Volume 2, Chapter 52, Part A

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Volume 2, Chapter 52, Part A

Living My Life

by Emma Goldman

Volume Two

New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1931.


Chapter 52

SOVIET RUSSIA! SACRED GROUND, MAGIC PEOPLE! YOU HAVE COME to symbolize humanity's hope, you alone are destined to redeem mankind. I have come to serve you, beloved matushka. Take me to your bosom, let me pour myself into you, mingle my blood with yours, find my place in your heroic struggle, and give to the uttermost to your needs!

     At the border, on our way to Petrograd, and at the station there, we were received like dear comrades. We who had been driven out of America as felons were welcomed on Soviet soil as brothers by her sons and daughters who had helped to set her free. Workers, soldiers, and peasants surrounded us, took us by the hand, and made us feel akin to them. Pale-faced and hollow-checked they were, a light burning in their sunken eyes, and determination breathing from their ragged bodies. Danger and suffering had steeled their wills and made them stern. But underneath beat the old childlike, generous Russian heart, and it went out to us without stint.

     Music and song greeted us everywhere and wondrous tales of valor and never-failing fortitude in the face of hunger, cold, and devastating disease. Tears of gratitude burned in my eyes and I felt great humility before those simple folk risen to greatness in the fire of the revolutionary struggle.

     In Petrograd, after a third reception, Tovarishtch Zorin, in whose company we had made the trip, invited Sasha and me to come with him to a waiting automobile. Darkness covered the big city, fantastic shadows over the glistening snow on the ground. The streets were entirely deserted, the grave-like silence disturbed only by the rattling of our car. We sped on, several times halted by human forms suddenly emerging from the blackness of the night. Soldiers they were, heavily armed, their flashlights searchingly on us. "Propusk, tovarishtch! (Pass-card, comrade!)," was their curt demand. "Military precautions," our escort explained; "Petrograd has only recently escaped the menace of Yudenich. Too many counter-revolutionists are still lurking about for us to take any chances." We continued on our way, and as the automobile turned a corner and passed a brightly lighted building, Zorin remarked: "The Cheka and our jail --- generally empty, though." Presently we halted before a large house, lights streaming from its many windows. "The Astoria, a fashionable hotel in czarist times," Zorin informed us, "now the First House of the Petro-Soviet." We were to room there, he added, while the rest of the deportees would be housed in the Smolny, formerly the most exclusive boarding-school for the daughters of the aristocracy. "And the girls?" I inquired. "Ethel Bernstein and Dora Lipkin --- I could not bear to be separated from them." Zorin promised to secure a room for them in the Astoria, although only party members were quartered in that Soviet house, mostly high officials, as well as special guests. He led us to his apartment, while places for us were being prepared.

     Liza, Zorin's wife, bade us a hearty welcome, her greeting as kindly as Zorin's attitude had been throughout the day. She felt sure we were hungry. She had not much to offer us, but we should partake of everything she had, which proved to be herring, kasha, and tea. The Zorins looked none too well fed themselves, and I promised myself to replenish their scanty larder when our trunks were unpacked. Our American friends had provided us with a huge trunkful of supplies and we had also rescued some of the rations given us on leaving the Buford. I chuckled inwardly at the thought of the United States Government unwittingly feeding the Russian Bolsheviks.

     The Zorins had lived in America, though we had never met them there. But they knew us, and Liza said that she had attended some of my lectures in New York. Both spoke English with a strong foreign accent, but more fluently than we did Russian. Thirty-five years in the States with almost no practice in our native tongue had paralyzed our ability to use it. Besides, the Zorins had much to relate to us and they could do it in English. They told us of the Revolution, its achievements and hopes, and many other things we wanted to learn about. Their story of the events leading up to October and the developments since, though more detailed, was somewhat repetitious of what we had already heard at our receptions. It concerned the blockade and its fearful toll; the iron ring that surrounded Russia and the devastating sabotage of the interventionists; the armed attacks by Denikin, Kolchak, and Yudenich; the havoc wrought by them and the revolutionary spirit that kept at its height against terrible odds, fighting on numerous fronts and routing its enemies. Fighting also on the industrial front, building the new Russia out of the ruins of the old. Already much constructive work had been achieved, they informed us; we should have the opportunity to see it with our own eyes. Schools, workers' colleges, social protection of mother and child, care of the aged and the sick, and much more were made possible by the dictatorship of the proletariat. Of course, Russia was very far yet from perfection, with every hand raised against her. The blockade, the intervention, the counter-revolutionary plotters --- foremost among them the Russian intelligentsia --- they were the greatest menace. It was they who were responsible for the fearful obstacles the Revolution encountered and for the ills the country was suffering.

     The herculean tasks facing Russia now made our past struggles in America appear pitifully insignificant; our real test by fire was yet before us! I trembled at the thought of my possible failure, my inability to scale the heights already attained by the obscure and dumb millions. In their earnestness and obvious consecration the Zorins symbolized this greatness and I felt proud to have them as friends. It was past midnight before we could tear ourselves away from them.

     In the hotel corridor we ran into a young woman who told us that she was on her way to the Zorins' to call us. A friend from America was waiting, eager to see us. We followed her to an apartment on the fourth floor, and when the door was opened, I found myself in the embrace of our old comrade Bill Shatoff. "Bill, you here!" I cried in surprise; "why, Zorin told me you had left for Siberia!"

     "Why were you not at the border to meet us? Didn't you receive our radio?" Sasha chimed in.

     "None of your American speed," Bill laughed: "let me hug you first, dear Sasha, and let's have a glass to your safe arrival in revolutionary Russia. Then we'll talk." He led us to a divan, placing himself between us. The others present greeted us warmly: Anna (Bill's wife), her sister Rose, and the latter's husband. I had met the girls in New York, but I had not recognized Rose in the dim light of the corridor.

