One day, after lunch, when Ilyich was about to go to the library and I had finished clearing away the dishes, Bronski came in, saying: "Haven't you heard the news? There's a revolution in Russia!" And he told us about the latest reports published in the special editions of the newspapers. After Bronski had gone, we went down to the lake, on the shore of which all the newspapers were posted up as soon as they came out.
We read the reports several times. A revolution had really taken place in Russia. Ilyich's mind went to work at once. I hardly remember how the rest of the day and the night passed. Next day the second batch of official reports about the February Revolution found Ilyich writing to Kollontai in Stockholm: "Never again along the lines of the Second International! Never again with Kautsky! By all means a more revolutionary programme and tactics." And further on: "... as before, revolutionary propaganda, agitation and struggle with the aim of an international proletarian revolution and for the conquest of power by the 'Soviets of Workers' Deputies (but not by the Cadet fakers)."
Ilyich straightaway took a clear uncompromising line, although he had not yet grasped the scope of the revolution. He still gauged it by the scope of the 1905 Revolution, and said that the most important task of the moment was to combine legal work with illegal.
The next day, in reply to Kollontai's telegram asking for instructions, he wrote in a different vein, more concretely. He no longer spoke about the conquest of power by the Soviets of Workers' Deputies prospectively, but spoke about concrete preparations for seizing power and arming the workers, about the fight for bread, peace and freedom. "Spread out! Rouse new sections! Awaken fresh initiative, form new organizations in every stratum and prove to them that peace can come only with the armed Soviet of Workers' Deputies in power." Together with Zinoviev, Ilyich set to work drawing up a resolution on the February Revolution.
The moment the news of the February Revolution was received, Ilyich was all eagerness to go back to Russia.
England and France would never have allowed any Bolsheviks to go through to Russia. That much was clear to Ilyich, who wrote to Kollontai: "We are afraid we shall not be able to leave this accursed Switzerland very soon." With this in mind, he discussed with Kollontai in his letters of March 16 and 17 how best to organize contact with St. Petersburg.
As there were no legal ways of travelling, illegal ways would have to be used. But what ways? From the moment the news of the revolution was received, Ilyich had no sleep. His nights were spent building the most improbable plans. We could fly over by plane. But such an idea could only be thought of in a waking dream. Put into words, its unreality became at once obvious. The thing was to obtain the passport of some foreigner from a neutral country, best of all a Swede, who was less likely to arouse suspicion. A Swedish passport could be obtained through the Swedish comrades, but ignorance of the language was an obstacle to using it. Perhaps just a little Swedish would do? You might easily give yourself away, though. "Imagine yourself falling asleep and dreaming of Mensheviks, which will start you off swearing juicily in Russian! Where will your disguise be then?" I said with a laugh.
Nevertheless Ilyich wrote to Ganiecki enquiring whether there was any way of getting into the country through Germany.
On March 18, the anniversary of the Paris Commune, Ilyich went to Chaux-de-Fonds, a large Swiss labour centre. He went there gladly. Abramovich, a young comrade, worked at a factory there and took an active part in the Swiss labour movement. The thought of the Paris Commune, of utilizing its experience in the newly launched Russian revolutionary movement, and of avoiding its errors occupied Ilyich's mind a good deal those days, and so his lecture went off very well and he was pleased with it himself. His address impressed our comrades tremendously, but the Swiss thought it impracticable – even the Swiss working-class centres had but a vague idea of what was going on in Russia.
The Russian emigrant groups of internationalists living in Switzerland met on March 19 to discuss ways of getting back to Russia. Martov proposed a plan for allowing emigrants to pass through Germany in exchange for German and Austrian prisoners of war interned in Russia. However, no one was inclined to accept this plan. Lenin was the only one who jumped at it. We would have to go about it carefully, he said. The best thing would be to have the negotiations started at the initiative of the Swiss Government. Grimm was authorized to enter into negotiations with the Swiss authorities. Nothing came of it, however. No replies were received to the telegrams sent to Russia. Ilyich fretted. "What torture it is for us all to sit here at such a time!" he wrote to Ganiecki in Stockholm. But he had already taken a grip upon himself.
Pravda started coming out in St. Petersburg on March 18, and on the 20th Ilyich started to send in his "Letters from Afar." They were five in number ("The First Stage of the First Revolution," "The New Government and the Proletariat," "Concerning a Proletarian Militia," "How To Achieve Peace," and "The Tasks Connected with the Building of Revolutionary Proletarian State System"). Only the first letter was published on the day Lenin arrived in St. Petersburg, three others were lying in the editors' office and the fifth had not even been sent to Pravda, as Lenin had started writing it just before leaving for Russia.
