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Considerations on a Voyage to Russia

1932 Part 1 of 9
October 9, 2015 1932, Considerations on a Voyage to Russia, Ernst Niekisch

One can walk in the streets of Russia and not encounter the least
manifestation, institution, or measure in which Russia would or could
seduce. The people are poorly clothed, as if they have only proletarians
leaving their factory and returning there. The men wear caps and the women
and young girls wear scarves. Its by the hat that they recognize the foreigner.
The shoes are poor quality, the shops nearly empty. There, before the war,
were piled all the delicacies of the Orient and the Occident, right now there
are some boxes of preserves, little heaps of rutabagas, cucumbers, and
potatoes. In the shop windows, the most shabby and superfluous object try to
attract the customer: three or four flasks of perfume, an old mandolin, a red
scarf to brighten it up. In the middle of sad odd and ends, the bust of Lenin or
Stalin is the focus and serves as a fig leaf. The stores on Nevski Prospekt or
in front of the Kremlin, once celebrated by the entire world, resemble at
present little flea markets in an obscure suburb. Maybe right now that is the
true character of cities like Leningrad or Moscow. Everywhere there is this
dreary grayness that before we only encountered in popularquarters. The
splendor of the old palaces has disappeared. The poor faces, gnawed by grief,
look through the high windows. The miserable, with toothless mouths, are
crammed into the rooms where once an elite lead a life full of pomp, open to
the world. This Russia is effectively proletarian. At every glance, that is
confirmed. It does not want to trick with Potemkin Villages. Maybe it does
not even had the imagination and lightness to erect such villages. It
embellishes none of the monotony of daily life and nothing prevents the

foreigner from seeing the country such as it is. If we want to undertake a

voyage of discovery, with its own risks and perils, we have no obstacle to
Russia wants to be a worker state and it is. Man or woman one must be part
of the active population to have civic rights and even the right to life. If one is
not a worker, one does not have the possibility of sharing in a cooperative
that receives, although in a limited quantity, the goods and distributions to its
members on the ration card and at a controlled price. In the feudal epoch, it
was necessary to have land, in the bourgeois epoch it was necessary to
have capital to be a representative of the ruling class. Right now, it is
necessary to fulfill employment to be socially and politically recognized.
From the point of view of history, we understand that the new Russia was
born under the form of a workers state: when, in 1917 and the following
years, the foreign looters and capitalist exploiters tried to divide Russia and
colonize it, they used with success the idea of Marxism against them. The
external independence of Russia was saved and defended by the
revolutionary workers. The aristocrats and the Russian bourgeoisie were
close to betraying and selling the liberty and integrity of their country for the
price of assuring their social privileges. The great political exploit, that the
revolutionary worker accomplished for Russia, gave him the feeling of his
own value. Sure of himself, he also wants to form his country in his image.
The effective power of the Russian worker depends on particular historical
circumstances. Certainly, the fundamental question of knowing if there is an
objective necessity, intrinsically, pressing for an epoch of the worker, has not
yet been resolved. If there was such a necessity, at this moment, the worker

state would be more than a chance occurrence of history. It would have such
importance as to equal that of the French or British Revolutions.
An aristocrat without the lifestyle of a great lord, his authority, and his pomp
is a sign of degeneration. In the measure where, much later, he is
accommodated to bourgeois society, he is a hybrid that must take an irony
and who if he is intelligent no longer takes himself seriously.
Undeniably, the great days of the bourgeoisie are equally past. The earth had
finally become understandable and calculable. Everywhere, there were limits,
barriers, that the overflowing liberty of the individual has leaped or broken.
The faith in unlimited possibilities is dead. There is no longer any place to
start great audacious enterprises. Things are no longer all alone. There is no
pre-established harmony in the free play of forces. What we have abandoned
to itself, ends by crises and catastrophes. The bourgeois are crippled: things
no longer let them mastery according to point of view of profitability.
Capitalism, which cannot give bread and work to twenty million
unemployed, because its principles even prevent it from surpassing the
anarchic state of the global economy, must be put into question. The
gentleman, that the global problems no longer allow him to sleep, withdraws.
Tired, he gives up. Sometimes, he still discusses in conferences, but he feels
far from the state of really attacking the problems and resolving them.
Will the workers be this social class that does not fear the difficulties because
they are still so naive and blind to their total extent, this class that manages to
show because it dares to attack its difficulties?
In this sense, the Russian worker believes in his global mission. He he sees
himself as the prototype, the model of man, called to take possession of the

