Living My Life : Volume 2, Chapter 52, Part C
(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 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....)
• "It is the private dominion over things that condemns millions of people to be mere nonentities, living corpses without originality or power of initiative, human machines of flesh and blood, who pile up mountains of wealth for others and pay for it with a gray, dull and wretched existence for themselves." (From : "What I Believe," by Emma Goldman, New York World,....)
• "...Anarchism, or any other social theory, making man a conscious social unit, will act as a leaven for rebellion. This is not a mere assertion, but a fact verified by all experience." (From : "The Psychology of Political Violence," by Emma Go....)
Volume 2, Chapter 52, Part C
On the sixth floor of a large tenement in Moscow, in a room not much larger than my cell in the Missouri penitentiary, a little old woman embraced me tenderly, without uttering a word. It was Maria Spiridonovna. Though only thirty-three years of age, she was shriveled in body; a hectic flush was on her emaciated face, her eyes were feverishly brilliant, but her spirit remained unchanged and unfettered, still scaling the heights of her indomitable faith. Anything I could have said at that moment would have sounded banal. Nor did I trust myself to speak. Her hands in mine had a steadying effect and the silence about us was soothing, like her tender touch. Maria spoke and I listened. For three days, with little interruption, I listened tense in every nerve. Her tone was calm, her mind clear, and her presentation keen. Her facts were incontestable and documented by peasant letters from every part of Russia. They cried to her to enlighten them on the great misfortune that had befallen their beloved matushka Rossiya. They had believed in the Revolution as in the second coming of Christ. They had prepared for its promised blessings, the freeing of the soil from the masters, the peace and brotherhood it would bring. She knew best, they wrote, how hard they had worked and how fervently they had believed in the holy power of the revolution. Now everything was crushed, their hopes turned to ashes. They had taken the land from their old masters, but their produce was now being taken from them by the new bosses, even to the last seeds for planting. Nothing had changed except the methods of robbing them. It was the Cossack and the nagaika before, the Chekists and shooting now. The same browbeating and arrests, the same heartless brutality and drive. Everything the same. They could not grasp it, could not understand it, and there was no one to explain, whose word they could believe. They still had her, their angel Maryussa. She had never played them false and she must now tell them whether the new Christ also was crucified and whether he would rise still once more to redeem their suffering land.
Maria was in possession of scores of these pitiful outpourings, written on slips of coarse paper or dirty cloth and smuggled to her under the greatest difficulties.
"The Bolsheviki maintain that forcible confiscation has been imposed on them by the peasants' refusing to feed the cities," I remarked. There was no truth in it, Maria assured me. The peasants had indeed refused to deal with the "center" through its commissars. They had their soviets and they insisted that the latter be in direct touch with the soviets of the workers. They had taken the meaning and purpose of the soviets literally, as simple folk always do. The soviets were their medium of keeping in touch with the city toilers and exchanging with them needed products. When this was denied them and in addition their General Soviet dissolved and its members imprisoned, the peasants became aroused against the dictatorship. Moreover, the forcible collection of produce and the punitive expeditions against the villages had antagonized and embittered the rural population. These methods could not win with the peasants. The saying among them was that Ilich could exterminate the peasants, but he could not conquer the peasantry. "They are right," Maria commented, "for Russia is eighty per cent agricultural, and that is the very backbone of the country. It may take some time for Lenin to find out that the peasant will force his hands, not he the peasant's."
All through her recital Spiridonovna had said not a word about herself, her persecution, illness, or want. Her mainsprings poured into the vast human sea, I felt, each ripple rushing back to her all-embracing heart. I saw no sign of any personal current crossing her universal stream until just shortly before we bade her good-bye on the third day of our visit.
Sasha had been present at our sessions, together with Boris Kamkov. The latter, like his friend Maria, was also calm and collected in his arraignment of the evils wrought among the peasantry by the three years of the dictatorship. At no time during our stay did Maria betray by word or look that the man stirred in her other emotions than those of the solidarity of a common ideal. Now Kamkov was about to leave on a journey to the interior and he very emphatically insisted that he needed nothing for his trip except some bread. He would take nothing from Maria's share. Someone had brought her eggs and cherries, and while Kamkov was talking to Sasha, Maria stealthily stuck her little bundle of provisions, packed in a handkerchief, into the sack of literature her friend was taking with him. She stood near him, diminutive alongside of his great height and breadth. She did not speak, she only looked up into his eyes and lightly brushed her slender white hand over his sleeve, imperceptibly leaning against him. He was going on a dangerous mission and Maria felt that he might never return. No poet ever sang of greater love and longing than her simple gesture expressed. It was beautiful and moving beyond words, laying bare in a flash the rich fount of her soul.
Our red-painted car on a side track at the Moscow railroad station attracted many visitors, among them Henry G. Alsberg and Albert Boni, who had come to Russia. Both were envious of our trip and eager to come with us. Of the two men, Sasha and I liked Alsberg the best. We told him we would prevail on the members of our expedition to allow him to come with us if he would get the necessary credentials from the Soviet authorities.
On the day of our departure he arrived with written permission from Zinoviev, the Foreign Office and the Cheka. The representative of the Cheka in the Foreign Office insisted, however, Alsberg would have to secure an additional visa from the local Moscow Cheka. Karakhan's secretary (Foreign Office), under whose jurisdiction he was, definitely informed him that he did not need this extra visa and the Foreign Office "guaranteed" he would not be molested if he went on the expedition. Alsberg hesitated but we urged him to take a chance without the proposk of the Moscow Cheka. His American passport and the fact that he represented two pro-Soviet newspapers should save him from serious difficulties. Our secretary consented that he should join us, and there was an extra bunk in Sasha's compartment. Thereupon he decided to become the seventh member of our company.
Our Moscow stay had been rich in surprises. The final one came just an hour before our departure. A man dashed up, all out of breath, in search of us. "Why, E.G., don't you recognize me?" he cried; "I am Krasnoschokov, formerly Tobinson, of Chicago. Have you forgotten your chairman at the Workers' Institute meeting, your and Sasha's coworker in the Windy City?" The change in him was as complete as Trotsky's. He seemed taller and broader, of proud carriage, but without the military severity and disdainful expression of the Commissar of the Red Army. He was, Tobinson-Krasnoschokov related, President of the Far Eastern Republic, and he had come to Moscow for an important conference with the Party Executive. He had been in the city for a week, eager to meet us again, but he had failed to locate us till the very last moment. He had many things to talk over and we must remain a few days to celebrate our reunion, he insisted. He had traveled from Siberia in his own railroad car, bringing plenty of provisions and his own cook, and he would give us our first real feast in Soviet Russia. Krasnoschokov had remained the same free and generous fellow he had been in the States, but we could not alter our plans and we had only a few hours to spend with him.
Sasha was still in the city, attending to last-hour commissions, but he would soon be back. Meanwhile Krasnoschokov was regaling me with his adventures since his arrival in Russia. He had become the chief executive of the Far Eastern Republic; Bill Shatoff was also there, as well as other anarchists from America, all working together with him. Free speech and press prevailed in his part of Russia, he assured me, and there was every opportunity for our propaganda. Sasha and I must come, he insisted. He needed our help and we could count on him. Shatoff was doing great work as Commissar of Railroads and he had warned him not to dare return without us. "Free speech and free press --- how does Moscow stand for that?" I asked. Conditions were different in that far country, Krasnoschokov explained, and he had been given a free hand there. Anarchists, Left Socialist Revolutionists, and even Mensheviki were cooperating with him and he was proving that free expression and joint effort were giving the best results.
An enchanting picture indeed, I commented, and I should certainly like to see it for myself. Perhaps when we had completed our present tour, we might induce the museum to send our expedition to Siberia. Presently Sasha arrived and there was renewed rejoicing. Alas, only for a short hour. Our visitor was loathe to let us depart and we had to promise faithfully to let him know when we would be ready to come to his Far Eastern Republic. He would facilitate our journey and promise us all the liberty we wanted and carloads of material for the museum.
Our first important stop was at Kharkov. It looked prosperous after Petrograd and Moscow. The people, fine physical types of humanity, appeared well fed and carefree in spite of the numerous invasions, changes of government, and the ravages the city had experienced. There was evident a scarcity only of wearing-apparel, particularly of shoes, hats, and hosiery. Men, women, and children were bare-legged, some wearing queer-shaped sandals of wood and straw. The women were especially incongruously attired in dresses of the finest linen and batiste, wearing hand-made lace and multi-colored kerchiefs. The brightly embroidered native costumes predominated, presenting a pleasant sight after the monotony of the Moscow streets. And the people! I had never seen such a collection of beauty in one place. The men dark-haired and bearded, bronze of skin, with dreamy eyes and shining teeth. The women with crowns of hair, lovely complexions, and flashing black eyes. They seemed a race entirely different from their northern brothers.
The markets were the main gathering-places and centers of attraction. The stalls spread for blocks, piled high with fruit, vegetables, butter, and other provisions. One had no longer believed such profusion existed in Russia. Some of the tables were laden with toys in carved and painted wood, mountains of them of curious shape and design. My heart ached for the children of Petrograd and Moscow, with their broken and mis-shaped dolls and the battered wooden monstrosities they called Cossack steeds. For two dollars in Kerensky paper money I carried off an armful of wonderful toys. I knew that the joy they would give to my Petrograd youngsters would transcend any monetary value.
Bringing anything into another city without special permission was considered speculation and treated as a counter-revolutionary offense, often subject to the "supreme penalty," which meant death. Neither Sasha nor I could see the wisdom or justice, let alone the revolutionary necessity, of such a prohibition. We agreed that speculation in foodstuff was indeed criminal. But it was absurd to decry everyone as a speculator who tried to bring in half a sack of potatoes or a pound of bacon for his family use. Far from deserving punishment, we argued, one should be glad that the Russian masses still possessed such indomitable will to live. Therein alone was the hope of Russia, rather than in mute submission to a slow death by starvation.
Long before we had started on our expedition, we had agreed that if it was right to import dusty documents for future historians, it could not be wrong to bring back some provisions for the relief of present want, particularly for the sick and needy among our friends. The abundance of food on the Kharkov markets made us more determined to lay in a supply on our return trip. We only regretted that we could not take with us enough to feed every man, woman, and child in the stricken cities.
Moscow had been hot, but Kharkov was ablaze, with the railroad station miles from the town. It was physically impossible to spend the day collecting material and then return to our car for meals. Comrades in the city helped me to secure a room where I could also prepare meals for our secretary, Alexandra Shakol, Henry Alsberg, Sasha and myself. As a pro- Soviet American correspondent Henry had no difficulty in getting a room, which he invited Sasha to share with him. Shakol preferred to sleep in the car. The Russian couple shifted for themselves, having friends in the city, and our Communist member was taken care of by his party comrades. These arrangements completed, we set out on our labors, each member being assigned to cover certain Soviet institutions. Sasha's task was to visit labor, revolutionary, and cooperative organizations; mine included the departments of education and social welfare.
Our reception at those institutions was anything but cordial. Not that the officials were openly disagreeable, but one could sense the frigidity of their manner. I wondered what could be the reason until Sasha reminded me of the resentment the Ukrainian Communists felt against Moscow for depriving them of self-determination in their local affairs. They saw in our mission a new imposition of the center. Not daring to ignore orders from Moscow, they could yet sabotage our work. We therefore decided to fall back on our old talisman, emphasizing that we were tovarishtchy, from America on a tour of study of the revolutionary achievements of the Ukraine, about which we were to write. The change was instantaneous. No matter how busy the officials happened to be, they would drop their work, become wreathed in smiles, supply us with the information we needed, and send us away with stacks of material. In that manner we succeeded in seeing and learning more of the methods and effects of the dictatorship in the Ukraine than would have been possible in any other manner. We were able to collect more than the Russian members of the expedition, including even the Communist in our party.
The poor boy was really treated abominably by his southern comrades. They refused to give him data or documents. Moscow was on their backs heavily enough, they said, directing their every move. They were not going to let the center rob them of their historical wealth to boot.
