Monday, August 20, 2018
The 100th Anniversary Of The Russian Revolution-In Honor Of Leon Trotsky - For Those Born After-Ivan Smirnov’s Journey
The 100th Anniversary Of The Russian Revolution-In Honor Of Leon Trotsky - For Those Born After-Ivan Smirnov’s Journey
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
Ivan Smirnov came out of old Odessa town, came out of the Ukraine (not just plain Ukraine like now but “the” then), the good black earth breadbasket of the Russian Empire, well before the turn of the 20th century (having started life on some Mister’s farm begotten by illiterate but worthy and hard-working peasant parents who were not sure whether it was 1880 or 1881 and Mister did not keep very good records up in the manor house) although he was strictly a 20th century man by habits and inclinations. Fashioned himself a man of the times, as he knew it, by developing habits favored by those who liked to consider themselves modern. Those habits included a love of reading, a love of and for the hard-pressed peoples facing the jack-boot (like his struggling never- get-ahead parents) under the Czar’s vicious rule, an abiding hatred for that same Czar, a hunger to see the world or to see something more than wheat fields, and a love of politics, what little expression that love could take even for a modern man stuck in a backward semi-feudal country driven by the ruthless cops and General Staff bayonets.
Of course Ivan Smirnov, a giant of a man, well over six feet, more like six, two, well-build, solid, fairly muscular, with the Russian dark eyes and hair to match, when he came of age also loved good food when he had the money for such luxuries, loved to drink shots of straight vodka in competition with his pals, and loved women, and women loved him. It is those appetites in need of whetting that consumed his young manhood, his time in Odessa before he signed on to the Czar’s navy to see the world, or at least brush the dust of farmland Ukraine and provincial Odessa off his shoes as the old saying went. Those loves trumped for a time his people love (except helping out his parents with his wages), his love of liberty but as we follow Ivan on his travels we will come to see that those personal loves collided more and more with those larger loves.
So as we pick up the heart, the coming of age, coming of political age, Ivan Smirnov story, he was no kid, had been around the block a few times. Had taken his knocks on the land of his parents (really Mister’s land once the taxes, rents, and dues were taken out) when he tried to organize, well, not really organize but just put a petition of grievances, including the elimination of rack-rents to Mister which was rejected out of hand and which subsequently when Mister took his revenge forced him off the land. Forced him off under threat to his life. The rack none too good for him heard in some quarters by Mister’s lackeys and henchmen. He never forgot that slight, never. Never forgot that it was Mister and his kind, his class and its hangers-on that took him away from home, split his family up, pushed the rack-rent higher and finally killed off his benighted father at an very early age in an age when early age was the norm. So off he went to the city, and from there to the Black Sea Fleet and adventure, or rather tedium mixed with adventure and plenty of time to read, read novels, big Tolstoy-sided novels, novels for long sea-ward trips, when he could and clandestinely radical political tracts.
Ivan also learned up close, made it his business to learn up close, the why and wherefores of modern warfare, modern naval warfare. Knew too that between the stifling old-fashioned naval bureaucracy and the shoddily built ships (many with badly welded seams) some minor confrontation the Czar’s navy was cooked. As things worked out Ivan had been in the Russian fleet that got its ass kicked by the Japanese in 1904. He never called them “Nips” like lots of his crewmates did not after that beating they took that did not have to happen if the damn Czar’s naval officers had been anything but lackeys and anything but overconfident that they could beat the Johnny-come-lately Japanese in the naval war game. And so Ivan came of war age and political age all at once. And the Russian navy was in shambles.
More importantly after that debacle he applied for, and was eventually granted a transfer into in the Baltic fleet, the Czar’s jewel and defender of citadel Saint Petersburg, headquartered at later famous Kronstadt, and so he was in the swirl when the revolution of 1905 came thundering over their heads and each man, each sailor, each officer had to choice sides. Most seaman had gone over the rebels or stood on the sidelines, the officers mainly played possum with the Czar. He had gone wholehearted with rebels and while he did not face the fate of his comrades on the Potemkin his naval career was over. That was where his love of reading from an early age came in, came and made him aware of the boiling kettle of political groupings trying to save Russia or to save what some class or part of a class had an interest in saving Russia for their own purposes. He knew, knew from his dismal experience on the land, that Mister fully intended to keep what was his come hell or high water. He also knew that Mister’s people, the peasantry like his family would have a very hard time, a very hard time indeed bucking Mister’s interests and proclaiming their own right to the land all by themselves. Hadn’t he also been burned, been hunted down like a cur over a simple petition.
So Ivan from the first dismissed the Social Revolutionary factions and gave some thought to joining the Social Democrats. Of course being Russians who would argue over anything from how many angels could fit on the head of a needle to theories of capitalist surplus value that party organization had split into two factions (maybe more when the dust settled). When word came back from Europe he had sided with the Mensheviks and their more realistic approach to what was possible for Russia in the early 20th century. That basic idea of a bourgeois democratic republic was the central notion that Ivan Smirnov held for a while, a long while, and which he took in with him once things got hot in Saint Petersburg in January of 1905.
That January after the Czar’s troops, his elite bloody Cossack troops in the lead, fired on (and sabre-slashed) an unarmed procession led by a priest, damn a Russian Orthodox priest, a people’s priest who led the icon-filled procession to petition the Czar to resolve grievances, great and small, Ivan Smirnov, stationed out in the Baltic Fleet then after the reorganization of the navy in the wake of the defeat by the Japanese the year before had an intellectual crisis. He knew that great things were going to unfold in Russia as it moved into the modern age. He could see the modern age tied to the ancient agrarian age every time he had leave and headed for Saint Petersburg with its sailors’ delights, the taverns, music halls, and whorehouses of which Ivan usually took his full measure. (Being sea-bound he was a proverbially “girl in every port guy” although he had had one short serious affair with a girl student from the university, a left-Social Revolutionary who had never been outside the city in her life) He could see in the city within a city, the Vyborg district, the growing working-class district made up of fresh recruits from the farms looking for higher wages, some excitement and a future.
That was why he had discarded the Social Revolutionaries so quickly when in an earlier generation he might very well have been a member of People’s Will or some such organization. He had that kind of heart, the heart of a warrior –avenger with the cool calculation of the average ward-healer. No, his intellectual crisis did not come from that quarter but rather that split in the workers’ party which had happened in 1903 far from Russia among the émigré intellectuals around the question of what kind and how much activity qualified an activists as a party member. He had sided with the “softs,” the Mensheviks, mainly because he liked their leader, Julius Martov, better than Lenin. Lenin and his faction seemed more intent on gaining organizational control, had more hair-splitters which he hated, and were more [CL1] wary of the peasants even though both factions swore faith in the democratic republic for Russia and to the international social democracy. He had sided with the “softs” although he saw a certain toughness in the Bolshevik cadre that he admired. But that year, that 1905 year, had started him on a very long search for revolutionary direction.
