Sunday, December 28, 2014

"Why were you, a general, not shot during the Revolution?”

Katya Bessmertnaya. Graphics #8. By permission.
Katya Bessmertnaya
Andrey Kapitsa, Alexey Krylov’s grandson, asked him, “Why were you, a general, not shot during the Revolution?” His answer was “There are generals, and there are generals.”

Before the revolution, Krylov was a nobleman, a navy general (an admiral), and a successful businessman. He was a prominent government official. His two sons died fighting in the White Movement during the revolution, and after their death, his wife and daughter settled in France. Any one of these facts was sufficient for being executed during or after the revolution. Majority of his peers perished – why was not he shot?
 During the several years after the revolution, and especially after Lenin’s attempted assignation by Fanny Kaplan, the Bolsheviks conducted a campaign of mass terror. Douglas Smith describes in the Former People the wholesale imprisonment and execution of the former ruling class. Anna Geifman in  Death Orders: The Vanguard of Modern Terrorism in Revolutionary Russia quotes a prominent Cheka officer, Martyn Latsis, who wrote in a newspaper,

 “Do not look in the file of incriminating evidence to see whether or not the accused rose up against the Soviets with arms or words. Ask him instead to which class he belongs, what is his background, his education, his profession. These are the questions that will determine the fate of the accused.”
There was no law in the class war, but well-regarded, personable people of low political involvement and high integrity had a higher chance to either avoid being arrested, or be saved after the arrest by an influential person with whom they had previous amicable interaction.

In his memoir and in recollections of other people, Alexey Krylov comes across as such person. Politically conservative, he did not participate in politics. His daughter wrote: 

My father was always outside of political events. He was a strange man for his social class, accepting any government, not paying special attention to it. Alexey Krylov considered our government as an earthquake, a flood, or a thunderstorm. Something was there, but the work needed to be continued.
An accomplished and highly educated nobleman, he had natural affinity with people of all classes. His memoir is full of stories about peasant boys with whom he grew up and workers and clerks in Russia and abroad with whom he dealt professionally. He comes across as a genial “people’s person” who treats others well. Writing in 1942, he remembers the names of draftsmen and clerks who worked for him forty years before. He writes about Pyotr Titov, a man who rose from an apprentice to a wharf manager, 
Among the workers, Titov enjoyed boundless respect and authority, because the workers saw him as one of their own, a man who knew every job and could perform it to perfection. Indeed, it could often be seen how Titov approached a young, still inexperienced worker, took from him, for example, a hammer and a chisel, and showed how to hold a chisel when cutting the edge of the sheet, how to strike with a hammer, and other tasks. Chips were curling as if on their own, and the old workers admired his skill.

A businessman, an inventor, and a general, he dealt with many people in the course of his professional life between 1884, when he started working, and 1917. Some of these people undoubtedly were revolutionaries. The memoir describes his interactions with Krasin, for example.

A combination of such factors saved Krylov’s life during that dangerous period. He worked with the People’s Commissars to define new curriculum for the Naval Academy, and in 1919, after the death of Nikolay Klado, the author of The Russian Navy in the Russo-Japanese War, became its commanding officer.

 In 1919, Krylov taught a course on ship theory to the commissars of the Baltic Fleet.   Krylov recalls: 
I begin my first lecture and ask, ‘Who knows the gymnasium course of mathematics?’ (Silence)‘Who knows the real school course of mathematics?’ (Silence)‘Who studied arithmetic in the parochial school?’ (Four hands come up.)‘I see. There will be no lecture today. Come tomorrow at the same time.’
 The lectures were a success.

2   New Economic Policy 1921 - 1928

In 1921, Krylov was sent abroad on business, and until 1928, worked in England, France, Germany, and other European countries on behalf of the Soviet government, dealing with Soviet diplomats and foreign naval and   civil maritime professionals. Among other assignments, he was a chief observer during construction of several ships in France and Italy, managed transportation of hundreds of locomotives from Germany and Sweden to Russia, and represented the government on the board of the Russo-Norwegian Steamship Society.  

While some people in his position chose to stay in the West,  Krylov returned to Russia in 1928.  It may be that he intended it as a trip, and as later his son-in-law Pyotr Kapitsa, was not allowed to leave. 

Krylov did not participate as an entrepreneur in the NEP economic revival, which terminated in arrests and executions of many businessmen.

 3.   Great Purge 1934-1940  

In 1934, Krylov was seventy years old and formally retired from the Navy. He continued to teach, consult, and publish scientific papers.  His son-in-law, Pyotr Kapitsa, was a prominent scientist, apparently under personal protection of Statin. Andrey Kapitsa writes, 
Indeed, it is a mystery why no members of the Krylov family and our family suffered during the repression ... My father, Pyotr Kapitsa, once quarreled with the all-powerful Beria and wrote sharp letters to Stalin. However, other than being removed from his positions in 1946, nothing happened to him. Andrey Khrulev (chief of the country rear services during World War II) told my father, after Stalin died, how he was present when Beria was demanding the arrest of Pyotr Kapitsa, to which Stalin replied, “I removed him for you, and you do not touch him for me.” It was as if an umbrella of safety was protecting our family and those around us.

Krylov’s age, reputation, and connection to Kapitsa probably protected him during that period.

Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. Krylov died in 1945.

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