The amusing side of the family quarrel was that whenever we came upon some mismanaged institution or ugly state of affairs, the Ukrainians would explain them away by the interference of Moscow. On the other hand, if the Communist in charge was from the center, he would argue that the Ukrainians were sabotaging the work of Moscow because they were anti-Semites and obsessed by the notion that almost the entire northern Communist Party consisted of Jews. Between the two we had little difficulty in learning the facts of the situation and the real cause of the widespread antagonism towards Moscow.
A Russian engineer who had just returned from the Don basin and whom we met in Kharkov threw considerable light on the Ukrainian situation. It was silly to put the entire blame for conditions on Moscow, he said. The Communists in the south in no way differed from the followers of Lenin in the north in their methods of dictatorship. If anything, their despotism was even more irresponsible in the Ukraine than anywhere else in Russia. His experience in the mines had convinced him of their ruthless persecution of those of the intelligentsia who were unwilling to cooperate with them. As to their inefficiency and inhumanity, a visit to the prisons and concentration camps would convince us as it did him. Only in one thing they differed from their comrades in the north: they took no stock in the imminence of the world revolution and they were not interested in it or in the international proletariat. All they wanted was to have their own independent Communist State and to command in the Ukrainian instead of in the Russian language. That was their main reason for dissatisfaction with Moscow, he thought.
I inquired about the feeling of anti-Semitism in the Ukraine. The engineer admitted that it was widespread, though it was not true that all Ukrainian Communists were against the Jews. He knew many Bolsheviki who were free from that racial prejudice. In any event, it was unjust of the northern Communists to charge their Ukrainian brothers with anti-Semitism, for they knew very well how prevalent the feeling was among themselves. There was a great deal of it in the Red Army. Moscow was trying to keep it down by iron force, though it did not entirely succeed in preventing anti-Jewish outbreaks on a small scale. In the Ukraine the Whites had so far been the only ones responsible for pogroms. Whether the Ukrainian Red forces would be willing and able to cope with the evil was yet to be seen.
We decided to visit the local prison and detention camp. The greatest difficulty, however, we met from the woman superintendent at the head of the Workers' and Peasants' Inspection, a sort of super-watch recently instituted over the other watchers of abuses in Soviet institutions. Concentration camps and prisons being under her jurisdiction, we presented our credentials to her. She frowned. The prison conditions in Kharkov were the concern of the local authorities and of no one else, she declared categorically. Disappointed, we left her office, meeting on the way a man who introduced himself as tovarishtch Dibenko, the husband of Alexandra Kollontay. He had heard from her about me, he explained, and he would be glad to be of help. He requested us to wait while he talked matters over with the superintendent. He was evidently in her good graces, because presently she returned with him quite softened. She had not known that we were such well-known American tovarishtchy, she said, and of course we could visit the prison and camp. She would immediately take us there in her auto.
Both penal institutions bore out the statement of our engineering acquaintance as regards Ukrainian Communist management and despotism. The camp, called kantslager, occupied an old building without any provisions for sanitation and not half large enough for its thousand inmates. The dormitories, overcrowded and smelly, were barren except for wide boards that served as beds and had to be shared by two and sometimes three persons. During the day they had to squat on the floor and even eat their meals in that position. For an hour they were taken out in sections to the yard, the rest of the time being kept indoors without anything to occupy their time and minds. Their offenses ranged from sabotage to speculation, and they were all counter-revolutionists, as our stern guide impressed upon us. "Could not some useful occupation be provided for the prisoners?" I inquired. "No time for such bourgeois dilly-dallying with the enemies of the Revolution," she replied; "after the fronts are liquidated, we will send them away where they can do no more harm."
The political prison of czarist times was again in full operation. Those who dared question the right of rulers, divine or self-appointed, were held captive, now as then. The old régime prevailed, with most of the former guards as keepers. During our inspection we halted before two locked doors. The others having been open, we inquired the reason. Our woman escort was evasive at first. We remarked that prison-investigators in America were usually shown only the most obvious things and then wrote knowingly about penology. But we could not be content with such superficiality. Finally the superintendent consented to make an exception in our case. We would understand, she hoped, that behind all measures in Soviet Russia, including the prison régime, was revolutionary necessity. The occupants of locked cells were dangerous criminals, she assured us, one, a woman, was a member of the counter-revolutionary bandit army of Makhno, and the man occupying the adjoining cell had been caught in a counter-revolutionary plot. Both deserved severest treatment and the supreme penalty. Nevertheless she had ordered their cell opened for several hours a day and she had given permission to the other prisoners to talk to them in the presence of a guard.
The Makhnovka, an old peasant woman, was crouching in the corner of her cell like a frightened hare. She blinked stupidly when the door was opened. Suddenly she threw herself headlong before me and shrieked: "Barinya, let me out, I know nothing, I know nothing!" I tried to quiet her and get her to tell me about her case. Maybe I could help her, I urged. But she was frantic, whining piteously that she knew nothing about Makhno. In the corridor I told our guide that it seemed absurd to consider that stupefied old creature dangerous to the Revolution. She was half-crazed with the solitary and the fear of execution, and if kept locked up much longer, she would surely go stark mad. "It is mere sentimentality on your part," the guide upbraided me; "we live in a revolutionary period, with enemies on all sides."
The man in the next cell was sitting on a low stool, his head bent. With a sudden jerk he turned his eyes on the door, a terrorized and hunted look in their anticipation. Just as quickly he pulled himself together, his body stiffened, and his look fastened on our guide with concentrated contempt. Two words, no more audible than a sigh, yet petrifying in their effect, broke the silence. "Scoundrels! Murderers!" A horrible feeling overcame me that he believed us to be officials. I took a step towards him to explain, but he turned his back upon us and was standing erect and forbidding beyond my reach. With heavy heart I followed my companions out of the corridor.
Sasha had said nothing, but I felt that he was affected no less than I. With seeming nonchalance he sauntered along the corridors, his object being to find a young anarchist imprisoned in the place, as we had been confidentially informed. I was kept back by the superintendent, enlarging on my bourgeois sympathies.
I let her talk to give Sasha an opportunity for his quest. My thoughts were with the two prisoners I had just left. I knew what doom was awaiting them. The man especially had shown pride and independence. Where was mine, I pondered, that I still kept holding on to the shell whose kernel I knew to be worm-eaten through and through.
When alone with Sasha, I learned what our imprisoned comrade had communicated to him. The head of the Workers' and Peasants' Inspection was a former Chekist and she attempted to run the prison in the usual Cheka manner. She had introduced most severe restrictions, including solitary confinement for the politicals. The inmates sought to effect a change without resorting to drastic methods. But when the half-witted peasant woman and the man doomed to die were isolated from the rest and kept under lock, the entire prison protested. A hunger-strike followed. Though it failed of the desired results, it succeeded in opening the cells part of the day for their two fellow inmates. Another hunger-strike was being planned in the near future to compel a change in the despotic régime.
I understood the terrorized expression on the face of the man and the hate in his cry: "Scoundrels! Murderers!" He being kept in isolation previous to execution, all the time in uncertainty as to when the fatal shot would silence his palpitating heart. Could any "revolutionary necessity" explain such refined cruelty? If only I had come to Russia in the October days, I thought, I might have found the answer or a fitting end to my past. Now I felt caught in a coil that was growing more strangling every day.
The people who least understood my travail were my own comrades in Kharkov. Most of them were from America and had been affiliated with my work there, among them Joseph and Leah Goodman, Aaron and Fanya Baron, Fleshin, and others. Fleshin had been working with us in the Mother Earth office and knew me more intimately. The Kharkov comrades, with the heroic personality of Olga Taratuta at their head, had all served the Revolution, fought on its fronts, endured punishment from the Whites, persecution and imprisonment by the Bolsheviki. Nothing had daunted their revolutionary ardor and anarchist faith. They had no painful hesitations, no torturing doubts, no unanswerable questions. They were shocked to find me so undecided. I had always been sure of myself, they said, unswerving in every issue. Yet in Russia, where I was so badly needed I seemed to have lost my grip. And Sasha, always so clear and determined --- why did he at least not join them in organizing and propaganda work instead of wasting his energies on collecting dead parchments?
Our coming to Russia had been a great impetus to them, they told us. They had been sure that we would continue on Soviet soil the work we had so energetically carried on in the United States. They knew, of course, that we would not give up our faith in the Bolsheviki until we became convinced that they had gone back on their revolutionary slogans. For that purpose Joseph and Aaron Baron had been sent to us by their organization, the Nabat, risking their very lives in the attempt to reach us in Petrograd. Had not their story of the Bolshevik emasculation of the Revolution sufficed to convince us? Their persecution of the anarchists, their perfidy and double-dealing in regard to Nestor Makhno? Had not their proofs demonstrated to us that the dictatorship had betrayed the very spirit of the Revolution? Surely we had heard and seen enough to make up our minds as to where we stood in regard to the Communist State.
Aaron Baron and Joseph had indeed visited us in Petrograd. They had come secretly, both having been outlawed by the Bolsheviki. For two weeks they had held our tense interest by their vivid description of conditions and the causes that had gradually turned the Communists into traitors to the Revolution. But those who knew us could not expect us to give up our belief in the revolutionary integrity of men like Lenin, Trotsky and their coworkers because of their mistaken policy towards Makhno or even towards our own comrades. Our Kharkov people were willing to concede that they had been too hasty in their expectations. But now, they argued, after eight months in Soviet Russia, with all the opportunities we had enjoyed of learning conditions at first hand, why did we still hesitate? Our movement needed us. The field was large and promising. We could easily organize the anarchists of the Ukraine into a strong, federated body that would reach the workers and the peasantry by its propaganda. The latter in particular, through the aid of Nestor Makhno. He knew the peasants and they trusted him. He had repeatedly urged the anarchists throughout the country to take advantage of the propaganda possibilities the south offered. He would put everything necessary at our disposal, including funds, a printing-press, paper, and couriers, our comrades urged, pleading for our speedy decision.
If I should make up my mind to become active in Russia, I explained to them, the support of Makhno would lure me no more than Lenin's offer of aid through the Third International. I was not denying Makhno's services to the Revolution in the struggle against the White forces, nor the fact that his povstantsy army was a spontaneous mass movement of the toilers. I did not think, however, that anarchism had anything to gain from military activity or that our propaganda should depend on military or political spoils. But that was beside the point. I was not in a position to join their work, nor was it a question of the Bolsheviki any more. I was ready to admit frankly that I had erred grievously when I had defended Lenin and his party as the true champions of the Revolution. But I would not engage in active opposition to them so long as Russia was still being attacked by outside enemies. I was no longer deceived by their mask, but my real problem lay much deeper. It was the Revolution itself. Its manifestations were so completely at variance with what I had conceived and propagated as revolution that I did not know any more which was right. My old values had been shipwrecked and I myself thrown overboard to sink or swim. All I could do was to try to keep my head above water and trust to time to bring me to safe shores.
Fleshin and Mark Mratchny, the most intelligent comrades I had met in Kharkov, grasped my difficulties and supported my stand in refusing to lead others where I myself had lost my way. The rest of the group Nabat was dissatisfied and indignant. They refused to recognize the Emma Goldman of their American conception in her present pale image. They turned to Sasha with greater expectations. They knew that he would never doubt the Revolution, no matter what demands it made on him. He had always been a better conspirator than I and he would see the great value of working with Makhno or at least of accepting his cooperation. Joseph and Leah, most genuine and lovable people, were particularly set on winning Sasha for their plans. They were presently joined by Fanya Baron, who had just arrived from Makhno's camp with an invitation to us. Would we come? She would safely guide us to him. "Will you come?" Sasha asked. If he insisted on going, I should be with him, I replied; under no circumstances would I let him face such danger alone. But what about the expedition? We had given our word to remain with it to the end and he had undertaken most of the responsibilities of the venture. Could we go back on that? In the first Rush of the chance to get to Makhno and his povstantsy army Sasha had given little thought to the museum and our expedition. However, "a pledge is a pledge," he declared, "We must stick; perhaps we shall find another opportunity to meet the peasant leader."
Our stay in Kharkov came to a sudden end. Our secretary learned that our material was in danger of being held up by the Party Executive and not permitted to leave the Ukraine. We needed no further hint. The same night we managed to get our car hitched to a train going to Poltava, and off we lurched.