world. All of Russian life is conceived according to this model. It features it,
confirms its right to life, idealizes it, and give it the occasion to enjoy its
importance. Behind each public manifestation, behind each gesture of the
worker himself, we mean to heatedly defend this claim that the worker is the
most advanced man and bearer of the the greatest hopes. The German and
Western workers all bear in their hearts secret bourgeois ideals. That is why
they never has enough confidence in themselves to undertake a proletarian
revolution. The Russian worker never submitted a bit to the influences of
bourgeois civilization. Thus he could have the courage to profess that
proletarian way of life. It is imposed with such a force that, in the cities, we
see nearly no traces of other social classes. Beside him, no other type of
Russian society dares to manifest. Even the rejected of the bourgeoisie, the
sons and the daughters of have been men, adapt to the new society.
The environment, the milieu that marks the worker is the factory. It is a
strangely artificial world, without any link to nature, detached from all that is
organic. The man is before his creation. It is there, in the din of machines,
that he works. It is there where we measure exactly his performance. The
rhythm and tempo of machinery accordingly imposes its mechanical law on
its organism. But exactly these machines, that submit him to their rhythm, are
man made marvels. It is technology that teaches man how he can succeed by
using his confidence and his intelligence. Each function on the inside of the
factory is a triumph of mans science and rationality. In this milieu, it forms a
conception of life that encourages him to be very proud of human reason. We
consider that his vocation is to become an agent in the factory and a factor of
output in the processes of production. It seems that all the somber corners can
be lighted, that the world no longer conceals mysteries, that there are no
longer any technical problems we cannot resolve. The irrational becomes a

chimera or mysticism. In general, it is mixed with counter-revolutionary

designs that pollute the pure air of the factory. The air that is so pure that
finally even relations between man and woman, working side by side on the
line, lost their sensuality there.
Relations between the sexes are more neutral than in Western or Central
Europe. They are ruled with a sovereign calm. Marriage as well as divorce
are simple questions of convenience. The proletarian marriage is no more
immoral by its relation to bourgeois marriage than bourgeois marriage was by
its relation with ancient religious marriage. It simply corresponds to the
situation today. They can longer do with too many manners. Man and
woman, who, during the day, are occupied by their work and propaganda, no
longer possess the certain psychic terrain on which familial romanticism
can flourish. There is no longer any torrid sexuality. For this reason,
prostitution has retreated in Russia. Berlin is incomparably more immoral
than Leningrad, Moscow, or Kiev. The ease with which one can divorce
excites the sexual imagination of the West. However Russia is far from
confounding marriage with a brief erotic adventure. A communist who
departs to the promiscuity of his girl dishonors himself and loses all credit.
These men and women, uniquely esteemed by the function of their
productivity and between which there are no obscure erotic secrets, are
evidently equal in rights. This equality is not controversial or aggressively
underlined. Sex matters little for the person who, as a director of a factory,
holds in his hands 20 or 25 thousand workers or employees.
This rationalist and materialist attitude, which characterizes the self
confidence of these men, seems down to earth, or flat, but it is firmly

anchored in their hearts. They want at any price to instruct, to inform:

knowledge is power. The means of instruction and the pedagogical methods
have attained a level and a perfection like none before. The Russian worker
knows the raw material resources of his country. He is up to date on todays
state of Russian production. He sees through the infamy of the old social
order. He knows the laws of the proletarian rising, as he knows the history of
the evolution of man. And, in particular, he discovered the tricks that the
monkey used to rise to the level of man. He handles the economic conception
of history as an instrument permitting him to attack all questions and see
them clearly. For him, there are no longer any impenetrable mysteries.
It prepares the worker, who made his proof in the factory, for more noble
tasks. He studies chemistry, physics, and material technology. Having
instruction means to be capable of becoming an expert in material
technology. The state, the unions, even the factories organize courses and
open schools permitting them to follow studies. The social sciences, that
accompany the young Russian in the nursery, are, to say thus, the credo and
the scientific foundation of the new doctrine of salvation. There they live and
evolve even as Central Europe lives with Christian concepts and ideas.
Otherwise, only technical knowledge and formation are next. What the curate
was to the Middle Ages, the lawyer was to the French bourgeoisie, the
technician and engineer is for the Russia of today.
In this clear atmosphere, saturated with materialism, the Orthodox Church
must forcibly collapse, even if no one attacks it openly. It is far more
aristocratic and mystical than the Catholic Church. Only old ladies and some
aged men attend services. The prayers and the chants of popes behind closed
doors no longer have any living link with the reality of modern Russia.

