Living My Life : Volume 2, Chapter 55
(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.)
• "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 ....)
• "Patriotism is inexorable and, like all insatiable monsters, demands all or nothing. It does not admit that a soldier is also a human being, who has a right to his own feelings and opinions, his own inclinations and ideas." (From : Patriotism, A Menace to Liberty," by Emma Goldman,....)
• "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.)
Volume 2, Chapter 55
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ONE IS CERTAIN TO BE DISAPPOINTED IN AMERICAN REPORTERS, YET never in the London weather during autumn or winter. It was foggy and drizzling when I arrived in September, and it did not let up until May. Unlike my visit in 1900, when I lived in a basement, my quarters this time were on the heights: a bedroom on the third floor in the house of my old friend Doris Zhook. I even had the luxury of a gas-stove, which I kept going all day. The monster fog mocked my futile attempts to keep the chill out of my old bones, even when I tried to snatch a little cheer from an occasional ray of sunlight. Doris and the other comrades insisted that it was "not really cold." American steam-heated apartments had spoiled me for the "mild British climate," they said. They would not have their homes centrally heated if they could. Fire-places were "more sensible, more healthful, and pleasanter." I told my friends that I had been away from America five years and had forgotten its material blessings. I had been in Archangel when the temperature was fifty below zero and I had not felt so chilly. Poetic fancy, they teased. If the damp makes one miserable, it produces good complexions, rich foliage, and the strength of the British Empire. Delicate skins, the luscious green lawns and meadows, are due to the weather, and the need to escape from his own climate has made the Englishman foremost among globe-trotters and colonizers.
I soon realized that physical handicaps would be the least of my difficulties. The anarchists of London were my friends of many years, solicitous and willing to assist in anything I wanted to do. They were the remnant of the old guard of the pre-war groups, including John Turner, Doris Zhook, her brother William Wess, Tom Keell, and William C. Owen, a former coworker of mine in America. But they were divided among themselves. Tom Keell, the publisher of Freedom, and Owen, its editor, had kept the paper alive in spite of all vicissitudes. But there was no real movement in London or in the provinces, I soon learned. Coming as I did from the seething anarchist activities in Berlin, the situation in England was depressing. The general political conditions were worse than I had anticipated. The war had created greater havoc with traditional British liberalism and the right of asylum than it had in other lands. Getting into the country was extremely difficult for anyone of advanced social ideas. More difficult to remain if one engaged in socio-political propaganda. The Labor Government was expelling people on as slight pretexts as had the Tories before. My comrades thought it extraordinary that I should have been granted a visa, and expressed doubt that I would be allowed to remain long if I became politically active. The anti-alien laws had almost destroyed the Yiddish anarchist movement, as everyone active in the East End feared expulsion at any time. The disruption in radical ranks brought about by the nefarious methods of Moscow served to strengthen the hands of reaction. In former days the liberal and radical groups used to take a common stand against every encroachment on political freedom and in opposition to economic injustice. Now they were all at each other's throats over the question of Russia.
The older rebels were disillusioned by the collapse of the Revolution. The younger generation, as far as it was at all interested in ideas (which was little enough), was carried away by the Bolshevik glamour. Communist intrigue and denunciation were doing the rest to widen the chasm.
It was a disheartening picture. But I was in England and I did not propose to run away, notwithstanding the odds against me. My comrades agreed that my name and knowledge of Russian conditions might rally the radical and Labor factions to the support of the political victims of the dictatorship. They were certain that my presence in England would be a stimulus to our own comrades. I did not feel sanguine about the situation. I did not know how to reach the British people, and the only suggestion I could make was a dinner at some restaurant as my début before the London liberal public. My comrades were elated over the idea, and set to work.
My note to Rebecca West brought a kind of reply and an invitation to lunch. I was pleasantly surprised to find her anything but English in her manner. But for her speech I should have thought her an Oriental, she was so vivacious, eager, charming, direct. Her friendliness, the coziness of her room, the hot tea, were grateful after a long, cold ride in the drab autumn afternoon. She had not read my writings, she frankly admitted, but she knew enough about me to add her welcome to that of the others and she would be happy to speak at the dinner. She would also arrange an evening to have her friends meet me. I was not to hesitate to call on her for anything I might need. I left my hostess with the comforting feeling that I had found a friend, an oasis in the desert London seemed to me.
The day of the dinner began in darkness and ended in a downpour. I went to the restaurant with a sinking heart. Doris tried to reassure me that no one in England minded the weather; I was known and would draw a crowd. "Scotland Yard, the newspapers, and perhaps a few persons acquainted with American liberal thought," I retorted. There was no use to deceive ourselves; I should not set England afire. "An incurable pessimist," my friend laughed; she could not understand how I had kept up the struggle for so many years. Poor Doris nearly collapsed when we reached the hotel. There wasn't a baker's dozen present at seven o'clock. But at eight she walked on air; two hundred and fifty people had crowded into the dining-room, and additional tables had to be laid for guests who continued to come, even after the speeches had begun. I was profoundly moved that so many should venture out on such a night to welcome me.
