But they are all living on the edge. “At the Kharkov Tractor Plant” Beal went on, “the foreigners were in despair at having to work alongside starving, stupefied and dazed Russian workers. Not only was it extremely depressing to the spirits to see the emaciated condition of the men, but they could get little cooperation from them in that state.” American workers did object and protest. An America worker complained, “This food is not fit for pigs”. Then he told his fellow workers, “I learned in the labor movement in America that those who do not work shall not eat, and it seems to me about time that those who do work shall eat!” He was lucky. Within two weeks he was gone, deported, and denounced by the American Communist Party as a “Social Fascist”. An American ‘specialist” demanded the plant director, Swistoon, a pint of milk for foundry workers and threatened to quit. Beal recalls, “The order was carried out. How the factory workers loved Tom Stewart!” (F. Beal, 291)
Beal is fascinated how Russians and Ukrainians at the plant adapted to the automation of mechanized production. Machines are the rage, the marvel of the industrialization of the masses. Mostly illiterate and dazed by the suddenness and rapidity of change that had turned their lives upside down, the peasants and workers take their place alongside western machines and supervisors of the new communist reality. “Communists in Detroit rave against the monotonous life-sucking belt system operating at the Ford plant. Had I not done so myself in Pontiac, Michigan? But I never heard a word uttered against its use in Soviet Russia. The belt system is in the assembling department. It is here that the tractor of automobile comes to life, beginning with the placing of the chassis on the moving platform. The assembly line (belt) moves on, workmen on each side slip in the various parts needed in building the machine. Finally – the line moving all the time – all the parts are fitted and the finished car moves off the conveyor. The trouble with the Kharkov Tractor Plant was that the belt or conveyor never moved fast enough for the Communist bosses.”
Beal objects to the “piece-work and the speed up” system of the communist bosses justified in the name of “the greater cause of Socialism”. He writes, “Every hardship, every iniquity and every injustice was being perpetrated in the holy name of the Revolution and the Classless Society! At the same time the Stalin policy created more classes among the Russian workers than under capitalism and suppressed with a malled fist every true radical and revolutionary manifestation on the part of the masses.” Unemployment around the plant. Job-seekers from kulak families were rejected as were starving workers from collective farms. Old men were turned away by communist functionaries and told “go to the field and die!” The soviet official tells Beal, “It’s time we put these old people out of the way”. (F. Beal, 292-3)
They call it Fordizatsia. It is the pride of both Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone friends of the President Hoover. Beal observed it from the inside, and he writes: “The Tractor Plant, one of the glories of the “workers’ fatherland’, is surrounded by a high brick wall. Every entrance is guarded by a soldier with loaded rifle and fixed bayonet. In addition there are watchmen at the entrances to the factory grounds. To get in one must show a pas. Every person entering the plant, including all the workers, must have a pass with the bearer’s photograph on it, stamped and signed by the chiefs of the factory of the GPU. Only guided tourists are excepted from this rule. A worker has a hard time getting to his job if, by accident, he leaves his pass at home, or, what is much worse, if he loses it. In the latter case, he has to be hired all over again. I have seen men, old plant workers, pleading with the guard for a chance to get to their jobs, panicky lest they lose their food allowance for that day. Every few months, the administration changes the type of pass and every worker and employee must get a new identification card. This usual passport system was devised to enchain the workers and restrict them to certain zones. On the whole, it has accomplished the purpose of forcing the men to stay on their jobs regardless of working conditions. Thus, a worker in Kharkov having a passport good only for that zone, could not get a job if he moved, for instance, to Rostov, or Stalingrad.” (E. Briggs, Proud Servant)
Factory work went on with novices, unqualified “engineers” unskilled and poorly trained who replaced better qualified men. Belts were poorly repaired, inferior metals used to make parts that broke, measurements were sloppy. Production stalled and sometimes ceased. Tractors were turned out but quickly broke, errors blamed always on peasants. Beal sums it all up:“The same system prevailed in other great plants all over the country. But on paper the results somehow looked impressive. The industrialization of the Soviet Union appeared to be going ahead by leaps and bounds, and helped to disguise the appalling starvation and enslavement of the great masses.” (F. Beal, 295)
The horrible famine conditions and GPU secret police repression sickened Beal too. Here he describes conditions he saw throughout the Ukraine that fall 1932. “Whenever I went in the Ukraine, I saw thousands of homeless outcasts about the streets with great watery blisters on their feet and ankles resulting from diseases of malnutrition. I would see them sit down on the ground and prick these blisters to let out water and then get up and drag themselves about their begging. Of course, they stole anything they could lay their hands on and the factories, whose workers had planted vegetable gardens and cabbage patches to supplement their own slim rations, would be compelled to post guards with orders to shoot to kill these pitiable foragers. In some instances they waylaid, robbed and killed some better-faring compatriot in the dark, but they were usually deterred from this sort of thing by the thought of some awful retaliation of the GPU. I saw this state of things in Kharkov. I saw it in Odessa, Kiev, and other cities.”
