Memoirs of a Revolutionary - The Charnel-House



M EMOIRS OF A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y V IC T O R SERGE (1890-1947) was born Victor Lvovich Kibalchich to Russian anti-Tsarist exiles, impoverished intellectuals living “ by chance” in Brussels. A precocious anarchist firebrand, young Victor was sentenced to five years in a French penitentiary in 1912. Expelled to Spain in 1917, he participated in an anarcho-syndicalist uprising before leaving to join the Revolution in Russia. Detained for more than a year in a French concentration camp, Serge arrived in St. Petersburg early in 1919 and joined the Bolsheviks, serving in the press services o f the Communist International. An outspoken critic o f Stalin, Serge was expelled from the Party and arrested in 1929. Nonetheless, he managed to complete three novels (Men in Prison


Birth o f Our Power, and Conquered City) and a history (Year One o f the Russian Revolution), published in Paris. Arrested again in Russia and deported to Central Asia in 1933, he was allowed to leave the USSR in 1936 after international protests by militants and prominent writers like Andre Gide and Romain Rolland. Using his insider’s knowledge, Serge published a stream o f impassioned, documented exposes of Stalin’s Moscow show trials and o f machinations in Spain, which went largely unheeded. Stateless, penniless, hounded by Stalinist agents, Serge lived in precarious exile in Brussels, Paris, Vichy France, and Mexico City, where he died in 1947. His classic Memoirs o f a Revolutionary and his great last novels, Unforgiving Years and The Case o f Comrade Tulayev (both available as N Y R B Classics), were written “ for the desk drawer” and published posthumously. PETER SE D G W IC K (1934-1983) translated and wrote the introductions for Victor Serge’s Memoirs and Year One o f the Russian Revolution. A lifelong activist and a founding member of the New

Left in Britain, he wrote seminal essays on Serge. In addition to his journalism and political writings, he is the author o f a book, PsychoPolitics. A D A M H O C H S C H IL D has written for The N ew Yorker, H arpers Magazine, The N ew York Review o f Books, and The Nation. H is books include K in g Leopold’s Ghost and, most recently, To E n d A ll Wars. H e teaches at the Graduate School o f Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. G E O R G E P A IZ IS is the author o f M arcel M artinet: Poet o f the Revolution, Love a nd the Novel: The Poetics a n d Politics o f Romantic Fiction, and, with Andrew N. Leak, The Holocaust and the Text: Speaking the Unspeakable. He is a longstanding member o f the Socialist Workers Party and until recently was Senior Lecturer in the French Department at University College London. R IC H A R D G R E E M A N has translated and written the introductions for five o f Serge s novels (including Unforgiving Years and Conquered City, both available as N Y R B Classics). A veteran Socialist and co-founder o f the Praxis Center and Victor Serge Library in Moscow, Russia (, Greeman is author o f Beware O f “Vegetarian” Sharks: R adical Rants A n d Internationalist Essays.



Translated, fro m the French by P E TER S E D G W I C K with G E O R G E PAI ZI S

Glossary and notes by RICHARD GREEMAN

Foreword by ADAM H OC HSC HI LD












4 35 H u d so n Street, N e w Yo rk , N Y 10 0 1 4 w w w .n y rb .co m

C o p y rig h t © 1951 by Ed itio n s du Seuil T ra n sla tio n co p yrigh t © 1 0 1 1 by the V icto r Serge Fo und atio n Fo rew o rd co p yrigh t © 1 0 0 1 , 1 0 1 1 by A d a m H o ch sch ild A ll rights reserved.

First published in French as M ćm oires d ’un rtvolutionn aire by E d itio n s du Seuil, 19 51; first published in En glish by O x fo rd U n ive rsity Press, Lo n d o n , 1963

T he publishers w o u ld like to thank R ich a rd G recm an for his w ork in assem bling and a n n o ta tin g the p h otograph s in the present volum e.

Serge, V icto r, 1 8 9 0 - 1 9 4 7 . [M ćm o ires d ’un rćvolutionnairc. English ] M em o irs o f a revolu tionary / V ic to r Serge ; [translated by] Peter S ed gw ick ; [forew ord by] A d a m H o ch sch ild . p. cm . — ( N e w Yo rk R evie w B o o ks classics) I S B N 9 7 8 - 1- 5 9 0 17 - 4 5 1- 7 (pbk.) 1. Serge, V icto r, 1 8 9 0 - 1 9 4 7 . 1 . Revolutionaries— So viet U n io n — Biography. 3. So viet U n io n — H isto r y — 19 1 7 - 1 9 3 6 . 4 . So viet U n io n — H isto r y — 192.S—*953I. Sed gw ic k , Peter, 1 9 3 4 - 1 9 8 3 . II. T itle. D K 1 5 4 .S 3 9 A 3 1 3 i o n 9 4 7 .0 8 4 Y 0 9 1— d e n

[B] 10 110 10 4 7 5

I S B N 9 7 8 - 1- 5 9 0 17 - 4 5 1- 7

Printed in the U n ite d States o f A m erica on acid-free paper. 1 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 1



Foreword by Adam Hochschild • vii Translator’s Introduction by Peter Sedgwick • xxiii About the Translation by Richard Greeman • xli i. World Without Possible Escape: 19 0 6 -19 11 • 3 i. Live to Prevail: 19 11-19 19

• 53

3. Anguish and Enthusiasm: 19 19 -19 10 • 81 4. Danger from Within: 19 10 -19 11

• 135

5. Europe at the Dark Crossroads: 19 11-19 16 6. Deadlock o f the Revolution: 19 16 -19 18

7. The Years o f Resistance: 1918-1933 • 183 8. The Years o f Captivity: 1933-1936 • 319 9. Defeat in the West: 1936-1941 • 376 to. Looking Forward • 436 Epilogue: The Death o f Serge • 449 Glossary • 451 English Translations of Serge’s Work • 501 About the Images • 505 Index • 507

• 184

• 1 17

FOREWORD* Our Night with Its Stars Askew

Som e


ago I was at a conference of writers and journalists

from various countries. A group of a dozen or more of us were talking, and someone asked that each person say who was the political writer whom he or she most admired. When my turn came, I named Victor Serge. A man I did not know abruptly leapt to his feet, strode across the room, and embraced me. He turned out to be Rafael Barajas of Mexico, who under the pen name of El Fisgćn is one of Latin Ameri­ ca’s leading political cartoonists. It is rare when a writer inspires instant brotherhood among strang­ ers. And rarer still when the writing involved is not fiction or poetry (although Victor Serge was a good novelist and poet) but a work of nonfiction. For me, and for others in many parts of the world, Serge’s greatness lies above all in the book you are holding. Victor Serge began and ended his life in exile, and spent much o f it either in prison or in flight from various governments trying to put him there. He was born Victor Kibalchich in 1890; his parents were Russian revolutionaries who had fled to Belgium. He had little formal schooling. As a child he often had only bread soaked in coffee to eat. In Brussels, he recalled, “On the walls of our humble and makeshift lodg­ ings there were always the portraits of men who had been hanged.” As a teenager in a radical group he was one o f the tiny handful of people in Belgium who boldly criticized King Leopold II’s rule over the Congo, then the most brutal colonial regime in Africa. But he

’A d a p ted , in part, from A d a m H o ch sch ild , F in d in g the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels (Syracuse U n iversity Press, 19 9 7), and The U nqu iet Ghost: Russians R em em ­ ber S talin (H o u g h to n M ifflin , 10 0 3 ) . vii

viii ■ F O R E W O R D

went farther than others in taking a stand against colonialism itself— a rare position in Europe at that time. He left home while still in his teens, lived in a French mining village, worked as a typesetter, and fi­ nally made his way to Paris. There he lived with beggars, read Balzac, and grew fascinated by the underworld. But soon the revolutionary in him overcame the wanderer. H e became an anarchist and the editor o f one o f the movement’s newspapers. For refusing to testify against some comrades he was sentenced, at age twenty-two, to five years in a French maximum security prison. Released in 1917, he eventually managed to make his way to revolutionary Russia— the ancestral homeland he had never seen. He arrived in early 1919 in a country engulfed in civil war. This bru­ tal conflict, which took several million lives, was between the Bolshe­ viks and the counterrevolutionary W hite forces— mostly led by former Tsarist generals, and supplied by England, France, and the United States. Although a supporter o f the Russian Revolution, he became quickly agonized by the other, more sinister battle the Bolshe­ viks were fighting, against virtually all the other parties o f the Left. They had closed down Russia’s first democratically elected legislature and were now busy executing many o f their political opponents. He spent most o f the next seventeen years in Russia, writing under the name Victor Serge. A m ong the many shrill and angry voices o f that time, his still rings clear and true today. Serge never abandoned his passion for civil liberties or his sympathy for the free spirits who didn’t toe the Bolshevik line. “The telephone became my personal en­ emy,” he wrote. “A t every hour it brought me voices o f panic-stricken women who spoke o f arrest, imminent executions, and injustice, and begged me to intervene at once, for the love o f G od !” Yet the W hite armies were attacking from all directions; Serge felt it was no time for intellectuals, however right their criticisms, to be on the sidelines. “Even if there were only one chance in a hundred for the regeneration o f the revolution and its workers’ democracy,” he later wrote, “that chance had to be taken.” He worked as an official o f the Com m unist International and served as a militia officer fighting the Whites. A t one point he was in charge o f examining the captured ar­ chives o f the Okhrana, the Tsarist secret police. A t the same time he


• ix

continued to be appalled by the growth o f a new secret police regime around him, and argued ceaselessly against the straitjacketed press, the arrests, the closed trials, and the death penalty for political prisoners. As he watched the Soviet bureaucracy grow ever more oppressive, Serge became more convinced than ever that political power should be decentralized and given to the small community and the work­ place. He and some like-minded friends tried to build a miniature version o f the society they believed in by founding a communal farm on an abandoned estate where “we would live close to the earth.” But, surrounded by turmoil, famine, and distrustful villagers, the experi­ ment didn’t last. Before long, Serge was expelled from the Communist Party. In 1918, Stalin clapped him in jail. Always alert to irony, Serge talked to one o f his guards and found that he had served in the same job under the Tsar. A few days after his release from prison, Serge wrote, “I was laid out by an unendurable abdominal pain; for twenty-four hours I was face-to-face with death— And I reflected that I had labored, striven, and schooled myself titanically, without producing anything valuable or lasting. I told myself, ‘I f I chance to survive, I must be quick and finish the books I have begun: I must write, w rite. .. ’ I thought of what I would write, and mentally sketched the plan o f a series o f documentary novels about these unforgettable times.” And write he did. In all o f his books, and particularly in this one, his masterpiece, his prose has a searing, vivid, telegraphic compact­ ness. Serge’s style comes not from endless refinement and rewriting, like Flaubert’s, but from the urgency o f being a man on the run. The police are at the door; his friends are being arrested; he must get the news out; every word must tell. And he is not like the novelist in a calmer society who searches and experiments to find exactly the right subject at last; his subject— the Russian Revolution and its aftermath—almost killed him. During Stalin’s dictatorship, it is estimated today, somewhere between ten and twenty million Soviets met un­ natural deaths— from the deliberate famine brought on by the forced collectivization o f agriculture, from the firing squads, and from the Arctic and Siberian network o f labor camps that devoured victims of mass arrests. Driven by Stalin’s increasing paranoia, these arrests and


executions peaked in the Great Purge o f the late 1930s, when millions o f Soviet citizens were seized in midnight raids. M any were never seen by their families again. Serges opposition to Soviet tyranny meant that his work could never be published in Stalin’s U SSR, but his radicalism long kept much o f it out o f print in the United States as well. Today, however, he has won due recognition at last. Recent decades have seen studies and ar­ ticles about him by many writers and a biography by Susan Weissman; Richard Greeman has translated a number o f his novels into English for the first time; older editions o f other Serge books have been re­ printed; and there is now even a Victor Serge Library in Moscow. These memoirs o f his life belong on the same small shelf as the other great political testaments o f the twentieth century, books like Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and O rw ell’s Homage to Catalonia. Orwell felt akin to Serge, and tried unsuccessfully to find him a British publisher. Serge was part o f the generation that at first saw the Russian Revo­ lution as an epochal step forward from the political system which, in the First World War, had just taken the lives o f more than nine mil­ lion soldiers, and left twenty-one million wounded and millions o f civilian dead as well. His great hopes make all the more poignant his clear-eyed picture o f the gathering darkness as the Revolution turned slowly into a vast self-inflicted genocide. It was the era when, as a char­ acter in his novel Conquered City says, “We have conquered every­ thing, and everything has slipped out o f our grasp.” A poem Serge wrote captures the same feeling: I f we roused the peoples and made the continents quake, . .. began to make everything anew with these dirty old stones, these tired hands, and the meager souls that were left us, it was not in order to haggle with you now, sad revolution, our mother, our child, our flesh, our decapitated dawn, our night with its stars askew ... Serge’s eyewitness account o f this “decapitated dawn” is nowhere more tragic than in chapter 6 o f this volume, where he describes com­ ing back to Russia in 1926 after a mission abroad. “A return to Russian

F O R E W O R D • xi

soil rends the heart. ‘Earth o f Russia,’ wrote the poet Tyutchev, 'no corner o f you is untouched by Christ the slave! The Marxist explains it in the same terms: ‘The production o f commodities was never suffi­ cient...’ ” In the countryside, hungry poor have taken to the roads. The streets o f Leningrad are filled with beggars, abandoned children, prostitutes. “The hotels laid on for foreigners and Party officials have bars that are complete with tables covered in soiled white linen, dusty palm trees, and alert waiters who know secrets beyond the Revolu­ tion’s ken.” One after another, people Serge knows and admires— labor organizers, poets, veteran revolutionaries— commit suicide. In 1933, Stalin had Serge arrested again, and exiled him and his family to the remote city o f Orenburg, in the Ural mountains. People were starving; children clawed each other in the streets for a piece of bread. Serge became fast friends with the other political exiles there, a small group of men and women who shared food and ideas, nursed one another through illnesses, and kept each other alive. Fluent in five languages, Serge did almost all his writing in French. By the time o f his exile in Orenburg, his books and articles had won him a small but loyal following among independent leftists in the West who were alarmed by both Fascism and Stalinism. In 1936, pro­ tests by French intellectuals finally won him the right to leave Russia. This was the year that the Great Purge began in earnest, with mass arrests and executions on a scale unmatched in Russian history. Serge’s release from the Soviet Union almost certainly saved his life. The secret police seized all copies of the manuscripts o f two new books he had written, including the novel he thought his best. Thanks to his exile, Serge said wryly, these were “the only works I have ever had the opportunity to revise at leisure.” People have searched repeat­ edly for these manuscripts in Russian archives intermittently opened since the end of Communism, but with no success. When he arrived from Russia in Western Europe, Serge’s politics again made him an outsider. Neither mainstream nor Communist newspapers would publish his articles, and the European Communist parties attacked him ferociously. His primary forum was a small labor paper in Belgium. There, and in a stream of new books and pamphlets, he railed against the Great Purge, defended the Spanish Republic, and

xii . F O R E W O R D

spoke out against the Western powers for accommodating Hitler. These ideas were not popular. To make ends meet he had to work at his old trade as a typesetter and proofreader, sometimes correcting the galleys o f newspapers that would not publish his writing. Meanwhile, Stalins agents roamed Western Europe, on occasion assassinating members o f the opposition in exile. Back in the Soviet Union things were still worse: Serge’s sister, mother-in-law, two brothers-in-law, and two sisters-in-law disappeared into the Gulag. H is wife, Liuba Russakova, became psychotic and had to be put in a French mental hospital. The Germans invaded France; when Nazi tanks reached the suburbs o f Paris, Serge left the city. The United States refused him a visa. The Nazis burned his books. Just ahead o f the Gestapo, he and his teenage son left Marseilles on a ship to Mexico.

One o f the many unexpected things about Serge’s memoirs is that the book he thought he was writing is not exactly the one we admire him for today. In both this book and some twenty others— fiction, nonfiction, biography, history, and poetry— his driving passion was to rescue the honor o f the idealists who participated in the Russian Revolution from the Stalinists who took it over and turned it into a horror show. It is easy to understand Serge’s feelings. He grew up acutely aware o f the injustices o f the Europe o f his day, bled white by the horrendous war o f 19 14 -18 , and poured all his energy and talent into the Revolu­ tion that promised to end them. But looking back on those times to­ day, we cannot share Serge’s hope that the fractious Left Oppositionists who coalesced around Leon Trotsky could have created the good so­ ciety in Russia, even though surely none o f them would have con­ structed a charnel house as murderous as Stalin’s. And, indeed, Serge’s brilliant capsule portrait o f Trotsky in these pages shows both the man’s wide-ranging intellect and his harsh, authoritarian streak. W hat moves us in this book now is not so much Serge’s vision o f what the Revolution might have been. It is, rather, two qualities o f the man himself.

F O R E W O R D • x iii

The first is his ability to see the world with unflinching clarity. In the Soviet Unions first decade and a half, despite arrests, ostracism, theft o f his manuscripts, and not having enough to eat, he bore wit­ ness. This was rare. Although other totalitarian regimes, left and right, have had naive, besotted admirers before and since, never has there been a tyranny praised by so many otherwise sane intellectuals. George Bernard Shaw traveled to Russia in the midst o f the manmade famine o f the 1930s and declared that there was food enough for everyone. Walter Durantv, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent in Moscow, downplayed reports o f famine as a gross exaggeration. In Soviet Russia the great muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens saw, in his famous phrase, the future that worked. An astonishing variety of other Westerners, from the Dean o f Can­ terbury to American ambassador Joseph Davies, saw mainly a society full o f happy workers and laughing children. American vice president Henry Wallace made an official visit during World War II to the Kolyma region, on the Soviet Union’s Pacific coast. It was then the site o f the densest concentration of forced labor camps ever seen on earth, but Wallace and his entourage never noticed anything amiss. By contrast with all these cheerful visitors, Victor Serge had what Or­ well, in another context, called the “power o f facing unpleasant facts.” Serge’s other great virtue is his novelist’s eye for human character. He never lets his intense political commitment blind him to life’s hu­ mor and paradox, its sensuality and beauty. You can see this in photo­ graphs o f him as well, which show kindly, ironic eyes that seem to be both sad and amused by something, set in a modest, bearded face. “I have always believed,” he writes, “that human qualities find their physical expression in a man’s personal appearance.” In what other revolutionary’s autobiography could you find something like this thumbnail sketch of a French Communist Serge knew in Russia? Guilbeaux’s whole life was a perfect example o f the failure who, despite all his efforts, skirts the edge of success without ever managing to achieve it He wrote cacophonous poetry, kept a card index full of gossip about his comrades, and plagued the Cheka [the secret police] with confidential notes. He wore

xiv • F O R E W O R D

green shirts and pea-green ties with greenish suits; everything about him, including his crooked face and his eyes, seemed to have a touch o f mold. (He died in Paris, about 1938, by then an anti-Semite, having published two books proving Mussolini to be the only true successor o f Lenin.) In Serge’s best novel, The Case o f Comrade Tulayev, three members o f the Trotskyist opposition meet on skis in the woods outside M os­ cow. They talk o f the injustices around them, agree that things are hopeless and that prison and early death probably await them; then they have a snowball fight. In Memoirs o f a Revolutionary, Serge de­ scribes fighting W hite saboteurs on the rooftops o f Petrograd in 1919, during the “white night” o f the far northern summer, “overlooking a sky-blue canal. Men fled before us, firing their revolvers at us from behind the chimney pots

The men we were after escaped, but I

treasured an unforgettable vision o f the city, seen at 3 a.m. in all its magical paleness.”

After I first discovered Serge’s writings, I tried to look for traces of him in Russia. In the summer o f 1978 ,1visited what Serge called “this city that I love above all.” W hen he first arrived there it was Petrograd, later Leningrad, and today once again is, as it was a century ago, St. Petersburg. I began at the Smolny Institute. Before the Revolution, the Smolny was Russia’s most exclusive girls’ finishing school, under the personal patronage o f the Tsarina. In 1917 the Bolsheviks took it over as their headquarters and planned their coup d ’etat from class­ rooms where daughters o f the aristocracy had once studied French and Latin. Serge had his office here, as the infant Revolution defended itself against the attacking W hite armies. In one o f his novels, he de­ scribes how the barrels o f cannons poked out between the school’s elegant columns. Now I found the building closed to the public; the grounds were a park. Fountains played; a warm breeze rustled the trees. Two old men talked on a bench. There was no suggestion o f the history that had taken place at this spot; it felt ghostly by its absence. By 10 p.m. the

F O R E W O R D • xv

sun had just set, but the sky still glowed with the same mysterious “magical paleness” that had caught Serge’s eye, even while he was be­ ing shot at, so many decades before. In October 1919, when the Revolution was menaced from all sides, Serge took up arms in defense of this city. He fought in the decisive hillside battle that turned back the White Army at Pulkovo Heights, site o f an old observatory outside the city. Some sixty years later, a puzzled cabdriver waited while my wife and I climbed the hill at Pulkovo. A beech grove shaded us from the hot sun. On one side, a peasant woman in a red kerchief walked slowly around the edge o f a field, in search o f something—wildflowers? mushrooms? From the hilltop we could see the distant city. On the horizon was a gleam of gold from the towers o f the Fortress o f St. Peter and St. Paul. This hill was as far as the White Army got. When the Whites fell back, the tide o f the Russian Civil War turned, the battles died away, but the Russia that took shape was not the one that Serge had risked his life for. On another day we went in search of the apartment where Victor Serge and his family had lived. It was on a street lined with weathered stone buildings where gates to enclosed courtyards seemed to open onto another century. I found the right building and mounted marble steps still lined by a pre-Revolutionary wrought-iron railing and ban­ ister. Outside the large wooden door on the top floor, there was no telling which bell to ring, because it was a communal apartment, with seven doorbells for the seven families who lived there. I picked one. A tenant said, “Wait. I’ll get someone. She has lived here many years.” We remained on the landing. Finally a woman came out: stocky, broad-faced, with gold teeth and slightly suspicious eyes. She said she was sixty years old; she had lived in this apartment since she was seven. No, she said, defying my arithmetic, she did not remember the man I was asking about in my clumsy Russian— although, oddly, she did recall the Russakovs, Serge’s wife’s family. But when asked about Serge, she shook her head firmly, arms crossed on her chest. Another nyet came when I asked if we could come in. Evidently she feared get­ ting into trouble if she allowed a foreigner into the apartment. Any­ way, she added, the whole place has been remodeled, so it is not the same as when this man—is he a relative of yours?—lived here.

xvi • F O R E W O R D

Curiously, despite the noes, she was happy to talk, and we stood on the landing for more than h alf an hour. I peered past her, trying to glimpse inside. According to Serge, the apartment had been hastily abandoned by a high Tsarist official and still had a grand piano. In the bookcase had been the many volumes o f Law s o f the Em pire, which, savoring the symbolism, Serge burned for heat one by one in the w in­ ter months o f early 1919. I brought up Serge s name again, and suddenly her eyes narrowed. “This man— was he an anarchist?” “A ha, so you do remember h im !” “N o.” H er arms crossed again firmly; she shook her head. “Abso­ lutely not.” That evening, back at our hotel, I checked some dates in these memoirs. I f she told me her age correctly, this woman was ten when the police knocked on that same door at midnight and arrested Serge the first time. And she was fifteen when, in front o f a pharmacy still standing on a nearby corner, he was arrested again and sent into exile in the Urals. Fifteen years old. A family she shared a kitchen with. Could she really have forgotten? Did she only remember the “anar­ chist” from some later denunciation? Then I noticed another passage in the memoirs. Serge says that in the m id-i9ios, the Soviet authori­ ties moved a young secret police officer “plus his wife, child, and grandmother” into the communal apartment to keep an eye on him. The dates fit. Was this woman the child?

Even crossing the Atlantic to Mexico, on the final flight o f his exilefilled life, Serge never allowed h im self tofe el exiled. A n international­ ist always, he felt at home wherever there were people who shared his beliefs. He recorded the clenched-fist salute his shipload o f anti-Nazi refugees got from Spanish fishermen; he organized even at sea: “Out in the Atlantic, past the Sahara coast, the stars pitch up and down above our heads. We hold a meeting on the upper deck, between the funnel and the lifeboats.” In Mexico he stayed true to his vision as both a radical and a be­ liever in free speech, and again met resistance. Communist Party

F O R E W O R D ■ xv i i

thugs at one point shot at him; on another occasion they attacked a meeting where he was speaking, injuring some seventy people, many of them seriously. His young daughter was covered with blood, from stab wounds in the body of a man who had bent over her to protect her. His politics cut off his access to both the mainstream and leftist, pro-Soviet Mexican press. Book publishers were no better. He wrote anyway, finishing both his panoramic novel o f the Great Purge, The Case o f Comrade Tulayev, and these memoirs. He tried and failed to find an American publisher for the memoirs, and neither book ap­ peared before his death, at the age of fifty-six, in 1947.

These pages are, among many other things, a gallery of firsthand sketches of an astonishingly large proportion of the significant leftwing writers and political figures o f the first half o f the twentieth cen­ tury. One portrait is o f Serge’s friend A dolf Joffe. A Russian Jew, Joffe was from the generation o f revolutionaries whose desire to change the world was matched by a deep, free-ranging curiosity about it. He read widely, and as an exile in Vienna before World War I, underwent psy­ choanalysis by Freud’s disciple Alfred Adler. From a wealthy family, he donated his entire inheritance to the revolutionary movement. He was originally trained as a doctor, and, writes Serge, he “reminded one o f a wise physician.. .who had been summoned to the bedside of a dying patient.” After the Revolution, Joffe became a Soviet diplomat. In 1917, he returned to Moscow from his post as ambassador to Japan, seriously ill and in despair at the direction the Revolution had taken. As an act of protest, he committed suicide, leaving behind a message saying that he hoped his death would help “reawaken the Party and halt it on the path that leads to Thermidor.” Serge came to Joffe’s apartment and helped to organize the proces­ sion that accompanied Joffe’s body to Moscow’s Novodevichy ceme­ tery. The authorities tried to foil the march at every step. Even the most pessimistic of the marchers could not have imagined that theirs was to be the last antigovernment mass demonstration permitted in Moscow for the next sixty years. In 1991, sixty-four years after Joffe’s death, I went to see his daughter

xviii • F O R E W O R D

Nadezhda at her apartment in Moscow. Stalin had wiped out his op­ ponents and their family members with such thoroughness that it was amazing to find one o f them still alive. Nadezhda Joffe had spent some two decades o f her life in prison camps and internal exile. A vi­ brant, gray-haired woman o f eighty-five, she was probably the last per­ son alive in Russia who had once known Victor Serge. As the spring sun streamed through her window, we spent a morning talking about him and her father and the Russia that might have been i f people like them had prevailed. Just before I left, she told me a story. “A descendant o f the Decembrists [reformer aristocrats who re­ belled against the Tsar in the 1820s] sees a crowd demonstrating in the street and she sends her daughter outside: ‘Masha! G o and see what’s going on.’ “ Masha returns and says, ‘Lots o f people are out on the street.’ “ ‘W hat do they want?’ “ ‘They’re demanding that no one should be rich.’ “ ‘That’s strange,’ says the woman. ‘M y grandfather went out onto the street and demanded that no one should be poor.’ ” The artist in Victor Serge would have liked this parable, I think. And the idealist in him would have liked its hint o f the path not taken, o f a revolution leading to a better society and not to one drenched in blood. He would have been in the grandfather’s crowd and not the later one. In this book you will find a man who saw both types o f crowds— humans at their best and at their worst— and who left us a record o f the world he knew in a voice o f rare integrity.

One last visit, this one in April 2002, Cuernavaca, Mexico. Outside the open door bursts o f lush green vegetation climb everywhere; sun­ light reflects dazzlingly from whitewashed walls. Inside, this oneroom building seems almost the size o f a small gymnasium. The ceiling is dotted with more than a dozen skylights. Oil paintings lean against the walls; a table is piled high with black-and-white prints; and to one side is a large, old-fashioned, iron printmaking machine, with a big wheel that must be turned slowly by hand. A t the far end o f

F O R E W O R D • xix

the room, against the back wall, is a work in progress, a giant canvas more than twenty-three feet high, a symphony o f brilliant colors. The artist who has welcomed a friend and me to his studio is Vlady Kibalchich, Victor Serge’s eighty-one-year-old son. Three years later he would be dead, but on this spring day he is a spry, gray-haired man with a warm face, a flat Russian cap such as Lenin wears in photo­ graphs, and a belted Russian peasant’s blouse. Depending on who comes in and out o f the studio this morning, he speaks in Russian, French, or Spanish, equally at home in all. Among the books on shelves at the side o f the room are volumes by his father, in many editions, and from time to time as we talk, he goes over and retrieves one to make a point. Vlady was born in revolutionary Petrograd in 1910, was dan­ dled as a baby on Lenin’s knee, and for the first twenty-seven years of his life he shared that of his father: hunger, the arrests o f family friends, exile in Orenburg and Western Europe, and then the final voyage to Mexico. Like his father, Vlady has had troubles with the authorities. The Mexican government, long proud o f the country’s muralists, commis­ sioned him to do four big paintings for the Interior Ministry head­ quarters. They were unveiled with great public fanfare in 1994. Several months later, they disappeared. Officials had judged one o f them to be too sympathetic to the Zapatista peasant rebels in the state of Chiapas. Vlady remembers well his childhood years in the 1910s and early ’30s, as darkness closed over Russia. Two rooms in that Leningrad communal apartment where he grew up were occupied by families of policemen (one possibly including the woman I had met), and “each time Serge went to the telephone, someone opened a door” to listen. Serge told his young son Russian fairy tales at night and took him cross-country skiing on the snow-covered ice of the Neva River. But a normal childhood became increasingly difficult as arrests mounted and the newspapers filled with articles demanding death for people judged traitors to the Revolution. The translation work on which Vic­ tor Serge depended for his income dried up. Vlady was twelve when his father was arrested for the second time. “He telephoned me, from his prosecutor’s office. He told me that I

XX • F O R E W O R D

was now the man o f the house, that I had to take care o f my mother, to study, to brush my teeth, to speak French, to draw. “ Things were very tense at home. I went out one evening, and I passed the building o f the G P U [the secret police]. I ran in the door. There were two soldiers with bayonets, and a red carpet on a big stair­ case. “ ‘Stop!’ ” “ There was a door, and a man there, in uniform, who asked, ‘W h at’s going on?’ “ ‘You’ve arrested my father!’ “ ‘W ho is he?’ “ I remember he had a corner office. He picked up the telephone, talked, and then said, ‘Your father is in Moscow.’ “ ‘It’s not true!’ “H e telephoned Moscow, and then said, ‘H e’s in the Lubyanka [national secret police headquarters].’ ” A t home, V lady’s maternal grandparents, who were taking care of him, were aghast that he had entered the secret police building. Ten months later the family finally received permission to join Serge in exile in Orenburg. Vlady and his mother sold their books and furni­ ture, and left for the Urals. “ We had a particularly hard time with hunger there. People were dropping like flies.” But Orenburg was where, with strong encouragement from his father, Vlady really began to draw. W hen Vlady speaks o f Victor Serge as a human being, what he re­ members most warmly is his father’s calm, optimism, and equanimity. “H e never swore— even though he had been long in prison, with some terrible people.” And, wherever they were— at home, in exile, on ship­ board— whether there was hope o f publication or not, Serge wrote. He and Vlady were stuck in an internment camp for some weeks in Martinique in 1941, trying to get to Mexico at a time when many countries were turning away refugees. Even in the camp, Serge kept writing, prose and poems—Vlady makes the motion o f a writer’s hand holding a pen and crossing a page— “ he worked just as if he were at home.” Have his father’s beliefs influenced Vlady’s art? One answer lies in

F O R E W O R D • xxi

the giant canvas on the end wall o f his studio, which Vlady has been painting and repainting for many years, interrupted by public viewing at an exhibition. The painting shows the Persian emperor Xerxes, who invaded Greece in 480 B.C. When a storm destroyed the pontoon bridges he built to cross the Dardanelles, the narrow strait between Asia and Europe, the enraged Xerxes ordered his soldiers to whip the sea in punishment. Xerxes is a Cyclops in Vlady’s painting, mounted on a dragon the color o f fire; the soldiers whipping the deep green sea are tiny figures, in keeping with the hopelessness o f their task. More than half a century after Victor Serge’s death, his artist son has gone back two and a half millennia to find an image for one lesson that Serge’s own life taught them both, about the folly o f an autocrat’s grasping for absolute power. —A



ochsch ild


V i c t o r Serge, who was born in 1890 and died in 1947, was an anar­ chist, a Bolshevik, a Trotskyist, a revisionist Marxist, and, on his own

confession, a “personalise.” Belgian by place of birth and upbringing, French by adoption and in literary expression, Russian by parentage and later by citizenship, he eventually became stateless and was put down as a Spanish national for purposes o f his funeral documents. He was a journalist, a poet, a pamphleteer, a historian, an agitator, and a novelist. Usually he was several of these things at once; there were few times in his life when he did not combine at least two or three nation­ alities, ideologies, and professional callings. Nevertheless, although there is no way o f describing him in brief without an inventory o f dis­ cordances, he was very much an integral man. To read his memoirs is to receive the impression of a strong and consistent personality, o f an approach to life and to politics which is complex but unified, o f a heart which, however it may be divided, is so because reality tears it asunder, not because its loyalties are confused. When we list the vary­ ing political trends that entered into Victor Serge’s makeup, we are simply recording his continual sensitivity to certain perennial dilem­ mas of action. Serge hated violence, but he saw it, at times, as consti­ tuting the lesser evil. He believed that necessity in politics might sometimes be frightful, but was necessity nonetheless, only he was not inclined to glorify it into a virtue. He mistrusted the State, but he recognized it as an inevitable form in the progress o f society. So gen­ eral a statement of political predicaments is doubtless banal, but it is in fact rather rare to find a public figure (let alone a revolutionary pub­ lic figure) who plainly registers both extremes of a dilemma with

x x iv • T R A N S L A T O R ' S I N T R O D U C T I O N

equal sensitivity, even though his ultimate choice may incline very definitely towards one pole or the other. A n appreciation o f the complexity o f political choice probably does not conduce to effective Left-wing theory or leadership. The im­ provising politician, concerned above all to seek the key to social transformation, has almost o f necessity to overemphasize some fea­ tures o f social reality at the expense o f others. But the revolutionary of mixed origins and impulsions may well make a very good witness to the great upheavals o f his time. Standing at the confluence o f several radical traditions, he w ill be able to judge the programs, actions, and ideas o f the competing parties with a certain detachment, and yet his detachment will not be o f the uncomprehending, noncommittal kind which would make it impossible to describe the revolution at all, ex­ cept perhaps as a sequence o f despotic acts. Thus it is N . N. Sukhanov, an ex-Social-Revolutionary, ex-Menshevik Bolshevik sympathizer, who is responsible for a brilliant and uniquely valuable history o f the revolutionary year o f 1917.1 To the subsequent epoch o f the Revolu­ tion, its opening and continuing phases o f mass violence, terror, and degeneracy, Serge brings a mind already matured in the experience o f heroism and its corruption. W hen he entered the service o f the Revo­ lution, at the age o f twenty-eight, he had behind him several years o f disgust with the commercialized Social-Democracy o f Belgium, three years o f mounting disillusionment with anarchist terrorism, and five years’ unspeakable existence as a convict among convicts. Steeped in the “ individualist” psychology o f his libertarian past, he retained an intense and wary consciousness o f the many-sidedness o f human mo­ tivation, o f man’s potential both for titanic endeavor and for regres­ sion to the brute. In the writings o f Serge particular political tendencies stand dis­ played as the expression o f moral and psychological resources within the individual. N ot Marxism or reformism, Stalinism or liberalism are primary, but will, fear, sensitivity, dishonesty, courage, mental ri­ gidity, psychic dynamism, and their opposites or absences. Serge tells

1. N . N . S u k h a n o v , The R u ssia n R ev o lu tio n , 1 9 1 7 : A P e r so n a l R eco rd , ed iced an d a b rid g e d b y J o e l C a r m ic h a e l ( O x fo r d U n iv e r s ity Press, 1955).

T R A N S L A T O R !) IN T R O D U C T IO N

• x xv

you thac a certain man is an obsessive, or that he leans too much upon favor, and this information is intended to mean quite as much as the facts about his party alignment; indeed, the political characterization is perhaps causally dependent on the more personal one. Serge often manages his evocation o f the person by means of physiognomic detail: how this face was puffed (bouffi), that one solid-looking (carre), how certain eyes were gentle, or harsh, or firm. On his return to Western Europe, in 1936, Serge drew a long train of political conclusions (which stood the test o f time considerably better than the more cata­ strophic expectations o f his comrades) from one simple anatomic ob­ servation: that the Belgians were nowfat. Serge’s fascination with the expressive externals o f people is o f par­ ticular use to him in the many thumbnail portraits of revolutionists, writers, and plain folk that fill the pages of the Memoirs. As Serge progresses on his various expeditions with the political and the liter­ ary vanguard, he leaves behind him a trail o f single paragraphs or sparse sentences, each bearing the vivid imprint o f a summarized per­ sonality: Gramsci, Toller, Lukacs, Yesenin, Balabanova, Gide, Trotsky, Vandervelde, Pilnyak, Barbusse— the improbable list could be ex­ tended indefinitely, though there would be little point in trying to do so since much of Serge’s appeal lies in the most obscure o f his charac­ ters. While these portrayals are succinct and bold they are not, gener­ ally speaking, caricatures, for Serge maintains a scrupulous fairness towards his memories. He can summon up a trio o f German SocialDemocrats, a clique of Comintern functionaries or a collection of deadbeat ilUgalistes, and project their living presence into the odd paragraph or so with utter sympathy and at the same time with trans­ parent fidelity to his own point o f view. There is a passage in his novel The Case o f Comrade Tulayev in which he shows us Stalin, at the height of the Purges, not as a sadist or a villain but as a hopelessly solitary man, viewed in the white light o f compassion. And yet Serge’s con­ cern for human beings is by no means the same type o f concern that a nonpolitical writer would display, confronted by the same personages. Although Serge’s portraits of political characters are rounded, nuanced, and humane, he is all the time seeing and selecting their traits from a specifically revolutionary standpoint; basically he is asking

xxv i • T R A N S L A T O R ’S I N T R O D U C T I O N

himself, “Is this man the kind o f person who w ill help to make the revolution? O r w ill he perhaps help to make the wrong kind o f revolu­ tion?” Towards the end o f the Memoirs, and again in his diaries, Serge remarks that one o f the greatest problems in politics is that o f recon­ ciling intransigence, which he thought indispensable to any worth­ while convictions, with the equally necessary principles o f criticism towards ideas and respect towards men. “Intransigence is steadfast­ ness, is liv in g ... Nietzsche was quite right to consider ‘possession of the truth’ as allied to the w ill to dominate.” It is Victor Serge’s excep­ tional merit as a revolutionary witness, not only that he conceived of the problem at all, but also that he him self so often resolved it in a mode o f perception that fused both intransigence and love. The forceful independence o f Serge’s vision o f political processes may be traced back to a very early stage in his Bolshevik career. In A ugust 1921 a French Socialist publisher brought out a little book by Serge under the title Les Anarchistes et I ’experience de la Revolution russe. In it (as he him self hints on pages 133-34 o f the Memoirs) we find, sometimes in rudimentary but often in quite developed form, all the basic concepts deployed by Serge in his later analyses o f the Red dictatorship and its totalitarian leanings. Fundamental to his critique is a distinction between the avoidable and the unavoidable aspects o f degeneration in revolutions. Unlike most other supporters o f Bolshe­ vism, he does not idealize the existing regimentation, or deny it for what it is. “The proletarian dictatorship has, in Russia, had to introduce an increasingly authoritarian centralism. One may perhaps deplore it. Unfortunately I do not believe that it could have been avoided.” How­ ever, the role o f necessity must not be invoked as an unrestricted ex­ cuse licensing any conceivable measure o f despotism: “The rise o f a Jacobin Party and its exclusive dictatorship do not then appear to be inevitable, and at this point everything depends on the ideas which inspire the party, on the men who carry out these ideas, and on the real­ ity o f control by the masses.” W hat is more, “Every revolutionary gov­ ernment is by its very nature conservative and therefore retrograde. Power exercises upon those who hold it a baleful influence which is often expressed in deplorable occupational perversions {diformations professionnelles).” The State, which is an effective “ killing-machine” in

T R A N S L A T O R ’S I N T R O D U C T I O N

• x xv ii

the military sense, is less efficient in the regulation o f production: “One o f the troubles o f Red Russia is precisely that she has failed to avoid the almost total Statification o f production.” All the greater, therefore, was the responsibility o f free-thinking revolutionaries: “It will be the task o f libertarian Communists to pro­ claim by their criticism and activity that the crystallization o f the workers’ State must be avoided at all costs.” The solution to the prob­ lem of all-embracing State ownership must be “production to the pro­ ducers, that is to the trade unions,” even though this policy holds the danger that the unions will themselves turn into a new State bureau­ cracy. Anarchism is vindicated in its proclamation o f “the terrible harm residing in authority, the harmfulness of Statism and authori­ tarian centralism.” Indeed, in the very successes o f the Revolution “little credit is due to Authority. Many things have been achieved in spite of it”; here Serge seems to prefigure his later emphasis on the economic disadvantages of Stalinism. All the same, anarchists must be “with the Revolution, unhesitating and ubiquitous, or they will be nothing.” They will be Communists, but “ in contradiction with nu­ merous others they will strive to preserve the spirit o f freedom, and so will be gifted with a more critical approach and a sharper awareness of ultimate ends. Within any Communist movement their lucidity will make them the most formidable enemies o f the climbers, the budding politicians and commissars, the formalists, pundits and intriguers.” The circumstances surrounding this essay themselves form a strik­ ing testimony to Serge’s insistence in the Memoirs on the compara­ tively tolerant spirit of which the Bolsheviks were capable. Serge wrote it in Petrograd in the summer of 1910, having already spent over a year at Zinoviev’s side in the administrative work of the Communist International. He was living in the principal hotel for Party function­ aries, the Astoria, next door to Bakayev and Yevdokimov. Les Anarchistesetl'expiriencedela Revolution russe was prepared for publication in the June o f 192.1 and published two months later. The bloody sup­ pression of the Kronstadt mutiny, the outlawing of the Workers’ Op­ position as an “anarcho-syndicalist deviation” and the banning of Party factions had all taken place earlier in the year. Nevertheless, the publication of Serge’s anti-Statist, semi-anarchist and pro-syndicalist

x x vi ii • T R A N S L A T O R ' S I N T R O D U C T I O N

booklet seems to have made no difference to his position in the Party. This was not Serge’s only indiscretion in that year, as chapter 4 o f the Memoirs shows. Yet, after it all, he could still be entrusted with an important confidential mission in the Com intern network abroad, performing conspiratorial duties in preparation o f the apparently im­ minent Germ an revolution. Serge does not seem to have regarded this mission as constituting some kind o f demotion or banishment. The fraternal climate within Bolshevism was still such that a deviationist could be trusted. It is this continuous record o f fundamental unorthodoxy that makes Victor Serge’s record so different from most other ex-Communist au­ tobiographies. Through his personal tenacity and his intellectual plu­ ralism Serge could mentally balance the various risks o f political action, hedging, as it were, expectations which for others were staked upon a fanatic’s throw o f all or none, and so insuring him self against the chances both o f blind commitment and o f stark disillusion. Hark­ ing back to the turbulent and frightful years o f his youth, he could re­ mark simplyJ e ne regrette rien pour moiyand there is the same absence o f personal remorse when he recounts his Bolshevik career. The vivid­ ness and immediacy o f Serge’s recollections do not strike us as being artificially tinted by hindsight; and in fact the judgments he passes on Russian events are very often repeated identically in writings separated by decades, quoted back and forth with a touch o f clairvoyant’s vanity. Over the last twenty-five years or so considerable controversy has waxed over the question: Is Stalinism the logical, organic, and inevi­ table continuation o f Bolshevism? Most Western observers have re­ plied with a simple affirmative, and an equation o f similar form, but with the signs o f all quantities reversed from negative to positive, was propounded until quite recently by political algebraists within the So­ viet sphere o f influence. On the other hand, the Trotskyist school o f Marxism has long insisted that Stalinism is the “direct negation” o f Bolshevism, while official Soviet theory after 1956 has increasingly tended to posit much the same kind o f polar opposition between “Le­ ninist norms” and at least some o f the “excesses, abuses, and crimes” o f Stalin’s day. Victor Serge’s answer to the problem was persistently double-sided. As against Trotsky and his followers he stresses the fatal

T R A N S L A T O R ’S I N T R O D U C T I O N

■ xxix

rigidities and ambiguities o f Leninist and Marxist doctrine, and the sources o f degeneracy in such early Soviet institutions as the Cheka. As against the pairing o f Bolshevism with Stalinism, he simply de­ scribes what, in his experience, Bolsheviks and Stalinists were like, and details the severe limitations set upon a free development of So­ viet Socialism by the Civil War and its aftermath of havoc. Serge was suspicious o f any notion tending to establish historical fatalism, and this set him both against the easy appeal to necessity which Leninists and Stalinists employed in their apologias of butchery, and against the common Western habit o f regarding the degenerescence o f revo­ lutions into tyranny as virtually the only Iron Law which it is still permissible to detect within history. One locus in Serge’s polemical writings is particularly worth citing in this respect.2In 1938 and 1939 Trotskyist and libertarian circles were hotly involved in debating the nature o f the Kronstadt rising o f 1921, whose ruthless liquidation by the Bolsheviks lent itself to obvious comparison with the ongoing Great Purge. Serge entered into combat both with Trotsky, who had no qualms at all about the Bolshevik treatment of the mutineers, and with a Yugoslav ex-Trotskyist, Anton Ciliga, who saw the Kronstadt rising as a proletarian revolution against the bureaucracy, and its sup­ pression as a proof of the linear descent o f Stalin’s Party from Lenin’s. Trotsky had brusquely dismissed Serge’s earlier reminiscences o f the Kronstadt massacres: “Whether there were any needless victims I do not know. On this score I trust Dzerzhinsky more than his belated critics.. .Victor Serge’s conclusions on this score—from third hand— have no value in my eyes.” Serge retorted that his information on Kronstadt came from anarchist eyewitnesses he had interviewed in prison immediately after the rising: whereas Dzerzhinsky’s conclu­ sions were “ from seventh or ninth hand,” the head o f the Cheka having been absent from Petrograd at the time. “The single fact that a Trotsky did not know what all the rank-and-file Communists knew—that out of inhumanity a needless crime had been committed against the proletariat and peasantry—this fact, I repeat, is deeply significant.” 1 . N e w In tern atio nal (F eb ru ary 19 39 ): S1- S 4 .

xxx • T R A N S L A T O R ’S I N T R O D U C T I O N

On the other hand, Serge maintained against Ciliga that the socio­ political composition o f the non-Party masses at the time o f Kron­ stadt was very far from progressive. “In 192.1, everybody who aspires to Socialism is inside the P a rty ... It is the non-Party workers o f this epoch, joining the Party to the number o f two million in 1924, upon the death o f Lenin, who assure the victory o f its bureaucracy.” The conscious revolutionaries in the leadership o f the mutiny “constituted an undeniable elite and, duped by their own passion, they opened in spite o f themselves the door to a frightful counterrevolution.” Serge’s comment on the general issue in question, could well be taken as a summing-up o f his lifelong attitude to the Revolution: “ It is often said that ‘the germ o f all Stalinism was in Bolshevism at its beginning.’ Well, I have no objection. Only, Bolshevism also contained many other germs— a mass o f other germs— and those who lived through the enthusiasm o f the first years o f the first victorious revolution ought not to forget it. To judge the living man by the death germs which the autopsy reveals in a corpse— and which he may have carried in him since his birth— is this very sensible?” In one sense the political career o f Victor Serge terminated with the demise o f the European Left after the fall o f France in 1940.3 He was never again able to participate in any social movement with a rec­ ognizable influence upon public events. The last six or seven years of his life passed in virtual political solitude; his refugee status forbade any intervention by him in Mexican affairs, and he could find no wider international audience to hear him out. Nonetheless, Serge never at any stage retired from his vocation as a revolutionary writer. He went on writing his fine novel on the Purges during the rout o f France, in the fugitives’ warren o f Marseilles, and on the troubled voyage that took him to his final asylum. Once in Mexico, he wrote without respite: novels, essays, poems, articles, biography and autobi­ ography. Anxious to keep abreast o f the major social and cultural de-

3. E x c e p c w h ere o th e r w is e sta ted , th e m a te ria l fo r th e fo llo w in g o u tlin e o f S e r g e ’s last y ears is d ra w n fro m Ju lid n G o r k in ’s inva lu a b le a p p e n d ix to th e 19 5 7 e d itio n o f th e M e m o ir s , fro m S e r g e ’s p u b lish e d n o teb o o k s, o r fro m th e issue o f th e re vie w T im o in s c o n ta in in g h is letters to A n t o in e B o rie.

T R A N S L A T O R 'S I N T R O D U C T I O N

• xxxi

velopments o f the time, he devoured every significant book, periodical or journal that he chanced on, in Russian, French, Spanish, German, or English. He kept a voluminous diary, amassed material on Mexi­ can history and culture, and sent off long political letters to his circle of friends abroad, as well as to any prominent foreign publicists that he felt like criticizing. The lengthy studies he undertook as rapporteur to a small Socialist exile group, destined for the eyes o f a mere hand­ ful, are composed with the same measure and density as the works he intended for publication. A ll these millions o f words were typed by Serge in cramped single-spacing on reams o f the cheapest flimsy, with rarely an erasure or amendment. When one manuscript was finished he went straight on to the next without looking back. Reading over the text of the Memoirs, his friend Julian Gorkin remarked that the book was “condensed and excessively laconic, through the adoption of this telegraphic style”; surely material so rich should be developed and expanded? Serge gave a skeptical smile, and answered, “What would be the use? Who would publish me? And besides, I am pressed for time. Other books are waiting.” He worked on, sometimes with a haunting sense that his faculties might be weakening through the sheer vacuity that surrounded him. “Terribly difficult,” he notes, “to create in the void, lacking the least support, the least real environ­ ment.” He speaks o f “writing for the desk-d rawer alone, past the age of fifty, unable to exclude the hypothesis that the tyrannies will outlast the remainder o f my life”; and “I am beginning to wonder if my very name will not be an obstacle to the novel’s publication.” This oppressive sense o f failure was not without its foundation in recent experience. As soon as Serge arrived in Mexico he paid the fa­ miliar penalty for his clairvoyance. His book on the Nazi aggression against Russia {Hitler contra Stalin) proved to be too frank for the public taste, since it predicted disastrous Soviet reverses in the early stages o f the war, with the peasants actually welcoming Hitler’s invad­ ers. As a result, the small firm that had published the book expired in ruin. Serge’s dark forecasts turned out of course to be perfectly accu­ rate. Public meetings addressed by Serge, Gorkin, and others from their circle were brutally assailed by Communist groups, on one occa­ sion by an armed gang o f two hundred men. Several times he and his

x x x ii • T R A N S L A T O R ' S I N T R O D U C T I O N

friends had to go into hiding. A t his lodgings, which he seldom left if he could help it, he had a spy hole cut into the front door so that he could identify callers before opening to them. The danger was not al­ ways so bluntly physical. A protracted barrage o f slander was directed against Serge and his circle by the many organs o f the Mexican press influenced by the Com munists and their powerful associates (such as the trade union leader Lombardo Toledano). The strong German Stalinist emigration {Freies Deutschland), including such veteran pro­ pagandists as Andre Simone (Katz) and Paul Merker, added their quota o f venom to the campaign. Serge s friends were Socialist mili­ tants o f long standing like Marceau Pivert, the leader o f the pre-war French Socialist Left; Gustav Regler, lately a political commissar with the International Brigades in Spain; Julian Gorkin, the former inter­ national secretary o f the independent M arxist party P O U M ; and other Spanish comrades o f that complexion. Nevertheless, they (and Serge and Gorkin particularly) were incessantly denounced as Nazi agents, enemies o f the United Nations, allies o f the sinarquistas or lo­ cal Fascists, founders o f a new Trotskyist International, and fomenters o f railway strikes. One by one, Mexican publications closed their columns to this obscure band o f troublesome foreigners. The editor o f one weekly, which still admitted Gorkin as its foreign editor, and Serge as a contributor, was called in to see M iguel Aleman, the M inis­ ter o f the Interior and future president o f the Republic; there he was informed that the Soviet and British ambassadors were pressing the Mexican government to withdraw from Serge and Gorkin all public means o f expression. Although the editor refused to accede, his jour­ nal afterwards acquired a new management enjoying the favor o f the Soviet embassy, and he, Gorkin, and Serge were all unceremoniously ousted. The boycott was now total, and Serge found it increasingly hard to keep body and soul together. Only one more book o f his saw print during his life, a novel published in Canada and (in translation) in the United States. He tried in vain to get the Memoirs published in the U SA . “In every publishing house,” he bitterly concluded, “there is at least one conservative and two Stalinists, and nobody has the slightest understanding o f the life o f a European militant.” He died

T R A N S L A T O R 'S I N T R O D U C T I O N

• xxxiii

penniless, and his friends had to make a collection among themselves to pay the expenses o f his burial. The estrangements and dissensions typical o f emigre political groups bore particularly heavily upon Serge. Within the independent Socialist colony he was the only member with a specifically Bolshevik background. His collaboration with Socialists from other traditions was warm and unstinted, but we can gain some inkling o f a certain isolation that he felt, to judge from a note he entered in his diary in mid-January 1944. Here he records his pleasure at the resumption of friendly relations with Trotsky’s widow Natalya, noting how they, “the sole survivors o f the Russian Revolution here and perhaps any­ where in the world, used to be separated so completely by sectarianism; and this was not like the human spirit of the real Bolsheviks.” He re­ flects that Natalya is going to be pained by certain anti-Trotskyist ob­ servations in a book which he had just brought out in co-authorship with his friends: “She will perhaps not realize my solitude in these collaborations.” He concludes sadly, “There is nobody left who knows what the Russian Revolution was really like, what the Bolsheviks were really like—and men judge without knowing, with bitterness and basic rigidity.” Yet in other respects Serge was far too much o f a revisionist for his more traditional Marxist comrades, many o f whom were nursing hopes for their postwar return to the Old World on the crest o f a Eu­ ropean Revolution. Serge had no such hopes. For him the Second World War was a “war of social transformation” (and not simply a clas­ sical imperialist war as nearly all his comrades thought), ushering in an era of controlled and planned economies that would, under the condi­ tions of postwar reconstruction, burst the fetters of capitalist private property even in the absence o f proletarian upheavals. “European big capital, weakened and discredited by the war it has brought on, will find itself in opposition to the growth o f production and the com­ mon good, now in clear evidence.’MSerge believed that this inevitable 4. “ Econom ic D irigće et D em o cratic" (n.d.), Serge A rch ive, Yale U niversity L i­ braries.

x x x iv • T R A N S L A T O R ’S I N T R O D U C T I O N

collectivist transformation would have a marked totalitarian bias, which could, however, be largely counteracted by class struggle on the political level. Parliaments, municipalities, trade unions, and workers’ councils offered a possible focus for this countervailing influence by the masses. Serge maintained this perspective well after the war: “ I wonder if some kind o f collectivism, quasi-totalitarian but enlight­ ened, guaranteeing the human rights that have been acquired over sev­ eral centuries, will not eventually establish itself for the reconstruction o f the old continent; such a system I would find acceptable i f it were directed by technicians and effectively controlled by the masses.” 5 So pessimistic an outlook, based (despite its undoubted insights) upon speculative impressionism rather than on any thorough eco­ nomic analysis, could not fail to irritate most o f his comrades. Their charges o f “technocratism” (“Just one more little ‘deviation’ in my lifehistory,” as he remarked) irked him, and he in his turn could not take seriously their pipe dreams for an insurrectionary postwar settlement in Europe. There was no basis for the growth o f mass revolutionary parties in the conditions o f Occupied Europe, and in any case nowa­ days “a popular revolution which possesses no airplanes will inevita­ bly be beaten.” There could be no question any longer o f a specifically proletarian hegemony; the “vanguard” must be sought preponderantly within the growing social strata o f technicians and white-collar em­ ployees. “ The education o f the working class has to be managed afresh.” Serge’s reflections on the Western social order are suggestive but often highly ambiguous. He was on surer ground as a commentator upon Soviet perspectives, which he indeed saw as determining the di­ rection o f all politics, and especially Socialist politics, in the rest o f Eu­ rope. He shared none o f the current illusions that the Grand Alliance o f Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin would survive the end o f hostilities with Germany. As early as January 1944 we find him noting that “Stalinist hegemony over Europe would not be a liberation but— a new nightmare” and that “ it would also mark the beginning o f the Third World War.” Serge’s last years were increasingly clouded by this pros­ pect o f “the permanent war” (as he terms it in a diary entry for October

5. Tćm o in s, le tte r to B o rie , 1 6 Se p te m b e r 19 4 7 .

T R A N S L A T O R ’S I N T R O D U C T I O N

■ x xx v

1944), anticipated by him at a time when Western politicians often displayed the most grotesque naivete over Stalin’s intentions. Rarely can his sense o f “the appalling powerlessness o f accurate prediction” have afflicted him so acutely as when he watched the unfolding o f the promised nightmare: Stalinist subjugation of Eastern Europe, extrem­ ist demands for preventive nuclear war on the Western side. The letters and notebooks o f this period reflect the division o f his fears between the threat o f Stalinism and the threat of war. It would be possible to excerpt fragments o f these sources in such a way as to present either a pro-Western Victor Serge or a kind of “New Left” archetype, repelling both capitalism and Communism with a libertarian disgust. The truth must be that within a man o f Serge’s loyalties the Cold War engen­ dered contradictions, which he could only express, never surmount. Serge was convinced that the sources of Soviet expansionism lay in the extreme inner weakness o f the social organism underneath the totalitarian armor. In an unpublished essay written in English he ob­ serves: “The training o f a popular revolution who [jac] has survived against the worst odds has formed in the governmental circles a men­ tality o f offensive bluff and courageous risk, daily expediency, belief only in force and fact. In the greatest danger the regime will not think of retreat, evolution, compromise, but of an offensive struggle in which compromises are expediency, more apparent than real.” In Serge’s view the postwar era might evolve along any o f three possible direc­ tions. I f the Soviet system yielded neither to internal nor external pressure, there would be war. Alternatively the regime might back down in the international field while refusing any concessions at home: “War is then postponed, but not removed altogether.” Or again, “under the combined pressure of the masses at home and of the international conflicts which will arise in various ways, the regime may try and evolve towards a democratization. Upon the slightest re­ laxation of terrorist totalitarianism, immense possibilities are opened out, which may cause the emergence in Russia of a Socialist-inclined or Socialist democracy, and permit a peaceful collaboration with the world outside. The nightmare of war is then removed.”6 6 . Un pu blish ed M S ., O n the Russian Problem (O cto b er 194s). Serge A rc h ive, Yale U n iversity Libraries.

x x xv i • T R A N S L A T O R ’S I N T R O D U C T I O N

It was in fact this last possibility that aroused Serges closest inter­ est. H is papers and letters refer repeatedly to the idea o f something quite odd and unforeseen happening in Russia, which would trans­ form the situation most favorably for its people and for the world out­ side. Serge is deliberately vague as to what this change might consist of. It is certainly not an anti-Stalinist revolution o f the kind advocated by Trotsky. He calls the prospect one o f “ internal crisis,” 7 “change o f regime in Russia,” 8 or o f a “great Soviet reform.”9 One illuminating episode o f March 1944, recorded subsequently in his diary, indicates the strength o f Serge’s conviction on this score. He had met Trotsky’s grandson, Siova Volkov, on a bus. Siova was about seventeen years old at this time, and was understandably bitter about things Russian. In the course o f his childhood his mother had been driven to suicide in Berlin and his father had disappeared forever in Russia. H aving taken refuge with his grandfather in Mexico, the boy had had to crouch beneath a bed, wounded in the foot, amidst a hail o f machine-gun bullets directed throughout the house by the artist Siqueiros; he had lived in the same house in the time when Trotsky was murdered by an agent who had ingratiated him self with the whole family. Siova now told Serge that he had completely forgotten the Russian language. “You’ll have to learn it, then,” said Serge. “W hat for?” Siova replied violently. “Out o f sentimental attachment? No, thank you!” And Serge answered, “ Russia will be changing a great deal, before very long. We must remain faithful to her, and keep up great hopes.” This long-term optimism o f Serge, which now seems uncannily pre­ scient, arose from the same source as his dark immediate forebodings: from his certain belief, based on long personal experience in Russia, that the terrorist edifice o f Stalinism was founded on unendurable social strains, which had been accentuated even further by the ruin o f the Second World War. He probably, too, still believed that what he called “the moral capital o f the Socialist revolution” had still not been exhausted even by the long years o f blood and lies. Serge had been one

7. U n title d m a n u s cr ip t (n .d .), Se rg e A r c h iv e , Y a le U n iv e r s ity L ib ra rie s. 8. Ib id ., A p r i l 1 6 , 1 9 4 7 . 9. “ O n th e R u ssia n P ro b le m .”

T R A N S L A T O R ’S I N T R O D U C T I O N

. x xx v ii

o f the first people (before anybody else, he thought) to use the word “totalitarian” of the Soviet State, but unlike some Western thinkers he did not mean it to imply a finished, impervious, and stable structure, governed omnipotently at the top by considerations o f pure power. The detail o f his prediction, where there was detail at all, might be fanciful; a few days before he died, he told his son Vlady, “I won’t live to see this but you probably will— monuments to Trotsky and to Sta­ lin in the public squares o f Russian cities.” 10 There is no reason to suppose that he would have regarded the Russian regime o f 1963 as the “Socialist-inclined or Socialist democracy” of his hopes. Nevertheless, in broad outline and to an astonishing degree, Serge’s sense o f Soviet reality, o f its double-sidedness for the future as well as for the past, has been justified by the turn that events have in fact taken. To say this much is not to elevate Serge into an expert oracle, a sort of Nostradamus o f twentieth-century revolutionism. Because his background and experience were so intensively Russian, he is some­ times a much less valuable guide to certain areas o f politics outside the frontiers o f the Soviet Union itself. His references to colonial nation­ alist movements, in the Memoirs as elsewhere, are nearly always dis­ tant or disparaging. Later in life he tended to regard all non-Russian Communist Parties (of whom he had never held a very high opinion) as little more than extensions o f the Kremlin and N K V D apparatus. When, in late 1944, he encountered the suggestion that Communistled resistance movements might develop an autonomous character, free of Muscovite control, his response was wholeheartedly scornful: there were only “totalitarian-Communist condottieri o f the Mao TseTung or Tito type, cynical and convinced, who will be ‘revolutionary’ or ‘counterrevolutionary’—or both simultaneously— depending on the orders they receive, and capable of an about-face from one day to the next.” 11 It would of course be senseless to reproach Serge for not foreseeing the Yugoslav and Chinese schisms of Communism; but enough has been said to suggest that his clairvoyance was principally

10. Info rm atio n supplied by V la d im ir Serge. 11. Serge, C arnets (A rles: A cres Sud , 1986), 1 7 1 - 7 1 : see also Serge’s letter “ Stalinism and the R esistance,” Politics (Fe b ru ary 1945).

x x xv i i i • T R A N S L A T O R ’S I N T R O D U C T I O N

that o f an exceptionally sensitive eyewitness and participant o f the Bolshevik movement. About Victor Serge’s death, as in his life, there was a retiring qual­ ity. He had been in poor health over a number o f years, with a record o f heart attacks going back to his convict years in France. The high altitude o f Mexico C ity did not suit his condition, and even his long, lyrical excursions into country parts could offer small convalescence after the years o f deprivation and persecution. In the middle o f 1947 he suffered two attacks o f angina. H e looked frightfully old and tired, but was optimistic and full o f plans. There were hopes o f publication (for The Case o f Comrade Tulayev) from Canada, France, and the USA., o f collaboration with Mexican reviews, even o f a possible visa for the United States. Early in the small hours o f Monday, 17 November, he read his wife a poem he had just written. It was a meditation on a Renaissance terra-cotta o f a pair o f hands, old and with knotted veins. Serge had tears in his eyes as he read the poem out: the hands symbol­ ized generations o f human suffering and resistance, and the knots on them were so like those o f his own veins. W hat astonishing contact, old man, your hands establish with our own! H ow vain the centuries o f death before your h ands. .. The artist, nameless like you, surprised them in the act of grasping — who knows i f the gesture still vibrates or has just ended?12 He went to bed after typing the poem, and had his breakfast around ten the next morning, discussing anthropology with his wife, something about the mystical significance o f gold. She had to go to work then; there is no record o f the rest o f Serge’s day until eight in the evening, when he went out to see his son Vlady. He wanted to have a talk about V lady’s paintings, but his son was not at home. He met his friend Julian Gorkin in the street; they talked for a while, and shook hands when they parted. This would be around 10:00 p.m. Not

i i . Se rg e , R esistan ce: P o em s, tra n sla te d b y ja m e s B r o o k (Sa n F ra n c is co : C i t y L ig h ts , 19 72).

T R A N S L A T O R ’S I N T R O D U C T I O N

. x xx ix

long after that, doubtless feeling himself ill, Serge hailed a taxi, sank back into the seat, and died without telling the driver where to take him. His family found him stretched out on an old operating table in a dirty room inside a police station. Gorkin recounts what he looked like: his upturned soles had holes in them, his suit was threadbare, his shirt coarse. Really he might have been some vagabond or other picked up from the streets. Victor Serge’s face was stiffened in an ex­ pression o f ironic protest and, by means of a bandage o f cloth; the State had at last closed his mouth. — P e t e r

S e d g w ic k

Liverpool, January ig 6$


I S the first complete, unexpurgated edition o f Victor Serge’s classic Memoirs o f a Revolutionary to be published in English, and thereby hangs a tale. T h is

Translating Serge has ever been a labor o f love (and o f political commitment), and this was especially true for Peter Sedgwick, who undertook to translate into English the Memoirs in the early 1960s when Serge was an all-but-forgotten figure. Sedgwick ( 1 934- 1 983 ) was an English psychologist (and later politics lecturer), the author of highly original works on politics and psychology, and well known for his vast erudition, pungent wit, and personal modesty (see Sedgwick had a difficult childhood during World War II, became a Christian Socialist as a youth, then a member of the Com­ munist Party until the Soviet invasion o f Hungary in 1956. Leaving the Communist Party, Peter was a founding member of what became the New Left in Britain—first within the Socialist Review Group, then the International Socialism Group. After graduating from Ox­ ford, where he had been a scholarship student at Balliol College, he began translating the Memoirs for Oxford University Press in what­ ever spare time he had left over from raising two young children while eking out an uncomfortable living as a tutor organizer in Her Majes­ ty’s prison at Grendon Underwood, where I first met him.1 It took Sedgwick years to complete this heroic project, to which he brought scrupulous fidelity to Serge’s French, a vast (and indispensable) knowl­ edge of revolutionary history and politics, a wry sense of humor, and a vigorous English style that well-suited Serge’s passionate laconism. So

1. M a n y th ank s to Paul and M ic h d e Se d g w ic k for d o nating the royalties o f their father’s translation tow ard an A ra b ic translation o f M em oirs. xli

xl ii ■ A B O U T T H E T R A N S L A T I O N

I was shocked when Peter informed me in 1963 that Oxford Univer­ sity Press had told him that as a condition o f publication his transla­ tion had to be shortened by one-eighth— an economy measure! So with heavy heart, he expurgated his translation, making nearly two hundred separate cuts so as to preserve as much as possible the coher­ ence o f Serge’s dense, highly compressed narrative. Today, thanks to a Greek Socialist and Serge fan, we have an inte­ gral version o f Serge’s original text. In 2.007, George Paizis (former senior lecturer in the Department o f French at University College London and a longstanding member o f the Socialist Workers Party) volunteered to go painstakingly through the French and English texts, identify the deleted sections, and translate them anew. Hence this first unexpurgated edition, which includes Peter Sedgwick’s sem­ inal translator’s introduction, Adam H ochschild’s eloquent postSoviet foreword, and a glossary o f revolutionaries and institutions mentioned by Serge (first occurrence indicated by an asterisk). French novelist Francois Maspero, whose leftist publishing house revived Serge’s books (all but forgotten in postwar France) in the re­ bellious 1960s, recently remarked: “There exists a sort o f secret inter­ national, perpetuating itself from one generation to the next, of admirers who read, reread [Serge’s] books and know a lot about him.”2 A s Adam Hochschild notes in his foreword, “ It is rare when a writer inspires instant brotherhood among strangers.” In today’s post-Soviet world, concludes Maspero, “Serge’s work remains that o f a witness to his century, indispensable to anyone who does not wish to die an idiot, after consuming an overdose o f those politically correct rereadings o f H istory with which we have been singularly bombarded recently.” On behalf o f all o f Serge’s translators, it is a keen pleasure (and revolutionary duty) to welcome you into the “English-language sec­ tion” o f this invisible international. — R

ic h a r d


r e e m a n

3. F ra n c o is M a sp e ro , “ V i c t o r Serg e , p o it e de la fla m m e ,” L e M o n d e , ( 15 D e c e m b e r 19 9 8).


T h e a u th o r (c. 19 39 )


Ev e n


I emerged from childhood, I seem to have experi­

enced, deeply at heart, that paradoxical feeling which was to domi­ nate me all through the first part o f my life: that o f living in a world without any possible escape, in which there was nothing for it but to fight for an impossible escape. I felt repugnance, mingled with wrath and indignation, towards people whom I saw settled comfortably in this world. How could they not be conscious o f their captivity, of their unrighteousness? All this was a result, as I can see today, o f my upbringing as the son o f revolutionary exiles, tossed into the great cit­ ies o f the West by the first political hurricanes blowing over Russia. On i March 1881, nine years before my birth, on a day o f shining snow, a fair-haired young woman, her face calm and determined, who was waiting near a St. Petersburg canal for the passing o f a sledge es­ corted by Cossacks, suddenly waved a handkerchief. There was an echo o f muffled, soft explosions, the sledge came to a sudden halt, and there on the snow, huddled against the canal wall, lay a man with gray­ ing side-whiskers, whose legs and belly had been blown to shreds: the Tsar Alexander II. The party called Peoples’ Will* published his death sentence on the following day. My father [Leonid Ivanovich Kibal­ chich*], a noncommissioned officer in the cavalry of the Imperial Guard, was at that time stationed in the capital; he sympathized with this underground party, which demanded “bread and liberty” for the people of Russia, and had no more than about sixty members and two or three hundred sympathizers. Among those responsible for the as­ sassination, Nikolai Kibalchich,* a chemist and distant relative of my father, was arrested and hanged, together with Zhelyabov, Ryssakov, Mikhailov, and Sophia Perovskaya, daughter of a former Governor of


St. Petersburg. In court, four o f the five condemned to death defended their libertarian demands with dignity and courage; on the scaffold, they embraced one another and died calmly. M y father had joined in the struggle, joining a revolutionary mili­ tary group in the south o f Russia which was soon completely broken;

“ O n th e w a ll s o f o u r h u m b le a n d m a k e s h if t lo d g in g s t h e r e w e r e a lw a y s t h e p o r t r a i t s o f m e n w h o h a d b e e n h a n g e d .”

for several days he hid in the gardens o f the oldest monastery in Rus­ sia, St. Lavra o f Kiev; he crossed the Austrian frontier by swimming under the bullets o f the police; and he went to Geneva to start a new life, in a land o f sanctuary. H e intended to become a physician, but geology, chemistry, sociol­ ogy, and philosophy also interested him passionately. I never knew him as anything but a man possessed with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding, which was to handicap him during all his remaining years in “the struggle for life.” Along with the rest o f his revolutionary generation, whose masters were Alexander Herzen, Be­ linsky, and Chernyshevsky (then a deportee in Yakutia), and also in reaction to his religious education, he became an agnostic, after Her­ bert Spencer, whom he heard speak in London. M y grandfather on my father s side, a Montenegrin by origin, was

W O R L D W I T H O U T P O S S I B L E E S C A P E : 1 90 6- 19 12

• 5

a priest in a small town in the Chernigov province; all I knew of him was a yellowing daguerreotype o f a thin, bearded cleric with a high forehead and a kindly expression, in a garden full of bonny, bare­ footed children. My mother [Vera Poderevskaya-Frolova*], born of Polish gentry, had fled from the bourgeois life of St. Petersburg, and she too went to study in Geneva. I was born in Brussels, as it hap­ pened, in mid-journey across the world, because my parents, in quest of their daily bread and o f good libraries, were commuting between London (the British Museum), Paris, Switzerland, and Belgium. On the walls o f our humble and makeshift lodgings there were always the portraits o f men who had been hanged. The conversations of grown­ ups dealt with trials, executions, escapes, and Siberian highways, with great ideas incessantly argued over, and with the latest books about these ideas. In my childhood memory I accumulated images o f the world: Canterbury Cathedral, the esplanade o f old Dover Castle above the sea, the dismal red-brick street in Whitechapel, the hills of Liege. I learned to read through cheap editions of Shakespeare and Chekhov, and, dozing off to sleep, I dreamt for hours o f blind King Lear supported, in his journey over the cruel wasteland, by the tender­ ness o f Cordelia. I also acquired bitter experience of that unwritten commandment: “Thou shalt be hungry.” I think that if anyone had asked me at the age o f twelve, “What is life?” (and I often asked it of myself), I would have replied, “I do not know, but I can see that it means 'Thou shalt think, thou shalt struggle, thou shalt be hungry."’ It must have been some time between the age of six and eight that I became the Evildoer. Through this episode I was to learn another com­ mandment: Thou shalt fight back. I was a well-loved child, the first­ born, but for some years I became, inexplicably, a delinquent child. With a devilish cunning, the criminal child worked his mischief as if he wanted to avenge himself against the universe and, most cruelly of all, against those he loved. The precious pages of my father’s scientific notes were found torn up. The milk, stored for supper in the cool of the window ledge, was found dosed with salt. My mother’s clothes were mysteriously burnt with matches or else slashed with scissors. Ink was surreptitiously spilt on newly ironed linen. Objects disappeared without trace. Nobody could intercept the hands o f the criminal


child — my hands. I was harangued at length, I was admonished, I of­ ten saw my mother’s eyes fill with tears; I was beaten too, and punished in a hundred ways, because my petty crimes were mad, exasperating, incomprehensible. I drank the salted milk, I denied everything (natu­ rally), I melted into wretched promises, and then went to bed, in in­ consolable grief, thinking o f K in g Lear leaning on Cordelia. I became taciturn and introverted. N ow and then the crimes would stop, and life would become bright, until the coming o f another dark day, which I had learnt to expect with a vigilant inner certainty. Eventu­ ally a time came when I acquired a sure foreknowledge o f evil: I knew and felt, inwardly, that my mother’s pinafore would be dirtied or slit with scissors. I waited upon chastisement, and lived amid rebuke and yet I used to play and climb trees as i f evil had never existed. I had en­ tered an unfathomable mystery, I had be­ come wise; I carried the problem inside my head and let its solution ripen. The end o f this episode, which I am sure made a deep impression on my character, left me with the most exalting memory o f tender­ ness that I have ever experienced. I was about to learn that two individuals could, with a deep gaze and an embrace, under­ S e r g e ’s m o c h e r , V era M i k h a ilo v n a P o d e re v sk a y a

stand one another utterly and conquer the worst evil. We were living on the outskirts

o f Verviers, in Belgium, in a country house with a big garden. Two days before, some gross misdeed, whose precise nature I no longer re­ member, had cast a shadow over the household. However, I spent that particular day in the garden with my little brother Raoul.* As twilight appeared, my mother called us back into the big kitchen, where a deli­ cious smell o f warm bread hovered in the air. First she busied herself with my brother, washing him, feeding him, and putting him to bed. Then she made the wicked child sit on a chair, knelt before him, and washed his feet. We were alone, lapped in an unforgettable sweetness. M y mother looked straight up at me and suddenly, in a tone o f re­ proach, asked, “But why do you do all this, my poor little man?” and then the truth flashed out between us, because a strange power was

W O R L D W I T H O U T P O S S I B L E E S C A P E : 190 6- 19 12 • 7

bursting within me: “But it isn’t me,” I said. “ It’s Sylvie! I know every­ thing, everything!” Sylvie was an older adolescent cousin adopted by my parents and living with us, a blonde and graceful girl, but cold-eyed. I had accu­ mulated so many observations and proofs, and with such analytic power, that my headstrong, tearful exposition was irrefutable. The matter was closed, with a full and permanent recovery o f trust. I had fought back steadfastly against evil, and had been delivered from it.1 My first great experience of hunger dates from a little later, at the age of eleven. I recalled how one day in England we fed on grains of wheat prised out of the ears that my father had picked up from the side of a field; but that was nothing. We spent a hard winter at Liege, in a min­ ing district. Below our lodging a cafe proprietor used to work: Mussels and Chips! Exotic odors... He gave us a little credit, but not enough, for my brother and I were never satisfied. His son would steal sugar to trade with us for bits o f string, Russian postage stamps, and various odd and ends. I became accustomed to finding exquisite delicacy in the bread we soaked in black coffee (which was well-sugared, thanks to this trade), and it was evidently good enough for me to survive on. My brother, two years my junior— eight and a half at that time— did not take to this diet, and grew thin, pale, and depressed; I saw him wasting away. “I f you don’t eat,” I told him, “you’re going to die”—but I had no idea what it was to die, and he even less, so it did not frighten us. The fortunes of my father, who had been appointed to the Insti­ tute of Anatomy o f the University of Brussels, took a sudden turn for the better. He summoned us to his side, and we ate sumptuously. Too late though for Raoul, who was confined to bed, sinking fast but fought back for a few weeks. I put ice on his forehead, I told him sto­ ries, I tried to convince him that he would get better, I tried to con­ vince myself; and I saw something incredible happening within him: his face became that o f a little child again, his eyes glittered and grew dim at the same time, and all the while the doctors and my father came into the dark room on tiptoe. Alone together, my father and I

i. Serge black-penciled out this w hole revealing passage and w rote “ R iserve” in the m argin o f the m anuscript.


took him to the cemetery at Uccle, on a summer’s day. I discovered how alone we were in this seemingly happy town— and how alone I was myself. M y father, believing only in science, had given me no reli­ gious instruction. Through books, I came across the word “soul”; it was a revelation to me. That lifeless body that had been bundled away in a coffin could not be everything. Some verses o f Sully Prudhomme that I learned by heart gave me a kind o f certainty, which I dared not confide to anyone: Blue eyes, dark eyes, loved and lovely, Exposed to endless dawn, From beyond the tomb still see T ight though their lids be drawn. In front o f our lodging there was a house topped with a finely wrought gable, which I found a magnificent sight. Golden clouds used to rest over it every evening. I called it “R aoul’s House,” and of­ ten paused to gaze at this house in the sky. I detested the lingering hunger o f the poor children. In the eyes o f those I met, I thought I saw R ao u ls look. They were closer to me than anybody else, they were my brothers, and I felt that they were condemned. These feelings were rooted deeply, and have remained with me. After forty years, when I returned to Brussels, I went to see that gable in the sky on the road to Charleroi; and throughout the rest o f my life it has been my fate al­ ways to find, in the undernourished urchins o f the squares o f Paris, Berlin, and Moscow, the same condemned faces. It was a great surprise to me that pain can fade and that we can go on living. Survival is a most disconcerting; I still think so— for quite different reasons. W hy survive if it is not for those who do not? This confused idea justified my good luck and my tenacity, giving them a meaning— and for quite other reasons I feel, even today, linked to and justified by many o f those whom I have survived. The dead are very close to the living, and I do not see them separated by some frontier. Later, much later, I was to revisit these thoughts again and again in prisons, in the course o f wars, living amid the shades o f those who had

W O R L D W I T H O U T P O S S I B L E E S C A P E : 1 90 6- 19 12 . S

been shot, without those murky inward certainties of childhood, barel) expressible in clear language, being significantly modified within me. My first friendship dates from the following year. Wearing a Rus­ sian smock in white and mauve check, which my mother had just fin­ ished, I was going home along a country street in Ixelles carrying a red cabbage—proud o f my smock and feeling a little ridiculous on ac­ count o f the cabbage. An urchin o f my own age, thickset and bespec­ tacled, squinted at me sarcastically from across the road. I deposited my cabbage in a doorway and walked up to him, meaning to pick a quarrel with him by calling him bat-eyed. “Glass-face! Goggles! Want me to push your face in?” We measured each other up like the small gamecocks that we were, jostling one another’s shoulders a little. “Just you dare!” “You start!”—all without fighting, however, but forming from then on a friendship which was, through all its enthusiasms and tragedies, never far from conflict. And when he died on the scaffold at the age o f twenty, we were still friends— and foes. It was he who, after the squabble, came and asked me if I wanted to play with him, and thus established a dependence on me against which, despite our affec­ tion, he ever afterwards rebelled in his inmost heart. Raymond Callemin* grew up as much as he could in the street, anything to get away from the stifling back room that was his home, behind a cobbler’s stall where his father patched the shoes of the locals from morning till night. His father was a decent but broken drunk, an old Socialist dis­ gusted with Socialism. From the age of thirteen I lived alone, owing to the journeys and estrangements of my parents; Raymond often came to seek refuge with me. Together we learnt to forsake the tales of Fenimore Cooper for Louis Blanc’s great History o f the French Revolu­ tion, whose illustrations showed us streets, just like those that we haunted, overrun by sans-culottes armed with pikes. Our favorite pas­ time was to share two sous’ worth o f chocolate between us, reading these gripping stories. They moved me particularly because their leg­ ends of the past lent substance to the ideals o f men I had known of since the first awakenings of my intelligence. Together, though much later, we were to discover Zola’s overwhelming novel Paris and, in an effort to relive the despair and rage o f Salvat,* tracked down to the

10 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

Bois de Boulogne after his essay in murder, we wandered for hours through the Bois de la Cam bre in the autumn rain. O ur favorite place became the rooftops o f the Brussels Palace of Justice. We used to slip up by obscure staircases and, filled with joyful contempt, pass courtrooms, mazes o f empty and dusty corridors till we emerged in the open air and the light, into a world o f iron, zinc, and stone geometrically ordered in dangerous slopes. From there we had a view o f the whole city and the boundless sky. Down below in the square the paving stones formed a mosaic o f tiny rectangles where a Lilliputian carriage would be bringing a lawyer brimming with selfimportance, bearing a tiny briefcase stuffed with papers that signified laws and offenses. We would burst out laughing, “ Ha! W hat misery! W hat wretchedness! W hat an existence! Just think o f it! H e’ll be coming here every day o f his life and it will never, ever cross his mind to climb up to the roofs to take a deep breath o f air! He knows all the ‘N o entry’ signs, he knows them by heart, he revels in them, it’s what he makes his living from.” But what moved us most and gave us the clearest lessons was the architecture o f the city itself. The massive Pal­ ace o f Justice that we likened to an Assyrian edifice is built just above the impoverished neighborhoods in the center o f town, which it ar­ rogantly dominates with its mass o f carved blocks o f stone. Two cities: the upper city, built in the image o f the Palace, smart, spacious, with its beautiful town houses along the Avenue Louise, and down below La M arolle, a jumble o f stinking alleys, festooned in laundry, teeming with snotty kids at play, rows in the bars, and rue Blaes and rue Haute — two rivers o f humanity. Since the Middle Ages the same popula­ tion had been rotting there, subject to the same injustice, within the same walls, with no way out. To complete the symbolism, the Women’s Prison, a monastic prison o f days gone by, stood between them on the slope between the Palace and the lower city. The clogs o f the prisoners tramping round on the paving stones in the exercise yards made a dis­ tant clatter. Up here, the sound o f torture was reduced to a faint echo. M y father, an impoverished scholar, had trouble maintaining his ćmigrć existence. I knew him to be in close combat with the money­ lenders. H is second wife, worn out with childbearing and poverty, underwent terrible crises o f hysteria. From the ist to the ioth o f each

W O R L D W I T H O U T P O S S I B L E E S C A P E : 1 90 6- 19 12

• 11

month, the household (which I seldom visited) ate reasonably well, from the ioth to the 2.0th less well, and worst of all from the 20th to the 30th. Certain memories, already old, remained embedded in my soul like nails in flesh: for example (when we were living somewhere in the new district behind the Parc de la Cinquantenaire) my father going out one morning with a cheap little coffin o f yellow wood under his arm. His emotionless face: “ Thou shalt seek to obtain thy bread on credit." On his return, he retired to the solitude of his anatomy and geology atlases. I had never been to school, for my father despised this “stupid bourgeois instruction for the poor,” and could not pay for a private education. He worked with me himself, not often and not well— but the passion for knowledge and the radiance of a constantly armed in­ telligence, never allowing itself to stagnate, never recoiling from an inquiry or a conclusion, shone from him so powerfully that I was quite hypnotized by it, and went the rounds o f museums, libraries, and churches, filling up my notebooks and ransacking encyclopedias. I learned to write without ever knowing grammar; I was eventually to learn French grammar by teaching it to Russian students. For me, learning was not something separate from life: it was life itself. The mysterious relationships between life and death became clear through the very unmysterious importance of worldly goods. The words “ bread,” “ hunger,” “money,” “no money,” “credit,” “rent,” “ landlord” held, in my eyes, a crudely concrete meaning which was, I think, to predispose me in favor of historical materialism... Still, my father wanted to make me take up higher education, despite his professed contempt for certifi­ cates. He spoke o f this often, hoping to influence me in that direction. Meanwhile, a pamphlet by Peter Kropotkin* spoke to me at that time in a language of unprecedented clarity. I have not looked at it since, and at least thirty years have elapsed since then, but its message remains close to my heart. “What do you want to be?” the anarchist asked young people in the middle of their studies. “Lawyers, to invoke the law of the rich, which is unjust by definition? Doctors, to tend the rich, and prescribe good food, fresh air, and rest to the consumptives of the slums? Architects, to house the landlords in comfort? Look around you, and then examine your conscience. Do you not understand that your duty is quite different: to ally yourselves with the exploited, and

12 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

to work for the destruction o f an intolerable system?” I f I had been the son o f a bourgeois university teacher, these arguments would have seemed a trifle abrupt, and over-harsh towards a system which, all the sam e. . . I would probably have been seduced by the theory o f Progress that advanced ever so gently as the ages passed. .. Personally, I found these arguments so luminous that those who did not agree with them seemed criminal. I informed my father o f my decision not to become a student. The tim ing was lucky: a rotten end o f the month. “ W hat are you going to do then?” “ W ork. I ’ll study without being a student.” To tell the truth, I was too afraid o f sounding pompous or o f start­ ing a great disputation o f ideas, to dare to reply, “ I want to fight as you yourself have fought, as everyone must fight throughout life. I can see quite clearly that you have been beaten. I shall try to have more strength or better luck. There is nothing else for it.” That is pretty near what I was thinking. I was just over fifteen. I became a photographers apprentice, and after that an office boy, a draughtsman, and, almost, a central heating technician. M y day’s work was now ten hours long. With the hour and a h alf allowed for lunch and an hour’s journey there and back, that made a day o f twelve and a h alf hours. And juvenile labor was paid ridiculously low wages, if it was paid at all. Plenty o f employers offered two years’ apprenticeship without pay, in return for teaching a trade. M y best early job brought in forty francs (eight dollars) a month, working for an old businessman who owned mines in Norway and A lgeria. .. If, in those days o f my adolescence, I had not enjoyed friendship, what would have I enjoyed? There was a group o f us young people, closer than brothers. Ray­ mond, the short-sighted little tough with a sarcastic bent, went back every evening to his drunken old father, whose neck and face were a mass o f fantastically knotted muscles. H is sister, young, pretty, and a great reader, passed her timid life in front o f a window adorned with geraniums, amid the stench o f dirty old shoes, still hoping that, some day, someone would pick her up. Jean,1 an orphan and a part-time i . de B o e

W O R L D W I T H O U T P O S S I B L E E S C A P E : 190 6-19 12 • 13

printer, lived at Anderlecht, beyond the stinking waters of the Senne, with a grandmother who had been laundering for halfa century with­ out a break. The third o f our group o f four, Luce, a tall, pale, timorous boy, was blessed with “a good job” in the L’lnnovation department store. He was crushed by it all: discipline, swindling, and futility, fu­ tility, futility. Everyone around him in this vast, admirably organized bazaar seemed to be mad, and perhaps, from a certain point o f view, he was right to think so. At the end of ten years’ hard work, he could become salesman-in-charge, and die as the head o f a department, hav­ ing catalogued a hundred thousand little indignities like the story of the pretty shop assistant who was sacked for rude behavior because she refused to go to bed with a supervisor. In short, life appeared to us in various versions o f a rather degrad­ ing captivity. Sundays were a happy release, but that was only once a week, and there was no money. Now and then we would wander along the lively streets of the town center, joyful and sardonic, our heads full of ideas, spurning all temptations with contempt. We were too prone to contempt. We were lean young wolves, full o f pride and thought: dangerous types. We had a certain fear o f becoming careerists, as we thought about many o f our elders who had made some show o f being revolutionary, and afterwards... “What will become of us in twenty years’ time?” we asked ourselves one evening. Thirty years have passed now. Raymond was guillotined: “Anarchist Gangster” (the press). It was he who, walking towards the worthy Dr. Guillotin’s disgusting machine, flung a last sarcasm at the reporters: “Nice to see a man die, isn’t it?” I came across Jean again in Brussels, a worker and trade union organizer, still a fighter for liberty after ten years in jail. Luce has died of tuberculosis, naturally. For my part, I have undergone a little over ten years of various forms of captiv­ ity, agitated in seven countries, and written twenty books. I own noth­ ing. On several occasions the mass circulation press has hurled filth at me because I spoke the truth. Behind us lies a victorious revolution gone astray, several abortive attempts at revolution, and massacres in so great a number as to make you dizzy. And to think that it is not over yet. Let me be done with this digression; those were the only roads possible for us. I have more confidence in mankind and in the future than ever before.

14 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

We were Socialists: members o f the Jeunes Gardes.* Ideas were our salvation. There was no need to prove to us, textbook in hand, the existence o f social conflict. Socialism gave a meaning to life, and that was: struggle. There were intoxicating demonstrations under heavy flags that were awkward to carry when you had not slept or eaten properly. A n d then we would see, ascending the balcony o f the Maison du Peuple, the slightly satanic forelock, the domed forehead, the twisted mouth o f Cam ille Huysmans.* There were the warlike head­ lines o f L a Guerre Sociale. Gustave Herve, leader o f the insurrectionist element o f the French Socialist Party, organized a poll among his readers: “ Should he be killed?” (This was under a Clemenceau* gov­ ernment when workers’ blood was spilled). In the wake o f the big an­ tim ilitarist trials, French deserters brought us the w h iff o f the aggressive syndicalist trade unionism o f Pataud, Pouget,* Broutchoux, Yvetot,* Griffuelhes,* Lagardelle.* (O f these men, most are now dead; Lagardelle lived to become an adviser to M ussolini and Petain.) Men escaped from Russia told us o f the Sveaborg mutiny, o f the dynamit­ ing o f an Odessa prison, o f executions, o f the 1905 general strike, o f the days o f liberty. The first public discussion I ever opened was on these topics, for the Ixelles branch o f the Jeunes Gardes. O ur young contemporaries talked about bicycles or girls in a most loathsome way. We were chaste, expecting better things both from ourselves and from fate. Without benefit o f theory, adolescence opened up for us a new aspect o f the problem. In a sordid alley, at the end o f a dark passage hung with gaudy washing, there lived a family we knew: the mother gross and suspicious, nursing the vestiges o f her beauty; a lecherous elder daughter with bad teeth; and a stunning younger girl, o f pure Spanish beauty, her eyes all charm, innocence, and softness, her lips like blossom. It was all she could do, when she passed us chaperoned by her dam, to manage a smiling “Hello” to us. “It’s obvious,” said Raymond, “they’re sending her to dancing lessons and keeping her for some rich old bastard.” We discussed problems like this. Bebel’s* Woman a nd Socialism was on our reading list. Gradually we found ourselves in conflict not with Socialism, but with all the anti-Socialist interests that crawled around the working-

W O R L D W I T H O U T PO SSIBLE ESC APE: 1906-1912

• 15

class movement: crawled around it and seeped into it and ruled over it and smeared dirt on it. The halting points on the routes of local pro­ cessions were arranged to suit certain tavernkeepers associated with the workers’ leagues— impossible to suit them all! Electoral politics revolted us most o f all since it concerned the very essence of Socialism. We were at once, it now seems to me, both very just and very unjust, because o f our ignorance o f life, which is full of complications and compromises. The two percent dividend returned by the cooperatives to their shareholders filled us with bitter laughter because it was impos­ sible for us to grasp the victories behind it. “The presumption of youth!” they said: but in fact we were craving for an absolute. The Racket exists always and everywhere, for it is impossible to escape from one’s time and we are in the time of money. I kept finding the Racket, flourishing and sometimes salutary, in the age o f trade and in the midst o f revolu­ tion. We had yearned for a passionate, pure Socialism. We had satisfied ourselves with a Socialism of battle, and it was the great age of reform­ ism. At a special congress o f the Belgian Workers’ Party, Vandervelde,* young still, lean, dark, and full of fire, advocated the annexation of the Congo. We stood up in protest and left the hall, gesturing vehemently. Where could we go, what could become of us with this need for the absolute, this yearning for battle, this blind desire, against all obstacles, to escape from the city and the life from which there was no escape? We needed a principle. To strive for and to achieve: a way o f life. I now understand, in the light o f reflection, how easy it is for charlatans to offer vain solutions to the young: “March in rows o f four and be­ lieve in Me.” For lack o f anything better... It is the failures o f the oth­ ers that makes for the strength o f the fuhrers. When there’s no worthwhile banner, you start to march behind worthless ones. When you don’t have the genuine article, you live with the counterfeit. The co-op managers used to harass us. In his anger one o f them called us “tramps” because we were handing out leaflets in front of his shop. I can still recall our (bitter, bitter) sniggers. A Socialist, who used “tramp” as an insult. He would have chased Maxim Gorky* away! I cannot recall why a certain councilor M.B. seemed important to me; I arranged to meet him. I was confronted by a very fat gentleman who

16 ■ M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

was very keen to show me the plans o f the delightful house he was having built on favorably priced ground. I tried in vain to bring him onto the ground o f ideas: total failure. A nd to think that one needed to go beyond that in order to move onto the ground o f action. Too many different grounds, and this gentleman had his, duly listed in the Land Register. H e was gradually getting richer. Perhaps I misjudged him. I f he contributed to the cleaning up o f a working-class district, his passage through life would not have been in vain. But he was not able to explain it to me and at the time I couldn’t understand it. Socialism meant reformism, parliamentarism, and repellent doc­ trinal rigidity. Its intransigence was incarnated in Jules Guesde,* who made one think o f a city o f the future in which all the houses would be alike, with an all-powerful State, harsh towards heretics. O ur way o f correcting this doctrinal rigidity was to refuse to believe in it. We had to have an absolute, only one o f liberty (without unnecessary metaphysics); a principle o f life, only unselfish and ardent; a principle o f action, only not to win a place in this stifling world (which is still a fashionable game), but to try, however desperately, to escape from it since it was impossible to destroy it. We would have been inspired by the class struggle i f someone had explained it to us, and i f it had been a bit more o f a real struggle. Instead, the revolution did not seem pos­ sible to anyone in this calm moment o f abundance before the Great War. Those who spoke about it did it so badly that it all seemed re­ duced to a matter o f selling pamphlets. M . Bergeret was holding forth on the white stone.3 That principle was offered us by an anarchist. He to whom I am referring has been dead many years. His shadow lingers on, greater than the man himself. A miner from the Borinage, recently released from prison, Iimile Chapelier* had just founded a communist— or rather communitarian— colony in the forest ofSoignes, at Stockel. A t Aiglemont, in the Ardennes, Fortune Henry, brother o f the guillo­ tined terrorist £m ile Henry,* was running a similar Arcady. “To live

3. Ref e re nc e to t w o novels b y A n a t o l e F r anc e, M . B erg eret a P a r is a nd S u r la pie r re blanch e.

W O R L D W IT H O U T PO SSIBLE ESC A PE: 1906-1912

• 17

in freedom and work in community, from this day o n . . We went along sunlit paths up to a hedge, and then to a gate. Buzzing o f bees, golden summer, eighteen years old, and the doorway to Anarchy! There was an open-air table, loaded with tracts and pamphlets. The C G T Soldier’s Handbook, The Immorality o f Marriage, The New Soci­ ety, Planned Procreation, The Crime o f Obedience, Citizen Aristide Briand’s Speech on the General Strike. Those voices were alive. A sau­ cer full o f small change, and a notice, “Take what you want, leave what you can.” Breathcaking discovery! The whole city, the whole earth was counting its pennies, one was presented with money boxes on special occasions: No Credit, Trust Nobody, Shut the Door Firmly, W hat’s Mine is Mine, yes? Monsieur Th

, my employer, a

colliery owner, issued all postage stamps himself: impossible to cheat this millionaire out o f ten centimes! We were amazed at the pennies abandoned by Anarchy to the sky. A little farther on, and we came to a small white house under the trees: DO WHAT YOU WILL over the door, which was open to all comers. In the farmyard, a big black devil with a pirate’s profile was haranguing a rapt audience. A real style to the man, his tone banter­ ing, his repartee devastating. His theme: free love. But how could love not be free? Printers, gardeners, a cobbler, a painter were working here in com­ radeship, together with their womenfolk. It would have been idyllic, if on ly.. .They had started with nothing, like brothers; they still had to tighten their belts. Usually these colonies collapsed quite quickly, for lack o f resources. Although jealousy was formally prohibited in them, quarrels over women, even when resolved by bursts of generos­ ity, did them the greatest mischief. The libertarian colony o f Stockel, transferred to Boitsfort, spun out for several years. There we learned to edit, set up, proofread, and print, all by ourselves, our paper Communiste, which consisted o f four small pages. Some tramps, a short, prodigiously intelligent Swiss plasterer; a Tolstoyan-anarchist Rus­ sian officer, Leon Gerassimov, with a pale, noble face, who had es­ caped from a defeated insurrection and, the following year, was to die of hunger in the forest o f Fontainebleau; also a redoubtable chemist,

18 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

from Odessa via Buenos A ires— all these helped us to investigate the solutions o f many a great problem. The individualist printer: “ Friend, there is only yourself in the world. You must try not to be a bastard or a ninny.” The Tolstoyan: “ Let us be new men. Salvation is within us.” The Swiss plasterer, a disciple o f Luigi Bertoni*: “All right, so long as you don’t forget your hob-nailed boots: you’ll find those in the building sites.” The chemist, having listened long, said in his Russo-Spanish ac­ cent: “A ll this is claptrap, comrades; in the social war we need good laboratories.” Sokolov was a cold-blooded man, molded in Russia by inhuman struggles, apart from which he could no longer live. He came out o f the storm, and the storm was within him. He fought, he killed, he died in prison. The idea o f “good laboratories” was o f Russian origin. From Rus­ sia, swarming through the world, came men and women who had been formed in ruthless battle, who had but one aim in life, who drew their breath from danger. The comfort, peace, and agreeableness o f life in the West seemed inane to them, and angered them all the more since they had learned to see the naked operations o f a social machin­ ery that no one thought o f in these privileged lands. In Switzerland, Tatiana Leontieva killed a gentleman she mistook for a Minister o f the Tsar. Rips* fired on the Gardes Rćpublicains from the top deck o f a bus in the Place de la Republique. A revolutionary, trusted by the police, executed the head o f the O khrana’s Secret Service in a hotel room at Belleville. In a mean quarter o f London called Houndsditch (a name appropriate to such squalid dramas), Russian anarchists with­ stood a siege in the cellar o f a jeweler’s shop; the picture o f Winston Churchill, then a young cabinet Minister, directing the siege became a photographer’s cliche. In Paris, Svoboda was blown up while trying out his bombs in the Bois de Boulogne. “Alexander Sokolov” (whose real name was Vladim ir Hartenstein) belonged to the same group as Svoboda. In his little room behind a shop in the Rue de la Musće, he had installed a complete laboratory, just a few yards from the Royal Library, where he spent part o f his day writing to his friends in Russia and Argentina, in Greek characters but in Spanish.

W O R L D W IT H O U T PO SSIBLE ESC A P E: 1906-1912

. 19

It was a time o f potbellied peace: the atmosphere was strangely electric, the calm before the storm o f 1914. The first Clemenceau gov­ ernment had just spilled working-class blood at Draveil (in 1908), where police had entered a strike meeting only to shoot and kill sev­ eral innocent people, and at the funeral demonstration for these vic­ tims, where troops opened fire. (This demonstration had been organized by the secretary of the Food Workers Union, Metivier, an extreme-Left militant and police spy who the previous day had re­ ceived his personal instructions from the Minister o f the Interior, Georges Clemenceau himself.) I remember our anger when we learnt of these shootings. That same evening a hundred o f us youngsters showed the red flag in the neighborhood of the Government build­ ings, willingly battling with the police. We felt ourselves close to all the victims and rebels in the world; we would have fought joyfully for the men executed in the prisons o f Montjuich or Alcala del Valle, whose sufferings we recalled each day. We felt the growth within us of a wonderful and formidable collective awareness. Sokolov laughed at our demonstration, mere child’s play. He him­ self was silently preparing the real reply to the workers’ murderers. At the end of a sad train of events, his laboratory was discovered; he found himself hounded down, without means o f escape. Flight was impos­ sible because o f his face, notable for its intense eyes and conspicuous in a crowd because the top part o f his nose had been crushed (appar­ ently with a blow from an iron bar). He shut himself up in a furnished room at Ghent, loaded his revolvers, and waited; and when the police came, he fired on them as he had fired on the Tsar’s police. The peace­ ful sergeants o f Ghent paid for the Cossacks’ pogroms and Sokolov laid down his life, “whether here or there matters little, so long as one lays it down on the great day, for the awakening of the oppressed.” If nobody, in this thriving Belgium where the working class was becom­ ing a real power, with its co-ops, its wealthy unions, its articulate rep­ resentatives, could understand the language and the actions of frustrated idealists molded by Russian despotism, then how could a Sokolov do so? Our group was able to grasp it better than he but not totally. We decided to defend him before public opinion and in court, which I did as a defense witness at the trial in Ghent. This campaign,

20 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

together with many other instances, made our existence in that place untenable. O ur groups propaganda was extremely uncompromising, for we felt an almost fatal spirit o f defiance. It became impossible for me to find any work, even as a semi-skilled typographer, and I was not alone. We felt like we were in a vacuum and did not know who to turn to. We refused to understand this city, one where we could not have changed anything even by getting ourselves killed on the streets... In the Rue de Ruysbroek, at the shop o f a little grocer-cum-bookseller who was suspected o f being an informer, I had met Edouard,4 a metal-turner; he was thickset, with the physique o f some sideshow Hercules, and a heavy, muscular face lit up by his timorous, crafty little eyes. He had come from the factories o f Liege and was fond o f reading H aeckel’s R iddle o f the Universe. O fhim self, he said, “I was well on the way to becoming a splendid ruffian! I was lucky to begin to under­ stand.” A nd he told me how on the barges o f the Meuse he had lived a ruffian’s life (“Just like the others, only tougher, o f course”), terroriz­ ing the women a little, working hard, with the odd bit o f pilfering from the docks, “W ithout knowing what a man is or what life is.” A faded young woman, hair full o f nits, holding a baby, listened on, as did the old informer, while Edouard confessed to me how he had be­ come politically “conscious.” He asked to be admitted into our group. “W hat ought I to read, do you think?” “Ćlisee Reclus,*” I answered. “Isn’t it too difficult?” “N o,” I replied, but already I was beginning to see just how tremen­ dously difficult it was. We let him join, and he was a good comrade. Our times together were not clouded by the foreknowledge that he would die, by his own hand, close to me. Paris called us, the Paris o f Salvat, o f the Commune, o f the CGT,* o f little journals printed with burning zeal; the Paris o f our favorite authors, Anatole France and Jehan Rictus*; the Paris where Lenin* from time to time edited Iskra and spoke at emigre meetings in little cooperative houses; the Paris where the Central Committee o f the Russian Social-Revolutionary Party* had its headquarters, where 4. C arouy.

W O R L D W IT H O U T PO SSIBLE ESC A P E: 1906-1912

• 21

Burtsev lived, who had just unmasked, in the terrorist organization of this party, Evno Azev, engineer, executioner o f Minister von Plehve and o f Grand Duke Sergei, and police spy. I took my leave o f Ray­ mond with bitter irony. I noticed him on a street corner, unemployed, handing out advertisements for a tailor’s shop. “Hello there, Free Man!” I said, “Why not Sandwich Man?” “Perhaps it will come to that,” he said, laughing, “ but no more towns for me. They are nothing but treadmills. I want to work or bust on the open road; I shall at least have fresh air and countryside. I’ve had a bellyful o f all these deadpans. I’m only waiting to get enough to buy a pair o f shoes.” He went o ff with his mate by the Ardennes roads, to Switzerland and the open spaces, helping with the harvest, raising limestone with masons, cutting timber with woodcutters, a floppy old felt hat over his eyes, a volume o f Verhaeren* in his pocket: Drunk with the world and with ourselves, we bring Hearts o f new men to the old universe. I have often thought since then that poetry was a substitute for prayer for us, so greatly did it uplift us and answer our constant need for exaltation. Verhaeren, the European poet nearest to Walt Whit­ man (whom we did not yet know), flashed us a gleam o f keen, an­ guished, fertile thought on the modern town, its railway stations, its trade in women, its swirling crowds, and his cries of violence were like ours: “Open or breakyourfists against the door!” Fists were broken, and why not? Better that than stagnation. Jehan Rictus lamented the suf­ fering of the penniless intellectual dragging out his nights on the benches of foreign boulevards, and no rhymes were richer than his: songe-mensonge (dream-lie), espoir-desespoir (hope-despair). In spring­


time “the smell o f crap and lilacs One day I went off, all at random, taking ten francs, a spare shirt, some workbooks, and some photos that I always kept with me. In front of the station I chanced to meet my father and we talked of the recent discoveries on the structure of matter, which had been popu­ larized by Gustave Le Bon. “Are you off?”



