Living My Life : Volume 2, Chapter 52, Part B
(1869 - 1940) ~ Russian-American Mother of Anarcho-Communism : She is an Anarchist, pure and simple. She represents the idea of Anarchism as framed by Josiah Warren, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Tolstoy. Yet she also understands the psychologic causes which induce a Caserio, a Vaillant, a Bresci, a Berkman, or a Czolgosz to commit deeds of violence. (From : Hippolyte Havel Bio.)
• "The cause lies not in prostitution, but in society itself; in the system of inequality of private property and in the State and Church. In the system of legalized theft, murder and violation of the innocent women and helpless children." (From : "Anarchy and the Sex Question," by Emma Goldman, F....)
• "...it requires less mental effort to condemn than to think." (From : "Anarchism: What It Really Stands For," by Emma Go....)
• "The political superstition is still holding sway over the hearts and minds of the masses, but the true lovers of liberty will have no more to do with it." (From : "Anarchism: What It Really Stands For," by Emma Go....)
Volume 2, Chapter 52, Part B
It was a novel sensation to be with Sasha in the same city and not be able to reach him. Radek had tried all through the day to get hold of him, but he was not in. Seeing my anxiety, Radek had assured me that Berkman would surely be at his lodgings before midnight. He could remain nowhere else, it being strictly prohibited as a protectionary measure against counter-revolution. No one would dare keep him overnight without registering him with the house commandant, and the latter would not permit a person unknown to him to stay after hours. But how could Radek offer to let me pass the night in his apartment, I asked. The Kremlin, he explained, was an exception. It was heavily guarded against unwelcome guests, and as only the most responsible party members lived there, they could be trusted not to harbor undesirable or suspicious strangers. Anyway, I could call Berkman again after midnight, Radek advised; he would surely be in then.
Radek proved right. At one o'clock I reached Sasha. Not having expected me, he had left for the day. He could not come to me then, because his propusk was good only till midnight, but he would call in the morning.
Sasha's voice over the telephone was already a great comfort. It helped to take the edge from the loneliness I felt in the great, strange city. My dear old pal arrived bright and early "to drink a cup of coffee with you," he said. He had had nothing like it since he had left Petrograd, he told me, nor much of anything else. A glance at his hollow cheeks convinced me that he had gone hungry. I thought it strange, as I knew he had taken enough provisions from our American supplies to last him several weeks. Lansbury had even teased him about it. As the guest of the Soviet Government he would not go short, Lansbury had said, and of course he would also share with his "comrade Berkman." Sasha had mentioned in his letter to me that he was not feeling well, but not a word about scarcity of food or whether Lansbury had kept his promise. I inquired if he had undergone a cure to reduce for beauty's sake. "No need for that in Russia," Sasha laughed; but his supplies did not go very far, he explained, because he had found so many starving, even if his loaves outdid Christ's in feeding large numbers on a few pieces. As to the comradeship of Mr. Lansbury, it had lasted only until the latter was taken in charge by an official representative of the Foreign Office. The English editor was housed in the palatial home of a former sugar-king, now the residence of Assistant Foreign Commissar Karakhan; but apparently no room could be found there for Sasha, nor had Lansbury shown any interest in whether his traveling companion and interpreter could find lodgings anywhere else. Sasha was informed that he had not been expected. Moreover, he had not a scrap of paper to identify himself. Finally it was decided to send him to a Soviet house on Kharitonenskaya Street. There also the commandant declared that he had no spare room. Sasha was saved from his predicament by a Socialist Revolutionist staying in the house. The man had recently come from Siberia to bring a report to headquarters from the local Communists with whom he was working. He invited Sasha to share his room, even at the risk of rousing the ire of the all-powerful house commandant. This difficulty temporarily solved, Sasha called on Chicherin, who immediately provided him with a credential. That piece of paper proved a veritable magic key, which had already unlocked many doors for him, as well as some hearts. The commandant of the Kharitonensky Soviet house suddenly discovered that there was a vacant room there, after all, and other officials became friendly the moment Sasha produced his talisman!
The food at the Kharitonensky was not bad, but entirely insufficient for adults. The other guests at the house somehow managed to supply themselves with extra morsels, which they would bring to the common dinner-table, but Sasha did not care to do this. His main difficulty, however, was the black bread, which was causing him serious stomach trouble. In fact, he had been compelled to stop eating it altogether. But now he would pick up lost weight quickly, he joked; now that I was in Moscow, he was sure I would manage to prepare good meals out of scraps, as I had always done. My dear Sasha! What amazing capacity for adaptation and what splendid sense for the comic sides of life!
The main attraction of the place where he lived, Sasha related, was the interesting types of humanity domiciled there. Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, and Hindu delegates, come to study the achievements of "October" and to enlist aid for the work of liberation in their native countries.
Our comrades in Moscow, Sasha informed me, seemed to enjoy considerable freedom. The Anarcho-Syndicalists of the group Golos Truda were publishing anarchist literature and selling it openly at their book-shop on the Tverskaya. The Universalist Anarchists had club-rooms with a co-operative restaurant and held open weekly gatherings at which revolutionary problems were freely discussed. A little anarchist sheet was also published by our old Georgian comrade Attabekian, a dose friend of Peter Kropotkin, who had his own print-shop. "What an extraordinary situation," I remarked, "to grant anarchists in Moscow so much freedom, and none at all to the Petrograd circle! Most of the dreadful charges I heard there against the Bolsheviki must have been mere fabrication, but one thing was obvious: they were compelled to meet in secret." Sasha explained that he had come upon quite a number of strange contradictions. Thus, many of our comrades were in prison, for no cause apparently, while others were not molested in their activities. But I would have ample opportunity to learn everything at first hand, he added; the Universalist group had invited us to a special conference where the anarchist angle of the Revolution and current events would be presented by three able speakers.
I could hardly wait for the approaching meeting, which held out the hope of better understanding of Russian reality. In the meantime I tramped Moscow many hours a day, sometimes with, but more often without, Sasha. He lived too far away, a full hour's walk from the National, and there were no street-cars and but few izvostchiky. But I urged Sasha to have at least one meal a day with me. He needed building up, and I had brought with me part of our groceries from Petrograd. The markets in Moscow were wide open, doing a rushing business. I saw no betrayal of the Revolution in buying necessaries there. Zorin had indeed told me that trading of any kind was the worst counter-revolution and was strictly prohibited. When I had called his attention to the open markets, he had assured me that only speculators were to be found there. I thought it was sheer nonsense to expect people to starve to death in sight of food. There was no heroism in that, nor could the Revolution profit by it. Starving people could not produce, and without production revolution is doomed to failure. Zorin had insisted that the blockade, the Allied intervention, and the White generals were responsible for the lack of food. But I had grown weary of the same rosary about the causes of Russia's ills. I did not dispute the facts as presented by Zorin and other Communists, but I did think that if the Soviet Government failed to prevent food reaching the markets, it should at least close them. If food was allowed to be sold in public places, it was adding insult to injury to forbid the masses to take advantage of securing provisions, the more so as money was permitted to circulate, the Government coining it wholesale. To such arguments Zorin replied that only my theoretic conceptions of revolution were obscuring the needs of the practical situation.
The main market in Moscow was the once famous Soukharevka, which presented the most amazing picture of incongruity I had yet seen in Russia. People of every kind and station were gathered there, stripped of the trappings of caste and station. The aristocrat and the peasant, the cultured and the uncouth, the bourgeois, the soldier, and the worker rubbed elbows with the enemy of yesterday, pitifully crying out their wares or feverishly buying. Former barriers were broken down, not by the equity of communism, but by the common need for bread, bread, bread. Here one could find exquisitely carved icons and rusty nails, beautiful jewelry and gaudy trinkets, damask shawls and faded cotton quilts. Amid the remnants of former luxury and the last cherished objects of wealth, the crowds jostled, motley gatherings scrambling to possess themselves of coveted articles. Truly an overpowering spectacle of primitive instincts, asserting themselves without restraint or fear.
The Soukharevka made more flagrant the discrimination against smaller places of barter. The little market near the National was being constantly raided. Yet there were but the poorest of the poor desperately trying to keep alive: old women, children in tatters, derelict men, their wares as wretched as themselves. Ill-smelling tshchi (vegetable soup), frozen potatoes, biscuits black and hard, or a few boxes of matches--they held them out to the passersby with trembling hands, in trembling voices pleading: "Buy, barinya (lady), buy, for the love of Christ, buy!" In the raids their measly wares would be seized, their soup and kvass poured out on the square, and the unfortunates dragged off to prison as speculators. Those lucky enough to escape the raiders would soon crawl back, gather up the matches and cigarettes strewn about, and begin their wretched trade again.
The Bolsheviki, in common with other social rebels, had always stressed the potency of hunger as the cause of most of the evils in capitalist society. They never grew tired of condemning the system that punished the effects while leaving their sources intact. How could they now pursue the same stupid and incredible course, I wondered. True, the appalling hunger was not of their making. The blockade and the interventionists were chiefly responsible for that. More reason, then, it seemed to me, why the victims should not be hounded and punished. Witnessing such a raid, Sasha had been aroused by its cruelty and inhumanity. He had vigorously protested against the brutal manner in which the soldiers and the Chekists dispersed the crowd, and he had been himself saved from arrest only by the credential Chicherin had given him. Forthwith the Chekist had changed his tone and manner, offering profuse apologies to the "foreign tovarishtch." He was only doing his duty, he said, carrying out the orders of his superiors, and he could not be blamed.
It was evident that the new power in the Kremlin was feared no less than the old, and that its official seal had the same awesome effect. "Wherein is the change?" I asked Sasha. "You can't measure a gigantic upheaval by a few specks of dust," he replied. But were they mere specks, I wondered, for they seemed to me gusts that were threatening to pull down the entire revolutionary edifice I had constructed in America around the Bolsheviki. Yet my faith in their integrity was too strong to charge them with responsibility for the evils and wrongs I was witnessing at every step. These kept growing daily, ugly facts utterly at variance with what Soviet Russia had been proclaiming to the world. I tried to avoid facing them, but they lurked in every corner and would not be ignored.
The National, almost exclusively occupied by Communists, was manned by a large kitchen force that was wasting time and precious foodstuffs in preparing uneatable meals. Next to it was another kitchen with private servants cooking all day for their masters, prominent Soviet officials. They and their friends were permitted special privileges, often receiving three and even more rations, while the ordinary mortals were wearing out their depleted strength to attain their meager due.
The housing arrangements disclosed similar favoritism and injustice. Large and well-furnished apartments were easily obtainable for a monetary consideration, but it required weeks of humiliation before petty officials to secure one room in a dismal flat without water, heat, or light. Lucky indeed the person if, after all his exhausting efforts, he did not find someone else occupying the same room. This seemed entirely too fantastic to believe, but the personal experience of various friends, among them a young girl I knew, as well as of Manya and Vassily Semenoff, old comrades from the States, left no doubt. They had been among the first to hasten back to Russia at the very outbreak of the Revolution. Since then they had faithfully worked in Soviet institutions at the hardest tasks, yet they had been compelled to wait months and canvass numerous departments before they were granted lodgings. Their happiness was, however, short-lived. On reaching the place assigned to her the young woman found a man already in possession of it. "But we can't both live in the same room," she had told him. "Why not?" he replied; "in Soviet Russia one mustn't be so particular. I worked too hard to secure this hole and I can't afford to give it up. But I can sleep on the floor and let you have the bed," he offered. "It was very decent of him," the girl said, "but I could not face such close proximity with an utter stranger. I left the room and resumed my search for another place."
The hideous sores on revolutionary Russia could not for long be ignored. The facts presented at the gathering of the Moscow anarchists, the analysis of the situation by leading Left Socialist Revolutionists, and my talks with simple people who claimed no political affiliations enabled me to look behind the scenes of the revolutionary drama and to behold the dictatorship without its stage make-up. Its role was somewhat different from the one proclaimed in public. It was forcible tax-collection at the point of guns, with its devastating effect on villages and towns. It was the elimination from responsible positions of everyone who dared think aloud, and the spiritual death of the most militant elements whose intelligence, faith, and courage had really enabled the Bolsheviki to achieve their power. The anarchists and Left Socialist Revolutionists had been used as pawns by Lenin in the October days and were now doomed to extinction by his creed and policies. It was the system of taking hostages for political refugees, not exempting even old parents and children of tender age. The nightly oblavas (street and house raids) by the Cheka, the population frightened out of sleep, their few belongings turned upside down and ripped open for secret documents, the dragnet of soldiers left behind to haul in the crop of unsuspecting callers at the besieged house. The penalties for flimsy charges often amounted to long prison terms, exile to desolate parts of the country, and even execution. Shattering in its cumulative effect, the essence of the story was the same as told me by my Petrograd comrades. I had been too dazzled then by the public glare and glitter of Bolshevism to credit the veracity of the accusations. I had refused to trust their judgment and their viewpoint. But now Bolshevism was shorn of its presence, its naked soul exposed to my gaze. Still I would not believe. I would not see with my inner eye the truth so evident to my outer sight. I was stunned, baffled, the ground pulled from under me. Yet I hung on, hung on by a thread as a drowning man. In my anguish I cried: "Bolshevism is the mene, tekel over every throne, the menace of craven hearts, the hated enemy of organized wealth and power. Its path has been thorny, its obstacles many, its climb steep. How could it help falling behind at times, how could it help making mistakes? But to belie itself, to play Judas to the fervent hope of the disinherited and oppressed, to betray its own ultimate aims? No, never could it be guilty of such an eclipse of the world's most luminous star!"
