The Second Congress of the Communist International which after a ceremonious opening in Petrograd had been transferred to Moscow deliberated there from the 23 July to the 7 August 1920. This Congress was much more representative than its predecessor. Amongst the delegates the real ones – those who had been actually sent by their respective parties or groups from abroad – predominated. It was stated that thirty-seven countries were represented.
The parties, groups and tendencies who had sent delegates to the Congress could be divided into three groups: Actual Communist parties (Russia, Germany, Hungary etc); revolutionary committees and small industrial groups with strong, syndicalist tendencies (I.W.W., Shop stewards’ committees etc), and finally Left-wing elements from the ranks of the Second (Socialist) International who had come to reconnoitre whether or not it was advisable to join the Third (Communist) International. Invisibly distributed amongst all these delegates there were “delegates” of a variety of police headquarters... The latter had played a prominent part at the inauguration of the Red Trade Union International. This curious circumstance seemed not to bother the Moscow leaders in the least though they were well informed about the past life of some of these “delegates.”
The semi-syndicalist representatives of the “new movement,” to use a term coined by Zinoviev, still in process of organisation, were made very welcome. On the other hand the honest seeking Minority-socialists were regarded with considerable distrust. In order to create obstacles for those parties who had a Socialist training, were in the habit of thinking for themselves, possessed Socialist traditions and counted in their ranks prominent men, the notorious “twenty-one conditions” were invented. At a later date Zinoviev declared cynically: “We racked our brains in vain to invent another ten conditions to make it more difficult for them.” An obedient foreign police spy was then already looked upon with more favour by the leaders of the Communist International than an honest Social-democrat who had a mind of his own.
The ideologists of the Comintern believed that the World Revolution was already in progress. Though they held that the general strike and the armed insurrection would be the decisive weapons, they considered that during the period of preparation a Communist should not disdain to make use of the soundboard of Parliament. At the same time they wished to make it clear to the representatives of shop stewards and similar elements inclined towards Syndicalism that factory committees could not replace big industrial unions and that it was the task of the Communist Party to guide all Trade Unions and other working class organisations no matter what the sphere of their activity might be. These notions found expression in the constitution of the Communist International adopted by the Congress. According to that constitution the International was built up on strictly centralised lines as a united international Party with sections in various countries; and it was to be ruled internationally by an “iron discipline.” Its leading body was to be an Executive under Russian hegemony kept up by Russian Government funds with headquarters in Moscow. The Executive was to have the right to expel entire parties and groups should they act contrary to the said iron discipline. This Moscow “general staff” of the World Revolution dictated by Lenin, seconded by Trotsky, proclaimed by Zinoviev, Bukharin and Radek was to be in a position “to lead its detachments into battle in accordance with a well planned system.” Zinoviev expressed merely the generally prevailing illusions when he proclaimed that this Second World Congress of the Comintern was but the forerunner of the coming great international congress of the Soviet Republics of the World.
Irma and I sat at the Congress listening to the polyglot claptrap. If our Russian peasants believed in all this, I thought, that is to be comprehended, but these international adventurers! I desired to know what was going on in the heads of the few honest Communists amongst them. I tried to explore that but I found them in the mood of Mecca pilgrims who, on the sacred soil of Russia, felt all thinking to be presumptuous heresy: Lenin is great and Zinoviev is his prophet. That amongst the Russian delegates to the Congress there was also a man called Stalin is a fact. I do not believe that a single foreign delegate considered this fact worth noting or in any way heeded this fifth wheel on the Russian cart.
A week before the Congress of the Comintern the Red Trade Union International (termed “Profintern”) had been formed in Moscow. Now the Congress of the Comintern issued an appeal to the Trade Unions of all countries asking them to leave the “yellow” Amsterdam International Federation of Trade Unions and to join the red Moscow “Profintern.” In this manifesto the “treacherous Trade Union leaders” were accused of working for “class-collaboration on an international scale” though the masses were striving for revolution, and of having created for this purpose two institutions: the International Labour Office of the League of Nations and the International Federation of Trade Unions. None the less the Communists were urged not to leave their Trade Unions. Such a policy, it was explained, would be suicidal, “the Communists must be where the working masses are,” the Communists should rather be active in the Trade Unions and endeavour everywhere “to expel from the Unions traitor groups of leaders.”