Russia today believes in the tractor and mocks the old icons. In Central and
Western Europe, we still do not realize that the air of modern factories is not
convenient for any form of Christianity. In the large cities, the care for the
salvation of souls is only practiced in psychological spheres that have yet to
be entirely invaded by technical progress. Russian atheism is not Russian
malevolence; it is only this form of metaphysics to which we are inevitably
lead when everything is put under technology. When we are convinced that
technology can resolve all problems, there is no longer any place for piety or
respect for God.
However, the fervor of faith in technical progress and the self confidence of
the proletarian still have other reasons that we find outside the rational, that
reside in facts. The country possesses immense resources in unexploited raw
materials. It has inexhaustible resources. They are the security of the
proletariat. Even without being highlighted, they give wings to hope. That is
the exceptional situation of the Russian worker! He can be certain that his
work will not end in useless efforts and that he can draw riches from the
entrails of the earth. The vow of poverty, freely pronounced, and the most
severe discipline of work are all the more easier to support, in the extreme
case, when he can always place his hope in these reserves.
Certainly, the worker type is a mediocre man, more sickly, more modest, and
more dull than the members of the old ruling class. But he will probably be
our destiny, because the earth has begun to impoverish. Consequently, he
must be economic, he must count, plan, and establish himself until the last.
As always the worker feels his existence threatened by the anarchy of the
capitalist economic regime. Although the trusts and the private enterprises are

organized following a detailed program, the capitalist economy, as a whole, is

a chaotic imbroglio of antagonistic forces. It is exactly this unlimited liberty
that is the cause of the crises for which the worker must always pay with
unemployment and salary reductions. The planning of the entire economy is
thus the true claim of the worker, it is the bottom of his socialism. To the idea
of liberty of the bourgeoisie, the worker counters with the idea of planning.
The edification of socialism corresponds to that of the planned economy. The
equivalents arising from that are evident and we cannot put it in question: as
it he sides with himself the bourgeois aspires to a market economy, equally as
he sides with himself the worker wants a planned economy. As the free
economy and capitalism signify the same thing, so do the planned economy
and socialism.
The economy of the Russian worker state is planned in the broadest sense of
the term. They establish a synoptic table of the ensemble of productive forces
identified. They then fix in what measure the different industrial sectors can
be developed and their production augmented, on the basis of machinery,
workers, and available capital. The different parts of the planning project are
coordinated and are then diffused to the centers of industrial activity and in
the factories. There they examine what is possible, they discuss it and modify
it by counter-propositions. It finally shows a counter-project that will realize
the definitive elaboration of the plan. This one becomes, to say thus, a
principle of social ethics: these figures are nearly moral currency, indicating
to each one what waits for him. To wait for the inscribed figures is the duty of
the citizen! Each factory, each branch of production makes daily account of
the relation between plan of production and the real yield. When the latter is
insufficient, without any indulgence, it self criticizes and tries to understand
the reason for the deficit. When it is not from causes escaping the control of

the factory (insufficient deliveries of raw material, problems with transport),

the personnel are severely reproached and the directors reprimanded.
Nowhere has the Taylor System, with its tables of yield, its blame given to
the slacking worker and its well wishes addressed to the conscientious
worker, been applied with as much rigor as in the Russian factories, although
it has a very difference meaning there. Here it is no longer the boss that is
enriched when the worker deploys all his forces. Each workers makes it his
point of honor to aid the progress of the realization of socialism. It is the
socialist Russia that requires every worker to fulfill his duty. The strike has
thus lost the meaning it has in the capitalist countries. It becomes an attack
against socialism, treason to the worker state. It is a political crime relevant to
the KGB. The worker serves his proper cause. Only if he has a very short
view information should be there to remedy it will he not recognize this
fact. The young workers, men and women, enthusiastic and fanatical from
socialist learning, become shock brigades and establish, by such models,
records. They train the entire factory in their enthusiasm, by becoming the
conscience and spur that pushes them forward. When we demanded of two
workers the reasons for which they are part of the oudarniki (pioneers),
they responded: if we take the time to explain that to these men during our
work hours, we could never be oudarniki. Thus work is done with a far
sharper conscience than we owe it, in socialist society. It is to support it and
distinguish it as such.
The application of the plan on the economy assuredly demands an
organization of bureaucratic supervision. It is necessary to accept the
inevitable weight of functioning and useless efforts. However there are a
good number of judicious interventions to render the realization of the plan
more flexible. Certain key enterprises must telegraph a daily account to the

