The text is from my copy of Alexander Berkman, The Bolshevik Myth, New York: Boni and Liveright, 1925. Page numbers are in the source code.
IN VARIOUS WALKS
By the aid of R---, the secretary of an important labor union, I have gathered much valuable material for the Expedition. R--- is a Menshevik who has in some unexplained manner escaped the recent "cleaning process." His known popularity among the workers, he believes, has saved him. "The Bolsheviki are keeping an eye on me, but they have left me alone so far," he said significantly.
Familiar with the city, its museums, libraries, and archives, R--- has been a great help in my quest for data and documents. Much that is valuable has been lost, and still more has been destroyed by the workers themselves, in the interests of their safety, at the time of German occupation and White Terror. But a considerable part of the labor archives has been preserved, sufficient to reconstruct the history of the heroic struggle of the unions since their inception and throughout the stormy days of revolution and civil war. All through the Mensheviki played the rôle of the intellectual leaders, with the Bolsheviki and Anarchists as the revolutionary inspiration of the workers.
The headquarters of the Labor Soviet have somehow become the depository of a strange documentary mixture. Police and gendarme records, the minutes of Duma sessions, and financial statistics have found their way there, only to be forgotten. By a curious chance the first Universal of Petlura, a rare document containing the original declaration of principles and aims by the Ukrainian national democracy, has been discovered by me in a neglected drawer. A Communist official claims it as his "personal possession," with which, however, he is willing to part for a consideration. In view of the large price demanded, the matter has now become a subject of correspondence with the Museum.
In Menshevik circles feeling against the Bolsheviki is very bitter. It is the general sentiment among them that the Communists, formerly Social Democrats, have betrayed Marx and discredited Socialism. "Asiatic revolutionists," R--- calls them. There is no difference between Trotsky and the hangman Stolypin, he asserts; their methods are identical. Indeed, there was more political life under Nicholas II than there is today. The Bolsheviki, alleged Marxists, think by decrees and terror to alter the immutable law of social evolution; to skip several steps at once, as it were, on the ladder of progress. The February Revolution was essentially bourgeois, but Lenin attempted to turn it by the violence of an insignificant minority into a social revolution. The complete debacle of all hopes is the result. The Communists, R--- believes, cannot last much longer. Russia is on the verge of utter economic collapse. The old food reserves are exhausted; production has almost ceased. Militarization of toil has failed. Trotsky's calculations of the progressive increase of the output on the "labor front" have been exploded like Bolshevik prophecies of world revolution. The factory is not a battlefield. Converting the country into a camp of forced labor is not conducive to creative effort. It has divided the people into slaves and slave drivers, and created a powerful class of Soviet bureaucrats. Most significant of all, it has turned even the more advanced workers against the Communists. Now the Bolsheviki can count neither on the peasant nor on the proletariat; the whole country is against them. But for the stupid policy of the Allies, they would have been swept away long ago. The blockade and invasions have played into their hands. The Bolsheviki need war to keep them in power; the present Polish campaign suits them splendidly. But it is the last Communist straw. It will break, and the bloody Bolshevik experiment will come to an end. "History will write them down as the arch-enemies of the Revolution," R--- concluded emphatically.
. . . . . .
Friday evening.---On the dining table at the home of Reb Zakhare, the old Zionist, burn three candles orthodoxically blessed by the house-wife. The whole family are gathered for the festive occasion. But the traditional soup and meat are absent: herring and kasha are being served, and small chunks of Khale, the Sabbath bread, now only partly of wheat. Besides the parents, two daughters and a son of eighteen are present. The oldest boy --- "Yankel was his name," Reb Zakhare says with a heavy sigh. "He'd now be twenty-three, his memory be blessed" --- was killed in the pogrom the Denikin men had made just before they finally evacuated the city. He sought to defend his sister --- the youngest, then only fifteen. Together they were visiting a friend in the Podol when the mob broke into the street, sacking every house, pillaging, and murdering.
The old lady sits in the corner crying quietly. The look of frozen terror, which I have seen often lately, is in the eyes of the girls. The young man steps over to his mother and gently speaks to her. True Zionists, the family converse in Old Hebrew, making an evident concession in addressing, me in Yiddish.
"At least you are free from pogroms under the Bolsheviki," I remark.