The spirit of the evening, the messages of greeting from Havelock Ellis, Edward Carpenter, H. G. Wells, Lady Warwick, Israel Zangwill, and Henry Salt, and the beautiful tributes paid to my past efforts by Colonel Josiah C. Wedgwood, our chairman, by Rebecca West, and by Bertrand Russell completely swept me off my feet. Surely the hospitality and generosity shown political refugees in England, often described to me by Peter Kropotkin, were not dead. I should at last find my sphere of action. With a feeling of gratitude I began my address on the purpose of my coming to England and the things I wanted to do. I have rarely had a more attentive audience until I mentioned Russia. Shifting of chairs, turning of necks, and disapproval on the faces before me were the first indications that all was not going to be so harmonious as it seemed at first. I went on with my speech. It was important that the main reason for my presence in England should be clear to everyone. I reminded my hearers of the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the horrors that followed it. It was my illustrious comrade Peter Kropotkin, then living in England, who had aroused the conscience of the radical and liberal world to protest against the frightful persecution of politicals. His "J'accuse!" was taken up in the House of Commons, and it succeeded in checking the autocracy. "You will be shocked to learn that a similar situation exists in Russia today," I said. "The new rulers are continuing the old terror. Alas! There is no Kropotkin to indict them at the bar of humanity." I did not feel, I continued, the equal of my great teacher in brain or personality, but I was determined to do all I could to make known the fearful state of affairs in Russia. With whatever ability and voice I possessed I would cry out my "J'accuse!" against the Soviet autocracy responsible for political persecution, executions, and savage brutality.
The applause was interrupted by loud protests. Some diners jumped to their feet and demanded the floor. They never would have believed, they said, that the arch-rebel Emma Goldman would ally herself with the Tories against the Workers' Republic. They would not have broken bread with me had they known that I had gone back on my revolutionary past. It was growing late. The evening meant too much to me to have it end in a row. We were planning a meeting in Queen's Hall, I informed the audience, and there we all should have opportunity to discuss the matter in detail.
The reports of the dinner in the London daily press were copious and fair. Only the Herald was evasive about my talk, though it printed a short paragraph about the other speeches. I was informed that its editors, George Lansbury and Hamilton Fife, were indignant at my "breach of faith." They had added their names to that of George Slocombe, who had assured the Home Office that my sole purpose in coming to England was to do research work in the British Museum. I explained to my friends that Mr. Slocombe was the man through whom Frank Harris had got permission for me to enter England. Neither Harris nor I had authorized him to make any pledges on my behalf. As to the gentlemen of the Herald, their share in helping secure a visa for me was news to me. I did not know Mr. Fife. Mr. Lansbury I had met in Russia, and from what I knew of his attitude to the Communist State it would have never occurred to me to ask favors of him. But I could understand Mr. Lansbury's chagrin over my intended campaign to shed light on the Russian situation. The author of the statement that the teachings of Jesus had been realized in Russia could not afford to be made ridiculous.
My conviction that governmental scene-shifting does not alter the economic situation of the masses had not changed. The Socialists in power, including those of Great Britain, had strengthened my attitude on the question of the State. Nowhere had they helped to improve the life of the worker. I was certain that Mr. MacDonald would do no more during his second term than he had in his first. But there was one matter of utmost importance that the Labor Government could accomplish: recognition of the Soviet Government. I was vitally interested in that, because I knew it would remove the halo of martyrdom from the brow of the Communist State. The international proletariat would then realize that the Soviet Government was of the same clay as the others. I therefore decided not to talk about Russia during the campaign.
Now it was over and my speeches could not affect the fate of the Independent Labor Party. It was its own incompetence in dealing with the poverty and distress of the country while still in office that defeated it. I felt free to write for The Times and the London Daily News the articles they had requested. It was not only that I had financially reached bottom, but mainly because we needed funds for our mass meeting in Queen's Hall. The British anarchists were too poor to contribute more than a few shillings, and so far no one of means had volunteered to aid. I was glad to earn forty pounds and at the same time speak to a wider public.
Owing to the elections and the approaching holidays, our meeting had to be postponed till January. My friends insisted that the backing of a numerous committee was indispensable to the moral success of our undertaking. I chafed at the delay and resented the idea of a committee. I told my friends of the large birth-control meetings my coworker Ben Reitman had managed with just a few comrades to assist him; the big demonstrations Sasha had organized and our antiwar protests. We had had no prominent support. Why was it necessary in London? In America Sasha and I were well known, but it was different in England, my friends replied. Here people moved in a herd, at the direction of their shepherd, and this applied alike to party organizations, societies, and clubs. We must have backing to reach the public ear. They agreed with what Rebecca West had told me about free-lance lecture work. "It is not done in England," she had said. London audiences paid admission to lectures only for charitable purposes.
In my public career I had been affiliated with groups only temporarily. I worked for them, not with them. Whatever value my activities had in America was due to my free-lancing and independent position. My London friends urged that my first large public appearance must have the proper support. The dinner had already called attention to my presence in London and to my purpose. The meeting would pave my way for further efforts. After all, they knew best how to reach the British public, and I was willing to follow their advice.
For two weeks I bombarded with letters every name on the list of the prospective committee, but the response was negligible. Most of them did not even reply. Others gave evasive reasons why they could not serve. Mr. Zangwill wrote that, owing to poor health, he had given up all public participation; besides, he did not believe that a committee of known Labor people would do me the slightest good. I might approach the Society for Democratic Control, of which both he and Bertrand Russell were members. He could suggest nothing more. He was sorry I had had to go to Russia to find out what he had known all along: that the Moscow dictatorship was tyranny.
Havelock Ellis sent a kindly note. While he was certain of the sincerity of my motives, he feared my criticism of Russia would give comfort to the reactionaries. They had never protested against the czarist autocracy and he had no patience with their opposition to Bolshevism, which was only "inverted czarism." At any rate he did not like committee functions.
The venerable Mrs. Cobden-Sanderson, an old friend of the Kropotkins, who had co-operated with them against the political persecutions of the czarist régime, Lady Warwick, Bertrand Russell, and Professor Harold Laski invited me to come to them for a talk.
