Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1931.
Chapter 52, Continued, pp. 899-927.
The Nep flourished, and the inspired, flocking to the holy grail, were assured that the proletariat was in full control and that money was no more needed in Soviet Russia because the workers had free access to the best the land produced. A large contingent of the devout believers from America had confidingly turned over to the reception committee on the border all their possessions. In Moscow they were packed like sardines in common quarters, given a small ration of bread and soup, and left to their fate. Within a month two children of the group died of undernourishment and infection. The men became despondent, the women ill, one of them going insane from anxiety about her children and the shock of the conditions she had found in Russia. Our friend, little Bobby, his hopes already shattered, came to tell us of the case on the very day when another woman and her two children had walked two miles from the Moscow station to lay their tragedy at our door. Mrs. Konossevich, her husband, their fourteen-year-old daughter and little boy had been deported from America after they had experienced a dose of Mitchell Palmer's régime. They came to Russia with high enthusiasm in their hearts, though not quite so credulous as the others who had been deported with them. They had heard that Russia was naked and starved and they decided to distribute their possessions among the needy. Two weeks later Konossevich, together with his family, were taken off the train on their way to their native village in the Ukraine. He was accused of being a Makhnovets. He had just arrived from the States, where he had been maltreated and deported for his pro-Soviet stand, he explained to the Cheka, and he had never even heard of Makhno. His protests did not help. He was arrested, his baggage confiscated, and his wife and two children left at the station without enough money to exist a week.
It was at any rate work for us to try to save the wife of one comrade from going mad, to find work for Mrs. Konossevich, and to rescue her husband from probable execution. Over and above this crazy pattern of Soviet life, the famine suddenly loomed across the land; want and death spread through the Volga region and threatened the rest of the country. The Soviet Government had known for two months that millions were likely to perish unless immediate steps for relief were taken. Agricultural specialists and economists had warned the authorities of the impending calamity. They had frankly declared that the main cause of the situation was inefficiency, mismanagement, and bureaucratic corruption. Instead of setting the Soviet machinery to work to relieve the calamity, to acquaint the public with the situation and rouse it to the danger, the report of the specialists had been suppressed.
The few non-Communists who knew of it were powerless to do anything. We were among the latter. In the heyday of our faith in the Bolsheviki we should have knocked at the door of every leader and given our help in relief work. We had learned better since Kronstadt. Nevertheless we informed the Left elements accessible to us of the threatened calamity and begged to be permitted to join in a campaign to succour the famine-stricken. They hastened to offer suggestions and aid to the Government, but it was declined. The Right wing was given a more favourable reception. Apart from Vera Figner, who had joined that group out of human interest, most of the others were Constitutional Democrats who had bitterly fought the October Revolution. They had repeatedly been arrested as counter-revolutionists, but now they were accepted with open arms as the "Citizens' Committee." Every facility was given them in their work: a building, telephones, typists, and the right to publish a paper. Two numbers appeared, the first containing an appeal by Patriarch Tikhon, who called upon his flock to contribute their donations to him since he would be responsible for their distribution. The irony of this love-feast between the avant-garde of the proletariat and its enemies was demonstrated by the Bulletin the latter issued. It was nothing else than the resurrected old Vyedomosty, the blackest reactionary sheet of the tsarist régime, which it resembled in every detail save in name. It was now called Pomoshch (Aid).
Once more the geniuses of the Soviet circus had scored over Barnum and Bailey. Indeed, western Europe would no more dare say that political liberties were extinct in the Communist State, or that the Soviet Government did not welcome the co-operation of all parties in the crucial hour of famine.
After the glad tidings had been heralded abroad and generous aid found in the American Relief Administration, the love-feast came to a sudden end. The alliance was declared off, the bride not merely jilted, but even thrown into the Cheka jail. The members of the "Citizens' Committee" were again denounced as counter-revolutionary, and its leaders exiled to distant parts of the country. Vera Figner was spared, but she refused the honour. She went to the Cheka and demanded to share the fate of her co-workers, but the Government did not think it wise to touch her for fear of the storm of indignation that would have been raised abroad.
President Kalinin, of Kronstadt infamy, travelled in a train de luxe, with carloads of Lenin's wisdom, and royally entertained a host of foreign correspondents. The world was to learn how solicitous the Soviet State was of its afflicted people.
The actual workers of the relief, however, were the foreign bodies that had meantime organized their aid. The workers of Russia and the majority of the non-Communist population were performing superhuman labour to succour the famine-stricken districts. The intelligentsia accomplished miracles. In their capacity as physicians, nurses, and distributors of supplies scores of them sacrificed themselves. Many died of exposure and infection, and a number were even killed by the dark and crazed people whom they had come to help. With millions of lives devoured by the famine, the loss of a few hundred bourgeois was hardly worth noticing by the Government. It was more important for the world revolution that the Soviet régime suddenly discovered the wealth contained in the churches. It could have been confiscated before without much protest from the peasantry. But now the expropriation of the Church treasures added fuel to the fires of hate which the dictatorship had engendered in all classes of the people. Another demonstration of the continued revolutionary zeal of the Communist State was to order its own members to deliver forthwith all the valuables they had in their possession, even to the last trinket. It was a shock to learn that Communists should be suspected by their own party of hoarding jewelry or other valuables. But apparently there actually were such members. The editor of the Izvestia, the well-known Communist Steklov, whose specialty was to hound non-Communist revolutionists as bandits, was discovered to have a large collection of silver and gold, things a Communist was not supposed to own. They could not shoot a prominent party editor as they had shot a Fanya Baron. Neither could he be allowed to remain in the sanctum. The rank and file might muster up courage to demand why such discrimination was practiced. Steklov was therefore suspended from the paper, and other Communists were sent to the Crimea.
The famine continued its devastating march. But Moscow was far from the stricken region, and great events were being prepared for within its gates. Three international congresses were to take place: those of the Communist International, of the Women's Organizations, and of the Red Trade Unions. A number of buildings adjoining the Hotel de Luxe were being renovated and the city cleaned up and decorated for the occasion. The blue and gold of the cupolas on the forty times forty churches intermingled with the scarlet hues of the bunting and flags. All was ready for the reception of the foreign delegates and visitors from every part of the world.
Among the early arrivals were two I.W.W. delegates from America, Williams and Cascaden. Others also soon came, among them Ella Reeves Bloor, William Z. Foster, and William D. Haywood. How could "Big Bill" come, we wondered, for we knew that he was out on twenty-thousand-dollar bail and under sentence of twenty years' imprisonment. Was it possible that he had jumped his bond? Sasha was inclined to believe it; he had lost faith in Bill since 1914, when the latter had shown himself weak-kneed during the free-speech fights that Sasha had conducted in New York. I defended Bill hotly, pointing out that our actions are not always to be judged so easily. "Not even your own, old man," I said. But Sasha refused to come with me to the hotel where Haywood was lodged. "He will come to us if he is really anxious to see us," he declared. I laughed at such ceremony with Bill.