     Bill had put on considerable weight since the farewell sendoff we had given him in New York. His military uniform accentuated his bulging lines and made his face look rather hard. But he was the same old Bill, impulsive, affectionate, and jovial. He pelted us with a volley of questions about America, the San Francisco labor cases, our imprisonment and deportation. "Never mind all that for the present," we parried; "better tell us first about yourself. How do you happen still to be in Petrograd? And why were you not on the reception committee for the American deportees?" Bill looked somewhat embarrassed and sought to dodge our questions, but we were insistent. I could not bear the uncertainty about Zorin and I was not willing to suspect him of deliberate deception. "I see you have not changed," Bill teased; "you are the same old persistent pest." He tried to explain that in the strenuous life of Russia people had no time for mere sociability. He and Zorin, having different duties, rarely met. That might explain Zorin's impression that he had departed. His Siberian journey had been settled upon weeks previously, but, owing to the difficulty of procuring the necessary equipment for his trip, had been delayed. Even now much was to be attended to before he would be ready to leave. It might keep him in the city for another fortnight, but he did not mind it now that we were with him --- it would give us time to talk things over, about America and Russia. He had received our radio and he had asked to be on the committee, but he was refused. It had been considered unwise to allow him to give us our first impressions of Russia, in order not to prejudice us. "It! It!" both Sasha and I exclaimed. "Who is that dictatorial 'it' that orders your Siberian trip and that refuses you the right to meet your old comrades and friends? And why could you not have come on your own account?" "The dictatorship of the proletariat," Bill replied, patting me on the back indulgently; "but of that some other time. Now I just want to tell you," he continued earnestly, "that the Communist State in action is exactly what we anarchists have always claimed it would be --- a tightly centralized power, still more strengthened by the dangers to the Revolution. Under such conditions one cannot do as one wills. One does not just hop on a train and go, or even ride the bumpers, as I used to in the United States. One needs permission. But don't get the idea that I miss my American 'blessings.' Me for Russia, the Revolution, and its glorious future!"

     Bill was certain we would come to feel just as he did about things in Russia. No need to worry about trifles like propusks during our first hours together. "Propusks! I have a whole trunkful of them, and so will you soon," he concluded, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. I caught his mood and dismissed my questions. I was dazed by the impressions that had crowded the day. Was it really only one day, I wondered. I seemed to have lived years since our arrival.

     Bill Shatoff did not leave for another fortnight, and we spent together most of our time, often into the wee hours of the morning. The revolutionary canvas he unrolled before us was of far larger scope than had been painted before by anyone else. It was no longer a few individual figures thrown on the picture, their rôle and importance accentuated by the vast background. Great and small, high and low, stood out in bold relief, imbued with a collective will to hasten the complete triumph of the Revolution. Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, with their small band of inspired comrades, had a tremendous part to play, Bill declared with enthusiastic conviction; but the real power behind them was the awakened revolutionary consciousness of the masses. The peasants had expropriated the masters' land all through the summer of 1917 . . . workers had taken possession of the factories and shops . . the soldiers had flocked back by the hundred thousands from the warring fronts . . . the Kronstadt sailors had translated their anarchist motto of direct action into the everyday life of the Revolution . . . the Left Socialist Revolutionists, as also the anarchists, had encouraged the peasantry in socializing the land. . . . All these forces had helped to energize the storm that broke over Russia, finding full expression and release in the terrific sweep of October.

     Such was the epic of dazzling beauty and overwhelming power, infused with palpitating life by the ardor and eloquence of our friend. Presently Bill himself broke the spell. He had shown us the transformation in the soul of Russia, he continued; he would have to let us see her ills of the body as well. "Not to prejudice you," he emphasized, "as has been feared by people whose criterion of revolutionary integrity is a membership card." Before long we would ourselves meet the appalling afflictions that were sapping the country's strength, he said. His object was merely to prepare us --- to help us diagnose the source of the disease, to point out the danger of its spreading and enable us to see that only the most drastic measures could effect a cure. The Russian experience had taught him that we anarchists had been the romanticists of revolution, forgetful of the cost it would entail, the frightful price the enemies of the Revolution would exact, the fiendish methods they would resort to in order to destroy its gains. One cannot fight fire and sword with only the logic and justice of one's ideal. The counter-revolutionists had combined to isolate and starve Russia, and the blockade was taking frightful toll of human life. The intervention and the destruction in its wake, the numerous White attacks, costing oceans of blood, the hordes of Denikin, Kolchak, and Yudenich; their pogroms, bestial revenge, and the general havoc wrought had imposed on the Revolution a warfare that its most farsighted exponents had never dreamed about. A warfare not always in keeping without romantic ideas of revolutionary ethics, indispensable none the less to drive off the hungry wolves ready to tear the Revolution limb from limb. He had not ceased to be an anarchist, Bill assured us; he had not become indifferent to the menace of a Marxian State machine. That danger was no longer a subject for theoretic discussion, but an actual reality because of the existing bureaucracy, inefficiency, and corruption. He loathed the dictatorship and its handmaiden, the Cheka, with their ruthless suppression of thought, speech, and initiative. But it was an unavoidable evil. The anarchists had been the first to respond to Lenin's essentially anarchistic call to revolution. They had the right to demand an accounting. "And we will! Never doubt that," Bill fairly shouted, "we will! But not now, not now! Not while every nerve must be strained to save Russia from the reactionary elements which are desperately fighting to come back to power." He had not joined the Communist Party, and never would, Bill assured us. But he was with the Bolsheviki and he would continue until every front had been liquidated and the last enemy driven to cover, like Yudenich, Denikin, and the rest of the czarist gang. "And so will you, dear Emma and Sasha," Bill concluded; "I am certain of it."

     Our comrade was the enthusiastic bard of old, his song the saga of the Revolution, the most stupendous event of our time. Its miracles were many, its horrors and woe the martyrdom of a people nailed to the cross.

