Twenty Years in Underground Russia: Memoirs of a Rank-and-File Bolshevik
I ONCE more became myself in St. Petersburg after putting an end to my "artistic career," as I termed that short-lived period when I posed as the Austrian actress, Hedwig Navotni. Only when I had obtained a Russian passport from my St. Petersburg comrades did I begin to feel that I was once more on solid ground. I became so accustomed to my new name, Pelageya, (I cannot recall the surname), that I would have thought it strange if anyone had called me by any other.
For some peculiar reason I can remember the name of only one of the members of the St. Petersburg committee--Comrade Rerikh. It was the first and last time I ever saw him. The state of affairs in St. Petersburg was quite alarming. Arrests were constant in our organization. One had to be extremely cautious when meeting comrades. Every night I slept at a different place.
From St. Petersburg I went to Tver. There I was met by Nahum--Nunki--who had just arrived from abroad with a package of illegal literature, principally issues of Iskra. He had to take part of this literature with him for distribution to the southern organizations, the rest I was to distribute in the northern region. I arrived at Tver late in the evening. My host, a draftsman or land-surveyor, I forget which, met me rather uncivilly. Nunki, on the verge of tears, explained that the man was afraid, that he protested against the Tver Committee not cancelling his address and continuing to send him all sorts of trouble. My nocturnal visit was the last straw that broke the camel's back. My host demanded in no uncertain terms that I take myself and my basket out of his room and go wherever I pleased. As proof of his indifference to our fate he made his bed and began to undress, not at all embarrassed by my presence.
Nunki flew into a rage, clenched his fists and was about to throw himself upon our host. To avoid a scandal I led him out of the room, saying that I had another address in reserve.
The only other address I had was that of the local hospital. Of course it wouldn't do at all to go there in the middle of the night. What could we do on that cold night in a strange city? Go to a hotel? Impossible. Both Nunki and I were travelling on false passports which had not been tested. We never registered personally on such passports; usually we gave them to some sympathizer who sent them to the police department. Only when the document was returned, and if we felt that we were not being watched at our quarters, did we feel safe to use such passports.
Nunki and I decided to walk to the station some five or six versts from the city, stay there as long as possible, and walk back in the morning. No sooner said than done. But we were fearfully fatigued and chilled that memorable night.
Early in the morning we went to the hospital. The doctor, a member of the Tver Committee, was profuse in his apologies for the conduct of the inhospitable draftsman (or land-surveyor) saying that though the latter was undoubtedly a bit of a coward, nevertheless he was a sympathizer.
During my three day stay at Tver I tried to study the state of our organization. But it was difficult to obtain any information from our friend the doctor. He was what we called a "reserve" committee member, that is, one who had a good theoretical training but was not a firm Marxist and a true revolutionary in spirit. At best, the revolutionary activities of these "reserve" members were limited to writing an occasional draft of a resolution, a leaflet or study circle program. Such reserve members were extremely cautious; they feared having trouble with the police. But there was a limit even to their caution, that is, they too, were arrested sometimes and on these occasions they behaved loyally under examination, never betrayed their comrades and, in general, were dependable people--even indispensable. They were indispensable because they were seldom arrested and were able, after mass arrests, to weave together the torn threads of the organization and hand them over to fresh workers.
When I returned to Tver in 1903 to resuscitate the organization and proposed to this doctor that he drop the role of "reserve" member and take up active committee work, he looked at me in surprise and asked, "How can I do active work? Who will be in reserve?" He took his role to be something permanent.
