At Riga we went at once to the Soviet Embassy where we were cordially received. As the small freighter in which we had booked our passage had to leave on the following day we stayed overnight. The Riga Embassy was used to putting up for a day or soviet citizens passing through Latvia, we therefore found at the breakfast table quite a crowd, mostly old acquaintances.
The marvellous appetites of half-starved Soviet citizens which everywhere abroad caused the amusement of the onlookers was here taken for granted. On the contrary, they would be surprised a newcomer had eaten less than ten eggs for breakfast. Our neighbours at the table were a Petrograd family with a little boy of three. When his mother gave him white wheaten bread he pushed unknown food away and energetically demanded “bread.” But when black bread was brought for him he munched it gleefully.
On the boat there were only four passengers. Here we experienced for the first time the cold atmosphere of the capitalist small state. The customs control was very exacting and pretty rough. In Russia where we as members of the Old Guard had everywhere been shown consideration and respect we had not been used to rough handling and the whole procedure made an unpleasant impression on us. Of course we were apt to curse Latvia for this; however, we were soon to experience that at Stettin the custom control was by no means better. On the Baltic Sea we were overtaken by a terrific storm. Our little boat turned about like a coffee-mill. We could hardly stand up while dressing. The heavy boxes heaped up on deck were thrown about as if they were mere match boxes. To avoid getting seasick we tried to go on deck where the boxes had been fastened meanwhile to their places with great difficulty by the German sailors. We chose a safe place and kept to it with all our strength enjoying the white spray riding on the waves, sometimes dashing up to our place. The storm was still increasing. Its machine working at top strength, the small boat could make no headway against the storm. Finally the captain reluctantly had to give in to the raging elements and put into the nearest port. Thus we spent the night at Libau kept on board by storm and heavy rain. The following morning we passed the isle of Ruegen in brilliant sunshine. The sea lay quiet as a mirror and it seemed almost incredible that this was the same sheet of water that had the night before so violently tossed our boat about like a nutshell.
At Berlin we settled at first in a small hotel until the “Wohnungsamt” (housing authority) gave us an order for a furnished room in flat of a working class family at Schoeneberg, for in Berlin all housing accommodation was under strict municipal control. Our room was dark and uncomfortable, but we had access to a gas stove and could drink as much tea or coffee as we chose. At the hotel we had almost perished from thirst – during the years of starvation in Russia we had got used to drinking tea all day long, the meagre two cups of coffee at the hotel left us dry as a sand pit.
Berlin’s street life made a strange impression on us. The many shops with their shining windows, the neatly dressed people succeeded in hiding from the newcomer the mass poverty of the country of inflation. The inflation was still in its early stages – a pound of sugar cost seven marks – but the relationship between prices and wages changed from week to week to the disadvantage of the workers. But there was little unemployment. The German proletariat was working for the whole world for a piece of bread and margarine. And there was still a deficiency of certain foodstuffs, the bread card still played an important part and in front of the butter shops there were queues.
In the very first days we went to see Paul Loebe. We went to the Reichstag; as there was no sitting that day we were directed to the presidential palace opposite. In the almost feudal surroundings of the luxurious palace with its vast rooms, soft carpets and elegant furniture we found this man, the best president the German Reichstag ever had, with his wife, his young son and his aged mother almost unchanged. He was still the deeply human, humorous, born labour leader as Irma remembered him from pre-war Breslau. The simplicity of his mode of life, his accessibility for everybody, his readiness to help even political opponents greatly attracted us. “Loebe for one has not turned commissar,” Irma whispered to me. In his whole outlook Loebe had always been moderate; he always stood on the right wing of Social-democracy, he had even contributed at times to the Sozialistische Monatshefte, but he was tolerant and broadminded like an Englishman. In 1910 when Rosa Luxemburg could not get her famous articles on mass action printed anywhere because they were too “Left” for the entire Social-democratic party press, it had been Loebe who accorded her hospitality in the columns of his Volkswacht in the interest of free speech within the Party.
We spent a delightful evening in his house. Till late in the night we discussed frankly and honestly all the good and evil which either of us observed in the internal development of his country. And this evening was followed by many others. Unfortunately I cannot say that all the leading Social-democrats whom I met here made a similar good Impression on me. Amongst them there was more than one “Statesman” whose Socialism had gradually evaporated, without his being fully aware of it.
