Chapter 15 : Back in Petrograd

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Chapter 15

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 XV

BACK IN PETROGRAD

      April 2, 1920.---I found Zinoviev very ill; his condition --- it is rumored --- is due to mistreatment at the hands of workers. The story goes that several factories had passed resolutions criticizing the administration for corruption and inefficiency, and that subsequently some of the men were arrested. When Zinoviev later visited the mill, he was assaulted.

      Nothing of such matters is to be found in the Pravda or Krasnaya Gazetta, the official dailies. They contain little news of any kind, being almost exclusively devoted to agitation and to appeals to the people to stand by the Government and the Communist Party in saving the country from counter-revolution and economic ruin.

      Bill Shatov is expected back from Siberia. His wife Nunya is in the hospital, at the point of death, it is feared, and Bill has been wired for. With surprise I have learned that Shatov failed to reply to our radios or to meet the Buford group at the border because he was forbidden to do so by "higher authorities." It also explains why Zorin pretended that Shatov had gone East when as a matter of fact he was still in Petrograd.

      It appears that Bill, in spite of his great services to the Revolution, had fallen into disfavor; grave charges were made against him, and he was even in danger of his life. Lenin saved Shatov because he was a good organizer and "could still be useful." Bill was virtually exiled to Siberia, and it is believed that he will not be permitted to return to Petrograd to see his dying wife.

     Most of the Buford deportees are still idle. The data I prepared for Zorin, and the plans I worked out for the employment of the men, have not been acted upon. The former enthusiasm of the boys has turned to discouragement. "Bolshevik red tape," S--- remarked to me, "is wasting our time and energies. I've worn out my last pair of shoes running about trying to get work. They discriminate against the non-Communists. The Bolsheviki claim they need good workers, but if you are not a Communist they don't want you. We've been called counter-revolutionists, and the Chief of the Tcheka has even threatened to send us to prison."

.      .      .      .      .      .     

      At the home of my friend M---, on the Vassilevsky Ostrov, I met several men and women, sitting in their overcoats around the bourzhuika, the little iron stove which they kept feeding with old newspapers and magazines.

      "Doesn't it seem incredible," the host was saying, "that Petrograd, with great forests in its vicinity, should freeze for lack of fuel? We'd get the wood if they'd only let us. You remember those barges on the Neva? They had been neglected, and they were falling to pieces. The workers of the N--- factory wanted to take them apart and use the lumber for fuel. But the Government refused. 'We'll attend to it ourselves,' they said. Well, what happened? Nothing was done, of course, and the tide didn't wait for official routine. The barges were swept out to sea and lost."

      "The Communists won't stand for independent initiative," one of the women remarked; "it's dangerous for their régime."

      "No, my friends, it's no use deluding yourselves," a tall, bearded man retorted. "Russia is not ripe for Communism. Social revolution is possible only in a country with the highest industrial development. It was the greatest crime of the Bolsheviki that they forcibly suspended the Constituent Assembly. They usurped governmental power, but the whole country is against them. What can you expect under such circumstances? They have to resort to terror to force the people to do their bidding, and of course everything goes to ruin."

      "That's a good Marxist talking," a Left Socialist Revolutionist rejoined, good humoredly; "but you forget that Russia is an agrarian, not an industrial country, and will always remain such. You Social Democrats don't understand the peasant; the Bolsheviki distrust him and discriminate against him. Their proletarian dictatorship is an insult and an injury to the peasantry. Dictatorship must be that of Toil, to be exercised by the peasants and the workers together. Without the coöperation of the peasantry the country is doomed."

      "As long as you'll have dictatorship, you'll have present conditions," the Anarchist host replied. "The centralized State, that is the great evil. It does not permit the creative impulses of the people to express themselves. Give the people a chance, let them exercise their initiative and constructive energies --- only that will save the Revolution."

      "You fellows don't realize the great rôle the Bolsheviki have played," a slender, nervous man spoke up. "They have made mistakes, of course, but they were not those of timidity or cowardice. They dispersed the Constituent Assembly? The more power to them! They did no more than Cromwell did to the Long Parliament: they sent the idle talkers away. And, incidentally, it was an Anarchist, Anton Zhelezniakov, on duty that night with his sailors at the palace, who ordered the Assembly to go home. You talk of violence and terror --- do you imagine a Revolution is a drawing-room affair? The Revolution must be sustained at all costs; the more drastic the measures, the more humanitarian in the long run. The Bolsheviki are Statists, extreme governmentalists, and their ruthless centralization holds danger. But a revolutionary period, such as we are going through, is not possible without dictatorship. It is a necessary evil that will be outlived only with the full victory of the Revolution. If the left political opponents would join hands with the Bolsheviki and help in the great work, the evils of the present régime would be mitigated and constructive effort hastened."

      "You're a Sovietski Anarchist," the others teased him.

.      .      .      .      .      .     

      Almost every otvetstvenny (responsible) Communist is gone to Moscow to attend the Ninth Congress of the Party. Grave questions are at issue, and Lenin and Trotsky have sounded the keynote --- militarization of labor. The papers are filled with the discussion of the proposed introduction of yedinolitchiye (one-man industrial management) to take the place of the present collegiate form. "We must learn from the bourgeoisie," Lenin says, "and use them for our purposes."

