1940 The Miasnikov episode [Maximoff]

Extract from Chapter 11 of The Guillotine At Work.

In line with this oppression was Lenin’s persecution of Miasnikoy and the party organization of Motovilikha (of the government of Perm) which he headed. The Miasnikov episode is of much interest and we shall therefore dwell upon it at some length.

A worker and one of the oldest members of the party, G. Miasnikov was the leader of the party organization of Motovilikha in the period of the trade union discussions. Capable, thoughtful, extremely devoted to the cause of proletarian emancipation, Miasnikov could not be reconciled to the abandonment of the party principles of 1917, the growing power of the oligarchy, the terror of the Central Committee and the bourgeois transformation of the upper layers of the party. He undertook to expose these developments toward the end of 1920 in Motovilikha. « It was because of this, » Miasnikov writes, « as I found out later, that I was exiled …to Petrograd, to mend my ways ».

There he had an opportunity of witnessing the drunken de-baucheries of Zinoviev and the complete divorce of the party from the workers; the result of his observations was a memorandum sent by him to the Central Committee. Lenin replied in a letter with which Miasnikov in turn answered and disagreed. Lenin did not deem it necessary to continue this correspondence. His attempt at « persuasion » having failed, he, as we shall see, was soon to resort to « force ».

Meanwhile. failing to hear from Lenin, Miasnikov published in pamphlet form his memorandum, his statement of principle together with Lenin’s letter. Let us examine the content of this pamphlet.

Miasnikov wrote to the Central Committee of the alienation of the working class and their enmity toward the party: « When I came to Petrograd, the city was in a festive mood; all the papers rejoiced that ‘the sleeper was awakening,’ that Petrograd industry was beginning to breathe freely, etc. But this was only Potemkin villages. Upon closer examination I began to see that, to my great amazement, all was not well in Petrograd. Mills and factories were frequently on strike, the Communist influence was lacking and the workers had no sense of participation in the government. It seemed far away and not their own. In order to get something from it, they had to exert pressure: without pressure, nothing could be gotten.

The government threw the blame for the frequent strikes-the Italian strikes-upon the Mensheviks and the Social-Revolutionists, those pernicious agitators who were being arrested in order to save us from their seditious propaganda. But despite repressions, strikes did not stop ».

Miasnikov explains later: « In Moscow, Petrograd, in the Ural region, in all factories, the workers now show keen distrust of the Communists. Non-partisan workers gather in groups, with the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionists leading the discussions; but no sooner does a Communist approach than the groups scatter or change the topic. What does this mean? In the Izhorsky plant the workers expelled all the Communists from their meeting, including those actually working in the plant. On the very eve of what was virtually a general strike in Petrograd (prior to the Kronstadt revolt), we did not even know that this strike was about to come off although we had Communists in every department. We only knew it was being prepared and led. What does this mean? It means that the working class has fenced itself off from the Communists by an impenetrable wall and the party is no more aware of this than were the sleuths of the Tsar’s time. The workers dubbed the « comcell » (Communist cell) « comsleuth ». Why did they do so? Will you tell me that they penalise the Communist Party for no reason at all? That freedom of the press was granted and is still granted to the working class? My answer must be in the negative. The working class penalises the party because the methods which the party worked out in 1918-1920 to deal with the bourgeoisie are now (in 1921) being practised upon the working class. This cannot go on ».

Miasnikov continued: « We have freedom of speech in the markets, at the railway stations, in the trains, at the docks, but not in the factories and the villages. There the Cheka vigilantly watches over the good behaviour of workers and peasants ».

He exposed the intra-party dictatorship and the servility and worship of rank which was developing: « Freedom of opinion in the party is being suppressed by the foulest means ».

« If one of the party rank and filers dares to have an opinion of his own, he is looked upon as a heretic and people scoff at him saying, ‘Wouldn’t Ilyitch (Lenin) have come to this idea if it were timely now? So you are the only clever man around, eh, you want to be wiser than all? Ha, ha, ha! You want to be cleverer than Ilyitch!’ This is the typical ‘argumentation’ of the honourable Communist fraternity. » Comrade Zinoviev told me in the presence of many comrades at the party conference of three districts: ‘You’d better stop talking or we shall have to expel you from the party. You are either a Social-Revolutionist or just a sick man’… Any one who ventures a critical opinion of his own will be labelled a Menshevik or Social-Revolutionist, with all the consequences that entails. This is the hack-ground of the disintegration and drunkenness in the upper strata of the party, under the motto of ‘one hand washes the other’; in the soviet institutions one has to announce his presence before being able to see any official, and everything is complicated by red tape. Political ‘pull’ is the essential factor in attaining public office. Astoria, guarded by machine guns, is the talk of the town: it is a resort for drunks ».