Two persons consented to be on our committee without any reservations: Rebecca West and Colonel Josiah Wedgwood. Edward Carpenter wrote that because of age he could not venture out in the evening, but he was ready to back my efforts, which, he was confident, stood for freedom and justice.
Rebecca West had already given me considerable help. At her home I had met her colleagues on the feminist publication Time and Tide --- Lady Rhonnda, Mrs. Archdale, and Rebecca's sister, Dr. Letitia Fairfield, as well as a number of others interested in the women politicals in Russia. My circle of acquaintance kept enlarging, and invitations to luncheons, teas, and dinners began to pour in. Everyone was most hospitable, attentive, and cordial --- all very pleasant if I had come to England for social entertainment only. But I had come for a purpose. I wanted to arouse the sensibilities of fair-minded Englishmen to the purgatory of Russia, to stir them to a concerted protest against the horrors parading as Socialism and Revolution. It was not that my hosts and their friends were not interested or that they questioned the facts I presented. It was their remoteness from the Russian reality, their lukewarmness to conditions they could not visualize and hence did not feel.
The Labor leaders were callous. In the words of a British Socialist, "It would spell political disaster to my party to declare to its constituents that the Bolsheviks had slain the Revolution." Mr. Clifford Allen, secretary of the Independent Labor Party, declared that "Emma Goldman is an old-time Christian, still believing in the Truth and speaking it out." The most important issue was trade with Russia, he asserted. I had met Mr. Allen in Petrograd, in 1920, when he had come with the British Labor Mission, for which Sasha had acted as interpreter in Moscow. Both of us had been impressed by Allen's independent and idealistic personality. It was somewhat of a shock to discover that in his official capacity he would allow considerations of business to loom higher than human values. I admitted that I was not a shopkeeper, but I believed enough in liberty to let his party be one. Yet I failed to see the connection between "trade with Russia" and acquiescence in the criminal doings of the Cheka. England had traded with the Romanovs, but liberty-loving Englishmen had often protested against the horrors of the czars, not merely by words, but by deeds. Why should it be different now? Had the British sense of justice and humanity been shell-shocked that they could remain deaf to the desperate cry of thousands in Soviet dungeons? Did I mean to compare the rule of the Czar with that of the Bolsheviki? Politically their régime was worse, I told my hearers, its tyranny more irresponsible and Draconic. The Soviet Government was proletarian, after all, and its ultimate aim socialism, Mr. Allen expostulated. He did not approve of all the methods of the dictatorship, but neither he nor his party could afford to join a campaign against it. Most of the others shared his view.
Among the scores of people I met, very few showed such kindly concern as Lady Warwick. I had experienced so many setbacks and disappointments that I clung to the hope that her interest in Russia was vital and that she could be depended on to induce her comrades to join our committee, or at least do so herself. But presently Lady Warwick informed me that it would be necessary to postpone the conference arranged to meet at her house because she had been requested by the Labor men to await the return from Russia of the British Trade Union Delegation. She seemed to be very much afraid that any move on her part might bring back the Czar. Apparently she continued in that fear, for I never heard from her again.
When I first called on Professor Harold Laski, he expressed the opinion that I ought to take some comfort in the vindication anarchism had received by the Bolsheviki. I agreed, adding that not only their régime, but their stepbrothers as well, the Socialists in power in other countries, had demonstrated the failure of the Marxian State better than any anarchist argument. Living proof was always more convincing than theory. Naturally I did not regret the Socialist failure, but I could not rejoice in it in the face of the Russian tragedy. If I could at least arouse the labor and radical elements! So far I had made no progress. Outside of Rebecca West and Colonel Wedgwood I had found no one who really cared about the woe of Russia. In America I had never met such lack of response to any appeal. Laski thought I would find even the most radical elements reluctant to oppose the Bolsheviki. They were too enthusiastic about the Revolution to draw lines of demarcation. In time I might interest the labor ranks. He would do his best to aid me; he would invite his friends for the next Sunday afternoon to hear my story. Once more hope sprang from what seemed a hopeless and futile quest.
It was impossible for me to speak dispassionately about Russia, but on this occasion I sought to suppress all personal feeling. I spoke in a conversational tone and as objectively as I could. At the conclusion of my talk most of my questioners demanded whether I could point out "any political group more liberal than the Bolsheviki, more efficient for establishing a democratic government should the Soviet régime be overthrown." I replied that I did not want the Communist State overthrown, nor would I aid any group that attempted such a coup. Fundamental changes were not made by parties, but by the awakened consciousness of the masses. That had happened in March and October 1917 and would happen again, though probably not in the near future. The dictatorship had discredited all social ideals, and the people were exhausted by years of civil strife. It would require a long time to rekindle their revolutionary fire. I was not interested in a change of rulers in Russia, but I was vitally concerned in the plight of the political victims of the Kremlin autocrats. I believed that strong radical opinion in the United States and Europe would affect the Soviet government as it had that of the Romanovs. It might help to curb their despotism, stop persecution for mere opinion, convictions without trial, and wholesale executions in the cellars of the Cheka. Were not these simple human demands worth trying for? "Yes, but it might lead to the return of autocracy."
The same evasions and objections, the same faintheartedness, I came across in every group I addressed. It was appalling. At last realizing the futility of my efforts, I resolved not to waste more time on the elite, the Labor politicians, or the ladies dabbling in socialism. Anarchists had always carried on their work without so-called respectable backing and they would have to do so now. Better small meetings under our own auspices and without obligation to anyone than the support of the bourgeois world. The dozen members of our little group agreed to go ahead in any way I should suggest, and they procured South Place Institute for our meeting. They reminded me that many a brave voice had pleaded from that platform for freedom and justice. I recollected that I had spoken there in 1900, during the Boer War, under the chairmanship of Tom Mann. Many scenes had been shifted since. Mann was in the bosom of the new chaurch and I was still proscribed by both sides, the capitalist and the Communist.
