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ON THE night of December 21, 1919, together with two hundred and forty-eight other political prisoners, I was deported from America. Although it was generally known we were to be deported, few really believed that the United States would so completely deny her past as an asylum for political refugees, some of whom had lived and worked in America for more than thirty years. In my own case, the decision to eliminate me first became known when, in 1909, the Federal authorities went out of their way to disfranchise the man whose name gave me citizenship. That Washington waited till 1917 was due to the circumstance that the psychologic moment for the finale was lacking. Perhaps I should have contested my case at that time. With the then-prevalent public opinion, the Courts would probably not have sustained the fraudulent proceedings which robbed me of citizenship. But it did not seem credible then that America would stoop to the Tsaristic method of deportation. Our anti-war agitation added fuel to the war hysteria of 1917, and thus furnished the Federal authorities with the desired opportunity to complete the conspiracy begun against me in Rochester, N. Y., 1909. It was on December 5, 1919, while in Chicago lecturing, that I was telegraphically apprised of the fact that the order for my deportation was final. The question of my citizenship was then raised in court, but was of course decided adversely. I had intended to take the case to a higher tribunal, but finally I decided to carry the matter no further: Soviet Russia was luring me...
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MY DISILLUSIONMENT IN RUSSIA
by Emma Goldman
Published 2018 by Blackmore Dennett
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Deportation to Russia
Moscow: First Impressions
Preparing for American Deportees
Rest Homes for Workers
The First of May in Petrograd
The British Labour Mission
A Visit from the Ukraina
Beneath the Surface
Joining the Museum of the Revolution
Petropavlovsk and Schlüsselburg
The Trade Unions
Another Visit to Peter Kropotkin
Returning to Moscow
Back in Petrograd
Archangel and Return
Death and Funeral of Peter Kropotkin
Persecution of Anarchists
Travelling Salesmen of the Revolution
Education and Culture
Exploiting the Famine
The Socialist Republic Resorts to Deportation
ON THE night of December 21, 1919, together with two hundred and forty-eight other political prisoners, I was deported from America. Although it was generally known we were to be deported, few really believed that the United States would so completely deny her past as an asylum for political refugees, some of whom had lived and worked in America for more than thirty years.
In my own case, the decision to eliminate me first became known when, in 1909, the Federal authorities went out of their way to disfranchise the man whose name gave me citizenship. That Washington waited till 1917 was due to the circumstance that the psychologic moment for the finale was lacking. Perhaps I should have contested my case at that time. With the then-prevalent public opinion, the Courts would probably not have sustained the fraudulent proceedings which robbed me of citizenship. But it did not seem credible then that America would stoop to the Tsaristic method of deportation.
Our anti-war agitation added fuel to the war hysteria of 1917, and thus furnished the Federal authorities with the desired opportunity to complete the conspiracy begun against me in Rochester, N. Y., 1909.
It was on December 5, 1919, while in Chicago lecturing, that I was telegraphically apprised of the fact that the order for my deportation was final. The question of my citizenship was then raised in court, but was of course decided adversely. I had intended to take the case to a higher tribunal, but finally I decided to carry the matter no further: Soviet Russia was luring me.
Ludicrously secretive were the authorities about our deportation. To the very last moment we were kept in ignorance as to the time. Then, unexpectedly, in the wee small hours of December 2Ist we were spirited away. The scene set for this performance was most thrilling. It was six o'clock Sunday morning, December 21, 1919, when under heavy military convoy we stepped aboard the Buford.
For twenty-eight days we were prisoners. Sentries at our cabin doors day and night, sentries on deck during the hour we were daily permitted to breathe the fresh air. Our men comrades were cooped up in dark, damp quarters, wretchedly fed, all of us in complete ignorance of the direction we were to take. Yet our spirits were high-Russia, free, new Russia was before us.
All my life Russia's heroic struggle for freedom was as a beacon to me. The revolutionary zeal of her martyred men and women, which neither fortress nor katorga could suppress, was my inspiration in the darkest hours. When the news of the February Revolution flashed across the world, I longed to hasten to the land which had performed the miracle and had freed her people from the age-old yoke of Tsarism. But America held me. The thought of thirty years of struggle for my ideals, of my friends and associates, made it impossible to tear myself away. I would go to Russia later, I thought.
Then came America's entry into the war and the need of remaining true to the American people who were swept into the hurricane against their will. After all, I owed a great debt, I owed my growth and development to what was finest and best in America, to her fighters for liberty, to the sons and daughters of the revolution to come. I would be true to them. But the frenzied militarists soon terminated my work.
At last I was bound for Russia and all else was almost blotted out. I would behold with mine own eyes matushka Rossiya, the land freed from political and economic masters; the Russian dubinushka, as the peasant was called, raised from the dust; the Russian worker, the modern Samson, who with a sweep of his mighty arm had pulled down the pillars of decaying society. The twenty-eight days on our floating prison passed in a sort of trance. I was hardly conscious of my surroundings.