“The condition existed all over the southern part of the USSR. All these people were called kulaks, and the government slogan was ‘Liquidate the kulaks!’ They were not allowed to have passports. They were not allowed to ride trains. They were not allowed to have jobs in the factories because the factory authorities could not feed them, although the official reason was that ‘they might wreck the machinery’. The Soviet Government had further given orders that no one might feed these runaway peasants. Such is the spell of fanatical propaganda coupled with unparallelled terror that the workers in the cities, themselves living on the lowest of rations and under nigh unbearable living conditions, would often denounce these peasants to the GPU. But they continue to run away from the collectives by the millions. They robbed freight trains. They plundered cooperative stores for food. The Central Committee of the Communist Party issued orders and decrees, threatened these anti-social elements with ‘the highest measure of social defense’ – capital punishment.” Reader, these conditions had they been known to Americans would have been enough to rock the Consortium to its foundations. But Henry Ford who himself in the early twenties was flattered to pose as a Presidential candidate appears and hired anti-union thugs to smash up communist sympathizers and trade unionists showed no compassion for the kulaks or masses of starving Ukrainian men, women and children.
Fred Beal vividly describes what he witnessed:
“The starving peasants and workers stormed the foreign colony at the Kharkov Tractor Plant every day. With piteous cries for food, they went from house to house and from door to door whenever they could get past the guards stationed there. It was the only hope of getting bread. There was none on the land. The Stalin clique was determined, however, to teach the famine-stricken people ‘a lesson in Communist dictatorship’. These crowds of roving peasants were augmented by discharged workers from factories, workers who couldn’t keep up with the Stalin pace or who had grumbled, protested, or fallen into disfavor with their overseers. For a worker to get fired in Soviet Russia means death by starvation, unless he can learn the art of begging or is fortunate enough to have some kind relative in the capitalist countries. For when a worker is fired, he loses his work-card. And when he loses his work-card, he loses his bread-card and the right to live in the government-owned houses or barracks. The discharged worker cannot depend on help from friends who have barely enough food for their own existence. Besides, the GPU ‘discourages’ any aid to such victims. So the Tractor Plant and our foreign colony there was besieged by droves of begging and pleading people, seeking a few crumbs of bread, some potato peelings, or some fish bones. Not a day passed without groups of these disinherited peasants and workers, young and old, men and women, knocking at our doors. They would dig into the garbage boxes and fight like packs of wild dogs for food remains.”
“The Stalin clique positively hated these intruders, especially the peasants. The hungry folks stood in the way of the bureaucrats anxious to make a good showing before the visiting delegations and tourists. Indeed, of what use was the propaganda put out in America, claiming that the Soviet worker was prosperous and always employed, if these hungry, shelterless, jobless ‘beggars’ were permitted to expose the truth? The soviet authorities, with the aid of the Communist Party members of the factory, who were eager to win favors from the high officials, would round up the starving people in the streets, collect them in great herds, and turn them over to the GPU. I saw it happen many times. It was a weekly occurrence. Sometimes a raid would be improvised a few hours before the arrival of a foreign delegation. I confess that I even took part of some extent in these inhuman dragnets.” (F. Beal, 297)
At gunpoint the GPU block Beal and a group of foreign workers on a trip from Kharkov into the villages. Timing is critical. This fall 1932 Beal and a foreign worker make it out one early morning undetected. “The Stalin dictatorship,” Beal observes, “frowned on any attempts on the part of even foreign Communists to see what was going on in the country.”
