Living My Life : Volume 2, Chapter 52, Part D
(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 individual educator imbued with honesty of purpose, the artist or writer of original ideas, the independent scientist or explorer, the non-compromising pioneers of social changes are daily pushed to the wall by men whose learning and creative ability have become decrepit with age." (From : "Minorities Versus Majorities," by Emma Goldman.)
• "Man's greatest battles have been waged against man-made obstacles and artificial handicaps imposed upon him to paralyze his growth and development. Human thought has always been falsified by tradition and custom, and perverted false education in the interests of those who held power and enjoyed privileges." (From : "The Place of the Individual in Society," by Emma ....)
• "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,....)
Volume 2, Chapter 52, Part D
We were to leave for Petrograd the next day to report to the Museum of the Revolution, but Louise begged us to remain for the funeral. She felt lonely and deserted, and we were the only friends she had, she implored. Now that Jack was gone, she had ceased to interest the Bolsheviki. She had already been made to feel that, she said. Public funerals had always been an abomination to me; nevertheless I promised to remain to be near her and to help her over the painful ordeal. I told Louise that Sasha might also attend if he could prevail upon the other members of the expedition to postpone their departure for a day.
Louise gave me a message left by our friend Henry Alsberg. It was to the effect that, owing to the friendliness of the guard who had brought him back to Moscow, Alsberg had been saved from the Cheka prison. The tovaritsch had permitted him to see his friends in the Foreign Office before delivering him to the Cheka. Nuorteva, whom he was especially anxious to see, detained him there and arranged his release after communicating with the Cheka officials. Had he ever reached the Cheka building, Henry's message continued, it would have taken months for his friends to find him and get him away from their tender care. Henry had since departed for Riga, but he was planning to return in the spring. He had left with Louise the money we had given him at his arrest, which was only two hundred dollars, but a veritable fortune to us now. For a few months at least we should be materially independent, as we had been before Sasha was robbed.
No mail had reached us during our entire journey, but at the Foreign Office our old friend Ethel Bernstein now handed us quite a bundle of it from America. At the same time she gave me a clipping from the Chicago Tribune. It was by John Clayton and it told how "E.G. was praying before an American flag on her wall to get back to the States." I had complained to him bitterly, it stated, about the Bolsheviki and their treatment of me. "Of course no one here believes this rotten story," Ethel remarked, "but just the same you ought to see Nuorteva about it." The man she mentioned was in charge of the Publicity Department of the Foreign Office. I saw no reason for offering any apologies. But I was disgusted at having believed that Clayton would prove more honest and decent than the other American reporters who had pestered me in Russia. Yet Clayton had impressed me as trustworthy. Could it be that his story had been doctored by the desk editor? The flag he referred to was a miniature emblem that Jack Reed had once jokingly stuck over Fitzi's picture on my wall and that I had forgotten to take off. The innocent frolic of a friend turned into a fantastic lie! It was sickening. And my complaining about the régime, when I had been particularly reticent with Clayton in regard to such subjects! Well, the Soviet people might believe what they pleased, I decided, but they should get no explantion from me.
Nuorteva received me most kindly and gave me a large package of letters. He did not mention the Clayton story, nor did I. With considerable pride he spoke of having left America on the first Soviet passport submitted to Washington. He was now at the head of the Anglo-Russian Department of the Foreign Office and he would be glad to be of help in the matter of mail. I felt gratified at his tact in not bringing up the wretched matter of Clayton's write-up.
I hastened to our car to read my mail. Letters from Stella, Fitzi, and other friends expressed intense satisfaction at our having at last found a sphere of work. They did not doubt, they wrote, that now we would have the greatest expression for our energies and ideals. Letters of a later date contained clippings of the Clayton story, including one that I read and reread in utter stupefaction. It was a letter for Stella that I had given to Jack Reed to mail and that had been taken from him when he was arrested in Finland. After several readings it dawned on me that the newspaper editor had turned my epistle to Stella into a love missive to John Reed! "Poor Louise, how little she knows of my alleged love-affair with Jack!" I laughed to Sasha.
From our comrades in Moscow we learned of the city-wide raids that had taken place in the early part of October. Among the many victims was also Maria Spiridonovna. She had been ill with typhoid at the time, but the Cheka had arrested her and sent her to a prison hospital. Great, idealistic soul! There was no end to dear Maryusa's martyrdom.
Fanya and Aaron Baron, who were in Moscow, informed us about the developments in regard to Nestor Makhno. The Red forces had proved unable to stand up against Wrangel, and the Bolsheviki had turned to the povstantsy leader for aid. He and his army had consented on condition that all the anarchists and Makhnovtsy be released from prison, and that the Soviet Government grant them the right of a general conference. Makhno had named Sasha and me as representatives in drawing up the agreement. This had never been communicated to us, but the Bolsheviki had accepted Makhno's demands and had actually released a number of the povstantsy and some of our comrades. They had also given permission for the gathering, which our comrades from all over Russia had agreed to hold in Kharkov. Volin and others had already departed for that city, and comrades were expected from every part of the country.
A gray sky overhanging Moscow, rain steadily drizzling its melancholy tune,and artificial wreaths that had served at other funerals were Jack Reed's farewell in the Red Square. No beauty for the man who had loved it so, no color for his artist-soul. No spark of the red-white flame of the fighter to inspire those who in bombastic speeches claimed him as their comrade. Alexandra Kollontay alone came close to the spirit of John Reed and found the words that would have pleased him most. During her simple and beautiful tribute to Jack, Louise crumpled to the ground in a dead faint just as the coffin was being lowered into the grave. Sasha had almost to carry her to the automobile Nuorteva had put at our disposal. Our old American friend Dr. W. Wovschin, a recent arrival, accompanied us to aid the desolated Louise.
In the Museum of the Revolution, in Petrograd, we were hailed as heroes come back from the front. It was a considerable achievement to return alive after four months of such a journey as we had made, they said, and to have also rescued a whole carload of material of historical value. The future, they assured us, would reward us according to our deserts. All the museum could do now was to give us a month's rest. We were henceforth on the permanent staff of the museum, Yatmanov and Kaplan informed us, and we need not look for other activities. Within a month we should start on a new journey. Our expedition would be granted the privilege of choosing its destination and route. Either the Crimea, which had since been entirely cleared of the Wrangel forces, or Siberia, where Semenoff and Kolchak had been finally routed, would be our objective point. In either place there was much material awaiting us, and we were expected to enrich the museum with it.
"Not to Siberia during the winter," shuddered our Russian members. We also did not particularly welcome the idea, though we remembered Krasnoshokov's invitation to come to the Far Eastern Republic. But there was no need for an immediate decision, the museum chief declared. Alexander Ossipovich and Emma Abramovna (meaning Sasha and me), he insisted, looked as if they indeed needed a vacation.
Sasha and I had definitely decided to apply to the Housing Department for rooms where we might live like the rest of the non-Communist population. The prospect of another trip within a month caused us to defer our plan till some other time, for it would take more than a month to secure lodgings. We should have liked to remain in our car, but there was the problem of heating and of reaching the city. Mme Ravich suggested that we take up our abode at the Hotel International. It was used for foreign visitors, the guests paying for their rooms and meals, and the charges were very reasonable, being fifteen dollars a month for a room and two daily meals. Its main attraction was cleanliness and an opportunity to take a bath. It was the first place of its kind in Russia for other mortals than Communists and we were relieved at the chance to be quartered there.
The museum material, not considered contraband, was easily transferred from our car. Not so the food we had brought with us. Entitled to pass freely through the railroad gates, we aroused no suspicion, though it required a week and four persons to remove the stuff. In the apartment of a friend everything was made up in parcels and sent to sick friends and to those who had children needing fats and sweets. Quite selfishly I had intended to keep enough white flour for the winter to safeguard Sasha from black bread. Now that we were soon to start on another journey, the unpleasant task became unnecessary. It was no small satisfaction to be able to relieve the need of a few more persons, if only for a little while.
In spite of all planning we went neither to the Crimea nor to the Far Eastern Republic. Instead we journeyed to Archangel, "to round out the year," as Yatmanov said. That district having been the center of the interventionist operations, in which my erstwhile country had played such a disgraceful part, I was glad we were given the opportunity to explore it.
We were only three on that trip. The Russian couple preferred to hug their stove in Petrograd, while our young Communist collaborator had to resume his studies at college.
On the way to Archangel we made two stops, at Yaroslavl and Vologda. Both cities had served as centers for plotters against the Revolution. The former had been the base of the once celebrated revolutionist Savinkov's uprising, drenched in the blood of thousands. Vologda had been the headquarters of the American Ambassador Francis and other wirepullers in favor of intervention.
Yaroslavl still bore witness to the fratricidal strife; its prison was filled with officers of the Savinkov army that had escaped death. In neither city did we find anything of special value for the museum.
Archangel, at the mouth of the northern Dvina, was separated from the railroad terminus by the frozen river. On arriving we found a temperature of fifty below zero, but the brilliant sun and the dry, crisp air made the cold far less penetrating than in Petrograd. My thoughtful niece, Stella, had pressed her fur coat on me on her last visit to Ellis Island. But I had never worn it because of an idiosyncrasy that made me feel as if the beast were alive and creeping over my neck whenever I put on furs. Everybody had warned us against the Archangel frosts, and as a precaution I had taken the coat with me. Great was my relief when I realized that I could go about in my old velour coat and sweater and even feel too warm in the sun. It was invigorating to walk across the frozen expanse of the river and along the clean streets of Archangel, quite a novelty in a Russian town. In fact, the city presented numerous surprises. Our credentials, scorned in the south, here proved a veritable magic wand, opening wide the doors of every Soviet institution. The chairman of the Ispolkom and all other officiaIs went out of their way to aid the efforts of our mission. They exerted themselves to make our stay a memorable experience, as indeed it proved to be. Their fraternal attitude to the population, their equitable efforts to supply them with food and clothing so far as was in their power, made us feel that here principles different from those of "the center" were operating. The men and women at the helm of affairs in Archangel had grasped the great truth that discrimination, brutality, and hounding were not calculated to convince the people of the beauty or desirability of communism or to cause them to love the Soviet régime. They sought more effective methods. They abolished speculation in food by organizing a more just distribution of rations. They did away with the humiliating and exhausting standing in line by instituting co-operative stores where the inhabitants received due attention and courteous treatment. They introduced a friendly tone and atmosphere in every Soviet institution. While this had not converted the whole community into disciples of Marx or Lenin, it had helped to eliminate the dissatisfaction and antagonism widespread in other parts of the country. People said that the Communists had acquired organization, efficiency, and order from the example of the Americans quartered in the city. If so, they certainly proved apt pupils. For the usual characteristics of Soviet life, including sabotage, waste, and confusion, were almost entirely missing in Archangel.
Those sturdy sons of the north apparently had something that was very unsovietsky --- respect for human life and recognition of its sanctity. Former nuns, monks, White officers, and members of the bourgeoisie put to useful work instead of against the wall were an extraordinary revelation. The mere suggestion of such a thing elsewhere in Russia would have marked us as very suspicious characters if not out and out counter-revolutionists. Here the new method had rescued hundreds of lives and had gained for the régime additional workers. Not that the Cheka was absent or capital punishment abolished. A dictatorship could hardly exist without these. But in Archangel the Cheka had not attained the unlimited powers it enjoyed in other places. It did not constitute a State within the State whose sole function was terror and vengeance. If these measures were really dictated by revolutionary necessity, the barbarous methods of the Whites in northern Russia would have certainly justified their use. Not only Communists, but even those remotely sympathetic with them had been subjected to torture and death. Entire families had been ruthlessly exterminated by the Whites. Kulakov, chairman of the Ispolkom, for instance, had lost every member of his family. Even his youngest sister, a mere child of twelve, had not escaped the fiendishness of the enemy, and there was hardly a radical or liberal home that had not felt the cruel hand of those that had come to crush the Revolution.