Bill Haywood had often been under our roof, by day and by night, always our welcome guest, our comrade in many battles, though not sharing the same ideas. I hastened to the Hotel de Luxe, where the most favoured delegates were quartered, to find the old war-horse, of whom I had always been very fond. Bill received me in the same warm and genial manner that had captured all his friends. In fact, he immediately embraced me, before the whole crowd. A roar went up from the boys, who began teasing Bill for keeping it secret that E.G. was among his many lady-loves. He laughed good-naturedly and drew me down to a seat at his side. I had come only for a moment, I told him, just to welcome him and to tell him where and when he could find us. I still could give him a cup of coffee "as black as night, as sweet as love, as strong as revolutionary zeal." Bill smiled in remembrance. "I'll come tomorrow," he said.
In the crowd surrounding Haywood I noticed several interpreters, whom I knew as Chekists. They were Russian-American Communists who had risen in station and importance for their services to the party. They felt ill at ease in my presence and eyed me suspiciously. I was glad to see Bill again and also several others from the States, including Ella Reeves Bloor, who had visited me in the Missouri penitentiary and who had always showed affection for me and interest in my work. I paid no further attention to the "interpreters" and soon I left.
Sasha was out when Bill arrived in the late afternoon the following day. My visitor transferred me back to America, my old arena of so many years' effort. I plied him with questions about my friends, about Stella and Fitzi, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and many others whom I still had in my heart. I wanted to hear about the general situation, the labour movement, and the I.W.W., which had since been all but demolished by the war phobia, as well as about my own comrades. Bill stopped my volley of questions. Before we proceeded, he said, he would first have to make his own position clear to me. I noticed that he was under the nervous tension that used to come over him when he stood before a large audience, his big frame shaking with suppressed feeling. He had jumped his bail, he said suddenly; he had run away. Not because of the twenty years of prison that faced him, though that was no small matter at his age. "Ridiculous, Bill," I interrupted; "you would never have to serve the whole sentence. Gene Debs was pardoned and Kate Richard O'Hare also." "Listen first," he interrupted; "the prison was not the deciding factor. It was Russia, Russia, which fulfilled what we had dreamed about and propagated all our lives, I as well as you. Russia, the home of the liberated proletariat, was calling me." He had also been urged by Moscow to come, he added. He was told he was needed in Russia. From here he would be able to revolutionize the American masses and to prepare them for the dictatorship of the proletariat. It had not been easy to decide to leave his comrades to face their long terms in prison alone. But the Revolution was more important and its ends justified all means. Of course, the twenty-thousand-dollar bail would be paid by the Communist Party. He had been given a solemn pledge for that. He hoped, he said, that I would understand his motives and not think him a shirker.
I did not ask any more about America, nor did I satisfy his request to tell him my impressions of Russia. With a shock I realized that Bill was as blindfolded as we had been on our arrival in the country. Would he also undergo the excruciating operation that would remove the scales from his eyes? And what would become of Bill when his house of cards had tumbled over him, and all his hopes were buried like ours? He had burned his bridges in America, and never again could he fire the imagination of the proletarian youth of his country and justify to them his escape at a time when they needed him so desperately. Who would again entrust his life to a captain who had been the first to abandon his sinking ship? And later on, when he would come to see Soviet Russia with open eyes, what would he do? He would be cast on the refuse-pile, like so many before him, after he had served the propaganda purposes of Moscow. Bill, so rooted in his native soil and its traditions, so alien to Russia, ignorant of her language and her people--
I had almost forgotten the presence of my guest in the contemplation of the tragic future that was awaiting him. "Why so silent?" he asked. "Because silence is more golden than speech," I joked. Later, after he had got his bearings in the new country, we might talk again, I added. Could he come often, he asked, "just as in the days of 210 East Thirteenth Street?" "Yes, dear Bill," I replied, "any time, if you still want to after you have been taken in hand." He did not understand, nor did I explain.
Sasha ridiculed the motives Bill had given for running away. Russia and all the other reasons were not convincing to him. They were no doubt contributory factors, but the main reason was that Bill quaked before the twenty years in Leavenworth. In late years he had repeatedly shown the white feather. I need have no anxiety about Bill's future, Sasha assured me. He would fit in, even when he came to see the stupendous delusion foisted on the world by Moscow. There was no reason why he shouldn't. Bill had always stood for a strong State and centralization. What was his One Big Union but a dictatorship? "Bill will be in clover here," Sasha concluded; "just wait and see."
Two days later William Z. Foster telephoned to ask whether he could come up. It was my wash-day and I was too busy, but Sasha offered to receive Foster in his room until I should be through with my work. It occurred to me that Foster might like to meet Schapiro and other comrades still free. But when I asked him about it, he said he was not interested in Russian syndicalists. He only wanted to talk to Sasha and me. Foster had been among the first in America to advocate revolutionary labour tactics in the economic struggle, which the Russian Anarcho-Syndicalists had applied. It seemed strange that he should decline to meet these rebels and to hear from them what place, if any, syndicalism had in the Communist régime.
He arrived in the company of Jim Browder, a Kansas boy, whom we used to know as an active I.W.W. Sasha took them in charge. At noon, when my work was finished and lunch prepared, I invited our guests to share it with us. Vegetables and fruit were plentiful on the market and much cheaper than meat and fish. We lived almost entirely on this diet. The boys had evidently not lost their American appetite. They ate with relish and expressed appreciation of E.G.'s skill in preparing such dishes. Foster said nothing during the meal except to inform us that he was in Russia in the capacity of a reporter for the Federated Labor Press. Browder talked a great deal about the marvels of the Communist State and the wonderful things the party had achieved. I inquired how long he had been in the country. "About a week," he replied. "And you have already discovered that all is wonderful?" "Indeed," he said, "it can be seen at a glance." I congratulated him on his extraordinary vision and turned our conversation into less turbulent waters. Our callers soon left, which I did not regret.
Two other Americans came to see us, Agnes Smedley and her Hindu friend Chato. I had heard a good deal about Agnes in the States in connexion with her Hindu activities, but I had never met her personally. She was a striking girl, an earnest and true rebel, who seemed to have no other interest in life except the cause of the oppressed people in India. Chato was intellectual and witty, but he impressed me as a somewhat crafty individual. He called himself an anarchist, though it was evident that it was Hindu nationalism to which he had devoted himself entirely.
Cascaden, the Canadian I.W.W. delegate, visited us often, daily looking more distressed over the political intrigues going on in the preliminary sessions. The other American delegates had already been roped in by the Communists, he told us, and made to dance to the tune played by Losovsky, the prospective president of the Red Union International. Cascaden was holding out against their wiles, but he foresaw that he would have no chance at the Congress. We consoled him by telling him that no one with independence and character would have any chance. The Congress would be packed by marionettes of the Russian Bolsheviki, who would vote on every subject as directed by "the centre." Cass, as we familiarly called him, was brave; he would fight to the last for the instructions given him by his organization, he assured us.