These letters strikingly reflect Ilyich's train of thoughts on the eve of his departure. I particularly remember what he then said about the militia. This question is dealt with in the third of the series – "Concerning a Proletarian Militia." It was not published until 1924, after the death of Ilyich. In it Ilyich expounds his ideas on the nature of the proletarian state. To obtain a really proper understanding of Lenin's book The State and Revolution, one must read these "Letters from Afar." The whole subject is treated in this article with extraordinary concreteness. Ilyich spoke about a new type of militia, consisting entirely of armed citizens, of adult citizens of both sexes. Besides its direct military duties, this militia was to effect prompt and proper appropriation and distribution of grain and other food surpluses, act as sanitary inspectors, see to it that every family had bread, every child a bottle of good milk, and that not a single grown-up in a rich family should dare to have any extra milk until the children had been provided for, that the palaces and rich homes should not stand empty, but be used as shelter for the homeless and destitute. "Who can carry out these measures except a people's militia, to which women should without fail belong equally with men?" Ilyich wrote.
"These measures do not yet constitute socialism. They pertain to the distribution of articles of consumption, and not to the reorganization of production.... How to classify them theoretically is not the point now. We would be committing a great mistake if we attempted to force the complex, urgent, rapidly developing practical tasks of the revolution into the Procrustean bed of narrowly conceived 'theory' instead of regarding theory primarily and mostly as a guide to action." The proletarian militia would actually educate the masses to take part in all state affairs. "Such a militia would draw the young people into political life and teach them not only by word of mouth, but also by action, by work." "On the order of the day is the task of organization, but certainly not in the stereotyped sense of working only on stereotyped organizations, but in the sense of drawing unprecedentedly broad masses of the oppressed classes into an organization and of making this organization itself take over military, state and national-economic functions."
Rereading this letter of Ilyich's today, after so many years, I can see him before me, as large as life: on the one hand, his extraordinary sober-mindedness, his clear appreciation of the necessity of an irreconcilable armed struggle and of the fact that no concessions or vacillation could be tolerated at that moment; on the other hand, his unremitting attention to the mass movement, to the organization of the broad masses in a new way, to their concrete needs, and to the immediate improvement of their conditions. Ilyich spoke about all these matters a great deal in the winter of 1916-1917, and especially in the period immediately preceding the February Revolution.
The negotiations dragged on. The Provisional Government obviously did not want to allow the internationalists entry into Russia, and the news from Russia pointed to certain vacillation among the comrades there. All this necessitated our speedy departure. Ilyich sent a telegram to Ganiecki, which the latter did not receive until March 25, saying: "Cannot understand delay. Mensheviks demand sanction of Soviet of Workers' Deputies. Send someone immediately Finland or Petrograd make possible arrangements with Chkheidze. Opinion Belenin desirable." By Belenin was meant the Bureau of the Central Committee. Kollontai arrived in Russia on March 18 and explained how matters stood with Ilyich's arrival. Letters were received from Ganiecki. The Bureau of the Central Committee issued instructions through him that "Ulyanov must come immediately." Ganiecki re-telegraphed this message to Lenin. Vladimir Ilyich insisted that negotiations be opened through Fritz Platten, the Swiss Socialist-Internationalist. Platten came to a definite written understanding with the German Ambassador in Switzerland. The principal points of this agreement were: 1. That all emigrants were to be allowed to go regardless of their views on the war, 2. That no one could enter the railway car in which the emigrants were travelling without the permission of Platten. There was to be no inspection of passports or luggage; 3. That the passengers undertook to agitate in Russia for a corresponding number of Austro-German internees to be repatriated by way of exchange. Ilyich got busy making preparations for departure, and wrote to various comrades in Berne and Geneva, etc. The Vperyod-ists Ilyich was negotiating with refused to go. Karl and Kasparov, two close comrades who were dying in Davos, had to be left behind. Ilyich wrote them a farewell greeting. Or rather he added a postscript to my long letter. I wrote in detail about who was going, what preparations we were making and what our plans were. The few words that Ilyich added showed how well he understood the feelings of those who were staying behind.
"Dear Kasparov," he wrote, "I send you and Karl my heartiest greetings and wish you good cheer. You must have patience. I hope we shall meet soon in St. Petersburg. My best wishes to you both. Yours, Lenin."
"I wish you good cheer. You must have patience...." Aye, that was just the thing. We never met again. Both Kasparov and Karl died soon after.