Professor Laski notified me that his friends were of the opinion that the I.L.P. should abstain from attacking Soviet Russia. He added that Bertrand Russell, though he disliked the Soviet methods, doubted the advisability of my propaganda. Others were convinced that I was more anxious to attack the Bolsheviki than to obtain redress for the politicals; they would not support such an outspoken opponent of Russia. Some held that action must come from the Trade Union Delegation and not from non-English sources. Professor Laski concluded by stating that the Labor leaders would do nothing that might involve them in a controversy with the Soviets. On the whole he agreed with Bertrand Russell that a campaign in behalf of the politicals must not be under anti-Bolshevik auspices "such as yours."
Bertrand Russell's stand was a disappointment to me. I had seen him and talked with him at length. While he had not promised to act on the proposed committee, saying he would have to think the matter over, he had shown no indication that he did not care to affiliate himself with an avowed anarchist. It was rather discouraging to find the brilliant critic of the State, the man whose spiritual attitude was anarchistic, fight shy of co-operation with an anarchist. And Laski, too, the bold exponent of individualism!
The Trade Union Delegation returned from Russia on fire with the wonders they had seen --- rather, had been shown! They waxed enthusiastic in the Daily Herald and at meetings about the splendid Soviet achievements. They had spent all of six weeks in Russia; could one speak with greater knowledge and authority?
If I failed to arouse the Britishers, I succeeded in impressing a few Americans in England, most of them Rhodes scholars, who invited me to address them. My visit to Oxford was quite an event, not only on account of the splendid meeting the boys had arranged in spite of the opposition from the "Coolidge gang," but also because of the hospitality and generous aid given me by Professor S. E. Morison, of the American History Department, and by the dozen young chaps, the most thoughtful and wide-awake of the group, who became my ardent friends. This at least I had gained after four months of effort. The genuine interest and the sincere desire to help of such new friends as David Soskice, the well-known Russian revolutionist and one-time editor of Free Russia, of Mrs. Soskice, the writer and sister of Ford Madox Ford, as well as their two vivid boys, was a most satisfying recompense.
Thanks to the faithful and energetic work of my comrades, among them Doris Zhook, William Wess, A. Sugg, Tom Keell, and William C. Owen, our South Place Institute meeting was crowded, notwithstanding the downpour and the admission charged. The tact of our chairman, Colonal Josiah Wedgewood, my American student friends, some "real" proletarians to keep order, and my usual sang-froid on the platform saved the situation.
We had reason to rejoice over our success. Without backing, either moral or financial, we covered the expenses of our meeting and had some surplus left to send to the Berlin Fund for political prisoners. With Tom Sweetlove as treasurer, and A. Sugg, as secretary, the committee was launched as a permanent body for systematic activity. Though numerically small, it had ambitious aims: a series of lectures on Russia, the circulation of the Bulletin of the Joint Committee for the Defense of the Imprisoned Revolutionists in Russia, published in the English language in Berlin under Sasha's editorship, and the raising of funds. The Bulletin contained accurate information and data on political persecution, as well as letters from the incarcerated and exiled which Sasha and other members of the Joint Committee were receiving sub rosa from Russia.
Our main trouble was that I found myself between two fires. I had no hope of a hearing by the Independent Labor Party or in the trade unions; neither would I speak under the auspices of the Tories. From the latter I received a number of invitations to lecture on Russia, but I had to decline because I learned that they were exclusive Conservative clubs. Another came from the Woman's Guild of the Empire in Paisley. I inquired about its political character and was informed that it stood for "God, King, and Country." I wrote to the Guild that as an anarchist I repudiated social arrangements which raised some to the throne and condemned others to pauperism. I did not discriminate against any audience, whatever its social, political, or religious beliefs; in the United States I had lectured before the most diversified crowds --- longshoremen and millionaires, poor working and professional women; in halls behind saloons and in drawing-rooms, in mines hundreds of feet below the ground, from pulpits and soap-boxes. From our own platform I should be willing to treat the subject of Russia, no matter who came to hear me. On any other topic I should be willing to talk in the House of Lords, in Windsor Castle, or before the Conservative Party. But not on Russia.
I doubted that our committee could succeed with independent meetings in reaching the general public. The members were not dismayed. They would experiment with English lectures, and the Arbeiter Freund group volunteered to organize Yiddish meetings in the East End. Thus encouraged, I started my weekly rounds from one end of London to the other, in rain, sleet, fog, and chill, for three months. Not even in my pioneer days in the United States had I found it quite so bitter to break new ground as I did in this venture. The result was hardly worth the effort, though the committee insisted that it was. Expenses were covered, some money was added to the Political Prisoners' Fund, and conditions under the Communist State were made known to hundreds of people.
My tour through the north of England and south Wales was little to boast of. The Welsh people were impressionable and easily aroused, but not always dependable, John Turner had once told me. After the English icicles I had tried to melt, I welcomed the Welsh crowds and their enthusiasm. The difficulty was not the indifference of the workers, but their dreadful poverty. Many had been unemployed for a long time, and those who were fortunate enough to have jobs earned the barest pittance. The amazing thing was that people living in such bleakness should come to meetings at all; it seemed extraordinary that they could muster up enough sympathy in their suffering brothers in far-away Russia. The pale, pinched faces of these toilers made me painfully aware of my own position. Like all missionaries I was appealing for "charity for China" when help was so desperately needed at home. If I could at least enter their lives, share in their struggles, show them that anarchism alone has the key that can transform society and secure their well-being, my begging would have some justification.
