Part 6: Western Europe, Section 14

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Part 6: Western Europe, Section 14

This text was taken from the 1st edition of Memoirs of a Revolutionist, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1899.

Part Six

Section XIV

    EVERY revolutionist meets a number of spies and "agents provocateurs" in his way, and I have had my fair share of them. All governments spend considerable sums of money in maintaining this kind of reptile. However, they are mainly dangerous to young people only. One who has had some experience of life and men soon discovers that there is about these creatures something which puts him on his guard. They are recruited from the scum of society, among men of the lowest moral standard, and if one is watchful of the moral character of the men he meets with, he soon notices something in the manners of these "pillars of society" which shocks him, and then he asks himself the question: "What has brought this man to me? What in the world can he have in common with us?" In most cases this simple question is sufficient to put one on his guard.

    When I first came to Geneva, the agent of the Russian government who had been commissioned to spy upon the refugees was well-known to all of us. He went under the title of Count; but as he had no footman and no carriage on which to emblazon his coronet and arms, he had had them embroidered on a sort of mantle which covered his tiny dog. We saw him occasionally in the cafés, without speaking to him; he was, in fact, an "innocent" who simply bought in the kiosques all the publications of the exiles, very probably adding to them such comments as he thought would please his chiefs.

    Different men began to pour in, as Geneva began to fill up with refugees of the young generation; and yet, in one way or another, they also became known to us.

    When a stranger appeared on our horizon, he asked with the usual nihilist frankness about his past and his present prospects, and it soon appeared what sort of person he was. Frankness in mutual intercourse is altogether the best way for bringing about proper relations between men. In this case it was invaluable. Numbers of persons whom none of us had known or heard of in Russia -- absolute strangers to the circles -- came to Geneva, and many of them, a few days or even hours after their arrival, stood on the most friendly terms with the colony of refugees; but in some way or other the spies never succeeded in crossing the threshold of familiarity. A spy might name common acquaintances, he might give the best accounts, sometimes correct, of his past in Russia; he might possess in perfection the nihilist slang and manners, but he never could assimilate that sort of nihilist ethics which had grown up among the Russian youth; and this alone kept him at a distance from our colony. Spies can imitate anything else but ethics.

    When I was working with Reclus, there was at Clarens one such individual, from whom we all kept aloof. We knew nothing bad about him, but we felt that he was not "ours," and as he tried only the more to penetrate into our society, we became suspicious of him. I never had said a word to him, and consequently he especially sought after me. Seeing that he could not approach me through the usual channels, he began to write me letters, giving me mysterious appointments for mysterious purposes in the woods and in similar places. For fun, I once accepted his invitation and went to the spot, with a good friend following me at a distance; but the man, who probably had a confederate, must have noticed that I was not alone, and did not appear. So I was spared the pleasure of ever saying to him a single word. Besides, I worked at that time so hard that every minute of my time was taken up either with the Geography or "Le Révolté," and I entered into no conspiracies. However, we learned later on that this man used to send to the Third Section detailed reports about the supposed conversations which he had had with me, my supposed confidences, and the terrible plots which I was manipulating at St. Petersburg, against the Czar's life! All that was taken for ready money at St. Petersburg, and in Italy, too. When Cafiero was arrested one day in Switzerland, he was shown formidable reports of Italian spies, who warned their government that Cafiero and I, loaded with bombs, were going to enter Italy. The fact was that I never was in Italy and never had had any intention of visiting the country.

    In point of fact, however, the spies do not always make up reports out of whole cloth. They often tell things that are true, but all depends upon the way a story is told. We passed some most merry moments about a, report which was addressed to the French government by a French spy who followed my wife and myself as we were traveling in 1881 from Paris to London. The spy, probably playing a double part, as is often done, had sold that report to Rochefort who published it in his paper. Everything that the spy had stated was correct, -- but the way he had told it!

