Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc.,1931.
RIGA! JOSTLING CROWDS AT THE STATION, STRANGE SPEECH, laughter, and glaring lights. It was bewildering and it aggravated my feverish condition from the bad cold I had contracted on the way. We planned to go to our comrade Tsvetkov, who was employed in the Soviet transport department. He and his lovely wife Maryussa had been our close friends in the early Petrograd days. Little Maryussa, delicate as a lily, together with Tsvetkov and others, had guarded Petrograd against General Yudenich. Rifle over shoulder, brave Maryussa had been prepared to lay down her life for the Revolution. Later they had endured untold privation and hardships, which undermined Maryussa's health, and finally she succumbed to typhus. Both she and Tsvetkov were of sterling quality. He remained unchanged in his ideas, notwithstanding that he was compelled to earn his living in the employ of the Bolshevik regime. I knew he would bid us a hearty welcome. Still, I shrank from renewed contact with what I had left behind. Nor was I in a condition to meet people and argue the questions I had definitely settled for myself. I needed a rest and I wanted to forget --- to shut out the nightmare behind me and not to have to think of the void before me. We considered it inadvisable to go to a hotel: we would arouse too much attention and we were particularly anxious to avoid newspaper men. At Tsvetkov's we could live quietly.
Our first thought was to prepare a manifesto setting forth the appalling conditions of the politicals in the Communist State and urging the anarchist press in Europe and America to help save them from a slow death. It was our desperate cry after twenty-one months of forced silence, the initial step of fulfilling the pledge given our people to make known to the world the colossal fraud wrapped in the Red mantle of "October."
News from Germany was reassuring. Our comrades were working to secure our admission and they were confident of success. But they needed a little more time and therefore we must get our Latvian visa extended for a few days. The few days dragged into three weeks. Owing to our persistency, the visas were renewed, but only in driblets. We would have to get out of their country, the local authorities informed us, go anywhere or back to Russia, where we belonged "as Bolsheviks." The officials were almost without exception mere youths. Their new statehood had evidently gone to their heads like suddenly acquired riches. They were "climbers," coarse and arrogant, overbearing to the point of disgust.
A ray of hope broke at last through our dark sky. "All is settled," our Berlin comrades notified us. The German Consul in Riga had been given instructions to issue the necessary visa. We hastened to the Consulate. It was all right about our visa, we were told there, but our application must first be sent on to Berlin. Within three days we would receive them.
In high spirits our boys again went to the Consulate, confident of securing the visas this time. When they returned, I knew the result without a word being spoken. Our application was refused.
Again it was necessary to procure a prolongation of our stay in Latvia. The sullen youngsters in office demurred, but finally permitted us another forty-eight hours. At the expiration of that time we must leave, they insisted, whether we procured any visa by then or not. "You'll go back to your own country," they declared peremptorily. Our country? Where was it? The war had destroyed the ancient right of asylum, and Bolshevism had turned Russia into a prison. We could not return even there. Nor would we if we could. We'll go to Lithuania, we thought, and we should have really gone there if we had not missed the train on our arrival in Riga.
Our friend Tsvetkov would not hear of it. Lithuania was a trap, he declared. It would be impossible for us to get to Germany from there, nor could we return to Riga again. He would arrange a sub rosa route. He knew some freighters whose crews were syndicalists, and he would manage the matter. But could Emma stand being stowed away? I bristled at the implication that I could stand less than the boys. "But your cough --- it will give you all away!" he retorted. I protested vigorously. To escape my feminine indignation our friend left to establish the necessary connexions. But his scheme proved a bubble --- luckily for us all. For on the following day, the last we could remain in Latvia, came Swedish visas that our syndicalist comrades in Stockholm had obtained. Mr. Branting, the Socialist Prime Minister, had proved more decent than his German comrades.
