Saturday, August 23, 2014

Manning and her attorneys frustrated over Army stonewalling of healthcare, “cruel and unusual punishment”

August 22, 2014 by the Chelsea Manning Support Network
“This time last year, I publicly asked that I be provided with a treatment plan, to bring my body more in line with my gender identity. Unfortunately, despite silence, and then lip service, the military has not yet provided me with any such treatment,”
Chelsea Manning. August 22, 2014
 C_Manning_Finish (1)A full year after Chelsea Manning’s initial request for appropriate gender-related healthcare from her military captors, the Army is still denying her treatment at the Fort Leavenworth military prison.
 A month ago, an unnamed military spokesperson reluctantly stated that the Army would provide a “rudimentary level” of gender-related health care to Chelsea. This statement was made after receiving public scrutiny for their failure to provide treatment thus far, and after the Army failed in their attempt to avoid responsibility of Chelsea’s medical needs by transferring her to a civilian prison. However, so far the Army’s public statements have been just talk–Chelsea has yet to receive the medical attention she needs.
 The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been retained by Chelsea Manning to represent her gender-related healthcare interests:
“Our constitution requires that the government provide medically necessary care to the individuals it holds in its custody. It is cruel and unusual punishment to withhold from Ms. Manning the care that the military’s own doctors have deemed medically necessary, “states Chase Strangio, Staff Attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & AIDS Project. “The Army is withholding her care for political reasons, which is simply not permitted by our Constitution.” 
This morning, Chelsea Manning issued the following statement bringing to light the Army’s negligence:
This time last year, I publicly asked that I be provided with a treatment plan, to bring my body more in line with my gender identity. Unfortunately, despite silence, and then lip service, the military has not yet provided me with any such treatment.
 Treatment is, as a lather of law about medical necessity. Such as treating depression of anxiety. But, receiving treatment is very important to me, as a person. It has a little bit to do with the perception of myself- the sense of unending discomfort with the gender that has been imposed on me-but not out of vanity.
 However, prisons- and especially military prisons—reinforce and impose strong gender norms—making gender the most fundamental aspect of institutional life. The US Disciplinary Barracks restricts my ability to express myself based on my gender identity.
 For example, in my daily life I am reminded of this when I look at the name on my badge, the first initial sewed onto my clothing, the hair and grooming standards that I adhere to, and the titles and courtesies used by the staff. Ultimately, I just want to be able to live my life as the person that I am, and to be able to feel comfortable in my own skin.
 I also want to make it clear that my request is about how I am confined, not where. I have never requested for any transfer to a civilian or female facility. Prison is prison regardless of whether you are military or civilian, and regardless of what gender you are.
 Overall, the support I have received outside has been overwhelming—from cards and letters, to public statements of support. I am especially grateful for all the people who have respected my wishes, used the correct pronouns and titles when referring to me, and given me their best wishes and warm love and support. You have given me a deep well of hope and optimism to gather energy from.
 With Warm Regards,
Chelsea Manning

