Twenty Years in Underground Russia: Memoirs of a Rank-and-File Bolshevik
ON this occasion I found it much easier to cross the frontier. Our work on the frontier was excellently organized and there were always some of our people on hand. Contacts with the smugglers were arranged to the last detail. There was even a fixed price for smuggling people across--ten rubles per head. This was at the Prussian frontier at which the work was supervised by Victor Kopp. There I became acquainted with Zemlyachka who was at the frontier town awaiting her turn to be shipped across. I had to deal with three smugglers of three different nationalities, a Jew, a Pole and a German. The distance from the town where I stayed to the frontier was twenty-five versts which we travelled by horse and cart. We rode very slowly; every now and then we would stop to steal hay. But when I protested that we would be caught because of that worthless hay, Itsik, the Jewish driver, answered, "Don't worry, miss, I have been driving this route for many years; I always take a little hay for the horse, and I have never been caught at it".
We came to the inn at which we were to halt late at night. The inn belonged to Itsik. After knocking loudly the door was opened by Itsik's sleepy wife and I was admitted into a stuffy, dirty room a good third of which was occupied by a big bed piled high with pillows and feather mattresses. The whole family slept on that bed. Besides the bed, there was a large table in the centre of the room, and narrow benches along the wall. Itsik's wife reached into the hot oven, pulled out a huge earthen pitcher and poured Itsik and me a glass of weak tea. But before offering me the tea she consulted with Itsik in Yiddish as to whether it was worth while feeding me. The question was decided in my favour. Of course, I pretended not to understand a word of Yiddish. I had with me a forged Russian passport representing me as the daughter of a government official, so I had to pretend that I was a pure-bred Russian. That very night we went on foot to the village where I was to meet the second smuggler, a Polish peasant named Tomash.
Tomash lived in even more beggarly conditions than Itsik. His hut was incredibly low and dirty. On a heap of rags in one corner of the room slept the entire Tomash family, and in another corner slept a calf. Tomash himself, haggard, ragged and dirty, kept running in and out, whispering to someone in another room. Generally, he seemed nervous and confused. This disquietude communicated itself to me. Afterwards I learned from comrades who frequently had dealings with smugglers that this air of nervousness was deliberately assumed by them in order to impress the inexperienced traveller with the difficulties of the task of getting people across the border and to wheedle a few extra rubles out of them for their work. Day began to break. Tomash took my small valise. He told me to take off my hat, wrap myself up in a shawl, and pretend to be an old woman who was crossing the frontier for some reason or other, while he would pretend to be helping me, the "old woman", across out of pity. All this, he said, had to be done for the benefit of the soldier who was guarding the frontier, otherwise the latter would ask too much for allowing me to pass. I submissively did as I was told and got across safely.
We reached a German village where everything was in striking contrast to the wretched Polish-Russian side. The home of the German peasant exuded contentment. The cottage was roomy, clean--and everyone in the household, from the master, his son and daughter, to the splendid horse which drove us to the station, seemed to be plump and well fed. I was offered a breakfast which consisted of eggs, butter, coffee with cream and delicious hot buns--all for a remarkably reasonable price. Upon learning that I could speak German, my hosts eagerly entered into conversation with me. They offered me loads of advice about how to carry myself at the station so as not to attract the attention of the German gendarmes. I was taken to the station where my German friend exchanged my Russian money for German and returned home. For some time after the train had started, I continued to look toward the door of the compartment suspiciously to see if any one was coming for me. Gradually it dawned upon me that there was nothing more to fear.
It seemed as if a load had been lifted from my shoulders. My spirits were unusually high all the way to Berlin. My destination, as always, was Zurich and the Axelrod home. On the very first day of my arrival, Axelrod's wife informed me that Paul Borisovich had left for Geneva and that there was a terrible wrangle in our Party between two factions--the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks with Lenin at their head, she said, were pursuing a "scandalous" splitting policy not only abroad, but even in Russia.