The year 1905 moreover had started filled with promise after that first blast from the Czarist reaction. The masses were able to gather in a Duma that was at least half responsible to the people, or to the people’s representatives. At least that is what those people’s representatives claimed. More importantly in the working class districts, and among his fellow sailors who more likely than not, unlike himself, were from some strata of the working class had decided to set up their own representative organs, the workers’ councils, or in the Russian parlance which has come down in the history books, the soviets. These in 1905, unlike in 1917, were seen as supplementary to other political organizations. A pressure group not a central contender for power. As the arc of the year curved though there were signs that the Czarist reaction was gathering steam. Ivan had then had trouble organizing his fellow sailors to action. The officers of his ship, The Falcon, were challenging more decisions by the sailors’ committee. The Potemkin affair brought things to a head in the fleets. Finally, after the successes of the Saint Petersburg Soviet under the flaming revolutionary Leon Trotsky that organ was suppressed and the reaction set in that would last until many years later, many tough years for political oppositionists of all stripes. Needless to say that while Ivan was spared the bulk of the reprisals once the Czarist forces regained control his career in the navy was effectively finished and when his enlistment was up he left the service.
Just as well Ivan that things worked out as they did he had thought many times since then because he was then able to come ashore and get work on the docks through some connections, and think. Think and go about the business of everyday life like marriage to a woman, non-political but a comfort, whom he met through one of his fellow workers on the Neva quay and who would share his home and life although not always understanding that part of his life or him and his determination to break Russia from the past. In those days after 1905, the dogs days as everybody agreed, when the Czar’s Okhrana was everywhere and ready to snatch anyone with any oppositional signs Ivan mostly thought and read, kept a low profile, did as was found out later after the revolution in 1917, a lot of low-level underground organizing among the dockworkers and factory workers of the Vyborg district. In other words developing himself and those around him as cadre for what these few expected would be the great awakening. But until the break-out Lena River gold-workers strike in 1912 those were indeed dog days.
And almost as quickly as the dog days of the struggle were breaking up the war clouds over Europe were increasing. Every civilized nation was impatiently arming to the teeth to defend its civilization against the advancing hordes pitched at the door. Ivan could sense in his still sturdy peasant-bred bones that that unfinished task from 1905, that fight for the land and the republic, hell maybe the eight-hour day too, was going to come to a head. He knew enough too about the state of the navy, and more importantly, now the army through his organizing contacts to know that without some quick decisive military action the monarchy was finished and good riddance. The hard part, the extremely hard part, was to get those future peasant conscripts who would provide cannon fodder for the Czar’s ill-thought out land –grabbing adventures to listen up for a minute rather than go unknowingly head-long into the Czar’s arm (the father’s arms for many of them). So there was plenty of work to do. Ivan just that moment was glad that he was not a kid. Glad he had learned enough to earn a hearing, to spread the word. To get people moving when the time for action came.
As the war clouds came to a head after the killing of the archduke in bloody damn Sarajevo in early summer 1914 Ivan Smirnov knew in his bones that the peasant soldier cannon fodder as always would come flocking to the Czar like lemmings to the sea the minute war was declared. Any way the deal was cut the likely line-up of the Czar with the “democracies” of the West, Britain and France and less likely the United States would immediately give the Czar cover against the villainies of the Huns, of the Germans who just the other day were propping up the Czar’s treasury. It could not end well. All Ivan hoped for was that his party, the real Social-Democrats, locally known as the Mensheviks from the great split in 1903 with the Bolsheviks and who had definitely separated from that organization for good in 1912, would not get war fever just because the damn Czar was lined up with the very democracies that the party wished to emulate in Russia.
He knew too that the talk among the leadership of the Bolsheviks (almost all of them in exile and thus far from knowing what was happening down in the base of society at home) about opposing the Czar to the bitter end, about fighting in the streets again some said to keep the young workers and the peasants drifting into the urban areas from the dead-ass farms from becoming cannon-fodder for a lost cause was crazy, was irresponsible. Fortunately some of the local Bolshevik committeemen in Russia and among their Duma delegation had cooler heads. Yes this was not time to be a kid, with kid’s tunnel vision, with great events working in the world.
Jesus, thought Ivan once the Czar declared his allegiance to the Entente, once he had gotten the Duma to rubber-stamp his war budget (except for a remnant of the Bolsheviks who were subsequently relieved of immunity and readied for Siberian exile), he could not believe that Plekhanov, the great Plekhanov, the father of the Marxist movement in Russia and mentor to the likes of Lenin, Martov, Dan, hell even flea-bitten free-lancer Trotsky, had declared for the Czar for the duration and half of Ivan’s own bloody Menshevik party had capitulated (the other half, the leadership half had been in exile anyway, or out of the country for some reason) this was going to be hell.
There would be no short war here, no quick victory over the land hungry Huns, nothing but the stench of death filling the air overcoming all those mobilization parades and the thrown flowers, the kissed girls, the shots of vodka to fortify the boys for the run to the front. The Czar’s house, double eagles and all, was a house of cards or rather of sawdust like those villages old rascal Potemkin put up to fool Catherine in her time. Most of the peasant boys marching to the front these days would never see Mother Russia again, never get to smell the good Russian earth. But if he had anything to say about it those who survived, those who would have to listen if not now then sometime, would have their own piece of good Russian earth unlike their fathers who toiled on the land for Mister’s benefit for nothing. And went to early graves like his father.And so in the summer of 1914 as if led by blinders Europe, along with solid phalanxes of its farm boys and factory workers, went to bloody stalemated war.
Went without Ivan just that minute declared too old to fight and relegated to the home guard. There would come a day, a day not too long in the future when the “recruiting sergeants” would be gobbling up the “too old to fights,” like Ivan, the lame and the halt, any man breathing to fill the depleted trenches on the Eastern front. By then though Ivan would have already clamored to get into the ranks, get in to spread the new wave message about the meaningless of the fight for the workingman and the peasant and that the fight was at home not out in the trenches. But that was for the future, the music of the future. Ironically Ivan’s unit wound up guarding the Peter and Paul Fortress for the Czar. The same place that would see plenty of action when the time for action came.