Finally we reached Finland, across which we were forced to journey in sealed cars. On the Russian border we were met by a committee of the Soviet Government, headed by Zorin. They had come to greet the first political refugees driven from America for opinion's sake.
It was a cold day, with the earth a sheet of white, but spring was in our hearts. Soon we were to behold revolutionary Russia. I preferred to be alone when I touched the sacred soil: my exaltation was too great, and I feared I might not be able to control my emotion. When I reached Beloostrov the first enthusiastic reception tendered the refugees was over, but the place was still surcharged with intensity of feeling. I could sense the awe and humility of our group who, treated like felons in the United States, were here received as dear brothers and comrades and welcomed by the Red soldiers, the liberators of Russia.
From Beloostrov we were driven to the village where another reception had been prepared: A dark hall filled to suffocation, the platform lit up by tallow candles, a huge red flag, on the stage a group of women in black nuns' attire. I stood as in a dream in the breathless silence. Suddenly a voice rang out. It beat like metal on my ears and seemed uninspired, but it spoke of the great suffering of the Russian people and of the enemies of the Revolution. Others addressed the audience, but I was held by the women in black, their faces ghastly in the yellow light. Were these really nuns? Had the Revolution penetrated even the walls of superstition? Had the Red Dawn broken into the narrow lives of these ascetics? It all seemed strange, fascinating.
Somehow I found myself on the platform. I could only blurt out that like my comrades I had not come to Russia to teach: I had come to learn, to draw sustenance and hope from her, to lay down my life on the altar of the Revolution.
After the meeting we were escorted to the waiting Petrograd train, the women in the black hood intoning the “Internationale,” the whole audience joining in. I was in the car with our host, Zorin, who had lived in America and spoke English fluently. He talked enthusiastically about the Soviet Government and its marvellous achievements. His conversation was illuminative, but one phrase struck me as discordant. Speaking of the political organization of his Party, he remarked: “Tammany Hall has nothing on us, and as to Boss Murphy, we could teach him a thing or two.” I thought the man was jesting. What relation could there be between Tammany Hall, Boss Murphy, and the Soviet Government?
I inquired about our comrades who had hastened from America at the first news of the Revolution. Many of them had died at the front, Zorin informed me, others were working with the Soviet Government. And Shatov? William Shatov, a brilliant speaker and able organizer, was a well-known figure in America, frequently associated with us in our work. We had sent him a telegram from Finland and were much surprised at his failure to reply. Why did not Shatov come to meet us? “Shatov had to leave for Siberia, where he is to take the post of Minister of Railways,” said Zorin.
In Petrograd our group again received an ovation. Then the deportees were taken to the famous Tauride Palace, where they were to be fed and housed for the night. Zorin asked Alexander Berkman and myself to accept his hospitality. We entered the waiting automobile. The city was dark and deserted; not a living soul to be seen anywhere. We had not gone very far when the car was suddenly halted, and an electric light flashed into our eyes. It was the militia, demanding the password. Petrograd had recently fought back the Yudenitch attack and was still under martial law. The process was repeated frequently along the route. Shortly before we reached our destination we passed a well-lighted building “It is our station house,” Zorin explained, “but we have few prisoners there now. Capital punishment is abolished and we have recently proclaimed a general political amnesty.”
Presently the automobile came to a halt. “The First House of the Soviets,” said Zorin, “the living place of the most active members of our Party.” Zorin and his wife occupied two rooms, simply but comfortably furnished. Tea and refreshments were served, and our hosts entertained us with the absorbing story of the marvellous defence the Petrograd workers had organized against the Yudenitch forces. How heroically the men and women, even the children, had rushed to the defence of the Red City! What wonderful self-discipline and cooperation the proletariat demonstrated. The evening passed in these reminiscences, and I was about to retire to the room secured for me when a young woman arrived who introduced herself as the sister-in-law of “Bill” Shatov. She greeted us warmly and asked us to come up to see her sister who lived on the floor above. When we reached their apartment I found myself embraced by big jovial Bill himself. How strange of Zorin to tell me that Shatov had left for Siberia! What did it mean? Shatov explained that he had been ordered not to meet us at the border, to prevent his giving us our first impressions of Soviet Russia. He had fallen into disfavour with the Government and was being sent to Siberia into virtual exile. His trip had been delayed and therefore we still happened to find him.
We spent much time with Shatov before he left Petrograd. For whole days I listened to his story of the Revolution, with its light and shadows, and the developing tendency of the Bolsheviki toward the right. Shatov, however, insisted that it was necessary for all the revolutionary elements to work with the Bolsheviki Government. Of course, the Communists had made many mistakes, but what they did was inevitable, imposed upon them by Allied interference and the blockade.