Accompanied by Tsvetkov and Mrs. C., Secretary Shakol's sister, who had befriended us and supplied us with a large lunch-basket for the journey, we went to the railroad station to board the train which was to take us to Reval. As it pulled out, we heaved a deep sigh of relief. For a while, at least, our visa troubles were over! But the train was barely out of the sight of our friends when we discovered that we had an escort with us. It proved to be three Latvian secret service men. They demanded our passports, which they immediately confiscated, declaring that we were all under arrest. In vain were our protests against the sudden interruption of our journey, when they could have arrested us during our stay in Riga. The train was stopped and we were taken off, bag and baggage, bundled into an already waiting automobile, and driven by a roundabout route to the city. The car came to a halt before a large brick building, and great was our astonishment when, some feet distant, we recognized the house where we had occupied rooms in the apartment of Tsvetkov. It was the Political Police Department and we could not help laughing at the manoeuvres of the authorities to "catch" us when all the time we had been so close at hand.
One by one we were taken into an inner office and examined about our "Bolshevism." I informed the official that, though I was not a Bolshevik, I refused to discuss the subject with him. He evidently realized that it was useless to threaten or coax me, and he ordered me taken to another room, for later disposition.
The room was filled with officials, sitting about, talking, apparently with nothing to do. I had a book with me, and as in the olden days in my adopted country --- how far away and long ago it seemed now! --- I was soon lost in reading. I did not even notice that the men had left and I was alone. Another hour passed and there was still no sign of my two companions. I grew somewhat uneasy, though I was not alarmed. I knew that Sasha was seasoned in handling difficult situations, and Schapiro was also no novice in such matters. He had had previous experience with the police. During the war, as editor of the London Yiddish weekly, the Arbeiter Freund, he had taken over the editorial duties of Rudolf Rocker, who had been interned. Before long he was arrested and had to serve six months for an article someone else had written. He was a man of discretion and cool-headed. I felt confident that whatever might happen to my two friends or to me, we should at least have a chance for a fight. It would reach the outside world and would thus serve our ideas.
Someone broke in on my reflections. A large policewoman stood before me. She came to search me, she announced. "Really?" I remarked; "the three hours I was waiting here were more than enough time to destroy any evidence of the conspiracy the police suspect us of." Her stolidity was not affected by my raillery. She proceeded to search me to the skin. But when she attempted to go further, I slapped her face. She dashed out of the room vowing she would bring men to finish the job. I dressed in order to receive the gentlemen without shocking their modesty. Only one came, who invited me to follow him to my cell, which he locked upon me. He was an obliging chap. Silently he pointed to the adjoining cells, indicating that my two friends were there. That was a pleasant surprise and gave me great relief. I was in solitary confinement, yet I had not felt so free and at peace for the past twenty-one months. I had ceased to be an automaton. I had regained my will. I was back where I had been in the past --- in the fight. And my comrades were near me, separated only by a wall. Great peace came over me, contentment and sleep.
On the second day I was taken downstairs for examination. A youth in his twenties was my inquisitor. He demanded to know about our secret Bolshevik mission in Europe, why we had stayed in Riga so long, with whom we had associated, and what had become of the important documents he knew we had smuggled into the country. I assured him he still had much to learn to achieve fame and fortune as an interrogator of such an experienced criminal as he had before him. I would not take him into my confidence, I told him, even if I had any information that he might want. I would divulge, however, that I was an anarchist not a Bolshevik. As he did not seem to know the difference, I promised him some anarchist literature, which I would forward to him after leaving the country. He might exchange information and tell me why we had been arrested and on what charge.
He would within a few days, he promised. Strange to say, he kept his word. The day before Christmas he came to my cell to inform me that "it was an unfortunate mistake." I started at the familiar phrase. "Yes, an unfortunate mistake," he repeated, "and the fault is with your friends the Bolsheviki, not my Government's." I scorned his insinuation. "The Soviet Government gave us passports and permitted us to depart. What interest could it have to land us all in your jail?" I demanded. "I cannot reveal State secrets," he replied, "but it is true, just the same." We would find out later that this was no idle talk. By right we should be immediately released, he added, but there were some formalities to attend to, and all the superior officials had already left for their holidays. I assured him it did not matter. I had spent more than the birthday of Jesus in prison, and that was, after all, the place where the Nazarene would now find himself if he happened to visit our Christian world. The man was duly scandalized, as behooved a prospective State prosecutor.