I suppose the world outside Moscow had never witnessed a Congress at which such a peculiar atmosphere prevailed. Looking into the congress hall one was reminded of a carp pond at feeding time when the fishes come to the surface their mouths open to catch morsels of food thrown at them. The place was reeking with impostors. Yet amongst these self-seekers who impressed their stamp upon the Congress there sat a number of honest men and women representing real organised left trends among the working class of their respective countries, who were fervent supporters of the Russian Revolution and sincerely believed that they were helping here to form an intellectual centre that would strengthen the Communist movement all the world over, advise and further it. Amongst these there were personalities such as Sylvia Pankhurst and Tom Quelch from England, Henriette Roland-Holst from Holland, Steinhardt from Austria and others. While the adventurers were having the Russian Government fill their wallets with dollar notes (whose American origin was at times doubtful) and their suitcases with samovars, valuable watches and cigarette cases, with new suits, luxurious fur coats and God knows what else, the honest delegates were endeavouring to use their time to see all kinds of institutions: schools, children’s homes and factories. The Tcheka seemed to have concentrated their whole polyglot staff in Moscow; if one walked in the street with delegates one would constantly run against these insolent spies. These individuals were watching mainly the honest delegates (who might be critical!) while they would refrain from bothering their colleagues from other countries. It is true, when the Congress was over, some of the international adventurers from the ranks of the “delegates” landed in prison; in Moscow the joke went round that in the Butyrka still another International would soon be formed.
Some of the serious delegates had requested to be allowed to visit the Butyrka prison. In this prison a considerable number of political prisoners way were kept at the time: Mensheviks, Social-revolutionaries, Anarchists and others. Every political trend occupied its own corridor, the food was not worse than elsewhere in Moscow, the prisoners had but few complaints as to their treatment. They were allowed sufficient opportunity for exercise, facilities for intellectual recreation, they could read and study in groups, in a word the Government had no reason to be ashamed of the manner in which these prisoners were treated. The fact that these citizens were kept in prison without any trial was of course shameful enough for the “Socialist” State. The Soviet Government was loth to let foreign Socialists and Communists look behind the scenes. On the other hand they feared that a refusal of permission might create an unfortunate impression on the delegates. From this dilemma the Government found a truly Asiatic way out. In the evening when the prisoners were preparing to go to rest officials of the Tcheka appeared and ordered them to pack their belongings as they were to be sent to Siberia that very night. The prisoners protested vehemently and demanded that their relatives be informed so that they might bring them the required clothing. This was bluntly refused. The women prisoners amongst whom there were several expectant mothers, thereupon declined to leave their cells. In a most brutal manner force was used. The unfortunate women were pushed and kicked, one young woman was actually dragged down the stairs by her hair. The prisoners were taken to the railway station, packed into trains and sent off in various directions. Ties of family or friendship between the prisoners were disregarded – a thing that had never happened even under Tsarism! On the following day the delegates were invited to visit the prison; they could talk to their hearts’ content with the tchekists who had been ordered to play the part of Menshevist, Social-revolutionary or Anarchist political prisoners. On their return home the outwitted delegates could cheerfully relate that there were but few political prisoners in Moscow, that these were perfectly content with their treatment and themselves considered their imprisonment justified.
One day in August Irma and I met Podvoisky in the street when he was just about to get into a motor car. He was now head of an organisation for military sport and fitness of the “doprizvniki,” the youth under military age. “I am just going out for a tour of inspection,” he said, “if you can spare the time please come with me to our boys, I should like to hear your opinion. Your criticism usually hits the nail on the head.” We gladly accepted the invitation, climbed into the motor car and off we went to the beautiful new sport fields. There we found a big crowd of fine boys aged about seventeen, half naked, sunburned and healthy looking. They were engaged in all kinds of sport, attended lectures, were reading and discussing. They made the impression of virile and intelligent youth. In the course of conversation I asked them:
“Are many of you in the Komsomol (Communist youth organisation)?”
They laughed. “The Komsomol do not come here, we non-party boys are not good enough for them.”
It appeared that the members of the Komsomol considered themselves too important to participate in the games and discussions with these plebeians whom they would soon be called upon to govern as commissars. They had their own fitness courses and were now in a neighbouring building studying the machine gun.
