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The New York Times Magazine. 20 December 1931



Bolshevism Invokes Stern Authority, Something the People Understand




Founder of the Old Imperial Order – Ivan the Terrible
“Once More the Seat of Power is Moscow’s Kremlin.”


Leader of the New Communist State – Joseph Stalin.

Of recent years it has become almost a commonplace to say that Europe ends at the eastern frontier of Poland and that Soviet Russia must be reckoned as part of Asia—“which Russia really always was under a foreign veneer,” the speaker often adds and ends by quoting the old proverb about scratch a Russian and you’ll find a Tartar.

It is obviously a fact that most of the territory compromising the Soviet Union—and for that matter the empire of the Czars—belongs to the Asiatic continent, Siberia, Central Asia and the Transcaucasian region, What is more, there is no geographic barrier, save a big stretch of barren land known as the Hungry Steppe, between Central Asia and European Russia. Mongol-Tartar invaders took full advantage of this and established their power firmly along the Volga and even for a time over Moscow itself. To this day the southern and south eastern provinces of European Russia have a strain of .Asiatic blood hardly less marked than have the outlying sections of Siberia away from the railroad and old military grand trunk road which parallels It, along which colonists from European Russia principally settled.

Under the empire, however, the ruling clan, although freely mixed with foreigners, mostly of German or Scandinavian stock, prided itself upon its freedom from Asiatic blood. Here and there a few noble families admitted or even boasted descent from one of Tamerlane’s commanders, but otherwise the surface of foreign culture, ideas, methods and even language which radiated over the country from the Romanoff court was wholly European.

With the Czars disappeared no small part of this European façade behind which the true Russian structure was hidden, but it is perhaps hasty to conclude that what was left is definitely Asiatic, despite many signs that apparently point in that direction.

To begin with, the great majority of the population of U.S.S.R. inhabits the territory west of the Urals and north and west of the Caspian and the Caucasus. Ethnologically, despite Tartar or other Asiatic mixture, it is akin to the so-called Aryan stock which spread over Europe in the dawn of history. Physically, too, its characteristics are much more European than Asiatic, and the mixture of Asiatic blood is probably no greater than, if as great as, the proportion of Nordic-European from Scandinavia or Germany. It therefore seems surprising that foreigners should accept with such readiness the theory that Russia today is really part of Asia, if one considers that the majority, above all the indubitably dominant majority, of the population of the U. S. S. R. is ethnically and physically European.

‘Much More European Than Asiatic – Russian Workers.’

I shall leave discussion of the Bolshevist régime, of the political system by which the whole country is governed, to a later part of my article. That this régime is in many ways more Asiatic than European can fairly be argued, and it is this fact which does much to make foreign observers here regard Soviet Russia as Asiatic. My immediate point, however, concerns the Russian people themselves, whether they are more European than Asiatic, and, if the former what are the reasons that have induced them to accept an Asiatic régime. Here lies the chief interest of the whole question, and I believe the answer may be found in historical and geographic conditions instead of being decided by racial or physical characteristics.

Geographically, as I said before, the territory formerly known as European Russia has no natural barriers of importance against invasion from the East. From the Ural Mountains and the foothills of the Pamirs an immense plain stretches unbroken, save by occasional rivers and low undulating waves of prairie, right on westward to Berlin and further. Poland and East Germany, it is true, have some protection from dense belts of forest, thicker no doubt in medieval time than they are today, and Southeastern Europe is guarded by the wall of the Carpathians. But the rich open steppes of Russia and the Ukraine could not fail to tempt Asiatic raiders with promise of easy conquest as they watered their weary horses on the banks of the Volga after the torrid and hazardous march across the hungry desert.