"In a certain sense," the old man assents; "but it is the Bolsheviki who are responsible for pogroms. Yes, yes, we had them under the Tsar also," he interrupts my protest, "but they were nothing like those we have had since. Hatred against us has increased. To the gentiles a Bolshevik now means a Jew; a commissar is a Zhid (opprobrious term for the Jew), and every Hebrew is held responsible for the murders of the Tcheka. I have lived all my life in the ghetto, and I have seen pogroms in the years past, but never such terrible things as since the, Bolsheviki got into Moscow."
"But they have made no pogroms," I insist.
"They also hate the Jew. We are always the victims. Under the Communists we have no violent mob pogroms; at least I have not heard of any. But we have the 'quiet pogroms,' the systematic destruction of all that is dearest to us --- of our traditions, customs, and culture. They are killing us as a nation. I don't know but what that is the worst pogrom," he adds bitterly.
After a while he takes up the subject again:
"Some foolish Jews are proud that our people are in the government, and that Trotsky is war minister. As if Trotsky and such others are Jews! What good is it all, I ask, when our nation must suffer as before, and more?"
"The Jews have been made the political and social equals of gentiles," I suggest.
"Equals in what? In misery and corruption. But even there we are not equal. The Jew has more to bear than the others. We are not fit for the factory --- we were always business men, traders, and now we have been ruined entirely. They have sown corruption in our youth who now think only of power; or to join the Tcheka for gain. That was never before. They are destroying the dream of Palestine, our true home; they are suppressing every effort to educate our children in the proper Jewish spirit."
. . . . . .
In the Kulturliga gather Hebrew writers, poets, and teachers, most of them members of the Volkspartei when that political party was represented in the Rada by its Minister of Jewish Affairs. Formerly the League was a powerful organization, with 230 branches throughout the South, doing cultural work among its co-religionists. The institution had much to suffer through the various political changes, the Bolsheviki were tolerant at first, and even financially aided its educational efforts. But gradually the help was withdrawn and obstacles began to be placed in the way of the League. The Communists frown upon the too nationalistic character of its work. The Yovkom, Jewish branch of the Party, is particularly antagonistic. The League's teachers and older pupils have been mobilized into State service, and the field of its efforts narrowed down. In the provinces most of its branches have been compelled to close entirely, but in Kiev the devotion and persistence of its leading spirits still enables the League to continue.
It is the sole oasis in the city of non-partisan intellectual and social life. Though now limited in its activities, it still enjoys great popularity among the Jewish youth. Its art classes, including drawing, painting and sculpture, are eagerly visited, and the theatrical studio is developing young actors and actresses of much promise. The rehearsals I attended, especially that of "The World's End," the posthumous work of an unknown dramatist, were unique in artistic conception and powerful in expression.
The younger elements that frequent the Kulturliga dream of Zion, and look to the aid of England in securing to the Jewish nation its traditional home. They are out of touch with the Western world and recent events, but their reliance on the hopes raised by the Jewish Congress is unshaken. Somehow, sometime, probably even in the not distant future, is to happen the great event and Jewry will be reëstablished in Palestine. In that ardent faith they drag on their existence from day to day, intellectually vegetating, physically in misery. Their former sources of support are abolished, the government having supplied them with a bread-card of the fourth category. The latter is the Bolshevik label of the bourzhooi, the intelligentsia now being denounced as such, though in reality the rich middle class has sought safety at the outbreak of the Revolution. Hatred of the bourgeoisie has been transferred to the intellectuals, official agitation cultivating and intensifying this spirit. They are represented as the enemies of the proletariat, traitors to the Revolution --- at best speculators, if not active counter-revolutionists. There is no stemming the fearful tide sweeping against them. Nor is it the spontaneous unfettering of popular sentiment. The flames are fanned by Moscow. Bolshevik agents from the center, sent as chiefs and "instructors," systematically rouse the basest instincts. Zinoviev himself severely upbraided the local Communists and his "brother proletarians" for leniency to the bourgeoisie. "They still walk your streets," he exclaimed at a public meeting "clad in the best finery, while you go about in rags. They live in the luxurious homes, while you grovel in cellars. You must not permit such things any longer."
Visits of Communist leaders are always followed by renewed "requisitions from the bourgeoisie." The method is simple. The house porter is instructed to compile a list of holders of cards of the fourth category. In most cases they are intellectual proletarians --- teachers, writers, scientists. But the possession of the fourth category card is their doom: they are legitimate victims of requisition. Clothing, underwear, household goods --- everything is confiscated as alleged izlishki (superfluities).