     Bill was entirely right, we thought. Nothing was of moment compared with the supreme need of giving one's all to safeguard the Revolution and its gains. The faith and fervor of our comrade swept me along to ecstatic heights. Yet I could not entirely free myself from an undercurrent of uneasiness one often feels when left alone in the dark. Resolutely I strove to drive it back, moving like a sleep-walker through enchanted space. Sometimes I would stumble back to earth only half-aroused by a harsh voice or an ugly sight. The gagging of free speech at the session of the Petro-Soviet that we had attended, the discovery that better and more plentiful food was served Party members at the Smolny dining-room and many similar injustices and evils had attracted my attention. Model schools where the children were stuffed with sweets and candies, and side by side with them schools dismal, poorly equipped, unheated, and filthy, where the little ones, hungry all the time, were herded together like cattle. A special hospital for Communists, with every modern comfort, while other institutions lacked the barest medical and surgical necessities. Thirty-four different grades of rations --- under alleged Communism! --- while some markets and privileged stores were doing a lively business in butter, eggs, cheese, and meat. The workers and their womenfolk standing long hours in endless queues for their ration of frozen potatoes, wormy cereals, and decayed fish. Groups of women, their faces bloated and blue, accompanied by Red soldiers and bargaining with them for their pitiful wares.

     I talked to Zorin about these things, to the young anarchist Kibalchich, living in the Astoria, to Zinoviev and others, pointing out these contradictions. How were they to be justified or explained? All of them repeated the same refrain: "What will you, with the blockade around us, the sabotage of the intelligentsia, the attacks of Denikin, Kolchak, and Yudenich!" They alone were to blame, they reiterated. Old evils could not be eradicated until the fronts were liquidated. "Come and work with us," they said, "you and Berkman. You can have any position you choose and you can help us a great deal."

     I was profoundly moved to see these people reaching eagerly out for willing hands. We would join them; we would work with them with our best energy and strength as soon as we found our bearings, knew where we belonged and where we could be of greatest use.

     Zinoviev did not look the formidable leader his reputation would have led one to assume. He impressed me as flabby and weak. His voice was adolescent, high-pitched and lacking in appeal. But he had faithfully helped the Revolution to its birth and he was indefatigably working for its further development, we had been told. He certainly deserved confidence and respect. "The blockade," he reiterated, "Kolchak, Denikin, Yudenich, the counter-revolutionist Savinkov, as well as the Menshevik traitors and the Socialist Revolutionists of the Right, are a constant menace. The are eternally plotting vengeance and the death of the Revolution." Zinoviev's plaint added tragic momentum to the general chorus. I joined in with the rest.

     Soon, however, other voices rose from the depths, harsh, accusing voices that greatly disturbed me. I had been asked to attend a conference of anarchists in Petrograd, and I was amazed to find that my comrades were compelled to gather in secret in an obscure hiding-place. Bill Shatoff had spoken with great pride of the courage shown by our comrades in the Revolution and on the military fronts, and he had extolled the heroic part they had played. Why should people with such a record, I wondered, be driven under cover.

     Presently came the answer --- from workers in the Putilov Ironworks, from factories and mills, from the Kronstadt sailors, from Red Army men, and from an old comrade who had escaped while under sentence of death. The very brawn of the revolutionary struggle was crying out in anguish and bitterness against the people they had helped place in power. They spoke of the Bolshevik betrayal of the Revolution, of the slavery forced upon the toilers, the emasculation of the soviets, the suppression of speech and thought, the filling of prisons with recalcitrant peasants, workers, soldiers, sailors, and rebels of every kind. They told of the raid with machine-guns upon the Moscow headquarters of the anarchists by the order of Trotsky; of the Cheka and the wholesale executions without hearing or trial. These charges and denunciations beat upon me like hammers and left me stunned. I listened tense in every nerve, hardly able clearly to understand what I heard, and failing to grasp its full meaning. It couldn't be true --- this monster indictment! Had not Zorin pointed the jail out to us and assured us that it was almost empty? Capital punishment he had said, had been abolished. And had not Bill Shatoff paid glowing tribute to Lenin and his coworkers, glorifying their vision and valor? Bill had not covered up the dark spots on the Soviet horizon; he had explained the reason for them and the methods they had forced upon the Bolsheviki, and indeed upon all rebels serving the Revolution.

     The men in that dismal hall must be mad, I thought, to tell such impossible and preposterous stories, wicked to condemn the Communists for the crimes they must know were due to the counterrevolutionary gang, to the blockade and the White generals attacking the Revolution. I proclaimed my conviction to the gathering, but my voice was drowned in the laughter of derision and jeers. I was roundly denounced for my willful blindness. "That's the gag they have given you!" my comrades shouted at me. "You and Berkman have fallen for it and swallowed it whole. And Zorin, the bigot who hates anarchists and would shoot them all in cold blood! Bill Shatoff, too, the renegade!" they shouted; "you believe them and not us. Wait, wait until you have seen things with your own eyes. You will sing another song then."

     When the indignant uproar had subsided, the fugitive from the death-sentence demanded the floor. His pale face was deeply furrowed, suffering spoke from his large, hunted eyes, and he talked in a voice trembling with suppressed excitement. He dwelt at length on the recent events and the difficulties in the way of the Revolution. The anarchists did not close their eyes to the counter-revolutionary menace, he said. They were fighting it tooth and nail, as proved by the numerous comrades on the fronts and the great numbers that had laid down their lives in the battles against the enemy. In fact, it was Nestor Makhno, an anarchist, who with his peasant rebel army of povstantsy had helped to rout Denikin and thus saved Moscow and the Revolution at the most critical period. Anarchists in every part of Russia were at the very moment on the firing line, driving back the enemies of the Revolution. But they were also fighting the plague that had brought in the counter-revolutionary pest: the Brest-Litovsk peace, which had disintegrated the revolutionary spirit of the masses and had been the first wedge to break the proletarian forces and their unity. The anarchists and the Left Social Revolutionists had opposed it from the very first as a perilous step and a breach of faith on the part of the Bolsheviki. The policy of the razverstka, introduced by the Bolsheviki, the forcible gathering of products by irresponsible military detachments, had added fuel to the fires of popular bitterness. It had aroused hatred among the peasants and workers and had made them fertile soil for counter-revolutionary plots. "Shatoff knows all this," the man cried; "why did he hide these facts from you? But Bill Shatoff has become a 'Sovietsky' anarchist and he is serving the men in the Kremlin. That is why Lenin has saved him from the Cheka and has exiled him to Siberia instead. Workers and peasants, soldiers and sailors had been shot for lesser offenses than the shady manipulations with his bourgeois cronies that Shatoff engaged in as virtual governor of Petrograd. The Bolsheviki are grateful masters. Shatoff had ruled Petrograd with an iron hand. He had himself rushed after the fleeing Kanegiesser, the slayer of the sadist Uritsky, chief of the Petrograd Cheka. Shatoff, the anarchist, had caught the unfortunate prey, brought him back in triumph, and turned him over to the Cheka to be shot!"

