Six Red Months in Russia

by Louise Bryant



ONE often wonders what is working in the German mind. In Russia it was possible for some of us to find out how the common soldiers of Germany and Austria reacted to the terrible tyranny under which they live. Delegates from the two million war prisoners who met in the Foreign Office became so impregnated with Bolshevik propaganda and spread it so thoroughly among their men that whenever a prisoner escaped and got back into Germany he was kept in a detention camp for two weeks and fed on literature gotten out by the German government and calculated as a cure for the revolutionary fever. Every prisoner was forced to undergo this ordeal before he was allowed contact again with his own people. No one realises more than the German officials the effect of working class conscience on their imperialistic aims.

I travelled direct from Petrograd to Stockholm. No greater contrast is possible than to go from a city under the sway of a proletarian dictatorship to a royal city where a king sits in ermine on an ancient throne.

Stockholm buzzes with intrigue. On the magnificent terrace of the Grand Hotel, where fresh flowers are "planted" beside the fountains every day, one rubs elbows with people from every corner of the world. The air is heavy with plots and counter-plots. Spies from the Entente and the Central Powers dodge round the corners. Guests speak in subdued tones with their heads close together, glancing furtively from side to side.

I dined there with a diplomat. A tall middle-aged man passed. My host and the man stared at each other coldly and my host sighed. "There are things about the war that are hard to get used to," he said. "For example, the fellow that just passed is a German. I have known him for years, but I have been away a long time and only lately returned to Stockholm. A few weeks ago he was lunching here with friends when I came through with a party--before we thought what we were doing, we rushed forward and shook hands. It was extremely embarrassing and we were both reprimanded. .. ."

Stockholm was overcrowded. It was impossible to get rooms in any hotel; I appealed to the American legation and they got me into a little pension on Clarabergsgatan. I wanted to tell the landlady that I would be leaving the next day, but she spoke only Swedish. By signs I tried to indicate that I wanted an interpreter. At last she understood and after showing me to my room she returned in a few minutes with an athletic young man who clicked himself in with a sort of military air and made a stiff little bow. He spoke English with scarcely an accent, explaining briefly what I wanted. When he had finished the landlady smiled and went out, but the young man stood still in the middle of the room staring before him. I stirred the fire and waited for him to go.

Suddenly he came closer. "I am a German," he announced.

I tried not to appear surprised and there was an embarrassed silence.

"You are an American," he went on, "so of course you hate me."

"Let's not talk about it," I answered, turning away.

"I have to talk about it! he almost shouted.

Then for the first time I began to observe him closely. He had a wild look; his eyes were red and his face drawn as if from lack of sleep. I have known many soldiers on two fronts and I had seen them in this state before. He was mentally sick.

"What is the matter?" I asked.

"I have been ordered to go back for the Russian advance."

It was several days before the advance and I found myself getting excited. "But there is no Russian advance!" I broke in.

"There will be, I tell you. There will be an advance and I have been ordered back. You must understand, whether you hate me or not, that I will not go. I will not fight against the Russian people !"

He paced up and down. "I am in great disgrace," he said miserably. "I have begged to go to the French front, but they will not change their orders. They are stupid and puffed up with victory. They expect me to go into an exhausted country and shoot down a starving population. ... I cannot do it! German people cannot be so infamous."

"You mean, then," I asked, "that you will openly refuse to fight the Russians?"

"No," he answered in despair. "I will kill myself."

Silence followed. Neither one of us could think of anything to say.

"Liebknecht," I said at last, "is one of the great figures of the war. It is much braver, in my opinion, to do as he has done--to protest against the action of the government than to kill yourself and never be heard of again."

He drew himself up haughtily. "Liebknecht!" he exclaimed in surprise. "Why, he is a Socialist!"

"Nevertheless," I went on calmly, "he has the courage to do the unpopular thing, which is more than any German officer can do."

His face turned crimson. "Mademoiselle," he said gravely, "I shall never Forget that you have called Liebknecht braver than any German officer." A long minute passed. "I shall never forget..." he hesitated, "because, perhaps, it is true.

"I have suffered much," he went on. "A month ago I came here to recuperate from a wound and for the first time since the war I have read American papers. I have been thinking about many things and I have thought about Russia. I would fight to the end against England, but I will not go a step against Russia. When we fight England we fight an equal. .. ."

I came back to the subject of America. "What did you get out of American papers?"

"Many lies," he said, "and one great truth." "And that was---"

"That something is wrong with the policy of the German government." He began to reminisce: "My father is a very rich man. He bought me into a smart cavalry regiment. I believed in the military party. But I am different now. I hate that party. They have made my people a thing of shame. I loathe my rulers; I loathe especially the Crown Prince. But what can I do? I do not believe in your 'brotherhood of man.' I am not comfortable with ragamuffins.... There is no place for me. Your President has spoken a great truth. He has said that the German people are not bad.... Ah, yes, it is true we are not bad and it is not fine with us. .. ."

"If you should go back," I suggested, "and say you will not take part in the advance into Russia, what would happen?"

"Only one thing can happen in any case if I go back; I will be shot in twenty-four hours."

I looked at my enemy standing straight and young before me. It was true there was no hope for him. He was already in disgrace. He had expressed himself and there was no recourse. On the other hand, he couldn't imagine joining the revolutionists. He was a lost soul. The only thing left was oblivion in some hotel bedroom. "It is not fine .. ." he murmured again in a half-dazed way as he closed the door and stumbled down the narrow stairs.