The other delegates kept aloof from us, including my erstwhile devoted Ella Reeves Bloor. Bill Haywood also did not return. They had all been warded off by their "interpreters," as were also Robert Minor, Mary Heaton Vorse, and Tom Mann. They were in Moscow and they could not help knowing that we were living in the city. Bob Minor had "changed his mind a little": he had become a Communist. We had read his confession in the Liberator, which had, in effect, been an open letter to the man he had idolized, his closest friend and teacher, Alexander Berkman. Mary Heaton Vorse, an intimate of my New York circle, was a kind soul and a charming companion. Her political views came to her by proxy. She had been an I.W.W. when vivid Joe O'Brien was her husband, and no doubt she must be a Communist now that she was with Minor. Reason enough why Mary should not have allowed her superficial political leanings to obscure the friendship that she had formerly so often proclaimed.
There was also Tom Mann, the old champion of syndicalism and bitter foe of every political machine, the man who had shown the greatest concern for my welfare in London during the exciting days of the Boer War. He had been our guest in New York during his American tour, which the efforts of the Mother Earth group had saved from disaster. All these delegates lived in the Hotel de Luxe, a stone's throw from us. "How can human beings go back so easily on their old affiliations?" I remarked to Sasha. I should not take it so much to heart, he replied. They had been told that we were in ill repute with the Bolsheviki and therefore they were afraid to come near us. For himself, he didn't give a damn, and he did not see why I should. I wished I possessed his simple and direct attitude.
The Latin delegates had also been given a gentle hint in regard to us, we learned. But they were of different mettle from the Anglo-Saxons. They informed their "guides" that they did not propose to deny their comrades or to be dictated to about whom they should associate with. The French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Scandinavian Anarcho-Syndicalists lost no time in seeking us out. In fact, they made our place their headquarters. They spent with us every free hour they had, eager to know our impressions and views. They had heard of the alleged persecution of the Left-wing elements by the Communists, but they had taken it as a capitalist fabrication. Their French Communist friends, who had made the journey with them, were also sincerely desirous to learn the facts. Among them Boris Souvarine was the most intelligent and alert inquirer.
The Cheka was of course well aware that these men were coming in and out of our place. Our attitude since Kronstadt had also not remained a secret from them. In fact, Sasha had gone to the head of the Soviet printing house in Petrograd and had demanded back the copy of his Prison Memoirs, which they were to publish in Russian. He had openly declared on that occasion, as well as to Zinoviev personally, that he was through with the Bolsheviki because of Kronstadt and all that it involved. We were prepared to take the consequences and we spoke freely to our visitors. Souvarine was quite shaken by our account. It could not be that Lenin and Trotsky knew about the real state of affairs, he thought. Had we tried to talk to them? We had, but we had not been received. Yet Sasha had written a letter to Lenin explaining the situation and our stand in regard to it. But all such efforts were as futile as our protests and proposal to the Petrograd Soviet of Defence during the Kronstadt siege. Nothing was being done in Russia, we informed our visitors, without the knowledge and approval of the supreme authority, the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and Lenin was the head of it.
The Communists in France were co-operating on many occasions with their anarchist comrades, Souvarine argued. Why could not the same conditions be brought about in Russia ? The reason was not far to see, we explained. The French Communists had not yet attained political power in their country. They had not yet achieved a dictatorship there, but when that hour arrived, their comradeship with the French anarchists would be at an end, we assured Souvarine. He thought it impossible and he insisted that he should discuss the subject with the leading Bolsheviki. He wanted to bring about an amicable relationship between his Russian comrades and ours.
Just at that moment Olya Maximova called. Pale and trembling, she told us that Maximov and twelve other comrades in the Taganka prison had declared a hunger-strike to the death. They had repeatedly demanded the reason for their imprisonment since March. Information was refused them, nor had any charges been brought against them. Having failed to receive a reply to their protests, they had decided to call the attention of the foreign delegates to their intolerable situation by means of a desperate hunger-strike.
The syndicalists present jumped to their feet in great excitement. They would have never believed such a state of affairs possible in Soviet Russia, they declared, and they would immediately demand an accounting. They would raise the question at the opening of the Red Trade Union Congress the following morning. Souvarine implored them to wait and first to see the trade-union leaders, among them Tomsky, the labour head, Losovsky, and others. An open discussion at the public sessions would be working into the enemy's hand, he argued; the capitalist press and the bourgeoisie in France and other countries would make the most of it. The matter must be settled quietly and in a friendly way, Souvarine pleaded. The delegates left, assuring us that they would not rest until justice was done to our suffering comrades. They returned late at night to inform us that the trade-union leaders had begged them not to make the scandal public and had promised to do their utmost to get redress for the imprisoned anarchists. They had suggested a committee of one delegate from each country, including Russia, to confer with Lenin and Trotsky. Our comrades from Europe were only too glad to avoid a breach and they had willingly accepted the proposal.
I went with Sasha to the opening session of the Congress to see whom we might get to act on the committee. We were sure that Tom Mann would be anxious to serve on it, for had he not fought against political persecution all his life? And Bill Haywood would certainly not refuse. When on trial for his life in Idaho, he had faced death, from which the anarchists had helped to save him; they had always given him and his I.W.W. organization solidaric assistance at every arrest and during every trouble, as well as during the war. "Tom Mann may help," Sasha said, "but Haywood won't. I may try to get Bob; he would hardly refuse me," he added.
The Marble Hall in the Trade Union House was the theatre where the grand review had been carefully prepared and rehearsed. We found the principal performers all grouped on the stage. The orchestra seats were packed by delegates from every part of the world, the Russians predominating. Not the least important among them were the delegates of such large industrial centres as Palestina, Bokhara, Azerbaijan and similar countries.
Outside of the railing, separating the official representatives from the general audience, were benches for the public. We took our seats in the first row, which the delegates had to pass on their way to the platform. Bill Haywood was in the place of honour. He saw us come in and he turned his head away. Having gone back on his comrades in distress, it was not surprising that he should also deny his former friends. Sasha had been right: there was no need to worry about Bill's future. He could see no more with his good eye than with his blind one and he would "fit in." I felt no anger; I was only unspeakably sad.
Tom Mann stopped short when he recognized us. Like Bill's, his greeting had been profuse only a short time ago. He drew back, however, as soon as I mentioned the proposed committee. He knew nothing about the matter, he said, and he would first have to investigate. Sasha violently upbraided Tom for his lack of stamina and for his fear to displease the Bolshevik bosses. Tom winced at the rebuke from one who had paid with an agony of years for his loyalty and devotion, while Tom had merely been spouting. "All right, all right," he said, shamefacedly, "I'll serve on the committee."
As we walked out of the hall during the noon intermission, we collided with Bob Minor and Mary Heaton Vorse. They were startled at the unexpected meeting and looked very much embarrassed. They pretended a friendly grin, Bob hastening to say that he had meant to look us up, but had been too busy; he would call on us soon, however. "Why these apologies?" Sasha retorted; "they are unnecessary, and please don't come out of duty." He did not mention the committee to Bob.
On our way my dear chum kept silent. I knew how sad he felt. He cared a great deal about Bob and he had trusted in his sense of fair play.
