[Marxism] George Sokolsky on the Russian Revolution

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu May 17 07:05:56 MDT 2012


George Sokolsky ’58

George Sokolsky would later become a prominent foe of communism, 
but in early 1917 he was expelled from the Journalism School for 
socialist activism and did not receive his degree for 40 years. 
Unfazed, Sokolsky went to Moscow to cover the Russian Revolution 
for the Russian Daily News, where watching the Bolshevik coup in 
“Red October” shattered his idealism forever.


Russian Daily News – November 17, 1917
“Trotsky Fails to Deny Rumour of Rejection of Peace Offer, Attacks 
‘Russian Daily News,’
Claims to have Influenced Foreign Ambassadors into Recognizing him”

By George Sokolsky

In the opening of his speech on Friday night Leon Trotsky spoke as 
Minister for Foreign Affairs, and explained how the Petrograd 
diplomats were being influenced into recognizing the Bolshevik 
Government. Representatives from Embassies and Missions, were 
coming to Smolny Institute, under the official pretext of 
procuring licences for automobiles, etc., but in reality they 
desired to get some opportunity of observing the workings of this 
peculiar Government machinery. Representatives from Allied 
Technical Missions are even trying to convince Trotsky, that they 
are in sympathy with the Soviet Government, and opposed to the 
attitude taken by the Embassies. During the anxious days when 
Kerensky’s troops were standing before Petrograd, the entire 
bourgeoisie, and with them the foreign diplomats, thought that the 
overthrow of the Soviet Government was a mere question of hours. 
Since Krasnoff’s troops had been defeated, respect for the Soviet 
Government among the Diplomats had increased fifty per cent, and 
the triumph in Moscow will raise it another fifty per cent.

The Diplomats are quite right in only recognizing force, but the 
force of the Soviets is at the same time, a force which will work 
exclusively for the people. The Government had not inspired much 
confidence while the gangs of Kerensky were in arms against it, 
but now it is becoming so solid that the Diplomats are liable to 
break their teeth if they try to bite it. All hopes of Kerensky’s 
resurrection have now vanished, therefore the Peace Proclamation 
will be presented to them officially, and will receive due 
consideration. Then Trotzky spoke about Ledebour, the German 
Socialist leader, who had sent his congratulations to the new 
Government. Ledebour was the organiser of the revolt in the German 
Navy and has in general an enviable revolutionary record. As 
regards secret Treaties, the veil from them cannot be completely 
lifted yet, as Neratoff, the assistant Minister for Foreign 
Affairs in the Kerensky Government told Trotsky that he had handed 
them over to the British Embassy. Neratoff himself is now in 
hiding, and an order for his arrest and the detention of all the 
higher officials of the Ministry has been issued. Trotsky tried to 
relieve the disappointment apparent among the audience, owing to 
such sensational literature having been snatched away from them, 
by declaring that in accordance with the Peace Manifesto addressed 
to all nations, these secret treaties were binding only in so far 
as they were not concluded by the counter-revolutionists in 
contravention of the interests of labour, and the fact that they 
are being kept at one of the Embassies does not enhance their 
sanctity. When Trotsky was shown a copy of the Russian edition, of 
the “Russian Daily News,” which said that Germany would only talk 
peace with Russia after Monarchy had been re-established, he made 
the following comment:

“This only shows that the English papers printed in Russian 
publish just as many lies as the Russian papers printed in 
Russian.” When asked why such rumours are not being denied, he 
stated that the Government would have to devote all of its time to 
this, if it were going to deny all the false rumours which are 
being spread in the newspapers. The “Dielo Naroda” has become a 
reservoir for such baseless rumours.

As the second chief of the Soviet he spoke also about the internal 
policy of the Council of the People’s Commissioners. He made it 
very plan that he did not attach much importance to the 
negotiations which are going on among the Socialist parties for a 
coalition, he personally does not participate in them. The 
fundamental principle of the New Government is the power of the 
Soviets, and not the question of personalities. Any bargaining for 
seats in the Cabinet is repugnant to him. The final conditions of 
the Maximalists for an understanding have already been made known, 
and he knew that they are unacceptable to the right wing of the 
socialists. The negotiations are being continued in order to 
please the radical Social-Revolutionists, with whom the Bolsheviks 
want to avoid a break. As stated briefly in this morning’s 
communiqué, the conditions are as follows: The Central Body, 
before which the Government shall be responsible, shall consist of 
150 members of the Central Soviet, 75 members of provincial 
Peasants’ Soviets who are not to be appointed by the present 
Central Peasants’ Soviet, headed by the “Black Hundred” 
Avksentieff, 80 members from Army and Navy Committees re-elected 
within the last three months, 50 members from Socialist groups of 
the Petrograd and Moscow City Dumas of whom 50% are Bolshevik and 
40 members from Labour Unions. (2) At least one half of the 
Cabinet to be Bolsheviks, and the portfolios of Interior, Foreign 
Affairs, and Labour must be retained by Bolshevik Ministers. Lenin 
and Trotsky to be Cabinet members. (3) Recognition of the 
Bolshevik Peace Manifesto, abolition of private property on land, 
and labour control. (4) Red Guard to be formed all over Russia. 
This is necessary, as Kerensky was able to terrorise Petrograd 
with from 1500 to 2000 Cossacks, and such a situation is 
disgraceful for the proletariat.