“Yes, to Lille for a fortnight.” I believed it. I was never to come back, never to see my father again— but the last letters I had from him in Brazil when I was in Russia, thirty years later, still spoke o f the structure o f the American continent and the history o f civilizations. Europe at that time knew no passports, and frontiers hardly existed. I stayed in a mining village at Fives in Lille: two and a h alf francs a week (fifty U.S. cents), payable in advance, for a clean garret. I wanted to go down the mine. Some cheery old miners laughed in my face: “You’d be finished in two hours, friend.” On the third day, I had four francs left. I went to look for work, rationing myself: every day a pound o f bread, two pounds o f green pears, a glass o f milk (bought on credit from my kind hostess), twenty-five centimes to spend. Annoyingly enough, the soles o f my shoes began to let me down, and on the eighth day o f this routine, attacks o f giddiness forced me to seek the haven o f benches in the public gardens. I was obsessed by a dream o f bacon soup. My strength was ebbing; I was going to be good for nothing, not even for the worst possible existence. A n iron footbridge over the railway line in the station began to exert an absurd fascination over me, when I was saved by a providential meeting with a comrade who was supervising drain digging in the street. Almost at once I found work with a photog­ rapher at Armentieres, at four francs a day— a fortune. I was unwilling to leave the mining village, and went out at dawn in the sad morning mist with the workers in their leather helmets. I traveled to work amongst slag heaps, then shut myself up all day in a poky laboratory where we worked alternately by green light and red. In the evening, before fatigue could prostrate me, I would spend a little while reading Jaurčs’s* L'Hum anitć, with mingled admiration and annoyance. A cou­ ple lived behind the partition. They adored one another, and the man used to beat his wife savagely before taking her. I could hear her mur­ mur through her sobs, “H it me again, again.” I found inadequate the studies o f working-class women that I had read hitherto. Would it after all take centuries to transform this world and these human beings? Yet each one o f us has only one life in front o f him. W hat was to be done?

W O R L D W IT H O U T PO SSIBLE ESC A P E: 1906-1912

. 23

Anarchism swept us away completely because it both demanded ev­ erything o f us and offered us everything. There was no remotest corner of life that it failed to illumine; at least so it seemed to us. A man could be a Catholic, a Protestant, a Liberal, a Radical, a Socialist, even a syn­ dicalist, without in any way changing his own life, and therefore life in general. It was enough for him, after all, to read the appropriate news­ paper; or, if he was strict, to frequent the cafe associated with whatever tendency claimed his allegiance. Shot through with contradictions, fragmented into varieties and sub-varieties, anarchism demanded, be­ fore anything else, harmony between deeds and words (which, in truth, is demanded by all forms o f idealism, but which they all forget as they become complacent). That is why we adopted what was (at that mo­ ment) the extremest variety, which by vigorous dialectic had succeeded, through the logic o f its revolutionism, in discarding the necessity for revolution. To a certain extent we were impelled in that direction by our disgust with a certain type of rather mellow, academic anarchism, whose Pope was Jean Grave* in Temps Nouveaux. Individualism had just been affirmed by our hero Albert Libertad.* No one knew his real name, or anything o f him before he started preaching. Crippled in both legs, walking on crutches which he plied vigorously in fights (he was a great one for fighting, despite his handicap), he bore, on a pow­ erful body, a bearded head whose face was finely proportioned. Desti­ tute, having come as a tramp from the south, he began his preaching in Montmartre, among libertarian circles and the queues o f poor devils waiting for their dole of soup not far from the site of Sacre Coeur. Vio­ lent, magnetically attractive, he became the heart and soul o f a move­ ment of such exceptional dynamism that it is not entirely dead even at this day. Libertad loved streets, crowds, fights, ideas, and women. On two occasions he set up house with a pair o f sisters, the Mahes and then the Morands. He had children whom he refused to register with the State. “The State? Don’t know it. The name? I don’t give a damn; they’ll pick one that suits them. The law? To hell with it.” He died in hospital in 1908 as the result of a fight, bequeathing his body (“That carcass of mine,” he called ic) for dissection in the cause of science. His teaching, which we adopted almost wholesale, was: “Don’t wait for the revolution. Those who promise revolution are frauds just

24 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

like the others. M ake your own revolution, by being free men and liv­ ing in comradeship.” Obviously I am simplifying, but the idea itself had a beautiful simplicity. Its absolute commandment and rule o f life was: “Let the old world go to blazes.” From this position there were naturally many deviations. Some inferred that one should “ live ac­ cording to Reason and Science,” and their impoverished worship o f science, which invoked the mechanistic biology o f Felix le Dantec,* led them on to all sorts o f tomfoolery, such as a saltless, vegetarian diet and fruitarianism and also, in certain cases, to tragic ends. We saw young vegetarians involved in pointless struggles against the whole o f society. Others decided, “Let s be outsiders. The only place for us is the fringe o f society.” They did not stop to think that society has no fringe, that no one is ever outside it, even in the depth o f dungeons, and that their “conscious egoism,” sharing the life o f the defeated, linked up from below with the most brutal bourgeois individualism. Finally, others, including myself, sought to harness together per­ sonal transformation and revolutionary action, in accordance with the motto o f Ćlisee Reclus: “As long as social injustice lasts we shall remain in a state o f permanent revolution.” (I am quoting this from memory.) Libertarian individualism gave us a hold over the most in­ tense reality: ourselves. Be yourself. Only, it developed in another “city without escape”— Paris, an immense jungle where all relationships were dominated by a primitive individualism, dangerous in a differ­ ent way from ours, that o f a positively Darwinian struggle for exis­ tence. H aving bid farewell to the humiliations o f poverty, we found ourselves once again up against them. To be yourself would have been a precious commandment and perhaps a lofty achievement, if only it had been possible. It would only have begun to be possible once the most pressing needs o f man, those that identify him more closely with the brutes than with his fellow humans, were satisfied. We had to win our food, lodging, and clothing by main force; and after that, to find time to read and think. The problem o f the penniless youngster, up­ rooted or (as we used to say) “ foaming at the bit” through irresistible idealism, confronted us in a form that was practically insoluble. Many comrades were soon to slide into what was called “ illegalism,” a way o f life not so much on the fringe o f society as on the fringe o f morality.

W O R L D W IT H O U T PO SSIBLE ESC A P E: 1906-1912

• 25

“We refuse to be either exploiters or exploited,” they declared, with­ out perceiving that they were continuing to be both these and, what is more, becoming hunted men. When they knew that the game was up they chose to kill themselves rather than go to jail. One o f them, who never went out without his Browning revolver, told me, “Prison isn’t worth living for! Six bullets for the sleuthhounds and the seventh for me! You know, I’m lighthearted.” A light heart is a heavy burden. The principle of self-preservation that is in us all found its consequence, within the social jungle, in a battle of One against All. A positive explosion of despair was building up in us, unbeknown. There are ideas— and behind these ideas, in the recesses o f con­ sciousness, where they develop as a product of repression, of denial, of sublimation, o f intuition and many other phenomena which have no name, there is a shapeless, vast, often oppressive, profound sense of being. Our thinking had its roots in despair. Nothing was to be done. This world was unacceptable in itself, and unacceptable the lot it of­ fers us. Man is finished, lost. We are beaten in advance, whatever we do. A young anarchist midwife gave up her calling "because it is a crime to inflict life on a human being.” Years later, awakened into hope by the Russian Revolution, I wanted to reach Petrograd, then in flames, and agreed to pass through a sector of the Champagne front, at the risk either o f being left there in a common grave or o f killing men better than myself in the opposite trench. I wrote: “Life is not such a great benefit that it is wrong to lose it or criminal to take it.” Anatole France gave voice to some of the most characteristic of these intuitions in his work, ending his great satire o f the history of France, Penguin Island, with the appraisal that the best thing to do in the circumstances was to invent some devilishly powerful machine to de­ stroy the planet, “so as to gratify the universal conscience which didn’t exist, anyway.” Thus the litterateur of skepticism closed the vicious circle in which we were turning, and he did it out of kindness.

Rene Valet,* my friend, was a lively, restless spirit. We had met in the Quartier Latin, we had discussed everything together, usually at night, around the Ste. Genevieve hill, in the little bars jostling on the

26 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

Boulevard St. M ichel: Barres, Anatole France, Apollinaire, Louis Nazzi. Together we muttered scraps ofV ildrac’s White Bird, Jules Romains’s Ode to the Crowd, Jehan Rictus’s The Ghost. Rene was lawabiding and prosperous, he even had his own locksmith’s workshop, not far from Denfert-Rochereau. I can see him there now, standing up like a young Siegfried, criticizing Anatole France’s treatment o f the destruction o f this planet. H aving had his say, Rene would sink slowly down on the asphalt o f the boulevard, with a sly grin. “W hat is cer­ tain is that we are all mugs. Yes, mugs.” I remember his fine, square-set ginger head, his powerful chin, his green eyes, his strong hands, his athlete’s bearing (an emancipated athlete, naturally). He liked to wear the navvy’s wide corduroy trou­ sers, with a waistband o f blue flannel. Once, on an evening o f riots, we wandered together around a guillotine, ridden by our gloom, sickened by our feebleness, mad with anger. “We have a wall in front o f us,” we told each other, “and what a wall.” “Oh, the bastards!” muttered my ginger-headed friend, and next day he confessed to me that all that night his hand had been closed upon the chill blackness o f a Brown­ ing revolver. Fight, fight, what else was there to do? A nd i f it meant death, no matter. Rene rushed into mortal danger out o f his sense o f solidarity with his defeated mates, out o f his need for battle, and, at the heart o f it, out o f despair. These “conscious egoists” were going to get themselves slaughtered for friendship’s sake. I had arrived in Paris a little after the death ofLibertad. The luxu­ rious Paris o f Passy and the Champs-Elysees, and even o f the great boulevards o f commerce, was for us like a foreign or enemy city. Our own Paris had three centers: the great working-class town that began somewhere in a grim zone o f canals, cemeteries, waste plots, and fac­ tories, around Charonne, Pantin, and the Flandre bridge; it climbed the heights o f Belleville and Menilmontant, and there became a ple­ beian capital, lively, busy, and egalitarian like an ant-heap; and then, on its frontiers with the town o f railway stations and delights, became cluttered with shady districts. Small hotels for a “short time,” “sleepsellers” where for twenty sous one could gasp in a garret without ven­ tilation, pubs frequented by procurers, swarms o f women with coiled hair and colored aprons soliciting on the pavements.

W O R L D W IT H O U T PO SSIBLE ESC A PE: 1906-1912

. 27

The rumbling trains o f the Metro would suddenly plunge into a tunnel under the town, and I would linger in a circle of passersby to hear and see Hercules and the Boneless Wonder with their fantastic patter, clowns with a waggish dignity who always needed just another fifteen sous before they would perform their best tricks, upon an old rug spread on the pavement. And inside another circle, as evening came on and the workshops emptied, the blind man, his stout female assistant, and the soulful orphan girl would sing the popular songs of the day: “ The riders o f the moo-oon. ..” and in the ballad there was also some mention o f “dusky night” and “ desperate love.” Our Montmartre adjoined, but never met, the Montmartre of art­ ists’ taverns, bars haunted by women in feathered hats and hobbleskirts, the Moulin Rouge, etc. We acknowledged only old Frede’s Lapin Agile, where people sang old French songs, some perhaps going back to the days of Francois Villon, who was a wandering, despairing, merry young sprig, a poet, a rebel like us, and a gallows bird. The old Rue des Rosiers, where the generals Lecomte and Clement Thomas were shot under the Commune, now renamed the Rue du Chevalier de la Barre, had, since the time o f the barricades, only changed its ap­ pearance at one point along its extent. There, at the top o f the slope, the basilica of Sacre Coeur de Jesus was slothfully nearing comple­ tion, in a sort o f fake Hindu, monumentally bourgeois style. Hard by the stone yards here, young radical thinkers had put up a statue o f the young Chevalier de la Barre who had been burnt by the Inquisition. The basilica and the white marble Chevalier looked down on the roofs of Paris: ocean o f gray roofs, over which there arose at night only a few dim lights, and a great red glow from the tumultuous squares. We would pause there to take stock of our ideas. At the other end of the street, a lopsided square stretched at the crossing o f two roads, one a steep incline, the other rising in flights o f dull gray steps. In front of a tall and ancient shuttered house, the journal Causeries Populaires and the offices o f UAnarchie, both founded by Libertad, occupied a shabby building, filled with the noise of printing presses, singing, and passionate discussion. There I met Rirette Maitrejean,* a short, slim, aggressive girl, militant, with a Gothic profile, and the theoretician Žmile Armand,* sickly and goateed, his pince-nez all

28 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

askew, once a Salvation A rm y officer, lately a convict in solitary con­ finement, a stubborn, often subtle dialectician who used to argue purely on the basis o f self. “ I only propose, never impose,” he would almost splutter; yet out o f his spluttering emerged the most disastrous theory possible: that o f “ illegalism.” This transformed lovers o f lib­ erty, “outsiders,” enthusiasts for comradely living, into technicians o f obscure and illicit crafts. The most important subject o f our discussions, some o f which ended in shooting and bloodletting among comrades, was “the im­ portance o f science.” Should scientific law regulate the whole life o f the N ew M an, to the exclusion o f irrational sentiment and o f all ideal­ ism “ inherited from ancestral faiths” ? Taine and Renan’s blind cult o f science, here reduced to almost algebraic formulae by fanatical popu­ larizes, became the catechism o f individualist revolt: “M yself alone against all,” and “ N othing means anything to me,” as the Hegelian M ax Stirner* once proclaimed. The doctrine o f “comradely living” slightly counteracted the unpardonable isolation o f these rebels, but out o f it was emerging a constricted coterie, equipped with a psycho­ logical jargon demanding a long initiation. I found this coterie at once fascinating and repellent. I was at some distance from those primitive conceptions. Other influences were at work on me, and there were other values that I neither could nor would abandon: basically, the revolutionary idealism o f the Russians. I had happened to find work easily at Belleville, as a draughtsman in a machine-tool works, ten hours a day, twelve and a h alf including the journeys, starting at 6:30 a.m. In the evenings I went, by the fu­ nicular railway and the Mćtro, to the Left Bank, the Latin Quarter, our third Paris— the one I liked best, to tell the truth. I had an hour and a h alf at my disposal to read at the Ste. Genevieve Library, with eyes that stubbornly refused to stay open over political economy, and a tired intellect functioning now only at half-cock. I took to alcohol to help me to read, but I only forgot everything the following day. I left the brutalizing atmosphere o f my “good job,” the pallid fasci­ nation o f the Chaumont hills in the morning and the fascination o f evening, when the street was full o f lights and the eyes o f working

W O R L D W I T H O U T P O S S I B L E E S C A P E : 1 90 6-19 12 • 29

girls. I proceeded co settle myself in the garret o f an inn, in the Place du Pantheon, trying to live by teaching French to Russian students and by doing jobs o f routine brainwork. It was better to feel a faint pinch o f hunger reading in the Luxembourg Gardens than to eat my fill by sketching crankshafts till I could no longer think. From my window I could see the square, the Pantheon gate, and Rodin’s Thinker. I would have liked to know the exact spot on which Dr. Tony Moilin had been shot in 1871 for tending the Commune’s wounded. The bronze Thinker seemed to me to be meditating on that crime, and waiting to be shot himself. After all, how insolent he was, doing nothing but thinking, and how dangerous if he ever came to a conclusion. A Social-Revolutionary had introduced me to the members o f his party among the Russian emigres. He was a large, hairless gentleman of Americanized manners, often sent off by the party on missions to the United States. The Russian Social-Revolutionary Party was pass­ ing through a serious crisis of morale, since several police agents had been unmasked in its Battle Organization—for example, Azev and Zhuchenko. The militant who had greeted me on my arrival, with whom I had often discussed Maeterlinck* and the meaning of life all night long, was called Patrick. He led an exemplary life, kept faith amid the general demoralization, and cultivated a healthy optimism. When the Paris archives o f the Okhrana’s Secret Service were opened in 1917 we found that Patrick was also a police agent, but that was re­ ally no longer o f any importance. I led a many-sided life: I was attracted by the partisan warriors of Paris, that sub-proletariat of declasse, "emancipated” men, dreaming of freedom and dignity and constantly on the verge of imprisonment, and among the Russians I breathed a much purer air, distilled in sac­ rifice, energy, and culture. I taught French to a stunningyoung woman who always wore red dresses, a Maximalist,* one o f the few survivors of the attempt at Aptekarsky Island, in St. Petersburg. There three Maximalists had presented themselves in uniform at a reception in the villa of the Prime Minister, Stolypin, and suffered themselves to be roasted in the hall, so as to make sure that the villa would be blown

30 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

up to practically nothing. People around me spoke o f them as if they had only just gone out o f the room; o f Salomon Ryss, alias Medved, the Bear, who had joined the O khrana to disrupt and disorganize it, had been caught and recently hanged; o f Petrov, who had done the same at St. Petersburg, and had lately assassinated the head o f the se­ cret police; o f Gershuni, who refused a pardon out o f contempt for the Tsar— they dared not hang him all the same— then escaped, and died here, not far from us, o f tuberculosis; o f Igor Sazonov who twice offered up his life, first when he threw a bomb under von Plehve’s carriage, and again when he killed him self in jail, a few months before he was due for release, in protest against the maltreatment o f his comrades. The new theory o f energy o f Mach and Avenarius, revis­ ing the notion o f matter, was o f cardinal importance for us. C om ing from these discussions, I would meet old Edouard Ferral, selling his copies o f L ’Intransigeant on the corner o f the Boulevard St. Michel and the Rue Soufflot. L ’I ntran, L ’Intran!-. he proclaimed his wares in a soft, trembling voice. He sported an improbable pair o f worn-out boots, and a complete, authentic tramp’s outfit. A disgrace­ ful yellow straw hat sat like a halo on his head. Bearded like Socrates, a lively glow in his eyes (which were the color o f Seine water), he lived, wanting even elementary necessities, among the lowest o f the low. I never knew under what strains he had been brought so low, for cer­ tainly his was one o f the finest intelligences o f the libertarian move­ ment, naturally heretical, loved and admired by the young. Deeply learned, reciting and translating V irgil with lyrical passion in downat-heel pubs in the Place Maubert (where we willingly followed him), a disciple o f Georges Sorel* and him self a theoretician o f syndicalism, he blended this theory with the ideas o f Mćcislas Golberg,* who prac­ tically died o f hunger in the Latin Quarter affirming that the highest revolutionary vocation was the th ief’s. It was Ferral who introduced me to the terrifying world o f utmost poverty, spiritless degradation; the borderline o f humanity under the rubble o f the great city. There, a tradition o f total, overwhelming de­ feat had been kept up— as it still is— for at least ten centuries. These wretches were the lineal descendants o f the first beggars o f Paris, per­ haps o f Roman Lutetia’s meanest plebs. They were older than Notre

W O R L D W I T H O U T PO SSIBLE E SC A P E: 1906-1912

• 31

Dame, and neither See. Genevieve nor the blessed Virgin had ever been able to do anything for them: proof, o f course, that they were beyond redemption. I saw them in the bistros o f La Maub, drinking their draught wine, eating the pork shop’s refuse, repairing the dress­ ings (sometimes spectacularly faked) on their sores. I heard them dis­ cuss the affairs o f their guilds, the allotment of a particular begging pitch that had become vacant through the passing o f a certain mem­ ber, lately found dead under a bridge. Others would be replenishing their trays with matches and shoelaces, others again discreetly delousing themselves. You had to be invited to get into their place and they gave you intrigued, tearful, and scornful looks. It smelled like a cage in a zoo in that place, where at times the tramps slept leaning against a stretched line, whenever the cold and the rain make the open ground and the arches under the bridges too inhospitable. Between them, they only spoke armache, a particular slang a bit different from that of the young males in flat caps sitting at the windows of the nearest bis­ tros to keep an eye on their women, standing in the shadows o f nearby doorways touting for business. These young men and their 40-sous rent-girls were the aristocrats o f that milieu. I observed, terrified, what the city could do to man, the mangy, pestiferous, kenneled cur’s existence to which it reduced him, and this helped me to understand Peter Lavrov’s* Historical Letters, concerning social justice. The clochard is a spent individual, squeezed dry o f personal initia­ tive, who has learnt to enjoy, feebly but stubbornly, the meager vegeta­ ble existence which is all that he has. The ragpickers were a world apart, adjacent but separate, centering on the Barriere d ’ltalie at St. Ouen; some o f the less abandoned managed to accumulate a positive treasure by exploiting an abundant raw material: the town’s refuse. The genuine human refuse could not even do that, having too little energy and too much sloth to pursue the systematic efforts of the dustbin brigade. It was my lot, during a bad time, to spend some days in a related world, that o f the hawkers o f special editions of the big newspapers. Some poor wretches would stand at a side entrance o(L e Matin, in a special queue, to buy ten copies which they would then sell in the Boulevard Saint-Denis, risking a punch in the face from the usual news vendor, all for twenty centimes. Any disturbance drew the

32 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

attention o f the police and vendors, who would grab them and throw them into the street like the human refuse that they were. Get lost, you louse! I translated Russian novels and poems— Artzybashev,* Balmont, M erezhkovsky— for a charming Russian journalist under whose sig­ nature they appeared.5 Thanks to this employment I was able to buy onion soup for Ferral at the stroke o f midnight by a brazier in Les H ailes beneath the squat, massive silhouette o f St. Eustache. One o f the peculiar features o f workingclass Paris at this time was that it bordered extensively on the under­ world, that is, on the vast world o f irregulars, outcasts, paupers, and criminals. There were few essential differences




worker or artisan from the old cen­ tral districts and the pimp from the alleys by Les Hailes. A chauffeur or mechanic with any wits about him Victor Kibalchich (“ 1 c Rćtif”) at twenty

would Pilfer aI1 he could from the employers as a matter o f course, out

o f class consciousness (“One less for the guvn or!”) and because he was “ liberated” o f old-fashioned morality. Working-class attitudes, ag­ gressive and anarchic, were pulled in opposite directions by two an­ tagonistic movements, the revolutionary syndicalism o f the C G T which, with a fresh and powerful idealism, was winning the real pro­ letariat to the struggle for positive demands, and the shapeless activity o f the anarchist groups. Between and beneath these two currents, restless and disaffected masses were being borne along. Two extraor­ dinary demonstrations o f this time marked an epoch for me and for the whole o f Paris; I think that no historian w ill be able to ignore their significance. The first one took place on 13 October 1909. On that day we heard s. J. Povolozky.

W O R L D W I T H O U T P O S S I B L E E S C A P E : 190 6-19 12 • 33

the news o f an incredible event: the execution o f Francisco Ferrer,* decreed by Maura and permitted by Alfonso X III. The founder of the Modern School in Barcelona, condemned absurdly for a popular up­ rising o f some days’ duration, fell back into the ditch at Montjuich shouting to the firing squad: “ I forgive you, children! Aim straight!” (Later on he was “rehabilitated” by Spanish justice.) I had written, even before his arrest, the first article in the great press campaign con­ ducted on his behalf. His transparent innocence, his educational activity, his courage as an independent thinker, and even his man-inthe-street appearance endeared him infinitely to the whole o f a Europe that was, at the time, liberal by sentiment and in intense ferment. A true international consciousness was growing from year to year, step by step with the progress of capitalist civilization. Frontiers were crossed without formalities; some trade unions subsidized travel for their members; commercial and intellectual exchanges seemed to be unifying the world. Already in 1905 the anti-Semitic pogroms in Rus­ sia had roused a universal wave o f condemnation. From one end o f the Continent to the other (except in Russia and Turkey) the judicial murder of Ferrer had, within twenty-four hours, moved whole popu­ lations to incensed protest. In Paris the movement was spontaneous. By hundreds of thousands, from everyfaubourg, workers and ordinary folk, impelled by a terrible indignation, flowed towards the city center. The revolutionary groups followed rather than guided these masses. The editors o f revolution­ ary journals, taken aback by their sudden influence, spread the call: “To the Spanish Embassy!” The Embassy would have been ransacked had not Lepine, the Police Commissioner, barricaded all entries to the Boulevard Malesherbes. Angry riots started in these prosperous thoroughfares, lined with banks and aristocratic residences. The backwash of the crowds carried me among newspaper kiosks blazing on the pavements and overturned omnibuses whose horses, painstakingly unharnessed, gazed stupidly at their empty contrap­ tions. Police cyclists charged, weaving their machines to and fro at random. Lepine was shot at from ten yards by a revolver from some­ where in a group o f journalists belonging to La Guerre Sociale, Le Libertaire. and LAnarchie. Weariness and the onset of night calmed

34 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

the outburst, which left the people o f Paris with an exultant sensation o f strength. The government authorized a legal demonstration two days after, led by Jaures. We marched along, five hundred thousand o f us, surrounded by mounted Gardes Republicains who sat all subdued, taking the measure o f this newly risen power. There was a natural transition from this demonstration to the sec­ ond. M iguel Almereyda* had participated in the organization o f the first, and was the moving force behind its successor. I had helped him hide in Brussels, where he had brusquely ridiculed my momentary Tolstoyan fancies. In short, we were friends. I told him, “You’re just an opportunist. Your people have started offquite wrong.” H e answered, “A s far as Paris is concerned you are an ignoramus, my friend. You can purify yourself with Russian novels, but here the revolution needs cash.” H e incarnated human achievement in a measure so far practically unknown to me. He had the physical beauty o f the purebred Cata­ lan— tall forehead, blazing eyes— allied with an extreme elegance. A brilliant journalist, a captivating orator, a capable libertarian politi­ cian, adroit in business, he was able to handle a crowd or fix a trial, to brave the bludgeons o f the police, the revolvers o f certain comrades, or the spite o f the Government, and to concoct fantastic intrigues. In the ministries, he had his connections; in the slums, his devoted friends. He was behind the disappearance from Clemenceau’s drawer o f a receipt for 500 francs signed by an agent provocateur in the syndicalist movement. H e then presented him self at the Assize C ourt and was acquitted with the ju ry’s congratulations. He organized the circula­ tion o f L a Guerre Sociale, whose guiding spirit he was, together with Gustave H erve (“The General”) and Eugene Merle who was to be­ come Paris’s most powerful and Balzacian journalist. Almereyda had experienced a scarifying childhood, partly in a reformatory for a mi­ nor theft. It was he who, after the Ferrer demonstration, seized upon the Liabeuf affair. This was the prelude to a number o f other dramas. It was a battle o f low life. Liabeuf, a young worker o f twenty who had grown up on the Boulevard de Sebastopol, fell in love with a little streetwalker. The vice squad, those persecutors o f girls, saw them to-

W O R L D W I T H O U T P O S S I B L E E S C A P E : 1 906-1912

• 35

gecher and had him condemned as a pimp. This he was not; on the con­ trary, his dream was to rescue this girl from “the game.” The officially provided defense counsel did not turn up at the trial, the accused man’s protests were naturally o f no avail, the petty sessions magistrate hur­ ried through the proceedings in five seconds (as usual with these mat­ ters), and the police were, of course, on oath. Liabeuf felt branded with infamy. Once out o f prison, he armed himself with a revolver, donned spiked armlets under his cloak, and went in quest of vengeance. To arrest him they had to nail him to the wall with a saber blow. He had wounded four policemen, and was condemned to death. The left-wing press indicted the vice squad and demanded a pardon for Liabeuf. Commissioner Lepine, a short gentleman capable of a cold hysteria, whose goatee presided every year over the bludgeoning of the May Day demonstrators, demanded his execution. Almereyda wrote that if they dared to set up the guillotine, there would be more blood around it than beneath it. He appealed to the people of Paris to stop the exe­ cution by force. The Socialist Party lent its support to the movement. On the night o f the execution assorted crowds, from all t\\t fa u ­ bourgs, from all those slums stalked by crime and misery, converged upon that unique spot in Paris, always ghastly by day and sinister by night: the Boulevard Arago. On one side, bourgeois houses, impervi­ ous to everything, with their windows neatly drawn on “every man for himself” (and “God for all,” if you please), on the other, two lines of stout chestnut trees, beneath the Wall—a wall of great cemented stones, dull grayish-brown, that most silent, most pitiless of prison walls: twenty feet high. I had come with Rirette, with Rene the Angry, with old Ferral who, positively fanatical in affliction, seemed to float along, unbelievably weak, inside his ragged suit. The militants from all the groups were there, forced back by walls of black-uniformed po­ lice executing bizarre maneuvers. Shouts and angry scuffles broke out when the guillotine wagon arrived, escorted by a squad o f cavalry. For some hours there was a battle on the spot, the police charges forcing us ineffectively, because o f the darkness, into side streets from which sections o f the crowd would disgorge once again the next minute. Jaurčs was recognized at the head of one column and nearly brained.

36 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

Almereyda maneuvered in vain co break through the human barrier. There was plenty o f violence and a little bloodshed— one policeman killed. A t dawn, exhaustion quietened the crowd, and at the instant when the blade fell upon a raging head still yelling its innocence, a baffled frenzy gripped the twenty or thirty thousand demonstrators, and found its outlet in a long-drawn cry: “Murderers/” The barriers o f policemen now moved only lethargically. “D o you see it? —The w all!” Rene shouted to me. W hen in the morning I returned to that spot o f the boulevard, a huge policeman, standing on the square o f fresh sand that had been thrown over the blood, was attentively treading a rose into it. A little farther off, leaning against the wall, Ferral was gently wringing his hands: “ Society is so iniquitous!” From this day dates the revulsion and contempt that is aroused in me by the death penalty, which replies to the crime o f the primitive, the retarded, the deprived, the half-mad, or the hopeless by nothing short o f a collective crime, carried out coldly by men invested with authority, who believe that they are therefore innocent o f the pathetic blood they shed. A s for the endless torture o f life imprisonment or o f very lengthy sentences, I know o f nothing more stupidly inhuman. After the fight for Ferrer the philosopher, the battle for Liabeuf the desperado demonstrated (although we could not see it) the seri­ ousness o f the blind alley in which the revolutionary movement o f Paris was, all tendencies included. .. Energetic and powerful in 190 607, the Confederation Gćnćrale du Travail began to decline, mel­ lowed after a mere few years by the development o f highly paid sections among the working class. The “ insurrectionism” o f Gustave Hervć and Miguel Almereyda revolved in a vacuum, expressing noth­ ing in the end but a craving for verbal and physical violence o f a tiny minority. Bloated Europe, whose wealth and prosperity had grown to an unprecedented degree in the thirty years since 1880, still based its social system upon ancient injustices, and thereby created in its great cities a limited but numerous social stratum to whom industrial prog­ ress brought no real hope, and only that minimum o f consciousness that sufficed to shed light upon its own misfortune. More: through its excess o f energy, as well as the incompatibility o f its historical struc-

W O R L D W IT H O U T PO SSIBLE ESC A PE: 1906-1912

• 37

cure with the new needs o f society, the whole o f this Europe was drawn towards resolving its problems in violence. We breathed the oppressive air o f the prelude to war. Events heralded the catastrophe clearly enough: the Agadir incident, the partition o f Morocco, the massacre at Casablanca. Italy’s aggression against Tripolitania began the dismemberment o f the Ottoman Empire, and the “ futurist” poet Marinetti detailed the splendor of bowels steaming in the sun of a battlefield. The Austrian Empire annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Tsar continued to borrow money from the French Republic and to hang and deporc the best o f che Russian intelligentsia. From the two ends o f the globe the Mexican and Chinese revolutions flamed out to illumine our enthusiasm.

On the Left Bank, bordering che Latin Quarter, I had founded a study circle called “ Free Inquiry” {La Libre Recherche), which met up­ stairs in a Socialist cooperative in the Rue Gregoire-de-Tours, down dark corridors cluttered with barrels. The houses nearby were broth­ els, with red lamps, large numerals, brightly lit doors, and signs in seventeenth-century script: T H


The crowded

thoroughfare o f the Rue de Buci, packed with stalls jutting on to the pavement, unsavory little bars, and costermongers, gave me the sensation (or so I thought) o f going back to che Paris o f Louis X V I. I was familiar with all the old doors along the street and on the peeling facades above the advertisements for the hire of evening dress, I dis­ cerned the brand, invisible to others, of the Reign of Terror. In public meetings, I would dispute with Le Sillon’s Christian Democrats, who were fond o f tough, strong-arm tactics, and with che Royalists, roused to a white-hoc frenzy by Leon Daudet.* When the tall Leon appeared on the platform with his plump profile, rather like that of a declining Bourbon or an Israelite financier (the similarity between these would be exact), we would form a battle square in a corner o f the hall we had picked beforehand, and as soon as his thun­ derous voice proclaimed “The monarchy, traditional, federalist, antiParliamentarian!” etc., our jeering interruptions would chime in: “A century behind the times! Coblenz!* The guillotine!,” and I would



demand leave to speak, protected by a rampart o f stalwart comrades. The Cam elots du Roi* waited for this moment to charge our square, but we were not always defeated. By contrast Georges Valois,* a former anarchist him self but recently converted to royalism, was very w illing to discuss his syndicalistroyalist doctrine; he invoked Nietzsche, Georges Sorel, “the social myth,” the communal guilds o f the M iddle Ages, national sentiment. Meanwhile, certain comrades suggested that I should again take up the editing o f LAnarchie, now transferred from Montmartre to the Rom ainville Gardens, and threatened by splits among the differ­ ent tendencies. I made it a condition that the previous editorial and printing staff, a collection o f “scientific individualists” whose leading light was Raymond, should get out and that I should be allowed to recruit my own colleagues. Nevertheless, for a month two staffs coex­ isted, the old one and mine. For a while I caught up again with Raymond and Edouard. They were intoxicated with their “scientific” algebraic formulae and in thrall to their dietary discipline (absolute vegetarianism, no wine or coffee, tea or infusions, and we who ate otherwise were “ insufficiently evolved”), ceaselessly denouncing the shortcomings o f “ feelings,” in­ voking only “scientific reason” and “conscious egoism.” I could see clearly that their childish intoxication with “scientism” contained much more ignorance than knowledge, and an intense desire to live differently at all costs. A more important conflict separated us— that o f illegalism. They were already, or were becoming, outlaws, primarily through the influence o f Octave Gamier,* a handsome, swarthy, silent lad whose dark eyes were astoundingly hard and feverish. Small, working-class by origin, Octave had suffered a vicious beating on a building site in the course o f a strike. He scorned all discussion with “ intellectuals.” “ Talk, talk!” he would remark softly, and offhe would go on the arm o f a blonde Rubensesque Flemish girl, to prepare some dangerous nocturnal task or other. N o other man that I have met in my whole life has ever so con­ vinced me o f the impotence and even the futility o f the intellect when confronted with tough primitive creatures like this, rudely aroused to a form o f intelligence that fits them purely technically for the life

W O R L D W IT H O U T PO SSIBLE ESC A PE: 1906-1912

■ 39

scruggle. He would have made an excellent seafarer for a Polar expedi­ tion, a fine soldier for the colonies, or, in another time, a Nazi stormtroop leader or an N C O for Rommel. There was no doubt of it, all he could be was an outlaw. His was a restless, uncontrolled spirit, in quest of some impossible new dignity, how or what he did not know him­ self. Petty quarrels multiplied. Raymond, Edouard, and Octave de­ parted soon enough, and I transferred our printshop, in which we lived together as comrades, to the top of Belleville behind the Chaumont hills, in an old workingmen’s house in the Rue Fessart. I set out to give a new emphasis to the paper, in the form of a turn from indi­ vidualism to social action. I opened a polemic against Elie Faure' the art historian who, citing Nietzsche, had just proclaimed the civilizing function of war. I noted, almost enthusiastically, the suicide of Paul and Laura Lafargue, the son-in-law and daughter of Karl Marx. Lafargue, having reached the age o f sixty, an age at which, he decided, active creative life was over, administered poison to himself and his wife. I sought to affirm a “ doctrine o f solidarity and revolt in the here and now,” quoting Elisee Reclus: “Man is Nature become conscious of it­ self.” O f Marx I knew practically nothing. We denounced syndicalism as a future Statism, as terrible as any other. The cult of “the workers,” a reaction against the politicians (who were primarily lawyers inter­ ested in their Parliamentary careers), struck us as being over-rigid and as carrying within itself the seeds o f an anti-intellectual careerism. The end o f 1911 saw dramatic happenings. Joseph the Italian, a lit­ tle militant with frizzled hair who dreamed o f a free life in the bush of Argentina, as far away as possible from the towns, was found mur­ dered on the Melun Road. From the grapevine we gathered that an individualist from Lyons, Bonnot* by name (I did not know the man), who had been traveling with him by car, had killed him, the Italian having first wounded himself fumbling with a revolver. However it may have happened, one comrade had murdered or “done another. An informal investigation shed no light on the matter and only an­ noyed the “scientific” illegalists. Since I had expressed hostile opinions towards them, I had an unexpected visit from Raymond. “Ifyou don’t want to disappear, be careful about condemning us.” He added, laugh­ ingly, “Do whatever you like! I f you get in my way I’ll eliminate you!”

40 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

“You and your friends are absolutely cracked,” I replied, “and abso­ lutely finished.” We faced each other exactly like small boys over a red cabbage. H e was still squat and strapping, baby-faced and merry. “Per­ haps that’s true,” he said, “ but it’s the law o f nature.” A positive wave o f violence and despair began to grow. The outlaw anarchists shot at the police and blew out their own brains. Others, overpowered before they could fire the last bullet into their own heads, went o ff sneering to the guillotine. “One against all!” “Nothing means anything to m e!” “Dam n the masters, damn the slaves, and damn m e!” I recognized, in the various newspaper reports, faces I had met or known; I saw the whole o f the movement founded by Libertad dragged into the scum o f society by a kind o f madness; and nobody could do anything about it, least o f all myself. The theoreticians, terrified, headed for cover. It was like a collective suicide. The newspapers put out a special edition to announce a particularly daring outrage, com­ mitted by bandits in a car on the Rue Ordener in Montmartre, against a bank cashier carrying h alf a million francs. Reading the descrip­ tions, I recognized Raymond and Octave Garnier, the lad with pierc­ ing black eyes who distrusted intellectuals. I guessed the logic o f their struggle: in order to save Bonnot, now hunted and trapped, they had to find either money, money to get away from it all, or else a speedy death in this battle against the whole o f society. Out o f solidarity they rushed into this squalid, doomed struggle with their little revolvers and their petty, trigger-happy arguments. A nd now there were five o f them, lost, and once again without money even to attempt flight, and against them towered M oney— 100,000 francs’ reward for the first informer. They were wandering in the city without escape, ready to be killed somewhere, anywhere, in a tram or a cafe, content to feel utterly cornered, expendable, alone in defiance o f a horrible world. Out o f solidarity, simply to share this bitter joy o f trying to be killed, without any illusions about the struggle (as a good many told me when I met them in prison afterwards), others joined the first few such as redhaired Renć (he too was a restless spirit) and poor little Andrć Soudy. I had often met Soudy at public meetings in the Latin Quarter. He was a perfect example o f the crushed childhood o f the back alleys. He grew up on the pavements: T B at thirteen, V D at eighteen, convicted at


• 41

twency (for stealing a bicycle). I had brought him books and oranges in the Tenon Hospital. Pale, sharp-featured, his accent common, his eyes a gentle gray, he would say, “ I’m an unlucky blighter, nothing I can do about it.” He earned his living in grocers’ shops in the Rue Mouffetard, where the assistants rose at six, arranged the display at seven, and went upstairs to sleep in a garret alter

9 :0 0

p.m., dog-tired,

having seen their bosses defrauding housewives all day by weighing the beans short, watering the milk, wine, and paraffin, and falsifying the labels... He was sentimental: the laments o f street singers moved him to the verge o f tears, he could not approach a woman without making a fool o f himself, and half a day in the open air of the mead­ ows gave him a lasting dose o f intoxication. He experienced a new lease on life if he heard someone call him “comrade” or explain that one could, one must, “become a new man.” Back in his shop, he began to give double measures o f beans to the housewives, who thought him a little mad. The bitterest joking helped him to live, convinced as he was that he was not long for this world, “seeing the price o f medicine.” One morning, a group o f enormous police officers burst into our lodgings at the press, revolvers in hand. A bare-footed little girl of seven had opened the door when the bell rang, and was terrified by this irruption o f armed giants.6 Jouin, the Deputy Director o f the Surete, a thin gentleman with a long, gloomy face, polite and almost likable, came in later, searched the building, and spoke to me amiably of ideas, o f Sebastien Faure* whom he admired, o f the deplorable way in which the outlaws were discrediting a great ideal. “Believe me,” he sighed, “the world won’t change so quickly. He seemed to me neither malicious nor hypocritical, only a deeply dis­ tressed man doing a job conscientiously. In the afternoon he sent for me, called me into his office, leant on his elbows under the green lampshade, and talked to me somewhat after this fashion: “I know you pretty well; I should be most sorry to cause you any trouble—which could be very serious. You know these circles, these men, who are very unlike you, and would shoot you in the back, 6- T h e p o l i c e r a i d t o o k p l a c e o n D e c e m b e r 31, 19 " . V i c t o r ’s t w e n t y - f i r s t b i r t h d a y ; t h e li t tl e gi rl w a s t h e d a u g h t e r o f R i r e t t e M a i t r c j e a n .

42 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

basically... they are all absolutely finished, I can assure you. Stay here for an hour and we’ll discuss them. Nobody will ever know anything o f it and I guarantee that there’ll be no trouble at all for you.” I was ashamed, unbelievably ashamed, for him, for myself, for ev­ erybody, so ashamed that I felt no shock o f indignation, nor any fear. I told him, “ I am sure that you must be embar­ rassed yourself, talking to me like this.” “But not at all!” A ll the same, he was doing the dirty job as if over­ whelmed by it. “Go ahead, then!” I Victor and Rirette ac the time of the 19 13 trial of the “anarchist bandits”

said, arrest me i f you think you’ve got the right

to. I only ask one thing: bring me some supper. I am very hungry.” The Deputy Director o f the Surete started up, seemingly relieved. “ Some supper? It’s a little late, but I ’ll see what I can do. Do you have cigarettes?” That was how I entered prison— for a long time. The laws voted in 1893 following Vaillant’s* harmless bomb attack, named Lois seeUrates or “anti-villain laws” by Clemenceau, allowed the arrest o f anybody; a ministerial directive had just ordered their application. In a cell o f La Sante, behind the Wall, the specially guarded section reserved for men condemned to death, I began to study seriously. The worst o f it all was the constant hunger. From a legal point o f view I could easily have cleared myself, since the paper’s management and editorship was in the name o f Rirette, but I was determined to assume full responsibility. The murders and collective suicide continued. O f these I picked up only distant echoes. In Sćnart Forest, five hunted young men, chilled by the mists, violently hijacked an automobile. That same day, in Chantilly, they attacked a branch o f the Socićtć Generale. More blood. In Paris itself, Place du Havre, in the middle o f the day, the police officer G am ier fell, while handing out a traffic ticket to the pas-

W O R L D W IT H O U T PO SSIBLE ESC A PE: 1906-1912

. 43

sengers o f a gray car, shot through the heart by another Gamier, Oc­ tave. Meanwhile the reward o f 100,000 francs was burrowing into the brains o f certain “conscious egoists,” and the arrests began. Bonnot, caught by surprise in a small shop at Ivry, fought in a darkened back room with Jouin, the Deputy Director of the Surete, shot him pointblank, pretended momentarily to also be dead, and fled through a window. They caught up with him at Choisy-le-Roi, where he de­ fended himself with a pistol and wrote, in between the shooting, a letter which absolved his comrades o f complicity. He lay between two mattresses to protect himself against the final onslaught, and was killed, or else killed himself, no one really knows which. Octave Garnier and Rene Valet, caught up at Nogent-sur-Marne in a villa where they were hiding out with their women, underwent an even longer siege, taking on the civil police, the gendarmerie, and the Zouaves. They fired hundreds o f bullets, viewing their attackers as murderers (and themselves as victims) and, when the house was dynamited, blew out their own brains. Rebellion’s just another dead end, nothing we can do about it; we may as well hurry up and reload! At heart, they resembled the dynamiteros of Spain who stood up in front of tanks shouting Viva la Fai!, bidding de­ fiance to the world. Raymond, betrayed by a woman for a considerable sum, was taken by surprise and arrested near the Place Clichy; he thought he loved and was loved in return, for the first time. Andre Soudy, too, betrayed by an anarchist writer, was arrested at Berck-Plaee where he was nurs0

Ed oua rd C a ro uy

inghis tuberculosis. Edouard Carouy, who had no part in these events, was betrayed by the family hiding him and, although armed like the others, was arrested without any attempt at self-defense; this athletic young man was exceptional in being quite incapable of murder, though quite ready to kill himself. The others too were all betrayed. Some o f the anarchists shot at those informers, one of whom was killed. Nonetheless, the shrewdest one of them continued

44 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

co edit a little individualist journal on the blue cover o f which the New M an could be seen struggling up from the shadows.7 M y examination was short and pointless, since I was actually ac­ cused o f no offense. The first magistrate who interrogated me for iden­ tification purposes, an aging, refined personage, nearly threw a fit o f temper as he meditated on my future. “A revolutionary at twenty! Yes— and you will be a plutocrat at forty!” “ I do not think so,” I replied in all seriousness, and I am still thankful to him for that edifying out­ burst o f anger. I endured the long, enriching experience o f cell life, al­ lowed no visits or newspapers, with only the squalid statutory rations (which were picked at by all the thieves on the staff) and some good books. I understood, and ever since have always missed, the old Chris­ tian custom o f retreats which men spent in monasteries, meditating face-to-face with themselves and with God, in other words with the vast living solitude o f the universe. It will be good if that custom is re­ vived, in the time when man can at last devote thought to himself. My solitary confinement was difficult, often more than difficult, suffocat­ ing and I was surrounded by awful suffering and I did not escape— did not seek to escape— any o f the troubles that could have come my way (except for T B , o f which I was afraid), seeking to exhaust them, demanding the greatest efforts o f myself. Furthermore, I believe that, however bitter the situation, one ought to go all the way for the sake o f the others and for oneself so as to gain from the experience and to grow from it. I also believe that a few very simple rules w ill suffice for that end: physical and intellectual discipline, exercise (absolutely nec­ essary for the man in a cell), walks for meditation (I did my six miles around the cell every day), intellectual work, and recourse to that ex­ altation, or light spiritual intoxication, which is provided by great works o f poetry. Altogether, I spent around fifteen months in solitary confinement, in various conditions, some o f them quite hellish. The trial o f 1913 assembled on the benches o f the Assize Court about twenty prisoners, o f whom maybe h alf a dozen were innocent. In the course o f a month, 300 contradictory witnesses paraded before the bar o f the court. The inconsequentiality o f human testimony is aston7. T h i s is p ro ba b ly a reference t o A n d r ć L o r ul ot .*

W O R L D W I T H O U T P O S S I B L E E S C A P E : 190 6- 19 12 • 45

ishing. Only one in ten can record more or less clearly what they have seen with any accuracy, observe, and remember—and then be able to recount it, resist the suggestions o f the press and the temptations o f his own imagination. People see what they want to see, what the press or the questioning suggest. Against the half-dozen main culprits there was no worthwhile evidence since they denied everything. Six witnesses out of forty contradicted each other in their identifications o f the most incriminated defendants, but sometimes, in this hotchpotch of con­ fused testimony, a single word would hit the mark and convince the jury. Someone had recalled a word pronounced with a certain accent, a shout o f Soudy’s (“The man with the rifle”) in the middle o f a minor street fight: “Come on, fellows, let’s blow!” And no further doubt was possible because of the tone, the accent, the slang. It was hardly a piece of scientific evidence, but it was human evidence all the same. On some days, it became a trial o f the police, who were pumping a star witness, an old half-blind, half-deaf peasant woman, to make her identify photographs. The head of the Surete, Xavier Guichard, a man of aesthetic pretensions, admitted having hit a woman, shouting at her: “You’re young. You can still become a tart! As for your kids, they can go to hell on the Public Assistance!” Dr. Paul, an expert in forensic medicine, pomaded, elegant, and somewhat fleshy, lectured on the corpses with visible relish. He had been conducting postmortems on all the murder victims o f Paris for the last forty years— after which he would go off to a good lunch, se­ lect a tie to wear for tea, and, leaning against the mantelpiece o f some drawing room, re­ count his ten thousand anecdotes o f crime. Beaming M. Bertillon, the inventor of an­ thropometry, modestly admitted that he could be mistaken over fingerprints: there was a probability of error of about one in a billion. The lawyer who, in an attempt to embarrass Bertillon, had elicited this bomb­ shell from him, could not recover from his own confusion. The principal defendants, Raymond

R ay mo nd (“ la Science” ) C al lemi n

46 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

Callem in, Andre Soudy, Monier, a gardener, and Eugene Dieudonne,* a joiner, denied everything and, in theory, had a plausible case. In real­ ity, irrefutable signs o f guilt were killing them, apart from Dieudonne who was in fact innocent, not o f all complicity but o f the particular aspect in which he stood accused. His ar­ rest had arisen from a resemblance be­ tween his dark eyes and another pair o f eyes, still darker, which were in the grave­ yard. H e alone shouted his innocence in frenzy, with no sign o f apathy, which made a striking contrast with the real culprits, insolent and jeering, whose whole behavior was a calm challenge: “We dare you to prove it.” Since everyone knew the truth, Jean de Boe

proof was superfluous, as they themselves were aware, but they continued acting after

their vocation as desperadoes: smiling, blustering, taking notes. Ray­ mond “ denied the right o f the court to judge,” but weakened in the face o f authority, directing little sallies, like a peevish schoolboy, at the President o f the court. Soudy, cross-examined as to whether a rifle was his property, replied, “ N ot mine, but as you know, Proudhon said that property is theft.” The prosecution had intended to unearth (for the benefit o f the public) an authentically novelettish conspiracy, assigning me to the role o f its “theoretician,” but had to abandon this project after the sec­ ond session. I had believed that I would manage to be acquitted, but now understood that in such an atmosphere the acquittal o f a young Russian, and a militant at that, was impossible, despite the entire clar­ ity o f the facts o f the case— for no direct or indirect responsibility for these tragedies could be laid against me. I was there only because o f my categorical refusal to talk; that is, to become an informer. I demol­ ished the prosecutions case on various points o f detail (which was easy). I defended our principles— o f uninhibited analysis, solidarity, and rebellion— (which was much more difficult) and I annoyed the “ innocent” culprits by demonstrating that society manufactured crime, criminals, desperate ideas, suicides, and the poison o f money.

W O R L D W I T H O U T P O S S I B L E E S C A P E : 190 6- 19 12 • 47

There were two powerful testimonies: one from the convict Hue, head shaved, dressed in brown overalls, handcuffed, at the witness stand: “I agreed to testify against my mates because I was promised a pardon. I am here to take it back, Your Honor, because I was a coward and I don’t want to become scum.” And he went back down to his torment. A pretty young female worker, wearing a hat decorated with flowers, came to defend her fiance, Monier, who was facing the guillotine. He had only kissed her twice, she said, with childish embarrassment: “ I swear, he’s innocent!” And he really was, but only for her in this world. Bonds o f genuine sympathy were formed between the defendants and their counsel— except for Paul Reynaud, who defended some ac­ cessory or other with reasonable skill, but still remained aloof. MoroGiafferi, leonine in appearance, a Napoleon in a necktie, thundered on behalf o f Dieudonne. His grand, arm-waving eloquence, invoking the crucified Christ, the French Revolution, the grief o f mothers, the nightmare fears o f children, sickened me at first. By the end of twenty minutes o f it, I was hypnotized, just like the jury and the gallery, by the power o f his astounding rhetoric. A relationship almost o f friend­ liness drew me towards Adad (who committed suicide in Paris some years ago—and what better course was there for an old, penniless law­ yer?) and to Cesar Campinchi, a cool, brilliant debater who appealed only to reason, though with a certain irony. I was to see him again much later, seriously wounded in the First World War, and Minister of the Navy in the Second. (One of those who favored resistance to the death, he died under house arrest in Marseilles in 1941, just as I was embarking for America.) I reflected that if these desperadoes had been able, before their struggle, to meet men like this, understanding, cultured, and liberal-minded, both by inclination and profession (per­ haps more apparently than really so, but even that would have been enough), they would not have entered upon their paths of darkness. The most immediate cause o f their revolt and ruin seemed to me to lie in their isolation from human contacts. They were living in no com­ pany but their own, divorced from the world, living in one where they were nearly always subject to some confining and second-rate milieu. What had preserved me from their one-dimensional thinking, from their bitter anger, from their pitiless view of society, had been the fact

48 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

that since childhood I had been exposed to a world full o f enduring hope, rich in human values, that o f the Russians. D uring the trial we were confined in the tiny cells o f the Conciergerie, dark holes honeycombed in the ancient stonework o f the same buildings where tourists still go to visit the prison o f the Girondins and M arie Antoinette s cell. Going to court, we would reassem­ ble, escorted by Gardes Republicans, beneath old archways, which gave us the feeling o f being underground. We would walk up a cork­ screw staircase inside one o f the pointed towers that overlooked the Seine and, passing through a little side door, enter the great courtroom o f the Assizes, which would be buzzing with the presence o f a crowd. Ladies would come, as if to a show. A fat usher, as much like a pig as a man can possibly be, moved solemnly between the jury, the bench, and the public. The faces o f the jury revealed twelve conscientious men in the street who were trying to understand; the bench was composed o f short or fat old men, drowsy or shortsighted, dressed in red. Two prosecutors were appearing, the Public Prosecutor and his deputy. The former was measured and o f a considerable appearance; the latter was o f pedestrian mediocrity, frequently dishonest in his arguments. Severine, Sebastien Faure, and Pierre M artin (the companion o f Kro­ potkin at the Lyons trial in 1883) appeared in my defense and to de­ fend, on the grounds o f the right to asylum, the shopkeeper who had sheltered Bonnot. The last session took twenty hours and the verdict was announced at dawn. We waited for it, sitting together in two an­ terooms, in a strange atmosphere rather like our old meetings in Montmartre. The usual arguments started all over again. O ur lawyers, pale-faced, came to fetch us. Then, the sweltering silent courtroom, and twenty prisoners, tense, erect, and hard-faced. Four death sen­ tences, several condemned to hard labor for life. The only acquittals were for the women, who were in any case innocent, but apart from this Parisian juries were reluctant to find women guilty. (They had acquitted Mme. Steinheil, who was accused o f murdering her hus­ band; they acquitted Mme. Joseph Caillaux, wife o f the former Prime Minister, who had killed the editor o f L e Figaro-, later they acquitted the anarchist Germaine Berton, who had killed a Royalist leader.) Dieudonnć was condemned to death even though no one doubted

W O R L D W I T H O U T P O S S I B L E E S C A P E : 190 6- 19 12

■ 49

his innocence (which was compromised by his faulty alibis); once more he shouted his guiltlessness and, alone among the accused, seemed on the verge o f collapse. Raymond, who had demanded an acquittal, jumped up, his face crimson, and interjected violently: “Dieudonnć is innocent— it’s me, me that did the shooting!” The President requested him to sit down, for the pleadings were over and confession no longer had any juridical value. I myself received five years’ solitary confinement, but I had man­ aged to get Rirette acquitted; two re­ volvers discovered on the premises of the paper served to justify my convic­ tion, which was provoked, no doubt, by my calm hostility during the hear­ ings. I found this justice nauseating: it was fundamentally more criminal than the worst criminals. It probably showed: I was just a different sort of enemy from the guilty ones. As I pon­ dered this, the enormity o f my sen­ tence did not surprise me. I only wondered if I would be able to live

Serge at the time o f his arrest

that long, for I was very weak— at any rate physically. I made up my mind to live it out, and was very ashamed to be thinking o f myself like this, next to others w ho... We said our farewells to one another beneath the high vaults o f the Terror. Through a frightful slip, while I was talking to Raymond I used an expression for which I have never forgiven myself. “You live and learn,” I remarked, I cannot now say why, perhaps because I had just decided in favor o f living. He stared, and then broke into laughter: “ Living is just the problem!” “Forgive me,” I broke out. He shrugged his shoulders. “O f course, man! My mind’s set.” An hour later, in the pale light of morning, I was once again pacing around my suffocating cell. Somebody was sobbing incessantly in the next cell, and it got on my nerves. A little old warder, kindly and sad, came in, averting his face: “Carouy (Edouard) is dying. Can you hear

50 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

him?” I could indeed hear a queer panting noise, coming from beyond the sobs next door. “That’s him gasping away. .. He took some poison that he’d got hidden in the soles o f his shoes.. .Well, well, what a life!” He had not been condemned to death but was disgusted with him self and with everything, unjustly linked as a result o f circum­ stances he did not want raised: paying for somebody else. The obviously innocent Dieudonne was reprieved, in other words given forced labor for life. Strange justice. He, whom I had seen in ter­ ror at the idea o f death, aging twenty years in a few months, for eigh­ teen years fought fantastically against his servitude, escaping several times, and spending years in solitary confinement. After his final es­ cape he reached Brazil. Through the good offices o f Albert Londres,* he was able to return to France. He was never one o f the desperate ones; on the contrary, he desperately wanted to live his life without worries. Raymond was so stolid in the death cell that they did not keep the date o f the execution from him. He spent the waiting period in read­ ing. In front o f the guillotine he noticed the group o f reporters and shouted to them: “A charming sight, isn’t it?” Soudy’s last-minute request was for a cup o f coffee with cream and some croissants, his last pleasure on earth, appropriate enough for that gray morning when people were happily eating their breakfasts in the little bistros. It must have been too early, for they could only find him a little black coffee. “ Out o f luck,” he remarked, “right to the end.” He was fainting with fright and nerves, and had to be supported while he was going down the stairs; but he controlled him self and, when he saw the clearness o f the sky over the chestnut trees, hummed a sentimental street song: “H ail, O last morning o f mine.” Monier, usually taciturn, was crazy with anxiety but mastered himself and be­ came calm. I learned these details only a long time afterwards. I have not mentioned others whom I only glimpsed among the crowd, like Lacombe the miner who had “executed” a bookseller, and police informer, in an alley in Clichy. He let him self be captured at the gingerbread fair and committed suicide in the Santć Prison by climbing onto the roofs during exercise time. He died at midday pre­ cisely, after speaking with his lawyer and the prison governor. He was so determined to die that he dived headfirst onto the ground, reduc-

W O R L D W IT H O U T PO SSIBLE ESC A PE: 1906-1912

• 51

ing his head to pulp and crushing the vertebrae o f his neck. So ended the second explosion o f anarchism in France. The first, equally hope­ less, was that o f 1891-94, signaled by the outrages o f Ravachol,* Emile Henry, Vaillant, and Caserio.* The same psychological features and the same social factors were present in both phases, the same exacting idealism, in the breasts o f uncomplicated men whose energy could find no outlet in achieving a higher dignity or sensibility, because any such outlet was physically denied to them. Conscious of their frustra­ tion, they battled like madmen and were beaten down. In those times the world was an integrated structure, so stable in appearance that no possibility o f substantial change was visible within it. As it progressed up and up, and on and on, masses o f people who lay in its path were all the while being crushed. The harsh condition of the workers improved only very slowly, and for the vast majority o f the proletariat there was no way out. The declassed elements on the proletarian fringe found all roads barred to them except those that led to squalor and degrada­ tion. Above the heads o f these masses, wealth accumulated, insolent and proud. The consequences o f this situation arose inexorably: crime, class struggles and their trail o f bloody strikes, and frenzied battles of One against All. These struggles also testified to the failure o f an ide­ ology. Between the copious theorizing o f Peter Kropotkin and Elisee Reclus, and the rage of Albert Libertad, the collapse of anarchism in the bourgeois jungle was now obvious. Kropotkin had grown up in a completely different Europe, one less stable, where the ideal o f liberty seemed to have some future and people believed in revolution and education. Reclus had fought for the Commune: the confidence in­ spired by the greatness of its thwarted vision had lasted him for the rest of his days; he believed in the saving power o f science. On the eve of war in Europe, science was functioning solely to assist the progress of a traditionalist and barbaric social order. One felt the approach of an era of violence: inescapable. In other lands, namely Poland and Russia, the revolutionary move­ ment confronted regimes o f a mongrel character, half-absolutist and half-capitalist: there the movement was able to concentrate these dif­ fuse energies and channel them along ways o f sacrifice, at the end of which lav victories that were not only possible but popularly desired.

52 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

The men, the situations, and the conflicts were almost the same, only with a historical complexion different from that in France, the “ Rentier State” as Yves Guyot* put it. In Poland, Joseph Pilsudski s Socialist Party (PPS) was raiding Treasury vans and tax offices, at­ tacking governors and policemen. In Russia, the Social-Revolutionary Party was conducting a similar campaign, and the combat groups o f the Bolshevik* faction o f Social-Democrats— including the extraor­ dinary terrorist Kamo,* the intellectual and laboratory-maker Krassin,* the skillful organizer Koba-Stalin, the man o f action Tsintsadze, and the courier Litvinov— were conducting the struggle for the Par­ ty’s income on the highways, the public places o f Tiflis, and the ships o f Baku, bomb and revolver in hand. In Italy, in PagineLibere (i Janu­ ary 19 11), a young Socialist agitator, Benito Mussolini, was chanting the praises o f the anarchist desperadoes. O f this hard childhood, this troubled adolescence, all those terri­ ble years, I regret nothing as far as I m yself am concerned. I am sorry for those who grow up in this world without ever experiencing the cruel side o f it, without knowing utter frustration and the necessity o f fighting, however blindly, for mankind. A ny regret I have is only for the energies wasted in struggles that were bound to be fruitless. These struggles have taught me that, in any man, the best and the worst live side by side, and sometimes mingle— and that what is worst comes through the corruption o f what is best.

LIVE TO PREVAIL 1912-1919 o u t s i d e r s were at the lowest and most bitter ebb o f defeat. Perhaps I was the only one aware o f it in prison, because I never met

T h e

anyone else who felt it as clearly. Nevertheless, it was true and he who becomes aware o f it, alone, becomes aware of it for the others, too. I feel an aversion to using “ I” as a vain affirmation o f the self, contain­ ing a good dose o f illusion and another of vanity or arrogance. When­ ever possible, that is to say whenever I am not feeling isolated, when my experience highlights in some way or other that o f people with whom I feel linked, I prefer to employ the pronoun “we,” which is truer and more general. We never live only by our own efforts, we never live only for ourselves; our most intimate, our most personal thinking is connected by a thousand links with that o f the world. You never depend only on yourself, you never live only for yourself, and you have to realize that our most intimate thought, that we most own, is bound by a thousand bonds to that o f the world. And he who speaks, he who writes is essentially someone speaking for all those who are voiceless. Only, each o f us has to come to terms with his own problem. I understood pretty clearly the defeat o f anarchism, al­ together clearly the individualists’ aberrations—but I could see no way out. O f prison I shall say here only a little. It burdened me with an ex­ perience so heavy, so intolerable to endure, that long afterwards, when I resumed writing, my first book (a novel) amounted to an effort to free myself from this inward nightmare, as well as performing a duty towards all those who will never so free themselves {Men in Prison). It is reasonably well known in France and the Spanish-speaking coun­ tries. In the jail where I did the most time, there were three or four

54 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

hundred o f us in torment, mostly doing long sentences between eight years and life. A m ong these men I encountered the same proportions o f weak spirits, human scum, average types, and exceptional men, gifted with some spark o f divinity, as anywhere else. Generally speak­ ing, with only a few exceptions, the warders, o f whatever grade, were on a much lower level. They were criminals, obviously so in their own way, protected by a guaranteed immunity from punishment and pen­ sion at the end o f their unspeakable lives. They included sadists, in­ flexible hypocrites, morons, racketeers, scroungers, and thieves; and, incredible as it may seem, some who were good and almost intelligent. The French prison itself, organized as it is according to ancient regulations, is nothing but an absurd machine for breaking those men who are thrown into it. Life there is a kind o f mechanized madness; everything in it seems to have been conceived in a spirit o f mean cal­ culation how best to enfeeble, stupefy, and numb the prisoner, and poison him with an inexpressible bitterness; his return to normal life must evidently be made quite impossible. This end is attained by an organization impregnated with the penal traditions o f the prerevolu­ tionary order, with the religious idea o f chastisement (an idea which now, lacking any basis in faith, is only a psychological justification for social sadism), and with the footling detail o f our vast modern ad­ ministrations. The hotchpotch m ixing o f malefactors, semi-lunatics, and victims o f all descriptions; undernourishment; the rule o f com­ plete and perpetual silence imposed at every moment upon all com­ mon activity; arbitrary punishments designed to humiliate, torture, and weaken; prohibition o f any knowledge whatsoever concerning life outside, even if it be war, invasion, or national peril; the maximum possible deprivation o f intellectual exercise, prohibition o f study, even o f reading more than one book a week, to be chosen from the idiotic novelettes o f the prison library (fortunately it also contained Balzac). In the long run this treadmill turns out sexual inverts, cracked brains, worthless and depraved beings incapable o f rehabilitation, dedicated in short to joining the ranks o f tramps in La Maub, or else parasitical toughs, hardened by suffering, who keep up their own special tradi­ tion. Cynics, but loyal to one another, such men preserve their “eman­ cipated” dignity with no illusions about either society or themselves.

L I V E T O P R E V A I L : 1 91 2- 19 19 • 55

From this class professional criminals are recruited. The fact that no­ body in more than a century has considered the problem o f criminal­ ity and prisons; the fact that, since Victor Hugo, nobody has raised the matter reveals the power o f inertia in our society. This machine whose function is to turn out felons and human refuse is expensive without fulfilling any useful purpose. Yet in itself, and even in its ar­ chitecture, it attains a sort o f perfection. Truly wonderful was the struggle waged by some there, a pitiful minority, to preserve their capacity for living. I was very definitely one of these. For this purpose a considerable degree of a particular kind of willpower was necessary: passive to all appearance, yet artful and in­ corrigible. When we saw the “new ones” arrive, we knew which of them, whether young or old, were not going to live. We were never wrong in these forecasts, but they had been wrong about me; I had appeared fated to die before long. A former budding lawyer of the Parisian bar, the victim o f a shocking tragedy of middle-class life now serving a life sentence, had managed, with the aid of corruption, to found an efficiently concealed clandestine library of good scientific and philosophical works. His friendship and this precious food of the spirit was, I know, my salvation. In the poky, solitary cell in which each o f us slept, whose window faced the sky, I was able to read only for a few moments in the morning, and for a few more in the evening. During my compulsory labor in the printshop, I used to set up notes and comments in galley form for certain comrades to read. From the moment that thought and learning were possible for us, life was also possible, and worthwhile. The keen edge of this slow torture blunted itself against us, against myself especially. I was confident o f beating the treadmill. The outbreak o f war was sudden, like an unexpected storm in a season of clear weather. We had not been able to observe its early symptoms, but knew o f it through the unaccustomed panic that seized the warders (since many o f them were liable to be called up). And this storm interpreted the world to us. For me, it heralded an­ other, purifying tempest: the Russian Revolution. Revolutionaries knew quite well that the autocratic Empire, with its hangmen, its po­ groms, its finery, its famines, its Siberian jails and ancient iniquity,

56 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

could never survive the war. A gleam o f light was visible at last: this would be the beginning o f everything, the prodigious first day o f Cre­ ation. A n end to deadlock! This huge gateway would be open towards the future. N o more problems now about the aims o f the struggle or the rules o f life, for the Russian Revolution was calling from the heart o f the future. For the time being, the sudden conversion to fratricidal patriotism o f the Germ an Social-Democrats and the French syndicalists, Social­ ists, and anarchists was incomprehensible to us. Did they then believe nothing o f what they preached yesterday? Had we been right after all in refusing to trust them? Passionate singings o f the “Marseillaise,” from crowds seeing troops o ff to the train, drifted across even to our jail. We could also hear shouts o f uTo B erlin! To B erlin!” This lunacy, which we could not explain, was the peak and climax o f a permanent social crisis. A t the risk o f spending between sixty and eighty hours in the dungeons, with consequently almost certain death from tubercu­ losis, the half-dozen o f us comrades who were scattered around the central prison carried on a feverish exchange o f theses. Gustave Herve, who a while before was proclaiming insurrection against war, was now demanding to be enlisted in the army; his Guerre Sociale changed its title to L a Victoire. They were tricksters, nothing more: “It’s not the weathercock that’s moving, it’s the wind.” Fundamentally, the crowds were being swept along by an immense ignorance o f the reality of modern war, whose existence had been forgotten since 1870. The in­ fantrymen went o ff to the front line in their scarlet trousers, and the cadets o f St. C yr in their white gloves and plumed kepis, just as though it were a parade. Over the whole o f Europe, the masses were letting their suppressed energies run free. France forgot the disparity o f forces whereby her thirty-eight million inhabitants, with a low birth rate, engaged in mortal struggle against a fecund Germany o f sixty million. O ur opposition to the war was essentially a matter o f human feel­ ing. The two coalitions had practically the same social organization: republics based on high finance, more or less monarchical but gov­ erned, with the sole exception o f Russia, by bourgeois parliaments. On our side and on theirs, the same liberties equally stifled by exploi-

L I V E T O P R E V A I L : 191 2-19 19 • 57

tation, the same slow progress that crushed human beings. German militarism was a hideous peril, but we foresaw that an Allied victory would establish over the Continent a French militarism whose capac­ ity for reactionary idiocy was revealed in the Dreyfus affair (not to mention General Galliffet,* o f bloody memory). The invasion o f Bel­ gium was abominable, but the memory o f the obliteration o f the two little South African Republics by British arms in 1901 was still fresh in our minds. The recent conflicts over Tripolitania and Morocco showed that butchery was being unleashed over Europe in the cause of a redivision o f colonies. The prospect of victory by either side ap­ palled us. How was it that among so many victims, no men were to be found brave enough to rush across from either “enemy” side and hail one another as brothers? In asking each other that question we expe­ rienced a new despair. Without our knowing anything o f it, the line o f invasion rolled towards Paris. I f we had been outside jail, I think that we would have followed the stream and felt immediately that, despite all theoretical considerations, a country under attack, unless it is at the height o f a social crisis, must defend itself; primitive reflexes, infinitely stronger than principles, are at play; the sentiment o f “the nation in danger” prevails. The prison is situated on an island in the Seine, twenty-five miles or so from the Marne. While the battle o f the Marne was on, the pop­ ulation o f Melun began to flee. No one believed in victory any longer, and Paris seemed lost. We learned that the prison would not be evacu­ ated and that the fighting would probably reach the banks of the Seine. We would find ourselves cooped inside this cage, right in the middle of a battlefield. Warders and prisoners alike were sick with fear. I was not. On the contrary, I felt an ecstatic happiness at the thought that the cannonades would destroy this preposterous tread­ mill, even if we were entombed under the rubble as a result. The fight­ ing moved away, and everything went on exactly as before. There were plenty o f deaths in the jail. I saw young men gripped, three months before their release was due, with a kind of fever, losing their biological adaptation to the prison environment, awakening once more, eyes glittering, to some sort o f life, and then suddenly

58 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

dying in three days as though from an inner convulsion. I myself col­ lapsed from undernourishment after six or eight months; I could no longer remain standing, and was admitted to the infirmary where broth and m ilk set me back on my feet within a fortnight. Then my sickness started again. On the first occasion I was afraid that I might be bound for the little reserved cemetery nearby, thereby giving the convict in charge o f grave-digging his little walk in the open air and his customary quart o f wine (his rewarding position was a source o f envy to us). Then I adapted myself, and made up my mind to survive. From beyond my conscious will I could feel another will, deeper and more powerful, asserting itself within me. Here I must mention a great conservative doctor whose kindness resulted in my obtaining several rest periods: Dr. Maurice de Fleury. There came a certain winter dawn that arose over the Seine, over the tall poplars that I loved, over the sleeping, shabby little town where the only faces that passed by at this hour were humble, hard­ ened, and topped by helmets. I departed, alone, amazingly lightfooted upon the ground, taking nothing with me, without any real joy, obsessed by the idea that, behind me, the treadmill was continu­ ing endlessly to turn, crushing human beings. In the gray morning, I bought a cup o f coffee in the station cafe. The proprietor came up to me with a kind o f sympathy. “ O ut o f jail?” “ Yes.” He wagged his head. M ight he be interested in “my crime,” or my future? He leant over: “You in a hurry? There’s one hell o f a brothel near here. . . ” The first man I had met, in the mist o f a gloomy bridge, had been a soldier with a mutilated face; this fat procurer was the second. Was it always to be the world-without-escape? W hat good was the war do­ ing? Had the dance o f death taught nothing to anyone? Paris was leading a double life. W alking along, spellbound, I stopped in front o f the lowly windows o f the Belleville shops. The col­ ors o f the darning wools were a wonder, the mother-of-pearl pen­ knives enthralled me, and for several minutes I contemplated the picture postcards o f soldiers and their fiancees sending each other

L I V E T O P R E V A I L : 191 2- 19 19 • 59

kisses chrough a messenger-dove, holding an envelope in its beak. Men and women passing by— how astonishingly real! A cat, sitting comfortably on the hot window ledge o f a bakery, with the smell of warm bread escaping outside! I smiled at it drunkenly. Belleville was the same, only sadder and poorer. “Funerals in twenty-four hours, moderate prices, payment by installments. .. ” A marble cutter was displaying his enamel plaques; all o f them represented young soldiers. Housewives in shawls were coming from the town hall, each bringing her sack o f potatoes and her bucket of coal. The gray facades o f the Rue Julien Lacroix oozed out their ancient misery in the cold. People explained life to me: “You know, it’s almost a merry life. Every house has several dead, but the men have been away for so long that their wives are living with other men. There’s no unemployment, there’s a craze on for foreign labor, wages are high.. .There’s heaps of soldiers from every country in the world. Some of them have money, the English and the Canadians; there’s never been so much lovemaking in all the odd corners. Pigalle, Clichy, the Montmartre district, the fine boulevards, all those parasites are amusing themselves: after us, the deluge! The war’s business, old chap. You’ll see people are do­ ing well out of it, nobody wants it to end anymore. The troops are fed up, of course, but the lads home on leave are showing off. ‘Nothing to do about it, don’t bother to try understanding it,’ that’s what they say. Almereyda’s running a daily paper in the smart end o f town, he has two cars and a big house.. .Jules Guesde and Marcel Sembat* are in the Government; a Socialist is defending Jaures’s murderer—Maitre Zevaes, you know him. So-and-so, the Illegalist, has won the Military Medal. Kropotkin has signed an appeal for the war effort, along with Jean Grave. What’s-his-name is in the munitions business.. .What’s that you say? The Russian Revolution? Poor old chap, you haven’t a clue. The Russians are solid out there in the Carpathians and, believe me, all that’s not about to change. Only one thing to do: feather your own nest. It’s a lot easier than before the war.” That was the sort of talk I heard. I watched the skinny Algerians sluggishly sweeping the muck in the streets, and it never stopped, the muck actually grew. Shivering Indo-Chinese, in helmets and sheep­ skin, guarded the Prefecture and La Santć. The Metro was carting

60 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

around its dense crowds, couple upon couple, convalescents lived out their boredom at hospital windows, a disfigured soldier hugged the waist o f a working girl under the bare trees o f the Luxembourg Gar­ dens, and the cafes were crowded. The outskirts rotted in deep dark­ ness, but the center o f town, dotted with illuminations, throbbed on well into the night. “Nowadays, see, there are only two poles to the world, love and money— and money comes first.” I made inquiries about the Russians. The terrorist Savinkov* was recruiting for the Foreign Legion. A number o f Bolsheviks had been killed at the front, as volunteers. Plekhanov was advocating the defense o f the Empire. Trotsky,* escorted to the Spanish frontier by two police inspectors, was about to be interned somewhere in America. Almereyda, in his combined office, flat, and private empire in the smart boulevards, more elegant, more o f a Rastignac than ever, told me that he had given up tracking down police spies in the working-class move­ ment: “There are too many o f them!” It might do more harm than good. The war was leading nowhere; he was working for peace; its sup­ porters were growing and held the future in their hands. “ Poincarć and Joflfre are finished. .. Soon everything’s going to change here.” Certain people were harsh towards him: “H e’s sold out to a bank­ ers’ clique; he’s got the C h ie f o f Police in his pocket.” Maitre Cesar Cam pinchi explained to me that France had been bled white, but would win in a year or two, with the Americans on her side. Dr. M au­ rice de Fleury would ask me if my ideas had changed and my replies would make him shake his head, that handsome, meditative head o f a retired officer. I went to see a performance o f M aeterlinck's Bluebird: in the theater, couples, couples and uniform s. .. Everything rein­ forced the mad sensation that we were falling into the abyss. “Peguy* is dead! Riciotto Canudo (a young writer we liked) is dead. GabrielTristan Franconi (poet and friend) was decapitated by a shell. JeanM arie Bernard is dead. The brothers DuneflF, who had written the tragic life o f the workers, are dead. . . ” Paris, farewell! I took the Barcelona express. The trains and the railway stations unveiled another face to the war: the soldiers. They were toughness itself, rough-hewn, stiff, and uncomplicated as a mass o f stone: ravaged. Beyond the Pyrenees, vistas o f peace and abundance

L I V E T O P R E V A I L : 1 91 2- 19 19

• 61

opened anew, with no wounded invalids, no soldiers on leave count­ ing up the hours, no funeral black, no frenzy for life on the eve of death. In the little villages o f Catalonia the squares, lined with tall trees and fringed by little cafes under the arcades, breathed an air of nonchalance. Barcelona was making merry, with its Ramblas* illumi­ nated at night and luxuriously sunlit by day, full of birds and women. Here too the cornucopia ot the war was gushing away. Both for the Allies and for the Central Powers, the factories were working full blast and the companies were positively coining gold. Zest for life shining at you from faces and shop windows, oozing at you from banking houses, smacking you on the back. Everything was going mad. I underwent a phase o f intense wretchedness. The treadmill that crushed human beings still revolved inside me. I found no happiness in awakening to life, free and privileged alone among my conscript generation, in this contented city. I felt a vague compunction at it all. Why was I there, in these cafes, on these golden sands, while so many others were bleeding in the trenches of a whole continent? How was I worth more than they? Why was I excluded from the common fate? I came across deserters who were happy to be beyond the frontier, safe at last. I admitted their right to safety, but inwardly I was horrified at the idea that people could fight so fiercely for their own lives when what was at stake was the life o f everyone: a limitless suffering to be endured commonly, shared and drunk to the last drop. This feeling was in sharp opposition to my reasoned thought, but much stronger. I can see now that this need for sharing in the common fate has always held me, and has been one of my deepest sources of action. I worked in printshops, went to bullfights, resumed my reading, clambered up mountains, dallied in cafes to watch Castilian, Sevillan, Andalusian, or Catalan girls at their dancing, and I felt that it would be impossible for me to live like this. All I could think o f was the men at war, who kept calling to me. It is certain that I would have finally enlisted in some army or other, if certain long-awaited events had not at last been simultane­ ously set in motion. In Tierra y Libertad I wrote my first article under the name of "Victor Serge,” in defense of Friedrich Adler,* who had just been

62 • M E M O I R S OF A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

condemned to death in Vienna: a few months before he had assassi­ nated Count Stiirgkh, one o f the politicians responsible for the war. M y next article was on the fall o f the Russian autocracy. Then, awaited so keenly that we eventually wondered whether we should still believe in it, the Revolution appeared, and the improbable became reality. Reading the dispatches from Russia, we were transfigured, for the im­ ages that they conveyed were simple, concrete. Things suddenly ap­ peared in their true light; the world was no longer impelled along by helpless lunacy. Certain French Individualists mocked me with their store o f cynical stock phrases: “ Revolutions are useless. They will not change human nature. Afterwards reaction sets in and everything starts all over again. I ’ve only got my own skin; I’m not marching for wars or for revolutions, thank you.” “In fact,” I would answer them, “you people are no longer good for anything. You’re at the end o f your tether: you won’t march for any­ thing anymore— because you yourselves are not worth marching fo r .. .Your kind are the products o f the degeneration o f everything: o f the bourgeoisie, o f bourgeois ideas, o f the working-class movement, o f anarchism . . . ” M y break with these “comrades,” who were no more than the shad­ ows o f comrades, became complete: it was useless to argue, and difficult to endure one another. The Spaniards, even the workers on the shop floor beside me, who were no militants, instinctively understood the Petrograd days, since their imagination transposed those events to M adrid and Barcelona. The monarchy o f Alfonso X I II was no more popular or stable than that o f Nicholas II. The revolutionary tradition o f Spain, like that o f Russia, went back to the time o f Bakunin.* Similar social causes were operating in both countries: agrarian problems, re­ tarded industrialization, a political regime at least a century and a half behind Western Europe. The wartime industrial and commercial boom strengthened the bourgeoisie, especially that o f Catalonia, which was hostile to the old landowning aristocracy and to the utterly hidebound royal administration; it also expanded the energies and appetites o f a young proletariat which had had no time to form a working-class ar­ istocracy, that is, to become bourgeoisified. Knowledge o f the war aroused a disposition towards violence, and the low wages (I earned

LIVE T O P REV A IL: 1912-1919

• 63

four pesetas a day, about eighty American cents) stimulated the work­ ers to press their immediate demands. From one week to another the horizon became visibly clearer. Within three months the mood o f the Barcelona working class was transformed. Their fighting spirit mounted. The C N T ’ gathered strength. I belonged to a tiny trade union in the printshop. Without any increase in the number o f activists (there must have been about thirty o f us), its influence advanced to such an extent that the whole body o f workers seemed to have woken up. Three months after the news o f the Russian Revolution, the Comite Obrero began to prepare a revolutionary general strike, entered negotiations for a political alli­ ance with the Catalan liberal bourgeoisie, and calmly planned the overthrow o f the monarchy. The Comite Obrero’s program o f de­ mands, drawn up in June 1917 and published in Solidaridad Obrera, was borrowed from the accumulated experience of the Russian Sovi­ ets. I was soon to discover that in France too, the same high-voltage current was crossing from the trenches to the factories, the same vio­ lent hopes were coming to birth. At the Cafe Espagnol, on the Paralelo, that crowded thoroughfare with its blazing lights o f evening, near the horrible barrio chino whose moldering alleys were full of half-naked girls lurking in doorways that gaped into hellholes—it was here that I met militants arming for the approaching battle. They spoke enthusiastically o f those who would fall in that fight, they dealt out Browning revolvers, and baited, as we all did, the anxious spies at the neighboring table. In a revolutionary side street, with a Guardia Civil barracks on one side and poor tene­ ments on the other, I found Barcelona’s hero o f the hour, the quicken­ ing spirit, the uncrowned leader, the fearless man o f politics who distrusted politicians: Salvador Seguf,* affectionately nicknamed “Nay del Sucre.” We used to dine together in the faint flicker o f a par­ affin lamp. The meal, set on the table of smooth wood, would consist of tomatoes, onions, coarse red wine, and a country-style soup. The child’s underclothes would be hanging on a line of string and Teresita would be nursing the baby. The balcony let onto the menacing dark­ ness outside, on the barracks packed with killers, on the red, starry halo of the Rambla. There, we examined the various problems: the

64 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

Russian Revolution, the coming general strike, alliance with the Cat­ alan liberals, the trade unions, the ingrained anarchist hostility to any fresh forms o f organization. As to the Russian Revolution, I was cer­ tain only on one point: that it would not stop halfway. The avalanche would carry on rolling right to the end. W hat end? “The peasants will seize the land, and the workers the factories. A fter that, I don’t know.” I wrote: “A fter that, struggles devoid o f any greatness w ill begin once again, but on a rejuvenated soil. M ankind will have made a great leap forward.” The Com ite Obrero did not ask itself any fundamental questions. It entered the battle without knowing its ultimate perspec­ tive or assessing the consequences o f its action; and, o f course, it could hardly do otherwise. The Com m ittee was the expression o f an ex­ panding power that could not remain inactive; nor, any longer, could it simply be beaten down, even if it fought badly. The notion o f seizing Barcelona was straightforward: it was studied in detail. But Madrid? The other regions? Liaison with the rest o f Spain was weak. Would it lead to the overthrow o f the monarchy? Some o f the Republicans who hoped for this, including Lerroux (still popular, though already dis­ credited on the Left), wanted to throw libertarian Barcelona into the front line, with the way open for themselves to retreat i f Barcelona was defeated. The Catalan Republicans associated with Marcelino Dom ingo were leaning on the power o f the workers only to wrest a degree o f autonomy from the monarchy, and kept tantalizing the Government with the threat o f disorders. Together with Segui, I fol­ lowed the negotiations between the Catalan liberal bourgeoisie and the Com itć Obrero. It was a dubious alliance, in which the partners feared, justifiably mistrusted, and subtly outmaneuvered one another. Seguf summed up the position: “They would like to use us and then do us down. For the moment, we are useful in their game o f po­ litical blackmail. W ithout us they can do nothing: we have the streets, the shock troops, the brave hearts among the people. We know this, but we need them. They stand for money, trade, possible legality (at the beginning, anyway), the press, public opinion, etc.” “But,” I would reply, “unless we have a brilliant victory, which I don’t believe, they are ready to desert us at the first obstacle. We are betrayed in advance.”

L I V E T O P R E V A I L : 191 2-19 19

■ 65

Seguf could see the dangers, but he was still optimistic: “I f we are beaten, they will be beaten with us— too late then to betray us. If we win, we, not they, will be the masters of the situation.” It was Salvador Seguf who gave me the inspiration for the character of Dario in Birth of Our Power. A worker, and usually dressed like a worker coming home from the job, cloth cap squashed down on his skull, shirt collar unbuttoned under his cheap tie; tall, strapping, round-headed, his features rough, his eyes big, shrewd, and sly under heavy lids, o f an ordinary degree o f ugliness, but intensely charming to meet and with his whole self displaying an energy that was lithe and dogged, practi­ cal, intelligent, and without the slightest affectation. To the Spanish working-class movement he brought a new role: that of the superb organizer. He was no anarchist, but rather a libertarian, quick to scoff at resolutions on “ harmonious life under the sun of liberty,” “the blos­ soming o f the self,” or “the future society”; he posed instead the im­ mediate problems o f wages, organization, rents, and revolutionary power. And that was his tragedy: he could not allow himself to raise aloud this central problem, that o f power. I think we were the only ones to discuss it in private. When he asserted “We can take the city,” I would ask, “How would we govern it?” The only example we had till then was that o f the Paris Commune, which, looked at closely, was not very encouraging: indecision, rifts, empty chatter, personality clashes between nonentities.. .The Commune, just like the Spanish Revolution later, threw up heroes by the thousand, admirable martyrs by the hundreds, but it had no head. I thought about this often as it seemed to me that we were heading towards a Barcelona Commune. The masses, overflowing with energy, moved by a muddled idealism, lots of middle-level leaders— and no head, “except for yours, Salvador, and one head is much too fragile,” especially one not that sure of itself nor of being followed. The anarchists would not hear any talk of the seizure of power. They refused to see that if the Comite Obrero were victorious, it would be the Catalan government of tomorrow. Segui saw this, but, afraid of starting a clash of ideas that would have iso­ lated him, dared not talk of it. And so we went into battle, as it were in the dark. Our enthusiasm and strength were gathering for the great day, and

66 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

the preparations for it were almost ready. Towards the middle o f July, squads o f blue-overalled militants patrolled the town, hands on their revolvers. I went on these patrols, and we used to pass the Guardia Civil on horseback with their black cocked hats and their bearded faces. They knew that we were tom orrows insurgents, but they had orders not to engage with us. The authorities had lost their wits, or else anticipated what was going to happen: the defection o f the Cata­ lan Parliamentary democrats. The building o f La Calle de las Egypciacias, where I happened to be one day with Segui, was surrounded by the black-hats; we helped Segul to escape over the flat roofs on the housetops. I was arrested, and spent three hateful hours in a tiny po­ lice cell painted in red ocher. I could hear the roar o f the riots on the Ram bla nearby, a roar so loud that a kindly old police officer released me with his apologies. The plainclothesmen at our heels, distressingly courteous, assured us o f their sympathy and apologized for pursuing so disgraceful a trade to earn their childrens bread. I doubted if we would win, but I would gladly have fought for the future’s sake. M uch later, in a “ Meditation on the conquest o f power,” I wrote: Very likely, Dario, at the end o f all this trouble we shall be shot. I have doubts about today and about ourselves. Yesterday, you were bearing loads in the harbor bent under the weight o f your burden, stepping lightly on the springy gangway between the quay and the ship’s hold; as for me, I was bearing chains. A fig­ ure o f speech, Dario, for now we only bear an identity number, which is just as heavy. O ur old friend Ribas from the commit­ tee used to sell detachable collars in Valencia. Portez spent his days at the power mills breaking stones or drilling holes in metal cogwheels. W hat did M iro do with his muscles and sup­ pleness o f a cat? He oiled cars in Garcias’s cellar. In reality, we’re slaves. W ill we take this city?—just look at it, this fabulous city, look at its lights, its torches, listen to its magnificent sound: cars, trams, music, voices, songs, birdsongs and the steps, the steps and indiscernible rustle o f fabrics and silks— take the city with these hands, our hands, is it possible? You would laugh,

L I V E T O P R E V A I L : 1 91 2- 19 19 • 67

Dario, if I said this out loud. You would say, spreading out your great, strong, hairy, brotherly hands: “Me, I feel able to win all the way. All the way.” That is how we all feel, immortal, right up to the moment when we feel nothing anymore. And life goes on after our little drop o f water has flowed back into the ocean. In this sense my confidence is one with yours. Tomorrow is great. We will not have prepared this conquest in vain. This city will be won, if not by our hands, at least by hands like ours, only stronger: perhaps stronger by being better toughened through our very weakness. I f we are beaten, other men, infinitely differ­ ent from us, infinitely like us, will come down this Rambla on an evening like this, in ten years, twenty years, it matters not, planning this same conquest; perhaps they will be thinking of the blood we have shed. Even now I think I can see them. I am thinking o f their blood, which will also flow. But they will win the city.1 I was right. Those others did win the city, on 19 July 1936. They were called Ascaso,* Durruti,* Germinal Vidal,* the CN T , the FAI, the POUM.* But on 19 July 1917 we were beaten almost without a fight, since the Catalan liberals took fright at the last minute and re­ fused to join the struggle. We fought alone, in a day o f sunshine and shouting, o f impetuous crowds and chases in the streets, while the cautious black-hats charged lazily and pursued us without enthusi­ asm: they were afraid. The Comite Obrero sounded the retreat. Around noon I joined the multitude o f comrades in the cramped Conde del Asalto hall. While we were awaiting instructions, the Guardia Civil, rifles raised, suddenly burst in from the Rambla and advanced on us, slowly herd­ ing us back. A small, sickly officer shouted that he would give the or­ der to fire if we did not disperse. It was impossible for us to disperse, for behind us was another crowd— and we had no inclination to do so. A gap opened between us and this wall of men aiming at us with their rifles. Into it there suddenly leapt a young man in gray, his hand 1. Serge is quot ing from his 1930 novel, B irth o f O u r Power.

68 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

balancing a bomb wrapped in newspaper. He shouted, “I am a free man! Sons o f whores!” I rushed towards him and grabbed his wrists: “A re you mad? You’re going to start a useless slaughter.” We wrestled for a brief moment, while the police were motionless and hesitant, then some o f the comrades surrounded us and dragged us aw ay... Iso­ lated shots cracked out. In a doorway the young man, still shaking with exasperation, was wiping his forehead with his hand. “You’re the Russian, aren’t you? Lucky I recognized you in time.” In the evening, Seguf returned, worn out with fatigue. “Cowards, cowards!” he kept whispering. I was never to see him again, for he went into hiding to organize the August rebellion. In 19x1, when I was in Petrograd, I had a letter from him with the news that he was com­ ing to Russia. He had become Barcelona’s unchallenged tribune, and was returning from M inorca where he had been for some time under sentence o f deportation. A t the beginning o f 1923 he was killed in the street, a few yards from the Rambla, by the pistoleros o f the employers’ agency Sindicato Libre. The rebellion broke out in August 1917, resulted in a hundred-odd corpses on all sides, and was crushed, without, however, blocking the progress o f the Barcelona working class. I was on my way to Russia. The defeat o f 19 Ju ly had made up my mind for me: I had lost all hope o f victory hereabouts, I was weary o f discussions with militants who often seemed to me no more than great big children. The Russian Consul General in Barcelona, a Prince K

, received me at once

when my name was sent in: “H ow can I be o f service to you?” This gentleman had just given his allegiance to the Provisional Govern­ ment. I had previously been a little afraid o f him, for any Russian revolutionaries o f whose presence in the city he became aware were arrested by the Com mandant at his instigation. N ow all was sweet­ ness. I asked him only for a recruiting form, so that I could go and do my m ilitary service in liberated Russia. “But o f course, with pleasure! At once!” We each understood what the other left half-said. Paris. The Russian military headquarters in the Avenue Rapp was full o f dapper officers, quite at home in the new situation: republicans within the week, and good republicans o f course. Exceedingly polite, they enumerated all the difficulties to me and other callers. Commu-

LIVE T O P R E V A IL : 19 1 2 -1 9 1 9

• 69

nications with Russia were clogged with all kinds o f obstacles. Why not, they suggested, serve our rediscovered country in the Russian formation fighting in France? That would be easy to arrange. I replied to the Captain, “But don’t you think, Sir, that the Russian troops in France, recruited under a despotic regime, should be repatriated to allow them to breathe the air o f the new Russia?” He assured me that our soldiers in the camp o f Mailly and at the front in Champagne were kept fully informed about the changes taking place in Russia by their superior officers. Complete mystification between us, and no point in­ sisting; nothing to be gained from these handsome officers. However, I continued my efforts, only to learn at last that, as it appeared, the British Admiralty was refusing transit to the group o f returning revo­ lutionaries o f which I was a member. We kept sending telegrams to the Petrograd Soviet and Kerensky,* which made a deplorable impres­ sion, and it was not concealed from us that, what with one censorship and another, it was by no means certain that our telegrams were arriv­ ing. Meanwhile, a Russian division, demanding repatriation, mutinied at the La Courtine camp; it was crushed by cannon fire. Comrades returning to Paris from the front advised me to join a different divi­ sion, which was due to be repatriated, and I made a formal application. On receiving it, the General informed me regretfully that the list for volunteers was full. I had the idea o f getting over there via the Foreign Legion, which was promising incorporation in the Russian army to its Russian volunteers, but then I found that most of the comrades who had tried this route had met a hero’s death in the front line, while their elected representatives were taken behind the lines and shot. In the anterooms o f the military mission I made the acquaintance of a Russian soldier, about thirty, lately from Transjordania where he had fought in the British forces. Like me he was trying to return, though for different reasons, and he got his way before I did. He de­ fined his position right from our first conversation: “I am a tradition­ alist, monarchist, imperialist, and pan-Slavist. Mine is the true Russian nature, just as it was formed by Orthodox Christianity. You also have the true Russian nature, but at its opposite extreme, that of spontaneous anarchy, primitive violence, and unruly beliefs. I love all of Russia, even what I want to fight in it, even what you represent...

70 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

On these subjects we had excellent discussions, in our walks up and down the esplanade o f Les Invalides. A t least he was frank, daring in thought, tremendously in love with adventure and battle, and from time to time he would recite verses with magical effect. He was rather lean and singularly ugly: his face too long, heavy lips and nose, conical forehead, weird eyes, bluish-green and overlarge, like a fish or Orien­ tal idol— and indeed, he was very fond o f the priestly statues o f A s­ syria, which everyone came to think he resembled. This was one o f the greatest Russian poets o f our generation, already famous: Nikolai Ste­ panovich Gumilev.* We were destined to meet several times in Russia, antagonists but friends. In 192.1 I was to struggle vainly for several days, trying to stop the Cheka* from shooting him. But o f this ap­ proaching future we had no foreknowledge. The Russian officers usually identified themselves as SocialRevolutionaries, and the fact is that the Social-Revolutionary Party was visibly inflated, like the frog in the fable, with no doubts at all that it would have the majority in the forthcoming Constituent A s­ sembly.* I knew only very little about Bolshevism, the very mention of which set the splendid officers foaming at the mouth. Its strength was being proved in the Ju ly troubles in Petrograd. The critical question that was put to everyone, including myself, was, all the time: “ For or against Bolshevism? For or against the Constituent Assembly?” To this I would reply as I was wont, rashly and frankly: the Russian Revo­ lution cannot confine itself to changing the political order; it is, and must be, o f a social character. In other words, the peasants are bound to seize the land, and will take it from the landlords, with or without uprisings, with or without the permission o f a Constituent Assembly; the workers will insist on the nationalization or at the very least the control o f large-scale industry and the banks. They did not kick out the Romanovs just to go back to their workshops as powerless as yesterday or to help the cannon-kings grow rich. This, for me, was a self-evident truth, but I saw very soon that although I confined myself to proclaiming it among the Russian military emigres, I ran a grave risk o f getting into trouble with the French authorities. Trouble was indeed coming, in no uncertain manner. W ithout knowing it, I was “on the line” advocated by Lenin.

L I V E T O P R E V A I L : 1 91 2- 19 19 ■ 71

The strangest feature o f all this was the indignation o f these newl) discovered Social-Revolutionaries when anyone reminded them that the cardinal point o f their program was the demand for the national­ ization o f land, immediate expropriation o f the large estates, without compensation, and the liquidation of the landed aristocracy. “But there’s the war!” they exclaimed. “Let’s win first!” It was easy to reply to them that the autocracy had led the Empire to defeat and invasion, and that, since then, a conservative republic, without understanding of the people’s needs, had been managing only to accumulate further catastrophes, until the day o f some terrible social crisis when it would go down in unforeseeable ruin. I was working in a printshop on the Boulevard Port-Royal. Here and elsewhere, I had many contacts with the workers. They, too, were evidently annoyed at the unexpected direction taken by the Russian Revolution. At first they had greeted it with heartfelt pleasure, then they had been sold on the idea that disturbances and so-called “maxi­ malist” demands were weakening the Russian army. I was always being told (since people would say it for my benefit as soon as I disclosed my Russian nationality): “The Bolsheviks are rats, sold out to Germany,” or “The Russians are all yellow.” I was nearly brained in one bistro for opening a Russian newspaper. I kept telling myself that this people, already bled white, could not be expected to think calmly, still less to have a brotherly understanding of what another distant people, equally bled and overworked, was yearning for. This climate was propitious for the coming to power o f the aged Clemenceau, who by and large did not have the reputation o f being a reactionary. The legend of his youth, his role in the Dreyfus affair, his famous jibes that brought down ministries, his campaigns against colonial wars, the sympathy he had shown to anarchists at the time of the attacks by Ravachol and Ćmile Henry, all gave him a halo that outshone the memory of the workers’ blood spilled during his first tenure of office. He was seen as a Jacobin rather than as a bourgeois. And in this hour o f crisis it proved to be very fortunate for the French bourgeoisie to find this energetic and stubborn old man. We hated him as much as we admired him. I learnt that, through an outstanding coincidence of events, France had just passed through a suppressed revolutionary crisis. March 1917:

72 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

the downfall o f the Russian autocracy. April 1917: the mutinies in Champagne. These were actually more serious than has been made out since. A whole army practically disintegrated, and there was talk o f its m arching on Paris. Com m ander in C h ief Nivelle, Joffre’s successor, had in A pril tried to break through the German front at Craonne and Rheims, and paid so hard a price for a slight advance that he had to stop the offensive himself. A t this point the mutinies broke out. They were quelled without excessive repression, which proved to be a most sensible move. Another supremely important psychological factor came to bear at just this moment to restore the army’s morale: the entry o f the United States into the war (6 April; the Nivelle offensive began on 9 April). Confidence was restored; from now on victory was possible; the Russian Revolution, which was complicating the situa­ tion, became unpopular. A tiny working-class minority alone contin­ ued to support it, together with the Vie Ouvriere group (Monatte* and Rosmer*), a few Socialists like Jean Longuet* and Rappoport,* and anarchist elements that were more numerous but also more muddled. Clemenceau came to power at apparently the most critical hour; actually the worst moment o f the crisis was over, whichever way you looked at it. Psychological recovery had been achieved, the American troops were landing, the Battle o f the Atlantic was turning in the A l­ lies’ favor (in April, the black month, Britain had only three weeks’ supply o f food, because o f the U-boat campaign). He began by de­ stroying the peace party at home; its semi-official leader was Joseph Caillaux,* Deputy for La Sarthe and former Prime Minister, a cun­ ning and reactionary financier whom I had recently called uCaillot de sang" (“ blood clot” ) in a newspaper headline. The peace party was counting on the weariness o f the masses, on the fear o f a European revolution, on the vacillations o f the Habsburgs and on the social cri­ sis maturing in Germany, and it was encouraged in various ways by German agents. Almereyda, now editor o f L e Bonnet Rouge, had be­ come the factotum o f this party; if it had won, he would have made a popular M inister able, sincerely but still treacherously, to exploit the feelings o f the masses that were sympathetic to Socialism and anar­ chism. Like nearly all the other revolutionaries, I had stopped seeing

LI VE T O PREV AI L: 1 9 1 2 - 1 9 1 9 • 73

him ever since he became involved in what we ironically called “ high politics” behind the scenes o f high finance. Intoxicated with money and danger, he was dissipating his life, a morphine addict now, sur­ rounded by theatricals, blackmailers, beautiful women, and political touts o f every description. The graph of his destiny had started from the Paris underworld, had risen to a climax of revolutionary pugnac­ ity, and was now tailing oft in corruption, among the moneybags. When Clemenceau had him and his staff arrested, I knew at once that it would be impossible to try him; he would have been too likely to put the war in the dock and thoroughly compromise the men behind him. He would probably have been shot, but not alone. A few days afterwards, he was found in his prison bunk, strangled with a shoe­ lace. The business was never cleared up. That summer Paris lived merrily, as much out of determined confi­ dence as from recklessness. The American soldiers were bringing in plenty of money. The Germans had been at Noyon, 100 or so kilome­ ters away, for so long that people had got used to them and felt no unusual anxiety. At night the approach o f the Gotha bombers set off the wails o f the air-raid sirens, everyone went down to the cellars, and a few bombs would fall. From a tiny garret near Pont Neuf, I watched these aerial battles— though in truth all one could see were the crossed searchlight beams. We stood at the window, two friends, talking in hushed tones o f the pointless death that could ensue. “If my books were destroyed,” my friend would say, “I wouldn’t want to survive them. You, at least, hope for a revolution, but I don’t even have that.” He was an educated worker, enlisted to carry out mindless tasks. Sus­ picion, informing, and uncertainties were the rule everywhere; some poor wretches were arrested for a word spoken in the street. I was en­ joying my precarious freedom by studying the history of art—what was there better to do while this respite lasted? One day I was arrested in the street by two terrified inspectors, who for some unknown rea­ son were expecting me to resist to the death. They were visibly grati­ fied when I told them that I had no arms and no intention of putting up a fight. Since there was strictly nothing that could be held against me, except perhaps “dangerous thoughts,” to use the happy expression


o f the Japanese legislator, I was conveyed by administrative decision to a concentration camp at Prćcigne, in La Sarthe. There I found a whole collection o f revolutionaries, mainly Rus­ sians and Jew s, like me labeled “ Bolsheviks” without, o f course, being anything o f the kind. Once modern civilizations guarantees o f indi­ vidual freedom are withdrawn, repression advances only by approxi­ mations, gropingly, thrashing around in confusion. The strategy at such times is to lock up everyone in certain categories— and God will always recognize his own! I was not unduly indignant, feeling so much o f an outsider, so determined to live for other reasons than those o f this world, that my very existence was an infraction o f the unwritten law o f conformity. A t Precigne I quickly started a Russian revolutionary grouping, consisting o f about fifteen militants and twenty or so sympathizers. It included only one Bolshevik, the chem­ ical engineer Krauterkraflft, whose constant antagonist I was, since he advocated a merciless dictatorship, suppression o f press freedom, au­ thoritarian revolution, and education on M arxist lines. (Later on he refused to leave for Russia.) Wie desired a libertarian, democratic revo­ lution, without the hypocrisy and flabbiness o f the bourgeois democ­ racies— egalitarian and tolerant towards ideas and people, which would employ terror i f it was necessary but would abolish the death penalty. From a theoretical point o f view, we stated these problems very badly; certainly the Bolshevik put them better than we. From the human standpoint, we were infinitely nearer the truth than he was. We saw in the power o f the Soviets the realization o f our deepest hopes, as he did also. O ur mutual understanding was based on deep misunderstanding, as well as on sheer necessity. Guarded by weary Territorials, who never had an idea unless it was to re-sell us bottles o f wine at a handsome profit, we would hold proSoviet meetings in the courtyard o f this secularized monastery. Paul Fouchs, an impassioned old libertarian artlessly proud o f his resem­ blance to Lafargue, used to take the platform with me. Belgians, Macedonians, Alsatians, and variegated “suspects” (some o f them gen­ uinely, in fact horribly, suspect) would hear us out in silence, respect­ ful but disapproving since we were “ in bad odor” with the authorities as well as throwing away any hope o f release that we had; and then

LI VE T O PREV AI L: 1 9 1 2 - 1 9 1 9 • 75

too, “What has been will be, there’s always been rich and poor, war is in man’s blood, you won’t change anything o f that, you’d do better to get out o f your own mess ” The Belgians and Alsatians were vaguely pro-German; the Mace­ donians, proud, destitute, and silent, were just Macedonians, ready to fight the whole world for their primitive mountain liberty. These lived as a community, all sharing the same misery, all lousy, hungry, and brotherly. Belgians and Alsatians were divided into the rich, the poor, and the crooked middlemen. The rich could pay for small, comfort­ able rooms, decorated with posters o f smiling, half-dressed women, where they spent their time cooking up fancy meals and playing cards. The poor washed the dirty linen o f the rich. The very poorest would sell their bread ration to the rich so as to buy some fags from the black market dealers, got their food from the garbage, and died, devoured by vermin. We organized a soup kitchen for them, but we had hardly any money and it could not save them all. They starved in spite of our soup. The dealers opened little cafes in the corners o f the dormitories, ran pawning operations at night by candlelight, and organized gam­ bling dens where frenzied fights would break out from time to time. They also had male prostitutes at the disposal o f their clients and even, with the remunerated collusion o f the guards, ways and means of procuring for the rich the unbelievable pleasure of fifteen minutes in a dark corner with some farm girl. A miniature society, utterly selfcontained and utterly divided, scorned by us and a little afraid of us. The camp’s regimen was reasonably fair, relatively free. The only trouble was that we were hungry. Spanish influenza was rife and death was our perpetual companion. An infirmary improvised in a groundfloor room held the dying, with those of us who had volunteered as nurses sitting up by them. They were left to wheeze and go blue, or else spotty like a panther’s skin, and then cold.. .What could we do? For my part I spent the night in the open, near the doorway of this stink­ ing mortuary, getting up now and then to give a drink to some dying man. Our group did not have a single death: although we had nearly all been infected; our solidarity meant that we could eat better than the other poor devils. A quarter of the camp’s population was carried off in a few weeks; however, not one rich prisoner died. We looked

76 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

after each other, refused to allow our sick to be taken to the infirmarymortuary, and those who appeared to be completely gone— recovered. I learnt a few commonsense things about medicine: the essential treatment for the worst cases— food and comforting. Give them con­ fidence: we won’t let you go, mate, hang on! D uring the epidemic we continued to assemble and conduct our studies. D uring one o f the meetings, which I was holding purposely on that particular evening to distract the guards’ attention, one o f our group tried to escape, under cover o f a storm. He fell in the camp’s perimeter, under the livid glare o f searchlights: “Twenty years old, and six bullets in his body,” it was remarked. On the following day we summoned the camp to revolt. The Starost, or Elder o f the Macedo­ nians, came and told us that they would support us. The Belgians and the Alsatians answered that this trifle was no business o f theirs, that it would all come to grief, and as far as they were concerned, nothing doing. The local Prefect came, and promised us an inquiry. The com­ mandant o f the camp asked for a confidential interview with me. A t it he disclosed that he knew o f the plan o f escape from a camp trader, that several internees were due to bolt (this was true), and that the guards had meant to kill another prisoner, a Romanian scoundrel sus­ pected o f espionage, who was an informer into the bargain. “On my word o f honor, we did intend to let your comrade run off, and I am brokenhearted at what happened; a mistake, I assure yo u . . . ” His information was correct, and the revolt subsided. We felt a physi­ cal revulsion for the spies. The reprieved informer continued to stroll up and down the yard, smoking his dirty-yellow cigarettes. Civil war was breaking out in Russia. In consequence o f the coun­ terrevolutionary rising at Yaroslavl and Dora Kaplan’s assassination attempt against Lenin, the Cheka arrested Mr. Lockhart, the British Consul in Moscow, and the French military mission under General Lavergne. Negotiations were set in hand through the Danish Red Cross, with a view to an exchange o f hostages. Chicherin, him self released from a British concentration camp, demanded the liberation o f Litvinov, who was imprisoned in London, and o f the “Bolsheviks” interned in France— us, that is. The negotiations were successful only after the general explosion o f goodwill at the Armistice. The authori-

L IV E T O P REV AI L: 1 9 1 2 - 1 9 1 9 • 77

ties offered us a choice between release, in the near future, or leaving now for Russia as hostages, with the safety of the French officers hanging over our heads. Five out o f the fifteen or so in our group joined me in insisting on departure. They were Dimitri Barakov, a syndicalist sailor, who wanted to see red Russia before he died (we kept him alive with injections during the voyage and he died as soon as we arrived); Andre Brode, a Lett sailor, who was soon to die in the defense o f the port o f Riga; Max Feinberg, a young Jewish Socialist who was to die of typhus on the Polish front; one probable traitor; and one plant. We set o ff with our sacks over our shoulders, in the cold of the night, pursued by cries o f joy from the whole camp. Several of the worst inmates had come to embrace us as we left, and we had no heart to push them away. The frozen snow echoed sharply under our feet, and the stars receded in front of us. The night was huge and buoyant. We journeyed through bombarded towns, in countryside dotted with wooden crosses on the railway embankments, until we came into the territory o f the “Tom­ mies.” One night, in a port whose houses were shat­ tered by bombs, the sick man in our party, some po­ lice officers, and I went into a tavern filled with British soldiers. They noticed our unusual appearance. “Who are you lot? Where are you going?” “ R e v o lu tio n a rie s — we are going to Russia.” Thirty tanned faces sur­ rounded us eagerly, there were hearty exclamations all around us, and we had to shake everybody’s hand. Since the Armistice

Dunk ir k, De ce mbe r 19 18 . Center, seated: Dr. Nikolayenko; Serge, just turned t wenty-eight, standing behind

78 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

popular feeling had changed once again; the Russian Revolution was once more a distant beacon to men. In the converted prison at D unkirk another group o f hostages was waiting for us, led from another camp by a Dr. Nikolayenko.* The ex­ change was being made man for man, and the Russians were tricked: out o f forty hostages, hardly ten were genuine militants, and nearly twenty were children. Should we protest against this trickery? Dr. Nikolayenko, very tall, white-haired, and narrow-eyed, affirmed that “a child at the breast is well worth any general.” Connected with the Russian seamen’s union, he had organized a strike at Marseilles on ships loaded with munitions bound for the W hites. H e and I were elected as delegates by the whole group. “Are these hostages too, these kids less than ten years old?” I asked some o f the officers. “ D o you think that is compatible with military honor?” They spread out their hands, mortified: “We can do nothing about it.” Rather likable men, they used to read Romain Rolland’s* Above the Battle in their cabins. This conversation took place at sea, off the level shores o f Denmark, on a m ilky sea from which the mast-ends o f sunken ships could sometimes be seen emerging. O ur remarks were apropos o f a rumor then abroad that some French officers had per­ ished in Russia; we were informed that we were in danger o f reprisals. It was a fine voyage, in first-class berths. A destroyer escorted our steamer, and now and then took long shots at floating mines. A dark gush would rise from the waves and the child hostages applauded. From mist and sea there emerged the massive outline o f Elsinore’s gray stone castle, with its roofs o f dull emerald. Weak Prince Hamlet, you faltered in that fog o f crimes, but you put the question well. “To be or not to be,” for the men o f our age, means free will or servitude, and they have only to choose. We are leaving the void, and entering the kingdom o f the w ill. This, perhaps, is the imaginary frontier. A land awaits us where life is beginning anew, where conscious will, in­ telligence and an inexorable love o f mankind are in action. Behind us, all Europe is ablaze, having choked almost to death in the fog o f its own massacres. Barcelona’s flame smolders on. Germany is in the thick o f revolution, Austro-Hungary is splitting into free nations. It­ aly is spread with red flags. .. this is only the beginning. We are being

LI VE T O P REV AI L: 1 9 1 2 - 1 9 1 9 • 79

born into violence: not only you and I, who are fairly unimportant, but all those to whom, unknown to themselves, we belong, down to this tin-hatted Senegalese freezing under his fur on his dismal watch at the foot o f the officers’ gangway. Outbursts o f idealism like this, if truth be known, kept getting mixed up with our heated discussions on points o f doctrine. Then an amazing girl-child of twenty, whose big eyes held both smiles and a kind o f suppressed fear, would come on deck to seek us out, tell­ ing us that tea was ready in the cabin, crammed with children, oc­ cupied by an old anarchist worker who was more enthusiastic even LiubaR ussakova.* Serge’s “ B lu eb ird ”

than we were. I called this girlchijd “Bluebird,” and it was she

who brought me the news o f the murder o f Karl Liebknecht* and Rosa Luxemburg.* From the Aland Isles onwards the Baltic was ice, studded with is­ lands o f white. A hundred yards ahead, a destroyer kept ramming the ice, and our steamer would advance slowly through the floe, by a nar­ row, gurgling channel. Enormous blocks o f ice, torn away in some el­ emental struggle, floated around and around under our bows. We gazed at them till we were dizzy. There were moments of trance when I found this spectacle pregnant with meaning, and it was lovelier than all the enchantment o f the countryside. Finland received us as foes, for the White Terror was only just over. Hango, a deserted port, under snow. Surly officials answered me in Russian that they did not speak Russian! “Well then, do you speak Spanish, Turkish, or Chinese? We are internationalists, the only lan­ guage we don’t speak is yours!” The French officers interceded and we were caged in railway carriages whose exits were guarded by silent blond giants, stony-eyed and cowled in white, with orders to shoot (as we were warned) at the first attempt to leave the train. I pressed my question: “Please ask Monsieur the Finnish officer if this order applies to the child hostages as well?” Monsieur the officer was enraged: “To everyone!”