The committee was at last organized and ready to call on Lenin. None of them was a match for the shrewd Grand Mogul. He knew better how to divert their attention than they to compel his. Tom Mann, always anathema to the ruling class of his country, now accepted and made much of by the head of the new dynasty, proved clay in Bolshevik hands. He was too weak to resist Lenin and he was overcome like a debutante first receiving male homage. No less overawed were most of the other members of the committee, but the Labour Syndicalists refused to be side-tracked by the solicitous inquiries of Ilich about the conditions of labour abroad, the strength of the Syndicalists and their prospects. They insisted on knowing what he had to say about the revolutionary hunger-strikers in Russia. Lenin stopped short. He did not care if all the politicals perished in prison, he declared. He and his party would brook no opposition from any side, Left or Right. He would consent, however, to have the imprisoned anarchists deported from the country, on pain of being shot if they should return to Soviet soil. Lenin's ears had become attuned for nearly four years to shooting and he had grown infatuated with the sound of it.
His proposal, submitted to the Central Committee of the Communist Party as a matter of form, was of course approved by it. A joint committee was formed, representing the Government and the foreign delegates, to arrange for the immediate release and deportation of the Taganka hunger-strikers and the imprisoned anarchists.
On the eighth day of the strike there was still no definite action taken, because the high authority of the All-Russian Cheka, with Dzherzhinsky and Unschlicht at its head, insisted that "there were no anarchists in Soviet prisons." There were only bandits and Makhnovtsy, they declared. They demanded that the foreign delegates first submit a list of those they wanted liberated for deportation. The ruse was an obvious attempt to sabotage the entire plan and to gain time till the Congress adjourned and the foreign delegates departed. Some of the latter began to realize that nothing would be done and that our comrades might starve to death. They again threatened to take the matter up at the Congress and have it discussed in open session. But this was just what the Soviet authorities were anxious to prevent. They pleaded for a private conference with the delegates and faithfully promised to bring about a satisfactory arrangement without further loss of time.
Our people in the Taganka were beginning to break down under the torture of the protracted hunger-strike. One of them, a young student of the Moscow University, a consumptive, had already collapsed. His co-strikers urged him to terminate his fast, but he loyally refused to desert them, even in the face of death. We were powerless to aid in any way. With heavy hearts Sasha and I kept after the syndicalist members of the joint committee, urging and pleading for speedy action. One day, while on our way to the Congress, we were met by Robert Minor, who handed Sasha a large bundle. "Some provisions," he said sheepishly; "we at the Luxe get too much. Maybe you'll give it to the hunger-strikers. Some light things --- caviar, white bread, and chocolate. I thought --- " "Never mind what you thought," Sasha interrupted; "you are a rotter to add insult to the injury the Taganka men have already endured. Instead of protesting against the hounding of men for their political views, you try to bribe our comrades into breaking their strike by offering the leavings of your overfed fellow delegates." "By the way," I added, "you had better stop Mary Heaton Vorse from her irresponsible talk about our friend Bob Robins. Does she want to land him in the Cheka? "
Bob mumbled that Lucy Robins had allied herself with Gompers, who was fighting the Russian Revolution. Sasha replied that the fact that Lucy was working with the American Federation of Labor, while showing poor judgment, did not stamp her husband as a counterrevolutionist. He had better curb Mary's tongue. It meant a man's life.
Bob grew pale, his eyes shifted uneasily from Sasha to me and back, and then he started to say something. I stopped him. "Give your parcel to the women and children shivering outside your Hotel de Luxe and greedily picking up the crumbs that fall from the wagon-loads of white bread brought to feed the delegates." "You people make me sick," Bob cried, trying to control his rage; "you make a big fuss over the thirteen anarchists in the Taganka and forget that it is a revolutionary period. What do those thirteen matter, or thirteen hundred even, in view of the greatest revolution the world has ever seen?" "Yes, we've heard that before," Sasha retorted; "but I should really not be angry with you, considering that I myself believed the same stuff for fifteen months. But I know better now. I know that this 'greatest revolution' is the greatest fraud, masking every crime to keep the Communists in power. Some day, Bob, you may also come to realize it. We'll talk then. Now we have nothing more to say to each other."
On the tenth day of the hunger-strike the joint committee finally met in the Kremlin. Sasha and Schapiro had been asked by the Taganka prisoners to represent their demands. Trotsky was to be the spokesman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, but he failed to appear and Lunacharsky took his place. Unschlicht, acting head of the All-Russian Cheka, treated the delegates with open scorn and finally left the room without even a greeting to them. The "comradely" session might have ended in the arrest of the foreign delegates had not the coolness of Sasha and Schapiro smoothed matters. It required all his self-restraint, Sasha later told me, not to hit Unschlicht for his arrogant behaviour, but the fate of our sufferers was at stake. The air was surcharged with antagonism, and it was only after long bickering that an agreement was reached. A letter signed by the joint committee, but not concurred in by Alexander Berkman, was forwarded through Unschlicht to the Taganka men, containing the following statement:
Comrades, in view of the fact that we have come to the conclusion that your hunger-strike cannot accomplish your liberation, we hereby advise you to terminate it.
At the same time we inform you that definite proposals have been made to us by Comrade Lunacharsky in the name of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. To wit:
1. All anarchists held in the prisons of Russia who are now on a hunger-strike will be permitted to leave for any country they may choose. They will be supplied with passports and funds.
2. Concerning other imprisoned anarchists or those out of prison, final action will be taken by the party tomorrow. It is the opinion of Comrade Lunacharsky that the decision in their case will be similar to the present one.
3. We have received the promise, endorsed by Unschlicht, that the families of the comrades to go abroad will be permitted to follow them if they so wish. For conspirative reasons some time will have to elapse before this is done.
4. The comrades before going abroad will be permitted two or three days at liberty before their departure, to enable them to arrange their affairs.
5. They will not be allowed to return to Russia without the consent of the Soviet Government.
6. Most of these conditions are contained in the letter received by this delegation from the Central Committee of the Communist Party, signed by Trotsky.
7. The foreign comrades have been authorized to see to it that these conditions are properly carried out.
ORLANDI - Spain
LEVAL - Spain
SIROLLE - France
MICHEL - France
A. SCHAPIRO - Russia
The above is correct.
Alexander Berkman declines to sign because:
a. he is opposed to deportation on principle;
b. he considers the letter an arbitrary and unjustified curtailment of the original offer of the Central Committee according to which all the anarchists were to be permitted to leave Russia;
c. he demands more time at liberty for those to be released, to enable them to recuperate before deportation.
I was glad Sasha had refused to concur in the outrageous decision that established the precedent of deportation of revolutionists from Soviet Russia, of men who had valiantly defended the Revolution, had fought on its fronts, and had suffered untold danger and hardships. What a commentary on the Communist State outdoing Uncle Sam! He, poor boob, went only as far as deporting his foreign-born opponents. Lenin and Company, themselves political refugees from their native land only a short time ago, were now ordering the deportation of Russia's native sons, the best flower of her revolutionay past.
Despair is often more compelling than hunger. The Taganka comrades were motivated by that, rather than by their eleven torturous days, in terminating their hunger-strike. They accepted the conditions that were to set them adrift. They were completely exhausted by their long fast, some of them laid up with a high temperature. The coarse prison food would have been fatal to them, but Lenin had declared that he did not care if they perished in jail. It would be absurd to look for more humanity from the prison authorities or to expect them to supply suitable light diet. Fortunately the Swedish delegates had given us a suitcaseful of provisions, and these served to feed our prisoners during the critical days of recuperation.
