Romain Rolland's Letters to Joseph Stalin (1935-1937)

Translated by Paresh Chattopadhyay

[The following is a free translation of letters written to Joseph Stalin (in French) by Roman Rolland, a world figure of the early twentieth century—novelist, dramatist, essayist, Nobel prize winner in literature (1915), great humanist, anti-fascist, a friend of Rabindranath, M K Gandhi, Einstein among others, author of a huge novel Jean Christophe, musicologist—professor of the history of music at the famous Sorbonne in Paris. The present translator had the privilege of visiting his Paris house circa in 1964, where he saw two pictures on the wall, those of Rabindranath and Beethoven.

These letters were written in Russia’s critical years of the mid-nineteen thirties, the time of show trials. One remarkable thing is, Stalin never answered any of these letters. So the correspondence remained one-sided. Among the many points raised by Rolland, not all could be covered here, only the points considered (of course arbitrarily) relatively more important are taken up for translation.]

[October 1, 1935]

Dear Comrade Stalin,
I learn from Bukharin's letter that you have not received my letter which I had sent you by registered mail on August 26. Would you be kind enough to confirm this?

I had asked in that letter if you would authorise me to publish in France the text of our conversation of 28th June. You will do me a favour by your response on this subject.
Yours truly,
Romain Rolland

[December 27, 1935]
Dear Comrade,
I am not sure if you have received my letters. I wrote to you two letters over the last two months, but I have not got any response. You will remember that during our conversation I had stressed on the fact that serious misunderstandings were being caused in the opinion in the West by the total absence of exact information on what was happening in the USSR, even among the friends of the USSR, and that this lack of precise information has stood in the way of answering the serious accusations against the USSR. You had recognized the seriousness of my observations and the need of remedying this lacuna. You had told me, and I quote you, "certainly, if our friends in the West are ill-informed about the motives that are behind the acts of the soviet government, and they do not know how to respond to our enemies, that signifies also that we do not sufficiently arm our friends. We will try to correct the situation. Certainly we could react more energetically against the absurd rumours". Dear Comrade, five months have passed since you had told me these things. Nothing has been done to correct the situation, and the evil has considerably increased. You cannot imagine the quantity and the seriousness of the questions which assail us—the friends of the Soviet Union—daily and which exercise the world public opinion. It would be a dangerous error to underestimate all this and to think that if there is no response they would be forgotten. Since the last six months I have boen witnessing an increasing disaffection for the USSR among those intellectuals whom we had earlier won over for the cause of the USSR. These people are increasingly disillusioned as they do not have answers to many disturbing questions. We, to whom they turn for exact answers, can only answer them by our own personal conviction and not by providing them with correct answers.

I shall not return to the question of publication of my conversation with you. You have not responded to my question on this subject. I shall not insist on that. But even if the publication is avoided the questions raised on that occasion demand urgent response which one could use countering the accusations in public.

I shall raise here a few of those questions :
(1)     As regards the trial following the murder of Kirov, I had told you how much it would be essential to let the foreign public know the charges against the conspirators. But it was not done. (Here Rolland cited an article by Trotsky in the French journal Vérité where Trotsky wrote : "the Kirov case has been used for destroying tens of people manifestly devoted to the Revolution, but who opposed the arbitrariness and privileges of the dominant caste"). People are saying that the charges against Zinoviev and Kamenev are absolutely without foundation. And Trotsky is demanding that an International commission having members with irreproachable credentials be set up who will scrupulously examine the arrests, the trial, the executions, the deportations. Trotsky is severely criticizing me and asking me to be a member of this commission, knowing full well that I would refuse, and this refusal would be the proof of the fear that the friends of the USSR have to throw light on the affair.
(2)    I have a letter from an Israeli citizen from Tel-Aviv who fights for the Palestinians and who says that there is anti-Semitism in the USSR where the Jews are repressed when they try to converse in their own language.

(3)    Barthélemy de Light, an anti-war individual well-known internationally—has written an open letter where he speaks of atrocities in the USSR against the Dukhobar community which is innocent of any anti-soviet act, and which simply wants to pursue its own religious conviction that includes refusal to accept military service.

(4)    I have received letters from the Italian anti-fascists informing me that their anti-fascist comrade Petrini has been handed over to Mussolini's police by the soviet government.

