"Close Up" in Print of Russia’s Jewish Minister of War by British Officer Who Saw Him at Ekaterinburg.
Trotzky, a Human Dynamo
"Close Up" in Print of Russia’s Jewish Minister of War by British Officer Who Saw Him at Ekaterinburg.
TROTZKY, the Russian Bolshevist Minister of War, is intimately described in an article in the Fortnightly Review, by Francis McCullagh, a British officer, who was captured by the Bolshevists in Siberia. The author posed as a civilian and was thus able to travel to Ekaterinburg and live there for some time. After visiting Moscow he left Russia a few months ago as a civilian refugee:
“Ekaterinburg was gaily decorated in honor of Trotsky’s visit, but the Bolshevist Minister of War came, unostentatiously enough, in the night-time and refused to hold any parades, inspections of troops, or any other formal functions whatsoever. He is a slight-built, wiry man of medium height, dressed as a private soldier, and without any decoration. He wore on his head a curious cap which has been invented for the higher officers of the Red Army. It is of khaki cloth, is cut in the style of the steel helmet worn by the ancient Russian Bogatyrs (Knights), and the whole front of it is covered by a huge star, the Red Star of Bolshevism.
“He wore no belt and carried no weapon; his face is sallow, Mephistophelian, and distinctly Jewish; his eye dark and bright; his beard and moustache scanty. His movements are quick and animated, and his capacity for work superhuman. The employees on his train told me that they led a dog’s life of it. The typewriting girls were kept working all day and far into the night. His numerous secretaries were glued to their desks all day. His telephonists were speaking into the receivers or taking down telephone messages for twenty hours out of the twenty-four. Moreover, he published on the train a newspaper called Kn Route in which he had articles every day, and he dictated, besides, numerous “leaders” for the local papers in the towns through which he passed. He employed about a dozen secretaries, a
tame editor to run his paper, a number of tame diplomatists to look after diplomatic affairs, and several domesticated Tsarist officers to deal with purely military matters. He put the fear of Trotsky, if not the fear of God, into all these subordinates; but they rather gloried than otherwise in their servitude.
“The stories told of Trotsky’s revels and dissipation are obvious nonsense. The only dissipation the Bolshevik War Lord allowed himself was a short walk every' day in a beautiful pine grove where I used to walk myself, and an hour’s hard physical exercise daily, shovelling snow from the railway track. In this physical exercise he made every man, woman and child in his train take part; and the example he thus set was good, for, as most of my readers are aware, the educated Russian has the same contempt for manual labor as the white sahib has in India. Even Mrs. Trotsky, Master Trotsky (a boy of eleven or twelve), and Master Trotsky’s governess, a young Jewess of twenty or twentyfive, had to shovel snow like the rest; and this craze for manual work remained even when Trotsky was not looking on.
“No sooner had he arrived in Ekaterinburg than Trotsky plunged straight into work, and I marvelled at the audacity with which he tackled matters that ought, one would think, to have been left entirely to experts. I shall give one example, the typhus question, for I know something about it, having had, a year earlier, to visit all the typhus hospitals in the Urals to interpret for Colonel Clarke, the head of the Canadian Medical Service, whom General Sir Alfred Knox had sent to the Front with the object of doing something to stop the terrible wastage of men caused by typhus among Kolchak’s troops. Dr. Clarke found most of the trouble to be due to the apathy of the Russian doctors, who would do nothing unless they were given unlimited quantities of unprocurable insecticides, though, as Dr. Clarke told them until he was hoarse and exhausted
and finally caught the disease himself, heat would have served their purpose equally well.
“On February 19th Trotsky summoned the D.M.S., listened to his statement that there was no chance of typhus decreasing in any case till the month of April, and then attacked him with.a violence which nearly frightened that worthy functionary out of his wits. T am no doctor,’ said the Bolshevik War Lord, ‘but I know that typhus is communicated by lice. Now it must be possible to destroy these lice by delousing apparatus and by a certain degree of heat, which could, if necessary, be produced in some of our public baths. Several of the baths are very nearly hot enough for the purpose as it is; and, even if the soldiers have not got a change of clothes, they might wash in one part of the bath-house while their clothes are being disinfected in another part. I am not a believer in this doctrine of fatalism that you preach. I will immediately appoint a committee to investigate this question; and, if I find that you do not at once take some steps in the matter, I will hand you over to the Extraordinary Commission. Good day.’