The guard did my Christmas shopping for me, bringing me fruit, nuts, cake, coffee, and a can of evaporated milk. Luxuries they were, but I was anxious to prepare a Christmas feast for my friends in the adjoining cells. In return for a tip the old guard's heart softened and he permitted me the use of the kitchen situated on the same floor. I took my time and found excuses for going back and forth to my cell, humming all the time: "Christ has risen, rejoice, ye heathen!" and finding a chance to whisper a few words to my invisible companions. Two neatly wrapped packages and a large thermos bottle of steaming coffee were carried by the guard to the two desperadoes next door in return for a little Christmas gift to his family.
We were finally released with profuse apologies. My friends related their experiences to me. They had also been searched to the skin, the lining of their coats ripped open, and the bottoms of their suit-cases torn out for the secret documents we were supposed to have brought out with us. It had been a real burlesque to watch the eager faces of the guards gradually turn to baffled disappointment. Sasha, old jail-bird that he was, had managed to signal at night with lighted matches to a young fellow who sat reading in a house opposite. He threw out notes to the man, one of which the latter picked up, and Sasha hoped it might reach our friends in the city. Schapiro had repeatedly tried to get in touch with me by tapping. I had answered, but he could not make me out. "Nor I you, old man," I confessed. "Next time we'll agree on the key." Even if I could not understand his good old Russian prison signals, he added, I somehow always managed to start a cuisine. "She loves to cook, and even prison can't stop her," Sasha interposed.
At last, on January 2, 1922, we departed from Reval, Esthonia. To avoid a repetition of our Riga adventure we went directly to the steamer, though the boat was not to leave until the following morning. We made good use of the free day to see the quaint town, much older and more picturesque than Riga.
Our reception in Stockholm was fortunately unofficial. Neither soldiers nor workers were ordered out to meet us with music and speeches, as on our arrival in Belo-Ostrov. Just a few comrades genuinely glad to see us. Our good chaperons were Albert and Elise Jensen, who steered us safely past the shoals of American newspaper men. Not that I was averse to greeting my enemies who had been so eager to lie about my doings in Russia. But I preferred not to be misquoted on the Soviet experiment until I had a chance to express my thoughts over my own signature. With the Stockholm Arbetaren, our daily syndicalist publication, and the Brand, an anarchist weekly, open to us to have our say, there was no need to be interviewed by reporters, and we were all grateful to our friends for saving us from falling into their hands.
Letters from Berlin explained the sudden change of heart on the part of the German Consul in Riga after he had led us to believe that the visa would be issued to us. He had been warned by a Chekist that we were dangerous conspirators on a secret mission to the Anarchist Congress in Berlin. This also shed a light on the insistence of the Lettish officials that "our friends the Bolsheviks" had been behind our trouble in Riga. The Latvian Government had known of our presence in Riga, and the repeated extensions of our stay had been registered with the local police. They would have hardly waited with our arrest till we were leaving the country, except that they were at the last moment supplied by the Soviet emissary with the same information he had given the German Consul in Riga. Our examiners everywhere stressed our alleged possession of secret documents. Their exceptionally thorough search also tended to indicate that our good friends in the Kremlin had denounced us.