The sequel of the "amicable settlement" Souvarine and his fellow French delegates had hoped for was supplied by Bukharin at the eleventh hour of the Red Trade Union Congress. In the name of the Central Committee of the Communist Party he made a ferocious attack on the men in the Taganka and the Russian anarchists in general. They were all counter-revolutionists, he declared, who were plotting against the Socialist Republic. The whole Russian anarchist movement was nothing but banditry, he charged, the ally of Makhno and of his highwaymen who had fought the Revolution and had murdered Communists and Red Army men. The flagrant breach of the agreement to avoid publicity in the Taganka trouble, which the Bolsheviki themselves had insisted upon, came like unexpected thunder in the final session of the Congress. The Latin delegates, outraged by such underhand tactics, were immediately on their feet. They demanded to be heard in protest, in rebuttal of the denunciation of their Russian comrades. Chairman Lozovsky had obligingly given the floor to Bukharin, though the latter was not a delegate and had no right to address the Congress. But now Lozovsky resorted to every possible trick to deprive the foreign delegates of a chance to answer the libellous charges of Bukharin. Even some of the Russian Communist delegates were dismayed by the proceedings and supported the demand of the Latin delegates to be heard. Of the Anglo-Saxon delegates only Cascaden rose in protest. Tom Mann, Bill Haywood, Bob Minor, William Foster, and Ella Reeves Bloor were silent in the face of the crying injustice and suppression. The lifelong champions of free speech could find no word of protest against its denial in Soviet Russia. In the tumult and uproar that followed Bukharin's attack on the anarchists few persons in the hall noticed Rykov, chairman of the All-Russian Soviet of Economy, signalling to the attending Chekists. A detachment of soldiers clattered into the hall, adding fuel to the blaze ignited by Bukharin's speech.
Sasha and I elbowed our way to the platform. This time I should speak, I told him, even if I had to resort to force, unless Schapiro or some Syndicalist delegate got the floor. He would rush the platform, if necessary, Sasha said. In passing he caught sight of Bob Minor. He gripped his cane, about to strike him. "You're a yellow cur, you son of a b--," Sasha roared at him. Minor recoiled in fright. Sasha took up his stand on one side of the platform steps, while I stood on the other. The majority of the delegates were on their feet, clamouring to be heard and protesting against Lozovsky's autocratic conduct. Beset on all sides, he was finally forced to give the floor to Sirolle, the French Anarcho-Syndicalist. Roused by the Jesuitical machinations of the Communist Party, Sirolle in thunderous voice denounced the double-dealing tactics of the Soviet Government and brilliantly refuted the cowardly chages against the Taganka men and the Russian anarchists.
When the news of the approaching deportation became known, the Left Socialist-Revolutionists, comrades of Maria Spiridonovna, decided to benefit by the presence of the foreign delegates and labour men. In a statement distributed among them they set forth that Maria, taken from her sick-bed the previous year, was still being kept in prison. She had undergone several hunger-strikes in protest and had demanded her release and that of her lifelong friend and companion Izmailovich. She had twice been at death's door and was now in a most precarious state. Her comrades would supply the means of sending Maria abroad for medical treatment, the statement read, if the Soviet authorities would permit her to go.
Dr. I. Steinberg requested me to interest the delegates of the International Women's Congress, then taking place in Moscow. I went to see Clara Zetkin, the famous old Social Democrat, who was now high in the councils of the Government. She was working to rally the support of the women of every country for the world revolution, she informed me. Well, Maria Spiridonovna had already served that cause, I told her, served it the greater part of her life. She was indeed the very symbol of that revolution. It would do irreparable harm to the prestige of the Communist Party if Maria was to be extinguished in a Cheka prison, I urged, and it was Clara Zetkin's duty to prevail upon the Government to permit Maria Spiridonovna to leave Russia.
Zetkin promised to intercede in behalf of Maria. But at the close of the Congress she sent me word that Lenin was too ill to be seen. She had spoken to Trotsky in the matter, and the War Commissar had told her that Maria Spiridonovna was still too dangerous to be at liberty or to be permitted abroad.
The Red Trade Union Congress was over. Its most pathetic harlequin proved to be Bill Haywood. The founder of the I.W.W. in America and its dominant figure for twenty years, he allowed himself to be persuaded to vote at the Congress for the Communist plan to "liquidate" the militant minority labour organizations, including the I.W.W., and force their members to join the American Federation of Labor, which Haywood had for years denounced as "capitalistic and reactionary."
The smaller fry among his comrades, the Ella Reeves Bloors, the Browders, and Andreychins, took the cue from their chief. Andreychin had never been blessed with much backbone. During the Mesaba Range strike he had been willing to make any compromise to save himself from deportation. Sasha had interested Amos Pinchot and other influential liberals in his behalf and through them had stayed the hand of the Immigration Bureau. While Andreychin was in Leavenworth, he again showed the white feather. I ascribed his weaknss to the fear of tuberculosis, which had begun to undermine his health. I was at the time in the Missouri prison, but in compliance with Andreychin's repeated requests I urged Stella and Fitzi to raise the ten thousand dollars needed to release him on bail. The faithful girls had worked like galley-slaves to secure bonds for other victims of the war mania, but they would not refuse me. They procured part of the bail, while a friend gave the balance. Andreychin, spineless creature that he was, emulated his teacher Bill Haywood and jumped his bond. On the very first day of his arrival in Moscow he delivered a public speech in which he denounced his I.W.W. fellows in the United States and pledged the Bolsheviki his help in destroying the organization. Yet I felt that this treachery was not so much the fault of Andreychin, Bill Haywood, and the many others who were on their knees before the holy shrine of the Kremlin. It was rather the appalling superstition, the Bolshevik myth, that duped and ensnared them, as it had also formerly done to us.
Soviet Russia had become the modern socialist Lourdes, to which the blind and the lame, the deaf and the dumb were flocking for miraculous cures. I was filled with pity for these deluded ones, but I felt only contempt for those others who had come, had seen with open eyes and understood, and had yet been conquered. Of these was William Z. Foster, once the champion of revolutionary syndicalism in America. He was keen-eyed and he had come as a press correspondent. He went back to do Moscow's bidding.
No word had arrived from our comrades in Germany in reply to the letter sent them about securing visas. Sasha was chafing under the delay of getting out of Russia. He could stand the fearful tragi-comedy no longer, he said. A German Syndicalist delegate, member of the Seamen's and Transport Workers' Union, had also taken a letter from us and had promised to see our people in Berlin. There was no news yet. As in his early days after coming out of the Western Penitentiary, Sasha became very restless. He could not endure being indoors or seeing people. He would roam the streets of Moscow most of the day and late into the night, and my anxiety about him grew.
In his absence one day Bob Minor called. Not finding Sasha, he edged out. I did not try to detain him, for our old ties had snapped. Shortly after, there arrived a letter from him, addressed to Sasha. He read it and handed it to me without comment. Bob's letter dilated on the "momentous and world-revolutionizing resolutions" passed by the Congress of the Third International. He had always known Sasha as the clearest mind in the anarchist movement in America and as an indomitable and fearless rebel. Could he not see now that his place was in the Communist Party? He belonged there, and it offered him a large field for his abilities and devotion. He could not give up the hope that Sasha would yet come to realize the supreme mission of the Communist dictatorship in Russia and its approaching conquest of capitalism throughout the world.