"Naturally we could not meet such fury with gloved hands," the chairman of the educational department said to us. "We fought back desperately, but when the enemy had been driven to flight, we saw no need of retaliation or terror. We felt that vengeance would serve no other purpose than to antagonize the population against us. We set to work to bring order out of the chaos left by the Whites and to reclaim as many lives as we could among our captives."
"Did all your comrades agree with such 'sentimental' methods?" I asked in astonishment. "Of course not," he replied; "there were many who insisted on drastic measures, and there are those who still insist that we shall yet have to pay dearly for what they call our reformist attitude to those who had conspired against the Revolution." However, the chairman continued, the more level-headed comrades had prevailed, and experience proved that even former White officers could be utilized in various walks of life. A number of them were employed as teachers and they were doing faithful and useful work. The same held good of several other departments. Moreover, even such dark and bigoted elements as nuns and monks had responded to humane treatment. It was not at all sentimentality, but good common sense that taught him, he added, that the will to life was not dictated by creeds. Nuns and monks were as subject to that law of nature as any average person. After they had been dispossessed from the cloisters and monasteries and faced death if they continued plotting, or starvation if they refused to work, they proved themselves only too eager to make themselves useful in some way. We could convince ourselves of it, he said, by visiting the schools, nurseries, and arts and crafts studios.
We did. We went unannounced and unexpected and we found conditions in those institutions exemplary. I talked to some of the nuns employed there, a number of whom had dwelt apart from the world for a quarter of a century. Mentally they still lived in the cloisters. They understood nothing of the new and changing forces at work about them, but they were doing beautiful work, including pottery, agriculture, illustrations for children's stories, stage scenery for their theater, and similar things. I also talked to some artisans and wood-carvers of unusual skill. Several of them had been caught red-handed in counter-revolutionary conspiracies. One lamented that his work was not bringing him in as much money as in former days. But his life had been spared and he was allowed to continue the labor he loved. He wanted nothing better, he said.
A few days later I had occasion to meet one of the White officers considered among the best teachers. He could not approve of the dictatorship, he frankly admitted, but he had come to realize the folly and crime of foreign intervention. The Allies had promised much to his country, but all they had done was to divide the Russian house against itself. The Americans had been decent, he thought. They had kept to themselves, their soldiers were off the streets after dark, and they had also been generous with provisions and clothing. At their departure they had distributed their surplus supplies with open hand. The British were different. Their soldiers molested the native women, their officers were arbitrary and haughty, and General Rollins had ordered huge supplies sunk in the open sea before the British ships departed. He was through with intervention. He loved teaching and he was very fond of children and now he had the opportunity of his life.
Similar sentiments we found reflected by persons in various political groupings. Nearly every one agreed that the Soviet régime was sincerely and successfully carrying out the policy of reclamation, and that the social scope was being gradually widened for those even that did not agree with the Communist view-point. In other words, no one was being discriminated against on account of his past.
Among the vast material we gathered in the north were a number of revolutionary and anarchist publications that had appeared underground during the régime of the Czar and all through the period of occupation. Most appealing was the last message of a sailor condemned to death by the invaders, containing a minute description of his torture by British officers to exact information. There were also photographs of men and women mutilated by the counter-revolutionists. In addition Sasha had also collected interesting material from Bechin, the chairman of the labor soviet, in whom the Provisional Government had tried to crush the revolutionary labor movement of the north. Together with others, but as the responsible factor, Bechin had been tried for treason and condemned to a slow death in the fearsome prison of Yokanan in the arctic zone. He had kept a diary of his arrest, trial, and imprisonment, and after much persuasion he had given it to Sasha for the museum.
Archangel proved so absorbing that we overstayed our time by two weeks. We still had Murmansk to visit, while our credentials were good only till the end of the year. With regret we left the friends we had made and the splendid people we had met in the city.
Within three days' distance from our objective we had to turn back. Heavy snow-storms blocked our route, and our progress resembled that of a snail. It would have required weeks to reach our destination, the road having first to be cleared of mountain-high snow. Fifty miles from Petrograd we were again stalled, this time by a blinding blizzard. Luckily we had fuel and provisions for several days. We settled down for a patient wait, for there was nothing else we could do under the circumstances.
On Christmas Eve, still held up on the road, Shakol and Sasha gave me a surprise. A wee pine-tree, decorated for the occasion and studded with colored candles, gaily lit up our compartment. America contributed the gifts, or rather my women friends who had sent presents before we sailed. A good hot grog, brewed from the rum supplied us in Archangel, helped to make the festivity complete.
I thought of our Christmas of a year ago --- of 1919. Sasha and I, together with many other undesirable rebels on the Buford, torn away from our work, our comrades, and our loved ones, cruising to an unknown destination, In enemy hands, under rigid military discipline, our male companions herded below deck like cattle and fed on wretched food, all of us exposed to imminent danger from war mines. Yet we did not care. Soviet Russia was beckoning us, liberated and reborn, the fulfillment of the heroic struggle of a hundred years. Our hopes ran high, our faith flamed red-white, all our thoughts centered on our Matushka Rossiya.
Now it was Christmas 1920. We were in Russia, her soil serene after the raging storms, her attire of white and green under a jeweled sky. Our house on wheels was warm and cozy. My old pal was at my side and a new dear friend. They were in a holiday mood and I longed to join in their merriment. But in vain. My thoughts were in 1919. Only a year had passed, and nothing was left but the ashes of my fervent dreams, my burning faith, my joyous song.
We reached Petrograd at the height of the excitement over the fate of the labor unions. The problem had already been discussed at the party sessions the previous October and ever since in preparation for the Eighth All-Russian Congress of the Soviets. The trade unions must serve as a school of communism, Lenin had declared, and the opposing views of Trotsky, of the old Marxian scholar Ryazanov, of Kollontay, leading the labor circles, had to capitulate to the dictum of Ilich. Trotsky insisted that the only thing that could save the Revolution was the militarization of labor and the entire subserviency of the unions to the needs of the State. Lenin treated all his opponents with equal contempt, Trotsky did not know his Marx, Lenin declared, while the views of Kollontay were half-baked. As to Ryazanov, he was forbidden all public utterance for a period of six months on the ground that he did not know what he was talking about.
The great explosion was finally precipitated by Kollontay and the old Communist Shlyapnikov, representing the labor opposition. The Revolution had been fought by the workers, they insisted, and the world had been assured that the real dictatorship of Russia was that of the proletariat. Instead the masses were stripped of all rights and denied any say in the economic life of the country. These two daring leaders of labor were indeed articulating the thoughts and feelings of the toiling masses, of the rank and file of the Communists even, who had no way of making themselves heard.
The storm that followed threatened the disruption of the party. Something had to be done, and Lenin was equal to the occasion. He heaped ridicule upon the heretics who dared voice sentiments of "petty bourgeois ideology." Quickly the opposition was strangled. Kollontay's pamphlet on labor demands was suppressed and its author severely disciplined, while old Shlyapnikov, of weaker metal, was silenced by being made a member of the Executive Committee of the party and ordered to take a much-needed rest. Our expedition was being reorganized and arrangements made for our third tour, which was definitely decided upon as a journey to the Crimea. But at the eleventh hour our plans were blocked by an order of the Ispart, the newly created Communist body for the purpose of collecting data on the history of the Communist Party. The Museum of the Revolution was curtly notified that henceforth the new organization would take charge of all expeditions, the Ispart claiming precedence, by virtue of its Communist character, in all such undertakings. It would also commandeer our car, though the Museum of the Revolution would be granted the privilege of assigning some of its members to the work of the Ispart.
The arbitrariness of the new institution was felt by every member of the museum as a deliberate attempt to curtail its independence and limit the scope of its work. Even Commissar Yatmanov, a devoted Communist, expressed himself in no gentle terms about the party zealots who insisted on having everything in their hold. It was unthinkable to submit to such methods without a fight, he declared. He would immediately take the matter up at the Petrograd end, while we must proceed to Moscow. Sasha was to see Zinoviev about it and I should see Lunacharsky, they being the chairmen of the Petrograd Museum. The decision of the Ispart was an infringement upon Zinoviev's jurisdiction over Petrograd; he would surely protest against it, whiIe Lunacharsky, as the head of all the cultural efforts of Russia, would not tolerate such invasion of his domain, Yatmanov asserted.
We had but little hope of success, but we consented to go to Moscow. We declared, however, that should the Ispart win in the matter, we would discontinue our affiliation with the musum, distressing as such a step would be to us. We knew too well the meaning of having a political commissar control our work and movements. It signified dictatorship and espionage and it involved clique interests, strife, and disruption. We had declined the offer of many high positions because we would not submit to such tutelage.
Zinoviev was indeed much incensed over the attempt of the Ispart to monopolize the work of the Petrograd Museum and to interfere with his program for it. He wrote a letter of protest to his comrades of the new institution and he turned it over to Sasha for presentation and argument. The Museum of the Revolution was not trespassing on the field of the Ispart; it had mapped out its own work, in no way in conflict with that of the Moscow body, and he as the head of the Petrograd Museum's executive commitee would not tolerate such autocratic interference, Zinoviev wrote. He further assured Sasha that he would take the matter up with Lenin himself if the Ispart persisted in its arbitrary decision.
Lunacharsky also was angry with "the fools who would put all cultural endeavor under their own thumb." He promised to protest against such tactics, but soon I had occasion to learn that he was in reality quite without authority. The real power in the All-Russian Commissariats of Education was Pokrovsky, a Communist of old standing, and it was he who had founded the Ispart. Lunacharsky was a mere figure-head, exploited by the party because of his presumed European influence, since he had lived many years abroad and was well known in cultural circles there.
Finding lodgings in Moscow was always a difficult problem, but fortunately we were spared the disagreeable task of begging for a roof over our heads. Our good friend Angelica Balabanoff was in charge of a Russo-Italian bureau quartered in a house that had formerly been occupied by a foreign organization. She and her staff were now living there, and, having two vacant rooms, Angelica invited us to stay with her.
Our efforts in behalf of the Petrograd Museum were being blocked on every hand by the concentrated authority of Communist machinery and were proving fruitless. Petrograd urged a personal report and we decided to return there. We had already bought our tickets when word came from Dmitrov that our old comrade Peter Kropotkin had been stricken with pneumonia. The shock was the greater because we had visited Peter in July and had found him in good health and buoyant spirits. He seemed then younger and better than when we had seen him the previous March. The sparkle in his eyes and his vivacity had impressed us with his splendid condition. The Kropotkin place had looked lovely in the summer sunshine, with the flowers and Sophie's vegetable garden in full bloom. With much pride Peter had spoken of his companion and her skill as a gardener. Taking Sasha and me by the hand, he had led us in boyish exuberance to the patch where Sophie had planted a special kind of lettuce. She had succeeded in raising heads as large as cabbages, their leaves crispy and luscious. He himself had also been digging in the soil, but it was Sophie, he had reiterated, who was the real expert. Her potato crop of the previous winter had been so large that there was enough left over to exchange for fodder for their cow and even to share with their Dmitrov neighbors, who had few vegetables. Our dear Peter had been frolicking in his garden and talking about these matters as if they were world events. Infectious had been the youthful spirit of our comrade, carrying us along by its freshness and charm.