Already in London after my first lectures I had begun to chafe under my compulsory silence on the frightful economic conditions in England. The social wrongs in Great Britain could of course in no way justify similar evils in Russia. Nor did I feel it just to talk about the dictatorship and ignore the situation close at hand. This feeling was constantly increasing and adding to my inner struggle. I could not go on much longer with my anti-Soviet activities without voicing my stand on the general social question. That opportunity denied me in England, as indeed everywhere else, I should have to stop discussing the Bolshevik State. I could not close my eyes to the fact that I owed my asylum to my attitude on Russia --- a doubtful and uncomfortable hospitality, which I could not accept indefinitely. My comrades urged me to remain for my work. I had no reason to feel that I must not appeal for the imprisoned revolutionists in Russia because I could not take part in the social struggle in England, they argued. I was the first anarchist returned from the Soviet country to explain in Great Britain the relation of the Bolsheviki to the Revolution; such knowledge was vital everywhere, but nowhere more so than in England, where many of the labor leaders were emissaries of Moscow. This applied particularly to south Wales, where certain officials of the Miners' Federation were espousing the miracle of the Communist State. The simple trust and faith of my comrades was deeply touching. Proletarian from infancy, their lives barren of beauty and joy, they clung to their ideal as the sole hope of a new and free world. Typical of them was James Colton, who at the age of sixty-five was still compelled to slave in the mines for his daily bread. He had given the greater part of his life to active service in our ranks, and with much pride he told me that, like myself, he had become an anarchist as a result of the judicial murder of our Chicago martyrs. With no chance for an education, he had picked up much knowledge and a clear understanding of social problems. He devoted his native ability as a speaker to the cause and he contributed to the propagation of anarchism from his meager earnings. The comrades in his group, younger men with families to support, were carried along by "Jimmy's" energy and inspired by his love and consecration to the ideal.
The Trade Union Report on Russia, signed by all the delegates, including John Turner, proved a complete whitewash of the Soviet régime. The ground it covered would have required several years' study, extensive travel, and a long stay in the country. The Labor delegates had been in Russia six weeks, more than a week of which was spent in trains, as John told me. Obviously their report could not represent the personal knowledge and observation of its authors. As a matter of fact, it was a compilation of the documents specially prepared for them by the authorities. Inasmuch as most of the delegates had been pro-Soviet before coming to Russia, it was quite natural that they should swallow the whole Bolshevik bait. Their interpreters, one of them a naval attaché of the British Embassy in the czarist days, another in the diplomatic service for a long time, were past masters in mustering official data to good effect. They had winked at the old autocracy in the interests of their Government, and now, as adherents of the I.L.P., they had also to do considerable winking. That was their profession and I had no quarrel with them. But I was shocked to see John Turner sign the report. The more so because his article in Foreign Affairs, the interview he gave to a representative of the New York Forward, as well as his talk at our meeting, flatly contradicted the peans of the report. I wrote him frankly how he had disappointed me and the other comrades. He replied in almost the identical phrase Lansbury had used to Sasha in 1920: he could show me "any number of poor, destitute and starved in London." I failed to see the connection between the misery in England and the statement in the report that the Russian toilers, though politically bound, were economically free and contented. Turner and his co-delegates knew that this was no more true regarding the masses in Russia than in reference to the British workers.
It was imperative to unmask the deception. I suggested to our committee a reply and I was instructed to prepare it, with the help of Doris Zhook. The brochure we issued compared the statements in the report with quotations from the Soviet press during the visit of the British delegates. It contained no comments whatever, as we were willing to let the Bolsheviki themselves disprove the extravagant claims of the report. The Communists immediately charged us with using material from the forged Izvestia and Pravda, allegedly published by counter-revolutionists abroad. It was absurdly silly, but it was sad to see even so good an insurgent as Colonel Josiah Wedgwood change front. He wrote me that he would take no responsibility for the pamphlet and requested that his name be taken off the committee. Wedgwood, like most of the others, including even my comrade John Turner, moved in a groove and lacked the independence to stand out against the Communist rooters.
The one exception in these ranks was Rebecca West, who did not permit her affiliations to influence her attitude or curtail her freedom of action. Though extremely occupied with her own work, she nevertheless found time to interest her friends in my efforts, to put me in touch with a literary agent who might place My Disillusionment in Russia with a British publisher, to write a preface for it, and to preside at one of my lectures. But, then, Rebecca West is an artist, not a politician.
Mr. C. W. Daniel was another unfettered spirit; a publisher, he did not consider trade the all-embracing issue of life. He cared more for the ideas and literary quality of works he was issuing than for the money they might bring him. Was he, too, an old-fashioned Christian to prefer truth to business, I inquired, adding that I was charged with that offense. I admitted that it was naïve of me to expect more from the I.L.P. than from any other political party. I had always known that, like the beasts, they never change their natures, however much they may shed their skins. Alas, one grows older but not wiser or I should not have been so shocked to find radicals argue the life and death of thousands in terms of commerce. On closer acquaintance Mr. Daniel did not prove wiser than I, even if younger. He undertook to publish a British edition of My Disillusionment in Russia, fully aware that though it might secure glory from posterity it could not bring him much trade. My book had already appeared in complete form in a Swedish edition, but it did not mean so much to me as to see my work, so atrociously bungled in America, in one volume in England, with a preface by Rebecca West.