80 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

“Please thank Monsieur the officer.” The cold air was heavy with chilled violence. W ithout ever leaving the train, we crossed this huge land o f sleepy woods, snow-covered lakes, tracts o f whiteness, and pretty painted cottages lost in the wil­ derness. We went through towns so tidy and silent that they reminded us o f childrens toys. We had a moment o f panic when, as evening fell, the train stopped in a clearing and soldiers lined up alongside the tracks: we were invited to get down. The women murmured, “They’re going to shoot us.” We refused to leave the train, but it was only to give us a breath o f air while we waited for the cars to be cleaned and the engine to be fueled with wood. The sentries ignored their instruc­ tions and started to be pleasant to the children. We crossed the Soviet frontier at dead o f night, in the middle o f a forest. O ur progress was painful, blocked by the snow. The sharp cold bored through our thin Western clothing and our teeth chattered. The children, swaddled in bedclothes, were crying. Men with lan­ terns, standing on a little white bridge in the misty moonlight, counted us as we passed. Choked with joy, we shouted “Greetings, comrade!” to a Red sentry; he nodded, and then asked i f we had any food. We had. Here, take it. The Revolution is hungry. We gathered around a wood fire that lit us up with fantastic shad­ ows. In the command post o f this dead sector o f the front, a log hut unfurnished but equipped with telephones, we considered the strangeness o f this first contact with our homeland, our Revolution. Two or three Red soldiers in worn greatcoats were busy at the tele­ phones, without any sign o f interest in us. Their faces were haggard and they did what they had to, rising above their prodigious fatigue. They livened up when we offered them some tinned food. What, aren’t they hungry in France? Do they still have white bread over there?” We asked them for newspapers, but none were being delivered to them. We never thought o f sleep once we were in the goods wagon. This was efficiently heated by an iron stove and pulled by an asthmatic lo­ comotive that was taking us, through the pale, ideally pure dawn, to Petrograd. A w intry landscape, without trace o f man. Brilliance o f snow, borderland o f emptiness. In a second forlorn little outpost, an-

LI VE T O PR EV AI L: 1 9 1 2 - 1 9 1 9 • 81

other soldier, indifferent to everything but hunger and food, found us a copy o f Severnaya Kommuna, organ of the Petrograd Soviet. It was only a single, fairly large gray sheet, printed in pale ink. From it came our first shock. We had never thought that the idea of revolution could be separated from that o f freedom. All we knew of the French Revolution, o f the Paris Commune, o f 1905 in Russia, showed us pop­ ular ferment, bubbling ideas, rivalry of clubs, parties, and publica­ tions—except during the Terror, under the “Reign of the Supreme Being”; but the Terror o f 1793 was simultaneously a climax and the beginning o f a decline, the approach to Thermidor. In Petrograd we expected to breathe the air o f a liberty that would doubtless be harsh and even cruel to its enemies, but was still generous and bracing. And in this paper we found a colorless article, signed “G. Zinoviev,” * on “The Monopoly o f Power.” “Our Party rules alone.... it will not allow anyone.. .We are the dictatorship o f the proletariat.. .The false dem­ ocratic liberties demanded by the counterrevolution.” I am quoting from memory, but such was certainly the sense of the piece. We tried to justify it by the state o f siege and the mortal perils; however, such considerations could justify particular acts, acts of violence towards men and ideas, but not a theory based on the extinction of all free­ dom. I note the date o f this article: January 1919. The desert o f snow was still rolling on beneath our eyes. We were approaching Petrograd.




w e r e

entering a world frozen to death. The Finland station,

glittering with snow, was deserted. The square where Lenin had ad­ dressed a crowd from the top o f an armored car was no more than a white desert surrounded by dead houses. The broad, straight thor­ oughfares, the bridges astride the Neva, now a river o f snowy ice, seemed to belong to an abandoned city; first a gaunt soldier in a gray greatcoat, then after a long time a woman freezing under her shawls, went past like phantoms in an oblivious silence. Towards the city center, gentle ghostlike hints o f life began. Open sleds, pulled by starving horses, proceeded unhurriedly over the white expanse. There were practically no cars. The rare passersby, eaten by cold and hunger, had faces o f ghastly white. Squads o f half-ragged sol­ diers, their rifles often hanging from their shoulders by a rope, tramped around under the red pennants o f their units. Palaces drowsed at the end o f spacious prospects or before the frozen canals; others, more massive, lorded it over yesterday’s parade squares. The smart baroque facades o f the imperial fam ily’s residences were painted over in oxblood red; the theaters, the military headquarters, the for­ mer ministries, all in Empire style, made a background o f noble col­ onnades among huge stretches o f emptiness. The high gilded dome o f St. Isaac, upheld by mighty red granite pillars, hung over this wasting city like a symbol o f past glories. We contemplated the low embra­ sures o f the Peter-Paul Fortress and its golden spire, thinking o f all the revolutionaries who, since Bakunin and Nechayev,* had fought and now lay dead under those stones, that the world might belong to us. It was the metropolis o f Cold, o f Hunger, o f Hatred, and o f Endurance. Bi

A NG UISH A N D ENTHUSIASM: 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0

• 83

From about a million inhabitants its population had now fallen, in one year, to scarcely seven hundred thousand souls. At a reception center we were issued with basic rations of black bread and dried fish. Never until now had any of us known such a hor­ rid diet. Girls with red headbands joined with young bespectacled agitators to give us a summary o f the state o f affairs: “Famine, typhus and counterrevolution everywhere. But the world revolution is bound to save us.” They were surer o f it than we were, and our doubts made them momentarily suspicious o f us. All they asked us was whether Europe would soon be kindled: “What is the French proletariat wait­ ing for before it seizes power?” The Bolshevik leaders that I saw spoke to me in more or less the same tones. Zinoviev’s wife, Lilina, People’s Commissar for Social Planning in the Northern Commune, a small crop-haired, gray-eved woman in a uniform jacket, sprightly and tough, asked me, “ Have you brought your families with you? I could put them up in palaces, which I know is very nice on some occasions, but it is impossible to heat them. You’d better go to Moscow. Here, we are besieged people in a city under siege. Hunger riots may start, the Finns may swoop on us, the British may attack. Typhus has killed so many people that we can’t manage to bury them; luckily they are frozen. If work is what you want, there’s plenty o f it!” And she told me passionately of the Soviet achievement: school building, children’s centers, relief for pensioners, free medical assistance, the theaters open to a ll... “We work on in spite of everything and we shall carry on working till our last hour! Later I was to learn at first hand how hard she worked, never showing any sign o f being worn down. Shklovsky, People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs (in the Northern Commune), an intellectual with a black beard and a jaundiced com­ plexion, met me in a room o f what was lately military headquarters. “What are they saying about us abroad ?” “They’re saying that Bolshevism equals banditry.” “There’s something in that,” he replied calmly. “You’ll see for your­ self, things are too much for us. In the Revolution the revolutionaries only amount to a very tiny percentage.” He outlined the situation to

84 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

me, sparing nothing: a revolution dying, strangled by blockade, ready to collapse from inside into the chaos o f counterrevolution. He was a man o f bitterly clear vision. (He committed suicide around 1930.) Zinoviev, the President o f the Soviet, by contrast affected an ex­ traordinary confidence. Clean-shaven, pale, his face a little puffy, he felt absolutely at home on the pinnacle o f power, being the most long­ standing o f Lenin’s collaborators in the Central Committee: all the same there was also an impression o f flabbiness, almost o f a lurking irresolution, emanating from his whole personality. Abroad, a fright­ ful reputation for terror surrounded his name; I told him this. “O f course,” he answered, smiling, “they don’t like our plebeian methods o f fighting.” A nd he alluded to the latest delegation from the Consular Corps, who were making representations to him in favor of the hostages taken from the bourgeoisie. H e sent them about their business: “I f it was we who were being shot, these gentlemen would be quite happy, wouldn’t they?” O ur conversation turned principally on the state o f mass feeling in the Western countries. I kept saying that tremendous events were ma­ turing, only the process was sluggish, halting, and blind, and that in France, more particularly, no revolutionary upheaval was to be ex­ pected for a long time. Zinoviev smiled, with an air o f kindly conde­ scension. “ It is easy to tell that you are no Marxist. History cannot stop halfway.” M axim G orky welcomed me affectionately. In the famished years o f his youth, he had been acquainted with my mother’s family at Nizhni-Novgorod. H is apartment in the Kronversky Prospect, full o f books and Chinese objets d ’art, seemed as warm as a greenhouse. He him self was chilly even under his thick gray sweater, and coughed ter­ ribly, the result o f his thirty-year struggle against tuberculosis. Tall, lean and bony, broad-shouldered and hollow-chested, he stooped a little as he walked. H is frame, sturdily built but anemic, appeared es­ sentially as a support for his head, an ordinary Russian man-in-thestreet’s head, bony and pitted, really almost ugly with its jutting cheekbones, great thin-lipped mouth, and professional smeller’s nose, broad and peaked. H is complexion deathly, he was chewing away un­ der his short, bristly mustache, full o f dejection, or rather o f anguish

A N G U I S H A N D E N T H U S I A S M : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0 • 85

mingled with indignation. His bushy brows puckered readily, and his big, gray eyes held an extraordinary wealth o f expression. His whole being expressed hunger for knowledge and human understanding, determination to probe all inhuman doings to their depths, never stopping at mere appearances, never tolerating any lies told to him, and never lying to himself. I saw him immediately as the supreme, the righteous, the relentless witness of the Revolution, and it was as such that he talked with me. He spoke harshly about the Bolsheviks: they were “drunk with au­ thority,” “cramping the violent, spontaneous anarchy o f the Russian people,” and “starting bloody despotism all over again.” All the same they were “ facing chaos alone” with some incorruptible men in their leadership. His observations always started from facts, from chilling anecdotes upon which he would base his well-considered generaliza­ tions. The prostitutes were sending a delegation to him, demanding the right to organize a trade union. The entire work of a scholar who had devoted his whole life to the study of religious sects had been stu­ pidly confiscated by the Cheka, and then stupidly transported across the city through the snow and a whole cartload of documents and manuscripts was perishing on a deserted quay because the horse was dying o f hunger; by chance, some students brought a few bundles of precious manuscripts to Alexei Maximovich [Gorky]. The fate of the hostages in the jails was nothing short of monstrous. Hunger was weakening the masses, and distorting the cerebral processes o f the whole country. This Socialist revolution was rising from the greatest depths of barbaric old Russia. The countryside was systematically pillaging the city, demanding something, even if it were useless, in ex­ change for every handful o f flour brought clandestinely into the city by the muzhiks. “They are taking gilded chairs, candelabras, and even pianos back to their villages. I’ve even seen them carrying street­ lights . ..” At present it was imperative to side with the revolutionary regime, for fear o f a rural counterrevolution which would be nothing less than an outburst o f savagery. Alexei Maximovich spoke to me of strange tortures rediscovered for the benefit of “Commissars in re­ mote country districts, such as pulling out the intestines through an incision in the abdomen and coiling them slowly around a tree. He

86 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

thought that the tradition o f these tortures was kept up through the reading o f The Golden Legend.’ The non-Com m unist (i.e., anti-Bolshevik) intellectuals, by far the great majority, whom I saw gave me more or less the same general pic­ ture. They thought o f Bolshevism as finished, consumed by famine and terror, opposed by all the peasants o f the countryside, all the in­ telligentsia, and the great majority o f the working class. The people who spoke thus to me were Socialists who had been enthusiastic par­ ticipants in the March 1917 Revolution. The Jew s among them were living in terror o f approaching pogroms. A ll o f them expected chaos, replete with massacres. The doctrinal follies o f Lenin and Trotsky w ill have to be paid for. Bolshevism is nothing but a corpse, according to an engineer who had studied at Liege. A ll that has to be decided is who will be its gravedigger. The dissolution o f the Constituent A s­ sembly, and certain crimes at the beginning o f the Revolution, such as the execution (or murder) o f the Hingleize brothers and the murder, in a hospital, o f the Liberal deputies Shingarev and Kokoshkin, had left a wake o f enraged resentment. The violent acts o f mob agitators such as the Kronstadt sailors so offended the humane feelings o f men o f goodwill that they lost all their critical faculties. Against how many hangings, humiliations, ruthless repressions, threatened reprisals, did these excesses have to be set? I f the other side won would it be any more merciful? Besides, what were the W hites doing in the areas where they ruled the roost? I moved among intellectuals who wept for their dream o f an enlightened democracy, governed by a sagacious Parliament and inspired by an idealistic press (their own, o f course). Every conversation I had with them convinced me that, face-to-face with the ruthlessness o f history, they were wrong. I saw that their cause o f democracy had, at the end o f the summer o f 1917, stood be­ tween two fires, that is to say between two conspiracies, and it seemed obvious to me that, i f the Bolshevik insurrection had not taken power at that point, the cabal o f the old generals, supported by the officers organizations, would have certainly done so instead. Russia would have avoided the Red Terror only to endure the White, and a proletar1. A thirteenth-century “Lives of the Saints.”

A N G U ISH A N D ENTHUSIASM : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0

. 87

ian dictatorship only to undergo a reactionary one. In consequence, the most outraged observations o f the anti-Bolshevik intellectuals only revealed to me how necessary Bolshevism was. Moscow, with its old Italian and Byzantine architecture, its innu­ merable churches, its snows, its human ant-heap, its great public de­ partments, its half-clandestine markets, wretched but colorful, taking up vast squares: Moscow seemed to live a little better than Petrograd. Here Committees were piled on top o f Councils, and Managements on top o f Commissions. O f this apparatus, which seemed to me to function largely in a void, wasting three-quarters o f its time on unre­ alizable projects, I at once formed the worst possible impression. A l­ ready, in the midst o f general misery, it was nurturing a multitude of bureaucrats who were responsible for more fuss than honest work. In the offices o f Commissariats one came across elegant gentlemen, pretty and irreproachably powdered typists, chic uniforms weighed down with decorations: and everybody in this smart set, in such con­ trast with the famished populace in the streets, kept sending you back and forth from office to office for the slightest matter and without the slightest result. I witnessed members o f Government circles driven to telephoning Lenin to obtain a railway ticket or a room in the hotel, i.e., the “House o f the Soviets.” The Central Committee’s secretariat gave me some tickets for lodgings, but I got none, because initiation into the racket was more necessary than any ticket. I met the Menshevik* leaders, and certain anarchists. Both sets de­ nounced Bolshevik intolerance, the stubborn refusal to revolutionary dissenters of any right to exist, and the excesses of the Terror. Neither group, however, had any substantial alternative to suggest. The Men­ sheviks were publishing a daily paper, which was widely read; they had recently announced their allegiance to the regime and recovered their legality. They demanded the abolition of the Cheka and sang the praises of a return to Soviet democracy. One anarchist group can­ vassed the idea of a federation o f free communes; others saw no future except in fresh insurrections, although realizing that famine was blocking all possible progress in the Revolution. I learnt that, around the autumn of 1918, the anarchist Black Guards had felt powerful enough for their leaders to discuss whether or not they should seize

88 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

Moscow. N ovom irsky and Borovoy had won the majority over to the virtues o f abstention. “We would not know what to do about the fam­ ine,” they said. “Let it exhaust the Bolsheviks and lead the dictator­ ship o f the Com m issars to its grave. Then our hour will come!” The M ensheviks seemed to me to be admirably intelligent, honest, and devoted to Socialism, but completely overtaken by events. They stood for a sound principle, that o f working-class democracy, but a situation such as the state o f siege, fraught with such mortal danger, did not permit any functioning o f democratic institutions. And their bitterness, arising out o f their brutal defeat as the party o f compro­ mise, disfigured their thinking. Since they waited on the coming o f some catastrophe, their declaration o f support for the regime was only lip service. They were further compromised by the fact that in 1917 they had supported governments that had failed to carry out agrarian reform and had failed to impede the m ilitary counterrevolution. O f the Bolshevik leaders, on this occasion in Moscow I saw only Aveli Yenukidze, Secretary o f the Executive Comm ittee o f the AllUnion Soviets— actually the key post in the Republics government. He was a fair-headed Georgian, with a kind, sturdy face lit up by blue eyes. H is bearing was corpulent and grand, that o f a mountain dweller born and bred. H e was affable, humorous, and realistic, striking the same note as the Bolsheviks in Petrograd. “O ur bureaucracy’s a scandal, no doubt about it. I think Petrograd is healthier. I even advise you to settle down there unless you are too scared o f Petrograd’s peculiar dangers. Here, we combine all the vices o f the old Russia with those o f the new. Petrograd is an outpost, the front line.” W hile talking about bread and tinned food, I asked him, “D o you think we will hold out? Sometimes I feel like I ’m from an­ other planet and think the revolution is in its death throes.” He burst out laughing. “That’s because you don’t know us. We are infinitely stronger than we seem.” Gorky offered me employment with him in the Petrograd publish­ ing house Universal Literature, but the only people I met there were aging or embittered intellectuals trying to escape from the present by retranslating Boccaccio, Knut Hamsun, or Balzac. M y mind was made up: I was neither against the Bolsheviks nor neutral; I was with them,

A N G U ISH A N D ENTHUSIASM : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0

. 8S

albeit independently, without renouncing thought or critical sense. It would have been easy for me to pursue careers in Government but I decided to avoid them and also, as far as possible, jobs that required the exercise o f authority. Others seemed to so enjoy them that I thought I could legitimately afford this obviously wrongheaded atti­ tude. I would support the Bolsheviks because they were doing what was necessary tenaciously, doggedly, with magnificent ardor and a cal­ culated passion; I would be with them because they alone were carry­ ing this out, takingall responsibilities on themselves, all the initiatives, and were demonstrating an astonishing strength of spirit. Certainly on several essential points they were mistaken: in their intolerance, in their faith in statification, in their leaning towards centralism and ad­ ministrative techniques. But, given that one had to counter them with freedom o f the spirit and the spirit of freedom, it must be with them and among them. Possibly, after all, these evils had been im­ pelled by civil war, blockade, and famine, and if we managed to sur­ vive, the remedy would come o f itself. I remember having written in one of my first letters from Russia that I was “resolved to make no ca­ reer out of the Revolution, and, once the mortal danger has passed, to join again with those who will fight the evils of the new regime...” I was on the staff o f the Severnaya Kommuna (Northern Com­ mune), the organ o f the Petrograd Soviet, an instructor in the public education clubs, organizing inspector for schools in the Second Dis­ trict, lecturing assistant to the Petrograd militia, etc. People were in short supply, and I was overwhelmed with work. All this activity brought me the means o f bare existence from one day to the next, in a chaos that was oddly organized. The militiamen to whom I gave eve­ ning classes in history and the first elements of “political science” (or political grammar,” as it was called) would offer me a cob of black bread and a herring if the lesson had been interesting. Happy to ask me endless questions, they would escort me after the lesson through the shadows of the city, right up to my lodgings, in case anyone should steal my precious little parcel, and we would all trip over the carcass of a horse, dead in the snow in front o f the Opera House. The Third International* had just been founded in Moscow (it was now March 1919) and had appointed Zinoviev as President of its

90 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

Executive (the proposal was actually Lenin’s). The new Executive still possessed neither personnel nor offices. Although I was not a member o f the Party, Zinoviev asked me to organize his administration. As my knowledge o f Russian life was too limited, I was unwilling to assume such a responsibility by myself. A fter some days Zinoviev told me, “ I ’ve found an excellent man, you’ll get along with him really w ell. . . ” — and so it turned out. It was thus that I came to know Vladim ir Ossipovich Mazin,* who, prompted by the same motives as myself, had just joined the Party. Through its severely practical centralization o f power, and its re­ pugnance towards individualism and celebrity, the Russian Revolu­ tion has left in obscurity at least as many first-rate men as it has made famous. O f all these great but still practically unknown figures, M azin seems to me to be one o f the most remarkable. One day, in an enormous room in the Smolny Institute,* furnished solely with a table and two chairs, we met face-to-face, both o f us rigged out rather ab­ surdly. I still wore a large sheepskin hat that had been a present from a Cossack and a short, shabby overcoat, the garb o f the Western un­ employed. M azin wore an old blue uniform with worn-out elbows. H e had a three days’ growth o f beard, his eyes were encircled by oldfashioned spectacles o f white metal, his face was elongated, his brow lofty, and his complexion pasty from starvation. “ Well,” he said to me, “so we’re the Executive o f the new Interna­ tional. It’s really ridiculous!” And upon that bare table we set about drawing rough sketches o f seals, for a seal was required immediately for the President: the great seal o f the World Revolution, no more, no less! We decided that the globe would be the emblem on it. We were friends with the same points o f concern, doubt, and con­ fidence, spending any moments spared us from our grinding work in examining together the problems o f authority, terror, centralization, Marxism, and heresy. We both had strong leanings towards heresy. I was beginning my initiation into Marxism. Mazin had arrived there through the path o f personal experience in jail. W ith those convic­ tions he combined an old-fashioned libertarian heart and an ascetic temperament.

A N G U I S H A N D E N T H U S I A S M : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0 . 91

As an adolescent in 1905 on the revolutionary day of 2.2 January, he had seen the St. Petersburg streets running with the blood of workingclass petitioners, and at once decided, even while the Cossacks were clearing away the crowd with their stubby whips, to study the chemis­ try of explosives. He very soon became one of the chemists of the Maximalist group, who wanted a “total” Socialist revolution. He, Vla­ dimir Ossipovich Lichtenstadt, son o f a good liberal-bourgeois fam­ ily, manufactured the bombs that went with three o f his comrades who presented themselves, dressed as officers, on 12 August 1906, at a gala entertainment for the Prime Minister Stolypin, and who, in blowing up the house, blew themselves up too. Some time afterwards, the Maximalists attacked a Treasury van in the broad daylight of St. Petersburg. Lichtenstadt was condemned to death, then pardoned; he spent ten years in prison at Schlusselburg,2 much o f it in the same cell as the Georgian Bolshevik Sergo Ordzhonikidze, who was to become one of the organizers o f Soviet industrialization. In confinement Licht­ enstadt wrote a work o f scientific meditation that was later published {Goethe and the Philosophy o f Nature), and studied Marx. One morning in March 1917 the prisoners o f Schlusselburg were called to the courtyard by the guards, bearing weapons. They believed they were going to be slaughtered; they could hear the cries o f a furi­ ous crowd surrounding the prison walls. Actually, this crowd was de­ liriously joyful; it broke down the doors, the blacksmiths with their tools at the head, to break the prisoners’ chains. It was the prisoners who had to protect their guards. On the day he got out o f prison, Lichtenstadt and the anarchist Justin Jouk had to take charge of the administration o f the town o f Schlusselburg. After the death in battle of another prisoner, a friend whom he admired, Lichtenstadt adopted the dead man’s name and called himself Mazin, to remain faithful to his example. As a Marxist, he was at first a Menshevik, because of his zeal for democracy, and then entered the Bolshevik Party to be on the side of those who were the most active, the most creative, and the 2. Schlusselburg, also kn ow n as Petrokrepost or Peter’s Fortress, was a redoubtable prison for political prisoners about forty miles up the River Neva from Petrograd.

92 ■ M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

most imperiled. He had a consuming interest in great books, a schol­ ar’s soul, a childlike frankness in the face o f evil, and few basic wants. For eleven years he had been waiting to see his wife again; she was at present separated from him by the southern front. “The faults in the Revolution,” he would say to me over and over again, “must be fought in the realm o f action.” We spent our lives among telephones, trailing around the huge, dead city in wheezy motorcars, commandeering printshops; selecting staff; correcting proofs even in the trams; bargaining with the Board o f Trade for string and with the State B an k s printers for paper; run­ ning to the Cheka or to distant suburban prisons whenever (which was every day) we were notified o f some abomination, fatal mistake, or piece o f cruelty; and conferring with Zinoviev in the evening. Since we were senior officials we lived in the Hotel Astoria, the foremost “ House o f the Soviets,” where the most responsible o f the Party’s mil­ itants resided under the protection o f machine guns posted on the ground floor. Through the black market I came into possession o f a fur-lined riding jacket which, cleared o f its fleas, made me look won­ derful. In the former Austro-Hungarian Embassy we found some Habsburg officers’ clothes, in excellent condition, for some o f the comrades on our new staff. We were enormously privileged, although the bourgeoisie, dispossessed and now addicted to every imaginable form o f speculation, lived much better than we did. Every day, at the table reserved for the Northern Comm une Executive, we found greasy soup and often a ration o f slightly high but still delicious horsemeat. The customary diners there were Zinoviev; Yevdokimov* from the Central Com mittee; Zorin from the Petrograd Committee; Bakayev,* President o f the Cheka; sometimes Helena Stassova, Secre­ tary o f the Central Com mittee; and sometimes Stalin, who was prac­ tically unknown. Zinoviev occupied an apartment on the first floor of the Astoria. As an extraordinary privilege, this hotel o f dictators was kept almost warm, and was lit brightly at nightfall since work there never stopped, and thus it formed an enormous vessel o f light above the dark public squares. Rum or endowed us with incredible comfort and even detailed our alleged orgies, with actresses from the corps de ballet, naturally. A ll this time, Bakayev o f the Cheka was going

A N G U IS H A N D E N TH U SIA SM : 1919-1920 . 93

around with holes in his boots. In spite o f my special rations as a Gov­ ernment official, I would have died o f hunger without the sordid ma­ nipulations o f the black market, where we traded the petty possessions we had brought in from France. The eldest son of my friend Ionov, Zinoviev’s brother-in-law, an Executive member of the Soviet and founder and director o f the State Library, died o f hunger before our very eyes. All this while we were looking after considerable stocks, and even riches, but on the State’s behalf and under rigorous control, some­ thing that our subordinates never ceased to mock us over. Our salaries were limited to the “Communist maximum,” equal to the average wage of a skilled worker. During this period the old Lettish Bolshevik and Soviet delegate Peter Stuchka,* a great figure now forgotten, insti­ tuted a strictly egalitarian regime, in which the Party Committee was also the Government: its members were forbidden to enjoy any ma­ terial privileges at all. Vodka was banned, though the comrades ob­ tained it clandestinely from peasants, who through home distilling extracted a terrifying alcohol from corn, eighty proof. I remember only one orgy, which I happened upon in a room in the Astoria, dur­ ing a night o f danger, where my friends, all heads of sections, were drinking this fiery liquid in silence. On the table was a huge tin of tuna, captured from the English somewhere in the forests o f Shenkursk and brought back by a fighter. Sweet and oily, this fish seemed to us a heavenly food. A ll that blood made us depressed. The telephone became my personal enemy; perhaps it is for that reason that I still feel a stubborn aversion to it. At every hour it brought me voices o f panic-stricken women who spoke o f arrests, im­ minent executions, and injustice, and begged me to intervene at once, for the love of God! Since the first massacres of Red prisoners by the Whites, the murders o f Volodarsky* and Uritsky* and the attempt against Lenin (in the summer o f 1918), the custom o f arresting and, often, executing hostages had become generalized and legal. Already the Cheka (the Extraordinary Commission for Repression against counterrevolution, speculation, and desertion), which made mass ar­ rests of suspects, was tending to settle their fate independently, under formal control by the Party, but in reality without anybody s knowl­ edge. It was becoming a State within the State, protected by military

94 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

secrecy and proceedings in camera. The Party endeavored to head it with incorruptible men like the former convict Dzerzhinsky,* a sin­ cere idealist, ruthless but chivalrous, with the emaciated profile o f an Inquisitor: tall forehead, bony nose, untidy goatee, and an expression o f weariness and austerity. But the Party had few men o f this stamp and many Chekas: these gradually came to select their personnel by virtue o f their psychological inclinations. The only temperaments that devoted themselves w illingly and tenaciously to this task o f “ in­ ternal defense” were those characterized by suspicion, embitterment, harshness, and sadism. Long-standing social inferiority complexes and memories o f humiliations and suffering in the Tsar s jails ren­ dered them intractable, and since professional degeneration has rapid effects, the Chekas inevitably consisted o f perverted men tending to see conspiracy everywhere and to live in the midst o f perpetual con­ spiracy themselves. I believe that the formation o f the Chekas was one o f the gravest and most impermissible errors that the Bolshevik leaders committed in 1918, when plots, blockades, and interventions made them lose their heads. A ll evidence indicates that revolutionary tribunals, func­ tioning in the light o f day (without excluding secret sessions in par­ ticular cases) and adm itting the right o f defense, would have attained the same efficiency with far less abuse and depravity. Was it so neces­ sary to revert to the procedures o f the Inquisition? By the beginning o f 1919, the Chekas had little or no resistance against this psychologi­ cal perversion and corruption. I know for a fact that Dzerzhinsky judged them to be “ half-rotten,” and saw no solution to the evil except in shooting the worst Chekists and abolishing the death penalty as quickly as possible. .. Meanwhile, the Terror went on, since the whole Party was living in the sure inner knowledge that they would be mas­ sacred in the event o f defeat, and defeat remained possible from one week to the next. In every prison there were quarters reserved for Chekists, judges, police o f all sorts, informers, and executioners. The executioners, who used Nagan revolvers, generally ended by being executed themselves. They would begin to drink, to wander around and fire unexpectedly at anybody. I was acquainted with several cases o f this sort. I was also

A N G U ISH A N D ENTHUSIASM: 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0

• 95

closely acquainted with the terrible Chudin case. Still young, though a revolutionary o f 1905 vintage, Chudin, a tall curly-headed lad whose roguish stare was softened by his pince-nez, had fallen in love with a girl he had met at a class. She became his mistress. A number o f swin­ dlers exploited his sincerity by prevailing on him to intercede for some genuine speculators, more than mere suspects, whose release they thus obtained. Dzerzhinsky had Chudin and his girl and the swindlers all shot. No one doubted Chudin’s honesty; there was bitter dismay all round. Years later, comrades said to me, “On that day we shot the best man among us.” They never forgave themselves. Fortunately, the democratic manners o f the Party were still strong enough to enable militants to intercede fairly easily with the Cheka against certain blunders. It was all the easier for me to do this since the leaders o f the Cheka lived at the Astoria, including Ivan Bakayev, president o f the “Extraordinary Commission.” Bakayev was a hand­ some fellow o f about thirty, with the careless appearance of a Russian village accordion player; indeed, he liked to wear a smock with an em­ broidered collar and colored border, just like such a player. In the per­ formance of his frightful duty he exercised an impartial will and a scrupulous vigilance. I saved several people, although once I failed, in circumstances that were both cruel and ridiculous. This concerned an officer named (I think) Nesterenko, a Frenchwoman’s husband, who was arrested at Kronstadt in connection with the Lindquist conspir­ acy. Bakayev promised me that he would personally review the dos­ sier. When I met him again he smiled: “It isn’t serious, I’ll soon have him released.” I took pleasure in disclosing this good news to the sus­ pect’s wife and daughter. A few days later I met Bakayev passing from room to room in the Smolny, joking as he loved to. When he saw me, his face grew pale: Too late, Victor Lvovich! While I was away they shot the poor devil. He went past to his next business, spreading his hands wide in a ges­ ture of powerlessness. Shocks of this kind did not happen often, but the Terror was too much for us. I arranged the release of a distant relative, a subaltern confined as a hostage in the Peter-Paul Fortress. He came to me to tell me that they had failed to give him back his papers on his discharge.

96 • M E M O IR S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

“G o and ask for them back,” I said. O ff he went, only to return thun­ derstruck. “A n official whispered me an answer, ‘Don’t press for it, you’ve been reported shot for the last ten days.’” He gave up bothering about the matter. Often at the Cheka I would meet the man whom I came to dub mentally as the “great interceder,” M axim Gorky. His efforts tor­ mented Zinoviev and Lenin, but he nearly always got his way. In cases that were difficult I approached him, and he never refused to inter­ vene. But, although he was w orking for the journal Communist Inter­ national, not without violent arguments with Zinoviev over some wording in every article he wrote, he once greeted me with a kind o f roaring fury. On that day I was coming from a discussion with Z i­ noviev. G orky shouted out, “D on ’t ever talk to me o f that swine, ever again. Tell him that his torturers are a disgrace to the human form !” Their quarrel lasted until Petrograd underwent its new phase o f mor­ tal peril. The spring o f 1919 opened with events at once expected and sur­ prising. A t the beginning o f A pril Munich acquired a Soviet regime. On 1 1 March H ungary quietly became a Soviet Republic through the abdication o f C ount K arolyi’s bourgeois government. Bela Kun,* who had been sent to Budapest by Lenin and Zinoviev, came out o f jail to take power. The bad news from the C ivil War fronts lost their impor­ tance. Even the fall o f Munich, captured by General Hoffmann on 1 May, seemed rather unimportant by comparison with the revolution­ ary victories now expected to follow in Central Europe, Bohemia, It­ aly, and Bulgaria. (However, the massacres at Munich did reinforce the terrorist state o f mind, and the atrocities committed at Ufa by Adm iral Kolchak’s troops, who burned Red prisoners alive, had lately enabled the Chekists to prevail against those Party members who hoped for a greater degree o f humanity.) The Executive o f the International was in session at Moscow, with Angelica Balabanova* in charge o f the secretariat; actually its political control was managed from Petrograd, by Zinoviev, with whom Karl Radek* and Bukharin* used to come and confer. The Executive held a session also at Petrograd; this was attended by Finns (e.g., Sirola), Bul­ garians, the ambassador from Soviet Hungary, Rudniansky, and the

A N G U IS H A N D E N TH U SIA SM : 1919-1920 . 97

Volga German Klinger. I was present at these meetings, although I had still not joined the Party. I remember that the anarchist William Shatov', for a short while the military governor o f the old capital and later the real leader o f the Tenth Army, was also invited. There the su­ periority o f the Russians, compared with the foreign revolutionaries, amazed me: it was immediately obvious. I found Zinoviev’s optimism terrifying. He seemed to have no doubts at all: the European Revolu­ tion was on the way, and nothing would stop it. I can see him now, at the end o f the session, his fingertips playing with the little tassels of silken cord which he wore instead o f a tie, wreathed in smiles, and saying about some resolution or other, “Always provided that new revolutions do not come and upset our plans for the forthcoming weeks!” He was setting the tone. Actually, we were a hairbreadth from the disaster. A regiment on the Estonian front betrayed us; in other words, its officers took it over to the enemy side, put their epaulettes back on, and hanged the Communists. Other officers, also joining the enemy, seized Krasnaya Gorka, one o f the forts that dominated the western defenses of Petrograd. A message announced the fall o f Kronstadt (falsely). At the Smolny, at the Astoria, in the committees, we had this sudden feeling o f disaster and no escape possible except on foot, by road, as the railway had no fuel whatsoever. One moment o f panic and Petrograd would have collapsed— there was panic, but not in the normal sense: it was about holding on at all costs or how to sell our hides as dearly as possible. Quite literally we lacked everything and the morale in the city was lamentably low. A Party committee asked me one day to make a speech before some sailors at the Fleet depot. Why are you asking me to speak when any o f you could do it, and better than me?” “Because you’re a runt; in these conditions they wont attack you; and also, your French accent will appeal to them. The soldiers and sailors often booed down Party speakers for whose benefit they had invented a comic ritual: the speakers would be sat in a wheelbarrow and taken around the camp to the accompaniment of jeering and whistling. Nothing happened to me. I was too skinny to be wheelbarrowed. The sailors heard me out in relative silence. On the walls of the depot, graffiti mocked Lenin and Trotsky: D R I E D F IS H

98 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

AN D SH IT T Y BREAD. A s if more terror was required, the Central Com m ittee sent us Peters who briefly took command o f the place, and Stalin who went to inspect the front. Peters was preceded by a sinister reputation: a young Lett with the head o f a blond bulldog, and with the reputation o f a merciless executioner, having grown up in the climate o f repression o f the Baltic countries. He had the look of his profession— reserved, sullen, aloof— but I heard him tell only one story and this fitted ill with his deserved reputation. During one of those bad nights which preceded an even more awful dawn, he had phoned the Peter-Paul Fortress. The officer in charge picked up the receiver, completely drunk. Peters was outraged, “That Grisha made me furious! I should have had him shot right away. D runk on duty, and at such a moment. I screamed at him and it took me ages to calm down again!” A t the Executive’s table I saw Stalin, a slim cavalry offi­ cer, slightly slanting brown eyes, mustache trimmed to the lips, trying to catch Zinoviev’s attention. Frightening and banal, like a Caucasian dagger. The nights were white and the weather superb. Towards one in the m orning a faint bluish light lay over the canals, the Neva, the golden spires o f the palaces, and the empty squares with their equestrian stat­ ues o f dead emperors. I went to bed in guardhouses, and did my turn o f sentry duty in outlying railway stations, reading Alexander Her­ zen. Quite a few o f us sentries took books with us. I searched people’s homes: house by house we sifted apartments, looking for arms and W hite agents. I could have easily avoided this unpleasant work, but I went o ff to it with a will, knowing that wherever I went no brutality, thefts, or stupid arrests would take place. I remember a weird ex­ change o f shots on the roofs o f high buildings overlooking a sky-blue canal. Men fled before us, firing their revolvers at us from behind the chimney pots. I kept slipping on the sheet-iron ro of and my heavy rifle dragged on me frightfully. The men we were after escaped, but I trea­ sured an unforgettable vision o f the city, seen at 3:00 a.m. in all its magical paleness. The city was saved mainly through Grigory Yevdokimov, an exseafarer vigorous and gray-haired, with a m uzhik’s roughness. Loud o f voice, fond o f the bottle, he never seemed to admit chat a situation

A N G U I S H A N D E N T H U S I A S M : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0 . 99

was hopeless. When it seemed impossible for the Moscow-Petrograd railway to operate, since there was no more than two days’ supply of dry wood, I heard him exclaim, “Well, they can chop down wood on the way! The journey will be done in twenty hours, no more!” He was the organizer o f the city’s second line o f defense, where the gun bat­ teries were lined up by young girls from the Communist Party. The actual operations leading to the sailors’ capture of the fort of Krasnaya Gorka were directed by Bill Shatov. I was present at a private meeting in his room at the Astoria, which concerned the best method of using the crews o f the Fleet. Shatov explained that these merry youngsters were the best fed in the garrison, the best accommodated, and the most appreciated by pretty girls, to whom they could now and then slip a tin o f food; consequently none of them was agreeable to fighting for more than a few hours, being concerned to get a comfort­ able sleep on board ship. Someone suggested that once they were dis­ embarked, the ships should be sent away on some plausible pretext. They would then have to hold the front for twenty-four hours, having no further means o f retreat! How did Bill Shatov manage to keep his rotundity and good hu­ mor? He was the only fat man among us, with a remarkable face, like an American businessman’s, clean-shaven and fleshy. Working-class, converted to anarchism by exiles in Canada, a lively and decisive orga­ nizer, he was the real leader o f the Tenth Red Army. Every time he returned from the front, he loaded us with anecdotes, such as the tale of a certain small-town mayor who, mistaking the Reds for the Whites, and Shatov himself for a colonel, had come to him in the thick of the gunfire to present a complimentary address, specially written for the occasion. Bill knocked him down on the spot. Just imagine, the idiot had his big medallion from the Tsar hung around his neck!” Later, in 1919 or so, Shatov became one of the builders of the Turkestan-Siberia railway. Two episodes from these moments come to mind. The vast, de­ serted anterooms o f the Smolny. The International s services got on with their work as best they could. I was in my office when Zinoviev entered, running his fingers through his hair: his gesture when he was worried. “What’s the matter, Grigory Yevseevich?

100 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

“H ie English have landed not far from the border with Estonia. We have nothing to fight them with. W rite a few leaflets for me im­ mediately, for the troops we are deploying— stirring, direct, and short! O K ? It’s our strongest w eapon.. ” I wrote these leaflets, had them printed right away in three differ­ ent languages and our best weapon was ready! Luckily, it was a false alarm. But, generally speaking, it has to be said that propaganda was very effective. We used a simple and truthful language for men who, when deployed, often did not understand why they were being sent to fight again, only wanted to go home, and to whom no one had ever addressed such basic truths. The Great War had been fought with idi­ otic propaganda that was daily belied by events. We learnt o f a disaster: three Red destroyers had just been sunk in the g u lf o f Finland, either by the English or by a minefield. The crews o f the Fleet commemorated the sacrifice o f their drowned comrades who died for the revolution. Then we discovered, secretly, that they had perished in an act o f be­ trayal. The three destroyers were going over to the enemy when a wrong course took them into a minefield. It was decided to keep it quiet. For several months we experienced a lull. The summer brought us inexpressible relief. Even the famine was a little diminished. I made fre­ quent journeys to Moscow. Its circular, leafy boulevards were filled in the evening with a buzzing, amorous crowd, dressed in bright colors. There was very lit­ tle illumination at nightfall, and the hum o f the crowd could be heard from far away in the twilight and afterwards in the dark­ ness. Soldiers from the C ivil War, girls from the old bourgeoisie who packed the Soviet offices during the day, refugees from the massacres in the Ukraine, where national­ ist bands were systematically slaughtering the Jew ish population, men wanted by the Cheka, plotting in broad daylight two Serge in 1919

steps from the torture-cellars, Imagist po­

ets and Futurist painters— all o f them could be seen scurrying to live.

A N G U I S H A N D E N T H U S I A S M : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0 . 101

In Tverskaya Street there were several poets’ cafes; it was the time when Sergei Yesenin* was becoming famous, sometimes writing his splendid poetry in chalk on the walls of the now secularized Monas­ tery of the Passion. I met him in a seedy cafe. Over-powdered, overpainted women, leaning on the marble slabs, cigarettes between their fingers, drank coffee made from roasted oats; men clad in black leather, frowning and tight-lipped, with heavy revolvers at their belts, had their arms around the women’s waists. These fellows knew what it was to live rough, knew the taste of blood, the odd, painful impact ofa bullet in the flesh, and it all made them appreciative of the poems, incanted and almost sung, whose violent images jostled each other as though in a fight. When I saw Yesenin for the first time, I disliked him. Twentv-Iour years old, he mixed with the women, ruffians, and ragamuffins from the dark corners o f Moscow. A drinker, his voice was hoarse, his eyes worn, his handsome young face puffed and polished, his golden-blond hair flowing in waves around his temples. He was surrounded by sheer glory: the old Symbolist poets recognized him as an equal, the intel­ ligentsia acclaimed his slim volumes, and the folk of the street sang his poems! He deserved all o f it. Dressed in a white silk smock, he would mount the stage and begin to declaim. The affectation, the calculated elegance, the alcoholic’s voice, the puffy face, everything prejudiced me against him, and the atmosphere o f a decomposing Bohemianism, entangling its homosexuals and exotics with our militants, all but dis­ gusted me. Yet, like everyone else, I yielded in a single instant to the positive sorcery o f that ruined voice, of a poetry that came from the inmost depths o f the man and the age. Coming from there, I used to stop in front o f the glass cases, some of them with long cracks from last year’s bullets, where Mayakovsky* was sticking his agitational posters against the Entente: The Song of the Flea,” the White generals, Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and capital­ ism, this last being symbolized by a potbellied character in a top hat, smoking an enormous cigar. A small volume by Ehrenburg (now on the run) was in circulation: it was a P r a y e r f o r Russia, so ravished and crucified by the Revolution. Lunacharsky,* People s Commissar for

102 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

Public Education, had given the Futurist painters a free hand in the decoration o f Moscow; they had transformed the stalls in one o f the markets into gigantic flowers. The great lyric tradition, hitherto con­ fined to literary circles, was seeking fresh outlets in the public squares. The poets were learning to declaim or chant their work before huge audiences from the streets; by this approach their personal tone was regenerated and their preciosity gave way to power and fervor. A s autumn approached, we in Petrograd, the frontline city, sensed the return o f danger, this time perhaps mortal. True enough, we were accustomed to it. In Tallinn (Reval), Estonia, a British general was setting up a provisional government for Russia, at whose head he placed a certain Mr. Liasonov, a big oil capitalist. That at any rate was not dangerous. In Helsinki, the exiles had a W hite Stock Exchange where they still quoted banknotes bearing the T sars effigy. (This was pretty good, since we used to print them specially for the poor fools.) Here, too, they sold the real estate o f Soviet towns and the shares of socialized enterprises; a ghost capitalism was struggling to survive over there. That was not dangerous either. W hat was really dangerous was typhus and famine. The Red divisions on the Estonian front, ex­ posed to lice and hunger, were demoralized. In the shattered trenches I saw emaciated, dejected soldiers, absolutely incapable o f any further effort. The cold rains o f autumn came, and the war went by dismally for those poor fellows, without hope, or victories, or boots, or provi­ sions; for a number o f them it was the sixth year o f war, and they had made the Revolution to gain peace! They felt as though they were in one o f the rings o f Hell. Vainly the A B C o f Communism explained that they would have land, justice, peace, and equality, when in the near future the world revolution was achieved. O ur divisions were slowly melting away under the ghastly sun o f misery. A most mischievous movement had grown up inside the armies engaged in the C ivil War, W hite, Red, and the rest: that o f the Greens. These borrowed their title from the forests in which they took refuge, uniting deserters from all the armies that were now unwilling to fight for anyone, whether Generals or Commissars: these would fight now only for themselves, simply to stay out o f the Civil War. The movement existed over the whole o f Russia. We knew that in the for-

A N G U ISH A N D ENTHUSIASM: 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0

. 1 03

ests of the Pskov region, the Greens’ effective forces were on the in­ crease, numbering several tens o f thousands. Well organized, complete with their own general staff, and supported by the peasants, they were eating the Red Army away. Cases o f desertion to the enemy had also been multiplying ever since it became known that the generals were giving white bread to their troops. Fortunately the caste-outlook of the officers of the old regime neutralized the trouble: they persisted in wearing epaulettes, demanding the military salute, and being com­ pulsorily addressed as “Your Honor,” thus exhaling such a stench of the past that our deserters, once they had fed themselves, deserted again and came back to receive a pardon, if they did not join the Greens. On both sides o f the front line numbers fluctuated constantly. On u October the White army under General Yudenich captured Yamburg, on the Estonian border; in fact it encountered hardly any resistance. Our skeletons o f soldiery (or, to be exact, all that was left of them) broke and fled. It was a nasty moment. General Denikin’s Na­ tional Army was now occupying the whole o f the Ukraine and on the way to capturing Orel. Admiral Kolchak, the “Supreme Head” o f the counterrevolution, was in control o f all Siberia and now threatened the Urals. The British occupied Archangel, where one of the oldest Russian revolutionaries, Chaikovsky, a former friend of my father, presided over a “democratic” government that shot the Reds without quarter. The French and Romanians had just been chased out of Odessa by a Black (anarchist) army, but a French fleet was in the Black Sea. Soviet Hungary had perished. In short, when we drew up the bal­ ance sheet it seemed most probable that the Revolution was approach­ ing its death agony, that a White military dictatorship would soon prevail, and that we should be all hanged or shot. This frank convic­ tion, far from spreading discouragement, galvanized our spirit of re­ sistance. My friend Mazin (Lichtenstadt) went off to the front, after a talk we both had with Zinoviev. “The front line is everywhere, we told him. Out in the scrubland or the marshes you will die soon and with­ out achieving anything. Men better fitted for war than you are needed for that, and there is no shortage of them.” But he insisted. He told me afterwards that since we were facing utter ruin, and were probably

104 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

doomed, he saw no point in gaining a mere few m onths reprieve for his own life, doing jobs o f organization, publishing, etc., which were fruitless from now on; and that, at an hour when so many men were dying quite uselessly out in the wilds, he felt a horror o f Smolny of­ fices, committees, printed matter, and the Hotel Astoria. I argued with him that it was our overriding duty to hold on, to live, not to ex­ pose ourselves to danger except in the direst necessity; that we would have a chance to get ourselves killed by using up the last bullets. (I had just returned from what was a more or less deadly mission, cut short by Bukharin. I had not felt fear nor was I afraid to show fear, but I did realize that there were so many reasons to go on fighting that even in­ telligent heroics appeared absurd to me.) I imagined that the war ser­ vice o f this myopic intellectual, absentminded over the smallest things, was destined to last a fortnight at the most. Mazin-Lichtenstadt de­ parted, and made war for a little longer than that. Zinoviev, doubtless w ishing to save him, had him appointed political commissar to the Sixth Division, which was barring Yudenich’s path. The Sixth Divi­ sion broke under fire and was overwhelmed; its remnants fled in dis­ array over the sodden roads. Bill Shatov, scandalized, showed me a letter from M azin that said: “The Sixth Division no longer exists; there is only a fleeing mob over which I have no more control. The command no longer exists. I demand to be relieved o f my political functions and given a privates rifle.” “He is mad!” Shatov exclaimed. “I f all our commissars were so romantic, a fine state we should be in! I’m giving him a dressing-down by telegram and I won’t mince my words, I assure you!” W hat I saw o f the rout made me understand M azin’s reaction. There’s nothing like a defeated army, overcome by panic, sensing betrayal in the air, it ceases to obey orders and becomes a herd o f frightened men, ready to lynch anyone daring to stand in their way, flinging their weapons into the ditches. .. Such a feeling of hopelessness emanates from it and nervous panic is so subtly and sav­ agely contagious that those who still have courage are left only with the despairing option o f suicide. V ladim ir Ossipovich Mazin did as he had written: he renounced his command, picked up a rifle, collected a little band o f Communists, and tried to stop both the rout and the enemy simultaneously. There

A N G U I S H A N D E N T H U S I A S M : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0 . 105

were four o f these determined comrades on the edge of a forest; one of the four was his orderly, who had refused to desert him. These four engaged in furious combat, alone against the White cavalry, and were killed. Much later, some peasants pointed out to us the spot where the commissar had fired his last bullets before falling. They had buried him there. Four corpses, dried up by the earth, were taken back to Petrograd; one o f them, a little sol­ dier beaten to death with a rifle butt, his skull battered in, was still making to protect his face with his stiffened arm. I identified Mazin by his fine fin­

V l ad i m i r Ossi povi ch Ma zi n

gernails, a former prisoner from Schlus­ selburg identified him by his teeth. We laid him in his grave in the Field o f Mars. (This was after our victory, a victory that I think none of us then believed in.) Naturally, like all the comrades, I performed a host of functions. I ran the Romance languages section and publications o f the Interna­ tional, I met the foreign delegates who kept arriving by adventurous routes through the blockade’s barbed-wire barrier. I carried out a Commissar’s duties over the archives o f the old Ministry o f the Inte­ rior, i.e., the Okhrana. I was at the same time a trooper in the Com­ munist battalion o f the Second District, and a member o f the Defense staff, where I was engaged in smuggling between Russia and Finland. From honest dealers in Helsinki we would buy excellent weapons, Mauser pistols in wooden cases which were delivered to us on a quiet sector of the front (quiet because o f this minor traffic) fifty or so ki­ lometers from Leningrad. To pay for these useful commodities, we printed whole casefuls o f beautiful 500-ruble notes, watery in appear­ ance, with the image o f Catherine the Great and the signature of a bank director as dead as his bank, his social order, and the Empress Catherine. Case for case, the exchange was made silently in a wood of somber firs— it was really the maddest commercial transaction imaginable. Obviously the recipients of the Imperial banknotes were

106 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

taking out a mortgage on our deaths, at the same time furnishing us with the means for our defense. The archives o f the O khrana, the late political police o f the autoc­ racy, presented a serious problem. In no event were they to be allowed to fall again into reactionary hands. They contained biographies and even excellent historical dissertations on the revolutionary parties; if we were to undergo a defeat, followed by W hite terror and illegal re­ sistance (for which we were making preparation), the whole collection would provide precious weapons for tom orrows hangmen and firing squads. To add another relatively minor inconvenience, some schol­ arly and sympathetic archivists, who also anticipated our coming end, were surreptitiously pilfering these stirring old documents, out o f an entirely admirable concern to see that they were not destroyed. There were no railway trucks to convey them to Moscow, and no time either, since Petrograd might fall any week now. W hile barricades were being raised at street corners, I saw to the packing o f those boxes considered the most interesting, so that I could try to get them out at the last mo­ ment; and I ordered arrangements to be made whereby, either in the Senate building or at the station itself, everything would be burnt and blown up by a squad o f trusted comrades at the moment when any alternative course would cease to be possible. The archivists (from whom I concealed this plan) suspected that something was afoot and were sick with fear and vexation. Leonid Borisovich Krassin came on behalf o f the Central Com mittee to inquire about the measures that were being taken to save or destroy the police archives, in which he was a figure o f perceptible importance. A perfect gentleman, dressed in bourgeois style with a genuine concern for correctness and ele­ gance, he passed through our headquarters, which were full o f work­ ers in cloth caps and overcoats with cartridge belts. A handsome man, with a beard neatly trimmed to a broad point, an intellectual in the grand style, he was at the time o f our snatched conversation so tired that I thought he was sometimes asleep on his feet. On 17 October Yudenich captured Gatchina, about twenty-five miles from Petrograd. Two days later his advance forces entered Ligovo, on the city’s outskirts, about nine miles away. Bill Shatov stormed away: “The principles o f military science, which my experts

A N G U I S H A N D E N T H U S I A S M : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0 • 107

never scop reminding me of, require Divisional Headquarters to be such-and-such many miles from the firing line. Here we are, two hun­ dred yards away! I told them, ‘To hell with your scientific principles!”’ It seemed quite plainly to be our death-agony. There were no trains and no fuel for evacuation, and scarcely a few dozen cars. We had sent the children of known militants oft to the Urals; they were traveling there now in the first snows, from one famished village to the next, not knowing where to halt. We arranged new identities for ourselves, trying to “change our faces.” It was relatively easy for those with beards, who only had to shave, but as for the others... An efficient girl-comrade, lively and affable as a child, was setting up secret arms depots. I no longer slept at the Astoria, whose ground floor was lined with sandbags and machine guns against a siege; I spent my nights with the Commu­ nist troops in the outer defenses. My wife, who was pregnant, resorted to sleeping in an ambulance in the rear, with a case holding a little linen and our most precious possessions, so that we might be reunited during the battle and fight together in the retreat along the Neva. The plan for the cicy’s internal defense envisaged fighting along the canals dividing the town, a stubborn defense o f the bridges, and a fi­ nal retreat that was quite impracticable. The huge solemn spaces of Petrograd, in their pale autumn melancholy, fitted this atmosphere of inescapable defeat. So deserted was the city that riders could gallop at full speed along the central thoroughfares. The Smolny Institute (once an educational establishment for young ladies o f the aristoc­ racy), now the office o f the Executive o f the Soviet and the Party Committee, presented a stern picture with its show of cannon at the entrance. It is made up o f two masses o f buildings surrounded by gar­ dens, standing between vast streets and the equally vast turbulence of the Neva, which is straddled not far from there by an iron bridge. There is a former convent, whose baroque architecture is charmingly ornate, standing with its church, a rather lofty building with figured belfry turrets; the whole is painted in a bright blue. Next to it is the Institute proper, with pediments and columns on all four sides, a twofloor barracks built by architects who knew of nothing but straight lines, rectangle upon rectangle. The convent housed the Workers’ Guards. The great square office rooms, whose windows overlooked

108 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

the wastelands o f the dying city, were practically empty. A pale, puffy Zinoviev, round-shouldered and quiet-spoken, lived there amidst tele­ phones, in constant communication with Lenin. He pleaded for resis­ tance, but his voice was weakening. The most competent experts, m ilitary engineers, and former pupils o f the M ilitary School (no less), considered resistance to be quite impossible and made constant refer­ ence to the massacres it would entail, just as though the city’s surren­ der or abandonment were not bound to entail a massacre o f a more demoralizing character. The news from the other fronts was so bad that Lenin was reluc­ tant to sacrifice the last available forces in the defense o f a doomed city. Trotsky thought otherwise; the Politburo entrusted him with the final initiative. He arrived at almost the last moment and his pres­ ence instantly changed the atmosphere at Smolny, as it did when he visited headquarters and the Peter-Paul Fortress, whose commander was Avrov. H e must have been a noncommissioned officer and former worker. I saw him laboring away every day, his tunic unbuttoned at the top, his square face deeply lined, his eyes heavily lidded. He would listen vacantly to what you said, then a little light would appear in his ash-gray eyes and he would reply emphatically, “ I’ll give orders right now” but then a moment later he would add furiously, “But I don’t know i f they can be carried out!” Trotsky arrived with his train, that famous train which had been speeding to and fro along the different fronts since the day in the pre­ vious year when its engineers orderlies, typists, and military experts had, together with Trotsky, Ivan Smirnov,* and Rosengoltz, retrieved a hopeless situation by w inning the battle o f Sviazhsk. The train o f the Revolutionary War Council’s President contained excellent motorcars, a liaison staff, a court o f justice, a printshop for propaganda, sanitary squads, and specialists in engineering, provisioning, street fighting, and artillery, all o f them men picked in battle, all self-confident, all bound together by friendship and trust, all kept to a strict, vigorous discipline by a leader they admired, all dressed in black leather, red stars on their peaked caps, all exhaling energy. It was a nucleus o f reso­ lute and efficiently serviced organizers, who hastened wherever dan­ ger demanded their presence.

A NGUISH A N D ENTHUSIASM : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0

• 109

They took everything in hand, meticulously and passionately. It was magical. Trotsky kept saying, “ It is impossible for a little army of fifteen thousand ex-officers to master a working-class capital of seven hundred thousand inhabitants.” He had posters put up proclaiming that the city would “defend itself on its own ground,” that from now on this was the best strategic method, that the small White Army would be lost in the labyrinth of fortified streets and there meet its grave. In contrast to this determination to win, a French Communist, Rene Marchand, who had just seen Lenin, told me of Vladimir Ily­ ich’s remark, matter-of-fact and mischievous as usual: “Oh well, we shall have to go underground all over again!” Or was this really so much o f a contrast? I caught glimpses of Trotsky in the street, then at a packed meeting of the Soviet, where he announced the arrival o f a division o f Bashkirian cavalry that we would launch mercilessly against Finland if Finland budged an inch! (It depended on Finland to deal us the deathblow.) This was an extremely skillful threat, which caused a chill of terror to pass over Helsinki. This session o f the Soviet took place beneath the lofty white columns o f the Tauride Palace, in the amphi­ theater o f the old Imperial Duma. Trotsky was all tension and energy: he was, besides, an orator of unique quality, whose metallic voice pro­ jected a great distance, ejaculating its short sentences that were often sardonic and always infused with a truly spontaneous passion. The decision to fight to the death was taken enthusiastically, and the whole amphitheater raised a song of immense power. I reflected that the psalms sung by Cromwell’s Roundheads before their decisive bat­ tles must have sounded no different a tone. Capable regiments of infantry, recalled from the Polish front, now marched through the city to take up their positions in the suburbs. The Bashkirian cavalry, mounted on small, longhaired horses from the steppes, rode in line along the streets. These horsemen, figures from a distant past, swarthy and wearing black sheepskin caps, sang their old songs in guttural voices to an accompaniment of shrill whis­ tling. Sometimes a thin, bespectacled intellectual would ride at their head: he was destined to become the author Konstantin Fedin." They fought rarely and deplorably, but that was unimportant. Convoys of

110 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

provisions, extorted G od knows how from God knows where, were arriving too: this was the most efficient weapon. It was rumored that the W hites had tanks. Trotsky had it proclaimed that the infantry was well able to knock tanks out. Certain mysterious but ingenious agitators spread the rumor, which may even have been true, that Yudenich’s tanks were made o f painted wood. The city was dotted with veritable fortresses; lines o f cannon occupied the streets. Mate­ rial from the underground drainage system was used to build these fortifications, the big pipes from the sewers being particularly handy. The anarchists were mobilized for the work o f defense. Kolabushkin, once a prisoner at Schlusselburg, was their leading light. The Party gave them arms, and they had a “Black headquarters” in a dev­ astated apartment belonging to a dentist who had fled. There, disor­ der and comradeship presided above all. There also presided the smile o f a fair-haired and intensely charming girl, who came from the Ukraine with reports o f frightful massacres and the latest news of Makhno.* Tsvetkova was to die shortly o f typhus. She brought a real beam o f sunshine into that group o f inflamed and embittered men. It was they who, on the night o f the worst danger, occupied the printing works o f Pravda, the Bolshevik paper that they hated, ready to defend it to the death. They discovered two W hites in their midst, armed with hand grenades and about to blow them up. W hat were they to do? They locked them in a room and looked at each other in embar­ rassment: “We are jailers, just like the Cheka!” They despised the Cheka with all their hearts. A proposal to shoot these enemy spies was rejected with horror. “W hat, us to be executioners!” Finally, my friend Kolabushkin, the ex-convict, at the time one o f the organizers o f the Republics fuel supply, was charged with taking them to the Peter-Paul Fortress. This was a poor compromise, since there the Cheka would shoot them within the hour. Once in the Black Guard s motorcar, Kolabushkin, who in the past had made this very same journey him self between a couple o f Tsarist gendarmes, saw their trapped faces and remembered the days o f his youth. He stopped the car and impulsively told them, “ Hop it, you bastards!” Afterwards he came, relieved but vexed, to tell me about those unbearable mo-

A NGUISH A N D ENTHUSIASM : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0

• 111

ments. “I was a fool, wasn’t I?” he asked me. “ But you know, all the same, I’m glad o f it.” Petrograd was saved on 2.1 October at the battle o f the Pulkovo Heights, some ten miles south o f the half-encircled city. Defeat was transformed into a victory so complete that Yudenich’s troops rolled back in disorder towards the Estonian frontier. There the Estonians blocked their path. The White Army that had failed to capture Petro­ grad perished miserably. About 300 workers who had hastened from Schlusselburg had also blocked the Whites at one critical moment, before being mown down by a body o f officers who marched into the fray as though on parade. Mazin-Lichtenstadt’s last message reached me after the battle. It was a letter that he asked me to send on to his wife. It said, “ He who sends men to their deaths must see that he himself gets killed.” It was an extraordinary fact, and one that proves how deep-rooted in its causes, both social and psychological (they amount to the same), our resilience was: but the same apparent miracle was achieved simul­ taneously on all the fronts o f the Civil War, although at the end of October and the beginning o f November the situation seemed equally hopeless everywhere. During the battle near Pulkovo, the White Army of General Denikin was beaten not far from Voronezh by the Red cav­ alry, hastily assembled by Trotsky and commanded by a former N CO named Budyenny. On 14 November Admiral Kolchak, the “Supreme Head,” lost Omsk, his capital in western Siberia. Salvation had come. The White disaster was the price o f two cardinal errors: their fail­ ure to have the intelligence and courage to carry out agrarian reform in the territories they wrested from the Revolution, and their rein­ statement everywhere o f the ancient trinity o f generals, high clergy, and landlords. A boundless confidence returned to us. I remembered what Mazin said, in the worst days of our famine when we saw old folk collapsing in the street, some holding out a little tin saucepan in their emaciated fingers. “All the same,” he told me, “we are the greatest power in the world. Alone, we are bringing the world a new principle of justice and the rational organization of work. Alone, in all this warsick Europe where nobody wants to fight any more, we are able to

112 ■ M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

form new armies, and tomorrow we shall be able to wage wars that are truly just. Their house o f cards must fall; the longer it lasts, the more misery and bloodshed it will cost.” By “the house o f cards” we meant the Versailles Treaty that had just been signed in June 1919. Together with M axim Gorky, P. E. Shchegolev, the historian, and Novorusky, the veteran o f the Peoples W ill Party, we founded the first Museum o f the Revolution. Zinoviev had a large part o f the W in­ ter Palace allotted to us. Like most o f the Party leaders, he really wanted to make it a museum for Bolshevik propaganda but, anxious to have the support o f the revolutionary intellectuals, and at least the appearance o f a scientific concern, he allowed us to make an honest beginning. I continued to investigate the Okhrana archives. The frightful mass o f documents that I found there afforded a unique kind o f psychological interest, but the practical bearing o f my research was perhaps even greater. For the first time the entire mechanism o f an authoritarian empire s police repression had fallen into the hands o f revolutionaries. Thorough study o f this material could furnish the militants o f other countries with useful clues.3 Despite our enthusi­ asm and our sense o f right, we were not certain that one day reaction would not drive us back. We were, indeed, more or less convinced to the contrary: it was a generally accepted thesis, which Lenin stated several times, that Russia, agricultural and backward (from an indus­ trial standpoint) as it was, could not create a lasting Socialist system for itself by its own efforts, and that consequently we should be over­ come sooner or later unless the European revolution, or at the very least the Socialist revolution in Central Europe, assured Socialism o f a broader and more viable base. Finally, we knew that former police spies were at work among us, most o f them ready to resume their ser­ vices to the counterrevolution; this implied grave danger for us. In the first days o f the March 1917 Revolution, the Petrograd Pal­ ace o f Justice had gone up in flames. We knew that the destruction of its archives, its anthropometric cards and collection o f secrets had been the work both o f the criminal underworld, which was interested in destroying these documents, and o f police agents. A t Kronstadt a 3. See S erg e’s What Every R adical Should Know About State Repression.

A N G U I S H A N D E N T H U S I A S M : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0 - 113

“revolutionary” who was also a police spy had carried o ff the Security archives and burnt them. The Okhrana’s secret collection contained between thirty thousand and forty thousand records of agents provo­ cateurs active over the last twenty years. By devoting ourselves to a simple calculation o f the probabilities o f decease, and various other eliminations, and taking account o f the three thousand or so that had been unmasked through the patient work of the archivists, we esti­ mated that several thousand former secret agents were still active in the Revolution—at least five thousand, according to the historian Shchegolev, who told me o f the following incident which happened in a town on the Volga. A commission, composed o f known members of the different par­ ties o f the extreme Left and the Left in general, was interrogating the leading officials o f the Imperial police on this question o f provoca­ tion. The head o f the political police apologized for not being able to name two o f his ex-agents since they were members of this very com­ mission; he would rather that these gentlemen obeyed the voice of their conscience and identified themselves! And two of the “revolu­ tionaries” stood up in confusion. The old secret agents, all o f them initiates into the political life, could pretend to be seasoned revolutionaries; since they were not at all troubled by scruples, they found it to their own advantage to rally to the ruling party, in which it was easy for them to obtain good posi­ tions. Consequently they played a certain role in the system: we guessed that some o f them were under orders to select and follow the worst possible policies, engineering excesses and sowing discredit. It was extremely hard to unmask them. As a rule the records were classi­ fied under pseudonyms, and assiduous cross-checking was necessary before identification could be established. For example, in 1911 in the revolutionary organizations of Moscow (which were by no means mass organizations) there were fifty-five police agents: seventeen SocialRevolutionaries, twenty Menshevik or Bolshevik Social-Democrats, three anarchists, eleven students, and several Liberals. In the same period the leader o f the Bolshevik fraction in the Duma, and spokes­ man for Lenin, was a police spy, Malinovsky. The head of the SocialRevolutionary Party’s terrorist organization, a member of its Central

114 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

Com m ittee, was an Okhrana agent, Evno Azev— this from 1903 to 1908, at the time o f the most sensational assassinations. Somewhere around 1930, to cut a long story short, several former police agents were finally unmasked among the Leningrad leadership! I found an extraordinary file, one in need o f no deciphering, No. 378: Julia Orestovna Serova, wife o f a Bolshevik deputy in the Second Imperial Dum a; he was a fine militant who had been shot in 1918 at Chita. The catalogue o f Serova’s services, listed in a report to the Minister, re­ vealed that she had betrayed caches o f arms and literature; had Rykov,* Kamenev, and many others arrested; and spied for a great length o f time on the Party committees. H aving at last fallen under suspicion and been sent packing she wrote, in February 1917, a few weeks before the fall o f the autocracy, to the head o f the secret police asking to be reemployed “ in view o f the great events that are drawing near.” She got married again, to a Bolshevik worker, and so was once again in a position to carry on her activities. The letters revealed a woman o f practical intelligence, zealous, greedy for money, and perhaps hysteri­ cal. One evening, in a circle o f friends having tea, we discussed this particular psychological case. A n old woman-militant stood up flab­ bergasted: “Serova? But I just met her in town! She’s actually married again, to a comrade in the Vyborg district!” Serova was arrested and shot. The psychology o f the police spy was usually double-natured. G orky showed me a letter that one o f them, still at large, had written to him. The gist o f it ran: “ I hated myself, but I knew that my little betrayals would not stop the Revolution from marching on.” The Okhrana’s instructions advised its minions to seek out those revolu­ tionaries who were fainthearted, embittered, or disappointed, to make use o f personal rivalries, and to assist the advancement o f skill­ ful agents by eliminating the most talented militants. The old barris­ ter Kozlovsky, who had been the first People’s Commissar for Justice, told me his impressions o f Malinovsky. The former Bolshevik leader in the Dum a returned to Russia from Germany in 1918, even after his unmasking and, presenting him self at Smolny, asked to be arrested. “Malinovsky? D on’t know the name!” replied the commandant o f the guard. “G o and explain yourself to the Party Com m ittee!” Kozlovsky

A N G U I S H A N D E N T H U S I A S M : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0 . 115

interrogated him; Malinovsky said that he could not live outside the Revolution: “I have been a double-dealer despite my own best feelings. I want to be shot!” He maintained this attitude in front o f the revolu­ tionary tribunal. Krylenko ruthlessly demanded sentence (“The ad­ venturer is playing his last card!”), and Malinovsky was shot in the gardens o f the Kremlin. Many indications led me to believe that he was absolutely sincere and that if he had been allowed to live, he would have served as faithfully as the others. But what confidence could the others have in him? Gorky tried to save the lives o f the police spies, who in his eyes were the repositories o f a unique social and psychological experience. “These men are a sort o f monster, worthy o f preservation for research.” He used the same arguments to defend the lives o f high officials in the Tsarist political police. I remember a conversation on these matters that wandered onto the question o f the necessity for applying the death penalty to children. The Soviet leaders were concerned at the scale o f juvenile crime. Certain children, more or less abandoned, formed actual gangs. These were put into children’s homes, where they still starved; then they would abscond and resume a life of crime. Olga, a pretty little girl o f fourteen, had several child murders and several absconsions on her record. She organized burglaries in apartments where a child had been left alone by the parents. She would talk to it through the door, win its confidence, and get it to open the door to h er.. .What could be done with her? Gorky argued for the establish­ ment o f colonies for child criminals in the North, where life is rough and adventure always at hand. I do not know what became of the idea. We put together a fairly complete documentary picture of the ac­ tivities of the Okhrana’s Secret Service abroad. It had agents among immigrants everywhere as well as among the journalists and politi­ cians of many countries. The senior official Rachkovsky, on a tour of duty in Paris at the time of the Franco-Russian alliance, made the well-known comment about the “sordid venality o f the French press. We also found in the archives meticulous histories of the revolution­ ary parties, written by chiefs of police. These have since been pub­ lished. Pored over in the malachite halls o f the Winter Palace, whose windows overlooked the Peter-Paul Fortress, our very own Bastille,

116 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

these extraordinary tools o f a police state’s machinery o f repression should give pause for thought. They reveal the ultimate powerlessness o f repression when it seeks to impede the development o f a historical necessity and to defend a regime that is against the needs o f society. However powerfully equipped it might be, all it can achieve is to add to the suffering by gaining a little time. The C ivil War seemed about to end. General Denikin’s National Arm y was in flight across the Ukraine. In Siberia Adm iral Kolchak’s forces, encircled by the Red partisans, were in retreat. The idea o f a normalization o f life was exerting increasing pressure within the Party. Riazanov tirelessly demanded the abolition o f the death pen­ alty. The Cheka was unpopular. In the middle o f January 19Z 0 Dzer­ zhinsky, with the approval o f Lenin and Trotsky, recommended the abolition o f the death sentence throughout the country, except in dis­ tricts where there were m ilitary operations. On 17 January the decree was passed by the Government and signed by Lenin as President o f the Council o f People’s Commissars. For sev­ eral days the prisons, crammed with suspects, had been living in tense expectation. They knew immediately o f the tremendous good news, the end o f the Terror; the decree had still not appeared in the newspa­ pers. On the 18th or the 19th some o f the comrades at Smolny told me in hushed voices o f the tragedy o f the preceding night— no one men­ tioned it openly. W hile the newspapers were printing the decree, the Petrograd Chekas were liquidating their stock! Cartload after cart­ load o f suspects had been driven outside the city during the night, and then shot, heap upon heap. H ow many? In Petrograd between 150 and 10 0 ; in Moscow, it was said, between 10 0 and 300. In the dawn o f the days that followed, the families o f the massacred victims came to search that ghastly, freshly dug ground, looking for any relics, such as buttons or scraps o f stocking, that could be gathered there. The Chekists had presented the Government with a fait accompli. Much later I became personally acquainted with one o f those respon­ sible for the Petrograd massacre: I will call him Leonidov. “We thought,” he told me “that if the People’s Commissars were getting converted to humanitarianism, that was their business. O ur business was to crush the counterrevolution forever, and they could shoot us

A N G U I S H A N D E N T H U S I A S M : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0 • 117

afterwards if they felt like it!” It was a frightful and tragic example of occupational psychosis. Leonidov, when I knew him, was in any case definitely half-insane. In all likelihood the incorrigible counterrevo­ lutionaries were only a very minute percentage o f the victims. A few months later, during my wife’s confinement, I had a conversation with a sick woman who had just given birth to a stillborn child. Her hus­ band, the engineer Trotsky or Troytsky, had been shot during that abominable night. He was a former Social-Revolutionary who had taken part in the 1905 Revolution, and had been imprisoned for “spec­ ulation,” that is, for a single purchase o f sugar on the black market. I verified these facts. Even at Smolny, this drama was shrouded in utter mystery. How­ ever, it redounded to the regime’s profound discredit. It was becoming clear, to me and to others, that the suppression of the Cheka and the reintroduction o f regular tribunals and rights o f defense were from now on preconditions for the Revolution’s own safety. But we could do absolutely nothing. The Politburo, then composed (if I am not mis­ taken) o f Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, and Bukharin, deliberated the question without daring to answer it, being itself, I have no doubt, the victim o f a certain psychosis born o f fear and ruth­ less authority. Against the Party the anarchists were right when they inscribed on their black banners, “There is no worse poison than power”—meaning absolute power. From now on the psychosis o f ab­ solute power was to captivate the great majority o f the leadership, es­ pecially at the lower levels. I could give countless examples. It was a product of the inferiority complex o f the exploited, the enslaved, the humiliated o f the past; of the autocracy’s tradition, unwittingly re­ produced at each stage; o f the unconscious grudges of former convicts and gallows birds of the imperial prisons; o f the destruction of human kindness by the war and the civil war; o f fear and o f the decision to fight to the death. These feelings were inflamed by the atrocities o f the White Terror. At Perm, Admiral Kolchak had 4,000 workers killed Dut of a population o f 55,000. In Finland, the reaction had massacred Detween 15,000 and 17,000 Reds. Just in the small town of Proskurov ieveral thousand Jews had been slaughtered. This news, these ac:ounts, these mind-boggling statistics were a daily diet. Otto Korvin,

118 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

with his friends, had just been hanged in Budapest before an excited crowd o f society people. However, I remain convinced that the Social­ ist revolution would nevertheless have been much stronger and clearer it those who held supreme power had persevered in defending and applying a principle o f humanity towards the defeated enemy with as much energy as they did in overcoming him. I know they had an in­ kling o f this but did not have the will to carry it out. I know the great­ ness o f these men, but they, who belonged to the future, were in this respect prisoners o f the past. The spring o f 1910 opened with a victory— the capture o f Archan­ gel, now evacuated by the British— and then, all at once, the outlook changed. Once again there was peril, immediate and mortal: the Pol­ ish invasion. In the files o f the O khrana I had photographs o f Pilsudski, condemned years ago for plotting against the Tsars life. I met a doctor who had attended Pilsudski in a St. Petersburg hospital where he had pretended to be mad, with a rare skill, in order to get away. H im self a revolutionary and a terrorist, he was now hurling his le­ gions against us. A wave o f anger and enthusiasm rose against him. Brussilov and Polivanov, old Tsarist generals who by some accident had escaped execution, volunteered to fight in response to an appeal by Trotsky. I saw Gorky burst into tears on a balcony in the Nevsky Prospect, haranguing a battalion o ff to the front. “When will we stop all this killing and bleeding?” he would mutter under his bristling mustache. The death penalty was reintroduced and, under the stimulus o f de­ feat, the Chekas were given enlarged powers. The Poles were entering Kiev. Zinoviev kept saying, “O ur salvation lies in the International, and Lenin agreed with him. A t the height o f the war the Second Con­ gress o f the Communist International was hastily summoned. I worked literally day and night to prepare for it since, thanks to my knowledge o f languages and the Western world, I was practically the only person available to perform a whole host o f duties. I met Lansbury, the Eng­ lish pacifist, and John Reed* on their arrival. I hid a delegate o f Hun­ garian Left Communists, who were in opposition to Bela Kun and in some kind o f liaison with Rakovsky.* We published the Interna­ tional’s periodical in four languages. We sent innumerable secret mes-

A NG UISH A N D ENTHUSIASM: 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0

. 119

sages abroad by various adventurous routes. I translated Lenin’s messages, and also the book that Trotsky had just written in his mili­ tary train, Terrorism and Communism, which emphasized the neces­ sity for a long dictatorship “ in the period o f transition to socialism,” for several decades at least. Trotsky’s rigid ideas, with their schematism and voluntarism, disturbed me a little. Everything was scarce: staff, paper, ink, even bread, as well as facilities for communication. All we received in the way o f foreign newspapers were a few copies bought in Helsinki by smugglers who crossed the front lines especially for the purpose. I paid them 100 rubles per copy. On occasions when one of their number had been killed they came to ask for extra money, at which we did not demur. In Moscow, organizational activity was pro­ ceeding at an equally feverish pace under the supervision o f Angelica Balabanova and Bukharin. I met Lenin when he came to Petrograd for the first session of the Congress. We had tea together in a small reception room in the Smolny. Yevdokimov and Angel Pestana, the delegate from the Span­ ish C N T , were with me when Lenin came in. He beamed, shaking the hands that were outstretched to him, passing from one salutation to the next. Yevdokimov and he embraced one another gaily, gazing straight into each other’s eyes, happy as overgrown children. Vladimir Ilyich was wearing one o f his old jackets dating back to his emigra­ tion, perhaps brought back from Zurich; I saw it on him in all seasons. Practically bald, his cranium high and bulging, his forehead strong, he had commonplace features: an amazingly fresh and pink face, a little reddish beard, slightly jutting cheekbones, eyes horizontal but apparently slanted because o f the laughter lines, a gray-green gaze at people, and a surpassing air of geniality and cheerful malice. In the Kremlin he still occupied a small apartment built for a pal­ ace servant. In the recent winter he, like everyone else, had had no heating. When he went to the barber’s he took his turn, thinking it unseemly for anyone to give way to him. An old housekeeper looked after his rooms and did his mending. He knew that he was the Party’s foremost brain and recently, in a grave situation, had used no threat worse than that of resigning from the Central Committee so as to ippeal to the rank and file! He craved a tribune’s popularity, stamped

120 ■ M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

with the seal o f the masses’ approval, devoid o f any show or ceremony. H is manners and behavior betrayed not the slightest inkling o f any taste for authority; what showed through was only the urgency o f the devoted technician who wants the work to be done, and done quickly and well. A lso in evidence was his forthright resolve that the new in­ stitutions, weak though they might be to the point o f a merely sym­ bolic existence, must nevertheless be respected. On that day, or perhaps the following one, he spoke for several hours at the first formal session o f the Congress, under the white col­ onnade o f the Tauride Palace. H is report dealt with the historical situation consequent upon the Versailles Treaty. Quoting abundantly from M aynard Keynes, Lenin established the insolvency o f a Europe carved up arbitrarily by victorious imperialisms, and the impossibility o f any lengthy endurance by Germ any o f the burdens that had been so idiotically imposed upon her; he concluded that a new European rev­ olution, which was destined also to involve the colonial peoples o f Asia, must be inevitable. H e was neither a great orator nor a first-rate lecturer. He employed no rhetoric and sought no demagogical effects. His vocabulary was that o f a newspaper article, and his technique included diverse forms o f repetition, all with the aim o f driving in ideas thoroughly, as one drives in a nail. H e was never boring, on account o f his mimic’s liveli­ ness and the reasoned conviction which drove him. His customary gestures consisted o f raising his hand to underline the importance o f what he had said, and then bending towards the audience, smiling and earnest, his palms spread out in an act o f demonstration: “It is obvious, isn’t it?” Here was a man o f a basic simplicity, talking to you honestly with the sole purpose o f convincing you, appealing exclu­ sively to your judgment, to facts and sheer necessity. “ Facts have hard heads,” he was fond o f saying. H e was the embodiment o f plain com­ mon sense, so much so that he disappointed the French delegates, who were used to impressive Parliamentary joustings. “When you see Lenin at close quarters, he loses much o f his glamour,” I was told by one French deputy, an eloquent skeptic positively bursting with witty epigrams. Zinoviev had commissioned Isaac Brodsky to paint a large canvas

A N G U I S H A N D E N T H U S I A S M : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0 ■ 121

o f this historic session. Brodsky made sketches. Years later the painter was still working on his canvas, altering the faces o f those present to those o f others— to new dubious ones— as the crises and the opposi­ tions modified the composition o f the Executive o f the day. The Comintern’s* Second Congress took up the rest of its work in Moscow. The Congress staff and the foreign delegates lived in the H o­ tel Delovoy Dvor, centrally situated at the end of a wide boulevard, one side o f which was lined by the white embattled rampart of KitayGorod. Medieval gateways topped by an ancient turret formed the approach to the nearby Varvarka, where the first o f the Romanovs had lived. From there we came out into the Kremlin, a city within a city, every entrance guarded by sentries who checked our passes. There, in the palaces o f the old autocracy, in the midst of ancient Byzantine churches, lay the headquarters o f the Revolution’s double arm, the So­ viet Government and the International. The only city the foreign del­ egates never got to know (and their incuriosity in this respect disturbed me) was the real, living Moscow, with its starvation rations, its arrests, its sordid prison episodes, its behind-the-scenes racketeer­ ing. Sumptuously fed amidst universal misery (although, it is true, too many rotten eggs turned up at mealtimes), shepherded from museums to model nurseries, the representatives o f international Socialism seemed to react like holiday-makers or tourists within our poor Re­ public, flayed and bleeding with the siege. I discovered a novel variety o f insensitivity: Marxist insensitivity. Paul Levi,* a leading figure in the German Communist Party, an athletic and self-confident figure, told me outright that “ for a Marxist, the internal contradictions of the Russian Revolution were nothing to be surprised at.” This was doubtless true, except that he was using this general truth as a screen to shut away the sight o f immediate fact, which has an importance all its own. Most of the Marxist Left, now Bolshevized, adopted this complacent attitude. The words “dictatorship of the proletariat functioned as a magical explanation for them, without it ever occur­ ring to them to ask where this dictator of a proletariat was, what it thought, felt, and did. The Social-Democrats, by contrast, were notable for their critical spirit and for their incomprehension. Among the best of them (I am

122 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

thinking o f the Germans Daumig,* Crispien,* and Dittmann*), their peaceful, bourgeoisified socialist humanism was so offended by the Revolutions harsh climate that they were incapable o f thinking straight. The anarchist delegates, with whom I held many discussions, had a healthy revulsion from “official truths” and the trappings of power, and a passionate interest in actual life; but, as the adherents of an essentially emotional approach to theory, who were ignorant o f po­ litical economy and had never faced the problem o f power, they found it practically impossible to achieve any theoretical understanding of what was going on. They were excellent comrades, more or less at the stage o f the romantic arguments for the “universal revolution” that the libertarian artisans had managed to frame between 1848 and i860, before the growth o f modern industry and its proletariat. A m ong them were: Angel Pestana o f the Barcelona C N T , a watch­ maker and a brave popular leader, slender in build, with beautiful dark eyes and a small mustache o f the same hue; Arm ando Borghi, of the Italian Unione Sindicale, with his fine face, bearded, young, and M azzini-like, and his fervent but velvety voice; Augustin Souchy, redhaired and with an old trooper’s face, the delegate from the Swedish and German syndicalists; Lepetit, a sturdy navvy from the French C G T and L e Libertaire, merry but mistrustful and questioning, who suddenly swore that “ in France the revolution would be made quite differently!” Lenin was very anxious to have the support o f “the best o f the anarchists.” To tell the truth, outside Russia and perhaps Bulgaria, there were no real Com m unists anywhere in the world. The old schools o f revo­ lution, and the younger generation that had emerged from the war, were both at an infinite distance from the Bolshevik mentality. The bulk o f these men were symptomatic o f obsolete movements that had been quite outrun by events, combining an abundance o f good inten­ tions with a scarcity o f talent. The French Socialist Party was repre­ sented by Marcel Cachin* and L.-O. Frossard,* both o f them highly Parliamentary in their approach. Cachin was, as usual, sniffing out the direction o f the prevailing wind. Ever mindful o f his personal popularity, he was shifting to the Left, after having been a supporter o f the “Sacred Union” during the war and a backer, on behalf o f the

ANG UISH A N D ENTHUSIASM : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0

. 123

French Government, o f Mussolini’s jingoist campaigns in Italy: this was in 1916. On their way, Cachin and Frossard had stopped off in Warsaw for talks with the Polish Socialists who supported Pilsudski’s aggression against the revolution. When this became known Trotsky insisted that they be asked to leave without delay— and we never saw them again. The expulsion o f “these politicians” produced widespread satisfaction. The Paris Committee o f the Third International had sent Alfred Rosmer; he o f the Ibsenesque surname was a syndicalist, a de­ voted internationalist, and an old personal friend o f Trotsky. Beneath his half-smile Rosmer incarnated the qualities o f vigilance, discretion, silence, and dedication. His colleague from the same Committee was Raymond Lefebvre, a tall sharp-featured young man who had carried stretchers at Verdun. A poet and novelist, he had just written his con­ fession o f faith as a man home from the trenches, in a luxuriantly po­ etic style. It was entitled Revolution or Death! He spoke for the survivors o f a generation now lying buried in communal graves. We quickly became friends. O f the Italians, I remember the veteran Lazzari, an upright old man whose feverish voice burned with an undying enthusiasm; Serrati’s bearded, myopic, and professorial face; Terracini, a young theo­ retician with a tall, ascetic forehead, who was fated to spend the best years o f his life in jail, after giving the world a few pages o f his keen intellect; Bordiga,* exuberant and energetic, features blunt, hair thick, black, and bristly, a man quivering under his encumbrance of ideas, experiences, and dark forecasts. There was Angelica Balabanova, a slender woman whose delicate, already motherly face was framed in a double braid of black hair. An air of extreme gracefulness encompassed her. Perpetually active, she still hoped for an International that was unconfined, openhearted, and rather romantic. Rosa Luxemburg’s lawyer, Paul Levi, represented the German Communists; Daumig, Crispien, Dittmann, and another represented Germany’s Independent Social-Democratic Party, four likable, rather helpless middlemen, good beer drinkers, one could be sure, and conscientious officials in stodgy, established working-class organizations. It was obvious at first glance that here were no insur­ gent souls. O f the British, I met only Gallacher, who looked like

124 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

a stocky prizefighter. From the United States came Fraina,* later to fall under grave suspicion, and John Reed, the eyewitness o f the 1917 Bolshevik uprising, whose book on the Revolution was already con­ sidered authoritative. I had met Reed in Petrograd, whence we had organized his clandestine departure through Finland: the Finns had been sorely tempted to finish him o ff and had confined him for a while in a death trap o f a jail. H e had just visited some small town­ ships in the Moscow outskirts, and reported what he had seen: a ghost country where only famine was real. He was amazed that Soviet pro­ duction continued despite everything. Reed was tall, forceful, and matter-of-fact, with a cool idealism and a lively intelligence tinged by humor. Once again I saw Rakovsky, the head o f the Soviet Govern­ ment in a Ukraine that was now prey to hundreds o f roving bands: W hite, Nationalist, Black (or anarchist), Green, and Red. Bearded and dressed in a soldiers worn uniform, he broke into perfect French while he was on the rostrum. From Bulgaria Kolarov* arrived, huge and somewhat potbellied, whose noble and commanding face bore the stamp o f assurance: he blurted out a promise to the Congress that he would take power at home as soon as the International asked him! From Holland there came Wijnkoop,* among others: dark-bearded and long-jawed, appar­ ently aggressive, but destined as it turned out for a career o f limitless servility. From India, by way o f Mexico, we had the pockmarked Manabendra Nath Roy*: very tall, very handsome, very dark, with very wavy hair, he was accompanied by a statuesque Anglo-Saxon woman who appeared to be naked beneath her flimsy dress. We did not know that in Mexico he had been the target o f some unpleasant suspicions; he was fated to become the guiding spirit o f the tiny Indian Commu­ nist Party, to spend several years in prison, to start activity again, to slander the Opposition with nonsensical insults, to be expelled him­ self, and then to return to grace— but this was all in the distant future. The Russians led the dance, and their superiority was so obvious that this was quite legitimate. The only figure in Western Socialism that was capable o f equaling them, or even perhaps o f surpassing them so far as intelligence and the spirit o f freedom were concerned, was Rosa Luxemburg, and she had been battered to death with the butt of

A N G U I S H A N D E N T H U S I A S M : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0 • 125

a revolver in January 1919 by German officers. Apart from Lenin, che Russians consisted o f Zinoviev, Bukharin, Rakovsky (who, though Romanian by origin, was as much Russified as he was Frenchified), and Karl Radek, recently released from a Berlin prison in which he had courted death and where Leo Jogiches* had been murdered at his side. Trotsky, if he indeed came to the Congress, must have made only rare appearances, for I do not remember having seen him there. He was principally occupied with the state o f the fronts, and the Polish front was still ablaze. The work o f the Congress centered upon three issues, and also a fourth which, though even more important, was not touched upon in open session. Lenin was bending every effort to convince the “Left Communists”— Dutch, German, or (like Bordiga) Italian—of the necessity for compromise and participation in electoral and Parlia­ mentary politics. He warned o f the danger of their becoming revolu­ tionary sects. In his discussion o f the “national and colonial question,” Lenin emphasized the possibility, and even necessity, of inspiring Soviet-type revolutions in the Asiatic colonial countries. The experi­ ence of Russian Turkestan seemed to lend support to his arguments. He was aiming primarily at India and China; he thought that the blow must be directed at these countries in order to weaken British imperialism, which then appeared as the inveterate foe of the Soviet Republic. The Russians had no further hopes for the traditional So­ cialist parties o f Europe. They judged that the only possible course was to work for splits that would break with the old reformist and Parliamentary leaderships, thereby creating new parties, disciplined and controlled by the Executive in Moscow, which would proceed ef­ ficiently to the conquest of power. Serrati raised serious objections to the Bolshevik tactic of support for the colonial nationalist movements, demonstrating the reaction­ ary and disturbing elements in these movements, which might emerge in the future. It was naturally out o f the question to listen to him. Bordiga opposed Lenin on questions of organization and general per­ spective. Without daring to say so, he was afraid of the influence of the Soviet State on the Communist Parties, and the temptations of com­ promise, demagogy, and corruption. Above all, he did not believe that



a peasant Russia was capable o f guiding the international workingclass movement. Beyond doubt, his was one o f the most penetrating intellects at the Congress, but only a very tiny group supported him. The Congress made ready for the splitting o f the French Party (at Tours) and the Italian Party (at Leghorn) by laying down twenty-one stringent conditions for the affiliates o f the International, or rather twenty-two: the twenty-second, which is not at all well known, ex­ cluded Freemasons. The fourth problem was not on the agenda and no trace o f it w ill ever be found in the published accounts, but I saw it discussed with considerable heat by Lenin, in a gathering o f foreign delegates in a small room just o ff the grand, gold-paneled hall o f the Imperial Palace. A throne had been bundled away here, and next to this useless piece o f furniture a map o f the Polish front was displayed on the wall. The rattle o f typewriters filled the air. Lenin, jacketed, briefcase under arm, delegates and typists all around him, was giving his views on the march o f Tukhachevsky s army on Warsaw. He was in excellent spirits, and confident o f victory. Karl Radek, thin, monkey­ like, sardonic, and droll, hitched up his oversize trousers (which were always slipping down over his hips), and added, “ We shall be ripping up the Versailles Treaty with our bayonets!” A little later, we were to discover that Tukhachevsky was com­ plaining about the exhaustion o f his troops and the lengthening o f his lines o f communication; that Trotsky considered the offensive to be too rushed and risky in those circumstances; that Lenin had forced the attack to a certain extent by sending Rakovsky and Smilga* as po­ litical commissars to accompany Tukhachevsky; and that it would, despite everything, probably have succeeded if Stalin and Budyenny had provided support instead o f marching on Lvov to assure them­ selves o f a personal victory. Defeat came at Warsaw, quite suddenly, just at the moment when the fall o f the Polish capital was actually being announced. Apart from some students and a very few workers, the peasantry and prole­ tariat o f Poland had not welcomed the Red Army. I remained con­ vinced that the Russians had made a psychological error by including Dzerzhinsky, the man o f the Terror, side by side with Marchlewski on the Revolutionary Committee that was to govern Poland. I declared

ANG UISH A N D ENTHUSIASM : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0

. 127

that, far from firing the popular enthusiasm, the name o f Dzerzhin­ sky would freeze it altogether. That is just what happened. Once more, the westward expansion o f the revolution had failed. There was no alternative for the Bolsheviks but to turn east. Hastily, the Congress o f the Oppressed Nationalities o f the East was convened at Baku. As soon as the Comintern Congress was over, Zinoviev, Radek, Rosmer, John Reed, and Bela Kun went off to Baku in a special train, whose defense (since they were to pass through per­ ilous country) and command were entrusted to their friend Yakov Blumkin. I shall say more o f Blumkin later, apropos o f his frightful death. At Baku, Enver Pasha* put in a sensational appearance. A whole hall full o f Orientals broke into shouts, with scimitars and yataghans brandished aloft: “Death to imperialism!" All the same, genuine understanding with the Islamic world, swept as it was by its own national and religious aspirations, was still difficult. Enver Pasha aimed at the creation o f an Islamic state in Central Asia; he was to be killed in a battle against the Red cavalry two years later. Returning home from this remarkable trip, John Reed took a great bite out o f a watermelon he had bought in a picturesque Daghestan market. As a result he died, from typhoid. The Moscow Congress is associated for me with more than one such loss. Before I write of these deaths, I would like to say more of the circumstances o f the time. My own experience was probably unique, since in this period I maintained a staunch openness in my approach, being in daily contact with official circles, ordinary folk, and the Rev­ olution’s persecuted dissenters. Throughout the Petrograd celebrations, I was concerned with the fate o f Voline,* though some friends and myself had managed to save his life for the time being. Voline, whose real name was Boris Eichenbaum, was a working-class intellectual who had been one o f the founders o f the 1905 St. Petersburg Soviet. He had returned from America in 1917 to lead the Russian anarchist movement. He had joined Makhno’s “Ukrainian Army of Insurgent Peasants,” fought the Whites, resisted the Reds, and tried to organize a free peasants’ federation in the region o f Gulyai-Polye. After he had caught typhus, he was captured by the Red Army in the course o f a Black retreat. We were afraid that he might be shot out of hand. We



succeeded in preventing this extremity by dispatching a Petrograd comrade straight to the spot; he had the prisoner transferred to Mos­ cow. N ow I had no sure news o f him: I was at the time, together with the Com intern delegates, watching the performance o f an authentic Soviet mystery play in the court inside the old Exchange. We saw the Paris Com m une raise its red banners, then perish; we sawjaures assas­ sinated, and the audience cried out in grief; we saw, at last, the joyful and victorious Revolution in triumph over the world. The invisible presence o f the persecuted for me spoilt the moment o f triumph. In Moscow, I learned that Lenin and Kamenev had promised to see that Voline, now in a Cheka prison, would not die. Here we were with our discussions in the Imperial halls o f the Krem lin, while this model revolutionary was in a cell awaiting an uncertain end. A fter I left the Krem lin I would visit another dissident, this time a M arxist, whose honesty and brilliance were o f the first order: Yuri Ossipovich Martov, co-founder, with Plekhanov and Lenin, o f Rus­ sian Social-Democracy, and the leader o f Menshevism. He was cam­ paigning for working-class democracy, denouncing the excesses o f the Cheka and the Lenin-Trotsky “mania for authority.” He kept saying, “Just as though Socialism could be instituted by decree, and by shoot­ ing people in cellars!” Lenin, who was fond o f him, protected him against the Cheka, though he quailed before M artovs sharp criticism. W hen I saw M artov he was living on the brink o f utter destitution in a little room. He struck me at the very first glance as being aware o f his absolute incompatibility with the Bolsheviks, although like them he was a M arxist, highly cultured, uncompromising, and exceedingly brave. Puny, ailing, and limping a little, he had a slightly asymmetrical face, a high forehead, a mild and subtle gaze behind his spectacles, a fine mouth, a straggly beard, and an expression o f gentle intelligence. Here was a man o f scruple and scholarship, lacking the tough and ro­ bust revolutionary will that sweeps obstacles aside. His criticisms were apposite, but his general solutions verged on the utopian. “ Un­ less it returns to democracy, the Revolution is lost”: but how return to democracy and what sort o f democracy? A ll the same I felt it to be quite unforgivable that a man o f this caliber should be put into a posi­ tion where it was impossible for him to give the Revolution the whole

A N G U I S H A N D E N T H U S I A S M : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0 . 129

wealth available in his thinking. “You’ll see, you’ll see,” he would tell me, “ free cooperation with the Bolsheviks is never possible.” Just after I had returned to Petrograd, along with Raymond Lefebvre, Lepetit, Vergeat (a French syndicalist), and Sasha Tubin, a frightful drama took place there, which confirmed Martov’s worst fears. I will summarize what happened, though the affair was shrouded in obscu­ rity. The recently founded Finnish Communist Party emerged resent­ ful and divided from a bloody defeat in 1918. O f its leaders, I knew Sirola and Kuusinen, who did not seem particularly competent and had indeed acknowledged the commission o f many errors. I had just published a little book by Kuusinen on the whole business; he was a timid little man, circumspect and industrious. An opposition had been formed within the Party, in revulsion from the old Parliamen­ tary leadership that had been responsible for the defeat and which nowadays adhered to the Communist International. A Party Con­ gress at Petrograd resulted in an oppositional majority against the Central Committee, which was supported by Zinoviev. The Comin­ tern President had the Congress proceedings stopped. One evening a little later, some young Finnish students at a military school went along to a Central Committee meeting and summarily shot Ivan Rakhia and seven members of their own party. The press printed shame­ less lies blaming the assassination on the Whites. The accused openly justified their action, charging the Central Committee with treason, and demanded to be sent to the front. A committee o f three including Rosmer and the Bulgarian Shablin was set up by the International to examine the affair; I doubt if it ever met. The case was tried later in secret session by the Moscow revolutionary tribunal, Krylenko being the prosecutor. Its upshot was in some ways reasonable, in others monstrous. The guilty ones were formally condemned, but authorized to go off to the front (I do not know what actually happened to them). However, the leader of the Opposition, Voyto Eloranta, who was con­ sidered as “politically responsible,” was first condemned to a period of imprisonment, and then, in 1921, shot. So eight graves were dug in the Field of Mars and, from the Winter Palace where the eight red coffins were lying in state covered with branches o f pine, we marched them to their graves of heroes of the revolution. Raymond Lefebvre was due to

130 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

speak. A nd say what? H e couldn’t stop cursing— “For G o d ’s sake!”— again and again. On the platform, he denounced imperialism and the counterrevolution, o f course. Soldiers and workers listened in silence, frowning. Traveling with Raymond Lefebvre, Lepetit, and Vergeat was an old friend o f mine, Sasha Tubin. D uring my incarceration in France he had given me patient assistance in keeping up my clandestine cor­ respondence with the outside world. N ow while we were traveling around Petrograd, I saw him gloomy and obsessed by somber fore­ bodings. The four set o ff from M urmansk on a difficult route over the Arctic Sea, which was designed to pass through the naval block­ ade. O ur International Relations Section had worked out this peril­ ous itinerary: embark in a fishing boat, sail well past the tip o f the Finnish coast, and land at Vardoe in Norway, on ground that was free and safe. The four started on this route. In a hurry to attend a C G T congress, they set out on a day o f stormy weather, and disappeared at sea. Possibly they were engulfed in the storm, or perhaps a Finnish motorboat intercepted them and mowed them down; I knew that in Petrograd spies had trailed our every step. Every day for a fortnight Zinoviev asked me, with mounting anxiety, “Have you any news of the French comrades?” Around this disaster unworthy legends were to grow: they are all lies.4 (This would be in August or September 192-0.) W hile these four were drowning, a small-time adventurer was passing through the blockade and taking back to Paris diamonds he had purchased for a trifle in the black market o f Odessa. The episode is worth recounting because, in this time o f crisis, it de­ monstrates the scruples even o f the Cheka. I was eating with some delegates to the International with an extremely skinny man, badly dressed, who carried on his scrawny neck the head o f an unwell

4 . T here w ere ru m ors to the effect th at the death o f the fo u r w as the d eliberate re­ su lt o f C o m in te rn po licy. M a rcel B od y, w h o lived th ro u g h th is exp erience at S erg e’s side, later cam e to d o u b t the official version. See B o d y , U n p i a n o en bouleau d e C a r i l i e (P aris, 1981).