In the afternoon, assembled in his study, he had again become the scientist and thinker, clear and penetrating in his judgment of persons and events. We had discussed the dictatorship, the methods forced upon the Revolution by necessity and those inherent in the nature of the party. I wanted Peter to help me to a better understanding of the situation which was threatening to bankrupt my faith in the Revolution and in the masses. Patiently and with the tenderness one uses towards a sick child he had sought to soothe me. There was no reason to despair, he had urged. He understood my inner conflict, he had assured me, but he was certain that in time I should learn to distinguish between the Revolution and the régime. The two were worlds apart, the abyss between them bound to grow wider as time went on. The Russian Revolution was far greater than the French and of more potent world-wide significance. It had struck deep into the lives of the masses everywhere, and no one could foresee the rich harvest humanity would reap from it. The Communists, irrevocably adhering to the idea of a centralized State, were doomed to misdirect the course of the Revolution. Their end being political supremacy, they had inevitably beccome the Jesuits of socialism, justifying all means to attain their purpose. Their methods, however, paralyzed the energies of the masses and terrorized the people. Yet without the people, without the direct participation of the toilers in the re-construction of the country nothing creative and essential could be accomplished.
Our own comrades, Kropotkin had continued, had in the past failed to give sufficient consideration to the fundamental elements of the social revolution. The basic factor in such an upheaval is the organization of the economic life of the country. The Russian Revolution proved that we must prepare for that. He had come to the conclusion that syndicalism was likely to furnish what Russia lacked most: the channel through which the industrial and economic upbuilding of the country could flow. He was referring to anarcho-syndicalism, indicating that such a system, by aid of the co-operatives, would save future revolutions the fatal blunders and fearful suffering Russia was passing through.
All this came vividly back to my mind at the sad news of Kropotkin's breakdown. I could not think of leaving for Petrograd without seeing Peter again. Skilled nurses were scarce in Russia and I could take care of him and do at least that much for my dear teacher and friend.
I learned that Peter's daughter, Alexandra, was in Moscow and about to go to Dmitrov. She informed me that a very competent nurse, a Russian woman trained in England, was in charge of the case. Their little cottage was too crowded already, she said, and it was not advisable to disturb Peter at the moment. She was leaving for Dmitrov and she would telephone to me about father's condition and the advisability of my seeing him.
The Petrograd Museum was waiting for Sasha's report on his conferences with the Ispart, necessitating his immediate departure for the north, while I remained in Moscow ready for a call from Dmitrov. Several days passed without my receiving word from Alexandra, which led me to conclude that Peter was improving and that my services were not needed. I thereupon left for Petrograd.
I had hardly been in the city an hour when Mme Ravich telephoned to inform me that my presence was urgently called for from Dmitrov. She had received a message from Moscow on the long-distance wire urging my immediate coming. Peter had grown worse and the family had begged for me to be notified to come at once.
My train ran into a raging storm and we arrived in Moscow ten hours behind schedule. There was no train for Dmitrov until the following evening, and the roads were blocked by snow-drifts too great for an automobile. All telephone wires were down and there was no way to reach Dmitrov.
The evening train moved with exasperating slowness, repeatedly stopping to refuel. It was four in the morning when we arrived. Together with Alexander Schapiro, an intimate friend of the Kropotkin family, and Pavlov, a comrade from the Bakers' Union, I hastened to the Kropotkin cottage. Alas, too late! Peter had ceased breathing an hour before. He died at four a. m., February 8, 1921.
The distracted widow told me that Peter had repeatedly inquired whether I was already on my way and how soon I would arrive. Sophie was near collapse, and in the need of looking after her I forgot the cruel combination of circumstances that had prevented my rendering even the least service to him who had been such a potent inspiration in my life and work.
We learned from Sophie that Lenin, when informed of Peter's illness, had sent the best Moscow physicians to Dmitrov, together with provisions and delicacies for the patient. He had also ordered that frequent bulletins of Peter's condition should be sent him as well as published in the press. It was a sad commentary that so much attention should have been given on his death-bed to the man who had twice been raided by the Cheka and who had thereby been compelled to go into undesired retirement. Peter Kropotkin had helped to prepare the ground for the Revolution, but had been denied a share in its life and development; his voice had penetrated Russia in spite of czarist persecution, but it was strangled by the Communist dictatorship.
Peter had never sought or accepted favors from any government nor tolerated pomp and display. We therefore determined there should be no intrusion from the State at his funeral, and that it should not be vulgarized by the participation of officialdom. Peter's last days upon earth should rest in the hands of his comrades only.
Schapiro and Pavlov departed for Moscow to call out Sasha and other Petrograd comrades. Together with the Moscow group they were to take charge of the obsequies. I remained in Dmitrov to help Sophie prepare her precious dead for the transfer to the capital for burial.
In the silent presence of my comrade I came upon treasures in his being that his utter lack of egotism would not have permitted me discover. I had known Peter for over a quarter of a century, was familiar with his life, his works and colorful personality. But only his death disclosed his cherished secret that he had also been an artist of unusual quality. I found hidden away in a box, a number of drawings Peter had made in his all too few leisure moments. Their exquisite line and form proved that he might have achieved as much with his brush as he had with his pen had he cared to devote himself to it. In music also Peter would have excelled. He loved the piano and he could find expression and release in his fine interpretation of the masters. In the drab Dmitrov existence his sole delight consisted in the playing and singing of two young women friends of the family. With them he would feast his love of music on regular weekly evenings.
Richly endowed with creative ability, Peter had been still richer in his vision of a noble social ideal and in his humanity, which embraced all mankind. For that more than for anything else he had labored during the conscious part of his almost fourscore years. In fact, until the very day when he had to take to his bed, Peter had continued working, under most distressing conditions, on his volume on Ethics, which he had hoped to make the supreme effort of his life. His deepest regret in his last hours was that he had not been given a little longer to complete what he had begun years before.
In the past three years of his life Peter had been cut off from close contact with the masses. In his death he found full contact with them. Peasants, workers, soldiers, intellectuals, men and women from a radius of many miles, as well as the entire community of Dmitrov, streamed through the Kropotkin cottage to pay their last tribute to the man that had dwelt among them and had shared their struggle and afflictions.
Sasha arrived in Dmitrov together with a number of Moscow comrades to assist in the removal of Peter's body to Moscow. Never had the little town rendered so great homage to anyone as it did to Peter Kropotkin. The children had known and loved him best because of his childlike playfulness with them. The schools were closed for the day in mourning for their departed friend. In large numbers they marched to the station and waved their farewell to Peter as the train slowly steamed out.
On the way to Moscow I learned from Sasha that the Peter Kroputkin Funeral Commission, which he had helped to organize and of which he was the chairman, had already been subjected to chicanery by the Soviet authorities. Permission had been granted the commission to publish two of Peter's pamphlets and to issue a special Peter Kropotkin Memorial Bulletin. Later the Moscow Soviet, under the presidency of Kamenev, demanded that the manuscripts of the Bulletin be submitted for censorship. Sasha, Schapiro, and other comrades protested that the proceedings would delay the publication. To gain time they had pledged that nothing but appreciations of Kropotkin's life and work should appear in the memorial issue. Then the censor suddenly remembered that he had too much work on hand and that the matter would have to await its regular turn. It meant that the Bulletin could not appear in time for the funeral, and it was evident that the Bolsheviki were resorting to their usual tactics of holding up things until too late for their effectiveness. Our comrades decided to resort to direct action. Lenin had repeatedly appropriated that anarchist idea, and why should the anarchists not recapture it from him? Time was pressing and the object was important enough even to risk arrest. They broke the seal the Cheka had placed on the printing establishment of our old comrade Atabekian, and our friends worked like beavers to prepare the Bulletin in time for the funeral.
In Moscow the expressions of esteem and affection for Peter Kropotkin became a tremendous demonstration. From the moment the body arrived in the capital and was placed in the Trade Union House, and all during the two days that the dead lay in state in the Marble Hall, there began an outpouring of the people such as had not been manifested since the days of "October."
The Funeral Commission had sent a request to Lenin to release temporarily the anarchists imprisoned in Moscow to enable them to take part in the last honors paid their dead teacher and friend. Lenin had promised and the Executive Committee of the Communist Party had directed the Veh-Cheka (the All-Russian Cheka) to free "according to its judgment" the imprisoned anarchists for participation in the obsequies. But the Veh-Cheka apparently was not disposed to obey even Lenin or the supreme authority of its own party. Would the Funeral Commission guarantee the return of the prisoners to jail, it demanded. The commission pledged itself collectively. Whereupon the Veh-Cheka declared that there were "no anarchists in the Moscow prisons." The truth, however, was that the Butirky and the inner jail of the Cheka were filled with our comrades arrested in the raid of the Kharkov Conference, though the latter had been officially permitted according to the Soviet agreement with Nestor Makhno. Moreover, Sasha had gained admission to the Butirky and there talked with more than a score of our imprisoned comrades. Accompanied by the Russian anarchist Yarchook, he had also visited the inner prison of the Moscow Cheka and there conversed with Aaron Baron, who represented on the occasion a number of other imprisoned anarchists. Still the Cheka insisted that there were "no anarchists imprisoned in Moscow."
Once again the Funeral Commission was compelled to resort to direct action. On the morning of the funeral it instructed Alexandra Kropotkin to telephone to the Moscow Soviet that a public announcement of its breach of faith would be made and that the wreaths laid on the bier of Kropotkin by Soviet and Communist organizations would be removed forthwith if the promise given by Lenin was not kept.
The large Hall of Columns was filled to the doors, among those present being also several representatives of the European and American press. Our old friend Henry Alsberg was there, recently returned to Russia. Another correspondent was Arthur Ransome, of the Manchester Guardian. They would be sure to make the Soviet breach of faith widely known. After the world had been daily apprized for weeks of the care and attention bestowed by the Soviet Government upon Peter Kropotkin in his last illness, the publication of such a scandal had to be avoided at all costs. Kamenev therefore pleaded for more time and solemnly promised to have the imprisoned anarchists released within twenty minutes.
The funeral was held up for an hour. The great masses of bereaved outside kept shivering in the bitter Moscow frost, all waiting for the arrival of the imprisoned pupils of the great dead. At last they came, but only seven of them, from the Cheka jail. There were none of the Butirky comrades, but at the last moment the Cheka assured the commission that they had been released and were on their way to the hall.
The prisoners on leave acted as the honorary pall-bearers. In proud sadness they carried the last remains of their beloved teacher and comrade out of the hall. In the street they were received in impressive silence by the vast assembly. Soldiers without arms, sailors, students, and children, labor organizations of every trade, and groups of men and women representing the learned professions, peasants, and numerous anarchist bodies, all with their banners of red or black, a multitudinous mass united without coercion, orderly without force, stretched along the long march of two hours to the Devichy Cemetery, on the outskirts of the city.
At the Tolstoy Museum the strains of Chopin's Funeral March greeted the cortège, and a chorus by the followers of the seer of Yasnaya Polyana. In appreciation our comrades lowered their flags, as a fitting tribute of one great son of Russia to another.
Passing the Butirky prison, the procession came to a second halt, and our flags were lowered in token of Peter Kropotkin's last greeting to his courageous comrades who were waving their adieu to him from their barred windows.
Spontaneous expressions of deep-felt sorrow characterized the speeches made by representative men of various political tendencies at the grave of our departed comrade. The dominant note was that the death of Peter Kropotkin was a loss of a great moral force, the equal of which was well-nigh extinct in their native land.
For the first time since my coming to Petrograd my own voice rang out in public. It sounded to me strangely hard and inadequate to express all that Peter had meant to me. My grief over his passing away was bound up with my despair over the defeat of the Revolution, which none of us had been able to avert.