We speed-spoiled Americans could scoff and make fun of such slow travel, but to the congested humanity at every railroad station in Russia, waiting for days and even weeks to get on a train, the creeping pace was of great advantage. An appalling sight they were --- these rag-covered bundle-loaded, exhausted people, shouting, cursing, and falling over each other in the mad skirmish to swing on. Pushed off, often by the butt of a soldier's gun, not once but many times, doggedly they would try again and again until they succeeded in clinging to the railing or steps. It was an Inferno awaiting the master hand of a Russian Dante.
An entire car occupied by only eight persons, including our porter, with hundreds clamoring for a place on the platform or roof or even on the bumpers was not an unalloyed comfort. Yet we could do nothing to aid. Aside from the imminent danger of typhus infection, the people being vermin-eaten, we could allow no one into our car on account of the valuable material we carried. Thievery, in places high and low, was no new phenomenon in Russia. Years of disintegration and want had increased its scope and perfected its dexterity. We could not hope to safeguard our collection or anything else in the car against such artistry. We could take none of the woeful mob into our car, that was certain. However, we might permit some women or children to ride on the platforms, I suggested. The Jews of our company favored the plan, the Gentiles were against it. The Russian couple had proved very disagreeable from the start. It seemed their special mission to inject a jarring note. Shakol was Slavic with a vengeance, now bursting with sympathy and compassion for her fellow-men, now talking like a lady of a feudal manor. She could not bear to feel the filthy creatures so near, she said, and she was mortally afraid of catching typhus or some equally dangerous disease. She couid not risk another infection. Poor child, she had had a narrow escape and I could not blame her. I promised to scrub and disinfect the platforms every morning, but even that did not prove as persuasive as Sasha's suavity. It was the art of my old chum to lead people gently to where he wanted them and make them think they had been dying to get there all along. With Shakol on our side, we were able to carry our point.
Everything in life is relative, looming in value according to one's necessity. The platforms of our car were coveted more than palaces. They offered to a few creatures a night's security against wind and hot soot and preserved them from falling off the roof of the car, a thing that was a common occurrence on the road. Life was cheap and people too preoccupied with their own little share of it to get excited over such matters. No one knew whether he might not come next and no one cared. Once squeezed past the soldiers to the tiniest spot on the train, they looked neither behind nor ahead. The present moment alone was theirs and they snatched at it greedily. Quickly they forgot their tears, their cursing and shrieking. They felt sociable again and capable of fun and frolic. Once more they could give vent to their rich imagery and song. What a people! What kaleidoscopic changes of spirit!
Our credentials from the center found greater favor in Poltava than in Kharkov. The secretary of the Revkom (revolutionary committee acting as the local government) received us pleasantly and gave us carte blanche to every Soviet department. With such aid our expedition had no difficulty in gathering a goodly crop of material. It included a large amount of counter-revolutionary documents left behind by the various bands and the armies that had invaded Poltava, finally to be routed by the Red forces. Records, decrees, manifestos, military emblems, and an assortment of curious weapons were unearthed by our secretary and Sasha and carried in triumph to our car.
Together with Henry Alsberg I made a tour of inspection. Henry wanted to interview the main local Soviet officials, as well as persons outside of the Communist Party. He invited me to act as his interpreter and I gladly accepted.
Curiously enough, Poltava showed but few physical traces of the numerous invaders. Hardly any damage had been done to buildings and parks. Her stately trees were in their appointed places, looking contemptuously down from their great height upon the puny thing called man. Flowers were profuse, vegetable patches at their side, with no armed guards or even a fence to protect them from despoilers. After the distressing scenes of our journey from Kharkov the sight of nature's bounty and a walk along the shady alleys were heaven indeed.
The Soviet institutions presented little interest. They were running true to type, managed in conformity with the established one-track idea and according to the Moscow formula. The official interviews added no new note. It gave us time to look for the tabooed part of the population. Inadvertently we came upon two of that class and by their aid met a larger group held together by their common fate, though widely separated in ideas. Our discovery was two women, one of them the daughter of Vladimir Korolenko, the last of the old school of Russian writers. The other was the head of the "Save the Children" organization, founded in 1914 and continued through all the vicissitudes of the intervening years. They invited us to their home, where we came in contact with others of their circle. They were of the old radical intelligentsia that had always been dedicated to the enlightenment and succor of the Russian masses. They were not able to reconcile themselves to the dictatorship, they frankly admitted; nor were they actively engaged against it. In fact, they were cooperating economically with the Bolsheviki and working in the social welfare departments. Nevertheless they were being persecuted as sabotazhniky and the "Save the Children" society had been repeatedly raided by the local authorities as a counter-revolutionary body. This in spite of Lunacharsky's express permission to continue their work.
Henry remarked to our hosts that, no matter what might be said against the Bolsheviki, they could not be charged with neglecting the children. They were doing more in that direction than any other country. Why, then, the need of private welfare associations? Our hostesses smiled sadly. They had no intention whatever, they said, to deprecate the sincerity of the Bolsheviki in relation to the child. They had done much for it and would no doubt do still more. That referred, however, only to a privileged class of children. The destitute ones had alarmingly increased in numbers, and thousands were constantly added. Prostitution, venereal diseases, and every form of crime were rampant among the children of even tender age, and pregnancies frequent among girls of ten and eight. The more thoughtful Communists were aware that the scourge could not be cured by political decrees or the Cheka. It had to be dealt with from other angles and by different means. They welcomed the cooperation of the "Save the Children" society. Lunacharsky, for instance, was most generous in aiding it. The trouble was with the local authorities. They cared nothing about Lunacharsky and his enlightened view-point. They saw a traitor, actual or potential, in every intelligent nonpartizan and treated him accordingly.
The magnificent spirit I had so often found in the hated and harassed elements was also manifested by Miss Korolenko and her colleagues. They asked nothing for themselves, but they begged me to intercede with Lunacharsky in behalf of their work and the children in their charge. The handicraft of the young folks of the society consisted of toys made from waste paper, rags, straw, and even from discarded shoes. It presented a unique collection of animals, dolls, and fanciful beings, specimens of which the women pressed upon us "for the children in America." I assured my hostesses that they would be much more appreciated by my toy-starved young friends in Petrograd.
Vladimir Korolenko was convalescing after a severe illness and not accessible to visitors. His daughter promised, however, to see her father about us and invited us to come to the home of her parents the next day.
In the evening I called on Mme X, chairman of the Political Red Cross. In the past the organization had been aiding the political victims of the Romanovs. I was interested to learn what they were being permitted to do by the new régime. Mme X was a beautiful woman with snowy white hair and large, tender blue eyes. She was the best type of the old Russian idealist, rarely met with nowadays. Warmth, kindliness, and utmost hospitality had been their characteristics, and my hostess had lost none of these qualities, although she had lived through every phase of misery since 1914. It was a hot evening and we sat out on the little balcony, with the puffing samovar between us. The bright moon and the glowing coal in the large tea-urn lent romance to the scene. But our conversation was of Russian reality, of the unfortunates who had filled the Czar's dungeons and places of exile. The activities of her group were more limited now, the old lady informed me. They were becoming more circumscribed all the time and harassed by many difficulties for reasons that had not existed in the past. The dictatorship and the persecution of everyone even remotely suspected of disagreement with the régime robbed the political of their former ethical status and the high regard they had enjoyed in all but the most reactionary circles. Now they were denounced as bandits, counter-revolutionists, and enemies of the people. The public at large, deprived of any means of verifying the terrible accusations, believed the Bolshevik charges. The new régime had thus gone further than the old in branding the flower of Russia with the mark of Cain and alienating from them popular esteem. "I consider it the blackest crime of the Bolsheviki, the most reprehensible even from their own view-point of so-called revolutionary necessity," Mme X said bitterly. The Red Cross was now compelled to operate on two fronts, she continued; to aid the politicals materially and save them from death by starvation, and to dispel the cruel lies spread against them. It was a most difficult task, for it was well-nigh impossible to reach the public mind, because the least attempt to enlighten the people on the subject was considered counter-revolutionary and would result in the entire suppression of the organization and the arrest of everyone connected with it. Another obstacle lay in the general disorganization of the railroads and other means of communication, which made it very hard to visit the imprisoned politicals or to keep in touch with them. The most vital thing, even more important than food, was denied the idealists of Bolshevik Russia --- encouragement and the inspiration of their comrades at large. That was the hardest for them to bear, my hostess concluded.
I related to her my great shock on first learning of the Jesuitical methods resorted to by the Bolsheviki to slay their opponents, and my long struggle against crediting such things. I told her of my interview with Lenin and his contention that only bandits and counter-revolutionists were in prison. It seemed unbelievable that a man of his mental stature should stoop to such despicable falsehoods to justify his methods. Mme X shook her head. It was apparent, she said, that I was not conversant with Lenin's habitual ways. In his early writings I would find that he had for years advocated and defended such methods of attack against his political opponents, methods to "cause them to be loathed and hated as the vilest of creatures " He had used such tactics when his victims could defend themselves; why should he now not add insult to injury when he had the whole of Russia as his forum? "Yes, and the rest of the radical world," I added, "for in Lenin it sees the revolutionary Messiah. I had believed him that myself, as did also my comrade Alexander Berkman. We had been among the earliest crusaders in America in his behalf. Even now we find it bitter hard to free ourselves from the Bolshevik myth and its principal spook."
It was growing late and I was anxious to hear from the old lady about Korolenko. I knew that like Tolstoy he had for decades been a great moral force in Russia. I wondered what influence he had been able to exert since 1917. I had been informed that Mme X was Korolenko's sister-in-law and very close to the great writer. I begged her to tell me about him.
The prophet of Yasnaya Polyana, she said, had fortunately been spared the spectacle of the old autocracy surviving the Revolution in a new dress. He was saved the agony of writing letters of protest to the new Czar. Not so her brother-in-law. Though almost seventy and in poor health, Vladimir Korolenko had to spend most of his time in the Cheka pleading for some innocent life or penning entreating letters to Lenin, Lunacharsky, and Maxim Gorki to put a stop to the wholesale executions. Maxim Gorki, she continued, had proved a great disappointment. No, Maxim found the company of Lenin a safer haven, and the Kremlin a pleasanter abode, than exile in a desolate village. Maxim Gorki had not even the courage, she added, to live up to the honored tradition among Russian authors of encouraging and helping members of the profession and standing by them in distress.
My own experience with Maxim Gorki came to my mind. I recalled his lame apology for Bolshevik autocracy. Still I was not willing to impute ulterior motives to the man I had once so admired. After all, Gorki had done some good, I pleaded in his behalf. He had helped to organize the Dom Utchonikh for the benefit of old scientists and authors, and he had also protested against the system of taking hostages and had raised his voice against the Government monopoly of everything published in Russia. Mme X readily admitted where credit was due to Gorki. But she thought it insignificant for a man of Gorki's former wide and sympathizing humanity. What little good he had done was merely to salve his conscience; it was not prompted by a sense of justice and decency. Still I stressed the point that Maxim Gorki might really believe in the righteousness of Lenin's policies. He was a poet, not a politician; it was probably the glamour about Lenin's name that made him worship. I preferred to think so rather than to believe Gorki capable of selling his birthright for a mess of pottage.
I expressed my surprise that Korolenko was still permitted to be at large, in view of his repeated offenses of lèse-majesté. Mme X did not consider it strange. Lenin was a very clever man, she explained. He knew his trump cards: Peter Kropotkin, Vera Figner, Vladimir Korolenko were names to reckon with. Lenin realized that if he could point to them as remaining at liberty, he could effectively disprove the charge that only the gun and the gag were applied under his dictatorship. The world actually swallowed that bait. It remained silent while the Calvary of the real idealists was going on. "The czarist prisons are reaping a rich harvest, and shooting is being kept up as a matter of course," Mme X concluded.
I felt too stifled to return to the narrow quarters of my compartment. It was past two in the morning, the break of day already near. I suggested to the friend who accompanied me that we take a walk. The air outside was balmy, the streets deserted. Poltava was soothing in her sleeping peace. Silently we walked on, each absorbed in the impressions of the evening. I was trying to see beyond the immediate and reaching upward to a point that might hold out the hope of a renaissance in the life of Russia. Approaching steps, their thud falling regularly on the granite walk, startled me. A detachment of soldiers marched by, rifles slung over their shoulders, a group of huddled people in their midst. "And shooting is being kept up as a matter of course," flitted through my mind.