A N G U I S H A N D E N T H U S I A S M : 1 9 1 9 - 1 9 2 0 • 131

bird o f prey, Skrypnik, an Old Bolshevik and member of the Ukraine government— he who was due to commit suicide in 1934, falsely (of course) accused o f nationalism (in reality because he was defending some Ukrainian intellectuals). We noticed someone approaching who wore pince-nez and whose generous reddish mus­ tache decorated a ruddy face that I recognized immediately in amaze­ ment: Mauricius,* ex-individualist propagandist in Baris, ex-pacifist propagandist during the war, and now ex-what? At the High Court, during the trial o f Caillaux and Malvv, one of the senior Paris police officers had suddenly referred to this agitator as “one of our best agents.” “What are you doing here?” I asked him. “I’m a delegate for my group, I’m going to see Lenin . .. ” “And what about what was said in the High Court? What do vou say to that?” “A dirty trick by the police to discredit me!” He was arrested, o f course, and I had to defend him from the Cheka who wanted to give him an extended acquaintance with agricultural activities in Siberia, so as to stop him taking back po­ tentially useful information on the liaison service of the Interna­ tional. He was allowed to leave at his own risk and he managed very well. I end this chapter in the aftermath o f the Second Congress o f the International, in September and October of 1920. I have the feeling that this point marked a kind o f boundary for us. The failure of the attack on Warsaw meant the defeat o f the Russian Revolution in Cen­ tral Europe, although no one saw it as such. At home, new dangers were waxing and we were on the road to catastrophes of which we had only a faint foreboding. (By “we,” I mean the shrewdest com­ rades; the majority o f the Party was already blindly dependent on the schematism o f official thinking.) From October onwards significant events, fated to pass unnoticed in the country at large, were to gather with the gentleness of a massing avalanche. I began to feel, acutely I am bound to say, this sense of a danger from inside, a danger within ourselves, in the very temper and character of victorious Bolshevism.

132 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

I was continually racked by the contrast between the stated theory and the reality, by the growth o f intolerance and servility among many officials and their drive towards privilege. I remember a conver­ sation I had with the Peoples Com m issar for Food, Tsyurupa, a man with a splendid white beard and candid eyes. I had brought some French and Spanish comrades to him so that he could explain for our benefit the Soviet system o f rationing and supply. He showed us beau­ tifully drawn diagrams from which the ghastly famine and the im­ mense black market had vanished without trace. “W hat about the black market?” I asked him. “ It is o f no importance at all,” the old man replied. N o doubt he was sincere, but he was a prisoner o f his scheme, a captive o f his sys­ tem, w ithin offices whose occupants obviously all primed him with lies. I was astounded. So this was how Zinoviev could believe in the imminence o f proletarian revolution in Western Europe. Was this perhaps how Lenin could believe in the prospects o f insurrection among the Eastern peoples? The wonderful lucidity o f these great M arxists was beginning to be fuddled with a theoretical intoxication bordering on delusion, and they began to be enclosed within all the tricks and tomfooleries o f servility. A t meetings on the Petrograd front, I saw Zinoviev blush and bow his head in embarrassment at the imbecile flattery thrown in his face by young military careerists in their fresh shiny leather outfits. One o f them kept shouting, “ We will win because we are under the command o f our glorious leader, Com ­ rade Zinoviev!” A comrade who was a former convict had a sumptu­ ously colored cover designed by one o f the greatest Russian artists, which was intended to adorn one o f Zinovievs pamphlets. The artist and the ex-convict had combined to produce a masterpiece o f obse­ quiousness, in which Zinovievs Roman profile stood out like a pro­ consul in a cameo bordered by emblems. They brought it to the President o f the International, who thanked them cordially and, as soon as they were gone, called me to his side. “ It is the height o f bad taste,” Zinoviev told me in embarrassment, “ but I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. Have a very small number printed, and get a very simple cover designed instead.” On another day he showed me a letter from Lenin that touched on


■ 133

the new bureaucracy, calling them “all that Soviet riffraff.” This atmo­ sphere was often exacerbated, because the perpetuation of the Terror added an element o f intolerable inhumanity. I f the Bolshevik mili­ tants had not been so admirably straight, objective, disinterested, so determined to overcome any obstacle to accomplish their task, there would have been no hope. But on the contrary, their moral greatness and their intellectual standing inspired boundless confidence. I there­ fore realized that the notion o f double duty was fundamental and I was never to forget it. Socialism isn’t only about defending against one’s enemies, against the old world it is opposing; it also has to fight within itself against its own reactionary ferments. A revolution seems monolithic only from a distance; close up it can be compared to a tor­ rent that violently sweeps along both the best and the worst at the same time, and necessarily carries along some real counterrevolution­ ary currents. It is constrained to pick up the worn weapons o f the old regime, and these arms are double-edged. In order to be properly served, it has to be put on guard against its own abuses, its own ex­ cesses, its own crimes, its own moments o f reaction. It has a vital need of criticism, therefore, of an opposition and of the civic courage of those who are carrying it out. And in this connection, by 1910 we were already well short o f the mark. A notable saying o f Len in ’s kept rising in my mind: “ It is a terrible m isfortune that the honor o f beginning the first Socialist revolution should have befallen the most backward people in Europe.” (I quote from memory; Lenin said it on several occasions.) Nevertheless, w ithin the current situation o f Europe, bloodstained, devastated, and in profound stupor, Bolshevism was, in my eyes, tremendously and visibly right. It marked a new point o f departure in history.

World capitalism, after its first suicidal war, was now clearly inca­ pable either o f organizing a positive peace, or (what was equally evi­ dent) of deploying its fantastic technological progress to increase the prosperity, liberty, safety, and dignity of mankind. The Revolution was therefore right, as against capitalism, and we saw that the specter of future war would raise a question mark over the existence of civili­ zation itself, unless the social system of Europe was speedily trans­ formed. The fearful Jacobinism of the Russian Revolution seemed to

134 ■ M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

me to be quite unavoidable, as was the institution o f a new revolution­ ary State, now in the process o f disowning all its early promises. In this I saw an immense danger: the State seemed to me to be properly a weapon o f war, not a means o f organizing production. Over all our achievements there hung a death sentence; since for all o f us, for our ideals, for the new justice that was proclaimed, for our new collective economy, still in its infancy, defeat would have brought a peremptory death and after that, who knows what? I thought o f the Revolution as a tremendous sacrifice that was required for the future s sake, and nothing seemed to me more essential than to sustain, or rescue, the spirit o f liberty within it. In penning the above lines, I am no more than recapitulating my own writings o f that period.



T h e

s o c i a l

system in these years was later called “War Commu­

nism.” At the time it was called simply “Communism,” and anyone who, like myself, went so far as to consider it purely temporary was looked upon with disdain. Trotsky had just written that this system would last over several decades if the transition to a genuine, unfet­ tered Socialism were to be assured. Bukharin was writing his work on Economics o f the Transition Period, whose schematic Marxism aroused Lenin’s ire. He considered the present mode o f organization to be final. And yet, all the time it was becoming simply impossible to live within it: impossible, not o f course for the administrators, but for the mass o f the population. The wonderful supply system created by Tsyurupa in Moscow and Badaev in Petrograd was working in a vacuum. The corpulent Badaev himself would exclaim at sessions of the Soviet, “The utensil is good but the soup is bad!” Standing before the elegant charts illustrated with green circles and red and blue tri­ angles, Angel Pestana pulled a wry face and muttered, “I really think that someone is trying to pull the wool over my eyes. .. ” In fact, in order to eat it was necessary to resort, daily and without interruption, to the black market; the Communists did it like everyone else. Banknotes were no longer worth anything, and ingenious theoreti­ cians spoke o f the coming abolition o f money. There was no paper or colored ink to print stamps, so a decree was issued abolishing postal charges: “a new step in the realization of Socialism.” Tram fares were abolished, with disastrous effects, since the overloaded stock deterio­ rated day by day. The rations issued by the State cooperatives were minute: black bread (or sometimes a few cupfuls of oats instead), a few herrings each 135

136 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

month, a very small quantity o f sugar for people in the “first category” (workers and soldiers), and none at all for the third category (nonworkers). The words o f St. Paul that were posted up everywhere— HE T H A T DOTH NOT WORK, N EIT H ER SH ALL HE EAT!— became ironical, because ifyou wanted any food you really had to resort to the black market instead o f working. In the dead factories, the workers spent their time making penknives out o f bits o f machinery, or shoe soles out o f the conveyor belts, to barter them on the underground market. Total o f industrial production had fallen to less than thirty percent o f the 1913 figure. Ifyo u wished to procure a little flour, butter, or meat from the peasants who brought these things illicitly into town, you had to have cloth or articles o f some kind to exchange. Fortunately the town residences o f the late bourgeoisie contained quite a lot in the way o f carpets, tapestries, linen, and plate. From the leather upholstery o f sofas one could make passable shoes; from the draperies, clothing. A s the speculation was disorganizing the already creaking railway system, the authorities forbade the transport o f foodstuffs by individuals and posted special detachments which mer­ cilessly confiscated the housewife’s sack o f flour in the stations, and surrounded the markets with militia who fired into the air and car­ ried out confiscations amid tears and protests. Special detachments and militia were hated. The word “commissariocracy” circulated. The Old Believers* proclaimed the end o f the world and the reign o f the Antichrist. W inter was a torture (there is no other word for it) for the towns­ people: no heating, no lighting, and the ravages o f famine. Children and feeble old folk died in their thousands. Typhus was carried every­ where by lice, and took its frightful toll. A ll this I saw and lived through, for a great while indeed. Inside Petrograd’s grand apart­ ments, now abandoned, people were crowded in one room, living on top o f one another around a little stove o f brick or cast iron which would be standing on the floor, its flue belching smoke through an opening in the window. Fuel for it would come from the floorboards o f rooms nearby, from the last stick o f furniture available, or else from books. Entire libraries disappeared in this way. I myself burned the collected Law s o f the Em pire as fuel for a neighboring family, a task

D A N G E R FR O M W IT H IN : 1920-1921

. 13:

that gave me considerable satisfaction. People dined on a pittance ol oatmeal or half-rotten horsemeat, a lump o f sugar would be divided in tiny fragments among a family, and a single mouthful taken out ol turn would start angry scenes. The local Commune did everything it could to keep the children fed, but what it managed was pitiful.

Th e Russakov f ami ly in Marseille c. 1 9 1 1 . Li uba is the eldest, far right

The cooperative provisioning system had to be maintained, since it catered primarily for the starved and battered proletariat, the army, the fleet, and the Party activists. And so requisitioning detachments were sent out into the outlying countryside, only to be driven away, as likely as not, or sometimes even massacred by muzhiks wielding pitchforks. Savage peasants would slit open a commissar’s belly, pack it with grain, and leave him by the roadside as a lesson for all. This was how one of my own comrades died, a printing worker. It took place not far from Dno, and I went there afterwards to explain to the des­ perate villagers that it was all the fault of the imperialist blockade. This was true, but all the same the peasants continued, not unreason­ ably, to demand both the abolition of requisitioning and the legaliza­ tion of the market. “War Communism” could be defined as follows: firstly, requisi­ tioning in the countryside; secondly, strict rationing for the town

138 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

population, who were classified into categories; thirdly, complete “so­ cialization” o f production and labor; fourthly, an extremely compli­ cated and chit-ridden system o f distribution for the remaining stocks o f manufactured goods; fifthly, a monopoly o f power tending towards the single Party and the suppression o f all dissent; sixthly, a state of siege, and the Cheka. This system had been approved by the Ninth Congress o f the Com m unist Party in March and April o f 1920. No one dared to admit that it would not work, and the Party did not know that in February o f that year Trotsky had asked the Central Com m ittee to abolish requisitioning. Rozhkov, the M arxist historian, wrote to Lenin saying that we were heading for catastrophe: there must be an immediate change in economic relations with the countryside. The Central Com m ittee ordered him o ff to Pskov, where he was obliged to live, and Lenin replied to him that he had no intention o f entering on a policy o f surrender before the rural counterrevolution. The winter o f 19 20 -21 was hideous. Searching for houses fit for our staff to occupy, I visited several buildings in the heart o f Petrograd. In a mansion that had once belonged to the society beauty Morskaya, not far from our main military headquarters and the triumphal gate­ way that opens into the court o f the W inter Palace, I found whole rooms plastered with frozen excrement. The W C s would not flush and the soldiers billeted there had installed field latrines on the floor­ boards. M any houses were in a similar condition; when spring came and the excrement began to run all over the floors, anything might happen to the city. Com pulsory clearance squads were organized hastily. Once, while looking for a sick man, I opened the door o f an infirm ary for typhoid cases in Vassili-Ostrov. It was a small, low building with shutters that faced a sunny, peaceful street, white under the snow. The inside was strangely quiet and cold. Finally, I managed to make out some human forms lying like logs on the flo o r.. .The in­ firmary, unable to bury its dead for lack o f horses, had abandoned its dead and moved elsewhere. I remember what happened one day when I was tramping through the snow with one o f the regional military commanders, M ikhail Lashevich, an old revolutionary for the last thirty-five years, one o f the architects o f the seizure o f power and a fearless warrior. I talked to

D A N G E R F R O M W I T H I N : 1920-1921

. 139

him o f the changes that had to be made. Lashevich was a stocky, thickset man whose face was fleshy and creased with wrinkles. The only solution he could envisage for any problem was a resort to force. Speculation? We’ll put a stop to that! “ I shall have the covered mar­ kets pulled down and the crowds dispersed! There you are!” He did it, too, which only made matters worse. Political life was pursuing the same line of development; indeed, it could hardly do otherwise. The tendency to override economic diffi­ culties by compulsion and violence led to the growth o f general dis­ content; any free (i.e., critical) expression of opinion became dangerous and consequently had to be treated as enemy activity. I was exception­ ally well placed to follow che progress o f this evil. I belonged to the governing circles in Petrograd, and was on terms of confidence with various oppositional forces, anarchists, Mensheviks, Left SocialRevolutionaries, and even Communists (the “Workers’ Opposition” within the Party), who were already castigating the growing bureau­ cracy o f the regime and the condition of the ordinary worker— wretched not only materially but (what was much worse) legally, since the administration denied him any possibility o f speaking out. Except for the Workers’ Opposition these dissenters, who were al­ ways falling out among themselves, had become politically bankrupt, in different ways. The Mensheviks, Dan* and Tsereteli, were outright opponents o f the seizure o f power by the Soviets; in other words, they stood for the continuation o f a bourgeois democracy that was quite unworkable and, in the case of some o f their leaders, for the vigorous suppression o f Bolshevism. The Left Social-Revolutionaries, led by Maria Spiridonova and Kamkov, had first boycotted the Bolshevik authorities, then collaborated with them, and then, in July 1918, raised an insurrection against them, proclaiming their intention to govern alone. The anarchists were chaotically subdivided into pro-Soviet, anti-Soviet, and intermediate tendencies. In 1919 the anti-Soviet anar­ chists had thrown a bomb into a plenary session o f the Communist Party’s Moscow Committee, with a total of fifteen victims. However, these impassioned dissidents o f the Revolution, crushed and persecuted as they might be, were still right on many points, above all in their demand, on their own behalf and that of the Russian

140 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

people, for freedom o f expression and the restoration o f liberty in the Soviets. The Soviets indeed, which had been so lively in 1918, were now no more than auxiliary organs o f the Party; they possessed no initiative, exercised no control, and in practice represented nothing but the local Party Committees. But as long as the economic system remained intolerable for nine-tenths or so o f the population, there could be no question o f recognizing freedom o f speech for any Tom, Dick, or Harry, whether in the Soviets or elsewhere. The state o f siege had now entered the Party itself, which was increasingly run from the top, by the Secretaries. We were at a loss to find a remedy for this bu­ reaucratization: we knew that the Party had been invaded by careerist, adventurist, and mercenary elements who came over in swarms to the side that held power. W ithin the Party the sole remedy to this evil had to be, and in fact was, the discreet dictatorship o f the old, honest, and incorruptible members, in other words the Old Guard. It was with particular intimacy that I followed the unfolding drama o f anarchism, which was to achieve historic significance with the Kronstadt uprising. D uring the Second Congress o f the Commu­ nist International, I had observed the negotiations between Lenin and Benjamin Markovich Aleynnikov, an intelligent anarchist whose career had included exile, mathematics, and work as a “ Soviet busi­ nessman” in Holland. The discussion concerned cooperation with the anarchists. Lenin indicated his agreement with the idea. He had re­ cently given a friendly reception to Nestor M akhno; Trotsky was, much later (in 1938, I think), to recount that Lenin and he had thought o f recognizing an autonomous region for the anarchist peas­ ants o f the Ukraine, whose military leader M akhno was. That ar­ rangement would have been both just and diplomatic, and perhaps an outlook as generous as this would have spared the Revolution from the tragedy towards which we were drifting. Two pro-Soviet anar­ chists, energetic and capable men, were working with Chicherin in the Com missariat o f Foreign Affairs: Herman Sandomirsky, a young scholar who had once been condemned to death in Warsaw and had known the inside o f a prison, and Alexander Shapiro, a man o f critical and moderate temper. K am en ev, the President o f the M o s c o w So viet, offered the anar-

D A N G E R F R O M W I T H I N : 1920-1921

. 141

chists the legalization o f their movement, complete with its own press, clubs, and bookshops, on condition that they should draw up a register o f themselves and conduct a purge o f their favorite haunts, which were crawling with malcontents, uncontrollables, semi-lunatics, and a few ill-disguised genuine counterrevolutionaries. The majority of the anarchists gave a horrified refusal to this suggestion of organi­ zation and enrollment: “What, are we to form a kind of Party—even us?” Rather than that they would disappear, and have their press and premises taken off them. O f the anarchist leaders from that tempestuous year o f 1918, one was now constructing a new universal language, entirely in monosyl­ lables, called “Ao.” Another, Yarchuk, a notable figure among the Kronstadt sailors, was in the Butyrki prison, suffering the pains of scurvy. A third, Nikolai Rogdayev, was in charge of Soviet propa­ ganda in Turkestan. A fourth, Novomirsky, a former terrorist and convict, had joined the Party and was now working with me in Zi­ noviev’s service and displaying the bizarre passion of the newly initi­ ated. A fifth, Grossman-Roschin, who in the old days of 1906 had been the theoretician o f “motiveless terror” (which was intended to strike the old regime anywhere, at any time), became a syndicalist and a friend o f Lenin and Lunacharsky; he was developing a libertarian theory o f the dictatorship o f the proletariat. Finally, there was my old friend Appolon Karelin, a splendid old man I had known in Paris, studying cooperative problems in a little room on the Rue d’Ulm. He was now a member of the All-Russian Executive o f Soviets, still living with his white-haired wife in a little room at the National Hotel (one of the Houses of the Soviets). There, broken by old age, his sight fail­ ing, his beard white and expansive, he would type, with one finger on an antique machine, his huge book, Against the Death Penalty, and expatiate upon the virtues of a federation o f free communes. The group that was almost an ally of Communism, that of Askarov, was devising a “universalist anarchism.” Another, the Kropotkinist formation under Atabekian, saw free cooperatives as the only remedy. Boris Voline, still in jail, refused to take up the post as director of edu­ cation in the Ukraine that was offered him by the Bolshevik leaders. He replied, “ I will never treat with the autocracy of the commissars.

142 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

It was, altogether, a lamentable chaos o f sectarian good intentions. Anarchism was basically a doctrine o f far more emotive power than intellectual. W hen these men met together it was only to proclaim that “ W efightfor the obliteration o f a ll Statefrontiers and boundaries


We proclaim that the whole earth belongs to a ll peoples/” (conference o f the M oscow Anarchist Union, December 1919). Would it have endan­ gered the Soviet regime i f they had been granted freedom o f thought and expression? It would be lunatic to think so. It was merely that the majority o f Bolsheviks, true to the M arxist tradition, regarded them as “petty-bourgeois Utopians” whose existence was incompatible with the extension o f “scientific socialism.” Inside the brains o f the Chekists and o f certain bureaucrats who had fallen prey to the psychoses o f authority, these “petty-bourgeois” types were fast growing into a rab­ ble o f “objective counterrevolutionaries” who had to be put down once and for all. A s G orky often said, the character o f the Russian people, molded both by resistance to despotism and submission to it, engenders an “antiauthoritarian complex,” that is to say a potent element o f sponta­ neous anarchism which has generated periodic explosions throughout history. A m ong the peasants o f the Ukraine, their spirit o f rebellion, their capacity for self-organization, their love for local autonomy, the necessity o f relying on nobody but themselves as defense against the W hites, the Germans, the Yellow-and-Blue nationalists, and often against harsh and ignorant commissars from Moscow, heralds o f end­ less requisitioning— all these factors gave rise to an extraordinarily vital and powerful movement: the “Insurgent Peasant Armies” as­ sembled in the regions o f Gulyai-Polye by an anarchist schoolmaster and ex-convict, Nestor M akhno. Under the inspiration o f Boris Vo­ line and Aaron Baron,* the anarchist Nabat (or “A larm ”) Federation provided this movement both with an ideology, that o f the Third (lib­ ertarian) Revolution, and with a banner, the black flag. These peas­ ants displayed a truly epic capacity for organization and battle. Nestor Makhno, boozing, swashbuckling, disorderly, and idealistic, proved him self to be a born strategist o f unsurpassed ability. The number of soldiers under his command ran at times into several tens o f thou­ sands. His arms he took from the enemy. Sometimes his insurgents

D A N G E R FROM W ITH IN : 1920-1921

■ 143

marched into battle with one rifle for every two or three men: a rifle which, if any soldier fell, would pass at once from his still-dying hands into those o f his alive and waiting neighbor. Makhno invented a form o f infantry mounted in carts, which gave him enormous mobility. He also invented the procedure of burying his weapons and disbanding his forces for a while. His men would pass, unarmed, through the front lines, unearth a new supply of ma­ chine guns from another spot, and spring up again in an unexpected quarter. In September 1919, at Uman, he inflicted a defeat on General Denikin from which the latter was never to recover. Makhno was known as “Batko” (little father, or master). When the railwaymen of Yekaterinoslav (later Dnepropetrovsk) asked him for money to pay their wages, he replied, “Get organized and run the railways your­ selves. I don’t need them.” His popular reputation through the whole of Russia was very considerable, and remained so despite a number of atrocities committed by his bands; despite, also, the strenuous calum­ nies put out by the Communist Party, which went so far as to accuse him o f signing pacts with the Whites at the very moment when he was engaged in a life-and-death struggle against them. In October 1910, when Baron Wrangel still held the Crimea, a Treaty o f Alliance was signed between the Black and the Red armies. Bela Kun, Frunze,* and Gusev were the signatories for the Reds. This treaty was to be a preliminary to an all-Russian amnesty for the anar­ chists, the legalization o f their movement and the convening of an anarchist Congress at Kharkhov. The Black cavalry broke through the White lines and penetrated into the Crimea; this victory, coincid­ ing with that o f Frunze and Bliicher* at Perekop, was the decisive blow against the White Crimean regime, which had recently received recognition from Britain and France. In Petrograd and Moscow the anarchists were making ready for their Congress. But no sooner had this joint victory been won than they were suddenly (in November 1910) arrested en masse by the Cheka. The Black victors of the Crimea, Karetnik, Gavrilenko, and others were betrayed, arrested, and shot. Makhno, surrounded at Gulyai-Polye, resisted like a madman. He cut a way out for his troops and kept fighting right up to August 192.1. (Later he was to be interned

14 4 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

in R o m a n ia, P o lan d , and D a n z ig , and end his days as a fa cto ry w orker in Paris.) T h is fa n tastic attitud e o f the B o lsh e v ik authorities, w h o tore up the pledges th ey them selves had given to this endlessly da rin g revolu­ tio n a ry peasant m in o rity, h ad a terribly de m o ralizin g effect; in it I see one o f the basic causes o f the K r o n s ta d t rising. Th e C iv il W a r was w in d in g to its close, and the peasantry, incensed by the co nstant req­ uisitio n in g, w as d ra w in g the conclusion th at it w as im possible to com e to an y u n d ersta n d in g w ith “ the co m m issars.”

Equally serious was the fact that many workers, including quite a few Com m unist workers, were pretty near the same opinion. The “Workers’ Opposition,” led by Shliapnikov,* Alexandra Kollontai,* and Medvedev, believed that the revolution was doomed i f the Party failed to introduce radical changes in the organization o f work, restore gen­ uine freedom and authority to the trade unions, and make an imme­ diate turn towards establishing a true Soviet democracy. I had long discussions on this question with Shliapnikov. A former metalworker, one o f the very few Bolsheviks who had taken part in the Petrograd revolution o f February and March o f 1917, he kept about him, even when in power, the mentality, the prejudices, and even the old clothes he had possessed as a worker. He distrusted the officials (“that multi­ tude o f scavengers” ) and was skeptical about the Comintern, seeing too many parasites in it who were only hungry for money. Corpulent and unwieldy, with a large, round, mustachioed face, he was a very bitter man when I met him. The discussion on the trade unions, in which he was a passionate participant, yielded little result. Trotsky advocated the fusion o f the trade unions with the State. Lenin stood for the principles o f trade union autonomy and the right to strike, but with the complete subordination o f the unions to the Party. The Party steamroller was at work. I took part in the discussion in one o f the districts o f Petrograd, and was horrified to see the voting rigged for Lenin’s and Zinoviev’s “majority.” That way would resolve nothing: every day in Smolny the only talk was o f factory incidents, strikes, and booing at Party agitators. This was in November and December o f 1910. In February 1921, old Kropotkin died at Dimitrovo, near Moscow.

D A N G E R F R O M W I T H I N : 1920-1921

. 145

I had made no effort to see him, fearing that any conversation be­ tween us would be painful; he still believed that the Bolsheviks had received German money, etc. My friends and I had known that he was living in cold and darkness, working on his Ethics and playing the pi­ ano a little for recreation, and so we had sent him a luxurious parcel of wax candles. I knew the contents o f his letters to Lenin about Bolshe­ vik intolerance and the nationalization o f the book trade. If they are ever published, the acuteness with which Kropotkin denounced the perils o f directed thought will be plainly evident. I went up to Mos­ cow for his funeral. These were heartbreaking days: the great frost in the midst o f the great hunger. I was the only member o f the Party to be accepted as a comrade in anarchist circles. Around the corpse of the great old man, exposed to view in the Hall o f Columns of the House o f Trade Unions, untoward incidents multiplied despite all Kamenev’s tact and good intentions. The shadow of the Cheka fell everywhere, but a packed and passionate multitude thronged around the bier, making this funeral ceremony into a demonstration o f un­ mistakable significance. Kamenev had promised to release all the imprisoned anarchists for the day. So it was that Aaron Baron and Yarchuk stood on guard be­ side the dead man’s remains. Frozen face, high, graceful forehead, nar­ row nose, beard like snow: Kropotkin lay there like a sleeping wizard, while around him angry voices were whispering that the Cheka was violating Kamenev’s promise, that a hunger strike had been voted in the jails, that so-and-so and so-and-so had just been arrested, that the shootings in the Ukraine were still going on ... The lengthy negotiations to get permission for a black flag and a burial oration sent a wave o f anger through the crowd. The long pro­ cession, surrounded by students making a chain o f linked hands, set off to the cemetery o f Novodevichy, accompanied by singing choirs who walked behind black flags bearing inscriptions in denunciation o f all tyranny. At the cemetery, in the transparent sunlight o f winter, a grave had been opened under a silvery birch. Mostovenko, the dele­ gate from the Bolshevik Central Committee, and Alfred Rosmer, from the Executive o f the International, spoke in conciliatory terms. Then Aaron Baron, arrested in the Ukraine, due to return that evening

146 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

to a prison from which he would never again emerge, lifted his emaci­ ated, bearded, gold-spectacled profile to cry relentless protests against the new despotism: the butchers at work in their cellars, the dishonor shed upon Socialism, the official violence that was trampling the Rev­ olution underfoot. Fearless and impetuous, he seemed to be sowing the seeds o f new tempests. The Government founded a Kropotkin Museum, endowed a number o f schools with Kropotkins name, and promised to publish his w o rks. .. (10 February 1921). Eighteen days elapsed. On the night o f 28-29 February I was awakened by the ringing o f a telephone in a room at the Astoria next to my own. A n agitated voice told me: “Kronstadt is in the hands o f the W hites. We are all under orders.” The man who announced this frightful news to me (frightful, be­ cause it meant the fall o f Petrograd at any minute) was Ilya Ionov, Zinoviev’s brother-in-law. “W hat Whites? Where did they come from? It’s incredible!” “A General Kozlovsky.” “But our sailors? The Soviet? The Cheka? The workers at the A rse­ nal?” “That’s all I know.” Zinoviev was in conference with the Revolutionary Council o f the Army. I ran to the premises o f the Second District Committee, which I found full o f gloomy faces. “ It’s unbelievable, but it’s true all the same.” “Well,” I said, “everybody must be mobilized immediately!” I was given the evasive reply that this would be done, but that we were awaiting instructions from the Petrograd Committee. I spent the rest o f the night studying the map o f the G u lf o f Fin­ land, along with some o f the comrades. We gathered that a consider­ able number o f small strikes were now spreading in the working-class suburbs: the W hites in front o f us, famine and strikes at our backs! When I came away at dawn, I saw an old maid from the hotel staff, quietly making her way out with several parcels. “W here are you o ff to like this, so early in the morning, grand­ mother?” “There’s a smell o f trouble about the town. They’re going to cut all

D A N G E R FRO M W IT H IN : 1920-1921

. 147

your throats, my poor little ones, they’re going to be looting every­ thing, all over again. So, I’m taking my things away.” Small posters stuck on the walls in the still-empty streets pro­ claimed that the counterrevolutionary General Kozlovsky had seized Kronstadt through conspiracy and treason; the proletariat were sum­ moned to arms. But even before I went to the District Committee I met comrades, rushing out with their revolvers, who told me that it was an atrocious lie: the sailors had mutinied, it was a naval revolt led by the Soviet. This was perhaps no less serious than the other story: quite the reverse. The worst o f it all was that we were paralyzed by the official falsehoods. It had never happened before that our Party should lie to us like this. “It’s necessary for the benefit o f the public,” said some, who were nonetheless horror-stricken at it all. The strike was now practically general. No one knew whether the trams would run. That same day I met my friends o f the French-speaking Commu­ nist group (I remember that Marcel Body* and Georges Hellfer* were present). We resolved not to take up arms or to fight, either against famished strikers or against sailors pushed to the limits o f their pa­ tience. At Vassili-Ostrov I saw a crowd, composed overwhelmingly of women, standing in the snow-white street, obstructing and slowly pushing back the cadets from the military schools who had been sent to clear the approaches to the factories. It was a quiet, sad-Iooking crowd; they told the soldiers of their misery, called them brothers, and asked for their help. The cadets took bread from their pockets and shared it out. The organization of the general strike was being attrib­ uted to the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries. Pamphlets distributed in the working-class districts put out the demands of the Kronstadt Soviet. It was a program for the renewal of the Revolution. I will summarize it: reelection o f the Soviets by secret ballot, freedom of the spoken and printed word for all revolutionary parties and groupings, freedom for the trade unions, the release of revolutionary political prisoners, abolition of official propaganda, an end to requisitioning in the countryside, freedom for the artisan class, immediate suppression o f the road blocks that were stopping the peo­ ple from getting their food as they pleased. The Soviet, the Kronstadt

148 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

garrison, and the crews o f the First and Second Naval Squadrons were now in rebellion to ensure the triumph o f this program. The truth seeped through little by little, past the smokescreen put out by the press, which was positively berserk with lies. A nd this was our own press, the press o f our revolution, the first Socialist press, and hence the first incorruptible and unbiased press in the world! Before now it had employed a certain amount o f demagogy, which was, how­ ever, passionately sincere, and some violent tactics towards its adver­ saries. That might be fair enough and at any rate was understandable. Now, it lied systematically. The Leningrad Pravda stated that Kuz­ min, the commissar in charge o f the fleet and army, had been brutally handled during his captivity at Kronstadt and had only just escaped sum m ary execution, which had been ordered for him in writing by the counterrevolutionaries. I knew Kuzm in, an expert in his particu­ lar line, a forceful and industrious soldier, gray from head to foot, from his uniform to his w rinkled face. Fie “escaped” from Kronstadt and came back to Smolny. I told him, “ I can scarcely believe that they wanted to shoot you. Did you really see the order?” Fie hesitated, in some embarrassment: “Oh, you always get these exaggerations. There was some little sheet written in threatening terms.” In short, he had had a warm time o f it, nothing more. The Kronstadt insurrection had shed not a single drop o f blood, and merely arrested a few Com m unist officials, who were treated abso­ lutely correctly; the great majority o f Communists, numbering sev­ eral hundreds, had rallied to the uprising (a clear proof o f the Party’s instability at its base). A ll the same, a legend o f narrowly averted exe­ cutions was put around. Throughout this tragedy, rumor played a fa­ tal part. Since the official press concealed everything that was not a eulogy o f the regime’s achievements, and the Cheka’s doings were shrouded in utter mystery, disastrous rumors were generated every minute. The Kronstadt mutiny began as a movement o f solidarity with the Petrograd strikes, and also as the result o f rumors about their repression. Basically, these rumors were false, although the Cheka, true to form, had doubtlessly been carrying out pointless arrests, usu­ ally o f brief duration. Alm ost every day I saw the Secretary o f the Petrograd Committee, Sergei Zorin, who was very concerned by the

D A N G E R FROM W IT H IN : 1920-1921

. 149

unrest and was determined not to use repression in workers’ districts. He thought that agitation was far more effective in the circumstances, and to reinforce it he would get hold o f cartloads o f food. He laughed when telling me that once he came to a district where right-wing So­ cial Revolutionaries had managed to raise the slogan “Long live the Constituent Assembly” (meaning “Down with Bolshevism!”). “I an­ nounced,” he said, “the arrival o f several wagonloads of food and I turned it around in the wink o f an eye.” In any case, the insubordina­ tion in Kronstadt had started as a movement o f solidarity with the Petrograd strikes and because o f the false rumors of repression. The real culprits, whose brutal bungling provoked the rebellion, were Kalinin and Kuzmin. Kalinin, the President of the Republic’s Ex­ ecutive, was met by the Kronstadt garrison with music and welcoming salutes; once informed o f the sailors’ demands, he treated them as rogues and traitors merely out for themselves, and threatened them with merciless reprisals. Kuzmin shouted that indiscipline and treason would be smashed by the iron hand of the proletariat. They were chased away to a chorus o f booing; the break was now final. It was probably Kalinin who, on his return to Petrograd, invented “the White Gen­ eral Kozlovsky.” Thus, right from the first moment, at a time when it was easy to mitigate the conflict, the Bolshevik leaders had no inten­ tion o f using anything but forcible methods. Later, we discovered that the whole of the delegation sent by Kronstadt to explain the issues to the Petrograd Soviet and people was in the prisons o f the Cheka. The idea of mediation arose during the discussions I had every eve­ ning with some American anarchists who had arrived recently: Emma Goldman,* Alexander Berkman,* and Perkus, the young Secretary of the Russian Workers’ Union in the United States. I spoke of the mat­ ter to some comrades from the Party. They answered, “It will all be quite useless. We are bound by Party discipline, and so are you.” I flared up: “One can leave a Party!” They replied, cold and serious: “A Bolshevik does not leave his Party. And anyway, where would you go? You have to face it, there is no one but us.” The anarchist mediation group met at the house of my father-inlaw, Alexander Russakov.* I was not present at this meeting since it

150 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

had been decided that only the anarchists would undertake this ini­ tiative (in view o f the influence they exerted within the Kronstadt Soviet) and that, as far as the Soviet Government was concerned, the Am erican anarchists would take sole responsibility for the attempt. Em ma Goldm an and Alexander Berkman were received warmly by Zinoviev, since they were able to speak with authority, in the name o f a still-important section o f the international working class. Their me­ diation was a complete failure. A s a consolation, Zinoviev offered them every facility for touring the whole o f Russia in a special train: “Observe, and you w ill understand.” M ost o f the Russian “mediators” were arrested, apart from myself. I owe this forbearance to the kind­ ness o f Zinoviev, Zorin, and others, as well as to my qualifications as a m ilitant from the French working-class movement. A fter many hesitations, and with unutterable anguish, my Com ­ munist friends and I finally declared ourselves on the side o f the Party. This is why. Kronstadt had right on its side. Kronstadt was the begin­ ning o f a fresh, liberating revolution for popular democracy: “The Third Revolution!” it was called by certain anarchists whose heads were stuffed with infantile illusions. However, the country was abso­ lutely exhausted, and production practically at a standstill; there were no reserves o f any kind, not even reserves o f stamina in the hearts o f the masses. The working-class elite that had been molded in the strug­ gle against the old regime was literally decimated. The Party, swollen by the influx o f power-seekers, inspired little confidence. O f the other parties, only minute nuclei existed, whose character was highly ques­ tionable. It seemed clear that these groupings could come back to life in a matter o f weeks, but only by incorporating embittered, malcon­ tent, and inflammatory elements by the thousands, no longer, as in 1917, enthusiasts for the young revolution. Soviet democracy lacked leadership, institutions, and inspiration; at its back there were only masses o f starving and desperate men. The popular counterrevolution translated the demand for freely elected Soviets into one for “Soviets without Communists.” I f the Bolshevik dictatorship fell, it was only a short step to chaos, and through chaos to a peasant rising, the massacre o f the Communists, the return o f the emigres, and in the end, through the sheer force o f

D A N G E R FROM W IT H IN : 1920-1921

• 151

evencs, another dictatorship, this time anti-proletarian. Dispatches from Stockholm and Tallinn testified that the emigres had these very perspectives in mind— dispatches which, incidentally, strengthened the Bolshevik leaders’ intention o f subduing Kronstadt speedily and at whatever cost. We were not reasoning in the abstract. We knew that in European Russia alone there were at least fifty centers of peas­ ant insurrection. To the south o f Moscow, in the region o f Tambov, Antonov, the Right Social-Revolutionary schoolteacher who pro­ claimed the abolition o f the Soviet system and the reestablishment of the Constituent Assembly, had under his command a superbly orga­ nized peasant army, numbering several tens o f thousands. He had conducted negotiations with the Whites. (Tukhachevsky would sup­ press this Vendee around the middle o f 1921.) In these circumstances it was the Party’s duty to make concessions, recognizing that che economic regime was intolerable, but not to ab­ dicate power. “Despite its mistakes and abuses,” I wrote, “the Bolshe­ vik Party is at present the supremely organized, intelligent, and stable force that, despite everything, deserves our confidence. The Revolu­ tion has no other mainstay, and is no longer capable of any thorough­ going regeneration.” The Politburo decided to negotiate with Kronstadt, then to pre­ sent an ultimatum, and in the last resort to order an attack on the fort and the battleships, which were now immobilized in the ice. In fact, no negotiations took place. An ultimatum was published, signed by Lenin and Trotsky and worded in disgusting terms: “Surrender, or you will be shot down like rabbits.” Trotsky did not come to Petrograd, and acted only within the Politburo. At the end of the autumn or the beginning of winter, simultane­ ously with the outlawing o f the anarchists on the morrow of the vic­ tory that had been won with their aid, the Cheka had outlawed the Menshevik Social-Democrats. In a quite frightening official document they charged the Mensheviks with “conspiracy with the enemy, orga­ nization of railway-wrecking,” and other enormities in equally odious terms. The Bolshevik leaders themselves blushed at it all. They shrugged their shoulders (“The Cheka is mad!”) but did nothing to set matters right; the most they would do was to promise the Mensheviks that

152 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

there would be no arrests and that everything would sort itself out. Theodore Dan and Abramovich,* the leaders o f Menshevism, were ar­ rested in Petrograd. The Cheka, which at the time, if my memory is not at fault, was run by Semionov, a redheaded little worker, rude and cruel, wanted to shoot them as the leaders o f the strike, which was now almost o f a general character. This was most probably untrue since the strike was three-quarters spontaneous. I had just had a row w ith Semionov on the subject o f two students who had been kept in freezing cells and manhandled. I appealed to Gorky; at that very mo­ ment he was intervening with Lenin to save the lives o f the Menshe­ vik leaders. Once Lenin was alerted they were absolutely safe. But for several nights we trembled in our shoes for them. A t the beginning o f March, the Red A rm y began its attack, over the ice, against Kronstadt and the fleet. The artillery from the ships and forts opened fire on the attackers. In several places the ice cracked open under the feet o f the infantry as it advanced, wave after wave, clad in white sheets. Huge ice floes rolled over, bearing their human cargo down into the black torrent. It was the beginning o f a ghastly fratricide. The Tenth Congress o f the Party, which was meanwhile in session at Moscow, was now, on Lenin’s proposal, abolishing the system o f requisi­ tions, or in other words “War Com m unism ,” and proclaiming the “New Economic Policy.” * A ll the economic demands o f Kronstadt were being satisfied! A t the same time the Congress gave a rough time to the various oppositions. The Workers’ Opposition was classified as “an anarcho-syndicalist deviation incompatible with the Party,” although it had absolutely nothing in common with anarchism and merely de­ manded the management o f production by the unions (which would have been a great step towards democracy for the working class). The Congress mobilized all present, including many Oppositionists, for the battle against Kronstadt. Dybenko, a former Kronstadt sailor himself and an extreme Left Com munist, and Bubnov, the writer, soldier, and leader o f the “Democratic Centralism” group, went out to join battle on the ice against rebels who they knew in their hearts were right. Tukhachevsky prepared the final assault. In these dark days, Lenin said, word for word, to one o f my friends: “This is Thermidor. But we shan t let ourselves be guillotined. We shall make a Thermidor ourselves.”

D A N G E R FROM W ITH IN : 1920-1921

. 153

The Oranienbaum incident, which has not been related by anyone, as far as I know, brought Kronstadt within an inch o f a victory that was unsought by its revolutionary sailors, and Petrograd within an inch o f ruin. I know this from eyewitnesses. The secretary o f the Petrograd Committee, Sergei Zorin, a great blond Viking, noticed from the deployment o f the infantry by one o f the commanders that his troop movements did not seem to be logically justified. After two days, we were certain there was a plot afoot. A whole regiment was on the point o f wheeling round in solidarity with Kronstadt and sum­ moning the army to revolt. At that moment Zorin reinforced it with trusty men, doubled the strength o f the outposts and sentries, and arrested the regimental commander. The latter, a former officer in the Imperial army, was brutally frank: “ I waited years for this moment. Murderers o f Russia, I hate you. I have lost the game, and now life means nothing to me!” He was shot, along with a good many others. It was a regiment that had been recalled from the Polish front. The business had to be got over before the thaw began. The final assault was unleashed by Tukhachevsky on 17 March, and culminated in a daring victory over the impediment o f the ice. Lacking any quali­ fied officers, the Kronstadt sailors did not know how to employ their artillery; there was, it is true, a former officer named Kozlovsky among them, but he did little and exercised no authority. Some of the rebels managed to reach Finland. Others put up a furious resistance, fort by fort and street by street; they stood and were shot crying “Long live the world revolution!” There were some o f them who died shouting Long live the Communist International!” Hundreds o f prisoners were taken away to Petrograd and handed to the Cheka; months later they were still being shot in small batches, a senseless and criminal agony. Those defeated sailors belonged body and soul to the Revolu­ tion; they had voiced the suffering and the will o f the Russian people; the NEP had proved that they were right; and, finally, they were pris­ oners of war, civil war, and the Government had for a long time prom­ ised an amnesty to its opponents on condition that they offered their support. This protracted massacre was either supervised or permitted by Dzerzhinsky. The leaders of the Kronstadt rising were hitherto unknown men,

15 4 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

thrown up from the ranks. One o f them, Petrichenko,* is perhaps still alive; he reached sanctuary quickly enough in Finland. Another, Perepelkin, happened to be in jail with a friend o f mine whom I used to visit, in the old House o f Arrest on Shpalernaya Street, through which so many revolutionaries, including Lenin and Trotsky, had passed in the old days. From the depths o f his cell Perepelkin gave us an account o f what had happened. Then he disappeared for­ ever. Somber 18 March. The morning papers had come out with flam­ boyant headlines commemorating a working-class anniversary, that o f the Paris Commune. Meanwhile the muffled thunder o f the guns over Kronstadt kept shaking the windows. A guilty unease settled over the offices in Smolny. People avoided talking except with their closest friends, and among close friends, what was said was full o f bitterness. The vast landscape o f the Neva had never seemed to me more colorless and desolate. By a remarkable historical coincidence on this same day, 18 March, a Com m unist rising in Berlin collapsed; its failure marked a new turn in the tactics o f the Inter­ national, which was now to proceed from the offensive to the defen­ sive. W ithin the Party, Kronstadt opened a period o f dismay and doubt. In M oscow Paniushkin, a Bolshevik with a distinguished record in the C ivil War, resigned demonstratively from the Party to found a new political organization: I think it was called the “Soviet Party.” He opened a club in a working-class street; he was tolerated for a brief while, then arrested. Some comrades came and asked me to intercede for his wife and child, who had been evicted from their apartment and were now living in a corridor. I could do no­ thing for them. Another Old Bolshevik, a worker named Miasnikov, who had taken part in the 1905 Upper Volga rising and knew Lenin personally, demanded freedom o f the press “ for everybody from the anarchists to the monarchists.” He broke o ff relations with Lenin after a sharp exchange o f correspondence, and was soon to be deported to Erivan in Armenia. From there he escaped to Tur­ key. (I was to meet him twenty or so years later, in Paris.) The “Work-



. 155

ers’ Opposition” appeared to be heading towards a break with the Party. The truth.was that emergent totalitarianism had already gone halfway to crushing us. “Totalitarianism” did not yet exist as a word; as an actuality it began to press hard on us, even without our being aware o f it. I belonged to that pitifully small minority that realized what was going on. Most o f the Party leadership and activists, in re­ viewing their ideas about War Communism, came to the conclusion that it was an economic expedient analogous to the centralized re­ gimes set up during the war in Germany, France, and Britain, which they termed “war capitalism.” They hoped that, once peace came, the state o f siege would fall away spontaneously and some sort o f Soviet democracy, of which nobody had any clear conception, would return. The great ideas o f 1917, which had enabled the Bolshevik Party to win over the peasant masses, the army, the working class, and the Marxist intelligentsia, were quite clearly dead. Did not Lenin, in 1917, suggest a Soviet form o f free press, whereby any group with the support of ten thousand votes could publish its own organ at the public expense? He had written that within the Soviets power could be passed from one party to another without any necessity for bitter conflicts. His theory of the Soviet State promised a state structure totally different from that of the old bourgeois states, “without officials or a police force dis­ tinct from the people,” in which the workers would exercise power directly through their elected Councils, and keep order themselves through a militia system. What with the political monopoly, the Cheka and the Red Army, all that now existed of the “Commune-State” of our dreams was a theoretical myth. The war, the internal measures against counterrevo­ lution, and the famine (which had created a bureaucratic rationing apparatus) had killed off Soviet democracy. How could it revive, and when? The Party lived in the certain knowledge that the slightest re­ laxation o f its authority would give the day to reaction. To these historical features, certain important psychological con­ siderations must be added. Marxism has changed several times, according to the times. It developed out of bourgeois science and

156 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

philosophy and out o f the revolutionary aspirations o f the proletariat at the moment when capitalist society was reaching its peak. It pres­ ents itself as the natural heir o f that society o f which it is the product. Capitalist industrial society tends to encompass the whole o f the world, fashioning all aspects o f life to its design. Consequently, ever since the beginning o f the twentieth century, Marxism has aimed to renew and transform everything: the property system, the organiza­ tion o f work, the map o f the world (through the abolition o f fron­ tiers), and even the inner life o f man (through the extinction o f the religious mode o f thought). A spiring to a total transformation, it has consequently been, in the etymological sense o f the word, totalitar­ ian. It presents the two faces o f the ascendant society, simultaneously democratic and authoritarian. The greatest M arxist party, from 1880 to 1910, the Social-Democratic Party o f Germany, was bureaucrati­ cally organized on the lines o f a State, and functioned as a means of achieving power w ithin the State. Bolshevik thought draws its inspi­ ration from the feeling o f possession o f the truth. In the eyes o f Lenin, o f Bukharin, o f Preobrazhensky,* dialectical materialism is both the law o f human thought as well as that o f the development o f nature and o f societies. Bolshevik thinking is grounded in the possession o f the truth. The Party is the repository o f truth, and any form o f think­ ing that differs from it is a dangerous or reactionary error. Here lies the spiritual source o f its intolerance. The absolute conviction o f its lofty mission assures it o f a moral energy quite astonishing in its in­ tensity— and, at the same time, a clerical mentality which is quick to become Inquisitorial. Lenin’s “proletarian Jacobinism,” with its de­ tachment and discipline both in thought and action, is eventually grafted upon the preexisting temperament o f activists molded by the old regime, that is by the struggle against despotism. I am quite con­ vinced that a sort o f natural selection o f authoritarian temperaments is the result. Finally, the victory o f the revolution deals with the infe­ riority complex o f the perpetually vanquished and bullied masses by arousing in them a spirit o f social revenge, which in turn tends to gen­ erate new despotic institutions. I was witness to the great intoxication with which yesterday’s sailors and workers exercised command and enjoyed the satisfaction o f demonstrating that they were now in power!

U A N U E R FROM W I T H I N : 1 9 2 0 - 1 9 2 1

■ 1 57

For all these reasons, even the great popular leaders themselves flounder within inextricable contradictions which dialectics allows them to surmount verbally, sometimes even demagogically. Twenty or maybe a hundred times, Lenin sings the praises o f democracy and stresses that the dictatorship o f the proletariat is a dictatorship against “the expropriated possessing classes,” and at the same time, “the broad­ est possible workers’ democracy.” He believes and wants it to be so. He goes to give an account o f himself before the factories; he asks for mer­ ciless criticism from the workers. Concerned with the lack of person­ nel, he also writes, in 1918, that the dictatorship of the proletariat is not at all incompatible with personal power, thereby justifying, in ad­ vance, some variety of Bonapartism. He has Bogdanov,* his old friend and comrade, jailed because this outstanding intellectual confronts him with embarrassing objections. He outlaws the Mensheviks be­ cause these “petty-bourgeois” Socialists are guilty of errors that hap­ pen to be awkward. He welcomes the anarchist partisan Makhno with real affection, and tries to prove to him that Marxism is right, but he either permits or engineers the outlawing o f anarchism. He promises peace to religious believers and orders that the churches are to be re­ spected, but he keeps saying that “religion is the opium o f the people.” We are proceeding towards a classless society of free men, but the Party has posters stuck up nearly everywhere announcing that “the rule of the workers will never cease.” Over whom then will they rule? And what is the meaning o f this word rulei Totalitarianism is within us. At the end of spring in 1911, Lenin wrote a long article defining what the N EP would be: an end to requisitions and taxes in kind from the peasants, freedom o f trade, freedom for production by craftsmen, concessions on attractive terms to foreign capital, freedom of enter­ prise (within certain limits, o f course) for Soviet citizens themselves. It amounted to a partial restoration of capitalism: Lenin admitted this in so many words. At the same time he refused to grant the coun­ try any political freedom at all: “The Mensheviks will stay in jail! And he proclaimed a purge of the Party, aimed against those revolu­ tionaries who had come in from other parties— i.e., those who were not saturated with the Bolshevik mentality. This meant the establish­ ment within the Party of a dictatorship of the Old Bolsheviks, and the

158 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

direction o f disciplinary measures, not against the unprincipled ca­ reerists and conformist latecomers, but against those sections with a critical outlook. A little while afterwards, during the Third Congress o f the Inter­ national, I was present at an address which Bukharin gave to the for­ eign delegates. H e justified N E P in terms o f “the impossibility o f breaking the rural petty bourgeoisie (the peasants, with their attach­ ment to small private property) by means o f a single bloodletting— an impossibility which stems from the isolation o f the Russian Revolu­ tion.” I f the German Revolution, with Germ any’s industrial resources behind it, had come to our assistance, we would have persisted in trav­ eling the path o f total Com m unism , even i f it had required blood­ shed. I do not have the text o f this speech before me, but I was responsible for printing it, and am sure that this is an accurate sum­ mary. It amazed me all the more since I had chanced to meet Bukha­ rin several times at Zinoviev’s, and genuinely admired him. Lenin, Trotsky, K arl Radek, and Bukharin had, beyond any doubt, become the brains o f the Revolution. They spoke the same M arxist language, and had the same background o f experience with the So­ cialism o f Europe and America. Consequently they understood one another so well, by the merest hints, that they seemed to think col­ lectively. (And it is a fact that the Party drew its strength from collec­ tive thinking.) Compared with them, Lunacharsky, the People’s Com m issar for Education, seemed a dilettante: he was a playwright, a poet, and a first-rate speaker, with a touch o f vanity, who had trans­ lated Holderlin and acted as the protector o f Futurist painters. Beside them, Zinoviev was simply a demagogue, a popularizer o f ideas worked out by Lenin; Chicherin, the foreign affairs specialist, never emerged from his archives; Kalinin was no more than a wily figure­ head, chosen for the post because o f his splendid peasant face and his keen nose for the state o f popular feeling. There were other outstand­ ing figures, men o f proven ability, but these were secondary charac­ ters, concerned purely with practical tasks: Krassin, Piatakov, Sokolnikov, Smilga, Rakovsky, Preobrazhensky, Joffe, Ordzhoni­ kidze, Dzerzhinsky.

D A N G E R F R O M W I T H I N : 1920-1921

. 159

Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin was thirty-three years old; for fifteen of those years he had been a militant. He had lived through a phase of exile in Onega, spent some time with Lenin in Cracow, and worked for the Party in Vienna, Switzerland, and New York. His devotion to theoretical economics was quite tireless. He had anticipated Lenin in elaborating a theory o f the complete overthrow o f the capitalist state. His mind was effervescent, always alert and active, but rigorously dis­ ciplined. The high forehead, balding at the temples, the thin hair, slightly turned-up nose, chestnut-brown mustache, and small b e a rd all made him look just like the average Russian, and his careless man­ ner o f dress completed the picture. He dressed all anyhow, as if he had never found time to get a suit that fitted him properly. His usual ex­ pression was jovial; even when he was silent the look in his eye, sharp­ ened by a humorous twinkle, was so lively that he always seemed to be just about to come out with some witticism or other. The manner in which he spoke o f others savored o f a good-natured cynicism. He de­ voured books in several languages and had a playful touch in dealing with the most serious subjects. It was immediately obvious that what he most enjoyed was just thinking. He was habitually surrounded by crowds of smiling young listeners, who drank in all his incisive obser­ vations. He was bitingly contemptuous o f the trade union and Parlia­ mentary politicians o f the West. Karl Bernardovich Radek (thirty-five years old) could, as we used to say, only speak his own language— the accent he used to express himself in all the others was so incredibly bad. A Galician Jew, he had grown up in the Socialist movements o f Galicia, Poland, Germany, and Russia, all at the same time. He was a sparkling writer, with an equal flair for synthesis and for sarcasm. Thin, rather small, nervous, full of anecdotes that often had a savage side to them, realistic to the point of cruelty, he had a beard growing in a fringe around his clean­ shaven face, just like an old-time pirate. His features were irregular, and thick tortoiseshell spectacles ringed his myopic eyes. His walk, staccato gestures, prominent lips, and screwed-up face, every part of which was continually expressive, all had something monkey-like and comical about them.

160 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

In 1918, when Lenin was thinking in terms o f a mixed economy, Radek and Bukharin had been the first to demand the nationaliza­ tion o f large-scale industry. In the same year, during the Brest-Litovsk negotiations, they had accused Lenin, some fifteen years their senior, o f opportunism, and advocated a romantic war o f all-out resistance against the Germ an Empire, even i f it meant suicide for the Soviet Republic. In 1919 Radek had put his daring and common sense into an attempt to lead the German Spartakist* movement, and was lucky to escape being murdered with his friends Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, and Leo Tyszko (Jogiches). I had seen him using his scorn­ ful dialectic to harry the German moderates. I can see him now, hitching up his trousers (which were always too big for him), as he stood on the rostrum and, demonstrating, after a grating “Parteigenossen!” that the collapse o f the old order in Europe was shortly due. Although more o f an extemporizer than a theoretician, he was also a scholar, and read every conceivable serious journal. He was now being called a Rightist because he did not mince his words about the Ger­ man Com m unist Party, and believed that, for the time being, the pe­ riod o f insurrection and offensive in Central Europe was over. The Third Congress o f the Com m unist International met at M os­ cow, in an atmosphere much the same as that o f the previous C on­ gress, except that the attendance was larger and the proceedings were more relaxed. W ith the coming o f the N EP, the famine was getting a little less severe, and people anxiously expected a policy o f appease­ ment to follow. The foreign delegates showed no interest in the trag­ edy o f Kronstadt and, except for a few, deliberately closed their minds to any understanding o f it. They sat in commission to condemn the Workers’ Opposition; this they did with enthusiasm, without giving it a hearing. They considered N EP, amenably enough, to be (as one o f the French delegates put it to me) “an inspired turn to the Right” that had saved the Revolution. It was hardly inspiration to yield to a fam­ ine after the situation had become quite insupportable. But the maj­ esty o f the Russian Revolution disarmed its supporters o f all critical sense; they seemed to believe that approval o f it entailed the abdica­ tion o f the right to think. A t the Kremlin, in the great throne room o f the Imperial Palace,

D A N G E R FROM W ITH IN : 1920-1921

. 161

Lenin defended the New Economic Policy. As he spoke, he scood be­ neath tall, extravagantly gilded columns, under a canopy of scarlet velvet bearing the insignia o f the Soviets. Dealing with international strategy, he argued for an armistice and a real effort to win over the masses. He was warm, friendly, genial, talking as simply as he could. It was as if he was determined to emphasize with every gesture that the head o f the Soviet Government and the Russian Communist Party was still just another comrade— the leading one, o f course, through his acknowledged intellectual and moral authority, but no more than this, and one who would never become just another statesman or just another dictator. He was obviously concerned to steer the Interna­ tional by persuasion. While some o f the speeches were going on he would come down from the platform and sit on the steps, near the shorthand reporters, with his notepad on his knee. From this position he would interrupt now and then with a little caustic comment that made everybody laugh, and a mischievous smile would light up his face. Or he would buttonhole foreign delegates, people who were al­ most unknown and practically insignificant, and take them into a corner of the hall to carry on, face-to-face, with the argument he had put forward. The Party must go to the masses! Yes, the masses! And not turn into a sect! And the N EP was not nearly so dangerous as it looked from outside, because we still kept all the fullness of power. The capitalist concession holders would have an important role to play. As for the interior neo-capitalists, we would let them fatten up like young hens and on the day they began to get in the way we would wring their necks, nicely. Several times I saw him coming away from the Congress, wearing his cap and jacket, quite alone, walking along at a smart pace with the old cathedrals of the Kremlin on either side of him. I saw him batter Bela Kun with a speech of merciless invective, genial as ever, his face bursting with health and good spirits. This was at a meeting of the Executive Committee o f the International, held during the Congress in a banqueting room of a hotel on Theater Square below the Krem­ lin, the Continental, I think. This speech marked a real turning point in Communist policy. I had some personal knowledge of Bela Kun, whom I found a

16 2 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

wholly unattractive personality. A n odd recollection o f his arrival in Petrograd comes to mind. M y car, driving across the Nevsky Prospect, was suddenly caught up in a strange sea o f people from which there emanated not a chant but a kind o f murmur. The crowd filled the broad boulevard as far as the eye could see, and was densest before the cathedral o f O ur Lady o f Kazan— it was composed o f lowly people, poor women wearing black headscarves, stocky, bearded peasants wearing thick sheepskins, stallholder types, and anti-Semites o f days gone by. Above the crowd there floated church banners, a gilded throne with saintly relics, and one could make out the glint o f priests’ tiaras under a canopy. The prayer rose, and the looks were exalted and mean— mean towards my car, which in itself signified authority. It was one o f the great Easter parades and the high clergy o f the Patri­ arch Tikhon being openly against us, this had the makings o f a huge counterrevolutionary demonstration, or almost o f a pogrom. A rick­ ety cab, coming from the station with two new arrivals, was trying to make its way through the multitude. One o f them I recognized by his silver beard and his thin, almost skeletal profile: it was the aged Felix Kohn, the Polish veteran o f Kara labor camp. The other was about thirty-five years old and I only noted his fat, round head and his mustache, short but bristly like a cat’s. We had been most anxious on his behalf when, after the defeat o f the Hungarian Soviets, he had been interned in a Vienna mental asylum, where the Austrian SocialDemocrats actually lavished attention on him. A Socialist who in the course o f m ilitary service had been taken prisoner in Russia, he had begun his revolutionary career in Siberia with the Tomsk Bolsheviks. At the time o f the Left Social-Revolutionary uprising o f 1918 in M os­ cow, he had won some distinction by his creation o f an international brigade in support o f the Party o f Lenin and Trotsky. He was jailed at home and came out to become Chairm an o f the Council o f People’s Commissars o f H ungary and leader o f the Hungarian Communist Party. In these posts he had been responsible for a succession o f faults and vacillations; he riddled his own Party with backstage repression and allowed a m ilitary conspiracy to gain control over practically the whole country. His personal role during the defeat o f the Hungarian Soviets had been pathetic (though this was hardly ever mentioned,

D A N G E R FRO M W IT H IN : 1920-1921

. 163

since a popular legend was being allowed to grow around his name). After some reverses the small Red Armies of Hungary regained the initiative. They beat the Romanians and advanced into Czechoslova­ kia, where the popular movement gave them a sympathetic welcome. Clemenceau, alarmed by this recovery, sent a telegram to Bela Kun, asking him to call off the offensive and hinting that, if this were done, the Entente would negotiate with Red Hungary. Kun was taken in by this trick and halted the offensive; the Romanians rallied their forces and counterattacked. That was the end. I cannot help thinking that for the rest o f his life Bela Kun was dominated by his sense o f failure, and never stopped trying to com­ pensate for it. During his mission in Germany he had, on 18 March of the previous year (192.1), instigated an uprising in Berlin that was both bloody and, given the undeniable weakness of the Communist Party, doomed to failure from the beginning. The Party emerged from the incident weakened, and divided by the expulsion of Paul Levi who strongly opposed such “ insurrectionary adventures.” After his return from Germany in the disgrace o f another failure, Bela Kun had gone off to win glory in the Crimea. At a meeting o f the Executive o f the International Lenin made a lengthy analysis o f the Berlin affair, this putsch initiated without mass support, serious political calculation, or any possible outcome but defeat. There were few present, because o f the confidential nature of the discussion. Bela Kun kept his big, round, puffy face well low­ ered; his sickly smile gradually faded away. Lenin spoke in French, briskly and harshly. Ten or more times, he used the phrase “Bela Kun s stupid mistakes”: little words that turned his listeners to stone. My wife took down the speech in shorthand, and afterwards we had to edit it somewhat: after all it was out o f the question for the symbolic figure of the Hungarian Revolution to be called an imbecile ten times over in a written record! Actually, Lenin’s polemic marked the end of the Internationals tactics of outright offensive. The failure of this approach had to be clearly stated, and besides Russia was now entering a period of inter­ nal appeasement; of these two considerations, of unequal weight, I am not sure which was the more influential. In its official resolution the

164 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

C o n g r e ss still praised the figh tin g spirit o f the G e rm a n C o m m u n is t P arty, an d B ć la K u n w as no t rem oved fro m the Executive.

I f the Revolution had not been in such a parlous condition at the time, Kun would have had to face questioning about two other crimes. H e had been a signatory to the treaty o f alliance with M akhno’s Black A rm y; he had also been one o f those who tore it up as soon as the joint victory had been achieved. Then too, he had been a member o f the Revolutionary Council o f the Red Army, which in November 1910 had forced Baron Wrangel out o f the Crim ea. In this capacity Bela Kun had negotiated the surrender o f the remnants o f the W hite army. T o this assortment o f former monarchist officers he promised an am­ nesty and the right to resume civilian work; later he ordered them to be massacred. Thousands o f war prisoners were thus treacherously ex­ terminated, in the name o f “purging the country.” Some said thirteen thousand, but there were no statistics and the figure is probably exag­ gerated. Nevertheless, I encountered several witnesses who were hor­ rified by these massacres by means o f which a revolutionary o f weak character and shaky intellect had stupidly tried to pose as a “man o f steel.” Indeed, at that very moment, during the Congress, a militant from the Crim ea, a nurse in the Red Army, came to see me on behalf o f other activists distressed by these abominations and asked that it be brought to the attention o f the leaders o f the revolution. I took her to see Angelica Balabanova who heard her stories with terrible sadness. Trotsky came to the Congress many times. N o one ever wore a great destiny with more style. H e was forty-one and at the apex o f power, popularity, and fame— leader o f the Petrograd masses in two revolutions; creator o f the Red Army, which (as Lenin had said to Gorky) he had literally “conjured out o f nothing”; personally the vic­ tor o f several decisive battles, at Sviazhsk, Kazan, and Pulkovo; the acknowledged organizer o f victory in the C ivil W ar— “O ur Carnot! as Radek called him. H e outshone Lenin through his great oratorical talent, through his organizing ability, first with the army, then on the railways, and by his brilliant gifts as a theoretician. As against all this Lenin possessed only the preeminence, which was truly quite im­ mense, o f having, even from before the Revolution, been the uncon­ tested head o f the tiny Bolshevik Party which constituted the real

D A N G E R FROM W IT H IN : 19 20-19 21

. 165

backbone o f the State, and whose sectarian temper mistrusted the over-rich, over-fluid mind o f the Chairman o f the Supreme War Council. For a short time there was some talk, in various small groups at the Congress, o f elevating Trotsky to the chairmanship o f the In­ ternational. Zinoviev must have been outraged by these pressure groups, and doubtless Lenin preferred to keep his own spokesman at the top o f the “World Party.” Trotsky himself intended to give his at­ tention to the Soviet economy. He made his appearance dressed in some kind of white uniform, bare of any insignia, with a broad, flat military cap, also in white, for headgear; his bearing was superbly martial, with his powerful chest, jet-black beard and hair, and flashing eyeglasses. His attitude was less homely than Lenin’s, with something authoritarian about it. That, maybe, is how my friends and I saw him, we critical Communists; we had much admiration for him, but no real love. His sternness, his in­ sistence on punctuality in work and battle, the inflexible correctness of his demeanor in a period o f general slackness, all gave some rise to certain insidious attacks, demagogic and malicious, that were made against him. I was hardly influenced by these considerations, but the political solutions prescribed by him for current difficulties struck me as proceeding from a character that was basically dictatorial. Had he not proposed the fusion o f the trade unions with the State—while Lenin quite rightly wanted the unions to keep some o f their indepen­ dence? We did not grasp that the trade union influence might have actually worked upon the structure o f the State, modifying it more effectively in a working-class direction. Had he not set up labor armies? And suggested the militarization o f industry as a remedy for its incredible state o f chaos? We did not know that earlier, in the Cen­ tral Committee, he had unsuccessfully proposed an end to the requi­ sitioning system. Labor armies were a good enough expedient in the phase of demobilization. Had he not put his signature to a repulsively threatening manifesto against Kronstadt? The fact was that he had been in the thick o f everything, acting with a self-confident energy chat tried out directly opposite solutions by turns. During one session, he came down straight from the platform and stood in the middle o f our French group to give a translation of his

166 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

own speech. H e spoke passionately, in slightly incorrect but fluent French. H e replied sharply when he was heckled— about the Terror, about violence, about Party discipline. O ur little group appeared to irritate him. Vaillant-Couturier,* Andre Morizet, Andre Julien, Fer­ nand Loriot,* Jacques and Clara M esnil* and Boris Souvarine* were all there. Trotsky was easy and cordial, but imperious in argument. On another occasion he flew at the Spanish delegate, Orlandis, who was attacking the persecution o f the anarchists. Trotsky seized him violently by his coat lapels and almost screamed, “ I should certainly like to have seen you in our place, you petty bourgeois!” D uring this summer o f 1921 I formed, among the comrades from abroad, a number o f lasting and even lifelong friendships. I resorted to those who came to Moscow with more concern for truth than ortho­ doxy, more anxiety for the future o f the Revolution than admiration for the proletarian dictatorship. O ur relationships were always initi­ ated by conversations o f an absolute frankness in which I set myself the responsibility o f disclosing all the evils, dangers, difficulties, and uncertain prospects. In an era o f fanatical conformism this was, as I still believe, a meritorious thing to do, demanding some courage. I gravitated towards people o f a free spirit, those who were fired by a desire to serve the Revolution without closing their eyes. Already an “official truth” was growing up, which seemed to me the most disas­ trous thing imaginable. I became acquainted with Henriette RolandHolst,* a Dutch M arxist and a notable poet. Lank, scrawny, and gray-haired, her neck disfigured by goiter, she had a delicately sculp­ tured face with an expression o f gentleness and intellectual austerity. The questions she raised with me were symptomatic o f a most scrupu­ lous anxiety. She could see far and straight. In her view, the dictator­ ship was plagued by the worst difficulties to the point o f vitiating the fulfillm ent o f its highest goals since it no longer announced the ad­ vent o f any new freedoms. Jacques and Clara M esnil, two former pupils o f Ćlisee Reclus, close to Romain Rolland (who based his criticisms o f the violence o f the Bolsheviks on his knowledge o f the French Revolution as well as on the influence o f Ghandism), inclined towards libertarianism, were o f a similar opinion. Clara had the face and the grace o f a Botticelli and

D A N G E R F R O M W I T H I N : 1 920- 1921

. 1 67

Jacques the rugged profile o f a Florentine humanist. He had begun writing his Life o f Botticelli, that he finished twenty years later. He wrote little but all those who were close to him benefited from his intelligence, that radiated richness and refinement. The end of his life was really tragic. Towards the age o f fifty, Clara lost her reason; Jacques died alone in 1940, during the summer exodus from France. We were often joined by an Italian worker from the Unione Sindicale, Francesco Ghezzi,* with a hard but frank face, o f whom more later. Two young men from the Spanish delegation gave us pledges for the future which they were des­ tined to fulfill at tremendous cost: Joaquin Maurin* and Andres Nin.* I have always be­ lieved that human qualities find their physi­ cal expression in a man’s personal appearance. A single glance was enough to tell the caliber of Maurin, the teacher from Lerida, and Nin, the teacher from Barcelona. Maurin

F r a n c e sc o G h e z z i in 1 9 11

had the bearing of a young Cavalier from a pre-Raphaelite painting; Nin, behind his gold-rimmed glasses, wore an expression o f concen­ tration that was softened by his evident enjoyment of life. Both of them gave their lives to the cause: Maurin destined to an unending succession o f jails, Nin to a horrible death during the Spanish Revolu­ tion. At this time the overwhelming impression they conveyed was one of idealism and the thirst for understanding. The French, more sophisticated and more skeptical characters, were generally of a different stuff. Andre Morizet, mayor of Boulogne, paraded his admirably sound and practical face and his drinking songs for the benefit of us all. (Even now, at Suresnes, in occupied France, he is still fighting to keep his office as Labor mayor; he has re­ turned, after a long interval, to traditional Socialism.) Charles-Andre Julien was piling up countless annotations for a work so compendious that he was never to write it. (In 1936 and 1937 he was to be one of the Socialist stalwarts of the Popular Front.) Paul Vaillant-Couturier, a tank officer during the war, a poet, pop­ ular orator, and ex-servicemen’s leader, was a tall, chubby young man

168 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y o f e xtra o rd in a ry talents, but fated to becom e a great disappointm ent to m e. H e u n d ersto o d e v e ry th in g th at w a s g o in g on, but in the future he w as to acquiesce in his o w n co rru p tio n , to becom e increasingly en­ tangled w ith all the v illain ies o f B o lsh e v ism s degeneration, and to die, in w o rk in g-cla ss Paris, enviab ly po pu lar. T h e need fo r p o pu larity a nd the fear o f g o in g a gain st the cu rren t can, d u rin g bad periods, play sign ifica n t roles in fo ste rin g co rru p tio n .

Boris Souvarine, a Russian Jew by origin but a naturalized French­ man, had no Socialist background; he came to us, at the age o f twentyfive, from the world o f left-wing journalism rather than from the working-class movement, with an amazing zest for knowledge and ac­ tion. Slight and short, his eyes masked by lenses o f unusual thickness, speech lisping slightly, manner aggressive and often quick both to of­ fend and to take offense, he had a habit o f coming out suddenly with awkward questions. He would deliver mercilessly realistic verdicts on French personalities and events, and amuse h im self by deflating swol­ len heads by smart pinpricks o f his own devising. H is stock was then very high, even though his first request on arrival was for a tour o f the prisons. A ll the time he showed a magnificent facility for analysis, a lively grasp o f realities, and an aptitude for polemic that was designed to leave a trail o f indignation wherever he went. H e became one o f the leaders o f the International and a member o f its Executive Com m it­ tee. Together with Rosmer and Pierre Monatte, he assumed the lead­ ership o f the French Com m unist Party, born at the 1920 split at Tours. Souvarine, despite his expulsion from the Comintern in 1924, was for some ten years to be one o f the most trenchant and perceptive brains o f European Communism. I w as on v e ry close term s w ith both o f the French C o m m u n ist groups in Russia, and was m ore or less the leader o f the one in Petrograd. These groups form ed strik in g instances o f the law w hereby mass m ovem ents transform individuals, im pel them into unpredictable courses o f developm ent, and m old their convictions. T h ey also illus­ trated the law that the ebb tide o f events carries men aw ay just as surely as the flo o d tide brings them in. A lth o u g h their ranks included several fo rm er French S o cialists (whose inclinations had been quite alien to Bolshevism ), these zealous C o m m u n ists, w h o for the m ost p art were

D A N G E R F R O M W IT H IN : 1920-1921

. 169

perfectly sincere, came from all points of the political horizon only to make a speedy departure once again in equally variegated directions.

M e e tin g o f F re n c h C o m m u n i s t G r o u p , M o s c o w c. 1 9 1 0 . S e rg e , se ate d cen ter, M a rc e l B o d y , se c o n d fro m left

The Moscow group was a little nest of vipers, although it was led by Pierre Pascal,* a man o f exemplary character. The quarrels, grudges, denunciations, and counter-denunciations of its two leading figures of the time, Henri Guilbeaux* and Jacques Sadoul,* completely demor­ alized it and finally earned the attentions of the Cheka. Guilbeaux’s whole life was a perfect example of the failure who, despite all his ef­ forts, skirts the edge of success without ever managing to achieve it. Verhaeren, Romain Rolland, and Lenin (in Switzerland) had all taken him seriously. During the war, he had published a revolutionary paci­ fist journal in Geneva. This brought upon him the honorable distinc­ tion of a death sentence in 1918 or 1919 and a bizarre acquittal by the French Council o f War a decade later. He wrote cacophonous poetry, kept a card index full of gossip about his comrades, and plagued the Cheka with confidential notes. He wore green shirts and pea-green ties with greenish suits; everything about him, including his crooked face and his eyes, seemed to have a touch of mold. (He died in Paris, about 1938, by then an anti-Semite, having published two books prov­ ing Mussolini to be the only true successor of Lenin.) Jacques Sadoul wa* quite different: a Paris lawyer, an army cap­ tain, an information officer in Russia on behalf of Albert Thomas,* a

170 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

member o f the C om intern Executive, a flatterer o f Lenin and Trotsky, a great charmer, a splendid raconteur, a sybarite, and a cool careerist to boot. However, he had produced a volume o f Letters on the Revolu­ tion, which is still a document o f the first importance. He had been condemned to death in France for crossing over to the Bolshevik side, but was one day to return home, times having changed, with an ac­ quittal. A fter that he trailed alongside the full course o f Stalinism, both as a lawyer acting for Soviet interests and as an agent in Parlia­ mentary circles, though at heart he did not entertain the slightest illu­ sion about Russia. The bread o f bitterness tasted by Oppositionists held no temptations for him. Rene M archand, once the Petrograd correspondent for the Catho­ lic and reactionary Figaro, was a fresh convert troubled by perpetual crises o f conscience. He was soon to go o ff to Turkey, there to re­ nounce Bolshevism and become an apologist, doubtless a sincere one, for Kemal Ataturk. The outstanding figure in the Moscow French Com m unist group was Pierre Pascal, probably a distant descendant o f Blaise Pascal, o f whom he reminded me. I had met him in Moscow in 1919. There, his head, shaven Russian-style, sporting a big Cossack mustache and smil­ ing perpetually with his bright eyes, he would walk through the city barefoot and clad in a peasant tunic to the Commissariat o f Foreign Affairs, where he used to draft messages for Chicherin. A loyal and cir­ cumspect Catholic, he used St. Thomas’s Summa to justify his adher­ ence to Bolshevism and even his approval o f the Terror. (The texts o f the learned saint lent themselves admirably to this task.) Pascal led an as­ cetic life, sympathizing with the Workers’ Opposition and hobnobbing with the anarchists. He had been a lieutenant with the French M ili­ tary Mission, in charge o f coding; he had crossed over to the Revolution in the middle o f the intervention, to dedicate himself to it body and soul. H e discussed its mystical significance with Berdyaev and trans­ lated B lo k’s* poems. H e was to suffer terribly as the birth o f totali­ tarianism progressed. I met him again in Paris in 1936. H e was now a professor at the Sorbonne, the author o f a solid biography o f the Archpriest Avvakum, and more or less a Conservative. We, who had almost been brothers, could not talk together about the battle o f M ad rid ...

The Executive had decided, on Russian initiative of course, to set up a trade union International affiliated to the Comintern. Salomon Abramovich Lozovsky (or Dridzo), an ex-Menshevik o f recent vin­ tage and an inexhaustible orator, was in charge o f the new organiza­ tion. A pleasant beard, geniality, good-bloke-ishness, a certain familiarity with the West, a knowledge o f French, and an always flex­ ible spine assured his longevity. He had the air o f a slightly fastidious schoolmaster amidst his worldwide assortment o f trade union mili­ tants whose political horizons did not extend very far beyond their own working-class districts at home. Not far from him, a one-eyed giant would pass through the crowd, downcast and solitary, but now and then distributing vigorous thumps on the shoulders o f his mates. This was Bill Haywood a former timber man, organizer o f the IW W ,' who had come to end his days in the stuffy rooms of the Lux Hotel, among Marxists not one o f whom tried to understand him and whom he scarcely understood himself. Still, he got a big thrill out of the red flags in the public squares. Here too I met a Russian militant who had been in a British prison and was now home from Latin America: Dr. Alexandrov, I think. He was thirty-five, with a swarthy commonplace face, dark hair, and black mustache, very well-informed on all the happenings in the great world outside. He was later to become Comrade Borodin, the Russian political adviser to the Kuomintang at Canton, before relapsing into obscurity... One rainy evening, a modest Hungarian left my house on his way to Estonia and the coach driver deposited him in the mud. It was Mathias Rakosi.* On the whole, the foreign delegates were a rather disappointing crowd, charmed at enjoying appreciable privileges in a starving coun­ try, quick to adulate, and reluctant to think. Few workers could be seen among them, but plenty of politicians. “How pleased they are, Jacques Mesnil remarked to me, “to be able to watch parades, at long last, from the official platform!” The influence o f the International was expanded only at the expense of quality. We began to ask our­ selves whether it had not been a grave error to split the Socialist move­ ment to form new little parties, incapable o f effective action, fed with ideas and money by the Executive’s emissaries, and fated to become

172 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

pro p ag an d a factories fo r the So viet G o v ern m e n t. W e were already p u ttin g these problem s to ourselves, but were reassured b y the insta­ b ility o f W e ste rn E u ro p e and the w ave o f enthusiasm w h ich still held us. A l l the sam e, I d id co n clude th at, in the Internatio nal as well, the d a n ge r lay in ourselves. T h e N e w E c o n o m ic P o licy w as, in the space o f a fe w m onths, al­ ready g iv in g m arvelo u s results. Fro m one w eek to the next, the fam ine a nd the specu latio n w ere d im in is h in g perceptibly. R estau rants were o p e n in g again and, w o n d e r o f w o n d ers, pastries th at were a ctu ally ed­ ible w ere o n sale at a ruble apiece. T h e p u b lic w as b e g in n in g to recover its b reath, and people were apt to ta lk abo u t the return o f capitalism , w h ic h w as syn o n ym o u s w ith prosperity. O n the o th er h and, the co n ­ fu sion a m o n g the P a rty ran k and file w a s staggering. F o r w h a t did we figh t, spill so m uch b lo o d, agree to so m an y sacrifices? asked the C iv il W a r veterans bitterly. U su a lly these m en lacked all the necessities— cloth es, decent hom es, m o n e y— and n o w e ve ryth in g w as tu rn in g b ack into m ark et value. T h e y felt th at m oney, the vanqu ish ed foe, w o u ld soon co m e into its k in g d o m once again. I p e rso n ally w as less pessim istic. I w as glad th at the change had taken place, th o u g h its reactio n ary side— the o u trigh t obliteration o f e very trace o f d e m o c ra cy— w o rrie d and even distressed me. W o u ld a n y o th er resolution o f the d ram a o f W a r C o m m u n is m have been possible? T h is w as b y n o w a problem o f o n ly theoretical interest, but one w o r th y o f som e reflection. O n this I developed some ideas, w h ich I rem em ber e x p o u n d in g on one occasion particularly, at a confiden­ tial m eetin g I had at the L u x H o te l w ith tw o Sp an ish Socialists. (Fer­ n an d o de los R io s w as one o f them ). T h e y ran as follows: T h ro u g h its intolerance and its arrogation o f an absolute m o n o p ­ o ly o f p o w e r and in itiative in all fields, the Bo lsh evik regim e was flo u n d e rin g in its o w n toils, spreading a sort o f general paralysis th ro u gh o u t the co u ntry. C o n ce ssio n s to the peasan try were indis­ pensable, but sm all-scale m an u factu re, m edium -scale trading, and certain industries co u ld have been revived m erely b y appealing to the initiative o f groups o f producers and consum ers. B y freeing the Statestrangled cooperatives, and in v itin g various associations to take over the m anagem ent o f different branches o f eco no m ic activity, an enor-

D A N G E R FROM W ITH IN : 1920-1921

• 173

mous degree o f recovery could have been achieved straightaway. The country was short o f both shoes and leather, but the rural areas had leather, and shoemakers’ cooperatives would have easily got hold of it and, once left to themselves, would have sprung into action at once. O f necessity they would have charged relatively high prices, but the State could, in the process o f assisting their operations, have exercised a downward pressure upon their prices, which in any case would have been lower than those demanded by the black market. In Petrograd I could see what was happening to the book trade: the stocks of the bookshops, which had been confiscated, were rotting away in cellars that as often as not were flooded with water in the spring. We were most thankful to the thieves who salvaged a goodly number o f books and put them back, clandestinely, into circulation. The book trade could, if it had been turned over to associations o f book lovers, have speedily recovered its health. In a word, I was arguing for a “Commu­ nism of associations”— in contrast to the Communism of the State variety. The competition inherent in such a system and the disorder inevitable in all beginnings would have caused less inconvenience than did our stringently bureaucratic centralization, with its muddle and paralysis. I thought o f the total plan not as something to be dic­ tated by the State from on high, but rather as resulting from the har­ monizing, by congresses and specialized assemblies, of initiatives from below. However, since the Bolshevik mind had already ordained other solutions, it was a vision confined to the realms of pure theory. Ever since Kronstadt some o f my friends and I had been asking ourselves what jobs we were going to do. We had not the slightest de­ sire to enter the ruling bureaucracy and become heads of offices or secretaries of institutions. I was offered entry into a diplomatic career, in the Orient at first. I was attracted by the prospect of the Orient, but not by diplomacy. We thought we had found a way out. We would found an agricultural colony in the heart of the Russian countryside: while the NEP reinstated bourgeois habits in the towns and furnished the new rulers with sinecures and easy careers, we would live close to the earth, in the wilds. The earth of Russia, with its sad and calm ex­ panses, is endlessly fascinating. Without much trouble we found a large, abandoned estate north o f Petrograd, not far from Lake Ladoga,

17 4 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

co m p risin g som e h u n d re d acres o f w o o d la n d and w aste field, th irty h ead o f cattle, and a la n d lo rd ’s residence. There, together w ith French C o m m u n is ts , H u n g a ria n prisoners o f w ar, a T o lsto y an doctor, and m y fath er-in -law R ussakov, w e fo u n d e d “ the French C o m m u n e o f N o v a y a -L a d o g a .” W e m ade a v alia n t b e g in n in g to this experim ent, w h ich turned ou t to be v e ry h ard going. T h e estate h ad been abandoned because the p easants w o u ld not agree to explo it it co llectively; th ey dem anded th at it be shared ou t a m o n g th em . T w o ch airm en o f short-lived co m ­ m unes there h ad been m urdered in the space o f eighteen m onths. A p rin t w o rk er w h o represented the C h e k a in the district advised us to m ak e sure th at w e kept on the righ t side o f the m u zh ik s or else risk th em “ ta k in g a torch to the w h o le place.” T h e w o o d s w ere o f beautiful S ca n d in a v ia n trees w ith lig h t foliage, lu m in o u s and secluded clear­ ings, a gentle river ru n n in g th ro u gh the pastures, and a great w o o den fa rm h o u se w h ere w e fo u n d the o n ly th in gs no one had th o ugh t to c a rr y o ff: cast-iron beds o f the typ e favored by n ew ly w ealth y mer­ ch an ts. A lm o s t all the farm equ ipm en t h ad been stolen. A s fo r the fo u r horses w e h ad been prom ised, w e ob tain ed three exhausted ani­ m als and a o n e-eyed m are that h ad a sligh t lim p, w h o m w e nam ed Perfect. W e h ad carried on o u r backs m ost o f o u r supplies from Petro­ g rad, as w ell as ropes, tools, m atches, and lam ps, fo r w h ich w e could get no paraffin , anyw ay. C o n ta c t w ith the to w n dem an ded a series o f feats o f strength. The lin k betw een us and N o v a y a -L a g o d a w as an o vergro w n lane through a w o o d th at ran fo r abou t tw e n ty kilom eters, but in this desolate place there w as absolutely n o th in g except fo r the slum b ering authorities, in terror o f the general hostility. W it h a sack over m y back, I frequently m ade the trip to P etrograd. I jo u rneyed up the N e v a , broad, dark, and green like the sea and b o u n d e d by peacefu l w o o d s, under unclouded skies. A t Sch lu sse lb u rg w e h ad to get onto an u n lik ely tub so cram m ed w ith p o o r people c a rr y in g sacks th at it often got stuck on sand in the ch annel and co u ld not get afloat again. A t th at po in t, w e had to u n ­ load a cro w d o f passengers, fu rious and righ tly o utraged, w h o were pushed o f f by the others w ith o u t m ercy. Those nearest the side bore the b ru n t o f the operation and the gru m blers ended up in the drink,

D A N G E R FRO M W IT H IN : 1920-1921

. 1 75

from w h ic h w e fished th em o u t fra te rn a lly w ith poles. I once d id this trip sta n d in g on a m e tal p late, m y b ack to the sc o rch in g fu n n e l. The au tu m n w in d w as fre e z in g m y face an d ch est and the heat fro m the b oiler w as ro a stin g m y b ack ; the scene w as sp e ctacu lar as the bleak prison fo rt o f S c h lu s se lb u rg w as slo w ly sin k in g in to blue h o rizo n . O n d isem b ark ation , I h ad to w a lk at least tw e n ty kilo m ete rs th ro u gh fo r­ est p ath s an d fo r th is reason w e ofte n d iscu ssed i f it was a g o o d idea to carry a revolver on y o u r b elt. W h ile it w as c e rta in ly sen sible to ca rry a weapon, there w as alw ays the ch an ce th at so m eone m ig h t m u rd er you for i t . . . N o t h i n g ever h a p p e n e d to m e, except fo r su ffe rin g from thirst. O n ce , in the m id d le o f the w o o d s, I k n o ck e d at an attractive little hou se w h o se w in d o w s d isplaye d ge ran iu m s in fu ll b loom . I asked for a g lass o f w ater. T h e p e asan t w o m an su spiciou sly asked me i f I had a h an d k e rch ie f. “ Yes, w h y ?” I replied . “ B ecau se here, fo r the lik es o f you, a glass o f w a te r co sts on e h a n d k e rch ie f.” “ G o to hell, you m is­ erable C h r is t ia n s !” I left her, cro ssin g h e rs e lf feverishly. The v illa g e n e arb y b o yco tte d us, alth o u g h the ch ild ren cam e at all hours to stare at the e x tr a o rd in a r y c reatu res th at w e were. A t the sam e tim e they spied e v e ry w h e re , an d i f you fo rg o t a shovel it d isapp eared at once. O n e n ig h t o u r en tire sto ck o f co rn , w h ic h w as to last fo r b o th food and seed u n til h arv est tim e , w as stolen from us. It w as a real state o f fam ine an d siege. E v e ry n ig h t w e w aite d up in case anyon e tried to set the hou se on fire. W e k n e w w h o w as h id in g o u r corn , bu t w e did not, as th ey e xp e cte d , go o u t w ith o u r revolvers to search for it, w h ich only in creased the su sp icion and h atred su rro u n d in g us. E ve ry n ight we exp ected th em to tr y to set the h ou se on fire. A great d isco ve ry al­ lowed us to e n jo y sour, w a r m in g so ups even i f they w ere not ve ry nu­ tritious: a barrel o f p ick le d cu cu m b e rs, in one o f the c e lla r s . . . G asto n Bouley, fo rm e r C a p ta in o f assau lt troop s in the trenches o f A rg o n n e , then soldier in the M u n ic h C o m m u n e , and n o w o u r g room , n igh tly proposed at d in n e r th at w e eat the one-eyed m are. A t nigh t, w hen it was m y tu rn , I w o u ld d ress in the d a rk so I cou ld not to be seen through the crac k s in the shu tters, go q u ietly to the door, open it abruptly and leap ou t, arm ed w ith a revolver and a sharpened stake. B ew are o f the h atch et b lo w fro m b e h in d the door, patrol arou n d the house all night.

176 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

T h e peasants h ad all the necessities, but refused to sell a n yth in g to the “J e w s ” and “A n tic h r is ts ” th at w e were. W e decided to break this block ad e; I w e n t o f f to the villag e w ith D r. N

, an O ld Believer

and T o lsto y a n w h o se m usical voice and b en ign solem n ity w o u ld, we h o ped, have som e effect. A peasan t w o m an cu rtly refused us every­ th in g w e asked for. T h e d o cto r opened the n eck o f his blouse and b ro u gh t ou t the little golden cross th at he w ore over his breast. “ W e are C h ris tia n s too, little sister!” T h e ir faces lit up and w e were given eggs! A n d little girls m ade so b old as to com e to see us in the evenings, w h en w e w o u ld all sin g Fren ch songs to g e th e r. . . H o w e ver, it could n o t last: in three m on th s h u n ger and w eariness forced us to abandon the project. S in ce K r o n s ta d t there h ad been a revival o f the T e rro r in Petro­ grad. T h e C h e k a h ad ju st “ liq u id a te d ” the T a ga n tse v co n sp iracy by exe cu tin g som e th irty people. I had k n o w n Professor T agan tsev a lit­ tle: a s k in n y little old m an w ith w h ite side-whiskers, a ju rist and one o f the longest-established u n iversity teachers in the fo rm er capital. W it h h im th ey shot a law ye r n am ed B a k to w h o m I used to send translatio n jo b s and w h o h ad never co ncealed his cou nterrevolu tion­ a ry o p in io n s fro m me. A ls o shot, G o d k n o w s w h y, w as the little scu lp­ tor B lo ch , w h o used to erect in p u b lic squares sculptures o f an gry workers, in the style o f C o n sta n tin M eu n ier. “ D o you k n o w any­ th in g ?” his w ife asked me. I co u ld no t find out a n yth in g; the C h e k a had beco m e a lot m ore rem ote th an it had once b e e n . . . A t the same tim e th ey execu ted the splendid po e t N ik o la i S tep an o vich G u m ilev, m y co m rade and adversary back in Paris. I called on his hom e at the M o y k a A r t H o u se , w here he had a room w ith his very yo u n g w ife, a tall girl w ith a slender neck an d the eyes o f a terrified gazelle. It was a huge room , w ith m urals sh o w in g sw ans and lotuses— it had once been the b ath roo m o f a m erch ant w h o had a taste fo r p o e try w ith this sort o f im agery. G u m ile v ’s yo u n g w ife said to m e in a lo w voice, “ H a v e n ’t you heard? T h e y to o k h im aw ay three days ago.” T h e com rades at the So viet Ex ecu tive gave me news w h ich was b o th reassu ring and d istu rb in g: G u m ile v was b eing very well treated at the C h e k a , he h ad spent som e nights there reciting his po em s— p o ­ ems o v erflo w in g w ith stately en ergy— to the C h ek ists, but he had

D A N G E R FRO M W IT H IN : 1920-1921

. 177

admitted to having drafted certain political documents for the counterrevolutionary group. All this seemed likely enough. Gumilev had never concealed his ideas. During the Kronstadt revolt the circle at the university must have believed that the regime was about to fall, and had thought to assist in its liquidation. The “conspiracy” could have gone no further than that. The Cheka made ready to shoot all of them: “This isn’t the time to go soft!” One comrade traveled to Mos­ cow to ask Dzerzhinsky a question: “Were we entitled to shoot one of Russias two or three poets o f the first order?” Dzerzhinsky answered, “Are we entitled to make an exception o f a poet and still shoot the others?” It was dawn, at the edge of a forest, when Gumilev fell, his cap pulled down over his eyes, a cigarette hanging from his lips, showing the same calm he had expressed in one of the poems he brought back from Ethiopia: “A nd fearless I shall appear before the Lord God." That, at least, is the tale as it was told to me. Over and over again, with mingled admiration and horror, I read the verses which he had enti­ tled “The Worker,” in which he describes a gentle, gray-eyed man who, before going to bed, finishes making “the bullet that is going to kill m e ..? The faces o f Nikolai and Olga Gumilev were to haunt me for years afterwards. At the same time another o f our greatest poets was dying of debil­ ity, which was the same thing as starvation: Alexander Blok, at the age of forty-one. I knew him only slightly, but admired him boundlessly. Together with Andrei Bely* and Sergei Yesenin he had inspired the mystical vision of the Revolution: “the Christ crowned with roses” who, “ invisible and silent,” walks in the snowstorm before the Twelve Red Guards, soldiers in peaked caps whose rifles are aimed at the city s shadows. He had told me o f his rebellions against the Revolution’s new absolutism, and I had heard him reading his last great work. Two of his poems, “The Twelve” and “The Scythians,” were being trans­ lated into many languages, and they remain spiritual monuments of that era. The first proclaimed the Messianic character of the Revolu­ tion; the second revealed its ancient, Asiatic face. Contradictory, but so was reality. Blok was a gentlemanly Westerner, rather like an Eng­ lishman, blue-eyed and with a long, serious face that hardly ever smiled. He was restrained in his gestures, with a fine dignity about

178 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

h im . E v e r since the rise o f Sym b o lism , fifteen years ago, he had been the fo rem o st R u ssian poet. I fo llo w e d his corpse to the V a ssili-O stro v ce m e tery at the m om en t w h e n the C h e k a w as passing sentence on G u m ile v . I b elonged to the last s u r v iv in g free-th o u gh t society; in all proba­ b ility I w a s the o n ly C o m m u n is t m em ber. T h is w as the V o lfila (Free P h ilo so p h ic S o cie ty), w h o se real g u id in g spirit w as anoth er brilliant p o e t, A n d r e i Bely. W e o rg an ize d b ig pu b lic debates, in w h ich one o f the speakers w as often a shabby, sq u in tin g little m an, w retch ed ly dressed, w h o se face w a s scored w ith p e rp e n d icu la r w rin k les. H e was Iv a n o v -R a z u m n ik , the h isto rian and ph ilosoph er, still one o f the fin­ est representatives o f the old re vo lu tion a ry intelligentsia o f Russia. So m e tim es the discussion w o u ld dissolve into g ra nd lyrical effusions on the prob lem s o f existence, consciousness, and the C o sm o s. L ik e B lo k , b o th B e ly an d Iv a n o v -R a z u m n ik were so m ew h at attracted, by reason o f th eir re vo lu tion ary ro m anticism , to the persecuted and si­ lenced L e ft S o cia l-R e v o lu tio n a ry Party. O n a cco u n t o f this sym pathy, an d because the p h ilo so p h ical fligh ts o f the tw o poets trespassed be­ yo n d the b o u n d s o f M a rx is m , the C h e k a and the P a rty had their eye on the V o lfila. Its o rganizers w o n d ered every day w h eth er they were g o in g to be arrested. W e held o u r private m eetings at A n d re i B e ly ’s. A t the tim e he w as liv in g in a h uge room o f the old m ilita ry h eadquar­ ters oppo site the W in t e r Palace, ju st above the offices o f the police m ilitia. Th ere w e w o u ld ask one an oth er h o w w e cou ld preserve lib ­ e rty o f th o u g h t as a principle, and prove th at it was not a co u nterrevo ­ lu tio n ary principle. B e ly suggested co n ve n in g a W o rld C o n gre ss o f Free T h o u g h t in M o sco w , and in v itin g to it R om a in R ollan d , H e n ri Barb u sse, and G a n d h i. A ch o ru s o f voices cried back: “ It’ ll never be a llo w e d !” I told them th at i f th ey appealed to intellectuals abroad, w h o were ce rtain ly incapable o f any real u n d erstan d in g o f revolution­ a ry R ussia, the R ussian in tellectu als ran a risk o f discreditin g the R evo lu tio n, w h ic h w a s alread y the o bject o f in d iscrim inate attacks by the ćm igres. A n d re i Bely, a m aster o f style com parable to Ja m e s Jo yce , a splen­ d id w rite r o f p o e try and prose, and a th eosoph ist (or anth rop osoph ist, as he h im s e lf term ed it) w as just over forty. H e w as em barrassed at

D A N G E R FRO M W IT H IN : 1920-1921

. 179

being bald, and so always wore a black skullcap beneath which his great seer’s eyes, o f a stony greenish blue, gave out a continual glitter. The vitality arid variety o f his mind was prodigious. His whole behav­ ior reflected spiritual idealism, with sometimes the postures of a vi­ sionary, sometimes the frank outbursts o f a child. In the aftermath of the 1905 Revolution, he had won fame through a psychological novel about the period, a mystical, revolutionary work impregnated with German and Latin culture. Now he was beginning to feel that his great energies were bankrupt. “What can I do now in this life?” he asked me despondently one evening. “I cannot live outside this Russia o f ours and I cannot breathe within it!” I

answered that the state o f siege was sure to end, and that Western

Socialism would open out vast prospects for Russia. “Do you think so?” he said thoughtfully. However, at the beginning of the autumn of 192-1. as the carnage o f the Terror was filling us with horror, we saw even the Volfila disintegrate. I am well aware that terror has been necessary up till now in all great revolutions, which do not happen according to the taste of wellintentioned men, but spontaneously, with the violence of tempests; that the individual has as much weight as straw in a hurricane; and that the duty o f revolutionaries is to employ the only weapons that history affords us if we are not to be overwhelmed through our own folly. But the perpetuation o f terror, after the end of the Civil War and the transition to a period o f economic freedom, was an immense and demoralizing blunder. I was and still am convinced that the new regime would have felt a hundred times more secure if it had hence­ forth proclaimed its reverence, as a Socialist government, for human life and the rights o f all individuals without exception. I still ask my­ self, having closely observed the probity and intelligence of its leaders, why it didn’t. What psychoses o f fear and o f power prevented it? The tragedies continued. From Odessa we had monstrous news: the Cheka had just shot Fanny Baron* (the wife of Aaron Baron) and Lev Chorny, one of the theoreticians of Russian anarchism. Lev Chorny had been well-known to me in Paris twelve years earlier. A figure straight out o f a Byzantine icon, with a waxy complexion and

180 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y eyes th at flashed fro m h o llo w sockets, he lived in the L a tin Q u arter, cle a n in g restaurant w in d o w s and then g o in g o f f to w rite his

try b eneath


the trees o f the L u x e m b o u rg G a rd e n s. U su ally, he had just

b een released fro m som e prison o r penal colony; a m eth o dical m ind, a ferven t believer, and an ascetic. H is death incensed E m m a G o ld m a n a nd A le x a n d e r B e rk m a n . D u r in g the T h ird C o n g re ss o f the Interna­ tio n al E m m a G o ld m a n h ad th o u g h t o f m a k in g a scene, after the m an­ ner o f the E n g lish suffragettes, b y c h a in in g h erself to a b ench on one o f the pu b lic b alconies and sh o u tin g ou t her protest to the C o ngress. T h e R u ssian an arch ists h ad persu aded h er to ch an ge her m ind. In the co u n try o f the S c y th ia n s such dem o n stratio n s h ad little value; far bet­ ter to keep on n a g g in g at L e n in and Z in o v ie v. E m m a G o ld m a n and A le x a n d e r B e rk m an , alth o u gh th ey h ad com e to R ussia m otivated by deep sym p ath ies, were n o w liv in g in such a state o f in dignatio n that th ey w ere unable to exercise an y im p a rtia lity o f ju d gm en t, and all they saw in the great revolution w ere its m iserable failings, an inhum an u n lea sh in g o f auth ority, the end o f all its hopes. M y relations w ith th em were b e co m in g difficu lt, ju st as d ifficu lt as w ith Z in o v ie v, w h om I h ad often qu estio ned abo u t the p ersecu tion o f the lib ertarians— and w h o m I h ad been a vo id in g since K ro n sta d t. M e a n w h ile , o u r persistent ca m p aig n fo r the release o f the v ictim ­ ized prisoners h ad m et w ith som e success: ten anarch ist detainees, in c lu d in g the syn d ica list M a x im o v and Bo ris Vo lin e, were authorized to leave R ussia, and others were freed. K a m e n e v prom ised that A a ro n B a ro n w o u ld be b anish ed, a prom ise th at w as not fu lfilled, since the C h e k a w as to o ppose it. C e rt a in M en sh evik s, notably M arto v , also o b tain e d passports to travel abroad. W h a t w ith K ro n sta d t, these tragedies, and the influence o f E m m a G o ld m a n and A le x a n d e r B e rk m an on the w o rk ing-class m ovem ent in the O ld W o rld and the N e w , an unbridgeable gap was n o w to open betw een M a rx is ts and lib ertarians. L ate r in history, this division w o u ld play a fatal role: it w as one o f the causes o f the intellectual co n ­ fusion and final defeat o f the S p an ish R evolu tion. In this respect, my w o rst fo reb o din gs were fu lfilled. T h e m ajority o f B o lshevik s, h o w ­ ever, considered the lib ertarian m ovem ent to be p e tty bourgeois and in rapid decline, even in th e process o f natu ral extin ctio n .

D A N G E R FROM W IT H IN : 1920-1921

. 181

The American background o f Goldman and Berkman estranged chem from the Russians, turning them into representatives o f an ide­ alistic generation that had completely vanished in Russia. (I have no doubt that they were just as disconcerted and indignant over a good deal o f what happened in Makhno’s movement.) They embodied the humanistic rebellion o f the turn o f the century: Goldman with her organizing flair and practical disposition, her narrow but generous prejudices, and her self-importance, typical of American women de­ voted to social work; Berkman with the inward tension that sprang from his idealism in years long past. His eighteen years in an Ameri­ can prison had frozen him in the attitudes of his youth when, as an act of solidarity with a strike, he had offered up his life by shooting at one of the steel barons. When this tension relaxed he became dejected, and I could not help thinking that he was often troubled by ideas of suicide. In fact, it was only much later that he was to end his life, in 1936, on the Cote d ’Azur. Both of them deeply resented my divulging in a German journal the existence o f Bakunin’s Confession, addressed to Tsar Nicholas I from the depths o f a dungeon. This very human document—which in no way diminishes Bakunin—had been discov­ ered in the archives o f the Empire and purloined immediately by the archivists. I publicized its existence and contents so as to prevent any future evasions. Some “Marxist” morons immediately proclaimed the disgrace of Bakunin. Some equally idiotic anarchists accused me of slandering him. These polemics were o f little significance. The winds of an immeasurable calamity swept upon us from the parched plains of the Volga. The Civil War had crossed these regions, and now drought had destroyed them. Millions, starved o f all neces­ sities, fled from the famine. I saw them coming up even as far as Petro­ grad, on foot or in carts. Not everyone had the strength or the means to flee ; millions were to die on the spot. This scourge, which struck at both the Ukraine and the Crimea, devastated areas populated by twenty-three million inhabitants. The blow was so severe that author­ ity tottered. Could the Bolshevik dictatorship overcome the ghastly specter of death? I met Maxim Gorky, bony, gray, and frowning as never before. He told me o f the formation of a committee of leading intellectuals and non-Communist specialists, which was to appeal to

182 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

all the latent energies o f the co u n try, and m igh t well be the germ o f to m o rro w s d em o cratic govern m ent. (The G o v ern m e n t at first recog­ n ized this co m m ittee , w h ic h w as h eaded b y the M a rx is t revisionist e co no m ist P rok o p o vich an d the Lib eral pu blicist E k aterin a Kusskova; then it h ad these tw o arrested and expelled from the country.) I did not agree. T h e revo lutionary regim e seem ed to me already so solid ly established th at the skeleton h an d o f fam ine cou ld not snatch po w e r aw ay from it. A n d , despite e v eryth in g, I th o ugh t it was abso­ lutely righ t to w a n t to live; I h ad faith in its fu tu re, and I u nderstood that R ussia w o u ld be incapable o f any fresh ou tbu rst fo r some years.