    He wrote, for instance: "I took the next compartment to the one that Kropótkin had taken with his wife." Quite true; he was there. We noticed him, for he had managed at once to attract our attention by his sullen, unpleasant face. "They spoke Russian all the time, in order not to be understood by the passengers." Very true again; we spoke Russian, as we always do. "When they came to Calais, they both took a bouillon." Most correct again: we took a bouillon. But here the mysterious part of the journey begins. "After that, they both suddenly disappeared, and I looked for them in vain, on the platform and elsewhere; and when they reappeared, he was in disguise and was followed by a Russian priest, who never left him after that until they arrived in London, where I lost sight of the priest." All that was true again. My wife had a tooth slightly aching, and I asked the permission of the keeper of the restaurant to go to his private room, where my wife could ease her tooth. So we had "disappeared" indeed; and as we had to cross the Channel, I put my soft felt hat into my pocket and put on a fur cap; I was "in disguise." As to the mysterious priest, he was also there. He was not a Russian, but that is irrelevant: he wore at any ate the dress of the Greek priests. I saw him standing a the counter and asking something which no one understood. "Agua, agua," he repeated, in a woeful tone. "Give the gentleman a glass of water," I said to the waiter. Where upon the priest, struck by my wonderful linguistic capacities, began to thank me for my intervention with a truly Eastern effusion. My wife took pity on him and spoke to him in different languages, but he understood none of them. It appeared at last that he knew a few words in one of the South Slavonian languages, and we could make out: "am a Greek; Turkish embassy, London." We told him, mostly by signs, that we, too, were going to London, and that he might travel with us.

    The most amusing part of the story was that I really found for him the address of the Turkish embassy even before we had reached Charing Cross. The train stopped. at some station on the way, and two elegant ladies entered our already full third-class compartment. Both had newspapers in their hands. One was English, and the other a handsome woman, who spoke good French -- pretended to be English. After exchanging a few words, the latter asked me à brûle pourpont: "What do you think of Count Ignátieff?" and immediately after that: "Are you soon going to kill the new Czar?" I was clear as to her profession from these two questions, but thinking of my priest, I said to her: "Do you happen to know the address of the Turkish embassy? "Street so and so, number so and so," she replied without hesitation, like a schoolgirl in a class. "You could, I suppose, also give the address of the Russian embassy?" I asked her, and the address having been given with the same readiness, I communicated both to the priest. When we reached Charing Cross, the lady was so obsequiously anxious to attend to my luggage, and even to carry a heavy package herself with her gloved hands, that I finally told her, much to her surprise. "Enough of this: ladies don't carry gentlemen's luggage. Go away!"

    But to return to my trustworthy French spy. "He alighted at Charing Cross," he wrote in his report, "but for more than half an hour after the arrival of the train he did not leave the station, until he had ascertained that every one else had left it. I kept aloof in the meantime, concealing myself behind a pillar. Having ascertained that all passengers had left the platform, they both suddenly jumped into a cab. I followed them nevertheless, and overheard the address which the cabman gave at the gate to the policeman, -- 12, Street So and So, -- and ran after the cab. There were no cabs in the neighborhood; so I ran up to Trafalgar Square, where I got one. I then drove after him, and he alighted at the above address."

    Every fact of it is true again, -- the address and everything; but how mysterious it all reads. I had warned a Russian friend of my arrival, but there was a dense fog that morning, and he overslept. We waited for him half an hour, and then, leaving our luggage in the cloak-room, drove to his house.

    "There they sat till two o'clock with drawn curtains, and then only a tall man came out of the house, and returned one hour later with their baggage." Even the remark about the curtains was correct; we had to light the gas on account of the fog, and drew down the curtains to get rid of the ugly fog sight of a small Islington street wrapped in a dense fog.