Leaving some literature for the Tver Committee, I set out for Yaroslavl via Moscow. From there I was to go to Kostroma. The latter had been chosen when I was still in Zurich, at a consultation with Boris and "Uncle", as the centre from which I was to establish connections with other cities in the textile area. In Moscow I met an intimate friend of mine, Vera Kozhevnikova, who had left Zurich not very long before me and had already managed to settle in Moscow on a borrowed passport. From what she told me I gathered that the Moscow organization was having a hard time of it. From the very first days of their stay, she and Glafira Feodorovich, who lived illegally, had to organize the Moscow Committee which was non-existent before their arrival. But they did not get as far as the districts. The place was teeming with spies and the Zubatov movement was at its height. Each time they set up a committee it lasted a few weeks and was then arrested. Nevertheless they did not lose courage and continued to work with even greater fervour. Maxim Gorky helped the Moscow organizations considerably. They proposed to organize a secret social evening, she told me, for the benefit of the organization. Maxim Gorky had been invited and I would be able to meet him in person and have a talk.
I would have liked nothing better, but our discipline was very strict, and I would have been the first to condemn a comrade who, while travelling on Party affairs, had been detained for a few days by purely personal matters. Therefore I did not wait for the gathering. As compensation, Vera got me a ticket to the theatre where Gorky's play The Lower Depths was making its debut. The play was a great success and when the curtain dropped on the last act the audience vociferously called for the author. In response to those calls, Gorky, then still a young man, came out clumsily on the stage, bowed like a bear, and kept tugging at a handkerchief with which he constantly wiped his face.
I spent that night in the cosy room of a young and pretty mathematics student who looked like a little girl. This little girl's name was Varvara Yakovleva.
At night, on my way from Moscow to Yaroslavl, an accident occurred, and we came to a dead halt at one of the small stations. There was something wrong with one of the cars--my car. It had to be detached, All our things were dumped out on the platform. Imagine my horror when I saw my basket of illegal literature resting right on top of the heap of luggage stacked on the platform. But I could not help laughing at the policeman who was guarding the contraband stuff so conscientiously. We stopped so long at the station that I was chilled through. That, combined with the effects of my nocturnal walk in Tver from which I had not recovered completely, caused me to be very ill by the time I arrived at Yaroslavl. I barely managed to drag myself to an izvoshchik who drove me to the home of a certain Putilova. The latter took half of the literature, some of which she promised to put aside for Kostroma and Ivanovo-Voznesensk, then conducted me to the home of the Didrikils', Maria, Olga and Nina, where it would be possible for me to recuperate. Maria and Olga had but recently returned from Moscow where they had served a term at the Taganka prison. They had been involved in the case of the Northern Union which had been discovered and broken up by the police in April, 1902, thanks to the treachery of the notorious provocateur, Menshchikov. When the old emigre, Blumenfeld, was arrested on the frontier, an address book was found on his person. The police deciphered the addresses and sent Menshchikov to follow them up. The latter had come to an old comrade of ours, Olga Vorontsova, and introduced him self as the Party worker, "Ivan", sent from the centre to establish connections with the textile districts. As this Ivan knew all the addresses and passwords, he did not arouse the slightest suspicion. He was greeted with all the respect that provincial workers show to those sent from the centre. From Yaroslavl he went to Kostroma where he found out everything about the organization. He even discovered that hidden in the cellar of the Zavarin brothers' house were the remains of an old secret printshop. He visited at Sophia Zagina's house where leaflets were being run off on the hectograph. He remarked that things were not being done with sufficient caution in the organization and on one occasion, said: "I feel as though there is going to be a big smash-up before the First of May." Poor Sonia was very distressed. Up to that time she had prided herself upon being quite a careful conspirator, and then to hear such a remark from a centre representative! Of course, there was nothing easier for this provocateur than to predict the debacle he was himself preparing. Some time afterwards this Menshchikov displeased the police and left Russia. He knocked about Europe for some time. He even wrote a letter of repentance to a newspaper in Paris which was followed by a volume of his memoirs. He particularly repented of his conduct towards Olga Vorontsova. Due to his activity, the Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Vladimir and Voronezh organizations were discovered and completely broken up by the police.