Even the Moscow Anarchist Conference had not gone so far in its indictment. The Soviet State was different from capitalist and bourgeois governments, they had told us when we objected to their absurdly illogical resolution asking for the legalization of their work and the release of our comrades from prison. "In no country have the anarchists ever begged favors from the government," we argued, "nor do they believe in loyalty to the State. Why do it here, if the Bolsheviki have broken faith?" The Bolshevik government was revolutionary in spite of its offenses; it was proletarian in its nature and purposes, the Russian comrades insisted. Whereupon we had signed the petition and agreed to present it to the proper authorities.
Both Sasha and I held on to the firm belief that the Bolsheviki were our brothers in a common fight. Our very lives and all our revolutionary hopes were staked upon it. Lenin, Trotsky, and their coworkers were the soul of the Revolution, we were sure, and its keenest defenders. We would go to them, to Lunacharsky, Kollontay, Balabanoff. Jack Reed had spoken of them with deepest admiration and affection. They were capable of other criteria than a membership card in estimating people and events, Jack had said. They would help me see things in their proper light. I would seek them out. And our old teacher, Peter Kropotkin --- we had drifted apart over our stand on the World War, but our love and esteem for his great personality and acute mind had not changed. I was certain that his feeling for us had also remained the same. We had been eager to see our dear comrade immediately upon our arrival in Russia. He was living in the village of Dmitrov, we had been informed, about sixty versts from Moscow, in his own little house, and he was well supplied with all necessaries by the Soviet Government. Travel was impossible then, but our trip would be arranged in the spring, Zorin had assured us.
Seeing Peter was too imperative for me now to stop at the hardships of travel. I would reach him somehow, I decided. He, of all people, would best be able to help me out of the pit of doubt and despair. He had returned to Russia after the February Revolution and he had witnessed the "October." He had seen some part of his cherished dream realized. His was a penetrating mind. He would strike the right key. I must go to him.
Alexandra Kollontay and Angelica Balabanoff were within easy reach, as they were living in the National. I sought out the former first. Mme Kollontay looked remarkably young and radiant, considering her fifty years and the severe operation she had recently undergone. A tall and stately woman, every inch the grande dame rather than the fiery revolutionist. Her attire and suite of two rooms bespoke good taste, the roses on her desk rather startling in the Russian grayness. They were the first I had seen since our deportation. Her handshake was limp and aloof, though she did say that she was glad to meet me at last in "great, vital Russia." Had I already found my place, she inquired, and the work I wanted to do? I replied that I still felt too uncertain of my ground to decide where I could be of best use. Perhaps I should know better after I had talked with her about the things that disturbed me, the contradictions I had found. I should tell her everything, she said; she was sure she could help me over my first difficult period. Every new-comer passes through the same state, she assured me, but everyone soon learns to see the greatness of Soviet Russia. The little things do not matter. I tried to tell her that my problems did not concern themselves with little things; they were vital and all-important to me. In fact, my very being depended on their right interpretation. "All right, go ahead," she remarked nonchalantly. She leaned back in her arm-chair and I began speaking of the harrowing things that had come to my knowledge. She listened attentively without interrupting me, but there was not the slightest indication in her cold, handsome face of any perturbation on account of my recital. "We do have some dull gray spots in our vivid revolutionary picture," she said when I had concluded. "They are unavoidable in a country so backward, with a people so dark and a social experiment of such magnitude, opposed by the entire world as it is. They will disappear when we have liquidated our military fronts and when we shall have raised the mental level of our masses." I could help in that, she continued. I could work among the women; they were ignorant of the simplest principles of life, physical and otherwise, ignorant of their own functions as mothers and citizens. I had done such fine work of that kind in America, and she could assure me of a much more fertile field in Russia. "Why not join me and stop your brooding over a few dull gray spots?" she said in conclusion; "they are nothing more, dear comrade, really nothing more."
People raided, imprisoned, and shot for their ideas! The old and the young held as hostages, every protest gagged, iniquity and favoritism rampant, the best human values betrayed, the very spirit of revolution daily crucified --- were all these nothing but "gray, dull spots," I wondered! I felt chilled to the marrow of my bones.
Two days later I went to see Anatol Lunacharsky. His quarters were in the Kremlin, the impenetrable citadel of authority in the popular mind of Russia. I bore several credentials, and my escort was a "Sovietsky" anarchist held in high esteem by the Communists. Nevertheless we made very slow progress in reaching the seat of the People's Commissar for Education. Repeatedly the sentries scrutinized our propusks and asked questions regarding the purpose of our coming. At last we found ourselves in a reception room, a large salon filled with many objects of art and a crowd of people. They were artists, writers, and teachers awaiting an audience, my companion explained. A sorry and undernourished lot they were, their gaze steadily riveted on the door leading to the Commissar's private office. Hope and fear burned in their eyes. I too was anxious, though my rations did not depend on the man who presided over the cultural positions. Lunacharsky's greeting was warmer and more cordial than Kollontay's. He also inquired whether I had already found suitable work. If not, he could suggest a number of occupations in his department. The American system of education was being introduced in Soviet Russia, he said, and I, coming from that country, would undoubtedly be able to make valuable suggestions in regard to its proletarian application. I gasped. I forgot all about the purpose of my visit. The educational system found wanting and rejected by the best pedagogues in the United States now accepted as a model in revolutionary Russia? Lunacharsky looked much astonished. Was the system really being opposed in America, he inquired, and by whom? What changes had they suggested? I should explain the whole matter to him and his teachers, and he would call a special conference for the purpose. I could do much good, he urged, and I could be of great help to him in his struggle with the reactionary elements among the teachers who were clamoring for the old methods in dealing with the child and who even favored prison for the mental defectives.
His eagerness to learn lessened somewhat my resentment at the attempt to transplant to Russia the American public-school system. It was evident that Lunacharsky knew nothing of the insurgent movement that had for years been trying to modernize that hoary and futile institution. I must point out to the educators of Russia the absurdity of aping those antiquated methods in the land of new life and values. But America was millions of miles away from my mind. Russia was consuming me, Russia with all her wonders and woes.
Lunacharsky continued to talk of his difficulties with the conservative instructors and of the controversy raging in the Soviet press about defective children and their treatment. He and Maxim Gorki were standing out against prison as a reformative influence; he himself was even opposed to milder forms, in fact to any form, of coercion in dealing with the young. "You are more in tune with the modern approach to the child than Maxim Gorki," I said. In part, however, he agreed with Gorki, he replied, for most of Russia's young generation were tainted with bad heredity, which the years of war and civic strife had accentuated. But rejuvenation could not be brought about by punishment or terror, he emphasized. "That is splendid," I remarked; "but are not terror and punishment the methods of dictatorship? And do you not approve of the latter?" He did, but only as a transitory factor, while Russia was being bled by the blockade and attacked on numerous fronts. "Once these have been liquidated, we will begin in earnest to build the real Socialist Republic, and the dictatorship will then go, of course." He considered it stupid to hold Denikin, Yudenich, and their kind responsible for all the shortcomings of Soviet Russia while ignoring the evil of the growing new bureaucracy and the increasing power of the Cheka. It was also very bad policy to proclaim Russia's educational achievements from the house-tops, he thought. Much was being done for the child, but the real herculean task was still ahead. "Rather heretical!" I remarked. He replied laughingly that he was considered even worse than a mere heretic because he had insisted that the intelligentsia, besides being indispensable, was, after all, also human and should not be forced to die by starvation. He had great faith in the proletariat, but he refused to swear by its infallibility. "If you don't look out, you'll be excommunicated," I warned him. "Yes, or put in a corner under the watchful eye of a teacher," he countered, with a knowing smile.
Lunacharsky did not give the impression of a vital personality, but he had broad humanity and I liked him for that. I wanted to broach my own problems, but I had already taken up too much time and I was conscious of the people waiting behind the door and undoubtedly cursing me. Before I left, Lunacharsky once more reiterated that his department was the right place for me, and that I must not leave Moscow until I had addressed the conference he was going to call.
On my way back to the National I learned from my escort that the People's Commissar for Education was considered not only sentimental, but also a scatter-brain and a wastrel. He was doing very little for the proletcult (proletarian culture), spending huge sums instead to protect bourgeois art. Worst of all, he was devoting most of his time to saving the last remnants of the counter-revolutionary intelligentsia. With the co-operation of Maxim Gorki he had succeeded in reinstating the old professors and teachers in the Dom Utcheniy (Home of the Learned). There they could keep warm while at work and get their rations without standing in line. He had also committed a grave offense in establishing the so-called academic ration for the more noted writers, thinkers, and scientists of Russia, irrespective of party affiliation. The academic ration was far from luxury and by no means too plentiful; many of the responsible Communists received even better provisions, but they were bitter against Lunacharsky for "favoring" the intelligentsia, my informant declared.
The poor bigots, I thought, to whom the Revolution meant only vengeance and a rung on the social ladder! They were the dead weight threatening to sink the revolutionary ship. Lunacharsky was aware of it. And Kollontay? I was certain she too knew better. But she was a diplomat trying to smooth over crude and hard places. Would Balabanoff also turn out to be of the same type, I wondered. Presently I had an opportunity to convince myself that she was quite the reverse.
The two leading Communist women of Russia proved the greatest contrast. Angelica Balabanoff lacked what Kollontay possessed in abundance: the latter's fine figure, good looks, and youthful litheness, as well as her worldly polish and sophistication. But Angelica had something that far outweighed the external attributes of her handsome comrade. In her large sad eyes there shone profundity, compassion, and tenderness. The tribulations of her people, the birth-pangs of her native land, the suffering of the downtrodden she had served her whole life were deeply graven on her pallid face. I found her ill, crumpled up on the couch of her small room, but she immediately became all interest and concern for me. Why had I not let her know that I was her neighbor, she asked. She would have come to me at once. And why had I waited so long before seeking her out? Did I need anything? She would see to it that my wants should be looked after. Coming from the States, I must find it very hard to adjust myself to Russia's poverty. It was different with the native masses, who had never known anything except hunger and want. Ah, the Russian masses, their power of endurance, their capacity for suffering, their heroism in the face of such fearful odds! Children in their weakness, giants in their strength! She had come to know them better since "October" than in all her previous years in Russia. She had grown to believe in them with a more abiding faith and to feel with them an all-embracing love.
It was dusk; the city's noises did not penetrate the cell-like room. Yet it was vibrant with stirring sounds. The face before me, shrunken and ashy, was beauteous now in the glow of its inner light. Without a word from me Angelica Balabanoff had guessed my doubts and travail. I sensed that her tribute to the Russian masses was her unique way of making me feel that nothing mattered so much to the ultimate triumph of the Revolution as the spiritual resources of the people themselves. I inquired whether that was her meaning, and she nodded assent. She knew from her own struggle that mine must be very hard and she wanted me never to lose sight of the peaks of the "October" ascendancy.
I walked to her couch and stroked her thick braided black hair, already streaked with gray. I must call her Angelica, she said, drawing me to her heart. She asked me to ring for a comrade on the same floor to bring the samovar. She had some varenya (fruit jelly), and Swedish comrades had given her some biscuits and butter. She felt very guilty to enjoy such luxuries when the people did not have enough bread. But her stomach was bad; she could digest nothing, and so perhaps she was not so inconsistent as it might appear. Such selflessness amid the callous indifference I had found everywhere moved me deeply. I broke down and wept as I had not since I had held my dear Helena in my arms at our final parting. Angelica became frightened. Had she said anything to cause me pain, or was I ill or in trouble? I opened my heart to her and poured out everything, my shocks, disillusionments, and nightmares, all the dreadful things and thoughts that had been oppressing me since my arrival. What was the answer, what the explanation, and where the responsibility?
Life itself is behind all frustration, Angelica replied, in an individual as well as in a social sense. Life was hard and cruel, and those who would live must also grow cruel and hard. Life is replete with eddies and whirlpools; its currents are violent and destructive. The sensitive, those shrinking from hurt, cannot hold their own against it. As with man, so with his ideas and ideals. The finer they are, the more humane, the sooner their death from the impact of Life. "But this is fatalism with a vengeance," I protested; "how can you harmonize such an attitude with your socialistic views and materialistic conception of history and human development?" Angelica explained that Russian reality had convinced her that life, and not theories, dictates the course of human events. "Life! Life!" I cried impatiently, "what is it but what the genius of man imparts to it? And what is the use of human striving if some mysterious power called Life can turn it to naught?" Angelica replied that there really was no particular sense in our efforts, except that living meant striving, reaching out for something better. But I should not mind her, she hastened to add. She was probably all wrong, and those others right who could pay the full measure life exacts. "You must go to see 'Ilich,'" she advised; only he, Lenin, could help me, for he knew how to meet the demands of Life. She would arrange an interview for me.