A few days after our arrival Zorin asked Alexander Berkman and myself to accompany him to Smolny. Smolny, the erstwhile boarding school for the daughters of the aristocracy, had been the centre of revolutionary events. Almost every stone had played its part. Now it was the seat of the Petrograd Government. I found the place heavily guarded and giving the impression of a beehive of officials and government employees. The Department of the Third International was particularly interesting. It was the domain of Zinoviev. I was much impressed by the magnitude of it all.
After showing us about, Zorin invited us to the Smolny dining room. The meal consisted of good soup, meat and potatoes, bread and tea. Rather a good meal in starving Russia, I thought.
Our group of deportees was quartered in Smolny. I was anxious about my travelling companions, the two girls who had shared my cabin on the Buford. I wished to take them back with me to the First House of the Soviet. Zorin sent for them. They arrived greatly excited and told us that the whole group of deportees had been placed under military guard. The news was startling. The people who had been driven out of America for their political opinions, now in Revolutionary Russia again prisoners-three days after their arrival. What had happened?
We turned to Zorin. He seemed embarrassed. “Some mistake,” he said, and immediately began to make inquiries. It developed that four ordinary criminals had been found among the politicals deported by the United States Government, and therefore a guard was placed over the whole group. The proceeding seemed to me unjust and uncalled for. It was my first lesson in Bolshevik methods.
MY PARENTS had moved to St. Petersburg when I was thirteen. Under the discipline of a German school in Königsberg and the Prussian attitude toward everything Russian, I had grown up in the atmosphere of hatred to that country. I dreaded especially the terrible Nihilists [Narodniki – anarchists] who had killed Tsar Alexander II, so good and kind, as I had been taught. St. Petersburg was to me an evil thing. But the gayety of the city, its vivacity and brilliancy, soon dispelled my childish fancies and made the city appear like a fairy dream. Then my curiosity was aroused by the revolutionary mystery which seemed to hang over everyone, and of which no one dared to speak. When four years later I left with my sister for America I was no longer the German Gretchen to whom Russia spelt evil. My whole soul had been transformed and the seed planted for what was to be my life's work. Especially did St. Petersburg remain in my memory a vivid picture, full of life and mystery. [Goldman was gone for 30 years from Russia, living instead in the U.S.]
I found Petrograd of 1920 quite a different place. It was almost in ruins, as if a hurricane had swept over it. The houses looked like broken old tombs upon neglected and forgotten cemeteries. The streets were dirty and deserted; all life had gone from them. The population of Petrograd before the war was almost two million; in 1920 it had dwindled to five hundred thousand. The people walked about like living corpses; the shortage of food and fuel was slowly sapping the city; grim death was clutching at its heart. Emaciated and frostbitten men, women, and children were being whipped by the common lash, the search for a piece of bread or a stick of wood. It was a heart-rending sight by day, an oppressive weight at night. Especially were the nights of the first month in Petrograd dreadful. The utter stillness of the large city was paralysing. It fairly haunted me, this awful oppressive silence broken only by occasional shots. I would lay awake trying to pierce the mystery. Did not Zorin say that capital punishment had been abolished? Why this shooting? [The Civil War was still raging near Petrograd.] Doubts disturbed my mind, but I tried to wave them aside. I had come to learn.
Much of my first knowledge and impressions of the October Revolution and the events that followed I received from the Zorins. As already mentioned, both had lived in America, spoke English, and were eager to enlighten me upon the history of the Revolution. They were devoted to the cause and worked very hard; he, especially, who was secretary of the Petrograd committee of his party, besides editing the daily Krasnaya Gazetta, and participating in other activities.
It was from Zorin that I first learned about that legendary figure, Makhno. The latter was an Anarchist, I was informed, who under the Tsar had been sentenced to katorga. Liberated by the [general political amnesty of the] February revolution, he became the leader of a peasant army in the Ukraina, proving himself extremely able and daring and doing splendid work in the defence of the Revolution. For some time Makhno worked in harmony with the Bolsheviki, fighting the counter-revolutionary forces. Then he became antagonistic, and now his army, recruited from bandit elements, was fighting the Bolsheviki. Zorin related that he had been one of a committee sent to Makhno to bring about an understanding. But Makhno would not listen to reason. He continued his warfare against the Soviets and was considered a dangerous counter-revolutionist.
I had no means of verifying the story, and I was far from disbelieving the Zorins. Both appeared most sincere and dedicated to their work, types of religious zealots ready to burn the heretic, but equally ready to sacrifice their own lives for their cause. I was much impressed by the simplicity of their lives. Holding a responsible position, Zorin could have received special rations, but they lived very poorly, their supper often consisting only of herring, black bread, and tea. I thought it especially admirable because Lisa Zorin was with child at the time.