     "Stop, stop!" I screamed; "I've had enough of your lies! Bill would never do such a thing. I have known Bill for years as the kindest and gentlest of beings. I could never believe him capable of such things." In rage I struck out at these people who called themselves anarchists and yet were so vindictive and mean-spirited. I fought for the integrity of Zorin and defended Zinoviev as an able and energetic leader. I championed Bill, my old comrade and friend, extolling the nobility of his character, his big spirit and clear vision. I refused to have my burning faith extinguished by the poisonous fumes I had been inhaling for three days.


     Sasha had been laid up with a severe cold and was too ill to attend the conference of the anarchist group. But I had kept him informed, and now I burst into his room in great mental turmoil to tell him of this last dreadful day. He dismissed the charges as the irresponsible prattle of ineffective and disgruntled men. The Petrograd anarchists were like so many in our ranks in America who used to do least and criticize most, he said. Perhaps they had been naive enough to expect anarchism to emerge overnight from the ruins of autocracy, from the war and blunders of the Provisional Government. It was absurd to denounce the Bolsheviki for the drastic measures they were using, Sasha urged. How else were they to free Russia from the stranglehold of counter-revolution and sabotage? So far as he was concerned, he did not think any methods too harsh to deal with this. Revolutionary necessity justified all measures, however we might dislike them. As long as the Revolution was in jeopardy, those seeking to undermine it must pay the penalty. Single-hearted and clear-eyed as ever was my old pal. I agreed with him; still, the ugly reports of my comrades kept disturbing me.

     Sasha's illness had driven back the phantoms of my sleepless nights. Physicians were few, medicine scarce, and disease rampant in Petrograd. Zorin had immediately sent out for a doctor, but the patient's fever was too alarming for a long wait. My old professional experience never served a better purpose. With the help of my small, well-equipped medicine chest which the kindly doctor of the Buford had given me, I succeeded in breaking Sasha's fever. Two weeks of careful nursing brought him out of bed, looking thin and pale, but on the road to complete recovery. About this time two men were sent up to see us: George Lansbury, editor of the London Daily Herald, and Mr. Barry, an American correspondent. They had not been expected and no provision had been made for an English-speaking person to meet them. They did not understand a word of Russian and they wanted to get to Moscow. We communicated their plight to Mme Ravich, head of the Interior Department and chief of the Foreign Office in Petrograd. She requested Sasha to accompany the English visitors to Moscow, and he consented.

     His departure left me free to go about again. The Zorins were always willing to take me to places of interest, but I was beginning to pick up my Russian and I preferred to go alone. The anarchist conference having been held under cover, I had not been in a position to talk to the Zorins about it, much less tell them what I had heard. It made me feel somewhat guilty in their presence. Added to it was my impression that Zorin was purposely keeping me away from certain things. I had asked him whether I could visit some factories. He had promised to secure a propusk for me, but he had failed to do so. He had also shown impatience with Liza when she had asked me to address the girls of a shop-collective. Not that I had consented; my Russian was still too halting. Moreover, I had come to Russia to learn and not to teach. Zorin seemed greatly relieved at my refusal. I had paid no attention to his peculiar attitude at the time, but when he also broke his promise to take me to the mills, I began to wonder whether there was not something wrong there. I did not believe that conditions were as bad as described at the conference; why, then, should Zorin refuse to let me see them? However, my relations with the Zorins continued very friendly. They were ardent rebels, utterly without thought of themselves and their needs. They were unwilling to accept anything from us, though always ready to share their own meager supplies. Zorin was particularly adamant. Every time I would bring some of our American provisions, he would warn me that we should soon go hungry ourselves if we continued giving our things away. Liza also was difficult to persuade. She was expecting her baby, and I was urging her to let me help her prepare a few things for the new arrival. "Nonsense," she would reply; "in proletarian Russia no one fusses about baby clothes; we leave that to the pampered bourgeois women in capitalist countries. We have more important things to do."

     I would argue that the babies of today were going to be the inheritors of that future she was working for. Shouldn't their first needs be considered even before their birth? But Liza would laugh it off and call me sentimental, not at all the fighter she had thought me. I liked and admired their sterling qualities, in spite of their narrow partizan traits. I did not see quite so much of them, however, as in the first weeks. There was no need for it, as I could now go about by myself; moreover, other people had come into my life.


     One thing Bill Shatoff had told us about was certainly not overdrawn: the matter of propusks. They played a greater rôle in Soviet Russia than passports had under the czars. One could not even get in or out of our hotel without a permit, not to speak of visiting any Soviet institution or important official. Almost everyone carried portfolios stocked with propusks and oodostoverenyas (identification papers). Zorin had told me that they constituted a necessary precaution against counter-revolutionary plotters, but the longer I stayed in Russia, the less I saw their value. Paper was at a high premium, yet reams upon reams of it were used for "permits," and much time was wasted in securing them. On the other hand, the very quantity of them defeated any real control. What sane counter-revolutionist, I argued, would expose himself to discovery by standing for hours in line waiting for a propusk? He could more easily secure it in other ways. But it was useless; every Communist I met seemed to suffer from counter-revolutionary fixation, no doubt due to the attacks already endured. How could I take issue with them? My stay in Russia had been too short for me to advise them on the most practical method of coping with the enemies of the Revolution. And what did the pesky pieces of paper matter in view of the great things already achieved? Everywhere I witnessed sublime courage, selfless devotion, and simple grandeur on the part of those holding the revolutionary fort against the entire inimical world. Thus I reasoned with myself, determinedly refusing to see the reverse side of Russia's face. But its scarred and twisted countenance would not be ignored. It kept calling me back, urging me to look, forcing me to view its suffering. I wanted to see only its beauty and radiance, longed passionately to believe in its strength and power, yet the very hideousness of the other side compelled with an irresistible appeal. "Look, look!" it grinned, "within reach of Petrograd are vast stretches of forest, enough to heat every home and make every factory wheel turn. Yet the city is perishing from cold, and the machines are frozen. The razverstka (forcible collection of food) drains the peasantry to feed Petrograd, they are told; fertile Ukraine is forced to ship carloads of provisions northward, yet the population of the cities is starving. A goodly half of the provisions somehow vanishes along the route, the rest reaching, in the main, the markets rather than the hungry masses; and the constant shootings on the Gorokhovaya (Cheka headquarters), have you been deaf to those? And the planned prison for morally defective children--has your indignation not been aroused by this, you who have for thirty-five years hurled anathema at the traducers of child-life? What about all these ghastly blotches so skillfully hidden by Communist rouge?"