“There we are,” I said on our return drive to Podvoisky, “the Communists feel themselves as a privileged caste already in their Komsomol days. They consider themselves future governors. I'm afraid not much good will come of these Communist youngsters. They have to fulfil hundreds of little tasks while the others are “learning and developing, thus the Communists remain ignorant and become snobbish and conceited. Poor Russia, when these come to occupy high administrative positions.”
This idea deeply impressed Podvoisky. He called to the chauffeur to turn back. Like a whirlwind he fell upon the young Communists; he took away their beloved machinegun, called them home-birds and told them they should go out and let the sun brown them. Their excuses he cut short by seizing a bucket of water and pouring it over them, then he sent them wet as they were out amongst the non-party youth. These drastic measures so characteristic of Podvoisky greatly amused us. However I said to him afterwards: “This time you have gained a victory. But bear in mind the Komsomol is already a power to reckon with. If you try to attack their privileges you bring a hornets’ nest about your ears.”
In June a deputation of the Independent Social-democratic Party of Germany (U.S.P.D.) including Dittmann, Daeumig, Crispin and Stoecker had come to Moscow. They were carrying on protracted negotiations with the Comintern but, strange as it may sound, they seemed little interested in acquainting themselves with conditions and trends in Moscow. I noticed Dittmann on several occasions at the “Dielovoi Dvor”; however the representatives of the U.S.P.D. were always surrounded by such a string of Tcheka spies that a serious conversation with them was next to impossible. I therefore kept aloof eager though I was to learn about the real position inside the Independent Socialist Party of Germany. Zinoviev had been invited to go to Germany to their next Party Congress. Russian emissaries were working under high pressure amongst the German Independents, money was lavishly spent. In October 1920 the Comintern succeeded at the Congress in Halle in splitting the Independent Social-democratic Party of Germany on whom I had hitherto placed great hopes as to their part in the further development of the international working class movement.
After the Second World Congress the leaders of the Comintern seemed to come to realise that the broad masses of the working class in advanced capitalist countries had no desire to entrust themselves to their leadership. The Communist parties had everywhere remained insignificant bodies. The parties of the Socialist International had not lost their previous hold on the workers as had been expected in Moscow. Between these two camps minority-parties, split off from the Socialist parties during the war, were consolidating themselves. Moscow would not venture to absorb these latter parties such as they were, this not only because the grapes were sour but also for fear of their “evil influence” and of their “lack of discipline.” So the Comintern resorted to the method of corruption and disruption in order to weaken them and render them harmless.
Now the ‘Central Committee of the Party decided to direct Irma and me to work in the Comintern.
“How did you hit upon this idea?” I asked the general secretary.
“Speak to Zinoviev about it,” Krestinsky replied, “he is particularly keen to have you both.”
Zinoviev explained to me that they were anxious to have me as secretary of the English section. Considering my close connection with the British Labour movement any manifesto bearing my signature would be more effective.
I laughed cynically. “Listen, comrade Zinoviev, you better sign your manifestoes yourself. In England I have some political credit to lose – you none.”
“Well, what about the Profintern? Would you prefer to work there?” said Zinoviev glossing over my sarcasm.
“Good heavens, that surely is a still-born child. Some of those fellows whom you have placed at the helm I would not touch with a barge-pole.”
“We attach great importance to your collaboration,” Zinoviev insisted. “Now that your friend Tom Quelch is to remain in Moscow and that there is a prospect of Sylvia Pankhurst joining us I do hope you may change your mind. Think it over for a while. Will both of you come with us to Baku to the Congress of the Eastern Peoples? Maybe you will then consent.”
“We shall be pleased to go to Baku!” Irma exclaimed joyfully. “But without any obligations for the future,” I added, “we are looking towards the West and you towards Asia.”
“Well then, that is settled,” said Zinoviev. “On the way we shall discuss the matter further.”