An inquiry as to resignation of the Commissioner of Education 
Lunacharsky inspired Trotsky to make a declaration, which may 
realize Trotsky’s ambition of being mentioned in the same breath 
with Robespierre by future generations. Lunacharsky is eminently a 
litterateur and art critic, and he was so agitated by the 
destruction of art treasures in Moscow, that he temporarily felt 
unable to continue his work.

“During the world conflagration caused by the Capitalist rule, 
more art treasures had been destroyed, and no lover of art could 
think, without indignation, of the injury done to the Rheims 
Cathedral. And while we are deeply aggrieved at the destruction of 
every art treasure, we must keep it before our eyes that we are 
fighting for the liberation of labour from the yoke of capitalism, 
a cause to which everything must be sacrificed. The era of 
Socialism would release such wondrous creative forces, as would 
compensate in the sphere of art for everything that has been lost. 
We are now initiating this era, and when the establishment of a 
direct Government of the people, placing all power in the hands of 
the Soviets, is only possible after breaking the resistance of the 
bourgeoisie through civil war, then I exclaim: ‘Long live the 
Civil War.’”

A delegate from the Revolutionary Committee in Moscow reported 
that a complete victory had been gained there. He left Moscow on 
Nov. 15th, at 11 p.m., and when he announced that the Cadets had 
capitulated at 5 p.m., the audience went frantic with joy. He 
claimed that the struggle which lasted six days might have ended 
in two days, if it were not for the fact that the Cadets had 
fortified themselves at the City Duma, at various public 
buildings, and at the Kremlin, and artillery fire could therefore 
not be directed at them unsparingly. During these six days, the 
arsenal in the Kremlin had been in the hands of the Bolsheviks. 
The Moscow delegate accused the Cadets of having also occupied 
hospitals, and having used Red Cross cars for troop 
transportation. Besides they are alleged to have maltreated their 
prisoners. The feeling against them ran very high on this account, 
and the Moscow delegate had to concede the “deplorable fact” that 
150 Cadets were killed by soldiers from the Dvinsk Regiment who 
were recently released from prison when the Metropol Hotel was 
taken. The Cadets were supported by the so-called White Guards, 
which is recruited from students, doctors, lawyers, and other 
members of the liberal professions. The entire garrison sided with 
the Revolutionary Committee. A battle only raged in the centre of 
town, while there had been few incidents in the outskirts. Drunken 
excesses were denied. During searches in private houses the 
Bolsheviks troops may have confiscated some wine, and drunk it, 
but there were no excesses on an extensive scale. If any outrages 
occurred, it was the work of the criminal elements and not of the 
Red Guard. In one district a detachment of French troops had 
participated in bombarding the Regional Soviet building, but all 
other reports about the participation of French troops in the 
fighting could not be verified. In Kaluga the Cossacks are in 
possession of the town, and a punitive expedition will have to be 
sent to the town. The agreement signed with the Cadets in Moscow 
provides the latter surrendering their arms.

A representative from the employees of the Petrograd City Duma 
read a resolution, in which they pledged their support to the 
Soviet Government. A similar resolution was read by the 
representative of the workers of the Military Port of Petrograd.

A sailor spoke in threatening tones about the negotiations going 
on between the Bolsheviks and other Socialist parties. The 
presidium were rather startled, and felt apparently uncomfortable 
when he shouted to the audience, which was almost unanimously with 
him, that the soldiers and workingmen will not tolerate any 
further bargaining, that for them it was not a party issue. They 
were Bolsheviks because the Bolshevik leaders were for a Soviet 
Government, they wanted this and nothing else. The revolution was 
made by the masses, the Bolshevik leaders had only placed 
themselves at its head. It is a lie that the peasants did not want 
a Soviet Government. He came himself from the peasants, and knew 
what he was talking about. If the Bolsheviks were also going to 
compromise, they would be thrown on to the rubbish heap along with 
the other Socialists. He proposed a resolution demanding that the 
Government should not make any further concessions. Volodarski, 
one of the Vice-Presidents, moved a resolution stipulating the 
terms on which an agreement with the other Socialist parties is 
possible, and it was passed unanimously. It is identical with the 
terms outlined.



