A Communist Withdraws
WHEN this book appeared in the United States more than a year ago, it was hailed by American critics as a document of first-class importance. Here was an intimate view of. Soviet Russia, not a hasty snapshot taken by a foreign observer ignorant of the Russian language and the psychological background of Soviet life, nor the picture of one looking at it through the spectacles of preconceived sympathy or antipathy. The author's sight is coloured by nothing but his experiences as a Soviet citizen. Mr. Kravchenko lived through the whole revolutionary era as a child of the revolution. His father had been imprisoned, flogged and nearly hanged as a rebel against the Czarist regime. As a boy he had seen its over- throw in the Ukraine and had experienced all the exultation and horror of the civil war. He worked as a miner in the Donetz and became a Young Communist. At thirty-four he joined the elite as a member of the Party. He was trained as an engineer at Kharkov and Dniepropetrovsk. As a Party official he witnessed the forcible collectivisation of the peasants and the famine in southern Russia at close quarters. He survived the first purge, in which so many of his comrades mysteriously disappeared. Under the protection of Ordzhonikidze, the Commissar for Heavy Industry, he became chief engineer in a pipe-rolling mill at Nikopol, and threw himself whole-heartedly into the struggle to realise his part of the Five Year Plan. Then in 1936 he lived for weeks under the shadow of the first purge, all-night interrogations by the N.K.V.D., fighting against all sorts of grotesque charges, suspicions and denunciations, caught up in a vast network of intrigue, fear and lies. But he with- stood the tortures and the pressures, and in the end escaped with his party card still in his pocket, though nearly two million members and candidates had been liquidated and many millions of ordinary citizens had gone to their deaths or to forced labour colonies.
But Kravchenko once more moved upwards. He was appointed
director of a new metallurgical combine in the Urals, where he enjoyed all the amenities of his position, a nice apartment, good food, a Ford car, a salary of 2,000 roubles a month or more as compared with the mechanic's 25o or the labourer's 15o. Much of his plant was operated by forced labour, housed in huge hutted camps overlooked by machine-gun towers. When war broke out he took his place in the Red Army, and in the dark days of 194i, lay in the snow outside Moscow with a training rifle and three rounds of ammunition, until for some reason inexplicable to him the German tanks suddenly turned back. Finally he was promoted to the Kremlin as one of the head officials in charge of the armament industries. There he and his colleagues worked furiously to over-
come the panic and disorganisation which reigned during the great retreat. His description of the atmosphere of intrigue and intimi- dation, of the omnipresence of the N.K.V.D., of the oriental seclusion relieved by the luxury of lend-lease dainties, when the great city without was half-starved, is one of the most graphic passages of the book. In 1943 he was sent to Washington as a member of the Russian Purchasing Commission, and on April znd, 1944, he took the train for New York to escape the brutality and oppfession of the Soviet system, under which he had achieved such exceptional success.
It is necessary to recite the author's credentials in order to under- stand the importance of his book. It is a strictly personal narrative, the story of his life told with great wealth of vivid factual detail, unsparing in its exposure of persons and abuses, outspoken in its denunciation of the terror which poisons Russian life from top to bottom. It is an eminently readable book, skilfully translated and edited. But in spite of its superficial glamour, which has made it a best-seller in America, it is essentially a Russian book, sombre and introspective, imbued with the harsh realism of the great Russian novelists. In the original one can imagine that its atmosphere was even starker and grimmer. The author makes no effort to depict the more cheerful and constructive aspects of Soviet life. He does not pretend to paint a balanced picture, and gives the regime little or no credit for its genuine social and industrial achievements. In his mind their benefits are obliterated by the denial of personal free- dom. His book is admittedly an indictment, a terrible indictment, but one which no reader will be able to dismiss lightly as the work of mere prejudice or imagination. After making every allowance for the bitterness and passion which inspire it, he will not escape the insistent conviction of its truth. Though it may not be the whole truth, he will feel that it is a large and uncomfortable part