    When I was working with Elisée Reclus at Clarens, I used to go every fortnight to Geneva to see to the bringing out of "Le Révolté." One day when I reached our printing-office, I was told that a Russian gentleman wanted to see me. He had already seen my friends, and had told them that he came to induce me to start a paper, like "Le Révolté," in Russian. He offered for that purpose all the money that might be required. I went to meet him in a café, where he gave me a German name, -- Tohnlehm, let us say,-- and told me that he was a native of the Baltic provinces. He boasted of possessing a large fortune in certain estates and manufactures, and he was extremely angry against the Russian government for their Russianizing schemes. On the whole he produced a somewhat indeterminate impression, so that my friends insisted upon my accepting his offer; but I did not much like the man from first sight.

    From thecafé he took me to his rooms in a hotel, and there he began to show less reserve, and to appear more like himself and still more unpleasant. "Don't doubt my fortune," he said to me, "I have also a capital invention. There's a lot of money in it. I shall patent it, and get a considerable sum of money for it, -- all for the cause of the revolution in Russia." And he showed me, to my astonishment, a miserable candlestick, the originality of which was that it was awfully ugly and had three bits of wire to put the candle in. The poorest housewife would not have cared for such a candlestick, and even if it could have been patented, no manufacturer would have paid the patentee more than ten dollars. "A rich man placing his hopes on such a candlestick! This man," I thought to myself, "can never have seen better ones," and my opinion about him was made up. He was no rich man at all, and the money he offered was not his own. So I bluntly told him, "Very well, if you are so anxious to have a Russian revolutionary paper, and hold the flattering opinion about myself that you have expressed, you will have to deposit your money in my name at a bank, and at my entire disposal. But I warn you that you will have absolutely nothing to do with the paper." "Of course, of course," he said, "but just see to it, and sometimes advise you, and aid you in smuggling it into Russia." "No, nothing of the sort! You need not see me at all." My friends thought that I was too hard upon the man, but some time after that a letter was received from St. Petersburg warning us that we would receive the visit of a spy of the Third Section, Tohnlehm by name. The candlestick had thus rendered us a good service.

    Whether by candlesticks or something else, these people almost always betray themselves in one way or another. When we were at London in 1881, we received on a foggy morning a visit from two Russians. I knew one of them by name; the other, a young man whom he recommended as his friend, was a stranger. The latter had volunteered to accompany his friend on a few days' visit to London. As he was introduced by a friend, I had no suspicions whatever about him; but I was very busy that day and asked another friend, who lived near by, to find them a room and take them about to see London. My wife had not yet seen England, either, and she went with them. In the afternoon she returned, saying to me: "Do you know, I dislike that man very much. Beware of him." "But why? What's the matter?" I asked. "Nothing, absolutely nothing, but he is surely not 'ours.' By the way he treated the waiter in a café, and the way he handles money, I saw at once he is not 'ours,' and if he is not, why should he come to us?" She was so certain of the justice of her suspicions that while she performed her duties of hospitality she nevertheless managed never to leave that young man alone in my study even for one minute. We had a chat, and the visitor began to exhibit himself more and more under such a low moral aspect that even his friend blushed for him, and when I asked more details about him, the explanations they both gave were still less satisfactory. We were both on our guard. In short, they left London in a couple of days, and a fortnight later I got a letter from my Russian friend, full of excuses for having introduced the young man, who, they had found out at Paris, was a spy in the service of the Russian embassy. I looked then into a list of Russian secret service agents in France and Switzerland, which we refugees had received lately from the Executive Committee, -- they had their men everywhere at St. Petersburg, -- and I found the name of that young man on the list, with one letter only altered in it.