I was laid up at the Didrikils' home for a whole month during which time I was treated with the greatest care. It seemed natural for Olga to prepare me broths and cereals, and for Nina to run to the druggist, the doctor or the store at all hours of the day or night. It did not even embarrass me if any of them stayed up all night on my account. The Didrikils' house was always full of people and every-one felt at home. The youngest sister, Nina Didrikil, was not arrested at the time of the crash, probably because of her tender years. As they had just recently been released from prison and were still carefully watched by the police, Maria and Olga stayed at home most of the time when I was there. But Nina ran about a good deal, made connections with individual workers, distributed the illegal literature which I had brought and arranged circle meetings with the youth.
At the Didrikils' I used to meet Katherina Novitakaya and other correspondents of the Northern Region (Severni Krai), a paper with Marxist leanings which was published legally in Yaroslavl. Among them were the Social-Democrats Mikhail Kedrov, the leader of the Yaroslavl revolutionary students, Gregory Alexinsky (who in 1917 turned traitor and publicly accused Lenin of being a German spy), Klirikov, and a very fine comrade. Dolivo-Dobrovolsky (nicknamed "Dno"), whom I had met once or twice in Europe and who later met with a very tragic end. Comrade Dobrovolsky had an over-sensitive mind and was very highly strung, He reacted with extreme morbidity to all that happened about us. He could not stand the severe school of prison and the strain to which all Party workers were subjected; this was one of the principal causes of his mental breakdown in 1903. Comrade Dobrovolsky's mania was that the autocracy in Russia had been destroyed, that it was necessary for us to establish a revolutionary government immediately, otherwise anarchy would seize the land. Comrades related that he would come to the meetings of the St. Petersburg Committee and beg that an order be issued for all theatres to play the revolutionary hymn. He would become angry with the comrades because they did not respond to his requests. The poor fellow had to be sent to a psychiatric ward. After a while he seemed to improve and went to Odessa where he tried to resume his work, but, apparently, he despaired so at the loss of his former strength that he committed suicide.
When I reached Kostroma, I immediately looked up a student named Claudia Ovchinnikova, daughter of the merchant Ovchinnikov. She lived with her parents at that time. Claudia welcomed me warmly and immediately made arrangements to put me up comfortably. She introduced me as an old St. Petersburg acquaintance who had come to Kostroma because of family troubles and who intended to teach there. Luckily my passport was a St. Petersburg one, and that Pelageya Davidovna, the name registered on the passport, was a married woman. So that it was not a difficult matter even for me to pose as an injured wife. My plan was more than successful; my kind-hearted hosts took a lively interest in me. They gave me an excellent room, fed me until I could scarcely move, and took only twelve rubles a month, which, even in those days, was considered very reasonable. In the Ovchinnikov house everyone, from the master to the housemaid, was fat and well-fed. My emaciated appearance was in complete disharmony with my surroundings. My hosts sighed over me, slyly gave me the daintiest morsels and wholeheartedly sympathized with my "family trouble".
The entire Ovchinnikov household was of such good standing and so undeniably respectable, that some of their respectability was reflected upon me. It seemed the most natural thing in the world for me to come and live with them. Nobody took particular notice of me. I went about trying to get as many connections with comrades as possible. That winter I found more fragments of the former Northern organization which had been destroyed the spring before. Out of these fragments, according to my instructions from abroad, I was to build up an organization, and the resuscitated organization had to be linked up with Iskra. The first comrade to help me undertake the work was Ivan Savin, a young doctor who, for the time being, lived legally in Kostroma. Even before I came he had attempted to unite the fragments of the organization, but had to give it up. In Kostroma, as in Yaroslavl, there were no new people upon whom he could lean for support. The only people he could rely upon were the Zavarin brothers, Sophia Zaganina, Maria Alexandrova and a few others who had just returned from the Moscow prisons. But all these were being carefully watched by the police.