Miasnikov describes the situation in greater detail: « People keep quiet here. The silence spreads and they remain quiet until suddenly they understand each other and realise that there is nothing to talk about. Then, directly, they begin to fight violently among themselves. If one dares to express an opinion of his own, he is a self-seeker or worse-he is a counter-revolutionist, a Menshevik or a Social-Revolutionist. Such was the case with Kronstadt, too. Everything was nice and quiet there. And suddenly, without a word, the wallops started. – You ask, ‘What is Kronstadt? A few hundred Communists fight against us. What does that mean?’ But whose fault is it that the higher-ups in the party have no common language with either the non-partisan mass of people or with the rank and file Communists; that the misunderstanding is so great that it leads to violence? What is the significance of all this? This is the absolute limit. »

Miasnikov points out the emergence from this situation of a new type, the Communist sycophant: « A special type of Communist is evolving. He is forward, sensible, and, what counts most, he knows how to please his superiors, which the latter like only too much. Whether this Communist has influence among workers is of slight concern to him. All that counts is that his superiors be pleased ».

He describes the lack of confidence in the working class and the peasantry, and counters with his demand for workers’ democracy: « The party rank and file are permitted to speak of the peccadillos, the very little sins; but one must keep silent about the larger ones. Responsibility before the Central Committee? But there is Comrade Zinoviev, one of the ‘boys’. »

« It stands to reason, » Miasnikov continues, « that workers’ democracy presupposes not only the right to vote but also freedom of speech and press. If workers who govern the country, manage factories, do not have freedom of speech, we get a highly abnormal state ». Consequently Miasnikov demands the abolition of the death penalty and « for all-from Monarchist to Anarchist-a freedom of speech and press such as the world has never seen before ».

« We must base ourselves upon first, the working class and, second, the peasantry, » Miasnikov counsels Lenin. « To believe that without active co-operation of both it is possible to restore the productive forces of the country and to create even a minimum of material welfare, is to try to realise the essential ideas of the Social-Revolutionists; it is to put our faith in bureaucrats, Communist heroes in this case, who will have everyone and everything from all ills and misfortunes. »

« People argue in this fashion: you workers and peasants must not stir, nor strike, nor rebel; and don’t get too subtle, for we have nice fellow-workers and peasants like you, whom we put into power; and those people will manipulate this power so that, unawares, you will find yourself in the Communist paradise ».

« Another contention of the bureaucracy is: If we grant freedom of speech to all, everything that has hitherto been hidden from the non-partisan masses of people and the enemies of the soviet power (such as strikes, rebellions, hunger, etc.), will become known. « But we reply: it is not true that the masses are unaware of these disorders, but they learn of them not from our paper but from living people. Moreover, they know more than those in the leading circles of the provinces. The provincial Cheka continues to arrest people for spreading false rumours, but those people know more than the Cheka. The result of this ‘secret’ is that people do not believe our papers at all. »

« Those who fear to let the working class and peasantry speak out, always fear counter-revolution and see it everywhere ». Lenin recognized the pertinence of the foregoing sentence; so he replied: « Freedom of press in the R.S.F.S.R. surrounded by bourgeois enemies everywhere means freedom for the bourgeoisie, »… »we do not want to commit suicide and that is why we will never do this » (i.e., what Miasnikov asks)

« I hope, » Lenin concludes, « that after sober reconsideration, you will not insist, because of false pride, upon a flagrant political error (freedom of press) but that having quieted your nerves and having overcome the panicky feeling, you will set yourself to work: to help maintain connections with the non-party people, to check up the work of the party people with the aid of the non-partisan names. « In this field there is no end of work. And it is thus the malady can and should be treated, and slowly cured; but this cannot be done by befogging your brain with ‘freedom of press’-a lustrous will-o’-the-wisp ».

