Twenty Years in Underground Russia: Memoirs of a Rank-and-File Bolshevik
WHEN I was arrested, I gave the name on the passport by which I was registered--Lydia Nikitina, the daughter of a Kaluga official. I said that I gave private lessons, that I had gone for a day's outing to the country and that I didn't know anything about an "okruzhka". Whereupon the captain replied that I was the "illegal" Olga Petrovna, secretary of the Regional Committee, that a conference had been held in the woods at which I took the minutes. Fortunately, I had managed to destroy my notes of the minutes, otherwise I would have been instantly charged under article 102 of the Criminal Code.
The captain's exact knowledge of what occurred disturbed me and led me to suspect provocation. For the police even knew the password to our conference. Only one of our members could have betrayed it to the police, but just who it was is still a mystery to me.
I remained as Lydia Nikitina for only a week; then I was examined again and I was shown my photograph signed Zelikson and a voluminous dossier containing the record of my former sins.
Curiously enough, when recently I was perusing my "personal" dossier in the archives of the former Moscow Secret Police, I discovered a document pinned to the other papers--a statement from a certain Kaluga inhabitant that no Lydia Nikitina had ever lived in his house; there was also correspondence between Kaluga and Moscow about a raid at the home of this unfortunate Kaluga inhabitant. The truth is that at my first examination when I was asked where I lived in Kaluga (I had never been there in my life), I had given the first name that came into my head and, unfortunately, there happened to be a man of that name in Kaluga, and he was subjected to much unpleasantness on my account.
Since neither I nor the other arrested comrades had any compromising documents upon our person, no definite charge could be brought against us and we were subjected to a summary penalty. This time I was detained for three months. At first, before they learned who I was, I was sent to the secret police headquarters. In the narrow corridor near my cell were two huge boxes filled with our newspaper, Proletary. I had seen similar boxes in Teriyokki. Most probably an entire shipment of our paper had been seized. During my daily exercise I felt a pang at the heart as I passed those boxes of our splendid newspaper standing in the filthy corridor of the police headquarters.
Once, quite unexpectedly and to my great joy, Sophia Bobrovskaya came to see me. Her age, and her passport which indicated that she was the widow of a counsellor of state, duly impressed the prison officials who permitted her to see me as soon as she declared that I, Lydia Nikitina, was her niece.
There was an amusing scene. The door of my cell opened and in marched my mother-in-law calling me her dear Lydochka, followed by a policeman solemnly carrying her rubbers which she had taken off in the corridor. This courtesy was solely due to her high station.
Sophia Bobrovskaya's visit to me as her niece Lydia, however, did not prevent her coming a week later, when everything about me was already known, and asking to see Zelikson, her daughter-in-law.
After a while I was transferred to the Sushchevka department and unexpectedly found myself in the same cell as my former assistant, big Elena, who had been arrested together with little Elena some time before me. A note signed "Olga" was found in her possession, and the police racked their brains to discover who this "Olga" was. And yet, even when they had me in their hands, they could not nut two and two together. Big Elena--Comrade Dracheva--had just returned from being examined and exclaimed, "Oh, those dreadful nuisances, how they pester me about this Olga! How I should like to tell them that that very Olga is right under their noses!"
Prisons in 1908 were somewhat different from what they were before 1905. A marked change had taken place. The prisons became more democratic, if one can thus express it. All sorts of people were assembled there.
In Sushchevka, by the way, a good many anarchists belonging to different groups were imprisoned. But no matter what group they belonged to, they all made the same unfavourable impression on me. Conditions in this prison were quite tolerable. The only thing we could not do was to take our things and go home. Everything else was permitted. The superintendent was a spineless sort of creature, his assistant, whom we nicknamed "Nikolai the Second" was a hopeless drunkard, and the third official we merely called Vadimka. When "Nikolai the Second" sobered up after a drunken spell, he would come to our cell for some hot cabbage soup. Vadimka was a dandy with a sweet tooth. Whenever a prisoner received a bottle of eau de cologne from outside--Vadimka would spill half of it on his uniform and smilingly return the other half to the person it was meant for, and if it happened to be a box of sweets, Vadimka would take half for himself and hand the other to its rightful owner. Naturally such behaviour on the part of the senior officials of the prison could not but degrade them in the eyes of the prisoners and of the junior prison staff.
We were so free in prison that we hated to remain there. Life was so boring that one day the prisoners created a disturbance, broke windows, and swore at the officials. The result was that we were taken to different prisons. Dracheva and I were sent to Prechistenka prison which resembled a young ladies' Institute. Here it was even more boring than in Sushchevka: so much so that one did not even desire to break windows. But I remained in Prechistenka a very short time. Soon I was informed that I was to be exiled for four years to East Siberia. Owing to my illness, however, and the solicitations of my sister, I was examined by a medical commission and the sentence was changed to two years exile in the Vologda province.
I travelled to Vologda under quite unusual circumstances. Because of my illness I was allowed to go at my own expense instead of travelling with other prisoners by stage, on condition that I also take two detectives with me at my own expense. These were to guard me all the way and deliver me safely to the governor of Vologda. The entire journey cost me thirty rubles. My guards, while generously helping themselves to the food Sophia Bobrovskaya had sent, took excellent care of me. The younger and simpler one ran about all the stations to get me hot water and fresh rolls, while the older one, who wore a bowler hat, diverted me with his conversation and constantly apologized for consuming my eatables. After imprisonment, when you find yourself on a train knowing that on the morrow you will be walking unhampered about the streets of some strange city, you have an uncontrollable desire to laugh and talk. My desire to talk was so great that I gladly made conversation with my detectives.