The principal cause of the dispute was the interpretation of Clause I of the rules of the Party, which defined who was eligible for membership in the Party. One side wished to define it as one who accepted the Party program and does active work in one of the Party organizations. The other side wished to define it as one who accepted the program and occasionally rendered some services to the Party. It seemed to me that the side which wanted only those who would work actively in the Party to be members of the Party were right. Having worked in Russia I knew well enough how alien to us were those who occasionally, whenever it struck their fancy, offered us their help. That is why I could not understand why the Leninists were being blamed so much.
Of my old acquaintances I found all the Kiev fugitives in Geneva. They were no longer an intimate and closely knit unit. Within the group, as within the Party itself, a split had occurred. One section of the Kievites, represented by Victor Krokhmal, Marian Gursky, Joseph Basovsky, Blumenfeld and Maltsman, was with Martov on the Menshevik side; Litvinov, Pyatnitsky, Nicholai Bauman and my husband, Vladimir Bobrovsky, were already determined Boisheviks and sided with Lenin. Levik Halperin, if I remember rightly, occupied some sort of an intermediate position. Here I met my Kostroma friend, Makar, who seemed very confused and unhappy. By natural inclination he gravitated towards the Bolsheviks, but Martov and principally Dan (who never let Martov go from his side for fear that the latter would show insufficient energy in badgering the Bolsheviks), took a firm grip on poor Makar who represented to them the essence of the Russian proletariat and kept driving their Menshevik doctrines into his head. I was in no better position. All my sympathies were with the Bolsheviks. But Martov, with whom I was acquainted in Kharkov, inevitably accompanied by Dan, visited me several times at my pension "Fourne" on the Plenpallee. I was placed there to recuperate, because I was very run down when I first arrived. Martov stormed and raged when I expressed my point of view as a local Party worker in opposition to the Menshevik position on the Party rules. Matters came to such a pass that one fine day I was called into the office of the pension and discreetly informed that if my Russian friends did not cease to come and create bedlam, I would be obliged to leave the place. I cannot now recall any of the verbose speeches delivered by Martov and Dan, but their arguments invariably ended in a sharp criticism of Lenin, who, according to them, was creating Bonapartism in the Party, and leading the confiding Russian Party workers by the nose.
Nevertheless, our Russian rank and file workers felt that the place of a real revolutionary was on the side of Lenin and not on the side of Martov.
One day Axelrod came to visit me. Having heard that I was ill, and as Rosa (Plekhanov's wife and a well-known doctor in Geneva) who treated me declared that besides good nourishment I needed absolute rest, he told me in a fatherly way that he would not talk to me about the split. From Martov he had heard that I inclined towards the Bolsheviks, and for that reason he "could not but deplore the fact that I had enlisted with the Leninist 'rams'. The last remark was hardly fair considering that he had just promised not to discuss the split. It is not an easy thing to feel that you are becoming estranged from your best friend and teacher who had often called you his own daughter. What he said agitated me. However, without sparing Axelrod's feelings I answered, "Evidently the Bolshevik position is more convincing seeing that I, who have never seen Lenin, enlist with his 'rams', in spite of the fact that the Menshevik doctrines are heatedly defended by the leaders, Martov and Dan". That was the last time I met Axelrod.
After Axelrod's visit I began to be less envious of those fortunate comrades who had joined one faction or another as, for example, my husband, Bobrovsky, his friend Bauman, Vallakh and other Bolshevik Kiev fugitives. I too felt that I was beginning to make up my mind. Martov's and Dan's visits naturally ceased. I planned that as soon as I recuperated and felt strong enough to leave my room, I would go to Lenin and... enlist with his "rams". Makar, who visited me every day, also began to gravitate more and more towards the Bolsheviks. Gradually he freed himself from Dan's charms and, after deciding for the Bolsheviks, become more cheerful. And from force of habit he continued to tease me saying that it was the second time I was present at his imminent destruction--the first time in Kostroma when he almost died of a hemorrhage, and now in Geneva where he had almost perished politically, where he had been on the brink of becoming a Menshevik.