I left the dear little woman with mixed feelings. Soothed and comforted by her rich fount of love, I at the same time disapproved of her acquiescence in the evils and abuses about her. I had known of her as a fighter, always firm and unflinching in her stand. What had made her so passive now, I wondered. Communists enjoyed the right of criticism, as I had learned from the Bolshevik press. Why, then, did Angelica not use her pen and voice in and out of the party? It kept worrying me and I sought an opportunity to speak to her woman comrade who had served us tea. From her I learned that Angelica had been secretary of the Third International. In that capacity she had fought determinedly against the growing bureaucracy of the clique led by Zinoviev, Radek, and Bukharin. As a result she was most unceremoniously kicked out and denied all responsible work. It was not that Angelica cared about the personal injustice and insult. But she felt that the methods of intrigue and slander employed against her were also being used against other sincere comrades at variance with the leaders. This poison was eating into the very body of the party, and Angelica knew that it was fraught with disastrous results to the Revolution. "Is there no way of putting a stop to such nefarious methods?" I asked Angelica's friend. There was none, she assured me, none within Russia, and no one would think of a protest abroad as long as the Revolution was in danger. This awareness had undermined Angelica's health and had paralyzed her will. Her mental state was due to the methods employed by her party, including the widespread suffering, the terror, and the cheapness of human life. Angelica could not face them.
Dear, sweet Angelica --- I began to understand her better and what she meant by the currents of life. But I could not share her attitude. I could not submit. I must probe into the hidden sources of Russia's ills, I felt; I must unearth their causes and proclaim them aloud. No party clique should tie my tongue.
I had not seen Sasha for several days. The long trip from Kharitonenskaya to the National was too exhausting, he said. But the morning after my visit with Angelica I received a hurry call to come to his lodgings. I found Sasha ill in bed, with no help near. I dropped everything and took up my old profession of nursing. His fever was stubborn, but his dogged will to live presently won out. His illness left him weak and spent, however, and in no condition to remain alone. I could not stop at the Kharitonenskaya, nor could Sasha, for that matter, for the house commandant had informed him that his time had expired and that he would have to vacate his room. We were planning to leave for Petrograd within a week and it was therefore useless to argue with the official tovarishtch. We went to the National, my room fortunately being larger than the one I had occupied in the Astoria, and provided with an extra couch. When Angelica learned of Sasha's illness and his presence in the National, she immediately constituted herself his guardian angel. Her family of Swedish, Norwegian, and Dutch comrades seemed to increase all the time, and from them she would bring Sasha same delicate morsels. I had learned through various sources that Angelica was looked upon by her comrades as a "sentimental bourzhooy." She was wasting her time, they said, on philanthropy, always trying to procure milk for some sick baby, extra things for a pregnant woman, or old clothes for people of useless age.
When Angelica had suggested that I go to see Lenin, I decided to work out a memorandum of the most salient contradictions in Soviet life, but, not having heard anything more about the proposed interview, I had not done anything about the matter. Angelica's telephone message one morning, informing me that "Illich" was waiting to see Sasha and me, and that his auto had come for us, was therefore most disconcerting. We knew Lenin was so crowded with work that he was almost inaccessible. The exception in our favor was a chance we could not miss. We felt that even without our memorandum we should find the right approach to our discussion; moreover, we should have the opportunity to present to him the resolutions our Moscow comrades had entrusted to us.
Lenin's auto rushed at furious speed along the congested streets and into the Kremlin, past every sentry without being halted for propusks. At the entrance of one of the ancient buildings that stood apart from the rest, we were asked to alight. An armed guard was at the elevator, evidently already apprized of our coming. Without a word, he unlocked the door and motioned us within, then locked it and put the key into his pocket. We heard our names shouted to the soldier on the first floor, the call repeated in the same loud voice at the next and the next. A chorus was announcing our coming as the elevator slowly ascended. At the top a guard repeated the process of unlocking and locking the elevator, then ushered us into a vast reception hall with the announcement: "Tovarishtchy Goldman and Berkman." We were asked to wait a moment, but almost an hour passed before the ceremony of leading us to the seat of the highest was resumed. A young man motioned us to follow him. We passed through a number of offices teeming with activity, the click of typewriters, and busy couriers. We were halted before a massive door ornamented with beautifully carved work. Excusing himself for just a minute, our attendant disappeared behind it. Presently the heavy door opened from within, and our guide invited us to step in, himself vanishing and closing the door behind us. We stood on the threshold awaiting the next cue in the strange proceedings. Two slanting eyes were fixed upon us with piercing penetration. Their owner sat behind a huge desk, everything on it arranged with the strictest precision, the rest of the room giving the impression of the same exactitude. A board with numerous telephone switches and a map of the world covered the entire wall behind the man; glass cases filled with heavy tomes lined the sides. A large oblong table hung with red; twelve straight-backed chairs, and several arm-chairs at the windows. Nothing else to relieve the orderly monotony, except the bit of flaming red.
The background seemed most fitting for one reputed for his rigid habits of life and matter-of-factness. Lenin, the man most idolized in the world and equally hated and feared, would have been out of place in surroundings of less severe simplicity.
"Illich wastes no time on preliminaries. He goes straight to his objective," Zorin had once said to me with evident pride. Indeed, every step Lenin had made since 1917 testified to this. But if we had been in doubt, the manner of our reception and the mode of our interview would have quickly convinced us of the emotional economy of Ilich. His quick perception of its supply in others and his skill in making the utmost use of it for his purpose were extraordinary. No less amazing was his glee over anything he considered funny in himself or his visitors. Especially if he could put one at a disadvantage, the great Lenin would shake with laughter so as to compel one to laugh with him.
His sharp scrutiny having bared us to the bone, we were treated to a volley of questions, one following the other, like arrows from his flint-like brain. America, her political and economic conditions --- what were the chances of revolution there in the near future? The American Federation of Labor --- was it all honeycombed with bourgeois ideology or was it only Gompers and his clique, and was the rank and file a fertile soil for boring from within? The I.W.W. --- what was its strength, and were the anarchists actually as effective as our recent trial would seem to indicate? He had just finished reading our speeches in court. "Great stuff! Clear-cut analysis of the capitalist system, splendid propaganda!" Too bad we could not have remained in the United States, no matter at what price. We were most welcome in Soviet Russia, of course, but such fighters were badly needed in America to help in the approaching revolution, "as many of your best comrades had been in ours." And you, Tovarishtch Berkman, what an organizer you must be, like Shatoff. True metal, your comrade Shatoff; shrinks from nothing and can work like a dozen men. In Siberia now, commissar of railroads in the Far Eastern Republic. Many other anarchists hold important positions with us. Everything is open to them if they are willing to co-operate with us as true ideiny anarchists. You, Tovarishtch Berkman, will soon find your place. A pity, though, that you were torn away from America at this portentous time. And you, Tovarishtch Goldman? What a field you had! You could have remained. Why didn't you, even if Tovarishtch Berkman was shoved out? Well, you're here. Have you any thought of the work you want to do? You are ideiny anarchists, I can see that by your stand on the war, your defense of 'October,' and your fight for us, your faith in the soviets. Just like your great comrade Malatesta, who is entirely with Soviet Russia. What is it you prefer to do?
Sasha was the first to get his breath. He began in English, but Lenin at once stopped him with a mirthful laugh. "Do you think I understand English? Not a word. Nor any other foreign languages. I am no good at them, though I have lived abroad for many years. Funny, isn't it?" And off he went in peals of laughter. Sasha continued in Russian. He was proud to hear his comrades praised so highly, he said; but why were anarchists in Soviet prisons? "Anarchists?" Ilich interrupted; "nonsense! Who told you such yarns, and how could you believe them? We do have bandits in prison, and Makhnovtsy, but no ideiny anarchists."
"Imagine," I broke in, "capitalist America also divides the anarchists into two categories, philosophic and criminal. The first are accepted in highest circles; one of them is even high in the councils of the Wilson Administration. The second category, to which we have the honor of belonging, is persecuted and often imprisoned. Yours also seems to be a distinction without a difference. Don't you think so?" Bad reasoning on my part, Lenin replied, sheer muddle-headedness to draw similar conclusions from different premises. Free speech is a bourgeois prejudice, a soothing plaster for social ills. In the Workers' Republic economic well-being talks louder than speech, and its freedom is far more secure. The proletarian dictatorship is steering that course. Just now it faces very grave obstacles, the greatest of them the opposition of the peasants. They need nails, salt, textiles, tractors, electrification. When we can give them these, they will be with us, and no counter-revolutionary power will be able to swerve them back. In the present state of Russia all prattle of freedom is merely food of the reaction trying to down Russia. Only bandits are guilty of that, and they must be kept under lock and key.
Sasha handed Lenin the resolutions of the anarchist conference and emphasized the assurance of the Moscow comrades that the imprisoned comrades were ideiny and not bandits. "The fact that our people ask to be legalized is proof that they are with the Revolution and the Soviets," we argued. Lenin took the document and promised to submit it to the next session of the Party Executive. We would be notified of its decision, he said, but in any event it was a mere trifle, nothing to disturb any true revolutionist. Was there anything else? We had fought in America for the political rights even of our opponents, we told him, the denial of them to our comrades was therefore no trifle to us. I, for one, felt, I informed him, that I could not co-operate with a régime that persecuted anarchists or others for the sake of mere opinion. Moreover, there were even more appalling evils. How were we to reconcile them with the high goal he was aiming at. I mentioned some of them. His reply was that my attitude was bourgeois sentimentality. The proletarian dictatorship was engaged in a life-and-death struggle, and small consideration could not be permitted to weigh in the scale. Russia was making giant strides at home and abroad. It was igniting world revolution, and here I was lamenting over a little blood-letting. It was absurd and I must get over it. "Do something," he advised; "that will be the best way of regaining your revolutionary balance."
Lenin might be right, I thought. I would take advantage of his advice. I would start at once, I said. Not with any work within Russia, but with something of propaganda value for the United States. I should like to organize a society of Russian Friends of American Freedom, an active body to give support to America's struggle for liberty, as the American Friends of Russian Freedom had done in aid of Russia against the czarist régime.
Lenin had not moved in his seat during the entire time, but now he almost leaped out of it. He swung round and stood facing us. "That's a brilliant idea!" he exclaimed, chuckling and rubbing his hands. "A fine practical proposal. You must proceed to carry it out at once. And you, Tovarishtch Berkman, will you co-operate in it?" Sasha replied that we had talked the matter over and had already worked out the details of the plan. We could start immediately if we had the necessary equipment. No difficultly in that, Lenin assured us, we would be supplied with everything --- an office, a printing outfit, couriers, and whatever funds would be needed. We must send him our prospectus of work and the itemized expenses involved in the project. The Third International would take care of the matter. It was the proper channel for our venture, and it would afford us every help.
In blank astonishment we looked at each other and at Lenin. Simultaneously we began to explain that our efforts could prove effective only if free from any affiliation with known Bolshevik organizations. It must be carried out in our own way; we know the American psychology and how best to conduct the work. But before we could proceed further, our guide suddenly appeared, as unobtrusively as he had left, and Lenin held out his hand to us in good-bye. "Don't forget to send me the prospectus," he called after us.
The methods of the "clique" in the politbureau of the party were also pervading the International and poisoning the entire labor movement, Angelica's friend had told me. Was Lenin aware of it? And was that also a mere trifle in his estimation? I was certain now that he knew everything that was going on in Russia. Nothing escaped his searching eye, nothing could take place without first having been weighed in his scale and approved by his authoritative seal. An indomitable will easily bending everyone to its own curve and just as easily breaking men if they failed to yield. Would he also bend or break us? The danger was imminent if we made the first false step, if we accepted the tutelage of the Communist International. We were eager to help Russia and to contine our work for America's liberation, to which we had given the best years of our lives. But it would mean a betrayal of our entire past and the complete abrogation of our independence to submit to the control of the clique. We wrote Lenin to that effect and enclosed a detailed outline of our plan, carefully prepared by Sasha.
We agreed with Lenin in one thing, the need of getting to work. Not, however, in any political capacity or in a Soviet bureau. We must find something that would bring us in direct touch with the masses and enable us to serve them. Moscow was the seat of Government with more State functionaries than workers, bureaucratic to the last degree. Sasha had visited a number of factories, all of them in a palpably neglected and deserted condition. In most of them the Soviet officials and members of the Communist yacheika (cell) far outnumbered the actual producers. He had talked with the workers and found them embittered by the arrogance and arbitrary methods of the industrial bureaucracy. Sasha's impressions only served to strengthen my conviction that Moscow was no place for us. If at least Lunacharsky had kept his promise! But he was swamped with work, he wrote, and unable just then to call the teachers' conference. It might take weeks before it could be done. He understood how difficult it was for people used to doing things in their own independent manner to fit themselves into a groove. But it was the only effective place in Russia and I would have to reconcile myself to that. Meanwhile I must keep in touch with him, his letter concluded.
