Twenty Years in Underground Russia: Memoirs of a Rank-and-File Bolshevik
I WENT to Kostroma a little before the first of May and learned that the organization had great difficulty in issuing literature for May First. They were trying to establish a secret printshop and suggested that I take up the matter.
After consultation with Sonia Zagina, an old friend of mine who knew everything to the last detail concerning illegal printshops, I realized that we could not possibly do anything big in the way. of a permanent printshop in the short time at our disposal, but that we would have to make a "makeshift" arrangement for printing our May First leaflets. Later, when we were not so rushed, we could arrange something more permanent.
That was the gist of my suggestion, and it was approved by the Kostroma Committee on which I was at first co-opted and later, at the first District Conference, elected. I was also appointed secretary of the committee and organizer of the city district.
The Kostroma organization possessed parts of a printing machine which were kept in hiding by a certain Goritsky, who had influence with many petty officials and petty bourgeois.
Once, owing to lack of secret quarters in Moscow, a regional conference was to be held in Kostroma, I turned for aid to "Conspirator," as Goritsky was called, and he replied very simply, "I must get in touch with the Roman Catholic priest, perhaps he will lend us the church."
The regional conference was postponed for some reason, so that the opportunity of anticipating the Fifth Party Congress, which was held a year later in a London church, and of holding such a godless conference in so holy a place as a Catholic church, was unfortunately lost.
The "Conspirator" took the type and printing machine parts from their hiding place and installed them in the attic of Parisky's apartment on Pyatnitskaya Street. Paper, ink, and other necessities were also unearthed. The leaflet was written either by Stopani or Kvitkin, I forget which, Sonia Zagina saw to the printing and was assisted by a comrade named Victor, who left us shortly afterwards. The work went on all day and all night. Sonia was on her feet from Tuesday until Friday, during which time several thousand leaflets were printed. On Friday Sonia's feet began to swell, she could no longer stand and work, but none of us could replace her completely because we did not know the printing business.
Apart from the weariness of our chief worker, we had to stop the whole business because we were beginning to attract the attention of our landlady's brother who was a member of the Black Hundred. Furthermore, in the adjacent apartment in the same house there lived a group of Socialist-Revolutionaries who had arms hidden in their rooms. This increased the risk of a police raid.
This compelled us hastily to pack up our printing machine. Sonia took it upon herself to get it out of the room. She was assisted by a member of the committee, Konstantin (Mikhayev). They loaded themselves with the machine parts and type and hired an izvoshchik. When they got into the carriage, the springs gave way under the weight, especially on Konstantin's side. Nevertheless, they carried the burden to Aparina who took the printshop material to the factory settlement, Rodniki, for safe keeping.
In spite of all the difficulties, however, our May First leaflet was prepared and distributed on time.
The Kostroma organization, like our Party in general, carried on an extremely complex combination of legal and illegal work. At that time we had to scheme and plan to make full use of all the remaining legal possibilities and also to develop our work deeper and deeper underground.
For example, at the beginning of the summer we still had our legal paper, the Kostromsky Listok. Nevertheless, we could not do without issuing leaflets and manifestoes. Although we had our own book store on Rusina Street where we openly sold pamphlets published in 1905, we had at the same time to create an underground distributing system for our manifestoes and leaflets.
So it was with our meetings. We used to organize open meetings in the factory districts on the vacant lots behind the Zatov factory. Occasionally a squad of Cossacks would be stationed not far from these meetings. At that time they kept at a respectful distance. Still, none of us was quite certain that they might not come at any moment and make use of their whips with which we were already familiar, Besides our own meetings in the factory district we had to participate actively in those which other parties called in the Hall of the Nobility. We had to pay particular attention to the Constitutional-Democrats, who after the dissolution of the first State Duma, pretended to be great revolutionaries. They boasted a great deal about the Vyborg Manifesto and seemed to be cocksure of victory in the elections to the Second State Duma.
While taking advantage of every opportunity to speak in public, we nevertheless arranged secret meetings in the Posadsky forest where we, naturally, could speak more openly than in the presence of the prancing Cossacks near the Zatov factory or of the police official in the Hall of the Nobility.
The Kostroma Committee and the district and factory committees, were absolutely secret organizations. Our propagandist circles, which resembled our present-day Marxist-Leninist circles, to which the Party devoted a great deal of attention even at that time were also held in strict secrecy.
