Karl Radek

Preface to Arthur Ransomes’s
A Letter to America

(September 1918)

From Radek and Ransome on Russia, Socialist Publication Society, Brooklyn (NY) 1919.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

This pamphlet was written last May, by Arthur Ransome, the correspondent in Russia of the Daily News, as a report for the President of the United States of America. It was taken to America by Colonel Robins, the representative of the American Red Cross in Russia, a man who had the confidence of President Wilson. When Colonel Robins was leaving for America, it was clear that the policy of “watchful waiting” was coming to an end, that American capital would soon decide either to help Soviet Russia or else go over to the camp of her enemies. Colonel Robins, himself a workman by origin, was able to understand that in Russia only two things were possible; either the Soviet Government or else complete chaos. He did not waver and came to the conclusion that it was necessary to give economic) help to Russia for her consolidation, otherwise, in his opinion, she would be threatened with disruption at the hands of German imperialism. A believer in modern economic giants and having no faith in the strength of Socialism in America, he was nevertheless a man with clear penetrative insight and understood that the effete Russian bourgeoisie was not capable of taking in its weak trembling hands the task of the economic regeneration of Russia. He was convinced that Russia would be a socialistic state and that the capitalist countries would have to take her into consideration. He was convinced that it would be impossible to conquer hundreds of thousands of people, whose development foreign capital would not be able to guarantee. For him there existed two alternatives: either German capital would assist the economic reorganization of Russia, in which case American capital would lose its greatest market in the future, or on the other hand American capital would help Russia economically and thus prevent a German monopoly. Basing his ideas on these facts, Colonel Robins was an energetic and convinced opponent of intervention and regarded with deep disdain the policy of the American ambassador, Francis, whom he called the “weather-cock of the chatter-box Noulens.” He therefore hastened to America to avert intervention. Colonel Robins was much assisted in acquiring his knowledge of Russian affairs by the author of this pamphlet, Arthur Ransome, a man who came to Russia without any political conviction; and who was sent, as a well known writer, in order that he might in vivid pictures acquaint the English reader with the condition of affairs on the Russian front. Arthur Ransome, who in the ordinary course of events was more interested in ethical and philosophical questions, developed his ideas, during the three years’ war in Russia, just as any honest cultured man would have done, who loves the people and has no bourgeois prejudices. In his daily communications with the soldiers on the front and afterwards with all circles of Russian society, beginning with people like Peter Struve and Miliukov and ending with the “bloodthirsty” Bolsheviks, he passed from the Cadet outlook on Russian affairs to that of the Bolsheviks. Nevertheless he is not a Bolshevik. He is a man with his eyes open, with a warm heart, without any prejudices, a man whose deep love for the masses and for all who were hurled into this war and its hellish misery, enabled him to understand Russia. To his honor let it be said that so-called Socialists, yes and alas! “Marxists,” like Martoff, could learn, if they would, from this English correspondent, what Soviet Russia really is, and in so learning, would not lose sight of the mighty river, because of the dirt which it carries with it.

Finally it is necessary to add a few words supplementing this pamphlet. In actual fact they have already been written by Ransome’s colleague. Philips Price, correspondent in Russia of the Manchester Guardian, in his courageous pamphlet, The Truth about the Allied Intervention in Russia. But since we do not know if Price’s pamphlet will reach the hands of its readers, it is necessary for me, in the absence of my friend Ransome, to explain in a few words why his efforts and the efforts of Colonel Robins were not crowned with success.