It was a subtle hint that the dictatorship was all-pervading and that it would brook no independent effort. Not in Moscow, at any rate. After all, every seat of government inevitably breeds the martinet and the flunky, the courtier and the spy, a herd of hangers-on fed by the offical hand. Moscow was evidently no exception. We could not find our place there, nor come close to the toiling masses. One more thing we would attempt --- get to see our comrade Kropotkin and then back to Petrograd, we decided.
We learned that George Lansbury and Mr. Barry were about to go to Dmitrov in a special train. We decided to ask permission to join them, though we were not elated over the prospect of seeing Peter in the presence of two newspaper men. We had not been able to arrange a trip to Dmitrov, and this was an unexpected and exceptional opportunity. Sasha hastened to see Lansbury. The latter consented to have us accompany him and even expressed his willingness that we bring with us anyone else we might want. He assured Sasha that he had long wanted to see me again and that he would be delighted at the chance. Considering that he had all along known of my presence in Moscow and that he had not taken the trouble to look me up, his delight seemed rather questionable. But the main thing was to meet Peter, and we also invited our comrade Alexander Schapiro to come with us.
The train crawled snaillike, stopping at every water-tank. It was late evening when we at last reached the house. We found Peter ill and worn-looking. He appeared a mere shadow of the sturdy man I had known in Paris and London in 1907. Since my coming to Russia I had been repeatedly assured by the most prominent Communists that Kropotkin lived in very comfortable circumstances and that he lacked neither food nor fuel; and here were Peter, his wife, Sophie, and their daughter, Alexandra, actually living in one room by no means sufficiently heated. The temperature in the other rooms was below zero, so that they could not be inhabited. Their rations, sufficient to exist on, had until recently been supplied by the Dmitrov co-operative society. That organization had since been liquidated, like so many other similar institutions, and most of its members arrested and taken to the Butirky prison in Moscow. How did they manage to exist, we inquired. Sophie explained that they had a cow and enough produce from her garden for the winter. The comrades from the Ukraine, particularly Makhno, had contrived to supply them with extra provisions. They would have managed to better advantage had not Peter been ailing of late and in need of more nourishing food.
Could nothing be done to rouse the responsible Communists to the fact that one of the greatest men of Russia was starving to death? Even if they had no interest in him as an anarchist, they must know his worth as a man of science and letters. Lenin, Lunacharsky, and the others in high position were probably not informed about Peter's situation. Could I not call their attention to his condition? Lansbury agreed with me. "It is impossible," he said, "that the big people in the Soviet Government would let so great a personality as Peter Kropotkin want for the necessaries of life. We in England would not stand for such an outrage." He would immediately take the matter up with the Soviet comrades, he declared. Sophie had been repeatedly pulling at his sleeve to make him stop. She did not want Peter to hear our talk. But that dear soul was deeply immersed in conversation with the two Alexanders, quite unaware that we were discussing his welfare.
Peter would accept nothing from the Bolsheviki, Sophie told us. Only a short time previously, when the ruble still stood well, he had refused the offer of 250,000 rubles from the Government Publication Department for the right to issue his literary work. Since the Bolsheviki had expropriated others, they might as well help themselves to his books he had said. But it would not be done with his consent. He had never willingly dealt with any government and he had no intention of doing so with the one that in the name of socialism had abrogated every revolutionary and ethical value. Sophie had not even been able to induce Peter to accept the academic ration Lunacharsky had ordered for him. His increasing feebleness had compelled her to take it without his knowledge. His health, she apologized, was more important to her than his scruples. Besides, as a scientific botanist she was herself entitled to the academic ration.
Sasha was speaking to Peter of the maze of revolutionary contradictors we had found in Russia, the varied interpretations we had heard of the causes of the crying evils, and our interview with Lenin. We were eager to hear Peter's view-point and get his reactions to the situation. He replied that it was what it had always been to Marxism and its theories. He had foreseen its dangers and he had always warned against them. All anarchists had done so, and he himself had dealt with them in nearly every one of his writings. True, none of us had fully realized to what proportions the Marxian menace would grow. Perhaps it was not so much Marxism as the Jesuitical spirit of its dogmas. The Bolsheviki were poisoned by it, their dictatorship surpassing the autocracy of the Inquisition. Their power was strengthened by the blustering statesmen of Europe. The blockade, the Allied support of the counter-revolutionary elements, the intervention, and all the other attempts to crush the Revolution had resulted in silencing every protest against Bolshevik tyranny within Russia itself. "Is there no one to speak out against it?" I demanded, "no one whose voice would carry weight? Yours, for instance, dear comrade?" Peter smiled sadly. I would know better, he said, after I had been awhile longer in the country. The gag was the most complete in the world. He had protested, of course, and so had others, among them the venerable Vera Figner, as well as Maxim Gorki on several occasions. It had no effect whatever, nor was it possible to do any writing with the Cheka constantly at one's door. One could not keep "incriminating" things in one's house nor expose others to the peril of discovery. It was not fear; it was the realization of the futility and impossibility of reaching the world from the inner prisons of the Cheka. The main drawback, however, was the enemies surrounding Russia. Anything said or written against the Bolsheviki was bound to be interpreted by the outside world as an attack upon the Revolution and as alignment with the reactionary forces. The anarchists in particular were between two fires. They could not make peace with the formidable power of the Kremlin, nor could they join hands with the enemies of Russia. Their only alternative at present, it seemed to Peter, was to find some work of direct benefit to the masses. He was glad that we had decided on that. "Ridiculous of Lenin to want to bind you to the apron-strings of the party," he declared. "It shows how far mere shrewdness is from wisdom. No one can deny Lenin's shrewdness, but neither in his attitude to the peasants nor in his appraisal of those within or outside the reach of corruption has he shown real judgment or sagacity."
It was growing late and Sophie had been trying to prevail upon Peter to retire. But he persistently declined. He had been so long cut off from his comrades --- indeed, from any kind of intellectual contact, he said. Our visit at first seemed to exert a bracing effect upon him. But presently he began to show signs of exhaustion, and we felt it was high time to go. Gentle and gallant was our Peter even in his fatigue. Nothing would do but he must see us to the exit and once more clasp us lovingly to his heart.
Our train was not to start till two a.m., and it was only eleven. The woman porter was fast asleep. She had forgotten to look after the fire, and the car was bitterly cold. The boys set to work over the stove, but it would yield nothing except smoke. Meanwhile Lansbury, wrapped up to his ears in his great fur coat, held forth on what a pity it was that Peter Kropotkin's age disqualified him from taking an active part in Soviet affairs. Living away from the center, Kropotkin was not in a position to do justice to the grandiose achievements of the Bolsheviki, he reiterated. I was almost frozen and too miserable over Peter's condition to argue. But the boys did it for the three of us. At the Moscow station Sasha had another tilt with the London editor. Starved and half-naked children besieged us for a piece of bread. I had sandwiches on hand and we gave them to the kids, who devoured them ravenously. "A terrible sight," Sasha remarked. "Look here, Berkman, you are too sentimental," Lansbury retorted; "I could show you any number of poverty-stricken children in the East End of London." "I am sure you could," Sasha replied, "but you forget that the Revolution has taken place in Russia, not in England."
Our journey laid me up with a heavy cold and fever for a fortnight. Angelica was again beautifully solicitous, calling every day to look after me and never empty-handed. The comrades of the Universalist Club were also very helpful. Their care and that of gentle Angelica enabled me to leave my sick-bed much quicker than if I had been less fortunate in friends and attention. They urged me to stay at least another week. Traveling was dangerous at best and I was not yet completely recovered. But I could not bear Moscow any longer. It had grown into a veritable monster that I had to escape lest it destroy me. Petrograd held out the hope of relief in useful labor. And there was also my gnawing longing for news from my old home. Five months had passed without a word from anyone. The address we had left with our friends in America was Petrograd. My yearning was mingled with some unaccountable apprehension, both combining into the idée fixe that I must hasten back to the northern city.
Mail was actually awaiting us there, received four weeks previously. Why had it not been forwarded, we asked Liza Zorin. "What was the use?" she replied; "I did not think anything from America so important and interesting as what you must have seen and heard in Moscow." The letters were from Fitzi and Stella. Not "so important" --- only news of the death of my beloved Helena. What could personal sorrow mean to people who had become cogs in the wheel that was crushing so many at every turn? I myself seemed to have turned into one of the cogs. I could find no tears for the loss of my darling sister, no tears or regrets. Only paralyzing numbness and a larger void.
My deportation, Stella wrote, had proved the last blow to Helena's shattered condition. She had grown steadily worse from the moment she had heard about it. Death was more kind to her than life: it came quickly through a stroke. Dear, sweet sister, merciful indeed was your end, your supreme wish fulfilled since David's loss. Your tortured spirit at last found release in eternal rest, my beloved. You are at peace. Not so those whose lives are strewn with the autumn leaves of hope, the withered branches of a dying faith.
Fitzi's letter contained another blow. Our friend Align Barnsdall had made all arrangements to go to Russia and she had invited Fitzi to come with her. But at the last moment Washington had refused them passports. M. Eleanor Fitzgerald was too well known as "a notorious anarchist, the coworker of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman," the authorities had declared, and she was therefore not allowed to leave the country. Align Barnsdall's affiliations with radicals had also been traced through the check she had given me. Fitzi had no means, even if she could have found some sub rosa way of reaching Russia. She was all broken up over her failure to join us, but she knew we would understand.
On our return to Petrograd we found our fellow-passengers of the Buford considerably diminished in numbers. Some of them had succeeded in getting sent to their native places. Others, who in America had been bitter opponents of our defense of the Bolsheviki, became reconciled to the Soviet régime. In Rome now, they argued, they would howl with the Romans. The eleven Communists among the deportees were entirely in clover. They found the flesh-pots prepared for them, and the tables laden. They had but to grab the best place and morsels.
The remaining group was in a deplorable condition. Their attempts to secure useful work, for which years of labor in the United States had qualified them, brought no results. They were being sent from one institution to another, from commissar to commissar, without anyone able to decide whether their efforts were needed and where.
Here was Russia, famished for what these men could and longed to give, yet their productive capacities were compelled to lie fallow, and everything was being done to turn their devotion to hatred. Was this to be the lot of other workers to be deported from the United States and of those who would flock to Soviet Russia to aid the Revolution, we wondered. We could not sit by without at least essaying some effort to prevent the repetition of such criminal stupidity. Sasha proposed a clearing-house for the American deportees, those already in Russia and the others that were being expected. He worked out a plan for their reception, which was to be less ostentatious than on the occasion of our arrival, but which would assure greater security of food and lodging, better economy and practical sense. His project included the classification of the refugees by trade and occupation and assignment to useful and needed work. "Think of the gain to the Revolution if American training and experience were sensibly directed into productive channels," Sasha commented. His plan also provided an immediate opening for our own usefulness and that of other deportees in the city.
I suggested that we get in touch with Mme Ravich about the matter. Herself a prodigious worker and very efficient, she would be quick to see the value of Sasha's idea. Chicherin's representative in the Petrograd Foreign Office was also chief of the city's militia as well as commissar of the factory women's collectives. She lived in the Astoria and we knew the long hours she remained at her desk. I phoned to her at two a.m. and asked for an appointment. She requested me to call at once, adding that she had just received a message from Chicherin for "Tovarishtchy Goldman and Berkman."
A Iarge contingent of American deportees were on their way to Russia Mme Ravich informed us, and Comrade Chicherin had instructed her to put us in charge of their reception. It was a most propitious occasion to broach Sasha's plan. Regardless of the late hour and her fatigue, Mme Ravich would not consent to our leaving until we had fully explained the project. We could count entirely on her co-operation, she assured us, and she would immediately issue directions to her secretary to facilitate our work in every way.
Mme Ravich kept her word, even supplying us with an automobile to save time in getting about. Her assistant, Kaplan, proved an earnest and willing aid, arming us with numerous propusks to secure us access to various departments. In his eagerness to help he even proposed to have a tovarishtch Chekist accompany us, to enable us to get quicker results. I assured him that I knew of a less drastic and more effective way, ironic and humbling though it was to admit it. Was there really such a method in the Soviet Republic, he inquired. Alas, not homegrown, but imported from the United States, I told him. It was American chocolate, cigarettes, and condensed milk. Their softening and soothing effect had proved irresistible to many Soviet hearts, inducing action and willingness where coaxing, commands, and threats had failed.
Now they achieved in a fortnight what Ravich and Kaplan admitted would have ordinarily taken months to accomplish. Three old germ-eaten buildings were renovated and equipped for the use of the expected deportees; the distribution of their rations organized so as to save their standing in queues, medical attention prepared in case of need, and employment secured for the "swimming" contingent.
Sasha and Ethel had in the meantime taken charge of the welcome to be given the deportees on the Latvian border. They were awaiting them there, with two trains held in readiness to bring the expected thousand refugees to Petrograd. They spent two weeks in vain waiting, only to find out that another blunder had been added to the chaos and confusion of the Soviet situation. The wireless announcing returning war prisoners had been misread by the Foreign Office to mean American deportees. Sasha had repeatedly telegraphed to Chicherin to explain the mistake and offering to use his trains for bringing the war prisoners to Petrograd. He was ordered, however, to remain on the border to await the American deportees; the war prisoners would be taken care of by the War Commissariat. But Sasha had positively ascertained from the war prisoners' convoy that no political refugees were on their way from America. Instead of keeping his trains and provisions for the mythical deportees, as directed by Moscow, and leaving the fifteen hundred war prisoners to their fates on the uninhabited plain, without food or medical aid, Sasha decided to put his trains at their disposal and send them on to Petrograd.