Then Beal is stopped. For the naive sight-seeing tourist Beal makes it clear the reasons for the Soviet travel restriction. Beal is furious but he has to keep low if he wants to live. “The things we saw are not what the visitor to Russia sees,” Beal writes. “The tourists would see only the special farms. One of these is the GPU Commune located in the Kharkov district. It is called the ‘Red Star’. The peasants working on this farm are hand-picked members of the Communist Party and the Young Communist League. They are well-fed and housed. The cows are contented and the tractors, under the management of strapping young shock troops, actually plow the fields. But 95 per cent of the collectives and state farms are radically different from this. They walked miles from behind the plant Beal and his friend came across a woman at work in a field, a DOPR (prisoners’ corps) worker. Her bony uncovered legs were spotted with boils and scabs. First she ran, then when assured Beal was a foreigner, she stopped. ‘They took my husband and my son,’ she told them. ‘They killed them. I’m sure, and now they want to kill me.’ The woman wept, hysterically and fell to the ground, and her fists beat the earth.”
Beal’s companion related her story. ‘The father and son had been shipped to some unknown place for failure to make the quota. The quota is the tax in kind set by the Soviet Commissars.” Her husband had been a skilled wood worker, was captured by the Germans in the First World War, later fought in the Red Army against the Whites, and after Lenin’s Land Decree for the peasants he prospered on a small plot with a cow, horse and plow. But when he was ‘short four bushels of wheat and three of potatoes’. And guilty of sabotage.” Beal found other workers on a Sovhoz or state work farm where “the majority of the peasants were prisoners. All were in a bad condition, weak and undernourished.” Further on was a collective farm which had only water, and no milk “for six months”.
Another woman along the way sat alongside a field of tomatoes and weeds. She told Beal the reasons she did nothing now. “‘We had some nice tomatoes last year and the government came and took them all away from us. The same with the potatoes and everything else we raised. We had nothing to live on through the winter. Citizen, do you think “I” can pull all those weeds? There were two thousands of us here once. Now there are only about one hundred left, and God knows what will happen to the rest of us this winter!’”
The others had all “died or ran way.” She told Beal, “‘Now, there are only a few children and one sick cow’.” Beal and his comrade walk across “mile after mile” of untilled fields abandoned to weeds. “Yet at this very time the Moscow News was telling Americans that Ukraine was one hundred percent cultivated!” They past a dead man with “flies, ants and worms” feeding on a rotting corpse, and fresh graves marked by Greek crosses near “skeletons of horses and cows”. Ghost fields. They passed two men struggle with a tractor. “A real tractor it was and running, too.” In a field past some houses of a Stalin Commune they found “an abandoned John Deere Combine of late model” rusting in a field. Beal waited in a house with cots each with a gray blanket and waited for the workers to return from work. “Now, at the ‘Red Star’ Commune, of the GPU, the workers had come rushing in from work, happy, full of life and energy. But not these men and women. They dragged themselves in sad, hungry, and completely exhausted. They sat at the table like so many mechanical men, not talking to each other, just waiting, each with a tin spoon in his hand, for the cabbage soup to come.” They were served soup, bread and hot tea. He learned there too workers had fled from lack of food. (F. Beal, 298-312)
Beal ventured deeper in the land of harvest of dead souls.
“In the spring of 1933, when the last of the winter snows had melted away, I made a random visit to a Ukrainian collective near the village of Chekhuyev. In company with a Russian-American comrade from the factory, I took the train from our little station of Lossevo and rode for two hours to Chekhuyev. From this place, we walked east for several miles. We met not a living soul. We came upon a dead horse and a dead man upon the side of a road. The horse still lay harnessed to the wagon. The man was still holding the reins in his lifeless stiff hands. Both had died from starvation, it seemed.”
“The atmosphere itself seemed filled with death and desolation. The village we reached was the worst of all possible sights. The only human there was an old woman who passed us on the village street. She hobbled along with the aid of a stick. Her clothes were just a bunch of rags tied together. When she came close to us she lifted the stick as if to strike us but the movement petered out in weakness. She spat at us and mumbled something incoherent, something my friend could not make out, though he knew the language well. Her feet were dreadfully swollen. She sat down and pricked her swollen feet with a sharp stick, to let the water out of the huge blisters. There was a large hole in the top of her foot from continuous piercing of the skin. She was stark mad. She laughed when she sat down and screamed with pain when she squeezed her foot. She spat at us again.”