central planning commission in Moscow. At the moment where there is a

difference, contrary to the rules, between the figures inscribed in the plan and
actually produced, a delegation returns to the place, examining the reasons
and taking draconian measures.
For Russia, the intensity of work is remarkable. Unemployment does not
exist. But seeing the empty shops, we demand where are the consumer goods
and the merchandise going?
Until the end, Tsarist Russia was a near exclusively agricultural country. In
the industrial scheme, it depended on the foreigner. That was its weakness.
Post-revolutionary Russia realized that, when, in 1917, it had to affirm itself
against the global powers of capitalism. To surmount it, it was necessary to
begin at once and, in the first place, construct those means of production,
base industries, key industries. It threw itself with all its force into this
enterprise. The production of coal, ferrous minerals, and petroleum was
increased, electricity was installed everywhere. The exploitation of reserves
began. The first Five Year Plan aimed for all these objectives. However,
consumption benefited little. Consumer goods remained as rare as before.
The manufacture of textiles and shoes was hardly increased. Heavy industry,
all new, was equally an armaments industry. The capacity of defense was
perfected. The yield was part of military mobilization. They furnished their
quota, but the level of life did not follow. Times were difficult. It was
necessary to work hard and accept much privation. In exchange, they
received an effect on a better future. It was necessary not to forget that they
were in a transitory state. A recompense nearly guaranteed and calculable was
waiting for those who knew to persevere. When Russia was ready to use all
its forces to create an industry for consumer goods, the daily misery would

finally end. They believe that the account is right. Statistically, they already
anticipate great works that they will attack in the future. Russian optimism
sees in these statistics of unreality ascending production curves. It is so sure
of its future that it dares, from now, to imagine it, to represent it. It speaks of
88 million pairs of shoes that it will produce in a few years, with the same
assurance that it speaks of the 40 million that it will manufacture today. The
plan predicts all of that. It clears the way of the people and these people have
sufficient energy to fulfill the plan. They sacrifice the present for the future
that they are in the process of constructing. The Russian people have proved
their exceptional heroism, of which other peoples are not capable. Certain
countries can interest themselves in the beauty of their countryside. Russia is
interested uniquely in the cause of its social body oriented towards a single
point and fulfilling the same spirit that is transposed in the artificial dream of
a better life, consciously maintained and heroically defended.
In the foundations of the Soviet worker state there is a deep fissure: it is due
to the Russian peasant. Even his existence is opposed to that of the state. The
state is conscious of this incompatibility. By all logic, it wants to get rid of it;
with a firm hand, it wants put it to an end there. As it finds itself before an
alternative: continue its life or let the peasant continue theirs, it evidently
decided against the peasant. The latter does not fit with the worker state.
Thus, he must disappear. It is necessary that the peasant becomes a
worker. That is the solution! The mechanization of agriculture gives the
means. When it will be organized like an industrial enterprise, the mentality
of the peasant will change. He will find his place in the kolkhoz as the worker
finds his in the factory. With the little character of the peasant, such that it
figures in Soviet statistics, they have already removed his high fur hat.
Henceforth, he wears the cap of the proletarian.

When the peasant fights, he must bear it, but they must deal with them. All
compromise would be mortal for the worker state. In many regions, the
kolkhoz represents progress in relation to the misery in which the peasants
had lived until the present. That is a fact from which the worker state can
benefit. Everyday the sabotage of farming and agricultural deliveries bears a
slur on the state. The experts on Russian questions fear the worst for the food
supply of the country during the next winter.
The worker state knows that it is at risk. The kulak is the type of peasant that,
by reason of his character, is in fundamental opposition with the state. They
inculcate the Russians that this same kulak is a traitor to his country, to his
people, that he is a corrupter. Thus, the peasant is liquidated in the
psychological scheme. They can no longer be a true peasant, in good
conscience. The man of the country has lost his assurance. He mistrusts the
model that, until the present, corresponded to his nature. He is sensitized to
another model that they recommend to him daily with words, writings, loud
speakers, and microphones, that is to say, the model of the Soviet citizen who
is and wants to be a worker. The city seizes the country, the technology of
nature. The worker state forms men according to its needs, it transforms an
entire people. The spirit of technology subjugates 140 million peasants and
makes them the comrades of the workers who, in their factories, are
integrated to the rhythm of work on the line. Work with organic material is
put under the same plan as that with inorganic, lifeless material. In the
factory, it suffices to know how to press a button to light up a light, to use
electrical energy. There is a fundamental difference, indisputable this
difference is precisely denied. The peasant must be intoxicated with
mechanization and find like the worker a new assurance.