Ilyich wrote an article "The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party in the Russian Revolution" for the Zurich paper Volksrecht, and a "Farewell Letter to the Swiss Workers" which ended with the words: "Long live the proletarian revolution that is beginning in Europe!" He also wrote a letter "To Comrades Languishing in Captivity" in which he told them about the revolution that had started and the coming struggle. We had to write to them. While living in Berne we had started a fairly wide correspondence with Russian prisoners of war in German camps. We could not do much for them in the way of financial assistance, of course, but we did what we could, wrote letters to them and sent them literature. A number of close contacts were made. After our departure from Berne this work was continued by the Safarovs. We sent illegal literature to these prisoners of war, including Kollontai's pamphlet on the war, which was a great success, a number of leaflets, etc.
A few months before we left Zurich two prisoners of war turned up – one of them a Voronezh peasant named Mikhalyov, the other an Odessa worker. They had escaped from a German prisoner-of-war camp by swimming across Bodensee. They came to our Zurich group. Ilyich had long talks with them. Mikhalyov's stories about life among the prisoners of war were of great interest. He told us how the Ukrainian prisoners had first been sent to Galicia, how pro-Ukrainian agitation against Russia had been conducted among them, and how afterwards he and others had been transferred to Germany where they had been made to work for well-to-do farmers. "What wonderful management, not a crust of bread goes waste with them," Mikhalyov exclaimed. "When I get back to my home village I'll run the farm the same way as they do." He came of a family of Old Believers, and his grandfather and grandmother would not allow him to learn to read and write – literacy was supposed to be the mark of the devil. Nevertheless, during his captivity, he had learned to read and write. His grandparents sent him millet and pork fat, and the Germans looked on with astonishment as he cooked and ate millet porridge. Mikhalyov had counted on going to a people's university in Zurich, and was shocked to hear that there was none. He was interned. He got some work to do as a navvy and could not stop wondering at the downtrodden state of the Swiss working man. "Going to the office to draw my pay," he said, "I see the Swiss workers standing there and not daring to go into the office – they stood hugging the wall and peeping in through the window. What a downtrodden people! I went straight up, opened the door, walked in and got my money for my work!" Ilyich was greatly intrigued by this Voronezh peasant, who had only just learned to read and write and yet talked about the abject condition of the Swiss workers. Mikhalyov also described how a Russian priest once visited the prisoners camp, but the soldiers began to shout and swear and refused to listen to him. One of the prisoners went up to him and kissed his hand, saying: "You'd better go away, Father, this is no place for you." Mikhalyov and his comrades asked us to take them with us to Russia, but we did not know how we would fare ourselves – we might all be arrested for all we knew. After our departure Mikhalyov crossed over to France, first living in Paris, then working at some tractor plant and later at some job in Eastern France, where there were a lot of Polish emigrants. In 1918 (or 1919 – I do not remember which) Mikhalyov returned to Russia. Ilyich met him. Mikhalyov related how in Paris he and several other prisoners of war who had escaped from Germany were sent for by the Russian Embassy and asked to sign an appeal urging that the war be continued to a victorious end. And although important bemedalled officials spoke to them, the soldiers refused to sign it. "I got up and said the war should be stopped, and went away. The others slipped out on the quiet too," he said. He described the big anti-war campaign which the young people started in the little French town where he lived. Mikhalyov himself no longer resembled the Voronezh peasant we had first met. He wore a French cap, and khaki puttees, and his face was clean shaven. Ilyich fixed him up with some job in a factory, but all his thoughts were for his native village. The place had passed from hand to hand, from the Reds to the Whites and back again. The central part of the village had been burned down by the Whites, but his house was intact, and his grandparents were still alive. I learned all this from Mikhalyov himself, who came to see me at the Central Political Education Department. He told me that he was going home soon. "Why don't you go now?" I asked him. "I'm waiting for my beard to grow. If Grandma and Grandpa see me without it they'll die of grief!" This year I received a letter from Mikhalyov. He is working on the railway in Central Asia, and writes that on Lenin Memorial Day he spoke at a workers' club about how he had met Ilyich in 1917 in Zurich and about our life abroad. Everyone had listened with interest, but had doubted the truth of the story, and so Mikhalyov asked me to confirm that he had really met Ilyich in Zurich.
Mikhalyov was a piece of real life. So also were the letters which our prisoners of war sent to our P.O.W. Relief Committee.
Ilyich could not leave for Russia without writing to them of what was uppermost in his mind at the moment.