    To start a paper, subsidized by the police, with a police agent at its head, is an old plan, and the prefect of the Paris police, Andrieux, resorted to it in 1881. I was staying with Elisée Reclus in the mountains, when we received a letter from a Frenchman, or rather a Belgian, who announced to us that he was going to start an anarchist paper at Paris, and asked our collaboration. The letter, full of flatteries, produced upon us an unfavorable impression, and Reclus had, moreover, some vague recollection of having heard the name of the writer in some unfavorable connection. We decided to refuse collaboration, and I wrote to a Paris friend that we must first of all ascertain whence the money came with which the paper was going to be started. It might come from the Orleanists, -- an old trick of the family, -- and we must know its origin. My Paris friend, with a workman's straightforwardness, read that letter at a meeting at which the would-be editor of the paper was present. He simulated offense, and I had to answer several letters on this subject; but I stuck to my words: "If the man is in earnest, he must show us the origin of the money."

    And so he did at last. Pressed by questions, he said that the money came from his aunt, a rich lady of antiquated opinions, who yielded, however, to his fancy of having a paper, and had parted with the money. The lady was not in France; she was staying at London. We insisted nevertheless upon having her name and address, and our friend Malatesta volunteered to see her. He went with an Italian friend who was connected with the secondhand trade in furniture. They found the lady occupying a small flat, and while Malatesta spoke to her and was more and more convinced that she was simply playing the aunt's part in the comedy, the furniture friend, looking round at the chairs and tables, discovered that all of them had been taken the day before -- probably hired -- from a secondhand furniture dealer, his neighbor. The labels of the dealer were still fastened to the chairs and the tables. This did not prove much, but naturally reinforced our suspicions. I absolutely refused to have anything to do with the paper.

    The paper was of an unheard-of violence; burning, assassination, dynamite bombs, -- there was nothing but that in it. I met the man, the editor of the paper, when I went to the London congress, and the moment I saw his sullen face and heard a bit of his talk and caught a glimpse of the sort of women with whom he always went about, my opinions concerning him were settled. At the congress, during which he introduced all sorts of terrible resolutions, all present kept aloof from him; and when he insisted upon having the addresses of all anarchists throughout the world, the refusal was made in anything but a flattering manner.

    To make a long story short, he was unmasked a couple of months later, and the paper was stopped forever on the very next day. Then, a couple of years after that, the prefect of police, Andrieux, published his Memoirs, and in this book he told all about the paper which he had started, and the explosions which his agents had organized at Paris, by putting sardine-boxes filled with something under the statue of Thiers.

    One can imagine the quantities of money all these things cost the French and other nations.


    I might write several chapters on this subject, but I will mention only one more story, of two adventurers at Clairvaux.

    My wife stayed in the only inn of the little village which has grown up under the shadow of the prison wall. One day the landlady entered her room with a message from two gentlemen, who came to the hotel and wanted to see my wife. The landlady interceded with all her eloquence in their favor. "Oh, I know the world," she raid, "and I assure you, madame, that they are the most correct gentlemen. Nothing could be more comme-il-faut. One of them gave the name of a German officer. He is surely a baron, or a 'milord' and the other is his interpreter. They know you perfectly well. The baron is going now to Africa, perhaps never to return, and he wants to see you before he leaves."

    My wife looked at the visiting card, which bore "A Madame la Principesse Kropotkine. Quand ` voir?" and needed no more commentaries about the comme-fi-faut of the two gentlemen. As to the contents of the message, they were even worse than the address. Against all rules of grammar and common sense the "baron" wrote about a mysterious communication which he had to make. She refused point blank to receive the writer and his interpreter.

    Thereupon the baron wrote to my wife letter upon letter, which she returned without opening them. All the village soon became divided into two parties, -- one siding with the baron and led by the landlady, the other against him and headed, as a matter of fact, by the landlady's husband. Quite a romance was circulated. The baron had known my wife before her marriage. He had danced with her many times at the Russian embassy in Vienna. He was still in love with her, but she, the cruel one, refused even to allow him a glimpse of her before he went upon his perilous expedition.

    Then came the mysterious story of a boy, whom we were said to conceal. "Where is their boy?" the baron wanted to know. "They have a son, six years old by this time, -- where is he?" "She never would part with a boy if she had one," the one party said. "Yes, they have one, but they conceal him," the other party maintained.