Chelsea Manning says she is being denied gender-reassignment treatment

• Defence department’s promise ‘is not being honoured’
• As Bradley Manning, private jailed for 35 years for secrets leak
chelsea manning
In this undated file photo provided by the US army, Chelsea Manning poses for a photo wearing a wig and lipstick. Photograph: Uncredited/AP
A year after being sentenced to a 35-year prison term for giving secret documents to WikiLeaks, US army private Chelsea Manning says the military is continuing to deny her gender-reassignment treatment.
In a letter sent to NBC news and released on Friday, Manning says the Defence Department has not followed through with its promises after the defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, approved a treatment plan that includes allowing her to dress as a woman.
“Unfortunately, despite silence, and then lip-service, the military has not yet provided me with any such treatment,” Manning wrote in a statement sent to NBC from Fort Leavenworth prison in Kansas. “However, prisons – and especially military prisons – reinforce and impose strong gender norms – making gender the most fundamental aspect of institutional life.”
Manning was sentenced as Bradley Manning in August 2013 for leaking nearly 700,000 documents to the site WikiLeaks. The documents revealed a 38-minute video of an American airstrike in Baghdad that killed two Reuters journalists and wounded children, as well as embarrassing diplomatic cables. Shortly after the sentence was handed down, Manning went public with her gender dysphoria.
“Despite having received at least four diagnoses of gender dysphoria, Chelsea has received no treatment,” Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, told NBC News. Manning’s requests for hormone therapy and amended grooming and clothing standards have all been denied, Coombs said.
“If the military does not do the right thing, we are prepared to pursue litigation to vindicate her constitutional rights,” Coombs said. Earlier this month, Coombs threatened to file a lawsuit if treatment did not begin by 4 September.
Manning said in her letter to NBC that the prison’s gender norms make it hard to “feel comfortable in my own skin”.
“For example, in my daily life, I am reminded of this when I look at the name on my badge, the first initial sewed into my clothing, the hair and grooming standards that I adhere to, and the titles and courtesies used by the staff. Ultimately, I just want to be able to live my life as the person that I am.”
“The continued failure to provide Ms Manning with this treatment is inconsistent with well-established medical protocols and basic constitutional principles,” Chase Strangio, attorney for the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project, said in a statement to the Associated Press earlier this month.
Strangio said refusing to treat Manning is “cruel and unusual punishment,” and advocates for Manning stressed that “there is a clear medical consensus that gender dysphoria is a serious medical condition,” which, left untreated, “can lead to severe medical problems”.
The army declined to tell NBC if treatment would begin soon.
“The Department of Defence has approved a request by army leadership to provide required medical treatment for an inmate diagnosed with gender dysphoria. I can’t discuss the medical needs of an individual,” an army spokeswoman, Lt Col Alayne Conway, told NBC.
Calls from the Guardian to Fort Leavenworth were directed to the military’s chief public information office. Calls to that office were not immediately
Free Chelsea Manning - President Obama Pardon Chelsea Manning Now!

Chelsea Manning Says Military Still Denying Gender Treatment

***Another Way To “Seek A Newer World”-For Brother Ronald Callahan Who Has Done Good In This World-Take Six  

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

A few years ago when I began to reconcile myself, reconcile myself the first aborted time, with my roots, with my hometown roots that had been abandoned by me some forty years earlier for a a whole bunch of reasons but let’s leave it as I needed to blow the dust of the town off of my shoes, I had an occasion to write a short piece honoring the work of a fellow classmate from the North Adamsville High School (Massachusetts) Class of 1964, Brother Ronald Callahan. Brother Callahan had the “calling.” Had as my old maternal Irish grandmother, Anna Riley, would say hoping against hope for this poor sinner to see the light, to have the Riley clan which had survived the storms and stresses of America since the time of the “famine ship” give back to the church one of its own, would say moreover looking at me directly with those steely sainted blue eyes that brooked no lies, “the calling” to serve the Mother Church as a glad tidings bringer of the word.

This classmate had devoted himself in his chosen way to “do good” in the world as a Catholic Orotorian brother, an order pretty far down in the church hierarchy but close enough to the wretched of the earth to do earthly good rather than from some fiery fire and brimstone pulpit like some latter-day Billy Sunday raining down hell and damnation. Brother Callahan doing good as he recently related to us at my prompting (he is far too modest to have tooted his own horn) in the Message Forum section of our North Adamsville Class of 1964 website put together by the committee organizing the 50th anniversary reunion by ministering to the sick, the needy, those who have no other recourse, those who found themselves for whatever reason behind jail bars, and the “olvidados,” the lost and forgotten of the earth. He too has done such work, has as they say labored in the vineyards for almost 50 years as well only recently backing off a little and concentrating mainly on those in prison (an interest I share from a different perspective, that of political prisoner support so I know what he is up against in his ministry).  

This year as we celebrate our 50th anniversary of graduation from old North as the class reunion committee created the website to facilitate communications among us and round us up for probably one last time collectively. I, after a little editing, placed that piece on the Message Forum page for all his fellow classmates who have joined the site to see. I also hoped for a response in his own words and he graced those pages with a very interesting reply about the work he had done over the years. He also sent me a private e-mail (which he said was okay to make public, although I am only making my responses public) discussing a very different subject-our growing up poor in the old working class. Those remarks follows the sketch:   

For Oratorian Brother Ronald Callahan- North Adamsville High School Class of 1964- Another Way To Seek A Newer World


Frank Jackman , Class of 1964, comment:

Usually when I have had an occasion to use the word “brother” it is to ask for something like –“Say brother, can you spare a dime?” And have cursed, under my breathe of course, when I have not received recognition of and, more importantly, dough for my down and out status which required the use of that statement. Or I have used it as a solidarity word when I have addressed one of the male members of the eight million political causes that I have worked on in my life-“Brother Jones has made very good point. We should, of course, storm heaven to get this government to stop this damn war (fill in whatever war is going on at the time and you will not be far off).” Here, in speaking of one of my fellow North Adamsville High School classmates, Brother Ronald Callahan, I am using the term as a sincere honorific. For those of you who do not know Brother Ronald is a member of the Oratorian Brothers, a Catholic order somewhere down on the hierarchical ladder of the Roman Catholic Church. Wherever that rung is, he, as my devout Irish Catholic grandmother, the one who lived over on Young Street and was regarded by one and all as a “saint” (if only for having put up with a cranky, I am being kind here, grandfather), would say (secretly hoping, hoping against hope, that it would apply to me), had the “calling” to serve the Church.

Now Brother Ronald and I, except for a few sporadic e-mails over the last couple of years, have neither seen nor heard from each other since our school days. So this is something of an unsolicited testimonial on my part (although my intention is to draw him out into the public spotlight to write about his life and work of which I have a glimmer of long time ago recognition). Moreover, except for a shared youthful adherence to the Roman Catholic Church which I long ago placed on the back burner of my life there are no religious connections that bind us together now. At one time, I swear, that I did delight in arguing, through the dark North Adamsville beach night, about the actual number of angels that could dance on the head of a needle, and the like, but that is long past. I do not want to comment on such matters, in any case, but rather on the fact of Brother Ronald’s doing some good in this world.

We, from an early age, are told, no, ordered by parents, preachers, and Sunday school teachers that while we are about the business of ‘making and doing’ in the world to do good, or at least to do no evil. Most of us got that ‘making and doing’ part, and have paid stumbling, fumbling, mumbling lip service to the last part. Brother Ronald, as his profession, and as a profession of his faith, and that is important here, choose a different path. Maybe not my path, and maybe not yours, but certainly in Brother Ronald’s case, as old Abe Lincoln said, the “better angels of our nature” prevailed over the grimy struggle for this world’s good. Most times I have to fidget around to find the right endings to my commentaries, but not on this one. You did good, real good, Brother. And from the ragtag remnant of the Salducci’s Pizza Parlor corner boys in the old North Adamsville hang-out good night- All honor to Brother Ronald Callahan.


“Brother Ronald –thanks for note-[A note which referred to the fact that some of the scenes in the movie cited below  which he was using as a point of reference for growing up poor in this world which led him to devote his life to the “forgotten ones.”] I loved that the movie (and book), The Friends of Eddie Coyle, with Robert Mitchum and based on George V. Higgins novel (and probably based as well on the now captured Whitey Bulger’s life or one of his crowd, or close to it) although I did not know the movie had scenes filmed in North Adamsville. I do remember Dorchester, Boston Garden, and downtown Boston scenes.

Funny thing that movie and your reference to the scenes reminded me that in our Irish working-class dominated neighborhoods it was as likely that a guy would turn out to be a gangster (I came perilously close to that category in sixth grade but it was a near thing, as the later careers of my corner boys then confirmed), a priest, a politician (something I also came perilously close to in my Robert Kennedy days) or a cop as anything else. Our boy Eddie Coyle was just running to form, running what he knew from growing up wild on the streets of Cambridge in Whitey’s time. (I won’t speak for the gals because they were either to be nuns, very reproductive wives, or if youngest daughters to stay at home and take care of the old folks, or that is what I remember.)

Funny that your area of town was called the “poverty pit” [part of the film had been shot in his old neighborhood and his father, maybe rightly, had been upset that the film company had called the area that name] because I grew up in a shack of a house (with my two brothers, one who dropped out and should have been in our Class of 1964 and the other was Class of 1966) on Maple Street near Donegan Brothers Garage on Fillmore Street and people called that area “the wrong side of the tracks” too (including my grandparents who were born and raised on Sagamore Street-but that is another story, the story about how they thought my mother married the wrong guy). That was a tough burden to overcome, my brothers didn’t and I only make it out by fleeing the place as quickly as possible without looking back.

All I know was that it was a tough dollar growing up poor, with hand-me-downs (from the “Bargie” if you remember that institution and worse from older relatives who took us on as their family charity work) and big wanting habits that never got satisfied, when a lot of our classmates were a step above I think (although recent trips back make me thing that was just a relative thing). Those wanting habits seem kind of odd now, a car, some spending money, and a few baubles, but among the wanting habits please include that desire to get out of the house, out of the town and out to search for the great blue-pink American night which while I still have not found it loomed large, very large indeed in my life.