The train of the Communist International for the journey to Baku was, considering Russian conditions, a luxurious special train. Each compartment had two comfortable sleeping places; a restaurant carriage served to assemble the travellers at meal times. The food was adequate and good from the outset and became still better every day as we were approaching that rich fruit garden the Caucasus. The weather was glorious, it tempted the travellers out on the running boards, ladders and roofs of the carriages. Irma was not the only one who found complete recovery from the remnants of past illness in the burning sun on the running board on this journey of seven days each way. The “spoilt” Europeans and Americans were surprised at the comforts of this journey, it was only Zinoviev and Bela Kun who could not climb down so much as to share a sleeping carriage and meals with these plebs of the Executive of the Comintern. These gentlemen had their own saloon carriage with a separate kitchen and a special cook. When Radek joined our train during the journey he brought another saloon carriage though preferring to have his meals with his “fellow-aristocrats” Zinoviev and Bela Kun. Whenever this luxurious train stopped at a station one could see disappointed faces. There were numbers of peasant women with their babies, workers, redarmists, all of them waiting days for a train and a chance to travel. Now again a rising hope had proved vain.
In the Ukraine which we traversed invisible dangers were looming ahead. Makhno’s bands of guerrilla fighters who would suddenly appear as if growing out of the soil and thereafter vanish into thin air, kept all in a state of suspense. At one station we arrived just in time to participate in the funeral of a redarmist who had been killed there the night before in one of these sudden raids. We had to wait for a fresh engine, otherwise the gentlemen of the general staff of the world Revolution in the saloon carriage probably would have ordered an immediate continuation of the journey but, as things were, we could turn this funeral into a big international demonstration. Since our aristocrats were not anxious to leave the safe and comfortable saloon I delivered the Russian funeral oration and translated afterwards the speeches of the foreign delegates. After the impressive funeral ceremony we continued on our journey.
Late one night we reached Baku. In spite of the late hour the lavishly decorated station was crowded to capacity. The workers had sacrificed a night’s rest in order to welcome the leaders of the Communist International with bands of music. Deputations of the Party, the Trade Unions, and the Soviet were present. From the sincerity of the enthusiasm of the people one could at once conclude that the Soviet regime had not existed here for any length of time. In a string of motor cars we were taken to a festively lit up palatial building where a banquet had been arranged. Various Caucasian dishes unknown to the Northerners were served and Caucasian wine. Our shrunken Moscow stomachs expanded noticeably. The Soviet of Baku who felt responsible for the safety of the participants of the Congress from Moscow had quartered us all comfortably in various houses providing good locks on all doors and placing military sentries everywhere. Irma and I were greatly amused by these elaborate precautions and as we were much more scared by the actual bloodthirsty raids of the mosquitoes than by the most unlikely possibility of a murderer’s bullet we kept doors and windows ajar having been told that mosquitoes fear a drought, Thus we slept sound and well without unnecessary precautions while all those who feared imaginary dangers were robbed of their night’s rest by the little bloodsuckers.
In the morning when we were strolling through the decorated town we were amazed by the picture of exotic beauty. In the main streets triumphal arches had been erected hung with oriental carpets. Some of these carpets had been woven specially for the occasion showing instead of the usual pattern slogans such as: Long live the Soviet power: Up the Third International: Even pictures of Lenin were woven into such carpets. The Congress met in a large building facing the deep blue Caspian Sea. On its wide terraces an interesting company gathered dressed in the colourful raiment of the orient; all the languages of the East resounded in our ears. A few days later a musical reception was held for delegates and guests who listened as in a dream stirred by the enchanting tunes of oriental music.
The Congress was well attended by representatives of all the Mahometan peoples and tribes of Russia and the Near East. The Buddhist Far East was also represented and these delegates from afar desired that an inter-buddhist section be established within the Communist International as a counterpart to its inter-Islamic section. The deliberations of the Congress were carried on officially in four languages – Russian, Persian, Farsee, Tartar every speech had to be translated into these. However a speaker was free to use any other language he pleased. Amongst the delegates the number of women was remarkable. Side by side with the emancipated unveiled women of Dagestan, some of whom had bravely participated in the Civil War and who included already teachers and women with university education, one would see deeply veiled women from Turkestan. These wore cloaks covering their figures from top to toe with a small “window” of black gossamer not transparent from the outside. Between these two extremes every possible degree of veiling could be noticed. Many women were wearing a long white shawl over their heads with which they would in the presence of men cover part of their faces: the more beautiful and young the face was the smaller that part would be. During Congress week a huge procession marched through the streets of Baku, the delegates participating. The completely veiled Turkestanian women also marched in the procession. Only those who know the shyness of being seen instilled by their education into these Mahometan girls and women will appreciate what brave effort on their part this required. Thick ice was broken here for a first time – the complete emancipation of the Mahometan woman of Russia was near at hand.