When I arrived, Ivan's spirits immediately rose; he felt that the centre had not forsaken Kostroma. In order to create a nucleus which would try to restore the Kostroma organization, we had to draw into our ranks at least one influential worker. At about this time there lived in Kostroma a certain Putilov worker, Ivan Alexandrov, nicknamed Makar, who had been released from the Taganka prison where he had served a term for being mixed up in the Northern Union case. Makar lived in a hovel on the outskirts of the city. When I first went there I found a confused and frightened Ivan standing in the middle of the untidy room. In the corner of the room on a bed lay a giant of a man between thirty and thirty-five years old. His piercing, mocking, black eyes were sunk deep into his expressive, energetic face. When I entered, the giant stirred on the bed, stretched out a huge, calloused hand and remarked jocularly:
"Kitik" (that is what he called Savin) "has been trying to scare me by saying that a certain Pelageya is due any minute. But I see that only a little Polly has come, and she is not at all terrifying." Ivan tried to hush the sick man who had just had a hemorrhage. The sick man was in a very dangerous condition. Savin decided to go to the city for a doctor and to get some medicine. The old and experienced doctor who returned with Savin declared that though the patient's condition was serious, it was not hopeless. Good food and proper care would soon restore him to health. After the doctor's departure we cheered up a little. Kitik began to talk of organizational problems while I cleaned the room, cooked dinner with the provisions Kitik brought for the sick Makar and ourselves and, in general, put everything in order. Makar lay quietly, regarding us good-naturedly and smiling into his black beard. After a week of solicitous care, Makar began to improve. When the doctor permitted him to speak. Ivan and I were assailed by a shower of raillery. Makar desired to reward himself for his long, enforced silence. He often chided me and Nikonovich, "two pasty intellectuals", for having made the thoroughbred proletarian Makar keep silent for so long. A man of exceptional intellect, very well read, one who had worked in St. Petersburg factories and had acquired much experience. Makar was able to estimate properly the problems which confronted the Party and was a shrewd judge of character. His penetrating glance seemed to pick out all one's merits and one's weaknesses. Finding a weak spot in any of his intimate friends, such as Kitik or me, he would let his malicious tongue go until we in our turn found his weak spot and began to tease him as mercilessly. Then he would admit defeat and turn to more serious matters.
When Makar was once more on his feet, he went to the factory to renew connections with many of the workers with whom he was personally acquainted. Our "holy trinity" (Kitik, Makar and I) became the central nucleus of the Kostroma organization. Our foremost problem was to organize at least one small workers circle in every large factory. That is why taking every possible precaution, we had to communicate with all the remaining circle members who had luckily escaped the arrests which had followed the raid on the organization. As soon as evening came each one of us went to a "moonlight rendezvous". That is what Makar called our meetings with workers on the boulevard on some frosty winter evening. We also issued a leaflet calling upon the workers to organize. It was written by Kitik, criticized by Makar, rewritten by me and printed on the hectograph by Sonia Zagina. These leaflets were distributed through Makar's friends at the factory, The latter would report that the leaflets were taking effect--the workers were beginning to feel that the organization was getting up on its feet again and were duly roused by the fact.
"It would be grand if our 'holy trinity' could remain here and nurse our Kostroma organization and watch it grow," Makar would remark. But we felt this to be too great a luxury. The work of renewing ties with workers circles could be carried on by student Party workers exiled from the centre. But none of the other cities of the northern district had any organization whatsoever. It was the period when the object of our entire Party work was to create a centralized, well-knit organization and not merely an isolated, limited, local organization stewing in its own juice, as it were. It was very clear to us even then that Lenin's plan--an organization of revolutionaries--was not merely the idle fancy of a theoretician who had isolated himself from our Russian reality as the Workers' Cause group and, later, the Mensheviks, tried to convince us. The necessity for a centralized revolutionary party was very keenly felt in our daily work. That is why we resolved to break up our "triple alliance" and decided that Makar should go abroad at the first opportunity to Lest a while, read more literature and meet our leaders. After that he was to return as a professional Party worker. Later, when I was in Tver, I arranged Makar's trip. Kitik was the only one of our trinity to remain in Kostroma to help the organization, while I was to go to Yaroslavl for the purpose of organizing a nucleus in the Korzinkin factory. Then, I was to penetrate into the very heart of the textile region, and establish connections with Ivanovo-Voznesenk. After this was accomplished we planned to call a meeting of the representatives of these three cities (Kostroma, Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Yaroslavl) at which a regional committee was to be elected. This committee would immediately communicate with Iskra. Thus, towards the end of the winter (the beginning of 1903) I once again found myself in Yaroslavl. Here ill luck seems to have overtaken me--I met with one failure after another.