Two weeks after my arrival in Russia I was invited to attend the Alexander Herzen commemoration in the Winter Palace. The white marble hall where the gathering took place seemed to intensify the bitter frost, but the people present were unmindful of the penetrating cold. I also was conscious only of the unique situation: Alexander Herzen, one of the most hated revolutionists of his time, honoured in the Winter Palace! Frequently before the spirit of Herzen had found its way into the house of the Romanovs. It was when the “Kolokol,” published abroad and sparkling with the brilliancy of Herzen and Turgenev, would in some mysterious manner be discovered on the desk of the Tsar. Now the Tsars were no more, but the spirit of Herzen had risen again and was witnessing the realization of the dream of one of Russia's great men.
One evening I was informed that Zinoviev had returned from Moscow and would see me. He arrived about midnight. He looked very tired and was constantly disturbed by urgent messages. Our talk was of a general nature, of the grave situation in Russia, the shortage of food and fuel then particularly poignant, and about the labour situation in America. He was anxious to know “how soon the revolution could be expected in the United States.” He left upon me no definite impression, but I was conscious of something lacking in the man, though I could not determine at the time just what it was.
Another Communist I saw much of the first weeks was John Reed. I had known him in America. He was living in the Astoria, working hard and preparing for his return to the United States. He was to journey through Latvia and he seemed apprehensive of the outcome. He had been in Russia during the October days and this was his second visit. Like Shatov he also insisted that the dark sides of the Bolshevik regime were inevitable. He believed fervently that the Soviet Government would emerge from its narrow party lines and that it would presently establish the Communistic Commonwealth. We spent much time together, discussing the various phases of the situation.
So far I had met none of the Anarchists and their failure to call rather surprised me. One day a friend I had known in the States came to inquire whether I would see several members of an Anarchist organization. I readily assented. From them I learned a version of the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik regime utterly different from what I had heard before. It was so startling, so terrible that I could not believe it. They invited me to attend a small gathering they had called to present to me their views.
The following Sunday I went to their conference. Passing Nevsky Prospekt, near Liteiny Street, I came upon a group of women huddled together to protect themselves from the cold. They were surrounded by soldiers, talking and gesticulating. Those women, I learned, were prostitutes who were selling themselves for a pound of bread, a piece of soap or chocolate. The soldiers were the only ones who could afford to buy them because of their extra rations. Prostitution in revolutionary Russia. I wondered. What is the Communist Government doing for these unfortunates? What are the Workers' and Peasants' Soviets doing? My escort smiled sadly. The Soviet Government had closed the houses of prostitution and was now trying to drive the women off the streets, but hunger and cold drove them back again; besides, the soldiers had to be humoured. It was too ghastly, too incredible- to be real, yet there they were-those shivering creatures for sale and their buyers, the red defenders of the Revolution. “The cursed interventionists, the blockade-they are responsible,” said my escort. Why, yes, the counter-revolutionists and the blockade are responsible, I reassured myself. I tried to dismiss the thought of that huddled group, but it clung to me. I felt something snap within me.
At last we reached the Anarchist quarters, in a dilapidated house in a filthy backyard. I was ushered into a small room crowded with men and women. The sight recalled pictures of thirty years ago when, persecuted and hunted from place to place, the Anarchists in America were compelled to meet in a dingy hall on Orchard Street, New York, or in the dark rear room of a saloon. That was in capitalistic America. But this is revolutionary Russia, which the Anarchists had helped to free. Why should they have to gather in secret and in such a place?
That evening and the following day I listened to a recital of the betrayal of the Revolution by the Bolsheviki. Workers from the Baltic factories spoke of their enslavement, Kronstadt sailors voiced their bitterness and indignation against the people they had helped to power and who had become their masters. One of the speakers had been condemned to death by the Bolsheviki for his Anarchist ideas, but had escaped and was now living illegally. He related how the sailors had been robbed of the freedom of their Soviets, how every breath of life was being censored. Others spoke of the Red Terror and repression in Moscow, which resulted in the throwing of a bomb into the gathering of the Moscow section of the Communist Party in September, 1919. They told me of the over-filled prisons, of the violence practised on the workers and peasants. I listened rather impatiently, for everything in me cried out against this indictment. It sounded impossible; it could not be. Someone was surely at fault, but probably it was they, my comrades, I thought. They were unreasonable, impatient for immediate results. Was not violence inevitable in a revolution, and was it not imposed upon the Bolsheviki by the Interventionists? My comrades were indignant! “Disguise yourself so the Bolsheviki do not recognize you; take a pamphlet of Kropotkin and try to distribute it in a Soviet meeting. You will soon see whether we told you the truth. “Above all, get out of the First House of the Soviet. Live among the people and you will have all the proofs you need.”
How childish and thrilling it all seemed in the face of the world event that was taking place in Russia! No, I could not credit their stories. I would wait and study conditions. But my mind was in a turmoil, and the nights became more oppressive than ever.
