No. 89 NAI DFA ES Box 14 File 96

Memorandum by Patrick McCartan on Conditions in Russia


Undated, 1921

Nobody in authority in Russia pretends to think that such a thing as liberty exists there. It is considered, as a returned emigrant who was working in a factory expressed it in my hearing, that a minority of any people are always the progressive element. The idea of whether or not the present regime represents the will of the people is openly laughed at. They do however claim that the present government is a dictatorship of the Proletariat and they justify it on the grounds that dictatorship is essential during what is called the transition period - that is, in the case of Russia, the change from Feudalism to Communism. They state frankly that Communism does not yet exist in Russia but that they are travelling along the road to Communism. Nobody that I happened to meet was prepared to discuss whether or not the tyrannical road along which they were at present walking was certain to lead to ideal liberty as understood by Communists. It was taken for granted that it was the only path and nobody seemed to consider it worth while to ponder when they were likely to arrive at the desired goal. The general impression seemed to be that education in the principles of Communism was imperative and great importance is attached to the education of the young people. As far as one could gather the hope or rather conviction was that when a generation of young people grew up thoroughly imbued with the ideals of Communism the new social state at which they aimed would be on a solid foundation.

The leaders, and the rank and file as well, of the Communist party have such unbounded faith in their doctrines that they seem convinced that all young men and young women who are educated along the lines outlined by themselves are certain to grow up firm believers in Communism. The fact that those educated in the tenets of Feudalism or Capitalism did not all grow up firm believers in these tenets does not diminish their hopes. They apparently believe that the whole trend of human progress is in the direction of Communism and that the age of Capitalism is passing just as the age of Feudalism has passed.

Though it is claimed that the present Government is dictatorship of the Proletariat it is nothing of the kind. It is a dictatorship of the Communist party which represents less than one per cent of the population of Russia; and dictatorship of the Communist party means in reality dictatorship of about half a dozen leaders of the Communist party.

The workers - that is the proletariat - are allowed to elect the representatives to the Soviets but the election is by open ballot - by a show of hands. The results may be an expression of the will of the workers, but they may not. One would have to have a very familiar knowledge of conditions in the factories and workshops before being certain of this. Those in authority are nearly all Communists and they presumably have the power to grant or withhold food or clothing. It is hardly likely therefore that the average worker would run the risk of antagonising these men and women by voting for a candidate objectionable to them.

One always hears the Menchaviks singled out as the enemy and it is the prevailing belief that the jails are filled with them. It was reported that thirty per cent of the all Russian Soviet was made up of non-party men as a result of the last election - 'and many of these are likely disguised Menchaviks.' Such a phrase proves that it is not safe to preach Menchavism in the factories and hence that the elections are in reality more or less of a farce. One found discontent in most of the factories one visited, and as far as one could learn the Red Army was as ready to turn out against the proletariat in case of a strike, as the army in any capitalist country. There are Trades Unions, but the few workers to whom I spoke on the subject seemed to know nothing of their Union [except]1 that a certain amount was deducted from their salaries for dues, and in return they got a Union Card. This might not be general as these few were men who had been in America and they were, in all cases, sorry they had returned to Russia. I said to one that there were millions of unemployed in America and he pointed to the 'soup' he was about to take for his principal meal and said:- 'If I had lived like this in America and saved my earnings I might not care how long I was out of employment'.

The Communists who are all enthusiastic are organised on military lines. They are the only organised force in the country. The Army is not made up entirely of Communists but there is a sufficient sprinkling of Communists in it to keep the whole army safe for Communism. Besides this those young men who are brought into the Army are as far as possible instructed in the principles of Communism. The army is likely therefore to remain loyal for years though the Crondstat meeting was a protest against prevailing conditions. It was said to be organised by counter-revolutionists - but I was told by a man who I believe knew the whole circumstances that there was no military plot in it whatever. He said those who took part in it demanded certain reforms among which was free trade. They were answered by the usual high handed methods and the result was they revolted. My Informant pointed out that if it had been planned on military lines they would have waited for two weeks until the ice in the harbour had thawed, and that then they could easily have captured Petrograd. However Crondstat shook the Government and free trade in farm produce was granted almost immediately afterwards. Some incident like Crondstat might break the solidity of the army but it is not likely.