The sun, slowly disappearing below the horizon, and the sky, bathed in dark red, made a fitting canopy over the fresh soil that was now Peter Kropotkin's eternal resting-place.
The seven paroled boys spent the evening with us, and it was late at night when they reached their prison-house. Not expecting them, the guards had locked the gates and retired. The men had fairly to break into the place, so astounded were the keepers to see anarchists foolish enough to live up to the pledge given for them by their comrades.
The anarchists in the Butirky prison had not appeared at the funeral, after all. The Veh-Cheka had assured our commission that they had declined to do so, though offered the opportunity. We knew that it was a lie; nevertheless I decided upon a personal visit to our prisoners to secure their side of the story. This unfortunately involved the hateful necessity of applying to the Cheka for a permit. I was taken into the private office of the presiding Chekist, who proved a mere youth with a gun in his belt and another on his desk. He met me with outstretched hands, profusely addressing me as his "dear comrade." His name was Brenner, he informed me, and he used to live in America. He had been an anarchist and of course he knew "Sasha" and me well and all about our activities in the States. He was proud to call us his comrades. Naturally he was now with the Communists, he explained, for he considered the present régime a stepping stone to anarchism. The Revolution was the main thing, and since the Bolsheviki were working in its behalf, he was co-operating with them. But had I ceased to be a revolutionist that I refused to grasp the proffered comradely hand from one of its defenders?
I had never in my life shaken hands with detectives, I replied, and much less would I do so with one who had been an anarchist. I came for a pass to the prison and I wanted to know whether I could secure one.
The Chekist turned white, but he kept his composure. "All right about the pass," he said, "but there is a little matter that needs explanation." He drew out a clipping from a desk drawer and handed it to me. It was the silly Clayton article that I had already seen months before. It was imperative that I retract its contents in the Soviet press, Brenner declared. I replied that I had long ago cabled my version of it to friends in America, and that I had no intention of doing anything more in the matter. My refusal was sure to go against me, the Chekist remarked. As a tovarishtch he felt it his duty to warn me. "Is it a threat?" I asked. "Not yet," he muttered.
He rose and walked out of the room. I waited for half an hour, wondering whether I was a prisoner. Everyone's turn comes in Russia; why not also mine, I mused. Presently steps approached and the door was thrown open. An old man, evidently a Chekist, gave me a slip of paper permitting me to enter the Butirky.
Among a large group of imprisoned comrades I met several I had known in the States: Fanya and Aaron Baron, Volin, and others who had been active in America, as well as the Russians of the Nabat organization whom I had met in Kharkov. They had been visited by a representative of the Veh-Cheka, they related, who had offered to release several of them individually, but not as a collective group, as had been arranged with the Funeral Commission. Our comrades had repudiated the breach of faith and insisted that they would attend the Kropotkin funeral in a body or not at all. The man informed them that he would have to report their demand to his superior officers and that the would soon return with the final decision. But he never came back. The comrades said it did not matter at all, because they had held their own Kropotkin memorial meeting in the corridor of their prison wing, and the occasion had been honored by appropriate speeches and revolutionary songs. In fact, with the help of the other politicals they had turned the prison into a popular university, Volin remarked. They were conducting classes in social science, political economy, sociology, and literature, and they were teaching the common prisoners to read and write. They were enjoying more freedom than we on the outside and we should envy them, they joked. But their haven, they feared, would probably not last much longer.
Sophie Kropotkin, whose whole life had been wrapped up in Peter and his work, was completely shattered by her loss. She could not bear to go on without him, she told me, unless she could devote the rest of her days to the perpetuation of his memory and efforts. A Peter Kropotkin museum was her idea as a fitting testimonial, and she pleaded with me to remain in Moscow to help her realize the project. I agreed that her plan would be a most appropriate monument to Peter, though I did not consider Russia at present the best place for it. The work would involve continual begging from the Government, and that would certainly not be in conformity with Peter's views and wishes. But Sophie insisted that Russia was, everything considered, the most logical place for such a museum. Peter had loved his native land and had had the greatest faith in its people, notwithstanding the Bolshevik dictatorship. Heart-breaking as conditions were, he had often told her, he was determined to spend the rest of his life there. She also had always been devoted to Russia, and, with Peter now resting in Russian soil, it had become doubly sacred to her.
She felt that, with Sasha and me on the museum committee, the main support would come from America and very little would therefore have to be asked from the soviets. The members of the Kropotkin Funeral Commission favored Sophie's plan. Whatever the nature of the dictatorship, they held, the fact remained that the great Revolution had taken place in Russia, and that country was therefore the proper home for a Kropotkin museum.
The Peter Kropotkin Funeral Commission reorganized itself int a Memorial Committee, with Sophie Kropotkin as its chairman, Sasha as general secretary, and me as manager. In addition I was also to substitute for Sophie during her absence in Dmitrov. The organization, which consisted of representatives of the various anarchist groups, decided to apply to the Moscow Soviet for the old Kropotkin family house as a home for the museum, as well as to request that the Kropotkin cottage in Dmitrov be secured for the widow of Peter.
Together with Sasha I returned to Petrograd to sever our connections with the Museum of the Revolution. We both regretted having to give up our active association with its staff, who had been so splendid in their relationship with us. But the Ispart had irrevocably decided to set up a political commissar over the museum expeditions, and neither Sasha nor I would continue work under such conditions. Moreover, we considered the work of a Peter Kropotkin museum more vital than our labors for the Petrograd Museum and we were already in active charge of the preliminary work. Our presence in Moscow was urgent and we should have to live there. Alexandra Kropotkin was leaving for Europe, and Sophie had promised that we could have the two small rooms they had occupied in an apartment on the Leontevsky Pereulok. At last we should be able to live like the rest of the nonofficial population.
In my early Russian period the question of strikes had puzzled me a great deal. People had told me that the least attempt of that kind was crushed and the participants sent to prison. I had not believed it, and, as in all similar things, I had turned to Zorin for information. "Strikes under the dictatorship of the proletariat!" he had exclaimed; "there's no such thing." He had even upbraided me for crediting such wild and impossible tales. Against whom, indeed, should the workers strike in Soviet Russia, he had argued. Against themselves? They were the masters of the country, politically as well as industrially. To be sure, there were some among the toilers who were not yet fully class-conscious and aware of their own true interests. These were sometimes disgruntled, but they were elements incited by the shkurniky, by self-seekers and enemies of the Revolution. Skinners, parasites, they were, who were purposely misleading the dark people. They were the worst kind of sabotazhniky, no better than out and out counter-revolutionists, and of course the Soviet authorities had to protect the country against their kind. Most of them were in prison.
Since then I had learned by personal observation and experience that the real sabotazhniky, counter-revolutionists, and bandits in Soviet penal institutions were a negligible minority. The bulk of the prison population consisted of social heretics who were guilty of the cardinal sin against the Communist Church. For no offense was considered more heinous than to entertain political views in opposition to the party, and to voice any protest against the evils and crimes of Bolshevism. I found that by far the greatest number were political prisoners, as well as peasants and workers guilty of demanding better treatment and conditions. These facts, though rigidly kept from the public, were nevertheless common knowledge, as were indeed most things that were secretly going on beneath the Soviet surface. How forbidden information leaked out was a mystery, but it did leak out and would spread with the rapidity and intensity of a forest fire.
Within less than twenty-four hours of our return to Petrograd we learned that the city was seething with discontent and strike talk. The cause of it was the increased suffering due to the unusually severe winter as well as partly to the habitual Soviet near-sightedness. Heavy snow-storms had delayed the meager supplies of food and fuel for the city. In addition the Petro-Soviet had committed the stupidity of closing down several factories and cutting the rations of their employes almost in half. At the same time it had become known that the party members in the shops had received a fresh supply of shoes and clothing, while the rest of the toilers were wretchedly clad and shod. To cap the climax the authorities vetoed the meeting called by the workers to discuss ways of ameliorating the situation.
It was the common feeling in Petrograd among non-Communist elements that the situation was very grave. The atmosphere was charged to the point of explosion. We decided of course to remain in the city. Not that we hoped to avert impending trouble, but we wanted to be on hand in case we could be of help to the people.
The storm broke out even before anyone expected it. It began with the strike of the millmen at the Troubetskoy works. Their demands were modest enough: an increase in their food rations, as had long ago been promised them, and also the distribution of the foot-gear on hand. The Petro-Soviet refused to parley with the strikers until they returned to work. Companies of armed kursanty, consisting of young Communists in military training, were sent to disperse the workers gathered about the mills. The cadets sought to incite the crowd by firing into the air, but fortunately the workers had come unarmed and there was no bloodshed. The strikers resorted to a more powerful weapon, the solidarity of their fellow-toilers, with the result that the employes of five more factories laid down their tools and joined the strike movement. To a man, they streamed from the Galernaya docks, the Admiralty shops, the Patronny mills, the Baltiysky and Laferm factories. Their street demonstration was promptly broken up by soldiers. From all accounts, I gathered that the handling of the strikers was by no means very comradely. Even such an ardent Communist as Liza Zorin had been aroused to protest against the methods used. Liza and I had drifted apart a long time ago and I was therefore much surprised that she should feel the need of unburdening her heart to me. Never would she have believed that Red Army men would rough-ride over workingmen, she protested. Some women had fainted at the sight of it, and others had become hysterical. A woman standing near her had evidently recognized her as an active party member and had no doubt held her responsible for the brutal scene. She turned on Liza like a fury and hit her full in the face, causing her to bleed profusely. Though staggered by the blow, dear old Liza, who had always teased me about my sentimentality, told her assailant that it did not matter at all. "To reassure the distracted woman I begged her to let me take her to her home," Liza related. "Her home --- it was a dreadful hole such as I thought no longer existed in our country. One dark room, cold and barren, occupied by the woman, her husband, and their six children. To think that I have lived in the Astoria all this time!" she moaned. She knew it was not the fault of her party that such appalling conditions still prevailed in Soviet Russia, she continued. Nor was it Communist willfulness that was responsible for the strike. The blockade and the world imperialist conspiracy against the Workers' Republic were to blame for the poverty and suffering. Just the same, she could not remain in her comfortable quarters any longer. That desperate woman's room and her frostbitten children would haunt her days. Poor Liza! Loyal and staunch she was and of sterling character. But oh, so blind politically!
The plea of the workers for more bread and some fuel soon flared into decided political demands, thanks to the arbitrariness and ruthlessness of the authorities. A manifesto, pasted on the walls no one knew by whom, called for "a complete change in the policies of the Government." It declared that, "first of all, the workers and peasants need freedom. They don't want to live by the decrees of the Bolsheviki; they want to control their own destinies." Every day the situation grew more tense and new demands were being voiced by means of proclamations on the walls and buildings. At last appeared a call for the Uchredilka, the Constituent Assembly so hated and denounced by the ruling party.
Martial law was declared and the workers were ordered to return to the shops on pain of being deprived of their rations. This entirely failed of any effect, whereupon a number of unions were liquidated, their officials and the more recalcitrant strikers placed in prison.
In helpless misery we saw groups of men, surrounded by armed Chekists and soldiers, led past our windows. In the hope of making the Soviet leaders realize the folly and danger of their tactics Sasha tried to get hold of Zinoviev, while I sought Mme Ravich, Zorin and Zipperovich, head of the Petrograd Trade Union Soviet. But they all denied themselves to us on the excuse that they were too busy defending the city from counter-revolutionary plots hatched by the Mensheviki and Socialist-Revolutionists. This formula had grown stale by three years' repetition, but it still helped to throw sand into the eyes of the Communist rank and file.
