KOTKIN is a professor of Russian history at Princeton University.
He had traveled extensively throughout Russia studying the economic
and political history of the Soviet Union.
following interview was conducted as a part of the documentary
program Yanks for Stalin concerning American aid in the
industrial development of the Soviet Union during the 20's and
Talk about the American view of Communism, both on this side and,
also, their view of (mumble). You might tell me about that.
Okay, to understand Communism in it's early phase and the American
approach to Communism, I think you have got to understand WW I
a little bit. What happens in W.W.I is this senseless slaughter
that goes on for years. The senseless slaughter that goes
on for years, becomes perhaps the primary weapon in Lenin's hands.
That, the generals send all of these people to the front lines
for no particular reason. (interruption). To understand
American Communism, or American approaches to Communism, you have
to understand W.W.I. W.W.I did a great deal to discredit
Western Europe, to discredit Capitalism, to discredit what we
regard as a superior way of life. Millions of people were sent
to senseless slaughter at the front, this played right into Lenin's
hands. W.W.I also gave Lenin and the Bolsheviks a model for how
they would act, which was a militarized kind of politics and,
also, management of the economy. So, here you are in the
inter-war period where the most advanced countries control 85%
of the world as colonies, they send their own people to senseless
death at the front, and there doesn't seem to be a particular
reason for it. In the Bolshevik case, they claimed to be
a revolution against this kind of Imperialist war. They claimed
to be in favor of peaceful development. They claimed to
be in favor of the little man and, empowering the little man and
realizing a superior way of life, both morally and historically,
or scientifically. You end up, therefore, with many people
projecting their dreams onto the Bolshevik Revolution. Dreams
about this better way of life, which they think the Bolsheviks
can realize, and you also end up with many people extremely fearful
of the Bolshevik Revolution, both because they think it might,
in fact, be successful and , also, because they see it as a threat
to the values they uphold. In the end, the world is divided
many different ways. Even the Left is divided in what the
Bolshevik Revolution represents. Many people on the left
regard the Bolshevik as an abomination, because they are social
democrats in the German sense, but, the Bolsheviks, by having
a successful revolution, a successful leftist revolution, lay
claim to the entire pataplee of leftist symbolism, and dreams
and hopes. So, that the social democrats lose out, they
in fact have supported the war, the German social democrats, the
Bolsheviks win, the left gets much lefter, or reder, and the right
gets a little bit righter. You get something like Fascism, which
is in some ways a response to the success of Bolshevism and the
world becomes divided into those who feel the left is the future
and into those who feel the left is the primary danger.
Americans will exhibit the same kinds of division and you get
many people going, or supporting, Bolshevism and many people doing
whatever they can to stop Bolshevism. This is sort of the
beginning of Americans dealing with Communism.
The next question is your perception about whether or not the
Soviets could achieve similar technological results without the
American aide. I know this is not really in sequence in
terms of story, so, why don't you talk about that.
What you get in the Soviet case is this wild, bold gamble called
Socialist Revolution, where nobody knows what Socialism is about.
The Bolshevik leaders believe that they are the only ones with
the right to define what Socialism is about, even though they
don't really know what the content may be. This period in
the 1920's, ascertain of political control and vagueness and ambiguity
in what the socio-economic structure of Socialism should look
like, is a sort of dead end. What happens is they discover,
in part because of the fact they are a peasant country and they
are worried about the peasantry, in part because of the international
situation and they need to modernize their army in order to fight
a war, and , in part because they are committed to a Socialist
revolution they discover a path to Socialism which becomes non-capitalism.
Whatever Capitalism might be, Socialism cannot be that.
If Capitalism has the markets, Socialism cannot have markets.
If Capitalism has private property, Socialism cannot have private
property. If Capitalism has the family and beajoir individuals,
Socialism cannot have that, and on and on it goes. So, what
Socialism becomes is the negation of Capitalism and this is achieved,
ironically enough, by borrowing many of the techniques, many of
the industrial.....by borrowing a great deal of what made Capitalism
strong, which has to do with the factory, the assembly line and
industrial production. So, Socialism becomes a Communist
monopoly on power, the negation of Capitalism through Non-Capitalist