The home guard was a loose operation, especially in Saint Petersburg, which entailed not much more than showing up for guard duty when the rotation called your turn and an occasion drill or assembly. The rest of the time, or most of it, Ivan spent reading, reading clandestinely the sporadic anti-war materials that were being smuggled in from various point in Europe by whatever still free exiles groups had enough gall and funds to put together those first crude sheets proclaiming the new dispensation. Ivan had time to think too during those first eighteen months or so of war. Thought about how right he had been that this “glorious little war” would not be over soon, would devour the flower of the European youth and if enough lived long enough change the face of half-monarchial Europe. Thought about how, when, and where street organizers like him (he admitted long ago that he was not a “theory man) would get a chance to change the awful slaughter and the daily casualty lists.
Ivan through all of early 1916 thought too that things within his own Menshevik organization needed serious upgrading, needed to be readied if the nation was to turn from semi-feudal monarchy to the modern republic which would provide the jumping off point to agitate for the social republic of the organization’s theory, and of his youthful dreams. Although he was no theory man he was beginning to see that the way the bourgeoisie, native and foreign, lined up it was as likely as not that they would not follow through, would act even worse than in 1905 when they went hat in hand with the Czar for the puny no account Duma and a few reforms that in the end only benefitted them to the exclusion of the masses. He began to see Lenin’s point, if it was Lenin’s and not some Okhrana forgery, that the new parties, the parties that had not counted before, the peasant and worker parties, would have to lead the way. There was no other way. And no, no thank you he was not a Trotsky man, a wild man who believed that things had changed some much in the 20th century that the social republic for Russia was on the agenda right away. No, he could not wrap his head around that idea, not in poor, not in now wounded and fiercely bleeding and benighted Mother Russia. Beside Trotsky was living off his reputation in the 1905 revolution, was known to be mightier with the pen than the sword and a guy whom the main leadership of the Mensheviks thought was a literary dilettante (strange characterization though in an organization with plenty of odd-ball characters who could not find a home with the Bolsheviks and were frightened to death of working with the mass peasant parties being mostly city folk).
He thought too about the noises, and they were only noises just then, exile noises mostly that the Bolsheviks had had a point in opposing the war budget in the Duma, those who had not deserted the party for the Czar in the patriotic build-up, and who had been sent to Siberia for their opposition. He admired such men and knew slightly one of the deportees who had represented one of the Vyborg worker districts in the capital in the Duma. Now word had come back from Europe that a small congress held in some no-name village in the Alps (Zimmerwald in Switzerland as he later found out) had declared for international peace among the workers and oppressed of all nations and that it was time to stop the fighting and bleeding. More ominously Lenin and his henchmen had come out for waging a civil war against one’s own government to stop the damn thing, and to start working on that task now. Worse Lenin was calling for a new international socialist organization to replace the battered Socialist International. To Ivan’s practical mind this was sheer madness and he told whatever Bolshevik committeemen he could buttonhole (in deepest privacy since the Czarist censorship and his snitches were plentiful). In Ivan’s mind they were still the wild boys, seemingly on principle, and he vigorously argued with their committeemen to keep their outlandish anti-war positions quiet for now while the pro-war hysteria was still in play. But deep down he was getting to see where maybe the Bolsheviks, maybe Lenin, hell maybe even goof Trotsky were right-this war would be the mother of invention for the next revolutionary phase.
The Czar has abdicated, the Czar has abdicated, the monarchy has fallen, the new republic is proclaimed! The whirl of early 1917 dashed through sullen home guard soldier Ivan Smirnov’s head wondering in early January whether the stalemated war was ever going to be done with. He knew the invalided coming through the Peter and Paul either were sent back to get well enough to return to the death-ridden front or to be discharged were increasing talking about the uselessness of the war, the fact that their brethren were dying more from frostbite and disease than anything the Germans (and their Eastern European allies also manning that front) were throwing at them, mostly though they spoke of land hunger, of getting a new crop in, of living to get that crop in. Strangely land hunger, the fear of the damn trenches, and the thought of another winter there were not enough to roll the tide of history, of 20th century history. A simple demonstration and strike by women in the capital after the bloodletting of over two years of war, after the defeats of 1905 and later, showed that the monarchy, the now laughable double-eagle monarchy that held the masses in thrall for centuries was a house of cards, no, less, a house of sawdust blown away with the wind. While Ivan had not caught the early drift of the agitation and aggravation out in the worker neighborhoods, having been somewhat constricted by his duties inside the Peter and Paul, and thus not directly attuned to the agitation for bread, for some damn thing to eat at a reasonable price he had played an honorable part in the early going, once the women hit the road, started banging their pots and pans. The reason that Ivan had missed some of the early action was for the simple reason that Ivan’s home guard unit, the 27th Regiment, had been mobilized for the Silesian front in early 1917 and had been awaiting orders to move out when all hell broke loose.
This is where the honorable part came in. The 27th Regiment had been fortified to a division with remnants of other front-line divisions whose casualty levels were so high that they were no longer effectively fighting units. As the units were meshed, Jesus, with crippled- up invalids, half-starved peasant boys and recently drafted grandfathers who could carry a rifle, maybe not even carry since many soldiers were going to the front just then unarmed and expected to pick up some dead or wounded soldier’s. Yah, things were that bad at the front and no General Staff eyewash could disguise that hard fact, not that winter.
As the action in the capital got more intense after the women blew the lip off the monarchy’s pretensions, two quick decisions needed to be made by the 27th –would the unit go to the front as ordered by the General Staff. And subsequently would the unit still stationed in Saint Petersburg defend the Czarist monarchy then in peril. Now this new unit, this of necessity haphazard and un-centered unit, was made up of the likes of Ivan (although none so political or known to be political as he) and of disillusioned and bedraggled peasant boys back from the front who just wanted to go home and farm the land of their fathers, for Mister or for themselves it did not matter. And that is where Ivan Smirnov, of peasant parents born, came center stage and made his mark. Ivan when it came time to speak about whether they would go to the front argued that going to the front meant in all probability that if they went that they would farm no land, Mister’s or their own since they would be dead. And some other peasant boy would come along to farm the ancient family lands. Ivan spoke slowly as was his way, spoke in short clipped sentences for this was not the time for rhetorical flourishes, not with this soldier mass, not with bright eyes before him every time he spoke of the land, of their land if they had the manhood to take it. (Yes, he had to make it a question of manhood, new manhood striking out for their own versus old manhood of taking it on the chin for the Czar or Mister whenever and wherever he called.)
Ivan did not need to evoke the outlandish theories of Lenin and Trotsky about turning the world war into a civil war, making the Czar and his minions bleed, and proclaim the social republic right then and there but just say that simple statement and the unit voted almost unanimously to stay in the capital (those who did not go along as always in such times kept quiet and did not vote to move out but rather kept their newly won democratic hands at their sides). Did, although as an astute reader of all the illegal socialist literature coming in over the borders from Europe, or who knows where, need to drone on and on about the way the new society was going to be organized, organized for them. Of course as always at such times as well Ivan’s good and well-earned reputation among the home guard members for prudent but forceful actions when the time was right helped carry the day. That reputation, borne of many years of street organizing and other work, also came in handy when the 27th was ordered to defend the Czar in the streets. Again Ivan hammered home the point that there would be no land, no end of the bloody war, no end of dying in some forsaken trenches if the Czar stayed. The 27th would not defend the Czar to the death (again the doubters and Czarist agents kept mum).