Very interesting was the renewal of my acquaintance with Luise Zietz, the general secretary of the Independent Social Democratic Party (U S.P.D.). We visited her at her office. In pre-war times Zietz had been considered with Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin one of the most prominent women leaders of the German Soeial-democratic Party then counting in its ranks more than a hundred thousand women members. She was less “feminine” and more “human” than Clara Zetkin and regarded the problems of her time much more objectively than Zetkin. A birthday nosegay would certainly not have affected her politics. Her early death, during a sitting of the Reichstag of which she was a prominent member, was a great loss to the German Socialist movement. Luise Zietz spoke frankly to us about the Halle Party Congress and its consequences. After Zinoviev had succeeded in splitting the Independent Social-democratic Party large numbers of its members became embittered and left the political arena. It had been not so much the desertion of a section of the Party to the Communists as the backsliding of those disgusted thereby into indifference that had so much weakened this Party of millions she explained. Generally, she could give us no very encouraging picture of the internal position of her Party. This talk was of the greatest importance to us. After a most careful analysis of all we had learned and observed we came to the conclusion that the U.S.P.D. was at the point of disintegrating. The split within the old Social-democracy during the war had followed the line of the members’ attitude towards the war. The war was over; new problems had arisen and demanded solution. Then it became obvious that not all those who found themselves in the U.S.P.D. were “Left,” nor all who had remained in the ranks of the S.P.D., the majority-Socialists, were “Right.” One could not help feeling that the split was not on the right line, an exchange of certain leaders might be useful to both parties. Another important factor were the great financial difficulties of the Party that had to keep up its press and its party machine in spite of its decreased membership. These difficulties multiplied with the increasing inflation. It was this factor, I think, that ultimately decided the moment of the fusion of the two parties.
During our last months in Russia we had seen German Social-democracy in far too favourable a light; now we were brought face to face with reality. We could certainly not feel any enthusiasm about conditions in Germany. And though we had nothing whatsoever in common with people like Brandler and Froelich, Ruth Fischer, Maslow or all the others in the constantly changing executives of German Communist Party we none the less felt that our place was not in the Social-democratic Party. We would not risk joining a party that might day present us with Herr Noske as a comrade. “I have always thought that all evil elements had gathered in our Party,” Irma expressed our common feelings, “but now it appears that enough of these can be found elsewhere too.”
And further any criticism of Soviet-Russia was at that moment made impossible for us by the famine the horrors of which became more and more apparent. For the enemies of the Revolution we would not forge weapons
In our first, joy at breathing European air again we had written to our old friend Aron Isakovitch Zundelevitch in London, hinting at our discontent with the course of developments in Russia. This old revolutionary who had spent twenty-five years in Siberia was very hostile to the Soviet Government – how hostile we did not know at the time. He replied at once: “Even you amongst the exiles!” And there followed sentiments that appeared to us simply as"White.” We were horrified, could not bring ourselves to reply at once, but this taught us how much at the moment even a cautious criticism of Russian conditions might do harm to the Revolution. Consequently we closed our mouths which we had been just about to open as wide as possible, and decided to remain silent for the time being.
Now we had to seek work. Quickly we learned that the world had undergone great changes since pre-war days. Work had become a privilege. Not only was it difficult for a foreigner to find work – without a special permit he had not even the right to seek work! Irma went without much ado to the Russian Trading Delegation, said she knew Russian, and were they in need of a translator or typist? She was accepted as a shorthand typist and the head of the department who engaged her had no idea who she was. Within a few days I received an invitation from Litvinov for an interview. They offered me a responsible commercial post but this was not to my liking. “I am interested in economic questions,” I declared, “I am not concerned about being head of a department or receiving a high salary. But I should gladly accept a post in your economic department, perhaps as adviser on economic problems. This would enable me to continue my studies.” Thus I became an economic adviser.
The Russian Embassy – the “political representation” as we used to call it – was housed in a private residence in Maassenstrasse The old Embassy building which under the Kaiser’s regime I had so successfully obtained, had not been restored by the German Government since Joffe’s expulsion. I teased Krestinsky with the timidity of our Government who were negotiating for years before they got their property back from the German Republic.