Kronstadt, the NEP, the continuation o f the terror, and the regime’s intolerance were wreaking such confusion among the Party cadre that we were in a total moral crisis. (At Kronstadt, the great majority of Com m unists had gone along with the rebels’ movement.) The two groups o f friends whose company I kept, the French and the Russian, both suffered from a similar distress. M ost o f my comrades decided to abandon either political life or the Party. Novomirsky, a high official in the International, an ex-terrorist from 1905, an ex-convict and for­ mer anarchist who had been won for Bolshevism by Lenin’s warmth, now sent his membership card back to the Central Committee on account o f his fundamental disagreements. He devoted him self to sci­ entific work, and nobody thought o f bearing him any grudge. (All the same, he was to be remembered in 1937 when he disappeared, along with his wife, into the concentration camps.) One o f our common friends casually crossed the frontier to Poland and went on to live in France “ in a nicely decadent bourgeois democracy where you think more or less aloud.” Hellfer, a French friend with a wry sense o f hu­ mor, remarked, “I thought I was seeing the world changing, but now I realize that it’s the same old thing. I’m o ff to Tahiti where a friend lives. From now on all I want to see is coconut trees, monkeys, and as few civilized people as possible.” He did not get quite as far and be­ came a chicken farmer in some obscure village in France. Marcel Body, a Socialist worker, arranged to be sent to the Soviet Embassy in Oslo. Another got sent to Turkey. Another went to manage a sawmill in the heart o f the Far East. Pierre Pascal quietly withdrew from the Party and earned his living as a translator, at the same time working



• 183

on his h iscory o f the schism o f che R u ssian C h u rc h . I w as to u g h er in side, and enjoyed (as I th in k ) a b road er visio n o f the

R e v o lu tio n ,


w ell as h avin g less in d i­ v id u alistic se n tim e n t in m y m akeu p. I d id not feel d ish e arte n e d o r d is­ oriented. I w as d isgu sted at ce rtain th in g s, p sy­ c h o lo g ic ally

exh au ste d

by the T erro r, and tor­ m ented by the m ass o f w ro n g s th at I co u ld see g ro w in g , w h ic h

I w as

p ow erless to co u n te ract.

Serge holding baby Vlady, wi th Li uba a nd her sister J e nn y Russakova

M y con clu sion s w ere th at the R u ssian R e v o lu tio n , left to it s e lf w o u ld probably, in one w ay o r an oth er, collap se (I d id not see how : w o u ld it be th ro u gh w a r o r d o m estic reaction?); th at the R u ssian s, w h o had m ade su p erh u m an e ffo rts to b u ild a n ew so ciety, w ere m ore or less at the end o f th e ir stre n g th ; and th at re lie f and salvatio n m u st com e from the W est. F rom n o w o n it w as n ecessary to w o rk to b u ild a W e st­ ern w o rk in g-class m ovem en t capab le o f su p p o rtin g the R u ssia n s and , o ne day, su p e rse d in g th em . I d ecid ed to leave fo r C e n tra l E u ro p e , w h ic h seem ed to be the fo cu s o f events to com e. (The co n d itio n o f m y w ife , w h o w as n o w on the verge o f tu b e rcu lo sis as a result o f all the p rivatio n s, w as an o th er facto r th at e n cou raged m e in th is d ire ctio n .) Z in o v ie v and the com rad es on the E x e cu tive offered me a po st in B e r­ lin , w o r k in g in illeg ality. I f d an g e r w as w ith in us, salvatio n m ust lie w ith in us no less.


5 E UROPE AT THE D AR K C R O S S R O A D S 1922-1926 T

h e

l a st

fe w weeks before m y departu re were p a rtly taken up by a

case th at w as b o th tragic and b anal. A d istant relative o f m ine, an old officer nam ed Sch m e rlin g w h o h ad jo in ed the R ed A rm y , w as appear­ in g w ith three o th er m ilitary personnel before the A r m y ’s revolution­ a ry tribu nal. Em b ezzlem en t o f supplies: death penalty. S ch m erlin g w a s an h onest old m an; in his position o f logistics officer, he w as u n ­ der the orders o f a C o m m u n is t co m m issar w h o w o u ld often send him bits o f paper o rderin g d elivery to the bearer o f a certain q u an tity o f f o o d . . . U n la w fu l proce d u re — but w as the “specialist,” the form er b ourgeois officer, in a position to diso b ey a co m m issar w h o could have h im shot fo r any nu m b er o f reasons? S ch m e rlin g w o u ld com ply, k n o w in g fu ll w ell th at this w o u ld end badly. In the event, the arrests were a cco m pan ied b y a press cam paign d e m a n d in g that the runaw ay em bezzlem ent o f a rm y supplies be “ ruthlessly suppressed.” So viet law a llo w ed any citizen to appear for the defense before the courts; I be­ cam e S ch m e rlin g ’s defense counsel, determ ined to get h im out o f there w ith o u t too m uch regard fo r legal fictions. Th e trial took place in the lobby o f a form er m ajor b ank, in G o g o l Street, previously M orskaya, still divid ed up by gray m arble counters. Fro m the start, the m in d -set o f the judges was apparent: m ake an exam ple. O n ly ch illy questions and ch illin g replies issued from their three forbidding heads. O b vio usly, the application o f such lethally utilitarian orders had n o th in g to do w ith the exercise o f justice. I had recently attended a trial in M o s c o w o f a h igh -ran k in g co u nterrevolu tionary officer where the atm osphere had been heated and confrontational; the case ended w ith a principled co nvictio n . H ere, in contrast, the robot-judges were iniquitou sly determ ined to b rin g d o w n the ax blade. The oth er de1 84

E U R O P E AT T H E D A R K C R O S S R O A D S : 1 9 2 2 - 1 9 2 6 • 185

fense counsel pleaded wich me not to intervene and annoy such dan­ gerous citizens; the suggestion had probably come from the judges themselves and I yielded. The four defendants were automatically condemned to death, the sentence to be carried out within seventytwo hours—and it was Saturday! The next day, Sunday, did not allow for any appeal procedures for a reprieve. You had to send a cable im­ mediately to Soviet Central Executive in Moscow, but the telegraph services accepted only cables bearing an official stamp. Normally, for pleas for mercy, the court put its stamp at the disposal o f the defense lawyers. I asked one o f the judges, a young man, red hair, thin mouth, long sour face, who brusquely refused. “Are you really so determined to shoot this poor man?” “I don’t have to answer to you!” Ullrich was the name o f this young judge with a face of polished stone and he had his place in history. In 1936, it was he who presided at the trial o f the Sixteen (Zinoviev, Kamenev, Ivan Smirnov). I went to get the stamp o f the International. In Moscow the secretary o f the All-Russia Ex­ ecutive, Avel Enukidze, formally promised me a pardon, although not before the end o f the current series o f trials...The veteran officer spent many months on death row, expecting the final call. He was pardoned and rejoined the services. His family never forgave me those tortuous delays. T h e train crossed a d ism al n o -m an ’s-lan d fu rro w e d w ith ab a n ­ d on ed trenches, b ris tlin g w ith b arb ed w ire . S o ld ie rs in g ray g reat­ coats, w e a rin g the red star o n th e ir clo th h elm ets, w atc h ed us sad ly as w e w en t by. T h e y w ere g au n t an d g ray as the e arth . F are w e ll, co m ­ rades! F rom N a rv a o n w ard s, N a r v a the first to w n in E sto n ia , w ith its a n ­ cien t gabled houses in the o ld G e rm a n style, one su d d e n ly b reath ed an air th at w as b o th less h e avy and less b racin g. W e w ere co m in g from a huge en tren ch ed cam p g overn ed b y the harsh law s o f co n g ealed id e­ alism , and e n te rin g in stead a sm all, neat, co m fo rta b le b o u rg e o is p ro v­ ince w h ose m odest shops w e vie w e d as o p u le n t and w h ose elab orate u n ifo rm s appeared lo ath so m e and grotesqu e. W ith its p u n y m illio n o f in hab itan ts, w ith o u t an eco n o m ic h in te rlan d , E s to n ia m ade a seriou s preten se at b e in g a m odern S tate, com plete w ith P arliam en t, g enerals, and fo re ign d ip lom acy. T h re e p arts R u ssifie d , it w as now

186 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y u n lea rn in g the langu age o f T o lstoy, d ism issing the R ussian teachers from the U n iv ersity o f D o rp a t (now T a rtu ), and co n jurin g up a na­ tional intelligentsia lack in g any idiom in co m m o n w ith the rest o f the w o rld . H o w lo n g w o u ld it last, and at w h a t price?

A t Tallinn (lately Reval), I stopped, overwhelmed with emotion, in front o f some houses that were being built. I had seen so much de­ struction that the simple work o f bricklayers moved me deeply. From its hill the old castle dominated the empty streets, which were paved with the little pointed cobbles o f medieval days. A horse-drawn omni­ bus went along a street lined with shops and cafes that sold pastries. A t the sight o f any one o f these shops, our children o f Russia would have shouted for joy. In the Volga territories the children o f Russia were turning into living skeletons, hundreds o f thousands o f them. Better than through any theory, I now understood the meaning o f the politics o f “self-determination o f nationalities,” raised as it was to per­ fection by the blockade o f the Revolution. I, my wife Liuba, and my son Vladimir,* who was not yet a year old, were traveling illegally; it was, however, an easy form o f illegality. From Petrograd as far as Stettin and several other Western cities, there were no obstacles in our path. There were a dozen o f us, dele­ gates and agents o f the International, discreetly (or sometimes openly) accompanied by a diplomatic courier named Slivkin, a strapping, jo­ vial young man who was entrusted with every imaginable variety of smuggling, and had bought over all the police, customs, and frontier officials along our itinerary. A t the last moment we had discovered that the O M S office [Otdiel M ezbdunarodnoi Sviazy, or International Relations Section o f the Comintern Executive) had, in entering the details on our Belgian passports, forgotten to mention our ch ild ... "That’s nothing serious,” Slivkin told me. “During the frontier ex­ aminations I’ll make a show o f playing with him.” A t Stettin he put him self to more trouble in getting an “ invalid” through: a tall, thin young man with dark, piercing eyes and an ashen face, sought by every policeman in the Reich as one o f the organizers (Bela Kun was an­ other) o f the March 192.1 insurrection. This was Guralski, whose real name was Heifitz, once a militant in the Jewish Bund, and now one of the hardest-working agents o f the International.


• 187

W ith o u t an y d iffic u lty , I b o u g h t fro m the B e rlin P o lize ip rasid iu m , at the p rice o f ten d o llars an d a fe w cig ars, a g e n u in e resid ence p e rm it that, m oreover, tran sfo rm e d m e from a B e lg ia n in to a Pole. So o n I had to ch an g e m y n a tio n a lity ag ain , th is tim e in to a L ith u a n ia n , since the cafes in B e rlin w ere plaste re d w ith n otices say in g : “ N o P oles served here.” It w as the tim e w h e n P o lan d had ju st an n e xe d several m in in g d istric ts in U p p e r Sile sia, a lth o u g h a p leb iscite had yie ld e d a result th at in fact favored the R e ich . G e rm a n y w as visib ly g rip p e d b y a cold fu ry. O n ce , in a b ar in th e K u rfu rs te n d a m m , w h en I u ttered a few w ord s in R u ssian , a g e n tle m an w ith face scars spu n ro u n d : “A r e you P o lish ?” “ N o ,” I replied , la u g h in g , “ L it h u a n i a n .. . ” “ F in e th en . L e t ’s have a d rin k ! I f yo u h ad been P o lish , I m ig h t even have k ille d y o u .” In sid e post-V ersailles G e rm a n y , g o ve rn ed as it w as by the S o cialD e m o cra tic P resid en t E b e rt, an d by the m ost d e m o cratic o f re p u b li­ can co n stitu tio n s, on e b reath ed in the atm osp h ere o f a c o lla p sin g w o rld . E v e r y th in g w as ju st in its place: p eop le w ere u n a ssu m in g , k in d ly, in d u strio u s, b a n k r u p t, w retch e d , d e b au ch ed , an d re se n tfu l. R ig h t in the m id d le o f to w n , b eyo n d the d a rk Spree an d the F ried richstrasse, a huge ra ilw ay statio n w as b e in g b u ilt. B e m e d a le d c r ip ­ ples fro m the G re a t W a r sold m atch es ou tsid e n ig h tclu b s in w h ic h g irls, w h o had a p rice ju st lik e e v e ry th in g else, d an ce d n ak ed am o n g the flow er-d eck ed tables o f th e d in e rs. C a p ita lis m w as ru n n in g riot, ap p aren tly u n d e r the in sp iratio n o f H u g o Stin n es,* and ac c u m u la tin g im m en se fo rtu n e s in the m id st o f in solven cy. E v e r y th in g w as fo r sale: the d au gh ters o f the b ou rg e o isie in the bars, the d au gh te rs o f the p e o ­ ple in the streets, o fficials, im p o rt an d e x p o rt licen ses, state papers, bu sin esses in w h ose p rosp ects n o b o d y b elieved . T h e fat d o lla r and the pu ny, p u ffed -u p co in o f the v icto rs ru le d the roost, b u y in g up e v e ry ­ th in g , even h u m an so u ls i f th ey co u ld . T h e A llie d m ilita ry m issions, b u rd ened w ith the im possib le task o f c o n tro llin g d isarm am e n t, w alk e d aro u n d in th e ir sm art u n ifo rm s, su rro u n d e d by a p o lite b u t no less o b vio u s hatred . P e rm an en t con sp iracies o f v ario u s so rts w en t on in lim itle ss ra m i­ fications: the co n sp irac y o f R h in e la n d separatists, fin an ced from ab road ; the co n sp irac y o f re actio n ary m ilita ry leagues; an d the co n ­ sp iracy o f revolu tion aries: o u r o w n . In p h ilo so p h ic lan g u ag e, O sw a ld

188 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

Spengler proclaimed The Decline o f the West: come, look at the corpse o f Egypt, ponder on the end o f Rome. The revolutionary poets were publishing D am m erung der Menschen (“The Twilight o f M ankind”). The portraits o f O skar Kokoschka palpitated in all their lines, colors, and volumes with a cosmic neurosis; the metallic touch o f George Grosz traced the silhouettes o f piggy bourgeois and robot jailers, with ghastly prisoners and workers living like grubs beneath them. Barlach made statues o f peasants stupefied by fear. I myself wrote: L ife is like a sickness: R ed -h o t iron the o n ly cure B u t instead th ey are u sing poisons.

The little pointed red-brick churches slumbered on the edges of squares that were carved up into allotments. The Reichswehrs choic­ est old sweats, in heavy helmets, guarded a War Office whose win­ dows were adorned with flowers. Raphaels Madonna, from within her brilliantly lit room in the Dresden gallery, gazed deeply, darkly, and goldenly at all comers. Organization had been so perfected that even in the utter solitude o f the Saxony or Harz forests, I found wastepaper baskets and signboards saying S C H O N E S B L I C K — Recom­ mended or (as it were) Starred Landscape. A t night the towns were magnificently lit up. Compared with our Russian penury, affluence had a lasting shock effect. Germany was bled white. Nobody there had any real confidence in the future, and practically nobody had any idea o f the public good. The capitalists lived in terror o f the revolution. The impoverished petty bourgeoisie saw the old manners and hopes o f yesterday vanish­ ing beneath their eyes. Only the Social-Democrats believed in the fu­ ture o f capitalism, in the stabilization o f German democracy, and even in the intelligence and benevolence o f the victors o f Versailles! They had the enlightened, optimistic attitudes o f the liberal bourgeoi­ sie o f 1848. The youth, which was nationalistic and Socialist-inclined, would have nothing to do with them. M y impression was that young people hoped for a revolution, and for an alliance with Russia to wage a revolutionary war. Energy, when it was divorced from reason, took


• 18 9

refuge in the military leagues; where it was colored by dogmatic rea­ soning, it gathered around the Communist Party. Charles Rappo­ port, pulling a wry smile on his bearded, cynical face, said to me, “There will be no German revolution for the same reason that there will be no counterrevolution in Russia: people are too tired and too hungry.” Seen from here, the Russian Revolution appeared as a superb ex­ ploit. It preserved almost all its halo o f newly arisen justice and orga­ nization, as well as o f unprecedented democracy. This was the case both with us and with the general public, and even with many reac­ tionaries. The Social-Democratics were the only people who saw nothing but the cost o f the Revolution, its despotic character, the famine, and the long wars. Determined not to follow the same ardu­ ous path, they tried instead to make the best of a capitalism that was at the end o f its tether by modifying it, little by little. They settled down in the pores o f the state, administrative bodies, schools, town halls, and police forces, and at times appeared irremovable. “What splendid powerlessness!” we would say. Our Soviet poverty, our im­ provised egalitarianism (with its very modest privileges for the rulers), our blazing creative will and revolutionists’ dedication contrasted with the brutal self-seeking o f speculation, the arrogant, imbecile luxury of the rich, and the shameful destitution o f the masses; and so we could easily forgive the Revolution her unbending harshness, her errors and Spartan ways. In this decomposing bourgeois world we re­ covered our confidence. I was on the editorial staff of Inprekorr, the press agency of the Com­ intern Executive, which published copious material, intended for the Labor press o f the whole world, in three languages, German, English, and French. At my office at the Rote Fahne, I was successively Sieg­ fried and Gottlieb; in town I was Dr. Albert; on my papers Viktor Klein; and, in my journeys to Russia, Alexei Berlovsky, a former Rus­ sian prisoner o f war in Germany. Victor Serge datelined his articles (which were reprinted as far away as China) from Kiev, a city to which, as it happened, I had never been. I appeared only very seldom at the Soviet Legation in the Unter den Linden where, all the same, I man­ aged to meet Krestinsky and Yakubovich. I f I chanced to pass Radek

190 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

on the Kurfiirstendam m , we would exchange a knowing glance, but never greet each other, in case one o f us was being followed. A t Grunewald I used to visit a friendly house, occupied by a cele­ brated French Com m unist, Jacques Sadoul, living (naturally) under a false name; in the next-door garden we could see a stout gentleman tak­ ing a stroll among his rosebushes: Captain Eckhart, one o f the leaders o f the “Black” (i.e., secret) Reichswehr and the military conspiracy. At Zehlendorff, in a rose-pink, solid-looking villa shaded by tall pines (this belonged to Eduard Fuchs, who was active despite his years), we outlaws and emissaries o f the International would meet from time to time, to talk Socialism or hear a little music. The guests there included Radek, the Vuyovich brothers, O tto Pohl (the Austrian Ambassador), L.-O . Frossard, and various Russians. Fuchs, a social historian, was a collector o f works by Daumier and Slevogt, Chinese and Japanese objets d a rt, and obscure facts about the dark corners o f the German Revolution. A man on the fringe o f the Com m unist movement, he was still rendering it services that were by no means devoid o f risk. For various reasons, it was not easy for me to find lodgings with my little family, often augmented by the presence o f some comrade whose papers were not in order. For a long time I lived in a workingclass tenement near the Anhalt station, in the home o f some Spartakist workers. A t the most critical moment, during the preparations for the 1913 insurrection, I lived in a small apartment in Schoneberg, right opposite the Reichswehr barracks. .. And I noticed that my couriers, dauntless young men, apart from sporting the militants’ corduroy suit, did not bother re­ moving the red star from their la­ pels whenever they came to see me! Several times I just missed be-

Serge with Vlady in Berlin


• 191

ing arrested in the most idiotic way. When I was on the point o f enter­ ing the doorway to the Rote Fahne office, my wife held me back by the arm: “Lets walk on quickly, come on!” The vestibule was full o f green Schutzpolizei uniforms. All the same it was a good idea to post them so openly. I took a small, separate office away in town as a commercial broker—what brand o f commerce, I never discovered. The editorial staff o f Inprekorr, the intellectual and political men­ tor o f the world Communist movement, was of an outstanding medi­ ocrity. In charge was Julius Alpari, once a high official in the Hungarian Soviet regime, a bloated, artful, and well-informed indi­ vidual, whose sole conception o f his role was already that o f a func­ tionary discreetly heading, even through illegality, for an undisturbed career. He never committed himself on any issue, but rode along pas­ sively and gently in a spirit o f revolutionary conformism awaiting its due reward. He would explain to me, grinning fatly: “When a pretty girl says No, it means Yes; when a diplomat says Yes, it means No; when I say Yes or No, it means neither Yes nor N o . .. ” The German section was run by two deputies o f the Prussian Landtag: Bartz, the cartoonists’ image o f the petty official behind his little window, and Franz Dahlem, a young man with hard features, a prominent nose and expressionless eyes. Dahlem, the toiler without personality, the militant without doubts, the fact gatherer without thoughts, never asked himself a question o f the slightest vital interest but only carried out, all punctiliously, every instruction and directive he received. This was the Communist N C O type, neither a blockhead nor a thinker: obedient only. Bartz has died, a faithful working-class Deputy; Alpari continued his career as Comintern agent right up to the fall o f Paris; Franz Dahlem, after Thaelmann’s* arrest, became the leader of the German Communist Party, was interned in France, and then handed over to the Gestapo by the Vichy Government, in all likelihood to his death. He had conscientiously performed all the in­ famous routines of totalitarian Communism; he will die (if he has not already died) like a good N CO , courageously. Already around 1922, the International was unwittingly molding factotum officials, who were prepared to give passive obedience. The march on Rome and the rise of Mussolini were understood by

192 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

no one in the International except a few isolated militants, who in­ cluded m yself since I had followed the progress o f Fascism from fairly close quarters. The opinion o f the leadership was that this was a piece o f reactionary buffoonery that would soon die away and open the path to revolution. I opposed this view, saying that this new variety o f coun­ terrevolution had taken the Russian Revolution as its schoolmaster in matters o f repression and mass manipulation through propaganda; further, it had succeeded in recruiting a host o f disillusioned, powerhungry ex-revolutionaries; consequently, its rule would last for years. The International and the Soviet Government were proceeding along two parallel paths, and with two distinct objectives: first, to form disciplined parties over the whole o f Europe with a view to events to come; secondly, to achieve toleration from the capitalist world and thence credits for the reconstruction o f Russia. I f such credits had been forthcoming, the Soviet system would probably have evolved in a liberal direction. I know that, at the time o f the Genoa Conference, in May 1922, Lenin and Kamenev were considering the revival o f some degree o f press freedom; there was talk o f allowing a non-Party daily to be published in Moscow. A literary review, really independent o f the party, did appear. A certain religious toleration was also envisaged, although the poverty o f the State necessitated the seizure o f precious metals from the churches, a measure which led to innumerable clashes and subsequent executions. Genoa was a setback for Russia, despite the flexibility displayed by Chicherin and Rakovsky. Chicherin made up for his losses at Rapallo, where he signed a treaty o f friendship with Germany, thus positioning the Soviet Union decisively on the side o f the losers o f Versailles. The Conference o f the Three Internationals assembled the frater­ nal enemies for the first time around the same table (in one o f the study rooms in the Reichstag): leaders o f the Socialist International,* leaders o f the Two-and-a-Half International (as we mockingly called the little groups conglomerated midway between the reformists and the Bolsheviks), leaders o f the Third International. I attended the conference in my capacity as a journalist. These men presented a strik­ ing physical contrast. The Socialists, Abramovich, Vandervelde, and


• 193

Friedrich Adler, had the fine profiles o f Western intellectuals and the behavior o f competent lawyers; their whole comportment expressed moderation. Facing them were Clara Zetkin’s* solid, powerful old face, the mobile, sardonic features o f Radek, and Bukharin’s impervi­ ous geniality. The Socialists insisted— and with good reason— that political persecution in Russia must be ended. Bukharin told me, “That’s only an excuse. Those people are determined never to fight for Socialism.” And he added, as though by way o f a directive, “Our press must attack them mercilessly.” The trial o f the Central Committee of the Russian SocialRevolutionary Party actually ruined any chance of cooperation. The Social-Revolutionaries had taken part in the Civil War, against us. In 1918, Semionov, one o f their terrorists, had organized the assassina­ tion in Petrograd o f the Bolshevik orator Volodarsky; Dora Kaplan had shot Lenin. Semionov embraced Bolshevism and made a remark­ ably full confession (and later became a secret agent o f the GPU). The background to the attempts against Lenin was closely investigated— the authors o f the first attempt, in Petrograd, had meanwhile joined the Communist Party—and the trial ended with a suspended death sentence on the twelve principal defendants, who included Gotz,* Timofeyev, and Gerstein. From Berlin, I observed the proceedings with great distress. Now that the Civil War was over, were we going to shed the blood o f a de­ feated party which, in the old days, had furnished the Revolution with so many o f its heroes? The Politburo hesitated. I heard it said: “We are moving towards an inevitable collision with the peasantry. This peasant party has certain prospects; consequently it must be be­ headed.” I conspired with several friends to try and prevent this ca­ lamity. Clara Zetkin, Jacques Sadoul, and Souvarine exerted pressure towards the same end; Maxim Gorky sent Lenin a letter breaking off all relations... No blood was spilt. Thirteen years later, I was to see the aged Gerstein die in almost complete destitution, deported to Orenburg. He was an unyielding, conscience-racked idealist who un­ til his last breath remained loyal to his democratic beliefs. (Gotz was deported for a second time in 1936 to a town on the Volga. He had

194 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

been a senior official in the Finance M inistry, with real authority. He was tortured and killed in Alm a-Ata in 1937.) Shortly afterwards, at the end o f 1922 ,1paid a short visit to M os­ cow. Russia was returning to life; Petrograd was bandaging its wounds and emerging from dilapidation. Nighttime, with the pitiful state of illumination, exuded a terrible depression, but people were no longer hungry and a brisk pace o f living was in evidence everywhere. The Terror had ceased, without being formally abolished, and everyone tried hard to forget the nightmare o f arrests and executions. A new literature was bursting out in the Serapion Brothers circle and among the writers, yesterday unknown, who overnight were now counted among the great: Boris Pilnyak,* Vsevolod Ivanov,* Konstantin Fedin. Their works were intense and impetuous, saturated with virile hu­ manism and a critical spirit. They were rebuked because they were not at all Com m unistic, indeed very far from being so, but they were pub­ lished, they were loved. The great tradition o f Russian literature, in­ terrupted during the stormy years, was being born again in the second year o f peace! It was miraculous. Small traders were springing up everywhere, crowds swarmed over the markets, the taverns exhaled their music, barefoot youngsters ran in the streets at dawn, following the cabs to offer flowers to lovers. There were plenty o f beggars, but they were not dying o f hunger. In official circles they were beginning to talk o f the Reconstruction Plan advocated by Trotsky. It was a nation in convalescence, a nation on the march. A t the Krem lin I found the familiar atmosphere still there. An enlarged session o f the Comintern Executive was studying certain problems whose nature escapes my memory. A t it I met Amadeo Bordiga, gloomier, sturdier, and more quarrelsome than ever before, this time picking a quarrel over revolutionary morality. Zinoviev listened to him indulgently. Jacques Doriot* was becoming someone impor­ tant . .. Corruption, servility, intrigue, backstage talebearing, and the of­ ficial mentality began to assume an increasing role in the functioning o f the International. The worst o f it was that anybody who wanted to preserve any influence or political office had to kowtow persistently to

E U R O P E A T T H E D A R K C R O S S R O A D S : 1 9 2 2 - 1 9 2 6 • 195

the Russians and their emissaries. Besides, they had control o f the cash, and the other parties presented the appearance o f poor relations. Led by politicians accustomed to bourgeois living, these displayed no capacity for propaganda or action. The International would employ two or three methods to breathe some life into them: it would put “gray eminences” in charge o f them, who were mostly Russian (and therefore strangers to the Western mind), as well as being devotees of Zinoviev; it sent them sizable funds; or it would remove the old timehonored politicians and replace them with young militants who were sometimes no more than young careerists. The Parties went from one crisis to another. At the crossroads o f Berlin, I encountered many delegates and em­ issaries. They included a young engineer from Saint-Denis named Jacques Doriot, who was in high esteem as a “real force.” Frossard as­ sured me o f his intention to serve the Russian Revolution without falling back into the ways o f the old Parliamentary Socialism o f the Third Republic. Pierre Semard, secretary of the railwaymen’s union, a tall, poised man with a face typical of the Paris worker, spoke o f the proletarianizing of the Party. Louis Sellier went into ecstasies over fi­ nancial reform in Soviet Russia, a subject o f which I immediately saw that he knew nothing. Frossard broke with the International a few months later. Semard was to remain loyal to the Party till his death, despite many humilia­ tions, despite even the atrocious allegation that he had been a police agent, a charge with which he was hypocritically smeared when he was to be removed from the leadership. (The Nazis shot him in Paris on 15 April 194Z.) Marcel Cachin would relate how he had exhorted Lenin not to march on Warsaw: Oh, if only they had listened to him! Cachin was likable and openhearted. He had the graying hair and mustachioed face of an old sailor or miner, a passionate voice, and a relentlessly per­ fect French diction, appropriate for the Parliamentary orator that he was. His thinking was purely that of a platform speaker; he wor­ shipped the Party and lived exclusively on his popularity. To keep his reputation going he would strive always to follow the strongest cur­ rent of opinion, which he was quick to smell out. A rather intelligent

196 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

man, who could see practically everything that was going on, he expe­ rienced considerable anguish— for a long time I am sure— but he never rebelled. W here would he have been without his Party, his Par­ liament, etc.? On average, however, our human material and the men I have singled out from among many were o f relatively good caliber. The crisis over the reparations imposed on Germany by the Ver­ sailles Treaty grew worse from day to day. W hen Vorovsky, the old M arxist humanist and then Soviet Ambassador to Italy, died in Lau­ sanne, riddled with bullets by a young W hite Russian emigre, the at­ mosphere in Germany was so acute that an order from Moscow came insisting on a great Com m unist and pro-Soviet demonstration while the corpse was in transit across our territory. The funeral van arrived at the Silesia station on a foggy evening. A dense crowd, complete with red banners, surrounded the gloomy building. Radek spoke from the back o f a lorry laden with flowers and bristling with flags. Torches flamed all around him. H is strident voice was carried away in the electric night air, but his short, austere silhouette could be clearly distinguished. Krestinsky,* the Ambassador, followed the procession on foot, protected only by a group o f young German Communists. Kresdnsky was a man o f outstanding intelligence, discretion, and courage. H is whole life was dedicated to the Party o f the Revolution but he was there as a sort o f exile, having been dismissed from the General Secretaryship because o f his democratic inclinations. He was still young, and astoundingly myopic, so that his shrewd eyes, hidden behind lenses a quarter o f an inch thick, seemed to have a timid ex­ pression. W ith his tall, bare skull and his wisp o f dark beard, he made one think o f a scholar; actually he was a great practical technician o f Socialism. He was against taking unnecessary risks, but was not afraid o f them; indeed he was quite ready, if it came to it, to defend his Em­ bassy at pistol-point, along with his secretaries and office staff. On that evening he refused to take precautions for his own safety, saying that it was proper that Soviet Russia’s Ambassador to Berlin should expose himself to a little danger. The torchlight demonstration around Vorovsky’s coffin marked the opening o f the period o f revolu­ tionary mobilization. The Cuno Government announced that Germany was incapable


• 197

of paying any more reparations. In this way the Schwerindustrie which backed the Government held over the head o f Europe the threat of the Reich’s bankruptcy and even o f a revolution. Poincare had the Ruhr occupied by French troops, who shot a nationalist agitator named Schlageter. French agents were at work creating a separatist movement in the Rhineland. Events, which I followed hourly, were hurrying onward at a dizzying pace. There was catastrophic inflation, speculation in currency; the rate o f exchange of the dollar changed as often as twice a day and, in between telephone calls heralding the lat­ est rise, the holders o f the precious greenbacks issued by the Federal banks o f America stripped the shops o f all their goods.. .The central thoroughfares o f the big towns could always be seen packed with peo­ ple running along holding parcels. The Germans, of all people, actu­ ally rioted outside bakeries and grocers’ shops; there was no rationing to inhibit them. Mobs loitered in the streets. How many trillions did it cost to stamp a letter? At the pay-desk o f a Wertheim store I saw an old lady, with a black lace neckband, taking out o f her handbag some hundred-mark notes dating from the previous year, the age o f Walter Rathenau. “But they are not worth anything now, gnadige Frau (honored lady).” “What do you mean? I don’t understand. .. ” People guffawed at her. Walter Rathenau lay in his grave, his body torn to shreds: this notable Jew had dreamed o f a new, intelligently organized German capitalism, and he had held discussions on the subject with Radek. Not far from the Alexanderplatz and the Polizeiprasidium, a little shop was being looted, in the most orderly manner. Nobody is to take more than three tins o f food, see! Proletarian discipline. In another place I saw a shoe store being looted. Two volunteers kept watch out­ side while people rapidly tried shoe after shoe for size; some, who had not found shoes to fit, came out scrupulously empty-handed... In the evening, in these same streets o f the Alexanderplatz, I hear a strident whistle blast: at the given signal, shadows emerge from everywhere, gather in front of a Jewish shop, and suddenly there is shouting, cry­ ing, the sound of breaking glass. When the Schupo patrol comes along at the double, the noise stops, the shadows flee. Next morning,

198 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

it looks like a street after a riot: slashed eiderdowns have spilled their feathers everywhere. There are no more wealthy streets although the nightclubs are still attracting revelers— they’ll stay open till the end of time. The Schieber (wheeler-dealers) wear fur-trimmed coats, and drive around in regal limousines. They know the true prices o f shares, o f commodities, o f ships, o f human creatures and o f machines, of ministers and o f senior police officials in mold-green uniforms. The people no longer know the price o f anything. I pay three large brown loaves a week to an old engineer for the rent o f his apartment. “And what if I can’t find any bread to buy with that money, what will I do then?” he had asked. H e’s an ex-courtier o f the K in g o f Saxony, seventy-five years old. I can’t tell him not to eat or to go and smash some shop w in dow s. .. The working-class women o f Wedding, Neukolln, and Moabit had the gray complexions that I had first seen on convicts in the central jails, and subsequently among the inhabitants o f the famished towns o f the Russian Revolution. Few lights at the windows, dim groups in the streets. Each day brought its windfall o f strikes, and every night the sinister silence echoed with revolver shots. The voice o f the agita­ tor would deliver a commentary in the street, surrounded by faces. The safe Social-Democrat, angry in a safe sort o f way, the eager Com ­ munist, the patriotic member o f the clandestine Leagues were all practically agreed: Versailles is a noose around the German nation’s neck; woe unto France, woe unto Poland, woe unto capitalism! The Com m unists had an attractive scheme: industrial Germany and agri­ cultural Russia could unite to save the world. Radek pushed through his “Schlageter tactic” o f conciliation with the Nationalists. It’s play­ ing with fire— all right, let’s play with fire! Where shall we begin? Our agitators told us, with a word that snapped out o f their mouths: Loschlagen! — Strike out! The decision was taken: we strike. After careful and thorough preparations, we have only to choose the moment. Trotsky’s talks to the Moscow M ilitary School are published in sev­ eral languages. Their subject: "Can one lay down the date o f a revolu­ tion in advance?” Red Saxony and Thuringia, ruled by working-class governments (Communist and Social-Democratic) recruit two Red divisions. Arms arrive from Czechoslovakia; more are sold by the


• 199

Reichswehr, and the dollars to pay for them come from Russia. (The consequence is that the Reichswehr deliver a wagonload of carbines one nightfall and, once they have their hands on the brand-new dol­ lars, inform the Schutzpolizei, who come at dawn to seize the truck...) The young militants have their orders to establish secret links with the troops; the railroad workers, to shunt away and camou­ flage the ammunitions wagons; the comrades in charge of transport, to look sharp, for G od’s sake! At night, outside the barred gates o f the barracks, girls whose plaits are drawn into a topknot flirt with helmeted young men. “You’ll bring out some grenades, won’t you, dear?”

Liebeslied and sweet romance! Will the masses follow us? The Party makes up its mind only after the first big strikes in the Rhineland; it has held back the movement so as not to dissipate its forces. Are our forces gathering or weakening? Hunger has a habit o f unnerving men. When the International has decided everything, what will be going on in the heads o f the average Social-Democrat (who distrusts Communists) and the man in the street? From Moscow, where the Executive is in session, Boris Souvarine writes to me, “We are trying to put ourselves into Lenin’s shoes...” The Executive fixes the date o f the uprising as 25 October, the an­ niversary of the seizure of power in Petrograd in 1917. At this moment the difference in dates between the Julian and Gregorian calendars is of small importance! I reply to Souvarine, and write to other contacts in Moscow, to the effect that unless the Party’s initiative joins with the spontaneous movement of the masses, it is doomed beforehand. Every day I learn of stocks o f arms being seized. The tense expectation in the working-class districts seems to be slackening strangely. The unemployed are passing, by swift stages, from an insurgent enthusi­ asm into weary resignation. Voya Vuyovich arrives from Moscow: bulging forehead and gray eyes lighting up his young face. I knew of his history as a militant, which had begun during the retreat from Serbia. Voya became a So­ cialist through the fact that among this beaten rabble there were men who could still think calmly. Then came imprisonment in France, little committees, the International, illegal journeys, secret messages, and factional intrigue inside the old Socialist parties. Voya was one of

200 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

the hidden architects o f the split in the Italian Socialist Party at its Leghorn Congress. He tells me: “O ur propaganda among occupation troops in the Ruhr has brought useful results. A police spy has been disposed o f in C o lo gn e. . . ” Voya believes that, on the day, we shall win. “Everything is going to be much better than in R ussia. . . ” I hope you are right, Voya. O ther comrades are form ing “mopping-up” squads with a view to the aftermath o f the rising: these are to liquidate the leading staff o f the counterrevolution. O ur top activists are full o f zest, but they are the only ones to be so. A few days before the uprising a militant from the military section o f the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands gazed into my eyes when I put the question to him, and replied: “We shall make a good showing when we get defeated, but we shall be defeated all the same.” We all feel like this: but meanwhile the Cen­ tral Com m ittee o f the K P D is allotting the portfolios o f a commis­ sars’ Cabinet to its members, and Koenen, with his ginger goatee and his schoolmaster’s specs, explains to us on behalf o f the Central Com ­ mittee’s Information Department that everything is going along wonderfully. Even on the day after our main stocks o f arms in Berlin have been seized, he is still proving it. Chance is my principal informer, an excellent one too. I learn that a Party official has been arrested coming out o f W illi Miinzenberg’s* house; his briefcase actually con­ tained our arms accounts, intended for the eyes o f the Comintern Executive. Thus the Party has been more or less disarmed in the capi­ tal. I also learn that the Government has decided in principle to dis­ solve it. I warn the members o f the Central Committee o f these facts, indirectly since it is now impossible for me to see them personally. They send a reply to the effect that this is indeed a current rumor in the streets, but that they know what’s what; no one will dare to inter­ fere! “O f course, we may lose, in which case. . . ” They have already lost, but they still have no inkling that this is so. Everything is set for the seizure o f power on 15 October 1923! Red Saxony and Thuringia are to lead. In accordance with Comintern di­ rectives, Brandler, Heckert, and Bottcher have entered the Dresden Cabinet under the Social-Democrat Zeigner. The Communists see this


• 201

Government as the forerunner of insurrection; the Social-Democratics probably only as one more crisis Cabinet: everything will calm down, just like all the other times. On the 21st, a conference o f Factory Com­ mittees meets at Chemnitz; this foreshadows the Congress o f Work­ ers’ Councils that will proclaim the dictatorship o f the proletariat. The Workers’ Hundreds stand guard outside it: young lads, proud to carry the five-pointed star on their sports shirts, or old Spartakists who have lived through November 1918; the rising ofjanuary 1919; the murder, in public, in broad daylight, of Karl and Rosa; the dictatorship of the man o f blood, Gustav Noske, that worthy Social-Democrat. These men are ready to do anything that they may be asked. I live with them, they ask me timid questions about Russia; the tall youngsters are studying the technique o f street fighting. While the Chemnitz conference is on, and Eberlein is seeing to secret preparations in Berlin, the Russian military experts review the strategic situation. They include Yuri Piatakov, who has experience of civil war in the Ukraine, and (I think) Lozovsky. This supply o f arms would scarcely be enough even for fighting the campaigns around Kiev! There is nothing for it but to call off the insurrection. The lads return from Chemnitz, with long faces. Couriers leave with counterorders for every Bezirk (or region) in the country. Will we have the chance to recover our breath and make up our armaments? It would be madness to think so. There are few of us who realize the full extent of the defeat in the first moments that follow. The counterorder has not reached Hamburg; there 300 Commu­ nists start the revolution. The town is frozen in silence and tense ex­ pectation; they go off, filled with a terrible enthusiasm, methodically organized. The police outposts fall one after the other, and sharp­ shooters take up their positions in the top windows over the main thoroughfares. Hamburg is taken, taken by the 300! The whole of Germany has not moved an inch, and neither for that matter has Hamburg itself. The housewives go out shopping, while the police venture out again, having regained their confidence, and start firing against invisible rebels who melt away as they approach. The workers, at home, await the outcome with impatience. “Another putsch,” say the Social-Democratics, “will you never

20 2 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

learn anything after all?” We answer back, “A nd you—what have you learnt?” The Left o f the Party denounces the leadership, who are Rightists: Thalheimer the dialectician and Brandler the hump­ backed bricklayer with malice in his eyes. The Left wonders if the Com intern Executive is at last going to recognize that “we are the real ones,” the only revolutionaries, the only possible leadership for a Germ an revolution. Ruth Fischer, Arkadi Maslow, Heinz Neu­ mann,* and A rthur Rosenberg believe that their hour has come. I have met Rosenberg on a number o f occasions at the Rote Fahne. This brilliant intellectual gives me a slight jolt by asking “ Do you really think that the Russians want a German revolution?” He doubts i f they do. Heinz Neumann, a pale, mocking young man, plays at conspiracy with the gusto o f a romantic actor, but there is no acting in his courage. He carries false whiskers in his pocket; he has just escaped from a police station in the Rhineland; a house he is in is surrounded, and he gets away at the last minute; he purloins letters addressed to the comrades who are lodging him, members o f the opposing tendency in the Party; he conducts, simultaneously, three or four different spheres o f activity: one for the Party, one for the L efts Party-within-the-Party, and yet others more dangerous in nature, not forgetting the ladies.. .Twenty-five years old, he is a young rogue who argues like a cynic. He has an infant prodigy’s capacity for absorbing knowledge, a sense o f history, merciless views on his elders, and a love for a theoretical working class beside which the actual working class is only highly imperfect human material. “There are no more real Bolsheviks in Germany. They are all putrid with moderation, wisdom, detachable collars, and respect for the Polizeipriisident— Do N ot Break the Glass in the Street Lamps, and all that. The proletariat is respectability itself. We shall have to pass through Fascism before they get cured o f all that claptrap. Heinz came several times, at dead o f night, to air these opinions to me: he, with all the police o f Germany after him, coming to see me, a man under observation, living just opposite the Lichterfelde barracks.

EUROPE AT T H E D A RK C R O SSRO AD S: 19 22-1926

• 203

The Social-Democratic President, Ebert, deals with the tail end of the disturbances by granting full powers to General von Seeckt, whose ascetic, face suddenly looms out from the newspapers. General Muller enters Dresden with a regiment and dismisses the Zeigner Government; there is no resistance. Every morning von Seeckt goes for a morning ride in the Tiergarten, followed by an aide-de-camp. On his route Heinz Neumann stations two workers, good marksmen and armed with revolvers. Twice these workers lose their nerve, and von Seeckt passes on ... On 9 November A dolf Hitler, the puny agitator from a tiny party that is stirring up trouble in Bavaria, opens his absurd coup in Munich. The result: one gunshot in the ceiling above the beer mugs, fourteen dead in the street, and the Fiihrer-to-be flat on his stomach on the pavement and a very comfortable prison waiting for him. See now, the Left and the Right are both absolutely use­ less! The Weimar Republic only survives the crisis of October to November 1923 through the weight o f the masses’ inertia. Its oppo­ nents, whether revolutionary or counterrevolutionary, have neither guts nor following. The bulk o f the population is uninvolved, since it has no confidence in either o f them. It will take years o f deception before the unemployed will be seen either selling themselves for a crust to the Nazi Party or, like others, hopelessly following a con­ fused ideal. Nothing could be done without the Social-Democratic masses, and these were divided into officials with a stake in the foun­ dering social system and canny workers ridden by fear o f revolution. As for revolution, the Russian Revolution, the only one that had succeeded, had suffered too much famine, waged too much terror, and strangled too much freedom in its early years. Trotsky is to ex­ plain the German defeat in terms of “the crisis of revolutionary lead­ ership,” but that crisis is itself an expression o f two other crises: that of popular consciousness, and that o f an already bureaucratized Inter­ national. There had been some talk of summoning Trotsky to Germany in the decisive hours, a suggestion which annoyed Zinoviev intensely:

204 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

why not he himself, for that matter? The Politburo had decided in principle to go as far as m ilitary intervention, if necessary, in support o f the German rising, and divisions o f troops were making ready. But now the E C C I, solicitous above all for its own prestige, condemns the “opportunism” and inefficiency o f the two leaders o f the KPD , Brandler and Thalheimer, who have been so incompetent in manag­ ing the Germ an Revolution. But they did not dare move a finger with­ out referring the matter to the Executive! But Brandler only learnt in the train that he had been made a M inister in Saxony! W hat’s that you’re saying? So you’re trying to discredit the Executive, are you? W hich comes first: the Com m unist International’s reputation? Or your version o f the truth, and the moral interests o f individuals? Scapegoats had to be found. O ut o f defeat came the lying, the sup­ pression, the demoralizing discipline that ruins consciences. Nobody talked about the basic fault. The whole Party lived on the involuntary bluff o f functionaries whose first concern was not to contradict their superiors. M isinform ation was generated at the base through the per­ sonal interest o f the poor wretch who, simply to keep his job, assured the Bezirk or Central Com mittee organizer that, yes, he had his fifty men available and that the fifty Mausers had been bought— when in fact he had ten men and was searching in vain to find Mausers for sale. Misinform ation ascended stage by stage, through the whole hierarchy o f secretaries, so that, at the end o f it all, the delegate from the Central Com m ittee o f the K P D could tell the President o f the International, “We are prepared,” when nothing was prepared and everybody in the Party knew it was so, except those who drew up the confidential re­ ports. Now, the International was in fully blown crisis. We could sense that this, in turn, heralded the crisis o f the Russian Revolution. W hat would the Soviet Republic do, without gold, without funds, and with its pathetic industry, faced with this disaster? On the very morning o f the proclamation o f von Seeckt’s dictator­ ship, I took the express for Prague, with my wife and four-year-old son. We had lived through critical days, working practically without money, without an identity to fall back on, and packed o ff in indecent haste at the last minute by the Soviet Embassy, which had no inten­ tion o f compromising itself by assisting illegal workers. In the carriage


• 205

some travelers asked my son, whose only fluent language was German, what he was going to do when he grew up, and he answered in a flash: “Krieggegen die Franzosen!" (War against the French!)

Prague was an oasis o f urbane prosperity. Under its sober President Masaryk, it was enjoying affluence and liberty, the fruits o f victory. I spent my time admiring the old streets, the clear waters o f the Vltava, the lifelike statues o f the Charles Bridge, the greenery, and the noble rowers o f the Hradschin in the distance. I found it a strange and trou­ bling fact that nothing more than a frontier, drawn on a map and watched over by a few peaceful border guards, could mark such a dif­ ference in conditions in two countries of such closeness o f culture, both so much a part o f Europe. Vienna was recovering painfully from its inflationary crisis: Austria, in the knowledge that it could not live behind its meager frontiers, was playing for time, building workers’ flats, and enjoying sweet music in every cafe down to the smallest. I arrived with a diplomatic passport, which restored my identity with, however, some embarrassment to me, since I was not officially listed. Andres Nin, the secretary o f the Red International o f Labor Unions, who was passing through Vienna with Lozovsky, told me that Lenin was dying. Lenin still seemed to be completely conscious, but had no power to express himself or do any work. He would man­ age to stutter out a few words with difficulty; the heading o f Pravda was spelt out to him letter by letter. Sometimes his eyes were heavy with a voiceless tribulation. Once, when he had felt better, he had wished to see the Kremlin again, and his worktable and telephones; he was taken to them. “ You can see him, leaning on Nadezhda Konstancinovna [Krup­ skaya] and Nikolai Ivanovich [Bukharin], dragging his feet weakly across his study, gazing, terrified in case he will no longer understand it, at the map on the wall, taking pencils between his fingers to make a rough signature, all like a dreamer, like a despairing old man in his second childhood. Bukharin often visits him in his country house, the one that belongs to Gorky; Bukharin makes merry in his company,

206 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

and then hides behind a bush looking at him with tear-dimmed eyes. .. Its definitely the end, my friend.” “A nd afterwards?” “Afterwards, there’s going to be a fight. The unity o f the Party now­ adays depends upon that shadow o f a man, no more than that.” I remembered what Lenin had said to Dr. Goldenberg, an Old Bol­ shevik who lived in Berlin and was summoned urgently by Lenin for a consultation at the beginning o f his illness: “We have demolished quite a lot! For that, certainly, we have been competent enough!” I was traveling on a January day in 1924. The train bumped out o f tunnels into vast landscapes on a mountain glittering with snow, where som­ ber armies o f firs made a sudden descent. In this compartment full o f fat, stodgy men, someone opened a newspaper and I saw: Death of Lenin. Then these men talked about the death, showing that they felt someone unique and very great had passed. I looked at their faces, folk from another world, Austrian petit bourgeois closed to all new ideas, lamenting the death o f a revolutionary— and Lenin was there, too, be­ fore my eyes, his hands open in the familiar gesture o f demonstration, hunching a little towards the audience, marshaling the historical evi­ dence, with his great firm forehead and the smile o f a man who was sure o f the truth, sure o f himself. Together with a few others, this man had endowed an immense movement o f faltering masses with a politi­ cal consciousness that was supremely clear and resolute. Even when favorable social conditions are granted, such a human achievement is rare, unique, irreplaceable at the moment o f its happening. Without it, the minds o f those who marched would have been several degrees dim­ mer, the chances o f chaos, and o f defeat amid chaos, immeasurably greater; for a degree o f consciousness, once lost, can never be measured. Events continued to overwhelm us. Even where they took place at a distance I find it hard to separate them from my personal memories. A ll we lived for was activity integrated into history; we were inter­ changeable; we could immediately see the repercussions o f affairs in Russia upon affairs in Germany and the Balkans; we felt linked with our comrades who, in pursuit o f the same ends as we, perished or else scored some success at the other end o f Europe. None o f us had, in the


• 207

bourgeois sense o f the word, any personal existence: we changed our names, our postings, and our work at the Party’s need; we had just enough to live on without real material discomfort, and we were not interested in making money, or following a career, or producing a lit­ erary heritage, or leaving a name behind us; we were interested solely in the difficult business o f reaching Socialism. When I say we, I have in mind the typical international or Russian militant comrade. Bukharin had recently defined the party as the “ iron cohort”; one of us compared it to the Jesuits’ order founded by a saint who was also a soldier, a politician, an organizer, and above all a man of intelligence. The Jesuits were able to combine faith with a supple and determined materialist understanding o f life; they were able to serve the Church with an absolute detachment from vanities and personal interests... “We are the red Jesuits, in the best sense o f the term.” “Yes, but that’s quite risky for us,” I replied. “Behind us stands a State that is not at all incorruptible. But we do constitute a great force because we are actu­ alizing a new mode o f consciousness and o f living.” At 5:15 a.m. on 1 December 1924, 227 Estonian Communists, fol­ lowing the orders o f the E C C I, attacked the public buildings o f Tal­ linn with the objective o f seizing power. By 9:00 a.m., they were being slaughtered in all corners o f the small capital. By noon, nothing was left of their ardor but splashes o f blood on the little round cobbles. Yan Tomp was shot. How could Zinoviev have initiated this imbecile adventure? The man terrified us. He refused to acknowledge the German defeat. In his eyes the rising had been only delayed and the KPD was still march­ ing to power. The riots in Cracow were enough for him to announce revolution in Poland. I felt that he was obsessed by the error in his otherwise sensible judgment, which had led him in 1917 to oppose the incipient Bolshevik revolution; in consequence, he had now swung into an authoritarian and exaggerated revolutionary optimism. “Z i­ noviev,” we used to say, “ is Lenin’s biggest mistake.” In September 1924 we learnt that a rebellion had just been crushed in Soviet Georgia. The comrades who came from Russia spoke o f it, in their confidential discussions, with extreme bitterness. “Collapse of

208 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

our agrarian po licy ...T h e whole Georgian Party, with Mdivani at their head, is in opposition to the Central Committee, and the whole country is in opposition to the P a rty ...” Later we heard o f the massacre, supervised by Sergo Ordzhoni­ kidze, a former inmate o f Schlusselburg, an honest and scrupulous man tormented by recurrent crises o f conscience. I learnt o f the back­ ground to the tragedy: a people in ferment, their national pride out­ raged, provocation organized by the Cheka to unmask rebellious tendencies and then liquidate them; the imprisoned members o f the Menshevik Central Comm ittee o f Georgia, receiving information of the preparation for the revolt, beg to be released for a few days so that they can avert irreparable disaster, even offering to take poison before they set out; they are kept inside, powerless, and later sh o t.. .The po­ litical problem o f the Caucasus was this: could Red Russia, as a great power, agree that two little countries like Georgia and Azerbaijan, prone to hostile influences and bound to become a hunting ground for foreign powers, should keep their petroleum, manganese, and stra­ tegic roads all to themselves? In Vienna we breathe the turbulent air o f the Balkans. O f events there we catch only fragmentary glimpses, but these take in several vistas: propaganda, activity, whether openly acknowledged or dis­ avowed, and secret intrigue. Bulgaria was still pregnant with revolu­ tion, despite all its previous miscarriages. In a public meeting at the Krem lin, I had heard Kolarov, an impressive deputy, and the thin Kabakchiev, bearded up to his very eyes, speaking proudly o f their Party, the only Socialist Party in Europe that was, like the Bolsheviks, intransigently loyal to principle. They called themselves Tesnyaki, the Narrows, by contrast with the broad, flabby opportunists o f whatever country. They remarked that they would have already seized power if the Executive had not been dubious about the international complica­ tions; it was necessary to wait and allow Stambuliskys Peasant Party to exhaust itself and lose its credit with the rural masses, who would then turn to u s .. .W hile they were waiting, Professor Tsankov, sup­ ported by a military conspiracy, carried out his coup, in June 1913. Stambulisky, the huge frizzy-haired giant, was surprised at his coun­ try house, and straddled like a beast by brutes who murdered him


• 20 9

with all the cruelty o f primitive imagination. T ie powerful Commu­ nist Party, under Kolarov, Kabakchiev, and Dimitrov, observed a neu­ trality which they justified in terms o f the most straitlaced doctrinal intransigence: “Ic is not for a working-class party to support the rural petty bourgeoisie against the reactionary big bourgeoisie. .. ” When the Party was persecuted immediately afterwards, its leaders acknowl­ edged their mistake in Moscow and promised to set it right. It was too late. In September, the Communists took to arms, with poor support from an enfeebled and helpless peasantry. They fought, and were scat­ tered: the noise o f these relatively minor fusillades was lost in the great avalanche-roar o f the advancing German Revolution... I was in Vienna when, at the beginning o f April 1925, Tsar Boris, whom we dubbed “the Butcher o f the Bulgars,” narrowly missed as­ sassination; on 15 April General Kosta Georgiev fell to the bullets o f a terrorist. On the 17th, the Government was assembled together for his funeral at the Cathedral o f the Seven Saints in Sofia, when an ex­ plosive device shattered one o f the domes. One hundred and twenty dead were unearthed from the rubble, including three deputies, thir­ teen generals, eight colonels, and eight high officials. By a singular chance the Government and the royal family were unscathed. The ex­ plosion had been organized by officers from the military section of the Communist Party, who were acting perhaps on their own be­ half—for the Party was ravaged by dissension— or else in accordance with secret instructions. It surprised the Communists themselves, who were at once assaulted, fired on, tortured, and murdered by the troops and police. Shablin, a handsome, smiling man whom I had known in Russia, was (it seems) burnt alive in a furnace. The two men responsible for the explosion, Yankov and Minkov, were killed resist­ ing arrest. In May, in front o f fifty thousand inhabitants of Sofia, three Communists were hanged, one o f who, Marko Fridman, had defended the ideas and record of the Party every inch of the way before his judges.1 A French Communist, Eugene Leger, tried and

1 . "This is not strictly accurate. Before the end o f the trial Fr id ma n broke d ow n and gave evidence on the internal organization o f the C o m m u n i s t Party a nd its mili­ tary section.


condemned with these men, was subsequently released in obscure cir­ cumstances and took refuge in Moscow, where he disappeared. I was to discover later that he had spent a long period in the secret Isolator at Yaroslavl, whence he was transferred, now insane, to an asylum. Much o f what I saw and learnt cast such tragedies in an unpleasant light. A whole group o f fighters from our C ivil War, now powerful in the secret services, was advocating “ diversions in enemy territory,” es­ pecially in Poland because a Polish attack against Russia was consid­ ered likely. A t the same time, the authoritarian regime within the party fostered angry or desperate responses. Furthermore, the numer­ ous Macedonian revolutionaries in Vienna, divided among them­ selves and corrupted by at least three governments (Russian, Bulgarian, and Italian), were people who would stop at nothing. Following each attack in Sofia, several little gangs would be demanding rewards from various secret services attached to three different embassies. On the day the three were executed in Sofia, I happened to be in Carinthia, by Lake Worthersee, a mirror o f blue at the feet o f the Karawank M ountains that separate Austria from Yugoslavia. In the dis­ tance, the astonishing landscapes o f the high slopes were painted an aerial green. Atrocious contrast. Shortly after, the Soviet military atta­ che in Vienna, Iaroslavsky, turned traitor— so we were told. I had no­ ticed him at the embassy. I knew that he had fought a great deal, that he drank, that he was deeply depressed by the goings-on in the Bal­ kans. He left a brief farewell message on the table. Somebody tracked him down, took him out to dinner with some women, put something in his glass. This somebody then drew a camera from his pocket and took a clear picture o f the dead man, which a comrade from the em­ bassy showed me with a bitter smile. The G P U declared that Iaro­ slavsky had been in contact with the British Intelligence Service. I became interested in the Balkan Federation movement. The con­ ception was noble: no other remedy was appropriate to the division o f the small kindred peoples o f the peninsula into feeble states, destined to be destroyed sooner or later through their mutual laceration. The doctor, a big white-haired Bulgarian, scholarly and Parisified, would arrange appointments with me in discreet little local cafts. A taxi, and then the tram; we would head out to the vineyards, between Florids-


• 211

dorf and Modling. There we would meet a young stranger in an out­ size overcoat, whom I immediately classified as a bodyguard; I thought I could see the enormous Browning revolver, the favorite weapon of Macedonians (who do not trust small bullets), bulging through his coat pocket. The overcoat man, all smiles, hurried me along urgently: the tram again, and then we came to a village full o f charming taverns, and after that to a villa, adorned with flowers like its neighbors, in which lived the last surviving leader o f the Communist-influenced La Federation Balkanique, a former Member of the Ottoman Parliament. What, has there been an Ottoman Parliament? Oh yes, convened by Abdul Hamid, and on the day o f its opening, bombs explode.. .V


rarely goes out now. Murder lies in wait for him at every street corner, and at night trusted men stand watch in the garden o f his villa. In this very city his predecessor, Todor Panitza, was recently killed while watching a performance in a theater. A short while before that, Panitza’s predecessor, Peter Chaulev, had discovered that he was being tailed in these streets and took the train to Milan. In Milan he was murdered. And a short while before that, the old leader o f IM RO (In­ ternal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization), Todor Aleksan­ drov, had been killed at the end o f a conference in the mountains, in which he had advocated cooperation with the Communists. I had drafted the three obituaries for the press. Around the great conception of the Balkan Federation there swarmed hordes o f secret agents, impresarios o f irredentism, peddlers of the influential word, night-walking politicians engaged in six in­ trigues at a time—and all these smart gentlemen, with their over-gaudy neckties, sought to harness the unbridled energy o f the Cornitajis and sell it to and fro to any buyer. There was the Italian wing, the Bulgarian wing, the Yugoslav wing, two Greek tendencies, one monarchist and one republican, ideologies, personal cliques, and vendettas. We knew the cafes in which the revolvers of any given group lay in wait, watched from the cafe opposite by those of another. La Fćdćration Balkanique was a focus for certain revolutionary romantics who were the survi­ vors of other tragedies. Among them I met the young Serbs of recent i. V

is D i mi ta r Vlahov.*

212 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

memory, friends and disciples o f Vladim ir Gaćinović, the Bakuninist and nationalist, who died o f tuberculosis at the age o f thirty after founding the group which was, on 18 June 1914, to carry out the assas­ sination at Sarajevo. They cherished the memory o f Gavrilo Princip* and o f the teacher Ilić.* They declared that their leader, Colonel Dra­ gutin Dimitrijević*— alias “Apis,” in underground circles— had, be­ fore initiating the action, been assured o f support from Russia; this had been formally promised by Artamonov, the Russian Imperial m ilitary attache in Belgrade, who had been informed o f the project. I published these allegations in Clarte (in Paris), and heard them con­ firmed by a former colleague o f Dimitrijević, Colonel Božin Simić, and also, more reticently, by a former Serbian Ambassador, M. Bogićević. A s a consequence o f this revelation, some Yugoslav friends ad­ vised me not to go too near the Yugoslav border in the course o f my trips to the Worthersee, and on no account to enter Yugoslavia; there were, they told me, certain highly confidential instructions o f which I was the subject. These survivors o f the Serb conspiracies against the Habsburg monarchy were shortly to join the Com m unist Party. In 1938 I found their names in a Com m unist newspaper that published the news o f their expulsion. They disappeared in Russia. Despite all these setbacks and the general atmosphere, the Rus­ sians still kept their plain integrity and abundant optimism. Men whose usefulness had been exhausted habitually ended by living in Soviet missions abroad, there to observe the decay o f the bourgeois world. They were given these sinecures to keep them quiet. They in­ cluded seasoned veterans o f the persecution in the old days, former M arxist exiles, and the ex-managers o f those first Soviet institutions that had succeeded against everyone’s expectation. Some o f them were now only chatterers, nursing strained hearts and content to smoke good cigars and be driven out to the Cobenzl Restaurant. An obsequious riffraff fussed about them, and observing their eccentrici­ ties, remarked complacently to themselves: “That’s what they are, these great revolutionaries, when you see them close up.” O f some of these men I will say nothing. But I wish to set down at this point a few character sketches o f worthy men, to whom my memory returns with affection. They typify a vanished generation.


• 213

I again met A dolf Abramovich Joffe,* a litcle aged since I last saw him in Petrograd in the desperate days o f resistance. He now re­ minded one o f a wise physician, almost affluent in his appearance and almost comical in his gravity, who had been summoned to the bedside of a dying patient. He was now back from China and Japan, having won Sun Yat-sen for the cause o f Soviet friendship. A sick man, and in disgrace because o f the boldness o f his views, he was accredited by the Soviet Union to the Austrian Republic, in other words to the Chan­ cellor, Cardinal Seipel. He was opposed to all adventures. He told me that a Yugoslav officers’ league had made him an offer to install, forc­ ibly, a left-wing government in Belgrade. Stjepan Radic’s Croat Peas­ ant Party would give it support... (We often talked of Stjepan Radić, who was worth far more than any Balkan politician; he was to be murdered not long afterwards in front o f the whole Yugoslav Parlia­ ment.) Joffe, with his bearded Assyrian face, powerful lips, and eyes that disconcerted the newcomer, so severe was their squint, gave a vivid pout of disdain: “They imagine that revolutions are made like that. No, thank you!” They were all for sale, coups d’etat, dictator­ ships, republican leanings, pro-Soviet sympathies, shady dealings, what you like. A man like Joffe knew, better than anyone, the colossal frontier that separates revolutionary action from dubious adventur­ ism. Others preferred not to know: these sponsored the establishment in Albania of a pro-Soviet Left Government under Monsignor Fan Noli. Ahmet Zogu’s putsch followed it, and Albania passed into the Italian sphere of influence.3 This dark frontier land was often skirted, as a matter of duty, by Dr. Goldstein, the Embassy Secretary. “There are,” he would explain, “gray zones in which the traditional revolutionary techniques are complicated by the fact that we have gained money and power. Hence­ forth, we are subject to sordid seductions, doomed to inducing greed in our wake. When people think they have conquered money, they are usually conquered and deformed by it, instead. We would like to be­ lieve the government of the proletariat immune to this evil: may we 3. The coup was in J u ne 1 9 1 4 . Z o g u soon afterwards assumed the royal title of King Zog.

214 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

not be wrong!” A specialist in Balkan affairs, Goldstein was tall, thin, and artful; a man o f great modesty, he was quite straightforwardly a Socialist o f the old breed, who carried out the worst possible direc­ tives in such a way as to do the least possible damage. Killer squads from Sofia lay in wait for him all around the Schwartzenbergplatz. Fortunately their assignment was complicated by the fact that they had been told to liquidate him without causing any scandal. He showed me some photographs that had been taken, without my knowledge, o f the contents o f my desk drawer: “ I advise you to sack your maidservant. Some o f the backroom chaps from the Whites have been paying visits to your papers; however, we have a man planted among th em .. Old Kozlovsky, whose sympathetic face befitted his past as a St. Petersburg lawyer, had been our first People’s Commissar o f Justice. H is function then was to combat excesses. He related to me how the Cheka had drawn up a document defining who was a suspect: “Social

origins: aristocratic or bourgeois, Education: U niversity...” Kozlov­ sky took the sheet and went to knock on Lenin’s door: “Tell me, Vla­ dim ir Ilyich, surely this also includes us two, doesn’t it?” “The appalling imbeciles!” said Lenin. A provincial Cheka proposed in 1918 to bring back torture to make foreign spies talk. Kamenev and Kozlovsky were enraged at the idea, which received short shrift. R

s supposed jo b w as sellin g oil fo r the S o viet N ap h th a P ro ­

du ctio n Syn d icate. “ O il? I ’ve never seen any in m y life except in lamps and I have no desire to see a n y . . . ” E x ce p t for R ussian, the o nly lan­ guage he spoke w as the T u rk ish o f C e n tra l A sia. The R ed S tar o f B u k h a ra shone on his jacket. T h ick set, dark skinned, shaved head, slan tin g eyes, and the profile o f a bird o f prey, he retained the allure o f an O rie n ta l horsem an. In exile for h avin g voted the w ro n g w ay at a M o s c o w P a rty m eeting, that is to say for the dem ocratization o f the P a rty dem anded by Preobrazhensky and Trotsky. “ E ith er we revive, or the revolution w ill d ro w n ,” he w o u ld say. I can still see his face etched w ith so rro w or g rim w ith suppressed fu r y w h en the M o s co w papers carried w hole pages o f vile polem ic against Trotsky. A lre a d y and unbe­ lievably, the official m onopoly o f the printed w ord was debasing m inds: the argum ents were as w ate rtig h t as a sieve, the w ritin g viscous, the


• 215

irony crude and poor, naked truth in the hands of oafs... As yet I don’t dare think that it is the end o f the Party, the end of idealism, but at this depth o f intellectual degradation—o f oppression, even— it is impos­ sible to go on living. But when somebody else tells me the same thing, I rebel; Souvarine sends me a letter full of vitriol and I protest, I am al­ most ready to cry treason. So we will remain, clinging to the very last hopes, some for ten years or more, many till death—their own death in the form of a bullet in the brain, by order of the Politburo. But this is all in the murky and quite unimaginable future. Trotsky is still president of the Supreme War Council, and writes with a dazzling pen. We love the Party and cannot imagine life outside it. We have faith in its future as much as in ourselves, sure in ourselves that we shall never betray it. R won the Red Star of Bukhara riding on the sands of Turkestan. He told me, over a coffee in Graben, that at the time of typhus and of beheadings, Trotsky had caught up with a rebellious cavalry regiment, had his car driven in amongst the drawn sabers, and had addressed this crowd o f eighteenth-century Eurasian faces, by turns implacably authoritarian, human, skillful— and the curved blades returned to their scabbards and the horsemen o f the steppes cried, “ Hurray! Long live the world revolution!” “I can’t tell you how relieved I w as. .. ” (In 1917 R

was adviser to Chiang Kai-shek during the victorious

Kuomintang campaign in the north; he was the architect o f what be­ came a legendary victory in China. He disappeared during the Purges.) Yuri Kotziubinsky* was a man with whom I could speak frankly of everything. His nimble life had survived only by some chance or mir­ acle. He had been waiting in a Kiev cellar for his turn to go against the wall, when the Reds captured the town, so quickly that the Whites had no time to dispatch the last prisoners. He escaped from encircled townships, joining Piatakov and the last fighters for the Soviets who also functioned as the Government of the Ukraine. Tine country was subdued village by village; what was captured in the morning was of­ ten lost by nightfall. In those parts the names of the heroes of 1918 were Evgenia Bosch, Yuri Kotziubinsky, and Yuri Piatakov. He was a tall, handsome man with a thin line of beard around his jowl, an aq­ uiline profile, and a head in the harmonious proportions of the young humanists of long ago, except that it was much more solidly stocked


inside. Kotziubinsky was too popular among the working class of Kharkov, and so was exiled to the world o f diplomacy. He sympa­ thized with the most radical Oppositionist group, that o f the “Demo­ cratic Centralists”: Sapronov,* Vladim ir Smirnov* in the Ukraine, and Drobnis (the one shot in 1937). We would clamber up the steep slopes o f the Leopoldsberg and there gaze out on the blue band o f the Danube and discuss the problems o f the Party. I see him now, laugh­ ing into the wind, his silk blouse, with a cord for its belt, billowing away. (From Vienna he went on to be Consul General at Warsaw; he was shot without trial in 1937.) Like Yuri Kotziubinsky, N ------ usually wore only a Russian blouse under his jacket, but N

only possessed one old gray suit, and had

no idea that it was possible to wear anything else. Young, or rather ageless, without any official job in the Legation, without money (which he despised), known history, or personal life, very Jewish, and child­ like in his gaze, N

was a courageous conspirator. His corner of

the Embassy was confined to strictly secret duties; it was full o f vials, chemical reactives, and inks, photographic apparatus, and codes. I wondered i f he had forgotten his real name as a result o f changing his nationality and identity so many times. (But then, what is ones “real” name?) He had bad memories o f a spell in prison in France, except for one M ay Day, when in the penitentiary he had stood up in the middle o f the workshop and read out in his clumsy French a speech prepared with considerable effort: “Comrades prisoners! Today is International Workers’ D a y . . . ” The prisoners were astonished and thought he had gone o ffh is head; the guards seized him. He was in solitary while the pickpockets, burglars, drug dealers, pimps, and crooked lawyers were still laughing behind his back: Did you see that moron? In the pun­ ishment cell, he was proud to have demonstrated. We talked passion­ ately o f our sick Party: sick, but what else is there in the world? (Years went by. I had just come out o f a Soviet prison when N ----called on me in Leningrad. “Where have you come from, you old ghost?” “From Shanghai.” Shanghai in 1928 was no sinecure. N ----had reorganized the trade unions there after the 1927 massacre. There he had met men more stoical, more cunning, more nameless than him­ self. “The anarchists, too,” he remarked to me, “they’re wonderful—


■ 217

but what an ideology! Fit for twelve-year-old kids!” He had just learned, on his arrival back in Moscow, o f the execution of Yakov Blumkin; he had sought out the comrades in the firing squad to dis­ cover how our mutual friend had passed his last moments. He came to me with the news.) Angelica Balabanova, the first Secretary of the Comintern Execu­ tive, whose moral objections had often annoyed Lenin and Zinoviev, had just been expelled from the Third International. She lived now sometimes in Vienna, sometimes in its outskirts, carting her posses­ sions, those o f the eternal poor student, from one furnished room to another: the spirit stove for tea, the small pan for omelettes, and three cups for her guests, together with the huge picture of Felippo Turati,* the manly, glowing portrait o f Matteotti,* files o f Avanti!, the corre­ spondence of the Italian Maximalist Party, and notebooks full o f po­ ems. Small, dark, and beginning to age, Angelica still led her eager militant’s life which, with its romantic fire, was about three-quarters of a century too late. She should have had Mazzinians and Carbonari around her, burning with zeal to fight for the Universal Republic! A f­ ter a life spent in the company of politicians like Lazzari and Serrati, in whom a little o f this fire still lingered, decently displayed in their Parliamentary tactics, Angelica had rushed to the service of the Rus­ sian Revolution (suffering in the process a severe battering from a re­ actionary mob in Switzerland), and lived in close contact with that world government o f Marxism which went by the name of the Execu­ tive of the Communist International. It was no longer the atmosphere of Zimmerwald! Seats in the dif­ ferent Commissions were adroitly packed, and couriers carrying dia­ monds were sent to the fraternal parties abroad (couriers and diamonds both disappearing); other emissaries were sent to arrange the expul­ sion of men who were still being called “ dear comrade.” Doubtless this was no more than the backstage intrigue unavoidable in any large organization, though it was dignified by the magnitude of events and even justified by the need to weed out the real fighters from the old speechmakers who lived in comfort knowing that nothing they said was likely to entail any action. Revolutionary politics, when con­ ducted with foresight and courage, requires at certain decisive times

218 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

the qualities o f a go o d surgeon, fo r there is no ch aracter in this w orld m ore h um ane and h onest th an th at o f the g o o d surgeon, even though he w o rk s on liv in g flesh, am id pain and blood. A n g e lic a rebelled both again st the political surgery th at led to the uncerem onious rem oval o f the reform ist leaders w h o were in clin ed to torpedo any offensive tac­ tic, and against Z in o v ie v s sordid little tricks o f p olitical bonesetting. Sh e w as q u ick to detect the first sym p tom s o f that m oral sickness w h ic h after the passin g o f som e fifteen years w as to b rin g on the death o f B o lsh evism . G e o rg L u k a cs,* the auth o r o f History

sciousness, once

and Class Con­

rem arked to m e: “ M a rx ists k n o w that d irty little tricks

can be pe rfo rm ed w ith im p u n ity w h en great deeds are b eing achieved; the error o f som e com rades is to suppose th at one can produce great results sim p ly th ro u gh the p e rfo rm an ce o f d ir ty little tr ic k s . . . ” A n g e lic a gave m e coffee on her w in d o w sill and sent m e her friendly criticism s fo r the benefit o f o u r official publications. I recalled the days o f the fam in e in Petrograd , w h en , as a present for the b irth o f our son, she had sent us an orange and a bar o f ch ocolate, delicacies from a n oth e r w o rld, im p o rted th ro u gh the diplo m atic bag. In her hands lay

V ie n n a 19 15 , Serge, G ra m sc i, V la d y held by Lu cien L au rat, Liu b a

great k indness, and in her eyes a fo r tify in g passion. I reflected that several tim es she had n a rro w ly m issed the death o f a R osa L uxem burg. A n to n io G ra m sci* w as liv in g in V ie n n a , an industrious and Bohe-


■ 219

mian exile, late to bed and late to rise, working with the illegal Com­ mittee o f the Italian Communist Party. His head was heavy, his brow high and broad, his lips thin; the whole was carried on a puny, square­ shouldered, weak-chested, humpbacked body. There was grace in the movement o f his fine, lanky hands. Gramsci fitted awkwardly into the humdrum o f day-to-day existence, losing his way at night in familiar streets, taking the wrong train, indifferent to the comfort of his lodg­ ings and the quality o f his meals—but, intellectually, he was abso­ lutely alive. Trained intuitively in the dialectic, quick to uncover falsehood and transfix it with the sting o f irony, he viewed the world with an exceptional clarity. Once, we consulted together about the quarter-million workers who had been admitted at one stroke into the Russian Communist Party, on the day after Lenin’s death. How much were these proletarians worth, if they had had to wait for the death of Vladimir Ilyich before coming to the Party? After the example o f Matteotti, like him a Deputy, like him living among menaces, a frail invalid held in both detestation and respect by Mussolini, Gramsci had remained in Rome to carry on the struggle. He was fond of telling stories about his wretched childhood: how he had failed his entry to the priesthood, for which his family had marked him out. With his short bursts o f sardonic laughter he exposed cer­ tain leading figures o f Fascism with whom he was closely acquainted. When the crisis in Russia began to worsen, Gramsci did not want to be broken in the process, so he had himself sent back to Italy by his Party: he, who was identifiable at the first glance because of his deformity and his great forehead. He was imprisoned in June 1918, together with Umberto Terracini and some others, and a Fascist jail kept him outside the operation of those factional struggles whose consequence nearly everywhere was the elimination o f the militants of his generation. Our years o f darkness were his years o f stubborn resistance. (Twelve years later, in 1937, when I emerged from my period of deportation in Rus­ sia and arrived in Paris, I was following a Popular Front demonstra­ tion when someone pushed a Communist pamphlet into my hand: it contained a picture o f Antonio Gramsci, who had died on 27 April of that year in an Italian prison hospital, after eight years of captivity.) The Hungarian emigration was deeply split. To the opposition


w ithin his Party, Bela Kun was a remarkably odious figure. He was the incarnation o f intellectual inadequacy, uncertainty o f will, and authoritarian corruption. Several o f his opponents were starving to death in Vienna. O f these, I held Georg Lukacs in greatest esteem; indeed, I owe him a great deal. A former university teacher in Buda­ pest, and then commissar to a Red division in the front line, Lukacs was a philosopher steeped in the works o f Hegel, M arx, and Freud, and possessing a free-ranging and rigorous mind. He was engaged in writing a number o f outstanding books that were never to see the light o f day. In him I saw a first-class brain that could have endowed Com m unism with a true intellectual greatness if it had developed as a social movement instead o f degenerating into a movement in soli­ darity with an authoritarian power. Lukacs’s thinking led him to a totalitarian vision o f M arxism within which he united all aspects of human life; his theory o f the Party could be taken as either superb or disastrous, depending on the circumstances. For example, he consid­ ered that since history could not be divorced from politics, it should be written by historians in the service o f the Central Committee. One day we were discussing the problem o f whether or not revolu­ tionaries who had been condemned to death should commit suicide; this arose from the execution in 1919 at Budapest o f Otto Korvin, who had been in charge o f the Hungarian Cheka, and whose hanging afforded a choice spectacle for “society” folk. “I thought o f suicide,” said Lukacs, “ in the hours when I was expecting to be arrested and hanged with him. I came to the conclusion that I had no right to it: a member o f the Central Com mittee must set the example.” (I was to meet Georg Lukacs and his wife later, in 1918 or 1929, in a Moscow street. H e was then working at the Marx-Engels Institute; his books were being suppressed, and he lived bravely in the general fear. A l­ though he was fairly well-disposed towards me, he did not care to shake my hand in a public place, since I was expelled and a known Oppositionist. He enjoyed a physical survival, and wrote short, spirit­ less articles in Comintern journals.4)

4 . Serge is m istaken abo ut the date and could o n ly have m et L u H c s in M o sco w in 19 3 0 - 3 1 .


• 221

Eugene Landler was nearing fifty; paunchy, prominent nose, the head of a beer drinker, broad smile and wily look, this former railway worker, union organizer, leader o f big strikes turned out to be, at the crucial moment o f the Hungarian Soviet Republic, the generalissimo of a trade union army who managed to carry off a famous victory which was also comical. He was on his way to the front line when he met a general returning from there in a sidecar. He stopped him in the road to hear his report: “The situation is hopeless! I’ve ordered a re­ treat.” The big railwayman would hear no more: he slapped the gen­ eral with the back o f his hand, hauled him out o f the sidecar, rushed to the front line, and restored the situation by mobilizing the worker population o f the abandoned city, arming them with old shotguns and lead slugs cast there on the spot in the old-fashioned way. This musketry made an infernal din whereas the Czechs had been expect­ ing to meet no resistance— and it put them to flight! Lander’s humor bordered between the outrageous and common sense. He pointed out that there is still a lot that militants can do when officers reckon that in accordance with the laws o f the art of war a situation is lost. “Luck­ ily, I had no clue about the rules o f their art!” Pushed aside, Landler managed to get by. He died in peace, in exile, in 1918. I w as present, in m y n o n e xisten t c ap acity as a rep resentative o f the S o v ie t press, at a R o m a n ia n -S o v ie t peace co n feren ce. T h e head o f the S o v ie t d elegation w as L e o n id Se re b riak o v, a fo rm e r m e talw o rk e r and in h ab itan t o f Im p e ria l p riso n s, a so ld ier for the R e vo lu tio n in S i­ b eria and all over R u ssia, o rg a n iz e r o f the S o v ie t R a ilw a y m e n ’s U n io n , re organ izer o f o u r railw ays. A p ro m in e n t fig u re in the d em o cratic O p p o sitio n in the P arty, he w as, at the age o f th irty-fo u r, m arked ou t by v irtu e o f h is m o ral a u th o rity, talen ts, an d p ast as one o f the fu tu re leaders o f the S o v ie t State. H e w as sent sh o rtly a fte rw ard s to the U n ite d States w h ere he m ade a rep u tation as a g reat S o c ia list a d m in ­ istrator in the w o rld o f b u sin ess. S to u t, v igo ro u s in m anner, fairhaired, w ith a fu ll, rou n d face and an aggressive little m u stache, he faced g o o d -h u m o re d ly an eld erly R o m a n ia n d ip lo m at o f the ve ry o ld ­ est school, w h o m easu red h is eve ry w o rd , q u ib b led , received us very c erem on io u sly in the all-w h ite lou n ge o f a sm art hotel, and d eclared at every in stan ce th at he w o u ld have to co n su lt h is govern m en t. T h is


accomplished, he invited us to dinner. “W hat a fossil!” we thought. However, the fossil was surrounded by young secretaries who looked just like gangster socialites, spoke perfect Russian, and were extremely interested in the command structure o f the Red Army. “ Look, just between us,” one o f them asked me over cognac, “what do your people think is the solution to the Bessarabian question?” “They think that it should be entrusted to Frunze by giving him two divisions o f cav­ a lr y ...” This threw a chill on things. A Romanian senator, Mr. Draghiecescou, very likable and, naturally, an ex-libertarian, also of­ fered me dinner only to propose in the effusive talk that follows a fine meal, “Leave us Bessarabia, dear friend! I assure you that ethnically, historically, etc.” I guided the conversation back to the progress o f the Red A rm y in rearm in g.. .The negotiations failed completely. Ouf! (Leonid Serebriakov was to be shot in 1937.) We had only very little contact with the Austrian Social-Democrats. The tiny Com m unist Party, which was divided into two warring fac­ tions (Toman versus Frey), each numbering about 100 militants, plastered the walls o f Vienna periodically with posters demanding the arming o f the workers and the dictatorship o f the proletariat. But meanwhile, Austrian Social-Democracy continued in its great career, apparently without any suspicion that it was living out its last years. (Actually it did suspect this, but was cutting a fine figure o f bravery, and even nonchalance, in the face o f unfavorable odds.) AustroMarxism organized and influenced more than a million proletarians; it was master o f Vienna, where it was evolving a municipal Socialism rich in achievement; it could mobilize, in a few hours, fifty thousand

Schutzbundler on the Ring, uniformed in sports tunics and (as every­ one knew) tolerably well armed; it was led by the most able theoreti­ cians in the working-class world; and yet, two or three times in ten years, through its sobriety, prudence, and bourgeois moderation, it failed its destiny. I f only . .. I f only a Red Austria had joined with the Hungarian So­ viets, would not troubled Bohemia, and then Germany, have followed their example? Revolution was maturing in Italy during this same pe­ riod. But perhaps it was already too late. I f only, after 19 18 ... I f only the commission on the nationalization o f the main industries, estab-


• 223

lished by the Socialist Government, had not been such a farce! If only the Social-Democrats o f Austria had had a little of the impassioned energy o f the Bolsheviks o f Russia! All they ever did was to sip sweet white wine in the operetta-land of the Blue Danube, while the Bolshe­ viks were tramping in chains along Siberian highways. Its opportuni­ ties lost, its hours of daring past, little Austria found herself jammed in the middle o f the expanding counterrevolutions of Hungary, Italy, and Germany. At home, Socialist Vienna found itself menaced by the countryside and the Catholic bourgeoisie. Prince Starhemberg was recruiting his peasant bands against it. I attended meetings of SocialDemocratic Party activists: they were middle-aged men, few of them at all fit, who drank their beer as they listened to the speakers. The Schutzbund would march past the Town Hall with thirty thousand bicycles garlanded with flowers! Otto Bauer,* who was greeted on all sides by affectionate glances, watched the parade of this working-class force, so self-confident, so worthy o f a glorious future. If only it had been a matter of just being worthy! I could see clearly the enormous weakness o f these men and above all o f their leaders: it doubtless came from being, by culture and consciousness, the best Europeans of the time, the most attached to nineteenth-century democracy, the most distant from inhuman violence. I saw them, in the Taborstrasse, the day after some anti-Semitic attacks, angrily chasing swastika-wearing thugs and fops from street corner to street corner. I saw the mounted police gently charging the crowds o f demonstrators around the Palace of Justice... (Fourteen years later, in Paris, I was unable to recognize Otto Bauer, so cruelly had defeat shriveled his solid, regular features, stamped not long ago with such noble confidence. He was to die sud­ denly, from a heart attack, but actually from the defeat of workingclass Austria. On his deathbed his face recovered a wonderful expression o f serenity.) In the Mariahilferstrasse at night, I saw quite different groups of men, wearing uniforms and berets, marching in step by small detach­ ments to the outlying hills, there to practice the use of weapons. Of­ ficers’ associations, ex-servicemen, Starhemberg formations, crosses, swastikas... the politicians still denied that there was any Fascist dan­ ger in Austria. I was probably the first to denounce the danger, in 1915,

224 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

in Paris through the Vie OuvrUre, in Russia in an ineffectual pam­ phlet. This clanger quite clearly arose from the fact that a workingclass democracy, powerful in numbers, education, and achievement, but hemmed in on three sides, was consequently harried by the alter­ natives o f either hopeless resistance or total impotence. So long as the Weimar Republic survived in Germany, working-class Austria could still hope. Once German Socialism collapsed, she was doomed. I f only France and Czechoslovakia had not opposed the German-Austrian Anschluss when Germ any and Austria were both democracies, the united strength o f the two working classes could probably have blocked the way to Fascism; certainly they would have realized a num­ ber o f impressive Socialist reforms. I f only . . . Blood and despair hovered in the giddy air o f Vienna. One eve­ ning, at the time o f the New Year, we were walking in a silken snow­


fall, surrounded by paper decorations and the um-pa-pa um-pa-pa o f Strauss waltzes, when an explosion rang out beneath the arcades o f the Opera House: an unemployed man was blowing out his brains with a dynamite cartridge. Another fired on the Chancellor, Cardinal Seipel. H ugo Bettauer, a charming journalist who frequented nude dances, was propagating a sentimental Freudian eroticism in certain weekly journals with very special classified advertisements. A young fanatic drilled six bullets into the body o f this “Jewish corrupter o f Austria’s youth.” I studied M arx and Freud and ran international press campaigns against the terror waged by employers and police in Spain, where all my old comrades were dying, one after the other, under the bullets o f the Sindicato Libre. I inveighed against the W hite terror in “Bulgaria ruled by the knife.” I stood with the Opposition in the Russian Party, which in 1 9 1 3 - 14 was led by Preobrazhensky and largely inspired by Trotsky. In Russia a struggle was beginning whose gravity no one had yet gauged accurately. A t the time when the date o f the German Revo­ lution was being fixed, forty-six old militants warned the Central Comm ittee o f two sorts o f danger: the weakness o f an industry un­ able to satisfy the needs o f the countryside, and the stifling dictator­ ship o f bureaucracy. In the spiritual impoverishment o f recent years there had been only two flashes o f daylight: two close-written little


• 225

books by Trotsky, the demands in The New Course and the analysis in Lessons o f October— both works vilified by our official press. We would meet discreetly in some outer district to read and discuss these pulsating pages. Then, bound by discipline, prisoners to our daily bread, we went on endlessly printing our newssheets, with the same insipid, nauseating condemnations of everything that we knew to be true. Was it really worthwhile being revolutionaries if we had to ply this trade? I refused to carry out a dishonest directive from Bela Kun, dealing with the French Party. A letter that had been sent to me from Moscow was mysteriously intercepted. A comrade who held high office in the International, and about as sincere as a genuine bad penny, tried to make me see reason. (He was not completely sure that we might not be the political victors o f tomorrow.) In brief, you now enjoy an excellent situation in the apparatus; in Russia, as things stand at the moment, you can’t be sure how things will turn out. After this ambiguous dis­ cussion I put in a categorical request for my return to Russia. The at­ mosphere of the International’s departments was becoming impossible for me to breathe. Men like Monatte, Rosmer, and Souvarine were being hounded out of the French Party merely for having shown some evidence o f political courage in demanding to see things Russian in their proper light. The Parties were changing their faces and even their language: a conventional jargon was settling upon our publications— we called it “Agitprop Pidgin.” Everything now was only a matter of “one hundred percent approval of the correct line of the Executive,” of “Bolshevik monolithism,” o f “the speedy Bolshevization o f fraternal Parties.” Such were the latest ingenuities of Zinoviev and Bela Kun. Why not three hundred percent approval? The Central Committees o f all the Parties, who send appropriate telegrams at the first wink, have not, as yet, thought o f that one. The system appears to have been perfected. A crony of mine jokes: “At the Fortieth Congress in Mos­ cow a ninety-year-old Zinoviev will be seen propped up by nurses and waving his Presidential bell...” “Schools of Bolshevism” are being es­ tablished, like the French one at Bobigny under Paul Marion (the same who was to become a Minister o f Petain and Laval in 194O a°d Jacques Doriot. The International still presents an imposing facade,

2 26 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y and has th o usands o f w o rk in g-cla ss supporters w h o trust in it w ith all th eir h eart, but I am w a tc h in g it go rotten w ith in . A n d I see th at it can be saved o n ly in R ussia, b y a regeneration o f the Party. I have to go b ack. “A b o v e all,” “ Y u r i” L u k a cs told m e, as w e roam ed in the evening b en eath the g ray spires o f the V o tiv e C h u r c h , “ d o n ’t be silly and get y o u rs e lf dep o rte d fo r n o th in g , ju st fo r the pleasure o f v o tin g defiantly. B elieve m e, insults are not v e ry im p o rta n t to us. M a rx is t revolution­ aries need patience and cou rage; th ey do no t need pride. Th e tim es are b ad, and w e are at a d ark crossroads. L e t us reserve o u r strength: his­ to ry w ill su m m o n us in its tim e.” I answ ered th at i f I fo u n d the P a rty atm osphere in L en in gra d and M o s c o w too oppressive, I w o u ld ask fo r an assignm ent som ewhere in Sib eria and there, in the m idst o f the snow s, far from the tortuosities o f p o litics, I w o u ld w rite the bo o k s n o w m atu rin g in m y head and w ait fo r b etter days. In an effort to break definitively w ith an old n ightm are th at still h aun ted me from tim e to tim e, I had, on the shores o f a C a r in th ia n lake, b egu n to w rite

Men in Prison.


6 D E A D L O C K OF THE R E V O L U T I O N 1926-1928

I t IS R A I N I N G ; the je ttie s are b lack . T w o row s o f d o tte d lam p lig h t extend fa r b ack in to th e n ig h t. B e tw e e n th em , the b lack w aters o f the N e va. O n b o th sides, cu t in to tw o , the d a rk city: in h o sp itab le . It has not cast its m ise ry aside. F o u r d ays ago, I w as lo o k in g at the great glo w ou tspread in the n ig h t sk y o ver B e rlin : B e rlin th at o n ly recen tly k n e w in flatio n m ore in cre d ib le even th an ou rs. W e never paid m ore th an a m illio n fo r a lem on : in B e rlin p o stag e stam p s w ere ch arg e d in t r il­ lion s. W h y d oes th is p ro stra tio n still w eig h d o w n on o u r R u ssian land ? A s w e com e o u t o f the C u s to m s, w e are m et by a ru n -d o w n cab ad van cin g over the p u d d le s o f m u d; a gh ost-ho rse and a ra ttlin g car­ riage, straig h t fro m so m e w retch e d to w n in G o g o l’s tim e. It has al­ w ays been the sam e. A re tu rn to R u ssia n so il rends the heart. “Earth

o f Russia,” w ro te the p o e t T yu tch e v, “no corner o f you is untouched by Christ the slave.” T h e M a r x is t e x p la in s it in the sam e term s: “ T he p r o ­ d u ction o f co m m o d itie s w a s never su fficie n t, the m eans o f co m m u n i­ cation w ere alw ays s h o r t . . . ” A n d b ecau se o f th at the p o o r (and there have been som e C h ris t s a m o n g them ), slaves to necessity, have had to take to the roads, b a re fo o t, k n ap sack s on b ack, tra ilin g from one steppe to the n ext, en d lessly fleein g, en d lessly s e e k in g ... T he atm osphere I fin d is calm , gloom y, oppressive. L u to v in o v has co m m itte d su icid e

.1T h e m e talw o rk e rs’ o rg an ize r used to w an d e r at

nigh t in B e rlin , w ith R a d e k . T h e c o ck ta ils o f the K u rfiirs te n d a m m scorched his th ro at: “ W h e n a ll’s said and d on e, the b ou rgeoisie cer­ tain ly in vents som e m u ck to get them selves d ru n k on ! W h a t am I

i. Yuri L ut ov ino v had caused offense through his leading part in the Wor ker s O p ­ position. H i s suicide occurred in M a y 1 9 1 4 .


228 ■ M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

going to do if I go back? I have told the Central Committee over and over again: we must take another look at the wages question. Our en­ gineers are starving. A fter that, the Health Commission o f the Party sent me abroad for a cu re. . . ” Glazman has committed suicide. The background to this tragedy is hardly known; it all took place within the circle o f Trotsky, Presi­ dent o f the Supreme War Council. It is mentioned only in hushed tones. Glazman is not the only one. Certain young people, expelled from the Party for demanding “the N ew Course,” have turned revolvers on themselves. Young women, as everyone knows, prefer Veronal. W hat use is it to live if our Party re­ fuses us the right to serve it? This newborn world is calling us, we be­ long to it and it alone— and look! In its name someone spits in our faces. “You are disqualified. . . ” Disqualified because we are the Revo­ lution’s racked flesh, its outraged reason? It is better to d ie ...T h e graph o f suicides is mounting. The Central Control Commission meets in extraordinary session. Evgenia Bogdanovna Bosch has committed suicide. N othing has been published abroad about the death o f one o f Bolshevism’s greatest personalities. The C ivil War, the Ukraine (where, together with Pi­ atakov, she headed the First Soviet Government), the troubles in A s­ trakhan, which she dealt with severely, the peasant counterrevolution o f Perm, armies under her command: through it all she slept with a revolver under her pillow. The Party debate o f 1913, the juggling with workers’ democracy in equivocal Central Committee resolutions, the purge o f the universities and the dictatorship o f the secretaries all combined to depress her, and her strong, plain fighter’s face, with its piercing eyes, grew hollow with sickness. Once Lenin died, her mind was made up. W hat was there left to do, with the Party deceived and divided, with Ilyich gone, what was there left to wait for, since she could no longer do anything herself? She went to bed and shot herself in the temple with a revolver. The Committees deliberated the ques­ tion o f her funeral rites. The more rigorous comrades argued that sui­ cide, however justified it might be by incurable illness, remained an act o f indiscipline. Besides, in this particular case suicide was a proof o f Oppositional leanings. There was no national funeral, only a local

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R EVO LU TIO N : 1926-1928

• 229

one; no u rn in the K r e m lin w a ll, o n ly a p lace b e fittin g her ra n k in the p lot reserved fo r C o m m u n is t s in the N o v o d e v ic h y cem etery. F o rty lines o f o b itu a r y in Pravda. P re o b ra z h e n sk y e xp o se d the u n d e rh an d trick ery o f it all. W h e n she had been h a n d lin g the G e rm a n s , the U k ra in ia n N a tio n a lis ts, the W h ite s , an d the ru ral Vendee, w h a t jo k e r w ou ld have in q u ire d in to h er o fficia l ran k in the P a rty h ierarchy? These ve ry ideas d id n o t e xist th en : P re o b razh e n sk y w as req uested to hold his to n gu e. T h e sp e cte r o f L e n in ’s flesh, rob b ed o f all su b stan ce and sp irit, lies u n d e r th e M a u s o le u m w h ile the h ie rarch y is o n ly too alive, vo racio u s e ve n — it h as n o t fin ish e d sh o w in g us yet. Sergei Y e se n in , o u r m atch le ss p o e t, has co m m itte d su icid e. The telephone rin g s: “ C o m e q u ick ly , Y e se n in has k ille d h im se lf.” I ru n ou t in the snow , I e n ter h is room in the H o te l In te rn a tio n a l, and I can h ard ly reco g n ize h im ; he n o lo n g e r lo o k s h im se lf. T he n igh t b efore he had been d rin k in g , o f co u rse , an d then had said g o o d n ig h t to his friends. “ I w a n t to be a lo n e . . . ” In the m o rn in g he aw ok e d epressed, and felt the urge to w rite so m e th in g . N o p e n cil o r fo u n ta in pen w as at hand , an d there w as no in k in the h otel in k w e ll: o n ly a razor blade, w ith w h ich he slashed h is w rist. A n d so, w ith a ru sty pen d ip p e d in his o w n b lo o d , Y e se n in w ro te h is last lin es:

A u revoir, frie n d , au r e v o ir___ .. .T h ere is n o th in g n e w ab o u t d y in g in th is life B u t there is su rely n o th in g new ab o u t liv in g either.

H e asked the h otel to keep e very o n e ou t. T h e y fo u n d h im h a n g in g w ith a su itcase strap ro u n d h is neck , h is fo reh ead b ru ised by fa llin g , as he d ied , ag ain st a h e a tin g pipe. L y in g there w ash ed and com b ed on his d eath b ed , h is face w as less so ft th an in life , his h a ir b ro w n rather than gold en ; he had an e xpression o f cold , d ista n t harshness. I o b ­ served at the tim e: “ O n e w o u ld th in k h im a yo u n g so ld ier d y in g alone after som e b itter d efeat.” T h ir ty years o ld , at his p e a k o f g lory, eight tim es m a r r ie d . . . H e w as o u r greatest lyrical p o e t, the p o e t o f the R u s­ sian co u n trysid e , o f the M o sc o w taverns, o f the R e v o lu tio n ’s sin g in g B o h e m ian s. H e p ro claim e d the v ic to ry o f the steel horses over the red-m aned colts in the “fields without a glimmer!' H e spaw ned lines

230 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

fu ll o f d a zz lin g im ages, yet sim ple as the language o f the villages. H e p lu m b e d his o w n descent in to the abyss: “ Where haveyou

led me, you, my reckless head?” and “/ have been loathsome, I have been wicked— and all so that I could blaze more brilliantly . . . ” H e h ad tried to be in tune w ith the tim es, and w ith ou r official

“Ia m a stranger in my own land . . . ”; uMy poems are no lon­ ger needed now, and I myselfam unwanted. . .”; “Blossom, Oyoungfolk, literature.

in your healthy bodies... Your life is alien, your songs are alien. . . ”; uIam not a new man, I have onefoot in the past, and yet I wish, I the stumbler, I the cripple, tojoin the cohorts o f steel once more.. .” W e have it: u n relen tin g harshness W h ic h is the tale o f m an ’s suffering! T h e sickle cuts the h ea vy stalks A s one cuts the th roats o f sw ans.

V la d im ir M a ya k o vsk y, the m ost p o p u lar o f o u r poets after Y e ­ sen in, addressed a repro ach fu l farew ell to h im :

S o yo u have gone o f f A s the sayin g is: T o the n ext w o rld . . . The v o id . .. Y o u circle in it, H u s tlin g the stars.

M a ya k o vsk y, athletic, coiled like a sprin g in a b antering style o f v iolence, h am m ered out his farew ell before audiences for w h o m this death w as tu rn in g into a sym b ol:

Th is p lan et’s not w ell equ ipped fo r happiness; H ap p in ess w ill o n ly be w o n at a fu tu re date!

A n d M a ya k o vsk y is soon to k ill h im s e lf too, w ith a bullet in the h eart, but th at is anoth er story. T h ro u gh the night, th ro u gh the snow

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R EVO LU TIO N : 1926-1928

• 231

we c a rry the co rpse o f Se rg e i Y e se n in . T h is is no age fo r d re a m in g and lyricism . F are w e ll, p oet.

Lenka Panteleyev, one o f the Kronstadt sailors o f 1917, who stove in the gates o f the Winter Palace with their rifle butts, has just ended his life’s course in Leningrad. A legend has grown up about him in the underworld (for we have an underworld again). When money came back, Lenka felt that his end must be near. He was not a theoretician, but a straight egalitarian. He turned bandit to rob the first jeweler’s shops to be opened by the first neo-capitalists o f NEP. The other night, the militiamen who told me the story— admirers o f Lenka— cornered him in his malina or hideout; he had been betrayed, natu­ rally—it was a tale o f women and drink. He came, threw off his leather jerkin, downed a glass o f vodka, and took up his guitar. What should he sing? “Roll under the ax, 0 head o f Stenka R az in . .. ” They felled him in the middle o f his song. The dangerous guitar was stopped. The militiamen, on pay o f forty rubles a month, wear on their caps the red star, which the Pantaleyevs had been the first to sport. Ilya Ionov, whom I had known in the days when, skinny as a yogi, he had got our ghosts o f factories working, without fuel or raw mate­ rials. One evening, in that year of ice, 1919—six years ago now—when we were returning from the front at Ligovo, thirty minutes away from the city, he had told me, “We must throw all our last remaining forces into the firing line, even the anemic little seventeen-year-olds, every­ thing except our brains. A few thinking heads at the rear, well guarded by machine guns, and everything else into the firing line: that’s what I say!” Nowadays even my friend I. has stopped thinking. In 1919 we had planned, with him and a few others, a ferocious last-ditch resis­ tance ending with explosions and arson, “to show them what it costs to kill us!” Now, we have evening reunions at his house, where we play cards. An atmosphere of mild affluence reigns in this flat: fine books, miniatures, heraldic tableware, dark mahogany furniture dating back to the Emperor Paul. This is what remains of the spoils of many an ex­ propriation, such as is to be found in the houses of a number of Party

232 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

stalwarts. I knew fair-haired Lisa Ionova in the days when, emaciated and crazy-eyed, she saw her first child die o f starvation. Now they have another child, who is far better fed than the children o f our un­ employed workers. Lisa is now a plump blonde who wears a necklace o f heavy gems from the Urals. There is still a slight hint o f madness in her eyes, which makes me long to come out with some sharp ques­ tions: “Quite a smash-up in those days, wasn't it? Do you remember Mazin's body under the fir trees? And the corpse o f that little sculptor

Bloch who got shot, we never knew why? A nd his wife's corpse, so child­ like she was? Tell me, do you remember?” But I say nothing o f the sort; it would not be nice, the world has changed. Grisha Yevdokimov comes to make up a card game with us. He is home from Germany, where the Central Com m ittee had sent him for an alcoholic’s cure. We talk about the Pushkov affair: and so life goes on. (We do not talk politics, because I am a disgraced Oppositionist and they know it, and because they are anxious for the future and I know it: within the Po­ litburo an odd coolness has sprung up between Zinoviev, with whom they are friendly, and Stalin. Ionov was shot in 1937.) P u sh k o v I m et in the old days, w h e n he was ru n n in g the Petrok o m m u n a, o r C e n tra l C o o p e ra tive o f the Petrograd C o m m u n e . The reason w h y he has ju st been cast into the darkness (w h ich is w h a t ex­ pu lsion fro m the P a rty a m o u nts to) w as as follow s. Th e C o n tro l C o m m is s io n ’s resolution speaks o f “ irregu lar co n du ct in m anage­ m en t (to be referred to the cou rts) and dem o ralizatio n.” Pu shkov was a m arried m an. A t his place, too, people played cards on Su n d ay eve­ n in g , w ith glasses o f tea to h and. H e loved his w ife w ith a passion w h o se intensity ill fitted his ch aracter as a m aterialist adm inistrator. W h e n death suddenly to o k her from h im , he forgot that m atter is perishable, and th at the cu lt o f the dead is sym p tom atic o f those a n ­ cestral ideologies th at have been fo rm ally condem ned b y P a rty teach­ ing. H e had her rem ains em balm ed, and a vault m ade fo r her in a cem etery w here she co u ld sleep under a can o py o f glass. I f L e n in could repose in a m ausoleum , the better to survive in the m em o ry o f m an­ kin d , w h y should not she be likew ise preserved for one m an ’s rem em ­ brance? P u sh k o v is honest, but a glass coffin is expensive: he m eddled w ith the fu n d s o f the collective. N o one w ill m ention h im again. I do

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R EV O LU TIO N : 1926-1928

. 233

not know why, but what I find saddest o f all in the whole affair is the thought o f a dead woman consigned once again to oblivion. The Menchoy case worried us more because Menchoy was a publi­ cist, a sort o f Jewish-American businessman, with large fish eyes framed in horn-rimmed glasses, dressed in the best English worsted, always in the latest styles, and o f course always engaged with serious projects. I had met him recently, just back from America to run the English section o f the International on behalf of the Executive in Moscow with Rothstein, the historian of the Chartist movement. Ex­ pelled, arrested, sent to the Solovietsky Islands, he is mentioned with anger and disgust. He was an official Communist who betrayed. He sent some articles against the Party line under various pseudonyms to a barely tolerated literary periodical. Ac his home, notes were discov­ ered, o f a nauseating nature. Excracts like the following are cited: “Got eight hundred rubles today for the bit of junk I knocked out on Lenin. Paid for two hookers and we got famously plastered.” Can you imagine, a comrade said, the man who was living among us and lead­ ing such a double life was writing propaganda pamphlets on Lenin for the Moscow Committee! Rotten to his soul! O f course I understood. All you need is to see the city and the streets. The sordid taint o f money is visible on everything again. The gro­ cers have sumptuous displays, packed with Crimean fruits and Geor­ gian wines, but a postman earns about fifty rubles a month. There are 150,000 without jobs in Leningrad alone: their dole varies between twenty and twenty-seven rubles a month. Agricultural day workers and female servants get fifteen, with their board added, it is true. Party officials receive from 180 to 2.25 rubles a month, the same as skilled workers. Hordes o f beggars and abandoned children, hordes o f prosti­ tutes. We have three large gaming houses in town, where baccarat, roulette, and chemin de fer are played, sinister dives with crime always hovering around the corner. The hotels laid on for foreigners and Party officials have bars that are complete with tables covered in soiled white linen, dusty palm trees, and alert waiters who know secrets be­ yond the Revolutions ken. What would you like—a dose of “snow” ? At the Europa bar thirty girls show off their makeup and cheap rings to men in fur-lined coats and caps who are drinkingglasses brimming

234 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

with alcohol: o f these a third are thieves, a third embezzlers, and an­ other third workers and comrades deep in a black mood which, around 3:00 a.m., breaks out into fights and drawn knives. And then, the other night, I heard someone shouting, with a strange pride: “I ’ve been a member o f the Party since 1917!” The year when the whole world shook. Here, on snowy nights before dawn, sledges are halted, drawn by proud thoroughbreds, their drivers bearded just like those who served the playboys o f Tsarist days. A nd the manager o f a nationalized factory, the wholesaler in textiles from the Lenin Factory, the assassin hunted by informers who are drinking with him — all drive off smartly with some daughter o f the Volga or Riazan squeezed up close on the narrow seat, some daughter o f famine and chaos with nothing to sell but her youth, and too much thirst for life to join the list o f suicides that it is my task as an editor to check. Leningrad lives at the cost o f ten to fifteen suicides a day, mainly among the under-thirties. Y o u co u ld take the lift to the ro o f o f the H o te l E u ro p a, and there find a n oth e r bar, like any in Paris or B erlin , fu ll o f lights, dancing, a nd jazz, and even m ore depressing th an the one on the g ro u nd floor. T w o o f us w riters were there in the deserted hall, ju st startin g a drab n ig h t out, w h en M a y a k o v s k y w a lk ed in w ith his usual athletic tread. H e cam e and leant on the b ar near us. “ H o w goes it?” “A l l right. H e ll !” “ Fed u p ?” “ N o . B u t one day I ’ ll b lo w m y brains out. E v e ry b o d y ’s a b astard !” It w as several years before his suicide. M aya k o vsk y was earn in g a great deal o f m oney pu b lish in g official poetry, w h ich could som etim es be very p o w e rfu l. O u r aim is still to be a p a rty o f p o o r m en, and little by little m oney becom es m aster, m oney co rru pts e v eryth in g — even as it makes life blossom everyw h ere. In less than five years, freedom o f trade has w orked m iracles. There is no m ore fam ine, and an into xicating zest for life rises about us, sw eep in g us away, g iv in g us the u nfortu nate sensation o f slipping d o w n h ill very fast. O u r co u n try is a vast conva­ lescent body, but on this body, w h o se flesh is o u r o w n , w e see the pu s­ tules m u ltiplying.

