Six Red Months in Russia

by Louise Bryant



I CAME back from Petrograd as far as Stockholm as a Bolshevik courier. It came about in this way: I was very worried about my papers. Once before when I travelled through Finland most of my baggage was confiscated. I didn't want it to happen again, so I went to Assistant Foreign Minister Zalkind and asked how I could avoid a similar experience. He thought for a moment, smiled and said, "Why, I will make you a courier for the Soviet Government."

I had no idea what it would mean to be taken for a Bolshevik outside of Russia. Dr. Zalkind is a subtle person, sometimes I think that he might have felt that it would be an illuminating experience for a reporter--and it was.

The night before I left I sent my bags over to the foreign office. Three old servants, who had seen many years of service under the Tsar and who still wore the same old uniforms, stood stiffly at attention ready to perform the ceremony. One held a flaming taper, one the long wax sticks and one the official seal which never left his person while he was on duty and which reposed in the great safe at night.

They were very solemn and never changed the expression of their faces as they pasted all over my heretofore insignificant baggage large white cards that proclaimed in black letters that I was about to depart on an expedition officiel, treating me with all the deference due an emissary of His Imperial Majesty. Only the soldiers and sailors, shuffling through the building, looked in at the door and grinned broadly.

When the ceremony was over I went in to say good-bye to Zalkind and he gave me courier's papers and a letter to the Bolshevik Minister in Stockholm. "You might tell him what you see on the way, in case it is exciting," he said.

"Do you expect anything to happen?" I asked.

"Well, the Red Guards are still in power, but we are not sure how long they can hold out. Keep your eyes open, anyway."

One has barely time to arrange one's luggage comfortably in the compartment before the train stops at Bjeloostrov, just at the border of Finland. It is only an hour's ride out of Petrograd. Bolshevik troops were everywhere. They examined my passports, counted me a friend and scarcely glanced at my possessions bravely flaunting the enormous red seals of the Workmen's and Peasants' Government.

The trip was uneventful until we reached Tamerfors. Here a company of sailors, who had come to help the Red Guard, were arrested by the White Guard, and somberly marched away. I regretted that this was my last glimpse of the adventuresome Cronstadt sailors, for they, more than any other group, held our imaginations during the proletarian dictatorship.

My train was the last one allowed to pass. I learned in Stockholm that the Cronstadt sailors had been shot. When the Germans and the White Guards came into power terrible things immediately followed. Seven thousand men and women belonging to the Red Army were slaughtered after they had been disarmed. The German method of billing these poor people was this: They took them in batches of fifty, stood them against a wall and turned on the machine guns. If I had been a few hours later in departing from Petrograd, carrying papers from the Bolsheviki, I would have probably shared their unhappy fate.

At Tornea the American officer had gone away to be married, and a lithe young Cossack had charge. I wasn't sure he was a Bolshevik and hesitated to present my credentials. He began at once to ask me questions in very good English. "Are you just coming from Petrograd? Are you a Socialist?" And before I could answer he went on proudly: "I myself am a Socialist, and I am much interested in the Bolshevik movement. There is great chance for advancement. Look at me! I am under thirty and I am a General. What man in your country is a General under thirty?"

From Tornea to Haparanda everything was frozen, so we rode from one town to the other in a sleigh. The Cossack general accompanied me. He was very happy, telling me all about himself. We were only a few miles from the Arctic circle. He suggested to me that it would be a very nice experience for an American correspondent to walk over. It was not quite three o'clock in the afternoon and the sun, which had been up only a few hours, was already setting, casting back into the sky flames of yellow and gold, reddening the snow. Two little sleighs, drawn by reindeer, in each of which sat a man, came flying from opposite directions. The drivers seemed to hare no control of the furious little animals, who dashed at each other, upsetting everything.

We didn't leave Haparanda until about eight in the evening. I had my dinner there and walked through the town, poking around in the little shops and talking to the peasants. Handsome young Swedish officers and Swedish troops in light blue uniforms and high white fur hats were on every street. I wondered, with a little fear in my heart, if they were about to go into Finland and complicate matters even more.