The group of comrades who worked in the various trade unions also carried on their work secretly although there was nothing definite in the form of a Bolshevik fraction in the unions as yet. The biggest and most influential union--the textile workers' union--was completely in our hands; the chairman, Alexander Gussev, and vice-chairman, old man Simonovsky, were members of the Kostroma Committee. Another member of the committee, Konstantin, spoke at all the general meetings of the union and pursued our Bolshevik line. The textile union was the stronghold which enabled us to come in contact with large masses of textile workers--which comprised the great bulk of the Kostroma proletariat--and to exercise our influence upon them. Sometimes we managed to hold our committee meetings on the sly, at the union headquarters but more often we would meet in the back room of a book store. This was a convenient arrangement because one could enter the store as if to buy literature and then quietly slip into the back rooms. I attached particular value to this feature of our store because, first of all, as secretary, it was my duty to provide a meeting place, and secondly, r was frequently obliged to live there myself.
Shortly after my arrival I had to live with Comrade Stopani's family, who lived legally for the time being in Kostroma, because I could not acquire a passport and there were no better quarters. The gendarmes knew his home very well and it was carefully watched; it was, therefore, most unsuitable for me to be there. Further, I did not want to add to the cares of Comrade Stopani's wife, which were heavy enough as it was, by my possible arrest. A true revolutionary in spirit, she had to take care of four young children, although she yearned for active Party work. Her eldest boy, Mitya, afterwards died heroically on one of the fronts of the proletarian revolution. During the many years of illegal work I often came across women--wives of revolutionaries--who, because of their children, were obliged to play the unenviable role of mother and housewife even though they had all the attributes required to make them real Party workers.
After May First Comrade Stopani's house was watched with even greater vigilance, and I decided to leave it. But as there was no other place to go to I moved into one of our book store rooms next to Sonia Zagina, who lived there as manager of the stock room. Sonia was legally registered, but I lived as an "invisible" being. My problem was to make these rooms sufficiently secret to be able to convert them into an office for the Kostroma Committee, but these plans were constantly disturbed by the Boyeviki who, though they had their own secret quarters and dormitories, nevertheless constantly came to our book store rooms sometimes leaving their "little bombs" as they caressingly called their useless home-made missiles which never exploded and which, at the moment, were perfectly unnecessary.
In the summer of 1906 our armed workers' units, which had played such a militant role in the October-December days in 1905, although formally connected with our Party organization, began gradually to drift away from it and finally broke up into disorganized groups of boyeviki, independently becoming "expropriators," and bringing the poison of decay into our ranks.
The Kostroma boyeviki were no exception, and all the attempts of our committee to influence them were in vain. The boyeviki went one way, the Party went another.
There were innumerable difficulties to be overcome before we could organize a permanent printshop. After all kinds of plans, negotiations and special journeys to Moscow to obtain the necessary people, we finally managed to establish a printshop in a suburb four versts from the city. There Alexey Zagin, Lydia Molchanova, who had come especially from Moscow, and a girl from Saratov settled on false passports.
I cannot recollect just what we managed to print but I can only say that the printshop did not last very long. Shortly after it was established the comrades who worked there noticed that they were being followed, and we had to dismantle our printshop which we had set up with so much trouble.
The comrades found it safer to hide the machinery in an iron trunk, lower it into the pond at night, and afterwards go into hiding. I cannot say how long it was before we were able to draw it out again. It was finally installed in a house on Pavlov street where a teacher and his sister (I've forgotten their surname) and Maria Khanzinskaya, who came from Orel on Konstantin's recommendation to work in the printshop rented an apartment specially for that purpose.
How long that printshop lasted can be judged by the fact that towards the end of the summer it was travelling by horse and wagon to our "estate", Zhiroslavka, where we merely hid it at first, not considering the place sufficiently safe to set the machine to work. Nevertheless, after a while, when the necessity for printing a leaflet was very urgent--a leaflet, if I recall correctly, concerning our attitude towards the forthcoming election for the Second State Duma, we took courage and decided to work our machine in Zhiroslavka. At about this time I sent for an experienced Moscow comrade, an excellent typesetter (he was a printer as well) called Vasya Mayorov. Vasya came with his wife to Kostroma, and we immediately sent him to Zhiroslavka.
In the evening when the children and the servants were in bed, our work would begin in the study of the now deceased Alexander Gennadyevich Kolodeznikov. At first everything went well, but once the slightly deaf and very stupid fifteen-year old maid, Paranya, whom we apprehended least of all, believing that she did not understand anything, ran into the kitchen and said:
"Dunya, hey Dunya, look at what's happening around here! As soon as night comes I hear a tuk, tuk, tuk, something banging away in Alexander Gennadyevich's study and Elizaveta Alexandrovna herself creeps out every night with a pail of slops that are black as black can be and spills them out near the fence."