"The most tragic part of it," said C---, the well. known Yiddish writer, "is that the izlishki rarely reach their proletarian destination. We all know that the really valuable things confiscated get no further than the Tcheka, while the old and almost useless rags are sent to the unions, for distribution among the workers."
"Often one does not even know who is 'requisitioning,'" remarked a member of the League; "sometimes it is done by Tchekists on their own account."
"Is there no redress?" I asked; "does no one protest?"
C--- made a deprecating motion. "We have learned better," be replied, "from the fate of those who dared."
"You can't protest against Bolshevik 'revolutionary orders,' as they call it," said a young woman teacher. "I have tried it. It happened like this. One day, returning to my room, I found a stranger occupying it. On my demanding what he was doing there, he informed me that he had been assigned to it, showing me his document from the Housing Bureau. 'And what shall I do?' I asked. 'You can sleep on the floor,' he replied, stretching himself on my bed. I protested to the higher authorities, but they refused to consider the matter. 'The room is big enough for two,' they insisted, though that was not the case at all. 'But you put a strange man in my room,' I pleaded. 'You'll soon get acquainted,' they sneered, 'we make no distinction of sex.' I remained with some friends for a while, but they were so crowded I had to look for other quarters. For days I stood in line in the Housing Bureau, but it was impossible to get an order for a room. Meanwhile my chief threatened to report me for neglecting my work, because most of my time was spent in the Soviet offices. Finally I complained to the Rabkrin, which is supposed to protect proletarian interests. Their agent invited me to share his room, and I slapped his face. He had me arrested, and I was kept in the Tcheka two months for 'sabotage.'"
"It might have ended worse," some one commented.
"When you were released," I pursued, interested in the woman's story, "what did you do about your room?"
She smiled sadly. "I learned a lot while sitting in the Tcheka," she said. "When I was liberated, I sought out a member of the Housing Bureau. Fortunately I had saved a pair of fine French shoes, and I presented them to him. 'A little gift for your wife,' I told him, not much caring which one would get it, for he is known to have several. Within twenty-four hours I received a splendid large room, furnished in true bourgeois style."
. . . . . .
The sun has set, the streets are dark, the infrequent lights flicker dimly in the foggy air. Turning the corner of the Krestchatik, on my way to the Ispolkom, I find myself in the midst of an excited crowd, surrounded by soldiers and militia. It is an oblava looking for labor deserters. Men and women are detained within the military circle, to be taken to the station for examination. Only a Communist card secures immediate release. Arrest means detention for days, even weeks --- and I have an urgent appointment at Communist headquarters. But in vain I explain to the militsioneri that tovarishtch Vetoshkin is expecting me. Even the name of the powerful head of the Executive Committee does not impress them. The Committee of Labor and Defense is now supreme; its orders are to detain everyone for investigation regarding his employment. The arrested men and women plead, argue, and produce documents, but the soldiers remain stolid, commanding everyone to line up. I demand to see the officer in charge, but the militsioner remains at my side, ignoring my protests. Suddenly the crowd in front begins jostling and pushing: a fight has started on the Corner. My guard rushes forward and, taking advantage of the situation, I cross the street and step into the Ispolkom building.
Yetoshkin's secretary meets me on the stairs. Excusing my tardiness by the oblava incident, I suggest the desirability of better system and judgment in the organization of such matters. The Secretary expresses regret at the stupid and irresponsible manner of the raid, but "nitchevo ne podelayesh" (it can't be helped), he assures me with conviction.
The Communist banquet hall is flooded with light; the walls are decorated with red banners and inscriptions, and crimson bunting frames the large portraits of Lenin and Trotsky, with a small likeness of Lunatcharsky in a less conspicuous place. The long dining table is laden with a variety of fruit and wine, and a choice meal is served the guests invited to honor the French and Italian delegates visiting the city. Angelica Balabanova is presiding; at her side are Vetoshkin and other high Soviet officials of the city, with a large sprinkling of men in military uniform.
It is an official assembly of the Communist aristocracy, with Emma Goldman and myself as the only non-Bolsheviki present by special invitation of our mutual friend Angelica. Her motherly, simple personality seems out of place in this gathering. There is deep sadness in her look, a suggestion of disapproval of all the finery and "style" put on for the occasion. Her attention is engaged by the local men at her side, who exert themselves to please the important personage "from the center." Others are entertaining the foreign delegates, the French-speaking tovarishtchi having been placed as their neighbors. The wine is good and unstinted, the food delicious. By degrees the atmosphere loses its stiff formality, and a freer spirit descends upon the banquet table.
