The Autobiography of
Peter Petroff

This is part of the autobiography of Peter Petroff – Chapter 8 which is an account of SDLP Conference of 1907, Chapter 15, an account of the ratification of the Brest Litovsk Treaty, and the remainder of the work from Chapter 18 to 29 where it ends. Most of it which relates to Petroff’s time in Russia after his return is thus included. There is an interesting survey of this unpublished work by Professor Kevin Morgan in Scottish Labour History, Vol. 48, 2013, pp. 23-51: “In and Out of the Swamp.” He deals in particular the earlier period with Petroff in Britain and the precise genesis of the autobiography.

Some Comments by the transcriber, Ted Crawford

A few points. First it is interesting as it is so early, 1918, and shows how soon the bureaucracy was establishing itself, but somehow Petroff according to his own account is always the hero and wins all his battles whether in the Volga region or Siberia. How? Why? “ ‘Comrade Petroff cares very little about us,’ Kosariev said afterwards sadly to his colleagues of the Sibrevkom, ‘he thinks he can do just as he phases for he has Lenin behind him’.” Chapter 23 page 6 on the Word doc. (PP must have heard this from someone present when it was said.) So did he have Lenin behind him? He MUST have done to get away with it if his account is even half true. I believe it to be true, though maybe he exaggerates his and Irma’s role. That says something about Lenin.

Of course eventually PP could be isolated. After Siberia he went to the conference at Baku and then he and Irma went to Germany in 1921 as he could see what was happening. And what should be carefully noted, above all in the period 1917-1922 are the dates of specific events, not just the year but the month, even the precise date if it exists.

Let me add something to the question of Petroff and Lenin. First he was not in contact with VIL much, this was before the epoch of mobile phones. Once away in the Volga not at all, until he came back, likewise Siberia. We have of course Lenin’s Collected Works including even his laundry list, only a slight exaggeration, but there may be gaps. I do not know if there are many or any notes from Lenin to him. Because of L&W doing their stuff I have no access to the index at present. In any case we have no record of notes by Petroff (or anyone else) to Lenin. In his absence without contact the intriguers could get to work, some not so corrupt, vicious and brutal as the bureaucrats he met in Siberia and the Volga or indeed Minsk but still somewhat inclined to grab privileges for themselves. To be honest it must have been very difficult not to do so in this period of appalling shortages.

As a matter of policy clearly Petroff is very much in favour of an NEP. If you did not have something of a free market then bureaucrats could control everything and take their cut. Often what was even worse, they wasted huge quantities of resources because, as conservatives like Hayek point out, the huge complexity of a modern economy is beyond the capacity of one man or a committee – though a centrally controlled war economy can work. In Russia corruption and a “low cultural level” made it far worse. The only control under these conditions is a free, very free, press and democracy though the latter is seen as holding up decisions and therefore “inefficient.” HS2 [high speed rail] anyone? And finally the blockade made things so bad. Thank you Britain.

Interesting too how P.P. notes that all the ex-German and Austrian PoWs really thought the problems would be the same as pre-war.

Table of Contents

Chapter  8 : 1907 SDLP conference
Chapter 15 : The Ratification of the Peace of Brest Litovsk
Chapter 18 : In the Volga Area
Chapter 19 : Adventures in the Occupied Territories
Chapter 20 : The White Russian Soviet-Republic
Chapter 21 : The Birth of the Communist International
Chapter 22 : A Democratic Experiment
Chapter 23 : In Siberia
Chapter 24 : New Tendencies
Chapter 25 : The General Staff of the World Revolution
Chapter 26 : The Proletariat in Revolt
Chapter 27 : Disillusioned
Chapter 28 : At the Crossroads
Chapter 29 : Without a Country


From his Memoirs

Kentish Town BSP
German Ignominy, poem by Irma Petroff, 1918
Broken the strings On which I have played, poem by Irma Petroff, 1920