In the morning, still in the throes of the preceding evening, I went, together with Henry Alsberg, to the Korolenko home. It was a little green gem, entirely hidden from view by trees and vines --- an enchanting place, with its old native furniture, ornate copper, brass, and colorful Ukrainian peasant handiwork.
Vladimir Korolenko, white of hair and beard, in girdled peasant tunic, suggested amid the surroundings of his home a world removed by centuries. But the illusion was quickly dispelled the moment he began to speak. He was intensely alive and deeply interested in everything we could tell him of America, of which he seemed very fond. He knew a great many persons there, he said; they had always responded generously to every appeal of the Russian people and he admired the country for its broad democracy. We assured him that he would find very little of it left now except in some small circles that were too timid and politically confused to exert any influence. We were much more interested, however, to hear Korolenko on Russia and we gently led the conversation into that channel. The subject was apparently an open wound with the old writer and I soon regretted having dug into it. He relieved my sense of guilt somewhat by remarking that he would give me copies of two letters he had written to Lunacharsky, treating the very problems on which we had come to interview him. They were the first of a series of six that Lunacharsky had asked him to write and which would contain the frank expression of his attitude towards the dictatorship. "The letters may never see the light of day," he commented, "but your museum shall have all of them when they have been written." Alsberg inquired whether Korolenko could be quoted in America, and our host replied that he had no objections, because the time for silence had long passed. He was aware of the danger still facing Russia, he said, but "great as it may be, it is not anything nearly so grave as the inner menace threatening the Revolution." It was the Bolshevik claim that every form of terror, including wholesale execution and the taking of hostages, is justifiable as a revolutionary necessity. To Korolenko it was the worst travesty on the basic idea of revolution and on all ethical values.
"It has always been my conception," he added, "that revolution means the highest expression of humanity and justice. The dictatorship has denuded it of both. At home the Communist State daily divests the Revolution of its essence, substituting for it deeds that far exceed in arbitrariness and barbarity those of the Czar. His gendarmes, for instance, had the authority to arrest me. The Communist Cheka has the power to shoot me, as well. At the same time the Bolsheviki have the temerity to proclaim the world revolution. In reality their experiment upon Russia must retard social changes abroad for a long period. What better excuse needs the European bourgeoisie for its reactionary methods than the ferocious dictatorship in Russia?"
Mme Korolenko had cautioned us that her husband was yet far from recovered and should avoid much strain. But once the old man had started on Russia, it was difficult for him to stop. He seemed considerably spent and we dared not prolong our stay. I could not leave, however, without telling him that he had given new impetus to my revolutionary faith. His own fine view of the meaning and purpose of the Revolution had strengthened mine, which eight months in Soviet Russia had almost destroyed. I could never be sufficiently grateful to him for it.
I should have loved to remain awhile longer in beautiful Poltava and to spend some more time with the wonderful spirits I met there. But our expedition had finished its labors and we had to proceed. Our next destination was to be Kiev, but the contrariness of Russian engines compelled us to stop at Fastov.
We did not regret the delay. We had heard and read of ghastly anti-Jewish pogroms, but we had never before come face to face with their ravages. On our way to the town we met neither human being nor beast until we reached the market square. A dozen stands displayed a miserable assortment of cabbages, potatoes, herring, and cereals. Their owners were mostly women. Instead of showing some animation at the sudden avalanche of so many customers, they hurriedly pulled their handkerchiefs over their foreheads and shrank back in fright. But their eyes remained riveted in terror on the men with us, consisting of Sasha, Henry, and our young Communist collaborator. We were completely nonplused. Being the best-versed in Yiddish, I addressed an old Jewess near by. Except for our woman companion, I told her, we were the children of Yehudim, and we had come from America. Would she not tell me why the women acted so strangely? She pointed to the men. "Send them away," she begged. The men withdrew. I remained with our secretary, Shakol, and the women approached nearer. Soon the whole group surrounded us, each competing with the rest in their eagerness to tell us the story of their tsores (troubles).
The news of the arrival of Americans spread quickly, and presently the whole village was on its feet. Men came running from the synagogue, women and children hurried towards us to behold the strangers from afar. We must come to the house of prayer, a man declared, to hear the story of the Fastov goles (servitude). The march began, and on the way we were met by the rabbi, the khasin (singer) and the magid (preacher) as honored guests. Everybody was fearfully excited, gesticulating and talking, most of the women laughing and crying, as if Messiah had indeed come at last.
Our three male companions joined us in the synagogue. The whole assembly tried to tell us the tragic story of their town, all at once. We suggested that they choose a committee of three, each in his turn to relate to us what had happened. In that way we were able to get a coherent account of one of the worst pogroms that had taken place in the Ukraine. Fastov had repeatedly been the scene of Jewish massacres, perpetrated by the hordes of every White general who had invaded the district. They had suffered from Denikin, from Petlura and the other enemy forces. But the pogrom organized in 1919 by Denikin had been the most fiendish one. It had lasted a whole week and had taken the lives of four thousand persons outright and of several thousand more that had perished while escaping to Kiev. But death had not been the worst infliction, the rabbi said in a broken voice. Far more harrowing had been the violation of the women, regardless of age, the young among them repeatedly and in the presence of their male kin, whom the soldiers held pinioned. Old Jews were trapped in the synagogue, tortured, and killed, while their sons were driven to the market square to meet similar fates.
The old rabbi being too shaken to continue, the narrative was taken up by another of the committee. Fastov had been, he said, one of the most prosperous cities in the south. When the Denikin hordes tired of their blood orgy, they pilfered every home, demolished the things they could not carry away, and set the houses on fire. The larger part of the town was destroyed. The survivors, a mere handful, most of them old women and small children, were now doomed to slow extinction unless help quickly came from somewhere. God had heard their prayers and had sent us at the moment when they had almost despaired of the Jewish world's learning of their great calamity. "Borukh Adonai!" he cried solemnly, "blessed be Thy name." And everyone repeated after him: "Borukh Adonai!"
Their religious fervor was all these people had rescued from their hideous experiences, and, in spite of all certainty that there was no Jehovah to hear them, I was strangely stirred by the tragic scene in the poverty-stricken synagogue in outraged and devastated Fastov. The Jews of America were more likely to answer their prayers, and, alas, neither Sasha nor I had access to them. All we could do was to write about the dreadful pogroms. Excepting the anarchist press, however, we had no assurance that any paper would publish our account. It would have been too cruel to tell these people that in America we were considered Ahasverus. We could make known their great tragedy only to the radical labor world and to our own comrades. But there was Henry. He could do a great deal for these unfortunates, and I was sure he would. Our fellow traveler had been with us six weeks and he had witnessed some heart-rending scenes. Yet I had never seen him so affected as in Fastov. Not that he did not feel deeply in a universal sense. Henry was a bundle of emotions, though his male pride would have stoutly denied such an imputation from a mere woman. Nevertheless it was true that his kind heart ached more when Jews were being persecuted, which in view of the fearful Denikin atrocities was not at all surprising. The people gathered in the synagogue no doubt sensed that in him Heaven had sent them the right messenger. They threw themselves upon him with avidity and would not let him go.
We were besieged by the inhabitants with letters and messages for their kin in America. Truly pathetic were the women who brought their little scribbles to us to be forwarded to a son, a daughter, a brother, or an uncle. They were somewhere "in Amerike." We asked the addresses or at least the names of the places where their relatives lived. They had none. Some thought just the name of their loved ones would be enough. They wept bitterly when informed that "Amerike" was somewhat larger than Fastov. We should take their letters anyhow, they implored; maybe they would be delivered somehow. We had not the courage to refuse. We could send them through our people to the Yiddish press in the States, Sasha suggested. No more solemn blessings were ever bestowed on anyone than were showered upon us at our departure.
In the whole gruesome picture of Fastov two redeeming features stood out. The Gentiles of the town had had no share in the massacres. And no pogroms had taken place since the Bolshevik forces had entered the district. Our informants admitted that the Red soldiers were not free from anti-Semitism, but the establishment of Soviet authority in Fastov had lifted the dread of new massacres, and the villagers had been praying for Lenin ever since. "Why only for Lenin?" we asked; "why not also for Trotsky and Zinoviev?" "Well, you see, Trotsky and Zinoviev are Yehudim," an old Jew explained with Talmudic intonation; "do they deserve praise for helping their own? But Lenin is a goi (Gentile). So you can understand why we bless him." We too felt grateful that the goi had at least one saving grace in his régime.
One Gentile was pointed out to us as a physician who had done heroic rescue work during the Denikin pogrom. Repeatedly he had braved grave danger to save Jewish lives. The community fairly worshiped him and gave us numerous instances of his noble valor. We invited the doctor to our car to share with us our evening meal. He had kept a diary of the pogroms in Fastov and he held our attention tense while reading from it till the dawn of morning.
The nightmare of travel we had experienced between Kharkov and Fastov was again repeated during the six days that it required to reach Kiev. It left us bruised and battered and made us realize anew the incredible persistency of the Slav in overcoming the greatest hardships.
The masses of desperate human beings fighting at every station to get on the train were increased by the village poor, the destitute and ragged children presenting the most awful sight. Of various ages and covered with filthy tatters, they besieged us with hungry eyes and pleading voices for a piece of bread. These innocent victims of war, strife, and inhumanity were to me always the most heart-breaking sight in the fearful panorama of our journey.
The crowds at the stations, Sasha and Henry reported, were as nothing compared with the swarms at the village markets. There they were thick as ants and as determined in their attacks. They were the torment of hucksters and of the militiamen ordered to drive them off the streets. No sooner were the markets cleared of them than they would flock back, apparently in even larger numbers. "Drive them away --- what solution is that?" I remarked to Henry. "With the blockade starving Russia, there seems no other way," he replied. I wished I could still believe that it was only the blockade and not general inefficiency and the bureaucratic Frankenstein monster which were mainly responsible for the situation. No governmental machinery can cope with great social issues, I said to Henry. Even the United States, with its vast resources and powerful organization, had to enlist the cooperation of the social forces in the war. Trained and efficient men and women outside the Government limits won the World War for Woodrow Wilson rather than his generals. The dictatorship would have none of the social elements to help, and their energy and abilities were compelled to lie fallow. Thousands of Russia's public-spirited men and women were eager to render service to their country, but were refused participation because they could not swallow the twenty-one points of the Third International. How, then, could one hope that the Communist State would ever succeed in solving difficult social problems?
Henry insisted that my impatience with the Bolshevik régime was due to my belief that a revolution à la Bakunin would have brought more constructive results, if not immediate anarchism. Yet as a matter of fact the Russian Revolution had been à la Bakunin, but it had since been transformed à la Karl Marx. That seemed to be the real trouble. I had not been naïve enough to expect anarchism to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of the old. But I did hope that the masses, who had made the Revolution, would also have the chance to direct its course. Henry did not believe that the Russian people would have been capable of accomplishing constructive work even if the dictatorship had not monopolized all power. He was certain, however, that the Bolsheviki would do better, once the blockade had been lifted and the military fronts liquidated. How I wished I could share his hope! But I could not see the slightest sign of the reins being loosened. On the contrary, there was an unmistakable tightening up until all the life was pressed out of the original Revolution.
We never got much further in our discussions. Still it was a great relief to talk these matters over with Henry. One could never discuss them with the Russians in our party, least of all with our secretary, Shakol. She was as aware of conditions as I, but she could not bear the least derogatory remark regarding Russia or the régime. I loved her, though her Slav tendency to mope was very trying at times.
Our need for a thorough scrub and a real night's rest was compelling. Not less so was our eager anticipation of the rich material, particularly counter-revolutionary data, to be found in Kiev. The city on the Dnieper had been the pivot of all the battles in the Ukraine between the Red and the White forces. Only recently the Poles had invaded Kiev.