I carry that mark of po’ boy with me (as you do) but I have not forgotten, unlike others who moved up in the world, my roots and on the questions of war and peace, social and economic justice I know I have stood on the “right side of the angels.”

As you have, my brother Brother.  Later- Frank

P.S. Don’t forgot those Ms. Sonos memories when you get a change [our senior year English teacher].”        

On The Anniversary Of  The Execution Of  Sacco And Vanzetti 

For Love and Liberty

A full color book of paintings by freedom fighter and political prisoner, Tom Manning

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Tom Manning is a freedom fighter, political prisoner and prolific artist. His paintings are stories that jump off the page, revealing the outlook of people who struggle for liberation around the world. His paintings are about life and his landscapes recall times of importance.
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  • 86 full color reproductions of Tom's Painting
  • Preface by Robby Meeropol
  • Article, “In My Time” by Tom
  • Poem by Assata, “Affirmation”
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  • Afterword by Ray Levasseur
  • Notes from photographer Penny Schoner

Tom Manning: Freedom Fighter, Political Prisoner

From the Preface by Robby Meerpol:
"Tom’s been incarcerated for 29 years.  But even before he received his current life sentence he was trapped by the limited choices left to an impoverished child surviving in Boston’s infamous Maverick Street Projects. The military during the Vietnam era seemed like a way out, but that too became a hellish form of confinement.
Tom broke free, he revolted.  He became a revolutionary.  He committed the unforgivable sin of confronting today’s great imperial empire, the United States, on its home turf.  For that, I expect the prison industrial complex will do its best to keep him confined for as long as it can."



THE CHALLENGE OF THE LEFT OPPOSITION (1926-27), LEON TROTSKY, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1980

If you are interested in the history of the International Left or are a militant trying to understand some of the past lessons of our history concerning the communist response to various social and labor questions this book is for you. This book is part of a continuing series of volumes in English of the writings of Leon Trotsky, Russian Bolshevik leader, from the start in 1923 of the Left Opposition in the Russian Communist Party that he led through his various exiles up until his assassination by a Stalinist agent in 1940. These volumes were published by the organization that James P. Cannon, early American Trotskyist leader founded, the Socialist Workers Party, in the 1970’s and 1980’s. (Cannon’s writings in support of Trotsky’s work are reviewed elsewhere in this space) Look in this space under this byline for other related reviews of this series of documents on and by this important world communist leader.

Since the volumes in the series cover a long period of time and contain some material that , while of interest, is either historically dated or more fully developed in Trotsky’s other separately published major writings I am going to organize this series of reviews in this way. By way of introduction I will give a brief summary of the events of the time period of each volume. Then I will review what I believe is the central document of each volume. The reader can then decide for him or herself whether my choice was informative or not.

The period under discussion is one when Stalin further consolidates his hold on the party and state bureaucracy and begins (along with Bukharin) a much more conciliatory policy toward the peasant, especially the rich peasant, the so-called kulak. Such a policy, essentially at the expense of the working class, makes no sense until it is understood that this is the long slippery slope to a theoretical and practical result of what the theory of ‘socialism in one country’ means in the reality of mid-1920’s Russia. As a result of the 1923-24 defeat of the Left Opposition, the way the Soviet Union was ruled, who ruled and for what purposes all changed. The defeat of the Joint Left Bloc here on underlined that change.

On the international level the ill-fated British-Russian trade union alliance and the utterly disastrous policy toward the Chinese Revolution meant a dramatic shift from episode mistakes of policy toward revolution in other countries to a conscious set of decisions to make the Communist International, in effect, solely an arm of Soviet foreign policy. Make no mistake this is the ebb tide of the revolution.

In a sense if the fight in 1923-24 is the decisive fight to save the Russian revolution (and ultimately a perspective of international revolution) then the 1926-27 fight which was a bloc between Trotsky’s forces and the just defeated forces of Zinoviev and Kamenev, Stalin’s previous allies was the last rearguard action to save that perspective. That it failed nevertheless does not deny the importance of the fight. Yes, it was a political bloc with some serious differences especially over China and the Anglo-Russian Committee. But two things are important here One- did a perspective of a new party make sense at the time of the clear waning of the revolutionary ebbing the country. No. Besides the place to look was at the most politically conscious elements, granted against heavy odds, in the party where whatever was left of the class-conscious elements of the working class were. As I have noted elsewhere in discussing the 1923 fight- that “Lenin levy” of raw recruits, careerists and just plain thugs was the key element in any defeat. Still the fight was necessary. Hey, that is why we talk about it now. That was a fight to the finish. After that the left opposition or elements of it were forever more outside the party- either in exile, prison or dead. As we know Trotsky went from expulsion from the party in 1927 to internal exile in Alma Ata in 1928 to external exile to Turkey in 1929. From there he underwent further exiles in France, Norway, and Mexico when he was finally felled by a Stalinist assassin. But no matter when he went he continued to struggle for his perspective.