We proposed to use the buildings we had prepared for the benefit of the war prisoners, and Mme Ravich favored the suggestion. But the men were under the jurisdiction of the War Department, and she felt she must first get permission. Nothing further was heard of the matter. The quarters renovated with so much effort and time were sealed up and three able-bodied militiamen stationed on guard. All our labor was wasted, and Sasha's plan of organizing the deportees or the war prisoners for useful work was allowed to go by the board.
The same disheartening results met our other attempts to do practical work outside of the State machine. We would not be daunted, however.
The palatial residences of the former rich in the part of Petrograd known as Kammenny Ostrov (Island) were to be turned into rest-homes for toilers. "Marvelous idea, isn't it?" Zorin remarked to us; "we must complete it within six weeks." Only American speed and efficiency could accomplish the job on time. Would we help? We took the work in hand and became absorbed in it, until again we struck the impassable wall of Soviet bureaucracy.
From the start we had insisted that at least one warm meal a day should be provided for the workers employed in the preparation of rest-homes for their brothers. I had undertaken to supervise the cooking and the equitable distribution of the rations. For a while all went well; the men were satisfied with the arrangements, and their labors were making unusual progress --- unusual for Russians, at any rate. But presently the Bolshevik staffs and their favorites began to increase and the rations of the workers to diminish. The latter were not long in perceiving that they were being robbed of their share for the sake of unnecessary office-holders and hangers-on. Their interest in the work showed signs of waning and presently the effects became apparent. We protested to Zorin against the farce of ill-treating one set of workers to enable another set to enjoy leisure and a rest. Equally we objected to the peremptory eviction from their homes of people whose only offense was a university degree. Old teachers and professors had been occupying some houses on the island ever since October, and no one had troubled them in any way. Now they and their families were to be deprived of home without any possibility of securing another roof over their heads. Zorin had requested Sasha to have the eviction orders carried out. But Sasha emphatically refused to act as the bully of the Communist State.
Zorin felt indignant at our "rank sentimentality." A man with Berkman's revolutionary record, he said, should not shrink from any task; it made no difference whether the bourgeois parasites ended in the gutter or threw themselves into the Nevi. We replied that translating Communism into the everyday life of Russia was more revolutionary than its denial and betrayal in behalf of an alleged future. But Zorin had become too blinded by his creed to see its disintegrating and devastating effect. He ceased calling for us on his daily ride to the island. We did not want him to think that our interest in the work depended on the comfort of his car and we continued to make the long journey on foot, which required about three hours' walk. Before long, however, we found others in our places, persons more pliable in the hands of the political machine. We understood.
The rest-homes were inaugurated with much éclat. To us the rows of rusty iron bedsteads in the vast salons, with their furniture of faded silk and plush, looked tawdry, cold, and uninviting. No worker with any self-respect could feel at ease or enjoy a rest in such surroundings. Many shared our views, and some even felt convinced that none but those within the party or hanging on to its coat-tails would ever see the inside of the Rest Homes for Workers on the Kammenny Ostrov.
We went our way in painful contemplation of the real tragedy of the Revolution become overgrown with poisonous weeds sapping its precious life. Still we would not despair or give up. Somewhere, somehow it must be possible to undertake the clearing of the path. The smallest beginning, we wanted nothing more. Surely we should find that much, if only we persevered in our search.
The Sovietsky soup-kitchens were an abomination, Zorin had repeatedly told us. Could we suggest some improvement, he asked. Sasha again became all interest, completely immersing himself in his new project of reorganizing the nauseating dining-rooms. In a few days he had outlined a complete project, every item provided for in his usual painstaking manner. A chain of cafeterias was to cover the entire city, planned to eliminate the great waste of food and the superfluous employes in the existing kitchens. Even with the given supplies, scarce though they were, simple but palatable dishes would be served in clean and cheerful surroundings. Sasha would undertake the work and he was sure I would assist. A few cafeterias to begin with, later to be extended.
An amazing idea, Zinoviev said approvingly. Why had no one thought of it before? Very simple and easily carried out. There was great enthusiasm over it on all sides, and plenty of promises. Petrograd was filled with stores, locked and sealed since the Revolution. Sasha could select the necessary furnishings, get men to remodel the places and have the supplies and everything else needed. My pal was again on deck, his organizing ingenuity on fire in behalf of his plan.
This time there could be no hitch, we were assured. But again the bureaucracy blocked every move initiated without them. Difficulties began to appear in the most unexpected quarters. Officials were too busy to aid Sasha's work, and, after all, wholesome eating-places were not so important in the scale of the world revolution that was expected to break out momentarily. It was absurd to lay stress on immediate amelioration in the face of the general situation. At best it could have no vital effect on the course of the Revolution. And Berkman could do more important work. He should not busy himself as a reformer. It was most disappointing, for everyone had thought him to be a revolutionist of steel and iron. It was naïve of Berkman to claim that feeding the masses was the first concern of the Revolution, the care of the people, their contentment and joy, its main hope and safety, and indeed its only raison d'être and moral meaning. Such sentimentality was the purest bourgeois ideology. The Red Army and the Cheka were the strength of the Revolution, and its best defense. The capitalist world knew it and was trembling before the might of armed Russia.
One more hope perished, like the preceding ones. Yet to be reborn again in every pulse-beat of a stout heart. Sasha's determination and strength had never been greater. My Yiddish perseverance also refused to surrender. All Soviet streams do not lead to the same muddy pools, we thought. There must be others running into the deep, bracing sea. We must persevere and strike out for other fields.
I talked to the wife of Lashevich, Zinoviev's friend, high in the Bolshevik councils, about the condition of the hospitals. I was a trained nurse and I should be happy to give my services in improving them. She volunteered to call the matter to the attention of Comrade Pervoukhin, the Petrograd Board of Health Commissar. Weeks passed before I received word to call on him. I hastened to the Board of Health.
A trained nurse, months in Russia already and yet not assigned to him for service, Pervoukhi exclaimed. I should have known that he was desperately in need of just such aid. The hospitals were in a wretched condition; there was great scarcity of dispensaries and a lack of trained help, not to speak of the dearth of medical facilities and surgical instruments. He could use several hundred American nurses and here I had been doing nothing all this time. I must start in at once, he urged. As to co-operation, I could count on him to the limit, including an auto to make my rounds. He would take me for the first tour of inspection as soon as I was ready to start. Could I talk to him in the morning?
I would come early, I replied, but he should not over-estimate my abilities and importance in the colossal task on hand. I would do my utmost, of course, I could promise him that. He would expect nothing else from a tovarishtch, he replied, from an old revolutionist and Communist, as he had been informed. I was indeed a Communist, I assented, but of the anarchist school. Oh yes, he understood that, but there was really no difference. Many anarchists had realized this and they were entirely with the party, working with the Bolsheviki and doing finely. "I also am with you," I said, "in the defense of the Revolution, even to my last breath." Not with the Communism of the dictatorship, however, I explained. I had not been able to reconcile myself to that, for I could not see the remotest relationship between the coerced and forced form of State communism and that of the free and voluntary co-operation of anarchist communism.
I had so often seen Communists on such occasions instantly alter their tone and manner that I was not surprised at the sudden change in Commissar Pervoukhin. The kindly physician so deeply concerned in the people's health, the humanitarian who had a moment previously so lamented his lack of nurses to minister to the ill and afflicted, immediately became the political fanatic fairly oozing antagonism and resentment. Did my differing view-point matter in the care of the sick, or did he think it would affect my usefulness as a nurse, I inquired. He forced a sickly smile, replying that in Soviet Russia everyone who wants to work is welcome. His ideas are not questioned, provided he is a true revolutionist willing to set all political considerations aside. Would I do so? I could make no pledges except one, I replied. I would help him to the best of my ability.
I called the next day and every day for a week. Pervoukhin did not take me on the planned tour of inspection. For hours he kept me in his office arguing the infallibility of the Communist State and the immaculate conception of the Bolshevik dictatorship. One must either accept them without question or be shut out of the fold. Ghastly hospitals, lack of medical supplies, no adequate care of the patients --- those were piffling matters as compared with the required faith in the new trinity. I was evidently no longer "desperately needed." I was shut out.
With the help of my Astoria Hotel neighbor, young Kibalchich, I succeeded in visiting a few hospitals. Their condition was appalling. The true cause of it was not so much poor equipment or the lack of nurses. It was the omnipresent machine, the Communist "cell," the commissars, the eternal suspicion and surveillance. Physicians and surgeons with splendid records in their profession, touchingly devoted to their work, were hampered at every turn and paralyzed in the atmosphere of dread, hatred, and fear. Even the Communists among them were helpless. Some of them had not yet been entirely divested of human feeling by the régime. Being of the intelligentsia, they were considered doubtful characters and were kept in leash. I understood why Pervoukhin could not have me on his staff.
These rude awakenings in the Soviet Arcadia of dictatorship were followed by repeated and more forcible jolts. They helped still further to uproot my cherished belief in the Bolsheviki as the clarion voice of "October."
The militarization of labor, rushed through the ninth Party Congress with typical Tammany Hall steam-roller methods, definitely turned every worker into a galley-slave. The substitution of one-man power in the shops and mills in place of co-operative management placed the masses again under the thumb of the very elements they had for three years been taught to hate as the worst menace. The "specialists" and professional men of the intelligentsia, formerly denounced as vampires and enemies guilty of sabotaging the Revolution, were now installed in high positions and clothed with almost supreme power over the men in the factories. It was a step that with one stroke destroyed the principal achievements of "October," the right of the workers to industrial control. Insult was added to injury by the introduction of the labor block, which virtually stamped everyone a felon, robbed him of the last vestiges of freedom, deprived him of the choice of place and occupation, and fastened him to a given district without the right of straying too far, on pain of severest penalties. True, these reactionary and anti-revolutionary measures were determinedly fought by a substantial minority within the party, as well as denounced by the people at large. We were among them, Sasha even more vigorously than I, although his faith in the Bolsheviki was still very strong. He was not yet ready to see with his inner vision the things already obvious to his outer eye, nor prepared to admit the tragic fate that the Bolshevik Frankenstein monster was pulling down the "October" edifice.
For hours he would argue against my "impatience" and deficient judgment of far-reaching issues, my kid-glove approach to the Revolution. I had always depreciated the economic factor as the main cause of capitalist evils, he declared. Could I fail to see now that economic necessity was the very reason which was forcing the hand of the men at the Soviet helm? The continued danger from the outside, the natural indolence of the Russian worker and his failure to increase production, the peasants' lack of the most necessary implements, and their resultant refusal to feed the cities had compelled the Bolsheviki to pass those desperate measures. Of course he regarded such methods as counter-revolutionary and bound to defeat their purpose. Still, it was preposterous to suspect men like Lenin or Trotsky of deliberate treachery to the Revolution. Why, they had dedicated their lives to that cause, they had suffered persecution, calumny, prison, and exile for their ideals! They could not go back on them to such an extent!
I assured Sasha that nothing was further from my thought than to charge the Bolsheviki with treachery. Indeed, I considered them quite consistent, truer to their aims than those of our own comrades were working with them. Especially did I feel Lenin as a man hewn out of one piece. To be sure, his policies had undergone extraordinary changes; there was no denying his great agility as a political acrobat. But he had never deviated from his objective. His bitterest enemies would not accuse him of that. But his objective was the very crux of Russia's tragedy, I insisted. It was the Communist State, its absolute supremacy and exclusive power. What if it destroy the Revolution, condemn millions to death, and drench Russia in the blood of its best sons and daughters? That could not dismay the iron man in the Kremlin. They were "trifles, a little blood-letting." It could not affect his ultimate purpose. In point of clarity of vision, concentration of will, and unflagging determination Lenin had my respect. But as to the effect of his purposes and methods upon the Revolution, I considered him the greatest menace, more pernicious than the combined interventionists, because his objective was more elusive, his methods more deceptive.
Sasha did not gainsay this, nor was he less convinced than I of the hopelessness of our further attempts to fit into the garrote of the political machine. But he thought that I was holding Lenin and his coworkers responsible for methods imposed upon them by dire revolutionary necessity. Shatoff had been the first to emphasize this. All the level-headed comrades, Sasha claimed, shared that attitude. And he himself had come to see that revolution in action is a quite different thing from revolution in the realm of theory mouthed by parlor radicals. It meant blood and iron, and it was unavoidable.
The dear companionship of my old pal and our intellectual harmony had mitigated much of the lacerating process of finding my way through the Soviet labyrinth. Sasha was all that had been left me from the tornado that had swept over my life. He represented everything dear to me, and I felt him a safe anchor in the roaring sea of Russia. Our disagreement, springing up so suddenly, overwhelmed me like a mighty wave, leaving me bruised and battered. I was certain my friend would in time realize the falsity of his position. I knew that his desperate attempt to defend Bolshevik methods was his last stand in a lost battle, the battle we had been the first to wage in the United States in behalf of the October Revolution.