“We moved on. There was no other life. The village was dead. Going up to one of the shacks, we looked in a window. We saw a dead man propped up on a built-in Russian stove. His back was against the wall, he was rigid and staring straight at us with his faraway dead eyes. I shall always remember that ghastly sight. I have seen dead people who had died naturally, before. But this was from a cause and a definite one. A cause which I was somehow associated with, which I had been supporting. How that deathly gaze pierced me! How it caused me to writhe in mental agony! As I look back, I think that unforgettable scene had more effect than any other in deciding me to do what I could do to rectify my horrible mistake in supporting the Stalinists of Russia and the Third International. We found more dead people in what had been their homes. Some bodies were decomposed,. Others were fresher. When we opened the doors, huge rats would scamper to their holes and then come out and stare at us. At one house, there was a sign somehow printed on the door in crude Russian letters.”
“My friend read it: ‘God bless those who enter here, may they never suffer as we have’. Inside two men and a child lay dead with an icon alongside of them. There was a sign on the door of another house. It read: ‘My son. We couldn’t wait. God be with you’. Two old people were dead in there. We took it to mean they couldn’t wait for a food package to arrive, possibly from Moscow or even from America. Maybe their son had been in the Red Army; perhaps he was a factory worker. If it was food they had been waiting for, either the boy had not sent it or it had been stolen by some hungry mail-censor. Many of the houses were empty. But, in the rear, the graves told a story of desolation and ghastly death. More signs were stuck up on the graves by those who buried them: ‘I LOVE Stalin. BURY HIM HERE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! THE COLLECTIVE DIED ON US! WE TRIED A COLLECTIVE. THIS IS THE RESULT!’”
On his way back Beal learns the village would be burned. “Three or four others in the vicinity had already been burned. Not a trace of the houses or of the dead bodies in them was left.” Beal’s faith in the great Soviet communist “experiment” is broken. Still he continues editing the American Communist Factory paper, Tempo of the Kharkov Tractor Plant. How else can he live without a job for food card rations. “I constantly saw the most unbelievable tragedies. It was common to see people drop dead from starvation. On no occasion that I can remember did I fail to see a death from starvation during my travels to the city.” (italics added.)
“The Stalin dictatorship has one thing which works in its favor: the horrors of Soviet life are such that few people in the Western World could be brought to believe them.” Beal compares what he lived and witnessed “like a ghoulish dream…At the city bazaar I saw a woman lie down and die. Her begging days were over. Wrapped tight around her and hugging her breast was an infant sucking at her nipples. The people about paid little attention. Death meant freedom ! The few who hovered around shook their heads in utmost sorrow. A militiaman blew his whistle and when another came, they both took her body and the suckling to the police station. This police station was crowded all the time with homeless workers and peasants who had been picked up during the day. These were destined to receive a bullet of mercy or to be shipped in cattle cars to some prison camp. On a visit to Odessa, I saw many such freight cars loaded with these unfortunate people. As they passed our train, I could smell the stench of these cooped-up beings. It was particularly terrible to see young people in these groups. But they were there, along with the old ones. Once, I saw a lad of about nineteen walking in the gutter. He was smiling and brave looking, as if he were proud of whatever he had done. Behind him was an officer with a drawn pistol. When an officer parades an individual down a Russian street with a drawn gun, it means ‘that’ person is to be shot.”
There in Kharkov Beal meets with Petrovsky, Stalin’s ruthless henchman and currently President of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic for the Holodomor. With his superior Erenburg in propaganda work they interrogate Petrovsky about the millions dead and dying all over Russia.