     Like a rabbit in a trap I dashed about in my cage, beating against the bars of these fearful contradictions. Blindly I reached out for someone to ward off the mortal blow. Zinoviev and John Reed, who had just returned from Moscow, could explain, I thought. And Maxim Gorki, he would surely tell me which side of the Russian face was the real one and which one false. He would help me, he the great realist, whose clarion voice had thundered against every wrong and who had castigated the crimes against childhood in words of fire.

     I dispatched a note to Gorki, requesting him to see me. I felt lost in the labyrinth of Soviet Russia, stumbling constantly over the many obstacles, vainly groping for the revolutionary light. I needed his friendly, guiding hand, I wrote him. Meanwhile I turned to Zinoviev. "Forests within easy reach of Petrograd," I said; "why must the city freeze?" "Any amount of fuel," Zinoviev replied; "but of what avail? Our enemies have destroyed our means of transportation; the blockade has killed off our horses as well as our men. How are we to get at the woodland?" "What about the population of Petrograd?" I persisted. "Could it not be appealed to for co-operation? Could it not be induced to go en masse with pick and ax and ropes to haul wood for its own use? Would not such a concerted effort alleviate much suffering and at the same time decrease the antagonism against your party?" It might help to diminish the misery from cold, Zinoviev replied, but it would interfere with the carrying out of the main political policies. What were they? "Concentration of all power in the hands of the proletarian avant-garde," Zinoviev explained, "the avant-garde of the Revolution, which is the Communist Party." "Rather a dear price to pay," I objected. "Unfortunately," he agreed; "but the dictatorship of the proletariat is the only workable program during a revolutionary period. Anarchist groups, free initiative of communes, as your great teachers have suggested, may be feasible in centuries to come, but not now in Russia, with the Denikins and Kolchaks ready to crush us. They have doomed the whole of Russia, yet your comrades fret about the fate of one city." One city, with a million and a half inhabitants reduced to four hundred thousand! A mere bagatelle in the eyes of the Communist political program! Disheartened, I left the man so cock-sure of his party's wisdom, so ensconced in the heavenly Marxian constellation and self-conscious of being one of its major stars.


     John Reed had burst into my room like a sudden ray of light, the old buoyant, adventurous Jack that I used to know in the States. He was about to return to America, by way of Latvia. Rather a hazardous journey, he said, but he would take even greater risks to bring the inspiring message of Soviet Russia to his native land. "Wonderful, marvelous, isn't it, E.G.?" he exclaimed. "Your dream of years now realized in Russia, your dream scorned and persecuted in my country, but made real by the magic wand of Lenin and his band of despised Bolsheviks. Did you ever expect such a thing to happen in the country ruled by the czars for centuries?"

     "Not by Lenin and his comrades, dear Jack," I corrected, "though I do not deny their great part. But by the whole Russian people, preceded by a glorious revolutionary past. No other land of our days has been so literally nurtured by the blood of her martyrs, a long procession of pioneers who went to their death that new life may spring from their graves."

     Jack insisted that the young generation cannot for ever be tied to the apron-strings of the old, particularly when those strings are tightly drawn around its throat. "Look at your old pioneers, the Breshkovskayas and Tchaikovskys, the Chernovs and Kerenskys and the rest of them," he cried heatedly; "see where they are now! With the Black Hundreds, the Jew-baiters, and the ducal clique, aiding them to crush the Revolution. I don't give a damn for their past. I am concerned only in what the treacherous gang has been doing during the past three years. To the wall with them! I say. I have learned one mighty expressive Russian word, 'razstrellyat'!" (execute by shooting).

     "Stop, Jack! Stop!" I cried; "this word is terrible enough in the mouth of a Russian. In your hard American accent it freezes my blood. Since when do revolutionists see in wholesale execution the only solution of their difficulties? In time of active counter-revolution it is no doubt inevitable to give shot for shot. But cold-bloodedly and merely for opinion's sake, do you justify standing people against the wall under such circumstances?" I went on to point out to him that the Soviet Government must have realized the futility of such methods, not to speak of their barbarity, because it had abolished capital punishment. Zorin had told me that. Was the decree revoked, that Jack spoke so glibly of standing men against the wall? I mentioned the frequent shooting I heard in the city at night. Zorin had said that it was target practice of kursanty (Communist students at the military training-school for officers). "Do you know anything about it, Jack?" I questioned. "Tell me the truth."

     He did know, he said, that five hundred prisoners, considered counter-revolutionists, had been shot on the eve the decree was to go into force. It had been a stupid blunder on the part of over-zealous Chekists and they had been severely reprimanded for it. He had not heard of any other shootings since, but he had always thought me a revolutionist of the purest dye, one who would not shirk any measure in defense of the Revolution. He was surprised to see me so worked up over the death of a few plotters. As if that mattered in the scales of the world revolution!

     "I must be crazy, Jack," I said, "or else I never understood the meaning of revolution. I certainly never believed that it would signify callous indifference to human life and suffering, or that it would have no other method of solving its problems than by wholesale slaughter. Five hundred lives snuffed out on the eve of a decree abolishing the death-penalty! You call it a stupid blunder. I call it a dastardly crime, the worst counter-revolutionary outrage committed in the name of the Revolution."