Although I had never met Lenin personally, I felt as if I knew him well. His deep ideological influence on the entire structure of our daily work in Russia was always felt, particularly after the founding of Iskra. So clear was his image in my mind that I immediately recognized him when I first saw him at a rather large Bolshevik meeting. I do not remember now whether he spoke on the agrarian question or on some other Party problem. Standing high above the rest, he still seemed to remain an equal, a pleasant and simple comrade. When Vladimir Ilyich came down from the platform after his brilliant speech, he immediately became one of our crowd. Knowing that I had recently come from Russia and that I had worked on the Tver Committee, he showered questions upon me about my work and the condition in which I had left the Tver organization. All I could say was that before my departure we were very poorly informed about general Party problems in Tver. No literature dealing with the split had reached us, nevertheless I was convinced that the Tver organization would turn Bolshevik. I admitted that this was my first Bolshevik meeting and that I had come to enlist with the Leninist "rams". Vladimir Ilyich laughed heartily at this and insisted that I describe Axelrod's visit in detail. He called Nadezhda Constantinovna and laughingly repeated the story about the "Leninist rams" which apparently had pleased him immensely. But Krupskaya only smiled in reply, for I believe she never laughed aloud at anything. There and then I was invited to visit them.
Several comrades and I went at the first opportunity to Secherone, a small suburb of Geneva where Lenin, his wife and her mother, Elizaveta Krupskaya, rented a small summer home. It was a two story house; a creaking staircase led up to the second floor. The largest room in the whole place was the kitchen with its large gas range. Ilyich received his guests in this kitchen when there were too many of us to crowd into the "parlour" There were other rooms upstairs--Lenin's study, the entire furniture of which consisted of an iron bed, a few chairs, a large white table loaded with manuscripts, papers, and books, and white, homemade shelves closely packed with books. Nadezhda Constantinovna's room was about as comfortable as Lenin's. In general, the whole house was very striking because when one rented a room in Geneva, even of the cheapest, it was comfortably furnished with a good bed, handsome writing desk, divan, bureau, and so forth.
The household duties were performed by Elizaveta Krupskaya, so that Nadezhda Constantinovna was freed from domestic cares and was able to devote all her time to her work. She not only helped Lenin in his scientific work, but also established strong links with Russia by corresponding with the various local organizations. At the time of which I am writing, this correspondence in code assumed such proportions that nowadays it would need a whole department with a manager and clerks. Nadezhda Constantinovna would sit for days at a time bent over this tedious work which was so indispensable for the Party.
We were all so drawn towards Vladimir Ilyich, that at one period his house was crowded with people every day in the week. Then it dawned upon us that it was not in the best interests of the Party to continually disturb him. We then agreed upon a special visiting day, once a week--either a Tuesday or a Thursday, I cannot recall which. The witty Makar christened these Tuesdays or Thursdays "Ilyich's at-homes on the stove," since we all gathered in the kitchen.
Of course, there was never a definite number of visitors during these evenings. Every day brought new comrades to Geneva and sent old comrades for work in Russia. In general, our contact with Russia was very close.
More pleasant and interesting than the "at-homes" were the meetings and talks with Lenin during some spare moment when one could drop in for a chat or even a hearty laugh. Lenin loved to laugh heartily.
If, sometimes, you called during the day, the first one you would meet downstairs would be Mother Krupskaya going about her household duties. Upon your asking if it were all right to go upstairs she would invariably reply, "Go ahead, go ahead. Drag them out of their dens. Vladimir Ilyich cannot tear himself away from his books, and Nadya has grown fast to her chair sitting over those letters. Call them down to dinner, and stay for a meal yourself. I've cooked a potful of soup--Vladimir Ilyich likes plenty of it".