I realized with a shock what strong hold the Bolshevik superstition still had on me. Well knowing the nature of the beast, I had yet protested vehemently against the insinuations of the Lettish officials in regard to the Soviet people in Moscow. Notwithstanding my two years' daily experience of Bolshevik political depravity, I was yet unable to credit such Jesuitism on their part --- to give us passports and at the same time make it impossible for us to enter any other country. I fully understood now the significance of Litvinov's assurance that "the capitalistic countries will not be anxious to have you." But why, then, did they let us go out of Russia, I wondered. My companions said that the reason was obvious. To refuse us permission to leave would have caused too much protest abroad, as in the case of Peter Kropotkin. He had in fact never attempted to leave Russia, but the mere rumour that he had not been permitted to do so had aroused the entire revolutionary and liberal world abroad and rained endless inquiries on the Kremlin. Moscow evidently did not want to invite a similar uproar again. Our arrest in Russia would have caused undesirable publicity. On the other hand, the Cheka, aware of our stand on the dictatorship and of our part in the protest of the foreign delegates in regard to the Taganka hunger-strike, could not leave us at large much longer. The best solution of the situation was therefore to permit us to depart. It was better policy to appear magnanimous and do the dirty work against us outside the territory of the R.S.F.S.R. This was also the view expressed by our Berlin correspondents. The German Consul in Riga had communicated to his uncle Paul Kampfmeier, the well-known Social Democrat, the role played by the Bolshevik Chekist in the matter.
Our Swedish anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists were certain we could remain in their country as long as we pleased. We might as well live there as anywhere else and carry out our plan of writing about our Russian experiences. The Arbetaren was anxious for articles from us, as was also the Brand. But Sasha as well as I felt that America, our old home, had first claim on us. It had been our field of activity for over thirty years. For good or evil we were known there and we could reach a wider audience than in Sweden or in any other country. We agreed, however, to be interviewed for the Arbetaren and the Brand and to write appeals in them for the politicals imprisoned and exiled in Russia.
No sooner had our first article appeared in the Arbetaren than Mr. Branting had his secretary notify the Syndicalist Committee that had obtained our visa to Sweden that "it was inadvisable for the Russians to appear in print." Branting was a Social Democrat and was opposed to the Bolsheviki. But he was also Prime Minister, and Sweden was at the time discussing the recognition of the Russian Government. An additional reason was the bid the Bolsheviki were making for a united front with the Social Democrats, whom but yesterday they had been denouncing as social traitors and counter-revolutionists. Moreover, the reactionary press started a campaign of denunciation against Branting for having given asylum to anarchists and Bolsheviks. The latter charge referred to Angelica Balabanoff, who was then in Sweden. We were informed that another extension of one month had been given us, but at the expiration of that time we would be expected to shake the dust of Sweden off our revolutionary feet. Poor Branting seemed anxious to quiet the storm against him by securing our departure as soon as possible. He would not drive us out, of course, his secretary assured our people, but we should try at once to find some other country for our abode.
Comrades in half a dozen lands were working hard to secure asylum for us. Our Berlin friends kept up their strenuous efforts. In Austria our old comrade Dr. Max Nettlau was exerting himself in our behalf. In Czechoslovakia others were working to obtain visas. Also in France. The smaller countries were hopeless, Denmark and Norway having already signified to our comrades that there was "nothing doing."
The situation was rather desperate, made more so by several other circumstances. The cost of living in a Stockholm hotel had bankrupted us within a month. The hospitable Jensens invited me to share their two-room apartment, which I accepted in the belief that it would be only for a short time. Sasha had found a room with a Swedish family whose place was too small even for themselves. He regretted that we had not followed his original plan of going by the Minsk route. It had been stupid to ask Moscow for passports. At any rate, he would not apply for a visa any more and he was determined to leave without giving notice and to enter without permission. I could do as I pleased, he declared.
There was something else that had come between us --- the question whether I should or should not permit the New York World to publish my series of articles on Soviet Russia. Stella had cabled me that the World was eager for the story of my Russian experience. I had already been informed to the same effect in Riga by a World representative. In fact, he told me his paper had tried to reach me several times while I was still in Moscow. If I had been informed about it there and even if I could have safely sent out an article from R.S.F.S.R., I should have declined to write for a capitalist paper on so vital an issue as Russia. I was just as loath to consider the offer that came through Stella. I wrote her that I preferred to have my say in the liberal and labour press in the United States, and that I should be willing to have them publish my articles without any pay rather than have them appear in the New York World or similar publications.