Bob was sincere, Sasha commented, but the veriest blockhead politically and blind as a bat socially. He should have stuck to his real field, that of art. I urged Sasha to reply to Bob's letter, but he refused. It was useless, he said, and he was weary of talk and arguments. How well I understood his weariness! I also felt completely fagged out. The physical drudgery of our existence and the excessive summer heat had sapped my strength. The stream of visitors, the long hours without sleep, and the great strain of the Trade Union Congress made me feel tired to death.
Sasha returned from one of his long tramps in the city looking unusually pale and distressed. When he made sure that I was alone, he said in a whisper: "Fanya Baron is in Moscow. She has just escaped from the Ryazan prison and she is in great danger; without money or papers and no place to go."
I was struck dumb with horror of the fate awaiting Fanya if discovered. Fanya in the very fortress of the Cheka! "Oh, Sasha, why did she come here, of all places?" I cried. "That isn't the question now," he returned; "better let us think quickly how we can help her."
Our own place would be a trap for her. She would be discovered within twenty-four hours. The other comrades were also being watched. To give her shelter would mean death for them as for her. Of course, we would supply her with money, clothing, and food. But how about a roof over her head? She was safe for the night, Sasha said, but on the morrow something would have to be devised. There was no more sleep for me that night --- Fanya weighed heavily on my mind.
Early next morning Sasha left the house with money and things for Fanya, and I remained in sickening suspense until the late afternoon, beset by fears for both. My friend had a less anxious look when he returned. Fanya had found shelter with a brother of Aaron Baron. He was a Communist and his place therefore safe for Fanya. I stared in amazement. "It's all right," Sasha said, trying to soothe my fears, "the man has always been fond of Aaron and Fanya. He will not betray her." I was dubious of a Communist allowing family ties or personal feelings to interfere with his party's commands. But I could suggest no safer place and I knew that Fanya could not remain out on the streets. Sasha felt so relieved that Fanya was under cover that I did not want to arouse his fears again. I plied him with questions about the daring girl --- why she had come to Moscow and when I could see her.
That was entirely out of the question, Sasha declared. It was enough for one of us to take the risk. I had already courted enough danger, he argued, by my visits to the Arshinov family. The Bolsheviki had set a price on Pyotr Arshinov's head, dead or alive, as the closest friend and associate of Nestor Makhno. He was in hiding and he could only venture out after dark to call on his wife and infant in the city. I had indeed been repeatedly to see them and to take things for their baby, and once Sasha had accompanied me. Now he insisted that I promise not to attempt to see Fanya. My dear, faithful pal was so concerned about my safety that I would have promised anything to reassure him. But at heart I determined to visit my haunted comrade.
Fanya's mission in Moscow, Sasha confided to me, was to prepare the escape of Aaron Baron. She had learned of the persecution he was undergoing in prison and she had determined to rescue her lover from his living death. Her own escape was made for that very purpose. Brave, wonderful Fanya, dedicated to Aaron as few wives are, yet not tied by law! My heart went out to our splendid comrade in trembling fear for her mission, her sweetheart, and herself.
Sasha's account of his meetings with Fanya served to allay my anxiety about her and him. It even made me laugh. The city was crowded and the parks filled with spooning couples. Ladies of pleasure were about everywhere, entertaining some of the foreign delegates in return for real valuta or delicacies from the Hotel de Luxe. Sasha and Fanya were no doubt considered by the passers-by as engaged in similar propaganda activities. Fanya looked much improved physically and was in fine spirits. She was less worried about Aaron now, because his brother, to whom she had confided her mission, had promised to aid her scheme. Again I felt my heart flutter at the risk Fanya was taking, but I kept my own counsel.
Then the blow came and left us stunned. Two of our comrades fell into the Cheka net --- Lev Tchorny, gifted poet and writer, and Fanya Baron! She had been arrested in the home of her Communist brother-in-law. At the same time eight other men had been shot at on the street by Chekists and taken prisoners. They were existy (expropriators), the Cheka declared.
Sasha had seen Fanya the preceding evening. She had been in a hopeful mood: the preparations for Aaron's escape were progressing satisfactorily, she had told him, and she felt almost gay, all unconscious of the sword that was to fall upon her head the following morning. "And now she is in their clutches and we are powerless to help," Sasha groaned.
He could not go on any longer in the dreadful country, he declared. Why would I persist in my objection to illegal channels? We were not running away from the Revolution. It was dead long ago; yes, to be resurrected, but not for a good while to come. That we, two such well-known anarchists, who had given our entire lives to revolutionary effort, should leave Russia illegally would be the worst slap in the face of the Bolsheviki, he emphasized. Why, then, should I hesitate? He had learned of a way of going from Petrograd to Reval. He would go there to make the preliminary arrangements. He was suffocating in the atmosphere of the bloody dictatorship. He could not stand it any more.
In Petrograd the "party" that traded in false passports and aided people to leave the country secretly turned out to be a priest with several assistants. Sasha would have nothing to do with them, and the plan was off. I sighed with relief. My reason told me that Sasha was right in ridiculing my objection to being smuggled out of Russia. But my feelings rebelled against it and were not to be argued away. Moreover, somehow I felt certain that we should hear from our German comrades.
We planned to remain in Petrograd for awhile, since I hated Moscow, so overrun by Chekists and soldiers. The city on the Neva had not changed since our last visit; it was as dreary in appearance and as famished as before. But the warm welcome from our former co-workers in the Museum of the Revolution, the affectionate friendship of Alexandra Shakol and of our nearest comrades, would make our stay more pleasant than in the capital, I thought. Plans in Russia, however, almost always go awry. Word reached us from Moscow that the apartment on the Leontevsky where we had stayed had been raided and Sasha's room in particular had been ransacked from top to bottom. A number of our friends, among them Vassily Semenoff, our old American comrade, had been caught in the dragnet laid by the Cheka. A zassada of soldiers remained in the apartment. It was apparent that our callers, who did not know we were away, were being made to suffer for our sins. We decided to return to Moscow forthwith. To save the expenses of our trip I went to see Mme Ravich, to inform her that we were at the call of the Cheka whenever wanted. I had not seen the Petrograd Commissar of the Interior since the memorable night of March 5 when she had come for the information Zinoviev had expected from Sasha regarding Kronstadt. Her manner, while no longer so warm as before, was still cordial. She knew nothing about the raid of our rooms in Moscow, she said, but would inquire by long-distance telephone. The next morning she informed me that it all had been a misunderstanding, that we were not wanted by the authorities, and that the zassada had been removed.
We knew that such "misunderstandings" were a daily occurrence, not infrequently involving even execution, and we gave little credence to Mine Ravich's explanation. The particularly suspicious circumstance was the special attention given to Sasha's room. I had been in opposition to the Bolsheviki longer than he and more outspoken. Why was it that his room was searched and not mine? It was the second attempt to find something incriminating against us. We agreed to leave immediately for Moscow.