D E A D L O C K O F T H E R E V O L U T I O N : 1 9 2 6 - 1 9 2 8 • 2 35

When I was Chairman o f a cooperative tenement, I had a long struggle to get a girl student given a maid’s room in our thoroughly bourgeoisified piece o f property; the accounts, presented to me by an engineer, were absolutely crooked, and I had to sign them just the same. One of our fellow lodgers was quite openly enriching himself by reselling, at high prices, textiles that had been sold him by a national­ ized factory at the special cheap rate for the poorly paid. How was it possible? Because the demand for manufactured goods outran supply to the tune o f 400 million rubles’ worth. The workers went to the taverns to escape their wretched family lives; the housewives in the area of the Red Putilov Works pleaded with the Party Committees to find a way o f deducting some part o f their drunken husbands’ wages to hand over to them. On payday some workers could be seen sprawled blind drunk on the pavements, and others greeted all and sundry with catcalls. They regarded me with particular venom as a bespecta­ cled intellectual. A Committee for Child Relief ran the Vladimirsky Club, a disreputable gambling den. There I saw a woman hit in the face and thrown down the steps with her clothes half torn off. The manager came over to talk to me and told me quite coolly, “ What are you so shocked about? She’s nothing but a whore! Just put yourself in my shoes!” He is a Communist, this manager: we belong to the same Party. Business livens up society, after a fashion, but it is the most corrupt kind of business imaginable. Retail trade, i.e., the distribution of man­ ufactured articles, has passed into the hands o f private enterprise, which has triumphed over the cooperative and State trading systems. Where does this capital, nonexistent five years ago, all come from? From robbery, fraudulent speculation, and superbly skillful racketeer­ ing. Twisters start up a fake cooperative; they bribe officials to give them credits, raw materials, and orders. Yesterday they had nothing; the Socialist State has given them everything, on burdensome terms it is true, for contracts, agreements, and orders are all fixed by corrup­ tion. Once launched, they carry on, determined to become the uni­ versal middlemen between socialized industry and the consumer. They double the price o f everything. Soviet trade, as a consequence of our industrial weakness, has become the hunting ground for a swarm

236 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

o f predators in w h o m to m o r ro w s tou gh est and m ost resourceful ca p ­ italists can be clearly discerned. In this respect, N E P is an unques­ tionable setback. T h e prosecu tors, from K ry le n k o do w n w ard s, spend th eir days in useless trials fo r specu lation. O n e shabby little character n am ed Plyatsky, ca rro ty an d talk ative, is at the hub o f all corru ption and specu latio n in L e n in g ra d . T h is B alza cian m an o f affairs has floated co m pan ies b y the d o zen, b ribed officials in every single de­ p a rtm e n t— and he is n o t shot, because b asically he is indispensable: he keeps e v e ry th in g going. N E P has b ecom e one b ig confidence trick. T h e sam e h olds g oo d , alth o u gh in a differen t form , in the countryside. A single y e a rs sheep-raisin g in the south has produ ced So viet m illio n ­ aires o f a m ost cu rious b ran d: fo rm er R e d partisans, w h o se daughters live in the finest hotels in the C rim e a , w h o se sons play for h igh stakes in the casinos. In an entirely differen t sphere, the g igan tic scale o f certain royal­ ties encou rages the g radual g ro w th o f an official literature. Th e dra­ m atists Sh ch eg o lev (the h istorian) and A le x e i T o lsto y* are reaping hu n d red s o f th o usands o f rubles fo r their slick plays about R aspu tin an d the Em press, and m an y o f ou r yo u n g w riters dream o n ly o f im i­ ta tin g th em . It is o n ly a m atter o f w r itin g in a style that fits po pu lar taste and the directives o f the C e n tra l C o m m itte e ’s C u ltu r a l Section. N o t th at this is so v e ry easy. It is b e co m in g obvious that, despite the sterling resistance o f m ost o f the y o u n g S o viet w riters, w e have on our h and s a literature th at is co n fo rm ist and co rru pt. T h in gs are co m in g back to life, bu t everyw h ere w e can see sym p tom s o f a process that eludes us, threatens us, and po rtends o u r doom . It w as K o n sta n tin o v w h o gave the solution to the equation. W e k n e w each other, th o ugh w e h ad never m et. I loathed h im , but was b e g in n in g to understan d h im . S o m e b o d y told m e, “ H e is a literary m an : he collects o rigin al m anuscripts. H e has some o f Tolstoy, A n ­ dreyev, C h e k h o v , and R ozanov. A m aterialist, but he has begun to join the co m p a n y o f m ystics. A bit cracked, but intelligent. U sed to be in the C h e k a — says h e’s v e ry fond o f yo u .” In a tenem ent on the R ig h t B a n k I fo u n d a fe w people in a room lit by a chandelier. A n old m an spoke to us o f R ozanov, in w h o m there h ad been so m e th in g o f N ietzsch e, Tolstoy, and Freud, all subsum ed in

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R E V O LU T IO N : 19 26 -1928

• 237

a carn al C h r is t ia n it y th at w as p e rp e tu a lly at w a r w ith itself. A sain tly obsessive, w h o h ad d elved v e ry d eep in to the m oral prob lem and the sex prob lem . H e th o u g h t o f h im s e lf as a m oral re p tile — not th at he w anted to be, b u t he told h im s e lf th at eve ry o n e is lik e th at at heart anyw ay, and so, ever so s lig h tly, he really b ecam e one. A u th o r o f Fallen

Leaves: m e d itatio n s on life , d e ath , h yp o crisy , flesh ly im p u rity, and the Savior, a b o o k w r itte n on sheets o f lavato ry pap e r in the

W C .

H e had

died at the sam e tim e as L e n in , an d the m em ories he left am o n g the R u ssian in te llig e n tsia ran deep. T h e y spok e o f him as th o u g h he had just gone o u t o f the room .

The company included some young women and a thin, tall man with a little dyed blond mustache. I recognized him at once: Ott, head of the Cheka’s administrative section in 1919 and 192.0. An Estonian or Lett, gifted with a bloodless imperturbability, he attended to all the form filling, with the executions going on all around him. Kon­ stantinov had thinning hair, a bony nose, dark lips, spectacles; I did not recognize him, although he treated me as an old acquaintance. It was only later on that he drew me aside and said, “Actually, you know me well: I was the examining magistrate in the Bayrach case. .. ” Indeed, how could I have forgotten him? This was the Cheka man against whom, in 1910, a French Communist and I had waged a long struggle for the lives o f some indubitably innocent men, whom he wanted shot at all costs. I will not recount this trivial case. There was the incident o f the bloodstained shirt that was brought to me out of jail; the incident of the girl with the face of an odalisque before whom this sadistic magistrate had dangled fantastic traps and promises with degrading conditions attached to them. There were indeed many inci­ dents, and finally we did save the accused men, by going to the leading circles of the Cheka, Xenofontov, I believe. At the Petrograd Cheka the comrades had talked of the examining magistrate in ambiguous terms: a hard man, incorruptible (he only pretended to be willing to sell his clemency), a sadist perhaps, “ but you must understand— it’s all psychology!” I avoided meeting him, believing him to be a dangerous character, a professional maniac. And, seven years later, here he was offering me tea, treating me as a friend. “ Y o u r proteges w en t o f f to C o n s ta n tin o p le w here, no d ou bt, they



have become big racketeers. You were quite wrong to take so much trouble to stop me liquidating them. I knew o f course that, from a formal point o f view, they were innocent, but we had plenty on file against them. That’s unimportant now. In other cases, I was never pre­ vented from doing my revolutionary duty, even by much more power­ ful people than you. It was I w h o . . . ” H e had been one o f those Chekists who, in January 1920, just as Lenin and Dzerzhinsky were issuing the decree to abolish the death penalty, had arranged an execution at night, involving the massacre o f several hundred suspects at the very last minute, when presses were already rolling out the new decree. “ S o it w as you. A n d w h a t n o w ?”

Now, he was on the fringe o f the Party, not positively expelled but pensioned o ff and tolerated. From time to time he would take the train to Moscow and go to the Central Committee, where he would be received by a senior secretary. Konstantinov would bring out his file o f secrets, bulging with fresh titbits and supplemented by that ir­ refutable source o f accusation, his memory. He would utter proofs, accusations, and the names o f high personages, but still did not dare to tell everything. They would kill him. H e proposed to tell me nearly everything. Whence came this con­ fidence in me? “ You are an Oppositionist? You are missing the real question altogether. You don’t suspect a n yth in g...” A t first he talked by allusion, and we discussed what was going on, what Lenin had foreseen when he said, “You think you are driving the machine, and yet it is driving you, and suddenly other hands than yours are on the wheel.” Unemployment statistics, wage scales; the home market ruled by “private enterprise, itself born out o f the plunder o f the State; rural misery, and rise o f a peasant bourgeoisie; Comintern incompetence and Rapallo policies; privation in the towns and arrogant nouveaux riches— do these results strike you as being quite natural? And have we done all that we have done, only to come to this?” K o n sta n tin o v lays his cards on the table, unveils his secret to me. Th e secret is th at e v e ryth in g has been betrayed. From the years when L e n in w as alive, treason has w o rm e d its w a y into the C e n tra l C o m -

D E A D L O C K O F T H E R E V O L U TION: 19 2 6 - 19 2 8

• 239

mittee. He knows the names, he has the proofs. He cannot tell me everything, it’s too dangerous: they know that he knows. If anyone guessed that I have heard it from him I would be a doomed man. It is all tremendous and appalling. The exposure of this plot demands infi­ nite clairvoyance, a genius for inquisition, and absolute discretion. At the peril of his life, he is submitting his analysis of the gigantic crime, studied over years, to the Central Committee. He whispers the names of foreigners, of the most powerful capitalists, and of yet others that have an occult significance for him. He specifies a city across the At­ lantic. I follow his chain of reasoning with the secret uneasiness that one feels in the presence o f some lunatic logician. And I observe that he has the inspired face o f a madman. But in all that he says, he is driven by one basic idea that is not the idea of a madman: “We did not create the Revolution to come to this.” We leave each other bound by a mutual confidence. It is a white night, and the trams have stopped running. I walk away with Ott. Crossing a bridge that lies between dull sky and fog-colored water, I notice that my companion has not changed in six years. He still wears his long cavalry coat without badges of rank, he has the same stolid bearing, the same half-smile under his pale little mustache, as if he were still on his way out o f Cheka headquarters on a winter night in 192.0. He is entirely in agreement with Konstantinov. His argument is crystal clear, isn’t it? We hold the threads o f the plot, this plot of blackest treachery and infinite ramifications, the worldwide plot against the first Socialist republic... everything can still be saved, if only... there are still a few men in the Central Committee. But who? The pale city o f two in the morning opened its great, depopulated vistas to us. It seemed preoccupied: a cold stone model, full of memo­ ries. We had passed by the blue cupola o f the Mosque. On the little hill towards our right the five heroes of the Masonic Decembrist con­ spiracy had been hanged in 182.5. On our left, in the small mansion that had once belonged to a favorite of Nicholas II, the Bolshevik con­ spiracy o f 1917 had been organized. The gilt spire of the Peter-Paul Fortress poked up above its casemates and the river. There in his chains Nechayev had dreamed his prodigious plot to overthrow the Empire. There too the conspirators of Narodnaya Volya had expired,



left to die o f starvation, in the years 1881 to 1883. M any o f their younger comrades are still alive: the link they forged continues down to our­ selves. We were approaching the tombstones in the Field o f Mars, walled around by red granite ramparts: our own tombstones. Just op­ posite, in the Engineers’ Castle, Paul I was done to death by his own officers. “Just one plot after another, isn’t it?” said O tt, with his smile. “A ll that was just child’s play. T o d a y ...” I felt an urge to reply (bu t it w o u ld have been useless w ith a para­ n oiac like this): “ T o d a y th in gs are not nearly so easy as that. It’s all qu ite different. A n d , m y p o o r O tt, these plots that yo u are inventing are qu ite re d u n d a n t. . . ”

I f I have sketched these portraits and recorded these conversations o f the year 1916, it is because they reveal a certain atmosphere even then, the obscure early stages o f a psychosis. Much later the whole of Soviet Russia was to experience years o f tragedy when it would live ever more intensely in the grip o f this psychosis, which must be a psy­ chological phenomenon unique in history. (Konstantinov disap­ peared in the early thirties, after being deported to Central Siberia.) T h e calm o f the w o rk ers’ city o f L e n in g ra d w as suddenly broken by the d ra m atic in ciden t o f C h u b a ro v A lle y , w h ich shed a sinister light on the co n d itio n s u n d er w h ic h o u r yo u th lived. A b o u t fifteen you ng w orkers fro m the S a n -G a lli w o rk s had raped an u n fo rtu n ate girl, the sam e age as they, on a piece o f w aste g ro u nd near the O cto b e r railway station. T h is to o k place in the L ig o v k a quarter, a d istrict where the u n d erw o rld and the w o rk in g class m et, full o f scabby tenem ents. The P a rty ’s C o n tro l C o m m is s io n , n o w overloaded w ith nasty little m orals cases, h ad a sort o f epidem ic o f collective rapes to investigate. D o u b t­ less sexuality, so long repressed, first by revolutionary asceticism and then b y p o v e rty and fam in e, w as b e gin n in g to recover its drive in a so ciety th at had been abru ptly cu t o f f from any spiritual nourish­ m ent. T w o cases o f a sim ilar nature were b eing investigated at the S tu ­ dents’ R esidence in Je lia b o v a Street, the form er B e ar H o tel, M edved, a short d istance from w here I lived. O n the same even in g tw o private parties, in tw o differen t room s, had each finished w ith a you ng w o m an b ein g taken advantage o f b y a group o f d ru n k yo u n g m a le s . . . I visited this Residence w ith a health com m ission. The room s were des-

D E A D L O C K OF T H E REVO LU T IO N : 1926-1928

• 241

titute and a lm o st bare o f fu rn itu re . R a g s w ere h a n g in g from the w in ­ d ow latches. S tre w n on the flo o r w ere sp irit lam p s and little tin bow ls, b ooks an d b rok en sh oes sca tte re d in the corner. O n the iron b e d ­ steads, u su ally w ith o u t sp rin g s, there w ere p la n k s an d on the plan k s the m attress. I f there w ere sh eets, th e y w ere gray w ith grim e . In one huge room w e fo u n d a m attress on the flo o r and three yo u n g people, tw o b oys an d a g irl, fast asleep. P ro m is c u ity fed u pon the m ise ry of the e n v iro n m e n t. B o o k s lik e th ose by A le x a n d r a K o llo n ta i p ro p a­ gated an o v e rsim p lifie d th e o ry o f free love: an in fa n tile va rie ty o f m a­ terialism red u ced “ se xu a l n e e d ” to its stric tly a n im a l co n n o tatio n . “Y ou m ake love ju s t as you d r in k a g lass o f w ater, to relieve yo u rse lf.” The m ost so p h istica te d se c tio n o f y o u th , the u n iv e rsity stu d en ts, w as d iscu ssin g E n c h m e n ’s th e o r y (con tested by B u k h a rin ) on the d is a p ­ pearance o f m o rals in the fu tu re C o m m u n is t society. T he fifteen d e fen d a n ts fro m C h u b a ro v A lle y w ere given a show trial in a w o rk e rs’ clu b ro o m , w ith the p o rtra it o f L e n in o v e rlo o k in g all. R a fa il, the e d ito r o f th e Leningrad Pravda , presid ed ; he w as a tam e, crafty-Io o k in g , b ald o fficial. A t no m o m e n t d id he give the slightest in d ica tio n o f u n d e rs ta n d in g the tan gled co m p le x ity o f h u ­ m an b aseness an d p o v e rty -in d u ce d c o rru p tio n th at it w as his task to unravel in the nam e o f w o rk in g -cla ss ju stice . A h all fu ll o f m en and w om en w o rkers fo llo w e d the cro ss-e x a m in a tio n in an atm osph ere o f su sp en sefu l b o re d o m . T h e accu sed fifteen h ad the typ ical faces o f L igovka g u tte r k id s, fu sin g th e p e asan t and p ro le tarian typ es w ith prim itive b ru ta lity as th e ir salie n t featu re. T h e y offered con fession s and d e n o u n ce d on e an o th e r w ith no in h ib itio n s ab ou t g iv in g d etails. I f ever the case d iverged fro m the stric tly fa ctu a l th ey co u ld not fo llo w it, and fo u n d it all a g reat fu ss to be m ade o ver th in g s th at o ften ju st pass by w ith o u t an y b oth er. W h a t w as m ore n atu ral th an sex on w aste sites? A n d w h a t i f she d id n ’t m in d m a tin g w ith four, five, o r six? She w ou ld have g o t ju st as p re g n a n t o r d iseased i f it had o n ly been one. A n d i f she d id m in d , p erh aps it’s b ecau se she had “ p reju dices.” C e rta in p arts o f the c ro ss-e xam in atio n are still clear in m y m em ­ ory. T he lack o f an y in sig h t on the p a rt o f the accu sed w as so prim itive in its q u a lity th at the m agistrate R a fa il, g o o d co m m itte e m an th at he was, w as c o n tin u a lly p u t o u t b y it. H e had ju st been so foolish as to

242 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

talk o f “new culture” and “our wonderful Soviet morals.” A short, fair-haired lad with a flat nose answered him: “ Never heard o f ’em.” R afail went on, “O f course, you’d prefer foreign bourgeois morals, w ouldn’t you?” It was ridiculous, it was horrible. The boy replied, “I don’t know nothing about them. I ’ve never been abroad, I haven’t.” “ You could have got to know about them through reading foreign newspapers.” “ I never even see Soviet newspapers. The Ligovka streets, that’s the only culture I know.” Five o f the accused were condemned to death. In order to be able to carry out the sentence, the authorities had to twist the law and ac­ cuse them o f “ banditry.” On the evening o f the verdict, the sky above the city glowed purple. I walked towards the glow: the whole o f the San-Galli works was in flames. The five condemned youths were exe­ cuted on the following day. There was a rumor that the workers who had started the fire had been executed secretly, but this was impossible to confirm. I

was taken by a sudden yearning to know this social inferno of

ours, whose great flames cried out into the night. I burrowed into our Soviet doss-houses. I was there when they rounded up the girls they kept sending, by administrative decree, to the concentration camps o f the Far N orth. I can honestly say that Dostoevsky had not seen it all; in any case, I discovered that since Dostoevsky’s day nothing, in cer­ tain dark corners o f our world, has changed for the better. O my fel­ low tramps o f Paris, how difficult is social transformation! It was at this time that Vassily Nikiforovich Chadayev waylaid me in the Leningrad Press Institute on the Fontanka Embankment, where the Countess Panina used to reside. “ Taras has told me about y o u . . . ” Taras was a password name that had been given me in Piatakov’s circle in Moscow so that I could con­ tact the clandestine Opposition in Leningrad. The “Trotskyists” as a group had withdrawn from political activity, and since 1923 had been playing a waiting game. This was the Center that guided the Left O p­ position in the area, and I was invited to join it. We used to meet in a

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R EVO LU TIO N : 1926-1928

• 243

room at the A s to r ia , u su a lly th at o f N . I. K a rp o v , a pro fe sso r o f a g ri­ cu ltu ral science w h o h ad been an arm y co m m issar. T h ose w h o w ent there con sisted o f tw o o r th ree stu d e n ts o f w o rk in g -class o rig in ; tw o O ld B o lsh e v ik w o rk e rs w h o h ad been in eve ry revolu tion in P etrograd for the last tw e n ty years; X

, an u n a ssu m in g m an , form e rly the

organizer o f a Party printshop, who had been dropped from various sinecures because o f his excessive integrity and who, ten years after the seizure o f power, was living as poorly as he always had, pale and scraggy under his faded cloth cap; Feodorov, a huge red-haired fellow, splendidly strapping, with an open face fit for a barbarian warrior, a factory worker who was soon to leave our group, ultimately to meet his death as a member o f the Zinoviev tendency. We also included two Marxist theoreticians o f genuine worth, Yakovin and Dingelstedt. Grigory Yakovlevich Yakovin, aged thirty, had returned from Germany, on which country he had just written an excellent book. A sporting enthusiast with a constantly alert intelligence, good looks, and a spontaneous charm, he was to spend some years in ingenious daring and dangerous illegality, and then to do the rounds of the jails for an undetermined period, there to disappear in 1937. Fedor Dingelstedt had been, at the age of twenty, one of the Bol­ shevik agitators (together with Ensign Roshal, Ilyin-Genevsky, and Raskolnikov) who had been behind the mutiny of the Baltic fleet in 1917. He was in charge of the Institute of Forestry and was having a book published on “The Agrarian Question in India.” Among us he represented an extreme-Left tendency similar to Sapronov’s group, who considered that the degeneration of the regime was now com­ plete. Dingelstedt’s face, with its harsh, inspired ugliness, was a pic­ ture of invincible obstinacy. “They will never break him.” I used to reflect. I was not mistaken: he was to follow the same path as Yakovin without ever giving in. “ B ab u sh k a,” o r “ G ra n d m o th e r,” u su ally to o k the ch air at o u r m eet­ ings. Plu m p, her h a ir w h ite over her k in d ly face, A le x a n d r a L vo vn a B ro n stein w as the last w o rd in co m m o n sense and honesty. She had som e th irty-five years o f m ilita n c y b e h in d her, in clu d in g e xile in Sib e ­ ria; she had been T r o ts k y ’s w ife in h is first years o f stru ggle, and had borne h im tw o d au ghters, N in a and Z in a (w ho were b oth to p e ris h . . . ) .


The only work allowed her was elementary instruction in sociology to children under fifteen, and that was not to last long. I have known few M arxists as free in their basic outlook as Alexandra Lvovna. Nikolai Pavlovich Baskakov, a small, powerful man with a tall, in­ dented forehead and blue eyes, thought it was now questionable whether the system could be reformed. He went into the jails, where I do not know what became o f him. Together w ith Chadayev and my­ self, who specialized in international questions, this was the roll call o f the Center. I insist on one historical point: there was never any other Center o f the Left Opposition in Leningrad. Chadayev became my friend. H e was to be the first o f our number who was killed. Long before the Party leadership, he raised the ques­ tion o f the collectivization o f agriculture, in a remarkable set o f the­ ses. H e was the only one o f us to put the question o f a second party— in private— and the only one to foresee the great trials o f de­ ception. A fighter from 1917, an editor on the evening paper Krassnaya Gazeta, he was led through his knowledge o f the condition o f the w orking class to a realistic appraisal o f political problems. He watched the disorders at the Labor Exchange, which was in the end wrecked by the unemployed. “ In that riot,” he said, “ I saw a fantastic woman who reminded me o f the best days o f 1917. She gave purpose, and almost order, to the tumult. H er appearance was insignificant, but I could see that she was cut out to be a leader. And it is working-class women like her that have to come out against us!” Together we watched the disgusting trial o f the Labor Exchange officials, who would not send a woman to a factory job unless she were reasonably good-looking and, what was more, obliging. He left behind him several precious booklets filled with observations that, like so many others, probably went to be pulped. The Party was in a state o f slumber. Meetings were hardly noticed by the apathetic public. Since the purge o f the universities, the youth had turned in upon itself. In Moscow, in a modest house in Petrovka, at Glavkonzesskom, the main Concessions committee, Trotsky was studying the proposals o f a Mr. Urquart, was in discussions with the Lena Goldfields. and had learnt that Mr. Hammer, citizen o f the

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R EVO LU TIO N : 1926-1928

• 245

United States, having succeeded in setting up the first pencil factory in Russia, was now growing rich abroad as he had been allowed to re­ patriate his profits... Around Trotsky, a group of old comrades, who were all actually young, worked on other matters. His office is unique in the world, a laboratory where ideas are ceaselessly developed. Work there proceeds with great punctuality. The meeting arranged for ten o’clock is for ten and not for two minutes after ten. Georges Andreytchine is also there, a vigorous Balkan with burning eyes that are set deep in a high, pale forehead. Former IW W militant in America, this youth senses the future:


petty bourgeoisie which is getting

richer and digging in all around us, if we don’t break its back, it will smash us one o f these days. .. ” He is not alone in holding this view. (Andreytchine will soon be miserably defeated, will leave us on ac­ count o f his wife’s illness, and on returning from exile will tell us, “I have turned into a sellout”; he will become a senior commerce official with the US, and in turn will perish.) All the same, we were, for the time being, fairly optimistic, for Trotsky was publishing a series of articles proving that we were on the way “to Socialism, not capital­ ism,” and supporting the preservation of a marginal private sector (which would take the force o f all crises) around the nationalized fac­ tories. I discussed these ideas in the Paris journal Vie Ouvriere. Victor Eltsin brought me a directive from the Old Man (Trotsky): “For the moment we must not act at all: no showing ourselves in public but keep our contacts, preserve our cadres o f 1913, and wait for Zinoviev to exhaust him self...” Writing good books and publishing Leon Da­ vidovich’s Collected Works was to be our means of keeping up morale. Victor Eltsin had the cool temperament of a tactician. He also told me that in Moscow the Left Opposition could muster more than five hundred comrades. Sermuks was a fair-haired, gentlemanly type, re­ fined and circumspect; Poznansky a tall Jew with untidy hair. These were the three secretaries o f Trotsky, all of them aged about thirty to thirty-five; towards the Old Man they would keep faith unshakably, until Heaven knows what terrible death. The storm broke quite out of the blue. Even we were not awaiting its coming. Certain remarks o f Zinoviev, whom I had seen weary and dull-eyed, should have warned me... Passing through Moscow in the

246 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

spring o f 1925, I learnt that Zinoviev and Kamenev, who were to all appearances still all-powerful as the two foremost figures in the Polit­ buro since Lenin’s death, were about to be overthrown at the forth­ coming Fourteenth Party Congress, and that Stalin was offering the Department o f Industry to T ro tsk y .. .The 1923 Opposition asked it­ self who its allies should be. Mrachkovsky, the hero o f the Urals bat­ tles, declared, “We w ill not ally ourselves with anyone. Zinoviev would end by deserting us and Stalin would trick us.” The militants o f the old Workers’ Opposition proved to be noncommittal, since they believed us to be too weak and, as they said, distrusted Trotsky’s au­ thoritarian temper. M y own opinion was that it was impossible for the bureaucratic regime stemming from Zinoviev to get any harsher; nothing could be worse than it. A ny change must offer some opportu­ nity for purification. I was very much mistaken, as is now obvious. Grossman-Roschin, a leader o f the syndicalist group Golos Truda (“ Voice o f Labor”), who was also the only member o f the group still at liberty, came to tell me how disturbed he was: “ Stalin is grumbling about the clowns and stooges in the Com intern, and is getting ready to cut o ff their rations once he has sacked Zinoviev. Aren’t you afraid o f some damage happening to the Com m unist International through this?” I answered, “N othing could be better for the International than to have all its rations cut off. The commercial characters will go elsewhere, the artificial Parties will die away, and the working-class movement will be able to recover its health.” A s a matter o f fact, the Fourteenth Congress, o f December 1925, was a well-rehearsed play, acted just as its producer had planned over several years. A ll the regional secretaries, who were appointed by the General Secretary, had sent Congress delegates who were loyal to his service. The easy victory o f the Stalin-Rykov-Bukharin coalition was an office victory over Zinoviev’s group, which only controlled offices in Leningrad. The Leningrad delegation, led by Zinoviev, Yevdoki­ mov, and Bakayev and supported by Kamenev— all doomed to the firing squad in 1936— found itself isolated when it came to the vote. Zinoviev and Kamenev were paying for years o f responsibility devoid o f any glory or success: two defeated revolutions, in Germany and Bulgaria; the bloody and imbecilic episode o f Estonia; at home the

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R E V O L U T IO N : 19 26 -1928

. 247

revival of class distinctions, about two million unemployed, scarcity of goods, conflict simmering between the peasantry and the dictator­ ship, the extinction o f all democracy; in the Party, Purges, repression (still mild, but shocking because it was new), the multiplication of slanders against the organizer o f victory, Trotsky. Certainly Stalin had a share in the responsibility for all these doings, but he wriggled out of it by turning on his colleagues in the triumvirate. Zinoviev and Kamenev were quite literally falling under the weight of their own errors, and yet we could see that at this particular hour they were more or less right. They opposed the makeshift doctrine of “Socialism in a single country,” in the name o f the whole tradition of Interna­ tional Socialism. Kamenev used the expression “State capitalism” in speaking of the wretched condition o f the workers, and advocated that the wage earners should share in their factories’ profits. Z i­ noviev’s crime was that he demanded the right to take the platform at Congress to present his own report. The whole Central Committee press chose to see in this an attack on the unity of the Party. Bukharin was sick of the reign o f mediocrity; he hoped to become the “ brain” behind Stalin. Rykov, President o f the Council of People’s Commis­ sars; Tomsky, the head of the trade unions; Voroshilov, the head of the army; and Kalinin, the President o f the Central Executive, were all carefully watching the state o f peasant discontent and uttering con­ demnations o f international adventure. The mass of Party officials wanted nothing more than to live a quiet life. Zinoviev, whose demagogy was quite sincere, believed every word he said about the warm support o f Leningrad’s working-class masses for his own clique. “Our fortress is impregnable,” I heard him say. He took the opinions that his subordinates cooked up in the Leningrad Pravda as being representative o f real public opinion. He came back to make his appeal to the Party and the masses at a time when the Party was no more than a phantom in the imagination of bureaucrats and the masses were apathetic and dormant. The resistance of Lenin­ grad, which I had seen for myself, was crushed in a fortnight, even though on certain nights workers loyal to Zinoviev came to mount guard over the newspaper’s printshop in anticipation of a forcible putsch. The proletarian district of Vyborg, which had been famous

248 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

ever since the days o f M arch 1917, was the first to give in. The same men were no longer there, neither was the same spirit. In every local committee there were shrewd folk who knew that a declaration in fa­ vor o f the Central Com m ittee was the first step in a career. The better members were disarmed by their respect, or rather fetishism, towards the Central Com m ittee. The Central Com m ittee sent Gusev and Stetsky along to us to install new committees. Stetsky, a man of thirty-five, was a disciple o f Bukharin: his pose was that o f the “Soviet Am erican”— neatly dressed, clean-shaven, genial, round head, and round glasses, very friendly to the intellectuals, joining them in inves­ tigating “the problems.” (Later he was to betray Bukharin, temporar­ ily replacing him as a theoretician in Stalins circle, and then to develop a blatant theory o f the totalitarian State, before disappearing into jail around 1938.) I heard Gusev speaking to big Party meetings. Large, slightly bald, and well-built, he got at his audience through the degrading hypno­ tism that is associated with systematic violence. In order to argue in this particularly foul manner one must, first, be sure o f having force at ones elbow, and, secondly, make up ones mind to stop at nothing. It is, at bottom, a fear-making technique. N ot a single word o f his won conviction, but the losers had got themselves into hot water, there was nothing for it but to vote for the Central Com m ittee.. .We o f the Opposition walked out before the vote was taken, silence all around us. The very low level o f education o f some o f the listeners, and the material dependence o f all o f them on the approval o f Party commit­ tees, guaranteed the success o f the operation. Under Gusev’s hammer blows the formal majority that Zinoviev had enjoyed in Leningrad since 1918 crumbled away in a week. O ur own “Leading Center o f the Left Opposition” had abstained in this battle. We were taken aback by the news that Trotsky had con­ cluded an agreement with the “Leningrad Opposition.” How could we sit at the same table with the bureaucrats who had hunted and slandered us— who had murdered the principles and ideas o f the Party? The old leaders o f the Leningrad Party, nearly all o f whom I had known since 1919, Yevdokimov, Bakayev, Lashevich, Zorin, Ionov,

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R E V O L U T IO N : 19 26 -1928

• 24S

Makhimson, and Gertik, seemed to have undergone a change of heart overnight; I could not help thinking that they must have felt enor­ mously relieved to escape from the stifling fog of lies and shake us by the hand. They spoke admiringly o f Trotsky, the same man that they had covered with odious abuse a couple o f days ago. They described, in considerable detail, the first talks he had held wich Zinoviev and Ka­ menev. Their relationship was “ better than ever—just like in 1918.” This was the time when Zinoviev and Kamenev presented Trotsky with letters testifying how, in conference with Stalin, Bukharin, and Rykov, they had decided to fabricate a doctrine o f “Trotskyism” against which they could unloose smear campaigns. They made even more serious revelations with which I will deal later. They signed a declaration recognizing that on the question of the Party’s internal regime the 1923 Opposition (Preobrazhensky, Trotsky, Rakovsky, and Antonov-Ovseyenko) had been right against them. Twenty or so sympathizers were gathered around our Leningrad Center. The Zinoviev tendency declared that it could count on a clan­ destine membership o f between five and six hundred. We had our doubts about this figure, but decided to open a recruiting campaign aimed at creating an organization o f similar size, in preparation for the time when the forces o f both tendencies would be brought face-toface. The Zinoviev group, knowing our weakness, demanded the im­ mediate fusion o f the two organizations. We hesitated to hand over the list of our leading members to them. What would they be up to tomorrow? A number o f us suggested that we conceal certain names from our newly found allies— a proposition we rejected as being dis­ loyal. Our agitators set to work. We held semi-clandestine meetings from district to district. Chadayev, the organizer of the central area, would come to see me at night, eyes blazing out o f his wrinkled face, and announce the day’s results: “ I tell you that we shall have 400 com­ rades organized on the day o f the merger!” We were actually to sur­ pass this total, but out o f suspicion we kept putting off the merger. Nechayev and Chadayev went to Moscow to inform Trotsky of our fears. I followed them for the purpose o f briefing Leon Davido­ vich and presenting our objections to him. On that day Leon Davi­ dovich was shivering with fever; his lips were violet-colored, but his

250 ■ M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

shoulders were still set firmly and the cast o f his face displayed intel­ ligence and will. H e justified the amalgamation on the grounds o f the necessity to unite the political forces o f both the two working-class capitals, Leningrad and Moscow. “ It is a battle which will be difficult to w in,” he said calmly, “ but we have excellent chances, and the salva­ tion o f the Revolution depends on it.” Someone brought coded tele­ grams in to him. In the large waiting room at the Concessions Com m ission two bearded peasants in sheepskins and clogs o f plaited bark were parleying with Sermuks for an interview with Trotsky, to whom they were anxious to submit an interminable legal dispute they had been having with the local authorities o f a distant country dis­ trict. “ N ow that Lenin is dead,” they kept repeating stubbornly, “there is only Com rade Trotsky to give us justice.” “ He w ill certainly see you,” Sermuks would answer patiently, all dapper and smiling, “ but he can do nothing now; he is no longer in the Government.” The muzhiks shook their heads, visibly annoyed that someone was trying to make them believe that “Trotsky can do nothing now.” “ Pretend to be blowing your nose when you go out,” one o f the secretaries told me. “The G P U has put men with cameras in the house opposite. A part from that, some o f the comrades’ . ..” Preobrazhensky and Smilga were sent to us by the Moscow Center to unify the leadership o f the two Leningrad oppositions. Preobra­ zhensky had the broad features and short auburn beard that befitted a man o f the people. He had driven him self so hard that during the meetings it seemed that he might at any moment drop o ff to sleep, but his brain was still fresh, and crammed with statistics on the agrarian problem. Smilga, an economist and former army leader who in 1917 had been Lenin’s confidential agent in the Baltic fleet, was a fair-haired intel­ lectual in his forties with spectacles, a chin beard, and thinning front hair, ordinary to look at and distinctly the armchair sort. He spoke for a whole evening in a little room to about fifty workers who could not move at all, so closely were they squeezed together. A Latvian gi­ ant with gingerish hair and an impassive face scrutinized all who came in. Smilga, sitting on a stool in the middle o f the room, spoke, in

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R EV O LU TIO N : 1926-1928

• 251

an experts tone and without one agitational phrase, of production, unemployment, grain and budgetary figures, and of the plan that we were hotly advocating. Not since the first days o f the Revolution had the Party’s leadership been seen in an atmosphere of poverty and sim­ plicity like this, face-to-face with the militants of the rank and file. Together with Chadayev, I was a member of the Party cell at the Krassnaya Gazeta, the big evening newspaper. (I had, of course, been

removed from all committees and “responsible” positions after my re­ turn from Central Europe.) There were about 400 of us: printers, ty­ pographers, linotype operators, clerks, editorial staff, and political activists attached to the paper. Three Old Bolsheviks, lost in this mul­ titude, occupied managerial posts. Ten or so comrades had been in the Civil War. The other 387 (or thereabouts) were from the “Lenin enrollment”: workers who had joined the Party only at the death of Lenin, after the consolidation o f power and at the height o f NEP. We Oppositionists numbered five, one o f whom was shaky; we were all of the Civil War generation. It was a miniature o f the situation in the Party as a whole; many things are explained thereby. The battle o f ideas was joined on three issues, on which the maxi­ mum possible silence was maintained: agricultural system, Party de­ mocracy, Chinese Revolution. Chiang Kai-shek, with Bliicher (Galen)* and my comrade Olgin (lately one o f the victors at Bokhara) as his counselors, was beginning his triumphal march from Canton to Shanghai and winning startling victories on the way; the Chinese Revolution was in its ascendancy. From the very beginning the dis­ cussion in the whole Party was falsified, on orders from the bureau­ cracy. The cell committee, in obedience to the district committee, called an aggregate meeting every fortnight. Attendance was compul­ sory and all names were checked off at the door. A hack orator took two hours to prove the possibility o f constructing Socialism in a sin­ gle country and denounce the Opposition’s “lack o f faith. All he did was to spin out the statements published by the Central Committee s Agitation Department. The next to speak were those termed the ac­ tivists,” always the same ones, long-winded old workers who were fa­ vorites of the committee or eager young careerists who were actually offering themselves as eligible candidates for a minor position. I can



still hear a y o u n g soldier e x p o u n d in g p a in fu lly from the platform h o w M a r x and E n g els doubtless did n o t conceive o f one o f the “ little W e ste rn co u n tries,” like Fran ce, B ritain , o r G e rm an y, b ein g able to b u ild S o cia lism ou t o f its o w n resources— but the U S S R constitu ted a sixth o f the w o r l d . . .

The Bureau, which consisted o f workers loyal to the management, was always keen to have a long list o f speakers, both to limit the time available for Oppositionists to speak and to give statistical proof of the participation o f the masses in the life o f the Party. O f the Opposi­ tionists, three were lying low; Chadayev and myself were the only ones to go to the platform, and we were allowed five minutes. It was essential not to lose a second o f the time, and accordingly we had in­ vented a special style. We spoke in detached sentences that were all either declarations, statements o f fact, or questions. Each one o f them had to register, even if the shouting o f the “activists” drowned what came before. A s soon as we opened our mouths to speak, interrup­ tions and shouts, mingled with insults, would burst out at once: “ Traitors! Mensheviks!

Tools o f the bourgeoisie!" One had to stay calm,

remark to the chairman that h alf a minute had been lost by interrup­ tions, and start the mangled sentence over again. Somebody, a mem­ ber o f the Bureau, would be taking down hurried notes for the benefit o f the C ity Com m ittee and the Central Committee. The body o f the hall watched this duel in absolute silence. Twenty o f the onlookers filled the place with their shouts; we only had them to face, and were troubled by the silence o f the others. The Chinese Revolution galvanized us all. I have the feeling o f a positive wave o f enthusiasm stirring up the whole Soviet world— or at least the thinking part o f it. The country felt, however confusedly, that a Red China could be the salvation o f the U SSR. Then came the Shanghai fiasco. I was expecting it; I had stated beforehand that it would happen. In Moscow I took part in the International Com m is­ sion set up by the Oppositional Center, together with Zinovievs spokesman Kharitonov, Fritz W olf (who soon capitulated, which did not stop him being shot in 1937), Andres Nin, the Bulgarian Lebedev (or Stepanov, a clandestine Oppositionist who betrayed us and later worked as a Comintern agent during the revolution in Spain), and

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R E VO LU TIO N : 1926-1928

. 253

two or three other militants whose names I have forgotten. I was well briefed by comrades who had come back from China and by material from Radek (then Rector o f the Chinese University in Moscow), Z i­ noviev, and Trotsky. Incredibly enough, the only non-Communist French newspaper that came into the USSR, Le Temps, a Conserva­ tive organ but reputable (money having no smell, as they say), pro­ vided me with valuable points o f confirmation. When he arrived before Shanghai, Chiang Kai-shek had found the town in the hands o f the trade unions, whose rebellion had been su­ perlatively organized with the assistance o f the Russian agents. Day by day we followed the preparation o f the military coup, whose only possible outcome was the massacre o f the Shanghai proletariat. Zi­ noviev, Trotsky, and Radek demanded an immediate change of line from the Central Committee. It would have been enough to send the Shanghai Committee a telegram: “ Defend yourselves if you have to!” and the Chinese Revolution would not have been beheaded. One di­ visional commander put his troops at the disposal o f the Communist Party to resist the disarmament o f the workers. But the Politburo in­ sisted on the subordination o f the Communist Party to the Kuomintang. The Chinese Party, led by an honest man, Chen Tu-Hsiu, had disavowed the peasant uprisings in Hopei and left: the insurgent farm­ ers of Chan-Sha to be slaughtered in their thousands. On the very day before the Shanghai incident Stalin came to the Bolshoi Theater to explain his policy to the assembled activists of Moscow. The whole Party noted one o f his winged remarks: “We are told that Chiang Kai-shek is making ready to turn against us again. I know that he is playing a cunning game with us, but it is he that will be crushed. We shall squeeze him like a lemon and then be rid of him. This speech was in the press at Pravda when we heard the terrible news. Troops were wiping out the working-class quarters of Shanghai with saber and machine gun. (Malraux was later to describe this trag­ edy in Mans Estate.) Despair was in us all when we met. The arguments within the Central Committee were repeated with equal violence in every Party cell where there were Oppositionists. When I began to speak in my own branch, just after Chadayev, I felt that a paroxysm of hatred was

254 • M EM O IR S OF A R EV O L U T IO N A R Y

building up and that we would be lynched on the way out. I ended my five minutes by flinging out a sentence that brought an icy silence: “ The prestige o f the General Secretary is infinitely more precious to him than the blood o f the Chinese proletariat!” The hysterical section o f the audience exploded: “ Enemies o f the Party!” A few days later our first arrest took place: they arrested Nechayev, a new member o f our Center, a thoughtful worker who had once been an army commissar, with a rough, weary face and gold spectacles, about forty years o f age. We spoke o f the arrest at a meeting. The Bureau did not dare to accept any responsibility for it. We had prepared two angry interventions: Chadayev made his from the platform, but I spoke from the floor, the better to defy the fanatics in the front rows. I shouted, “You have arrested Nechayev. Tomorrow you will have to arrest us in thousands. Know then that in the service o f the working class we will accept prison, deportation, the Solovky Isles. N othing will silence us. The counterrevolution is rising behind you, stranglers o f the Party!” The activists kept up bursts o f rhythmic chanting: “SlanderersI Trai­ tors!’” These arguments were conducted in a hall where we suddenly felt, members o f the same Party as we were, that the enemy was in front o f us and prison was a step away; it had a shattering effect upon me. On one other occasion we scored a point— but what a dismal point it was! I asked the audience to stand in homage to the memory of A d o lf Abramovich Joffe; I had just kept watch by him as he lay on his deathbed in Moscow, dead for the Revolutions sake. The cell Secre­ tary, who was always briefed by a confidential circular, gazed at us in fury, but yielded. We rendered homage, since the circular did not ex­ pressly forbid th a t. .. “A nd now, tell us why he died, and how !” “The district committee has given me no information on those points,” answered the Secretary, adding that nobody had the right to speak on those points before the Central Committee did so. In the memoranda that passed from committee to committee, a death like this could disappear without trace. On this sacrifice the newspapers were silent; it was being squeezed into nothing under h alf a ton of paper. We began to tire o f this sterile battling in a low-level organization.

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R E VO LU TIO N : 1926-1928

. 255

Once, as Chadayev and I were walking along there in the rainy street, we looked at each other, each with the same thought in his eyes: “What if we kept quiet this evening?” I forget now what was being discussed. After the activists had finished haranguing us, the Chair­ man announced, in a puzzled voice, that the list of speakers had no more names. Then, for the first time, the apathetic audience stirred. There was a flurrying all around us: “Hey, what about you chaps?” Chadayev rose smiling and I saw him, looking very tall, and putting up his hand to ask to speak. And this time, when it came to the vote on the final motion, when we were always the only ones to vote against—against 150 others— a third hand was raised at the same time as ours. A young printer was exclaiming: “They’re right! I am with them!” He joined us in the street. We learnt that about forty workers, all bound by mutual confi­ dence, were prepared to support us, but would only do so discreetly, for fear of losing their jobs. An equal number o f sympathizers were around them. We went home in the darkness, tense but happy. The ice was beginning to break. From other sources we discovered that the same situation held in the Party as a whole. “I think,” Chadayev said to me, “that they’ll crush us to pulp be­ fore the big thaw ever happens.” Now that Zinoviev had been dismissed from the Chairmanship of the Leningrad Soviet, he had not been in the city for months. He came along there with Trotsky for a session of the Central Soviet Ex­ ecutive, which o f course was a purely formal gathering. Gray drizzle was falling over the stands decked in red calico, and on the demon­ stration marching past near the Tauride Palace. The leaders of the Opposition were standing on the platform well away from the official group. The crowd had eyes only for them. After delivering hurrahs to order before Komarov, the new Chairman of the Soviet, the proces­ sion found itself level with these legendary men who no longer meant anything in the State. At this point the demonstrators made a silent gesture by lingering on the spot, and thousands of hands were out­ stretched, waving handkerchiefs or caps. It was a dumb acclamation, futile but still overwhelming. Zinoviev and Trotsky received the greeting in a spirit of happy

256 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

determination, imagining that they were witnessing a show o f force. “The masses are with us!” they kept saying that night. Yet what pos­ sibilities were there in masses who were so submissive that they con­ tained their emotions like this? As a matter o f fact everybody in that crowd knew that the slightest gesture endangered his own and his fam ily’s livelihood. Together with the two leaders we conducted a campaign o f agita­ tion, a legal one that is: the Party rules did not forbid members o f the Central Com m ittee to talk to militants. Fifty people packed a small room, sitting around a pale, plump Zinoviev, him o f the curls and the low voice. A t the other end o f the table sat Trotsky, now obviously aging, almost hoary but well set, his features boldly chiseled, ever ready with a shrewd answer. A woman worker, sitting cross-legged on the floor, asked: “W hat if we are expelled?” Trotsky explained that “nothing can really cut us o ff from our Party.” A nd Zinoviev demon­ strated that we were entering a period o f struggles when around the party there would be expelled and semi-expelled members more wor­ thy o f the name o f Bolsheviks than the Party secretaries. Volunteers kept a watch on the forecourts and surrounds as the G P U might de­ cide to intervene at any moment. It was a simple, reassuring sight: the men o f the proletarian dictatorship, who had yesterday been the greatest in the land, coming back like this to the districts o f the poor, there to seek support from man to man. I was with Trotsky as he left one o f these meetings in some ram­ shackle apartment scarred by poverty. In the street Leon Davidovich put up his overcoat collar and lowered the peak o f his cap so as not to be recognized. He looked like an old intellectual in the underground o f long ago, true as ever after twenty years o f grind and a few dazzling victories. We approached a cabman and I bargained for the fare, for we had little money. The cabman, a bearded peasant straight out of old Russia, leaned down and said, “ For you, the fare is nothing. Get inside, comrade. You are Trotsky, aren’t you?” The cap was not enough o f a disguise for the man o f the Revolution. The Old M an had a slight smile o f amusement: “D on’t tell anyone that this happened. Every­ body knows that cabmen belong to the petty bourgeoisie, whose favor can only discredit u s . . . ”

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R EVO LU TIO N : 1926-1928

. 257

One evening, at Alexandra Bronstein’s, he spoke abouc the sailor Markin, a true hero who fell in 1918 near the Volga. “It’s the Markins who made the Russian Revolution. . . ” We were discussing the sevenhour day decreed by the Executive, on the orders of Stalin, Rykov, and Bukharin, to trump the demands o f the Opposition. We were against it. We thought it better to increase salaries by one-eighth. What’s the point of dubious leisure time when there’s vodka, low wages, and over­ crowded slums? Olga Grigorievna Livchitz, longtime comrade of Lenin, a slight woman, bespectacled, extremely erudite and kind, came in carrying a lengthy memo cataloguing the “opportunist er­ rors” of the Opposition on the Chinese question. “Thank you,” said the Old Man. “I’ll do my best to respond. .. ” Using assumed names, I spoke in outlying districts. One o f my groups, consisting o f half a dozen working men and women, held its meetings in the shade o f low fir trees in an abandoned cemetery. I would stand on the graves and discuss the confidential reports of the Central Committee, the news from China, and Mao Tse-tung’s arti­ cles. (The future military leader o f Soviet China was very close to us in his ideas, but he stayed within the Party line to keep his supplies of weapons and munitions.) I had no confidence that we would win: I was even sure in my own heart that we would be defeated. I remember saying this to Trotsky, in his big office at the Concessions Commission. In the old capital we could count on only a few hundred militants, and the mass o f the workers was indifferent to our case. People wanted to be left in peace. I sensed the Old Man thought as I did, but we had to carry out our duty as revolutionaries. I f defeat was inevitable, what was to be done other than accept it with courage? To meet it head-on, unbowed? That would be useful for the future. Leon Davidovich spread his hands wide: “There is always some risk to be run. Sometimes you fin­ ish like Liebknecht and sometimes like Lenin.” As far as I was con­ cerned everything was summed up in one conviction: even if there were only one chance in a hundred for the regeneration of the Revolu­ tion and its workers’ democracy, that chance had to be taken at all costs. I was unable to confess these sentiments openly to anyone. To the comrades who. under the firs in the cemetery, or on a waste plot

258 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

near a hospital, or in poverty-stricken houses, demanded some prom­ ise o f victory from me, I would answer that the struggle would be pro­ longed and harsh. So long as I confined this way o f talking to personal conversations with a few people, it worked, it made their faces harden, but i f it was used against a more numerous audience, it cast a chill. “You behave too much like an intellectual,” I was told by one o f my friends in our Center. Other agitators were lavish with promises of victory and I think that they themselves lived on such hopes. We decided to use surprise tactics to occupy a hall in the Palace of Labor, where we would hold a big meeting with Zinoviev. (Kamenev had done this at Moscow, speaking by the glow o f a few candles since the Central Com m ittee had had the electricity cut off.) A t the last minute Zinoviev cried off, afraid o f being called to account, and Radek refused to speak by himself. So the hundred-odd o f us went off to demonstrate at an engineers’ conference at the M ariinsky Theater. One o f us was badly beaten. O ur Center held a meeting at my lodgings with Radek, around the tea table. Karl Bernardovich munched his pipe between his thick lips; his eyes were very tired. A s usual he gave an impression o f extreme intelligence that was, at first encounter, disagreeable because o f a cer­ tain flippancy, but beneath the sarcastic retailer o f anecdotes, the man o f principle shone through. Somebody had recalled the Workers’ O p­ position, which in 19 2 0 -11 had analyzed the bureaucratization o f the Party and the condition o f the working class in terms that we scarcely dared repeat aloud seven years later. A t the idea that this bygone O p­ position had been right against Lenin, Radek was nettled. “A danger­ ous idea. I f you take it up, you w ill be finished as far as we are concerned. In 1910 there was no Thermidor in sight, Lenin was alive, and the revolution was simmering in E urope. . . ” I questioned him about Dzerzhinsky, who had just died, on the couch where he had collapsed with a heart attack on the way out o f a stormy session o f the Central Committee. Nobody doubted Dzer­ zhinsky’s absolute incorruptibility. The petty deceit that had become current among our leadership must have made him i l l ... Radek remarked, “ Felix died just in time. H e was a dogmatist. He

D E A D L O C K OF T H E REVO LU TIO N : 1926-1928

. 259

would not have shrunk from reddening his hands in our blood.” At midnight the telephone rang: “Scatter, look sharp! You’re all going to get locked up, the orders have been given by Messing!” Everyone dis­ persed unhurriedly. Radek lit his pipe again. “Plenty of things are go­ ing to start happening again. The main job is not to do anything silly.” The Central Committee authorized the “activists” to break up “ il­ legal meetings” by force. Squads of husky fellows, ready to beat up anyone on behalf o f the Central Committee, were formed in the vari­ ous districts o f the city, and provided with lorries. Concerned for its dignity, the Opposition recoiled from the prospect of fistfighting; meetings were stopped or else held in absolute secrecy. For some years now the country had been living on political for­ mulae, many o f which were obsolete and some downright deceitful. The Opposition decided to give itself a program, thereby proclaiming that the ruling party now had either no program or else one that no longer had anything to do with the Revolution. Zinoviev undertook to work out the chapters on agriculture and the International in col­ laboration with Kamenev; the chapter on industrialization was as­ signed to Trotsky; Smilga and Piatakov, helped by some young comrades, also worked on the draft, which was submitted, as each sec­ tion came out, to our meetings and, wherever possible, to groups of workers. For the last time (but we had no suspicion that this was so) the Party returned to its tradition o f collective thinking, with its con­ cern to consult the man in the workshop. Typewriters clattered throughout entire nights in apartments where the Kremlin was still unable to intrude. The daughter o f Vorovsky, the Ambassador who had been assassinated in Switzerland, wore herself out in this work (she was soon to die of the combined effects of tuberculosis, work, and privation). Some o f the comrades got three or four typewriters to­ gether in a little room in Moscow. Agents of the GPU besieged these premises quite openly. One of the Red Army leaders, Okhotnikov, came complete with the tabs on his collar and ordered this surveil­ lance to be called off; we were able to save some of our stocks. The next day the newspapers announced the discovery o f a “clandestine print­ ing press” ! A further crime: a former White officer was implicated in

260 ■ M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y the plo t— and this w as p a rtly true, except th at the ex-officer w as now a m em b er o f the G P U . F o r the first tim e a squ alid po lice intrigue was in te rferin g w ith the life o f the Party.

This odious legend was automatically publicized by the Com m u­ nist press abroad. Vaillant-Couturier put his name to the official statement. A few days later I met him in Moscow at an international writers’ conference. I pushed away the hand he offered me. “You know perfectly well that you have given your signature to a slander!” His large chubby face grew pale and he stammered, “Com e along this eve­ ning and I ’ll explain to you. I received the official reports. H ow could I check i f they were true?” That night I knocked on his door, in vain. I w ill never forget his face, helpless with shame. For the first time I witnessed the self-debasement o f a man who wanted to be a sincere revolutionary— who was, moreover, talented, eloquent, sensitive, and (physically at least) courageous. They got him in a corner: “You must write that, Vaillant; the Executive demands it!” Refusal meant break­ ing with the all-powerful Com intern that could make and break rep­ utations, meant joining a minority without a press or resources. .. He would more willingly have risked his neck on the barricades, than his Parliamentary career in this particular way. Besides, shame makes its impact only the first time. A ll legal means o f expression were now closed to us. From 1926 onward, when the last tiny sheets put out by anarchists, syndicalists, and M axim alists had disappeared, the Central Committee had en­ joyed an absolute monopoly o f printed matter. Fishelev, an old com­ panion o f Trotsky in Canada and now the manager o f a printshop in Leningrad, published our Platform clandestinely; it was signed by sev­ enteen members o f the Central Com mittee (Trotsky, Zinoviev, Ka­ menev, Smilga, Yevdokimov, Rakovsky, Piatakov, Bakayev, etc.). Fishelev was convicted o f misappropriating paper and plant, and sent to a concentration camp in the Solovetsky Islands. Meanwhile we col­ lected signatures to the Platform. “ I f we get thirty thousand o f them, said Zinoviev, “they won’t be able to stop us speaking at the Fifteenth Con gress. . . ” We managed, with considerable difficulty, to gather five or six thousand. Since the situation was taking a rapid turn for the worse, only a few hundred, the names o f the men o f the Bolshevik Old

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R E VO LU TIO N : 1926-1928

. 261

Guard, were sent to the Central Committee. Events were speeding to a conclusion that would make all this petitioning appear in its true light: childish gestures. The ioo pages o f the Platform attacked the anti-Socialist forces that were growing under the N EP system, embodied in the kulak or rich peasant, the trader, and the bureaucrat. Increase in indirect taxa­ tion, bearing heavily on the masses; real wages held static at an exces­ sively low level, barely that o f 1913; two million unemployed; trade unions fast becoming executive organs o f the employer-State (we de­ manded the preservation o f the right to strike); thirty to forty percent of the peasantry poor and without horses or implements, and a rich six percent holding fifty-three percent o f the corn reserves. We advo­ cated tax exemption for poor peasants, the development o f collective cultivation (kolkhozes), and a progressive tax system. We also advo­ cated a powerful drive for technological renewal and the creation of new industries, and mercilessly criticized what was the first, pitifully weak version o f the Five-Year Plan. The funds for industrialization should be raised from private capital (between 150 and zoo million rubles), from the kulaks’ reserves (150 to zoo million rubles?), from savings, from exports. On the other hand, we demanded the abolition of the State alcohol trade, which brought in a considerable revenue. We quoted Lenin’s saying: “We will sell everything, except ikons and vodka.” On the political level, it was essential to restore life to the Soviets, to apply the principle o f self-determination o f nationalities “ in sincer­ ity, and above all to revitalize the Party and the trade unions. The Party of the proletariat” was only one-third working class (no more than that) in its composition: 430,000 workers compared with 465,000 officials; 303,000 peasants (over half of whom were rural of­ ficials), and 15,000 agricultural day laborers. We disclosed that two tendencies existed within the Central Committee. One of these, the moderate one, envisaged the formation o f a rich peasant petty bour­ geoisie; this Right tendency was quite capable of precipitating an in­ voluntary slide towards capitalism. It comprised Rykov (Chairman of the Council of Trade Unions), Kalinin (President of the Executive of the USSR), Chubar (Chairman of the Ukrainian Council of People s

262 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

C o m m issars), Petro vsk y (C h a irm a n o f the U k ra in ia n So viet E x ec u ­ tive), and M e ln ic h a n s k y an d D o ga d o v, o f the C o u n c il o f Trad e U n io n s. ( W it h the exception o f K a lin in and Voroshilov, all these m en were to perish in


“ C e n tr is t” w as o u r designation o f the S talin tendency (M olotov, K a g a n o v ich , M ik o y a n , K iro v,* U gla n o v), because its o nly apparent m otive w as the preservation o f pow er, to w h ich end it w o u ld resort by tu rn s to the policies o f the R ig h t and o f the O p p o sitio n . B u k h a rin w as unstable and d rifted b etw een the tw o . (In fact he belonged to the R igh t.) T h e C e n tra l C o m m itte e replied to this “ foul slander” by stat­ in g th at “ never, even w h ile L e n in was alive, h ad it been so perfectly u n an im o u s” (I quote verbatim ). In conclusion, the O p p o sitio n openly d em an ded a C o n g re ss for the reform o f the Party, and the im plem en­ tation o f the excellent resolutions on internal d em o cracy that had been adop ted in

192.1 and 1913. Th e Platform , o f course, fiercely criti­

cized the policies o f the C o m in te r n , w h ic h in C h in a were resulting in an u n in te rru p te d series o f b lo o d y disasters. B y a sign ifican t co incid ence o f dates, the S o viet T h erm id o r was re­ alized in N o v e m b e r

192.7, the anniversary o f the seizure o f power. In

ten years the exh au sted R evo lu tio n had tu rned fu ll circle against it­ self. O n

7 N o v e m b e r 1917 T ro tsk y, C h a ir m a n o f the Petrograd Soviet,

o rgan ized the victo rio u s in surrection. O n the second day o f N o v e m ­ ber

192.7 Pravda published the report o f his latest speech, delivered

in O c to b e r to the C e n tra l C o m m itte e beneath a hail o f shouting. W h ile he w as sp e ak in g from the rostrum , protected on all sides by a h um an ram part, he was co n stan tly overw h elm ed by gross insults, du ly recorded by the sho rthand w riters, from S k ryp n ik , C h u b a r, U n sch lich t, G o lo sch e k in , L o m o v, and several others w h o, well-fleshed as th ey m igh t be, did not suspect that th ey were really no m ore than the restless ghosts o f future v ictim s o f suicide and firing squad: “ M e n ­ shevik! T raito r! Sco u n d re l! L ib eral! L iar! S cu m ! Despicable phrase­ m onger! R enegade! V illa in !” Y aro slavsk y th rew a heavy book at his head. Y ev d o k im o v rolled up his sleeves like the old w orker he was, ready to take on a fight. T r o ts k y ’s voice, intolerable, sarcastic, beat on: “ Y o u r books are unreadable now adays, but they are still useful for k n o ck in g people d o w n . . . ”

D E A D L O C K O F T H E R E V O L U T I O N : 1 9 2 6 - 1 9 2 8 ■ 2 63

Pravda reported: “ The speaker. Behind the bureaucrats stand the

renascent bourgeoisie... {Commotion. Cries ^E n ough!) Voroshilov: Enough! Shame! {Whistling. Uproar. H)e speaker can no longer be heard. The Chairman waves his bell. Whistles. Shouts: Get off the plat­

form! Comrade Trotsky continues to read, but not a single word can be distinguished. The members o f the Central Committee begin to leave.)"

Zinoviev left the rostrum overwhelmed by boos after saying: “Ei­ ther you will reconcile yourselves to letting us speak to the Party or you will have to imprison us a ll... {laughter)!' Did these revilers be­ lieve what they were shouting? They were mostly sincere men, narrow­ minded and zealous. These uncultured upstarts of the Revolution’s victory justified their sharp practices and privileges by reference to their service to Socialism. Outraged by the Opposition, they saw it as treason against them, which in a sense it was, since the Opposition itself belonged to the ruling bureaucracy. We decided to take part in the November demonstrations under our own slogans. In Leningrad, adroit marshals allowed the Opposi­ tionists to march past the official dais under the windows o f the W in­ ter Palace, before penning them back between the caryatid statues of the Hermitage Museum and the Archives building. I ran foul o f sev­ eral barriers, and was unable to join the procession. I stopped for a moment to survey the multitude of poor folk carrying their red flags. From time to time an organizer turned back to his group and raised a hurrah that found a halfhearted chorus in echo. I went a few paces nearer the procession and shouted likewise— alone, with a woman and child a few steps behind me. I had flung out the names of Trotsky and Zinoviev; they were received by an astonished silence. From the procession an organizer, roused from his sluggishness, answered in a spiteful tone: “—to the dustbin!” No one echoed him, but all at once I had the very distinct impression that I was about to be lynched. Burly characters sprang up from nowhere and eyed me up and down, a little hesitant because after all I might be some high functionary. A student walked across the clear space that had arisen all around me and came to whisper in my ear, “Let’s be off, it might take a turn for the worse. I’ll go with you so that you won’t be hit from behind.” I knew that all that was needed was a proclamation, in the public

264 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

square o f a civilized town, that a man could be struck with impunity, and instantaneously all the suppressed violence would converge on his head. T aking a detour, I tried to rejoin my comrades. On the bridge at Khalturin Street (once the Millionaya) mounted militiamen were holding back groups o f onlookers. A good-natured disturbance was flaring up round the legs o f the gray granite statues that support the Hermitage portico. Several hundred Oppositionists were there engaged in fraternal battle against the militia. The horses’ breasts were constantly pushing back the crowd, but the same human wave returned to meet them, led by a tall, beardless, open-faced sol­ dier, Bakayev, the former head o f our Cheka. I also saw Lashevich, big and thickset, who had commanded armies, throwing himself, to­ gether with several workers, on a militiaman, dragging him from the saddle, knocking him down, and then helping him to his feet while addressing him in his commander’s voice: “H ow is it that you are not ashamed to charge at the workers o f Leningrad?” Around him bil­ lowed his soldier’s cloak, bare o f insignia. H is rough face, like that o f some drinker painted by Franz Hals, was crimson red. The brawl went on for a long time. Around the tumultuous group, o f which I was part, a stupefied silence reigned. That evening we held a meeting attended by Bakayev and Lashe­ vich, whose uniforms were torn. Excited voices exclaimed, “We’ll stand and fight!” “ W ho against?” others asked heatedly. “Against our own people?” A t home my son, seven years old, hearing all the talk o f fights, charges, and arrests, was most disturbed: “W hat’s happening, Daddy? Have the capitalists and Fascists come here?” For he already knew that Com m unists never got charged in the street except by cap­ italists or Fascist police. H ow could I explain to him? The newspapers accused us o f fomenting an insurrection. On 16 November the expulsion o f Trotsky and Zinoviev from the Central Com m ittee was published: this ensured that they would be unable to speak at the forthcoming Congress. Zinoviev, in his small apartment in the Krem lin, feigned a supreme tranquillity. A t his side, covered by glass, lay a death mask: Lenin’s head lying abandoned on a cushion. Why, I asked, had not copies o f so poignant a mask been widely distributed? Because its expression held too much in the way o f

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R E V O L U T IO N : 19 26 -1928

. 265

grief and mortality; considerations o f propaganda compelled a prefer­ ence for bronzes with uplifted hands. Zinoviev told me chat he was about to be evicted, since only Central Committee members had the right to live in the Kremlin. He left the place, taking with him the death mask of old Ilyich. Trotsky had slipped past the watchers on his tail, and moved house quietly; for a whole day the GPU and the Politburo, seized by a comi­ cal fright, had asked each other what plots he was up to. He was at Beloborodov’s, in the House o f the Soviets on Cheremetievsky Street. I found Radek, too, in the Kremlin but being ordered out o f it, in the process o f sorting and destroying his papers, which were scatcered in che middle of a deluge o f old books heaped in confusion over the car­ pets. “I’m selling all this for buttons,” he told me, “and then I’m clear­ ing out. We’ve been absolute idiocs! We haven’t a penny, when we could have kept back some pretty spoils o f war for ourselves! Today, lack of money is killing us off. We with our celebrated revolutionary honesty, we’ve just been overscrupulous sods o f intellectuals.” Then, without a pause, as though it were about the most commonplace mat­ ter: “Joffe killed himself tonight. He left a political testamenc ad­ dressed to Leon Davidovich, which the GPU o f course stole in a flash. But I got there in time, and I’ve fixed a nice scandal for them abroad if they don’t give it back.” (Officialdom maintained that all the papers of any top-rank militant belonged, once he was dead, to the Central Committee.) Radek deplored the fact that we had broken, on Trotsky’s advice, with the Group o f Fifteen (Sapronov and Vladimir Smirnov), which believed that the dictatorship o f the proletariat had been replaced by a bureaucratic police regime. “They exaggerate a bit; they’re not as wrong as all that, maybe, don’t you agree?” “Quite,” I said. Kamenev and Sokolnikov dropped in. This was the last time that I met Kamenev, and I was surprised to see that his beard had become all white: a handsome old man with unclouded eyes. “Would you like some books?” Radek asked me. “Take away whatever you like. It’s all being cleared out.” As a souvenir of that day, I took away a volume of Goethe bound in red leather: The West-Eastern Divan. Joffe lay outstretched on a large table in the office where he had worked in Leontievsky Street. A portrait o f Lenin, larger than life-size

266 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

and with an enormous forehead, dominated the room, hanging just above the bureau at which the old revolutionary had written the last pages— wonderful pages— expressing his convictions. He slept, his hands placed together, his forehead bare, his graying beard neatly combed. H is eyelids were tinged with blue, his lips dark. In the small black-edged hole in his temple, someone had stuffed a plug o f cotton wool. Forty-seven years— prisons, the revolt o f the fleet in 1905, Sibe­ ria, escapes, exile, Congresses, Brest-Litovsk, the German Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, embassies, Tokyo, V ien n a. .. Nearby, in a little room full o f children’s toys, M aria M ikhailovna Joffe, her face dry and burning, talked to some o f the comrades in a low voice. Since the correspondent o f the Berliner Tageblatt, Paul Scheffer, had re­ vealed the existence o f Joffe’s political testament, the Central Com ­ mittee consented to release a copy to its intended recipient, Trotsky. Joffe had, now that his mind was made up, written at great length. First he affirmed his right to commit suicide: “A ll my life I have been o f the opinion that the political man has the duty to depart at the right tim e. .. having most assuredly the right to abandon life at that moment when he is aware that he can no longer be useful to the cause which he has served.. .Thirty years ago, I adopted the philosophy that human life has no meaning except insofar as it exists in the service of something infinite— which for us is humanity. Since anything else is limited, to work for the sake o f anything else is devoid o f m eaning. . . ” There followed a reasoned affirmation o f faith, so great that it went beyond reason itself, appearing almost puerile: “Even if humanity should have an end, this end w ill be in an epoch so distant that for us humanity should be considered as an absolute infinity. And iflike me one believes in progress, one can well imagine that, with the disap­ pearance o f our planet, humanity w ill be able to find another, younger one to inhabit [ ...] . In this way, all that has been accomplished for its benefit in our time w ill find reflection in centuries to com e. . . ” The man who wrote these lines, prepared to seal them with his own blood, here touched on heights o f faith where neither reason nor unreason counts any longer: there has been no better expression o f the revolu­ tionary’s communion with all mankind in all ages. “ M y death is a gesture o f protest against those who have reduced

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R EVO LU TIO N : 1926-1928

. 267

the Party to such a condition that it is totally incapable o f reacting against this disgrace” (the expulsion o f Trotsky and Zinoviev from the Central Committee). “ Perhaps these two events, the great one and the little” (Joffe’s own suicide) “ in occurring together, will reawaken the Party and halt it on the path that leads to Thermidor... I should be happy to think so, for then I would know that my death was not in vain. But, though I have the conviction that the hour o f awakening will sound one day for the Party, I cannot believe that it has already sounded. In the meantime, I have no doubt that today my death is more useful than the prolongation o f my life.” Joffe addressed certain friendly criticisms to Trotsky, exhorted him to intransigence against orthodox Leninism, authorized him to make changes in the text o f the letter before publishing it, and en­ trusted him with the care o f his widow and child. “I embrace you firmly. Farewell. Moscow, 16 November 1927. Yours, A. A. Joffe.” The letter signed, the envelope closed and placed in full view on the writing table. Brief meditation: wife, child, city; the huge eternal universe; and myself about to go. The men o f the French Revolution used to say: Death is an everlasting sleep... Now to do quickly and well what has been irrevocably decided: press the automatic comfort­ ably against the temple, there will be a shock and no pain at all. Shock, then nothing. The path o f agitation was closed to Joffe because o f his sickness. For the last time at his funeral we breathed in the salty air o f times long past. The Central Committee had arranged two o’clock as the time for the departure o f the procession which would accompany the body from the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs to the Novodevichy cemetery; working people would not be able to come as early as that. The comrades delayed the removal o f the body for as long as they could. At about four o’clock a crowd, singing and slowly tramping through the snow, and bearing a few red flags, went down towards the Bolshoi Theater. It already numbered several thousand people. We went along Kropotkin Street, the old Ostozhenka. Long ago, on this very road, I had seen Kropotkin off to the selfsame cemetery, accom­ panied by quite different victims o f persecution; now our own perse­ cution was beginning, and I could not but see a secret justice in this.

268 ■ M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

Tall, aquiline profile, wearing a cap, collar o f his light overcoat raised, Trotsky walked beside Ivan N ikitich Smirnov, thin and blond, still People’s Com m issar o f Postal Services, and Christian Rakovsky. Georgian militants o f imposing military appearance in their tightly belted blue overcoats escorted this group. A poor and gray cortege, free o f pomp, whose soul vibrated and whose chants rang with defi­ ance. A t the approaches to the cemetery, the incidents began. Sapronov, his aged, emaciated face framed in a mane o f bristling white (at the age o f forty), passed along the ranks: “ Keep calm, comrades, we mustn’t let ourselves be provoked.. .W e’ll break through the barrier.” A man who had organized the Moscow rising o f 1917 was now orga­ nizing this painful struggle at the cemetery. We marked time for a moment in front o f the high battlements o f the gateway; the Central Com m ittee had issued an order that only twenty or so persons be al­ lowed to enter. “Very well,” replied Trotsky and Sapronov, “the coffin w ill go no further and the speeches will be delivered on the pavement.” For a moment it looked as though violence would break out. The represen­ tatives o f the Central Comm ittee intervened, and we all went in. For one last instant the coffin floated above men’s heads in the cold si­ lence, then it was lowered into the pit. Some functionary, whose name I forget, presented official condolences from the Central Committee. Murmurs were heard: “That’s enough! W hy doesn’t he clear off?” It was so ponderous. Rakovsky towered over the crowd, stout and smooth-shaven; his words snapped out, carrying a great distance:

uThis flag— we will follow it—like you—right to the end—on your tomb— we swear it/ ” Old Russia! A tall, ornate tower, red and white, rising over the Novodievitchii convent into a clear blue sky above, its architecture ablaze. Here lie great mystics and Chekhov, rich merchants named Bukharin and Evgenia Bosch. A silver birch carries a small plaque, “ Here lies P. A. Kropotkin.” Opulent tombs are in granite, while on others small gilded domes rest on chapels. Later, in the time o f indus­ trialization, many o f these were destroyed to use the materials for con­ struction. The country at large did not hear Joffe’s pistol shot, and his last

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R EVO LU T IO N : 1926-1928

. 269

message remained secret. The country knew nothing o f our Platform, an illegal document. We had copies o f these texts circulated, and the GPU came at night to search our quarters for them. The reading ol either o f them became an offense punished by imprisonment— in con­ travention o f all legal procedure, be it noted. Official Russia was orga­ nizing the tenth anniversary o f the October Revolution: congresses, banquets, etc. Foreign delegates, hand-picked by the Communist Party, the Friends o f the USSR, and the Secret Service, poured into Moscow. Among them were two young Frenchmen, ex-Surrealists, singularly upright in character and unflinchingly acute in intelli­ gence, Pierre Naville* and Gerard Rosenthal.* They had come with me to keep watch over Joffe’s body. I took them to see Zinoviev and Trotsky. The interview with Zinoviev took place in the little apart­ ment o f Sachs-Gladnev, an old Marxist scholar who was a timid, fas­ tidious man, myopic and bearded up to his eyes. Storks in white silk were in flight upon a Chinese tapestry. On his bookshelves, the twenty-five volumes o f Lenin. The two French comrades questioned Zinoviev on the prospects for the Opposition in the International. Zinoviev said, more or less, “We are starting the Zimmerwald move­ ment all over again. Think o f Europe at war and that handful o f inter­ nationalists gathered in a Swiss village; we are already stronger than they were. We have cadres practically everywhere. In our time, history moves faster. .. ” As we went out, Naville, Rosenthal, and I exchanged glances, all somewhat horrified by this crude approach. Did Zinoviev believe what he told us? I think so, more or less. But he had besides a second and a third set of possibilities kept in reserve, and these he did not disclose. Poor Sachs-Gladnev, our host for that day, disappeared in 1937, classified as a “terrorist.” There was not a single Oppositionist among the 1,600 delegates of the Fifteenth Party Congress; Stalin, Rykov, Bukharin, and Or­ dzhonikidze waxed eloquent on the theme of uninterrupted success in all fields. Bukharin denounced the crime o f Trotskyism, which was preparing the establishment o f a second party. Behind this second party all those who hated the regime would rally, and so the split would lead to the undermining of the dictatorship of the proletariat,


and the O p p o sitio n w o u ld be no m ore th an the spearhead o f that h id­ den “ th ird fo rce” reaction. T h e O p p o sitio n greatly feared this m ode o f reasoning, w h o se a ccu racy it ad m itte d , and sent the C o n gre ss yet an oth er m essage expressing its lo ya lty in spite o f all. Th e idea that the “ th ird fo rce ” w as already o rgan ized in the heart o f the ru lin g bureau­ cra c y h ad o ccu rre d o n ly to an u n k n o w n yo u n g com rade nam ed O ssovsky, w h o w as d iso w n e d b y everybody. T h e C e n tra l C o m m itte e k n e w w h a t w as g o in g on inside the O p ­ position. T h e L e n in g ra d tendency, Z in o v ie v, K am en ev, Y evdokim ov, an d Bak ayev, favored capitu lation . “ T h e y w a n t to h o u n d us from the P a rty; w e have to stay in it at all costs. E x p u lsio n m eans political death , depo rtatio n , the im p o ssib ility o f in te rve n in g w h en the com ing crisis o f the regim e b e g in s . . . N o t h in g can be done outside the Party. H u m ilia tio n s are o f sm all a cco u n t to us.” K a m e n e v and Zin o viev, them selves builders o f the system , realized the po w e r o f the bureau­ cratic m ach in e outside w h ic h n o th in g co u ld live, but th ey failed to see the natu re o f the tran sfo rm ation th at had been accom plished w ith in this m ach in e, w h ic h w as h en cefo rth destined to cru sh all vital initia­ tive no t o n ly outside but also w ith in the ru lin g Party. T h e O p p o sitio n al C e n te r sat in ceaseless debate th ro u gh o ut the C o n g re ss. O u r L e n in g ra d allies finally proposed: “ L e t us th ro w our­ selves on th eir m ercy and d rin k the cu p o f h u m iliatio n .” The fo llo w ­ in g exchange o f replies took place b etw een Z in o v ie v and Trotsk y, on slips o f paper passed from h and to h and. Z in o v ie v : "L e o n D avido vich , the h o u r has com e w h en we should have the courage to ca p itu la te . . . ” Tro tsk y: “ I f th at k ind o f courage were enough, the revolution would have been w o n all over the w o rld by n o w . . . ” Th e Fifteen th C o n g re ss decreed the expulsion o f the O pposition, w h ich it term ed a M en sh ev ik o r a S o cia l-D em o cratic deviation. K a ­ menev, w h o had ju st asked from the rostrum , in crushed tones, “ Is it to be dem anded that w e forsw ear o u r co nvictio ns overn igh t?” now spoke again to say, “ W e subm it unreservedly to the decisions o f the C o n gre ss, p a in fu l as they m ay be for us.” T h e y had got rid o f T rotsk y: w h at a relief! B u k h a rin , in exh austibly sprigh tly and m ock in g, used an im pressive phrase: “ Th e iron cu rtain o f H is to r y was fallin g, and you g ot ou t o f its w a y in the n ick o f t im e . . . ”

D E A D L O C K O F T H E R E V O L U T I O N : 1 9 2 6 - 1 9 2 8 • 271

Iron curtain indeed, and even guillotine, but so much was not yet obvious. Rykov announced that the Party would be pitiless in the use of repressive measures against those who were expelled. Thus, in a single blow, Soviet legality was liquidated and freedom o f expression received its deathblow. We saw the capitulation o f Zinoviev and Ka­ menev as political suicide, doubly so because o f their wretched recan­ tation. Rakovsky, Radek, and Muralov for the last time affirmed the unshakable loyalty o f the expellees to their Party. And in this ecstasy of loyalty the split achieved its consummation. Expulsion from the Party, as we had repeated often enough, amounted to our “political death.” How could living people, full of faith, ideas, and devotion, be turned into political corpses? There are no two ways of doing it. The general mood was still not set for harsh forms o f repression. The Central Committee entered into negotia­ tions with the most prominent o f those expelled, and the local com­ mittees did the same with the less prominent. Since they declared themselves to be loyal despite everything, they were offered posts in Bashkiria, Kazakhstan, the Far East, or the Arctic. Trotsky was sup­ posed to go off in this way, “o f his own free will,” to Alma-Ata, on the frontier o f Chinese Turkestan. He would have nothing to do with the hypocrisy of friendly deportation, and was given an administrative sentence by the GPU under Article 58 o f the Penal Code, which dealt with counterrevolutionary plotting. In order to make the business known at least to some extent in Moscow and the country as a whole, he decided to put up a resistance. He was lodging with Beloborodov, the Bolshevik from the Urals who in 1918 had had the task o f deciding the lot o f the Romanov dy­ nasty and had even lately been People’s Commissar of the Interior; this was in the House of the Soviets in Granovsky (formerly Cheremetievsky) Street. It was there that I went to take leave o f him, a few days before he was forcibly taken off and deported. Comrades kept watch night and day in the street and in the building itself, themselves watched by GPU agents. Motorcyclists took note o f the comings and goings of any cars. I went up by a service staircase; on one floor, a doorway with guards outside: “ Here it is.” In the kitchen my comrade Yakovin was supervising the defense arrangements and at the same

272 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

tim e d ra ftin g a d o cu m en t. T h e O ld M a n received m e in a little room fa cin g the yard, in w h ic h there w as o n ly a cam p bed and a table loaded w ith m aps o f all the cou n tries o f the w o rld. H e h ad on an indoor jacket th at h ad seen m uch wear. V ig ila n t, m ajestic, his h air standing nearly w h ite on his head, his co m plexio n sickly, he exhaled a fierce, caged energy. In the next room the messages he had just dictated were b e in g copied ou t; the d in in g room w as used to receive the com rades w h o kept a rrivin g fro m all corners o f the co u ntry, w ith w h o m he held h asty conversations betw een calls to the telephone. A t any m om ent it w as possible th at w e w o u ld all be arrested. A fte r arrest, w h a t then? W e d id n o t kn o w , but w e h urried to m ake the best o f these last hours, fo r th ey assuredly were the last. M y o w n conversation w ith T r o ts k y tu rn ed ch iefly on the O p p o si­ tion abroad, w h ose a ctiv ity h ad at all costs to be expanded and articu ­ lated. T h e O ld M a n h ad just received from Paris the first issues o f

Contre le Courant, publish ed

by m y friends M agdeleine and M au rice

Paz,* w ith m y cooperation . H e w as pleased w ith the tone and tendency o f this p u b licatio n , and advised m e to leave, illegally i f necessary, for F ran ce, in order to w o rk on the spot. F o r a m om ent w e exam ined the possibilities. “ W e have b egu n a fight to the finish,” he said, “w h ich m ay last fo r years and require m an y sacrifices. I am leaving for C e n tra l A sia : yo u try and leave fo r E u ro p e. G o o d lu ck !” W e em braced one another. Th e len gth e n in g shadow s helped me to th ro w o f f the spies in the street. O n the n ext day, i f it was not the one after, the crow d blocked the O ld M a n ’s departu re by o cc u p yin g a station. The G P U m ade a surprise call to take h im away. T o m ake sure that there could be no lies pu t out abo u t the m an n er o f his departure, the O ld M a n let the po litical po lice break d o w n the do o r; he refused to w alk , and let h im s e lf be carried ou t to the car w h ich left fo r a sm all, deserted sta­ tion. I reflected th at he had reached the peak o f his exalted destiny. If, as w e all feared, he were m ysteriously assassinated, he w o u ld still be the sym b o l o f the m urdered R evolu tion. A liv e , he w o u ld continue his struggle and his w o rk as lo n g as a pen rem ained betw een his fingers, a single breath in his lungs, be it in the depth o f d u n g e o n s . . . B eyond the lu cid ity o f his eco n o m ic and p olitical ju dgm ent, beyond the vigor o f his style, this firm ness at a tim e o f m oral erosion m ade o f T ro tsk y

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R EVO LU TIO N : 1926-1928

• 273

an exemplary man whose very existence, even if he were gagged, gave people confidence in humanity. Slander had no effect on his name, calumny and insult heaped on him rebounded ineffectually and ended up bestowing on him a strange new aura. He who had never been capable o f forming a party—his abilities as an ideologue and or­ ganizer were totally different from those o f Party secretaries— ac­ quired, by virtue o f his moral strength and o f his thought, a few thousand unswerving devotees. He had gone, vanished, lzvestia, in minute print, announced his deportation for “ insurrectionary activities,” a fantastic accusation. Eighteen months previously, a coup against the Politburo of Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Stalin would have been possible, and in our Opposi­ tional circles we had weighed this possibility. The army and even the GPU would have plumped for Trotsky if he had wished; he was al­ ways being told this. I do not know if there were any formal delibera­ tions on this subject among the leaders o f the Left Opposition, but I do know that the question was discussed (end of 1925, beginning of 1926) and it was then that Trotsky deliberately refused power, out of respect for an unwritten law that forbade any recourse to military mu­ tiny within a Socialist regime— for it was all too likely that power won in this way, even with the noblest intentions, would eventually finish in a military and police dictatorship, which was anti-Socialist by definition. Trotsky wrote later (in 1935): “No doubt a military coup against the Zinoviev-Kamenev-Stalin faction would have presented no difficulty and even caused no bloodshed, but its consequence would have been a speedier triumph for the very bureaucracy and Bonapartism against which the Left Opposition took its stand.” Rarely has it been made more sharply obvious that the end, far from justifying the means, commands its own means, and that for the es­ tablishment of a Socialist democracy the old means of armed violence are inappropriate. Several dozen Opposition militants were leaving for distant exiles at the same time as the official Soviet News Agency abroad was deny­ ing this very fact. Why this crude lie that would mislead the public for no more than a few weeks? Rakovsky was sent off to Astrakhan, Preo­ brazhensky to the Urals, Smilga to Minussinsk in Central Siberia,

274 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

R ad e k to N o r t h Sib eria, M u ra lo v to the T a ra forests, Serebriakov, Ivan S m irn o v, Sapro no v, V la d im ir Sm irn o v, Sosnovsky, and Voya V u y o v ic h elsew h ere— w h ere w e did not k n o w , since e v eryth in g was done in secret. I h ad ju st seen C h ris tia n R ak o vsk y, back from the E m ­ bassy in Paris, lo d g in g at the S o p h iisk a ya N ab e re zh n ia, the hotel re­ served fo r diplo m ats. In the corridors there one m igh t run into K re s tin s k y w ith his forehead o f fine ivory, grave and w a ry even in the w a y he w a lk ed , and K a ra k h a n ,* splendidly elegant h ow ever carelessly he dressed, on acco u n t o f the e x trao rd in a ry n o b ility o f his features an d b earing. R a k o v sk y h ad co m e back fro m Paris penniless; w ith o u t illusions a nd in g o o d h um or, at the age o f fifty-fou r, he contem plated the long s tru ggle yet to be endured. H is m assive, regular face expressed a co m ­ po sure th at alm o st sm iled. H is w ife w a s m ore nervous on his account. H e said th at E u ro p e w as en terin g a period o f unresolved instability, on w h ic h it w as necessary to w ait. T o som eone w h o invited h im to capitu late to the C e n tra l C o m m itte e , he replied gently: “ I am g ettin g old. W h y sho u ld I blot m y b io grap h y?” N o w and then I saw Ivan N ik itic h Sm irn o v, People’s C o m m issar fo r Posts and T elegraph s, in his little office on the V arvark a. A little over fifty, he w as tall, u prigh t, and gau nt, w ith tim orous but resolute eyes, an intro verted m anner, and a goo d deal o f yo u thfu lness reflected in the gray-green gaze b ehind his pince-nez. W h e n I asked him one day w h e th e r all correspond ence addressed abroad was opened (postal censorship d id not exist officially), he answ ered briskly, “A l l o f it is. D o n ’t tru st a n y th in g to it. T h ere’s a positive fa cto ry run b y the G P U in m y place d e alin g just w ith th at and I haven’t the right to go in there.” W h e n his M in iste rial p o rtfo lio w as w ith d raw n he was quite content. “ It does us all g o o d to go back to the ranks fo r a tim e.” N o t h av in g a fa rth in g , he w en t to sign on at the L a b o r E x ch an g e register o f u nem ployed, in his old o ccup atio n o f precision engineer. H e hoped naively th at he w o u ld soon be taken on in a factory. So m e sn oo ty little official saw this tall, grayin g, bright-eyed inno cent b en d in g in front o f his w in d o w , and w r itin g on the form he h ad to fill in, under the head­ in g “ L a s t E m p lo ym e n t”: “ People’s C o m m is s a r fo r Posts and Tele­ graphs.” T h e L a b o r Ex ch an g e co n tacted the C e n tra l C o m m itte e , and

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R EVO LU T IO N : 1926-1928

• 275

the GPU deported Ivan Nikitich to the Caucasian Riviera; repulsive as it was, repression was beginning mildly. At the battle o f Sviazhk in 1918, along with Trotsky and Rosengoltz, typists and engineers from the Arm y’s special train, cooks, and telegraph operators, Ivan Smirnov had swiftly halted the routing of the Reds and the victorious offensive o f the Whites under Kappel and Savinkov. On that day the newly born Republic was saved by this handful o f men. Later, in 19 10 -2 1, it was Smirnov that Lenin com­ missioned to restore order in the chaos o f Siberia and to bring Russian Asia under Soviet control. For the young generation, he was the incar­ nation o f the idealism o f the Party, devoid o f gestures or fine phrases. Deportations were very quick to follow, and in the hundreds. The revolutionaries o f October 1917 had been not at all demoralized, it seemed, by their ten years o f power, the last years o f which had passed smoothly for the most well-known, in legations, ministries, adminis­ trative councils, and posts o f command. What had seemed the bourgeoisification o f smartly dressed folk was revealed as so superficial that it was with positive gaiety that they went off to rough it in the desert wastes of Central Asia and Siberia, all for the salvation o f the Revolution. I felt inexpressibly reassured at the sight o f their various departures. A certain number o f Communists had attached them­ selves to the Opposition out o f self-interest, believing that they saw in it the next government; experience showed that they were very few. We lost them forever, and good riddance at the first dark turning, af­ ter a few months. In their different ways, all the Oppositionists of 1927, whether they chose endless humiliation through loyalty to the Party or endless resistance through loyalty to Socialism, followed the same terrible path right to its end. What a striking contrast it was between these men and the for­ eigners, whether noted writers, Communist delegates, or distin­ guished liberal guests, who were in Moscow at that time to celebrate the tenth anniversary o f the Revolution. And they actually offered us lessons in wisdom! Paul Marion (the future Undersecretary of State o f Petain’s government), member of the Central Committee o f the French Communist Party, peddled his platitudes across Moscow, en­ joyed the young Russian females, and tried to convince me that we

276 ■ M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

were Utopians, th at he co u ld see v e ry clearly the fa ilin g o f the C o m ­ m u n ist m ovem ent bu t he stayed w ith in it because “ after all it w as the o n ly p o w e r . . . ” H e w as no m ore th an a m ediocre French m an on the m ak e — u n in te llig e n t— w h o was try in g m ain ly to get ahead. Basi­ cally: “ F o r S a le !” Ja cq u es S ad o u l gave me a friendly lecture on the sam e them e. W e had been friends, and had in co m m on some pleasant and stirrin g m em ories o f Russia and G e rm an y. I loved his lively, m o c k in g intelligence, his epicurean nonch alance, his p olitical adroit­ ness. T h e French C o m m u n is t P a rty w o u ld not let h im undertake any activity, alth o u gh he co u ld have m ade a first-rate Parliam entary leader. H is m in d and tem peram ent were those o f a m oderate Socialist, b u t his need fo r go o d liv in g b o u n d h im to the service o f the Soviet State. O ld K a lin in h ad ju st d ecorated h im w ith the O rd e r o f the R ed F la g, and he told m e h o w V a illa n t-C o u tu rie r, w ish in g to play do w n the im p o rta n ce o f this honor, h ad prop osed the sim ultaneous decora­ tion o f ce rtain old C o m m u n a r d s, som e o f w h o m , fo r all anyone really knew , m igh t be old hoaxers. “ T h e leaders o f the O p p o sitio n ,” he said, “ w ill be shut up in com ­ fortable villas on the C rim e a and allo w ed to w rite tomes w h ich no ­ b o d y w ill read. B u t the rest o f you, S erge — yo u ’re g o in g to catch it!” W e w ere h av in g d in n e r at the table fo r foreign visitors; yo u n g Indian girls d raped in dark-colored silks, w h o were sittin g near us, caused our conversation to w a n d e r a m om ent. Ja cq u es insisted, “ Y o u ’re goin g to get yourselves persecuted again, and life is so b eau tifu l! L o o k at those figures, h o w ch a rm in g th ey are, th in k h o w . .. ” A n d so, affectionately, w e parted. Jacq u es, b em edaled and equ ipped w ith sinecures, returned to Paris; I m ade ready to start all over again: prisons, hard living, etc. Sad o u l at least d id not pretend to be a saint. A t that tim e Barbusse w as w r itin g his m ystical books, Jesus and

TheJudases o f Jesus-, no w he Under Fire,

w as in M o sco w , the guest o f o th er Ju dases. I adm ired his

and the lyricism o f som e pages in Jesus im pressed me as rin gin g true. I fo u n d Barbusse, w ith w h o m I had had som e correspondence, at the H o te l M etro p o le , guarded b y a m ale interpreter-secretary ( G P U ) and acco m pan ied b y a very p retty fem ale doll-secretary. I had ju st com e from the overcro w ded room s o f the outer city, from w h ich com rades disappeared every n ight; I saw their w ives w ith eyes too reddened, too

D E A D LO C K OF T H E R EVO LU TIO N : 1926-1928

. Ill

racked with anxiety for me to be disposed with indulgence towards che great official consciences from abroad on tour in our country; moreover, I knew who had been chased out o f the hotel so that the great writer could be accommodated there. Barbusse had a large, thin, pliant body, topped by a small, sallow, and sunken head, with the thin lips o f a man who has known suffer­ ing. Right from the first I saw him as a quite different kind o f person, concerned above all noc to be involved, not to see anything that could involve him against his will, concerned above all to disguise opinions he could no longer express openly, avoiding any direct questioning, scurrying off along all conceivable tangents, his eyes vague, his slender hands inscribing curves in the air around obscure words like “stat­ ure,” “profundities,” “exaltation”— and all with the real aim of mak­ ing himself the accomplice o f the winning side! Since it was not yet clear whether the struggle had been definitively settled, he had just dedicated a book, at great length, to Trotsky, whom he did not dare to visit for fear o f compromising himself. When I told him about the persecution, he pretended to have a headache, or not to hear, or to be rising to stupendous heights: “Tragic destiny o f revolutions, immensi­ ties, profundities, yes.. .yes... Ah, my friend!” My jaw tensed as I realized that I was face-to-face with hypocrisy itself. Some days later I learnt that International Class War Prisoners Aid, then run by Hel­ ena Stassova, was devoting a considerable sum to the foundation of a “cultural” weekly in France, under the control o f Barbusse. This was Monde. And Barbusse enrolled me in the list of cosponsors. In the course o f our struggles I had deployed my activity in two directions: in the Center at Leningrad, and in Moscow and abroad (mainly in France) through my writings. I belonged to the editorial board olClarti'xn Paris. In this review I published my articles— under my own name— on the Platform of the Opposition and the Chinese Revolution. For some months these articles forecast events with an .ac­ curacy that overwhelmed even myself. The last one had been signed by a comrade on my behalf, but its contents are still transparent. During the Party Congress, on n and iz December 1927, the lightning success of the Canton Commune had supervened in a manner peculiarly suited to refute the Opposition, which considered that the Chinese



R evo lu tio n h ad been d efeated fo r a lo n g tim e to com e. Th e press was in raptures.


pu b lish ed decrees, s trik in g ly sim ilar to those o f

the R u ssian R evo lu tio n , w h ich h ad been prom u lgated by the C o m ­ m u n ist d ictato rs o f the C h in e se city — b ehind w h o m , on the very spot, stoo d the envoys o f the G e n e ral S ecre ta ry o f the C P S U , L o m inadze and m y late co m rade H e in z N e u m a n n . These were under pres­ sure to supp ly the Fifteen th C o n g re ss w ith trium ph al telegram s. T w e n ty -fo u r hours later, the torch o f C a n to n w as doused in a sea o f b lo o d ; the coolies w h o h ad th o u g h t th ey were figh tin g for the cause o f social ju stice died in the th o usands fo r the cause o f an official dis­ p a tch ; and the s ta ff o f the S o vie t consulate, b o th m en and w om en, perished b y im palem ent. I m et Preobrazhensky, w h o asked, “ H ave you w ritte n abou t C a n to n ? ” “ Y es, and sent it o ff.” “ Y o u m ust be m ad! T h at co u ld cost you several years in jail. Sto p it fro m b e in g p u b lish e d . . . ” I ch an ged the nam e u nder w h ich it was signed. I w as e x p e ctin g to be depo rted a n yw a y


A t last I w as su m m on ed before the C o n tro l C o m m issio n o f the L e n in g ra d C e n tra l D is tric t, and so appeared before the P a rty tribu­ nal. A

dejected old w orker, K a ro l, w as the C h a irm a n ; a w o m an

w orker, a yo u n g m an w ith spectacles, and tw o or three others were sittin g aro u nd a red tablecloth (the P a rty com m ittee was housed in the old b aroqu e palace th at had belonged to the G ra n d D u k e Sergei). K a ro l did not seem p a rticu la rly keen to expel m e, and offered me sev­ eral w ays out o f the mess. B u t he had to ask the treacherous and deci­ sive question: “ W h a t is yo u r attitude to the decision o f the C o ngress p ro n o u n cin g the expulsion o f the O p p o sitio n ?” I answ ered: “ In accordan ce w ith discipline, I com ply w ith all deci­ sions o f the Party, but I regard this decision as a grave error whose consequences w ill be fatal i f it is not speedily m e n d e d . . . ” Th e w om an w orker in a red h e a d sca rf stood up, and said in a stupefied voice, “ C o m r a d e , d id you really say an


D o you th in k then that the

P a rty C o n gre ss can be m istaken, and co m m it errors?” I cited the exam ple o f G e rm a n S o cia l-D e m o cra c y v o tin g for the

i. Victor Serge, The Class Struggle in the Chinese Revolution (1917-1928).

D E A D L O C K OF T H E R EVO LU TIO N : 1926-1928

■ 279

war on i August 1914, with only Karl Liebknecht and Otto Ruhle voting against. This blasphemous comparison horrified the Commis­ sion. I was expelled forthwith. Vassily Nikiforovich Chadayev was called in. He likewise was expelled after a few minutes. We went out. “Here we are, political corpses. .. ” “That’s because there’s nobody but us left alive.” A few days passed. My bell rang at about midnight. I opened the door, and understood at once (which was not difficult): a young sol­ dier, and a youngjew in a leather outfit. They conducted a search, and made a beeline for some translations o f Lenin. “You’re seizing those too?” I asked ironically. “Don’t joke,” replied one of the pair, “we are Leninists too, you know.” Perfect: we were all Leninists together. Dawn hovered over Leningrad, in a blue like the depths of the sea, when I left the house between those two comrades, who apologized for not having a car at their disposal. “We have so much to do every night. .. ” “I know,” I said. My son o f seven wept when I embraced him before I left, but explained to me: “Daddy, I’m not crying because I’m afraid, its because I’m angry.” I was taken to the old House of Arrest. The fire-blackened brick shell o f the old Palace of Justice vividly recalled the great days o f liberation. But inside the squat masonry, little had changed over h alf a century. A warder explained to me that he had served there for twenty years: “I took Trotsky out for his walks after the 1905 Revolution...” There was still an arrogant air about him; he was ready to get back to the same job. In a corridor, during one of those waiting periods which precede incarceration, I sat next to a fine-looking young lad who recognized me and whispered in my ear: “Arnold, the Oppositionist from the Vyborg district, and B and C have been arrested.” Good enough. What else could we have expected? Through the half-gloom, I clambered up iron stairways linking the different floors of the prison. At long intervals, lamps were burning in corners on the tables of the block supervisors. A door was opened for me in the dark, thick stonework, on the fifth or sixth floor. The dingy cell was already occupied by two men: a former officer, a municipal engineer accused of having sold ice from the Neva for his own profit instead o f supplying it to the Soviet; and a creature of filth, babbling madness, and futile suffering, a kind of lunatic tramp who

280 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y h ad been arrested fo r va g ra n cy near the C a th o lic cem etery— he had been sellin g little m etal crosses there. Sin ce he w as o f Polish o rigin, he w as ch a rg ed w ith espionage. T h is creature w ith a shrunk en old face never w ash ed, an d never spoke, except th at he was perpetu ally m u m ­ b lin g prayers. Several tim es a day he knelt d o w n to pray, b an g in g his forehead against the side o f the bed. A t n ig h t a rather frightening babble w o u ld w ak e m e, and I w o u ld see h im on his knees, hands pressed together. L a te r a little b o o k keeper cam e in, accused o f having served in A d m ir a l K o lch a k s W h it e A rm y . Th e e xa m in in g m agistrate declared th at he recogn ized h im as a W h ite officer. It w as all inh u ­ m an ly grotesque. I discovered th at the prison w as pack ed w ith v ictim s, all targets for the h atred o f fu n ction aries w h o were obsessives, m aniacs, and tortu r­ ers b y profession. In the never-ending tw ilig h t I read D o sto e v sk y once again ; it h ad been k in d ly passed on to me b y som e harm less sectarian co n victs w h o ran the library. T h e servant lads gleefu lly brou gh t us soup (“ b u m -w a s h ” th ey called it) tw ice a day, uneatable at first but aw aited im patien tly from the fo u rth day on. O n e o f these lads, a strapping, fair-h aired b o y w ith a pale sm ile, d id not appear one m orn­ in g, and the others h ad sullen faces. W e k n e w th at the absentee had been shot d u rin g the n ight. H e h ad not expected it so late; the sen­ tence h ad been on h im fo r m onth s and he had assum ed he w as par­ doned . T h e y cam e to fetch h im a little before daw n. “ S ay good-bye to yo u r m ates, and let’s have no trouble, e h !” H e w as a b oy from the fron­ tier zone, ch arged w ith cro ssing illegally to Poland and back again. H is death d id not even serve as an exam ple since it was kept secret. A sh irt m aker from the Sad o vaya, accused o f tax evasion, was next do o r to us; he skipped over the parapet in the corridor, ju m ped into space, and fo u n d his eternal rest. So m eo ne else near us tried to h ang h im self, and an oth er to open his v e in s .. .W e heard o n ly fain t echoes o f these tragedies. O u r days w en t by peacefu lly, w ith o u t any pa rticu ­ lar a n x ie ty or peevishness, since there were tw o o f us, out o f the three in the cell, to keep som e sense o f balance; w e discussed S o cialism . In m y screeds to the P rocu rator I invoked the C o n stitu tio n and Soviet law : a p retty joke. M y arrest had caused som e co m m otio n in Paris, and so was consid-

D EA D LU CJK OF T H E R E V O L U T IO N : 19 26 -1928

• 281

ered awkward in high circles. I had made up my mind not to agree to any recantation; they were content with an undertaking From me not to engage in any “anti-Soviet activity.” It was a revolting distortion of language, for we had nothing whatever to do with anything antiSoviet. I shall never forget the wonderful sweetness of the young greenery along the Fontanka embankments, in the white night when I re­ turned home after seven or eight weeks’ absence. The porter of the house had explained my arrest very plausibly. “The same under the old regime,” he said. “The intellectuals were always arrested like this, just before the first o f M a y ...” In Paris, Vaillant-Couturier reported in L ’H umanite that I had been treated with the greatest possible consid­

eration while in prison. Barbusse sent me embarrassed letters apolo­ gizing for the fact that, on learning o f my arrest, he had deleted my name from the list o f sponsors o f Monde. Chadayev, in whom Paris showed no interest, remained in jail for six months, until a personal friend who was a member o f the Govern­ ment got him out. Since he did not recant, his presence in Leningrad was deemed undesirable. The Krassnaya Gazeta sent him on an as­ signment to investigate the kolkhozes o f the Kuban. His life was to end just when he believed that it was starting anew, in the enthusiasm of a fresh departure. We spent several hours rowing on the lake at Dietskoe Selo, among the scenery o f the Imperial Park. Vassily Niki­ forovich sang me the praises o f prison, that benevolent retreat where a man takes stock of himself. He had his doubts about the regeneration of the Party, which many people believed to be now going on. In the Kuban he pounced, with his writing pads, his inquisitive eyes, and his precise questions, upon all kinds of highly dubious rack­ ets. Racket in building the harbor at Tuapse, racket in the layout of the beaches, racket in the repairing of roads, racket in the collectiviza­ tion of agriculture! “Banditry” on the dark roads intervened to discourage indiscreet investigators. On 16 August 1918, on a summer evening filled with the cicadas’ song, the local authorities vigorously pressed Chadayev to go off in a carriage with a number of other passengers to the neighbor­ ing market town. It was a night journey across the steppe and the

282 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

fields o f m aize. A m ilitia m a n acco m pan ied the caravan; he w as the first to m ake h im s e lf scarce w h en rough voices cam e from out o f the night:

“Stoy\ H a l t !”

C h a d a y e v ’s carriage w as the o nly one held back by

the roadside. T h e co a ch m an heard m y p o o r Vassily arg u in g w ith the bandits: “ W h a t ’s the m atter w ith you? W e ’re all h um an beings. W h a t is it?” A l l I ever saw o f h im again were som e d read fu l photographs: the d u m d u m bu llets, fired fro m s a w n -o ff rifles, h ad h arrow ed his face and chest m onstrously. W e w a n te d to give h im a funeral in the tow n th at he loved. W a s he n o t a figh ter o f the Y ea r Seventeen? Th e L e n in ­ grad C o m m itte e oppo sed this: w a s he not expelled? H is m urderers rem ained u n k n o w n , naturally. A stone w ith an inscription, erected on the spot w h ere he died, w as broken into fr a g m e n ts . . .