My Disillusionment, the articles in the New York World, reprinted and circulated by the London Freedom, my contributions to the Westminster Gazette and the Weekly News, besides those that had appeared in the London Times and been syndicated in the provinces, the article in the Daily News, and, finally, our brochure refuting the fiction of the trade-union delegates contained a wealth of information accessible to all but the willfully blind.
Sasha had also not been idle; his The Bolshevik Myth now appeared, published in New York by Boni and Liveright. But the latter had eliminated the concluding and most vital chapter as being an "anticlimax." Thereupon Sasha issued it as a brochure under that very title and circulated it at his own expense. Sheets of the book had been imported to England and the volume sold at a prohibitive price without the author's knowledge or consent, and without his receiving a cent of royalties. The reviews were splendid, the critics agreeing that The Bolshevik Myth was a convincing and moving work of first-rate literary merit. In addition Sasha had gathered a wealth of data and documents about political persecution under the Soviet dictatorship. He secured the stories and affidavits of numerous politicals who had escaped or been deported from Russia. Added to similar matter collected by Henry G. Alsberg and Isaac Don Levine, the whole constituted a collective indictment of Bolshevik terror overpowering in its effect. On the strength of it Alsberg and Levine procured letters of protest against the Moscow despotism by men and women of international fame, and the entire material was published in New York by the International Committee for Political Prisoners in a volume entitled Letters from Russian Prisons.
We kept our pledge to our suffering comrades in Russia. We made known their cause as well as that of all other persecuted revolutionists. We demonstrated the abyss between the Bolsheviki and "October." We would continue to do so, Sasha through the Bulletin of the Joint Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners, and I whenever and wherever the opportunity presented itself. Now was the time for me to turn to other matters. After eight months' absorption in the Russian situation I felt justified in seeking different subjects for expression. This was especially imperative because I could not go on indefinitely accepting support from my family and American friends. I should not have been able to keep going but for such dear and devoted friends as Stewart Kerr, for instance, who never allowed a month to pass without a gift. Now that I might become self-supporting by means of lectures on the drama, I decided to discontinue my Russian work, at least for a while.
Shortly after my arrival in England Fitzi had appointed me her representative for the Provincetown Playhouse, to which she had already given years of labor and love. My credentials afforded me free access to some of the theaters, yet what I saw did not whet my appetite for further exploration of the London stage. English friends spoke highly of the Birmingham Repertory Theater, the only outstanding group of artistic merit. It had grown out of amateur beginnings, they informed me, and it owed its first start and splendid development to the skill and generosity of its founder, Barry V. Jackson. My experience with British intellectual hospitality had made me somewhat skeptical. Opportunity to judge for myself came when the Birmingham Repertory Company opened in London with Shaw's Cesar and Cleopatra, and I made haste to present my credentials as Fitzi's European ambassador. At no theater in the British metropolis had I been received with greater courtesy. The performance proved to be a revelation. Such settings, atmosphere, and ensemble acting I had not seen since the Stanislavsky Studio days, and even there the scenery did not compare with this feast for the eyes. Cedric Hardwicke's Cesar surpassed that of Forbes-Robertson, whom I had seen in New York. He succeeded in making the old Roman intensely human, with enough wit to laugh at himself. Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Cleopatra was an exquisite creature. For the first time in England I was able to banish the gloom the travail of eight months had settled on my spirit.
Nearer acquaintance with Barry Jackson, Walter Peacock, Bache Matthews (Mr. Jackson's director), and several other members of the company saved me from judging the nature of a whole people by the bitter experiences I had with some groups. They knew I was a stranger struggling to gain a foothold in their country, and that was reason enough for them to offer their help. The possibility of losing votes or support and disagreement with my views on social subjects did not affect them. They were interested in the human, in a fellow-creature adrift in an alien land. They made me welcome at their theaters and put me in touch with circles that could enable me to establish myself by means of lectures on the drama.
Mr. Peacock introduced me to a number of people, among them Geoffrey Whitworth, the Honorable Secretary of the British Drama League. Mr. Matthews interested the secretary of the Birmingham Playgoers in my work, which soon brought me an engagement from that society; and Barry Jackson, one of the busiest men in London, always found time for me when I needed his kindly aid. Mr. Whitworth generously turned his entire office over to my work; the assistant secretary of the league, the library, and the list of affiliated societies were put at my disposal. Mr. Whitworth also invited me to speak at the conference of the Drama League, which was to take place in Birmingham.
In the lovely Repertory Theater I lectured on the Russian theater, discussing the studios, the Kamerny, and Meyerhold. The atmosphere was free from strife or rancor, the audiences were receptive, the questions keen and intelligent. Intermission brought everyone together in easy sociability that was most encouraging to me.
Too late I learned that in England it is customary for clubs and societies to arrange their lecture courses six months in advance. Still, I succeeded in securing seven engagements for the early autumn from the Playgoers in Manchester, Liverpool, Birkenhead, Bath, and Bristol. In the last city a series was also being planned by our own people. The Drama Study Circle I had organized in London was planning several lectures on the origin and development of the Russian drama, and the anarchists in the East End of London asked for the same course in Yiddish. I could look forward to a busy time doing work I had always loved.
During my early days in England, when everything seemed bleakest, Stella had written me that London was a cold beauty that required much wooing before revealing her charms. "Who cares to woo a cold beauty?" I replied. Now I had been paying court to her for nine months. Could it be that I was beginning to touch her heart?