The strike kept spreading, all extreme measures notwithstanding. Arrests followed upon arrests, but the very stupidity with which the authorities dealt with the situation served to encourage the dark elements. Anti-revolutionary and Jew-baiting proclamations began to appear, and the wild rumors of military suppression and Cheka brutality against the strikers filled the city.
The workers were determined, but it was apparent that they would soon be starved into submission. There was no means by which the public could aid the strikers even if they had anything to give. All avenues of approach to the industrial districts of the city were cut off by massed troops. Moreover, the population itself was in dreadful want. The little we could gather in foodstuffs and clothing was a mere drop in the ocean. We all realized that the odds between the dictatorship and the workers were too uneven to permit the strikers to hold out much longer.
Into this tense and desperate situation there was presently introduced a new factor that held out the hope of some settlement. It was the sailors of Kronstadt. True to their revolutionary traditions and solidarity with the workers, so loyally demonstrated in the revolution of 1905, and later in the March and October upheavals of 1917, they now again took up the cudgels in behalf of the harassed proletarians in Petrograd. By no means blindly so. Quietly and without outsiders knowing about it, they had sent a committee to investigate the claims of the strikers. Its report roused the sailors of the warships Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol to adopt a resolution in favor of the demands of their brother workers on strike. They declared themselves devoted to the Revolution and the soviets, as well as loyal to the Communist Party. They protested, however, against the arbitrary attitude of certain commissars and stressed the need of greater self-determination for the organized bodies of workers. They further demanded freedom of assembly for labor unions and peasant organizations and the release of all labor and political prisoners from Soviet prisons and concentration camps.
The example of these brigades was taken up by the First and Second Squadrons of the Baltic Fleet stationed at Kronstadt. At an open-air meeting on March 1, attended by sixteen thousand sailors, Red Army men, and workers of Kronstadt, similar resolutions were adopted unanimously with the exception of only three votes. The dissenters included Vassiliev, president of the Kronstadt Soviet, who was chairman of the mass meeting; Kuzmin, the Commissar of the Baltic Fleet; and Kalinin, President of the Federated Socialist Soviet Republics.
Two anarchists who had attended the gathering returned to tell us of the order, enthusiasm, and fine spirit that had prevailed there. Not since the early days of October had they seen such spontaneous demonstration of solidarity and fervent comradeship. If only we had been there, they lamented. The presence of Sasha, for whom the Kronstadt sailors had made such a valiant stand when he was in danger of extradition to California, in 1917, and of me, whom the sailors knew by reputation, would have added weight to the resolution, they declared. We agreed that it would have been a wonderful experience to participate in the first great mass meeting on Soviet soil that was not machine-made. Gorki had assured me long ago that the men of the Baltic Fleet were born anarchists and that my place was with them. I had often longed to go to Kronstadt to meet the crews and talk to them, but I had felt that in my disturbed and confused state of mind I could give them nothing constructive. But now I would go to take my place with them, though I knew that the Bolsheviki would raise the cry that I was inciting the sailors against the regime. Sasha said he did not care what the Communists would say. He would join the sailors in their protest in behalf of the striking Petrograd workers.
Our comrades emphasized that the expressions of sympathy on the part of Kronstadt with the strikers could in no way be construed as anti-Soviet action. In fact, the entire spirit of the sailors and the resolutions passed at their mass meeting were thoroughly Sovietist. They were strongly opposed to the autocratic attitude of the Petrograd authorities towards the starving strikers, but at no time had the gathering shown the least opposition to the Communists. In fact, the great meeting had been held under the auspices of the Kronstadt Soviet. To show their loyalty the sailors had met Kalinin on his arrival in their city with music and song, and his talk was listened to with respect and attention. Even after he and his comrades had attacked the sailors and condemned their resolution, Kalinin had been escorted back to the station in the greatest friendliness, our informants stated.
We had heard the rumor that at a gathering of three hundred delegates from the fleet, the garrison, and the trade-union soviet Kuzmin and Vassilev had been arrested by the sailors. We asked our two comrades what they knew of the matter. They admitted that the two men had been detained. The reason for it was that at the meeting Kuzmin had denounced the sailors as traitors, and the Petrograd strikers as shkurniky, and had declared that henceforth the Communist Party "would fight them to a finish as counter-revolutionists." The delegates had also learned that Kuzmin had given orders for the removal of all food and munitions from Kronstadt, thereby virtually dooming the city to starvation. Therefore it was decided by the sailors and the garrison of Kronstadt to detain Kuzmin and Vassilev and to take precautions that no supplies be removed from the town. But that was no indication whatever of any rebellious intentions or that they had ceased to believe in the revolutionary integrity of the Communists. On the contrary, the Communist delegates at the gathering were permitted an equal voice with the rest. Further proof of their confidence in the régime was given by the delegates in sending a committee of thirty men to confer with the Petro-Soviet with a view to an amicable settlement of the strike.
We felt elated over the splendid solidarity of the Kronstadt sailors and soldiers with their striking brothers in Petrograd and we hoped that a speedy termination of the trouble would soon result, thanks to the mediation of the sailors.
Alas, our hopes proved vain within an hour after we had received news of the Kronstadt proceedings. An order signed by Lenin and Trotsky spread like wildfire through Petrograd. It declared that Kronstadt had mutinied against the Soviet Government, and denounced the sailors as "tools of former czarist generals who together with Socialist-Revolutionist traitors staged a counter-revolutionary conspiracy against the proletarian Republic."
"Preposterous! It's nothing short of madness!" Sasha cried as he read the copy of the order. "Lenin and Trotsky must be misinformed by someone. They could not possibly believe the sailors guilty of counter-revolution. Why, the crews of the Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol in particular had been the staunchest supporters of the Bolsheviki in October and ever since. And did not Trotsky himself greet them as 'the pride and flower of the Revolution'!"
We must go to Moscow at once, Sasha declared. It was imperative to see Lenin and Trotsky and to explain to them that it was all a horrible misunderstanding, a blunder that might prove fatal to the Revolution itself. It was very hard for Sasha to give up his faith in the revolutionary integrity of the men that had appeared as the proletarian apostles to millions throughout the world. I agreed with him that Lenin and Trotsky might have been misled by Zinoviev, who was nightly telephoning to the Kremlin detailed reports about Kronstadt. Zinoviev had never been famed even among his own comrades for personal courage. He had become panicky at the first symptoms of discontent shown by the Petrograd workers. When he learned that the local garrison had expressed sympathy with the strikers, he completely lost his head and had ordered a machine-gun placed at the Astoria for his protection. The stand of Kronstadt had put terror into his heart and had caused him to bombard Moscow with wild stories. I knew all that, as did also Sasha, but I could not believe that Lenin and Trotsky actually thought the Kronstadt men guilty of counter-revolution or capable of co-operating with White generals, as charged in Lenin's order.
Extraordinary martial law was declared over the entire Petrograd Province, and none but specially authorized officials could leave the city. The Bolshevik press opened a campaign of calumny and vituperation against Kronstadt, proclaiming that the sailors and soldiers had made common cause with the "czarist general Kozlovsky," and declaring the Kronstadt people outlawed. Sasha began to realize that the situation involved a good deal more than mere misinformation on the part of Lenin and Trotsky. The latter was to attend the special session of the Petro-Soviet where the fate of Kronstadt was to be decided. We resolved to be present.
It was my first opportunity in Russia to hear Trotsky. We might remind him of his parting words in New York, I thought: the hope he had expressed that we should come to Russia soon to assist in the great work made possible by the overthrow of czarism. We would plead with him to let us help settle the Kronstadt difficulty in a comradely spirit, to dispose of our time and energies, even of our lives, in the supreme test to which the Revolution was putting the Communist Party.
Unfortunately Trotsky's train was delayed and he failed to appear at the session. The men who addressed the gathering were beyond reason or appeal. Fanaticism run mad was in their words, and blind fear in their hearts.
The platform was heavily guarded by kursanty, and Chekist soldiers with fixed bayonets stood between it and the audience. Zinoviev, who presided, seemed on the point of a nervous collapse. Several times he rose to speak and then sat down again. When he finally began talking, he kept his head jerking to the left and right as if fearing a sudden attack, and his voice, always adolescently thin, rose to a high-pitched shrillness, extremely jarring and in no way convincing.
He denounced "General Kozlovsky" as the evil spirit of the Kronstadt men, though most of the audience knew that that military officer had been placed in Kronstadt by Trotsky himself as an artillery specialist. Kozlovsky was old and decrepit and of no influence whatever with the sailors or the garrison. That did not prevent Zinoviev, as chairman of the specially created Committee of Defense, from proclaiming that Kronstadt had risen against the Revolution and was seeking to carry out the plans of Kozlovsky and his czarist aids. Kalinin shed his usually grandmotherly manner and attacked the sailors in vicious terms, forgetful of the honors paid him in Kronstadt but a few days previously. "No measure can be too severe for the counter-revolutionists who dare to raise their hand against our glorious Revolution," he declared. The lesser lights among the speakers followed in the same strain, rousing their Communist zealots, ignorant of the real facts, to revengeful frenzy against the men yesterday acclaimed heroes and brothers.
Above the din of the howling and stamping mob a single voice strove to be heard --- the tense, earnest voice of a man in the front rows. He was a delegate of the striking employes at the arsenal works. He was moved to protest, he declared, against the misrepresentations uttered from the platform against the brave and loyal men of Kronstadt. Facing Zinoviev and pointing his finger directly at him, the man thundered: "It's the cruel indifference of yourself and of your party that drove us to strike and that roused the sympathy of our brother sailors, who had fought side by side with us in the Revolution. They are guilty of no other crime, and you know it. Consciously you malign them and call for their destruction." Cries of "Counter-revolutionist! Traitor! Shkurnik! Menshevik bandit!" turned the assembly into a bedlam.
The old worker remained standing, his voice rising above the tumult. "Barely three years ago Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, and all of you," he shouted, "were denounced as traitors and German spies. We, the workers and sailors, had come to your rescue and saved you from the Kerensky Government. It was we who placed you in power. Have you forgotten that? Now you threaten us with the sword. Remember you are playing with fire. You are repeating the blunders and crimes of the Kerensky Government. Beware that a similar fate does not overtake you!"
The challenge made Zinoviev wince. The others on the platform moved uneasily in their seats. The Communist audience seemed awed for an instant by the portentous warning, and in that moment there rang out another voice. A tall man in a sailor's uniform stood up in the back. Nothing had changed in the revolutionary spirit of his brothers of the sea, he declared. To the last man they were ready to defend the Revolution with their every drop of blood. Then he proceeded to read the Kronstadt resolution adopted at the mass meeting on March 1. The uproar his daring evoked made it impossible for any but those nearest to hear him. But he stood his ground and kept on reading to the end.
The only reply to these two sturdy sons of the Revolution was Zinoviev's resolution demanding the complete and immediate surrender of Kronstadt on pain of extermination. It was rushed through the session amid a pandemonium of confusion, with every opposing voice gagged.
The atmosphere, surcharged with the hysteria of passion and hate, crept into my being and held me by the throat. All evening I wanted to cry out against the mockery of men stooping to the lowest political trickery in the name of a great ideal. My voice seemed to have left me, for I could not utter a sound. My thoughts reverted to another occasion where the spirit of vengeance and hate had run amok --- the eve of registration, June 4, 1917, at Hunts Point Palace, New York. I had been able to speak out then, entirely oblivious of danger from the war-drunk patriots. Why could I not now? Why did I not brand the impending fratricide by the Bolsheviki, as I had Woodrow Wilson's crime that had dedicated the young manhood of America to the Moloch of war? Had I lost the grit that had sustained me all through the years of fighting against every injustice and every wrong? Or was it helplessness which paralyzed my will, the despair that had settled on my heart with the growing realization that I had mistaken a phantom for a life-giving force? Nothing could alter that crushing consciousness or make any protest worth while.