How good it was to go up those pleasantly creaking stairs and see from a distance Lenin's bald head bent over a heap of papers! Ilyich--dressed in an unbelted blue cotton Russian blouse. How welcoming Nadezhda Constantinovna's smile as she warmly pressed your hand. How infectiously Lenin laughed, not a bit angry with you for having disturbed him at his work. What brilliant sparks of wit he let fly about the Mensheviks! How easily and freely one breathed while with him!
One evening I shall never forget. I had been listening to Lenin with absorbed interest and did not notice how late it was getting. I missed the last tram and was afraid to return home alone so late at night. Vladimir Ilyich volunteered to accompany me saying that he needed a bit of fresh air anyway.
Taking the opportunity of being alone with Lenin, I began shyly to ask him questions about certain doubts which had been troubling me for some time concerning my life as a professional revolutionary. I was aware of the tremendous importance Lenin attached to the organization of professional revolutionaries and I knew what hopes and expectations he placed upon them; and it seemed to me that only those comrades had a right to call themselves professionals who were particularly gifted, who had a wide political outlook, great oratorical and agitational talents as well as deep theoretical knowledge. If the professionals were factory workers, I argued to myself, they should be gifted with a special kind of proletarian instinct which would compensate for their lack of theoretical knowledge. Having none of these qualities, I was tortured by the thought that I was not fit for the high calling of professional revolutionary. All these doubts I put before Lenin. Vladimir Ilyich listened to me attentively. Then he began to explain to me what the structure of our Party should be like and he grew quite excited as he spoke of the role the professional revolutionary played in that structure. The professional revolutionary, he said, first of all, had to be utterly devoted to the Party and the workers' cause--his personal life and his Party life had to be one. The organization of revolutionaries could not be restricted into a narrow circle of leaders; tireless, devoted rank and file workers, who were in constant contact with the masses, were indispensable. They were the ones who were laying the foundations of the Party, brick by brick, and without their help no leader could accomplish anything.
I was so absorbed in what Lenin was saying that I did not notice that we had reached the main entrance of the house where Bobrovsky and I lived. I could not realize that our conversation had to end I stopped irresolutely and was about to ask Ilyich to come up to our apartment, but I knew that everyone was sleeping and that the commotion caused by our entrance would interrupt the conversation, anyway. Ilyich paused for a moment then turned around, and we resolutely walked back in the direction of the Secherone suburbs, continuing our talk. When we reached his home Lenin began to laugh and declared that we must put an end to escorting, but since he was entirely to blame for becoming so absorbed in the conversation, he felt it his duty to take me home once more, but this time for good.
When we parted, Lenin slyly, very slyly, remarked: "One must have a little more confidence in one's abilities, that is not at all bad for the work, not bad at all." I often recalled these words afterwards in moments of weakness.
Nevertheless, all these inroads on Lenin's time bothered my conscience. But it was difficult to resist temptation. Lenin himself would encourage these incursions by coming to my house with Nadezhda Constantinovna and inviting me to theirs. Besides, Makar, whose love for Lenin bordered on hero worship, would often come and coax me to go "to Ilyich for a chat." When I declined and tried to persuade him not to go since it was a shame to take up so much of Lenin's time, Makar would try to convince me that we were extremely useful to Lenin because we "breathed of Russia," something which was lacking abroad. I cannot say how much truth there was in Makar's statement that we "breathed of Russia," still I knew that Lenin liked to meet the comrades who did not intend to remain long abroad and were anxious to return to Russia for practical work.
I stayed in Geneva for a few months. During that time many comrades left, among them many of the Kievites. Physically, I had not improved in the least, my health was still very poor. I could not think of going to work in Russia while I was in such a state. It would mean my becoming a burden to whichever organization I was sent to. But I found it equally hard to take part in the life of the Russian colony in Geneva. All that which continued to seethe in our Geneva Bolshevik circles somehow did not absorb me. Reading and theoretical studies left me unmoved. I wanted to be doing practical work, but outside of Russia there was nothing for me to do. I was seized with a terrible melancholy which impelled me to move to Berlin, where there was still something to be learned from the German Social-Democratic Party. Even if the workers' movement in Geneva had been of interest it could not possibly have been so for me, as I did not speak a word of French.
