Chapter 29 : Kiev
The Krestchatik, Kiev's main thoroughfare, pulsates with intense life. Straight as an arrow it lies before me, a magnificent broad avenue stretching far into the distance and finally disappearing in the superb Kupetchesky Park, formerly the pride of the city. Ancient, the storms of time and human strife defying, Kiev stands picturesquely beautiful, a radiant mosaic of iridescent foliage, golden cathedrals and monasteries of exotic architecture, and green-clad mountains towering on the banks of the Dnieper flowing majestically below.
Recent days revived the bloody scenes the old city had witnessed in the centuries past, when Mongol and Tartar, Cossack, Pole, and fierce native tribes had fought for its possession. But more sanguinary and ferocious have been the struggles of yesterday. Foreign armies of occupation, German, Magyar, and Austrian, native gaidamaki, Poles, Russians --- each turned the ancient city into a shamble. Skoropadsky, Petlura, Denikin, like the savage atamans of Gogol's tales, have vied with each other in filling the streams that crimson the Dnieper in these the darkest days of Russia.
Incredible vitality of man! Exasperating, yet blessed brevity of human memory! Today the city looks bright and peaceful --- forgotten is the slaughter, forgotten the sacrifices of yesterday.
The streets, full of movement and color, contrast strikingly with the sickly exhaustion of northern cities. Stores and restaurants are open, and the bakeries display appetizing pirozhniye, the sweets so dear to the Russian heart. Most of the business signs are still in their accustomed places, some in Russian, others in the Ukrainian language, the latter predominating since the famous decree of Skoropadsky when overnight all shingles had to be "Ukrainianized." The boulevards are alive with people, the women larger and less beautiful than in Kharkov, the men stolid, heavy, unprepossessing.
It is a month since the Poles left the city: the Bolsheviki have not yet had time to establish completely their régime. But the reports of Polish destruction, so industriously circulated in Moscow, prove baseless. Little damage has been done by the enemy, except the burning of some railroad bridges on the outskirts of the city. The famous Sofiysky Cathedral and the Michailovsky Monastery are undisturbed in their imposing splendor. Without reason did Tchicherin protest to the world against "the unheard-of vandalism" toward those gems of old architecture.
The Soviet institutions present the familiar picture of Moscow pattern: gatherings of worn, tired people, looking hungry and apathetic. Typical and sad. The corridors and offices are crowded with applicants seeking permission to do or to be exempt from doing this or that. The labyrinth of new decrees is so intricate, the officials prefer the easier way of solving perplexing problems by "revolutionary method," on their "conscience," generally to the dissatisfaction of the petitioners.
Long lines are everywhere, and much writing and handling of "papers" and documents by Sovietsky barishni (young ladies), in high-heeled shoes, that swarm in every office. They puff at cigarettes and animatedly discuss the advantages of certain bureaus as measured by the quantity of the pyock issued, the symbol of Soviet existence. Workers and peasants, their heads bared, approach the long tables. Respectfully, even servilely, they seek information, plead for an "order" for clothing, or a "ticket" for boots. "I don't know," "In the next office," "Come tomorrow," is the usual reply. There are protests and lamentations, and begging for attention and advice. Occasionally someone in the line, after days of fruitless effort, loses his temper, and a string of true Russian curses fills the room, rising above the noise and the smoke. But when the commissar hastily enters, belated from the conference of the Party Committee, the hubbub subsides, and the barishni appear busy at their tasks. He has a worn and worried look: his desk is piled with papers awaiting his attention, and within an hour he is expected at another session. Lucky applicant that gets a hearing; happy if action is taken on his case.
The industries are at low ebb, mainly because of the lack of raw material and coal. The decree militarizing labor is being applied with great severity; the toilers in the shops and factories are rigidly bound to their places of employment. But the machinery has been neglected, most of it is out of repair, and there is a scarcity of artisans capable of putting it in order. The men are at their posts, pretending to work, but in reality idling or engaged in the stealthy manufacture of cigarette lighters, keys, locks, and other objects for personal use or private sale.
Many of the factories are entirely closed; others are operating with a minimum output. The sugar refineries, the most important industry of the Southeast, are working at a great deficit. Because of the total devaluation of Soviet money the State is compelled to pay its employes with products, chiefly with sugar from the old reserves. In search of documents for the Museum, I gather official statistics showing that to produce one pood (about 40 lbs.) of sugar, the government expends thirty-five, often even fifty-five pounds of the old sugar. The officials realize the extreme seriousness of the situation, but feel themselves helpless. Some skeptically, others with characteristic racial fatality, trudge on in the treadmill.