London was really beautiful now in its profusion of green and abundance of flowers and sun, as if it would never wear mourning or weep torrents again. One begrudged every moment indoors, knowing how short-lived the glory was. But six hours every day was the very least I needed to cope with the historic treasures I discovered in the British Museum on the Russian theater and drama. This institution had been one of my objectives in coming to England, but it was only now that I had the time, the interest, and the need for availing myself of all it offered. The longer I worked in the museum, the more information I unearthed on stage arrangement, old plays, scenery, and costumes. This led to wider fields, embracing the political and social backgrounds of the dramatists of different periods, and their correspondence that reflected their feelings and reaction to Russian life. It was a fascinating study and so absorbing as to make me forget the closing-hour. One thing became plain from the start. I could not hope to cover even a fraction of the material in six lectures, or in a dozen. An entire volume would be required. Professor Wiener, Peter Kropotkin, and others had written such works on Russian literature. It occurred to me that my drama series might serve as an introduction to a larger book to be written at some later date.
My meetings with Havelock Ellis and Edward Carpenter stood out as the fulfillment of a wish cherished for a quarter of a century. Not that I learned to know them better through our fleeting personal contact than I had through their works. I saw Ellis for a bare half-hour in his London apartment and we were both rather tongue-tied. But if I had lived near him for years, I should not have realized better the oneness of the man with his life's labors, so expressive of his unique personality and lofty vision was every line that had spoken to me out of the pages of his liberating work.
My visit with Edward Carpenter lasted the greater part of an afternoon in his modest cottage at Guildford. He was nearly eighty, frail and feeble. Alongside of his dapper companion, whom everybody addressed as George, his clothes looked shabby. But there was distinction in his carriage, and grace in every gesture. Dear Edward had little chance to be heard, for it was George who did most of the talking about the work "Edward and I" had written while they were in Spain, and the book "we're planning this summer." Patient and forbearing was Edward towards the conceit of small people, viewing it with the wisdom of the sage.
I attempted to tell him how much his books had meant to me --- Towards Democracy, Angel Wings, Walt Whitman. He stopped me, gently putting his hand over mine. Instead I should rather tell him about Alexander Berkman, he said. He had read his Prison Memoirs, "a profound study of man's inhumanity and prison psychology, and of his own martyrdom, portrayed with extraordinary simplicity." He had always wanted to know "Sasha" and "the Girl" in the book.
Havelock Ellis and Edward Carpenter! My summer was indeed enriched by these two grand seigneurs of intellect and heart.
It brought also other interesting events outside of my research work. Fitzi arrived for a brief visit, and through her I came to know Paul and Essie Robeson, as well as several of Fitzi's associates in the Provincetown Playhouse. They had come to London to put on The Emperor Jones with Paul Robeson. Essie was a delightful person, and Paul fascinated everyone. I first heard Robeson sing a group of spirituals at a party given by my American friend Estelle Healy. Nothing I had been told about his singing adequately expressed the moving quality of his voice. Paul was also a lovable personality, entirely free from the self-importance of the star and as natural as a child. He never refused to sing, no matter how small the circle, if the company was congenial. The Robesons liked my cooking, especially my coffee, and so we exchanged compliments. I would prepare dinner for a chosen few or arrange a party of my English friends to meet the Robesons, and Paul would hold everyone spellbound by his glorious voice.
The summer was rich, the richest in years. Now that the sunny days were drawing to an end, my friends were departing. Work I loved lay before me and I still had a stout heart. But by December there was little left of it or anything else to help face the London winter. My venture into the Playgoers' societies was quite satisfactory. Gratifying also were the Liverpool and Birkenhead organizations, because of their mixed membership. The others were purely middle-class, with no vital interest in the drama and no feeling for its social and educational value. Nevertheless the experience proved that I could establish myself with the Playgoers if I could hold out long enough to become better known in England, for a year or two. I had no means for it, nor the inclination to become an adjunct.
The independent lectures in London and Bristol again demonstrated the truth of the British saying that "it isn't done in England." The London failure was particularly disappointing because the work had started with every promise of success. Keats' House, quaintly beautiful and permeated by the genius and spirit of England's great poet, was our meeting-place; Claire Fowler Shone, our secretary, a skillful organizer and prodigious worker, widely known in labor and trade-union ranks, with a dozen friends to assist her. A review of my drama work by Rebecca West and Frank Harris circulated in thousands of copies; Barry Jackson, Geoffrey Whitworth, A. E. Filmer, and others, no strangers in the world of the drama, were announced as chairmen. Yet the attendance was small and the receipts barely covered the expenses. True, the audiences were of a high intellectual order. That and the joy of collecting my material were the only satisfaction I gained from nearly six months' effort.
I spent three weeks in Bristol with similar results. My second attempt to take root in the United Kingdom had thus also gone by the board. The fogs and wet remained faithful and wandered through my system at their own sweet will. I was laid up with chills and fever when an invitation came from my dear friends Frank and Nellie Harris to visit them in Nice.
In June I had married the old rebel James Colton. British now, I did as most natives do who can scrape up enough to escape their country's climate. The American Mercury had sent me a check for my sketch on Johann Most, so I was able to pay my fare to the south of France. The Harrises were marvelous hosts, sparing no pains to surround me with care and help restore my health and cheer. I had spent many interesting hours with Frank before, but never enough to see more than the artist, the man of the world, the interesting causeur. In the intimacy of his home I was able to penetrate beneath what everyone considered Frank's egotism and conceit. I found that my host knew himself much better than anyone else did. He knew the human, all too human in his make-up. He had his gnawing doubts whether he was indeed the supreme artist he proclaimed himself, whether his works would live and he be given an immortal niche. Frank was not deceived about his own foibles, however blind he might be to those of his friends or mistaken in those he looked upon as enemies. Frank Harris, when he turned himself inside out, far from lessening my affection, brought himself nearer to me. We had few ideas in common, especially on social problems. We fought often, but always in the best of feeling, for we knew that no matter how far apart we might drift, our friendship would not weaken.