Among our many callers during our Moscow stay had been an interesting young woman, Alexandra Timofeyevna Shakol. She had learned from Schapiro of our presence in the city, and, an anarchist herself, she was eager to meet her famous American comrades. Besides, she wanted to talk to us about a project initiated by the Petrograd Museum of the Revolution. An expedition was being planned, she explained, that was to cover the length and breadth of the country in search of documents bearing on the revolution and the revolutionary movement of Russia since its inception. The collected material would ultimately serve as archives for the study of the great upheaval. Would we join such a venture?
For a moment we had been carried away by the plan and by the opportunity it offered to see Russia in her Revolutionary everyday life, to learn at first hand what the Revolution had done for the masses and how it affected their existence. We might never have such another chance. But on the second thought we felt it bitter irony that would condemn us to collect dead material amid the raging life of Russia. Thirty years long we had stood in the very thick of the social battle, always on the firing line. Could we now be content with anything less in our reborn native land? We longed for more vital work, something that would enable us to give out of the fullness of our hearts and the best of our abilities to the great task.
Since our return to Petrograd we had been so busy chasing Soviet windmills, so eagerly reaching out for a new hold, that we had hardly thought of our comrade Shakol and her proposal. But with every hope of useful work gone, her offer once more came to our minds. It might afford an escape from our meaningless existence. If the material we should collect would aid future historians in establishing the right relationship between the Revolution and the Bolsheviki, ti would be worth the effort, Sasha and I agreed. Perhaps it would also help us to get the right perspective. The various parts of the country we should visit, the people we should come in contact with, therir lives, customs, and habits, would prove a useful school, we comforted each other. We finally decided to try it, since nothing else was open to us. "If only the new project will also not turn out a bubble," I said to Sasha on our way to the Winter Palace, where the Museum of the Revolution was located.
We found Shakol absent and we were distressed to learn that she had barely escaped death from typhus, which she had contracted in Moscow. She was convalescing now, but she would not be back to work for another fortnight. She had informed the museum, however, that we had promised to visit it, and we were received by the secretary, M. B. Kaplan, a man in the middle thirties, of pleasant and intelligent appearance. He offered to take us through the institution and show us what had already been accomplished. A number of rooms were filled with valuable material, among them the secret archives of the czarist régime, including the records of the Third Political Section, disclosing the workings of its spy system. Much of the vast collection had already been arranged, classified, and prepared for exhibition in the near future. "Our task is only beginning," the secretary explained; "it will require years to achieve our object of establishing in Russia a museum more complete and unique than anything exhisting at present in any other country, not excepting the British Museum, the more so as no country contains such a wealth of revolutionary treasures scattered about the land and waiting to be rescued from loss and destruction." It was for that reason that the museum was anxious to send the collecting expedition as soon as possible, because much was being lost by delay. Kaplan was heart and soul for the project, and his collaboratiors were equally enthusiastic about the future of the museum and the work planned by it. All were anxious to secure our help.
Though it was the latter part of May, the vast chambers of the Winter Palace were breathing a penetrating chill. We were warmly clad, yet we quickly felt benumbed with the cold. We marveled at the men and women working in the fearful dampness all through the severe months of the Petrograd winter. They had been employed there for almost three years now. Their faces were streaked with blue blotches, their hands frost-bitten. Some had contracted severe cases of rheumatism and tubercular affections. His own health had become undermined, the secretary admitted. But it was revolutionary Russia, and he and his coworkers were happy to be priveleged to help in building its future. Most of them, like himslef, were nonpartizan.
He was all eagerness to be able to count on our aid. His enthusiasm was too infectious to resist, and we agreed. "Then you had better report for duty at once," he suggested. There was a great deal to be done yet to get the expedition under way. The necessary equipment for the journey was to be procured and two railroad cars prepared, one for the staff, which was to consist of six persons, the other to hold the material to be collected. Various formalities had also to be looked after, the consent of numerous departments, propusks, and supplies to be secured, and the right of way for the expedition. Haste was imperative and we must begin immediately.
We left the genial secretary and his collaborators in a more cheerful frame of mind. We did not yet feel about the work before us as did the other members of the museum. We knew we could not for long be content with merely collecting parchments when more important work was needed which we might do. But the devotion and fortitude of those people had lifted the weight of despair from our hearts. It was the most encouraging feature of Soviet life. Frequently we had come upon this new spirit of Russia, even in entirely unexpected places. In the darkest hours of our groping we would often discover the most heroic endurance and devotion hidden under the official Soviet surface. Not the kind daily acclaimed in public places and feasted with showy demonstrations and military display. No one outside the party believed in that official brand. Even within its ranks there were large numbers who hated the empty bombast and presence, though they were powerless against the machine. They made up for the vulgar ostentation by their own singleness of purpose and probity. Silently they plodded at their tasks, giving their all to the Revolution and asking nothing in return for themselves either in rations, praise, or other recognition. These great souls redeemed for us much that was hateful in the Bolshevik régime.
Preparations for the expedition were progressing rather slowly, leaving us time to visit museums, art galleries, and similar places of interest, as well as to attend to other things. A report had reached us of the arrest of two anarchist girls, aged fifteen and seventeen, charged with the circulation of a protest against the degrading aspects of the labor book and also against the unbearable conditions of the politicals in the Shpalerny and Gorokhovaya jails in the city. Several Petrograd comrades called on us in the matter and we immediately addressed ourselves to the leading Bolsheviki. Zorin had long ago given us up as lost for his heaven. Zinoviev did not seem to like me particularly; the sentiment was, indeed, mutual. He was always extremely nice to Sasha, however, and the latter therefore called to see him about the arrested anarchists. On the same errand I visited Mme Ravich, whom I still greatly admired for her simple and unassuming personality and her readiness to admit and undo official abuses. Unfortunately, political prisoners were outside her jurisdiction. Such matters were under the control of the Cheka, whose Petrograd chief, the Communist Bakayev, was known as very vindictive towards anarchists. On the very first day of the arrival of the Buford deportees Bakayev had impressed upon them that "no anarchist foolishness is tolerated in Soviet Russia." Such luxuries were fit only for capitalist countries, he had told them. Under the proletarian dictatorship anarchists had either to submit or to be squelched. Upon our boys' resenting such a greeting, Bakayev had ordered the entire group of two hundred and forty-seven under house arrest. We had learned of it only the third day and we had been much wrought up over it. Zorin had minimized the occurrence as an unfortunate misunderstanding and had also prevailed upon his Chekist comrade to withdraw the armed guard from the dormitories of our people in the Smolny. Alas, since then we had seen too many of such "unfortunate misunderstandings."
On this occasion a wink from Zinoviev and Mme Ravich had immediate effect upon Bakayev. He also lived at the Astoria and he phoned me to call on him. He would release the arrested anarchist girls, he informed me, provided we were willing to vouch for it that that would stop their "bandit activities." I expressed amazement at his application of the term to two young girls guilty only of publishing a protest against the methods they considered counter-revolutionary. "Your party cannot be very sure of itself or it would not be constantly haunted by imaginary bandits and counterrevolutionists," I said. I declined to vouch for anyone, knowing that I myself would not keep silent if I saw the need of voicing my sentiments. Nor could I speak for Comrade Alexander Berkman, I informed Bakayev, though I knew that he would refuse to bind anyone by making promises for him. As to the ill treatment of political prisoners, I assured the Cheka chief that it would be grist to the American prison mills to learn that the jails in Soviet Russia were no better than those in the States. This seemed to reach Bakayev in the right spot. He would give the girls another chance, he declared, for, after all, they were proletarians even if they had not yet realized that they must not injure their own class by criticizing the dictatorship. He would also see what improvement the jails required, though conditions had been greatly exaggerated.
Getting people out of jail had been among our various activities in America. But we had never dreamed that we should find the same necessity in revolutionary Russia. Certainly not we who had fought fiercely the least suggestion of such a preposterous eventuality. Yet our only positive work so far had been just that --- pleading for our imprisoned comrades with Lenin, with Krestinsky, and now with a lesser light. We were still able to see the pathos and the humor of the situation and we had not yet forgotten how to laugh at our own follies, though more often my laughter only thinly veiled my tears.
Nevertheless we had reason not to regret our efforts, particularly in the case of one of our finest comrades, Vsevolod Volin. He had been educationally active in the ranks of the Ukrainian peasant rebels headed by the anarchist Nestor Makhno, whom the Bolsheviki had formerly acclaimed as an effective leader of the masses, a man of great strategic acumen and exceptional courage. Not without reason, since it had been Makhno and his povstantsy army who had routed various counter-revolutionary adventurers and who had materially helped the Red forces to drive back the hordes of General Denikin. For refusing to submit his army to the absolute command of Trotsky, Makhno had been declared an enemy and bandit and his entire forces denounced as counter-revolutionary. Volin was an educator and in no way a participant in the military operations of Makhno. But the Ukrainian Cheka made no such fine distinction. At the first opportunity they had arrested Volin and held him incommunicado in the Kharkov prison, dangerously ill with fever though he was. Our comrades in Moscow realized the perilous position of Volin, for Trotsky had in the meantime sent telegraphic orders to have him executed. They tried to get the prisoner transferred to Moscow, where he was well known to the leading Communists as a man of revolutionary integrity and high intellectual attainments. They had circulated an appeal for his transfer, which was signed by every anarchist then present in the capital, and they had chosen Sasha and the local comrade Askaroff to present the petition to Krestinsky, Secretary of the Communist Party.
Krestinsky proved very fanatical and bitter against the anarchists, claiming at first that Volin was a counter-revolutionist deserving death and again pretending that he had already been brought to Moscow. Sasha succeeded in convincing him that he was wrong on both points and that Volin be at least given a chance to state his case, which opportunity he would not have in Kharkov. Krestinsky finally yielded to Sasha's arguments. He promised to telegraph to the proper authorities in Kharkov to have Volin removed to the capital. Apparently he kept his word, because before long our comrade was brought to Moscow and placed in the Butirky prison. Shortly after that Vsevolod Volin was entirely released.
Having finally effected the release of the two Petrograd girls, we felt we might turn to other things before the expedition would be ready to start on its long journey. First of all we proceeded to visit the industries.
I had heard various rumors about factory conditions, but as I had not yet been able to gain access to the factories, I was loathe to credit the stories. I had long ago realized that in a country deprived of press and speech, public opinion must needs be based on exaggerations and falsehoods. I would have to inspect the mills and shops myself, I always told my informants, before reaching conclusions.
My long-awaited opportunity to visit factories and possibly to talk to the workers at the bench came when Mme Ravich requested me to act as guide to a certain American journalist who had suddenly appeared in Petrograd. It was, I discovered, one of the newspaper men who had interviewed us on our landing in Terryoki, on our way through Finland. It seemed ages and ages ago. The man had repeatedly tried to get into Soviet Russia, as he had informed Sasha on the border, requesting him at the same time to speak a good word for him to Chicherin, in whose hands lay the decision about the admission of journalists. The young man had made a favorable impression by his frank expression and manner, but aside from that we knew about him nothing whatever, not even his name nor the paper he represented. Only at the last moment, as we walked across the border, did he hand us his card. Sasha had promised to transmit his messageto the People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, stating, however, that he could not plead in his behalf. Sasha had indeed kept his promise, having informed Chicherin that the young journalist, John Clayton by name, was anxious to come to Russia, and that he represented the Chicago Tribune, one of the reactionary newspapers in the United States.
We had heard no more about the matter, and in the hectic life of Russia we had forgotten all about Clayton's existence. I was therefore not a little surprised when on my return to Petrograd Mme Ravich telephoned me to inquire whether I knew a man by the name of John Clayton. He had been arrested on the border trying to cross over to Russia and he was being held by the Cheka. He had given our names as proof that he knew trustworthy people and that they would intercede for him. I repeated to Ravich what Sasha had previously told Chicherin, adding that, since the man was already on Soviet soil, it would be better policy to set him free. He could not see more than the Soviet government would permit, and he could not send out any news without the Bolshevik censorship passing upon it. Why, then, be afraid? Mme Ravich decided to report to the border Cheka what I had said and leave the matter to them for final action. Again there was nothing more heard about Clayton, and great was my astonishment to meet him one day at the door of my room in the Astoria. "Where do you come from?" I blurted out before even inviting him in. "Oh, don't ask me," he replied piteously; "I have risked my life to get into the country. I come with the best intentions and am treated worse than a dog." "What has happened?" I demanded. "For the love of Mike," Clayton cried, "aren't you mean not even to ask me to step into your room? I need a whole day to tell you all my adventures." The poor man did look forlorn, and I never liked to be rude, even to an American reporter, though few people had as good reason as I to be so. "Come in, old fellow, and make a clean breast of it," I said lightly. His face brightened. "Thanks, E.G.," he replied, "I knew they couldn't turn you into a hardened Bolshevik." "Nonsense," I corrected him, "all Bolsheviki are not hardened, and those that are have been made so largely by the grace of your Government in league with the others to starve the Russian masses."