In every way our Government was abominably timid in those first years after the renewal of diplomatic relations. The Communist “nucleus” of which all Russian Communists working in Berlin Soviet institutions were members, held its meetings at first in great secrecy and was never referred to in writing. When Irma and I appeared at our first nucleus meeting we found the large room crowded. This time besides some high Soviet dignitaries who happened to be in Berlin were present, amongst them Ziurupa, people’s commissar for Supply. There was an interesting debate on the New Economic Policy. I broke a lance with Ziurupa for the N.E.P. and incidentally dealt a few hard blows at the now fortunately repealed supply policy of the “war-communist” epoch. Ziurupa took it good-naturedly. My criticism of the difficulties still placed in the way of food parcels sent to Russia had his full concurrence. When I visited Ziurupa a few weeks later in the sanatorium our meeting was very cordial. The position of a food dictator in stormy times is never an enviable one, poor Ziurupa had sacrificed his health and strength to this task; he died soon after.
When I took up my duties in the economic department of the Trading Delegation I found that real economic work had not yet been organised. The head of the department was a Menshevik whom I knew from old times, a capable commercial man who however, just because he was a Menshevik, bore himself with so much timidity and humility that I could hardly bear it at times. Once at an internal sitting when I had a clash with the chairman of the Trading Delegation Stomoniakoff – one of many, many such clashes – he time and again anxiously pulled my coat under the table. That was well meant but seemed to me so utterly ridiculous that I almost lost the thread of my argument. Though I was somewhat surprised that a Menshevik should desire to accept such a responsible post which I, as a Communist in opposition, considered it my duty to decline, I was very sorry when he left, having attained a transfer to another and still higher post. For he was both honest and capable, and that could be said of only of very few of his successors. First his place was taken by a professor, real one, who was quite a good specialist on finance but apart from that knew little about economic questions. Than we got in his place a “Kasso-professor,” one of those gentry whom the tsarist minister Kasso had in his time appointed as professors when he had driven the real professors out of the universities in consequence of a collective political protest. These “Kasso-professors” had been despised as strike-breakers by the whole of progressive Russia. This appointment was too much for me and I declined any collaboration with this gentleman.
Meanwhile I had collected and classified our economic legislation and gathered much material on economic subjects; I also had worked out a number of monographs on various problems of our economic life. By strenuous efforts I had succeeded in getting a complete collection of Russian newspapers and statistical publications, this had been possible only by making use of my personal connections. No wonder that I simply raved when I discovered one day that sixty irreplaceable numbers of “Pravda” had disappeared. No sympathy for a politically oppressed party could induce me to take this quietly and, though the culprit was not sacked at once I never again permitted anybody, whether Menshevik or Communist, to touch my collections while my card index I guarded like the apple of my eye. For this I had still another reason. A well-known author amongst the staff of the department drew my attention to the fact that enemies of Soviet Russia from the reactionary camp had taken up economic espionage and he advised me to keep an eye on all material not meant for publication.
One day Krassin had come to Berlin for important negotiations with foreign representatives. Of course I had gathered all the material that might be of use. However, since this was not within the sphere of my duties I made no fuss about it. Stomoniakov and his vice-chairman Turov demanded all sorts of information of our Kasso-professor – in three years from then this dear fellow would not have succeeded in replying to all these questions. Anxiously he ran to one of my friends asking him to try and lure from me some data, but he was sent about his business. When the moment that the replies had to be given approached he ran to Turov and whined that he was not in a position to give the required data, I alone might perhaps have some material but I was boycotting him. So Turov came to me. “When Stomoniakov puts Kasso-professors and similar creatures in high positions he must not be astonished that they are inefficient. It is not my business to do for a counter-revolutionary the work for which he is paid.” Turov was in full sympathy with my attitude, but he begged me nevertheless to help them out of their difficulties. Then smiling I opened the drawer of my table and handed him a file. In it he found in perfect order monographs containing all the information he wanted. “For your personal information only, and on condition that you return it personally to me,” I said. The Kasso-professor disappeared and Stomoniakoff found him a better paid job.
But we were in for still greater surprises. One day in our department appeared a spick and span gentleman who seemed to feel himself terribly important. He desired some information of an economic character and I asked him who he might be.
“I am on the staff of Stomoniakoff for special purposes,” he replied with an important air, “my name is Frederiks.”
“Perhaps you are a relative of that Baron Frederiks who was minister of the Tsar’s court?” I asked joking.
I had guessed it! “And Stomoniakoff has not yet introduced you into the Party?” I laughed. “I wonder whom he will send to me next! You had better go to the head of the department.”