My meeting with Nellie Harris in Paris the year before had shown me little of her personality, except for her obvious loveliness and charm. During my visit all her rare and exquisite qualities unfolded like a flower before me. I had met wives of creative men on previous occasions. I had seen their bitterness to their husbands' friends, their jealousy of female admirers, and well I knew how overbearing and cattish my sex can be to the wives of their idols. My sympathies were often with the wives, for it seemed martyrdom enough to be the spouse of an artist. I should have thought no less of Nellie had I found her ungenerous to the admirers of Frank. But Nellie was an angel, a large and loving spirit, incapable of harshness, and no mere reflection of her famous husband, but an individual in her own right, a keen observer of people and affairs, a better judge of human nature than dear old Frank, and more patient and understanding.
I was loathe to leave my good friends, but necessary research in the Bibliothéque Nationale called me back to Paris before returning to England. I still had some engagements to fill with the Playgoers' societies in Liverpool on the little-theater movement in America. I had addressed them before on the works of Eugene O'Neill, and a woman reporter had reviewed my "sensitive hands and gold colored lining of the opera cloak, rather startling in an anarchist," but the Playgoers must have liked my talks, because they invited me again. I had also consented to deliver another course of lectures on Continental and American plays in a popular hall, with one-shilling admission. My comrades were sure it would bring a crowd, but on the appointed day there were no crowds. Strindberg, the German expressionists, Eugene O'Neill, and Susan Glaspell did not interest the British public when presented without the seal of an organization or party. "It isn't done in England." I was compelled to realize that a much longer period than I had thought would be necessary to break through the wall of what "isn't done." Five years, perhaps, if not more. But I did not have many more years to throw about. Meanwhile I was faced with the problem of making ends meet. Not till my deportation had I ever given a thought to this question; I had felt that as long as I could use my voice and pen, I could easily earn my living. Since then I had been haunted by the specter of dependence, and it grew after my tour of south Wales and the provinces. I would rather take a job as a cook or housekeeper than get my living from my activities among the underpaid miners and cotton-mill workers. I could not allow them to defray my railroad fares, let alone the expenses of my lectures. The drama meetings not paying for themselves, I saw no way of continuing my work in England.
A friend had once said jokingly that I was like a cat; "drop her out of a sixth-story window and she'll land on her paws." After the last failure I felt as if I had indeed been thrown from the top of the Woolworth Building. Two things brought me on my paws again. One was my plan of a volume on "The Origin and Development of the Russian Drama"; the other, a tour through Canada. The anarchists there had invited me to come, and a New York comrade promised to raise my expenses. I would go to some little place in France and devote the summer to writing and would leave for Canada in the fall. The two ventures, I hoped, might secure me for a year or two to live and be active in England. I made sure of my going to Canada by immediately reserving my passage.
The incentive to devote the next four months to writing had come from C. W. Daniel, my patron publisher. He had taken the keenest interest in my lectures on the Russian dramatists, had sent a stenographer to take them verbatim, and held out the hope of issuing my book in the not too distant future. Besides My Disillusionment he had also published an English edition of Alexander Berkman's Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, for which Edward Carpenter had written a preface, and he had imported sheets of Letters from Russian Prisons, neither of which undertakings added much to his coffers. But it in no way discouraged him from wanting to try his luck again.
I was about to leave London when the general strike was declared. I could not think of running away from an event of such overwhelming importance. Workers and helpers would be needed and I must remain and offer my services. John Turner was the most likely man to get me in touch with the people in charge of the strike. I explained to him that I was willing to do any kind of work to aid the great struggle: look after the relief of the strikers' families, organize the care of their children, or take charge of feeding-stations. I wanted to help the rank and file. John was delighted. It would dispel the prejudice my anti-Soviet stand had created in trade-union circles and would demonstrate that anarchists not merely theorized, but were capable of practical work and were ready for any emergency. He would take my message to the strike committee and put them in direct touch with me. I waited for two days, but no word came either from trade-union headquarters or from John. On the third day I again made the long trip on foot to see John and to inquire about the matter. He had been told that all help in the strike situation was drawn from trade-union ranks, and that no outside aid was needed. The excuse was flimsy; clearly the leaders feared it would leak out that the anarchist Emma Goldman had some connection with the general strike. John was loathe to admit my interpretation, nor could he deny that I might be right. It was the old story: the centralized machinery in every walk of British life left no room for individual initiative. It was torture to remain neutral where the line between masters and men was so sharply drawn, or to stand by idly while the leaders were making one blunder after another; nor would I leave by rail or ship manned by strike-breakers. I found some relief in being out on the streets mingling with the men and getting their reactions. Their spirit of solidarity was wonderful, their fortitude great, their disregard of the hardships the strike had already imposed admirable. No less extraordinary was their good humor and self-control in the face of provocation from the enemy: armored cars rattling along the streets, taunts and ridicule from the young bullies in charge, and the affronts of the wealthy in their luxurious automobiles. A few encounters had taken place, but on the whole the strikers carried themselves with pride and dignity, confident of the justice of their cause. It was inspiring, but it also increased my misery at my own helplessness. On the tenth day of the strike, there still being no sign of a settlement, I decided to leave England by airplane.
From : Anarchy Archives
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