And for Ivan’s honorable service, for his honorable past, when it came time to send delegates to the soviet, or the soldiers’ section of the soviet (the other two sections being the workers and the peasants with everybody else who adhered to the soviet concept filling in one of those three sections) Ivan was unanimously elected to represent the 27th Regiment. Now this soviet idea (really just Russian for council, workers councils mainly) was nothing new, had been created in the heat of the 1905 revolution and had been in the end the key governmental form of the opposition then. Now with the Czar gone (and as our story moves on the government is in non-Czarist agents hands although not in democratic, much less socialist hands) there were two centers of power- the bourgeois ministry (including representatives of some worker and peasant parties usually with socialist or social something attached to the party name) and the soviets acting as watchdogs and pressure groups over the ministry.
As Russian spring turned to summer Ivan from his post in the Soviet saw some things that disturbed him, saw that “pretty boy” Trotsky (who had just gotten back from American exile as had Lenin a bit earlier) and now damn Lenin had begun to proclaim the need for the social republic right then. Not in some few years future but then. But he was also disturbed by the vacuous actions of his Mensheviks on the land question and on social legislation. As the summer heat came Ivan began to see that defending the people’s revolution was tough business and that some hard twists and turns were just waiting ahead for him.
Jesus, Ivan said to himself as summer turned to early Russian fall when is that damn Kerensky going to pull us out of the war after that foolish summer offensive ordered by who knows who collapsed and made Russia look ridiculous to the world, our ragged starving troops melting away from the trenches, his own 27th had repeatedly been called up to the front and then mysteriously at the last moment held back to defend something. Who knows what the General Staff had planned after Kornilov’s uprising was halted in it tracks (everybody in the private drinking rooms laughed at the fact that Kornilov could not move his troops step one once the Soviet told the trainmen to halt all troop transfers). See here was the deal, the new democratic deal. Now that Russia was a democracy, weak as it was, it was now patriotic no matter what that madman Trotsky said, no matter what the man with the organization Lenin said, the brutal Hun must be defeated by the now harmonious democracies.
Bullshit (or the Russian equivalent) said Ivan when a part of his own party swallowed that line, went along for the ride. Lenin was calling from the rooftops (in his Finnish hideout once old Kerensky put a price on his head, wanted to smoke the old bald-headed bastard out and bring him back to Saint Petersburg to trial for treason if he could) for a vote of “no confidence” in the ministry. Both were beginning to call for the soviets to do more than express worker, soldier, and peasant anger and to stop acting as a pressure valve for Kerensky and his band of fools and take the power to change things into its own hands. And that madman Trotsky was proclaiming the same thing from his prison cell at the Peter and Paul where a remnant of the 27th was still doing guard duty (and standing in awe of a real revolutionary giving him unheard of privileges, letting write whatever he wanted, giving him the paper and pen to do it, and Ivan heard some soldiers were delivering the literature to the printers in the Vyborg district-such are things when revolution is in the air). Meanwhile Ivan, Ivan Smirnov, the voice of the 27th, the well-respected voice of the peasant soldier, was twisting in the wind.
There was no way forward with Kerensky, the mere tool of the British and French imperialists who were holding him on a tight string. But Ivan could not see where poor, bloody, beleaguered and drawn Mother Russia, his earthen Russia could move forward with the radicals who were beginning to clamor for heads, and for peace and land too.
Jesus, cried Ivan the Bolsheviks have this frosty October day proclaimed the social republic, have declared that the war over in the East (or that they were prepared to sue for peace with whomever would meet them at the table and if not then they would go it alone). Ivan had heard that it might be peace at any price in order to get the new order some breathing room. But peace. Necessary peace if Russia was not to lose all its able-bodied men for the next two generations. The longed for peace that Ivan had spent his underground existence propagandizing for. Ivan already knew as a soldier delegate to the Soviet that the trenches had been and were at that moment being emptied out by land-hungry peasant soldiers, his peasant soldiers who heard that there would be “land to the tiller” and they wanted to till land not be under it. Ivan’s old call was being taken up by the damn Bolsheviks who sent out a land decree as a first order of business once they dumped the Kerensky ministry, once they flushed out the Winter Palace of all the old deadwood. All kinds of things were being proposed (and sometimes accepted even when the human and material wherewithal were non-existent which worried Ivan to perdition).
But here is the funny part. Although Ivan had lined himself up with Martov’s Left Mensheviks (those who wanted peace and some kind of vibrant bourgeois democracy to pressure things forward into the social republic at some undefined future date) in the Soviet for most of the summer and fall he kept getting incessant news from the 27th that they were ready to mutiny against the Kerensky ministry, they had had enough and wanted to go home. Ivan was twisting in the wind. He saw that the idea of the social republic was being presented too soon, that the resources were not there to give the experiment a chance (who knows what outside force would come to the aid of the Soviets and when). But he also knew that right that moment the old ways could not relieve the impasse. And so he broke ranks with Martov and his group, did not walk out as they did when the voting did not go the way Martov wanted. In fact when the division of the house was called Ivan Smirnov, longtime political foe of the madman Trotsky and scarred opponent of the damn Leninists (he had not heard that Trotsky had quietly joined the Bolsheviks earlier that summer), voted for peace, voted for the land distribution. The new day had come and there would be hell to pay and he would not join the Bolsheviks, no way, but in for a dime in for a dollar and he would defend the Soviet power as best he could.
“Petrograd must be defended to the last man, everyone to their posts, no Whites must get to the city itself,” cried Political Commisssar Ivan Smirnov now that the Red Army (or rather one of the Red armies since between the internally diverse White Guard forces, their foreign imperialist backers and the vastness of Mother Russia there were several fluid fronts and battles raging at any given time) had its back to the wall and the working-class capital of the worlds’ only workers’ state in existence was threatened by Cossacks and other forces. It had come to this, come to this as Ivan always knew it would, the forces of the past would not let go without a bloody fight (even if the actual seizure of power by the Soviets in October 1917 had been relatively bloodless), would scream bloody murder about the land (the land that he had come off of at the turn of the century), about the factories and about the very fact that the fellahin of the world had decided to take matters into their own hands. Ivan had sworn once the heads had been counted back in that cold October of 1917 that he was in the fight to the finish (in for a dime, in for a dollar as the expression went then), or until he had lain his head down from some stray bullet.