Yet silence in the face of the threatened slaughter was also intolerable. I had to make myself heard. But not by the obsessed, who would choke back my voice as they had done with the others. I would make known my stand in a statement to the supreme power of the Soviet Defense, that very night.
When we were alone and I spoke to Sasha about the matter, I was glad to learn that my old pal had conceived the same plan. He suggested that our letter should be a joint protest and deal exclusively with the murderous resolution passed by the Petro-Soviet. Two comrades who had been with us at the session shared his view and offered to sign their names to our joint appeal to the authorities.
I had no hope that our message would exert any sobering or restraining influence on the events decreed against the sailors. But I was determined to have my attitude registered in a manner to bear future witness that I had not remained a silent party to the blackest betrayal of the Revolution by the Communist Party.
At two o'clock in the morning Sasha got in touch by telephone with Zinoviev, to inform him that he had something important to communicate to him regarding Kronstadt. Perhaps Zinoviev assumed that it was something that might aid the conspiracy against Kronstadt. Otherwise he would have hardly troubled to rush Mme Ravich over at that hour of the night, ten minutes after Sasha had talked to him. She could be trusted absolutely, Zinoviev's note said, and she was to be given the message. We handed her our communication, which read:
To the Petrograd Soviet of Labor and Defense,
To remain silent now is impossible, even criminal. Recent events impel us anarchists to speak out and to declare our attitude in the present situation.
The spirit of ferment and dissatisfaction manifest among the workers and sailors is the result of causes that demand our serious attention. Cold and hunger have produced dissatisfaction, and the absence of any opportunity for discussion and criticism is forcing the workers and sailors to air their grievances in the open.
White-guardist bands wish and may try to exploit this dissatisfaction in their own class interests. Hiding behind the workers and the sailors, they throw out slogans of the Constituent Assembly, of free trade, and similar demands.
We anarchists have long since exposed the fiction of these slogans, and we declare to the whole world that we will fight with arms against any counter-revolutionary attempt, in co-operation with all friends of the Social Revolution and hand in hand with the Bolsheviki.
Concerning the conflict between the Soviet Government and the workers and sailors, we hold that it must be settled, not by force of arms, but by means of comradely, fraternal revolutionary agreement. Resort to bloodshed on the part of the Soviet Government will not--in the given situation--intimidate or quiet the workers. On the contrary, it will serve only to aggravate matters, and will strengthen the hands of the Entente and of internal counter-revolution.
More important still, the use of force by the Workers' and Peasants' Government against the workers and sailors will have a reactionary effect upon the international revolutionary movement and will everywhere result in incalculable harm to the Social Revolution.
Comrades Bolsheviki, bethink yourselves before it is too late. Do not play with fire; you are about to make a most serious and decisive step.
We hereby submit to you the following proposition: Let a commission be selected, to consist of five persons, inclusive of two anarchists. The commission is to go to Kronstadt to settle the dispute by peaceful means. In the given situation it is the most radical method. It will be of international revolutionary significance.
March 5, 1921
Proof that our appeal had fallen on deaf ears came to us the very same day on the arrival of Trotsky and his ultimatum to Kronstadt. By order of the Workers' and Peasants' Government, he declared to the Kronstadt sailors and soldiers, he would "shoot like pheasants" all those who had dared to "raise their hand against the Socialist fatherland." The rebellious ships and crews were commanded to submit immediately to the orders of the Soviet Government or be subdued by force of arms. Only those surrendering unconditionally might count on the mercy of the Soviet Republic.
The final warning was signed by Trotsky, as Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Soviet, and by Kamenev, the Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army. Daring to question the divine right of rulers was again to be punished by death.
Trotsky kept his word. Having been helped to authority by the men of Kronstadt, he was now in a position to pay his debt in full to the "pride and glory of the Russian Revolution." The best military experts and strategists of the Romanov regime were at his service, among them the notorious Tukhachevsky, whom Trotsky appointed commander-in-chief of the Kronstadt attack. In addition there were hordes of Chekists, with three years' training in the art of murder; kursanty and Communists specially picked for their blind obedience to orders; and the most trusted troops from various fronts. With such a force massed against the doomed city the "mutiny" was expected to be easily quelled. Especially after the soldiers and sailors of the Petrograd garrison had been disarmed and those that had expressed solidarity with their besieged comrades removed from the danger zone.
From my room window in the Hotel International I saw them led by in small groups, surrounded by strong detachments of Cheka troops. Their step had lost its spring, their hands hung at their sides, and their heads were bowed in grief.
The Petrograd strikers were no longer feared by the authorities. They were weakened by slow starvation and their energy sapped. They were demoralized by the lies spread against them and their Kronstadt brothers, their spirit broken by the poison of doubt instilled by Bolshevik propaganda. They had no more fight nor faith left to come to the aid of their Kronstadt comrades who had so selflessly taken up their cause and who were about to give up their lives for them.
Kronstadt was forsaken by Petrograd and cut off from the rest of Russia. It stood alone. It could offer almost no resistance. "It will go down at the first shot," the Soviet press proclaimed. They were mistaken. Kronstadt had thought of nothing less than of mutiny or resistance to the Soviet Government. To the very last moment it was determined to shed no blood. It appealed all the time for understanding and amicable settlement. But, forced to defend itself against unprovoked military attack, it fought like a lion. During ten harrowing days and nights the sailors and workers of the besieged city held out against a continuous artillery fire from three sides and bombs hurled from airplanes upon the noncombatant community. Heroically they repulsed the repeated attempts of the Bolsheviki to storm the fortresses by special troops from Moscow. Trotsky and Tukhachevsky had every advantage over the men of Kronstadt. The entire machinery of the Communist State backed them, and the centralized press continued to spread venom against the alleged "mutineers and counter-revolutionists." They had unlimited supplies and men whom they had masked in white shrouds to blend with the snow of the frozen Finnish Gulf in order to camouflage the night attack against the unsuspecting men of Kronstadt. The latter had nothing but their unflinching courage and abiding faith in the justice of their cause and in the free soviets they championed as the savior of Russia from the dictatorship. They lacked even an ice-breaker to halt the onrush of the Communist enemy. They were exhausted by hunger and cold and sleepless nights of vigil. Yet they held their own, desperately fighting against overwhelming odds.
During the fearful suspense, the days and nights filled with the rumbling of heavy artillery, there sounded not a single voice amid the roar of guns to cry out against or call a halt to the terrible blood bath. Gorki, Maxim Gorki, where was he? His voice would be heard. "Let us go to him," I pleaded with some of the intelligentsia. He had never made the slightest protest in grave individual cases, neither in those concerning members of his own profession nor even when he knew of the innocence of doomed men. He would not protest now. It was hopeless.
The intelligentsia, the men and women that had once been revolutionary torch-bearers, leaders of thought, writers and poets, were as helpless as we and paralyzed by the futility of individual effort. Most of their comrades and friends were already in prison or exile; some had been executed. They felt too broken by the collapse of all human values.
I turned to the Communists of our acquaintance, imploring them to do something. Some of them realized the monstrous crime their party was committing against Kronstadt. They admitted that the charge of counter-revolution was a downright fabrication. The supposed leader, Kozlovsky, was a nonentity too frightened about his own fate to have anything to do with any protest of the sailors. The latter were of sterling quality, their sole aim the welfare of Russia. Far from making common cause with the czarist generals, they had even declined the help offered them by Chernov, the leader of the Socialist-Revolutionists. They wanted no outside aid. They demanded the right to choose their own deputies in the forthcoming elections to the Kronstadt Soviet and justice for the strikers in Petrograd.
These Communist friends spent nights with us --- talking, talking --- but none of them dared raise his voice in open protest. We did not realize, they said, the consequences it would involve. They would be excluded from the party, they and their families deprived of work and rations and literally condemned to death by starvation. Or they would simply vanish and no one would ever know what had become of them. Yet it was not fear that numbed their will, they assured us. It was the utter uselessness of protest or appeal. Nothing, nothing could stop the chariot-wheel of the Communist State. It had rolled them flat and they had no vitality left, even to cry out against it.
I was beset by the terrible apprehension that we also --- Sasha and I --- might reach the same state and become as spinelessly acquiescent as these people. Anything else would be preferable to that. Prison, exile, even death. Or escape! Escape from the horrible revolutionary sham and presence.
The idea that I might want to leave Russia had never before entered my mind. I was startled and shocked by the mere thought of it. I to leave Russia to her Calvary! Yet I felt that I would take even that step rather than become a cog in the machinery, an inanimate thing to be manipulated at will.
The cannonade of Kronstadt continued without let-up for ten days and nights and then came to a sudden stop on the morning of March 17. The stillness that fell over Petrograd was more fearful than the ceaseless firing of the night before. It held everyone in agonized suspense, and it was impossible to learn what had happened and why the bombardment had ceased. In the late afternoon the tension gave way to mute horror. Kronstadt had been subdued --- tens of thousands slain --- the city drenched in blood. The Neva a grave for masses of men, kursanty and young Communists whose heavy artillery had broken through the ice. The heroic sailors and soldiers had defended their position to the last breath. Those not fortunate enough to die fighting had fallen into the hands of the enemy to be executed or sent to slow torture in the frozen regions of northernmost Russia.
We were stunned. Sasha, the last thread of his faith in the Bolsheviki broken, desperately roamed the streets. Lead was in my limbs, unutterable weariness in every nerve. I sat limp, peering into the night. Petrograd was hung in a black pall, a ghastly corpse. The street-lamps flickered yellow, like candles at its head and feet.
The following morning, March 18, still heavy with sleep after the lack of it during seventeen anxious days, I was roused by the tramp of many feet. Communists were marching by, bands playing military tunes and singing the International. Its strains, once jubilant to my ear, now sounded like a funeral dirge for humanity's flaming hope.
March 18 --- the anniversary of the Paris Commune of 1871, crushed two months later by Thiers and Gallifet, the butchers of thirty thousand Communards. Emulated in Kronstadt on March 18, 1921.
The full significance of the "liquidation" of Kronstadt was disclosed by Lenin himself three days after the frightfulness. At the Tenth Congress of the Communist Party, staged in Moscow while the siege of Kronstadt was in progress, Lenin unexpectedly changed his inspired Communist song to an equally inspired pean to the New Economic Policy. Free trade, concessions to the capitalists, private employment of farm and factory labor, all damned for over three years as rank counter-revolution and punished by prison and even death, were now written by Lenin on the glorious banner of the dictatorship. Brazenly as ever he admitted what sincere and thoughtful persons in and out of the party had known for seventeen days: that "the Kronstadt men did not really want the counter-revolutionists. But neither did they want us." The naive sailors had taken seriously the slogan of the Revolution: "All power to the Soviets," by which Lenin and his party had solemnly promised to abide. That had been their unforgivable offense. For that they had to die. They had to be martyred to fertilize the soil for Lenin's new crop of slogans, which completely reversed the old. Their chef d'oeuvre the New Economic Policy, the NEP.
Lenin's public confession in regard to Kronstadt did not stop the hunt for the sailors, soldiers, and workers of the defeated city. They were arrested by the hundreds, and the Cheka was again busy "target-shooting."