George Ephraim Sokolsky (1893–1962) was a weekly radio broadcaster 
for the National Association of Manufacturers and a columnist for 
The New York Herald Tribune, who later switched to The New York 
Sun and other Hearst newspapers.

Son of a Russian émigré rabbi, Sokolsky was born in Utica, N.Y. He 
graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism. In February 
1917, Sokolsky was attracted by the February Revolution and went 
to Russia to write for Russian Daily News, an English-language 
newspaper. After the overthrow of the Kerensky government by the 
Bolsheviks, he became disillusioned with the revolution. His 
Columbia classmate Bennett Cerf was to observe many decades later: 
“Suddenly the flaming radical, Sokolsky, became the flaming 
reactionary, George Sokolsky, and one of the most important 
columnists in the United States of America.” [1] He fled to China, 
landing with one Yankee dollar in his pocket, to continue his work 
as a special correspondent for English-language newspapers such as 
St. Louis Post-Dispatch and London Daily Express. and acted as an 
informant and propagandist for sundry conflicting Asian and 
Western clients, including Cen Chunxuan. He broke a social taboo 
by marrying a woman of mixed Caribbean-Chinese blood. Sokolsky 
became political adviser and friend to Sun Yat-sen, and wrote for 
his English-language Shanghai Gazette. He also befriended colorful 
characters that ranged from “Two-Gun” Cohen to Soong May-ling, and 
identified Chiang Kai-shek as “the only revolutionist in China who 
could make the revolution stick.” (See Daniel S. Levy, Two-Gun 
Cohen: A Biography, St. Martin’s Press, 2002, pp. 117ff.)

Sokolsky’s 14-year long stint in China enabled him to hold himself 
out as an expert on Asian matters upon his repatriation to the 
U.S. His experience of Chinese culture was tinged with 
ambivalence: “Perhaps in no other city does so much human energy 
go into the search for amusement as among the foreign population 
of Shanghai. Ladies go to their amusements with even greater 
avidity. Work at home can always be done by boys and amahs and 
club life becomes the center of one’s aims and ambitions. Dinner 
parties at clubs and hotels, night after night of dancing and 
jazz, turn the sweet girl who comes here to marry a man out East 
into a tired matron while still in her thirties: blasé, wearied 
and uninterested in life.” Sokolsky went on to complain about the 
corrosive effect of the “foreign exchange” upon the younger 
Chinese: “It would seem that every foreign vice and extravagance 
has its votaries among the younger Chinese in Shanghai who, 
meeting largely with the wider elements of the foreign population, 
copy their lust for pleasure as though it were the hallmark of 
modernity.” (Quoted by Stella Dong in Shanghai: The Rise and Fall 
of a Decadent City, 1842-1949, Harper Perennial, 2001, p. 229.)

It was in China that Sokolsky inaugurated his life-long 
association with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). 
After returning to the U.S. in 1935, Sokolsky strongly sided with 
NAM in touting its conception of the American Way of Life. NAM 
followed the New Deal in laying claim to “the greatest good for 
the greatest number." Sokolsky encouraged NAM to reach out and 
awaken the passions of the American middle class in opposition to 
the “collectivistic” current of the New Dealers. In the NBC Radio 
Network program America's Town Meeting of the Air, he argued 
against Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins’ defense of the Social 
Security Act, calling the 10% of the taxes that the Federal 
Government kept, while remitting 90% back to the states that were 
compelled to conform to a standard of minimum requirements for 
administering Social Security set by the Federal Government, “a 
service charge for coercion”. Sokolsky toured the U.S., writing 
and making, speeches as an “industrial consultant” on behalf of 
NAM. The Senate’s La Follette Committee on Civil Liberties 
reported in 1938 that for his speaking engagements and other work 
he was paid nearly $40,000, through publicity firm Hill & 
Knowlton, by the NAM and the Iron and Steel Institute. He 
encapsulated his political philosophy in personalized slogans: “I 
do not like coercion in any form. I prefer spontaneous 
enthusiasms.” Sokolsky wrote signed columns attacking the 
Roosevelt administration for its failure to support Kuomintang.


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