While still in Petrograd, Sasha and I had shared the indignation of the Soviet press over the vandalism of the Polish occupation. They had demolished all the art treasures of the city, Lunacharsky and Chicherin declared. The ancient cathedrals, the Sophia and the Vladimir, famous for their architectural beauty, had been wrecked. We feared that on our arrival we should find the greater part of the old Russ capital in ruins. But we had failed to take into account the Soviet methods of propaganda, of turning a mole-hill into a mountain. The Poles may have indeed intended much damage to Kiev, but they had evidently not succeeded in accomplishing their purpose. Several small bridges and some railroad tracks were all that had been destroyed. No other ruins were awaiting our arrival. On the other hand, we were assured that the enemy had left behind a wealth of material, but to get possession of it proved a most difficult task. The native Communists fairly oozed antagonism to Moscow, disdainfully ignoring our credentials from "the center." They evidently had no love for any of their northern comrades, with the exception of Lenin, who seemed everybody's patron saint. They bristled at the very mention of Zinoviev, and apparently they thought us his personal emissaries come to spy on them. "Who is Zinoviev, indeed?" they cried bitterly; "who is he to order us to hand over our valuable historical material?" Safe in the luxurious Kremlin and Smolny, they said, it was easy for Zinoviev to issue commands. But they, the people of the Ukraine, and particularly of Kiev, were living in constant danger. Their Ispolkom (Executive Committee) was in hourly dread of a new invasion. Could they bother about Zinoviev's orders? They had more important things to look after. The life of the city had to be organized and they could waste no time on our mission.
Dispirited, our secretary returned from her interview with Tovarishtch Vetoshkin, chairman of the all-powerful Ispolkom. She was almost in tears. The official was adamant and absolutely refused to aid our efforts. It were better to continue our journey without further loss of time. In spite of her pessimism we decided to try our American sesame. It had worked in seemingly hopeless situations before. Why not in Kiev? We had a real, honest-to-goodness native American son with us, and a full-fledged correspondent at that. The authorities would not be able to withstand his importance, we said. Henry grinned assent. With a mischievous twinkle in his fine eyes he declared that as his interpreter I had already induced people to say more than he had intended to ask them and that I had succeeded in making them think they would be serving posterity by helping the Museum of the Revolution. Between the two of us he was sure we should succeed in inducing the Ukrainians to cooperate with our mission.
Henry's press card worked like a charm. Not only did Vetoshkin come out in person to greet us, but we were invited into his sanctum and treated to a lengthy and interesting account of Petlura, Denikin, and other adventurers who had been driven out of the Ukraine by Red forces. When we emerged from Vetoshkin's office, we were equipped with an order to the housing-department for two rooms and with instructions to his secretary to give us all the assistance possible. I also received from Vetoshkin an order on the Party Commissary for rations, which I accepted for the Russian members of our group, but declined for Sasha and myself. The markets were well stocked with provisions, and trading was not interfered with, and we preferred to pay our way, I informed the chairman.
The return of the Bolsheviki to the city was but recent and we soon realized that the Soviet departments had almost no material that could serve our purpose. There was too much confusion in the new Government to keep any records. No one knew what anybody else was doing, and orders were given and countermanded with no rhyme or reason.
The Whites had also left very little valuable material. Fourteen different times Kiev had changed hands, and only in one thing the various governments had agreed and cooperated--in pogroms against the Jews.
In the Jewish hospital, now known as the Soviet Clinic, we came upon the victims of the Denikin outrages in Fastov. Though considerable time had elapsed since the last pogrom in that city, many of the women and girls were still very ill, some of them crippled for life as a result of their injuries. The most fearful cases were those of children suffering from the shock of having been forced to witness the torture and violent death of their parents. From Dr. Mandelstamm, the surgeon of the institution, we learned of his gruesome experiences during the pogroms, whose battle-field had been the hospital. He also spoke of the Denikin fury as the worst of all the attacks. Not a patient would have been left alive, he related, nor the building intact, but for the heroic resistance of his staff, most of whom were Gentiles. Bravely they had remained at their posts, rescuing many of their charges. "Fortunately the Bolsheviki came back, bringing with them security from further atrocities," he said.
One of the startling finds I made in Kiev consisted of copies of Mother Earth. They were given to me by a man we had called to see in reference to data on pogroms. He had shown little interest in our mission, but the next day he came to our car with a bundle of the magazine I had published in the States. Why had I not explained who Berkman and I were, he chided me; he would not have given us such an indifferent reception. He had received the copies only the previous evening from a friend whom he had told about the visit of "the Americans." Only then he learned whom the Jewish colony of his city had in their midst. How did the magazine get to Kiev, I wondered; I was sure it had never been sent to Russia. Our caller explained that his friend Zaslavsky had received some copies from his brother in America. "Zaslavsky?" I inquired; "not our old comrade of Brooklyn, New York?" "The very same," the man replied. Now that he knew of our identity, he declared, we must come to his house for tea, and he would also invite the local Jewish intelligentsia to meet us. They would never forgive him when they learned that we had been in Kiev and they were not apprized of our presence. Before leaving, the man informed me that he was Latzke, former Minister for Jewish Affairs in the Rada (Ukrainian National Assembly).
In the Russian cataclysm my former life in America had receded into pale memory, becoming a dream bereft of living fire and I myself a mere shadow without firm hold, all my values turned to vapor. The sudden appearance of the Mother Earth copies revived the poignancy of my aimless and useless existence. Yearning, sickening yearning, possessed me, chilling the very marrow of my being. I was pulled back to reality by the arrival of Sonya Avrutskaya, a very sympathetic local comrade. With her was a stranger, a young woman in peasant costume, who was introduced to me as Gallina, the wife of Nestor Makhno. I forgot my distress at the peril that threatened her, Sonya, and all of us. I knew that the Bolsheviki had set a price on Makhno's head, dead or alive. They had already killed his brother and several members of his wife's family in vengeance for their failure to capture Makhno. Anyone even distantly suspected of having any relationship with him was in imminent jeopardy of his life. Discovery would mean certain death for Gallina. How could she risk coming to our place, well known to the authorities as it was and open to every caller, including Bolsheviki? She had faced danger too often to care, Gallina replied. The purpose of her visit was too important to be entrusted to anyone else. She was bringing a message from Nestor to Sasha and me, asking us to consent to a coup he was planning. He was not far from Kiev, with a detachment of his forces. His plan was to hold up our train on its journey south, to take us prisoners, as it were. The rest of our expedition could proceed on its way. He wanted to explain to us his position and aims and he would give us safe conduct back to Soviet territory. Such a manæuvre would clear us of suspicion of deliberate dealing with him. It was a desperate scheme, he was aware, but so was also his situation. Bolshevik lies and denunciations had blackened him and the revolutionary integrity of his povstantsy army and misrepresented his motives as an anarchist and internationalist. We were his only opportunity to give his side of the situation to the proletarian world outside Russia, to explain that he was neither bandit nor pogromshtchik, that he had in fact punished with his own hands individual povstantsy guilty of offenses against the Jews. He was with the Revolution to the last breath and he hoped and urged that we would render him this vital and solidaric service, to let him talk to us and present his aims. Would we consent to his plan?
It was an ingenious scheme, recklessly daring, its adventurous quality enhanced by the beauty and youth of Makhno's messenger. Presently Sasha and Henry arrived and we were all held spellbound by the passionate pleading of Gallina. Sasha's conspiratory imagination caught fire and he was almost ready to consent. I also felt strongly tempted to accept. But there were others to consider, our companions of the expedition. We could not lead them blindly into something that was undoubtedly fraught with grave consequences. There was also something else that acted as a restraining influence. I had not yet been able to cut the last threads that bound me to the Bolsheviki as a revolutionary body. I felt I could not be guilty of deliberate deception towards those whom I was still trying to exonerate emotionally, though intellectually I could not longer accept them.
In the entire city there was no hiding-place for Makhno's wife. My room offered scant security, but it was her only cover for the night. Tense and moving were the hours spent with Gallina. We sat in darkness, except for the pale moonlight that lit up now and then her lovely face. She seemed completely oblivious of the danger of her presence in my quarters. She was vital, and hungry for information about the life and work of her sisters abroad, particularly in America. What were the women doing there, she questioned, and what have they accomplished in independence and recognition? What was the relationship of the sexes, woman's right to the child and to birth-control? Amazing was the thirst for knowledge and information in a girl born and bred in primitive surroundings. Her passionate eagerness was infectious and revived my own mainsprings for a while. The break of morning compelled us to part. Gallina walked out into the dawning day with brave and sure gait. I stood behind the portières, watching her receding figure.
After Gallina's visit I no longer felt at ease in accepting aid even for our official mission. Not that I was conscious of any breach of confidence so far as the Bolsheviki were concerned. Makhno's wife was in my estimation no counter-revolutionist; and even if I had thought her one, I should not have turned her over to certain death at the hands of the Cheka. Just the same, I realized that I had no business with the Revkom and I decided not to visit it any more.
The arrival of Angelica in Kiev brought a new interest. She came as the guide of the Italian and French Mission. Her greeting when I sought her out was so full of tenderness and love that the local Bolsheviki began to consider me as one of their very own. In addition dear Angelica had felt moved to disclose to Vetoshkin our American past and he reproached us for coming to him merely as members of the museum expedition. We had been nearly two weeks in the city and we had not even hinted at our real identity, he complained. He begged us to give up our quarters and become the guests of the Soviet house.
Alexandra Shakol had once told me that she would forgo half her life to wake up a Communist, so as to give herself unreservedly to the party's demands and service. Now I understood what she had meant. I felt that I would also give anything to be able to take Vetoshkin's hand and say: "I am with you. I see your cause with your eyes and I will serve with the same blind faith as you and your sincere comrades." Alas, there was no such short and easy way out of the mental anguish for those who seek for life beyond dogma and creed.
We did not move to the Soviet house and we assured Vetoshkin that we had no need of anything. We accepted, however, Angelica's invitation to the banquet arranged in honor of the Italian and French Mission that she was chaperoning. We had been south for over two months, completely cut off from the Western world as well as from the rest of Russia. Angelica was the first friend from the north we had met since our departure. Unfortunately she could tell us but little, as she herself had been constantly on the road. But she brought us the disturbing news of the arrest of Albert Boni. Suspected as a counter-revolutionary, she told us. "Absurd!" I laughed. Albert was just a publisher and very far from rebelling against any established institution, whether revolutionary or otherwise. I hastened to call Sasha and Henry. They were much amused to hear that Boni was considered dangerous to the Soviet Government. We knew, however, that landing in the Cheka was no joking matter and we begged Angelica to send a telegram to Lenin, signed by us, to which she readily assented.
On the way to the banquet Sasha fell into a Cheka oblava that had encircled the entire street. Every pedestrian was halted and searched for documents. Though Sasha's were in perfect order, the officer held on to him as for dear life, and no explanations would induce the Chekist to permit him to go his way. Fortunately a heated argument was started by a near-by group in the same predicament. No Russian could escape the temptation to join in. The Chekist forgot for a moment his captive, and without much ceremony Sasha left.
The former Commercial Club and its elaborate rooms and gardens were brightly illuminated for the festive occasion and decorated with fresh-cut flowers. The wine and fruit on the tables gave little indication of the storms that had swept the city. It might still have been the good old time when stout ladies tightly laced, their necks and arms bedecked with jewels, sauntered about the place, and no less stodgy gentlemen in swallow-tails feasted in these halls. The gold and plush of the club made an incongruous background for the pale-faced proIetarians in shoddy clothes. Of the hundred and fifty or more persons that sat down to the gala affair Angelica was probably the only Communist to suffer from the vulgar display. Even the presence of her beloved Italian comrades could give her little comfort. Serrati to her right and the French Communist Sadoul on her left kept her engaged in conversation. But her pained and roaming eyes expressed better than words how utterly out of place she felt and how out of touch with the entire farce in honor of Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, the Red Army, the Third International, and the world revolution. Intoxicating words; to those that had no ear for jarring dissonances. They made her wince as they did me, though our leitmotifs were in vastly different keys.