Enver Pashah had travelled with us in the train from Moscow to Baku. He had a certain following in the Caucasus and was greeted on the way on several occasions by deputations from Mahometan circles of the population. Our Government seemed to cherish great expectations from his presence at the Congress and his appearance in Baku. However, if Enver Pashah found supporters amongst the backward section of the Mahometan population he also had violent opponents amongst the progressive section, particularly in Dagestan. The initiators of the Congress had planned it as a demonstration of the East against the West, with a visible point against Britain. If the proletariat of the West fails us, the oppressed peoples of the East will carry the Revolution further, was the underlying idea. This in no way corresponded to my views. So far as the colonial question is concerned I have always been a heretic. I never shared the idea current in Socialist circles which demands the immediate unconditional abandonment of all colonial possessions. What I was striving for was democratic self-government, social and cultural development of all colonial peoples, and I held that immediate complete independence was not always desirable since in many cases the native workers – for whom I desired the right of forming Trade Unions and protection by social legislation – would suffer more from a native caste of exploiters than from the exploitation by a progressive European country with an influential working class movement. And to me the criterion always has been the liberty and welfare of the working class not the interests of the budding nationalist colonial bourgeoisie. Here at the Congress in many private conversations with delegates of the Eastern peoples I maintained the view that the natural allies of the peoples of Russia striving for Socialism are the British working class and not any colonial bourgeoisie. This encouraged the opposition of the Dagestanis; they raised a storm and declared that under no circumstances would they allow the “bloodthirsty” Enver Pashah to address the Congress. Thus Zinoviev had to be satisfied with having a declaration by Enver Pashah read out. Zinoviev had every reason to regret that he had invited me to the Congress.
None the less the Congress resounded with wild nationalist orgies. On several occasions the mention of England was marked by a hostile demonstration: the oriental delegates jumped to their feet, drew their shining “kinzhals” and rattled their arms in the white glare of the photographers’ flash lights calling for a holy war against Britain. This scene in its wild colourful setting at first appeared like a fairytale from The Arabian Nights come true. But its repetition on several occasions appeared so theatrical and artificial that the undoubtedly great initial impression was completely wiped out. It may be, however that the pictures taken have had considerable propagandist value in the orient. The foreign members of the Executive of the Comintern enjoyed the theatre-like exotic performance without bothering their heads to understand what was actually being played here.
The Congress lasted about a week. The participants from Moscow received every day an excellent dinner. We half-starved Russians had not to be urged to eat, we would devour large platefuls of the beef soup and the fat mutton. Thereafter we could without danger to our health enjoy any amount of lovely peaches, fresh figs, melons, grapes and other southern fruit. But the well-fed foreigners whose appetite was affected by the semi-tropical heat fell ill through excessive consumption of raw fruit. They were also not so hardened against the deplorable sanitary conditions as we were. And in this respect at Baku things were sad indeed. This was particularly the case during the Congress with its influx of orientals unaccustomed to water closets who had not learned to draw the chain so that soon all public lavatories were stopped up spreading an abominable stench. Two members of the Executive of the Comintern – the Englishman Tom Quelch and the American John Reed – fell ill soon after their return to Moscow suffering of from abdominal typhus. John Reed, author of Ten Days that shook the World succumbed to the disease and thus did not live to see the banning of his book by Stalin. Irma and I had discovered an open air swimming bath in the Caspian Sea. Cheerfully we jumped into the cool water, but on coming out we discovered that we were smelling like leaky oil lamps while our skin felt oily. “That does not matter,” people from Baku comforted us, “all the oil tanks are full to overflowing, consequently the fountain oil is flowing out into the sea. We catch ducks because of that, the wild ducks which come down on the water cannot rise again without first cleaning their wings on the sands. So from a boat one can take them with one’s hand. We now frequently eat roast duck, it is true they taste somewhat of paraffin oil.”