The blockade, Counter-revolution and the Capitalist Governments of the world are blamed for all the sufferings in Russia. It is claimed that if Russia had been freely allowed to develop there would now be abundance for all. The Communists at least believe this and will all support the Government until they are convinced to the contrary. To my mind therefore, the present Government is secure for at least five years. If it fulfils all the hopes it holds out to the people it may last much longer, but unless something arises to split the Communist party or the army, there is no likelihood of any change in the immediate future. It will take some years for other forces to become organised and strong enough to challenge the supremacy of the Communist party. For some time - perhaps for some years the majority of the people will be content if they get sufficient food and clothing for apparently they never had either in abundance, but if food and clothes satisfied people there should be no fear of jail and no dislike for workhouses. The real menace to the power of the Communists is likely to come when the people have had their wants supplied and when they discover that the world revolution that they had been led to expect is as distant as ever.

Up to this year all the food in the country was commandeered and apparently the commissars were ruthless in the process. I was told that farmers were shot for hiding part of their crops. The result is that though the revolution gave the farmers their land they felt they were tilling it for others, and got nothing in return. They are it appears bitterly opposed to the Government and in many districts they tear up the railways and carry on a sort of guerrilla warfare. These are described by the Communists as 'bandits' and when captured they are 'sliced up' but they also do some slicing.

The people are intensely religious and the Communists have no religion and don't believe in God. I speak of course of the vast majority in each case. The Government has taken over the schools or Colleges where the clergymen were educated and the hope is that when the present generation of clergymen die out religion will die with them. Otherwise there is freedom of religion but it is safe to presume that the church sees the game as well as the Government, and though at present apparently passive they are almost certain some day to throw in their influence with any party that has a chance of overthrowing Communism. An Engineer referring to the wisdom of Lenin told me how on being asked Lenin said he would allow the peasant girls to get 'paints and powders'. 'That was progress'. But the peasantry would not be supplied with vodka or icons - 'that was retrogression'.

Though workmen are paid a salary of from sixteen to twenty thousand roubles a month, money had little or no value until after the inauguration of Free Trade. As it is this salary is of little use as a pound of butter costs twenty thousand roubles and an egg costs one thousand. Besides the salary all workers get food tickets and get their ration periodically. In like manner clothes and other necessities are supplied by the Soviet stores on presentation of the necessary order. There were no shops until the middle of May, with the exception of a few which apparently sold ladies hats. Since then a few have been reopened and sell bread, eggs, etc. The markets have also been reopened and one can purchase practically anything in them. There are at least a half a million people visiting these markets every day. One sees a number of bootmakers working in their own shops lately. They seem to make low shoes mostly of white canvas for ladies. A pair of these costs fifty-thousand roubles and one wonders where the people get the money to purchase them. Of course the number thus manufactured is comparatively small. The press is entirely in the control of the Government and the newspapers are pasted upon the walls for the use of the general public. The newspapers are all small and apparently publish views rather than news. The Executive Committee of the Communist International publishes at present a daily paper in French, German and English. Though the Communist International is supposed to be independent of the Russian Government, one might as well distinguish between the Dail and Sinn Fein here. Presumably the papers published in Russian are similar to those published in English etc. The news featured in these is Strikes in Norway, England or elsewhere; the doings of the Communists in Germany or France; and the speeches or statements of the leaders in Russia. The newspapers printed in Russian on the whole I believe are almost entirely propaganda intended for the Russian people, those in other languages for propaganda outside Russia. The whole aim is to propagate the ideals of Communism and very little attention is given to any movement in any country which does not tend in that direction.

There is some interest in Ireland on the part of those one meets, but the revolution in Ireland was a national one and hence it was concluded had little or nothing in common with Communism or the 'world revolution'. One is reminded that the Poles were nationalists and when they got their national freedom set out on a Crusade of Imperialism. There was some admiration for the fighting qualities of Irishmen but they were not Communists and Irishmen everywhere are reactionaries, that is, they are not usually Socialists. As a rule they are Catholics, and God and the Churches are the opponents of Communists. 'Religion is the opiate of the workers'.