    For us two this contest contained a very interesting revelation. It proved to us that my letters were not only read by the prison authorities, but that their contents were made known to the Russian embassy as well. When I was at Lyons, and my wife had gone to ace Elisée Reclus in Switzerland, she wrote to me once that "our boy" was getting on very well; his health was excellent, and they all spent a very nice evening at the anniversary of his fifth birthday. I knew that she meant "Le Révolté," which we often used to name in conversations "our gamin," -- our naughty boy. But now that these gentlemen were inquiring about "our gamin," and even designated so correctly his age, it was evident that the letter had passed through other hands than those of the governor. It was well to know this.

    Nothing escapes the attention of village-folk in the country, and the baron soon awakened suspicions. He wrote a new letter to my wife, even more wordy than the former ones. Now he asked her pardon for having tried to introduced himself as an acquaintance. He owned that she did not know him; but nevertheless he was a well-wisher. He had a most important communication to make to her. My life was in danger, and he wanted to warn her. The baron and his secretary took an outing in the fields to read this letter together and to consult about its tenor, -- the forest-guard following them at a distance; but they quarreled about it, and the letter was torn to pieces and thrown on the ground. The forester waited till they were out of sight, gathered the pieces, connected them, and read the letter. In an hour's time the village knew that the baron had never really been acquainted with my wife; the romance which was so sentimentally repeated by the baron's party crumbled to pieces.

     Ah, then they are not what they pretended to be," the brigadier de gendarmerie concluded in his turn; then they must be German spies;" and he arrested them.

    It must be said in his behalf that a German spy had really been at Clairvaux shortly before. In time of War the vast buildings of the prison might serve as depots for provisions or barracks for the army, and the German general staff was surely interested to know the inner capacity of the prison buildings. Accordingly a jovial traveling photographer came to our village, made friends with every one by photographing all of them for nothing, and was admitted to photograph not only the inside of the prison yards, but also the dormitories. Having done this, he traveled to some other town on the eastern frontier, and was there arrested by the French authorities, as a man found in possession of compromising military documents. The brigadier, fresh from the impression of that visit, jumped to the conclusion that the baron and his secretary were also German spies, and took them in custody to the little town of Bar-sur-Aube. There they were released next morning, the local paper stating that they were not German spies, but "persons commissioned by another more friendly power."

    Now public opinion turned entirely against the baron and his secretary, who had to live through more adventures. After their release they entered a small village café, and there ventilated their griefs in German in a friendly conversation over a bottle of wine. "You were stupid, you were a coward," the self-styled interpreter said to the self-styled baron. "If I had been in your place, I would have shot that examining magistrate with this revolver. Let him only repeat that with me, -- he will have these bullets in his head!" And so on.

    A commercial traveler who sat quietly in a corner of the room rushed at once to the brigadier to report the conversation which he hid overheard. The brigadier made an official report immediately, and again arrested the secretary, -- a pharmacist from Strasburg. He was taken before a police court at the same town of Bar-sur-Aube, and got a full month's imprisonment "for menaces uttered against a magistrate in a public place." After that the baron had more adventures, and the village did not resume its usual quietness till after the departure of the two strangers.

    I have here related only a very few of the spy stories that I might tell. But when one thinks of the thousands of villains going about the world in the pay of all governments, -- and very often well paid for their villainies, -- of the traps they lay for all sorts of artless people, of the vast sums of money thrown away in the maintenance of that army, which is recruited in the lowest strata of society and from the population of the prisons, of the corruption of all sorts which they pour into society at large, nay, even into families, one cannot but be appalled at the immensity of the evil which is thus done.

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January 21, 2017 17:41:58 :
Part 6: Western Europe, Section 14 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

September 23, 2017 17:48:18 :
Part 6: Western Europe, Section 14 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.

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