In the civil and military departments there is feverish activity, but sadly unorganized. Almost every branch is working independently, without relation to other Soviet institutions, frequently in entire ignorance and even in opposition to the policies and measures of the other executive bodies. Curious incidents result. Thus the Chairman of the All-Ukrainian Executive Committee has sent a telegraphic request to all Soviet institutions to aid the work of our Expedition, while the Secretary of the Party has at the same time issued an order against us, condemning our Mission as an attempt to deprive Ukraina of its historic documents, and threatening to confiscate the material we have collected.
The Soviet of Labor Unions occupies the huge building on the Krestchatik which was formerly the Hotel Savoy. In 1918 and 1919 that body played a most important rôle, its work covering the whole field of proletarian interests and its authority based on the expressed will of the industrial masses. But gradually the Soviet has been deprived of power, the government taking over its essential functions, and turning the unions into executive and administrative branches of the State machinery. The elective principle has been abolished and replaced by Communist appointment.
The labor headquarters are in great confusion. As in Kharkov, the entire Soviet and most of the managing boards of the locals have been recently "liquidated" as Menshevik or unsympathetic to the Communists, and new officials appointed by Moscow. The same atmosphere of suppressed nervousness is sensed in the unions as in the other government institutions. The Bolsheviki do not feel secure in the city, and there are stubborn rumors of Communist reverses on the Polish front, of Wrangel advancing from the Crimea, of Odessa being taken by the Whites, and of Makhno activity in the Kiev province.
In the course of my work I come in touch with T---, the Ukrainian Communist, whom I had met last winter in the Kharitonensky as a member of the delegation that had come to Moscow to plead for greater independence and self-determination for the Ukraina. He is of middle age, a university graduate and revolutionist repeatedly imprisoned under the Romanov régime. An active borodbist (Left Social Revolutionist of the Ukraina), he submitted to discipline when his, party joined the Communists.
But he has "private opinions" which, long suppressed, seek relief. "I don't mind discussing these questions with you," he remarks, with an emphasis on the pronoun, "though I know that you are not a Communist---"
"But I am," I interrupt; "not indeed a Bolshevik; nor a Governmentalist, but a free, Anarchist Communist."
"Not our kind of Communist. Still, you are an old revolutionist. I heard a good deal about you in Moscow, and I can call you comrade. I disagree with you, of course, but I also disagree with the policies of my Party. The Ukraina is not Russia --- it's a great mistake for 'the center' to treat us as if we were. We could win the people to our side by having greater local autonomy and more independence. Our Ukrainian Party has used every effort to convince Moscow in this matter, but without result. We are a republic in name only; in reality we are just a Russian province."
"Do you want entire separation?"
"No. We want to be federated with R. S. F. S. R., but not subject. We are as good Communists as they in Moscow, but our influence here would be much greater were we left free to act. We know the conditions and needs of the people better than those who sit in the Kremlin. Take, for instance, the recent wholesale suspension of the union management. It has antagonized the entire labor element against us. The same is happening in the other Soviet institutions. Only yesterday a chauffeur complained to me about our 'Moscow methods.' The man had been ordered to the front, but his wife died recently, leaving a paralytic boy on his hands. He has been trying to get his child into some hospital or home, but his petition, in the Ukrainian language, has been returned to him with the order to 'write it in Russian.' And that after two weeks of waiting! Now the man is to join his regiment within two days. Do you wonder that the people hate us? The 'center' ignores our suggestions, and we are powerless."
Criticism of Moscow is general among the Ukrainian Communists. Often, to my surprise and consternation, I detect obvious anti-Semitism in their resentment of Kremlin domination. The anecdotes and puns circulating in Soviet institutions are tinged with this spirit, though some do not lack wit. Among the people at large hatred of the Jew is intense, though its active expression is held in abeyance. Yet not unfrequent are incidents such as happened this morning in the Podol, the proletarian district of the city, where a man ran amok in the market, knife in hand, shouting: "Kill the Jews, save Russia!" He stabbed several persons before he was overpowered. It is said that the man was crazed by hunger and illness, but his sentiments are unfortunately too popular to require such an explanation.
Kiev, in the heart of the former ghetto, has lately still more increased its Hebrew population, come to the larger city in the hope of finding comparative safety from the continual wave of pogroms which swept the province since 1917. Whoever the changing political masters --- with the sole exception of the Bolsheviki --- the Jew was always the first victim, the eternal martyr. It is the concurrence of opinion that Denikin and the Poles were the most brutal and ruthless. Under the latter even Kiev was not free from anti-Semitic excesses, and in the Podol pogroms took place repeatedly.
In the city library, in a recent publication by a man of great literary and intellectual attainments, I read: "Pogroms are sad, but if that is the only way to get rid of the Bolsheviki, then we must have pogroms."
From : Anarchy Archives
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