Strangely enough, the anarchists had not been mentioned in connection with the Kronstadt "mutiny." But at the Tenth Congress Lenin had declared that the most merciless war must be waged against the "petty bourgeoisie," including the anarchist elements. The anarcho-syndicalist leanings of the labor opposition proved that these tendencies had developed in the Communist Party itself, he had said. Lenin's call to arms against the anarchists met with immediate response. The Petrograd groups were raided and scores of their members arrested. In addition the Cheka closed the printing and publishing offices of the Golos Truda, belonging to the anarcho-syndicalist branch of our ranks. We had purchased our ticket to Moscow before this happened. When we learned about the wholesale arrests, we decided to stay a little longer in case we too should be wanted. We were not molested, however, perhaps because it was necessary to have a few anarchist celebrities at large to show that only "bandits" were in Soviet prisons.
In Moscow we found all except half a dozen anarchists arrested and the Golos Truda book-store closed. In neither city had any charges been made against our comrades, nor had they been given a hearing or brought to trial. Nevertheless, a number of them had already been sent away to the penitentiary of Samara. Those still in the Butirky and the Taganka prisons were being subjected to the worst persecution and even physical violence. Thus one of our boys, young Kashirin, had been beaten by a Chekist in the presence of the prison warden. Maximov and other anarchists who had fought on the revolutionary fronts, and who were known and respected by many Communists, had been forced to declare a hunger-strike against the terrible conditions.
The first thing we were asked to do on our return to Moscow was to sign a manifesto to the Soviet authorities denouncing the concerted tactics to exterminate our people.
We did so of course, Sasha now as emphatic as I that protests from within Russia by the handful of politicals still out of prison were entirely futile. On the other hand, no effective action could be expected from the Russian masses, even if we could reach them. Years of war, civil strife, and suffering had sapped their vitality, and terror had silenced them into submission. Our recourse, Sasha declared, was Europe and the United States. The time had come when the workers abroad must learn about the shameful betrayal of "October." The awakened conscience of the proletariat and of other liberal and radical elements in every country must be crystallized into a mighty outcry against the ruthless persecution for opinion's sake. Only that might stay the hand of the dictatorship. Nothing else could.
This much the martyrdom of Kronstadt had already done for my pal. It had demolished the last vestiges of his belief in the Bolshevik myth. Not only Sasha, but also the other comrades who had formerly defended the Communist methods as inevitable in a revolutionary period, had at last been forced to see the abyss between "October" and the dictatorship.
If only the cost for the profound lesson taught them had not been so terrific, I should have taken comfort in the knowledge that Sasha and I were again united in our stand, and that my Russian comrades hitherto antagonistic to my attitude to the Bolsheviki had now come closer to me. It would be a relief not to have to grope further in distressing isolation and not to feel so alien in the midst of people whom I had known in the past as the ablest among the anarchists, not to have to choke back my thoughts and emotions before the one human being who had shared my life, my ideals, and my labors through our common lot of thirty-two years. But there was the black cross erected in Kronstadt and the blood of the modern Christs trickling from their hearts. How could one cherish personal comfort and relief?
On our way to the Leontevsky we ran into a parade more demonstrative and showy than the usual variety. What was the special occasion, we inquired. Had we just come to Moscow that we were ignorant of the grand event? Why, it was the return of General Slaschov-Krimsky that was being celebrated. "What!" cried Sasha and I in the same breath, "the White General, the Jew-baiter, the man who had with his own hand snuffed out the lives of Red soldiers and Jews, the sworn and relentless enemy of the Revolution?" The very one, we were assured. He had recanted and had begged to be readmitted to the fatherland he loved so well, swearing to serve the Bolsheviki faithfully henceforth. He was now being received with military honors and fêted at the order of the Soviet Government by workers, soldiers, and sailors singing revolutionary songs for the edification of one of the most implacable foes of the Revolution. We walked over to the Red Square to see the spectacle of Leon Trotsky, the Commissar of the Revolutionary Army of the Socialist Republic, reviewing his forces before the czarist general Slaschov-Krimsky. The grand stand was not far from John Reed's grave. Within its shadow Leon Trotsky, the butcher of Kronstadt, was clasping the blood-stained hand of his comrade Krimsky. A spectacle indeed to make the gods weep with laughter!
Shortly after this, General Slaschov-Krimsky was ordered to Karelia, a desolate district in the north, to "liquidate the counter-revolutionary uprising there." The simple Karelians, assured of their right to self-determination, had found the Communist yoke too irksome and had naïvely protested against the abuses they had been made to suffer. Who more competent to bring the "mutineers" to reason than General Slaschov-Krimsky?
One solace was left us. We did not have to eat out of the slayer's hand. My dear old mother and our friend Henry Alsberg had saved us from that degradation. Through a friend my mother had sent me three hundred dollars, and Henry had left Sasha some clothing to exchange for food. In our new mode of living these would go a long way to keep us above water.
We had not yet adapted ourselves to the process of existence that the bulk of the non-privileged were forced to undergo. Waylaying peasants at dawn for a supply of wood, pulling it home on a sleigh, chopping it with frozen hands, carrying it up three flights of stairs; then fetching water several times a day from a long distance and up to our quarters; cooking, washing, and sleeping in a little hall bedroom, Sasha's smaller even than mine and never quite warm --- this was bitter hard, at first, and terribly exhausting. My hands were chapped and swollen, and my spine, never very strong, was full of aches. My dear friend also suffered a great deal, especially from the return of his old trouble with his legs, the ligaments of which he had stretched by his fall in New York and which had crippled him for a year.
However, physical pain and weariness were as nothing to our inner liberation --- the spiritual release we felt that we no longer had to ask or accept anything from the powers that had dealt the final blow to "October" by the slaughter of Kronstadt.
Considering the complete collapse of all the revolutionary presence of the dictatorship, a Peter Kropotkin museum under its protection struck me as a direct desecration of his name. Sasha had also come to see the incongruity of a memorial to Peter within the citadel of Lenin, Trotsky, and Slaschov-Krimsky. Our Russian comrades agreed with us. Still they clung to the idea of the museum as the only center of anarchist thought that the Bolsheviki would not dare lay hands on. Sophie, however, did not want the Kropotkin museum turned into anarchist headquarters. Her ambition as the lifelong companion and coworker of Peter was a testimonial to all of Peter's versatile activities --- in the fields of science, philosophy, letters, humanism, and anarchism. While I understood Sophie and felt with her, I nevertheless had to sustain my comrades in their desire to emphasize the anarchist in Kropotkin. He himself had willed it so. He had chosen anarchism as his goal, and its exposition as his supreme interest in life. It was therefore Kropotkin the anarchist who should be given first place in a museum dedicated to him. Yet I could not ignore the importance of Sophie's part in the project. She alone had the devotion, the loving patience, the time and freedom necessary to bring the memorial to life and to watch over its development and growth. I pointed out to our comrades that, though they were still at liberty, they were in danger of arrest by the Cheka at any moment. How could they undertake to build and keep up the museum? Even when free, they could not do it. Their daily toil, added to the consuming task of securing their rations, would leave them neither time nor strength to accomplish anything for Peter's memorial. My part in the project would be limited to an appeal to our people in the United States, and even that I would make only because I wanted to help Sophie. I thought it very inconsistent to have a Kropotkin museum in present-day Russia, nor did I believe in asking or accepting help for it from the Soviet autocrats.
Sasha agreed to join me in the appeal, but under no circumstances would he have any further dealings with the men responsible for the Kronstadt blood bath, for the wholesale persecution of our comrades and the night assault on the politicals in the Butirky prison. The Romanov dynasty, he emphasized, had rarely been guilty of such a wanton attack on politicals. In the Socialist Republic Chekists and soldiers had fallen upon men and women asleep in their cells, beat them, dragged the women by the hair down the stairs, and thrown them into waiting trucks to be sent off no one knew where. No person with any humanity or revolutionary integrity could have anything to do with such criminals, Sasha declared passionately.
It was not often that my comrade was aroused to such a pitch or showed his indignation, no matter how deeply he felt it. But the letter we had received from one of the victims of the frightful night raid had been the last straw to Sasha's wrath, which had been accumulating for the past two months.
The letter bore out the rumors that had come to us during the day following the assault. It read:
Concentration Camp, RyazanOn the night of April 25 we were attacked by Red soldiers and armed Chekists and ordered to dress and get ready to leave the Butirky. Some of the politicals, fearing that they were to be taken to execution, refused to go and were terribly beaten. The women especially were maltreated, some of them being dragged down the stairs by their hair. Many have suffered serious injury. I myself was so badly beaten that my whole body feels like one big sore. We were taken out by force in our night-clothes and thrown into wagons. The comrades in our group know nothing of the whereabouts of the rest of the politicals, including Mensheviki, Socialist-Revolutionists, Anarchists, and Anarcho-Syndicalists.
The reason for the outrage was that the Cheka could not tolerate the comparative freedom our men had established in the Butirky, and their organization of classes, lectures, and discussions. Also the politicals had pleaded for reforms in the treatment of the ordinary prisoners. Constantly locked in their cells, given abominable food, their excrement-buckets often not emptied for two days, fifteen hundred inmates had gone on strike. It had been entirely due to the politicals that the demands of the unfortunates had been satisfied and the trouble terminated. The Cheka had not forgiven the set-back it had received through the intervention of the politicals. Hence the night assault of April 25.
Repeated inquiries by the Moscow Soviet about the fate of the three hundred Mensheviki, Socialist-Revolutionists, and Anarchists forcibly removed from the Butirky elicited the information that they had been distributed among the Orlov, Yaroslavl, and Vladimir prisons.
Shortly after the raid students of the Moscow University protested in an open meeting against the horrors of April 25. The initiators were promptly arrested, the university closed, and the students, who had come from different parts of Russia, given three days to return to their native places. The official explanation given for these drastic measures was lack of rations. The young people declared that they would do without them if permitted to continue their studies. But they were ordered to leave just the same. A short time later the university was opened again. "Henceforth no political activities of any kind will be tolerated," declared Preobrazhensky, Dean of the university. Dropping professors from the faculty and suspending students if they dared to protest had been a daily occurrence. Only the public did not know about it. After Kronstadt and the New Economic Policy the academic gag became more severe and quite unashamed; it ceased to be a star-chamber proceeding. Alexey Borovoy, a well-known anarchist and professor of philosophy, who had been free to teach in the Moscow University during the regime of the Czar, was forced to resign under the Bolshevik dictatorship. His offense consisted in that the students attended his classes en masse and heard him gladly.
The arrested students were exiled, among them even girls of the age of seventeen and eighteen, charged with belonging to a circle that was studying the works of Kropotkin. In view of the situation it was almost childish to think that the Bolsheviki would hesitate to lay hands on the Peter Kropotkin Museum. But most of the committee members refused to be convinced. Sasha and I needed no further justification for our stand. Besides, we had definitely decided to leave Russia.