Two Anarcho-Syndicalists whom we discovered among the French delegates induced us to remain at the affair till the end. They were to leave with the mission the same night and they invited us to accompany them to the station so that we could have a talk. They had been impressed by much that had been shown them, they told us, but they had also made disturbing observations. They had collected information and data about the political machine that convinced them that the proletariat had very little share in the actual dictatorship. They meant to use the material in their report to the syndicates on their return to France. They looked at us in amazement when we warned them to be careful about taking out their data. They might not be permitted to do so, we informed them. "Preposterous! We are not Russians, nor bound by the discipline of the Communist Party," they exclaimed. They were Frenchmen, representatives of large syndicalist organizations. Who would dare molest them? "The Cheka, of course," we explained. We were unduly anxious, they thought.
The evening arranged for us at Latzke's had none of the affluence of the mission banquet, though our hosts had spread the best they could afford. Its interest to us was not the repast, however, but the unrestrained good will and spirit that prevailed. Everyone felt free to express himself, and there was no lack in the variegation of opinion and sentiment. Every profession of the Yiddish intelligentsia was represented. All came to meet the American visitors, to exchange with them their views, hopes, and fears. None was a Communist, yet almost every one of them was an ardent defender of the régime, for racial reasons. Like Dr. Mandelstamm, who was also present, they frankly admitted that their main concern was the safety of the Jew. The Bolsheviki were preventing pogroms and therefore the Jews should support the Soviet Government, they argued. I inquired whether they were content with or could believe in permanent protection of their people in an atmosphere of general terror and insecurity. They agreed that the dictatorship was fatal to individual initiative and effort. But since they had no choice, it was gratifying to know that at least the Jews as a race had been freed from the discrimination suffered for centuries. Their feeling was the result of fear, understandable enough in surroundings surcharged with anti-Semitism, as the Ukraine was. But as a criterion for releasing social energies it was worse than useless. To me that was the prime consideration. I could not translate the October upheaval into terms of Jew or Gentile, but only into values accruing to all of humanity, or at least to all the people in Russia.
The younger element at our gathering had a different view-point. They did not deny the Bolsheviki full credit for stopping pogroms, but they held that the Soviet régime itself was fertile soil for the poisonous weed of Jew-hatred. Under the czarist autocracy the pest had been limited to the most reactionary elements. Now all sections of the country were infected by it. The peasant, the worker, and the intelligentsia all saw in Jews Communists and commissars responsible for punitive expeditions, forcible food-collection, militarization, and intimidation. Bolshevism was an impetus to Jew-baiting, they insisted, rather than a safety-valve against it.
Sasha stressed the point that both sides were making the mistake of denouncing the abuses of power, while the evil was in the thing itself. It was the Communist State and dictatorship that had subordinated the aims of the Revolution to those of the ruling party. The purpose of October was to release the creative energies of Russia for the free upbuilding of a new life. The object of the dictatorship was to organize a formidable political machine as the absolute master. That was the source of the disintegrating forces at work in the country. Increased anti-Semitism, return to the churches, anti-revolutionary feeling on the part of the peasantry and the workers, the cynicism of the young generation, and similar manifestations were the direct result of the failure of the Bolsheviki to keep the solemn promises made by them during the October days.
Some of those present favored our view-point, others fought it determinedly, but without rancor or ill feeling, and therein lay the charm of the gathering at the home of Latzke.
Sasha gathered a wealth of material from the Mensheviki he had met. They had been a potent educational and social force during the first two years of the Revolution in the south, but they had since been liquidated by the Bolsheviki and the Social Democratic unions hitched to the Communist wagon. The Mensheviki had succeeded in rescuing valuable data bearing on the history of Ukrainian labor and of their party and they turned them over to Sasha, together with a lot of personal notes and diaries. He had also somehow ferreted out a counter-revolutionary archive in a desk drawer of the Labor Soviet headquarters. It consisted of a strange conglomeration of police records, minutes of the Rada sessions, commercial statistics, and similar matter. In that helter-skelter Sasha had also chanced upon the first Universal issued by Petlura as dictator of the Ukraine, containing his official declaration of principles of the Southern National Democracy. A most important find was also made by our secretary, consisting of reams of Denikin material stored in the public library of the city and apparently forgotten. The librarian, a rabid nationalist, remained deaf to the pleas of Shakol. But he became all attention when faced with the argument that he could not afford the ridicule and disgrace if it should become known in America that he had preferred to leave the valuable documents to become the prey of rats in his cellar rather than have them preserved for future generations by the Museum of the Revolution.
Our last day in Kiev was a Sunday and we took the opportunity to journey along the beautiful Dnieper. Excursion boats enlivened the view, and in the distance lay the magnificent cathedrals and churches. At a point farther on along the river we came upon an old village with an ancient monastery. The hospitable nuns fed us on bread and honey from their own hives. Between their prayers and labors they had remained untouched by the events in their country and totally ignorant of all that had happened. Steeped in centuries of superstition, they could not realize the meaning of the new life struggling all about them to be born. Their saving grace was the work they were doing, raising vegetables, cultivating bees, teaching the village children to sew and mend, and their kindliness to strangers. Not so their brother monks in the Sophia and the Vladimir cathedrals. They continued to thrive on the credulity of their dupes, still very numerous, as we were assured. The solemn humbugs kept busy showing people through the caves and enlarging on the miracles performed by the saints whose dried bones were exposed to view. A strange sight, indeed, in revolutionary Russia!
On the way to Odessa we lost our good friend Henry Alsberg. Inadvertently he had caused his own arrest. Henry had joined the expedition without having secured the consent of the Moscow Cheka and he could have continued till the end of our journey without the eagle eye of the Soviet being able to discover his whereabouts. But he had added his signature to the telegram we had sent to Lenin in behalf of the arrested Albert Boni. As a result the All-Russian Cheka in the capital had at once sent orders to apprehend the criminal who had dared absent himself without its permission. Things moving at a snail's pace in Russia, the command failed to reach Kiev while we were there. It was wired to every station along our route and over took us in Zhmerinka.
All our protests failed to save Henry. The Cheka in charge declare that Alsberg's papers were in perfect order and his credentials from Chicherin and Zinoviev valid, but he lacked permission from the Moscow Cheka, and they had strict orders to arrest him. We could not permit Henry to go alone, and we proposed that Sasha or I accompany him to Moscow. But Henry would not hear of it. He knew enough Russian, he joked, to keep his escorts in good humor. Why, he could say pozhaluysta (please), nitchevo (nothing), and spassibo (thank you), and was not that enough for all practical purposes? If need be, he could also muster up a few less polite expressions. Besides, he possessed something policemen everywhere appreciated best --- mezuma. He had no fear and we need not be anxious about him, he assured us. Brave old Henry! One thing I insisted on, however: that he should not take his notes with him. They would be sure to get him into trouble and they would be safer with us and he without them.
We immediately dispatched telegrams to Lenin, Lunacharsky, and Zinoviev in behalf of Alsberg, but we did not feel very sanguine that they would reach their destination.
Henry had endeared himself to us by his fine spirit, joviality, and ready wit. It was with a heavy heart that we saw him leave, led away by the Chekists. The poor boy had already met with misfortune recently, having been robbed of his wallet. The loss of one's last sou is nowhere very pleasant, but in Russia it was a calamity. I did not have a chance to console my friend, because the boys missed the train and did not rejoin us until many hours later. They were bubbling over with their adventure. "But the thief!" I exclaimed; "was your money recovered?" "Fine chance to find the one among the many," Henry laughed.
Alsberg's arrest proved the beginning of a chain of adversities that pursued us for the rest of our journey. Barely out of Zhmerinka we received the news of the defeat of the Twelfth Army and the advance of the Poles on Kiev. The line was clogged with military trains on their retreat, and at the stations everything was in the wildest confusion. Our car was repeatedly attached to trains ordered south and as many times detached again to be sent in the opposite way. At last we were lucky enough to get into an echelon actually going in the direction of our next destination, the great city on the Black Sea. From there we planned to reach the Caucasus, but the movements of General Wrangel decided otherwise. His forces had just invested Alexandrovsk, a suburb of Rostov, thus shutting off the route we were to take to the Crimea. Our credentials were to expire at the end of October and we knew that months would be required to get them renewed by mail. It would be courting danger to remain south longer than our documents permitted, but, once in Odessa, we hoped to find a way out of the difficulty.
At last we reached the great city on the Black Sea, only to find that a devastating fire had laid the main telegraph office and the electric station in ashes the previous day, leaving the city in utter darkness. The holocaust was declared to be the work of White incendiaries, and the city was placed under martial law. The general nervousness was increased by the report that the Poles had taken Kiev and that Wrangel was advancing north. The public had no means of learning the truth of the situation, which only increased their trepidation.
An atmosphere of suspicion and fear dominated the Soviet institutions. All eyes were turned on us as Shakol, Sasha, and I entered the Ispolkom. Our credentials were carefully scrutinized and we were examined as to our identity and purpose before we were permitted to come into the august presence of the predsedatel. He proved a rather youngish man, obviously conscious of the importance of his position. He neither responded to our greeting nor asked us to sit down. He kept buried in the papers on his desk, then examined our documents, studying them long and carefully, till at last he seemed satisfied with them. All he could do, he told us finally, was to supply us with a pass to the other Soviet departments and with written permission to be out on the streets "after permitted hours." He could aid us no more and he was not interested in museums, anyhow. It was a sinecure for the intelligentsia, but the workers had more important things to do to defend the Revolution. Everything else was a waste of time, he declared. The man's attitude and curt manner did not augur well for our efforts. Nor did his words sound convincing as to his own integrity. Sasha thanked him, remarking that we appreciated his revolutionary zeal and that we would not impose on his good nature any longer. His sarcasm was lost, however, on the man standing rigid at his desk.
My coworkers shared my impression that it was mostly hatred of the intelligentsia that motivated the chairman of the Ispolkom. I had met many proletarian Communists permeated with bitterest resentment against intelligent people, but never anyone so brutally frank about it as the Odessa predsedatel. I could not help feeling that such zealots were more harmful to the best interests of the Revolution than armed enemies. We decided that no member of our expedition should call again at the Ispolkom and that we would try to accomplish in the city whatever possible by ourselves.
As we were walking down the stairs, several young people approached us. They stared at us a moment and then shouted: "Hello, Sasha! Emma! You here?" The unexpected encounter with our comrades from America was a pleasant surprise after the sight of the Bolshevik martinet. When they learned of our mission, they assured us that we could take the next train out of the city; no help was to be expected from the officials, they were certain. With the Ispolkom chairman in the lead, most of them were anti-center and anti-everything that was not local Communist. They were reputed as the worst sabotazhniky. The chairman, a dogmatic zealot, hated anyone whose education transcended the A.B.C.'s; he would have all intellectuals shot, one of the boys declared, if he had his way. Our comrades suggested that we might be aided in our efforts for the museum by our American comrade Orodovsky, who held a responsible position in the city, and there were several others who might also assist us. The Mensheviki, too, could supply us with information and material. They had recently been cleared out of the unions; still, some of them were so influential with the rank and file that the Bolsheviki had not dared to arrest them.
Orodovsky was a first-class printer and a man of a practical turn of mind. He had managed to get into the Government publishing house and he organized it in a manner to astonish the authorities. From the confiscated and neglected materials he formed the best printing shop in the city, and great was his pride in showing us through the place. It was a model of cleanliness, order, and efficient production. His efforts were hampered at every turn: he was not considered one of their "own" and therefore he was under suspicion. He loved the work and he felt he was doing something for the Revolution, but it made him sad to foresee the inevitable approaching. "Ah, the Revolution," he sighed, "what has become it?"
Through Orodovsky we were enabled to meet several other anarchists, active in the economic department. All of them felt themselves, like Orodovsky, only temporarily tolerated and in constant danger of getting into trouble as men who were "not entirely" with the established standards of opinion. The most interesting of them was Shakhvorostov of proletarian origin, whose whole life had been spent among the workers. He had fought for them under the autocracy and he continued to fight their battles even under the Bolsheviki. He was one of the most militant anarchists and was greatly beloved by the toilers.
On nearer acquaintance Shakhvorostov proved all we had been told of him, besides being most genuine and human. There was about him none of the rigidity and hardness of the chairman of the Ispolkom. He was all interest and kindliness, and his manner utterly simple.