(5)    Trotsky's wife is circulating letters, saying that her son Serge, a professor in a Moscow technical school and his wife have been arrested. She is affirming that the couple is absolutely innocent, and that the arrest is an act of vengeance against Trotsky. This should be answered by facts.

Let me stop here with the list of questions which I have been facing. They demand answers. These are having very bad effects. I am witnessing increasing number of courageous people desisting from the common action of defending the USSR and who are increasingly joining the different groups who while combatting fascism are also attacking soviet policies. A number of newspapers belong to this tendency. I am sad to see among them a number of my friends who I know are sincere revolutionaries.

Dear comrade, I do not ask you to inform me personally. It is not a question touching me only. I am too old and far too distant from Paris to be able to assume the role of an information centre. But such a centre for diffusing information about the events in the Soviet Union is necessary so that people can be aware of the happenings in the USSR. I have already cited what you yourself had told me, namely, "we do not inform and we do not arm sufficiently our friends. We will try to correct this lacuna".
Yours truly,
Romain Rolland

[March 18, 1937]
Dear Comrade Stalin,
Once again I am addressing you taking the opportunity of your permission you had accorded me when I had spoken to you two years ago.

On the eve of trial of Bukharin and without contesting the charges brought against him I appeal to your high spirit of humanity and comprehension of the higher interests of the USSR. An intelligence of Bukharin's order is wealth for his country. This can and should be conserved for the benefit of the soviet science and thought in general. If the intelligence has failed due to detestable ideologies proper punishment must be meted out, still one should save the individual of scientific value misled by these ideologies but who has admitted and regretted his faults and shown readiness to combat them.

One hundred and fifty years ago the revolutionary tribunal of Paris had condemned to death the genius Lavoisier the chemist. We in France, the ardent admirers of Robespierre and the committee of public safety, have been suffering from regret and remorse from this execution.

Allow me also to invoke a memory which is dear to both of us. I mean Maxim Gorki. I saw often Bukharin in Gorki's house. I witnessed the deep affectionate friendship which bound these two persons together. In the name of Gorki I ask you to pardon Bukharin. Whatever his guilt such an individual cannot be compared witlh those who have preceded him. He can still honour the soviet thought and be a witness to your spirit of magnanimity.
Yours truly,
Romain Rolland

[September 16, 1937]
Dear Comrade Stalin,
I have earlier written to you regarding the individuals more or less engaged in politics. This time I write to you concerning a dear friend of mine for whom I have great respect—Dr Oscar Hartoch of the Institute of Experimental Medicine of Leningrad. He was arrested in August this year on the charge of agitation and propaganda. Nothing could be more distant from his character. This is a man solely absorbed by his research, particularly in the field of epidemiology. A modest, shy person, he has always been aloof from all political agitation, and this aloofness has accentuated since the death of his wife which has overwhelmed him. He has been living with his sister who has come from Switzerland to look after him. I have known them for the last twenty years and am bound with them in fraternal friendship. I fear that Dr Hartoch's suffering will further increase given his already poor health and at the same time his absence will cause enormous problems for the number of doctors working under him, disorganizing their work. Permit me dear comrade Stalin, to ask you to intervene, so that the inquiry concerning Dr Hartoch is not prolonged and thereby he, as am sure, could be cleared of the charge.
Yours devotedly
Rornain Holland

In Context :
(1)   Rolland did not get the authorization to publish the conversation
(2) Zinoviev and Kamenev accused of being anti soviet and Trotskyist were condemned to death and executed in 1936. Rehabilitated in 1988.
(3)  The language of the Jewish people was not Hebreu but Yiddish in central Europe and Russia.
(4)  Nathalie Trotsky in her circular letter of June 1, 1935 asked for Romain Rolland, Andre Gide, Bernard Shaw and other friends of the Soviet Union to take the initiative of forming a Commission of inquiry in agreement with the USSR.
(5)  Bukharin was arrested on February 27, 1937. The trial was for "Rightists and anti-Soviet Trotskyists" (March 2 and 3, 1937). Rehabilitated in 1988.
(6)  Hartoch was arrested on August 2, 1937, freed on 20th May, 1938 due to intervention of Rolland with Stalin. RE-arrested on May 31, 1941 as a "German agent", executed on Dec, 25, 1942. Rehabilitated in 1956.

[Source : Fondation Gabriel Péri]

Vol. 49, No.25, Dec 25 - 31, 2016