Before the raiders came, the Russian steppes were inhabited by a peaceful agricultural population, often nomadic in character and more or less racially homogeneous. Their scattered communities seem to have had little cause for mutual quarrel—there was room and to spare for all of them—and to have been ruled by their own chiefs or patriarchal elders, with, in some cases, a grouped allegiance to a higher chief with more extended sway. They were less bellicose and energetic than their Aryan kinsmen who had preceded them on the long trek westward, and mingled amicably enough with the remnants of earlier and indigenous races that had survived preceding Aryan waves. Before the onslaught they soon found themselves powerless and in their need, made appeal to the tough northern Vikings who had long bean using the waterways of Russia as passage to Constantinople and the Middle East.

THE first man, Rurik, to claim lordship over all the Russias, comparatively small as his realm then was, was of alien Viking blood. During the centuries that followed, the Russians, for the most part, fought a losing war against the Eastern invaders and it was not until the reign of Ivan the Terrible in the sixteenth century, that the Asiatic flood was finally checked. Ivan played a role in Russia similar to that of Louis XI in France and was little less successful in dealing with foreign foes than in curbing the power of his own nobility. Peter the Great completed the t establishment of Czarist supremacy by ruthless slaughter of the great nobles and their adherents. The position of Emperor was that of an absolute Oriental monarch, vice regent of God on earth, with limitless power over the bodies, souls and property of all his subjects.

“Education, Denied for Centuries – Russian Students.”

The extent of this imperial authority may be judged from the account, as related in Hakluyt’s voyages, of the Journey to the court of Ivan at Moscow, in the year 1553 of an Englishman, Richard Chancelor, “pilot major” of an expedition “set forth by the right worshipful master, Sebastian Cabot, Esquire, Governour of the company of the Marchants Adventurers at the Citie of London for the discoverie of Cathay, and diverse other places unknowen.”

Chancelor’s vessel, the Bonaventure, was separated by a storm from the rest of the fleet, whose Admiral, the celebrated Sir Hugh Willoughby, perished in the frozen north. The little ship--she was of only 150 tons burden—found landing on the northern Baltic coast either in the Bay of Riga or the Gulf of Finland, and after much delay and difficulty Chancelor and a small party reached Moscow in the hope of obtaining the right of trading in Russia from the “High Prince, Duke and Emperour, John Vassilevich,” who, it is worth noting, held the foreign trade monopoly of which so much has been heard in recent years. Chancelor writes:

This Duke is Lord and Emperour of many countreis and his power is marvellous great. For there is no man living, but hee is bound, whether the Dire [previous word unclear] call for either souldier or labourer, to furnish them, with all such necessaries as to them belong*** Whensoever the injures of their neighbours doe call the King foorth to battell, hee never armeth a lesse number against the enemie, then 300. thousand soldiers, 100. thousand whereof hee carieth out into the field with him, and leaveth the rest in garison in some fit places, for the better safetie of his Empire He presseth no husbandman, nor Marchant: for the Countrey is so populous, that these being left at home, the youth of the Realme is sufficient for all his wars. As many as goe out to warfare dow provide all things of their owne cost.***

If any man behave himselfe valiantly in the filde, to the contentation of the Emperour, he bestoweth upon him in recompense of his service, some farme, or so much ground as he and his may live upon, which notwithstanding after his death, returneth againe to the Emperour, if he die without a male issue. For although his daughters be never so many, yet no part of that inheritance comes to them withall. As for the man, whosoever he be, that is in this sort rewarded by the Emperour’s liberalitie, hee is bound in a great summe, to maintaine so many souldiers for the warre, when need shall require, as that land, in the opinion of the Emperour, is able to maintainet. And all those, to whom any land fals by inheritance, are in no better condition: for if they die without any male issue, all their lands fall into the hands of the Emperour.

And moreover, if there be any rich man amongst them, who in his owne person is unfit for the warres, and yet hath such wealth, that thereby many Noble men and warriours might be maintained if any of the Courtiers present his name to the Emperour, the unhappy man is by and by sent for and in that instant, deprived of all his riches, which with great palace and travell all his life time he had gotten together: except perhaps some small portion thereof be left him, to maintaine his wife, children and familie.