      Among the labor elements there is strong opposition to the new plan, but Trotsky contends that the unions have failed in the management of industry: the proposed system is to organize production more efficiently. The labor men, on the contrary, say that the workers had not been given the opportunity, extreme State centralization having taken over the functions of the unions. yedinolitchiye, they claim, means complete charge of factory and shop by one man, the socalled spets (specialists), to the exclusion of the workers from management.

      "Step by step we are losing everything we've gained by the Revolution," a shop committee-man said to me. "The new plan means the return of the former master. The spets is the old bourzhooi, and now he is coming back to whip us to work again. But last year Lenin himself denounced the plan as counter-revolutionary, when the Mensheviki advocated it. They are still in prison for it."

      Others are less outspoken. This morning I met N---, of the Buford group, a man of intellectual attainment and much political acumen. "What do you think of it?" I asked, anxious to know his view of the proposed changes.

      "I can't afford the luxury of expressing an opinion," he replied with a sad smile. "I have been promised a place on a commission to be sent to Europe. It's my only chance of joining my wife and children."

.      .      .      .      .      .     

      April 4.---A beautiful, bright Sunday. In the morning I attended the burial of Semyon Voskov, a prominent Communist agitator killed on the front by typhus. I had met him in the States, and he impressed me as a fine type of revolutionist and enthusiastic devotee of the Bolsheviki. Now his body lay in state in the Uritsky Palace, and high tribute was paid the dead as an heroic victim of the Revolution.

      Along the Nevsky the funeral procession wended its way to the Field of Mars, marching to the strains of music and the singing of a choir from Archangel. Thousands of workers followed the hearse, line after line of men and women from shop and factory, tired toilers, in a spiritless, mechanical way. Military salutes were fired at the grave, and eulogies pronounced by several speakers --- rather official, I thought; all too partizan, lacking the warm personal note.

      The huge demonstration, arranged by the Petrograd Soviet of labor unions within twenty-four hours, as I was informed, seemed a striking proof of organization. I congratulated the chief Committee man on the quick and efficient work.

      "Done without my leaving the office," he said proudly. "The Soviet decision was wired to every mill and factory, ordering each to send a certain contingent of its employes to the demonstration. And the thing was ready."

      "It was not left to the choice of the men?" I asked in surprise.

      "Well," he smiled, "we leave nothing to chance."

      Returning from the Voskov funeral I met another procession. Two men and a woman walked behind a pushcart on which stood a rough, unpainted pine coffin, holding the dead body of their brother. A young girl, leading a little child by the hand, was wearily following the remains to its last resting place. Three men on the sidewalk stopped to watch the tragic sight. The mourners passed in silence, the picture of misery and friendlessness --- black cameos sharply etched on the bright day. In the distance crashed the martial music of the Bolshevik funeral and long lines of soldiers in parade dress, their bayoneted guns glistening in the sun, marched to the Field of Mars to pay honor to Voskov, Communist martyr.

.      .      .      .      .      .     

      Easter Week.---No newspapers have appeared for several days. There have been rumors of possible excesses by the religious element, but the city is quiet.

      At midnight (April 10) I attended mass at St. Isaac's Cathedral. The huge edifice was cold and vault-like; the deep bass of the priest sounded like a requiem of his faith. The flock, mostly men and women of the former middle class, looked depressed, as if by thoughts of a glory past forever.

      After services the worshipers formed in procession on the street, thrice circling the Cathedral. They walked slowly, in silence, no joy in the traditional greeting, "Christ is risen!" "Indeed he is risen," came spiritlessly in reply. Scattered shots were heard in the distance. Two women embraced on the steps of the church and sobbed aloud.

      In the Kazan Cathedral the attendance was predominately proletarian. I felt the same suppressed atmosphere, as if some vague fear possessed the people. The procession in the dark streets was mournful, funereal. The little wax candles resembled will-o'-the-wisps blown about by the breeze, their unsteady flicker faintly suggesting the icons and banners fluttering above the heads of the worshipers. Faith is still alive, but the power of the Church is broken.

.      .      .      .      .      .     

      Bieland arrived from America bringing the first direct news I have had from the States. Reaction is rampant, he relates; 100% Americanism is celebrating its bloody victory. The war-time laws passed as measures of temporary necessity remain in operation and are applied with greater severity than before. The prisons are filled with politicals; most of the active I.W.W. are in jail, and draft evaders and conscientious objectors are still being arrested. Radicalism is outlawed; independent opinion a crime. The militaristic humanitarianism of Wilson has become a war against progress. The heritage of "war against war" is more deadly than the slaughter itself.

      Bill Haywood, released on bail, has again been arrested. Rose Pastor Stokes was extradited to Illinois for a speech that displeased some officials; Larkin is about to be put on trial, and Gitlow was condemned to fifteen years.

      A similar spirit of reaction is manifest all through Europe. White Terror is in the saddle. Jack Reed has been arrested in Finland en route to America.