Stella tried the Freeman, with an article on the martyrdom of Maria Spiridonovna. It was declined. The other American liberal papers showed equal illiberality. I realized that in addition to being stamped an Ishmaelite I should also be gagged on the question of the Bolsheviki. I had kept silent long enough. I had witnessed the slaughter of the Revolution and had heard its death-rattle. I had weighed the evidence that was daily being added to the mountain of Bolshevik crimes. I had seen the collapse of the last vestige of revolutionary pretence of the dictatorship. And all I had done during the two years was to beat my chest and cry: "I have sinned, sinned." In America I had presumed to write The Truth about the Bolsheviki and to uphold and defend them in the sincere and ignorant belief that they were the protagonists of the Revolution. Now that I knew the truth, was I to be forced to slay it and keep silent? No, I must protest. I must cry out against the gigantic deception posing as truth and justice.
This I told Sasha and Schapiro. They also were determined to speak out, and, indeed, Sasha had already written a series of articles dealing with various phases of the Bolshevik regime, and they were being published in the anarchist press. But both he and Schapiro emphasized that the workers would not credit my story if published in a capitalist paper like the New York World. I did not mind Schapiro's objection because he was of the old sectarian school that had always frowned on the idea of anarchists' writing for bourgeois publications, though nearly all of our leading comrades had done so. But Sasha knew that the bulk of workers, particularly in the United States, read nothing but the capitalist papers. It was they whom he wanted to enlighten on the difference between the Revolution and Bolshevism. His attitude hurt me very much and we argued for days. I had repeatedly written for the New York World in the past, as well as for other similar publications. Was it not more important how and what one said than where? Sasha insisted that it did not apply in this case. Anything I might write in the capitalist press would inevitably be used by the reactionaries against Russia and I would justly be censured for it by our own comrades. I was well aware of it. Had I not myself condemned the old revolutionist Breshkovskaya for speaking under the auspices of bourgeois sponsors? Nothing my comrades would say against me could be so lacerating as the compunction I suffered for having sat in judgment over Babushka. Fifty years of her life had gone into the preparation of the Revolution, only to see it exploited by the Communist Party for its political aims. She had witnessed the great débâcle while I had been thousands of miles away. And I had added my stone to the pile hurled against her when she had been in America. For that very reason I must speak out now. But Sasha urged that we could do so by means of pamphlets that our people would circulate. He had several of them in preparation; a number of his articles had already appeared in our press; three of them had also been published in the New York Call, the Socialist daily. Why could I not do the same? The comrades of the International Aid Federation in the United States were also urging similar means for my presentation of the Russian situation. They had cabled and written, stressing that I refrain from writing for the capitalist press. Their main point was that it would hurt the cause. Their condemnation left me cold. But it was different with Sasha. He was my lifelong comrade in arms, my friend and fellow fighter in a hundred battles that had scorched our beings and tested our souls. We had gone our separate ways while in Russia regarding the question of "revolutionary necessity." There had been no break between us, however, because I also had been uncertain for a long time in my stand. Kronstadt had cleared our minds and had brought us closer again. It was harrowing now to have to take a position so divergent from my friend's attitude. Days and weeks went into the conflict, the hardest life had allotted me. All through the spiritual torture it beat against my brain: I must, I would be heard, even if it should be for the last time. Finally I cabled to Stella to turn over the articles, seven in all, to the New York World.
In my decision I was spared the bitterness of complete isolation. Our Grand Old Man Enrico Malatesta, Max Nettlau, Rudolf Rocker, the London Freedom group, Albert and Elise Jensen, Harry Kelly, and several other friends and comrades whose opinion I valued expressed their approval of my stand. I should have walked the way of Golgotha in any event. But it was balm to have their support.