When we received the letter from Berne telling us that Platten's negotiations had been successfully concluded, and that as soon as the protocol was signed we could start for Russia, Ilyich sprang to his feet: "Let us catch the first train." The train was due to leave in two hours. In those two hours we had to wind up our "household," settle with the landlady, return the books to the library, pack up and so on. "Go by yourself, I'll leave tomorrow," I said. But Ilyich insisted on us going together. In two hours everything was done – the books packed, letters destroyed, the necessary clothes and articles selected, and all affairs settled. We caught the first train to Berne.
All the comrades who were going to Russia gathered at the People's House in Berne. Among the passengers were the Zinovievs, the Usieviches, Inessa Armand, the Safarovs, Olga Ravich, Abramovich from Chaux-de-Fonds, Grebelskaya, Kharitonov, Linda Rosenblum, Boitsov, Mikha Tskhakaya, the Marienhoffs and Sokolnikov. Radek went under the guise of a Russian. Altogether thirty people were going, not counting curly-headed little Robert, the four-yeard-old son of a Bundist woman.
We were escorted by Fritz Platten.
The defencists raised a terrible hullabaloo about the Bolsheviks travelling through Germany. Naturally, the German Government gave permission for us to travel through Germany in the belief that revolution was a disaster to a country, and that by allowing emigrant internationalists to return to their country they were helping to spread the revolution to Russia. The Bolsheviks, for their part, considered it their duty to develop revolutionary agitation in Russia, and made it their aim to bring about a victorious proletarian revolution. They did not care what the german bourgeois government thought about it. They knew that the defencists would start a mud-slinging campaign against them, but that the masses in the long run would follow their lead. At that time, on march 27, the Bolsheviks were the only ones to take the risk of going that way. A month later, over two hundred emigrants, including Martov and other Mensheviks, followed the same route through Germany.
When boarding the train, no one examined either our luggage or our passports. Ilyich withdrew completely into himself, and his thoughts ran forward into Russia. The talk during the journey was mostly of a trivial nature. Robert's chirpy voice rang through the car. He took a great liking to Sokolnikov, and would have no truck with the women. The Germans went out of their way to show that they had plenty of everything, and the cook served up good square meals, to which our emigrant fraternity was hardly accustomed. Looking out of the carriage window, we were struck by the total absence of grown-up men. Only women, teenagers and children could be seen at the wayside stations, on the fields, and in the streets of the towns. This impression often came back to me during the early days of our arrival in Petrograd, where the tramcars were packed with soldiers.
In Berlin our train was shunted to a siding. Just before we came to Berlin, several German Social-Democrats had got in in a special compartment. None of us spoke to them except Robert, who looked into their compartment and began interrogating them in French: "What does the conductor do?" I don't know what the Germans told Robert, but I do know that they had no chance to put any questions of their own to the Bolsheviks. On March 31 we arrived in Sweden. At Stockholm we were met by the Swedish Social-Democratic M.P.'s Lindhagen, Karlsson, Strom, T. Nerman and others. A red flag had been hung up in the waiting room and a meeting was held there. I have only a dim recollection of Stockholm, as all my thoughts were in Russia. The Provisional Government of Russia did not allow Fritz Platten and Radek into the country. It did not dare to stop the Bolsheviks, however. We crossed into Finland from Sweden in Finnish country sleighs. Everything was dear and familiar – the rickety old third-class carriages, the Russian soldiers. It made you feel good. It was not long before Robert woke up in the arms of an elderly soldier, and clasped him round the neck, chattering away to him in French and eating the sweet Easter cream-cheese with which the soldier was feeding him. We all huddled round the windows. The station platforms we passed were crowded with soldiers. Usievich leaned out and shouted: "Long live the world revolution!" The soldiers stared at him. A pale-faced lieutenant passed us several times, and when Ilyich and I went into the next car, which was empty, he sat down beside Ilyich and engaged him in conversation. The lieutenant was a defencist. They began a spirited argument. Ilyich, too, was very pale. Little by little the car filled with soldiers until it was packed tight. They stood up on the seats the better to be able to see and hear the man who was speaking in such understandable terms against the predatory war. Their faces grew tense as they listened with growing interest.
At Beloostrov we were met by Maria Ilyinichna, Shlyapnikov, Stael and other comrades. There were women workers there too. Stael kept urging me to say a few words of greeting to them, but words utterly failed me. The comrades got in with us. Ilyich asked whether we would be arrested on our arrival. The comrades smiled. Soon we arrived in Petrograd.