Soon I was to make another interesting acquaintance. Herr Pieper, the German general secretary of the Trading Delegation who did not understand Russian, came up asking me for some data. My curiosity was aroused, I gladly gave him the desired information and we talked for some time on various subjects. I knew already that Pieper was the man who had access to every backdoor in Berlin, be kept up connections to all State authorities and political parties of the Right. In the Trading Delegation he played an important part; his room was a kind of sanctuary closed to ordinary mortals. Above him there was only Stomioniakoff himself.
An official of the Secretariat of the Trading Delegation came to me. “Comrade Petroff, you know English,” he said, “would you do us a real favour and translate these documents for us? They are of a confidential nature and I really don’t know to whom else I could give them.” “With pleasure,” I replied, “come to-morrow and you will get the translation.”
In the evening when 1 sat down at home to do the little work, I perceived that these documents were really of a peculiar nature. They were letters from Urquhart to Krassin and Stomoniakoff wherein the writer tried to console the two high Soviet officials for the mishap with the concession (which, Lenin, recently recovered from his illness, had been just in time to prevent since its conditions were scandalously unfavourable for Russia). Thanks were expressed to Stomoniakoff for services rendered in this correction and the hope was expressed that Krassin would not allow this mishap to spoil his well-deserved holiday with his family in Italy. I made the translation, but Stomoniakoff had meanwhile learned into whose hands his secret had fallen. He found an opportunity personally to explain matters away to me and declared the letters of the English capitalist were “terribly impudent.” “They really reveal an astonishing impudence,” I replied ambiguously.
Whenever amongst the Berlin Soviet officials anyone was indignant about some injustice done to him or about a public wrong he would come, to me, particularly after I had been elected to the “bureau” (executive) of the nucleus. One day an official of the goods receiving department, who had known me in Russia came to me and complained:
“I come on behalf of my colleagues to ask your advice. We have the task, or at any rate we are supposed to have it, of receiving certain goods, verifying that the consignments correspond to the bills and watching that no inferior quality goods be supplied. Yet some firms insist on delivering their goods all wrapped up and packed, we are not even permitted to see what the boxes contain. If we decline to sign for them they tell us that we are acting contrary to the direct instructions of those who placed the orders. If we protest here, we are threatened with being sent back to Russia as malcontents’. However, we feel that we are acting contrary to our Party duty if we sign blindly.”
“Give me your complaint in writing and I shall see that it is considered by the bureau of the nucleus,” I suggested.
“Yakovsky is responsible for the whole thing,” said the receiving official, “but he is in the Party and he has the confidence of Stomoniakoff.”
“Never mind. You do your duty as a revolutionary and don’t worry about the consequences.”
In the bureau of the nucleus I did not find the support I had expected. It is true, they implemented my material in every direction, they seemed to know a great deal more, they hinted at the purchase of useless machines and unsuitable spare parts in spite of perfectly clear instructions; yet everyone was afraid to burn his fingers. Even when, in 1925, in the presence of the Cleansing Commission I mentioned this affair publicly at a meeting of the nucleus and attacked Makovsky it was of no avail. The all-powerful “Party cleanser” Reuseman did not dare to speak out against this protégé of the slowly ascending to absolute power Stalin and his clique!
As to the economic conditions of Soviet Russia complete ignorance prevailed in foreign countries at that time; there was a lack of accessible sources of information. Consequently we were flooded by a constant stream of enquiries from all sorts of institutions, from politicians, economists and students. It was one of my duties to reply to these. Since the same questions would frequently be repeated it was decided to collect these replies and issue them together with new data in the form of a hectographed bulletin. In this we were not thinking of any propaganda. This our bulletin Aus der Volkswirtschaft der R.S.F.S.R. (later on “der U.d.S.S.R.”) came into being which I issued with the assistance of Irma who had returned to work after an interruption due to the birth of our daughter. The journal met with a good reception. Many important newspapers and journals offered an exchange of copies; they would use not only our data and statistics but reprinted whole treatises. The Reichsamt fuer Statistik, Prussian and other authorities requested an exchange for their publications. Whenever we happened to be a day late we could be sure of being rung up by Stresemann’s secretary enquiring if we had forgotten to send his copy. Finally we accepted subscriptions, soon also advertisements and could now start to print our Aus der Volkswirtshaft as a journal. The circulation increased, we got many advertisements, the journal paid its way, soon it brought profit. Now conflicts commenced. Instead of objective information and scientific analysis, propaganda was desired. This I rejected. Stomoniakoff and other Soviet dignitaries saw here an opportunity for popularising their names, they desired to have their articles inserted, nay, they would have enjoyed seeing their photos in the journal. Of course they had come to wrong address. The more successful the journal grew the more acute became the conflict, particularly after the Leipzic fair, when we had issued a special supplement containing a review of the economic development which had met with an enthusiastic reception. In Soviet institutions as a rule every one gladly leaves his work to be done by his neighbour. But as soon as anything attains any prominence every one pretends that he did it. One day when we met Paul Loebe, one of our eager readers, he asked us: “Have you given up your journal? I suppose you must have had a conflict?” “One conflict?” I laughed. “No end of them but we two don’t give up our fight so easily.” It appeared that he had recently made the acquaintance of one of Stomoniakoff’s shieldbearers, head of the concessions department, Goldstein, who when Loebe made a few remarks in praise of the journal, introduced himself as its spiritual father, though the journal bore my name as editor. “What people you must have in your institutions!” Loebe exclaimed shaking his head.