The conversation between Dunya and Paranya was overheard by comrades and we decided once again to stop work and pack up before further complications arose. Thus we struggled all summer--packing and unpacking, printing in snatches when fortune smiled.
Besides the intensive work in the factory district, we had contacts among the city artisans in the City District, of which I was the organizer. But this was considered auxiliary work because all my energy and attention were devoted to my secretaryship. The basic group of workers in the City District to whom we paid more attention, were, of course, the printers who, besides other attributes, were invaluable for one dominating virtue--they stole type from their printing establishments for our secret one.
The Kostroma Committee tried in every way to direct Party work in the entire province, but it was extremely difficult to get good results. We were in constant communication only with the nearest districts, principally Kineshma where Simon Sergovsky worked, and from where he often came to us for instructions, carrying on his activities in close connection with our organization.
We once held a provincial conference in Kineshma, but I have completely forgotten why this conference was called. I only recollect certain impressions of it, as for example, that the trip along the Volga on that fine, sunny day had been very pleasant, that the conference was held in an extremely bourgeois country home with huge armchairs, that owing to the secret character of the whole affair we could not go out on the balcony for a breath of air even though the room was full of tobacco smoke and so stuffy that one felt faint. Strangely enough only things like that and nothing more have remained in my memory.
Besides Kineshma we had good connections with Rodniki through Comrade Lubimov, with the town of Novoloky and with a factory near Novoloky. We also had connections with the Yakovlevsky factory. A comrade used to come to us from Nerekhta. He was a barber by trade and had a very curious appearance--he had a shock of long hair, wore black glasses and a jacket of a very curious cut. When he spoke he used a great many foreign words and constantly complained that he was overburdened with Party work. "I perform sixteen functions," he would say and begin to count off these "functions' on his fingers. With the more remote, the so-called forest districts, we had very little contact because they were far away not only from the provincial centre but from the railroad as well. I recollect that at the committee meetings questions constantly cropped up about work in the peasant districts and among peasants in general because of the importance we Bolsheviks, with Lenin at our head, attached to the peasants. This question was a very important one at that time. We would have to carry on this work through the village school teachers, but these teachers had to be trained first because most of them leaned towards the Socialist Revolutionaries although there were no S.R. organizations of any importance either in Kostroma or in the neighbouring districts.
I very clearly recall one of the meetings at the Hall of the Nobility convened by the S.R.'s in honour of the arrival of a Moscow celebrity, I think it was the "Unconquerable," or the "Sun", I do not remember which. Teachers from all parts of the province came to the meeting. The S.R. leader delivered a brilliant speech, but no less brilliantly was he opposed by our agitator, Gastev, who appeared in public under the pseudonym of Vershinin, but who was known as Lavrentev in the organization. Gastev was diligently sought for by the police, and for that reason he very rarely spoke in public.
The arrival of the S.R. luminary roused the revolutionary spirit of the teachers a good deal, but the Kostroma S.R.'s could not consolidate these results organizationally and the field was left to us.
After the meeting the teachers came to our book store for literature and also dropped in to see me, the secretary of the committee, "simply for a chat" At these visits our greatest enthusiasts, Comrade Kvitkin (Afanassy) and others, were sure to be present. As a result we finally succeeded in organizing a group of teachers whose task it was to start work in the rural districts.
All that summer (1906) we kept in close touch with the Party Centres where the question of the Second State Duma was being discussed (opinion was inclining towards not boycotting it) as well as the question of convening a special Party Congress.
We, Kostroma Party workers, were uncompromisingly for the calling of a special Party Congress, where we were convinced, the balance of power would be in favour of the Bolsheviks. This certainty was based on the cheerfulness and high spirits of the Kostroma workers among whom there was not even a trace of the despondency or confusion which I witnessed the winter before in the Zamoskveretsky District of Moscow.
This was principally due to the fact that Kostroma had experienced the events of 1905 comparatively lightly, and for that reason there could not have been such a sharp depression as in Moscow. Besides, the repressive measures which had been showered upon the proletariat of the more revolutionary districts were not felt in comparatively peaceful Kostroma. At any rate, work in the spring and summer of 1906 was quite a cheerful duty in Kostroma; even the most intensive work was not particularly fatiguing, a fact which can be explained by the shortness of the distances we had to cover. Kostromo is a very small town and the distance to the Posadsky forest, our principal and safest headquarters, was a trifle.
The most frequent visitor from the Moscow regional bureau was Danilo--Sergey Modestov--who came to discuss with us all kinds of general Party problems.
