadi
had been condemned for “having been friendly or ac-
quainted with a Trotskyist.” That was all. I gathered
from Vera’s letter that the “Trotskyist” may have been
Berkinghof. Arcadi had worked under him and I had
known him for years before in London.
It seems obvious that the whole thing was a frivolous,
trumped-up charge made when nothing else could be
found against him. Arcadi must have had the strength to
resist all their attempts to force him into a false “con-
fession.” So he got no trial and disappeared in silence,
like so many millions of others.
It would have dismayed some at least of the friends of
the Soviet Union in England and the United States to
learn that the Russian Government could be even more
cruel than the Nazi Government. For the Nazis did at
least allow communication between prisoners and their
relatives, and informed the latter when a concentration
camp victim died or was shot. Moreover, Arcadi’s case
constituted clear proof of the fact that in the USSR men
are condemned, not only without trial, but without any
real charge against them. The Soviet Government, trying
to convince the world that it was democratic, might have
288 Lost Illusion
let my husband go had I at once told my story to the
It took me years to become free again in mind and
Perhaps my voice could not have affected public opin-
ion any more than those other few voices which of recent
years have told the truth about Soviet tyranny. But I
wish I had immediately joined the goodly company
which tried to save the world from the consequences of
a false belief in communism and Russian intentions. That
belief played a large part in bringing about the European
war, in which millions were killed and mutilated.
Against the tragedy of the Second World War, and
its aftermath, my own personal tragedy is insignificant.
That in itself helped me to make the decision to speak out
boldly about Soviet Russia whatever the consequences to
Arcadi, if he still lives.