“”What are we going to tell them?’ they smirked? ‘Tell them nothing. What they say is true.’ Long live the Glorious Revolution!’ In fact, the only known statement by a named Russian official was the admission of Petrovsky, president of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, that they knew millions were dying.” (F. Beal, “Word From Nowhere”, Proletarian Journey, 254-5)
Beal tries to get it right in his mind what has really happened as here he explains how the great richness of this beautiful land of the Ukraine and its population is destroyed by Stalin and his band of thugs running his communist regime: “Now the Ukraine is known as the bread-basket of Europe. Its soil is as rich as that of Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas. That black earth will grow anything, given only the seed and care. What then was the cause of this general starvation? One of the answers is Stalin’s forced collectivization. The peasants stubbornly fought the campaign ordered from the Kremlin. Their seeds were confiscated and distributed only to collective and state farms. Their horses and cows were expropriated. The right of disposing of their crops was denied the individual peasants. Farm implements were made unavailable to them. Heavy taxes were placed upon peasant households and collected at the point of a gun. Scores of thousands were killed outright because they refused to go to the collectives. Red Army detachments were sent into the villages for that purpose. The inhabitants of hundreds of villages literally died in their tracks and, in thousands of other villages, the peasants abandoned their homes after the forcible seizure of from 60 to 90 percent of their grain. Great numbers took to the roads, flocked to the cities, and wandered as far as their legs could carry them. The tragedy of these living corpses, who were often without even the customary rags in the coldest weather, was more gruesome than the tragedy of the dead.” Beal rides “the International train” passing scores of abandoned and lost children at every station between Kharkov and Moscow.
On one occasion the American Fred Beal is ordered to join in a sweep by the GPU agents and other communist officials to rid the area just prior to a visit of foreigners, Americans, Germans and Brits. “Often I thought: ‘It won’t be long, I cannot stand it!’ It was horrible to see the starved people dragged along the road, their bare swollen feet against sharp rocks. Their looks and dress could not be described. For months they had been slowly starving to death. Hardly any of these people could ever again eat a square meal – their stomachs would not bear it. Scurvy and boils covered their bodies. Their legs were bloated. Some were insane and spat at the guards and the Young Communists who teased them. Huddled together by the well-fed GPU men, the hundreds caught in the round-up and roughly thrown together in one batch made a slight (cry sic) which mocked at Humanity.” Young Pioneers, children taught to hate the beggars and brainwashed with cant phrases parroted to their masters helped GPU agents catch those who tried to escape. A group of women screamed “Citizens, citizens! Don’t send us away!” Beal observes, “They knew that they were about to be carried off a long distance, where they would be dumped into the wilderness, miles away from cities, so that they would perish without embarrassing the Soviet Government before foreign delegates and tourists.”
“I had never dreamed that Communists could stoop so low as to round up hungry people, load them up upon trucks or trains, and ship them to some wasteland in order that they might die there. Yet it was a regular practice. I was witnessing myself how human beings were being tossed into the high trucks like sacks of wheat… As the two trucks were being loaded with the human cargo consigned to perdition, some of the victims fought back, but due to their weakened condition their blows had little effect. The children among the prisoners climbed in of their own free will. They apparently looked upon it as a joy-ride. Many of the young ones did manage to escape en route and reach the cities again….An hour later the foreign delegation arrived to inspect the boasted Soviet industrial giant and to enjoy a hearty meal. More than one speaker exhorted the foreigners to bear witness to the world that there is no starvation in Russia. There were many such raids. The Stalinists, after dumping their victims in the barren fields, trusted that none would ever come back alive. But some did, and they would tell us foreigners what happened to them in the wilderness.” One such boy carried wood for Beal in return for food. Three times he had been captured and escaped. Beal learned that the old and weak perished on the roads or in the fields.
“Right there and then I was determined to make a complete break with the Stalin gang and return to the capitalist world, no matter what the consequences…”
Beal observed first-hand the Soviet propagandists at work on the naive and beguiling foreign visitors “and even newspaper correspondents” eager to soak up the Soviet Big Lie. “And how gullible the average tourist turned out to be! I was particularly struck by the gushing enthusiasm of these well-fed pilgrims over the happy and contented Russian workers who had at last ‘come into their own’. These tourists could stand by watching Russian workers seat beads while carrying heavy loads on their backs or almost faint from hunger and heat in the foundry and get lyrical about it!”
The machine unionist Fred Beal studies the behavior of the foreign visitor carefully guided by the authorities through the haze of illusions of Bolshevik Russia and cleverly convinced “that ‘the Five-Year Plan is a hundred percent fulfilled”, he writes. And there was always the problem of the radical American upon seeing the truth, unwilling to reveal it back home, like the member of a John Reed Club who told him in Kharkov “that he would not dare tell his friends back home some of the things he had seen in Russia. “‘They wouldn’t believe me’, he said to me in my room, ‘and I’d be an outcast’. (F. Beal, Proletarian Journey, 317)
Intourist agents working with the GPU services would whisk tourist groups to the Red Cross hotel where they would be given the finest rooms in town, obliged to eat meals at the hotel (“elsewhere the cost would be ten or more American dollars per person”) for a one, almost never two day visit. Well dressed, stocky and fit American labor leaders appeared out of place alongside their famished soviet comrades.