THE Y E A R S OF R E S IS T A N C E 1928-1933

T h E S E constituted five years o f resistance waged by a solitary man— surrounded by his family, that is to say by weak creatures— against the relentless, overwhelming pressure o f a totalitarian system. For his daily bread, his ration card, his lodging, his fuel in the harsh Russian winter, the individual is dependent on the Party-State, against which he is totally defenseless. And he who, in the name of freedom o f opin­ ion, stands out against the Party-State, bears the brand of “suspect” wherever he goes. The small amount o f liberty that he still has left, and even his own courage (which seems quite mad), stand for him as a source o f astonishment, mingled with anxiety. The leaders o f the now vanquished Opposition hoped to set up a clandestine organization strong enough to achieve rehabilitation in the Party at some future date with freedom of speech and propa­ ganda. I did not share this illusion. I said that illegal methods would fail for two reasons: the unlimited power o f the secret police would crush everything, and our own ideological and sentimental loyalty to the Party made us vulnerable both to political maneuverings and, even more, to police provocation. I declared that, rather than allow ourselves to be bundled away into illegality, we should defend, abso­ lutely openly, our right to exist, think, and write. And we should form, also quite openly, an opposition which was completely loyal, be­ ing without any organization, but also completely intransigent. It was all purely academic, since both alternatives were equally impossible. At the beginning o f 1918, Alexandra Bronstein and myself were the only known Oppositionists in Leningrad still at liberty; in Mos­ cow, Andres Nin was free, but he had “resigned” from the Secretary­ ship of the Red International of Labor Unions, and was kept under 183



close w a tch in the L u x H o te l. H is status as a foreigner saved him from im p riso n m en t. O f the R ussians, B o ris M ik h a ilo v ich Eltsin , a B olshe­ v ik since

1903 and fo u n d er m em ber o f the Party, form er C h a irm a n o f

the S o vie t in E k a terin b e rg (Sverdlovsk) in

1917, w as also free because

the G P U needed his presence in the capital for a w h ile. In an effort to m ain ta in the co n n e ctio n s and inner life o f the tin y circles o f m ili­ tants, o ld E ltsin , a sick m an , co n fided in a yo u n g, vig oro u s— and in­ v u ln e rab le — fe llo w a ctivist, one M ik h a il Tverskoy, w h o w as an agent o f the G P U . T versk o y d re w up idio tic leaflets, sho rtly to be classed as “ a n ti-S o v ie t” d o cu m en ts— the v e ry pu rpo se fo r w h ic h th ey were w rit­ ten. A ft e r h av in g had the last O p p o sitio n al sym p ath izers in the M o s ­ c o w factories arrested, he cam e to us in L e n in g ra d in order, he said, to “ help us reorganize.” A le x a n d ra B ron stein and I refused to receive h im . W ith o u t o u r b e in g able to stop h im , he speedily set up a shadow o rg an iza tio n co n sistin g o f fifty o r so workers, o n ly to have it rally n oisily to the “general lin e” w ith in tw o m onth s, w h ile those w h o re­ sisted were th ro w n into jail. T h is po lice m aneu ver was repeated in all the w o rk in g-cla ss centers. It w as m ade easier by the m oral confusion o f the C o m m u n is ts . O p p o sitio n ists and officials outbid each other in lo ya lty to the Party, the O p p o sitio n ists b ein g by far the m ost sincere. N o b o d y w as w illin g to see evil in the prop ortio n s it had reached. A s fo r the idea th at the bu reau cratic counterrevolution had attained pow er, and th at a new desp otic State had em erged from ou r ow n h ands to cru sh us, and reduce the co u n try to absolute silence— no­ body, n o b o d y in o u r ranks w as w illin g to adm it it. From the depths o f his exile in A lm a -A t a T r o ts k y affirm ed that this system was still ours, still proletarian, still So cia list, even th o ugh sick; the P arty that was e xco m m u n icatin g, im priso n in g, and b e gin n in g to m urder us re­ m ain ed o u r Party, and w e still o w ed e v eryth in g to it: we m ust live o nly fo r it, since o n ly th ro u gh it co u ld w e serve the Revolution. W e were defeated b y P a rty patrio tism : it b o th provoked us to rebel and tu rn ed us against ourselves. A joke w as m ak in g the rounds: “ Ivanov, is it true that you sym pa­ thize w ith the O p p o sitio n ?” “ C o m e o f f it, me? N e v e r! I ’ve got a w ife and c h ild re n !” I spent a p a in fu l qu arter o f an h our w ith a one-arm ed w orker w h o cam e to m e fo r advice. S h o u ld he recant? H e was fo rty

T H E YEAR S OF R ESISTAN CE: 19 28-1933

• 285

years old, serious and passionate. His voice was choked: “ I’ll never change my thinking. We are so obviously right. But if the factory kicks me out, I’m finished. I’ll never find work again with my one arm ...” Assigned to mind a machine, he was at their mercy. He had fought at Archangel, in Poland, in Yakutia to end up like this with his stump, his children, and his conscience. What would I have done in his place? “Protect your soul,” I replied, “since it’s all you’ve got left. .. ” The soul is not easy to protect because once you’ve signed, the Party demands that you come to the platform to condemn the error o f your former ways, denounce your former comrades, and not just once but ten times, again and again. You could never have enough humiliation. The change in the political line o f che Central Committee added the finishing touch to the ideological confusion. Three mouths after our expulsion, the grain crisis that we had fore­ cast broke out, endangering supplies to the towns and the army. The peasants, having paid off their taxes, now refused to deliver their grain to the State because they were not being paid enough for it. The Cen­ tral Committee decreed requisitions, applying, quite improperly, Ar­ ticle 107 of the Penal Code on concealment of stocks. Detachments of young Communists scoured the countryside, stripping the fields of their grain, flax, tobacco, or cotton, depending on the district. Just as in the years of the Civil War, Communists were found at the road­ sides with their skulls split open. The stacks o f confiscated grain were set on fire. There was no fodder at all; the country folk besieged the bakeries in the towns so that they could feed their livestock with black bread bought at the regulation price. The requisitioning was no more than an expedient. The real policy had been outlined by Molotov at the Fifteenth Party Congress: the development of collective agricultural cultivation (kolkhozes) or of State grain factories (sovkhozes). A slow development was envisaged, spread over many years, since collective agriculture could only replace piecemeal cultivation stage by stage as the State supplied the farms with the equipment that was indispensable to mechanized cultivation. But, as it was, war had been declared on the peasantry through the req­ uisitioning. I f the State confiscates the grain, what is the use of sow­ ing? In the following spring, statistics will show that the area under

286 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y w h e at has sh ru n k : a peasan ts’ strike. There is o n ly one w a y o f forcing th em : co m p u lso ry co o peratives, a dm in istered b y the C o m m u n ists. W i l l persu asion succeed? T h e independent farm er w h o has resisted the agitatio n , o r rather coercion, tu rn s ou t to be freer and better fed th an h is fellow s. T h e G o v e rn m e n t d raw s the conclusion that collec­ tivizatio n m ust be total and abru pt. H o w e v er, the fo lk o f the soil are p u ttin g up a b itter defense. H o w can th eir resistance be broken? By e xp ro p riatio n and m ass dep o rtatio n o f the rich peasants o r kulaks a n d o f an y th at m ay be classified as ku lak s. T h is is w h a t is called “ the liq u id a tio n o f the k u lak s as a class.”

W ill it ever be known how terrible was the disorganization o f agri­ culture that resulted? Rather than hand over their livestock to the kolkhoz, the peasants slaughter the beasts, sell the meat, and make boots out o f the leather. Through the destruction o f its livestock the country passes from poverty to famine. Bread cards in the cities, the black market, a slump in the ruble and in real wages. Internal pass­ ports have to be issued, to keep the skilled manpower in the factories against its will. Since total collectivization is heading towards disas­ ter, its completion is declared when it has reached sixty-eight percent, and even then too late, in March 1930, when famine and terror are at their height. T h e w o m e n cam e to deliver the cattle confiscated by the kolkhoz, b ut m ade a ram part o f their o w n bodies aro u nd the beasts: “ G o on, b an dits, sh o o t!” A n d w h y should these rebels not be shot at? In W h ite R ussia, w h en th ey cam e to shear o f f the horses’ h air for export, not realizin g th at it w o u ld k ill them , the w om en an grily surrounded the head o f the local govern m en t G o lo d ie d (shot or co m m itted suicide in

1937) and all o f a sudden lifted up their sarafans, u nder w h ich they were naked: “ G o on, bastard! C u t o u r hairs off, i f you dare! B u t you w o n ’t have the h orses’ h a ir !” In a K u b an m arket to w n w hose entire popu latio n w as deported, the w o m en undressed in their houses, th in k in g th at no one w o u ld dare m ake them go out naked; th ey were driven ou t as th ey were to the cattle tru cks, beaten w ith rifle butts. Sheb o ldayev o f the C e n tra l C o m m itte e w as in charge o f the mass de­ p o rtatio n in this region, never suspecting that, fo r his very enthusi­ asm, he w o u ld be shot in

1937. T e rro r reigned in the sm allest ham lets.

T H E YEAR S OF R ESISTAN CE: 19 28-1933

• 287

There were more than 300 centers o f peasant insurrection going on simultaneously in Soviet Eurasia. Trainloads o f deported peasants left for the icy north, the forests, the steppes, the deserts. These were whole populations, denuded of ev­ erything; the old folk starved to death in mid-journey, newborn babies were buried on the banks o f the roadside, and each wilderness had its crop o f little crosses o f boughs or white wood. Other populations, dragging all their mean possessions on wagons, rushed towards the frontiers o f Poland, Romania, and China and crossed them— by no means intact, to be sure— in spite o f the machine guns. And in a long message to the Government, couched in a noble style, the population of Abkhazia pleaded for permission to emigrate to Turkey. I saw and heard so much about the tragedy o f these dark years that I would need a whole book to set it down. On several occasions I traveled through famine-striken Ukraine and Georgia, severely rationed, in mourning. I stayed in

the Crimea during the famine; I lived the misery and anxi­

ety o f the two capital cities, Moscow and Leningrad, in deep depriva­ tion. How many were the victims o f total collectivization, the victims of shortsightedness, o f incompetence, and of totalitarian violence? A Russian scholar, Prokopovich, made the following calculation from official Soviet statistics— at a time, be it noted, when the statisti­ cians were being imprisoned and shot. Up to 1929 the number o f peas­ ant households grew uninterruptedly: 1928: 24.5 million households 1929: 25.8 million households When collectivization ended in 1936, there were no more than 2.0.6 million households. In seven years more than five million fami­ lies disappeared. The transport system was worn down, and all plans for industrial­ ization were turned inside out to cope with the new demands. It was, to quote Boris Souvarine’s expression, “the anarchy of the plan.” Agri­ cultural technicians and experts were brave in denouncing the blun­ ders and excesses; they were arrested in the thousands and made to appear in huge sabotage trials so that responsibility might be unloaded

288 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

onto somebody. The ruble was in the process o f disappearing; hoard­ ers o f silver coin were shot (1930). Crisis in the coal industry, the Shakhty sabotage trial, fifty-three technicians in court, executions. Naturally there is a meat shortage: execution o f Professor Karatygin and his forty-seven codefendants for sabotage o f the meat supply— an execution without trial. On the day o f the massacre o f these fortyeight men, M oscow received Rabindranath Tagore; there were speeches about abundance and the new humanism, and a splendid of­ ficial reception. In November 1930 there was the trial o f the “Indus­ trial Party”: Ram zin, the engineer and agent provocateur, who was pardoned, confessed to being its leader and to plotting military inter­ vention against the Soviet Union in London, Paris, and Warsaw. It was raving madness, and five were shot. D u r in g the sam e p erio d a “ Peasant P arty,” in clu d in g professors M a k a r o v and K o n d ratiev, w h o were opposed to total collectivization, w as liq uidated offstage. Th ere w a s the lu natic trial o f the old Socialists ( o f M e n s h e v ik inclinations) in the P la n n in g C o m m issio n : G rom an,* G in sb e rg , the h isto rian S u k h a n o v , R u b in , and Sher. There w as the secret trial o f the officials o f the Fin a n ce C o m m issa ria t, Y u ro vsk y and others. Th ere w as the secret trial o f bacteriologists, several o f w h o m died in prison. Th ere w as the execu tion o f the th irty-five leading fig­ ures in the C o m m is s a ria t o f A g r ic u ltu re — am o n g them several noted O ld C o m m u n is ts (K o n ar, W o lfe , the Peo ples V ic e -C o m m issa r, and K o varsk y). There w as the secret trial o f ph ysicists and the deportation o f A c a d e m ic ia n L azarev. There was the secret trial o f the historians Ta rle , Platonov, and K a r e y e v ... In these pages o f m em ories, I am unable to provide a fu ll account o f the events and the frig h tfu l atm osphere in w h ich they unfolded. I k n e w intellectuals o f all k ind s and w as on friendly term s w ith m any o f the accu sed and disappeared. I w ill lim it m yse lf to a few facts: — T h e accu sation o f sabotage, w h ich was directed at thousands, or rather tens o f th ousands, o f tech nicians, was in general a m onstrous slander, ju stified solely by the need to find culprits for an econom ic situation that w as n o w insupportable. C lo se exam ination o f a whole n u m b er o f cases proves this irrefutably, apart from the fact that the p atriotism o f the tech nicians was co n stan tly appealed to in the course


• 289

o f wringing confessions out o f them. The whole business o f industri­ alization proceeded in the midst o f such chaos, and under an authori­ tarian system o f such rigidity, that it was possible to find “sabotage” in any place, at any moment. I could give countless examples. My late brother-in-law, the construction engineer Khayn, educated at Liege, was building a large sovkhoz not far from Leningrad. He said to me, “To be honest, I should not build it. There is a lack of building mate­ rial, it comes with delays, its quality is lamentable. If I refuse to work under these insane conditions, I will be denounced as a counterrevo­ lutionary traitor and sent to a concentration camp. So I build as well as I can, with what I can get since all the plans are bogus, and I may be accused of sabotage from one day to the next. I f I fall behind schedule this would again allow me to be accused o f sabotage. When I send detailed memos to my supervisors, they reply that I am trying to build a wall o f red tape to protect myself, that we live in a time o f unremit­ ting struggle: Our duty is to overcome the obstacles!” A typical ex­ ample. I may add that in my experience the whole mentality of the technician is quite antagonistic to sabotage, dominated as it is by love of technique and a job well done. Even in these hellish conditions So­ viet technical experts were full o f enthusiasm for their tasks and, all things considered, worked wonders. —The “Industrial Party,” just like the “ Peasant Party” of the lead­ ing agronomists, was no more than a police invention sanctioned by the Politburo. All that there was in fact was a fairly widespread “tech­ nocratic mentality.” I often heard my engineer friends speak about the future with confidence and maintain that in the newly industrialized USSR real power would obviously belong to the technicians, best able to direct and to assure the progress o f the new economic system. Technicians saw themselves as indispensable and as distinctly supe­ rior to the men in the Government. —Many of them were punished for having actually foreseen the disastrous consequences o f certain Government decisions. The old Socialist Groman was arrested after having had a sharp quarrel at the Planning Commission with Miliutin. Groman, at the end of his tether, shouted that the country was being led to the abyss. —Although foreign espionage did exist, the technicians’ plotting

290 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

with the governments o f London, Paris, and Warsaw, and with the Socialist International, was ascribable purely and simply to conspir­ acy psychosis and political deception. In the so-called “Menshevik Center” trial, the accused (who o f course confessed) allowed them­ selves to be caught in a flagrant lie by inventing, all to order, a journey to the Soviet Union by the old M enshevik leader Abramovich. Later, the historian Sukhanov, when incarcerated in the Isolator o f VerkhneUralsk, had documents passed around among the political prisoners relating how the text o f confessions had been laid down for him and his fellow defendants by the G P U instructors, how an appeal to their patriotism had been combined with threats o f death, and what kind of pledges their inquisitors had given them. (Sukhanov undertook lengthy hunger strikes to obtain the liberty he had been promised; he disap­ peared in 1934.) During the “M enshevik Center” trial, I met people every day who were connected with the accused, and I was in a posi­ tion to trace, line by line, the progression o f the lie in their evidence. —The Politburo knew the truth perfectly well. The trials served one purpose only: to manipulate public opinion at home and abroad. The sentences were prescribed by the Politburo itself. The G P U orga­ nized Labor Departments, together with the condemned technicians, which continued working for industrialization. Some o f the techni­ cians were promptly rehabilitated. Once I had dinner with an out­ standing expert in energetics who, in the space o f twenty months, had been condemned to death, pardoned, sent to a concentration camp (a Labor Department), rehabilitated, and decorated. The physicist Laza­ rev was similarly rehabilitated. The historian and Academician Tarle, the only non-Marxist Soviet historian o f repute, spent long months in prison and was deported to Alm a-Ata; today (1942) he is the most of­ ficial o f all historians in the Soviet Union. The engineer Ramzin, an accomplice (if it is to be believed) o f Poincare and Winston Churchill in the “preparation o f war against the U SS R ” and condemned to the supreme penalty, was pardoned, continued his scientific work in mild captivity, and was rehabilitated at the beginning o f 1936, with his prin­ cipal codefendants, for distinguished services to industrialization. On the other hand the old Socialists o f the so-called “Menshevik Center” disappeared.

T H E YEAR S OF R ESISTAN CE: 19 28-1933

■ 291

— I lived for years in the shadow o f these trials. H o w many times have I heard friends or loved ones o f the accused wondering with as­ tonishment and despair: “ But w h y is he lying like that?” I have heard them discussing details o f the indictm ent that would never stand up to scrutiny. N obody, at least nobody vaguely in the know, believed in these judicial farces whose purpose was transparent. The number o f technicians who refused to confess and just disappeared into prisons without trial was much greater than the com pliant ones. The G P U knew how to break the recalcitrant ones. I knew men who had en­ dured “uninterrupted interrogation” o f tw enty or th irty hours, to the point o f complete nervous exhaustion. O thers had been interrogated under the threat o f immediate execution. I remember some, like the engineer Krenikov, w h o died “ during interrogation.” The technocrat Paltchinski, accused o f sabotage in the flourishing gold and platinum industries, was apparently shot w ith a revolver by the exam ining m ag­ istrate because he had slapped him. H e was subsequently reported shot by firing squad, together w ith von M ekk, old adm inistrator o f the railways, whose probity had been recognized and release promised by Rykov, President o f the C o u n cil o f Com m issars. I was on very close terms w ith several o f the scientific staff at the M arx-Engels Institute, headed by D avid Borisovich Riazanov, who had created there a scientific establishment o f noteworthy quality. R i­ azanov, one o f the founders o f the Russian working-class movement, was, in his sixtieth year, at the peak o f a career whose success might appear exceptional in times so cruel. H e had devoted a great part o f his life to a severely scrupulous inquiry into the biography and works o f M arx— and the Revolution heaped honor on him, and in the Party his independence o f outlook was respected. A lone, he had never ceased to cry out against the death penalty, even during the Terror, never ceased to demand the strict lim itation o f the rights o f the Cheka and its successor, the G P U . Heretics o f all kinds, M enshevik Social­ ists or O ppositionists o f R ight or Left, found peace and work in his Institute, provided only that they had a love o f knowledge. H e was still the man w ho had told a Conference to its face: “ I am not one o f those O ld Bolsheviks who for tw enty years were described by Lenin as old fo o ls.. ”

292 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

I had met him a number o f times: stout, strong-featured, beard and mustache thick and white, attentive eyes, Olympian forehead, stormy temperament, ironic utterance. . . O f course his heretical colleagues were often arrested, and he defended them, with all due discretion. H e had access to all quarters and the leaders were a little afraid o f his frank way o f talking. H is reputation had just been officially recog­ nized in a celebration o f his sixtieth birthday and his life’s work when the arrest o f the M enshevik sympathizer Sher, a neurotic intellectual who promptly made all the confessions that anyone pleased to dictate to him, put Riazanov beside him self with rage. Having learnt that a trial o f old Socialists was being set in hand, with monstrously ridicu­ lous confessions foisted on them, Riazanov flared up and told mem­ ber after member o f the Politburo that it was a dishonor to the regime, that all this organized frenzy simply did not stand up and that Sher was half-mad anyway. D uring the trial o f the so-called “Menshevik Center,” the defen­ dant Rubin, one o f Riazanov’s proteges, suddenly brought his name into the case, accusing him o f having hidden in the Institute docu­ ments o f the Socialist International concerned with war against the Soviet Union! Everything that was told to the audience was engi­ neered in advance, so this sensational revelation was inserted to order. Summoned on that very night before the Politburo, Riazanov had a violent exchange with Stalin. “Where are the documents?” shouted the General Secretary. Riazanov replied vehemently, “You won’t find them anywhere unless you’ve put them there yourself!” H e was ar­ rested, jailed, and deported to a group o f little towns on the Volga, doomed to penury and physical collapse; librarians received the order to purge his writings and his editions o f M arx from their stocks. To anybody who knew the policy o f the Socialist International and the character o f its leaders, Fritz Adler, Vandervelde, Abramovich, Otto Bauer, and Bracke, the fabricated charge was utterly and grotesquely implausible. I f it had to be admitted as true, Riazanov deserved to die as a traitor, but they merely exiled him. As I write this book I learn that he died a couple ofyears ago (in 1940?) alone and captive, nobody knows where. W a s there then no basis o f tru th at all in the trial o f the “ M ensh e-

T H E YEAR S OF R ESISTAN CE: 19 28-1933

• 293

vik Center” ? Nikolai Nikolayevich Sukhanov (Himmer), a Menshe­ vik won over to the Party, a member o f the Petrograd Soviet from its inception in 1917, who had written ten volumes o f valuable notes on the beginnings o f the Revolution and worked in the Planning Com­ missions with his fellow defendants Groman, Ginsberg, and Rubin, did have a kind o f salon, in which talk between intimates was very free and the situation in the country as of 1930 was judged to be ut­ terly catastrophic, as it undeniably was. In this circle, escape from the crisis was envisaged in terms o f a new Soviet Government, combining the best brains o f the Party’s Right (Rykov, Tomsky, and Bukharin, perhaps), certain veterans o f the Russian revolutionary movement, and the legendary army chief Bliicher. It must be emphasized that for practically three years between 1930 and 1934, the new totalitarian regime maintained itself by sheer terror, against all rational expecta­ tions and with every appearance, all the time, o f imminent collapse. From 1918 -19 onwards, the Politburo turned to its own use the great fundamental ideas o f the now expelled Opposition (excepting, of course, that o f working-class democracy!) and implemented them with ruthless violence. We had proposed a tax on the rich peasants— they were actually liquidated! We had proposed limitations and reforms of NEP—it was actually abolished! We had proposed industrializa­ tion—it was done, on a colossal scale that we, “superindustrializers” as we were dubbed, had never dared to dream of, which moreover in­ flicted immense suffering on the country. At the height of the world economic crisis foodstuffs were exported at the lowest possible price in order to build up gold reserves, and the whole of Russia starved. Beginning in those years, a good many Oppositionists rallied to the “general line” and renounced their errors since, as they put it, “Af­ ter all, it is our program that is being applied”; also because the Re­ public was in danger; and Anally because it was better to capitulate and build factories than to defend lofty principles in the enforced in­ dolence of captivity. Piatakov had been a pessimist for years. He kept saying that the European and Russian working class was going through a long period o f depression, and that nothing could be expected from it for a long time; more, that he had only engaged in battle for the Op­ position from a sense of principle and out of his personal attachment

294 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

to Trotsky. He capitulated, to be put in charge o f banking and indus­ trialization. Ivan Nikitich Sm irnov told one o f my friends something like this: “ I can t stand inactivity. I want to build! In its own barbaric and sometimes stupid way, the Central Com m ittee is building for the future. O ur ideological differences are o f small importance before the construction o f great new industries.” H e capitulated. So did Smilga. The movement o f surrender to the Central Com mittee in 1928-19 carried o ff the greater part o f the five thousand Oppositionists under arrest (there had been five to eight thousand arrested). A t the beginning, prison and deportation were essentially frater­ nal. The local authorities, seeing the arrival o f these famous mili­ tants— today political prisoners, in power only yesterday—wondered i f they might not be back in power tomorrow. Radek threatened the heads o f the G P U in Tomsk, “Just you wait till I capitulate and then you’ll see what kind o f man you’re dealing w ith !” Six months after the expulsion o f the Party’s left w ing— us, that is— the Politburo and the Central Com m ittee was torn by savage quarrels: the right-wing O p­ position, Rykov, Tomsky, and Bukharin, ranged itself against Stalin, against his policy o f forced collectivization, against the dangers o f premature industrialization (with no material basis and at the cost o f famine), against totalitarian methods. The head o f the GPU , Henry Grigorievich Yagoda, was another sympathizer o f the Right. For per­ sonal motives whose nature is still obscure Kalinin and Voroshilov, despite their right-wing beliefs, gave a majority to Stalin and Molotov. The Right Opposition was more o f a state o f mind than an organi­ zation; at certain junctures it included the great majority o f officials, and enjoyed the sympathy o f the whole nation. However, inspired as it was by men o f moderate temperament, who on several occasions were insufficiently decisive, it suffered itself to be constantly outmaneuvered, slandered, and finally annihilated. A t the end o f 1928, Trotsky wrote to us from his exile at Alm a-Ata to the effect that, since the Right represented the danger o f a slide towards capitalism, we had to support the “Center”— Stalin— against it. Stalin sounded out the leaders o f the Left Opposition even while they were in prison: “W ill you support me against them i f I have you rehabilitated in the Party?” We discussed the question with some uncertainty. In the Isolator,

T H E YEAR S OF R ESISTAN CE: 19 28-1933

• 295

that is the prison, at Suzdal, Boris Mikhailovich Eltsin demanded that a conference o f expelled Oppositionists be summoned as a pre­ condition, and raised the issue o f Trotsky’s return. The negotiations got no further than this. In 1929, the hard core of our Opposition is reduced to the follow­ ing: Trotsky; Muralov, in exile on the Irtysh, in the Tara forests; Ra­ kovsky, now a petty planning official in Barnaul, Central Siberia; Fedor Dingelstedt in a market town in Central Siberia; Maria M i­ khailovna Joffe in Central Asia; a fine team o f youngsters in prison, including Eleazar Solntsev, Vassily Pankratov, Grigory Yakovin. In Moscow Andres Nin is at liberty, in Leningrad Alexandra Bronstein and myself. Leon Sosnovsky is in jail. Inside the prisons a few hun­ dred comrades keep up hunger strikes and struggles that are some­ times bloody; in deportation a few hundred others wait for prison to come their way. Our intellectual activity is prodigious, our political action nil. Altogether there must be fewer than a thousand of us. Be­ tween the “capitulators” and us there is no contact, only a sharp and growing hostility. As for the two irreconcilables, Timofey Vladimirovich Sapronov and Vladimir Mikhailovich Smirnov, the first has been deported to the Crimea, ill as he is, and the second to an Isolator where he is slowly going blind. We managed to maintain some contact with each other. One eve­ ning in Moscow in Panait Istrati’s* hotel room, I met a thin old lady, the famous Romanian militant Arbory-Ralle, with whom I spoke about Trotsky. We were worried about him because he had disap­ peared following his removal from Alma-Ata. Arbory-Ralle had said that she knew the boundless ambition of this man and that he had probably obtained a passport from the Central Committee to go abroad.. .“How can you go around spreading this tale,” I asked with­ out mincing my words, “when you know very well that it is false?” The old woman looked at me malignly and simply said, “You are no longer a Communist!” Once she had left, Pana'it Istrati burst out, “My God, I did not think it possible for people to descend to such vileness! Ex­ plain to me how this is possible after a revolution?” A new wave of ar­ rests had swept the working-class districts of Moscow and there was

296 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

ta lk o f one h u n d re d a n d fifty “ T ro tsk yists” th ro w n in prison. Pana'it Istrati and I pa id a visit to M ik h a il Ivan o vich K a lin in , the President o f the C e n tra l S o v ie t E x ecu tive . W e were go in g to see h im about cer­ tain crim in a l m easures th at w ere in h an d against m y relatives. K a li­ nin w o rk ed in a sm all, b rig h tly lit office, v e ry soberly fu rnish ed, in an u npretentio us house n e xt to the K re m lin . H is skin was w eathered, his eyes lively, his goatee lan k and g ro o m e d — an old slyboots o f a peasant in tellectu al. W e talk ed w ith a fa ir a m o u n t o f freedom . I asked him the reason fo r these arrests o f O p p o sitio n ists, w h ic h were co n trary to the C o n stitu tio n . H e gazed c a lm ly straigh t into o u r faces, p u ttin g on his m ost sym p ath e tic air, and said, “ T h a t’s quite u n tr u e . . . there are so m an y tales b e in g pu t abo u t! W e have arrested o n ly those involved in a n ti-So v ie t conspiracy, no m ore th an a fe w dozen p e o p le . . . ” W ere we to call the H e a d o f State a liar? B u t co u ld he have said a n yth in g else to us? O u tsid e in the street Panai't rem arked, “ Pity, because he has a fine face on h im , th at old s ly b o o ts . . . ”

In these days there died in a Moscow jail, after a hunger strike last­ ing either fifty-four or thirty days according to different reports, Georgi Valentinovich Butov, one o f Trotsky’s former secretaries; they had tried to extort confessions from him which might be used to im­ plicate the Old M an. Let us pass this by in silence, please! Above all, let us not be embittered by the misfortunes o f individuals! Only poli­ tics counts. In October and November o f 19 19 ,1made some effort to shed light on another tragedy, this time in Leningrad, but with no success. On 11 October Albert Heinrichsohn had been arrested, one o f our ordinary working-class comrades from the Red Triangle fac­ tory, a militant o f 1905 and a C ivil War Communist. Ten days later his w ife was called to the House o f Arrest, where all she found o f him was a mutilated corpse, its mouth torn. The superintendent explained to the widow that the prisoner had committed suicide, and handed her a 100-ruble n o te ...T h e Party committees promised an inquiry, which they hushed up. We made our own inquiry, which took me to a tenement o f old St. Petersburg: six floors o f overpopulated apart­ ments. The dead man’s child told us how he had been taken o ff there, to rooms which he described in detail, to attend a meeting o f “Dad­ dy’s friends.” These “comrades” had interrogated him at length about

T H E YEAR S OF R ESISTAN CE: 19 28-1933

• 297

the activities and statements o f his father. GPU? Or hysteria? We failed to shed any light. A few months passed and there was the mysterious case of Blumkin. I had known and loved Yakov Grigorievich Blumkin since 1919. Tall, bony, his powerful face encircled by a thick black beard, his eyes dark and resolute, Blumkin then lived next to Chicherin in a freezing room at the Metropole. Recovering from an illness, he was making ready to conduct certain confidential assignments in the East. In the year before, even while the Foreign Ministry officials were assuring the Germans that he had been shot, the Central Committee was plac­ ing him in command o f perilous operations in the Ukraine. On 6 June 1918 Blumkin— then nineteen years old—had, on the orders of the Left Social-Revolutionary Party, killed the German Am ­ bassador in Moscow, Count Mirbach. He and his comrade Andreyev had been sent along by the Cheka to look into the case of a German officer; the Ambassador received them in a small drawing room. “I was talking to him, looking into his eyes, and saying to myself: I must kill this man... My briefcase contained a revolver among all the doc­ uments. ‘Wait,’ I said, ‘here are the papers,’ and I fired point-blank. Mirbach, wounded, fled across the big drawing room, and his secre­ tary flopped down behind the armchairs. In the drawing room Mir­ bach fell, and then I threw my grenade hard on the marble floor...” It was the day o f the Left Social-Revolutionary rising against the Bolsheviks and the Brest-Litovsk peace; the insurgents hoped to re­ sume the revolutionary war, fighting side by side with the Allies. They lost. Blumkin also told me, “We knew that Germany, in a state o f col­ lapse, was incapable o f starting a new war against Russia. We wanted to inflict an insult on her. We were banking on the effect of this ac­ tion in Germany itself.” Again: “We were negotiating with German revolutionaries who asked us to help them organize an attempt on the Kaiser’s life. The attempt fell through because we insisted that the principal actor should be a German. They didn’t find anyone. A little later, in the Ukraine, towards the time his comrade Bonskoy would be assassinating Field Marshal Eichhorn, Blumkin rallied to the Bolshevik Party. His former party was now outlawed. His former comrades fired several bullets into him and came to throw a grenade



into the hospital ward where he was; he threw it back out o f the win­ dow. In 192.0-zi he was sent to Persia to start a revolution, together with Kuchik Khan, in Gilan on the Caspian coast. And I met him again in Moscow, in the uniform o f the S taff Academy, more poised and virile than ever, his face solid and smooth-shaven, the haughty profile o f an Israelite warrior. He declaimed lines from Firdousi and published articles on Foch in Pravda. “M y ‘Persian tale’ ? There were a few hundred o f us ragged Russians down there. One day we had a telegram from the Central Com mittee: C ut your losses, revolution in Iran now o f f . .. But for that we would have got to Teheran.” I saw him later on his return from Ulan Bator, where he had just organized the army o f the Peoples Republic o f M ongolia. The Red A rm y’s Secret Service entrusted him with missions in India and Egypt. He stayed in a small apartment in the A rbat quarter, bare except for a rug and a splendid saddle, a gift from some Mongol prince, and curved sabers hung over his bottles o f excellent wine. Blum kin belonged to the Opposition, without having any occasion to make his sympathies very public. Trilisser, the head o f the G P U ’s Secret Service abroad, Yagoda, and M enzhinsky were well acquainted with his views. A ll the same, they sent him to Constantinople to spy on Trotsky— perhaps also to arrange some plot against the Old Man. Did B lum kin accept in order to keep an eye on Trotsky’s safety? A t all events he met the Old Man in Constantinople and undertook to bring us a message from him, which was actually quite harmless. In Moscow he became suddenly aware o f being watched at every turn: this sur­ veillance was so minute that he knew he was lost. There is good ground for supposing that a woman G P U agent called Rosenzweig, who had become a confidante o f his, betrayed him. When he was on the point o f being arrested, knowing that the code o f the Secret Service left him without a chance, he went to see Radek. Radek advised him to go at once to the Chairm an o f the Central Control Commission, Or­ dzhonikidze, a harsh but scrupulous character who was now the only man who could save his life. Radek arranged the meeting— too late. Blum kin was arrested in the street. He betrayed nobody. After being condemned to death by the G P U ’s secret Collegium, I know that he requested and obtained a fortnight’s reprieve to write his memoirs;

T H E YEAR S OF R ESISTAN CE: 19 28-1933

• 299

they made a first-rate b ook.. .When they came to take him to the ex­ ecution cellar, he asked if the newspapers would publish the news of his decease; they promised him this—a promise that, of course, was never kept. The news o f Blumkin’s execution was published only in Germany. Leon Sedov spoke to me later o f Blumkin’s secretary, an enthusiastic young French Communist of bourgeois origin who was shot at Odessa. Sedov’s recollection o f this young man was full of warmth but his overburdened memory had let his name slip. I can see us now, the few survivors that we were, in the gardens of the Marx-Engels Institute, gathered around a charming girl comrade, assembling the different cross-references and scraps we had on the last days and death o f Blumkin. Should we now, we asked one another, publish the letters o f Zinoviev and Kamenev that told how in 1914 the General Secretary had suggested that they get rid of Trotsky “ by a Florentine technique” ? Would we not cast discredit on the regime by publishing this abroad? I was of the opinion that, whatever else, the information about “Florentine techniques” should be sent to our comrades in the West. I do not know if this was done. Duplicity began its rule over the Party: a natural consequence of the stifling of free opinion by tyranny. The “capitulator” comrades kept their ideas, of course, and met together; as they were absolutely forbidden to participate in political life, they amounted to no more than a circle viewed with suspicion by the Politburo. I came across Smilga, who gave me an admirable account of the way these men were thinking. (This was in 1929.) He was sore at the pinpricks that Trotsky had dealt him in My Life, and shocked by the apotheosis o f Stalin, but he said: “The Opposition is all astray with its sterile bitterness. One’s duty is to work with and in the Party. Think of what is at stake in these struggles: the agony of a nation of 160 million souls. See how the Socialist revolu­ tion is already advancing over its predecessor, the bourgeois revolution: with Danton, Hebert, Robespierre, and Barras, all discussion ended on the guillotine. I am back from Minussinsk. What do our petty deportations amount to? Oughtn’t we all to be walking around by now with our heads tucked underneath our arms?” Again: “If only we can bring off this victory” (collectivization) “over the antiquated peas­ antry, without exhausting the workingclass, it will be quite splendid ...

300 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

H e h ad his do u bts abou t it, to tell the tru th . (H e disappeared into ja il in

1932, w h ere he died, d oubtless after tortu re, in 1937.) The pro­

gram th at w e h ard-co re O p p o sitio n ists have d ra w n up w ill not change n o w till

1937: the reform o f the So viet State b y a return to w o rk in g-

class d em o cracy. T h e fe w o f us th at there are in the hard core are the o n ly ones to be saved from d o u b le -d e alin g b y ou r intransigence, but w e to o are ju st “ p o litical corpses.”

W ithin the Party, the Right resists expulsion, and the Zinoviev tendency, reinstated but humbled, keeps its forces intact. One o f the last actions o f our M oscow “Center” had been the publication, in 1928, o f pamphlets that told o f the confidential discussions between Bukharin and Kamenev. Bukharin, who was still a member o f the Politburo and the Party’s official theoretician, said, “W hat can one do before an adversary o f this type: a Genghis Khan, a debased product o f the Central Committee? I f the country perishes, we all perish [i.e., the Party]. I f the country manages to recover, he twists around in time and we still perish.” Bukharin also told Kamenev, “Nobody must know o f this conversation. D on’t phone me, the line is tapped. I’m being shadowed and you are being watched.” O ur “Center” (B. M. Eltsin) may very well have much to answer for in publishing these documents. From that moment onward, the Right o f Bukharin, Rykov, and Tomsky is de facto ousted from power. In these critical years plot w ill succeed plot, in a Party where any­ one who allows him self to think in terms o f the national interest has to have two faces, one for official use and one for other purposes. I shall merely enumerate. A t the end o f 1930 the President o f the Coun­ cil o f People’s Commissars o f the Russian Federated Soviet Socialist Republic (R FSSR ), Sergei Ivanovich Syrtsov, disappears with a whole group o f leaders accused o f opposition (and his successor, Danil Yego­ rovich Sulimov, will later suffer the same fate). Together with Syrtsov go Lominadze, Shatskin, and Yan Sten, alias the “Young Stalinist Left.” (Lominadze will kill him self around 1935; Yan Sten, classed as a “terrorist,” w ill be shot around 1937-) A t the end o f 1932 the “Riutin group” is imprisoned. Riutin, once the Secretary o f the Moscow Committee, who had organized gangs o f

T H E YEAR S OF R ESISTAN CE: 19 28-1933

• 301

thugs against us, is close to several intellectuals o f the Bukharin ten­ dency, such as Slepkov, Maretsky, Astrov, and Eichenwald (all “Red professors”) and also with the Old Bolshevik worker Kayurov. They have drawn up a program o f reform for nation and Party, had it distrib­ uted in some Moscow factories, and communicated its contents to Zi­ noviev, Kamenev, and several o f us. It is a merciless indictment o f the policies o f the General Secretary, and concludes by calling for a fresh departure, with the implication that all expelled members, including Trotsky, should be reinstated. The situation of the regime is painted in such bold terms that the following speculation comes at the end: “One might wonder whether these are not the fruits o f an immense and quite conscious provocation . .. ” The General Secretary is compared to the police spy Azev o f olden times. Riutin, condemned to death by the secret Collegium, is pardoned for a short w hile... For having read this document without informing on its authors, Zinoviev, himself betrayed by Yan Sten, is once more expelled from the Party: when Yaroslavsky tells him the verdict, he clutches at his throat, chokes, and whispers, ‘T il never live through it!” before falling into a faint. At the end o f 1931 two Old Bolsheviks in the Commissariat of Ag­ riculture, freshly back from the Caucasus, denounce the results o f col­ lectivization in a circle o f intimates, are arrested, and disappear: this is the case o f Eismont and Tolmachev. 1933 sees the beginning o f the nationalist deviation” cases in the federated republics: the imprison­ ment of Shumsky and Maximov in the Ukraine; the suicide of Skrypnik, who was one o f Stalin’s most determined partisans; Purges in the governments o f Central Asia. An engineer, back from deportation in distant Siberia, tells me, “My prison train had three kinds o f carriage: one kind lice-ridden and freezing, out of which corpses were cleared— this was for common criminals and abandoned children {besprizornyi)-, another kind, fairly tolerable, for technicians and “ hoarders of currency”—the old Liberal Nikolai Vissarionovich Nekrassov, a former Minister o f Kerensky, died in one of them; and a privileged carriage for the People’s Commissars of Central A sia...” O u r com m unications w ith Trotsky were almost completely cut off. Com m unication among ourselves was so difficult that for months



we thought Rakovsky was dead; he was in fact only sick. I had man­ aged, in 1929 I think, to send Trotsky a voluminous correspondence passed out from the Verkhne-Uralsk prison, written in microscopic characters on thin strips o f paper; it was the last he ever received from his persecuted comrades. The Bulletin o f the Opposition that Trotsky published reached us only occasionally and in fragments, and ceased to reach us altogether at around this time. I was astonished at the thoroughness with which it was possible, in a country so large, to seal o ff hermetically the frontiers o f the intellect, at all events insofar as these could be subject to police control. We knew o f the line of Trotsky’s thought only through officials imprisoned after returning from abroad, who discussed it all in the prison yards, now the last re­ sorts o f free Socialist inquiry in the U SS R . We were upset at the dis­ covery that on several serious issues Trotsky, under the unfortunate influence o f his Party patriotism, was grossly mistaken. A t the time o f Blum kin’s execution, a normal G P U crime, he still defended this In­ quisition on principle. Later, he accepted as true the tales o f sabotage and “conspiracy” by technicians and Mensheviks, being unable to imagine the state o f inhumanity, cynicism, and mania that our police apparatus had sunk to. We had no means o f informing him, though the views expressed on these monstrous impostures by the Socialist press o f the period were very shrewd. T o g e th e r w ith T ro tsk y, w e were against reckless industrialization, again st forcible co lle ctiviza tio n , against the inflated Plans, against the sacrifices and the in fin ite ly dan gerou s strain inflicted on the co u ntry b y b u reau cratic totalitarian ism . A t the sam e tim e w e recognized, th ro u gh all the disasters, the successes achieved by this same industri­ alizatio n. T h is w e ascribed to the enorm ous m oral capital o f the S o ­ cialist revolution. T h e storehouse o f intelligent, resolute popular energy th at it had bu ilt up w as n o w revealed as inexhaustible. Th e su­ p e rio rity o f p la n n in g, clu m sy and tyran n ical as it w as, in com parison w ith its absence, w as also v isib ly m an ifest to us. B u t we cou ld not, like so m an y foreign tourists and bourgeois jo u rnalists w ith a naive pro ­ pen sity to the w o rsh ip o f force, fail to note that the cost o f industrial­ ization w as a h u n d red tim es m ultiplied by tyranny. W e rem ained co n vin ced th at the achievem ents o f a system o f So cia list dem ocracy



• 303

would have been better, infinitely better and greater, wich less cost, no famine, no terror, and no suppression o f thought. A few days after my release from prison in 192.8,1was laid out by an unendurable abdominal pain; for twenty-four hours I was face-to-face with death. I was saved by chance, in the shape of a doctor friend who came in at once, and another friend, a Menshevik, who would not leave my side in the Mariinsky Hospital till I was out of danger. It was an intestinal occlusion. I can still see the dim night illumination o f that hospital ward in which quite suddenly, seized by a great fit of shivers, I emerged from semi-delirium to recover a rich and tranquil inner lucidity. “I think that I am going to die,” I told the nurse, “fetch the house doctor.” And I reflected

S e r g e , w ith p riso n b e a r d , a n d V la d y , th e d a y a fte r h is f a th e r ’s release

that I had labored, striven, and schooled myself titanically, without producing anything valuable or lasting. I told myself, “I f I chance to survive, I must be quick and finish the books I have begun: I must write, w rite...” I thought o f what I would write, and mentally sketched the plan o f a series of documentary novels about these unfor­ gettable times. A Russian nurse’s pretty, broad-cheeked face was lean­ ing over me, a doctor was giving me an injection; I felt utterly detached from myself, and it occurred to me that my son was, at eight years, already old enough not to forget me. Then I saw the doctor making weird passes with his hand above my face. I managed to sit up, and saw that he was flicking away some great, bloated lice. “Do you think that I shall live?” I asked him. “ I think so,” he replied seriously. “Thank you for that.” On the following morning he told me that I was safe. I had taken my decision: that is how I became a writer. I had renounced writing when I joined the Russian Revolution. Literature seemed quite a secondary matter—so far as I personally was concerned— in an age like this. My duty was dictated by history itself. Besides, whenever I did any writing, there was such a striking discrepancy between my sensibility and my opinions that I could ac­ tually write nothing of any value. Now that nearly ten years had rolled by, I felt sufficiently in tune with myself to write. I reflected that our

304 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y o w n re a ctio n a ry phase m igh t be length y; the W e st, too, m igh t be sta­ b ilized fo r years to com e; and since I w as refused the right to jo in the w o rk o f in d u stria liza tio n , except at the price o f m y freedom o f o pin ­ ion, I co u ld (w h ile re m ain in g u n co m p ro m isin g as an O p p o sitio nist fo rced into in a ctiv ity) provid e a serviceable te stim o ny on these times. B ecau se o f m y love o f h isto ry I h ad accu m u lated a pile o f notes and d o cu m en ts abo u t the R evo lu tio n. I set m y se lf to w ritin g

the Russian Revolution ished Men in Prison.

and to g ath e rin g m aterial for

Year One of

Year Two.

I fin­

H isto rica l w o rk did n o t satisfy me entirely. A p a r t from the fact th at it dem ands b o th resources and u n d istu rb e d leisure o f an order th at I shall p rob ab ly never enjoy, it does n o t a llo w enough scope for s h o w in g m en as th ey really live, d ism a n tlin g th eir inner w o rk in gs and pe n e tra tin g deep into th eir souls. A certain degree o f light can on ly be cast on h istory, I am co n v in ced , b y literary creation that is free and disinterested, w h ic h is to say d evoid o f an y m arket preoccupations. I had , and still have, an im m ense respect fo r literary a ctiv ity— and an e q u a lly great co n tem pt for “ L ite ra tu re.” M a n y authors w rite for plea­ sure (especially the rich ones) and m ay do it w ell; m any others practice a con sciou s profession fo r the sake o f earn in g a liv in g and w in n in g a nam e. T h o se w h o have a message w ith in them express it in the p ro ­ cess, and th eir co n trib u tio n has h um an value. T h e others are sim ply suppliers to the bo o k trade. M y concep tion o f w ritin g was and still is th at it needs a m igh tier ju stification : as a m eans o f expressing to men w h a t m ost o f them live in w a rd ly w ith o u t b ein g able to express, as a m eans o f co m m u n io n , a te stim o ny to the vast flo w o f life through us, w h o se essential aspects w e m ust try to fix for the benefit o f those w h o w ill com e after us. In this respect, I belonged to the tradition o f R u s­ sian w ritin g . I k n e w th at I w o u ld never have tim e to polish m y w orks properly. T h e y w o u ld be w o rth w h ile w ith o u t that. O th ers, less engaged in co m ­ bat, w o u ld pe rfect a style, but w h a t I had to tell, th ey cou ld not tell. T o each his o w n task. I h ad to struggle bitterly fo r m y fa m ily’s daily bread, in a so ciety w here all doors were closed to m e, and w here people were often afraid to shake m y h and in the street. I asked m yse lf every day, w ith o u t any special em otion, but engrossed b y the problem o f

T H E YE A R S OF R ESISTA N C E: 1928-1933

• 305

rent, my wife’s health, my son’s education, whether I would not be ar­ rested in the night. For my books I adopted an appropriate form: I had to construct them in detached fragments which could each be separately completed and sent abroad posthaste; which could, if abso­ lutely necessary, be published as they were, incomplete; and it would have been difficult for me to compose any other way. Individual existences were o f no interest to me—particularly my own—except by virtue o f the great ensemble of life whose particles, more or less endowed with consciousness, are all that we ever are. And so the form o f the classical novel seemed to me impoverished and out­ moded, centering as it does upon a few beings artificially detached from the world. The usual French novel, with its drama of love and self-interest focused, at best, upon a single family, was an example I was determined to avoid at all costs. My first novel had no central character; its subject was not myself, nor this or that person, but sim­ ply men and prison. I next wrote Birth o f Our Power, sketching the surge of revolutionary idealism across the devastated Europe of 191718. After that Conquered City, a stern documentary on Petrograd in 1919. If anyone influenced me it was John Dos Passos, though


not attracted by his literary impressionism. I had the strong convic­ tion of charting a new road for the novel. Among Russian writers Bo­ ris Pilnyak was venturing on a similar path. Between 1918 and 1933 I thus completed one historical book and three novels, which were published in France and Spain. From Paris I received encouragement from Jacques Mesnil, Magdeleine Paz, the brilliant poet Marcel Martinet,* Georges Duhamel,* Leon Werth,* and the review Europe. I needed it to some small degree, since I was working almost entirely alone, persecuted, and “more than half­ beaten,” as I wrote to my distant friends. In Paris itself, my books met hostility from two quarters. Bourgeois critics viewed them as revolu­ tionary works which were best passed over in silence (besides, the au­ thor was the devil o f a long way off, wasn’t he?); left-wing critics, dominated, influenced, or paid by the Soviet Union, boycotted me even more thoroughly. Despite it all, my books lived out their lives tenaciously, but they earned me very little. In Russia my situation was critical. My old friend Ilya Ionov, the



head o f the literary publishing house o f the State Press, a former con­ vict and once a Zinovievite Oppositionist, stopped the printing o f my first novel when it was already translated, proofread, and paginated. I went to see him. “ Is it true what they tell me?” “ Its true. You can pro­ duce a masterpiece every year, but so long as you are not back in the line o f the Party, not a line o f yours w ill see the light o f day!” I turned my back on him and walked out. A t the time when my second novel was published in Paris, I raised the issue with Comrade Leopold Averbach, the General Secretary of the Association o f Proletarian Authors. O ur acquaintance was o f long standing. He was a young Soviet careerist possessed o f an extraordi­ nary talent for the bureaucratic callings. Less than thirty, he had the hairless head o f the young senior official, the verbal fluency o f a C on­ gress demagogue, and the dominating, falsely sincere eyes o f the ma­ nipulator o f meetings. “I will see to it, Victor Lvovich! I know about your attitude, but as for boycotting you! Com e now! W e’ve not got as bad as that!” While this was going on, the Leningrad W riters’ Publishing Cooperative, which was about to sign a contract with me, ran afoul o f the categori­ cal veto o f the Regional Party Com m ittee s Cultural Section. The hazards o f politics did, it is true, give me my revenge on Averbach and his uniformed literati. I published in Paris a small book entitled L it­ erature a n d Revolution, which inveighed against the conformism of so-called “proletarian literature.” Scarcely had this volume left the press when Leopold Averbach learnt from the Soviet newspapers that the Association o f Proletarian Authors had been dissolved by the Central Committee and that he was no longer the General Secretary o f anything at all! He was still the nephew o f Yagoda, the head o f Security, and a good bureaucrat to boot. He delivered a number o f speeches condemning his own “cul­ tural politics” o f yesterday. People asked each other, smiling, “Have you read Averbach’s diatribe against Averbach?” And the Central Com m ittee gave him the task o f managing a Communist organiza­ tion in Magnitogorsk. There Leopold Averbach initiated a sabotage trial, acted him self as prosecutor against the technicians concerned, had them condemned to death according to the ritual— and disap-

T H E YE A R S OF R ESISTA N CE: 1928-1933

• 307

peared from my view. (He was, in 1937, after the fall o f Yagoda, de­ nounced in the Soviet press for a traitor, saboteur, terrorist, and Trotskyist, and thence shot.) Although my little book on Literature and Revolution had anticipated the Central Committee’s decision, it was banned in the USSR. At this point I should have dealt at length with the Soviet writers whose life I shared; with their resistance, timid and stubborn at once, to the smothering o f their creative freedom; with their humiliations and their suicides. I should have outlined portraits o f remarkable men. I have no space to do so, and o f these men, some are still alive. In speaking of them I might put them in danger. What I must tell here briefly is the tragedy o f a literature o f mighty spiritual sources, stran­ gled by the totalitarian system— and also the diverse reactions evoked by this tragedy in men supremely gifted for creative work, whether poets or novelists. Poets and novelists are not political beings because they are not es­ sentially rational. Political intelligence, based though it is in the revolu­ tionary’s case upon a deep idealism, demands a scientific and pragmatic armor, and subordinates itself to the pursuit of strictly defined social ends. The artist, on the contrary, is always delving for his raw material in the subconscious, in the preconscious, in intuition, in a lyrical inner life that is rather hard to define; he does not know with any certainty either where he is going or what he is creating. I f the novelist’s charac­ ters are truly alive, they function by themselves, to a point at which they eventually take their author by surprise, and sometimes he is quite perplexed if he is called upon to classify them in terms of morality or social utility. Dostoevsky, Gorky, and Balzac brought to life, all lov­ ingly, criminals whom the Political Man would shoot most unlovingly. That the writer should involve himself in social struggles, have enrich­ ing convictions, that his potency will increase to the extent that he identifies himself with the rising classes, thus communicating with masses of individuals who carry within them a precious potential all this does not significantly alter the simple psychological truths that I set out above. Is it possible for one man to be both a great politician and a great novelist at the same time, uniting in one personality Thiers and Victor Hugo, Lenin, and Gorky? I doubt it, given that the two

308 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

temperaments are profoundly incompatible, and anyway, history has not yet achieved such a success. Under all regimes writers have adapted to the spiritual needs o f the dominant classes and depending on the historical circumstances, this raised them to greatness or maintained them in mediocrity. Their adaptation, in great periods o f interior and spontaneous culture, was full o f contradictions and fertile torments. The new totalitarian states, imposing on their writers narrow ideo­ logical directives and absolute conformism, succeed only in killing the creative faculty within them. Between 19 11 and 1918 Soviet literature had its glorious season o f full flower. From 1918 onwards it declines and dies out. Doubtless they go on printing— but what gets printed? M ax Eastman found the right expression for it: “Writers in uni­ form.” The conscription and uniform ing o f Russia’s writers took sev­ eral years to complete; creative freedom disappeared side by side with freedom o f opinion, with which it is inseparably bound. In 1928 or 1929 the Leningrad writers were on the point o f protesting openly against the censorship, the press campaigns o f slander and threats, and the administrative pressure. I was consulted and thought we should. Gorky, when asked, “D o you think, Alexei M aximovich, that the time has come to get ourselves deported?” replied, “Yes, it’s time.” I also heard him make the following joke: “In the old days, Russian writers only had the policeman and the archbishop to fear; today’s Com m unist official is both at once. He is always wanting to lay his filthy paws on your soul.” N othing was done, apart from interviews with high officials (who offered reassurances) and routine acts of petty cowardice. W hen the press denounced Zamyatin and Pilnyak as public enemies, the first for a biting satire on totalitarianism, the other for a fine realist short novel, full o f suffering {Mahogany), my writer friends voted whatever was required against their two com­ rades, only to go and ask their pardon, in private. When, at the time o f the technicians’ trial, the Party organized demonstrations in favor o f the execution o f the culprits and unanimous votes for the death penalty, the writers voted and demonstrated like everybody else— this although they numbered men who knew what was going on and were troubled by it, such as Konstantin Fedin, Boris Pilnyak, Alexei Tol­ stoy, Vsevolod Ivanov, and Boris Pasternak.*


• 309

During the Ramzin trial the Leningrad Writers’ Union sum­ moned me to an important meeting. Knowing that it was to concern itself with demanding executions, I did not go. A member of the Bu­ reau came to see me. “Doubtless you were ill, Victor Lvovich?” “Not at all. I am on principle opposed to the death penalty in our country at this present time. I think that the revolver has been abused in such excess that the only way of restoring any value to human life in the USSR would be to proclaim the abolition o f the death penalty in accordance with the 1917 Program. I request you to take note o f this statement.” “Certainly, certainly. In that case, will you kindly take note o f our resolution, unanimously carried, on the trial of the Industrial Party, and give us your approval with your reservation about the death pen­ alty?” “No. I think that trials are the affair of the courts, not of the unions.” And yet... nothing happened to me. Two schoolmistresses who adopted the same attitude (I did not know them) were forthwith ex­ pelled from their union, hounded from their jobs, arrested as counter­ revolutionaries, and deported. The worst o f it all was that after having gone to so much trouble to obtain an outcry for bloodshed, the Cen­ tral Committee reprieved the condemned men. Every time this sort o f voting took place, the writers felt a little more domesticated. Our social tea-gatherings were divided into two parts. From eight to ten at night conversation was conventional and directly inspired by the newspaper editorials: official admiration, of­ ficial enthusiasm, etc. Between ten and midnight, after a few glasses of vodka had been drunk, a kind o f hysteria surfaced, and conversations now diametrically at odds—were sometimes punctuated by fits of anger or weeping. Face-to-face, no more official-speak, but instead an alert critical intelligence, a tragic sorrow, a Soviet patriotism coming from souls being flayed alive. Andrei Sobol, an outstanding novelist and a good revolutionary (ex­ convict), had killed himself at the same time as Sergei Yesenin, in 192.6. There were several suicides o f young folk; I remember that of Victor Dmitriev and his wife. On 14 April 1930, Vladimir Mayakovsky fired

310 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

a bullet into his heart. I wrote o f this (in Paris, anonymously): “ This death comes after eighteen leaden months o f stagnation in literature: not one work in this period— not a single one!— but plenty o f frenzied campaigns against one writer or other, lots o f major and minor excommunications and recantations o f heresies in abundance. We were unable to hold on to this artist, that much is clear. Enormous publicity, official recognition, financial rewards were not enough for him pre­ cisely because o f the portion o f lies and the great emptiness they con­ cealed. He was a wonderful ‘ fellow traveler’; he wasted his best talents in a weary quest for G od knows what ideological line, demanded of him by petty pedants who made a living out o f it. H aving become the most-requested rhymester o f hack journalism, he suffered at sacrific­ ing his personality to this daily drudgery. He felt that he was going to the dogs. H e never stopped justifying him self and pleading that it was a surrender to superior force. . . ” Mayakovsky had just joined Leopold Averbach’s Association o f Proletarian Authors. In his last poem, “At the Top o f M y Voice!” he wrote o f " the petrified crap o f the present. . . ” I know that he had spent the previous evening drinking, bitterly justifying him self before his friends who kept telling him harshly, “ You’re finished; all you ever do is piss out copy for the hacks.” I had only held one conversation o f any significance with him. He was an­ noyed at a long article I had devoted to him in Clarte at a time when he was unknown in the West. “W hy do you say that my Futurism is no more than Past-ism?” “Because your hyperboles and shouts, and even your boldest im­ ages, are all saturated with the past in its most wearisome aspects. And you write: “ In men’s souls Vapor and electricity... “D o you really think that’s good enough? Surely this is material­ ism o f a peculiarly antiquated variety?” He knew how to declaim before crowds, but not how to argue. “Yes, I ’m a materialist! Futurism is materialist!” We parted cordially,

T H E Y E A R S OF R E S I S T A N C E : 1928-1933

• 311

but he became so official that I never met him again and most of the friends of his youth dropped him. I no longer saw anything o f Gorky, who had come back to the USSR terribly changed. My near relatives, who had known him since he was a youth, had stopped seeing him since the day he refused to intervene on behalf o f the five condemned to death in the Shakhty trial. He wrote vile articles, merciless and full of sophistry, justifying the worst trials on grounds o f Soviet humanism! What was going on inside him? We knew that he still grumbled, that he was uneasy, that his harshness had an obverse o f protest and grief. We told each other: “One of these days he’ll explode!” And indeed he did, a short while before his death, finally breaking with Stalin. But all his collaborators on the Novaya Zhizn (New Life) o f 1917 were disappearing into jail and he said nothing. Literature was dying and he said nothing. I happened to catch a glimpse o f him in the street. Leaning back alone, in the rear seat o f a big Lincoln car, he seemed remote from the street, remote from the life of Moscow, reduced to an algebraic cipher of himself. He had not aged, but rather thinned and dried out, his head bony and cropped inside a Turkish skullcap, his nose and cheek­ bones jutting, his eye sockets hollow like a skeleton’s. Here was an as­ cetic, emaciated figure, with nothing alive in it except the will to exist and think. Could it, I wondered, be some kind of inner drying, stiff­ ening, and shrinking peculiar to old age, which had begun in him at the age of sixty? I was so struck with this idea that, years later in Paris, at the very time when Romain Rolland, then sixty-five, was following exactly the same spiritual path as old Gorky, I was inexpressibly reas­ sured by the humanity and clear-sightedness o f Andre Gide, and I thought gratefully o f John Dewey’s honest perspicacity. After this encounter I tried to see Alexei Maximovich but was barred at the door by his secretary (GPU), a robust character with pince-nez, generally despised and singularly well-named since he was called Kriuchkov— i.e., Hook. Boris Andreyevich Pilnyak was writing The Volga Falls to the Cas­ pian Sea. On his worktable I saw manuscripts under revision. It had been suggested to him that, to avoid banishment from Soviet literature,

312 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

he should remodel Mahogany, that “counterrevolutionary” tale o f his, into a novel agreeable to the Central Committee. This body’s C u l­ tural Section had assigned him a co-author who, page by page, would ask him to suppress this and add that. The helpmate’s name was Yezhov, and a high career awaited him, followed by a violent death: this was the successor to Yagoda as head o f the G PU , shot like Yagoda in 1938 or 1939. Pilnyak would twist his great mouth: “ H e has given me a list of fifty passages to change outright!” “A h !” he would exclaim, “ if only I could write freely! W hat would I not do!” A t other times I found him in the throes o f depression. “They’ll end up by throwing me in ja il... Don ’t you think so?” I gave him new heart by explaining that his fame in Europe and America safeguarded him; I was right, for a while. “There isn’t a single thinking adult in this country,” he said, “who has not thought that he might be sh ot. . . ” A n d he related to me details of killings that he had picked up while drinking with tipsy executioners. H e wrote a wretched article for Pravda on some technicians’ trial, received a passport for travel abroad on Stalin’s personal recommen­ dation, visited Paris, N ew York, and Tokyo, and came back to us dressed in English tweed, with a little car o f his own, dazzled by America. “You people are finished!” he told me. “ Revolutionary ro­ manticism is out! We are entering an era o f Soviet Americanism: technique and practical soundness!” He was childishly pleased with his fame and material com forts.. .Thirty-five years o f age, books like

The Naked Year, Ivan and Maria, and Machines and Wolves behind him, a love for and fam iliarity with the lands o f Russia, goodwill to­ wards the pow erfu l. .. He was tall, an oval head, strong features, a Germanic type, very egotistical and very human. He was criticized for not being a M arxist, for being a “typical intellectual,” for having a national and peasant vision o f the revolution, for emphasizing in­ stinct above reason ... Shortly before my arrest we took a long car trip together to enjoyvistas o f sunshine and unsullied snow. Suddenly he slowed down and turned to face me, his eyes saddened: “ I do believe, Victor Lvovich, that one day I too will put a bullet into my head. Perhaps it’s what I ought to do. I cannot emigrate like Zamyatin: I could not live apart

T H E Y E A R S O F R E S I S T A N C E : 1928-1933

• 313

from Russia. And I have the feeling that as I come and go chere is a gun in my back, held by a pack o f blackguards.. When I was arrested he had the courage co go and protest to the GPU. (He disappeared without trial in 1937, quite mysteriously: one of the two or three real creacors o f Soviet literature, a great writer translated into ten languages, disappeared without anyone in the Old World or the New—except myself, and my voice was stifled—inquir­ ing after his fate or his end!) One cricic has said that the works he had written with Yezhov “shout the lie and whisper the truth.” The star o f Count Alexei Nikolayevich Tolstoy was climbing gen­ tly to its zenith. I had met him in Berlin in 1922, an authentic counter­ revolutionary emigre, negotiating his return to Russia and his future royalties. Highly esteemed by the educated classes under Tsarism, a discreet liberal and honest patriot, he had fled with the White forces from the Revolution. He was a decent stylist and now and then a good psychologist, skillful enough to adapt to the public taste, to turn out a successful play or a novel o f contemporary interest. In character, manner, and morals he was really a high Russian lord of olden days, loving beautiful things, good living, polite literature, cautiously lib­ eral opinions, the odor o f power, and, what is more, the Russian peo­ ple: “our eternal little muzhik.” He invited me out to his villa at Dietskoe Selo, where his furniture came from the Imperial palaces, to hear the first chapter of his Peter the Great. At this time he was not particularly well-regarded, and was

deeply distressed by the sight of the devastated countryside; he con­ ceived of his great historical novel as a defense of the peasant folk against tyranny as well as an explanation of the present tyranny in terms of one of the past. A little later, the analogy he drew between Peter the Great and the General Secretary turned out to be strangely satisfying to the latter. Alexei Tolstoy, too, now began to protest aloud, when he was in his cups, that it was almost impossible to write in such an oppressive atmosphere. He told the General Secretary him­ self as much, in the course o f a writers’ reception, and the General Secretary drove him home in his car, reassured him, lavished him with pledges of friendship... On the following day, the press stopped attacking the novelist: Alexei Tolstoy was revising his manuscripts.

314 • M EM O IR S OF A R EV O L U T IO N A R Y

T o d a y he is the o fficial “great w r ite r” o f S o viet R ussia. B u t has he ever in q u ired after the fate o f B o ris P iln ya k or so m an y others w h o were h is friends? T h e q u a lity o f his w ritin g s has su n k quite incredibly, and falsificatio ns o f h isto ry can be fo u n d in them on a scale th at is simply m on stro u s. (I am th in k in g o f a novel o f his about the C iv il W ar.)

Three men far removed from this rising official celebrity used to meet in an old cottage in Dietskoe, and through them I made contact with a different set o f values. These were representatives o f the Rus­ sian intelligentsia o f the great period from 1905 to 1917. The ancient, shabby interior o f the place seemed pervaded through and through with silence. Andrei Bely and Feodor Sologub would be playing chess. Sologub, the author o f the novel The Petty Demon, was in his last (the sixty-fourth) year o f his life: a small man o f an astounding pallor, his oval face well-proportioned, his forehead high, bright-eyed, timid, and introverted. Since the death o f his wife he had been delving into mathematics for some proof o f an abstract form o f immortality. His work had been concentrated variously on the mystical world, the sen­ sual world, and the Revolution. H is utterances displayed a childish ingenuity, and it was said o f him that all he lived on now was “ his big secret.” In the visionary eyes and passionate voice o f Andrei Bely an inextinguishable flame still burned. He was fighting for his impris­ oned wife and w riting his autobiography, A t the Frontier o f Two Ep­

ochs; he lived even now in a state o f intellectual fever. Ivanov-Razumnik, now failing, his face cadaverous and his suit threadbare, would from time to time emit some mordant observation; he was allowed to deal only with subjects o f literary scholarship, writing his study o f Shche­ drin— until he disappeared. C e n so rsh ip , in m an y form s, m utilated o r m urdered books. Before sen d in g a m an u scrip t to the publisher, an auth or w o u ld assemble his friends, read his w o rk to them , and discuss together w h ether suchan d-su ch pages w o u ld “pass.” Th e head o f the pu b lish in g enterprise w o u ld then co n su lt the G la v lit, o r L iteratu re O ffice, w h ich censored m anu scrip ts and proofs. O n ce the b o o k w as published, official critics w o u ld issue th eir o pin io n , on w h ic h depended the sales o f the book to libraries, w h e th e r it w o u ld be tolerated, or w h eth er it w o u ld be w ith ­ d raw n from circu latio n . I saw the entire edition o f the first volum e o f

T H E YE A R S OF R ESISTA N C E: 1928-1933

• 315

an Encyclopaedic Dictionary, which had cost the intellectuals of Len­ ingrad years o f toil, sent to be pulped. Success was manufactured wholly by the Party offices. The chosen book, recommended to all the libraries in the land, was printed in tens o f thousands of copies; the Foreign Languages Publishing House translated it into several lan­ guages; and the author, loaded with money and praise, became a “great writer” in the space o f a season, which o f course deceived no­ body. Such was the case with Maria Shaginyan and her novel Hydro­ central. In the same period, censorship and “criticism” achieved the

silencing of a masterly Communist writer who had risen from the people, Artem Vesioly. But then— the title he had given his outstand­ ing novel was Russia Washed in Blood\ The Cultural Section o f the Central Committee decided upon a subject for the theater for the season. The ideology was also given along with this theme, whether it be the harvest or the reform of counter­ revolutionaries through work in concentration camps. Thus I watched a performance o f the celebrated play The Aristocrats by Afinogenov, at the end of which we saw priests, saboteur technicians, bandits, pick­ pockets, and prostitutes, restored by forced labor in the forests of the north, strolling joyfully, all spruced up, in an idyllic camp. The author whose play was most in tune with the propaganda became famous and rich, performed in all the theaters o f Soviet Eurasia, translated by International Literature, commented on abroad... Meanwhile, young

poets, as prodigiously gifted as a Pavel Vassilev, would go to prison as soon as people started to declaim their verses in their homes... What I cannot reproduce is the atmosphere o f overpowering, sick­ ening absurdity that surrounded some o f the meetings of writers who were compelled to fanatical obedience. One day in a small, dark meet­ ing room in Herzen House, we heard a report from Averbach on the spirit of the proletariat, the collective farm, and Bolshevism in litera­ ture. Lunacharsky, frozen in a stance o f weary boredom, kept passing me ironical little notes— but he spoke nothing but a few quasi-official remarks, in terms more intelligent than the official speaker had used. Ernst Toller, lately released from a Bavarian prison, was seated be­ tween the two o f us. Bit by bit the whole deadening speech was trans­ lated for him, and in his great dark eyes, in his face of strength and

316 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

gentleness, a kind o f confusion could be seen. Surely in his years o f imprisonment as an insurgent poet, he had pictured the literature o f the Soviets as altogether different from this. I remember a meeting o f our Leningrad writers’ union in which some young men o f letters, who were nonetheless practically unlettered, suggested the formation o f “mopping-up” squads, to go to the secondhand bookshops and re­ move from them historical works which the Leader had just attacked. A n uneasy silence fell across the room. There would certainly be no place for me in this fawning literature, and even my relationships with its writers were not at all easy. My nonconformist attitude was a reproach to them, and my presence compromised them. The friendships I had left were brave ones; I have no right to speak o f them here. H ow and on what could I live? For some time after my expulsion from the Party I was allowed to carry on with my translations o f Lenin for the Lenin Institute, though my name was kept out o f the published volumes and I was checked, line by line, by experts charged with the task o f uncovering possible sabo­ tage in the disposition o f semicolons. I knew that Nadezhda Konstan­ tinovna Krupskaya was working in similar conditions on her memoirs o f Lenin; a committee was reviewing her every line. Gorky was alter­ ing his own memoirs at the demand o f the Central Committee. Kreps, the head o f International Social Publishing, a little red-eyed Tatar, greeted me, rubbing his hands: “I ’ve just started up a bookshop in the Philippines!” He put on a friendly voice to let me know that, because o f my correspondence abroad, I was in grave danger o f being indicted for treason (a capital charge). This said, he invited me to re­ flect, hinting at a glorious future for me if I returned to the Party: “One day you w ill run the Lenin Institute o f Paris!” (Poor Kreps dis­ appeared him self in 1937.) Then came the years o f rationing, famine, and black-marketeering. Authors with the right ideas received fantastic secret rations from the G P U cooperatives, including even butter, cheese, and chocolate! “Do have a little taste,” a friend asked me, “o f this highly confidential Gruyere. . . ” Dubious writers, that is, any who were lyrical, mystical, or apolitical, got mediocre official rations. I got nothing except for an occasional bit o f fish, and some o f the comrades came to tell me that

T H E Y E A R S OF R ESIST A N C E: 1928-1933

• 317

they had had to battle hard in committee to stop my name from being deleted from the list. I lived with my wife and son in a small apartment in the center of Leningrad, 19 Zhelyabova Street, in a “communal flat” o f a dozen rooms, occupied by, on average, a good thirty people. In several cases a whole family lived in one room. A young GPU officer, plus his wife, child, and grandmother, lived in a small room overlooking the court­ yard; I knew that he had been put there, in the room vacated by a jailed technician, so as to have “someone” near me. In addition, a Bessarabian student was spy­ ing on me, watching my comings and goings and listening to my conversations on the telephone (which was situated in the corridor). A little GPU secret agent lived in a hidey-hole next to the bathroom; he assured me o f his friendship, without concealing the fact that he was always being interrogated about me; he was the amiable

19 Z h e l y a b o v a S t r ee t

type o f informer. Thus, even at home, I was under constant watch from three agents. A fake Oppositionist, who was visibly annoyed at the role he had to assume, visited me once or twice a week for confi­ dential political discussions— and I knew that our conversation was filed away verbatim the next day in my dossier. A young relative on my wife’s side came one night to knock on my door. He was a delicate youth, recently married, who lived poorly: “Listen, I’ve just come from the GPU. They want me to make detailed reports on the people who visit you— I’ll lose my job if I refuse. What can I do, God, what can I do?” “Don’t fret,” I replied. “We’ll draw up your reports together...” Another time, also at night, an oldish intellectual, bespectacled, asth­ matic, and terrified by his own audacity, came in and sat for a long time recovering his breath in an armchair. Then, gathering all his courage together: “Victor Lvovich, you do not know me, but I know you, and have a high opinion o f you... I am a censor in the Secret Service. Be discreet, discreet: they’re always paying attention to you.” “I have nothing to hide. I think what I think. I am what I am.” He repeated, “I know, I know, but it’s very dangerous. .. ”

318 ■ M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

D uring my frequent sojourns in Moscow, I felt more and more that I was a hunted man. Stay at a hotel? Impossible, the hotels were reserved for officials. M y relatives, who usually put me up, found my visits too compromising and begged me to go elsewhere. Most often I spent the night in houses that had just been emptied out by the GPU; there, people had no fear o f compromising themselves any further by being myhosts. Acquaintances avoided me in the street. Bukharin, whom Iran into just outside the Lux Hotel, slipped by with a furtive “ H o w s things?”— eyes right, eyes left, then o ff sharp. Pierre Pascal’s small room, in a converted hotel on Leontievsky Street, was another spot that was devilishly spied on, but one breathed a free air there. The Italian Rossi (Angelo Tasca), who was still on the Com intern Executive, came there to stretch out on the couch. He had the broad, lumpy brow o f a dreamer— and he still hoped to bring the International back to health! H e was planning to join with Ercoli (Togliatti), in w inning over a majority of the Central Comm ittee o f the Italian Party, and then offer support to Bukharin. (Ercoli betrayed him and Rossi was expelled.) He Pierre Pascal w ith n ep h ew V lad y, M o sco w 19 19

told me, “ I can assure you, Serge, that every are three o f you together, one of

you is an agent provocateur.” “There are only two o f us,” I answered, alluding to Andres N in, always in a good mood, his long hair tossing in the wind, with whom I used to stroll through Moscow, shadowed at each step. Luck was on my side. One night I was going back through twenty degrees o f frost to the house o f some comrades to sleep in the bed o f a friend who had been arrested. A frightened little girl half-opened the door to me: “Get away quickly. They are turning the flat inside ou t... I did not know where to go, but I went. Another time I was asked to a private party, but missed the telephone call inviting me; that evening all the guests were arrested. Perhaps my presence there had been an­ ticipated? Still another time, I escaped from M aria M ikhailovna Joffe’s house while the police were surrounding it. One o f them, naturally,

T H E Y E A R S O h R E S I S T A N C E : 1 9 2 8 - 1 9 3 3 • 319

clung co my heels; withouc turning around I hurriedly skirted the white facade o f the Comintern building, turned the corner, and made an acrobatic leap to grab a tram going along at full speed.. .This will last as long as it lasts... (The young widow o f our great comrade Joffe disappeared forever, deported to Central Asia with her son—who died there— and then imprisoned several times. Her life ended in cap­ tivity in 1936, no one knows exactly where or how. I had known her as a fair-haired young girl, proud and coquettish; when I met her again she was a woman, charming in the way o f Russian peasant women, earnest and yet playful. Her moral stamina formed a salutary influ­ ence in the Oppositionist deportee colonies o f Turkestan. She strug­ gled for eight years without weakening.) Later on, they uncovered a whole series o f conspiracies. How could anyone conspire in these conditions—when it was scarcely possible to breathe, when we lived in houses o f glass, our least gestures and re­ marks spied upon? Our crime as Oppositionists lay simply in existing, in not disown­ ing ourselves, in keeping our friendships and talking freely in one an­ other’s company. In the two capitals, the total extent o f those relationships of mine that were based on free thinking was no more than twenty individuals, all differing in their ideas and characters. Spare, tough, dressed as the true proletarian that he in fact was, the Italian syndicalist Francesco Ghezzi, o f the Unione Sindicale, emerged from imprisonment at Suzdal to tell us ardently o f the victories of in­ dustrialization. His hollow face was lit up by his feverish eyes. And he would come back from the factory with a troubled brow. “ I have seen workers falling asleep under their machines. Do you know that real wages have sunk to one-twentieth during my two years in the Isola­ tor?” (Ghezzi disappeared in 1937.) Gaston Bouley, as full of whimsy as a seasoned Paris street urchin, now working in the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, was making plans to return to France, but did not dare ask for a passport: “They’d lock me up straightaway!” (He was deported to Kamchatka in 1 9 3 7 ) That much-mellowed anarchist Herman Sandomirsky, also on the staff of the Foreign Affairs Commissariat, was publishing his power­ ful studies of Italian Fascism, and actine as our middleman with the

320 • M EM O IRS OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

G P U ; he was putting up a quiet fight for the Kropotkin Museum. (He disappeared in 1937, deported to Yenisseisk and probably shot.) Zinaida Lvovna Bronstein, Trotsky’s youngest daughter, was ill: she managed to go abroad, where she too soon committed suicide. Her character was, point for point, like that o f her father, with a lively in­ telligence and a fine spiritual toughness. H er husband, Volkov, was in prison, never to be released. Andres N in sent parcels to the victimized comrades, gathered material on M arx, and translated Pilnyak into Catalan. In order to get permission to leave for Spain, then in the midst o f revolution, he sent the Central Comm ittee a positive ultima­ tum, framed in dauntless language. H e was allowed to leave— and I shall speak later o f his dreadful end. Occasionally we would indulge in a few fantasies. I remember saying: “ I f a madman were to shoot some satrap or other, there is a grave risk that we would all be shot before the week was out.” I did not know how truly I spoke. The persecution went on for years, inescapable, tormenting and driving people crazy. Every few months the system devoured a new class o f victim. Once they ran out o f Trotskyists, they turned on the kulaks; then it was the technicians; then the former bourgeois, mer­ chants and officers deprived o f the useless right to vote; then it was the priests and the believers; then the Right O pposition.. .The G P U next proceeded to extort gold and jewels, not balking at the use o f torture. I saw it. These political and psychological diversions were necessary because o f the terrible poverty. Destitution was the driving force. I am convinced that the brutal anti-religion campaigns had their origins in the banning o f the Christian festivals, because it was the custom to eat well on these holy days and the authorities were able to supply nei­ ther white flour nor butter or sugar. Dechristianization led to the mass destruction o f churches and o f historical monuments, some as remarkable as the Sukhareva tower, in the center o f Moscow; they needed construction materials (and they were losing their heads). In this atmosphere my wife lost her reason. I found her one eve­ ning lying in bed with a medical dictionary in her hand, calm but ravaged. “ I have just read the article on madness. I know that I am go­ ing mad. W ouldn’t I be better o ff dead?” H er first crisis had come during a visit to Boris Pilnyak’s; they were discussing the technicians’

T H E YEARS O F R ES IST A NC E: 1 9 2 8 - 1 9 3 3

• 321

trial, and she pushed back the cup o f tea offered her, with revulsion— “It’s poison, don’t drink it!” I took her to psychiatrists, who were gen­ erally excellent men, and she settled down in the clinics. However, the clinics were full o f GPU people curing their nervous difficulties by exchanging secrets. She would come home again a little better for a while, and then the old story began again: ration cards refused, de­ nunciations, arrests, death sentences demanded over all the loud­ speakers placed at the street corners... She had suffered much from the disgusting persecution which was visited upon my in-laws— simply because they were my in-laws, and libertarians to boot. And always, at the root of it, was the “struggle for life” in destitution. My father-in-law, Russakov, had fought in the 1905 revolution at Rostov, acted as Secretary to the Russian Seamen’s Union in Marseilles, and was expelled from France in 1918 for orga­ nizing a strike on ships loaded with munitions for the Whites. Now he was a cloth-capped worker, living with his family in a princely cou­ ple of rooms in the same communal apartment as ourselves; from the moment that he became defenseless there were plans afoot to take them off him. People from the Party and the GPU came to insult him in his own home and hit my wife in the face; they denounced him as a counterrevolutionary, ex-capitalist, anti-Semite, and terrorist! On the same day, he was hounded from his job and his union, and in­ dicted, and whole factories, at the request o f agitators, demanded the passing o f the death penalty upon him—and they were on the way to obtaining it. This took place at a time when I was in Moscow, and the informers who kept watch on me at home thought I was under arrest, since they had lost sight o f me. Actually I was staying with Panai't Istrati in a little villa lost in the depths o f the Bykovo woods. Having learnt the news from the papers, Istrati, Dr. N , and I took the train and, once in Leningrad, ran to the editorial office of the local Pravda. “What is this senseless crime you are committing?” we asked angrily o f the editor, Rafail, a hardened, spiritless official with a shaven head. “We can prove a hundred times over that all this stuff is lies and that at the most there has been a halfhearted scuffle in a corridor, in which a young woman has been attacked and an old worker insulted!” “I personally respect working-class democracy,” replied this perfect

322 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

functionary, “and I have here ten resolutions from factories demand­ ing the death penalty! However, out o f consideration for you, I will suspend this campaign pending the investigation!” The Party leaders, by contrast, proved to be understanding and moderate. Naturally the inquiry fizzled out. A public trial ended in the acquittal o f my wife and her parents, to applause from the specta­ tors. O n the same day, the Com m unist cells ran meetings to demand the quashing o f “this scandalous judgment” and the District Attor­ ney, yielding, as he told me, to “the voice o f the masses,” obliged. A second trial took place, before a suitable magistrate. W hen Russakov was relating his life history, complete with docu­ mentation, and was telling o f his trips to New York (twenty years ago, as a dishwasher) and Bue­ nos Aires (in the hold with the other emigrants), this magistrate replied sarcastically, “You pretend to be a proletarian, but I see you have made trips abroad!” However, since all that was behind the case was a provocation on the part o f a female G P U Panait^Iscran by

informer, the second trial resulted only in a vercensure> passed, it is true, upon the victims o f the crime. This sordid affair lasted a whole year,

during every month o f which the Russakovs were refused ration cards, on the grounds that they were “ex-capitalists”; Russakov himself could find no work. The Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate held its own trial and had him reinstated in the union, without managing to find him a jo b .. .The investigator for the Inspectorate was a tall, thin young man with untidy hair and gray eyes, who displayed a singular honesty. His name was Nikolayev— and subsequently I wondered if this was the same Nikolayev, a former G P U and Inspectorate officer, who shot Kirov in 1954. Istrati went back to France, heartbroken by these experiences. It is with deep emotion that I recall his memory. He was still young, with the leanness o f the Balkan highlander, rather ugly with his large, sa­ lient nose, but so alive despite his tuberculosis, so enthusiastic for liv­ ing! W hether as a sponge fisherman, a sailor, a smuggler, a tramp, or a

T H E YE A R S OF R ESISTA N C E: 1928-1933

• 323

bricklayer’s mate, he had passed through every port on the Mediter­ ranean. Then he began to write, and cut his throat to end it all. Romain Rolland rescued him; literary fame and the sweet money of royalties came to him out o f the blue, with the publication of his Haiduk tales. He wrote without any idea o f grammar or style, as a born poet madly in love with simple things like adventure, friendship, rebellion, flesh and blood. He was incapable o f theoretical reasoning, and so could not fall into the trap o f convenient sophistry. People told him, in my hearing: “Panait, one can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Our revolution. .. ” etc. He exclaimed, “All right, I can see the broken eggs. Where’s this omelette o f yours?” We came out o f the model penal colony o f Bolshevo, where hard­ ened criminals worked in freedom under their own supervision. Istrati’s only comment was, “A pity that you can’t have all this comfort and such a wonderful system o f work unless you’ve murdered at least three people!” O f the editors o f reviews who paid him 100 rubles per article he would ask sharply, “ Is it true that a postman here earns fifty rubles a month?” At every turn he would burst into fits of violent in­ dignation. It took Istrati’s inborn mulishness to enable him to resist the corrupt approaches that were made to him, and leave the Soviet Union saying, “I shall write a book, full o f enthusiasm and pain, in which I shall tell the whole truth.” The Communist press immedi­ ately accused him o f being an agent of the Romanian Siguranta... He died, poor, forsaken, and utterly confused, in Romania. It is partly owing to him that I am still alive. Shortly afterwards I found great consolation in doing a little work alongside another great, indeed exemplary character: Vera Niko­ layevna Figner. I was translating her memoirs and she overwhelmed me in her inflexible tone with corrections. She was, at seventy-seven years of age, a tiny old woman, wrapped in a shawl against the cold, her features still regular and preserving the impression of a classical beauty, a perfect intellectual clarity, and a flawless nobility o f soul. Doubtless she looked upon herself proudly as the living symbol of the revolu­ tionary generations of the past, generations of purity and sacrifice. As a member of the Central Committee of the Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will Party) from 1879 to 1883, Vera Figner was responsible, together

324 ■ M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

with her comrades, for the decision to take to terrorism as a last re­ sort; she took part in organizing ten or so attempts against Tsar Alex­ ander II, planned the last and successful attack o f i March 1881, and kept the Party’s activity going for nearly two years after the arrest and hanging o f the other leaders. A fter this she spent twenty years in the prison fortress o f Schlusselburg, and six years in Siberia. From all these struggles she emerged frail, hard, and upright, as exacting to­ wards herself as she was to others. In 1931, her great age and quite ex­ ceptional moral standing saved her from imprisonment, although she did not conceal her outbursts o f rebellion. She died at liberty, though under surveillance, not long ago (1942.). From week to week from 1928 onwards, the ring closes in relent­ lessly. The value o f human life continuously declines, the lie in the heart o f all social relationships becomes ever fouler, and oppression ever heavier; this w ill last up to the economic relaxation o f 1935 and the subsequent explosions o f terror. I asked for a passport for abroad, and wrote the General Secretary a resolute and forthright letter to this effect. I know that it reached him, but I never had a reply. A ll I got out o f it was m ilitary demotion, though on friendly terms. I was the Deputy Com m ander o f the Front Intelligence Service, corresponding to a rank o f colonel or general. I expressed my astonishment at keep­ ing this post at a time when the whole Opposition was being impris­ oned, and the Comm andant o f S taff Selection told me with a smile, “We know perfectly well that in the event o f war the Opposition will do its duty. Here we are practical men first and foremost.” I was amazed by this display o f sense. So that I might be free to obtain a passport the military authorities reduced me to the ranks and dis­ charged me, on the grounds that I had passed the age limit for mili­ tary service. A t the end o f 193Z, the economic and political situation suddenly grew even worse. A n actual famine was raging through three-quarters o f the countryside; news was whispered o f an epidemic o f plague in the Stavropol region in the northern Caucasus. On 8 November Sta­ lin’s young wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, committed suicide in the Krem lin, with a revolver shot in the breast. A student, she had seen the portraits o f her husband in the streets, covering whole buildings;

T H E YE AR S OF RE SISTAN CE: 1928-19 33

• 325

she had lived not only at the summit o f power, surrounded by the of­ ficial lie and the tragedies o f conscience, but also in the simple reality o f Moscow. Kamenev’s daughter-in-law, a young woman doctor who had given first aid to Alliluyeva, was held in custody for some days, and a legend ascribing the death to appendicitis was spread abroad. Mysterious arrests began among the former Oppositionists who had rallied around the “general line.” At long intervals, and with me­ ticulous precautions, I would go and visit Alexandra Bronstein in Leningrad, on the other side o f the Neva, in the great, red-brick work­ ers’ city o f the Vyborg district. Her face calm beneath her white hair, she gave me firsthand news o f the Old Man, then in exile at Prinkipo, on the Golden Horn. She corresponded with him openly, and was to pay for this bravery with her life (disappearing in 1936). She told me of the suicide of Zinaida Lvovna Bronstein in Berlin, and showed me a letter from Trotsky, which said that he was surrounded by so many dangers that he never went out, and took the fresh air only very dis­ creetly in his garden. A few days later, the villa he occupied caught fire, perhaps by accident... I learnt of the arrests o f Smilga, Ter-Vaganian, Ivan Smirnov, and Mrachkovsky. Mrachkovsky, an unrepentant Oppositionist who had submitted to the Central Committee, was building a strategic railway line to the north o f Lake Baikal, and Stalin had a short while ago re­ ceived him in a friendly fashion. The leader had complained o f having only idiots around him: “A pyramid o f idiots! We need men like you...” I saw Evgeni Alexeyevich Preobrazhensky, and we opened our hearts for a moment in a dark little yard beneath leafless trees. “ I do not know where we are going,” he said. “They are stopping me from breathing, I expect anything to happen ...” Symptoms o f moral trea­ son were being uncovered in his economic works on the world crisis. Hands in his pockets, melancholy and hunched against the cold night air, he was, as I inexplicably sensed, a doomed man. My own surveillance had grown so close that arrest was perceptibly in the offing. It seemed to me that, in my communal apartment, the old mother and the wife of the GPU officer and even this young officer himself, so punctilious and pleasant, were looking at me in a peculiar way. The old lady sought me out timidly and said, “How terrible his

326 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

job is! Every time my son goes out at night, I pray for h im . . . ” She gave me a meaningful look and added: “A nd I also pray for the others.. .” I judged that I had a seventy percent probability o f disappearing in the very near future. A s a unique opportunity came my way to get a message to some friends in Paris, I drew up a letter, or testament, ad­ dressed to Magdeleine and Maurice Paz, Jacques Mesnil, and Marcel M artinet, asking them to publish the essentials o f it if I disappeared. In this way the last years I had spent in resistance would not have been completely wasted. I believe that I was the first, in this document, to define the Soviet State as a totalitarian state: For many, many years, the Revolution has been in a phase o f reaction.. .We must not conceal from ourselves the fact that Socialism carries within itself seeds o f reaction. These seeds have flourished mightily on the soil o f Russia. A t the present moment, we are more and more confronted by an absolute, castocratic totalitarian State, drunk with its own power, for which man does not count. This formidable machine rests on two sup­ ports: and all-powerful State Security, which has revived the traditions o f the late eighteenth-century secret chancelleries (Anna Iohannovna), and a bureaucratic “order,” in the clerical sense o f the word, o f privileged executives. The concentration o f economic and political powers— by which the individual is held by bread, clothing, work, and placed totally at the disposi­ tion o f the machine— allows it to neglect the individual and to concern itself only with big numbers and the long term. This regime is in contradiction with everything that was stated, pro­ claimed, intended, and thought during the Revolution itself. I wrote: On three essential points, superior to all tactical considerations, I remain and shall remain, whatever it may cost me, an avowed and unequivocal dissident, whom only force can silence:

T H E YEARS OF RES IST A NC E: 1 9 2 8 - 1 9 3 3 ■ 327

1. Defense o f man. Respect for man. Man must be given his rights, his security, his value. Without these, there is no Social­ ism. Without these, all is false, bankrupt, and spoiled. I mean: man whoever he is, be he the meanest o f men—“class-enemy,” son or grandson o f a bourgeois, I do not care. It must never be forgotten that a human being is a human being. Every day, ev­ erywhere, before my very eyes this is being forgotten, and it is the most revolting and anti-Socialist thing that could happen. And on this point, without wishing to erase a single line of what I have written on the necessity o f terror in revolutions threatened by death, I must state that I hold as an abomination unspeakable, reactionary, sickening, and corrupting, the contin­ ued use o f the death penalty as a secret and administrative mea­ sure (in time of peace! in a State more powerful than any other!). My viewpoint is that o f Dzerzhinsky at the beginning of 1920 when, as the end o f the Civil War appeared, he moved— and Lenin willingly ratified— the abolition of capital punish­ ment for political offenses. It is also that o f those Communists who for several years have advocated a reduction in the inquisi­ torial powers of the Extraordinary Commissions (Cheka and GPU). So low has the value o f human life fallen, and so tragic is the result, that all capital punishment in the present regime must be condemned. Equally abominable, and unjustifiable, is the suppression, by exile, deportation, and imprisonment more or less for life, o f all dissent in the working-class movement. 2. Defense o f the truth. Man and the masses have a right to the truth. I will not consent either to the systematic falsifica­ tion of history or to the suppression o f all serious news from the press (which is confined to a purely agitational role). I hold truth to be a precondition of intellectual and moral health. To speak of truth is to speak o f honesty. Both are the right of men. 3. Defense o f thought. No real intellectual inquiry is permitted in any sphere. Everything is reduced to a casuistry nourished on quotations... Fear of heresy, based on self-interest, leads to

32 8 • M E M O I R S O F A R E V O L U T I O N A R Y

dogmatism and bigotry o f a peculiarly paralyzing kind. I hold that Socialism cannot develop in the intellectual sense except by the rivalry, scrutiny, and struggle o f ideas; that we should fear not error, which is mended in time by life itself, but rather stagnation and reaction; that respect for man implies his right to know everything and his freedom to think. It is not against freedom o f thought and against man that Socialism can tri­ umph, but on the contrary, through freedom o f thought, and by improving the condition o f man. Dated: Moscow, February ist, 1933. I had no time to read it over. The friends who could see this mes­ sage to its destination were leaving— and they expected to be arrested at the last m inute. .. On the day that this letter reached Paris my forebodings were proved true. Nobody knew what had become o f me, and I myself did not know what would become o f me.



THE Y E A R S OF C A P T I V I T Y 1933-1936



invalid has that look o f absolute agony in her face... I go

out in the cold morning to find her some sedatives and telephone the psychiatric clinic. I also want to see the newspapers posted up by the Kazan Cathedral, because somebody has just told me that Thaelmann has been arrested in Berlin. I am aware o f being followed, which is quite natural. Except that this time, “they” are trailing so close behind me that I begin to be worried. As I come out o f the chemist’s they stop me. This on the pavement o f October 15th Prospect, with everybody bustling past all around me. “Criminal Investigation. Kindly follow us, citizen, for purposes of identification.” Speaking low, they take out their red cards and station themselves on either side o f me. I shrug my shoulders. “I have quite certainly nothing to do with criminal investigations. Here is my card from the Soviet Writers’ Union. Here are some drugs for a sick woman who cannot wait. Here is the house where I live; let us go and see the caretaker; he will make my identity clear to you.” No, it is absolutely necessary for me to come with them for ten minutes, the misunderstanding will obviously be cleared up immedi­ ately... All right. They have a consultation: which car? They look carefully at the cars parked nearby, pick the most comfortable one, and open its door for me. “Kindly take a seat, citizen.” They have a curt exchange with the dumbfounded driver. “To the GPU, fast, come on!” “But I can’t! The Director o f the Trust will be coming out, I have to ...” “No discussions. You’ll be given a chit. Move off!” And off we moved, straight to the new GPU building, the handsomest in the new Soviet Leningrad, fifteen stories high with facades o f clean granite, at 319

330 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

the angle made by the Neva and the former Liteynaya Prospect. A side door, a spyhole. “ H ere’s the criminal.” (The criminal is myself.) “ Kindly enter, citizen.” Hardy have I entered the huge waiting room when a friendly young soldier comes up to me and shakes my hand: “Good day, V ictor Lvovich! D id everything go o ff properly?” Yes, more or less. .. “ So,” said I, “there is no doubt o f my identity?” He gave a knowing smile. The building is spacious, stern, and magnificent. A bronze Lenin welcomes me as it does everybody else. Five minutes later I am in the vast office o f the investigating magistrate responsible for Party cases, Karpovich. He is a large, ginger-haired man, coldly cordial, sly, and guarded. “ We are going to have some long talks together, Victor Lvovich. . . ” “ I have no doubt o f that. But we shall have none at all unless first you grant some requests I have. I must ask you to arrange to have my wife transferred, no later than today, to the Red A rm y’s psychiatric clinic; after that I want to talk over the telephone to my son— he is twelve years old— as soon as he comes home from school.” “Certainly.” Before my eyes Comrade Karpovich telephones the instructions to the clinic. He takes kindness so far as to offer to tele­ phone my home while my sick wife is being collected. Then: “ Victor Lvovich, what is your opinion on the general line o f the Party?” “What? You don’t know? Is it just to ask me this that you have caused all this trouble?” Karpovich answers: “Must I remind you that we two here are Party comrades?” “ In that case let me ask you the first questions. Is it true that Thaelmann has been arrested in Berlin?” Karpovich thinks that the report must be treated with caution but that in Berlin “things are going badly.” M y second question bothers him: “ Has Christian Rakovsky died in deportation?” The ginger-haired figure hesitates, looks into my eyes, saying, “ I can’t tell you anything,” and indicates No by a mo­ tion o f his head. The interview which we are beginning is to last from midday to past midnight, interrupted by the meal I am given and by rests during which, when I feel the need to relax, I go for a walk along the big cor-



. 331

ridor outside. We are on the fourth or fifth floor, and through the huge windowpanes I stare at the bustle o f the town, I see twilight and then night falling over the teeming view, and I wonder when I shall again see this city that I love above all— if indeed I ever see it again: We talk o f everything, point by point: agrarian question, industrial­ ization, Comintern, inner-Party regime, etc. I have objections to the general line on all points; they are Marxist objections. I see them bring in all the papers that have been seized at my home, several trunkfuls. We shall not be short o f subject matter for theoretical dis­ cussion! We have tea. Midnight. “Victor Lvovich, it is with great re­ gret that I must have you transferred to the House of Arrest; however, I am giving orders that you are to be well-treated there.” “Thank you.” It is quite nearby. A young plainclothes policeman, clean-shaven and open-faced, goes with me and, since I ask it, we lean for a while on the embankment overlooking the dark waters o f the Neva. The air from the open sea is bracing. I always find this river so charged with turbulent power that I am stirred by it as though by some Russian song. The old House of Arrest has not changed since 192.8—nor, doubt­ less, over the last fifty years. Are prisons then so durable as to prevail over revolutions and the fall o f empires? Formalities o f entry, a regis­ tration office, and a series of partitions through which a man passes like a grain on its way into some intricate milling mechanism. In pass­ ing I meet a tall, elegant old man with a noble head of white hair; he tells me that he is from the Academy o f Sciences, and that they have just taken away his spectacles, which is the worst nuisance of a ll... Iron staircases, ascended in dusk, then a door opens for me in the thick stonework, opens and then shuts. A poky cell, lit feebly by one pitiful bulb, just like an underground passage. Somebody rises from one of the two bunks, hails me, and then introduces himself. He is a sorry kind of figure and I find it hard at first to follow him. “Petrovsky, Writers’ Union, Poets’ Section ..." “I’m a prose writer myself,” I say. I am shivering with nervous exhaustion under my heavy leather coat. The poet is shivering too beneath his old sheepskin-lined cloak, from cold and weakness. He is voune. thin and wan, with a sparse,

332 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

discolored beard. We strike up an acquaintance. He talks and talks, and I sense that my presence is an event for him, which is true enough: he has been living alone for months in this subterranean solitude, wondering i f he was going to be shot. A kindred restlessness keeps us awake for a long time, and brings us close together, strangely moved, each checking the same outflow o f feeling, not knowing what to do for each other. I can do only one thing for him: listen to him and reas­ sure him. I prove to him that they cannot shoot him, that the examin­ ing magistrate who threatens him is a ruffian using a professional stratagem; arrests are submitted to the secret Collegium that, how­ ever slightly, still does ponder possible repercussions. I am calm and reasonable, and I think I see the poet straighten a little, his confidence restored. He is a child o f highways and famine. Self-trained, he became a schoolteacher, and began to write simple poems— which I found full o f charm— because he loves to gaze on the rustle o f cornfields, the clouds racing above the country scenes, the brushwood and the roads shining by moonlight. “A peasant poet, do you follow?” A long with two or three friends, he published a handwritten journal at Dietskoe Selo; a subversive tendency was unearthed in it. Why, they asked him, is there not a single reference to collectivization in your poems? Be­ cause you are hostile to collectivization? The worst o f it was that he belonged to a literary circle— in no way clandestine— run by the phi­ losopher Ivanov-Razumnik, a former Left Social-Revolutionary. Thus I learn that my friend Ivanov-Razumnik, that great, idea-hungry ide­ alist, is also in jail. “Say some o f your poems to me again, comrade poet, I find them very beautiful. . . ” He recites them in an undertone, eyes ablaze, shoulders huddled for warmth under his fur, neck emaci­ ated. We go to bed at dawn, never to forget this past night. On the following day I was transferred to Moscow, discreetly, in a passenger compartment, accompanied by two G P U men, one in plain clothes and the other in inconspicuous uniform, both o f them com­ radely and polite. The transfer proved that the case was serious. But what case? There was not and could not be anything against my name except the crime o f my opinions, which had been common knowledge



• 333

for years and could easily have been dealt with on the spot. It is true of course that, where facts are absent, there is a free hand for fiction. An agent provocateur’s visit came back to my memory. I reflected too that my message to my friends in Paris could have been intercepted. That would be very serious, but on what passage in it could they lean to jus­ tify a heavy charge? Persons corresponding abroad were often charged with espionage (a capital offense). I had written: “ I sometimes begin to wonder whether we are not bound to be murdered one way or another in the end, for there are plenty of ways of going about the jo b . .. ” Was not that discrediting the regime in a most criminal manner? But then, the letter was only to be published if I disappeared. I thought I had hit on it: I had also written, “And the lies that one breathes in like the air! The whole press was proclaiming a few days ago that the fulfillment o f the Five-Year Plan was resulting in a sixty-eight percent increase in wages... However, the value o f the ruble has sunk to about a thirtieth while this increase in nominal wages was being achieved. .. ” In the eyes of the secret Collegium, that could justify a charge of “eco­ nomic espionage.” In short, I reached Moscow pretty disturbed, but quite determined to resist unyieldingly. I was at once driven to the Lubianka, that big building in Dzer­ zhinsky Square built in the commercial style o f the last century. Within the hour I found myself in a minute cell, perhaps in the cel­ lars, windowless but powerfully lit, in the company o f a stout-bodied worker with a forceful chin who told me that he had been a GPU car driver, now arrested for having heard a counterrevolutionary leaflet read out among some friends without denouncing everybody imme­ diately. This suffocating box where we were, two yards long by two across, was driving him to distraction. He finally told me that it was here that prisoners condemned to death waited before being taken off for execution... By about three in the morning there were ten or so of us in this cell, now stuffy and over-hot with our breath. Some o f us were on the two iron bedsteads, others were standing on the chilly tiling, others again tucked themselves into the door recess. I had a headache and my heart was paining me. We all behaved very deferen­ tially towards each other, with the affability of undertaker’s men. I

334 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

remember how much we were cheered by an old Jew who recalled hav­ ing been arrested a year ago to the very day. Now, at last, he was being charged with having allegedly deducted a commission on the sale o f a typewriter by one office to another. “There is no evidence,” he said naively, “and besides it is not true, but there is a difference between the two sets o f accounts. H ow do you think I can explain that away?” Our little corner o f H ell shook with good-natured laughter. The last to arrive was the most likable; he was an intellectual from Siberia, about sixty, vigorous, tense, cheerful. We started to talk and when he found out I was an Oppositionist he chuckled as he told me about the case that had brought him to Moscow from Irkutsk, and which filled him with optimism. In the wake o f famine and foot-andmouth disease in his far-flung region, criminal charges had been drummed up against agronomists, veterinarians, and engineers, for counterrevolutionary sabotage. They had been ordered to make con­ fessions that were contrary to common sense. He had resisted for months, suffering hunger, cold, and solitary confinement. Finally, he had yielded after a promise o f improved conditions and confessed all that they wanted. After this, he had been put in a heated cell, allowed to receive food and see his wife, and promised leniency from the secret Tribunal because o f his contrition. “But here’s the catch! We had con­ fessed to so many crazy things that Moscow did not believe it. Mos­ cow asked for the file and because it was so outrageous we were ordered to come— the two main defendants and the examining magistrate— so that the case could be studied here! We traveled for one month with the judge who felt at our mercy, was afraid o f us, and never ceased to overwhelm us with kindnesses. . . ” A few hours later, when it was morning, I was taken into a spacious ground-floor barrack room that looked like a camp o f shipwrecked mariners. About fifteen men had been living more or less at home there for weeks or maybe months, waiting for goodness knows what. Sev­ eral o f them had mattresses, the others made their beds on the cement floor. The atmosphere was heavy with anxiety, and breathed a forced good humor. A young soldier standing near the window talked aloud to him self incessantly; one sentence that he kept obstinately repeating could be heard quite clearly: “A h well! Let them shoot me!” followed

T H E Y E A R S OF C A P T I V I T Y : 1933-1936

. 3 35

by a crude oath. I found myself a place and asked: “Citizens, can any of you lend me a haversack or suitcase, anything for me to rest my head on?” A big fellow in Siberian costume, his face flecked with the traces o f smallpox, offered me a briefcase wrapped in a towel and as he lay down next to me introduced himself: “N

, lecturer in agronomy

at Irkutsk...” Another agronomist, this one from Moscow, dressed very smartly and with an expression o f extreme distress on his face, joined us as we were talking together. He had been arrested the night before and could not get over the shock; all the leading figures in the People’s Commissariat for Agriculture had just been whisked o ff by the GPU, and, a fact that most deeply affected this “non-Party techni­ cian,” his Communist superiors were now somewhere in this selfsame prison, yes, even Deputy People’s Commissar Wolfe, and Konar and Kovarsky! He felt as though he was in the middle o f an earthquake. That day, I was taken up by lift to the floors that constituted the inner prison. A short medical inspection, then my fifth search: abso­ lutely nothing was left on me o f those trivial objects that people tend to carry about with them, but this final search was so careful that it disclosed the pencil hoarded away in the lining o f my jacket, and the half razor blade that I had taken the precaution to conceal in my lapel. And so at last I entered the prison o f prisons, which was obviously reserved for prominent persons and those charged with the gravest offenses. It was a prison o f noiseless, cell-divided secrecy, constructed inside a block that had once been occupied by an insurance company. Each floor formed a prison on its own, sealed off from the others, with its individual entrance and reception kiosk; colored electric light sig­ nals operated on all landings and corridors to mark the various com­ ings and goings, so that prisoners could never meet one another. A mysterious hotel corridor, whose red carpet silenced the slight sound of footsteps, and then a cell, bare, with an inlaid floor, a passable bed, a table and a chair, all spick and span. A big, barred window with a screen masking it from the outside. On the freshly painted walls, not a single scribble or scratch. Here I was in the void, enveloped in a quite astonishing silence. Except that, far away, with a jangle of bells and ironmongery, the trams were passing by in Miasnitskaya Street, which at all hours of the day was full of people... Soldiers of the Special

336 • M EM O IRS OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

Corps, with the smart style and polish o f purely mechanical function­ ing, shut the door gently behind me. I asked their N C O for books and paper. “ You will present that request to the Exam ining Magistrate, citizen.” Here, in absolute secrecy, with no communication with any person whatsoever, with no reading matter whatsoever, with no paper, not even one sheet, with no occupation o f any kind, with no open-air ex­ ercise in the yard, I spent about eighty days. It was a severe test for the nerves, in which I acquitted m yself pretty well. I was weary with my years o f nervous tension, and felt an immense physical need for rest. I slept as much as I could, at least twelve hours a day. The rest o f the time, I set m yself to work assiduously. I gave myself courses in history, political economy— and even in natural science! I mentally wrote a play, short stories, poems. I made a great effort not to go over my “case” except in a purely utilitarian manner and for a limited time— as a precaution against becoming obsessed with it. M y inner life was most intense and rich, in fact not too bothersome at all. In addition, I did a little gymnastics several times a day, and this did me a great deal o f good. M y diet— black bread, wheaten or millet pasta, fish soup— was tolerable but inadequate, and I had hunger pains every evening. On i M ay (festival o f the w orlds workers!) I was given an extraordi­ nary meal: mincemeat cutlets, potatoes, and stewed fruit! I got thir­ teen cigarettes and thirteen matches a day. Out o f bread crumbs I made m yself a set o f dice and a kind o f calendar. The monotony o f this existence was broken up by the investiga­ tion. I had h alfa dozen interrogations, spaced out at intervals. Magis­ trate Bogin (sharp features, spectacles, uniform) opened the series. Probably an alumnus o f the G P U training school (advanced course, naturally), he had a ready flow o f talk, doubtless to try out his little psychological tricks, and I let him go on, being well aware that in a situation like this it is best to speak as little as possible yourself and listen carefully to everything you are told. I was awoken around mid­ night— “ Investigation, citizen!”— and taken via lifts, cellars, and cor­ ridors to a floor lined with offices that, I discovered, was just next door to my cell section. A ll the rooms along these endless corridors were set aside for the use o f inquisitors. The one to which I was taken was

T H E Y EAR S OF C A P TIVIT Y: 19 33 -19 36

• 3 37

numbered 380 or 390. I only met one person on the way: a sort of bishop, most imposing, came out o f one o f the offices, leaning on a cane. I said to him aloud, just for the pleasure o f dismaying our ward­ ers, “Take care o f yourself, batiushka (Father)!” And he answered me gravely with a motion o f his hand. That must have started some pretty reports for them to study. I went into my first examining session in an aggressive mood. “So! You are resuming the tradition o f interrogations at night! Just as in the worst days o f Tsarism. Congratulations!” Bogin was not put out: “Ah! how bitterly you speak! I f I call you in at night, it is because we work day and night, we do! We have no private life, us!” We were smiling now, in excellent humor. Bogin stated that he knew all. “All. Your comrades are so demoralized— I have their depo­ sitions here. You wouldn’t believe your eyes. We should like to know whether you are an enemy or, despite your disagreements, a real Com ­ munist. You can refuse to answer my questions, just as you please: the investigation will be closed this very day and we shall view you with the esteem befitting an open political adversary.” A trap! You’d like me to make your job easy by giving you carte blanche to go and cook up all kinds o f findings against me with your secret reports— findings that would earn me years in the Isolator at the very least. “No. I am anxious to reply to the examination. Carry on with it.” “Well then, let us talk together like the Communists we both are. I am at the post that has been assigned me by the Party. You wish to serve the Party, yes, I quite understand you. Do you admit the author­ ity o f the Central Committee?” A trap! I f I admit the Central Committee’s authority, I have joined in the game, they can make me say what they like in the name of devo­ tion to the Party. “Excuse me. I have been expelled. I have not asked to be readmitted. I am not bound by Party discipline any longer...” Bogin: “You are deplorably formalistic!” Myself: “I demand to know what I am accused of, so that I can re­ fute the charges. I am sure that no blame in Soviet law can be attached to me.” Bogin: “ Formalism! So you’d like me to lay my cards out on the table?”