It seems to me that it is impossible to do any propaganda for Ireland in Russia but had I not been there I'm certain I should have thought otherwise and no doubt others will also think so.

Paper is scarce in Russia and they want all the space they can find in their papers for propaganda for their own people. Irish propaganda is of no use to their own people as the Irish Movement is not Communist. At any rate propaganda, to my mind, is intended to influence the people of a foreign country so that action may be taken by the Government of that country favourable to us.

The people of Russia do not count and hence it makes no difference what they think. The present Government is not responsive to them. There is nothing that could be achieved by propaganda in countries like the United States that cannot be achieved in Russia to-morrow if it were expedient for Russia to act. The Government of Russia would recognise the Republic of Ireland any day if they could do so without injuring Russia itself. Those who are in power in the Government understand the advantages of such an act. The rank and file of the Communist party do not understand and never will understand - and for our purposes the Communist Party is Russia. They think we are good organisers and good propagandists and that we should join forces with the Communists of England and thus contribute to the world revolution. To their minds humanity would gain nothing even if the Republic of Ireland were recognised. They believe the proletariat of Ireland would have to begin in the new in order to establish a workers republic. Even though it were possible to get space in the papers for Irish propaganda one could achieve nothing for Ireland with the exception perhaps of blackening the character of England and her character seemed to be pretty well known.

It is well to remember also that one is completely in the hands of the authorities when one enters Russia. One cannot take a train, change ones room in the hotel, get any food, clothing, secure an office, or get furniture or heating for same without permission from some Government official. Hotel accommodation is scarce, paper is scarce - in fact everything one is likely to want in order to carry on propaganda is scarce. If propaganda is attempted it would have one advantage. It would not be necessary to attempt to impress the 'natives' by expensive apartments. Any attempt at 'swank' would be certain propaganda against Ireland.

Personally I saw no newspaper men because I was requested by the Foreign Office to remain as far as possible unknown until the opportune time arrived. So long as we did not get recognition I thought it best if no proof existed of my presence in Russia and hence decided to keep quiet until we should get recognition. Later I decided it was better to do nothing publicly - even had I been permitted - until I had first reported home. I spoke for a few minutes once at a meeting in a village, and tried without being untruthful to do both Irish and Russian propaganda but the interpreter told them I brought them 'congratulations from the Communist Party of Ireland'. That is the type of propaganda that is welcome. They cannot consistently condemn the shooting of Irishmen by England while they themselves 'slice' their own 'bandits'. They cannot condemn imprisonment without trial in Ireland while their own jails are full of political prisoners. They cannot advocate liberty in Ireland while the dictatorship of the proletariat is held up as the ideal to be aimed at in all countries. As far as I see there is little hope of doing propaganda in Russia and nothing could be gained by it even were it possible. I think Eamon Martin should be asked for his opinion on the subject also. He is as capable of giving an opinion on this subject as I am. I asked him to report on it to the President, but I understand he had not an opportunity of doing so.

Though the National anthem of Russia is the 'International' one finds as much nationalism in it as in any country in the world. Like most of the American cities they have many things in Russia which one learns is 'the greatest in the world'. The Baltic States have got self-determination for one wonders if it were for love of the principle or dictated by expediency. There is no doubt that the hope was entertained that Germany would have gone Communist, but the hope died - as far as the immediate future is concerned - with the March revolution. If Germany had gone Communist the Baltic States would have been compelled to do likewise. In discussing Esthonia in Reval with a Russian of considerable influence he informed me that Esthonia was living on Russia. They had given good terms to Esthonia as it was the first State with which they had made peace. The result was that they had to pay exorbitant rates for the use of the Railway tracks and other things. He suggested that this was only temporary for the port of Reval was essential for Russia. Here is not only nationalism but imperialism. The Russian laughs at the Esthonian language as the British are accustomed to laugh at the Irish language. It is vulgar, horrible etc. I am not so sure therefore that self-determination for Ireland would raise much enthusiasm in official circles. Anything they are likely to do for Ireland will be done in the hope of helping to break up the British Empire and thus further the world revolution.

1 The original text reads 'unless'.

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