Berlin captivated me from the very first day. I attended the meetings at which Bebel spoke with particular interest. What astonished me in Bebel was his extraordinary power to draw out young and fresh forces of the Party. This was felt every time he addressed a meeting and in his reply to the points raised by some of the young comrades who had participated in the discussion following the speech. Bebel had a knack of destroying all the objections raised by a young comrade without humiliating the comrade himself. In the softest, simplest and friendliest manner he would explain the correct view of a question to his opponent, regardless of the latter's youth or the naivete of his protests and encourage him to take part in the future discussions.
Bebel's moral authority and influence on both the German proletariat and Party members was so great that there was always an air of solemnity at the meetings he addressed.
I heard Bebel speak at the May First meeting 1904, held in the largest public hall that was accessible to the Berlin workers, but even then the hall could not hold all who wished to attend. There was a larger crowd in the street than in the hall, and the burly German Schutzleute drove back the crowd that was trying to get into the hall to get a glimpse of Bebel. After his speech, old man Bebel quietly passed through the side door, put on his shabby cape that was so familiar to every Berlin worker, got on his bicycle and rode away.
I heard Clara Zetkin, then a young woman without a single grey hair on her head, mostly at woman's meetings. Her public appearances were no less striking than those of Bebel. Incidentally, she very often referred to Russia in her speeches, and when Plehve, the tyrannical tsarist Minister for the Interior was assassinated, she delivered a series of lectures on Russia in all the districts of Berlin, entitled "The Cossack Policy".
The Russian colony in Berlin was rather big. It was divided into Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and several intermediate groups. The Bolshevik leader about whom all the Bolsheviks were grouped was a delegate from the centre, Martin Mendelstamm (Lyadov). Pyatnitsky was in charge of all the illegal transportation arrangements in Berlin. He lived in Berlin on a German passport and called himself Freitag, which in German means Friday, hence his Russian pseudonym Pyatnitsky. A Berlin university student, Jacob Zhitomirsky, also helped in these affairs. Later he turned out to be a provocateur.
The Prussian police kept a watchful eye on our company. I was once called to police headquarters where they wanted to know if I really was the daughter of the Ural manufacturer, Kharitonov (I was registered in Berlin as such), and why it was that I lived in such a cheap room, was so undernourished, and dressed so shabbily. I expressed surprise at these questions, thanked them for their concern for my welfare and explained that my father and I did not get on well together, that we often quarrelled, and because of these differences he sent me little money which did not permit me to live in greater affluence. My answer seemed to satisfy them. At any rate I was never called upon to give any further explanations about myself. Although I was longing to go back to Russia to do active Party work, it was easier for me to live in Berlin than in Geneva because of my deep interest in the German workers' movement.
But Makar, who had also fled to Berlin to escape the boredom of Geneva, became still gloomier. He did not know a word of German. "It was not such a tragedy if I didn't understand French in Geneva," he would say, "there was nothing to hear anyway. But here everything is so interesting, and I cannot understand a word!" Makar did not waste time in Berlin very long. He went to Moscow to carry on underground work. His lungs were far from well. The only thing that could cure him was a sanatorium in the south of Italy or France, but our Party had not sufficient funds for that.
When I finally began to feel a little better (my prolonged idleness helped me recuperate even though I did not have the proper nourishment), I asked to be sent to Russia. This was in the summer of 1904. It was suggested that I go to the Caucasus and be at the disposal of the Union Council, as our regional Caucasian Party organization which united Tiflis, Baku, Batum, etc., was called. The Union Council had its headquarters in Tiflis. It was arranged beforehand that I work in Baku where Party workers were very much needed at that time.
My return across the frontier was accomplished without any difficulty, because a student whom I knew in Berlin provided me with a real foreign passport. The arrangement was that as soon as she learned that I had crossed the frontier safely she was to inform the Prussian police that she had lost her passport.