Russia made to American and English capital a business offer, which would have given to the latter a certain profit and to the former the possibility of restoring her economic strength, of fortifying herself for the fight against all enemies, amongst which would be included German imperialism, if it thought fit to attack Soviet Russia. But of course people who deeply disdain the toiling masses, people who for hundreds of years have held them under their yoke, could not possibly believe that a labor government was capable of organizing Russia in such a way that she could guarantee herself against German imperialism. They could not believe that the toiling masses would not bow down their necks to them, and they ignored the fact that the united wisdom of all the capitalist states had not been able to save these masses from the horrors of a four years’ war. If the Soviet Government of Russia could develop and strengthen itself, then indeed there would be evidence that the workers, after overthrowing the yoke of capitalism, could themselves order their own life. That would be a proof, which would react upon the toiling masses of all lands with unheard-of force. The capitalism of the Allies could not with its own hands create the belief in the minds of its own working classes of the uselessness of capitalist governments. That is a common psychological phenomenon, which it is possible to observe both with Entente and with German imperialism. In the case of the Allies this point of view was given particular prominence in view of the military situation and of the military position of the Allies. German capitalism was ready for a business deal, for its interests demanded that there should be no Eastern front. It was carrying on a severe struggle in the West and whatever it may have thought of a government of the working classes, it was satisfied if this government by its own strength and for its own interests kept off the forces of the Allies from penetrating far into Russia. Therefore with a heavy heart it had to pretend to believe that a workers’ and peasants’ government did not necessarily mean the end of the world. Allied capitalism on the other hand, was directly interested in establishing the Eastern front. It wanted to create it in order to draw off the forces of German imperialism from the Western front to the Eastern and therefore it was natural that with it the fundamental tendency of all capitalist society, namely hatred for a workers’ government, should overcome all others. The fact that France plays a great role in directing the policy of the Allies clenched the decision, for France is a country of small shop-keepers, who never forget that Russia is in debt to them and who are even ready to bring ruin upon themselves, in order to claim their judicial rights to the last farthing. Therefore the voice of Robins had to remain the voice of one crying in the wilderness, and Mr. Wilson, the prisoner of Wall Street, while reading the pamphlet of our friend Ransome, doubtless shook his head and tearfully remarked: “What a pity that I cannot help Russia but have got to stab her in the back.”

But now, face to face with the attacks of the Allied bandits, Soviet Russia does not feel in the same mood towards the Allies as she did when Ransome wrote the last lines of his pamphlet. We are not going to die in order to go down to history, pure, like Antigone, who was forgiven everything because she served the will of God. “Ulster will fight! Ulster will be right!” The Allies’ attack on Russia, which in some ways reminds one of the attack on her of German imperialism, lets loose a flood of energy, calls forth an iron determination not to die a heroic death but to conquer in stubborn fight. And if Ransome finished his pamphlet with the words that history will judge England and America by the way in which they helped or hindered Soviet Russia, we are convinced that it will condemn them not only as capitalist countries which went to fight against a workers’ Russia. This condemnation is intolerable to the ethics of Ransome, but would be quite tolerable to the representatives of capitalist states, whose problem by no means includes help to a workers’ revolution. But history will punish them, for it will show they could not estimate the force of current events and in politics folly is punished more severely than ill-will. For either the Allies will not send great forces against Russia, and then they will, together with the Russian counter-revolutionaries, suffer disgraceful defeat, or else they will send great forces and then they will weaken themselves on their main fronts, which for geographical reasons are neither Siberian nor Northern Russian fronts. The allied attack also will show the working masses of England. France, America and Italy the meaning of such phrases as “democracy,” “freedom,” etc., in the name of which they are sent to die. It would be very good that at the moment when the Allies wish to concentrate all the strength of their people for war to the bitter end in the name of the illusions on which they have fed their people, illusions about greatness, honor and glory, they show them the real objects for which they are fighting. We, as enemies of all imperialism, helped by our wounds, by our blood, by our humiliation at Brest-Litovsk, the toiling masses of Germany to understand how their government was deceiving them, when it talked about an honorable peace. And the blood which the soldiers of our revolutionary army, the sons of the toiling masses of Russia, shed in their fight with the Allied hirelings will be the best ink for our letters which will explain to them how their government is deceiving them. We are convinced that the workers of the Allied countries will understand us and will send us more powerful help than did President Wilson, to whom this pamphlet was addressed.

Moscow, Sept. 1918

Last updated on 18.10.2011