With coffee begin the speeches. The Russian proletariat, with the Communist Party as its advance guard, is extolled as the banner bearer of social revolution, and the firm conviction of the speedy breakdown of capitalism throughout the world is expressed. But for the cursed Allies starving the country and supporting armed counter-revolution, Russia --- it is claimed -- would be a workers' paradise with full liberty and welfare for all. The Mensheviki and the Social Revolutionists, traitors to the Revolution, have been silenced within the country, but abroad these lackeys of capitalism, the Kautskys, Lafargues, et al., still continue their poisonous work, maligning the Commmunists and defaming the Revolution. It is, therefore, doubly to be welcomed that the foreign delegates have come to Russia to acquaint themselves with the real situation, and that they are visiting the Ukraina where they can with their own eyes witness the great work the Communists have accomplished.
I glance at the delegates. They sit unmoved during the long speeches in the strange language, but even Angelica's masterful rendering into French, enriched by her personality and impassioned oratory, does not seem to impress them. I detect disappointment in their faces. Perhaps they had hoped for a less official, more intimate discussion of the revolutionary problems. They have undoubtedly heard of the numerous peasant uprisings and the punitive expeditions, the frequent strikes, the Makhno movement, and the general opposition to the Communists. But these matters have been carefully avoided by the speakers, who have sought to present a picture of a unified people coöperating in the "proletarian dictatorship" and enthusiastically supporting its "advance guard, the Communist Party."
Late at night, accompanying the foreign delegates to the railroad station, I have opportunity to learn their sentiments. "The observations we have made while in Russia and the material we have collected," one of them remarks, "entirely disprove Bolshevik claims. We feel it our duty to tell the whole truth to our people at home."
Next morning in the passage, where provisions are purchased to fill out the scanty pyock, I meet little knots of people lamenting and crying. Nothing is being sold: the little bakery and fruit stores were visited by the authorities the previous evening and all their goods requisitioned. Deep gloom hangs over the traders and their customers. With a sense of outrage they point to the large delicatessen stores on the Krestchatik which have not been molested. "They have protection," someone says indignantly.
"My God, my God!" a woman cries. "It's we poor people who gave that banquet to the delegates."
. . . . . .
She was introduced to me as Gallina --- a young woman in peasant dress, but of graceful figure, and with thoughtful blue eyes. "Gallina?" I wondered. "Yes, Makhno's wife."
Surprise and fear for her safety struggled with my admiration of her courage. Her presence in Kiev, in the very lair of the Tcheka, means certain death were she to be recognized. Yet she has braved imminent peril and great difficulties in crossing the front. She has business in the city for the povstantsi, she said; she has also brought a message from Nestor: he is very anxious to have Emma Goldman and myself visit him. He is not far from the city, and arrangements could be made to enable us to see him.
Her manner was reserved, almost shy; but she was very positive in her views, and her expression clear and definite. She looked so frail and alone, I was overwhelmingly conscious, of the great danger to which she was exposing herself. She gave me the feeling of a diminutive David rising up to smite Goliath.
"I'm not afraid," she said simply. "You know, I usually accompany Nestor, and he is always at the head of his men," she added with quiet pride.
She spoke with much warmth of Makhno's military ability, his great popularity among the peasantry, and the success of his campaigns against Denikin. But she s not uncritical, nor a blind hero-worshiper. On the contrary, she dwelt much more on the significance and purpose of the rebel peasant movement than on the rôle of its individual leaders. In the Makhnovstchina she sees the hope of Russia's liberation from the yoke of White generals, pomeshtchiki (landlords), and Bolshevik commissarship. The one is as hateful to her as the other, both equally subversive of liberty and the Revolution.