     "That's all right," said Jack, trying to calm me; "you are a little confused by the Revolution in action because you have dealt with it only in theory. You'll get over that, clear-sighted rebel that you are, and you'll come to see in its true light everything that seems so puzzling now. Cheer up, and make me a cup of the good old American coffee you have brought with you. Not much to give you in return for all my country has taken from you, but greatly appreciated in starving Russia by her native son."

     I marveled at his capacity to change so quickly to a light tone. It was the same old Jack, with his zest for the adventures of life. I longed to join in his gay mood, but my heart was heavy. Jack's appearance had brought back memories of my recent life, my people, Helena and those dear to me. Not a word from anyone had reached me in two months. Uncertainty about them added to my depression and restlessness. Sasha's letter, suggesting that I come to Moscow, put new energy into me. Moscow was much more alive than Petrograd, he wrote, and there were interesting people to meet. A few weeks in the capital might help to clarify the revolutionary situation to me. I wanted to go immediately. I had already learned, however, that in Soviet Russia one does not just buy a ticket and board a train. I had seen people standing in queues for days and nights to obtain a permit for their journey and then again wait in long lines to purchase their tickets. Even with the helpful co-operation of Zorin it required ten days before I could leave. He had arranged for me to be in the party of Soviet officials going to Moscow, he informed me. Demyan Bedny, the official poet, would be there and he would place me in the Hotel National. Zorin was as obliging as ever, though somewhat distant.

     Arrived at the station, I found myself in distinguished company. Karl Radek, who had escaped the fate of Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, and Landauer, was there. Chiperovich, head of the Petrograd labor unions, Maxim Gorki, and several lesser lights were also in the same car with me.

     Gorki had previously replied to my letter and had asked me to call for a talk. I did, but there was no talk. I found him suffering from a heavy cold and constantly coughing, while four women were fluttering about him, ministering to his needs. When he saw me in the car, he said we could have our postponed talk en route; he would come to my compartment later. I waited eagerly the largest part of the day. Gorki did not appear, nor anyone else except the porter with sandwiches and tea for the Soviet party. Radek, in the next compartment, was evidently holding court. In true Russian fashion everybody talked at once. But the little, nervous Radek managed to outstrip the others. For hours he rattled on. My brain grew weary and I dozed off.

     I was roused from my sleep by a gaunt and lanky figure towering above me. Maxim Gorki stood before me, his peasant face deeply lined with pain. I asked him to sit down beside me and he crumpled into the seat, a tired and languid man, much older than his fifty years.

     I had looked forward with much anticipation to the chance of talking to Gorki, yet now I did not know how to begin. "Gorki knows nothing about me," I was saying to myself.... "He may think me merely a reformer, opposed to the Revolution as such. Or he may even get the impression that I am just fault-finding on account of personal grievances or because I could not have 'buttered toast and grape-fruit for breakfast' or other material American blessings." Such an interpretation had actually been given to the complaint of Morris Becker about the unbearably putrid air in the shop where he was working, the unnecessary filth and dirt. "You are a pampered bourgeois," the Commissar had bellowed at him; "you pine for the comforts of capitalist America. The proletarian dictatorship has more important things to consider than ventilation or lockers to keep your bread and tea clean." I had laughed to tears over that story, but now I was upset by the apprehension lest Maxim Gorki consider me also a pampered bourgeois, dissatisfied because I had failed to find in Soviet Russia the flesh-pots of capitalist America. But it was ridiculous to think Gorki capable of the silly prattle of a subordinate Bolshevik official, I sought to reassure myself. Surely the seer who could detect beauty in the meanest life and discover nobility in the basest was too penetrating to misunderstand my groping. He more than any other man would grasp its cause and its pain.

     At last I began by saying that I should first have to introduce myself before I could talk to him about the things that were distressing me. "Hardly necessary," Gorki interrupted; "I know a good deal about your activities in the United States. But even if I knew nothing about you, the fact that you were deported for your ideas would be proof enough of your revolutionary integrity. I need nothing more." "That is most kind of you," I replied, "yet I must insist on a little preliminary." Gorki nodded, and I proceeded to tell him of my faith in the Bolsheviki from the very beginning of the October Revolution, and my defense of them and of Soviet Russia at a time when even very few radicals dared speak up for Lenin and his comrades. I had even turned from Catherine Breshkovskaya, who had been our torch for a generation. It had been no easy task to cry in the wilderness of fury and hate in defense of people who in point of theory had always been my political opponents. But who could think of such differences when the life of the Revolution was at stake? Lenin and his coworkers personified that life to me and to my nearest comrades and friends. Therefore we had fought for them and we would have cheerfully given our lives for the men who were holding the revolutionary fort. "I hope you will not consider me boastful or think that I have exaggerated the difficulties and dangers of our struggle in America for Soviet Russia," I said. Gorki shook his head and I continued: "I also hope you will believe me when I say that, though an anarchist, I had not been naive enough to think that anarchism could rise overnight, as it were, from the debris of old Russia."

     He stopped me with a gesture of his hand. "If that is so, and I do not doubt you, how can you be so perplexed at the imperfections you find in Soviet Russia? As an old revolutionist you must know that revolution is a grim and relentless task. Our poor Russia, backward and crude, her masses, steeped in centuries of ignorance and darkness, brutal and lazy beyond any other people in the world!" I gasped at his sweeping indictment of the entire Russian people. His charge was terrible, if true, I told him. It was also rather novel. No Russian writer had ever spoken in such terms before. He, Maxim Gorki, was the first to advance such a peculiar view, and the first not to put all the blame upon the blockade, the Denikins and Kolchaks. Somewhat irritated, he replied that the "romantic conception of our great literary genuises" had entirely misrepresented the Russian and had wrought no end of evil. The Revolution had dispelled the bubble of the goodness and naïveté of the peasantry. It had proved them shrewd, avaricious, and lazy, even savage in their joy of causing pain. The rôle played by the counter-revolutionary Yudeniches, he added, was too obvious to need special emphasis. That is why he had not considered it necessary even to mention them, nor the intelligentsia, which had been talking revolution for over fifty years and then was the first to stab it in the back with sabotage and conspiracies. But all these were contributory factors, not the main cause. The roots were inherent in Russia's brutal and uncivilized masses, he said. They have no cultural traditions, no social values, no respect for human rights and life. They cannot be moved by anything except coercion and force. All through the ages the Russians had known nothing else.