On reaching the capital we learned that Vassily, arrested when he had called on us during our absence, had already been liberated. So were also ten of the thirteen Taganka hunger-strikers. They had been kept in prison two months longer, despite the pledge of the Government to free them immediately upon the termination of their hunger-strike. Their release, however, was the sheerest farce, because they were placed under the strictest surveillance, forbidden to associate with their comrades, and denied the right to work, although informed that their deportation would be delayed. At the same time the Cheka announced that none of the other imprisoned anarchists would be liberated. Trotsky had written a letter to the French delegates to that effect, notwithstanding the original promise of the Central Committee to the contrary.
Our Taganka comrades found themselves "free," weak and ill as a result of their long hunger-strike. They were in tatters, without money or means of existence. We did what we could to alleviate their need and to cheer them, although we ourselves felt anything but cheerful. Meanwhile Sasha had somehow succeeded in communicating with Fanya in the inner Cheka prison. She informed him that she had been transferred the previous evening to another wing. The note did not indicate whether she realized the significance of it. She asked that a few toilet things be sent her. But neither she nor Lev Tchorny needed them any more. They were beyond human kindness, beyond man's savagery. Fanya was shot in the cellar of the Cheka prison, together with eight other victims, on the following day, September 30, 1921. The life of the Communist brother of Aaron Baron was spared. Lev Tchorny had cheated the executioner. His old mother, calling daily at the prison, was receiving the assurance that her son would not be executed and that within a few days she would see him at liberty. Tchorny indeed was not executed. His mother kept bringing parcels of food for her beloved boy, but Tchorny had for days been under the ground, having died as the result of the tortures inflicted on him to force a confession of guilt.
There was no Lev Tchorny on the list of the executed published in the official Izvestia the next day. There was "Turchaninov" --- Tchorny's family name, which he almost never used and which was quite unknown to most of his friends. The Bolsheviki were aware that Tchorny was a household word in thousands of labour and revolutionary homes. They knew he was held in the greatest esteem as a beautiful soul of deep human kindliness and sympathy, a man known for poetic and literary gifts and as the author of the original and very thoughtful work on Associational Anarchism. They knew he was respected by numerous Communists and they did not dare publish that they had murdered the man. It was only Turchaninov who had been executed."
And our dear, splendid Fanya, radiant with life and love, unswerving in her consecration to her ideals, touchingly feminine, yet resolute as a lioness in defence of her young, of indomitable will, she had fought to the last breath. She would not go submissively to her doom. She resisted and had to be carried bodily to the place of execution by the knights of the Communist State. Rebel to the last, Fanya had pitted her enfeebled strength against the monster for a moment and then was dragged into eternity as the hideous silence in the Cheka cellar was rent once more by her shrieks above the sudden pistol-shots.
I had reached the end. I could bear it no longer. In the dark I groped my way to Sasha to beg him to leave Russia, by whatever means. "I am ready, my dear, to go with you, in any way," I whispered, "only far away from the woe, the blood, the tears, the stalking death."
Sasha was planning to go to the Polish frontier, to arrange for our leaving by that route. I was afraid to let him go alone in his present condition, his nerves shattered by the fearful shock of recent events. On the other hand, it would arouse suspicion if both of us should disappear from our quarters at the same time. Sasha realized the danger and consented to wait another week or two. The idea was for him to proceed to Minsk; I was to follow when he should have made the necessary arrangements. As we should have to travel like the rest of the damned portion of the population, Sasha insisted that I take no baggage. He would carry with him what we absolutely needed; the rest of our things were to be distributed among our friends. We had come to starved and naked Russia overflowing with the need of giving of ourselves as well as of the trunkfuls of gifts we had brought with us. Our hearts were empty now and so must be our hands.
Our preparations had to be made in the strictest privacy, at night, when the rest of the tenants in the apartment were asleep. Manya Semenoff, her lovable Vassily, and a few other trusted ones knew of our plan. It was tragic indeed, this scheming to steal out of the country that had held our highest longings and hopes.
In the midst of the packing the long-expected letter from Germany arrived. It contained an invitation for Sasha, Schapiro, and me to attend the Anarchist Congress that was to take place in Berlin at Christmas. It sent me spinning round the room, weeping and laughing at the same time. "We shan't have to hide and cheat and resort to false papers, Sasha," I cried in glee; "we shan't have to sneak out like thieves in the night!" But Sasha did not seem elated over it. Ridiculous," he retorted, "you don't mean that our Berlin comrades can exert any influence over Chicherin, the Communist Party, or the Cheka! Moreover, I have no intention of applying to them for anything. I've already told you that." I knew from experience that it was useless to argue with my stubborn pal when he was angry. I would wait for a more propitious time. The new hope held out by the letter had reawakened my objections to leaving secretly the land that had known the glory and the defeat of the great "October."
I sought out Angelica. She had told me that she would help us secure the consent of the Soviet authorities to leave the country. She herself was planning to go abroad to regain her health in some quiet spot. She, too, had reached the spiritual breaking-point, though she would not admit it even to herself. Dear Angelica immediately offered to get the necessary application blanks, and she would go to Chicherin and even to Lenin, if need be, to vouch for Sasha and me. "No, dear Angelica," I protested, "you shall do nothing of the kind." I knew what it meant to leave such security. We would not have anyone endangered for us, nor did we care to have the benediction of Lenin. I informed Angelica that all I wanted of her was to help quicken action if passports were to be granted at all.
In the space in the application reserved for the promise of loyalty and the signature of two party members vouching for the applicant I wrote: "As an anarchist I have never pledged loyalty to any government, much less can I do it to the R.S.F.S.R., which claims to be Socialist and revolutionary. I consider it an insult to my past to ask anyone to stand the consequences of anything I may say or do. I therefore refuse to have anyone vouch for me."
Angelica was considerably perturbed by my declaration. She feared it might spoil our chances of securing permission to leave the country. "Either we go out without any strings attached to us, or we will find another way," I declared. We would leave no hostages behind. Angelica understood.
I went to the Foreign Office to find out whether a request from our German comrades that we be permitted to attend the Anarchist Congress had been received. I was called before Litvinov, who was acting in behalf of Commissar Chicherin. I had never met him before. He looked like a commis voyageur, short and fat and disgustingly content with himself. Reclining in an easy chair in his luxurious office he began to ply me with questions as to why we wanted to leave Russia, what our intentions were abroad, and where we meant to live. Had the Foreign Office not received any communication from the Berlin anarchists, I inquired. It had, he admitted, and he knew we had been invited to attend the Anarchist Congress in Berlin. That was explanation enough, I told him; I could add nothing further. "But if you are refused?" he demanded suddenly. If his Government wanted it known abroad that we were being kept prisoners in Russia, it could certainly do so, for it had the power, I replied. Litvinov peered at me steadily out of little eyes bulging from his puffy face. He made no comment, but asked whether our Berlin comrades had made sure that the German Government would admit us. Certainly the latter would not be anxious to increase the number of anarchists in its territory. It was a capitalist country and we could not expect the reception there that Soviet Russia had given us. "Yet, strange to say," I replied, "the anarchists continue their work in most European countries, which cannot be said to be the case in Russia." "Are you singing the praises of the bourgeois countries?" he demanded. "No, only reminding you of facts. I have been strengthened in my anarchist attitude that all governments are fundamentally alike, whatever their protestations. However, what about our passports?"