Friends from America take Beal aside “‘Tell me, Comrade Beal, do you think this is really a success? It will be better in the future, won’t it? … America is fully industrialized; we won’t have to go through this suffering, will we?’” And when the visitors raved about Soviet construction, Fred Beal might offer them a job in a Soviet factory which they’d decline as an insult to the American way of life.
Spring 1933. Conditions worsen. Beal and the workers at Kharkov Tractor Plant are urged to create their own gardening collective and raise products to combat the food crisis. Beal writes, “the Stalin government fear that a general peasant revolt might break out at any time.”
Such was the propaganda. They were given 125 acres and a new tractor from the plant. “This tractor circled the field a few times, coughed … and died! It was never resurrected and eventually carted away. We then took to the shovel and the lowly hoe, and did our own digging…” One of the Americans received a large box of seeds from the US. The collective fought among themselves for rights to cultivate private gardens.
Beal recalls what happened when the Ford plant closed in Detroit and many workers took up the communist offer for a job in the Soviet Union; in 1933 when news arrived in Kharkov that the plant had reopened many Americans wanted to return. The American government let them go. What else could it do? Tell them the truth about Soviet Russia? The State Department does little to nothing to help them to get out or get them back.
Smith a naturalized Finn who Beal describes as the “political Tsar of the foreign section of the All-Soviet Tractor Trust” arrives from Moscow. An American openly confronts the Finn about the Holodomor and starvation conditions in the city. “Do you know people are dropping dead from starvation here on the streets?” Beal observes, writing, “Instantly Smith was on the alert. ‘Where did you read that – in the Chicago Tribune?'” (italics added.)
The foreigners knew better for themselves. “The Finn Smith shouted to his audience. ‘ What do you mean – coming to the Soviet Union to criticize and make demands? Where do you think you are – in Union Square? Here the dictatorship rules with an iron hand! It is unmerciful to its enemies! We will not let bourgeois sentiments stand in our way! What about the Russians who are not getting a third of the bread you get – are they complaining? NO!’ Smith turned his anger on the ‘Fascist dog, creeping in our midst from some capitalist country’, keeping the American worker suppressed, unemployed and under racial and economic tyranny. The American workers then voted a resolution to support Stalin and the Red Army.”
That night Beal dines with Smith back at the Red Hotel in Kharkov, dismisses any blame on Nazi fascist infiltration of the worker community, and tells Smith to tell the truth about starvation in Russia. Did he have to recall that William Foster had once eagerly sold Liberty Bonds for the war gang in Washington?
“The American Party members”, Beal tells Smith, “are asking why so many peasants are being arrested and why so many of them are being shot and exiled. You can’t continue calling them all ‘kulaks’. But all Smith wanted was for the foreigners ‘to get the plant running and to teach the Russians how to run the plant. After that, we can dispense with their services and they can go back to their capitalist fatherland…’”
Beal also accounts for the self-imposed censorship of the foreign correspondents, writing, “But why did most of the American correspondents in Moscow fail to reveal the truth of the insufferable conditions”? Soviet travel restrictions, fear of offending their soviet hosts and losing their jobs… Ironically, Beal considers Chamberlin, Issac Don Levine with the Chicago Daily News, Eugene Lyons, all of them, “independent and fearless”. “All”, Beal recalls in his book Proletarian Journey “are obliged to leave Russia in order to tell the full truth”. But he know that’s not the whole story. Not by a long shot, longer than the White-Sea Canal! Longer than the Trans-Siberian rails! And reader we know about Chamberlin. and about Levine, too, no less corrupt than the other poisonous vipers of their crowd, even less transparent and immersed in the America abyss emerging well enough to lead anti-Stalinist conservatives with Fischer, Lyons, Chamberlin and others in the postwar era and get jolly good pay for it too.
Don Levine was born in 1892 in Mozyr in the Ukraine and emigrated to America in 1911. A free-lance journalist Levine returned to Russia in 1919. That year he publishes with Maria Botchkareva, a volunteer soldier in the Woman’s Death Battalion, Yashka: My Life As Peasant, Exile, and Soldier, and follows that in 1920 with Letters from the Kaiser to the Czar.