“Next day an excellent bath-house was opened free at the railway station, and I myself enjoyed the first bath that I had had for three months. The Committee was nevertheless appointed, and its report was a terrible indictment. It published everything, even details of hospital mismanagement that were enough to make one’s hair stand on end, for the Bolshevists, when it suits their purpose, allow the fullest liberty to the Press.
“The great propaganda engine which had ra', - -i the Red Army and smashed Kolchak and Denikin was then turned on to the typhus question; and all Ekaterinburg was soon placarded with posters preaching cleanliness and denouncing dirt. Some of them contained representations of a louse magnified to the size of a small cow, and pointed it out, in the accompanying letterpress, as a worse enemy than the ‘Supreme Ruler,’ ‘Kill it,’ yelled the posters, ‘as you would kill Kolchak. It is a far more dangerous enemy. Kolchak has put to death thousands of Communists. IT puts to death tens of thousands.’ The number and the variety of these warnings were very great; and there was every kind of striking life-size picture in glaring colors to attract the attention of the illiterate, as well as good medical hints to impress those who could read. There were pictures of washer-women killing enormous lice with the smoothing iron. There were horrible pictures of death seizing on the young unwashed. Communists were told that it was their duty to the Republic to keep themselves and their clothes clean, and that they were traitors if they did not. One of the commonest posters showed incidentally the nomadic condition of life which hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers and civilians are now leading. It was generally to be found at railway stations, where crowds of people habitually cuddle down on the floor in their sheepskins at night-time and go to sleep without undressing, and it ran as follows: ‘Don’t lie down wherever you happen to find yourself at nightfall until you make sure that the place is free from
“Trotsky’s treatment of the working classes was marked not only by an absence
of flattery, but even by an autocratic touch which one would never have expected. Finding on his way from Moscow to Ekaterinburg that the workmen in a certain Ural factory were not working hard enough he had fifteen of the worst ‘slackers’ arrested and placed on their trial before a workman’s tribunal in Ekaterinburg. At one point on the line his train was stopped by snow, whereupon he had the whole of the local Soviet taken into custody for disobedience to the order for removing snow from the track. They also were tried before a jury of their peers; and, while the case was still sub judice, Trotsky wrote, over his own name in the newspapers, a ferocious onslaught on the accused, whose condemnation was thus made certain He did not say anything about their delaying him, but he inveighed against them for delaying the trains which brought bread to the women and children of Moscow and to the Red workmen who had hurled the tyrant from his throne and stood in the breach against Denikin and Juden-
“It was forbidden for any outsider to enter Trotsky’s train without permission, and the names of all persons who had the entree were pasted up inside the doors Few of these who are entitled to enter the office car of a National Commissar can go right through the train. The nearer they approach the Presence, the shorter grows the list of names, until finally at the Commissar’s car they find only three or four names, one being that of the Private Secretary, the sole link between the Holy of Holies and the common herd.
“Before I leave Trotsky I might say something about the great object of hif visit to Ekaterinburg, the launching of the grandiose Labor Army scheme. He launched this scheme in the speech and he made it look splendid, the realisation of the dreams of mankind for a thousand years. Soldiers would fight no more. They would work for the common good. Owing to their discipline and their union, they could quickly do vast works that ordinary workmen would take a long time to accona-
“Then, again, Trotsky had declared that the man who deserted from the Labor Army would be treated as a soldier who deserted in front of the enemy. Did this mean that he was to be shot? The ‘Professional Unions,’ as they are called, also had a word to say about the War Office monopolising skilled mechanics who had ‘done their bit’ and consequently ceased to be soldiers. To cut a long story short the whole project came in the end to nothing, and when I talked to Trotsky about it in the Kremlin a month afterward» he was rather snappy. By that time he had given way to the Professional Unions, had been frightened by the dissatisfaction of Labor, and disturbed by the criticism of his grand idea which came from England. As far as I know, the whole Labor Army scheme has now melted away as completely as last winter’s Siberian snows amid which it was hatched. All the waste of time and energy which it involved might have beeD avoided if Russia had had a free Parliament and a free Press to discuss it before it had been put into operation. Trotsky tried to make an army that could both fight and work, but only succeeded in making an army that could, for a time, do neither.”
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.