Chapter 03 : In Petrograd

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Chapter 03

The text is from my copy of Alexander Berkman, The Bolshevik Myth, New York: Boni and Liveright, 1925. Page numbers are in the source code.

CHAPTER III

IN PETROGRAD

      January 21, 1920. ---The bright winter sun shines upon the broad white bosom of the Neva. Stately buildings on either side of the river, with the Admiralty rearing its slender peak on high, foppishly graceful. Majestic edifices as far as the eye can reach, the Winter Palace towering in their midst in cold tranquility. The brass rider on the trembling steed is poised on the rough Finnish rock,* about to leap over the tall spire of the Petropavlovskaya guarding the city of his dream.

      Familiar sight of my youth passed in the Czar's capital. But gone are the gilded glory of the past, the royal splendor, the gay banquets of nobles, and the iron columns of the slavish military marching to the thunder of drums. The hand of Revolution has turned the city of luxurious idleness into the home of labor. The spirit of revolt has changed even the names of the streets. The Nevsky, immortalized by Gogol, Pushkin, and Dostoyevsky, has become the Prospect of October 25th; the square in front of the Winter Palace is now named in honor of Uritsky; the Kamenovstrovsky is called the Red Dawn. At the Duma the heroic bust of Lassale faces the passersby as the symbol of the New Day; on the Konoguardeisky Boulevard stands the statue of Volodarsky, arm outstretched, addressing the people.

      Almost every street reminds me of the past struggles. There, in front of the Winter Palace, stood the priest Gapon in the midst of the thousands that had come to beg the "Little Father" for mercy and bread. The square ran crimson with the blood of the workers on that fateful January day in 1905. Out of their graves, a year later, rose the first Revolution, and again the cries of the oppressed were drowned by the crack of artillery. A reign of terror followed, and many perished on the scaffold and in the prisons. But again and again rose the specter of revolt, and at last Czarism gave way, powerless to defend itself, forsaken by all, regretted by none. Then came the great October Revolution and the triumph of the people --- and Petrograd ever in the first line of battle.

.      .      .      .      .      .     

           The city looks deserted. Its population, nearly 3,000,000 in 1917, is now reduced to 500,000. War and pestilence have almost decimated Petrograd. In the fights against Kaledin, Denikin, Koltchak, and other White forces, the workers of the Red City lost heavily. Its best proletarian element died for the Revolution.

      The streets are empty; the people are in the factories, at work. On the corner the young woman militsioner, rifle in hand, walks to and fro, stamping with her booted feet on the ground to keep warm. Now and then a solitary figure passes, all wrapped up and bent, dragging a heavy load on a sleigh.

      The stores are closed, their shutters on. The signs still hang in their accustomed places --- painted fruit and vegetables advertising the wares no more to be found within. Doors and windows are locked and barred, and everything is silent about.

      The famous Apraksin Dvor is no more. All the wealth of the country, bought or stolen, used to be paraded there to tempt the passerby. High-born barinya and chambermaid, good-natured blond peasant and sullen Tartar, absent-minded student and crafty thief, mingled here in the free democracy of the market place. All things were to be had in the Dvor; human bodies were bought and sold, and souls bartered for money.

      It is all changed now. At the entrance of the Labor Temple flames the legend: "Who does not work shall not eat."

      In the public stolovaya (dining room) vegetable soup and kasha (gruel) are served. The diners bring with them their own bread, issued at the distributing points. The large room is unheated, and the people sit with their hats and coats on. They look cold and pale, pitifully emaciated. "If only the blockade were taken off," my neighbor at the table says, "we might be saved."

.      .      .      .      .      .     

      Some parts of the city bear evidence of the recent Yudenitch campaign. Here and there are remnants of barricades, piles of sand bags, and artillery trained upon the railroad station. The story of that fight is still on everybody's lips. "It was a superhuman effort," little Vera enthusiastically related. "The enemy was five times our number and at our very gates --- on Krasnaya Gorka --- seven miles from the City. Men and women, even children, turned out to build barricades, carry munitions to the fighters, and prepare to defend our homes to the last hand-to-hand struggle." Vera is only eighteen, fair and delicate as a lily, but she operated a machine gun.

      "So sure were the Whites of their victory," Vera continued, "they had already distributed the ministerial portfolios and appointed the military governor of Petrograd. Yudenitch officials with their staffs were secretly in the city, waiting only for the triumphant entry of their Chief. We were in desperate straits; it seemed that all was lost. Our soldiers, reduced in numbers and exhausted, were disheartened. It was just then that Bill Shatov rushed to the scene. He gathered the little army about him, and addressed them in the name of the Revolution. His powerful voice reached the furthest lines; his passionate eloquence lit the embers of revolutionary zeal, inspiring new strength and faith."