During the Holodomor Levine turns his sympathies away from Stalin and the communists writing a column for the Hearst newspapers and exposed Stalin’s horrors in Letters from Russian Prisons (1925) receiving support from defenders of civil liberties including Roger Baldwin of the ACLU, Bertrand Russell, and Albert Einstein who denounced what he described as “the regime of frightfulness in Russia.” Einstein refused to support or attend the 1932 World Anti-War Congress because of its “glorification of Soviet Russia”. Einstein declared, “At the top there appears to be a personal struggle in which the foulest means are used by power-hungry individuals acting from purely selfish motives. At the bottom there seems to be complete suppression of the individual and freedom of speech. One wonders whether life is worth living under such conditions.”
Levine is a suspicious character. The Ukrainian-born Russian Jew turned American journalist also writes The Mind of the Assassin about the assassination of Leon Trotsky. He’s later hired by Life magazine. In the sixties Levine surfaces again in a deal to buy the controversial Zapruder film showing the motorcade murder of JFK in Dallas by multiple assassins and tells Marina Oswald’s story (wife of Lee Harvey Oswald). (Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2007, 379-80)
Einstein had read Levine’s descriptions of the terror gulag in Letters from Russian Prisons and followed by a biography of Stalin calling the strong denunciation of Stalin’s crimes “profound”, and in March 1932 he wrote Levine, “Violence breeds violence. Liberty is the necessary foundation for the development of all true values.” Later this year Einstein invites Freud to participate in the Institute for Intellectual Cooperation. One the subject of elimination of war Einstein proposed a stronger obligation imposed on sovereign nations to abide by international law stronger than the League of Nations.
In their correspondence Einstein writes, “The quest of international security involves the unconditional surrender of every nation, in a certain measure, of its liberty of action – its sovereignty that is to say – and it is clear that no other road can lead to such security. Einstein would later urge such restraint to stop the use of the atomic bomb. Einstein asked the “expert in the lore of human instincts” what to do about the “lust for hatred and destruction” arousing military aggression, “Is it possible to control man’s mental evolution so as to make him secure against the psychosis of hate and destructiveness?” Freud agreed that man’s “instincts to destroy and kill, which we assimilate as aggressive or destructive instincts” need to be balanced by “those that conserve and unify, which we call ‘erotic’ … Each of these instincts is every whit as indispensable as its opposite, and all the phenomena of life derive from their activity, whether they work in concert or in opposition.”
Freud’s conclusion is pessimistic. “The upshot of these observations,” Freud writes, “is that there is no likelihood of our being able to suppress humanity’s aggressive tendencies. In some happy corners of the earth, they say, where nature brings forth abundantly whatever man desires, there flourish races whose lives go gently by; unknowing of aggression or constraint. This I can hardly credit; I would like further details about these happy folk. The Bolshevists, too, aspire to do away with human aggressiveness by insuring the satisfaction of material needs and enforcing equality between man and man. To me this hope seems vain. Meanwhile they busily perfect armaments.”
Late 1929 Freud noted with the pang of caustic irony, “Passed over for the Nobel Prize” for Civilization and Its Discontents, but he remains cheerful of exceptionally good sales of 12,000 copies sold out in the first edition; a second edition went to press the next year shadowed by Hitler’s Nazi party’s surprise victory in the Reichstag elections in September 1930 increasing to 107 from 12 the number of deputies. Freud repeats the theme in summing up his life’s work in his essay “Civilization and Its Discontents”: In the last paragraph Freud summons the courage to leave his modern readers with a dark but realistic pragmatism about the future. Essentially the world of mankind so far as it has evolved has proved itself doomed.
“The fateful question for the human species seems to me,” Freud writes, “to be whether and to what extent their cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance of communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction. It may be that in this respect precisely the present time deserves a special interest. Men have gained control over the forces of nature to such an extent that with their help they would have no difficulty in exterminating one another to the last man. They know this, and hence comes a large part of their current unrest, their unhappiness and their mood of anxiety. And now it is to be expected that the other of the two ‘Heavenly Powers’, eternal Eros, will make an effort to assert himself in the struggle with his equally immortal adversary. But who can foresee with what success and with what result?” (Walter Issacson, Sigmund Freud to Albert Einstein, 1932; Einstein, 382; Sigmund Freud, The Freud Reader,, Peter Gray ed., NY: W. W. Norton, 1989, 772)
But Fred Beal whose education in politics comes from grass roots and streets shared with men and woman few of whom ever had a university education, thinks he is on the right track. Beal writes, “The fundamental reason why this truth from Russia does not reach the world is to be found in the corrupting influence of the autocratic state. All governments have their satellites in the form of semi-official press correspondents who disseminate ‘inspired’ news. Rigid soviet censorship combines with foreign correspondents he says who are unable to get at facts.