It began with my taking a room in a house where the landlady at once began to suspect me. At first she took me to be a "pleasure-seeker" and obligingly offered to introduce me to the officials who visited her. When she realized that she had erred, she began to watch me even more closely. Then there were several unfortunate meetings with individual workers from the Korzinkin factory. The police had noticed these meetings. Then another awkward thing occurred. A worker representative, Leonid Kudelin, came from Ivanovo-Voznesensk directly to my unsafe apartment. I had had some difficulty in getting him to come to discuss the plans for a regional meeting. Leonid told me that despite the crash, circle work had not ceased in Ivanovo. The workers of that city had been overjoyed to hear about the plans for a regional meeting. I agreed to continue to communicate with them. He himself was to come now and then to Yaroslavl, not to my house, but to some other acquaintance. After Leonid left, spies, who had apparently noticed his visit, began to follow me. The situation reached such a point that I could not even go to the bakery for bread without being shadowed. Of course, all thoughts of meeting workers had to be given up. After suffering in this fashion for several days, one morning very early (when the spies were still asleep) I cautiously slipped downstairs and ran over to the Didrikils. There we decided that I must leave for St. Petersburg immediately. In the centre I would talk things over with the comrades and ask them to send another worker in my stead to finish the work in the northern region. I would go to some city where I was unknown. Our plan was as follows: From St. Petersburg I would send a letter to the Didrikils in which I would enclose a note to my landlady explaining my sudden leave, and asking her to give my things to the bearer of the note. So as not to arouse my landlady's suspicions at my sudden departure, or cause her to tell the police, someone was to go to her and say that I had been taken sick while visiting a friend, and that I would remain there for a few days. I did not take a single thing with me, except my passport and some passports which had been unused in Yaroslavl and would be invaluable to the centre. I carried all the passports in my muff so that I could throw them away if anything serious occurred. Going through by-streets from the Didrikil home to the station everything seemed to be safe enough. I got into the car and sat down near the exit so as to be able to jump out if anything happened. I began to look about me. All my fellow passengers looked so kind that I at once began to feel more secure. I even joined in the conversation during the journey. One of the passengers with whom I had conversed was a man of middle-age, who looked like a merchant. He constantly dived into his heavy-looking valise and fished out buns, chops and other homemade eatables which he devoured with remarkable rapidity. In the intervals between the eating and the conversation he read a paper, the Russian News (Russkiye Fredomosti). Picture my astonishment when on getting into a horse-tram in St. Petersburg I noticed him sitting in the rear car. This incident upset me considerably. When I got off at Sadovaya Street to see if my suspicions were justified, I heard some one running hard behind me, then a voice whispered almost in my very ear, "Miss, follow me to the police headquarters." Looking about me in despair, I recognized my fellow-traveller and with him two other men who were unmistakably spies. I wanted to scream to attract a crowd, but changed my mind as I knew that I would land in jail in any case. Then there were the four passports in my muff. Besides the three passports I had taken from Yaroslavl there was my own, made out in the name of Pelageya Davidovna, which had to be destroyed. This Pelageya Davidovna's husband lived in St. Petersburg and with him lived his lawful wife. If I were to be confronted with him, he would find that he was married to two Pelageyas. My passport was a duplicate.
If, as it was said during the tsar's time, a Russian consisted of a body, a soul and a passport, this proverb was especially applicable to us underground workers. Passports were divided into several categories. The best kinds of passports were the so-called real passports, that is, borrowed passports of real people who lived in places where it was not necessary to register. The second sort were duplicates of other people's passports. Often, without the persons knowing it, his name, surname and all other particulars were copied into another book. A stamp and signature would be forged and the passport was ready. Then there were the passports of dead people. They could be used everywhere except in the city where the deceased had lived before his death. The worst and least reliable passports were the forged documents. A blank passport would be filled in any way that pleased the "forger's" imagination.