Communists have always prided themselves on the creation production and distribution of their programs. Many a hard fought hour has been spent perfectly such documents. In this the Left Opposition held to tradition. For communist program is not only important, it is decisive. Tell me your program and I will tell you where you fit politically (in the communist movement). Unlike bourgeois parties and politicians who have paper programs, easier for disposal, the idea of program is to focus the way to fight for power. Thus, the key document in this selection is the Platform of the Left Opposition which was geared to the 15thRussian party Congress. While not perfect or complete due to the bloc-nature of the opposition at that time it gives a pretty good idea of how to get the Soviet Union out of some of the extensive internal economic difficulties created by the Stalinist/Bukharinite ‘soft’ agricultural policy, increase internal party democracy and break the Soviet Union out of its international isolation. Hell, some of the points in the program read as if they were written today. Serious militant leftists will want to look at this document in order figure out the program necessary to tackle today’s struggles.

In Honor Of Leon Trotsky On The 74th Anniversary Of His Death- 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 new republic is proclaimed! The whirl of early 1917 dashed through Ivan Smirnov’s head. 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 the monarchy, the now laughable double-eagle monarchy that held the masses in thrall for centuries was shown to be 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 he had played an honorable part in the early going. And 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 meshed and the action in the capital got intense 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) 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 did not need to evoke the outlandish theories of Lenin and Trotsky about civil war and the social republic 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). 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) there were two centers of power- the bourgeois ministry (including representatives of some worker and peasant parties) 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 are 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 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).  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 forward into the social republic) 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 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), 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 when 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. Ivan Smirnov, political commissar of the 5th Army, 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 like some whirling dervish). He had even received the Order of the Red Banner personally from Trotsky for his heroic action. 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.

Still as he pondered the future Ivan was anxious for his Mother Russia alone in the world as a workers’ state with no prospects that he could see in sight. 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 when he paperwork was completed. Ah, civilian life, he murmured to his wife whom he had seen infrequently the past few years but who had kept his houses 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” 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) 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) 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.”

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 who told it to him 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 then they just decreed “land to the tiller” as one of their first acts in October 1917. 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 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.                                  

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), Kamenev, and the General Secretary of the Party, Stalin, whom he had had cordial relations with ever since he 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 loamed 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. Political opponent no longer nodded the nod to each other, wives no longer spoke, things like that.

That all was surface however. Really ever since the aborted revolution in Germany, the revolution that was both palpable and necessary for the Soviet survival, the way things worked in the government (and less noticeably in society) had changed. Soviet Russia would henceforth go it alone, would built a mighty fortress in a sea of capitalist encirclement.  That was bad enough since the full effects of the world war and the civil war were just abating. What was worse was that the Lenin Levy which had enlarged the party substantially with hangers-on and go-fers, with those who had not gotten their hands dirty in the revolution and its defense were getting plum jobs. Here is how it went on the ground. Ivan had been a single deputy commissar of agriculture since 1921. Recently 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) 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 had no stomach for a serious political fight and the odds were stacked against him). He had taken, taken against his will, 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 thought had caused Ivan Smirnov many sleepless nights in the years 1926 and 1927 when the old flaming radical 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 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 that 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 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 (he never saw his factional leader, Zinoviev, as capable of leading serious opposition when the fighting got down and dirty since he was personally made for sunny days) 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. 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. 

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 was formally 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 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) 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 by 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 those who had suffered through the hard days under the Czar, suffered various privations and exiles, saw a glean of light in 1905 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 who had seen him through most of the ups and downs since the end of the Revolution of 1905 had passed away early in the year. He had depended on her counsel when times were rough 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. Especially over the previous couple of years before Stalin throwing all caution to the wind began the mass collectivization of agriculture at one swoop. This was shear political, economic and social craziness in one fell swoop. Those 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, could see 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 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.