“They become rewrite men,” Beal explains. “They cannot collect and report news from their own sources of information. They are confined to translating and transmitting items which appear in the rigidly censored Soviet newspapers”. Beal describes how the intimidation on the Soviet government press produces a working environment of “servility to Stalin” that westerners find “inconceivable” and “beyond comprehension”. He doesn’t call it coercion. It is more subtle than the barrel of a gun that will come soon enough.
On the other side, of course, are the “facts” or “opinion” of the capitalist press. Beal writes of the Soviet press of the menace that threatens and undermines American press freedom as well: “It practices an almost inconceivable deception upon the western world. Its weapons are denunciation and prevarication. It exists for propaganda and not for information. Its aim is to proselytize (sic) and not to seek the truth.” Beal says he at one time “used to denounce the capitalist press as a ‘kept’ press” and journalists lowly “prostitutes of opinion”. A true patriot, his experience of Soviet conditions, and in particular the Holodomor inspire in him a new love for the precious America concept of freedom as a constitutional right of the individual in a democratic state. Now he finds that only in the absolute dictatorship of a totalitarian statehood as in the Soviet Union was “a complete prostitution of the press possible”. In America, Bell is convinced, the proliferation of the press precludes a total suppression of the truth. “No one is powerful enough,” Bell writes, “to corner all the papers, to acquire all the printing presses, to own all the publications, to employ all the writers, and to outlaw all opposition”. He blamed the Soviet dictatorship and its complete and absolute domination of the press and public opinion as “that source of pollution to give the outside world a picture of the people’s life under the Soviet system”. Perhaps Fred Beal believed in Einstein’s theory of incompleteness, or that simply the freedom of thought, and that of the idea of freedom itself makes it so. Or that the power of the Consortium or a Hitler or Stalin cannot prove it otherwise. The communists would more likely label it bourgeois liberal decadent thought, intellectual rubbish, with nothing more than a concept to be dialectically materialized.
But trapped in the Kharkov Tractor Plant Beal is now virtually a “political refugee” from America. For the Soviets Beal is too important a Stalinist loyalist to purge now. The Soviets allow him travel abroad, and, in 1933, Beal sails back to the United States. Roger Baldwin cables Beal not to risk a return, that by doing so he will surely end up in prison. “
Go back East”, Baldwin advises. “Well, not as bad as Soviet prison,” Beal must have thought. Beal is also a friend of the legendary figure Big Bill Haywood of the IWW, the Utah miners’ son “who died a crushed and embittered man in the land of his refuge Soviet Russia”. Haywood, too, had fled the US, in 1921, successfully defended by Clarence Darrow against a young prosecutor, freshly elected to the US Senate, William E. Borah, in a jury trial charged with murdering the ex-Governor of Idaho, an arch-enemy of the miners and the working class. These were the days when the average America worker earned $523.12 a year (unskilled laborers earned less) according to the 1905 Census Bureau when a family required $800 just to get by. During the contentious postwar era of revolutionary passions and social unrest, the notorious “Red Scare” bombings and the 1919 Palmer raids of alleged government conspiracy plots by the Justice Department the fugitive Bill Haywood is welcomed in Soviet Russia though he was deeply affected by the death by typhus of his friend radical writer John Reed in Moscow in October 1920, another fugitive wanted by J. Edgar Hoover as America’s Public Enemy Number One who had to ask for confirmation from the State Department, “Is he still dead?”. Haywood, too, had written a book before he died, but the Soviet censor deleted the sections on Soviet Russia, and instead fabricated a hero’s funeral in Moscow. “The changed attitude of many capitalists”, Beal writes, “who were looking forward to large commercial deals and huge profits in the Soviet Union, was evident in the press. Led by Walter Duranty of The New York Times, a chorus of praise for the Communist regime resounds throughout our country.”