I was too far away to witness the fury my articles aroused in the Communist ranks or to be affected by their poisonous venom. But from the descriptions sent me about Communist meetings against me and from their press I could see the similarity between their blood-lust and that of Southern whites at Negro lynchings. One such occasion must have been most edifying: the gathering presided over by Rose Pastor Stokes. Once she had sat at E.G.'s feet --- now she was calling for volunteers to burn E.G., at least in effigy. What a picture! The chairlady intoning the International, and the audience holding hands in an orgiastic dance round the flames licking Emma Goldman's body to the tune of the liberating song.
The stereotyped accusation that I had forsworn my revolutionary past, by people who had no past to forswear, was also nothing to worry about. What did trouble me was that the New York World had not rated my literary value as highly as did my Communist admirers. It had paid me a paltry three hundred dollars for each article, or twenty-one hundred dollars for the series of seven. And it was being heralded by the Communist chorus that thirty thousand dollars had been paid to the traitor E.G. I was wishing it were true! I might have saved at least some portion of it for the Russian political victims who were suffering cold, hunger, and despair in the prisons and exile of the Bolshevik paradise.
Under pressure from the Swedish syndicalists Branting had extended permission for us to stay for another month. It was to be the last. Visas to other countries were not in sight, and Sasha and Schapiro decided to take matters into their own hands. The latter soon left and Sasha was to go next. A comrade in Prague had secured a visa for me to Czechoslovakia and I implored Sasha to allow our friend to do the same for him. But the mere suggestion of it aroused his wrath.
Sasha stowed away on a tramp steamer, but before the boat pulled out of Stockholm word reached me from the Austrian Consulate that a visa had been granted us. Sick with fear that the boat might leave before I should have the visa in my hands, I did not care if the chauffeur broke all speed limits. I found the visa ready for all three of us, but with it a demand of the Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs that we give a written pledge not to engage in any political activities in his country. I had no intention of doing so, and I was confident that neither of the boys would consent to it. However, I could not disclose the clandestine departure of the one and the impending going of the other. I would consult my comrades, I told the Consul, and return with the answer the next day. It was not altogether a lie, as I still had time to reach Sasha. A blizzard had descended on the city, and the boat was held up for forty-eight hours. It afforded me the chance to send word to Sasha about the Austrian visa and the string attached to it. I did not expect him to accept it, but I felt he should be informed about it. A young Swedish friend, the one comforting association of my dismal sojourn in Stockholm, brought back word that Sasha had decided on his course and would not be swerved from it. I hovered about the neighbourhood of the wharf in the deep snow to be near our stowaway, whom fate had woven into the very texture of my life.
A week after Sasha's departure I also decided on a sub rosa route. Accompanied by my young companion, I travelled to the southern part of Sweden in the hope of finding there means to be smuggled over to Denmark. Some sailors my friend knew had agreed to aid me for three hundred kronen, equal to about a hundred dollars. At the last moment they demanded double the amount. I was not impressed with their reliability and we dropped the scheme. We found a man with a motor boat. We were instructed to get aboard before midnight, the "lady to lie flat and covered with a blanket until the inspector had made his rounds." I did. It was not the inspector, however. It was a policeman. We explained that we were lovers and destitute, and we had taken refuge on the boat. He was a kindly man, but he wanted to arrest us just the same, until a generous tip changed his mind. I could not help laughing at our impromptu story, for it really expressed the situation.
My friend was crestfallen at the way things were bungled. I consoled him by saying that I had always been a bum conspirator and that I was glad the scheme had failed. It had certain advantages, however --- did it not give me a chance to see a warmer part of Sweden and more attractive women than the capital, and --- not the least --- forty new varieties of hors-d'oeuvre that would inspire the most fastidious gourmet.
Upon my return to Stockholm the next day, I found a letter from the German Consul. A visa for ten days had been granted me.
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