Clayton related that he had ski'd and bribed his way from Finland, had been caught, thrown into a filthy Cheka prison, and finally shipped to Moscow, where he had been "free" the past six weeks. "Free?" I inquired in surprise. Yes, but he might as well not have been for all he had got to see or to hear. Not a scrap of anything even for a first measly story. As for himself, every kind of discrimination and chicanery had been employed against him ever since he had reached Moscow. "Rotten I call it, and bad judgment to treat a newspaper man so," he declared bitterly.
The way to a man's heart is proverbially through his stomach, and something was needed to sooth Clayton's ruffled spirit. "Plenty of time to discuss all that," I said, "after you have had a cup of coffee." "Gee, that would be a real treat," he cried in glee. After having partaken of two cups his chagrin somewhat subsided and he became more amenable to reason. Before we started on our factory-inspection tour, Clayton was willing to admit how untenable his position was and how absurd it was to feel hurt. After all, he was an unknown quantity, and his credentials from the Chicago Tribune anything but reassuring. Spies and conspiracies had become a mania with the Communists. It was natural in view ofthe persecution Russia was enduring from the enemies of the Revolution. He would have to see his unpleasant experiences in a larger light if his intentions were really as good as he had assured me. Else he would be able to report only the same stupidity as his colleagues about the alleged nationalization of women, bourgeois ears and fingers fed to the people, and similar juicy atrocities that had been published by the American press. Clayton swore he would never be guilty of such misrepresentation. "Wait and see," he assured me. I had waited for thirty years, searching all the time with a Diogenes lantern for fairness or accuracy among American newspaper men. I had found some exceptions, of course, very few and far between. None of them, however, on the Chicago Tribune. I hoped he would prove to be one of the exceptions
The function of an official cicerone was not exactly to my liking. But I did not care to refuse Ravich who had always been responsive to my intercession for unfortunates. Moreover, I felt that the Russian situation was too great and vital and that I had not yet grasped it fully, though I had reached a definite decision not to work within Bolshevik political confines. Most important to me was it not to be quoted by any American paper against Soviet Russia, not while the latter was still forced to fight for life itself on so many fronts. I was therefore in the predicament of not wanting Clayton to secure information by my aid and I did not cherish the prospect of having to tell him deliberate lies. I reasoned that Mme Ravich knew what she was about when she had given Clayton permission to visit factories. They were probably not so bad as had been reported to me. Or she may have thought that with me as guide things would be made to appear less harsh. Fortunately Sasha was accompanying us. That would give one of us a chance to lag behind and talk to the workers while the other would interpret to Clayton the official version of conditions.
The Putilov works proved to be in a forlorn state, most of the machines deserted, others out of repair, the place filthy and neglected. While Sasha was explaining to Clayton what the superintendent of the shop was relating, I lingered behind. I found the men very unwilling to talk until I mentioned that I was a tovarishtch from America and not a Bolshevik. That made a big difference. They could tell me a great deal, they said, but even the walls had ears. Not a day passed but what some of their fellows failed to return to work. Sick? No, but they had protested a little too loud. I urged that, as the authorities had informed me, the workers in the Putilovsky, being engaged in one of the vital industries, received considerably better rations than other toilers --- two pounds of bread a day and special shares of other products. The men stared at me in amazement. I might try their bread, one of them suggested, holding out a black chunk to me. "Bite hard," he said ironically. I tried, but knowing I could ill afford a dentist's bill, I had to return the leathery piece, much to the amusement of the group clustered about me. I suggested that the Communists could not be blamed for the bad bread and the scarcity of it. If the Putilov workers and their brothers in other industries would increase production, the peasants would be able to raise more grain. Yes, they replied, that was the yarn given them every day in explanation of the militarization of labor. It had been hard enough to work on empty stomachs when they were not being driven. Now it was altogether impossible. The new decree had only added to the general misery and bitterness. It was taking the workers too far away from their villages, which formerly had helped them out with provisions. Besides, the number of officials and overseers had been increased and they too had to be fed. "Of the seven thousand employed here, only two thousand are actual producers," an old worker near me remarked. Hadn't I seen the markets, another man demanded in a whisper. Had I noticed much scarcity there for those who had the price to pay? There was no time for a reply. At a warning from their neighbors the men hastened back to their benches and I joined my companions.
Our next objective looked like a military camp, with armed sentinels stationed all around the huge warehouse and about the mill inside. "Why so many guards?" Sasha asked the Commissar in charge. The flour had of late been disappearing by the carload, came the reply, and the soldiers were there to cope with the evil. They had not succeeded in stopping the thefts, but some offenders had been apprehended. They had proved to be workers misled by a gang of speculators. Somehow the official explanation did not sound plausible. I slackened my pace in the hope of getting close to some of the millmen. I knew the right password: "From America, bringing you the solidaric greetings of the militant proletariat and their gift of cigarettes." A young chap with a firm jaw and intelligent eyes attracted my attention as he passed me with a sack of flour on his shoulders. When he returned to pick up another, I tried my magic key. It worked. Would he tell me why armed soldiers were there? Didn't I know of the new decree militarizing labor, he demanded. The workers had resented it as an insult to their revolutionary manhood. As a result their brother soldiers, who had helped them during the October days, were now installed over them as watch-dogs.I asked about the theft of flour and whether the guards were not there to prevent it. The man smiled sadly. No one knew better than the commissars, he said, who was stealing the flour, for they themselves passed it through the gates. "And the Revolution? Has it given you workers nothing?" I questioned. "Oh, yes," he replied, "but it has been checked long ago. Now it is a stagnant pool. It will break out again, though, never fear."
In the evening, when Sasha and I compared notes, we agreed that we had seen all we wanted to know of Soviet factory conditions. We could leave the doubtful honor to the official guides, who were less squeamish about turning black into white, and gray into crimson hues. Sasha emphatically refused to act again as cicerone and I completed my unsolicited job by taking Clayton the next morning to the Laferm Tobacco Works. We found them in good condition, because the former owner and manager himself was still in charge.
Before long, Clayton departed, declaring that he would soon return for a longer stay and a more thorough study of conditions. His wife was Russian, he said, and she would serve as his guide, which would make it unnecessary for him to impose on our time and good will. He would guard against making misleading statements concerning Russia, he faithfully promised.
"Misleading I mused. The poor chap could not know that every day of my Russian existence was misleading, misleading others as well as myself. Would the time ever come when I should once more stand firmly in my own boots, I wondered.
Preparations for the expedition were progressing very slowly, while my nervous tension almost reached breaking-point. Whatever poise I had of late gained had been destroyed by my recent impressions of the appalling conditions under which the masses were living and toiling. The arrival of Angelica Balabanoff somewhat helped to lighten my frame of mind.
She had been sent from Moscow to complete arrangements for the reception of the expected British Labor Mission. Poor Angelica, she too had been relegated to the rôle of guide, and I was certain she would agonize as much as I in having to play hide-and-go-seek with the shadow of her once glowing faith.
The Narishkin Palace on the Neva, one of the most beautiful in the capital, was assigned to the use of the distinguished English guests. It had been locked up since the October days, and Angelica asked me to help her put it in order. I cheerfully consented, though she really did not need me for the work. An array of servants had been commandeered to do the cleaning that three efficient persons could have accomplished in less time. I guessed that Angelica was lonely, and a glance at her showed me that she was again in bad health. She felt at home with me and I loved to be with her even if I could never get myself to talk frankly to her about the subject we both had most at heart. It would have been like digging into an open wound. Angelica was also very fond of Sasha and she had already secured his help as interpreter and translator of the testimonials of welcome that were being prepared in honor of the visitors.
The mission at last arrived, most of its members of the usual Anglo-Saxon better-than-thou attitude. They were against intervention, of course, and they boasted of having repudiated the attacks on Soviet Russia, but as to revolution or communism, no, thank you, none of that for them. Their reception was calculated to speak to the larger audience of the British laboring masses and to the workers of the entire world. No effort was to be spared to make the occasion propagandistically effective. The grand military display on the square of the Uritsky Palace was but the initial part of the program. Other functions were to prove even more persuasive. The dinners at the Narishkin Palace, its tables laden with the best starving Russia could command, the personally conducted tours through the model schools, selected factories, and rest-homes, theatrical performances, ballets, concerts, and opera, with the members of the mission in the former Czar's loge, composed some of the festivities. British reserve could not resist such hospitality. Most members of the mission fell for the show and became the more pliable the longer they stayed.
Some of them exerted their best logic to persuade me that the dictatorship and the Cheka were inevitable in a country as backward as Russia, with her people for centuries used to despotic rule. "We Englishmen would not stand for it," one delegate declared, "but it is different with the ignorant Russian masses, strangers to civilized ways." The Soviet Government, he argued, had shown amazing intelligence and skill in having succeeded so well with its raw human material. But the average Englishman, of course, would not put up with such things. "The average Englishman," I retorted, "prefers to run three blocks after a cab so he can act the flunky for a gentleman and earn the munificent sum of two pence." "If you saw such a sight in London, it was certainly only the dregs of the city," he replied. "Precisely," I said; "there is more than enough of such dregs in England and they would be the worst stumbling block to any fundamental economic changes in your country. But I forget that you Englishmen will have none of revolution. That could only happen in ignorant and uncivilized Russia."
I walked away to the rear of the box to watch the rest of the ballet undisturbed by British complacent superiority. Presently the door opened and a man in military uniform entered. When the lights went on again, I recognized him as Leon Trotsky. What a change in his appearance and bearing within three years! He was no longer the pale, lean, and narrow-cheated exile I had seen in New York in the spring of 1917. The man in the box seemed to have grown in breadth and height, though he showed no superfluous flesh. His pale face was bronze now, his reddish hair and beard considerably streaked with gray. He had tasted power and he looked conscious of his authority. He carried himself with proud mien, and there was disdain in his eyes, even contempt, as he glanced at the British guests. He spoke to no one and soon left. He did not recognize me, nor did I make myself known to him. The gulf between our worlds had widened too far to be reached across.
There were certain members of the British Mission, however, not entirely inclined to look in open-mouthed wonder at the things about them, with their mental eyes shut. These were not of the laboring element. One of them was Mr. Bertrand Russell. Very politely but decisively he had from the very first refused to be officially chaperoned. He preferred to go about himself. He also showed no elation over the honor of being quartered in a palace and fed on special morsels. Suspicious person, that Russell, the Bolsheviki whispered. But then, what can you expect of a bourgeois? Angelica almost broke her heart over such talk. She argued that it was stupid and criminal to try to pull the wool over everybody's eyes. People should be allowed to see conditions as they were, she insisted, to realize the harrowing want and misery of blockaded Russia. Perhaps that would help to arouse the conscience of the world against the powers that were starving the country. But the Cheka thought otherwise, though it did not too obviously interfere with the movements of the delegates.
Mr. Russell called on us one day with Henry G. Alsberg, an American correspondent accompanying the mission, who was representing the New York Nation and the London Daily Herald. John Clayton, whom Alsberg had met in Esthonia, had informed him that we were staying at the Astoria and had also given him some provisions for us. The unexpected replenishment of our larder deserved some kind of celebration, and we invited our callers to stay for lunch, which I proceeded to prepare in my improvised kitchenette. It was by no means an elaborate meal, but our guests assured me that they enjoyed it more than they would have the repast at the palace served in the festal Narishkin salon on damask and fine plate. With us, they said, one could speak freely and get a segment of Russian reality free from fear or favor. It was our first contact with the world outside of Russia, with persons earnestly concerned in the weal of the country. We cherished every moment with our visitors and I liked Henry Alsberg in particular. He brought with him a whiff of the best that was in America --- sincerity and easy joviality, directness and camaraderie. Mr. Russell was of a more reserved nature, but of gracious and simple personality.
Angelica had invited us to the last social function for the Mission before its departure for Moscow. We went in the capacity of interpreters. The same evening she left with the delegates. Nothing would do but she must have Sasha with her. He had much to attend to for the museum expedition, as no car had yet been secured for our journey. But who could refuse Angelica?
All was ready for our expedition except the principal thing --- a railroad car. The Commissar of the Museum of the Revolution, Yatmanov, a prominent Communist, and Secretary Kaplan had for weeks been trying to get one for us, but without success. They were sure Sasha could manage the matter through Zinoviev, with whom he seemed to have a pull. But Sasha was still in Moscow with the British Labor Mission. It was exasperating to remain idle for one whose whole life had been filled with intense activity. I had learned, however, since I came to Russia, to possess my soul in patience. The dictatorship of the proletariat was building for eternity; what could a few weeks, months, or even years matter?
Sasha presently returned and with him a more intense drive for a car. He had not been happy in the capital. The Punch and Judy show for the British Labor Mission had distressed him. Poor Angelica had of course nothing to do with it. She had been thrust aside as soon as she had delivered the guests to Karakhan and his hosts of managers at the Moscow station. They had carried the Britishers off, leaving only Bertrand Russell behind. No one seemed to know him or his place in the world of science and advanced thought. Sasha had saved the situation by hailing Karakhan, who was about to drive off in his luxurious automobile, which he was occupying alone. Karakhan inquired who the man was, remarking that he had never heard of Bertrand Russell. However, he would take Sasha's word for it that the man with him was worth bothering about, upon which he invited Sasha and Russell to his car.