In the first weeks of Sasha's anguish that followed the massacre of Kronstadt I had not dared to mention the idea of definitely leaving Russia that had come to me during the siege. I feared it might add to his agony. Later, when he had bravely pulled himself together, I broached the subject to him, not at all sure that he would want to go, but certain that I could not leave him behind under the murderous regime. I was therefore immensely relieved to find that Sasha had spent many sleepless nights brooding over the same idea. After we had discussed every possibility for making our lives count for more than mere existences in Russia, we had come to the conclusion that no word nor act of ours would be of value to the Revolution or to our movement or of the least help to our persecuted comrades. We might proclaim from the market-place the anti-revolutionary nature of Bolshevism, or we might hurl our lives against Lenin, Trotsky, and Zinoviev and go down with them. Far from serving our cause or the interest of the masses by such an act, we should be merely aiding the dictatorship. Its skillful propaganda would drag our names through the mire and brand us before the world as traitors, counter-revolutionists, and bandits. Nor could we continue gagged and chained. Therefore we decided to go. Once Sasha was clear that there was nothing vital for us to do in Russia, with the Revolution crushed by the iron hand of dictatorship, he insisted on our leaving soon and illegally. We should not be given passports, he said. Why, then, keep up the torture? Leave Russia like thieves in the night, I protested, Russia that had promised the furfilment of our hopes? I could not do that, not until we had tried other means. I pleaded that we should get in touch with our comrades abroad to find out what country would admit us. Syndicalist delegates were sure to attend the Congress of the Red Trade Union International to be held in July in Moscow. We might entrust a message to them, or still better to Henry Alsberg, who was about to leave Russia. He would not be like the others who had promised to deliver our message to our people in America and to tell them frankly of the situation. Most of them either had not done so or had misquoted us. No wonder Stella and Fitzi still kept writing enthusiastically about our wonderful opportunity for activity in Russia. Henry was absolutely dependable; we must wait until he saw our comrades in Germany. Sasha agreed, though reluctantly. He would find no more peace with Kronstadt on his mind, he said.
I shared his grief, as indeed did all our people and nearly everyone else who still had revolutionary fiber left. Our place in Moscow became the oasis for our comrades, as well as for others outside of our ranks. They came at all hours of the day and even late at night, hungry, spiritless, in black despair. The meals intended for ourselves and perhaps for one or two invited guests had to perform the miracle of Christ's loaves for the many who would drift in by the time we sat down to eat. To assure them that there was enough to go round I had to invent all kinds of reasons for my poor appetite: headaches, stomach trouble, and the vise of cooks who always have their pick of the best before the meal is served. I minded the faintness that would sometimes overcome me much less than the lack of privacy. But these people had no other place to go, nowhere where they might feel at home or free to communicate their troubled spirit. It was the only service we could render and we did so out of the fullness of our hearts.
We had other guests not quite so wearing, though no less distressed by the travail of their native land. Alexandra Shakol, our secretary of the expedition, arrived for a short stay in Moscow. It was good to see her again, to exchange thoughts with her, and to help dispel her gloom by treating her to the most cherished delicacy, goggle-moggle, as she called it (egg-nog), which she considered the acme of bliss.
Through Shakol we were able to renew our acquaintance with Vera Nikolayevna Figner, one of the loftiest figures in the pioneer revolutionary movement known as the Narodnaya Volya (the People's Will). I had met her the previous year and had been shocked to find her in poor health and underfed. I had inquired whether she was receiving the academic ration which, though not plentiful, was enough to live on. Vera Nikolayevna was too proud to ask for it and she had been overlooked, Shakol informed me. Lunacharsky, whom I had gone to see about the matter, was as indignant as I. He had known nothing about it and he immediately ordered the ration for Vera Figner. Now she looked better and younger. Despite her almost four score years, she was still a figure to feast one's eye upon, much of her former beauty being left, the beauty that had inspired poets. Equally marvelous was her spirit after twenty-two years spent in the Schlusselburg Fortress and the years of struggle since the Russian drama unfolded itself before her. Gracious of manner, witty, and with infinite humanity, Vera Nikolayevna held us rapt by her reminiscences of the heroic revolutionary epoch, the comrades of the Narodnaya Volva period and their extraordinary fortitude and daring. They were the real precursors of anarchism, Vera thought, wholly dedicated to its realization by the masses, and without least thought of self. She had known almost all of them and her tribute reflected her own pure vision and grandeur, especially when she spoke of Sophie Perovskaya, the high priestess of the most significant revolutionary epoch in the world. Vera's narrative always renewed my hope that what had been might come again to life in our Matushka Rossiya.
An unexpected arrival from America was our old friend Bob Robins, of the quaint auto-house and the anti-Semitic dog. He also had "got religion" --- Russia was in his blood. He had cut loose from his affiliations, comrades, and friends in the United States, and, taking his savings of years, he had come to the home of the soviets to help in its labors and to glory in its gains. His wife, Lucy, had chosen the smoother and safer way of the American Federation of Labor. Bobby was a strong link with our past. Poignantly real for a while, it was soon again overshadowed by the black clouds in the Russian sky. Louise Bryant suddenly appeared, no longer grief-stricken and in despair. Seven months had passed since Jack's death, and Louise was young and greedy for life. No wonder she aroused the misgivings and censure of her husband's comrades. She powdered her nose and rouged her lips and she was careful of her figure. Such heresies in Soviet Russia! Perhaps Louise had never been a Communist, but only the wife of one. Why might she not go her own way, I pleaded in her defense. That was grist to the Communist ascetics. I was a bourzhouy like Louise and others of her kind, they charged, always championing individual rights when there was only one purpose --- the dictatorship and its aims.
Louise asked me to go with her to Stanislavsky for an interview. I was glad of the chance to meet the man whose great art and that of his group had often lifted me out of the drab reality. Lunacharsky had given me a letter of introduction to him as well as to Nemirovich-Danchenko on my first visit to Moscow. They had both been ill at the time, and since then Russia's wave had swept over me.
We found Stanislavsky among mountains of trunks, boxes, and bags. His studio had again been requisitioned. It had happened so many times before that he no longer minded it any more than his periodic house arrests, he told us. He felt much more discouraged about the poverty of the Russian drama. Nothing of any merit during the past four years, he said. The growth of a dramatic artist depends on the living source of creative art; when that is dried up, the greatest must needs become sterile. He was not despairing, he hastily added; no one could despair who knew the treasures of the Russian soil and soul. From Gogol to Chekhov, Gorki, and Andreyev the line has apparently broken, but is not entirely lost. The future will prove that, Stanislavsky prophesied.
The visitor closest to us was Henry Alsberg. He came often, somehow divining the moments when we were alone. He was always laden with gifts to replenish our larder, and his ready wit and fine human qualities helped dispel our gloom. Henry no longer talked about the great political changes that would follow when the fronts should be liquidated. Since he had returned to Russia, every front had indeed been terminated, even the Kronstadt front. The only one left was Karelia and General Slaschov-Krimsky was attending to that. Civil strife was at an end. The time had come for the hopes of Alsberg to be fulfilled: free speech, free press, and amnesty for the thousands of politicals in Soviet prisons. "Where are they, Henry?" I once asked him; "where are the liberties you had expected from Lenin and his party?" He was intellectually too honest to deny that he was haunted by Kronstadt, as all of us were, and oppressed by the wholesale arrests of the politicals and their inhuman treatment. His lack of clarity about the nature, meaning, and purpose of the Social Revolution was his trouble. He remained the knight-errant, blaming the Revolution, the backwardness of the country and its people, the interventionists, and the blockade for every crime that was inherent in the dictatorship, in the mania for power to subjugate everybody and everything for the greater glory of that cold monster the Communist State. His attitude sometimes taxed my patience, but never my affection for our easy-going, good-natured friend. Nor did it affect the bonds of our fellowship. In Bolshevik Russia perhaps more than anywhere else one had to laugh sometimes to keep back one's tears.
On one of his last calls at our place Henry again brought a large bundle of clothing. "Well," he drawled to Sasha, "if Lenin can become a shopkeeper, why not also Alexander Berkman?" "Sure," Sasha replied, "it is kosher now, only I beat Lenin to it. I traded things while we were in the Ukraine before the pope in the Kremlin gave it his benediction." "You forget," I interjected, "that you engaged in trade as a 'speculator and bandit.' Lenin does it in the holy name of Karl Marx. That's the difference."
Yes, therein was the difference. The unfortunates in the market in front of the National Hotel had given way to a large pastry shop. It was stacked with fresh loaves of white bread, cake, and pyroshky. The owner, perhaps not a Communist, was a business man according to Lenin's own heart. He knew how to attract customers. The place was crowded and business brisk. Outside stood the rabble, pale-faced and faint with hunger, their eyes bulging with craving for the miracle displayed in the show-window, luxuries they had not seen in years. "Where do these things come from?" a woman protested as I was passing there. "A little while ago it was dangerous to have a bit of white bread in one's possession. And look at this. Look at those loaves of fine cake! Is it for this that we have made the Revolution?" she moaned. "I thought we were through with the bourgeoisie," a man cried; "look at them going in and out of the place! What are they and who are they?" The crowd took up the refrain, and some clenched their fists. "Go on now, disperse!" came the order of a militiamen on guard at the store. The sacred rights of property had to be protected.
A store on the Tverskaya that had been closed for three years now opened its doors with a large stock of choice fruit, caviar, fowl, and other things one would not have believed existed in Russia. The crowd that gathered outside seemed too overwhelmed to realize what it was all about. It was a brazen challenge to their hunger. Their amazement soon turned to indignation and loud resentment. Those nearest rushed into the store, the rest following. But Lenin's good business man was prepared. Guards had been stationed inside to meet such an emergency. They did their duty. They were the only force in Soviet Russia that worked efficiently.
The Nep spread. The hour of the new bourgeoisie had arrived. No further need to worry about Sovietsky soup or rations with such an assortment of delicacies on hand. No further anxiety to hide the loot taken from the predecessors of the new privileged class. I could hardly trust my eyes when at the Stanislavsky First Studio I met a number of women dressed in velvet and silks, wearing costly shawls, and bedecked with jewelry. Why not? The Sovietsky ladies knew how to appreciate fine clothes, even if they were somewhat crumpled from their hiding-places and not exactly in keeping with the latest Parisian fashions!
The gray and drab continued, however, among the masses, wearing out their already depleted strength in the long wait for an order for a hole to live in, a bit of calico or medicine for their sick family or even a coffin for their dead. This was no hallucination of my exhausted brain. It was one of the many ghastly realities. One such case was related to me by Angelica Balabanoff. She had been sent back to a little room in the National and completely divested of her Soviet functions. III, disillusioned, and broken, she suffered more than most of her comrades from the latest somersault of her idol Ilich. To see constantly the hungry crowds around the bakeries and pastry-shops was torture to one who, like Angelica, felt guilty to accept the gift of even a few biscuits from her Swedish friends. It was a purgatory which only we, who knew her well, could appreciate.
In a feverish state she told me of the suicide of a friend, a Communist woman, who had been in the revolutionary ranks for a quarter of a century. Having heard of quite a number of Communists who had ended their lives after the new economic policy had been introduced, I thought it was a case of similar nature. But it was not that, Angelica explained. Her comrade had shot herself in the hope that her violent death would call attention to the plight of her son, who was ill in a hospital. She had lost one son at the revolutionary front. The second, a mere lad, was tubercular and the commissar had notified the mother that her boy had overstayed his time in the hospital and that she would have to take him home. She had tried to get an order for a room in the National, where the boy would be assured some comfort. Failing in that, she had decided to die so that her shot might induce the Party Executive Committee to secure a room for her child. "The poor creature must have been insane," I protested. Angelica assured me that the woman had been quite in her mind, but she had been unable to see her son die like a dog. The horror of it had completely overtaken Angelica on the day of the burial. She had gone with a comrade to the cemetery by the last request of their dead friend. No one else was there, nor the body of the deceased. Angelica was near a collapse and her escort insisted on turning back. On the way they met two Communist women with a pushcart for a hearse. The delay had been due to the difficulty of getting an order for the coffin and a burial certificate.
From : Anarchy Archives
No comments so far. You can be the first!
<< Last Work in Living My Life
Current Work in Living My Life
Volume 2, Chapter 52, Part D
Next Work in Living My Life >>
All Nearby Works in Living My Life