After making my decision, I obediently got into a cab with the respectable looking gentleman--my fellow passenger. Behind us in another cab sat the two spies. Our procession moved toward the Fontanka where the police headquarters were situated.
Luckily for me the woman who was to search me did not come at once. While she was being called, I managed to go to the toilet, tear up the four passports and throw them into the flush bowl. I was examined by the notorious Kvitinsky, the assistant chief of the St. Petersburg Police Department--a shrewd rogue of a fellow. When asked whether I was called Pelageya Davidovna, had I not lived in Yaroslavl on Romanovskaya Street and did I not come this morning to St. Petersburg for illegal purposes, I answered;
"My name is Zelikson. In the spring of last year I left Vitebsk, where I was under the surveillance of the police, because I was out of work. And that is all I have to say."
My reply surprised Kvitinsky; apparently, it did not satisfy him, so he asked, "Where were you during the ten months before your arrest."
"I was walking peacefully along Sadovaya Street when the gentleman came up and arrested me," I replied. That annoyed Kvitinsky. He almost shouted in his indignation:
"So you have been walking along Sadovaya Street for the last ten months?"
After the cross-examination, Kvitinsky ordered me to be taken to a room which did not resemble a prison cell in the least, but looked more like a study. It contained a writing desk, leather covered chairs, and an oilcloth sofa.
I spent three weeks there while the St. Petersburg police were communicating with Kharkov, Vitebsk and Yaroslavl. Three weeks I slept on that cold and slippery sofa without changing my clothes. It got on my nerves dreadfully, particularly the dirt. I had not taken anything with me when I left Yaroslavl, and I did not want to write from the prison to anyone, not even to neutral acquaintances, because a letter from a political prisoner usually casts some suspicion upon the recipient. That is why I took no measures to make myself more comfortable until the authorities saw fit to do something about it.
One fine day I was taken to a more permanent residence--the preliminary detention prison. I was placed in a tidy little blue room fitted with electric light and running water. Here was a real bed. I could have a bath for the asking and if need be, underlinen. But I did not ask for prison linen. Instead, I knocked on the wall and told my neighbour that I had no linen, that I had been three weeks at the police headquarters and had slept with my clothes on. Within half an hour, a woman warder came into my cell and quietly took a bundle from under her shawl. It had been sent by my neighbour, a student, Maria Nikolayeva. There was bed linen and underwear in the bundle. That evening I had a bath, I lay down upon the bed, which was clean and comfortable, notwithstanding that it was a prison one. That night I slept and rested well.
Compared with that of the Kharkov prison, life in the women's corridor of this St. Petersburg prison was more like an enforced stay in some tedious pension than imprisonment. Could one really call these neat little rooms with polished floors and clean beds prison cells? Rooms that led to a tidy hall with waxed floors? Could these women warders who grumbled at us occasionally be compared with the Kharkov brutes, Melnik and Stanik? Could this constant, almost lawful connection with the outer world be compared with the complete isolation in the Kharkov prison? Nevertheless, there were incidents which reminded me that it was a prison after all.
