Berkman, Alexander (1912) Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, Mother Earth Press.
On the Homestretch,
Sub Rosa April 15, 1905.
My Dear Girl:
The last spring is here, and a song is in my heart. Only three more months, and I shall have settled accounts with Father Penn. There is the year in the workhouse, of course, and that prison, I am told, is even a worse hell than this one. But I feel strong with the suffering that is past, and perhaps even more so with the wonderful jewel I have found. The man I mentioned in former letters has proved a most beautiful soul and sincere friend. In every possible way he has been trying to make my existence more endurable. With what little he may, he says, he wants to make amends for the injustice and brutality of society. He is a Socialist, with a broad outlook upon life. Our lengthy discussions (per notes) afford me many moments of pleasure and joy.
It is chiefly to his exertions that I shall owe my commutation time. The sentiment of the Inspectors was not favorable. I believe it was intended to deprive me of two years' good time. Think what it would mean to us! But my friend -- my dear Chum, as I affectionately call him has quietly but persistently been at work, with the result that the Inspectors have "seen the light." It is now definite that I shall be released in July. The date is still uncertain. I can barely realize that I am soon to leave this place. The anxiety and restlessness of the last month would be almost unbearable, but for the soothing presence of my devoted friend. I hope some day you will meet him, -- perhaps even soon, for he is not of the quality that can long remain a helpless witness of the torture of men. He wants to work in the broader field, where he may join hands with those who strive to reconstruct the conditions that are bulwarked with prison bars.
But while necessity forces him to remain here, his character is in evidence. He devotes his time and means to lightening the burden of the prisoners. His generous interest kept my sick friend Harry alive, in the hope of a pardon. You will be saddened to hear that the Board refused to release him, on the ground that he was not "sufficiently ill." The poor boy, who had never been out of sight of a guard since he was a child of ten, died a week after the pardon was refused. But though my Chum could not give freedom to Harry, he was instrumental in saving another young life from the hands of the hangman. It was the case of young Paul, typical of prison as the nursery of crime. The youth was forced to work alongside of a man who persecuted and abused him because he resented improper advances. Repeatedly Paul begged the Warden to transfer him to another department but his appeals were ignored. The two prisoners worked in the bakery. Early one morning, left alone, the man attempted to violate the boy. In the struggle that followed the former was killed. The prison management was determined to hang the lad, "in the interests of discipline." The officers openly avowed they would "fix his clock." Permission for a collection to engage an attorney for Paul, was refused. Prisoners who spoke in his behalf were severely punished; the boy was completely isolated preparatory to his trial. He stood absolutely helpless, alone. But the dear Chum came to the rescue of Paul. The work had to be done secretly, and it was a most difficult task to secure witnesses for the defense among the prisoners terrorized by the guards. But Chum threw himself into the work with heart and soul. Day and night he labored to give the boy a chance for his life. He almost broke down before the ordeal was over. But the boy was saved; the jury acquitted him on the ground of self-defense.
The proximity of release, if only to change cells, is nerve-racking in the extreme. But even the mere change will be a relief. Meanwhile my faithful friend does everything in his power to help me bear the strain. Besides ministering to my physical comforts, he generously supplies me with books and publications. It helps to while away the leaden-heeled days, and keeps me abreast of the world's work. The Chum is enthusiastic over the growing strength of Socialism, and we often discuss the subject with much vigor. It appears to me, however, that the Socialist anxiety for success is by degrees perverting essential principles. It is with much sorrow I have learned that political activity, formerly viewed merely as a means of spreading Socialist ideas, has gradually become an end in itself. Straining for political power weakens the fibers of character and ideals. Daily contact with authority has strengthened my conviction that control of the governmental power is an illusory remedy for social evils. Inevitable consequences of false conceptions are not to be legislated out of existence. It is not merely the conditions, but the fundamental ideas of present civilization, that are to be transvalued, to give place to new social and individual relations. The emancipation of labor is the necessary first step along the road of a regenerated humanity; but even that can be accomplished only through the awakened consciousness of the toilers, acting on their own initiative and strength.
On these and other points Chum differs with me, but his intense friendship knows no intellectual distinctions. He is to visit you during his August vacation. I know you will make him feel my gratitude, for I can never repay his boundless devotion.
It seemed as if all aspiration and hope suddenly went out of my life when you disappeared so mysteriously. I was tormented by the fear of some disaster. Your return has filled me with joy, and I am happy to know that you heard and responded unhesitatingly to the call of a sacred cause.
I greatly envy your activity in the P. circle. The revolution in Russia has stirred me to the very depths. The giant is awakening, the mute giant that has suffered so patiently, voicing his misery and agony only in the anguish-laden song and on the pages of his Gorkys.
Dear friend, you remember our discussion regarding Plehve. I may have been in error when I expressed the view that the execution of the monster, encouraging sign of individual revolutionary activity as it was, could not be regarded as a manifestation of social awakening. But the present uprising undoubtedly points to widespread rebellion permeating Russian life. Yet it would probably be too optimistic to hope for a very radical change. I have been absent from my native land for many years; but in my youth I was close to the life and thought of the peasant. Large, heavy bodies move slowly. The proletariat of the cities has surely become impregnated with revolutionary ideas, but the vital element of Russia is the agrarian population. I fear, moreover, that the dominant reaction is still very strong, though it has no doubt been somewhat weakened by the discontent manifesting in the army and, especially, in the navy. With all my heart I hope that the revolution will be successful Perhaps a constitution is the most we can expect. But whatever the result, the bare fact of a revolution in longsuffering Russia is a tremendous inspiration. I should be the happiest of men to join in the glorious struggle.
Long live the Revolution!
Thanks for your kind offer. But I am absolutely opposed to having any steps taken to eliminate the workhouse sentence. I have served these many years and l shall survive one more. I will ask no favors of the enemy. They will even twist their own law to deprive me of five months' good time, to which I am entitled on the last year. I understand that I shall be allowed only two months off on the preposterous ground that the workhouse term constitutes the first year of a new sentence! But I do not wish you to trouble about the matter. You have more important work to do. Give all your energies to the good cause. Prepare the field for the mission of Tchaikovsky and Babushka, and I shall be with you in spirit when you embrace our brave comrades of the Russian Revolution, whose dear names were a hallowed treasure of my youth.
May success reward the efforts of our brothers in Russia.
Just got word from the Deputy that my papers are signed. I didn't wish to cause you anxiety, but I was apprehensive of some hitch. But it's positive and settled now, I go out on the 19th. Just one more week! This is the happiest day in thirteen years. Shake, Comrade.
My hand trembles as I write this last good-bye. I'll be gone in an hour. My heart is too full for words. Please send enclosed notes to my friends, and embrace them all as I embrace you now. I shall live in the hope of meeting you all next year. Good-bye, dear, devoted friend.
With my whole heart,
Your Comrade and Chum.
It's Wednesday morning, the 19th, at last!
Geh stiller meines Herzens Schlag
Und schliesst euch aIle meine alten Wunden,
Denn dieses ist mein letzter Tag
Und dies sind seine letzten Stunden.
My last thoughts within these walls are of you, my dear, dear Sonya, the Immutable!