On the return journey delegates and guests had grown more familiar. People would sit together in groups talking or discussing insofar as the language difficulties could be overcome. Here Enver Pashah revealed himself as an interesting and pleasant companion. He was accompanied by his aid-de-camp, a Turkish cavalry officer Orbay, a remarkable linguist. This officer not only mastered a large number of oriental languages, he also spoke more or less fluently German, Russian, English and French. I recollect an interesting talk with Enver Pashah. Enver told us he was quite pleased with the Soviet System, only Turkey could not yet dispense with the monarchy because the Sultan’s influence in the orient in his capacity of sheikh-ul-islam was of great importance for the Turkish State. Otherwise, he said, there was nothing to bar the introduction of Russian principles into Turkey.
“Well,” said Irma with a cynical smile, “so you would like to establish a Soviet-monarchy?”
Enver Pashah took her sarcastic remark seriously. “Precisely,” he exclaimed, “a Soviet-monarchy! That would suit us very well.”
The journey was gay and pleasant. Whenever the train stopped at a station we would rush out to the market like a swarm of bees. We looked with pleasure on the lively exotic picture, the donkeys carrying on both sides of the saddle baskets full of fruit, their riders in oriental attire. We would enjoy the juicy grapes or utilise the opportunity for a swim in the Caspian Sea along whose shores the railway line was running. Once it happened that the train moved on earlier than we had expected – shouting and waving we swimmers ran after it in varying stages of nakedness till they noticed our absence and stopped.
Before leaving the Caucasus we were to have an adventure. Here, too, guerrilla fighting was still continuing. The railway line was the most coveted object of hostile attack and this train with the “general staff” of the Comintern was an uncommonly welcome prey for any looming enemy. Small wonder that the Whites did not remain inactive but set out to mine the line. In front of us an empty train was running: with a loud bang it was blown up. Our engine driver stopped at once and we moved backward to the comparative safety of the next town. However this proved impossible. Behind us the rails had been torn up as well. It looked as if we had come into a trap. We were not unprepared; we had with us four machine guns and some sixty redarmists. These machine guns were posted on the roofs of the carriages and we were waiting for the enemy to attack. On that small stretch of line between the two breaches there was a solitary station building. Nothing was to be seen of the gentlemen of the saloon carriage; the rest of us were strolling about along the train full of curiosity.
“What would you, as a specialist of guerrilla fighting, do in these circumstances?” I asked Enver Pashah.
“I would occupy this building. We could hold out there a long time. After all, the railway authorities will soon enough notice that something is amiss and send relief,” he replied.
But no attack was forthcoming, no enemy was to be seen. To our surprise we had meanwhile found out that the silly Whites had failed to cut the telephone line! The next large station sent out an armoured train for our succour.
“Let, us try to have a glance at these stupid enemies,” said the Austrian Steinhard.
“I will come with you reconnoitring,” Irma suggested.
The Turkish officer joined them. The three walked out into the hilly country. From the roof of one of the carriages I could follow them with a fieldglass. When they climbed a hillock there was a sudden commotion in the valley behind. Four horsemen who apparently had been keeping a lookout from there jumped into their saddles and raced away. These were the only enemies whom at any rate three of our fellow travellers got sight of. Meanwhile the action for our rescue had fully developed. The armoured train arrived and set to work to repair the line in front. From the other side a company of the Red Army was rushed up. They deployed to search the vicinity for enemies. Now our general staff of the World Revolution were in their element. They crept out of their hiding place in the saloon carriage, they sent wires in every direction to inform all and sundry as to the frightful danger threatening the train and would have liked to draw together a whole army corps to protect them against the long vanished four hostile riders. Indeed, soon a military school from some neighbouring place appeared fully equipped for battle. But now the line had been repaired and under strong protection, escorted by the armoured train, we reached the next station Prokhladnoe. Authorities and people crowded round our train to felicitate the heroes of the Comintern on their rescue from the terrible danger. Then the great men of the general staff ventured out even on to the locomotive from which they denounced in thundering speeches all bandits and counter-revolutionaries, describing the great adventure in glowing colours. This time we remained in the carriage roaring with laughter.
Without further incidents we reached Rostov-on-the-Don. Here the workers were seething with discontent. Instead of a mass meeting a large private Party meeting was held. On this occasion Zinoviev showed his better side. With great patience and much understanding he listened to the complaints of the workers, suggested appropriate measures and gathered valuable material for his speech on masses and leaders at the approaching Party Conference.