"Sheer luck," he said, when asked how he managed to keep at liberty, "and the support of the workers," he added. They knew his sole purpose was to help them in their struggle against the constant encroachments of the Communist State. He realized that it was a losing battle, but all the same it was his duty to keep it up as long he remained free.
Shakhvorostov substantiated the charges of widespread sabotage made by our young comrades. He added that, while most Soviet officials were simply inefficient, others were downright sabotazhniky, purposely hampering every effort for the welfare of the people. He related the particularly gross instance of the recent general raid on bourgeoisie to apply Lenin's slogan: "Rob the robbers." Every house, shop, and chanty had been invaded and the last remnants ransacked and confiscated by the emissaries of the Cheka. It was a big haul, because the raid had taken the owners by surprise. The workers had been assured a supply of clothing and shoes, which they sorely stood in need of. When they learned of the new expropriation, they demanded that the promise be made good. "And it was," Shakhvorostov commented with a wry face; "we in the Public Economy Department received a dozen boxes of goods, but when we opened them, we found nothing but rags, old and torn things that one would not offer a beggar. The raiders had had first pick, and then they stocked the markets and the bourgeoisie quickly bought back everything they had lost. The scandal was so great that it could not be hushed up. The decent men in the party demanded an investigation, and the result was that some subordinates were shot. But corruption is rampant, and it is not to be eradicated by shooting."
Shakhvorostov and a comrade from the Metal Workers' Union promised to call a conference of the chairmen of the various labor bodies to acquaint them with the project of the Museum of the Revolution and interest them in our efforts. Sasha was to address the delegates and explain our mission.
A week's canvass of the Soviet institutions convinced us that, far from exaggerating, our comrades had not painted half the picture of Odessa sabotage. The local officials proved the worst shirkers we had ever come across in Russia. From the highest commissar to the last barishnya (young woman) typist they made it a habit of coming to work two hours late and quitting an hour earlier than closing time. Often the clerk's window would be shut right in the face of an applicant who had spent hours waiting his turn, only to be told that it was "too late" and to come tomorrow. We received almost no assistance in our work from the Soviet authorities. "Too busy, without a minute to spare," they would assure us. Yet most of them stood about smoking cigarettes and talking by the hour, while the "young ladies" were engaged in polishing their nails and rouging their lips. It was the most open and shameless official parasitism.
The Workers' and Peasants' Inspection, created specially to fight this kind of sabotage, seemed to take little interest in the purpose of their existence. Most of them were notorious speculators, and if anyone wanted czarist or Kerensky money changed, though the practice was strictly forbidden, he would be advised to go to some well-known official to have the transaction attended to. "Ordinary citizens are shot for such speculation," a well-known Bundist1 commented to us, "but who can touch these officials? They all work hand in glove." The corruption and autocracy of the highest Soviet circles were an open secret in the city, the man related. The Cheka in particular was nothing more than a gang of cut-throats. Extortion, bribery, and indiscriminate shooting of victims who could not pay were its common practices. It was a frequent occurrence that big speculators, sentenced to die, were set free by the Cheka for the payment of exorbitant ransom. Another practice was to notify the relatives of some prominent prisoner that he had been executed. While the family would be plunged in grief, a Cheka emissary would arrive to inform them that it had been a mistake. The condemned man was still alive, but only a certain sum, invariably very large, would save his life. Family and friends would divest themselves of everything to secure the necessary amount, and the money was always accepted. There would come no more emissaries to explain that the alleged mistake had been no mistake at all. If anyone dared show signs of protest, he would be arrested and shot for "attempting to corrupt" the Cheka. Almost every morning at dawn a truckload of those that were to die would clatter down "Cheka Street" at a furious pace towards the outskirts of the city. The doomed ones were forced to lie in the wagon face down, their hands and feet tied, armed guards standing over them. Chekists on horseback accompanied the truck, shooting at anyone who showed himself at an open window along their route. A narrow strip of red in the path of returning truck would be all that was left to tell the story of those taken on their last ride to be razmenyat (destroyed).
The Bundist called again a few days later in the company of a friend whom he introduced as Dr. Landesman, a Zionist and member of a circle that included the famous Jewish poet Byalek and other public-spirited men. No doubt we knew, the doctor said, that Rosh Hashona was at hand, and he would be happy to have us celebrate the great day together in the company of his family. We confessed that we had not been aware of the approach of the Jewish New Year, but we were Jews enough to want to spend the holiday with him.
The home of the Landesman family, adjoining his former private clinic now turned into a Soviet sanatorium, was beautifully situated. Perched on a high elevation, it was buried amid a profusion of trees and shrubbery on one side, while the other faced the Black Sea, waters beating against the foot of the hill. We arrived about tea-time as requested, because some of the other guests had no permits to be out after dark, Odessa being under martial law.
Dr. Landesman's clinic had enjoyed the reputation of being the best in Odessa. The Bolsheviki had confiscated it for a workers' rest-home, but not a single proletarian had yet been sent there, not even the ordinary party member. Only the highest officials came, with their families. Just now the Chief of the Cheka, Deitsch, was taking the cure for a bad "nervous break-down."
"How can you bear to treat him?" I asked the doctor. "You forget that I have no choice," he replied; "besides, I am a physician and bound by professional ethics to refuse medical aid to no one." "Such bourgeois sentimentality!" I laughed. "With the Cheka Chief getting the benefit of it," he retorted in the same spirit.
We were sitting on the terrace, the samovar before us, the sky streaked with blue and amethyst, the sun a ball of fire slowly sinking into the Black Sea. The city with all its terror and suffering seemed far off, and the green bowered nook an idyll. If it would last awhile longer, I mused . . . but one lived in seconds only.
New guests arrived, Byalek among them, square-set and broad shouldered, looking more like a prosperous merchant than a poet. A slender man with vibrantly sensitive features was introduced as a famous authority on Jewish persecution and pogroms. Sasha immediately engaged him in conversation on the subject, but in the midst of it, during the meal, he suddenly grew deathly pale and begged to be excused. Together with Doctor Landesman, I reached Sasha just in time to save him from falling in a faint. He was writhing in pain and gasping for breath, and presently he became unconscious. After a half-hour that seemed an eternity the good doctor had him somewhat restored. Packed in hot water bottles, he felt relieved, but still very weak. I told Landesman that my friend had been very ill when he left the United States, and that he had never been quite well since. The black bread in particular seemed to affect his condition, and he had showed considerable improvement since we had been able to procure white bread in the south. Our hosts insisted that we remain overnight with them in view of the possibility of Sasha's suffering an other attack. "What good will it do?" the patient suddenly piped up. "The expedition must proceed to Moscow." The doctor suggested that the expedition proceed, but that Sasha and his nurse remain in Odessa until he could find out the cause of the trouble. Presently Sasha fell quietly asleep and I sat watching his thin, pale face intently. It had lost nothing of its endearment to me since we had met so many, many years ago. What would it mean to lose him, and in Russia? I shuddered at the thought, my mind unable to follow up the cruel possibility. My pal lay peacefully resting, and I went back to the dining-room, my thoughts upon my life and the struggle I had gone through together with my friend and comrade.
The dishes were about to be cleared away when Sasha suddenly entered as if nothing had happened. Did they think he would be so easily done out of his share of the meal, he demanded with a broad grin. His appetite was great, he announced, and he would not think of allowing a little indisposition to stand between him and Mme Landesman's culinary art. The company roared with laughter. The doctor, however, vetoed heavy dishes, but Sasha read him the riot act about attempting to keep an anarchist from eating what he likes. I stared at him in wonder. It was the same boy who had called for extra steak and coffee in Sachs's restaurant in New York just thirty-one years before. The patient of an hour ago not only ate heartily, but became the spirit of the company. He had found the man for whom he had been looking for a long time, he declared, and he held to the expert investigator of pogroms for the rest of the evening.
The man proved a walking encyclopedia on the subject. He had visited seventy-two cities where pogroms had taken place, and he had collected a wealth of data. Jew-baiting during the various Ukrainian régimes, he stated, had been of more fiendish character than the worst massacres under the czars. He admitted that no pogroms had taken place since the Bolsheviki had come to power, but he agreed with the younger element of the Kiev writers that Bolshevism had intensified anti-Semitic feeling among the masses. Some day it would break out, he was certain, in the wholesale slaughter of vengeance.
Sasha argued heatedly with him. Speculations about future possibilites aside, he emphasized, it remained a generally recognized fact that the Bolsheviki had put the lid down on pogroms. Did that not point to a sincere and determined purpose to eradicate every violent manifestation of the old disease, if not the disease itself? The instigator denied it, asserting that the Bolsheviki had deprived the Jews of their right of self-defense, forbidding them to organize for the purpose. They were even suspected of plotting against the Soviet Government because they had applied for permission to arm themselves against future attacks. Doctor Landesman added that the local authorities had refused to allow him to form a Yiddish boy-scout unit. He had intended such a group to serve not only as a defense for the Jews, but also for the protection of the citizens generally against the notorious ruffian bands from whom no one was safe in Odessa.
On closer examination the doctor found Sasha suffering from an ulcerated stomach and offered to place him in his sanatorium for treatment. "Give a doctor a chance at your insides and he is sure to find something radically wrong there," Sasha joked, waving aside the good physician's offer. The expedition had to proceed, he insisted, and he with it.
We heartily thanked the Landesmans for their generous hospitality. In social ideas we were far removed from each other, but they were among the most human and friendly beings that it had been our good fortune to meet in Russia. We had exhausted the historical possibilities of Odessa and we had to leave. The Crimea was definitely out of the question, the entire route being in the line of the Wrangel advance. We were promised connection with a train that was to depart for Kiev within forty-eight hours. We hardly dared to expect such luck, but we clung to the hope. Meanwhile our secretary and Sasha decided to explore Nikolayevsk, where valuable archives were supposed to await rescue. Shakol had been confidentially told that a military auto truck was about to leave for that city and that the soldiers might be persuaded to permit her and Sasha to join them. It was but a slight chance, but nothing could stop those two venturesome spirits.
I remained with the other members of the expedition in Odessa to prepare our car for the journey to Kiev. In the midst of my washing and scrubbing a young woman entered. She addressed me in English and, without stopping to introduce herself, began telling me she had known me in the States. In Detroit she and her husband had attended my lectures. She had learned of our presence in the city and she had come to invite Comrade Berkman and me to her home for a cup of tea. She regretted that her husband would not be present. He was ill, in a hospital, but eager to see us. In fact, it was he who had sent her to request us to visit him, since he could not come to us, his old comrades. Berkman was away, I explained, and I had a great deal of work on hand. I could not come to her home, much as I appreciated her invitation. But I would call on the patient. "One forgets the existence of flowers in Russia," I remarked, "else I should be glad to take some to your husband." Then I asked my caller's name and the address of the hospital. "My husband is in the former Landesman sanatorium," she replied; "his name is Deitsch." I jumped from my chair as if stung by a viper. The woman also sprang to her feet. For some seconds we stood glaring at each other. At last I found my voice. Pointing to the exit, I commanded: "Go, go at once! We want none of you or your husband." "What do you mean talking to me like that?" she cried wrathfully, "you probably don't know that my husband is Chairman of the Cheka!" "I know, I know too much to want to breathe the same atmosphere with you. Go!"
Instead of leaving she brazenly sat down and began upbraiding me for hob-nobbing with Zionists and bourgeois. Had I also become a counter-revolutionist, she demanded, that I preferred such bandits to her husband, a comrade who had worked himself ill in the service of revolutionary Russia. Deitsch could compel me to come to him, she said, and he probably would when she told him what his teacher E.G. had become. I let her talk. My social edifice had been crumbling piece by piece. One more edge ruthlessly chopped off could hardly matter. I had not the energy to argue or the faith that I could make that woman grasp the monstrous thing that was being acclaimed as the he Revolution, and the monstrosities that were serving it.
Sasha returned with our secretary twenty-four hours later than they had expected. Only when the train pulled out of Odessa did I relate to them my encounter with the wife of the all-powerful Chekist.