And it had almost come to that at Kazan in that desperate struggle to hold Russia together before the Czech Legions that were marauding their ways back from Siberia took the city and cut Russia into not much more than a small province. Trotsky himself, then risen to War Commissar with extraordinary powers had organized the fight, had put every resource at hand (on that famous train that he rode through most of the civil war) and in the fierce river battles before Kazan some sniper had popped Ivan in the shoulder just above the heart. That seemed like years before as he now helped prepare the defense of the capital. There had even been talk that Trotsky himself was coming through to boost morale (and to die like Ivan and many others defending the city street by street if need be. It was that perilous.). Yes, Ivan had come a long way since those October days when he swore his oath. Of course a military cadre like Ivan was hand-picked to move away from the placid Soviet parliamentary job and into the yawning gap that needed filling of cadre who could fight and give reason to the fight. And so Ivan, grown old in the previous two years, had worked his way up to division commissar in the days when political reliability meant-for or against the revolution, arms in hand. He had not, despite many attempts by the Bolsheviks, joined the party (now called Communist harkening back to Marx’s time). Yet there he was steadying the nerves of the raw recruits from the factories in front of him. No the Whites would not pass, not while the Ivan Smirnovs of the world drew breathe.
Finally, finally the Whites were being pushed back, the revolution, the red revolution appeared to be saved after many losses, after the carnage of the world war, after three years of civil war, the worst kind of war sometimes pitting brother against brother although here the divide was closer to class war, workers and poor peasants on one side and landlords and factory owners on the other (or rather their agents, the army, and their paymasters, about twenty foreign powers all circling for the kill). Ivan Smirnov, now political commissar of the 5th Army (this commissar designation or rather political and military commissar division of command was used as a check on the reliability of the old Czarist officer corps that Trotsky in a stoke of organizational genius had offered positions to in order to win and also helped to political arm the ranks in a class war where things sometimes got bleary, especially among the suspicious peasants who worried about their land tenure), had done more than his fair share of bringing in that result, including organizing and fighting, arms in hand, before Petrograd when that city was threatened by the Whites. Hell, even Trotsky himself went crazy in defense of the revolution during that action rallying the troops personally on his horse like some whirling dervish. He would later reprimand himself for putting himself in an operational position when he was the brains behind the military strategies and did not need to put himself in harm’s way like that. But who would have held him back once he got on the battlefield one might ask. They held in front of Petrograd thanks in part to the fact that the Whites could not commandeer the trains necessary to go forward.
Everybody, after the emergency was over, had a momentary laugh about that just like with Kornilov back in the dark days before the October revolution when he too could not budge the railroad men to move the trains. He had even received the Order of the Red Banner personally from Trotsky for his heroic action before Petrograd. But now in the year 1921 Ivan was ready, more than ready, to take his place in the struggle to bring socialism to Russia as a civilian as fast as possible. As fast as the soldier demobilization come release his services. (He had turned red as a beet when Trotsky, reverting to his wild man role after the war came up with the bright idea to militarize the labor force to get production, any production going again. He had all he could do to hold even the vanguard 5th Army somewhere short of mutiny when the land hungry worn out soldiers heard that one. Not a great Trotsky moment in Ivan’s whatever the episodic merits of the plan.)
Still as he pondered the future Ivan was anxious for his Soviet Russia alone in the world as a workers’ state with no prospects that he could see in sight. Things had sputtered in Europe, the Hungarian Soviet ahd fallen quickly out of its own hubris, Bavaria was just too short-handed of cadre, other German attempts fizzled as the war-weariness and blame game took hold of a defeated people. Britain and France seemed stillborn. Still had, despite increasingly insistent requests, held off from joining the Communist Party (Joseph Stalin himself, at Lenin’s personal request, had delivered the message along with the lure of high position). One thing about Ivan Smirnov was that he was a man of his word, had sworn to defend the revolution come hell or high water once he broke with his Left Menshevik friends and voted for the soviet power back in fateful October (old calendar) 1917. He would not desert the revolution with so much work to be done although he still insisted on remaining outside the party in order to have room to criticize what he did not like, have room to speak for his peasant brethren to the powers that be. And so Ivan, as he readied to demobilize himself, after the general demobilization of the red armies needed now at the factory and farm fronts, decided that he would take that lesser position in the commissariat of agriculture, deputy commissar since party membership was required for the commissar-ship, when he paperwork was completed. Ah, civilian life, he murmured to his wife, Inessa, whom he had seen infrequently the past few years but who had kept his house in order during the chaos of the bloody civil wars. Civilian life indeed.
The revolution is in danger. Those words from the chairman, from the Bolshevik leader and head of the government Vladimir Lenin himself, came thundering throughout the auditorium of the Commissariat of Agriculture as Ivan Smirnov, now Deputy Agricultural Commissar Ivan Smirnov, stood against the wall behind him in some disbelief. Stood in disbelief that in 1921, in the fourth year of the revolution, after the last remnant of the White Guards and their imperialist sponsors had been quelled Lenin, the total political realist, had uttered such words. Disbelief that is until Ivan realized that Lenin was not talking about the threats from the now White émigré clots plotting in Paris and other destinations or from the now hamstrung imperial powers that had tacitly accepted the Soviet regime for the most part.
What had Lenin in thrall was that factory production, farm production, the distribution of goods, that what Trotsky in his flaming pen way called the “scissors” crisis had caused such havoc that famine, hell, even cannibalism gripped the country- side and was edging away the life of the cities. The countryside was not producing the foodstuff necessary for the cities to survive for the simple reason that there was no godly reason to sweat away on the land if there were no products to buy except on some “black market” items at extortion prices.[CL2] Lenin was in this auditorium specifically to address those like Ivan whose help he needed to call the “retreat,” the need for the social revolution to take a step back to get production going again and the only way to do that was to “reintroduce” a certain controlled internal capitalism and foreign capitalist concessions.
Ivan was not sure, not sure at all if his peasant brethren once they produced for the market would be able to switch back and try to produce as collectives the way the commissariat plans had been mapped out. Plans that even the week before he had gone to a conference in Minsk to push. He, unlike the wild man Trotsky, who had thought up the bright idea of putting the demobilized soldier-peasants under labor discipline (really military discipline) to get the economy going, would hold his judgment out of respect for Lenin and the enormous problems that Soviet Russia was facing with little hope of help from the outside, particularly Germany where the working class which to his mind seemed incapable of revolutionary action, except it heroic elements, had just lost another opportunity to make their own revolution.