Early in the morning we reached Vologda; when I arrived at the station I saw two of my old comrades standing there, Capitolina Rusanova and Constantin Popov--both of whom came to meet me. I was so overjoyed at seeing them that for the moment I forgot my escorts. Comrade Rusanova took my things and suggested that I go home with her, but here my two guards interfered, declaring that I could not go to the governor before ten o'clock, and that until I saw him I was considered under arrest and must remain at the station. Comrade Rusanova thereupon invited the detectives to go with me to her home where it was warm and cozy while it was cold at the station. The detectives readily agreed: we hired two izvozhchiks--Rusanova, Popov, and I got into one, while my escorts got into the other. When we arrived at Comrade Rusanova's apartment, the detectives, after having drunk their coffee, modestly settled back in the corner of the room, while we struck up a lively conversation at the table which lasted until 11 o'clock. Then I set out with my two guards for the governor's office where they handed me over and signed the necessary papers. From that moment I was free.
Besides Popov and Rusanova I met some other old comrades--B. P. Posern, the late com. Sammer, and 0. A. Varontsova. Our group of exiles continued to do active Party work in the town; at any rate, Constantin Popov ardently devoted himself to the work in the circles among the workers employed at the railroad workshops.
We once printed a manifesto on a hectograph in my room which I rented in Comrade Rusanovas apartment. But I cannot recall for what occasion it was printed. In general one could live and work very well in Vologda. However, the governor, Khvostov, did not intend to have me in the city and sent me to a district.
When I went to him to ask to be permitted to remain in Vologda, he answered: "I have some 3,000 exiles in my province: if I left all of them in Vologda, they would spoil the whole town." I wanted to tell him that we would spoil the whole province for him, but I refrained.
At the time of my journey to the district, called Veliki Ustug, my health was so poor that I had to send for my husband to take me there. Veliki Ustug is a splendid little town once you get used to it. But when you are ill and shaken by a journey of sixty versts by horse and cart through the winter frost and arrive before dawn, you feel a bit differently. Everything seems dark and desolate. The first person I met in Ustug was a doctor, the second an architect, Vladimir Kuritsin. Among the Ustug exiles were two rather secluded groups--Social-Democrats, the majority of whom were Bolsheviks, and a group of Socialist-Revolutionaries. There was a third and more numerous group of peasants who had been involved in agrarian disturbances, the so-called masses, who were purposely mixed with shady elements exiled by the village communities for drunkenness, horse-stealing and similar deeds. Altogether there were about three hundred peasants in Ustug.
Our Bolshevik group was in very good spirits. We spent a great deal of time in studying Marxian theory, as the problems that were in fashion at the time were of little interest to us: at any rate, I recall that Dmitri Pollan's lecture on the sex problem did not interest us in the least.
Among the exiles I particularly remember a Ukrainian peasant named Nenadoshchuk, a tall elderly muzhik in a huge Caucasian fur cap who was exiled for agrarian disturbances, and who was dreadfully homesick for his village. He often came to me with questions of a religious trend. Through this Nenadoshchuk I managed to get in contact with the mass of exiled peasants, which proved very useful when a new district officer, notorious for the organization of numerous attacks on the exiles in other districts, began his provocative activities in Ustug.
At first this officer began to send his inspectors about the town. You would be sitting in your room when suddenly, without a knock or a warning, a "figure in grey" would spring up at your elbow, stand silently a minute or two and then go away. It was an inspector who came to see whether you were still there and had not escaped. These appearances of the "figure in grey" unstrung even the calmest among us. After some time a provocative rumour spread among the peasants that all the landladies in the town were going to refuse to rent their rooms to the exiles. There was a talk of organizing a protest demonstration, and the day was actually fixed for it. We discovered, however, that the rumours had been deliberately spread by the district: officer in order to provoke a demonstration of this kind and he had his police already posted to "pacify the revolt", that is to beat up the exiles and win a reward from his superiors. Thanks to the timely measures taken by the more experienced section of the exiled comrades, Ustug witnessed no "demonstration" and no beating up.
Although there were not many workers in Ustug, there was a small local party organization in the town. It was kept alive by the indefatigable Kostya Kursin, from whom I learned that a considerable part of a secret printshop which had been functioning not very long before, was hidden in the town.
As it was extravagant to set up a secret printshop far from the Centre in a remote little town sixty versts from the railroad station, and because the local organization was too small and did not have sufficient funds to run it, and coupled with the fact that both Kostya and I were great patriots of the Moscow industrial region (Kostya had worked in Kostroma and Yaroslavl), we agreed to pack up all the typographical accessories and send them with Vanya Shumilov, member of the local organization, to Moscow, to an address which I gave him. Poor Vanya Shumilov, who was making the trip to Moscow for the first time in his young life, was not a little worried before his departure, but he fulfilled the commission in an exemplary manner, although he encountered many difficulties with his special burden in Moscow. Some time later several issues of the paper Workers' Banner (Rabocheye Znamya) were set up with our Ustug type (the paper was published by the Moscow Regional Committees) and the vignette of this newspaper--a factory with smoking chimneys--was made by Kostya Kursin.
In Ustug we had unlimited possibilities of following our Party press. I managed to arrange the regular receipt of copies of our latest literature published abroad, and from the cheerful tone of our leaders we tried to persuade ourselves that things were not so bad as they really were.
In the autumn of 1910 I finished my term of exile and went to Moscow. But I was not sure that the police would allow me to live there.