He would let us know, he replied. At any rate, the Soviet Government would not undertake to supply us with visas. That was our own look-out, and, saying so, Litvinov closed the interview.
Sasha had left for Minsk, and ten days passed before I received a sign from him. Then a short note arrived in a roundabout way, informing me that the trip had been hideous, but that he had finally reached his destination and was busy "collecting historical material for the Museum of the Revolution." He had given this as a reason for his journey when he had purchased his ticket.
I was somewhat distracted from my anxiety and worry by the glad news that Maria Spiridonovna had been released. She was almost at death's door from another hunger-strike. Fearing she was about to die in prison, the Cheka had permitted her friends to take her out for a rest and recuperation. Should she get well and show the least sign of renewed activity, the authorities had warned, she would be immediately arrested and imprisoned again. Her friends had indeed to take Maria away bodily, as she was too weak and ill to walk. Her companion lzmailovich was permitted to accompany her, and both women were installed by their friends in Malakhovka, near Moscow. The Government stationed Chekists about the place to guard against any attempt to spirit Maria away.
There was to be no end to Maria's martyrdom, but I felt that she would at least be with her own friends and comrades, and those who loved her would be privileged to look after her needs. It was a comforting thought.
On the twelfth day, when I had about given up hope of hearing from the Foreign Office again, Angelica telephoned to me that passports had been issued to us. I should call for them at the Foreign Office, she said, and take with me dollars or English pounds to pay for them. Cabs were a luxury when so many of our people were in dire want, but I did not have the patience to walk. I wanted to see the passports with my own eyes before I would believe that they had actually been granted. It proved true, however, really true. Sasha and I would not have to hide and cheat to leave the country. We should be able to go as we had come --- in the open, even if desolate and denuded of dreams.
Our comrade A. Schapiro had applied independently and I was happy to learn that his passport was also ready and awaiting his call.
I telegraphed Sasha: "This time I win, old scout. Come back quickly." It was probably cattish, but revenge was sweet. In my joyous exuberance I had not stopped to consider the anomaly of the Foreign Office demanding valuta when the possession of such currency was strictly prohibited. Well, I mused, laws were made to be broken, and none so skilful as the lawmakers themselves.
Passports on hand, I was now beset by other misgivings. Visas how were they to be obtained? Our Berlin comrades notified us that they were trying their utmost to secure our admission to Germany. If we could somehow reach Latvia or Esthonia, it would be easier to get visas, they wrote.
Sasha burst into the house unannounced. He looked a fright, unshaven and apparently unwashed for days, tired and exhausted, and without the suit-case he had taken with him. "What's this?" he demanded; "just a hoax to get me back here?" He had made all preparations, he said, to cross the border and had come to fetch me. The papers would be awaiting us in Minsk and he had given fifty dollars' deposit on them. "Is the money to be lost?" he demanded. "And the suit-case," I returned, "is that to be lost too?" He grinned. "That's already lost," he replied; "you know, they are clever, these Russians. I was told the safest way on trains is to tie your bags to your legs. I did so, and the rope was strong. But the car was pitchdark --- no lights whatever --- and so crowded I had to stand all the way. The train stopped at innumerable stations and I must have dozed off. When I looked at my suit-case --- well, the rope was there, but no suit-case. Couldn't find it anywhere in the car. Clever of them, wasn't it.
"Clever of you, too --- the third time, isn't it? You're a hard loser, old girl," he teased, "you ought to be glad it wasn't sixteen hundred dollars again." What could one do with such an irrepressible one? I had to laugh with him.
Triumphantly I held out the passports. He scrutinized them from every side. "Well," he drawled, "I was sure they'd refuse. A fellow may be wrong, sometimes."
But I could see he felt relieved that it would not have to be the Minsk route. His trip must have been ghastly. It took him a week to recuperate from it.
The Lithuanian visa was granted for two weeks. A transit through Latvia was obtained without much trouble. We could leave any day. The certainty made us feel doubly the plight of the comrades and friends whom we were leaving behind --- in want, distress, fettered and utterly helpless in the Soviet void. The Taganka men awaiting deportation were still kept in uncertainty. Exhausted by their daily chase after the authorities to secure some definite statement or action, they were spending most of their time in the corridor of our apartment trying to reach the Cheka by telephone. There was no lack of promises but not a single one of them had been kept during the four months that had passed since the agreement to deport the men. Every gamut of human suffering had been experienced by them, every physical and spiritual torture for opinion's sake. Yet they were undaunted. Nothing could affect their ideal or weaken their faith in its final triumph. Mark Mrachny, recently robbed by death of his young wife, with a poor little sickly infant on his hands, remained brave and unbent. Volin, with his four small children doomed to starvation before his very eyes, and with his wife ailing in their cold and barren quarters, still continued to write poetry. Maximov, his health broken by several previous hunger-strikes, had lost nothing of his studious interests. Olya Maximova, delicate and sensitive, who had for seven months twice weekly carried heavy loads of provisions to the Taganka prison in continuous stress and anguish about the fate of her beloved Maximov, could still crave beauty and social fellowship. Yarchook, a dauntless fighter, with trials and tribulations to break the strongest, had also withstood all the Taganka horrors. The rest of the men awaiting deportation were of the same fibre and grit. Amazing were they, and those other wonderful friends and comrades we had met in the Ukraine and all through Russia, men of courage, ability, and heroic endurance for the sake of their ideals. I owed much to them, and in my heart I felt grateful for having known them. Their staunch comradeship, understanding, and faith had helped to sustain me spiritually and had kept me from being swept away by the avalanche that had passed over all of us. Their lives had become one with mine; the approaching parting would, I knew, be a wrench and bitter hard. My special favourites were Alexey Borovoy and Mark Mrachny, the first because of his brilliant mind and gracious personality, the other for his sparkling vitality, ready wit, and understanding of human frailty. It was hardest for me to leave them behind; and of course also our dear Manya and Vassily. To ease the pangs of parting, our dear friends kept assuring us that by leaving our tragic Russia we should be aiding them, for we could do much more for the country abroad than in Russia, work for a better understanding of the chasm between the Revolution and the régime and for the political victims in Soviet prisons and concentration camps. They were certain our voices would be heard in western Europe and America to good advantage, and they were glad we were leaving. They pretended a gay mood to cheer us at our farewell party.
Belo-Ostrov, January 19, 1920. O radiant dream, O burning faith! O Matushka Rossiya, reborn in the travail of the Revolution, purged by it from hate and strife, liberated for true humanity and embracing all. I will dedicate myself to you, O Russia!
In the train, December 1, 1921! My dreams crushed, my faith broken, my heart like a stone. Matushka Rossiya bleeding from a thousand wounds, her soil strewn with the dead.
I clutch the bar at the frozen window-pane and grit my teeth to suppress my sobs.
Go to Chapter 53
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