The day arrived when I was given a chance to attend the meeting of the Petro-Soviet. It was to be a double celebration in honour of the return of Karl Radek to Russia and Joffe's report on the peace treaty with Esthonia. As usual I went with the Zorins. The gathering was in the Tauride Palace, the former meeting place of the Russian Duma. Every entrance to the hall was guarded by soldiers, the platform surrounded by them holding their guns at attention. The hall was crowded to the very doors. I was on the platform overlooking the sea of faces below. Starved and wretched they looked, these sons and daughters of the people, the heroes of Red Petrograd. How they had suffered and endured for the Revolution! I felt very humble before them.
Zinoviev presided. After the “Internationale” had been sung by the audience standing, Zinoviev opened the meeting. He spoke at length. His voice is high pitched, without depth. The moment I heard him I realized what I had missed in him at our first meeting-depth, strength of character. Next came Radek. He was clever, witty, sarcastic, and he paid his respects to the counter-revolutionists and to the White Guards. Altogether an interesting man and an interesting address.
Joffe looked the diplomat. Well fed and groomed, he seemed rather out of place in that assembly. He spoke of the peace conditions with Esthonia, which were received with enthusiasm by the audience. Certainly these people wanted peace. Would it ever come to Russia?
Last spoke Zorin, by far the ablest and most convincing that evening. Then the meeting was thrown open to discussion. A Menshevik asked for the floor. Immediately pandemonium broke loose. Yells of “Traitor!” “Kolchak!” “Counter-Revolutionist!” came from all parts of the audience and even from the platform. It looked to me like an unworthy proceeding for a revolutionary assembly.
On the way home I spoke to Zorin about it. He laughed. “Free speech is a bourgeois superstition,” he said; “during a revolutionary period there can be no free speech.” I was rather dubious about the sweeping statement, but I felt that I had no right to judge. I was a newcomer, while the people at the Tauride Palace had sacrificed and suffered so much for the Revolution. I had no right to judge.
LIFE went on. Each day brought new conflicting thoughts and emotions. The feature which affected me most was the inequality I witnessed in my immediate environment. I learned that the rations issued to the tenants of the First House of the Soviet (Astoria) were much superior to those received by the workers in the factories. To be sure, they were not sufficient to sustain life--but no one in the Astoria lived from these rations alone. The members of the Communist Party, quartered in the Astoria, worked in Smolny, and the rations in Smolny were the best in Petrograd. Moreover, trade was not entirely suppressed at that time. The markets were doing a lucrative business, though no one seemed able or willing to explain to me where the purchasing capacity came from. The workers could not afford to buy butter which was then 2,000 rubles a pound, sugar at 3,000, or meat at 1,000. The inequality was most apparent in the Astoria kitchen. I went there frequently, though it was torture to prepare a meal: the savage scramble for an inch of space on the stove, the greedy watching of the women lest any one have something extra in the saucepan, the quarrels and screams when someone fished out a piece of meat from the pot of a neighbor! But there was one redeeming feature in the picture--it was the resentment of the servants who worked in the Astoria. They were servants, though called comrades, and they felt keenly the inequality: the Revolution to them was not a mere theory to be realized in years to come. It was a living thing. I was made aware of it one day.
The rations were distributed at the Commissary, but one had to fetch them himself. One day, while waiting my turn in the long line, a peasant girl came in and asked for vinegar. “Vinegar! who is it calls for such a luxury?” cried several women. It appeared that the girl was Zinoviev's servant. She spoke of him as her master, who worked very hard and was surely entitled to something extra. At once a storm of indignation broke loose. “Master! is that what we made the Revolution for, or was it to do away with masters? Zinoviev is no more than we, and he is not entitled to more.”
These working women were crude, even brutal, but their sense of justice was instinctive. The Revolution to them was something fundamentally vital. They saw the inequality at every step and bitterly resented it. I was disturbed. I sought to reassure myself that Zinoviev and the other leaders of the Communists would not use their power for selfish benefit. It was the shortage of food and the lack of efficient organization which made it impossible to feed all alike, and of course the blockade and not the Bolsheviki was responsible for it. The Allied Interventionists, who were trying to get at Russia's throat, were the cause.
Every Communist I met reiterated this thought; even some of the Anarchists insisted on it. The little group antagonistic to the Soviet Government was not convincing. But how reconcile the explanation given to me with some of the stories I learned every day--stories of systematic terrorism, of relentless persecution, and suppression of other revolutionary elements?
Another circumstance which perplexed me was that, the markets were stacked with meat, fish, soap, potatoes, even shoes, every time that the rations were given out. How did these things get to the markets? Everyone spoke about it, but no one seemed to know. One day I was in a watchmaker's shop when a soldier entered. He conversed with the proprietor in Yiddish, relating that he had just returned from Siberia with a shipment of tea. Would the watchmaker take fifty pounds? Tea was sold at a premium at the time--no one but the privileged few could permit themselves such a luxury. Of course the watchmaker would take the tea. When the soldier left I asked the shopkeeper if he did not think it rather risky to transact such illegal business so openly. I happen to understand Yiddish, I told him. Did he not fear I would report him? “That's nothing,” the man replied nonchalantly, “the Tcheka knows all about it--it draws its percentage from the soldier and myself.”