In the spring of 1903 before the First of May there were the usual mass arrests among the St. Petersburg students. The police caught these political infants without discrimination. All the St. Petersburg prisons were crammed full. Several prisoners would be thrown into cells that normally were too small for one person. A good many of these novices were sent to our prison. These newcomers seethed with indignation from the very first moment of their arrival. They assumed a very aggressive attitude towards the administration and clamoured all day for the district Public Prosecutor. When the latter appeared, they demanded their immediate release. In general, they created the impression of being extremely annoyed by such things as bars across the windows and locks on the doors. At first this conduct seemed a little strange to us old-timers, but gradually the electrified atmosphere began to react upon on us as well, and the idea of a hunger strike hung threateningly in the air. A series of rather original prison meetings were held---opinions were shouted from open windows, the matter was put to a vote and results were passed from cell to cell. In the end a hunger strike was agreed upon by an overwhelming majority. Many of us, however, and I among them, were strenuously opposed to a hunger strike. In 1903, prison hunger strikes became such a frequent occurrence that they not only ceased to worry the police, the district attorney and the prison administration, but they even ceased to have any effect upon the public. Consequently it was hopeless to expect good results from the impending hunger strike. Besides, there were many sick comrades among us who had been in prison for a considerable time, and for them to join the hunger strike--and if the strike were declared they would be honour-bound to join--meant that they would risk not only what remained of their health, but in many cases, their very lives. About three hundred prisoners went on strike. The strike developed into a perfect riot. The prisoners broke windows, slammed doors, and sang at the top of their voices. But the prison officers did not remain idle. The noisier ones were jostled into punishment cells. A squad of soldiers was sent into our corridor, a soldier being placed in each cell. The women, confronted by armed soldiers, went into hysterics.
I got into a very awkward situation as a result of this commotion. It is not in my nature to behave in a rowdy fashion, break windows, etc. But it never occurred to me that the prison administration would notice at such a moment that my windows were not broken and make an exception in my case by not sending a soldier into my cell. When, to my dismay, I saw that my cell had been passed by, I began to demand that a soldier be immediately sent into my cell. I told the officer that I was in complete sympathy with my comrades, and the reason I had not broken the window or banged the door was that I was sick and had not the strength to do so. My insistence perplexed the chief. He called the district attorney. The latter begged me to calm myself saying, "Don't worry, I have just given an order for the soldiers to be removed. They were placed here for a short time, merely to frighten the girls." And, indeed, I soon heard the soldiers leave the cells.
The hunger strike lasted five days. On the sixth it began to subside. Then the Public Prosecutor made a number of non-committal promises and everybody seized upon them as pretext for ending the strike. Instead of elation there was an air of depression among us after the strike as if we had played a foolish prank. Moreover, the health of many of the comrades was seriously affected.
Altogether I stayed in prison for about five months. Finally, I was released temporarily until the verdict was pronounced, and I was warned that it would cover all counts, i. e., the Kharkov affair and my "walking on Sadovaya Street for ten months".
But I was perfectly indifferent to what the sentence would be. In any case I had no intention of waiting for it. The important thing was to get out of prison, mend my health which was particularly shaky after this last experience, and arrange to go abroad. There I would take a good rest and, with recovered strength, return to Russia. When the police asked me to choose the place for temporary domicile, which was not to include either St. Petersburg or Moscow, nor any of the university cities, I selected Tver, because it was conveniently situated between St. Petersburg and Moscow.
On the day of my release I met two other comrades who were also released, an old Party member, Praskovya Kudeli, and a St. Petersburg propagandist. Maria Nikolayeva, whose acquaintance I had made in prison by means of taps. They also decided to go to Tver. Things turned out very well in Tver. I quickly obtained a room at a reasonable rent and, most important of all, I got employment. Although by that time we had come to the conclusion that it was necessary to provide maintenance for those who were engaged solely with Party work, this applied mostly to comrades who were illegal. As soon as a member became legalized, even temporarily, he did not think it proper to take money from the Party funds for his personal needs, particularly as, being under police surveillance, he was not in a position to continue Party work for some time. Therefore I was overjoyed at getting a situation as temporary clerk in the insurance statistics department of the Zemstvo. As the job was only a temporary one, it did not require the governor s approval.
The problems of printing premises and headquarters for the Tver organization were solved with the help of the head doctor of the Zemstvo hospital, Dr. Abramovich and his family, the pharmacist, Petrov and the nurse Fanny Klionskaya.