      "Forward, boys! For the Revolution!" Shatov thundered, and like desperate furies the workers threw themselves upon the Yudenitch army. The flower of the Petrograd proletariat perished in that struggle, but the Red City and the Revolution were saved.

      With justified pride Shatov showed me the order of the Red Banner pinned on his breast. "For Krasnaya Gorka," he said, with a happy smile.

      He has remained the jovial good fellow I knew him in America, made riper and more earnest by his experience in the Revolution. He has held many important positions, and has won a reputation as an efficient worker and successful organizer. He has not joined the Communist Party; on many vital points, he says, he disagrees with the Bolsheviki. He has remained an Anarchist, believing in the ultimate abolition of political government as the only sure road to individual liberty and general well-being.

      "Just now we are passing through the difficult stage of violent social revolution," Shatov said. "Several fronts are to be defended, and we need a strong, well-disciplined army. There are counter-revolutionary plots to be guarded against and the Tcheka must keep a watchful eye on the conspirators. Of course, the Bolsheviki have committed many errors; that's because they are human. We live in the period of transition, of much confusion, constant danger, and anxiety. It is the hour of travail, and men are needed to help in the work of defense and reconstruction. We Anarchists should remain true to our ideals, but we should not criticize at this time. We must work and help to build."

.      .      .      .      .      .     

      The Buford deportees are quartered in the Smolny. Zorin's invitation I am staying at the Hotel Astoria, now known as the First House of the Soviet. Zorin, who was employed in America as a millman, is now Secretary of the Petrograd Section of the Communist Party, and the editor of the Krasnaya Gazetta, the official daily of the Soviet. He impresses me as a most devoted Communist and indefatigable worker. His wife, Liza, also an American emigrant, is the typical I.W.W. Though very feminine in figure, she is rough and ready of speech, and an enthusiastic Bolshevik.

      Together we visited the Smolny. Formerly the exclusive home of high-born young ladies, it is now the busy seat of the Petrograd Government. The quarters of the Third International are also located here, and the sanctum of Zinoviev, its secretary, a large chamber sumptuously furnished and decorated with potted flowers and plants. On his desk I noticed a leather portfolio of huge size, the gift of his coworkers.

      In the Smolny dining room I met a number of prominent Communists and Soviet officials. Some were in military uniform, others in corduroys and black student shirts belted at the waist, the tails on the outside. All looked pale, with sunken eyes and high cheek bones, the result of systematic undernourishment, overwork, and worry.

      The dinner was much superior to the meals served in the public stolovaya. "Only the 'responsible workers,' Communists holding important positions, dine here," Zorin remarked. There are several gradations of pyock (rations), he explained. Soldiers and sailors receive one and a half pounds of bread per day; also sugar, salt, tobacco, and meat when possible. The factory workers get one pound, while the non-producers --- most of them intelligentsia --- receive half a pound and even less. There is no discrimination about this system, Zorin believes; it is just division, according to the value of one's work.

      I remember Vera's remark. "Russia is very poor," she said; "but whatever there is, all should share alike. That would be justice, and no one could complain."

.      .      .      .      .      .     

      In the evening I attended the anniversary celebration of Alexander Herzen. For the first time I found myself within the walls of the Czar's Palace, whose very mention had filled me with awe in my childhood. Never had I dreamed then that the forbidden name of Herzen, the feared Nihilist and enemy of the Romanovs, would some day be glorified there.

      Red flags and bunting decorated the plaform. With interest I read the inscriptions:

"Socialism is the religion of Man;
A religion not of heaven but of the earth."

"The reign of the workers and peasants forever."

      A large crimson banner represented a bell (Kolokol), the name of the famous paper published by Herzen in exile. On its side was stamped: "1870-1920," and beneath, the words:

"Not in vain have you died;
What you have sown will grow."

      After the meeting the audience marched to the home of Herzen, still preserved on the Nevsky. The demonstration through the dark streets, lit only by the torches of the participants, the strains of revolutionary music and song, the enthusiasm of the men and women indifferent to the bitter cold --- all impressed me deeply. The moving silhouettes seemed the shades of the past come to life, the martyrs of Czardom risen to avenge the injustice of the ages.

      How true is the Herzen motto:

"Not in vain have you died;
What you have sown will grow."

.      .      .      .      .      .     

      The assembly hall of the Tauride Palace was filled with Soviet deputies and invited guests. A special session had been called to consider the difficult situation created by the severe winter, and the growing scarcity of food and fuel.

      Row above row stretched before me, occupied by men and women in grimy working clothes, their faces pale, their bodies emaciated. Here and there were men in peasant garb. They sat quietly, conversing little, as if exhausted by the day's toil.