When I think of Danilo I see before me the laughing face of the student Serezha whom I met for the first time at our secret headquarters in Tver in 1903. After two years I met him again in Moscow where he related between jests and laughter that during those two short years he had managed to serve sentences in two prisons--at Yaroslavl and Ivanovo-Voznesensk. A year later, in Kostroma, I met the fully matured, prominent Party worker, Comrade Danilo, who had only one thing in common with the former Serezha--his sense of humour.
During one of his visits to Kostroma, I went with Danilo to a meeting in the Posadsky forest where he was to talk to us about certain Party matters. On the way he asked: "Olga, did you find it very hard to resume underground methods after 1905?" When I answered that it had been difficult, but not very, Danilo said: "It would not have been hard for me at all, except for my rheumatism. Walking through the woods hurts my feet; we underground folk need good legs first, and then a head, is that not so?"
In 1907 the restless Danilo, after having walked to meetings on his poor, sick legs through all the woods in the Kostroma, Yaroslavl and Vladimir provinces, went to report to the Moscow Regional Committee and was arrested there.
In 1908, owing to his illness and his mother's solicitations, the authorities gave him the alternative of going abroad instead of being exiled to Siberia; but despite his serious illness, he refused to go abroad. He was too conscious of the lack of skilled Party workers in Russia, particularly after the mass desertion of the intelligentsia, and instead of going abroad Serezha went underground to work first in the Urals, then Ekaterinoslav, and from there to Nikolayev where he was arrested and convicted, under article 102 of the Criminal Code and was sentenced to six years penal servitude.
His illness--tuberculosis of the bones and rheumatism--became considerably worse: penal servitude in Nikolayev prison, the so-called tsarist sanatorium to which all tubercular political prisoners were sent, finished him. After four years in this awful prison Comrade Modestov's constitution was completely wrecked. Thanks to the intercessions of his parents he was sent to the prison in his native town, Tver, and the two years he spent there were a living death. His term of imprisonment came to an end just as the 1917 revolution began. An old invalid came to Moscow; he called himself Modestov, but no one recognized this Comrade Modestov as the Serezha of old. Nevertheless, this invalid found strength enough to begin work once more--he became the editor of the peasant paper, Goles Trudovovo Krestyanina, but his strength lasted only a few months even though now he had to work only with his head and not with his feet as in Kostroma. On the eve of the great proletarian revolution to which he had given the last drop of his extraordinary strength, Comrade Modestov died at the age of thirty-four.
To return to Kostroma. That summer (1906) all the legal sides of the Kostroma organization fared badly. To begin with, our paper was closed down; then the police got to our book store, which I had been guarding as the apple of my eye because it was such an excellent screen for all our illegal work. It began with the police coming more frequently to look for uncensored books which they suspected we were selling. And one fine morning they took it into their heads to search the whole of the premises. I managed to leave the place under the very noses of the police. I was sitting in my room at the back of the store. A candle was burning on my table so that, in case of a raid, I could immediately burn up the papers that lay before me containing notes of the minutes of the meeting held the evening before.
My occupation was interrupted by a knock at the door, and young Peter Kaganovich entered. He had come in by the back door. He informed me excitedly that a strong force of police were coming to search our premises. Having said this he returned the way he came, while I immediately burned all the papers, blew out the candle, put on my coat, pinned on a hat, managed to run into the store and whisper to the manager "they're coming," grabbed several books from the shelf and, pretending to be a purchaser, went down the main stairway. On my way down I met the police who, after inspecting the "purchased" books, let me pass. Our stock room was carefully searched, sealed up, and the new manager, named Polya, was arrested.
The closing of the book store was a big blow to all of us, and to me in particular. My work as secretary became doubly hard--I had to search for premises for every meeting, consultation, etc. In other words I had to appeal to the so-called sympathizers--a task which I always disliked. Our second apartment, the textile union, was also subjected to frequent raids by the police. Besides, the Cossacks became more truculent and broke up our meetings. To crown it all, spies began to follow us Party workers. I was so persistently shadowed that it became impossible for me to carry on any further work in Kostroma, and I could not even leave the city without being observed. In order to put the police off the scent I spent several days at the town house of the Kolodeznikovs without going out into the street. Only after all these precautions was I able to leave the town unobserved.
Crossing the Volga on my way to the station a sharp autumn wind began to blow, the day was cloudy, and melancholy thoughts crowded into my mind. It seemed to bode ill luck for the Kostroma organization which I was leaving with so much regret. My work there had been connected with so many clear and sunny spring and summer days, and now the reaction would triumph here too.