"I regard the povstantsi movement," she said, "as the only true proletarian revolution. Bolshevism is the mastery of the Communist Party, falsely called the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is very far from our conception of revolution. It is the rulership of a caste, of the socialist intelligentsia which has imposed its theories upon the toilers. Their aim is State Communism, with the workers and farmers of the whole country serving as employees of the one powerful government master. Its result is the most abject slavery, suppression, and revolt, as we see on every hand. But the people themselves --- the proletarians of city and country --- have an entirely different ideal, even though to a great extent only instinctive. They ignore all parties and are antagonistic to the political intellectuals; they distrust the non-working, privileged elements. Our aim is the class organization of the revolutionary toiling masses. That is the sense of the great Ukrainian movement, and its best expression is to be found in the Makhnovstchina. Without the help of government or political parties the peasants drove away the landlords; by their own efforts they secured the land. Their military units have successfully fought every counter-revolutionary force. The Bolsheviki with their Red Army usually came into the already freed district, there to impose their mastery upon city and country, and proclaim their dictatorship. Is it any wonder the people hate them and fight them as bitterly as the Whites?"
She is a typical specimen of the rebel Ukrainian, of the type molded in the crucible of hard revolutionary life. All night we talked of the burning problems of the South, of the needs of the peasantry, and the activities of the povstantsi, whose beloved and almost venerated leader is bat'ka* Makhno, the Stenka Razin of the Revolution.
She related stories of the great devotion of the peasantry to Nestor and told interesting anecdotes of his campaigns. Once, when Makhno with a small company found himself surrounded by a large Bolshevik force, he caused a marriage to be performed in the village occupied by the enemy. Makhno's men in borrowed holiday attire attended the celebration, their famous "sawed off" guns hidden upon their bodies. In the midst of the carousal, the Red soldiers the worse for the liquor freely supplied by the villagers, the pretended holiday makers opened fire, taking the Bolshevik garrison by surprise and putting them to flight.
The very mention of Makhno's name, Gallina said, brings terror to the enemy and frequently whole companies of the Red Army join his forces. Commissars and Communists --- identical terms to the povstantsi --- find no mercy, but the common soldier is always given the choice of remaining with him or going free.
"That was the case also," she continued in her melodious voice, "with Grigoriev's army. You have heard of him, haven't you, comrade? He was an officer of the Tsar, but at the outbreak of the Revolution he became a free lance. At one time he was with Petlura, then he fought him, and later he joined the Red Army. He was just a military adventurer, though not without some ability. He was very vain, loving to style himself the Ataman of Khersonstchina, because his greatest successes were in that province. Later he turned against the Bolsheviki and invited Makhno to make common cause with him. But Nestor found out that Grigoriev was planning to join Denikin; besides, he was guilty of many pogroms. The slaughter of Jews he organized in Yekaterinoslav in May of last year (1919) was especially atrocious. Makhno decided to eliminate him. He called a meeting, to which the Ataman and his men were invited. It was a large gathering at which 20,000 peasants and povstantsi were present.** Nestor publicly accused Grigoriev of counter-revolutionary designs, charged him with pogroms and denounced him as an enemy of the people. The Ataman and his staff were executed on the spot. Almost his whole force joined our povstantsi."
Gallina spoke of executions in an even, ordinary tone, as of matters of common occurrence. Life in the Ukraina, among the rebel peasantry, had made constant struggle and violence the habitual tenor of her existence. Occasionally she would slightly raise her voice in indignation when reports of Jew baiting by povstantsi were mentioned. She felt deeply outraged by such base misrepresentation. These stories were deliberately spread by the Bolsheviki, she averred. No one could be more severe in punishing such excesses than Nestor. Some of his best comrades are Jews; there are a number Of them in the Revolutionary Soviet and in other branches of the army. Few men are so loved and respected by the povstantsi as Yossif, the Emigrant, who is a Jew, and Makhno's best friend.
"We are not such barbarians as we are painted," she said with a charming smile. "But you will learn more about us when you visit us, which will not be far off, I hope."
She listened wistfully to the news from the Western world, and plied me with questions about life in America and the attitude of its workers to, Russia. The rôle of women on the "other side" was of intense interest to her, and she was eager to procure books dealing at length with the subject. She looked dejected on learning that almost nothing was known in the States about the Ukrainian peasant movement, but she recovered quickly, remarking: "Naturally, for we are so isolated. But some day they will know."
The night had turned to dawn, and all too quickly the morning was breaking. It was high time for Gallina to be on her way. Regretfully she left us, expressing her confidence in our speedy meeting in the camp of Makhno. In complete self-possession she stepped out of the house, while with bated breath we accompanied her at a distance, fearful lest a chance identification result fatally for the daring girl.
**Took place in the village of Sentovo, Kherson province, July 27, 1919.
Go to Chapter 31
Return to Chapter 29
Go to Table of Contents
This page has been accessed by visitors outside of Pitzer College times since January 23, 2001.