Panaït Istrati 1928

About a Congress

Source: Clarté, December-January, 1928, #16;
Translated: by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2015.

Istrati’s disenchantment began almost immediately after his arrival in Moscow, at the Congress of Friends of the Soviet Union. The publication of this piece in Clarté, was controversial enough that it required an introductory note by Pierre Naville.

The current methods of publicity and propaganda make a man out to be something he isn’t, and even what he refuses to be. Panaït Istrati is a man disfigured by others’ publicity about him and who refuses to recognize this disfiguration. L'Humanité made a banner of him, not hesitating to travesty what he has to say and his attitude. Istrati is an honest man and has no interest in politics. What he sees he writes. What he thinks, he says. To be sure, he’s a fervent friend of the USSR. He’s a friend because he loves the people, because he lives on their hope, and because he remembers the Romanian countryside. Honor and display revolt him. Honorary president of this or that? What difference does it make?

In the following article Istrati notes his impressions of the Congress of Friends of the USSR in Moscow. Behind the interminable and hollow speeches given there, he seeks the popular will, and has a hard time finding it. This page, which expresses the truth, will do more to inform our comrades than a hundred pages of professional adulators.

P[ierre] N[aville]

They are many throughout the world, the friends of the Soviet Union, but they are not in much agreement on the practical goals of their friendship. We became aware of this at the International Congress of Friends of the USSR – of those who were present at the celebrations of the tenth anniversary [of the October Revolution], for they weren’t all present, not even all of the best of them. And those who gathered at the closing of the Congress yesterday only made solemn promises: it’s impossible to define in any other way the decisions taken, if we can call “decisions” those ardent appeals for peace, those summaries of the work accomplished by the USSR, those condemnation of fascism and imminent war, as well as the unanimous agreement to found clubs of Friends of the USSR everywhere.

Found clubs? And what will we do in those future clubs? (I say “we” because I was I was at this congress without being part of it). First we'll meet; then we'll talk... like at this Congress. Without as much impact, perhaps, because they'll surely be lacking in gigantic cinema floodlights and the press coverage, apparatuses that had much to feed on during these three days of resounding sentimental demonstrations.

Certainly the proletarian and victorious Russia of today can allow itself even the luxury of a sumptuous and vain congress, a congress of men come to admire it. But behind the blinding lights that flooded the faces of the speakers one could glimpse the face of the workers who cast the flame, and this face, that of Russia, spoke clearly to those who were willing to hear:

“This isn’t how we began, ten years ago, the construction of a new world that demands of the whole world the right to exist, nothing but the right to exist. At this time, starving, in rags, frozen with the cold, we stumble in the shadows of a past slimy with mud mixed with blood, seeking a rifle fallen from the hands of some brother, while Krupskaya makes bandages by tearing the old trousers of her brilliant comrade in struggle. And we have succeeded in in agreeing to win or die: is it so difficult for you to agree to ask the rest of the world just to leave us alone?”

For at bottom this is what the USSR asked at the Congress of Friends of the USSR. And the Friends answered in chorus:

“Yes, we'll ask the world to leave you in peace.”

It’s easy to ask, must much more difficult to obtain.

To obtain a gesture, an act is necessary, when refusal isn’t in doubt. And this is where the Friends were not in agreement: what action?

“We'll found clubs!” they shouted unanimously.

Respectfully, like the well-mannered students they are, the leaders of the October Revolution answered, “Thank you.”

But there weren’t only leaders in that immense Hall of Columns. There were also some ill-bred characters, and they immediately proposed:

“In the event of war, your clubs will go out on the streets and preach desertion, sabotage, boycotts, transport strikes! Since it’s only a question of an attack on your part, of a capitalist aggression, you can at least preach that. It’s not treason to refuse to be a criminal. And it’s only by acting with this firmness that you can prove your friendship.”

In the face of this Bolshevik insolence the overwhelming majority of the Friends of the USSR revolted:

“The horror! Who do you take us for?”

And so the sole concrete proposal, the sole resolution that aimed at means of action capable of obtaining unquestionable results, was amicably rejected.

This was inevitable.

The Bible justly says, “Be hot or cold, but not lukewarm.” And they can’t but be lukewarm, the men who with one eye look towards the old world and with the other towards nascent humanity. But the birth of all lives includes pain, imposes heartbreak demands struggle which could be mortal. Tepidness has no place in this struggle. Who would be mad enough to want pain if revolutions could be made while having fun? This is why the good will of those who have something to lose in this universal birthing can only hold back the moment of salvation. Enough “good will!” It’s gone on for centuries and has done nothing but prolong the illness.

We are many, those who still believe in the goodness of man, in his generosity. We had hoped for much from that man. We are now forced to leave him behind, to tear him from our entrails, for he is too much in love with the stagnation where the rot germinates. It’s been proved that the instinctive consciousness of the revolutionary masses is superior to the goodness of individuals. And it alone can be salutary for the future of a life free of sentimentalism.

They'll go back to their petty tasks, all those for whom bourgeois life is still agreeable, all those who no longer feel the painful pulsations of the oppressed masses. And the latter, certain of their destiny and invincible, will continue on their own the labor of human renewal that they began on their own.

Moscow, November 14, 1927