While Ivan held judgment on the new policy (the policy that would come down in history as the NEP, New Economic Policy, the historic step back that would give the isolated Soviet workers’ state some breathing room) worrying still about those land-hungry petty peasants whose outlook on life he knew so well despite being off the land for a couple of decades then that very day after his speech Lenin had personally buttonholed him to join the Communist Party. And while Ivan felt that he would chaff under the discipline of party life (mainly the need to publicly spout the party line whatever the internal doubts, especially since he was privy to information that internal party life, debate, was getting narrower and narrower) the “revolution was in danger” and as he had all his political life once again he would “be in for a dime, in for a dollar.” And so he joined the party, went into the internal life, fought for his agrarian policies and inner party democracy as best he could without siding with the fast looming factions that were being formed around various personalities.
Lenin gone, Lenin the greatest revolutionary theorist and an utter political realist was gone on that sad cold snowy (as always) January day in 1924. Once Ivan heard the word (second-hand from his wife, his beloved Inessa, not a political bone in her body which was good since she could then give him her “feelings’ about matters, who told it to him the news with some trepidation) he immediately asked himself who would take the great leader’s place. He had spent half his political life as an opponent of Lenin and his “wild boy” Bolsheviks, had thought they were incapable of understanding the land hunger of the poor peasants (which he country-born was acutely aware of from the plight of his poor peasant parents now both long gone to early graves), and if you could believe this, these city boys, mainly, then just decreed “land to the tiller” as one of their first acts in October 1917. And blew their thumbs as the Social Revolutionary Party, including its Lefts who were hemming and hawing all though latter 1917 over the land question. And he had bought into the struggle from that point on, fought with honor in the civil wars, and had taken a senior position in the Agricultural Commissariat which he still held. Although he had only joined the Communist Party in 1921 at the height of NEP (at the specific urging of Lenin himself although he, Lenin, was aware that Ivan had doubts about letting the peasantry return to small market production for fear that you could never get them back on the socialist road once they tasted the profit motive) he had taken part in all the inner party debates and had developed certain important relationships with Lenin’s old right-hand man, Gregory Zinoviev, although he still temperamentally heated factions and factionalism seeing that as more evil that clarification. He would learn though, learn the hard way on that issue.
With Lenin gone though who was to take control. Right that minute the group around Zinoviev (not Ivan who was not in the inner circle but more like a fellow-traveler to that group given his position on factions), Kamenev, and the General Secretary of the Party, Stalin, whom he had had cordial relations with ever since he, Stalin, had conveyed Lenin’s original offer to Ivan of party membership and high rank looked like they would take collective control on a day to day basis. He was not unhappy with that thought although he did not see Zinoviev as anything but an acolyte of Lenin’s. Ivan had heard the rumors (later proven true) of Zinoviev’s high-handed ways and his mercurial temperament. Kamenev was an unknown and more of a pal to Zinoviev than a leader.
Stalin he thought was the organizer and although rumors had also spread about his high-handed ways of giving party jobs (later proven true as well, deadly true) to some lesser cadre whom Lenin had derided as fools (and political opponents as well) would probably rise out of the group and take charge. The one person who stood kind of alone despite his obvious talents was Trotsky. But Ivan felt that he was too much the free-lancer, too much given to his admiring his own intellectual powers to fight with the inner circle boys down and dirty. And so as Ivan made his political judgments he was none too happy that Lenin, the great mind of the age, would not be around to guide Soviet Russia forward.
The air, the political air, around Moscow, specifically around the offices and corners of Red Square and the Kremlin had changed, had changed dramatically over the past year since Vladimir Lenin had laid his head down (had laid his head down for the revolution just as surely as any Red Army soldier out in the myriad fronts in civil war days). The cliques had formed (and re-formed as the tea leave-readers attempted to keep ahead of the political storms), including the necessity of declaring allegiances, for and against. Ivan had been somewhat close, a fellow-traveler of the Zinoviev-Kamenev crowd, but he found that he had to draw closer, become something of a yes man in the showdowns that were occurring more frequently among the factions.
The final show-down loomed not far in the future. Every political instinct told Ivan that. He noticed that in the close quarters of the Kremlin that some strange social doings were going on as well. Political opponent no longer nodded the nod to each other, wives, including Inessa who felt the snubbed most bitterly since she had not unlike some of the wives, Zinoviev’s and Kamenev’s in particular, political comrades as well as bed-mates, no longer spoke, things like that. Things too like the new winning factions riding around in the best of what was left of the high-end automobiles, being seen at the ballet and other social functions more often than in the office, and grabbing up the perks of office including the valued government ration cards with both hands (which also had a black market value even in 1924 and 1925). Something was going asunder, no question.
That all was surface however. Ivan had sensed since at least 1921 that the Soviet state would have to go it alone for a while, that the immediate post-war upsurges in other parts of Europe (and the world although that news was extremely late in arriving in Moscow except where Soviet agents sent material in), were over for a while and while he projected as a good Marxist and communist more uprising in the future that tide was ebbing just then not rising. That political reality not expressed in public, not expressed in the Communist International publications where if things were not presented as rosy they were seen with some tinted glasses, worked its way through the rooms of the various commissariats, was spoken of when day to day policies were discussed where policy was not predicated on the urgency of international working class aid. Those observations only became more pronounced after the aborted revolution in Germany in 1923 (Ivan thought stillborn a better expression, although he would say it ironically) in Germany. The revolutionary prospects there after all the French provocations around reparations payments, the out of control inflation, the readiness of key workers to rise and the malaise of the ruling group made those prospects palpable. And, frankly necessary for the Soviet survival since the German industrial might fed to the Soviet state as an ally is the only way to get the economy going at toward some socialist future.
Ivan ever the perceptive observer whether on the sidelines or in the heat of struggle noticed that the way things worked in the government (and less noticeably in society) had changed after that German debacle. Soviet Russia would henceforth go it alone, would according to the General Secretary and his epigones built a mighty fortress in a sea of capitalist encirclement. That essentially economic and social retreat was bad enough since the full effects of the world war and the civil war were just abating. What was worse was in the political sphere-Stalin with the Lenin Levy had enlarged the party substantially with hangers-on and go-fers, with “yes” men, with those who had not gotten their hands dirty in the revolution and its defense who were getting plum jobs as long as they raised their hands for the Stalin faction.