      "Only here we can breathe freely," Bieland remarked fervently. I did not gainsay it. Notwithstanding all the faults and shortcomings of the Bolsheviki, I feel that Russia is still the hearth of the Revolution. It is the torch whose light is visible throughout the world, and proletarian hearts in every land are warmed by its glow.

.      .      .      .      .      .     

      April 12.---A gloomy day; cloudy, with slight rain --- very oppressive after the spring-like weather we have been having. It remains light now till 10 P. M. --- the clocks had been turned back two hours and recently again another hour.

      Liza Zorin was taken to the hospital today, suffering much pain: her child is expected in a few days. Liza refused a private room, even objecting to being treated by a doctor instead of a midwife, like any other proletarian mother. Of delicate physique and suffering from a weak heart, she is strong in spirit: a true Communist who refuses to accept special privileges. She has nothing for her baby, but "other mothers have no more, and why should I?" she says.

      Moscow has refused Bill Shatov permission to leave Siberia to visit his sick wife. Though Commissar of Railroads in the Far Eastern Republic, Bill is virtually in exile.

.      .      .      .      .      .     

      Disclosures in the Pravda about the Petrograd reformatories for children have stirred the city. A Committee of the Communist Youth had been investigating the institutions, and now its report has uncovered a most deplorable state of affairs. The "reformatories" are charged with being veritable prisons in which the young inmates are regarded as criminals. Defective children are subject to severe punishment, and boyish pranks are treated as serious offenses. The general management has been found permeated with bureaucracy and corruption. A favorite mode of punishment is to deprive the children of their meals, and the food thus saved is appropriated by the managers of the institution. By corrupt methods the Commissars procure supplies on padded lists for purposes of speculation. Nepotism prevails, the number of employes often equaling that of the children.

      I had been considering for some time taking up educational work, and I used the opportunity to discuss the matter with Zorin. He was greatly displeased at the revelations and inclined to consider the school situation exaggerated by the youthful investigators. He insisted that existing evils are due chiefly to the lack of Bolshevik teachers. Only Communists can be trusted in responsible positions, he asserted. Where nonpartizans hold high office, it has become necessary to put a politkom (political commissar) at the head of the institution to guard against sabotage. This system, though uneconomical, is imperative in view of the scarcity of Communist organizers and workers. Evils and abuses in Soviet institutions are almost wholly due to this situation, Zorin claims. The average man is a Philistine, whose sole thought is to exploit every opportunity to secure greater advantages for himself, his family, and friends. It is bourgeois human nature, nitcheve ne podelayesh. It is true, of course, that most Soviet employes steal and speculate. But the Government is fighting these evils with merciless hand. Such men are often shot as guilty of crime against the Revolution. But the hunger is so great that even communists, those not sufficiently grounded in the ideas and discipline of the Party, often fall victims to temptation. Such receive even less shrift than others. To them the Government is ruthless and justly so: Communists are the advance guard of the Revolution --- they should show an example of devotion, honesty, and selfsacrifice.

      We discussed means of eradicating the evils in the children's institutions, and Zorin welcomed my practical suggestions based on educational experience in America. I offered to devote myself to the work, but I felt compelled to make the condition that I be relieved of politkoms and be given opportunity to carry out my ideas in the treatment of backward and so-called morally defective children. Zorin referred me to Lilina, Zinoviev's wife, who is at the head of the educational institutions of Petrograd, and playfully warned me not to repeat the faux pas I had made when I first met the lady.

      On that occasion, when I called at Zinoviev's rooms in the Astoria, a comely young woman answered the bell. "Are you Mme. Zinoviev?" I inquired, unconscious of the fact act that I was committing an unpardonable breach of Bolshevik etiquette; in fact, a double breach in employing the bourgeois expression "Madame" and in failing to address her by her own name, which I could not remember at the moment.

      "I'll call tovarishtch Lilina," she said censoriously, and the next instant I faced an irate, middle-aged woman with the face of a disgruntled spinster. She had evidently heard my question, and her reception was ungracious.

      "Tovarishtch Zinoviev does not receive here. Go to the Smolny," she said, without permitting me to enter.

      "I should like to use the direct wire to the Foreign Office, on business with Tchicherin," I explained.

      "You can't do it, and I don't know who you are," she replied curtly, closing the door.

      On the present occasion Lilina was more gracious. We spoke of the conditions in the reformatories and she admitted that certain evils existed there, but protested that the published report was grossly exaggerated. We discussed modern methods of education and I explained the system followed by the Ferrer School in New York. She was inclined to agree in theory, "but we must fit our youth," she remarked, "to continue the work of our Revolution." "Surely," I assented, "but is that to be done by the conventional methods which stultify and cripple the young mind by imposing upon it predigested views and dogmas?" I emphasized that the true aim of education is to aid the harmonious development of the child's physical and mental qualities, to encourage independence of thought and inspire creative effort.

      Lilina thought my views too Anarchistic.

From : Anarchy Archives

Chronology

February 02, 2017 17:20:37 :
Chapter 15 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

September 20, 2017 17:32:20 :
Chapter 15 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.

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