London Letter

Russia’s middle-class revolution

BEVERLEY BAXTER July 16 1960
London Letter

Russia’s middle-class revolution

BEVERLEY BAXTER July 16 1960

Russia’s middle-class revolution

London Letter

BEVERLEY BAXTER

Let me begin with a message sent to his newspaper from the Hook of Holland on a recent Sunday morning by Harry Longmuir, a Daily Mail reporter. The message reads:

“British Railways regret that the 10:05 train from Liverpool Street station to Moscow was 27 minutes late arriving at Harwich today. But we are still hopeful of making the station near the Kremlin on time

— Tuesday night at 6:50. The No. 1 I London Transport bus I caught on the way to Moscow was also five minutes late, which is understandable."

A shiny Russian sleeper is waiting at the platform, and soon it will be off on the run to Moscow. But there will be about thirty stops before the train arrives there. Moreover, an adjustment must be made before it ventures into Russian territory. At Brest-Litovsk. on the Russo-Polish border, it has to undergo a technical transformation. While the passengers sleep, or try to sleep, their coach is lifted from the 4-foot-8'/2-inch rails that are the standard gauge of most Western countries and deposited on the 5-foot bogies of the Soviet Republic.

It seems there is a charge for this

— a mere four shillings and twopence, which is duly included in

the cost of the ticket. The return fare is £47.18s, and there is an extra £22 for a berth. Meals to cover both ways cost £9. bringing the total to £78.18s. Just to make it complicated, dinner on the Russian - owned coach is served by French Railways staff.

At Brest-Litovsk, representatives of Russia's Intourist agency come on board to issue warnings and give general information.

Let us agree that the outside world is not unduly excited by the fact that people of the West can now travel by train to Moscow, yet it has a significance that cannot be ignored. The Iron Curtain will soon be nothing more than any other curtain that shades the windows of a house. Two world wars have brought Russia out into the comity of nations.

I hat shrewd and merciless dictator. Lenin, planned a self-supporting state detached from all contact with the outside world. He wanted to raise a wall that would imprison a mighty people, who would thus be guarded against the dangerous doctrine of freedom from the West. His principal dupe was Trotsky, who was a mass murderer but lacked a massive mind.

Yet there is one man, and not a strong one, CONTINUED ON PAGE 52

CONTINUED ON PAGE 52

London Letter

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who must not be forgotten. Alexander Kerensky was a leader of the first 1917 Revolution, which overthrew the royal dynasty and turned Russia into a republic. For several months he tried to liberalize a nation that had never known liberty, but he failed to deal with the rising revolutionary personalities of Lenin and Trotsky.

A few weeks after Kerensky had been overthrown I talked to him in London. He was a man of charm and integrity, a man of courage, and at heart he was a liberal. His mistake was in believing that a people who had never known freedom could adapt themselves overnight to a world without chains.

In the course of our conversation he paused dramatically and then uttered these hopeful words: “I gave Russia freedom for five months, and a nation that has known freedom even for five months will never rest until it is free again.”

Let us assume that he had coined those words some time before and had used them over and over again, but they were nevertheless deeply impressive. Yet unhappily his liberal revolution was in effect a mere moment in history, one that cleared the way for the murderous October Revolution of Trotsky and Lenin, which took so many lives and sent so many victims to Siberian slavery.

Khrushchov was shrewd

But once more we are faced with the unchallengeable truth that yesterday is the parent of tomorrow. The weak candle that Kerensky lit in those years is once more casting its beam in Russia. It is no more than a candle, but its light can be seen today.

A few days ago I had a long talk with Harold Macmillan, who as usual seemed as fresh as if he had been on a vacation in the countryside he loves so deeply. Naturally a conversation with the Prime Minister is purely personal and not for publication but this I can state without breaking the rule — it is quite obvious Macmillan believes that the abortive summit conference, in spite of the tragicomedy of the U. S. plane that desecrated the Russian skies, was of considerable value.

The truth is that Russia is undergoing a bloodless revolution of the utmost importance. No longer is Russia a slave state, even though Nikita Khrushchov is unaware of it — or pretends that he is unaware. And it is no longer true that Russia is a country where individual expression of opinion is banned.

Let us give credit to Khrushchov. He was shrewd enough to realize that Russia could hold her place in the scheme of things only if she accepted the fact that Russian manufacturers would have to meet the challenge of the West on equal terms. But his problem was how' to give reward to workers and managers without moving toward a system of higher pay for higher standards of production.

In short, we are seeing in Russia the ascendancy of the industrialist and the scientist and. with them, the rising scale of wages and production. Instead of a

nation of tyrants and serfs, we are seeing the development of middle-class respectability and middle - class achievement. History is reminding us that even in Russia the real rulers must be drawn from the intelligent bourgeoisie.

It was the English who created that significant section of the community known as the middle classes. No longer in Britain do the gentry rule the country, or the trade unions dictate to Parliament. The power is with the middle classes, from whom are drawn the scientists, the heads of industry and the leaders of government. It is true that Britain has a monarch and an upper chamber in Parliament, but the power is firmly in the hands of the elected representatives in the House of Commons.

A wise friend of mine, just returned from Russia, makes the claim that the high standard and the wide spread of scientific education are achieving remarkable results. The output of manufactured goods and the quality of the output is moving upward all the time.

No longer is the individual Russian willing to work for just enough to keep him alive. And no longer is he content to live and die solely for his country. He wants a TV set, just as your family and mine want one. He wants a better house and a car.

There is no reason to suppose that Khrushchov will change the façade of things. He will denounce capitalism as a crime against humanity and he will be forced to transfer more and more authority to the industrialists whose factories are altering the Russian scene beyond belief.

From that to an elected parliament on traditional lines will inevitably emerge. It was the Industrial Revolution in Britain that ended the rule of the upper classes and. after much struggle, produced the Britain we know today. I am certain that Russia is moving relentlessly, even if slowly, to a new concentration of human dignity. Power is already moving into the hands of the middle classes, strange though it may seem to allot such a description to what is happening.

Russia is a deeply troubled country. It has a dictator who has served his country well but who lacks the stature of mature leadership. It has on its borders the immense nation of China, which gazes lustfully upon Siberia as the only territory for the overspill of the increasing Chinese population. It has antagonized the United States, which is the most powerful industrial power in the world and possessed of the greatest air striking force.

Is it any wonder that the Russian people look upon Britain. France and America and say: “This is what we want — a system of society where there is good reward for good work, better reward for better work, and outstanding reward for outstanding achievement”? ★