But all this is done of all the people so willingly at the Emperour’s commandement, that a man would thinke, they rather make restitution of other mens goods, then give that which is their owne to other men. So great is the obedience of all men generally to their Prince. A man will say, that be hath nothing, but it is Gods and the Duke Graces, and cannot say, as we the common people in England say, if wee have any thing; that it is Gods and our owne. Men may say, that these men are in wonderfull great awe, and obedience, that thus one must give and grant his goods which he hath bene scraping and scratching for all his life to be at his Princes pleasure and commandement. ***

Now what might be made of these men if they were trained and broken to order and knowledge of wars. If this Prince had within his countreys such men as could make them understand ye things aforesaid, I do beleeve that 2 of the best or greatest princes in Christendome were not wel able to match with him, considering the greathnes of his power & the hardnes of his people & straite living both of people and horse, and the small charges which big warres stand him in: for he giveth no wages, except to strangers. They have a yerely stipend & not much. ***

Their order in one point is commendable. They have no man of Lawe to pleade their causes in any court: but every man pleadeth his owne cause, and giveth bill and answere in writing: contrarie to the order in England. The complaint is in the maner of a supplication, & made to the Dukes Grace, and delivered him into his owne hand, requiring to have justice as in his complaint is alleaged. The duke giveth sentence himselfe upon all matters in the Law. Which is very commendable, that such a Prince will take paines to see ministration of justice. * **

The por is very innnumerable, and live most miserably: for I have seene them eate the pickle of Hearring and other stinking fish: nor the fish cannot be so stinking nor rotten, but they will eate it and praise it to be more wholesome then other fish or fresh meate. In mine opinion there be no such people under the sunne for their hardnesse of living.

Chancelor says much of the magnificence of Ivan’s court and the relations between the Czar and his courtiers.

I came into the Counsalle chamber, where sate the Duke himselfe with his nobles ***  they sate round about the chamber on high, yet so that he himself. sate much higher than any of his nobles in a chaire gilt, and in a long garment of beaten golde, with an emperial crowne upon his head, and a staffe of Cristall and golde in his right hand.*** From thence I came into the dining chamber, where the Duke himselfe sate at his table,*** in a gowne of silver, with a crowne emperiall upon his head, he sate in a chaire somewhat hie: there sate none neare him by a great way.*** The number that dined there that day was two hundred persons, and all we served in golden vessel. The gentlemen that waited were all in cloth of gold.


THREE points stand out in Chancelor’s picture: The Czar’s personal ascendancy, power and wealth; his monopoly of foreign trade and right over the property and lives of his subjects; and the extreme misery and poverty of the common people. Ivan had done his work too well. In Western Europe feudalism had been called into being to protect the weaker and poorer sections of the population from their enemies. In the anarchic period that followed the fall of Rome for several hundred years the feudal lord meant the difference between life and death to all those under his protection, and had power of life and death accordingly, and other “rights” which persisted, especially in France, long after the need for protection which “justified” them had vanished.

In England the great nobles contested the power of the throne with some success, although the struggle was not finally settled until the time of the Stuarts, and then only by the aid of the strong bourgeois clans which had grown up since the barons bested King John at Runny-

(Continued on Page 18) 


Peasant’s Applying to Join a Collective Farm


Stern Authority Prevails As During Older Times

(Continued from Page 13)


mede. His successors, more wise in their generation, used this same bourgeoisie to check the nobles, as did Louis XI in France, but the Stuarts turned back the clock to absolutism and lost all whereas the Bourbons in France by a shrewder balance maintained their rule almost to the end of the eighteenth century.


IN Russia however, from Ivan’s day right onward the bourgeois class was exceedingly small in number or cowed by imperial prestige. In any case it never, from Ivan to Nicholas II played any important rôle whatever in the conduct of national affairs, indeed hardly pretended to any share or voice in government. The nobility became an appanage or instrument of Czardom. The traders, such as they were, were much cows, and the mass of the people serfs, bound to the soil, little more than beasts of burden. As time passed some of the stronger peasants and ex-soldiers, settled upon the land as reward for military service, gradually formed a small “aristocracy” of free peasants, tilling their own soil as owners or tenants, aloof from and contemptuous of the serfs around them, whose leaders they became.