The Tver comrades, the active workers, were so closely associated with one another, the very opposite of what had been the case in Kharkov, that it was really difficult to distinguish between the committee and the periphery. There was more democracy than centralism in the Tver organization, notwithstanding the fact that it belonged to the Iskra group. We concentrated our work on the Morozov textile mills which were situated outside the town. These mills employed 25,000 workers when working at full capacity. The Tver organization did not seem to have any definite organizational form. The committee was at the head of the organization; all the active workers worked in conjunction with the committee. After that came the workers' circles, of which there were not less than twenty. We distributed Iskra literature and local leaflets which dealt with the daily problems at the factory. I remember that I once took a package of these local leaflets from Fanny, who used to run them off on a mimeograph at the hospital, and went to keep an appointment with Nil at the cemetery where we agreed to meet at eleven o'clock. What with the deathly stillness in that moonlit cemetery, and the eerie lights of the tapers burning on some of the graves, an unaccountable fear seized me: I wanted to throw my package away and run as fast as my legs could carry me without once looking back. And Nil was nowhere in sight, I waited in agony for a whole hour before he came. When he did turn up at last, we walked back together, although this was an incautious thing to do. All the way back, I scolded him for being late, and he teased me for my cowardice.
At that time we made our first attempt to carry on work in the rural districts, Tikhon Popov, an old Party comrade, who had recently come to us, was sent to some adjacent villages. He had to strengthen connections with the peasants through the workers who lived in the suburbs near the city. We also tried to organize Social-Democratic committees among the peasants. During my short stay, there were no strikes or demonstrations in Tver. The experienced Praskovya Kudeli conducted the more advanced circles which used to be held in boats on the Volga. A great deal of agitational work was carried on among the other circles at which the point stressed most was the overthrow of the autocracy. Besides the circle work, we held mass meetings in the woods, to which the workers came in scores.
At these mass meetings fiery speeches were delivered by our young agitators, Semyon Sergovsky, who later left the Party, and Sergey Modestov.
Our Tver comrades did not devote much attention to general Party problems, and as only a short time had elapsed since the split, they could not make up their minds whether they were on the side of the Bolsheviks or the Mensheviks. We found it difficult to understand why the split occurred. No literature on the subject had yet been received and the news of the split caused fear and consternation in our ranks. Nevertheless we felt that it was necessary as quickly as possible to take one side or the other.
Meanwhile the growth of the workers' movement was becoming more and more apparent, and sleepy and medieval as the Tver police may have been they could not but become aware of the animation among the workers. Many copies of Iskra found their way into the factory. Leaflets issued by the Tver committee began to appear with increasing frequency. All this brought its inevitable consequences: one not very fine night the police raided us. Almost all the active members, those not under surveillance, were arrested. Those who had been watched by the police during their stay in Tver, myself included, were carefully searched. After the raid we were called to police headquarters and quite impressively informed that what had occurred must serve as a warning to us, and that "if anyone dared... then...."
I had a narrow escape that night.
I had in my possession the draft of a leaflet that I had written and also a copy of an anti-religious leaflet which had been given to me to rewrite in a more popular form. I had finished rewriting it late that night and it was left lying on the table, when the police called. Had it not been for the presence of mind of my sister Rose who had come to visit me in Tver, things would have been serious. As soon as we heard that the police were at the front door she spilled some kerosene over the leaflet and burned it, so that when the police came into the room nothing was left of it but smoke.
The police rushed to the fireplace and then began to question us about the smoke in the room. We answered that "we wanted to light a fire, but changed our minds and went to bed". There the matter ended. Although I was not arrested, I was nevertheless carefully watched. A few days after the raid I made several attempts to restore the organization (by the way, this is the time that I had the talk with the doctor about his taking on more active responsibilities). Then I noticed that I was being followed. The comrades who managed to remain at liberty advised me to leave the town. But before leaving Tver, I managed to accomplish a very important matter--I went to Moscow and obtained money from a sympathetic lawyer and established connections with the frontier, thanks to which Makar was able to go to Switzerland, thus realizing the plans we had made in Kostroma.
Altogether I worked in Tver for not more than two months. Of course, I was eager to go abroad again where I could rest and meet friends and also study the details of the split in the party and make up my mind which side to join.