Here is how it went on the ground, here is how it affected a real revolutionary once the tide shifted. Ivan had been the single deputy commissar of agriculture since 1921. After the death of Lenin by bureaucratic fiat from the Organization Committee (all Stalinists as far Ivan could tell) the number of deputies had been expanded to three, the other two appointees of General Secretary Stalin (and who had no experience, none, in agriculture having been second-level ex-Mensheviks who had lived in Moscow since well before the revolution) who were expected to make decisions jointly with any dispute taken to the Commissar. Yes, things had changed, the purposes of the revolution had become distorted and the thoughts of world revolution relegated to the back closet. Ivan feared his days were numbered in the government (numbered too since he knew, knew deep in his bones that Zinoviev, his erstwhile leader, had no stomach for a serious political fight and especially so when the odds were stacked against him and he had an uphill fight- Grunsha was made for sunny days and rising tide revolutions). Ivan had taken, taken against his will, his political will and instincts against the “wild boys” and their leaders to reading, reading clandestinely, literature Trotsky and his associates were putting out among party members to raise the alarm in order to “save the revolution.” The times were out of joint.
The party is in danger, the party is in danger! That transcendent thought had caused Ivan Smirnov many sleepless nights in the years 1926 and 1927 when the old flaming radical, the old “wild boys” leader Leon Trotsky and then Zinoviev (whose faction Ivan was aligned with in the intra-party struggles except on China where Ivan thought Trotsky had the better of the argument since his boy Zinoviev had been knee-deep in the failed strategy there when he ran the Communist International) once he broke up with Stalin (or better Stalin broke with him but Zinoviev always was the showman and so presented the break that way) and had aligned himself with the Left Opposition as it came to be called. Strangely during those sleepless nights Ivan would also think back to the days before 1921, the year he had joined the party (at the now mummified and entombed Lenin’s persistent urging), that he had not joined the Bolsheviks (old names die hard now called Communists since the revolution) because he wanted to maintain his freedom to differ from the party line, to be able to speak as a senior member of the Commissariat of Agriculture to his left behind poor peasants out in the wildernesses without blinkers on. Then once the threat of civil war had passed, the work of reconstruction had begun, and, frankly the independent space for “free-lancers” had dried up there had been few better party members. Few better even among the Society of Old Bolsheviks who kept touting their own virtues as if time served rather than active commitment was the key to revolutionary virtue. (The Society, an organization of those who had been Bolsheviks before 1917, even as was more often the case that one might have thought lapsed and inactive Bolsheviks so he, and Trotsky, could never become members of due to their late adherence to the party).
So, yes, the party was in danger, each day the more ridiculous personnel (example-city boys working in the agricultural commissariat who did not know what a pood was, how the land was cultivated, what could be grown under what conditions and where causing much confusion when policy went down to the town and village level, stuff like that ) were being assigned major positions in all party and governmental organizations, including his own commissariat all to enhance the bloc power of Stalin (and his newfound allies, the old ultra-radical Bukharin and the staid Tomsky and Rykov, Christ the revolution and not just the party was in danger with that crew). The odds were long that Trotsky and the admittedly proven group of senior party cadre around him could pull the party back from the brink but he was beginning to form that feeling that he would be in for a dime, in for a dollar with the joint opposition once the dust settled (he never saw his nominal factional leader, Zinoviev, as capable of leading serious opposition when the fighting got down and dirty since he had seen Grunsha in operation and knew him to personally be made for sunny days). The thought though that he would break bread with Trotsky after so many years of seeing him as, and calling him, an old flaming radical and out of touch with political reality in first Mother Russia and now Soviet Russia seemed rather bizarre. More pressingly, more personally he was tired, tired unto death, as he told his long-suffering wife who saw the toll the struggle took on him daily of the political wrangling and longed for the days when he could leave that behind.
The year 1927 was not that year though and thus the sleepless nights. Probably not any year after that either, not for revolutionaries.
Jesus, Ivan Smirnov shuttered, they had finally thrown the one serious revolutionary leader left, Leon Trotsky, into exile (they meaning mainly the dear General Secretary Joseph Stalin and his new bloc partners, chiefly the pliable Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky, their respective hangers-on and anybody who played their politics in the year 1929 in the Soviet Union by seeing which way the wind was blowing and acted accordingly), had finally thrown the “Old Man” into another Siberian exile, this time in godforsaken Alma Ata (that “Old Man” designation had hung to Trotsky among his acolytes, associates and run-of- the-mill acquaintances almost since the revolution even though he had only just turned fifty. Ivan found himself calling Trotsky that moniker although he was only a couple of years younger than him. Such was Trotsky’s look, such was his authority among whatever Russian revolutionaries who were still devoted to the cause, come what may). Ivan had seen it coming once Zinoviev and Kamenev had given up the fight against Stalin, had frankly capitulated. Had seen that the ground was crumbling under the Left Opposition leaving the lone figure of Trotsky to lead the fight. He had always respected Trotsky even in the old days when he was nothing but a wild man in the wilderness with his grandiose theories even though Ivan had found himself in political disagreement and usually far from whatever organization Trotsky was aligned with.
Although Ivan had formally been in the Zinoviev bloc he held himself somewhat apart as he always did from kowtowing to the leaders, but he had been clearly more in sympathy with that bloc than with Trotsky’s wild men. However he now sensed that the time for standing aside, for standing on some kind of archaic principle of formerly rational politics was coming to a close. The time for sorting out the wild men from the wily politicians was coming to a close too. Ivan, as always, avidly read all the literature, read the increasingly clandestine literature carried to him and the others via the old time underground revolutionary methods like under the Czar coming out of the various Siberian exile places.
He could see the winds shifting beneath his feet at work too, at his job where although he was still formally a deputy commissar of agriculture (having given up years previously the idea that he would become commissar, especially after Zinoviev’s break with Stalin, or rather the opposite way around Stalin’s boot of Grunsha) he was now one of five deputies and not even senior although he had more time on the job. Worse he was deputy in charge of the emerging tractor stations that were now beginning to dot the countryside as some of the land was being collectivized even while the majority was being farmed out to kulaks and their agents for their personal profit. On that job he was out of Moscow most of the time, and thus out of the loop. Yes, the time for maneuvering, the time for standing in the shadows was getting shorter.
The year 1933 was not a good year for the revolutionary remnant, for solid backbone of the revolution revolutionists like Ivan Smirnov who also took their places in the construction of the socialist future as they saw that future by their light, Not a good year for those who had suffered through the hard clandestine days under the Czar trying to put out little holographic sheets of literature in the hopes of sparking the masses and yet wondering eternally when the shoe would drop and they were stifled in their efforts, suffered too various privations and exiles (and as Ivan could testify to from among his dwindling cadre friends shorter lives filled with sicknesses as a result), saw a gleam of light in 1905 with the beloved Soviet experiment only to be extinguished for decade, a decade that included the mass slaughter of the world war, then the big glow revolution of 1917, the trials and tribulations to preserve the new state and then the constant back-sliding at home and now worse, the coming of the “night of the long knives” in Europe which did not bode well for Soviet Russia.