On the virgin soil of America was born the farmer, a sort of rural portrait of
thebourgeois of towns. This farmer ultimately has a townsmans character
and considers his lands as a means of capitalist production. Russia tries, in an
analogous manner, to place on the side on the urban proletarian a
corresponding rural image, an image that is must be born in the kolkhoz. This
new type of Russian rural proletarian is situated in relation to the farmer as
the urban proletarian is to the urban capitalist. However, these two rural types
have nothing in common with the German version of the peasant.
The worker has confidence in himself, in his creative force, in
his future. He considers himself as an element in the
construction of socialism and that gives him courage. His
revolutionary past, his type, his mission become the
ingredients of a new myth. This myth has chapels in red
places. The portraits of heroes of the revolution, the
revolutionary literature, the figures of Russian production, the
yield tables of the factory, the crews of boats, the kolkhozes
are icons, holy books, religious signs of these modern places
of spiritual elevation. This new myth shows its cohesive force,
although it must make its proofs under the lighting of an
awakened conscience. It culminates in the cult that vows to
the body of Lenin. The mausoleum before the Kremlin, facing
the extraordinary church of St Basil, dating from the epoch of
Ivan the Terrible, is as functional as it is striking. Each day,
thousands of people file before the embalmed corpse, resting
in his glass coffin, illuminated by spotlights. In this place, one
cannot shudder before the mystic secret floating in the air
and immortally based in transcendence. The naive soul can
be moved, but the cold scientific curiosity found there is also
realized. The ambiance obliges no one to respect the
embalmed corpse like a wonder worker and savior. The light

there is so flooding that it nearly reduces him to a wax figure.

The myth flowering here borders where scientific curiosity
begins. But, despite all, the will to believe is strong enough to
let it divert itself from the austerity of the environment; the
rationalism of daily life cannot remove his confidence. The
myth flourishes even under the same strong lighting of the
factory rooms. For us, the Russians, wrote a fervent
communist, things are easier than for other peoples. When
we are at an impasse, we consult our Lenin and there we find
Often we hear it said by Russians, in key positions, that in the long term,
Moscow cannot remain the capital of the Soviet Union. The new capital
should be found in the Ural region, either on the European side or the Asiatic
side. We thus feel this will by ending traditions, beginning an entirely new
point of view and, in particular, building a new Russia on the virgin soil of
Siberia. They want to remove the weight of the past, to be new as once
America was, this America that they want to surpass. There is a tendency to
go towards the East, to leave the space saturated with history in order to
penetrate into a space without history. In a certain manner, this tendency
makes one think of the birth of Prussia on colonized territories and its
relations with the old Empire.
Maybe a Slavic-Asiatic imperialism will manifest there, very consciously,
that is prepared to wait for its coming hour. The technical-industrial
development of the country is the most pressing order of mobilization. The
urban form of life puts the entire people in this psychological state permitting
them to undertake a most rapid mobilization, smoothly, and with the greatest

effectiveness. It is possible that the urban form of life was actually the most
sure means for a Slavic-Asiatic imperialism to achieve its ends.
From now, the worker puts a combative ardor into his work. Each factory
becomes a unit of combat. To leave his place of work is as shameful as to
desert. The personnel of the factories are animated by a bellicose spirit.
Today, the weapon is yet to be established, tomorrow he might be better
ready to take his gun. From a worker to a member of the red brigades, there is
only one step. Nothing is easier than to transform these troops of workers into
a revolutionary army which, in place of engaging itself in work, fights for its
life. The urban form of life of the people can, overnight, can transform to the
life of the barracks. The worker state, fit for the worker, can become a
military state, apt for armed service. Russia is an enigma that no one can
resolve. It is not said that the form, under which it presents itself today, is
durable and definitive. It remains an element of the transformation of the
world. It affirms itself under the forms of existence permitting it to rock the
world in its depths, to change it and corrupt it from the inside.
Restoration is impossible in Russia. There is no longer any ruling class that
they could restore. Russia has nothing to fear from the reaction to which
Germany is victim. Its choice is simple: either it perseveres and it has
sufficient force to follow in the years of construction, full of privation, or it
will crumble and become prey to its capitalist rivals. Certainly, it will follow
Germany in its fall. Without the possibility of finding a support in Russia.
Germany will no longer escape from the fate of being integrated into the
greater French empire.

The Russian will to life is very strong. It manifests itself in the politicization
of the entire population starting from the nursery in the uniformity of a
lifestyle, in the optimism, and the exaggerated faith in progress and in the
force supporting the tensions between reality and ideas that they make into
objectives to wait for. With vigorous moral principles giving their particular
color to all the manifestations of public life. They feel that the country is
conscious of its historical mission of bearing the world. When, in coming to
Russia, we cross the German border, we sadly realize that Germany is
certainly more prosperous, more proper, and healthier, but it is all the same a
nation that does not have a mission in the world and a moral conception.