Common interest held them together and their council of elders or “mir,” as it was called, decided internal village economy. After the serfs were freed, in the middle of the nineteenth century, the mir wan extended to include all heads of households, but in no case was the authority of the mir more than local and then subject to the will of the landlord and the gendarme or other resident representative of imperial authority.

In addition the Czars had found another ally to take the place of Western bourgeoisie in holding their sway over nobles and masses alike, namely, the church, whose wealth and authority, subject always to the Emperor’s will and pleasure, increased to an astonishing degree. The church services retained “the mother tongue” of which Chancelor speaks, that is the old Slavonic. Antiquated, no doubt, and half obsolete in the days of Ivan, it became as years passed a dead language to the vast mass of the population, whose faith degenerated into childish superstition which made them the willing slaves of a corrupt and greedy priesthood.

What all this goes to prove is that, however racially the people of Russia west of the Urals may have been European, the system under which they livid, of complete subservience to a despotic monarch, was far mare akin to Asia than to Europe. They were not Asiatics, but they thought and acted like Asiatics, and thus by the Aristotelian canon indubitably acquired an Asiatic character.

As the nineteenth century progressed little waves of Western liberalism began to lap at the fortress of Oriental czardom. But its real weakness lay within the walls, which were being imperceptibly corroded by foreign ideas introduced by the court itself. At the end, the imperial family was more foreign than Russian, but Nicholas II, however well-meaning, could not emerge from the shell of autocracy he had inherited. His efforts to do so, whether voluntary or under pressure of the foreign spirit that had spread far and wide, only weakened the shell. The gulf between top and bottom, between the more than half-foreign court and the Russian masses, was too deep and wide, the bridges too few, and the time too short’


BOLSHEVISM has given back to Russia something the Russian people have always understood—absolute authority unmellowed by the democracy or liberalism of the West. Once more the seat of power is Moscow’s Kremlin, not the foreign-looking city named for St. Peter. The Communist party sits now where Ivan sat, with less pomp and luxury but no less power, and like Ivan receives “wonderful great awe and obedience,” that men must give not only the goods which they have been “scraping and scratching for” all their lives, but even life itself.

Under this supreme “commandement” the mass of the Russian people—only grandsons, remember, of the serfs, just two generations removed from virtual slavery—are being taught a régime of joint interest, effort and sacrifice whose roots strike deep into their history. And more than that, there is hope before them of a brilliant future when they and the power above them, which is sprung from their own loins and wielded by men like them, shall have merged to form one whole of ruled and rulers. There is education before them, denied for centuries to their “dark masses,” and the training in self government to which they never aspired. More Asiatic than European, perhaps, in its present phase, but especially more Russian than either.


© The New York Times. 1931.  N.B. The executive editor of The New York Times, Bill Keller, told The Washington Post on October 23 2003, that the newspaper would have no objection if the Pulitzer Prize Board wanted to revoke Mr. Duranty's award. Mr. Keller called Mr. Duranty's work "pretty dreadful. ... It was a parroting of propaganda." It will be taken as read that no royalties are due on this un-authorised reproduction of this article  As such they are also perceived, as having no truthful value whatsoever, are only reproduced  for academic and educational purposes, not intended to defraud The New York Times of any morally legitimate royalty revenue and are published without financial gain. In any event, the copyright for the above may well only reside, 70 years after its publication with the heirs of Walter Duranty, and with whom we have no personal animosity whatsoever. Nevertheless, any contention of copyright violation may by taken up under the jurisdiction of English Law. My service address for any legal correspondence is: Nigel Linsan Colley, 1, Crown Street, Newark, Nottinghamshire, England, NG24 4UY. Any prosecution will, you can be assured, be defended in the public domain.


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