I began to suspect that the reason for much of the evil was also within Russia, not only outside of it. But then, I argued, police officials and detectives graft everywhere. That is the common disease of the breed. In Russia, where scarcity of food and three years of starvation must needs turn most people into grafters, theft is inevitable. The Bolsheviki are trying to suppress it with an iron hand. How can they be blamed? But try as I might I could not silence my doubts. I groped for some moral support, for a dependable word, for someone to shed light on the disturbing questions.
It occurred to me to write to Maxim Gorki. He might help. I called his attention to his own dismay and disappointment while visiting America. He had come believing in her democracy and liberalism, and found bigotry and lack of hospitality instead. I felt sure Gorki would understand the struggle going on within me, though the cause was not the same. Would he see me? Two days later I received a short note asking me to call.
I had admired Gorki for many years. He was the living affirmation of my belief that the creative artist cannot be suppressed. Gorki, the child of the people, the pariah, had by his genius become one of the world's greatest, one who by his pen and deep human sympathy made the social outcast our kin. For years I toured America interpreting Gorki's genious to the American people, elucidating the greatness, beauty, and humanity of the man and his works. Now I was to see him and through him get a glimpse into the complex soul of Russia.
I found the main entrance of his house nailed up, and there seemed to be no way of getting in. I almost gave up in despair when a woman pointed to a dingy staircase. I climbed to the very top and knocked on the first door I saw. It was thrown open, momentarily blinding me with a flood of light and steam from an overheated kitchen. Then I was ushered into a large dining room. It was dimly lit, chilly and cheerless in spite of a fire and a large collection of Dutch china on the walls. One of the three women I had noticed in the kitchen sat down at the table with me, pretending to read a book but all the while watching me out of the corner of her eye. It was an awkward half-hour of waiting.
Presently Gorki arrived. Tall, gaunt, and coughing, he looked ill and weary. He took me to his study, semi-dark and of depressing effect. No sooner had we seated ourselves than the door flew open and another young woman, whom I had not observed before, brought him a glass of dark fluid, medicine evidently. Then the telephone began to ring; a few minutes later Gorki was called out of the room. I realized that I would not be able to talk with him. Returning, he must have noticed my disappointment. We agreed to postpone our talk till some less disturbed opportunity presented itself. He escorted me to the door, remarking, “You ought to visit the Baltflot [Baltic Fleet]. The Kronstadt sailors are nearly all instinctive Anarchists. You would find a field there.” I smiled. “Instinctive Anarchists?” I said, “that means they are unspoiled by preconceived notions, unsophisticated, and receptive. Is that what you mean?”
“Yes, that is what I mean,” he replied.
The interview with Gorki left me depressed. Nor was our second meeting more satisfactory on the occasion of my first trip to Moscow. By the same train travelled Radek, Demyan Bedny the popular Bolshevik versifier, and Zipperovitch, then the president of the Petrograd unions. We found ourselves in the same car, the one reserved for Bolshevik officials and State dignitaries, comfortable and roomy. On the other hand, the “common” man, the non-Communist without influence, had literally to fight his way into the always overcrowded railway carriages, provided he had a propusk to travel--a most difficult thing to procure.
I spent the time of the journey discussing Russian conditions with Zipperovitch, a kindly man of deep convictions, and with Demyan Bedny, a big coarse-looking man. Radek held forth at length on his experiences in Germany and German prisons.
I learned that Gorki was also on the train, and I was glad of another opportunity for a chat with him when he called to see me. The one thing uppermost in my mind at the moment was an article which had appeared in the Petrograd Pravda a few days before my departure. It treated of morally defective children, the writer urging prison for them. Nothing I had heard or seen during my six weeks in Russia so outraged me as this brutal and antiquated attitude toward the child. I was eager to know what Gorki thought of the matter. Of course, he was opposed to prisons for the morally defective, he would advocate reformatories instead. “What do you mean by morally defective?” I asked. “Our young are the result of alcoholism rampant during the Russian-Japanese War, and of syphilis. What except moral defection could result from such a heritage?” he replied. I argued that morality changes with conditions and climate, and that unless one believed in the theory of free will one cannot consider morality a fixed matter. As to children, their sense of responsibility is primitive, and they lack the spirit of social adherence. But Gorki insisted that there was a fearful spread of moral defection among children and that such cases should be isolated.
I then broached the problem that was troubling me most. What about persecution and terror--were all the horrors inevitable, or was there some fault in Bolshevism itself? The Bolsheviki were making mistakes, but they were doing the best they knew how, Gorki said drily. Nothing more could be expected, he thought.
I recalled a certain article by Gorki, published in his paper, New Life, which I had read in the Missouri Penitentiary. It was a scathing arraignment of the Bolsheviki. There must have been powerful reasons to change Gorki's point of view so completely. Perhaps he is right. I must wait. I must study the situation; I must get at the facts. Above all, I must see for myself Bolshevism at work.