Lenin’s ineffectual letter, calculated to impress naive and ignorant people, reiterating the same idea over and over again, could not, of course, convince Miasnikov and in his reply to Lenin he wrote:

« Words, words, as Hamlet said. You yourself realise that all that is not serious. It is strongly worded, but far from convincing ». « You say that I want freedom of press for the bourgeoisie; on the contrary, I want freedom of press for myself, a proletarian, who never had anything, a proletarian who has been in the party for fifteen years, who has been a party member in Russia and not abroad (Miasnikov hints broadly at Lenin, Trotzky, Zinoviev and other leaders in the party) … I spent seven and a half of the eleven years of my party membership before 1917 in prisons and at hard labour, with a total of seventy-five days in hunger strikes. I was mercilessly beaten and subjected to other tortures. I had to ‘hobo’ my way back and I escaped not abroad, but for party work here in Russia. To me one can grant at least a little freedom of press, at least within the party. Or is it that I must leave or be expelled from the party as soon as I disagree with you in the evaluation of social forces? Such simplified treatment evades but does not tackle our problems. »

Then Miasnikov vigorously attacks Lenin thus: « To break the jaws of international bourgeoisie, is all very well, but the trouble is that you lift your hand against the bourgeoisie arid you strike at the worker. Which class now supplies the greatest number of people arrested on charges of counter-revolution? Peasants and workers, to be sure. There is no Communist working class. There is just a working class pure and simple ».

« Don’t you know that thousands of proletarians are kept in prison because they talked the way I am talking now, and that bourgeois people are not arrested on this score for the simple reason that they are never concerned with these questions? If I am still at large, that is so because of my standing as a Communist. I suffered for my Communist views; moreover, I am known by the workers; were it not for these faits, were I just an ordinary Communist mechanic front the same factory, where would I be now? In the Cheka, or more than this, I would be made to ‘escape’, just as I made Mikhayil Romanov (Tsar’s brother) ‘escape’, as Luxmeburg and Liebknecht were made to ‘escape’. Once more I say: you raise your hand against the bourgeoisie, but it is I who am spitting blood, and it is we, the workers, whose jaws are being cracked. »

This reply sealed the fate of Miasnikov. Lenin was not the type to allow back-talk from people whom he regarded his inferiors; his overbearing character would not brook reprimand or interference. So there began for Miasnikov a period of trials and tribulations. He became the object of ceaseless terror. On August 23, the Central Committee of the Communist Party resolved « to recognise the thesis of Comrade Miasnikoy as incompatible with party interests; to impose upon him the obligation to refrain from proclaiming these viewpoints at official rallies of the party. » He was recalled from Motovilikha and placed at the disposal of the Central Committee, that is, he was actually put under their surveillance. The party organisation of Motovilikha and the « Workers’ Opposition » attempted to intercede on his behalf, but that only worsened matters; charges of infraction of party discipline were proffered against all his supporters. And six months later he was officially expelled from the party:

« For anti-party activity and infractions of party discipline, C. Miasnikov is expelled from the party by the decision of the Central Committee of February 22, 1922 ».

No one intervened on behalf of the expelled Miasnikov at the eleventh convention of the party. Lenin spoke only a few words on the matter, assailing the Workers’ Opposition for its appeal to the Comintern: « One must tell those who are using their legitimate right to appeal to the Comintern that in the Miasnikov case it was not altogether lawful for them to intercede. The Miasnikov incident took place in the summer of last year. I was not present in Moscow then and I wrote him a long letter, which he put into his pamphlet. I saw that the man had some abilities, that it was worthwhile to talk matters over with him, but that we had to tell him that any open criticisms on his part would be regarded as incompatible with party discipline. lie, however, wrote a letter advising us to rally in every district all the discontented elements. Yes, of course, to get such people together in every district is not at all difficult ».

Miasnikov was soon sent to prison, and thence into exile. In his letter to the Industrial Workers of the World (I.WW.) (unpublished) of November 27, 1927, from Constantinopole, he wrote:

« From 1922 up to the present time I have never been free from kind attentions, sometimes of the G. P. U., at other times of the Intelligence Departments of various foreign governments. » Lenin began settling accounts with Miasnikov and Stalin finished the job.

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