     I protested vehemently against these charges. I argued that in spite of his evident faith in the superior qualities of other nations, it was the ignorant and crude Russian people that had risen first in revolt. They had shaken Russia by three successive revolutions within twelve years, and it was they and their will that gave life to "October."

     "Very eloquent," Gorki retorted, "but not quite accurate." He admitted the share of the peasantry in the October uprising, though even that, he thought, was not conscious social feeling, but mere wrath accumulated for decades. If not checked by Lenin's guiding hand, it would have surely destroyed rather than advanced the great revolutionary aims. Lenin, Gorki insisted, was the real parent of the October Revolution. It had been conceived by his genius, nurtured by his vision and faith, and brought to maturity by his far-sighted and patient care. Others had helped to deliver the lusty child, particularly the small band of Bolsheviki, aided by the Petrograd workers, together with the sailors and soldiers of Kronstadt. Since the birth of October it was again Lenin who was steering its development and growth.

     "Miracle-worker, your Lenin," I cried; "but I seem to remember that you have not always thought him a god or his comrades infallible." I reminded Gorki of his scathing arraignment of the Bolsheviki in the journal Zhizn, edited by him in the days of Kerensky. What had caused his change? He had attacked the Bolsheviki, Gorki acknowledged, but the march of events had convinced him that a revolution in a primitive country with a barbarous people could not survive without resort to drastic methods of self-defense. The Bolsheviki had made many mistakes and they continued doing so. They admitted it themselves. But the suppression of the rights of the individual for the sake of the whole, the Cheka, prison, terror, and death were not of their choice. These methods had been forced upon Soviet Russia and they were unavoidable in the revolutionary struggle.

     He looked exhausted, and I did not detain him when he rose to leave. He shook my hand and walked out with a weary gait. I, too, was tired and unutterably sad. Which of the two Gorkis, I wondered, had come closer to the Russian soul. Was it the creator of Makar Tchudra and Tchelkash, the author of In the Depths, of Twenty-six and One, the "dumb and cruel savages" of the Russian mass? How human Gorki had made them, how childlike and guileless, how moving in their frustration! He had lived with them, in the "nethermost where there is naught but murk and slush"; he had heard their "harsh cry for life," and he had "come up to bear witness to the suffering he had left behind." Was that the true soul of Russia, or was it as pictured by Gorki the worshiper of Lenin? "A hundred million people, cruel savages needing barbarous methods to keep them in leash." Did he actually believe such monstrous things, or had he invented them to enhance the glory of his god?

     Maxim Gorki had been my idol, and I would not see his feet of clay. I became convinced, however, of one thing: neither he nor anyone else could solve my problems. Only time and patient seeking could do it, aided by sympathetic understanding of cause and effect in the revolutionary struggle of Russia.

     The occupants of the car had retired, and all was quiet. The train sped on. I tried to gain some sleep, but found myself thinking of Lenin. What was this man and what the power that drew everyone to him, even those who disagreed with his course? Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin, and the other prominent men I had come across, all differed on many problems, yet were unanimous in their appraisal of Lenin. His was the clearest mind in Russia, everyone assured me, of iron will and dogged perseverance in pursuit of his aims, no matter what the cost. It was peculiar, though, that no one ever referred to any generous impulses of the man. I thought of Dora Kaplan, Lenin's assailant. Her story, told me by a friend of Bill Shatoff, who was entirely for the Bolsheviki and Lenin, had been among the first shocks of my Petrograd days. He roundly condemned the attack on Lenin as fraught with most disastrous effects on Russia had Lenin not survived his wounds. But he spoke with the highest regard of Dora and her revolutionary idealism and strength of character, which baffled even her Cheka tormentors. She had been motivated by her conviction that Lenin had betrayed the Revolution by his Brest-Litovsk negotiations. Her attitude was shared by her entire party, the Left Socialist Revolutionists, as well as by the anarchists. Even a goodly number in Communist ranks held the same view. Trotsky, Bukharin, Joffe, and other foremost Bolsheviki had strenuously fought their leader on the issue of making peace with the Kaiser. Lenin's influence, supported by his ingenious slogan of a peredishka (getting one's breath), had conquered all opposition. Many claimed that the peredishka would, in reality, prove a zadishka (death by strangulation). It would mean the end of the Revolution, they insisted, and Lenin would be responsible for it. Dora Kaplan, a mere slip of a girl, had translated the mental turmoil of the moment into action. She had attempted to slay Lenin before he could slay the Revolution!

     "Only the Cheka works fast in Russia," my informant had remarked with a cynical smile. "No time was wasted on a trial, and no chances were taken with a hearing." Torture having failed to induce Dora Kaplan to involve others in her act, she was put out of her agony by a steadier hand than hers. Lenin had gained the love and adulation of millions in every land, but he did nothing to save that unfortunate young woman. The ghastly story had haunted me for weeks. Relief came and renewed faith in Lenin's humanity when I learned that he had saved Bill Shatoff from the "quick action" of the Cheka. He could rise to generous heights, after all, I thought. Perhaps he had been too ill to intercede for Dora in time; possibly, also, the fact of her being tortured had been kept from him. Almost two months had passed since then. Now I was on my way perhaps to meet the man once hounded as a criminal and exile and who was now holding the fate and future of Russia in his hands.