Sasha had absented himself from the public exhibitions and demonstrations in honor of the British Mission. He had had enough of those shows. Nor did he feel that he could serve as interpreter of the bombastic speeches at the public functions and the falsehoods palmed off on the unsuspecting Englishmen. He had translated for Angelica some resolutions and he had accompanied the delegates to shops and factories on tours of inspection. Karl Radek had asked him to translate something Lenin had written and had sent one of the official autos to bring Sasha to the headquarters of the Third International. There Radek had handed him Lenin's manuscript on the "Infantile Diseases of Leftism." "Imagine my surprise," Sasha related, "when a glance at the pages showed me that it was a vitriolic attack on all the revolutionists differing from the Bolshevik attitude. I told Radek I would translate it only on condition of being permitted to write a preface to the brochure." "Radek must have thought you mad to be guilty of such lése-majestè," "I remarked. "Yes, he was so mad he took me for his brother lunatic," my humorous friend replied. Radek did not press the matter any further and Sasha had gone his way. But there were other things that soon engaged his entire attention in Moscow. A number of our people were in prison again, among them our comrade Abe Gordin, of the Universalist Club, who had taken a prominent part in the revolutionary events of 1917. They were being held without any charges made against them. Their repeated demands to know the reason for their arrest having failed to bring results, they had declared a hunger-strike in protest. Sasha had been kept busy trying to induce the authorities to specify our comrades' offense or release them. After much difficulty he had succeeded in getting an audience with Preobrazhensky, Secretary of the Communist Party. Sasha urged that the men in jail had grown dangerously weak from their long hunger-strike and Preobrazhensky coldly declared that "the quicker they died, the better for us." Sasha had assured him that the Russian anarchists had no intention of obliging him or his party. Moreover, if his régime continued to persecute his comrades, it would have only itself to blame for anything that might happen. "Is this a threat?" the Secretary had demanded. "Only an unavoidable fact, which you as an old revolutionist should know," Sasha had replied.
Our Moscow comrades had enjoyed a modicum of freedom. What could be the purpose of the new policy of deliberate extermination, we wondered. Sasha thought it was due to the stand of the Moscow anarchist conference expressed in the resolutions we had handed to Lenin. The reply of the Communist Party Executive, a copy of which had been expressly sent to us, declared that "ideiny anarchist are working with the Soviet Government." The others, who did not, were considered enemies of the Revolution and as such not entitled to more consideration than counter-revolutionists like the Social Revolutionists or the Mensheviki. The Cheka had taken the hint and proceeded accordingly.
It was a terrible situation, but we were powerless. Any protest on our part within Russia would have no greater effect than that of Peter Kropotkin or Vera Figner. With the country endangered on the Polish front, we felt we could not issue any appeal to the workers abroad.
At the first news of war with Poland I had set aside my critical attitude and offered my services as nurse at the front. Mme Ravich was absent from Petrograd at the time and I went to Zorin about it. Since the birth of Liza's child I was again seeing a great deal of the Zorins. Mother and child had been very ill and I had taken care of them. This somewhat softened Zorin's disapproval of us since our disagreement over the rest-homes. My offer to aid Soviet Russia in her hour of need seemed to move him deeply. He had known that Sasha and I would finally come to collaborate with his party, he declared. We only needed time, he thought, to realize that the dictatorship and the Revolution were identical and that to serve one meant to work for the other. He promised to see the proper authorities about my offer and to inform me of results. But he never did. That of course could have no bearing on my determination to help the country, in whatever capacity possible. Nothing seemed so important just then.
Sasha had in the meantime succeeded in securing a car for the Museum Expedition. It was an old dilapidated Pullman containing six compartments, but soon he had it cleaned up, painted, and disinfected for our use. Having proved so successful where others had failed, the museum appointed Sasha general manager of the expedition. Shakol was nominated secretary, while I was entrusted with three jobs, besides the work of collecting historical material, in which we all shared. I was chosen treasurer, housekeeper, and cook. A Russian couple on our staff were supposed to be experts on revolutionary documents. The sixth in our group was a young Jewish Communist, whose special work was to visit local party institutions. As the only Communist in our circle he felt at first quite lost, being among three anarchists and two nonpartizans.
Our car needed mattresses, blankets, dishes, and similar utensils, for which I received an order from Yatmanov on the supplies of the Winter Palace. Equipped with this "order," I went down to the basements of the palace, where the Czar's household goods were stored. The transitoriness of station and power had never before struck me so forcibly as when looking at the wealth that had but recently been used by the reigning family on its State occasions. The toil of every country and clime was gathered there in priceless porcelain, rare silver, copper, glass, and damask. Room after room was stacked to the ceiling with utensils and plate, thickly covered with dust, mute witnesses to the glory that was no more. And there I was, rummaging in all that magnificence for dishes for our expedition! Could any legend be more fantastic, more significant of the ephemeral nature of human destiny?
It took a whole day to select what was suitable for our use, and even at that the things were more fit for a museum. I could not get excited over the fact that we should eat our herring and potatoes, and if lucky also borscht, from the plate that had fed the Lord of all the Russias and his family. It amused me to think, however, how the newspapers in America would play up such an incident. Berkman and Goldman, arch-anarchists, using the crested linen and china of the Romanovs! And the free-born Americans, such as the Daughters of the Revolution, dying for the sight of royalty, dead or alive, or even for some souvenir of an old boot that had squeezed a royal foot!
On June 30, 1920 just seven months after we had landed on Soviet soil, our renovated car was hitched to a night train, known as "Maxim Gorki," and headed for Moscow. It being the "center," we had to stop off there for additional credentials from various departments, including those of education and public health, and from the Foreign Office, not forgetting also the Cheka. From the latter we had to secure a document giving us immunity for the possession of counter-revolutionary documents, the collection of which was part of our task. We expected that a few days in the capital would suffice to complete our arrangements, but it took two weeks instead.
The city was in a ferment over incidents of recent occurrence. The bakers had been on strike; their entire executive committee was now dissolved and its members in prison. The Printers' Union had met a similar fate for a more heinous offense. They had organized a meeting with the members of the British Labor Mission as their guests. The surprise of the occasion was the sudden appearance on the platform of Tchernov, leader of the Social Revolutionists and former President of the Constituent Assembly. The Cheka had for a long time been looking for Tchernov, who was in hiding. He appeared disguised by a long black beard, and he was not at first recognized. His impassioned speech against the Bolsheviki roused the assembly to an ovation, but when the communist chairman of the meeting called for the arrest of the man, he had disappeared in the crowd about him.
There was great excitement in the city, due to the arrival of a number of foreign delegates for the Second Congress of the Red Trade-Union International. Among them we were delighted to find some Anarcho-Syndicalists from Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and Scandinavia. There were also labor men from England, more militant and less comfortable than their countrymen on the British Mission. Learning of our presence in Moscow, they sought us out and we had many conferences together. The clearest minds among them were two anarchists, Pistania from Spain and Augustin Souchy from Germany, representing the Anarcho-Syndicalists labor bodies of their respective countries. These two men were entirely with the Revolution and sympathetic with the Bolsheviki. They were, however, not the kind who could be feted into seeing everything in roseate colors. They came as earnest students of the situation, desirous of getting the facts at first hand and of observing the Revolution in action. They inquired, among other things, how our comrades were faring under the Communist State. All sorts of rumors had filtered to Europe about the persecution of anarchists and other revolutionists. The comrades abroad, they told us, had refused to credit such reports as long as they had not heard from us about the matter. They had asked that we send back word through Souchy and Pistania about the actual state of affairs. Sasha explained that the rumors were unfortunately not unfounded. Anarchists, Left Socialist Revolutionists, militant workers and peasants were imprisoned in Soviet jails and detention camps, denounced as bandits and counter-revolutionists. They were nothing of the kind, of course, but sincere comrades, most of whom had taken an active part in the October days. Our efforts had been effective for but few of them. Possibly the Anarcho-Syndicalist delegates, as representatives of large Left labor organizations abroad, would be more successful with the Soviet authorities. They should insist on their right to visit the prisons and talk to the prisoners. Sasha also suggested that the delegates demand redress for our people. But he was reluctant to talk to the men of the general situation. His own impressions had not yet sufficiently clarified, he said; he could not speak the final word and he did not want to prejudice the delegates. They would have to learn for themselves.
I felt differently on the matter. Our foreign comrades were accredited representatives of militant labor bodies. They were not likely to use anything I might tell them to the detriment of the Revolution, as newspaper reporters might do. I had no intention of biasing them, but neither did I think that I should keep the facts from them. I wanted at least our own comrades in Europe and America to behold the reverse side of the shiny Soviet medal. Souchy, Pistania, and a British I.W.W. man attentively listened to my narrative, but I could read on their faces that they were as incredulous as I had been of Breshkovskaya, Bob Minor, and the other friends who had told me of the actual conditions in Russia. Nor did I blame them. To the oppressed of the world the Bolsheviki had become the synonym of the Revolution itself. The revolutionists outside of Russia could not easily credit how far that was from the truth. One seldom learns from the experience of others. Nevertheless I did not regret having talked frankly to the delegates. Whatever their own impressions, they would know that I had not denied them my confidence and trust.
Europe and America seemed removed from me by decades. It was gratifying to have them brought closer by our foreign visitors and to learn from them about the anarchist and revolutionary labor activities outside of Russia. To the request of the delegates that I send a message to the workers abroad, I replied: "May they emulate the spirit of their Russian brothers in the coming revolution, but not their naïve faith in political leaders, no matter how fervent their protestations and how red their slogans! That alone can safeguard future revolutions from being harnessed to the State and enslaved again by its bureaucratic whip."
A great and most welcome surprise came to me in Moscow with the opportunity to see the famous Maria Spiridonovna and her friend Kamkov, leaders of the Left Socialist Revolutionists. Maria was living under cover, disguised as a peasant, and great precaution was necessary to keep her whereabouts from the Cheka. She therefore sent a trusted comrade to bring Sasha and me to her place.
Spiridonovna occupies one of the highest places in the galaxy of the heroic women of Russia. Her attack on General Lukhanovsky, Governor of Tambov Province, had been an extraordinary feat for a girl of eighteen. Maria had dogged the man's steps for weeks, patiently waiting for a chance to strike the notorious executioner of the peasants. When the train bearing Lukhanovsky steamed into the station, Maria jumped on to the running-board and shot the Governor dead before his guards realized what the girl was about. No less remarkable had been her behavior during the tortures she had been subjected to after her arrest. Pulled about by her hair, her clothes torn off, and her naked flesh burned with cigarettes, her face beaten into a pulp, Maria Spiridonovna had remained silent and contemptuous of her tormentors. When this treatment had failed to force her to involve others in her act or to break her spirit, she was tried behind closed doors and condemned to die. She was saved by the tremendous protest in Europe and America, and her sentence was commuted to exile to Siberia for life. Twelve years later the historic tables were turned. Czar Nikolas was hurled from his throne, and the victims of absolutism, numbering into the thousands, were brought back in triumph from their dungeons and exile. Among them was Maria Spiridonovna, whose Calvary was well known to the radicals everywhere. Her glowing personality had exalted and spurred me on in my work in the United States, and she was among the first I longed to meet when I came to Russia. But no one seemed to know her whereabouts. The Communists I had questioned, including Jack Reed, had told me that she had suffered a nervous break-down and was being nursed back to health in a Soviet sanatorium. It was only when I got to Moscow the first time that I learned from her comrades about the life and struggle of Maria Spiridonovna since her liberation from Siberia. Shattered in health from the agonies she had suffered, and broken down by tuberculosis contracted in prison, she had nevertheless refused to spare herself. Russia needed her, and the peasants to whom she had dedicated her young life were calling her. Now more than ever they needed her, having been betrayed by Kerensky and his party, which had also been hers and by whose order she had killed Lukhanovsky. The Socialist Revolutionist Provisional Government was forcing the people to continue the world slaughter, and Maria would have nothing to do with it.
Together with the more radical wing of the party, including Kambov, Dr. Steinberg, Trutovsky, Izmailovich, Kakhovskaya, and others, Maria Spiridonovna organized the Left Socialist Revolutionist Party. Side by side with Lenin and his comrades they worked for the October upheaval and unwittingly helped the Bolsheviki to power. Not unmindful of the ardent support of Spiridonovna and her comrades, Lenin had approved the choice of Maria by the Peasant Congress as its president, his own party's appointment of Dr. Steinberg as People's Commissar for Justice, and Trutovsky as Commissar for Agriculture. But the break with the Bolsheviki came over Brest-Litovsk, the Left Socialist-Revolutionists considering peace with the Kaiser a fatal betrayal of the Revolution. Maria was the first to refuse further co-operation with the Bolsheviki. With her wonted determination she turned from the Communist Government as she had from Kerensky's régime, and her comrades followed her lead. Then her martyrdom began all over again. There followed arrest and incarceration in the Kremlin prison, escape, re-arrest, and more prison. Her influence among the peasantry continued, however, even growing with her persecution. The Communists resorted to the convenient explanation that Maria had gone mad and had to be restrained.
From : Anarchy Archives
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