      The military band struck up the International, and the audience rose to their feet. Then Zinoviev ascended the platform. The winter had caused much suffering, he said; heavy snowfall impedes railroad traffic, and Petrograd is almost isolated. A further reduction of the pyock (ration) has unfortunately become necessary. He expressed confidence that the workers of Petrograd --- the most revolutionary, the advance-guard of Communism --- would understand that the Government is compelled to take this step, and would approve its action.

      The measure is temporary, Zinoviev continued. The Revolution is achieving success on all fronts --- the glorious Red Army is winning great victories, the White forces will soon be entirely defeated, the country will get on its feet economically, and the workers will reap the fruit of their long martyrdom. The imperialists and capitalists of the whole world are against Russia, but the proletariat everywhere is with the Revolution. Soon the Social Revolution will break out in Europe and America --- it cannot be far off now, for capitalism is crumbling to earth everywhere. Then there will be an end to war and fratricidal bloodshed, and Russia will receive help from the workers of other countries.

      Radek, recently returned from Germany where he was a prisoner, followed Zinoviev. He gave an interesting account of his experience, lashing the German "social patriots" with biting sarcasm. A psuedo Socalist Party, he said, now in power, but too cowardly to introduce Socialism; traitors to the Revolution they are, those Scheidemanns, Bernsteins, et al., bourgeois reformists, agents of Allied militarism and international capital. The only hope is in the Communist Party of Germany which is growing by leaps and bounds, and is supported by the proletariat of Germany. Soon that country will be swept by revolution --- not a make-believe Social Democratic one, but a Communist revolution, such as that of Russia, and then the workers of Germany will come to the aid of their brothers in Russia, and the world will learn what the revolutionary proletariat can accomplish.

      Joffe was the next speaker. Of aristocratic appearance, well dressed, his beard neatly trimmed, he seemed strangely out of place in the assembly of ill-clad workers. As Chairman of the Peace Committee he reported on the conditions of the treaty just concluded with Latvia, receiving the applause of the assembly. The people are evidently eager for peace, whatever the conditions.

      I had hoped to hear the deputies speak, and to learn the views and sentiments of the masses they represent. But the members of the Soviet took no active part in the proceedings. They listened quietly to the speakers, and voted mechanically on the resolutions presented by the Presidium. There was no discussion; the proceedings lacked vitality.

.      .      .      .      .      .     

      Some friction has developed among the Buford deportees. The Anarchists complain of discrimination in favor of the Communist members of the group, and I have been repeatedly called to the Smolny to smooth out difficulties.

      The boys chafe at the delay in assigning them to work. I have prepared the anquettes of the group, classifying the deportees according to trade and ability, to aid in placing them to best advantage. But two weeks have passed, and the men are still haunting the Soviet departments, standing in line by the hour, seeking to be supplied with the necessary propuski and documents admitting them to work.

      I have pointed out to Zorin what a valuable asset these deportees are to Russia: there are mechanics, miners, printers among them, needed in the present scarcity of skilled labor. Why waste their time and energy? I cited the matter of exchanging American currency. Most of the deportees brought some money with them. Their pyock is insufficient, but certain necessaries can be bought: bread, butter, and tobacco, even meat, are offered on the markets. At least a hundred of our boys have exchanged their American cash for Soviet money. Considering that each one had to find out for himself where the exchange could be made, often being directed wrongly, and the time each had to spend in the Soviet financial departments, it can be safely assumed that on the average each man required three hours for the transaction. If the deportees had a responsible committee, the whole matter could have been managed in less than a day. "Such a committee could attend to all their affairs, and save time," I urged.

      Zorin agreed with me. "It ought to be tried," he said.

      I proposed to go over to the Smolny, call the men together, explain my proposition to them, and have the committee elected. "It would be well to assign a little room as the Committee's office, with a telephone to transact business," I suggested.

      "You are very American," Zorin smiled. "You want it done on the spot. But that isn't the way," he added dryly. "I'll submit your plan to the proper authorities, and then we'll see."

      "At any rate," I said, "I hope it can be done soon. And you may always call on me, for I am anxious, to help."

      "By the way," Zorin remarked, looking at me quizzically, "trading is forbidden. Buying and selling is speculation. Your people should not do such things." He spoke severely.

      "You cannot call buying a pound of bread speculation," I replied. "Besides, the difference in the pyock encourages trade. The Government still issues money --- it is legally in circulation."

      "Y-e-s," Zorin said, displeased. "But better tell your friends not to speculate any more. Only shkurniki, self-seeking skinners, do that."

      "You are unjust, Zorin. The Buford men have donated the greater part of their money, the provisions and medicines they brought, to the children of Petrograd. They have even deprived themselves of necessities, and the little cash they have kept the Government itself has turned into Soviet money for them."

      "Better warn the men," Zorin repeated.


      *Statue of Peter the Great.

From : Anarchy Archives

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February 02, 2017 17:12:24 :
Chapter 03 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

September 20, 2017 17:06:06 :
Chapter 03 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.

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