     Half asleep I heard the porter call out "Moscow!" When I reached the platform, I found that my fellow-passengers had already departed, including Demyan Bedny. I had no means of notifying Sasha of my arrival, and no one else in the capital knew of my coming. I felt quite lost in the noise and bustle of the station and helpless with my bags and bundles. I had been warned that things had a way of vanishing in Russia under one's very eyes. I could not go in search of an izvostchik and I stood irresolutely wondering what to do. Presently a familiar voice struck my ears. It was Karl Radek talking to some friends. He had not come near me during the entire journey, nor did he show any sign that he knew my identity. I felt awkward about turning to him for help. Suddenly he wheeled round and approached me. Was I waiting for anyone, he inquired, or could he be of aid? I could have hugged the dear little man for his kindly interest, but I was afraid of scandalizing him by such a display of "bourgeois sentimentality." I had frequently heard the expression used with great derision. assured Radek that he was more chivalrous than the chaperon Zorin had given me. He had faithfully promised to see me safely to Moscow and secure a room for me there, and he had basely run away. "Chivalry, nonsense!" laughed Radek; "we are comrades, aren't we, even if you are not a member of my party?" "But how do you know who I am?" "News travels quickly in Russia," he replied. "You're an anarchist, you are Emma Goldman, and you were driven out of plutocratic America. That's three good reason to entitle you to my comradeship and assistance."

     He invited me to accompany him and to give the "comrade chauffeur" directions where to let me off. I explained that I had only the name and number of the street where my comrade Alexander Berkman was stopping. He was not expecting me and he would probably not be in. Moreover, he had no room of his own. Radek demanded to know "what swine" had left me "in such a predicament." I remarked that he would not apply such a term to the man if he knew how important he was. "Why, he is substituting official jingles for the daily bread," I said. "Demyan!" Radek shrieked; "just like that fat pig to shirk a difficult task." It was certainly not going to be easy to secure a room for me in Moscow, he remarked; the city was overcrowded and few quarters were available. But I should not worry; he'd take me to his apartment in the Kremlin and then we should see.

     After the desolation of Petrograd, Moscow appeared a veritable cauldron of activity. Crowds everywhere, almost everyone lugging bundles or pulling loaded sleighs, rushing about and jostling, pushing and swearing as only Russians can. Very conspicuous was the number of soldiers and hard-faced men in leather jackets, with guns in their belts. Jack Reed had not exaggerated when he told me that Moscow was like an armed camp. Petrograd also did not lack military display, but in the ten weeks I had spent there, I did not see so many men in uniform, much less Chekists, as on my first morning in Moscow.

     Radek and his car were evidently well known to the sentries along our route. We were not halted, not even when the auto dashed through the portals of the Kremlin. The sight of its stone walls brought back to me memories of the czarist regime. Through the centuries its rulers had dwelt in the magnificence of the huge palaces, their drunken orgies and black deeds echoing through the vast halls. More miraculous than legend, I mused, were the changing faces of time. But yesterday entrenched in inviolate power, their authority inalienable as the stars, today hurled from their thrones, bemoaned by a handful, by the many forgot. The builders of the new Russia in the seats of the mighty of old seemed incongruous in the extreme. How could they feel comfortable or a ease in the creeping shadows of the gruesome past, I wondered. A few hours in the Kremlin were enough to give me the uncanny feeling of the dead trying to come to life again. The generous hospitality of Mme Radek, and her chubby baby blissfully unconscious of the surroundings of the bygone days, helped to dispel my oppressive thoughts. Karl Radek was a veritable dynamo of energy, all the time rushing about, hastening to the telephone, dashing back to pick up the baby and dangle it on his knees, talking and giggling like a schoolgirl. He apparently could not sit still a minute, not even during the meal. He seemed everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Mme Radek, who mothered her husband more than her baby did not seem to mind his nervous state. Every time he went up like a balloon, her restraining hand would gently detain him and threaten to feed him like the infant if he did not finish the morsel she had set before him. It was an amusing scene, though somewhat wearing through constant repetition.

     After luncheon my host invited me to his study. We entered a tall and stately room flooded with sunshine. Beautifully carved old furniture was about, the walls lined with books from floor to ceiling. Here Radek became a changed man. His nervousness disappeared and a strange poise was upon him. He began speaking of the German Revolution and the failure of the Socialists to make it as thorough as the Russian October. No fundamental changes had taken place, he declared. The few radical achievements were insignificant, and the cowardly Socialist Government had not even disarmed the counter-revolutionary Junkers. No wonder the Spartacus uprising had been stifled in the blood of the workers. He spoke with deep feeling about the dreadful end of Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, and the anarchist Gustav Landauer. I had reason to be proud of my comrade, he said, for he was a great mind and a rare spirit. Though scholar and humanist, Landauer had joined the masses in the Revolution and died as he lived, heroic to the end. "If only we had such anarchists as Gustav Landauer to work with us!" Radek exclaimed enthusiastically. "But you do have many anarchists working with you," I replied, "some of them extremely able, I understand." "True," he admitted, "but they are not Landauers. Many of them have a bourgeois ideology, kleinbürgerlich in their interpretation of the revolutionary struggle. Others again are positively counter-revolutionary and a direct danger to Soviet Russia." His tone now was different from his manner at the station or at the luncheon a while ago. It was harsh and intolerant.

     Our talk was interrupted by visitors, which I did not regret. I felt much indebted to Radek, but his Communist omnipotence was too much for me. I went back to play with the baby, still free from dogma and creed and refreshing in its innocence of the puerile efforts of all authorities to cast humanity into one mold.

     The repeated telephoning of Radek to the commandant of the National about a room for me finally brought results. At ten in the evening he sent me off in his car to the hotel, bundles and all. He was most cordial, assuring me that I could call on him in any emergency.

     Moscow at that hour was as deserted as Petrograd and equally dark. Numerous sentries were along the route, halting our automobile with the same stereotyped: "Propusk, tovarishtch." My thoughts were still at the Radeks'. They had given out of the fullness of their hearts to a stranger. But would they have done so if they had found me wanting in their political faith? Poor, loving human heart, so kind and generous when free from class and party strife, so warped and hardened by both.

From : Anarchy Archives

Chronology

January 23, 2017 17:33:39 :
Volume 2, Chapter 52, Part A -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

September 23, 2017 13:23:53 :
Volume 2, Chapter 52, Part A -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.

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