We spoke of the drama. On my first visit, by way of introduction, I had shown Gorki an announcement card of the dramatic course I had given in America. John Galsworthy was among the playwrights I had discussed then. Gorki expressed surprise that I considered Galsworthy an artist. In his opinion Galsworthy could not be compared with Bernard Shaw. I had to differ. I did not underestimate Shaw, but considered Galsworthy the greater artist. I detected irritation in Gorki, and as his hacking cough continued, I broke off the discussion. He soon left. I remained dejected from the interview. It gave me nothing.
When we pulled into the Moscow station my chaperon, Demyan Bedny, had vanished and I was left on the platform with all my traps. Radek came to my rescue. He called a porter, took me and my baggage to his waiting automobile and insisted that I come to his apartments in the Kremlin. There I was graciously received by his wife and invited to dinner served by their maid. After that Radek began the difficult task of getting me quartered in the Hotel National, known as the First House of the Moscow Soviet. With all his influence it required hours to secure a room for me.
Radek's luxurious apartment, the maidservant, the splendid dinner seemed strange in Russia. But the comradely concern of Radek and the hospitality of his wife were grateful to me. Except at the Zorins and the Shatovs I had not met with anything like it. I felt that kindliness, sympathy, and solidarity were still alive in Russia.
COMING from Petrograd to Moscow is like being suddenly transferred from a desert to active life, so great is the contrast. On reaching the large open square in front of the main Moscow station I was amazed at the sight of busy crowds, cabbies, and porters. The same picture presented itself all the way from the station to the Kremlin. The streets were alive with men, women, and children. Almost everybody carried a bundle, or dragged a loaded sleigh. There was life, motion, and movement, quite different from the stillness that oppressed me in Petrograd.
I noticed considerable display of the military in the city, and scores of men dressed in leather suits with guns in their belts. “Tcheka men, our Extraordinary Commission,” explained Radek. I had heard of the Tcheka before: Petrograd talked of it with dread and hatred. However, the soldiers and Tchekists were never much in evidence in the city on the Neva. Here in Moscow they seemed everywhere. Their presence reminded me of a remark Jack [John] Reed had made: “Moscow is a military encampment,” he had said; “spies everywhere, the bureaucracy most autocratic. I always feel relieved when I get out of Moscow. But, then, Petrograd is a proletarian city and is permeated with the spirit of the Revolution. Moscow always was hierarchical. Still the life was intense, varied, and interesting. What struck me most forcible, besides the display of militarism, was the preoccupation of the people. There seemed to be no common interest between them. Everyone rushed about as a detached unit in quest of his own, pushing and knocking against everyone else. Repeatedly I saw women or children fall from exhaustion without any one stopping to lend assistance. People stared at me when I would bend over the heap on the slippery pavement or gather up the bundles that had fallen into the street. I spoke to friends about what looked to me like a strange lack of fellow-feeling. They explained it as a result partly of the general distrust and suspicion created by the Tcheka, and partly due to the absorbing task of getting the day's food. One had neither vitality nor feeling left to think of others. Yet there did not seem to be such a scarcity of food as in Petrograd, and the people were warmer and better dressed.
I spent much time on the streets and in the market places. Most of the latter, as also the famous Soukharevka, were in full operation. Occasionally soldiers would raid the markets; but as a rule they were suffered to continue. They presented the most vital and interesting part of the city's life. Here gathered proletarian and aristocrat, Communist and bourgeois, peasant and intellectual. Here they were bound by the common desire to sell and buy, to trade and bargain. Here one could find for sale a rusty iron pot alongside of an exquisite ikon; an old pair of shoes and intricately worked lace; a few yards of cheap calico and a beautiful old Persian shawl. The rich of yesterday, hungry and emaciated, denuding themselves of their last glories; the rich of to-day buying--it was indeed an amazing picture in revolutionary Russia.
Who was buying the finery of the past, and where did the purchasing power come from? The buyers were numerous. In Moscow one was not so limited as to sources of information as in Petrograd; the very streets furnished that source.
The Russian people even after four years of war and three years of revolution remained unsophisticated. They were suspicious of strangers and reticent at first. But when they learned that one had come from America and did not belong to the governing political party, they gradually lost their reserve. Much information I gathered from them and some explanation of the things that perplexed me since my arrival. I talked frequently with the workers and peasants and the women on the markets.
The forces which had led up to the Russian Revolution had remained terra incognito to these simple folk, but the Revolution itself had struck deep into their souls. They knew nothing of theories, but they believed that there was to be no more of the hated barin (master) and now the barin was again upon them. “The barin has everything,” they would say, “white bread, clothing, even chocolate, while we have nothing.” “Communism, equality, freedom,” they jeered, “lies and deception.”