Myself: “A re we in a card-playing mood?” Eventually he told me that documents from Trotsky had been found at my home. “That is not true,” I said. And that I often went to see A l­ exandra Bronstein; we discussed the number o f visits I had paid her. “You talked Opposition matters with her, admit it!” “No. We talked about our state o f health and about literature!” “ You have been in touch with Andres N in, who is a counterrevolu­ tionary, haven’t you?” “Yes, by post, on postcards. N in is a model revolutionary and you do know that he is in jail at Algeciras?” Bogin offered me cigarettes, and explained that my outlook was visibly that o f a hardened counterrevolutionary, which was extremely dangerous for me. I interrupted him: “M ust I conclude that I am be­ ing threatened with the death penalty?” He protested, “N ot at all! But, all the same, you are well on the way to destroying yourself. Your only hope for safety lies in a change o f attitude and a complete confes­ sion. Think it over.” I was returned to my cell at about 4:00 a.m. After a number o f night interviews o f this kind, neither o f us had got anywhere. A ll I learnt was that they were trying to link me with some person called Solovian, who was quite unknown to me. This in­ formation both puzzled and worried me: it was a door opening onto some conspiracy or other. Every time I went to an examining session, the electric signals op­ erated all along my route, so efficiently that I did not even see any warder other than my own. One night I noticed that several o f the warders were gazing at me in a peculiarly attentive way as I went out. When I returned, at dawn, I found them crowded around the recep­ tion office; they seemed to be looking rather benevolently upon me, and the one who searched me was so friendly as to venture a little joke. I discovered later that on that very night the thirty-five agricultural experts had been executed, along with Konar, Wolfe, and Kovarsky, all o f them prominent officials, and including several influential Communists. They had gone o ff just as I had, down these very corri­ dors, summoned just as I had been “ for the examining session,” and the warders knew no more than that they had been shot somewhere

T H E Y E A R S OF C A P T I V IT Y : 19 33 -1 9 36

• 339

down there in the cellars. Doubtless they assumed that I was ear­ marked for the same end—and so looked upon me with the humane attentiveness that I had noticed. When I came back, the warders were both surprised and pleased to see somebody return from that last “ex­ amining session.” As I went to and from interrogations, I happened to pass in front o f the gaping mouth ol a cement-lined corridor on the ground floor, which was lit with brutal brilliance. Was that the door to the final descent? Abruptly, the investigation was cut short. I had a strong sense of danger. I was summoned in the middle o f the day and received by some high-ranking person, gaunt, gray, and wrinkled, with a cold little face perched on a birdlike neck, and thin, straight lips. I recognized the examining magistrate for serious Oppositional cases, Rutkovsky, the personal aide to the Head o f the Department, Molchanov, and a member o f the secret Collegium. (Molchanov was shot in the period of the Yagoda trial.) Rutkovsky was crisp and vicious. “I can see that you are an unwavering enemy. You are bent on de­ stroying yourself. Years o f jail are in store for you. You are the ring­ leader of the Trotskyite conspiracy. We know everything. I want to try and save you in spite o f yourself. This is the last time that we try.” I was chilled to the bone. I felt I had to gain a few moments and interrupted him. “I’m very thirsty. Could you get me a glass of water?” There was none there; Rutkovsky had to stand up and call someone. I had time to think, and his effect was ruined. He resumed. “So I’m making one last attempt to save you. I don’t expect very much from you— I know you too well. I am going to acquaint you with the complete confessions that have been made by your sister-in-law and secretary, Anita Russakova.* All you have to do is say, ‘I admit that it is true,’ and sign it. I won’t ask you any more questions, the investi­ gation will be closed, your whole position will be improved, and I shall make every effort to get the Collegium to be lenient to you.” So Anita Russakova had been arrested! She used to take down quite insignifi­ cant translations at my dictation. She was an apolitical girl whose only interest was in music, innocent in all things as a newborn baby. “I’m listening,” I said.

340 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

Rutkovsky began to read, and I was terrified. It was sheer raving. A nita related that I had made her send messages and take parcels to addresses which were completely strange to me, to people I did not know at all, notably to a certain Solovian who lived in a “ Red Army settlement.” This heap o f falsehood, coupled with the address o f a “m ilitary settlement,” came as an immediate revelation to me. There­ fore, they intended to shoot me. Therefore, Anita had been tortured into lying like this. Therefore, she was doomed just as I was. I burst out: “Stop! N ot one more line. You are reading a detestable falsehood, every line is false. W hat have you done to this child to make her lie like this?” I was in a rage and I felt that I had to be, that I no longer had anything to gain by discretion. I might as well get my­ self shot and have done with it. M y inquisitor pretended to be angry, or else really was: “Do you know that you are insulting me? A n d that that is another serious of­ fense?” “Let me calm down and I will answer you more soberly. Out of respect for myself, out o f respect for you and for the rank that you hold, I refuse to hear another line o f this deposition, which is a pack o f lies; I demand to be confronted with A nita Russakova.” “ You’re destroying yourself.” A s a matter o f fact, I was demolishing the whole case, thereby sav­ ing m yself and A n ita as well. One moment o f cowardice meant the triumph o f falsehood, and then they could shoot us. I knew that the G P U inquisitors worked under the scrutiny o f different committees, especially the Central Com m ittee’s Control Commission, and that, before they could bring about the verdicts they wanted, they had to prepare their briefs according to the rules. Every day I wrote to Rutkovsky demanding a confrontation with Anita so that I might unmask what I called her “ lies.” “Let her de­ scribe the places where she pretends to have gone!” I was aware o f be­ ing in a dilemma. Clearly, I had caught my inquisitors in a flagrant fabrication. I was putting the G P U on trial. After that, could I be al­ lowed to live, whether released or sent to an Isolator where I would meet other comrades and tell them about it, from which I could write to the Government authorities? Rutkovsky stood to lose at the very



• 341

lease his career if he failed to break me (I am convinced that he per­ ished with his superiors Molchanov and Yagoda in 1938). I decided to prepare myself for the worst. At best, I thought, I will be sent to the secret Isolator o f Yaroslav for years, where the prisoners are kept in solitary confinement. At worst, I ’ll be shot. The only argument against was that they would have to give some sort o f explanation abroad, since I was known in France as a writer and militant. They would invent something false and that would be the end o f it! I spent days and nights thinking that I would be summoned for “ interroga­ tion” and taken down the starkly lighted, cement-walled, groundfloor corridor toward the execution cellar. I examined the problem of life and death. I considered the mystery o f the individual’s life which emerges out o f the great collective life and seems to disappear and per­ haps does disappear, while life goes on, endlessly renewing itself, per­ haps eternally. I had the feeling, and still do, o f having come to a vision of these things that is nearly inexpressible in philosophical terms, yet right, immense, and reassuring. My second examination by Rutkovsky. This time he was a little deflated, and ventured a smile. A brief admonishment for form’s sake: “You would be far better advised, I can assure you, to change your at­ titude and stop treating us as enemies. I tell you this in your own in­ terest . . . , ” etc. I heard him out politely, shaking my head. “All right then, I can see we can do nothing with you. I am going to close the examination. Too bad for you.” “As you will.” Up till now not a word had been written down during the inter­ rogations. Perhaps a shorthand writer was at work, concealed from my view. The inquisitor took out some large sheets o f headed paper and began to copy the questions and my replies. There were six insig­ nificant questions and six uninteresting replies. Do you know suchand-such persons? Did you and they take an interest in what happened to the deportees? Yes, o f course. We used to meet quite openly, and sent letters and parcels to deported people equally openly. Have you had any subversive conversations with them? O f course not. That will be all. Sign here. “And my confrontation with Anita Russakova? I want to prove to



you than she is innocent. W hen she lied about me she lied about her­ self too. She hasn’t an Oppositional idea in her head. She is just a child.” M y inquisitor’s gray eyes gazed at me with a kind o f meaningful smile. “W ill it satisfy you i f I give you my word that we attach no impor­ tance at all to Russakova’s evidence, and that this whole business will have no serious consequences for your sister-in-law?” “ Y es.”

“G ood! That’s that, then. The investigation is closed.” I asked for news o f my wife and son. “ They are doing well.” I then asked for books. “W hat, haven’t they given you any yet? It is a piece o f unforgivable negligence!” “N o,” I said quietly, “ it’s not negligence. . . ” “You will have some in a few minutes.” “A n d might I have an hour’s exercise walking, as in all the prisons o f the civilized world?” Rutkovsky pretended to go into fits o f amaze­ ment. “W hat? D o you mean you haven’t had that?” In the evening a warder brought me a pile o f books: a History o f the Moslem World, an Economic History o f the Directory, N ogin’s Siberian Memoirs— riches indeed! The Political Red Cross sent me onions, a little butter, a roll o f white bread, and a bit o f soap. I knew now that my disappearance had been made known in Paris and that, since they could not w ring any signature from me that would have justified a le­ gal condemnation, they wanted to avoid any disagreeable fuss on my account. I f I had been only a Russian militant, instead o f a French author as well, matters would have taken quite a different turn. One night, I don’t remember at what point in my interrogation, I awoke covered in a cold sweat, feeling an excruciating pain in the lower area o f my abdomen—which I have never felt before or since. The pain spread through my insides for a long while, then eased off, leaving me shattered. I must have moaned aloud, for a guard came in and I asked him to call a doctor. A sort o f nurse came the next morn­ ing, listened without looking at me, and gave me three small white pills which lay on the table and lit up the cell. I pushed aside unworthy thoughts and thought no more o f it. But I did remember this detail when, during the trial o f Yagoda in 1938, there was mention o f the



. 3-13

G PU ’s special laboratory. A physical warning signal might serve to weaken the morale o f the prisoner. Possibly. When there is neither defense nor laws, all is possible. There was a bright spell o f about a week when, because of some er­ ror, I am sure, I got a cellmate. He entered dressed in light gray, his tunic unbuttoned at the neck, a handsome man of about thirty-five, of Great Russian peasant stock, sharp features, rebellious tousled brown hair, gray, slightly slanting eyes: Nesterov, ex-chief of staff of the President o f the Council of Peoples’ Commissars, Alexis Rvkov, more recently member of the Planning Commission of the Urals. We were mutually suspicious at first, then became friends. He belonged to the Right Opposition, was not quite sure why he was being arrested, felt apprehensive thinking that they might be trying to extract state­ ments that might compromise Rykov, who was still a member of the Central Committee. He declared he had a profound admiration for Rykov. “They can cut me into little bits but I’ ll never stop saying that he’s one o f our greatest revolutionaries!” We spent a few pleasant days discussing Marxism, the future o f the USSR, the Party crises, and Tolstoy, of whom he was able to recite whole pages. I remember him lecturing me, stripped to the waist, making the movements of a reaper, an exercise that makes you think you are out in the open. I still re­ member him saying, “But when, Victor Lvovitch, will we set up the Soviet Institute for Man to carry out scientific research on how to improve the human being, physically and mentally? Only we in the present world can do such a thing. I was talking to Rykov about it . .. ” Nesterov was never to come out o f prison. He was shot in 1937-38. If I have lingered so long in describing my examination this is be­ cause it was a great help later on, along with what I know from other sources, in enabling me to understand how the great Trials were fabri­ cated. Alone and at night, I was taken across Moscow in a prison van; I found myself in a bare, brightly lit cell in the old Butyrki jail, a city within the city. I stayed there only for two or three days, provided with books and left untroubled. I reflected that there were plenty more prisons waiting for me to see from the inside. On the second or third day they took me downstairs and locked me in a cell with green-tiled

344 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

walls, like a bathroom, next to a spacious corridor. A lad from the streets o f Moscow was there with me for a short while and told me how his father and brother had certainly been shot, but he himself had been spared— yes, a very complicated case. .. I could hear people going to and fro in the corridor. A G P U officer bustled in with a little paper slip in his hand. “ Read it and sign!” I read it: “ Counterrevolu­ tionary conspiracy. Condemned by the Special Collegium to three years’ deportation to Orenburg.. .” I signed, with anger and joy: angry be­ cause I could do nothing, glad because deportation was, after all, an open-air life with the open sky overhead. Deportees were forming up in the lobby, in a kind o f funeral pro­ cession. A m ong them I saw a girl, and a young intellectual with heavy features who shook everyone’s hand, introducing himself as “ Solovian” and repeating rapidly: “I am not in any Oppositional group: supporter o f the General L in e . . . ” “ Best o f luck with the General Line,” I told him. I was taken by open car, together with the girl and several uni­ formed men, in the direction o f a station. Farewell, Moscow! The city, lit by the spring sun, dazzled my eyes. The girl was a Moscow worker, the wife o f an imprisoned Oppositionist and a Left Oppositionist herself^ she was being deported to the Volga. She gave me news o f some o f the women comrades locked up in the female prison, and shared her riches with me: a cube o f compressed tea and twenty ru­ bles. She whispered, “Oh, so it’s you, Sergo— Sergo for whom we were so afraid! We thought that you would stay in jail for years!” We parted with a hearty embrace in a little station in the Tartar Republic. Several G P U soldiers guarded the compartment. A n extremely stylish, extremely stupid officer, sporting a magnificent lorgnette whose lenses were cut at right angles in the opticians’ latest fashion, sat in various poses on the seat opposite, seeking to entice me into political conversation which I evaded, changing the subject. The train shot through the plains o f Russia. One night, in a forest filled with nightingales in song, on the banks o f the Volga, I experienced a mo­ mentary thrill o f wonder. I traversed Samara (Kuibyshev) in the small hours, walking through the sleeping streets in the rose-colored light with a soldier carrying a lowered rifle behind me, ready to open fire if I looked like running. A t the local G P U headquarters, under the

T H E YE A R S OF C A P T I V IT Y : 19 33 -1 9 36

• 345

shower—a blessing indeed— I came across a dark, bearded, emaciated figure who was frisking about nimbly under the jets of hot water. “You there, with the intellectual’s head—who are you?” he asked me in jovial tones. He went on: “I’m a Right Communist myself, Sec­ retary of the

District, Stalingrad region, served in the Civil War,

Ivan Yegorovich Bobrov.” I introduced myself in turn. Bobrov had, as punishment for a cruelly accurate report on the course o f collectiviza­ tion in his area, practically died of hunger in some hellish prison cellar where ten o f the thirty inmates were at death’s door; now he was, like myself, on the way to Orenburg. Our friendship, which was to endure, began in a comfortable cellar furnished with straw. On the next day a dozen soldiers from the GPU special cavalry, clicking their spurs against the paving stones, took us to the station and stood guard around us in the middle o f the public traffic. I was amused to see my reflection on a glass door. I had an unkempt beard, black-gray and bristling, and I had leather and fur clothing on, though it was the height o f summer. Bobrov was the perfect model o f a tramp —jacket in holes at the elbows, trousers in tatters and gone at the knees, and lean as a scarecrow. Our eyes were merry and proud. The folk around viewed us with sympathy, and a peasant woman asked our es­ cort to allow her to offer us some wheatcakes. They were delicious. The N CO in charge o f our escort took us into his confidence. He was serv­ ing in the prisoner transfer service. “It’s like continual combat, citi­ zens. I can’t get married. Back from Sakhalin, I’m o ff to Kamtchatka with other clients. And on and on like that. There are some pretty hard bits, too. One night I lock up my cars at a station in Siberia and I say to my mates: let’s see if we can find some pretty girls in the village. Instead, there’s an order waiting for me at the station: shoot So-andso! All I’ve got is three hours to carry out that order! Find the right place, nobody should notice anything. I’m leading my bloke away, to­ ward the brush, he starts to suspect something; and now he’s rolling on the ground and I have to put a bullet in his head as best I can and then bury him in the dark, so nobody notices anything...” This disci­ plined young Communist stole our ration of sugar and herring. Orenburg, on the Ural River, is a metropolis of the steppes, soli­ tary under a glorious sky, on the line from Kuibyshev to Tashkent.

346 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

Although it is geographically situated on the border between Europe and Asia, it belongs to Asia. Up to 1915 it had been the capital o f the Autonomous Republic o f the Kazakhs (or Khirghiz), a nomadic peo­ ple o f Central Asia, Turkish in origin and Sunni Moslems, who were still divided into three great hordes. Since then Kazakhstan has be­ come one o f the eleven federal republics o f the U SSR , with its capital at Alm a-Ata. Under the Tsars, Orenburg, the central market for the copious livestock o f the steppes, had been a wealthy city, crowned with fifteen or so Orthodox churches and several large mosques. There in the C ivil War, the working class had fought battles o f legend­ ary ferocity, marked by frightful massacres o f the poor, against a C os­ sack ataman, General Dutov. D uring the N EP, the town had recovered its substantial prosperity, thanks to the steppe from which it drew its life. W hen we arrived in June 1933, a hideous famine was raging there amidst the destruction and decay. There was hardly any vegetation, apart from a shady wood on the other bank o f the Ural, strewn with silvery leaves. It was a lowly town, whose streets were lined with charming little houses built in peasant style. Tall, raw-boned camels trundled along gloomily under their burdens. There were two central thoroughfares o f a European type, the Sovietskaya and the Kooperativnaya, and a number o f pretentious buildings in that Imperial style, with massive white pillars, which the governors-general o f old times planted everywhere. A ll the churches, except for one in the nearby Cossack township o f Vorstadt (or Orenpossad), had lately been destroyed. The rubble o f the dynamited ca­ thedral formed an islet o f quaint little rocks in the middle o f one o f the squares. There was a little old white church on the hill over the river, which had associations with Pugachevs rebellion o f 1774; not even this had been spared. A ll the priests and the bishops had been deported to the north; religion functioned illegally. The synagogue was either closed or demolished; in the absence o f a kosher butcher, the Jews were now refusing to eat meat. On the other hand, the mosques had not been damaged, for fear o f provoking the Moslem masses, with whom the authorities had quite enough trouble already. The finest mosque had been converted into a Khirghiz high school. One or two Christian churches, their domes split open and their

T H E YE AR S OF C A P TIVIT Y: 19 33 -19 36

• 347

crosses obliterated, were used as goods warehouses by the coopera­ tives, but there were no goods in them. The vast bazaar of the cara­ vans, which not long ago had been glutted with merchandise, was now deserted, and the caravanserai was empty. Beside these ruins a new city was beginning to grow, with barracks and military schools. Cavalry, tank units, and the A ir Force filled the town with well-clad, well-fed young men. Numerous airfields extended far into the adjoin­ ing steppe, the Flying School was housed in brand-new buildings of red brick, and if you passed young women in the street with plump cheeks and gaudy silk dresses you knew that they were the wives of airmen. The State retail trade was at death’s door: neither cloth nor paper, shoes nor food was to be found in the shops. In all the three years I spent there, no shoes were sent to Orenburg, except to the co­ operatives reserved for the Party and the GPU. There were several technical schools for the training o f agronomists, veterinarians, and teachers; a garment factory; a railway repair workshop; a number of prisons, all packed out; and a small concentration camp. I often saw a great herd o f men passing under my windows, ragged and mostly barefoot, surrounded by watchdogs and soldiers with lowered rifles. These were the labor brigades o f the penitentiary department; we dubbed them, sarcastically, “the enthusiasts’ brigades,” since some of them were actually called by that name and took part in “Socialist labor emulation.” An immense, flea-ridden market ran out from the town into the steppe, bounded by the Moslem cemetery (now occu­ pied by abandoned children and bandits), the dismal garment factory, the cavalry school, a maternity hospital, and the endless sands. The GPU issued us with bread cards, which were valid from the beginning of the current month (a stroke of luck). “It is forbidden to leave the town, except to go out for fresh air in the woods; from now on you may find any work and lodging that you can; only no employ­ ment can be taken up without our authorization.” We thought that the light from the sky was rich and pellucid as nowhere else, and so it was. The town itself gave the impression o f be­ ing sun-scorched, exciting, picturesque, and overwhelmed with heat, poverty, and sand. We went on to the barber’s and acquired heads of civilized hair again; a dark-skinned urchin stole my last three rubles



o ff me; we hocked my leather-and-fur overcoat at the municipal pawnshop for eighty rubles; and with that our experience o f hunger began. The room in the Peasants Hostelry cost two rubles a night, and the sheets were so filthy that after inspecting them by the light of a match I decided to sleep in my clothes. The inn had an enormous four-sided courtyard, littered with carts, horses, camels, and nomads who slept there, whole families o f them, on mats close to their beasts. It was, in the delightful coolness o f early morning, a touching spec­ tacle. A t that hour the Khirghiz families had risen, which is to say that they would be squatting in silence or busy at their morning toilet: biblical ancients, mothers with Mongol eyes suckling their babies, children o f all ages cleaning themselves o f fleas in deep concentration, many cracking the lice between their teeth. It often looked as if they ate them, saying, “You eat me and I eat you.” A row o f crouching Asi­ atics would be relieving themselves in the latrines and I noticed that several o f them excreted blood. Rags, rags everywhere. Some slender girls stood out from the mob, because o f their perfect beauty, like Is­ raelite or Persian princesses. I heard shouting from the street, and then a shower o f vigorous knocks on the door. “Quick, Victor Lvovich, open up!” Bobrov was coming back from the bakery, with two huge four-kilo loaves o f black bread on his shoulders. H e was surrounded by a swarm o f hungry children, hopping after the bread like sparrows, clinging on his clothes, beseeching: “A little bit, uncle, just a little bit!” They were al­ most naked. We threw them some morsels, over which a pitched bat­ tle promptly began. The next moment, our barefooted maidservant brought boiling water, unasked, for us to make tea. When she was alone with me for a moment, she said to me, her eyes smiling, “Give me a pound o f bread and I ’ll give you the signal in a m inute... And mark my words, citizen, I can assure you that I don’t have the syphilis, no, not m e. . . ” Bobrov and I decided to go out only by turns, so as to keep an eye on the bread. We took lodgings in what had once been a prosperous peasant s house, still clean, with the widow o f the chief o f a proletarian artillery brigade which had won a famous battle hereabouts in 19 1 8 ...Two kids aged seven and nine, bold as brass, were playing in the courtyard.



• 349

I offered the smallest one a little bit o f sugar. He held it in his hand, took a good look, and said, “ It’s not salt? Can you really eat it?” I as­ sured him, he tasted it and spat it out pulling a face. “ It bums. It’s nasty!” I realized that he had never tasted sugar. We had dried what remained o f our bread. These brats, who were as agile as monkeys, climbed onto the roof while we were out, got into the loft by a trapdoor, searched out where we had cunningly hidden our rusks, and ate them. We made the mistake o f complaining to the widow and the house was filled with heart-rending cries. Their mother was whipping them with frenzy and told us when we tried to intervene, “They do the same thing here at home. Let them go and steal in the market!” A few days later, the younger was whipped by the elder for having stolen again. Bobrov and I would meander through the town and the woods, as hungry as those children. One ruble got you a bowl of greasy soup in the restaurant where little girls waited for you to finish eating so as to lick your plate and glean your bread crumbs. We rationed ourselves strictly, gaining time until work should come our way, or else the relief I hoped to receive from Leningrad or Paris. Twice a week we would buy bunches o f unripe onions and some mutton bones from the mar­ ket, and make a soup, which smelled delicious, over a wood fire in the courtyard. Then we would lie down and let it digest, in a state o f posi­ tive bliss. Once we fell ill after the feast. Our usual nourishment con­ sisted of dried bread and sweetened tea made in a samovar; we owed this last to the compressed tea I had been given by the girl comrade I had met at the Butyrki prison. At long last we had some news: Bobrov, that his father had died o f hunger in the village; I, that my wife was getting better and would be sending me a parcel.. .We kept ourselves in good spirits, talking endlessly about problems, raking over memo­ ries of the revolution, amused to find that all our conversations would inevitably conclude with something like, “Hey, Victor Lvovich, or Ivan Yegorovich, how about a cabbage soup?” We would stop pen­ sively in front of those little stalls where they sold hardboiled eggs at one ruble twenty each, a price that only the military could afford. For us, a hardboiled egg was a genuine object of contemplation. Among the ruins o f churches, in abandoned porches, on the edge of the steppe, or under the crags by the Ural, we could see Khirghiz

350 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

families lying heaped together, dying o f hunger. One evening I gath­ ered up from the ground o f the deserted marketplace a child burning with fever; he was moaning, but the folk who stood around did not dare to touch him, for fear o f contagion. I diagnosed a simple case of hunger and took him o ff to the militia post, holding him by his frail, boiling wrist. I fetched him a glass o f water and a morsel o f bread from my place; the effect on the lad was that o f a small but instantaneous miracle. “ W hat do you want us to do with him ?” asked the soldiers. “Take him to the Children’s Hom e.” “But they’re running away from there, because they’re starving to death!” W hen I returned home, I discovered that someone had stolen my stock o f bread that was to last several days. There were Khirghiz lying under the sun on waste ground, and it was hard to tell i f some o f them were alive or dead. People passed by without looking their way: poor people, hurrying and shabby; func­ tionaries, m ilitary men, their bourgeois-looking womenfolk; in brief all those we termed “the satisfied 8%” The market, bordered by sky and desert and invaded by the sands, teemed with an incongruous multitude. There people traded back and forth to each other, chiefly in the perpetual bric-a-brac o f poverty: lamps patched up a hundred times and still giving out smuts, if no light; precious lamp chimneys of the wrong sizes, broken stoves, nomads’ garments, stolen watches which went for no longer than five minutes (I knew experts who, out o f three watches and a stock o f odds and ends, would make fo u r...), livestock. The Khirghiz had long arguments around a haughty, regally white camel. Troglody tic old women, their skin so brown as to appear black, practiced palmistry. A weird Turkmenian in a turban divined the future by throwing goats’ vertebrae upon engravings from an erotic book in French published in Amsterdam in Voltaire’s time. Here, even on the worst days, one could find bread, butter, and meat, all at outrageous prices and light-years away from any hygienic regula­ tion. Famished thieves o f all ages and all varieties from as far away as Turkestan and Pamir strayed in these crowds, snatching a carrot or an onion from your hands and popping it immediately down their throats. M y wife witnessed the following piece o f thievery: a house­ wife had just bought a pound o f butter costing fifteen rubles (three



. 351

days’ wages for a skilled worker) when an Asiatic smartly nipped it from her hands and made off. He was pursued and caught easily enough, but he curled up on the earth like a ball and, for all the blows from fists or stones that rained on him from above, ate the butter. They left him lying there, bloody but full. For the rest, it was a decently managed town. Three cinemas, and a traveling theater in the summer, o f a fair standard, and an ornamental garden, called Topoli (the Lime Trees). About 160,000 inhabitants, a tenth o f them unloaded there by the GPU. A healthy climate: five months o f extremely harsh winter with temperatures reaching minus forty-two degrees; five months o f extremely hot summer, with hot spells of up to forty degrees. All the year round, violent winds from the steppes, the savage burans, which in winter whirled the snow around and heaped it into white dunes in the squares, and in summer worked up squalls o f warm sand. Among the poor inhabitants at least seventy percent suffered from marsh fever; naturally there was no qui­ nine. I have seen the same ague shaking the grandmother of eighty and the suckling baby, and they did not die o f it. The average salaries ranged between eighty and one hundred and fifty rubles. As a result, the women who worked at the clothing fac­ tory tried to pick up aviators in the evening. At least half o f the town’s poor, from school students to old women, were alcoholics; on revolu­ tionary holidays the whole town was drunk. At night, people used to barricade themselves inside their houses with iron bars and tree trunks. Every year several petty Party functionaries were killed at night in the lightless streets... Nevertheless, the population was hardworking, the youth studious, a decent people on the whole who never gave up hope, readily grasped the subtext o f official decrees, and followed with genuine interest events in Austria, Spain, or Ethiopia, manifesting each day a tenacious capacity to survive. When I first arrived, there were about fifteen political deportees: Social-Revolutionaries, Zionists, anarchists, ex-Oppositional capitu­ lators. Orenburg was considered a privileged spot for deportation. The GPU only used it for leading figures, and for convicts who al­ ready had behind them years o f imprisonment or exile in other parts. There were in fact a number of grades of deportation. I knew men

352 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

who had lived inside the Arctic Circle in settlements o f five houses; others again at Turgai in the Kazakhstan desert, where the primitive Kazakhs dwelt in hovels o f mud, practically without water for five months o f the year. In this town o f ours L. Gerstein, o f the SocialRevolutionary Party’s Central Committee, was living out his last years undisturbed, and the G P U was collecting influential “Trotskyists,” those known to be intransigent, for purposes whose very obscurity made us anxious. Soon there was a whole little fraternal group o f us, in excellent spirits. A n old Georgian Menshevik, Ramishvili, arrived, now in the fourteenth year o f his captivity; then another Menshevik, Georgi Dim itrievich Kuchin, a late member o f his party’s Central Com m ittee; and some ex-Oppositionists o f the Right, who, having become supporters o f the General Line, had been high in authority only the day before—with these last we never exchanged a word. Life under deportation was characterized by its instability. The G P U made up exiles’ colonies in a fairly homogeneous composition, so as to allow a limited intellectual activity to arise, foment divisions and betrayals, and then, under some easily arranged pretext, pack the irreconcilables o ff to prison or transfer them to regions more squalid and obscure. The deportee, dependent in regard to letters from rela­ tives, work, and medical attention, lived literally at the mercy o f a few officials. H e was obliged to report to the G P U daily, or every three, five, or seven days as the case might be. N o sooner would he get his life organized a little than it would all be undone by unemployment, prison, or transfer. It was an endless cat-and-mouse game. The de­ portee who repented and apologized politely to the Central Commit­ tee would (though not always) be better treated and find a comfortable job as an economist or librarian, but the others would boycott him. For example, a woman who had been a Trotskyist and was the wife o f a capitulator still in jail was given the task o f purging the public li­ brary, i.e., o f withdrawing the works o f Trotsky, Riazanov, Preobra­ zhensky, and a host o f others, in accordance with lists that were issued from time to time; the books were not burned after the Nazi pattern, but sent for pulping to provide material for fresh paper. It was clearly indicated to me that I would receive no work except by seeking the favor o f the GPU . Once I went to discuss a possible job


1 9 3 3 - 1 9 3 6 • 35 3

in che Ural Gold Trusc, and had the following fragment of conversa­ tion with the local head o f the secret police: “Have you any intention o f seeking readmission to the Party?” “None at all.” “Or o f appealing against your sentence to the Special Collegium of the Interior?” “None at all.” Any employment was now out o f the question. I was determined to fight back. I had a historical work, three novels, and various other pub­ lications on sale in Paris. In Orenburg there was a Torgsin* shop where even at the height o f famine one could buy, at prices sometimes below the world level, foodstuffs and manufactured goods on which the whole town gazed greedily. The only acceptable payment for them was in gold, silver, or foreign currency. I saw Khirghiz and muzhiks coming to the counter with ancient necklaces fashioned from Persian coinage or embossed silver icon frames; these objets dart and rare coins were bought by the weight o f metal in them and paid for in flour, cloth, or hide. Former bourgeois now in exile brought along their false teeth. On 300 francs a month, the equivalent o f about fifteen dollars, I was able both to live myself and to provide a livelihood for some comrade or other who might just be out o f prison. By bartering I was able to obtain wood for the winter and dairy products. In the market, one Torgsin ruble was currently worth between thirty-five and forty paper

rubles; this meant that a wage o f eighty rubles was the equivalent of two convertible rubles at world market prices, or about one dollar... I rented, on the outskirts of the Vorstadt district facing the infinite steppe, half o f a house that had once been comfortable, but that now was in ruins. The landlady’s husband was in prison. Daria Timofeevna herself was tall, thin, bony, with a face as hard as a character from Holbein’s Dance o f Death, and made a very meager living by reading palms. A grandmother who was periodically shaken by malaria at­ tacks lay shivering on the hallway floor at the mercy of the flies; by night she made balls of chalk to sell at the market. A twelve-year-old boy, also suffering from malaria but intelligent and athletic, stole whatever he could lay his hands on to eat from the house and else­ where. Whenever she had made three rubles, Daria Timofeevna would

354 ■ M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

Vlady’s painting o f the house in Orenburg

buy a bit o f flour and a bottle o f vodka and drink till delirium or oblivion. M y neighbors lived apparently on the very edge o f the grave yet by constant miracles o f endurance not one o f them succumbed in the three years I was there. Three women clung to life in the cold cel­ lars, and on days o f great chill burned cattle dung for what little heat it gave off. Two o f the women were old, but the third was young, a pretty, neurotic girl whose husband had abandoned her and their two children. She would lock the kids up when she went to market in search o f G od knows what pittance. They’d press their snotty little faces between the planks o f the door and whimper piteously: Golodno! (W e’re hungry!) A s I fed them a bit o f food, the mothers o f other chil­ dren would come to reproach me for giving rice or bread only to those two: “Ours are starving, too!” There was nothing I could do. M y wife arrived from Leningrad with some books; the G P U gave me back my manuscripts and uncompleted works, as well as my type­ writer. I decided to work on, just as though I had some kind o f fu­ ture— which, after all, was still possible. It was an even chance whether I would survive or vanish into the jails. A t all costs I would, in opposi­ tion to despotism, keep this irrevocable minimum o f my rights and my dignity: the right to think freely. I began to write two books at once, one o f them an autobiographical work on the struggles o f my

T H E Y E A R S OF C A P T I V I T Y : 1933-1936

. 35 5

youth in Paris, and to gather notes on the history of the years 1918-20. I was in the terrain o f Chapayev’s* partisans, and I met some o f the survivors o f that era. While their glory was being hymned throughout the world in Soviet films, they were just scraping a living, alcoholic and demoralized— but wonderful personalities all the same. I studied that particular phase in the Civil War and the folk world around me, which, though primitive, had much o f human value. In particular, I was a close observer o f a case of banditry, which amounted to no more than the spontaneous violence o f a few young­ sters who, in a drunken condition, had thought it gallant to have a fight to the death. I saw the most formidable o f these youths being tried in a workers’ club. He had several deaths on his conscience and had no clear idea o f what he was being charged with. His name was Sudakov, and they shot him. Around his name I noted the phenome­ non of legend-making. I left the court an hour before the verdict, it being a stifling August night. On the following day several bystanders told me, in great excitement and with all the details, that Sudakov had escaped. He had saluted the audience by bowing, in the old Russian fashion, to the four points o f the compass, and then jumped through a window and disappeared in the park outside. People had seen it and the whole town was talking o f the affair— only, none o f it was true. When they came back to their senses, people declared that Sudakov had been pardoned; then the GPU sent his clothes to his fam ily... The dry, scorching summers and the glaring, relentless winters made every hour one o f struggle. The first priority was to obtain wood. The stupid regulations o f the Soviet, and the G P U ’s habit of requisitioning on some pretext or other any peasant homes that were at all comfortable, forced people to abandon the big, well-built houses and build new ones, barely habitable by a single family and so forming no temptation for the military. A big house would be left to rot, then permission would be obtained to demolish it (in view o f its condi­ tion), and the timber in it was sold for firewood—a brilliant transac­ tion! I followed the smart example o f the experts and kept myself warm by this technique. The area covered by housing diminished regularly, while the town’s excess population increased. Through the snowstorms my son and I would drag toboggans loaded with the


usual sack o f po tato es or d ru m o f paraffin b o u g h t on the black m ar­ ket. O n som e m o rn in g s the s n o w s o nslau gh t on the house w o u ld b u ry it a lm o st com pletely, an d w e h ad to fight it w ith o u r shovels to get the do o rs and w in d o w s free. Th e n to o w e h ad to ch o p and saw the w o o d , and h ide it in case it w as stolen. I m ade w o o d en barricades that w e piled in fro n t o f the block ed fro n t door. W e had to go and find our bread at the far end o f to w n , som etim es o n ly to push o u r noses up to a tin y notice:

The bread rationfo r the ioth is canceled. A t

the rationing

office a poster an no u n ced: “ G ra n d p a re n ts have no right to fo o d cards.” A l l the sam e, people m an aged to keep those “ useless m ou th s” alive. Besides this, w e used to go on lo n g ski trips over the frozen U ral and in the w o o d s. T h e iridescent sn o w w o u ld , every so often, show the tracks o f w ild beasts, w h ic h w e proceeded to trail. A t the age o f thir­ teen m y son h ad becom e a first-rate skier, th o u g h he h ad no skis, prop­ erly sp eak in g , o n ly old plan k s fastened to his feet. H e w as at school, w h ere th ey h ad one te xtb o o k b etw een three pupils and three exercise b o o k s per pu pil p er session; here the little C o ssa ck s used to fight one a n oth e r w ith k nives and go m arau d in g in the m arket. Th e little



(Fre n ch m an ) acq u itte d h im s e lf w ell, w ith o u t a k nife, and was

respected b y all. A s a depo rtee s son, he w as a source o f a n xie ty to the C o m m u n is t senior staff, w h o actu ally u pbraided him for not breaking o f f relations w ith his father. F o r a short w h ile he w as expelled from school for d eclarin g in the social science lesson that in France the trade u n io ns fu n ctio n e d freely. Th e h eadm aster o f the school carpeted me for the “ a n ti-So vie t a ctivities” that I was e nco u raging in m y son. “ Bu t,” I told h im , “ it is a fact th at trade u nion freedom and even political freedom exist in France; there is n o th in g a n ti-So viet about that.” “ I find it hard to believe you ,” replied the headm aster, “and in any case it is o u r d u ty to im press upon o u r ch ildren th at true lib e rty exists here and not in the capitalist dictato rsh ip o f the so-called dem ocratic co u ntries.” A t O re n b u rg the G P U h ad gathered (doubtless fo r the purpose o f w o rk in g up a “ case” at som e tim e) h a l f a dozen deportees from the L e ft O p p o sitio n , togeth er w ith a fe w yo u n g sym pathizers. W e were a fa m ily circle. T h e y were m en and w o m en o f a tru ly w o n d e rfu l stamp. In m y novel Midnight in

the Century I have taken som e pains to


T H E YEA RS OF C A P T IV IT Y: 1933-1936

. 35:

ture the sp iritu a l atm o sp h ere o f d e p o rta tio n . Jo u r n e y in g over th< years from p riso n to p riso n , fro m e x ile to e xile , to rm en ted by priva tion, these co m rad e s k e p t th e ir re v o lu tio n a ry faith , th e ir g o o d sp irits their sp a rk lin g p o litic a l in te llig e n ce . F an ya U p ste in , less th an thirty years old , w as an O d e ssa in te lle ctu a l, a d e vo te d stu d en t. L yd ia Svalo v ; was a w o rk e r fro m P erm , still y o u n g , w h o had been d e p o rte d to th( W h ite S e a co ast fo r raisin g h er voice a b o u t w ages in a m e etin g ; in the n orth she had b een p u t to w o rk as a w ag o n e r. L isa Sen atsk aya, a k in d l) and ste ad fast p e rso n , w as th e w ife o f V assily P an k rato v, an O p p o s i­ tionist in ja il fo r the last five years, an d had h e rs e lf been d e p o rte d foi refu sin g to d ivo rce h im , “ a fa ct w h ic h proves her so lid a rity w ith hei hu sb and .” T h e y w ere e x p e c tin g to be re u n ite d here.

The men had all fought in the Civil War. Boris Mikhailovich Elt­ sin, a Bolshevik since 1903, and a member o f the Opposition’s “Lead­ ing Center,” was a little man with heart trouble and rheumatism; hi< powerful head was topped with black hair which stood out in rebel-

* ; ' *C

B oris Eltsin painted by V lady, 1936

lious tufts: black chin beard and mustache, swarthy skin, deep wrin­ kles, lively eyes, and a thoughtful, spontaneously sarcastic way of



talking. Over fifty-five, he came to us from Suzdal prison, where he had bargained with Stalin. He had been deported at first to Feodossia in the Crimea, along w ith a son who was dying o f tuberculosis, but the climate there had been considered too easy for a man so obdurate. Hegel’s Collected Works were his constant companion. I used to see him having his din­

ner, a few potatoes and h alf a herring; he would then make tea, like the old student he was, and at last smile, bright-eyed, and say: “To­ night I read a page o f Hegel over again: it’s a tremendous stimulant for the m ind!” H e remarked too: “ O ur unity is the work o f the G PU ; in fact we have as many tendencies as there are militants. I don’t find this at all objectionable.” H is son, V ictor Borisovich, was deported to Archangel after spending five years in prison. Vassily Feodorovich Pankratov was sent to us after release from a five-year stay in an Isolator (Suzdal, I think). Aged forty, well-set shoulders and head, in vigorous trim, his features athletic and cleancut as his nature. Once a sailor in the fighting fleet, he had helped to lead the revolutionary movement at Kronstadt in 1917; after that he was in the C ivil War, and headed the G P U at Vladikavkaz (Northern Caucasus); imprisoned in 1918 for three years; when these three years had expired, the G P U asked him i f his ideas had changed, and upon his replying in the negative, added another two years to his term. It was only after the prison inmates threatened to go on hunger strike to the death that the secret Collegium stopped doling out increased sen­ tences o f this kind, and Pankratov recovered his liberty— by being deported. H is wife, Lisa, had waited for him; in our midst they found happiness together for a little while. C h a n a a n M ark o v ic h Pevzner, an eco no m ist from the Finance C o m m issa ria t, had been seriously m aim ed in the M a n ch u ria n cam ­ paign. H e had done o n ly fo u r years in the Isolator o w in g to the piti­ able co n d ition o f his left arm , w h ich h ad seven bullets in it and dangled like a rag. Th e G P U arranged em ploym ent for h im in the re­ gional treasury, to enable h im to deal w ith an incipient attack o f s cu rv y b y eatin g his fill, or as near as m igh t be. Pevzner was young, lively, a stro ng sw im m er, and a pessim ist. “ W e are in fo r years o f it,” he kept saying. “ I do not believe that the T e rro r w ill die d o w n : the eco-

T H E Y E A R S OF C A P T I V I T Y : 1933-1936

• 355

nomic situation demands it.” He had the sharp, bold features of a fighter from old Israel. Vassily Mikhailovich Chernykh, lately a high GPU official in the Ural area, had, in bygone days, captured Rostov with a little army of miners, sailors, and students. He had come to us from the prison at Verkhne-Uralsk. Tall, the very model of a timberman in the Nordic forests with his powerful arms, toughened face, blond mane, and mocking eyes, he was a warmhearted warrior with a serious head on his shoulders. He argued that, through the absence o f an intelligent and decisive leadership, the Petrograd Soviet had missed the chance of a revolution in February-March 1917, at the time of the autocracy’s collapse, and that power should have been seized at that time, thus saving a year o f semi-bourgeois Kerenskyism. Chernykh was (like my­ self) one of the tribe o f revisionists, who maintained that all ideas, as well as all recent history, should be reviewed from top to bottom. On this issue the Opposition was divided roughly into two halves: there were the revisionists and there were the doctrinaires, themselves sub­ divided into the orthodox, the extreme Left, and the followers of the theory that the U SSR was establishing State capitalism. Ivan Byk came to us from the concentration camp on the Solovietsky Islands. A young man, he had fought in the Ukraine, campaigned for the Workers’ Opposition, and undergone confinement at VerkhneUralsk: there, he had been one o f the organizers o f a widespread hun­ ger strike against the “doubling” o f sentences by administrative decision. The strikers did drink water, which enabled them to hold out for longer; on the eighteenth day the strike committee was carry­ ing on as usual. The formidable Andreyeva, who was in charge of po­ litical prisons, came to negotiate with the committee. She began by threatening them with forced labor. Byk answered her, “I f you re afraid of labor, I’m not: I’m a worker.” When they left this meeting, the three members of the strike committee had blankets thrown over their heads, were trussed up and transported they knew not where, ending up in a railroad car on their way to the Solovietsky. “Now, your strike is over, whether you like it or not. So, drink some milk, eat some cheese,” their guards said. The committee asked permission to delib­ erate and decided that while the train was still in the Ural region they

360 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

had to co nsider them selves as still on d u t y . . .T h e y o n ly took nourish­ m ent on the next day. In the co n cen tratio n ca m p B yk w as in fo rm e d that, in a short tele­ gra m p u b lish ed in the new spapers, C h ris tia n R ak o v sk y had an­ n o u n ce d his s u p p o rt fo r the C e n tra l C o m m itte e “ to stand against the w a r-d a n ge r side b y side w ith the P a rty.” A co n ciliato r by nature, Byk th o u g h t this qu ite reasonable, and accepted R a k o v sk y ’s form ulation o f “ a u n ite d fro n t.” H e w a s flo w n to the B u ty rk i prison in M osco w . “ Y o u are in favor o f a u n ited fro n t b etw een the O p p o sitio n and the C e n tra l C o m m itte e ? ” “ Yes.” “ R a k o v sk y goes fu rth e r th an t h a t . .. R e a d this article o f his. I f you sign it, w e release you .” A fte r reading the article B yk sim p ly asked to be sent back to the concentration cam p . W h e n he h ad finished his sentence, the G P U passed h im to us. B o ris Ilyich L ak o v itsk y, M u sco v ite w orker, illiterate e x -c h ie f o f s t a ff o f a p artisan arm y, an oth er h an dso m e Israelite w arrior, bearer o f several scars, h ead stro n g an d alw ays in co n flict w ith the G P U , w h ich kept h im o u t o f w o rk or gave h im w o rk u n der such conditions that one d a y he w e n t to tell the head o f the secret police, “ I k n o w w hat yo u r gam e is, respected co m rade. Y o u are settin g m e up for a little sabotage trial, aren’t yo u ? N o t as daft as th at! G o and ch eck for your­ s e lf the defects o f the clo th in g fa cto ry; I assure you, e v eryth in g there is d e fe ctiv e !” W e alw ays helped h im ou t as best w e cou ld at tim es o f g rin d in g po verty. W e were unable to protect h im either from his ow n to o im petuo u s nature nor from the m alaria that every n o w and then laid h im low. I spent a day w ith h im in the freezing snow near the w rec k o f a b u ild in g w h ere the C o ssa ck s o f the U rals used to keep their standards and trophies o f w ar. C h ild re n cam e out o f the dark, gaping cellars: “ U n cle s! There are bodies in sid e!” W e w ent d o w n into the darkness and fo u nd, w ith the help o f m atches, a yo u n g K yrgyz , his skull bashed in and, in p itch darkness, w edged in a corner, a sick m an g ro a n in g w h o m w e dared n ot approach fo r fear o f the fleas. W e got th em b o th pick ed up. “ L e t ’s eat o u r sacred little potatoes, now,” said L a k o v itsk y gaily. “ M e n in these S o cia list tim es m ust be hard and have a go o d appetite.” A fte r a fe w altercations w ith the Secret Service, as he w as fin ish in g his term o f depo rtatio n th ey sent h im to a “cam p for reeducation th ro u gh w o r k ” in C e n tra l A sia.

T H E Y E A R S O F C A P T I V I T Y : 1 9 3 3 - 1 9 3 6 • 361

Alexei Semionovich Santalov, a proletarian from the Putilov Works, had been in all the revolutions o f Petrograd for twenty years and more. An educated, thoughtful person, but sluggish in outward ap­ pearance, he used to defend trade union rights and factory legislation in whatever workshop he found himself: a serious offense. “A spineless lot of youngsters, this working class of today!” he would say. “They’ve never seen an electric lightbulb in their lives— it’ll take them ten years or more before they get round to demanding decent lavatories!” The GPU deferred to him, but he eventually landed in trouble. During a revolutionary festival Santalov got a little drunk and wandered into a workers’ club, where he stopped short before the Leader’s portrait. “You’ve got to admit it,” he cried noisily, “a fine face he has, this grave­ digger of the Revolution!” He was arrested and we never saw him again. I have described these men because I am grateful to them for hav­ ing existed, and because they incarnated an epoch. Most probably all of them have perished. Ch

, a history professor in Moscow, had been arrested because

it was imagined that certain allusions could be heard in his lectures on the French Revolution (Thermidor!). He was so seriously ill that we asked the GPU to send him to a clinic in Moscow. Our demand was granted. He came back to us far less shaky and bringing news: Trotsky, of whom we had heard absolutely nothing for a long time, was found­ ing the Fourth International.* With what forces? with what parties? we wondered. C h , on behalf o f some mysterious “comrades” whom he had, so he said, managed to contact while in hospital, sug­ gested to me that Eltsin and I should establish an illegal committee of the Opposition: “We need a brain!” We were sitting on the steps of my house, facing the steppe. I asked him questions about the com­ rades in Moscow, trying to discover their identity; I looked deep into his eyes, and thought to myself: “You, my friend, are an agent provo­ cateur!” I explained to him that even when shut away in prisons we still embodied a basic principle of life and liberty, and that we had no need to organize ourselves into clandestine committees. His attempt failed, then, but he was pardoned some time later. I had been right. If I had listened to him I should be lying dead at this very hour, with a little hole in the back o f my neck.

362 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

The winter o f 1 9 3 4 -3 5 was frightful, despite the lessening o f the famine towards the N ew Year, the abolition o f bread rationing, and the revaluation o f the ruble at the equivalent o f a kilo o f black bread. For a long while my wife, a victim to crises o f insanity, had been away from me for treatment in Leningrad. I was left alone with my son, and the G P U suddenly cut o ff my sup­ plies. A consignment o f money posted from Paris via the Torgsin was intercepted and “ lost.” I asked the G P U for work, and the Secret Ser­ vice ironically offered me a night watchmans job, adding by the way that it was not certain that I could be given a permit to carry arms and this would be contrary to regulations. I now understood that a direc­ tive was out to choke me to death— or else that the protest campaign in France on my behalf was annoying Moscow and so they were trying to break me. Try, try again! Our morale was excellent. We had passionately followed the battles in the Asturias in October 1934; in the talks that I gave in the woods by the River Ural, I proclaimed the Spanish Revolution to my comrades, and I was not wrong. A great popular victory in the West could save us by blowing a gust of fresh air across the U SSR. This news coincided with rumors o f a political amnesty; the G P U officials told us L i u b a p ain t ed by her so n, V la dy,

that Trotsky was begging to come

O r e n b u r g c. 1935

back, offering to submit to the Cen­

tral Com m ittee. I learned later that Lozovsky was likewise announc­ ing my own impending submission to my comrades in Paris; this, he said, would mean the end o f the “Victor Serge affair.” Rakovsky had just surrendered, but this did not worry us. We told each other, “He is getting old, and they’ve played a classic trick on him, showing him confidential documents about the approach o f w a r ...” Meanwhile, most o f the comrades were being thrown out o f work by the GPU. M y son and I rationed ourselves to the limit, so that all we fed on now was a little black bread and “egg soup,” which I made to last two



. 363

days with some sorrel and just one egg. Fortunately we did have wood. Soon I began to suffer from boils. Pevzner, famished and homeless besides, came to sleep at our house, bedridden by attacks of a strange ague. Later we discovered that he had scarlet fever. An enormous an­ thrax tumor under my left breast laid me flat on my back, and I saw the abscess devouring me. The GPU refused to send me a physician, and the doctor from the Vorstadt dispensary, a young, overworked little woman, tended us as best she could, with no medicines at her disposal. Rumor grew in the neighborhood that Pevzner was dying (and indeed he was delirious), and that I was dead. The GPU woke up, since they had to answer for us to the Central Collegium. One morn­ ing, the most eminent surgeon in town, a tireless and remarkably tal­ ented neurotic, burst into the house, wagged his head, and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll save you,” and had me conveyed immediately to the hospi­ tal. Pevzner was already there, in the huts reserved for contagious pa­ tients. This was a little after Kirov s assassination. I left for the hospital lying in straw on a low sledge, on a day dazzling with sunshine and snow. A bearded, wrinkled peasant would turn around to me every now and then to inquire if I was being jolted too much. My son walked along beside the sledge. I could not move an inch; all I could see was a luminous blue o f surpassing purity. Vassily Pankratov had just disappeared; he was arrested obscurely, leaving his young wife pregnant. The comrades thought that my condition would prevent my being arrested, but that I would be imprisoned immediately upon discharge from hospital. Such was the fate o f Pevzner, whom we never saw again. Once he was convalescent, policemen waited for him at the exit to the huts and took him away to the cellars o f the GPU. Pevzner and Pankratov, in common with many other notable de­ portees who had recently been let out o f Isolators and again put under arrest, were to be enrolled in a “prison conspiracy,” invented in the panic over the Kirov affair. We heard no more of them, except that after several months Pankratov arrived at the prison of VerkhneUralsk, which held Kamenev and Zinoviev. His message to us said only one thing: “The investigation has been frightful. Nothing we have so far experienced can be compared with what is going on. Be ready for anything!” And ready we were.

364 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

I no longer know how many weeks I spent in the “gangrenous” de­ partment at Orenburg’s surgical hospital, during the bitterest part of winter. The hospital was run as efficiently as the general destitution permitted; what it treated prim arily was poverty. It was filled with cases o f sickness or accident casualties whose true sickness or accident lay in chronic undernourishment aggravated by alcoholism. The worker who lived on sour cabbage soup, without fat content, would acquire an abscess as a result o f a simple bruise, the abscess would be followed by septic inflammation and this, since the hospital fed its inmates very poorly, would last indefinitely. Children were covered in cold sores. W hole wards were full o f peasants with frozen limbs, empty bellies, and worn and threadbare clothes that offered small re­ sistance to the cold. Disinfectants, anesthetics, analgesics, gauze, bandages, even iodine came in inadequate quantities, so that dressings that should have been changed daily were only attended to every three days. In the bandag­ ing room I heard arguments and bargaining going on among the nurses: “Give me back the three yards o f gauze I lent you the day be­ fore yesterday, I’ve a patient here who can’t wait any longer!” “But you must know, the delivery they promised hasn’t com e. . . ” The same ban­ dages were washed and used over and over again. I saw gangrenous flesh being torn from the frozen limbs with pincers; indescribable scars resulted. To treat me the doctors had to ask for vaccines and drugs from the G P U ’s privileged infirmary, the only one that went short of nothing. True, I was in the hospital for the poor— along with Chapa­ yev’s old partisans. Official, technical, and military personnel had spe­ cial clinics reserved for their use. The medical and ancillary staff, which was generally very underpaid, was extraordinarily conscientious. In the long winter evenings, the convalescing patients used to gather around a big stove in the passageway, and sing, underhandedly, a tragic ballad o f love and brigandage; its refrain was: A nd money, money all the time: W ith no money, you can’t liv e. .. I got better, largely I believe because the G P U allowed the next dis­ patch o f money to reach me, and so I was able to buy butter, sugar, and

T H E Y E A R S O F C A P T I V I T Y : 1933-1936

. 365

rice at the Torgsin. I shall never forget the way in which some of the sick people gazed at me when I was brought such food, or their defer­ ence when they took their share o f it. Nor, for that matter, shall 1for­ get how on the most wretched o f our days o f misery we all heard a radio broadcast from a regional meeting of kolkhoz workers. Passion­ ate voices went on endlessly thanking the Leader for “the good life we lead,” and twenty or so patients tormented by hunger, half of them kolkhoz workers themselves, listened to it all in silence. Contrary to all our predictions, I did not disappear, but returned home. This was due to the stubborn battle that was raging around my name in France. Militants and intellectuals were demanding that ei­ ther I be released or my deportation be justified. They were promised that I would have a proper trial— and the trial never took place; they were promised documentation on the case— and no documents were forthcoming. They were promised that I would be freed forthwith, and I was not. At a time when Soviet policy was seeking the support of left-wing circles in France, it was all rather embarrassing. One freezing, snowy morning, in the spring o f 1935, there was a soft knock at my door. I opened it and saw two women wearing hoods who looked at me imploringly. “We are from Leningrad and we were given your address.” “Come in, comrades!” The young woman replied, smilingly, “We are not comrades, we are ex-bourgeois!” “Welcome, then, citizens!” They warmed themselves and then settled in my house. From them I learnt o f the mass banishments of Leningrad, fifty to one hundred thousand deportees, a whole population o f people related to the former bourgeoisie sent off to the Volga region, Central Asia, the north—women, children, old people, technicians, artists, without distinction. Pregnant women gave birth on route, the old were buried at nameless railway stations. All were ruined, o f course, having had to sell their possessions in haste and having lost their jobs. Following the Kirov affair, Stalin had sent a message to the Leningrad Regional Com­ mittee upbraiding them for not having cleansed the city of the old imperial” bourgeoisie. The “cleanup” began at once. The men were usually sent to concentration camps. The young woman I took in was the wife o f a famous Soviet architect, young and distinguished, the builder, I believe, o f the GPU building in Stalingrad; now he was in a camp. His mother was also deported, because she was his mother..

366 • M EM O IR S OF A R EV O L U T IO N A R Y

Just to Orenburg there came three or four hundred families, about one thousand people. We used to go to watch the “trains from Lenin­ grad” pass through the station on their way to Central Asia. The G P U gave an allowance o f thirty rubles a month to the old; it did not give it for long. I heard o f crazy instances, like where the wife o f a Com ­ munist was deported for having been married, ten years before, to an ex-officer! Com pared to us, the Leningrad deportees were well-off: they were allowed to work, the majority soon managed to settle in. There were countless tragedies, but our vast Russia does not linger; life goes on. A m ong these deportees, I met Doctor Kerenskaya, sister o f the for­ mer head o f the Provisional Government o f revolutionary Russia, A l­ exander Kerensky. “ W h at!” people would exclaim. “Are you still using that name? Its extremely risky!” She replied that for her whole life she had only looked after the sick and that here or elsewhere she would find a way o f being useful. Indeed, thanks to the influx o f deported doctors, the number o f medical personnel in the region doubled. I am convinced that at the end o f 1934, just at the moment when K irov was murdered, the Politburo was entering upon a policy o f nor­ mality and relaxation. The kolkhoz system had been modified so far as to permit the farmers to keep their private property even in the kolk­ hoz itself The Government was anxious to present the Soviet Union in a democratic role within the League o f Nations and was seeking the support o f the enlightened bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie in other countries. The revolver shot fired by Nikolayev ushered in an era o f panic and savagery. The immediate response was the execution o f 114 people; then the execution o f Nikolayev and his friends, fourteen young folk in all; then the arrest and imprisonment o f the whole o f the former Zinoviev and Kamenev tendency, close on three thousand persons as far as I could make out; then the mass deportation o f tens o f thousands o f Leningrad citizens, simultaneously with hundreds of arrests among those already deported and the opening o f fresh secret trials in the prisons themselves. Certain mysterious happenings at the top o f the Party have come to light: for example, the Yenukidze case. Aveli Yenukidze, whom I have mentioned a number o f times in these reminiscences, was a Cau-



• 367

casian Old Bolshevik, a companion o f Stalin’s youth and, like Stalin, a Georgian; he had also been Secretary o f the Central Soviet Execu­ tive since the foundation o f the Soviet Union. In the discharge of these high offices he proved himself considerate, and as liberal and large-hearted as was possible in that age. His honesty was evidently an obstacle to the great settling o f political accounts whose preparation was at hand. Relieved o f his duties and shifted to a subordinate posi­ tion, Yenukidze gradually disappeared from view (eventually to be shot in 1937, without “confession” or trial). On Nikolayev’s crime, the world has seen the publication of a number of successive versions, all o f them extravagantly improbable, but not the original papers, whether the terrorist’s own statements or the documents o f the investigation. It was almost certainly an indi­ vidual act committed by an infuriated young Communist. The Left or Trotskyist Opposition was, in all likelihood, represented in Lenin­ grad at that time solely by Alexandra Bronstein; I have no doubt, with my intimate knowledge o f its members, ideas, and general condition, that it had nothing whatsoever to do with the assassination. We still viewed ourselves as the partisans o f “Soviet reform,” and reform ex­ cluded any recourse to violence. I was too well acquainted with the followers o f the Zinoviev tendency, as well as those o f the Right Op­ position, men tragically cautious and loyal, to suspect them for a sin­ gle moment. The murder was a spontaneous act, but it confronted the Politburo with a frightful problem: not only their own responsibility for the years of darkness, but also the existence o f a “shadow govern­ ment” in the persecuted Opposition who, for all the abuse directed so incessantly against them, were more popular among the informed sec­ tions of the population than the leaders of the State. “Just think of it,” one official said to me, terrified, “one o f the Party leaders has been deliberately shot by a young Party member who didn’t even belong to any Oppositional tendency!” Throughout the whole o f the year 1935, the Politburo was secretly torn between contrary inclinations, towards normalization on the one hand, towards terror on the other. The first-named tendency seemed to be on the winning side. Executions, jailings, and deporta­ tions had long ceased to interest the masses. By contrast, the abolition

368 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

o f bread rationing made everybody happy. This country, for the sake o f a little progress in the direction o f prosperity, would walk over any number o f corpses without noticing. I told myself that Stalin only had to increase real wages a little, allow the collective farmers room to breathe, shut down the concentration camps, and shout pardon to any political opponents who were either mere invalids or else interested only in supporting him without loss o f face— and he could at once soar into imperishable popularity. I was o f the opinion that he was about to embark on this course with the new Soviet Constitution, which Bukharin was busy drafting. A n d so, for what was left o f our family o f deportees, the year glided past with a deceptive tranquillity. A number o f Com m unist exiles ar­ rived, who all continued to declare their loyalty to “the General Line”; we avoided their company except for a few o f them. I was finishing my books in a state o f uncertainty. W hat would their destiny be, and mine? There was an autobiographical piece on the French anarchist movement just before the First World War {Les Hommesperdus), and a novel, L a Tourmente, which followed on from my published novels. In it I reconstructed the atmosphere o f the year 192.0, the zenith o f the Revolution. I had also completed a small col­ lection o f poems, Resistance, and amassed a great pile o f notes for a historical work on W ar Com m unism . I finished these writings in two and a h alf years; they were the only works I have ever had the oppor­ tunity to revise at leisure. I wrote in French, in a town where no one understood French, unable to converse in this language myself except with my son. Although I am inured to efforts o f willpower, I have to recognize that it was often only an actual hardening o f my nature that enabled me to persevere. It is not easy to work without respite, won­ dering i f all one’s writing may not tomorrow be seized, confiscated, or destroyed. By one o f those strokes o f irony that are so frequent in Rus­ sia, the Soviet press was, quite appropriately, commemorating an anni­ versary o f the Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko, who in 1847 had been exiled for ten years to the steppes o f Orenburg, “ forbidden to draw or to write.” He did, all the same, write some clandestine po­ etry that he concealed in his boots. In this report I had an overwhelm­ ing insight into the persistence in our Russian land, after a century o f

T H E YEARS O F C A P T I V I T Y : 1 9 3 3 - 1 9 3 6

• 369

reform, progress, and revolution, o f the same willful determination to wipe out the rebellious intelligence without mercy. Never mind, I told myself, I must hold on: hold on and work on, even under this slab of lead. I made several copies o f my manuscripts, and made an arrange­ ment through the post with Romain Rolland to send him my books; he was perfectly willing to forward them to some publishers in Paris. Rolland had no love for me, since long ago I had strongly attacked his doctrine of nonviolence, which had its inspiration in Gandhi-ism, but he was worried by the repression in the U SSR and wrote to me in very friendly terms. I posted him a first manuscript in four registered enve­ lopes, not forgetting to inform the GPU that I had done so. All four envelopes were lost. I went to complain to the head of the secret police and he exclaimed, “Just see how deplorably the Post Office works! And then you say we’re exaggerating when we uncover sabotage! Why, my own letters to my wife go astray! I promise you that a proper in­ quiry will be made and that the Post Office will pay you the lawful compensation without delay!” He even offered, very kindly, to supervise the transmission, still to Romain Rolland, o f another set o f manuscripts that the GPU would see were visaed by the literary censors. I entrusted them to his care— and of course they never reached their destination. While this was going on, my correspondence abroad was cut off. The head of the secret police shook his head gravely: “Oh dear! What would you have us do to put the Post Office right?" The Post Office regularly paid me hundreds o f rubles for the registered letters that I continued to send at the rate o f five a month and which “went astray. This afforded me the income o f a well-paid technician. Meanwhile, in France, the “Victor Serge affair” w a s proving a trou­ blesome business in working-class and intellectual circles. In its an­ nual conferences the United Teachers’ Federation was demanding my release, or else some justification for my confinement. At the 1934 con­ ference of this body the Soviet teachers’ delegation had promised that I would be tried before a duly constituted court. At the Rheims con­ ference in 1935, the Russian delegation, which was greeted with chants of “ Victor Serge! Victor Serge!" raised by the whole hall, provoked a

370 • M EM O IR S OF A R EV O L U T IO N A R Y

storm o f booing by declaring that I was mixed up in the Kirov affair! The League for the Rights o f M an published the detailed documenta­


tion assembled by Magdeleine Paz. La Revolution Proletarienne L'Ecole Emancipee Le Combat Marxiste, and Les Humbles (under


Maurice Wullens*) took up the campaign. Georges Duhamel, Lćon Werth, Charles Vildrac, Marcel M artinet, Jacques Mesnil, Maurice Parijanine,* Boris Souvarine, and the wavering editorial board of

L’Europe took an interest in the case in their own ways. In Holland, Henriette Roland-Holst, in Switzerland Fritz Brupbacher,* in Bel­ gium Charles Plisnier* lent their support to the protests. Brupbacher was told quite baldly by Helena Stassova, the secretary o f Interna­ tional Class W ar Prisoners A id in Moscow: “Serge will never get out.” In June 1935 an “ International Congress o f Writers for the Defense o f Culture” took place in Paris, formally upon the initiative o f such left-wingers as A lain, Barbusse, Romain Rolland, Žlie Faure, Andre Gide, Andre M alraux, and Victor Margueritte. The actual initiative came from certain Com m unist back rooms that specialized in orga­ nizing congresses o f this kind; their objective was to arouse a proStalinist movement among the French intelligentsia and buy over a number o f famous consciences. M y friends decided to attend the con­ gress and demand to be heard. Some o f them got themselves ejected by the stewards. Aragon and Ehrenburg manipulated the assembly in accordance with secret directives. Barbusse, M alraux, and Gide pre­ sided with some embarrassment. Heinrich Mann* and Gustav Regler* spoke o f the persecuted intellectuals o f Germany, Gaetano Salvemini* o f those in Italy and o f freedom o f thought in general. Salvemini caused a scene by condemning “all the oppressions” and mentioning my name. Gide, amazed to find that fierce efforts were being made to hush up the dispute, insisted on the ventilation o f the matter, and Malraux, who was chairing the session, finally allowed Magdeleine Paz to speak: she spoke harshly, in fighting terms. Charles Plisnier, the novelist and mystical poet, and a Com munist militant not long ago, supported her. H enry Poulaille, the author o f Damnis de la terre, a true son o f the workers’ suburbs who did not mince his words, dem­ onstrated in the hall. T h e delegation from the So viet w riters included tw o m en w ith



• 371

whom I had been on friendly terms, the poets Boris Pasternak and Nikolai Tikhonov, and also a person in the innermost circle o f Party confidence, whom I had met in Moscow, the official journalist M i­ khail Koltsov, a man as remarkable for his talent as for his pliant do­ cility. Besides these there were the successful playwright Kirshon and the hack agitator-novelist Ehrenburg. Pasternak, who is at once the Mallarme and Apollinaire o f Russian poetry, a truly great writer and a victim o f semi-persecution besides, kept in the background. The other four fulfilled instructions and declared without a blink that they knew nothing o f the writer Victor Serge— these, my good col­ leagues of the Soviet Writers’ Union! All they knew of was a “Soviet citizen, a confessed counterrevolutionary, who had been a member of the conspiracy which had ended in the murder of Kirov.” As he de­ claimed this from the platform, Koltsov did not suspect that in 1939 he himself would disappear, in complete obscurity, into the GPU prisons. Kirshon did not suspect that two years later, he would disap­ pear himself, dubbed a “terrorist-Trotskyist”— he whose pen had never been anything other than strictly conformist. Ehrenburg forgot his flight from Russia, his banned novels, his accusation against Bol­ shevism o f “crucifying Russia.” Tikhonov forgot his hymns to Cour­ age, in those splendid epic ballads o f his that I had translated into French. Nobody there could foresee the grim tumbrils o f the Moscow Trials, but they knew o f the 127 executions o f innocents; these had been publicly announced the day after Nikolayev’s deed and, accord­ ing to the Soviet press, were even stoutly approved by humanists such as Jean-Richard Bloch and Romain Rolland. The shameless statement that justified my captivity by a murder committed two years after my arrest sent a shiver down more than one spine. Andre Gide went to see the Soviet Ambassador, who could give him no enlightenment at all. Almost at the same time Romain Rolland, who had been invited to Moscow and received by Stalin, spoke to him o f the “Victor Serge af­ fair.” Yagoda, the head of the political police, was consulted, and could find nothing in his files (if he had found the least confession o f com­ plicity signed by myself, I should have been lost). Stalin promised that I would be authorized to leave the USSR, together with my family. But where could I go? For a moment the battle for visas seemed

372 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

hopeless. The French Prime M inister Laval refused us the entry per­ mit into France for which my friends pleaded. Approaches made in London were fruitless. Approaches made in Holland were fruitless. Copenhagen promised. Then £m ile Vandervelde, now in the govern­ ment o f Belgium, arranged for us to be granted permission to reside there for three years. I f these negotiations had dragged on a few weeks longer, I should never have left the country; I should have been no more than a dead man on bail. I was almost completely ignorant o f the struggles inspired by soli­ darity and by friendship. I was also unaware o f the enormity o f my peril and that o f the wild accusations hurled against me abroad. W hat I did know was that political deportation never came to an end in cases o f mandatory sentence. You just changed location. To get through all the “norm al” stages o f deportation without trouble would take about ten years, and so I was expecting to be sent elsewhere for a new term. I had done my time and the G P U functionaries told me noth­ ing; but a comrade who had just finished her sentence had received another two years. Suddenly I was given three days to get ready to leave for Moscow, and thence for an “unknown destination” which the G P U Collegium would determine. W hen the Political Red Cross sent me forms to sign for a Belgian visa, I thought I understood. Above all, I believed, I had enough standing and support in France to ensure that they would not dare to prolong my confinement. M y comrades Bobrov and Eltsin, and others who had just come from Isolators, such as Leonid Girchek and Yakov Belenky, thought that I had fallen vic­ tim to unfortunate illusions: “ You’ll have a rude awakening when you find yourself in a nice dark prison or some desert in Kazakhstan. . . ” “ It is not to the G P U ’s advantage,” I replied, “that I should be in a position to observe its machinery any further. They know quite well that I will never capitulate and that in the end I shall just have to be released, able to write about it a ll . .. I would be doomed only if Fas­ cism won in France, and it failed in its coup o f 6 February 1934.” Old Eltsin, crippled with rheumatism, was living in an icy little room in a house without a W C . I asked him, “Should I start a campaign in the press abroad to get you out?” and he answered, “No. M y place is here.” I to o k the precaution o f g iv in g aw ay m y h ousehold goo ds o n ly on



. 373

condition that they be kept at my disposal for a month and sent on to me if, from the heart o f some Siberia or other, 1 asked for them back. All I took with me was papers, useful books, and personal keepsakes. I went off with my son on a freezing day in April. The snow covered the plains and the cities. Chernykh, usually so sprightly with his vig­ orous manner and his wild, Russian plainsman’s hair, was gloomy when he said good-bye to me. “Those o f us who are still alive,” he told me, “will be old, forgotten, and obsolete on the day that a new liberty is born in Russia. We shall be like that old revolutionary who came back to St. Petersburg after thirty years o f exile during the March days in 1917, met nobody he knew in all the chaos, and died of neglect in a hotel room. They recognized h im ... after it was all over!” My heart was utterly ravaged as I left; I was severing attachments of a unique quality. I should have liked to have those dear faces, that I would never see again, imprinted on my brain, and those landscapes of white countryside, and even the image o f our vast Russian misery, lived out by this brave, gritty, patient people. I f I could have believed in any reasonable chance that I should not ultimately have been oblit­ erated in a voiceless struggle that was already sterile, 1 would have been content to remain there even if it were in some little Mongol fishing village inside the Arctic Circle. But we do not live for our­ selves; we live to work and fight. The white plains fled past endlessly in the windows o f the train. Two seedy-looking policemen had taken their seats not far from us. At Kuibyshev the Volga was still frozen. Tartar Republic, busy little stations, young women with colored kerchiefs over their hair, peasant dwellings surrounded by birch trees and little wooden paddocks... In the station at Syzran a great clang of ironmongery made the passen­ gers jump, and we saw an implausible goods train slewing to and fro over yielding, dancing rails. It was only a small, unimportant derail­ ment: the ballast gone, the soil dissolved with the early thaw, and a false move. The railwaymen chuckled bitterly about it: “That s where Stakhanovism gets you, citizen! They still have to learn that the stock gets tired just like people!” In another spot the train slowed down in the middle of the steppe and I saw workmen with iron bars holding together the broken rails over which we were gingerly moving. Our

374 • M EM O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

train h ad to alter its rou te— and arrived several hours late— because o f a serious acciden t on the line. M o s co w . T h e bustle o f the streets and m em ories, m em ories! The lu xu rio u s M e tr o w ith its granite p a v in g, its w alls in U ra l stone, its exits, huge u n d ergro u n d avenues— but w ith o u t benches fo r travelers, and expensive. W e k n o w h o w to b u ild subterranean palaces, but we fo rget th at a w o rk in g-cla ss w o m a n c o m in g h om e from w o rk w o u ld love to be able to sit d o w n beneath all these rich -hu ed stones. A t the P o litical R e d C ro s s , in o vercro w ded little offices on the K u z n e ts k y B rid ge, a s to n e s th ro w fro m the tall, square tow er o f the G P U b u ild in g, w e saw E k a te rin a Pavlo vna Peshkova and her co l­ league V in a v e r, a fo rm er L ib eral law yer. E k a terin a Pavlovna still bore the nam e o f G o rk y , w h ose w ife she h ad been and w h ose devoted friend she still w as. H a v in g w o n L e n in ’s co n fiden ce she w as allow ed, du ring the R e d Terror, to fo u n d a re lie f o rg an izatio n fo r p olitical detainees, o f w h a tev e r k in d ; it w as tolerated, first b y the C h e k a , then by the G P U , w ith a m ixtu re o f respect, trust, and hostility. Peshkova was able to m anage the am azin g m oral feat o f retaining the trust sim ultaneously o f v ictim s an d inquisitors! F o r year after year this sad, th in w o m an, w ith lovely gray eyes an d a style o f dress w h o se very artlessness was elegant, aided b y a tin y band o f u n tirin g fello w w orkers, lavished in ­ terventio n, intercession, and relief on b e h a lf o f all the victim s o f the vario us terrors th at fo llo w ed h o tfo o t upon one another. N o b o d y else in the w h o le w o rld d u rin g this centu ry, I am co nvinced, has k no w n, and at such close quarters, so m an y disasters, deaths, atrocities, and tragedies, som e inevitable, som e senseless. Peshkova lived in a private hell, the repository o f countless secrets, all o f them deadly as the strongest poison. She w as never too tired, never disheartened, h o w ­ ever dark the tim es w e re — and fo r her, o n ly fo r her, all the tim es o f the R evo lu tio n were dark. Pledged to secrecy, she has rem ained u n k n ow n to the great w o rld outside. I k n o w o f enough instances o f her arduous labors to fill a w h ole chapter, but I shan’t. Ju s t one instance, ou t o f a possible h undred. T h e P olitical R ed C ro s s w as d ealin g w ith the case o f an officer interned in a labor cam p in the So lovietsk y Islands, on the W h it e Sea. H e w as co m in g back, pardoned. H is w ife was expect­ in g h im and cam e to Peshkova for news. Ju s t w h en he w as to leave for



• 375

Moscow, free, the ex-officer was shot together with the all the others of his barrack room because one o f their fellow prisoners had escaped.. .“ Please inform the w idow .. Ekaterina Pavlovna informed me that my wife, my poor invalid, was waiting for me, along with Jeannine,* the baby that had been born to us while I was in hospital at Orenburg a little over a year ago. She informed me also that I would not see Anita Russakova, who had just been arrested and deported for five years to Viatka. I immediately understood why: now I should not be able to talk to Anita and resolve the mystery o f her lying confessions. I was told that we had to leave for Warsaw that same evening. I asked Ekaterina Pavlovna to request a twenty-four-hour delay from the GPU so that I could obtain an exit permit for my manuscripts (which had obligingly been promised me for the following day) from the censorship, and for my baggage from the head customs office. When she came back, Peshkova told me, “Go this very evening, don’t press for anything. The secret police officer just told me that you were not out o f the country yet, and that he was sending Yagoda a fresh memorandum about you. .. ” I demurred no longer. I was never to be given any o f my manuscripts although their exit had been authorized by Glavlit, the literary censorship agency. O f our baggage we took away only a few small articles in our attache cases. All the rest o f it was ultimately seized, or rather stolen, by the GPU. Francesco Ghezzi, gaunt and unbending, now a worker in a Mos­ cow factory and the only syndicalist still at liberty in Russia, came with us to the train. O ff we went, traveling third class, alone in our carriage, with a few rubles and ten dollars between four persons. In the smart and empty station at Negoreloye, ornamental uniforms sur­ rounded us and searched us minutely: we were made to undress, and even the soles of my shoes were scrutinized with attention. The train entered the gray no-man’s-land o f the frontier. Behind us we were leaving the boundless gray fields o f the collective farms; now we were crossing a sort of desert laid out for war. We had the feeling that we were the only travelers in this wilderness. Oh, our great Russia of ago­ nies, how hard it is to tear ourselves away from you! So ended my seventeen years’ experience of victorious revolution.

9. D E F E A T IN T H E W E S T 1936-1941 O

n c e

w e

w ere over the Polish border w e co u ld see ch a rm in g little

houses, new spap er kiosks sellin g the jo u rn als o f Paris, B erlin, L o n ­ d o n , and N e w Y o rk , d ecen tly clad railw aym en, relaxed faces. B y the illu m in a tio n s o f e venin g, W a rs a w w a s a pictu re o f tall facades, gar­ nished w ith tastefu l arrays o f blue electric light. A l l the clothes in the M a rs z a lk o w sk a seem ed elegant, and the v e ry bustle o f the street seem ed to have an air o f n o n ch alan ce and prosperity. T h e shops, fu ll o f e v e r y th in g to dream of, were an even greater contrast, com pared w ith o u r m eager co o peratives. A l l these co m pariso ns w e fo u n d heart­ rendin g. W e d id n o t get o u t o f the train w h en w e were crossing N az i G e rm an y . I co u ld o n ly m anage, fro m the prom inence o f a bridge, to glim pse a square th at I h ad k n o w n n o t lo n g ago, near the Silesia S ta ­ tion in B erlin . G e rm a n y show ed no sign o f ch ange to the passing eye: efficien cy and neatness everyw h ere, arch itectu re designed fo r privacy or sheer size, elaborate garden plots. S o m e Je w ish travelers w h o m I qu estioned told m e th at th ey co u ld live, but o n ly in fear. I had the im pression that, since each o f them w as lo o k in g to his o w n fo rtune in a large co u n try in w h ic h terror was n o th in g i f not secret, they k n e w little o f the d ark side o f the regim e, and were afraid to speak even o f this little, even w ith a R ussian traveler. S till, th ey regarded the U S S R as a p rivileged land. In Brussels w e fo u n d refuge in the sm all hom e o f N ich o las Lazerevich,* a syn d icalist m ilitan t o f Russian o rigin w h o had lately been in jail at S u zd a l, and then expelled from the S o viet U n io n . H e lived o f f his u nem plo ym ent benefit and w e n t to the T o w n H a ll fo r the m eals provided at m in im u m cost to the unem ployed. W h e n he of­ fered to give m e a share o f his dinner, w h ich consisted o f a rich soup, 376

D E F E A T IN T H E W E S T : 1936-1941

. 377

stew, and potatoes, I exclaimed, “Back home, over there, this is a meal for a high Party official!” He had three rooms, and possessed a bicycle and a gramophone. This unemployed Belgian lived as comfortably as a well-paid technician in the USSR. The day after our arrival, as soon as I got up, I went to explore this provincial scene. The freshly painted houses still had the look of old Flemish towns, with modern buildings carefully styled to maintain an individual flavor; the square paving-stones were newly washed. My son and I would stop in front o f the shops, moved beyond words. The little windows overflowed with hams, chocolates, gingerbread, rice, and such improbable fruits as oranges, mandarins, and bananas! These riches were within reach, within reach of an unemployed man in a working-class area, without benefit o f Socialism or a Plan! It was disconcerting. I had known o f all this before, but the reality of it shocked me as if I was seeing it for the first time. It was enough to make one weep in humiliation and grief for our Russia of revolutions. “Ah! I f only Tatiana could see it! I f Petka could just visit this sumptuous shop for just a minute, sweets and stationery for next to nothing, just for school kids. Ah! I f only!” These young women, these schoolchildren, these people from whom we were wrenching our­ selves with pain hour by hour, they would never have believed their eyes, what joy would have shone in their faces! “They would cry out,” my son suggested bitterly, “ here is true Socialism!” We remembered fondly a working woman who was over twenty and had never seen a bar of chocolate until we brought her one from the Torgsin, though she thought she remembered having tasted an orange... On May Day we saw these provincial streets full of workers out in their Sunday best with their families: young girls with red-ribboned hair, men with red badges in their buttonholes, all o f them with well-fed faces, the women fat at thirty and the men fleshy at forty or so. They were off to a Socialist demonstration, and looked just like the bourgeoisie as pic­ tured by the popular imagination in Russia under the influence of the cinema: peaceable, content with their lot. I suspected that these work­ ers of the West now had no desire whatsoever to fight for Socialism, or for anything else for that matter. The city center, with its commercial opulence, its illuminated

378 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

signs, its B o u rse set so lid ly in the m iddle o f to w n , w as the cause o f m uch asto n ish m en t to m y son, then in his sixteenth year and a So viet sch o o lb o y; m y answ ers to his questions seem ed incredible, and only co n fu se d h im the m ore. “ T h is b ig b u ild in g th en , w ith all these shops and w aterfalls o f fire on the ro o f— does it b elon g to one m an, w h o can do ju st w h a t he likes w ith it? D o e s this shop, w ith en o ugh shoes fo r the w h o le o f O renb u rg, b e lon g to ju st one o w n e r?” “ Y es, son: his nam e is w ritte n there in lights. Th e gentlem an prob ­ ably o w n s a facto ry, a c o u n try house, several c a r s . . . ” “A l l fo r h im ? ” “ Yes, yo u m igh t say.” It all seem ed m ad to m y S o vie t adolescent. H e w ent on: “ B u t w h a t does he live for, th is m an? W h a t is his aim in life?” “ H is a im ,” I replied, “ is, b ro ad ly sp eak in g , to m ake h im s e lf and his ch il­ dren r i c h . . . ” “ B u t h e’s already rich ! W h y does he w a n t to get any richer? In the first place it’s u n ju st— an d then too, liv in g ju st to get rich is sim ply id io tic! A r e th ey all like that, these shop ow ners ?” “ Yes, son, an d i f th ey heard you ta lk in g , th ey w o u ld th in k you were a m a d m a n — a rather dan gerou s m a d m a n . . . ” I have not forgotten this co n versation; it tau gh t m e m ore th an it taught m y son. I w e n t to Ixelles to see the streets o f m y ch ild h o o d once more: n o th in g h ad ch an ged there, n o th in g at all. In the Place C o m m u n a le I d iscovered T im m e r m a n ’s b ak ery again: there were the same superb rice tarts, p o w d ered w ith sugar, so dear to m y tw elve-year-old self, in the v e ry sam e shop w in d o w . Th e bookseller in whose shop I bought R ed sk in tales as a ch ild had prospered. I h ad k n o w n h im as an anar­ ch ist w ith a defian tly careless necktie, and n o w he was a C o m m u n is t sym p ath izer, w h ite-h aired , w e a rin g an artistic cravat, and fat, o f c o u r s e . . . A l l those b lazin g ideas, all those struggles, all the blood­ shed, w ars, revolutions, civil w ars, all o u r im prisoned m artyrs— and all the tim e in the W e s t here n o th in g was ch a n gin g , and the tasty rice tarts in the b ak er’s w in d o w told o f the d ro w sy perm anence o f things. T h e slum d istricts inspired m e w ith quite different reflections; th ey


ch anged. L a M aro lle , R ue H au te , R ue Blaes, and all the

D E F E A T I N T H E W E S T : 19 3 6 -1 9 41

. 37 9

wretched alleys nearby had become healthy, smart, prosperous streets. This paupers’ town, once decked out in rags and saturated in filth, now breathed an air o f well-being: wonderful pork butchers’ shops, a fine brand-new hospital, the hovels replaced by working-class flats with flowers lining the balconies. It was the work o f reformist Social­ ism, as splendid as in Vienna. There I saw Vandervelde, w h om we had called “social traitor”: he was com ing back from a dem onstration, w ith several Socialist leaders by him, and a great, loving m urm ur ran along the street, a sort o f w h is­ pered acclam ation:

aLe Patron! Le Patron/”

I went to see him at his

house. H is seventy years had spread weight upon him; his voice was weak and he had to listen w ith a hearing aid, head bent and eyes set in concentration. H is small pointed beard was still dark and his eyes still held the same anim ated, vaguely sad expression behind their lenses. Shaking his head to and fro, he asked me about Russian prisons, about Trotsky, whose “ aggressive m anner” he could not understand— and how could I explain it to him ? H e told me, “ This contented Belgium chat you see is a positive oasis in the m idst o f dangers, terrible dan­ gers.” Another time, after the execution o f the Sixteen in M oscow, I found him dreadfully depressed, still crushed under the incompre­ hensibility o f it all. “ I have read K am enev’s confession: raving mad­ ness . . . H o w can you explain it to me? I knew Kam enev: I can see him before me now, w ith his white hair, his noble head— I cannot believe that they have killed him after this outburst o f stark lu n a c y ... ” H o w could I begin to explain such crimes to this old man who, on the threshold o f the grave, incarnated h a lf a century o f Socialist hum an­ ism? I was dum bfounded, even more than when my son asked me his questions. The friends w ho came from Paris to visit me said, “ D o n ’t write any­ thing about Russia, perhaps you may be too bitter.. .W e are just at the start o f a tremendous movement o f popular enthusiasm. O h, if you could see Paris, the meetings, the demonstrations! Limitless hope is being born. W e arc allied w ith the Com m u n ist Party, which is w in­ ning over wonderful masses o f people; for them Russia is still an un­ tarnished star...B esid e s, no one would believe y o u ...” O n ly Boris



S o u v a rin e th o u g h t o th erw ise. “ T h e tru th !” he said. “Ab so lu te ly na­ ked, as u n d ilu te d , as b ru tal as possible! W e are w itn essin g an epidem ic o f h ig h ly dangero u s stu p id ity !”

The strikes o f M ay and June 1936 burst suddenly upon France and Belgium, w ith their new form o f struggle, unplanned by anybody: the occupation o f the factories. In Antwerp and in the Borinage the move­ ment started spontaneously, as soon as the workers read the news­ paper reports o f the events in France. M y Socialist friends, some o f whom were trade union leaders, were surprised, enraptured, and em­ barrassed. Leon Blum came to power, announcing social reforms that only the other day nobody had dreamt o f—paid holidays, nationaliza­ tion o f war industries. The employing class was actually seized with panic. T h e B e lgia n Surete called m e in and accu sed m e, fo llo w in g several press reports, o f “ a gita tin g a m o n g the B o rin ag e m iners.” I had been “ seen at Ju m e t ” ! M o s t fo rtun ately, I h ad n o t gone out o f Brussels, but spent p rac tica lly every ev en in g there in the co m p a n y o f influential S o ­ cialists. “ T h e G P U has no t fo rgo tten m e,” I rem arked, “you can be sure o f th at.” F o r years hence, d en un ciatio n s were g o in g to rain around me: som etim es p u b lic, lau n ched b y the C o m m u n is t press, w h ich in B el­ giu m d em an d ed m y e xpu lsio n “ in the nam e o f respect for the right o f a sylu m ”; som etim es secret, passed on m ysteriously to the po lice au­ thorities o f the W e st. Th e w e lco m in g telegram sent to me by T ro tsk y from O s lo g o t lo st— intercepted, no one k n e w how. A letter from T r o t s k y ’s son th at m entioned the agent provo cateur So bolevicius (Senine) never reached me. In the house where I lived, the first floor was rented b y strangers w h o kept w a tch over m y co m in gs and goings with no pretense o f co ncealm en t. W h e n the Span ish C iv il W a r broke out, a po lice superintendent called on m e w ith a search w arran t, look ing even in m y b aby d a u g h te r’s cradle fo r arm s intended fo r the R epu b li­ cans. “ I k now , o f course,” he apologized, “ th at w e ca n ’t take it seri­ ously, but you have been d en o un ced.” T w o days after I arrived, a gentlem an w h o seem ed over-tanned, overdressed, and over-affection ate approached me in a ca ft: “ D ear V ic to r Serge! H o w g o o d it is to m eet y o u !” I recognized Đastajić, o f La

D E F E A T IN T H E W E S T : 1936-1941

. 381

Federation Balkanique\ he said he was living in Geneva, and pressed me to fix a meeting with him. “Geneva?” I said to myself. “You are a secret agent, then,” and did not keep the appointment. I learned later that he had been sent by the GPU; he helped to arrange the murder of Ignace Reiss. All of my close relatives in Russia had now been arrested, includ­ ing two young women and two young men, all o f them apolitical. Of these, my brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, I never heard again. My eldest sister, an intellectual and equally apolitical, disappeared too. My mother-in-law was torn from her children and deported alone, God knows where... Later, in Paris, I met a student from the Insti­ tute of Slavonic Languages and Studies and we became friends. She went to spend her holidays in Poland with some tutors and other stu­ dents. I was denounced for having sent her to Warsaw for I know not know what secret mission. Shortly afterwards, she was invited to Moscow where she spent a couple o f weeks in talks with some people from the GPU who questioned her about Andre Gide and myself. When she returned, she told me, “They have a hold on me. Let’s not see each other any more. .. ” In 1938 I was living in the outskirts o f Paris. Leopold III visited the city, with an entourage o f officials that included several Socialists who were friends o f mine. Information was laid, and passed from one de­ partment to another at the last moment, accusing me of “preparing the assassination o f the King o f Belgium.” A senior Paris police offi­ cial told me, “You can guess where that comes from, they’re plaguing you and laughing at me!” However, a card classifying me as “suspected of terrorism” was sent around every police force in Europe, and my dossier swelled, terrifying the officials at the Prefecture. I had no end of trouble as a result. In the meantime, now that I had made my anguished protest against the first Moscow Trial, the Soviet Legation in Brussels with­ drew our passports. Antonov, the First Secretary, informed me that we had been “deprived o f Soviet nationality.” “My daughter Jeannine too, who is not yet eighteen months old? I asked iron ically. “ T h at is so.”

A ntonov

refu sed m e an v w ritte n certificate o f this

382 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

face. T h e B e lgia n Fo reig n M in is tr y received o n ly a verbal co n firm a­ tion from h im , and th at after m uch insisting. T h e C o m m u n is t Press n o w began a fantastic cam paign o f slander again st m e; it w a s led b y a m an w ith w h o m I h ad old ties o f friendship an d w h o personally, I w as to learn, w as shock ed and sickened b y the w h o le business. F o r a sho rt w h ile I w as the m ost calu m niated m an in the w o rld , fo r in a cco rd an ce w ith som e d irective those scandalous sheets were translated into all languages. A ge n cie s offered to send me all the cu ttin g s at one fran c tw e n ty centim es a copy. Th e C o m m u n is t cell organ izatio n in the




Fren ch review s was a d m irab ly com plete. Th e re vie w


to w h ic h I co n trib ­ uted, was

m ore o r

less in h o ck to them . O n the

Nouvelle Re­

vue Franfaise

th ey

uFup / a j

were on close term s w ith

M a lra u x . Th e

S erg e’s B elg ia n press card

le ft-w in g in te llectu ­ als’ w e e k ly

Vendredi w as

backed b y industrialists d o in g goo d business

in R ussia, and so w as "o n the line.” I had to give up m y w ell-paid work on L ć o n B lu m ’s

Le Populaire,

because o f pressures influ encing the

ed ito rial staff. Th e p u b lish in g house o f R ieder, w h ich had put out m y novels, no longer show ed them in its w in d o w display, and deleted them from its catalogu e. I fo u n d m yse lf under a b o yco tt that was p ractica lly total; it w as im possible for me to live b y w ritin g . Th e only p la tfo rm I h ad left was in the L ičg e S o cia list daily,

La Wallonie, and

in extrem e le ft-w in g pu b lications w ith a lim ited circulation. I d ecided to resum e one o f the trades o f m y you th, and becom e a proofreader. T h is w as no longer an easy m atter since I co u ld not find w o rk in an y p rintsh o ps w here there were C o m m u n ists. L uck ily, the trade u n io n w as outside their sphere o f influence. I w o rk ed in the C ro issa n t p rin tin g w o rk s. I loved its old-fashioned nineteenth-

D E F E A T I N T H E W E S T : 1936-1941

• 3 83

century buildings, the noise o f machines, the smell o f ink and dust, and the neighborhood around— bistros, small hotels catering for the love life o f workers and working girls, houses o f old Paris, the little restaurant where Jaures was murdered. Cyclists would drink a glass or two, waiting for the last edition. As the “run” ended, faces would re­ lax, and trade jokes pass back and forth over the “stone.” I corrected the proofs o f reactionary sheets, and left-wing ones, too, to which I was denied access as a writer, such as Messidor, the C G T weekly, which was run nominally by Jouhaux but actually by men who went to Moscow for their instructions, if they did not take them from se­ cret and semi-secret agents. Bernard Grasset published my books: an essay on Russia (Destiny of a Revolution) and a novel {Midnight in the Century). Grasset was something o f a reactionary, but with an open mind, and he had col­ leagues who, like himself, loved any book, provided it was good. One felt, with this writers’ publisher, well away from the mass publishing industry, for with him a book retained its whole personality; the edi­ tors never asked the authors to alter a single line. An expression took root in France to characterize the feeling of strength and confidence in the future generated by the Popular Front: “euphoria,” it was called. Trotsky wrote to me from Norway that it was leading straight to disaster, and I disagreed, wrongly, for at that juncture he saw far and true. For a short while I moved among some of Leon Blum’s friends: Blum’s brilliance, integrity, deep nobility, and warm popularity gave him such extraordinary prestige that people in his circle were afraid that he might be murdered by the Right. ‘ It would be better,” I said, “ if he were also a man of authority—much less of a great Parliamentarian and much more of a leader for militant masses.” They assured me that he was. At this time he was refusing to avail himself of secret funds to manipulate the press and back his own party. I observed, from rather close quarters, an instructive piece of negotiation between the head o f his Press Office and a large daily newspaper influenced by Mussolini, which only demanded money which it eventually got— to turn its support to the Popular Front. I wondered if the customary use o f secret funds would not have saved Salengro, Socialist Minister o f the Interior, who was driven to suicide

384 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

by the slander o f the rea ctio n a ry press. (H e w a sn ’t m uch o f a tough nut, either!) A t his fu n eral, the large da ily I alluded to had been “o ile d ” and gave a lyrical acco u n t o f the fu n e r a l.. .T h e righ t-w in g plot w a s flo w e rin g in the o pen, the C o m m u n is ts were m an ip u latin g the S o cia list P a rty at h om e and abroad, p ro m isin g B lu m “ u nconditional su p p o rt” and fo m e n tin g d isco n ten t against h im . N e ith e r B lu m nor old B rack e , a m a z in gly energetic fo r his seventy years, w ith his N ietzsch ean profile and his aggressive spectacles, co u ld see th at the d o c­ trine o f S o cia list u n ity is no m ore th an a travesty w h en d ealin g w ith


to talita rian w o rk ers’ p a rty th at is d irected and financed from abroad b y an absolutist govern m en t. O n several o ccasions it looked like this du p licito u s u n ity w as g o in g to be realized, o p e n in g the w a y to crimes a nd to risk y adventures.

I did not share the opinion voiced by several extreme left-wingers who thought that in June 1936 the opportunity for revolution had been lost through a failure o f nerve. I regarded the successful strikes as m arking the re-emergence o f the French working class which, enfee­ bled by the bloodshed o f war, was now managing to recover its strength. It still needed several more years, in my opinion, to reach a fresh maturity, which would come with the passing o f twenty or more years after the days o f slaughter. For the same reason, I had immense confidence in the working-class movement o f Spain; not having been involved in the war, the Spanish populace lived in the sure knowledge o f its own brim m ing energy. In any case, the “eup h o ria” w as snapped quite suddenly by tw o events th at h ad a h isto rical co n n ection .

18 Ju l y 1936 saw the outbreak

o f the Sp an ish m ilita ry u prising, the co m in g o f w h ich was incisively pred icted from the tribu n al o f the C o rte s by m y com rade Jo a q u in M a u rin . M e a n w h ile , over the w h o le o f the So viet U n io n , arrests were b ein g m ad e— and were pu b licly repo rted— o f w e ll-k n o w n C o m m u ­ nist officials. T r o ts k y sent me a scandalous cu ttin g from


pro ­

cla im in g th at “ the m onsters, enem ies o f the people, w ill be annihilated w ith a m ig h ty h an d .” T h e O ld M a n w ro te to m e: “ I fear that this m ay be the prelude to a m assa cre . . . ” F o r lo n g m onth s, perhaps for years, he h ad h ad no firsthan d new s from R ussia, and w h a t I told him shocked h im . I began to trem ble fo r all those left behind there. A n d

D E F E A T IN T H E W E S T : 1936-1941


on 14 August, like a thunderbolt, came the announcement o f the Trial o f the Sixteen, concluded on the 25th— eleven days later!— by the execution o f Zinoviev, Kamenev, Ivan Smirnov, and all their fel­ low defendants. I understood, and wrote at once, that this marked the beginning o f the extermination o f all the old revolutionary genera­ tion. It was impossible to murder only some, and allow the others to live, their brothers, impotent witnesses maybe, but witnesses who un­ derstood what was going on. “Why this massacre?” I speculated, in La Revolution Proletarienne, and could find no other explanation except the urge to wipe out alternative leadership teams on the eve o f a war now considered as imminent. Stalin, I was convinced, had not specifi­ cally planned the trials, but in the Spanish Civil War he saw the be­ ginning o f the war in Europe. I am conscious o f being the living proof o f the unplanned character of the first trial and, at the same time, o f the crazy falsity of the charges brought up in all the Trials. I had departed from the USSR in midApril, at a time when practically all the accused were already in prison. I had worked with Zinoviev and Trotsky, I was a close acquaintance of dozens o f those who were to disappear and be shot, I had been one of the leaders o f the Left Opposition in Leningrad and one o f its spokes­ men abroad, and I had never capitulated. Would I have been allowed to leave Russia, with my skill as a writer and my firm evidence as a witness whose facts were irrefutable, if the extermination trials had been in the offing? Then too, not one mad accusation had been made against me in the whole course o f the Trials, which proved that lies were being spread only about those with no means of defending them­ selves. The case of Trotsky is different: his was the head that stood out most, and had to be struck down at all costs. In Paris we set up a “Committee for Inquiry into the Moscow Tri­ als and the Defense o f Free Speech in the Revolution,” which included the surrealist poet Andre Breton, the pacifist Felicien Challaye, the poet Marcel Martinet, Socialists like Magdeleine Paz and Andre Philip, writers like Henry Poulaille and Jean Galtier-Boissiere, worker-militants like Pierre Monatte and Alfred Rosmer, Left jour­ nalists such as Georges Pioch, Maurice Wullens and Emery, and the historians Georges Michon and Dommanget. I got the Committees

386 • M E M O IR S OF A R E V O L U T IO N A R Y

long title accepted through my insistence, ever since the summer of 1936, that we would also have the task o f defending, within the Span­ ish Revolution, those whom Soviet totalitarianism would attempt to liquidate in M adrid and Barcelona by the same methods o f lying and murder. We used to meet in cafe back rooms, first in the Place de la Republique, then in the Odeon. We had no money at all, and the Popular Fronts press was closed to us. LeP opulaire reduced its reports on the T rials to a minimum and never published our documents. For years there would be this struggle o f no more than a handful o f indi­ vidual consciences against a total suppression o f the truth, in the face o f crimes that were beheading the Soviet Union and would soon bring about the downfall o f the Spanish Republic. Often we felt like voices crying in the wilderness. We were heartened by the formation in the United States o f the Com m ission o f John Dewey, Suzanne LaFollette, and O tto Riihle to conduct the same inquiry. (And even now, as I write these lines, I learn o f the mysterious murder in New York o f one o f the great idealists who worked with that Commission, the old Italian anarchist Carlo T resca...) The most shameless lying conceivable blazed out before our very eyes. But as witnesses we were practically gagged. In Pravda I could read the accounts (all o f them mangled) o f the Trials. I picked out literally hundreds o f improbabilities, absurdities, gross distortions o f fact, utterly lunatic statements. But it was a deluge o f delirium. Scarcely had I analyzed one billow o f flagrant deceit when another, more violent, would wash away my day’s work into futility. The tor­ rent was so overwhelming that one could never find one’s bearings. The British Intelligence Service blended with the Gestapo; railway ac­ cidents became political crimes; Japan entered the act; the Great Fam­ ine o f collectivization had been organized by “Trotskyists” (all o f them in jail at the time); crowds o f defendants whose trials were pend­ ing disappeared forevermore into the shadows; the succession o f exe­ cutions went on into the thousands, without trials o f any sort. And in every country o f the civilized world, learned and “progressive” jurists were to be found who thought these proceedings to be correct and convincing. It was turning into a tragic lapse o f the whole modern conscience. In France the League for the Rights o f M an, with a repu-

D E F E A T IN T H E W E S T : 1 9 3 6 - 1 9 4 1

. 387

cation going back co D reyfus, had a jurist o f this variety in its midst. The League’s executive was divided into a m ajority that opposed any investigation, and an outraged m inority that eventually resigned. The argument generally put forward amounced to: “ Russia is our a lly ... ” It was im becilic reasoning— there is more than a hint o f suicide about an international alliance that turns inco moral and political servility— but it worked powerfully. The C h airm a n o f the League for the Rights of M an, V icto r Basch, one o f the brave souls o f the old battles against the arm ys General S ta ff (o f the D reyfus affair), gave me an interview lasting several hours; at the end o f it, crushed w ith melancholy, he promised me that a com m ission would be called. It never was. W ith no resources, w ith no assistance, I published irrefutable anal­ yses o f the three great fraudulent Trials. Events have validated every line o f them, even down to certain “ finer points.” I announced that Radek, condem ned to ten years’ im prisonm ent, would not live for long: he was murdered in prison. I would need a hundred pages co go over this question again; all I can do is sketch out the bare essencials. H aving known the men and Russia, I must repeat that the O ld Bol­ sheviks were imbued w ith Party fanaticism and Soviet patriotism to such a degree that it made them able to undergo the worst tortures without a possibility o f betraying. Their very confessions attested to their innocence. The totalitarian State rested on such a perfect system o f surveillance and interior espionage that all conspiracy was im pos­ sible. But the entirety o f the O ld Party loathed the regime and the C h ie f lived in the expectation o f catastrophes— which did not fail to come— and this resulted in lots o f private conversations and in a cli­ mate o f opposition to the Ch ief, in spite o f the acts o f submission and adoration the C h ie f tirelessly im posed. In any case, the vast majority o f the Bolsheviks allowed themselves to be shot at night, refusing to play the sordid game o f confessions o f political complicity. A few walked to their deaths while m utilating their own conscience so as to go on serving their party. W ith one or two exceptions, all chos