Almost as soon as we left the border ten German officers came on board. They were dressed in all sorts of odds and ends of garments, and if I hadn't sat at their table for all three meals the next day, I might not have known who they were. It seems that they had established a regular underground system from Finland, which was working especially well since the White Guards were growing in power.

They appeared to have friends all along the way, and when we got to Stockholm one officer was met by his wife and two children. Since the beginning of the war Finnish young men have been fighting in the German trenches against the Russians. It is an undisguised fact, which has been proven by the recent actions of the Finnish government, that the sympathies of the conservative classes in Finland, like the sympathies of the conservative classes in Sweden, are pro-German. Nevertheless, it was rather startling to see such open co-operation.

As soon as I got to Stockholm, I tried to find the Bolshevik officials. I thought maybe a courier would be going back, and I wanted to get word to them about the German officers. My troubles began at once. I went into the largest hotel because I had no definite address, and asked the clerk if he knew where the Bolshevik office was located. He threw me a hostile stare: "Down in some cellar, probably. We have no information about such people."

Curious to see the effect, I continued, "But I am a courier for the new Russian Government."

"We have no rooms in the hotel," he said, turning his back, which may or may not have been an answer to my remark.

Next I went to the American legation. Just across the court before the entrance I noticed the old Russian imperial double eagle on a sign bearing the words, "Russian Consulate." So I went across the yard and entered the building. I heard voices inside, and knocked at the door. Loud shouts of "Enter!" summoned me into an ill-lighted room. In one corner hummed a samovar. A lot of people were sitting at a table drinking and eating sandwiches. Clothes were strewn on chairs, and an unkempt baby gurgled noisily from the middle of the floor. A man came forward and asked me what I wanted. I said nonchalantly, "If this is the Bolshevik office, I have a letter and some information for you."

Immediately everybody jumped up in great excitement, and they all began talking at once as only Russians can.

"We have nothing to do with Bolsheviki! We do not receive their representatives."

"Well, at least," I said, "you could tell me where they are located."

"We have nothing to do with Bolsheviki!"

I was getting a little weary of being treated in this fashion by snobbish individuals.

"If you represented the Provisional Government, or even if you were the representatives of the Tsar's government, the one thing you would be informed about would be the whereabouts of the new power."

"We have nothing to do with the Bolsheviki!" they cried, screaming with rage and slamming the door.

I started back to the legation, and met a correspondent from one of our biggest press agencies. I began to feel relieved; I was so sure I would get the right information.

"Will you tell me," I said, as politely as I knew how, "where I can find the Bolshevik headquarters?"

To my utter astonishment he purpled with indignation. "I have nothing to do with such scum!" he answered icily.

I felt myself forced to ask one more question. "If you had to choose between the Bolsheviki and the Germans, which would you prefer?"

Without hesitating he replied, "The Germans."

"Have you ever been in Russia?"


There was nothing further to say. I went into the American Minister's office and got the right address. It was only a block away. All the people I had asked must have known where it was. I wondered as I went along what sort of terrible folk I would find there. A very slight, almost timid, youth answered my ring. He said the Consul would see me in a minute, and gave me a book and a chair by the fire.

The Consul, Vorovsky, proved to be a well-known musician and a cultured gentleman. His assistant was a doctor of philosophy, whose imagination had been caught by the romance and the daring of the Bolshevik movement.

"You must be very tired," said the doctor of philosophy, "after your long journey. Just down the street is a quiet little tea shop where they have nice concerts and the most delicious Swedish pastries. We will go there and talk."

Seated at the table, we looked out across the street at the slow-moving barges going up and down the canals. Vast Russia lay far behind. I was homesick for my own country, but I thought of the German advance and my heart ached. I wanted to go back and offer my life for the revolution. My companion interrupted my thoughts.

"If you care for Swedish art," he began, "there is an interesting exhibition of Zorn at the National gallery... ."