I would return to the National bruised and battered, my illusions gradually shattered, my foundations crumbling. But I would not let go. After all, I thought, the common people could not understand the tremendous difficulties confronting the Soviet Government: the imperialist forces arraigned against Russia, the many attacks which drained her of her men who otherwise would be employed in productive labour, the blockade which was relentlessly slaying Russia's young and weak. Of course, the people could not understand these things, and I must not be misled by their bitterness born of suffering. I must be patient. I must get to the source of the evils confronting me.
The National, like the Petrograd Astoria, was a former hotel but not nearly in as good condition. No rations were given out there except three quarters of a pound of bread every two days. Instead there was a common dining room where dinners and suppers were served. The meals consisted of soup and a little meat, sometimes fish or pancakes, and tea. In the evening we usually had kasha and tea. The food was not too plentiful, but one could exist on it were it not so abominably prepared.
I saw no reason for this spoiling of provisions. Visiting the kitchen I discovered an array of servants controlled by a number of officials, commandants, and inspectors. The kitchen staff were poorly paid; moreover, they were not given the same food served to us. They resented this discrimination and their interest was not in their work. This situation resulted in much graft and waste, criminal in the face of the general scarcity of food. Few of the tenants of the National, I learned, took their meals in the common dining room. They prepared or had their meals prepared by servants in a separate kitchen set aside for that purpose. There, as in the Astoria, I found the same scramble for a place on the stove, the same bickering and quarrelling, the same greedy, envious watching of each other. Was that Communism in action, I wondered. I heard the usual explanation: Yudenitch, Deniken, Kolchak, the blockade--but the stereotyped phrases no longer satisfied me.
Before I left Petrograd Jack Reed said to me: “When you reach Moscow, look up Angelica Balabanova. She will receive you gladly and will put you up should you be unable to find a room.” I had heard of Balabanova before, knew of her work, and was naturally anxious to meet her.
A few days after reaching Moscow I called her up. Would she see me? Yes, at once, though she was not feeling well. I found Balabanova in a small cheerless room, lying huddled up on the sofa. She was not prepossessing but for her eyes, large and luminous, radiating sympathy and kindness. She received me most graciously, like an old friend, and immediately ordered the inevitable samovar. Over our tea we talked of America, the labour movement there, our deportation, and finally about Russia. I put to her the questions I had asked many Communists regarding the contrasts and discrepancies which confronted me at every step. She surprised me by not giving the usual excuses; she was the first who did not repeat the old refrain. She did refer to the scarcity of food, fuel, and clothing which was responsible for much of the graft and corruption; but on the whole she thought life itself mean and limited. “A rock on which the highest hopes are shattered. Life thwarts the best intentions and breaks the finest spirits,” she said. Rather an unusual view for a Marxian, a Communist, and one in the thick of the battle. I knew she was then secretary of the Third International. Here was a personality, one who was not a mere echo, one who felt deeply the complexity of the Russian situation. I went away profoundly impressed, and attracted by her sad, luminous eyes.
I soon discovered that Balabanova--or Balabanoff, as she preferred to be called--was at the beck and call of everybody. Though poor in health and engaged in many functions, she yet found time to minister to the needs of her legion callers. Often she went without necessaries herself, giving away her own rations, always busy trying to secure medicine or some little delicacy for the sick and suffering. Her special concern were the stranded Italians of whom there were quite a number in Petrograd and Moscow. Balabanova had lived and worked in Italy for many years until she almost became Italian herself. She felt deeply with them, who were as far away from their native soil as from events in Russia. She was their friend, their advisor, their main support in a world of strife and struggle. Not only the Italians but almost everyone else was the concern of this remarkable little woman: no one needed a Communist membership card to Angelica's heart. No wonder some of her comrades considered her a “sentimentalist who wasted her precious time in philanthropy.” Many verbal battles I had on this score with the type of Communist who had become callous and hard, altogether barren of the qualities which characterized the Russian idealist of the past.
Similar criticism as of Balabanova I heard expressed of another leading Communist, Lunacharsky. Already in Petrograd I was told sneeringly, “Lunacharsky is a scatterbrain who wastes millions on foolish ventures.” But I was eager to meet the man who was the Commissar of one of the important departments in Russia, that of education. Presently an opportunity presented itself.
The Kremlin, the old citadel of Tsardom, I found heavily guarded and inaccessible to the “common” man. But I had come by appointment and in the company of a man who had an admission card, and therefore passed the guard without trouble. We soon reached the Lunacharsky apartments, situated in an old quaint building within the walls. Though the reception room was crowded with people waiting to be admitted, Lunacharsky called me in as soon as I was announced.
His greeting was very cordial. Did I “intend to remain a free bird” was one of his first questions, or would I be willing to join him in his work? I was rather surprised. Why should one have to give up his freedom, especially in educational work? Were not initiative and freedom essential? However, I had come to learn from Lunacharsky about the revolutionary system of education in Russia, of which we had heard so much in America. I was especially interested in the care the children were receiving. The Moscow Pravda
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