The year 1933 was moreover not a good year for one member of the revolutionary remnant, Ivan Smirnov. First his beloved if apolitical wife, Inessa who had seen him through most of the ups and downs since the end of the Revolution of 1905 and who had borne him two sons (both also apolitical and thriving as university students away from the hubbub of the fierce political struggles inside the country and abroad) had passed away early in the year. He had depended on her counsel when times were rough, had come to depend on that counsel more and more as he saw the revolution essentially going off the rails and he frankly missed her words. Secondly he had been “demoted” from his position as one of the seven deputy commissars of agriculture for of all thing “political unreliability” although no one, not even the dear General Secretary, had ever told him that he was anything but super-competent at his job, that he did not have a grasp of the plight of the poor peasantry from which he came. That competency had been especially true and had come to the fore over the previous couple of years, the years 1931 and 1932, when Stalin and his cronies (there was no other word for the cretinist hangers-on who sat at the General Secretary’s feet) throwing all caution to the wind, began the mass collectivization of agriculture at one swoop. Did a 180 turn from conciliating the rich kulaks who were sucking up the land and the profits and purged the land and the villages from top to bottom. This to Ivan was shear political, economic and social craziness in one fell swoop. Those ill-disposed effects were beginning to become apparent but as the word from above (meaning Stalin and his increasingly fewer close cronies) came down the door was being shut on any discussion, any talk of what those effects were doing to the peasant mass. Now Chief Tractor Inspector Ivan Smirnov was permanently stationed in Minsk far from being able to effect agricultural policy in any meaningful way.
Worse, worse than those personal and professional woes was the war drums that Ivan could hear coming from Europe with the madman Hitler storming to power in Germany with the mass Social-Democratic and Communist Parties prostrate before the onslaught when a little foresight could have averted that pending disaster, could see that another major bloodletting of the youth of Europe was ahead (and this time probably beyond) just like anybody who wanted to see could have seen that the world war in 1914 was coming. Yeah, the night of the long knives was coming, and Soviet Russia would once again be ill-prepared and bleed rivers of blood. And so Ivan Smirnov, an old time revolutionary, a remnant, decided that he had to follow his heart and join the new movement that Leon Trotsky (Jesus, that wild man, that “free-booting free-lancer,” that poseur Trotsky Ivan muttered under his breathe even as he was making his decision) had announced needed to be formed, a new communist party and a new communist international in light of the massive political defeats at home and in Europe. So Ivan made the contacts, made them like in the old days clandestinely and cast his fate with whatever those winds would bring.
After the vaguely understood and mysterious murder of Leningrad Party boss Kirov Ivan Smirnov became fearful, fearful that in the year 1934 some new turning point lie ahead. Clearly the death of the popular Kirov, a possible rival and/or successor to the General Secretary, left no room for a new leader to emerge. (Rumors moreover were persistent that Stalin or his henchmen were deeply implicated in the murder.) The power of the small but potent Stalin faction was now supreme and they were beginning to take revenge for all slights against them in the old days, those who could trace their usually sordid political histories including in some cases devil’s work for the Czar and the dreaded Okhrana back that far, although mainly these were younger men who had no past, none. (They had just held a rubber stamp Congress of the Soviets which they had labelled the “Victors’ Congress.) Previously Ivan, now secretly in contact with members of the old Trotsky-led internal underground Left Opposition that had now proclaimed for the new party according to recently smuggled literature that came his way, had been pretty much left alone in his job as a deputy commissar of agriculture although that position lost effective power once the number of deputy commissars had increased and Ivan, once the sole deputy, had to fight, mainly rearguard actions, against every new policy coming down from the Kremlin. Then came that serious demotion to the tractor farm and what amounted to exile in backwater Minsk.
Mainly he was left alone because of his competent and while he was known to harbor some off-beat views and had been a lukewarm supporter of the Zinoviev faction in the old days he did not wear his politics on his sleeves. Besides he had been if not an Old Bolshevik an old revolutionary and that distinction had still meant something in certain circles. He had begun to see the writing on the wall though the previous year, 1933, when he had been permanently assigned to be the Chief Inspector of the tractor stations in Minsk, a serious demotion. That only intensified his feelings that his time was short and that he needed to do as much political work, clandestinely of course, as he could before the internal “night of the long knives” came down on his head. He was glad his wife, his dear wife, Inessa, was not around to see this turn of events although he missed her counsel at such times. He did fear for his sons, having seen what had happened to the sons of other prominent leading comrades.
One look at Pravda on a cold day in March of 1936 told Ivan Smirnov the internal “night of the long knives” had arrived and that he best prepare for the worst. The headline that day told of old Zinoviev, his buddy Kamenev and many others from their old-time opposition had been taken into custody in regard to the murder of Kirov a couple of years before. The words used in the article described the coterie as a vile counter-revolutionary grouping directed by a foreign powers, and backed by the demonic Trotsky. In an editorial, if such garbage could be called an editorial, the editors howled for the blood of those taken into custody, and the blood of Trotsky if he could be found. Yes, a bloodbath loamed in the future Ivan knew that now. Knew also that the time of even clandestine political propaganda in European Russia was coming to an end and that all the old places of internal exile in Siberia would be filled to the brim. Filled with anyone who had opposed, maybe even thought to oppose the maximum leader.
Personally Ivan knew that his time had come, he had been fired from his job as staff man at the tractor station ending a long road down, not quite parallel with the demise of the revolution but close. In any case not long after that first glance at the Pravda headlines the trials began, the trials in Moscow of the Old Bolsheviks, the remnant left from the old days. And shortly after that the executions (they say Zinoviev did not stand up well under the thought of his execution, cried for mercy, begged like a baby, who knows what a broken man will do though or what lies might be told to defame an old broken down man. Farewell, sunny times Grunsha.)
They say that when the GPU came for Ivan Smirnov in his small unheated apartment in Minsk where he had resided after he was fired from his tractor station job that he resisted arrest, went limp like in the old days when the Czar’s police came for him. They say he was sentenced to eighteen years and sent to the Vorkuta, the old Artic labor camps. They say he worked with the other exiles, political exiles, to write everything down from the revolutionary past in order to instill faith in the new generations which would have to carry on later. They say that he was one of those photographed in the summer of 1940 calling on Stalin to release them from their Siberian exile in order to join the army and defend the Soviet Union against the Hitler onslaught. That is all conjecture however since after the GPU picked up Ivan in late 1937 nothing more was heard about him, nothing one could pin down. We would all like to believe that part about begging to defend the Soviet Union in its hour of need, despite the Stalinist idiocies but we just don’t know. All we know is that Ivan Smirnov was a revolutionary cadre, had long before, way back at the turn of the 20th century, had long before whatever his final destination made his decision-‘in for a dime, in for a dollar” for the revolution. That we know at the end too.