My companions told the story of their exciting journey to Nikolayevsk. They had gone through harrowing experiences, visiting villages devastated by the razviorstka (forcible collection of produce) and by the Bolshevik punitive expeditions. The Chekists accompanying the military supply truck on which my two friends had made the trip carried on as irresponsible autocrats in a conquered country, commandeering for their own use everything they could carry, even the last chicken from the poorest farm-house. All along the route to Nikolayevsk, Sasha said, they had met long lines of peasants, flanked by Chekist troops, carting their confiscated grain to Odessa.
On our journey back to Kiev we did as the Romans. The markets still displayed quantities of foodstuffs, but the prices had risen enormously since our previous visit. We were sure that in Petrograd they were even more prohibitive, if anything could be procured at all. We therefore felt it imperative not to return with empty hands to our friends. Of course, there was the risk of arrest as speculators. What other motive could induce anyone to expose himself to such danger and obloquy? Sympathy, the desire to share with others, the need of alleviating misery and suffering? These terms no longer existed in the dictionary of the dictatorship. We knew too well that we should be pilloried not only in Russia, but also abroad. We should have no means of making ourselves heard, in our own defense, either on the charge of speculation or on our present attitude to the Bolsheviki. Notwithstanding all this, it was impossible to forgo the opportunity of securing food for starving friends in the north. Most decisive, however, was my concern about Sasha and his health. We had not gone very far out of Odessa when he again collapsed. This time his attack lasted longer and was more serious. The black bread and the wormy cereals would have been poison to him in his condition. I knew no law of the Communist State for which I would jeopardize his life, least of all the absurd order that made it a counter-revolutionary offense to bring provisions to a hungry population. I would therefore lay in a supply of food and take the consequences, I decided. No one would accept Soviet rubles as payment. "What can we do with these scraps?" the peasants and shopkeepers would ask. "They are of no use even as wrapping-paper, and for cigarettes we already have sacks of them." Czarist money or even that of Kerensky they would accept, although they preferred woolens, shoes, or other apparel.
Our return to Znamenka brought Henry back to our minds with vivid sadness. Not that we had forgotten him or had ceased to be concerned in his fate. But our experiences since he had been torn from us had been so sapping that they had centered all our energies. I felt his involuntary departure most because he had been such a splendid companion and a most dependable help in our cuisine. No one else in our group, outside of myself, knew how to cook. Henry was an expert in making flapjacks, in which he took great pride, and he was always ready to give me a vacation from the cooking of two meals a day for seven persons. To do so on a primus in a small compartment on a moving train during the heat of a Ukrainian July and August would have been a torture were it not for my willing assistant. Znamenka revived these memories and made me feel doubly hard the loss of our good old Henry.
Kiev had not been taken by the Poles, as had been reported, but the enemy was almost at its gates, we were informed on our arrival. The population was embittered even more than before, because it was continuously exposed to danger and hardships from whoever possessed itself of the city. They had become somewhat reconciled to the Soviet régime, and now the latter was about to evacuate. At the Revkom no one seemed better informed about the actual situation than the man in the street. Vetoshkin was out and his secretary would rather talk of Odessa. "Tovarishtch Rakovsky," he said, "recently returned with a glowing account of how well things are going there." We assured him that only in one thing had Odessa reached a high state of proficiency, and that was sabotage. "You really mean it?" he exclaimed in glee; "Rakovsky had given us the dickens that we had not succeeded as well as Odessa."
The Soviets would remain at their post, in spite of all danger, the officials declared, but they urged us to depart for Moscow before the roads became blocked. Sasha brought the good news that a train would be leaving the next day northward, and that he had arranged to have our car attached to it. We felt depressed at not being able to proceed farther on our journey to the Crimea, but that was out of the question under the circumstances. Yet Sasha would not allow us to remain long in bad humor. He was especially jolly that evening, relating anecdotes and cracking jokes and making us laugh in spite of ourselves.
Early in the morning Shakol and I were torn out of sleep by someone knocking on our door. Still dazed, we heard Sasha's voice demanding to know why we had played such a fool hoax on him. On opening the door of our compartment I saw him standing there wrapped in his blanket. "Where are my clothes?" he asked; "you girls have hidden them from me!" The secretary roared at the sight of him and we assured him that we were quite innocent of the prank. Thereupon he returned to his compartment. Presently he announced that excepting his portfolio of documents and some Sovietsky money, everything was gone. The robbers had made a clean haul, not leaving him a thing to put on. Even the valuable Browning which the secretary of Mme Ravich had lent Sasha for the journey, and a little gold watch, a gift from Fitzi, were missing. They had hung over Sasha's bed directly above his head, and the thief must have been very skillful not to have awakened him or anyone else in the car. Borrowing the most necessary things from the other men, Sasha rigged himself out and prepared to report his loss. In the midst of it he began chuckling to himself. "The fellow that swiped my pants will be fooled, though," he laughed, "for my money is in a secret pocket there that he'll never find." For a moment I did not grasp what he meant; then it struck me that Sasha had also been robbed of our entire fortune of sixteen hundred dollars. Six hundred of it I had turned over to him only the previous evening while my petticoat, in which I had kept it, was drying. "Our independence!" I screamed; "it's gone!"
Through all the bitter disappointments in Russia and our struggle to find ourselves and our work I had been sustained by one thought --- our material independence. We did not have to beg or cringe like so many others who were driven by hunger. We had been able to keep our self-respect and to refuse any truck with the dictatorship because we bad been made secure by our American friends. Now all was gone! "What now, Sasha?" I cried. "What is going to become of us?" Impatiently he replied: "You seem more concerned about the damned money than about our lives. Don't you realize that if I had stirred, or anyone else in the car, the burglars would have shot us dead?" He had never known me to cling to material things, he added; it was funny I should have thought of the money first of all. "Not so funny when one is compelled to forswear all one holds high in order to exist," I replied. I simply could not face the possibility of eating out of the hand of the Bolshevik State. For myself I should have preferred to be finished by our night callers.
I had been unable to sleep that night because of the stifling heat in our compartment and I had gone out several times into the corridor for a breath of air. Sasha had left the door of his compartment ajar in order to get some air from the corridor window opposite it. I had had a feeling that the window should be closed. Not that I anticipated robbery. Our car was in full view of the station, patrolled by Soviet soldiers. No one could enter or climb into it unobserved. But one could easily help himself to the large chunk of bacon that hung in a bag at the side of the window. It would be too hot for Sasha, I had decided. But the very thing I had thought might be stolen was still in its place. In Petrograd a thief would have certainly taken the meat, but in Kiev clothing was apparently more coveted. In any case it looked as if the robber must have been a railroad worker, since he had been able to enter our car, and undoubtedly he had the cooperation of the soldiers on guard. Our porter, who had been acting queerly for some time, was also not above suspicion. Sasha insisted on recovering our things or at least the money. While he was gone, our car was moved away from the spot where it had stood during the night. Such a proceeding was nothing unusual and we paid no attention to it. We realized its significance, however, when Sasha returned with two militiamen and a police dog. The hound sniffed about, but the traces had been destroyed by the steam of the engine. Undaunted, Sasha in the company of several comrades started a search of the markets in the hope that his clothes might be offered for sale. But apparently the thieves were too careful. They could afford to bide their time. Far from giving up the search, Sasha arranged with some comrades to visit the markets every day for at least a month and to buy back his trousers at any price. Don't worry," he kept consoling me; "they'll never find that secret pocket with the money." I wished I could share the optimism of my irrepressible pal.
In Bryansk we were greeted with the joyful news of the complete rout of Wrangel. Strange to say, Nester Makhno was being proclaimed a hero who had materially helped to bring about the great victory. But yesterday denounced as a counter-revolutionary, a bandit, the aid of Wrangel, with a large price on his head --- what had brought the sudden change of front on the part of the Bolsheviki, we wondered. And how long would the love-feast last? For Trotsky had in turn eulogized the leader of the rebel peasant army and in turn condemned him to death.
Sad news clouded our joy. In a Soviet paper we read of the death of John Reed. Both Sasha and I had been very fond of Jack and we felt his demise as a personal loss. I had last seen him the previous year when he returned from Finland, a very sick man indeed. I had learned that he was put up at the Hotel International in Petrograd, alone and without anyone to take care of him. I had found him in a deplorable condition, his arms and legs swollen, his body covered with ulcers, and his gums badly affected as a result of scurvy acquired in prison. The poor boy suffered even more spiritually, because he had been betrayed to the Finnish authorities by a Russian Communist, a sailor whom Zinoviev had sent with him as a companion. The valuable documents and the large sum of money Jack was taking to his comrades in America all fell into the hands of his captors. It was Jack's second failure of the kind and he took it much to heart. Two weeks' nursing helped put him on his feet again, but he remained fearfully distressed over the methods of Zinoviev and others in jeopardizing the lives of their comrades. "Needlessly and recklessly," he kept saying. He himself had twice been sent on a wild goose chase without any trouble having been taken to find out whether there was any possibility of the venture's succeeding. But at least he could take care of himself and he went into it with open eyes. Moreover, as an American he did not run the same grave risks as the Russian comrades. Communists, mere youngsters, were being sacrificed by the score for the glory of the Third International, he had complained. "Perhaps revolutionary necessity," I had suggested: "at least your comrades always say so." He had believed it also, he had admitted, but his experience and that of others had made him doubt it. His faith in the dictatorship was still fervent, but he was beginning to doubt some of the methods used, particularly by men who themselves always remained in safety.
In Moscow we learned of the presence in the city of Louise Bryant, Reed's wife. Ordinarily I should not have looked her up. I had known Louise for years, even before she was with Jack. An attractive, vivid creature, one had to like her even when not taking her social protestations seriously. On two occasions I had realized her lack of depth. During our trial in New York, when Jack had bravely come to our assistance, Louise had studiously avoided us. They were planning to go to Russia and she was evidently afraid of having her name connected with ours during that dangerous war period, though she had always protested her great friendship in times of peace. I considered it of no great importance, however.
A much graver offense, and one that had angered me considerably, was her misrepresentation of anarchism in her book on Russia. My niece Stella had sent me the volume at the Missouri prison and I was indignant to find repeated in it the stupid story of Russia's nationalizing women that had made its rounds in the American press. Louise charged the anarchists with having been the first to issue the decree. She had taken no trouble to adduce any evidence for her wild assertions, nor had she done so in reply to my letter demanding it. I considered it on a par with the cheap journalistic libeling of the Bolsheviki and I decided to have nothing more to do with Louise.
That seemed ages ago now. Louise had suffered the loss of Jack and she was all broken up over it, I was told by common friends. I went to her without any mental reservations, too deeply moved by her tragedy to remember the past. I found her a wreck, completely shattered. She broke down in convulsive weeping that no words could allay. I took her in my arms, holding her quivering body in a silent embrace. She quieted down after a while and began relating to me the sad story of Jack's death. She had made her way to Russia disguised as a sailor and under great difficulties, only to find on landing in Petrograd that Jack had been ordered to Baku to attend the Congress of Eastern Races. He had begged Zinoviev not to insist on his going, because he had not yet fully recovered from his experience in Finland. But the chief of the Third International was relentless. Reed was to represent the American Communist Party at the Congress, he had declared. In Baku Jack was stricken with typhus and he was brought back to Moscow shortly after Louise had arrived.
I sought to console her by the assurance that all possible care must have been given Jack after his return to Moscow, but she protested that nothing had been done for the boy. A whole week had been lost before the physicians agreed in their diagnosis, and after that Jack had been turned over to an incompetent doctor. No one in the hospital knew anything about nursing, and only after a protracted argument had Louise succeeded in getting permission to take care of Jack. But he had been delirious in his last days and he had probably not even been aware of the presence of his beloved. "Didn't he speak at all?" I inquired. "I could not understand what he meant," Louise replied, "but he kept on repeating all the time: "Caught in a trap, caught in a trap. Just that." Did Jack really use that term?" I cried in amazement. "Why do you ask?" Louise demanded, gripping my hand. "Because that is exactly how I have been feeling since I looked beneath the surface. Caught in a trap. Exactly that."
Had Jack also come to see that all was not well with his idol, I wondered, or had it only been the approach of death that had for a moment illumined his mind? Death strips to the naked truth--it knows no deception.
From : Anarchy Archives
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