Soon Irma and I published a small book The economic regeneration of the R.SF.S.R. which we first intended as a supplement to the journal but which outgrew this original plan. Now Stomoniakoff and his clan pushed professor Varga into the fray, this shining light of the Comintern, discovered by Trotsky and inherited by Stalin. These good people had got it into their heads that a report on the activity of the Trading Delegation might be published as an appendix to our book! Of course I rejected this disdainfully. The battle started. When the book was printed they made an attempt to prevent its circulation. Then the ambassador Krestinsky intervened; he knew us well and feared we might explode. He demanded ten copies from the Trading Delegation which he personally presented to Stresemann and other German public men. Then he informed the Trading. Delegation that the book had now become public property. Thus the sabotage had the bottom knocked out of it. The book went on its way. Within six weeks the five thousand copies were sold out; a second edition, appeared.
The wage system in the Russian Trading Delegation was built up in such a manner that for every employee a “coefficient” was fixed that was to be multiplied by the “minimum of existence” revised from time to time. The fixing of this “minimum of existence” was a complicated calculation based on the retail prices of food stuffs and clothing, on rent and so forth. The “Betriebsrat” (shop committee under German law) regarded me as their trusted economic expert and were very happy that I had a finger in this pie. The administration of the Trading Delegation who received the sums for wages in dollars and paid them out after a time in inflated marks were speculating profits from agio which by no means came into the coffers of the Soviet state. In reality this meant plundering the pockets of the lower paid employees. I had calculated that the fixed “minimum of existence” amounted only to some thirteen gold roubles per month. So we framed a new “minimum” which, displeased certain high officials. The Comintern-economist Varga, always ready to please the powers that be, took the part of the administration. The struggle lasted several weeks, finally the bureau of the nucleus took up the matter and sided with us. Very amusing was Varga’s argumentation while this fight was going on. He never attempted to contradict our line of argument or the data on which it was based but he kept on telling us how he managed to exist in his student days and what he had managed to discard as superfluous. At a joint meeting of the administration and the “Betriebsrat” where he seemed to be in his element in the role of a keen advocate of employers’ interests, I characterised Varga as a “golovotiap.” The Hungarian Varga knew Russian to some extent, this classical Russian expression was however unknown to him and he demanded a translation of this untranslatable word which means “blockhead” but implies much more. Those present roared with laughter – in the Russian colony and the German betriebsrat “golovotiap” stuck to Varga as his nickname. Nowadays this chrysalis has turned into a butterfly – for the entire Comintern our “golovotiap” Varga has become world-authority No.1 on economic questions.
For some time the author Orlov was working in our department, a capable worker and a splendid fellow, remarkable for his sincere and uncompromising character. Hitherto he had been working at the Embassy, having before published in Russia a sound book on the supply problem. His position was in some ways akin to mine; he had great doubts and expressed them honestly; but one day he had simply stopped attending the meetings of the nucleus and ceased to pay his contributions to the Party. In consequence he had been transferred from the Embassy to the Trading Delegation but not dismissed, for they still hoped that his wrath would abate. We soon became friends; our friendship continued until his sudden tragic death. For, Orlov was victimised in the end although his wife, a Communist loyal to the Party, was permitted to continue at work. Orlov declined to return to Russia, he rented a piece of garden land outside Berlin near Oranienburg and wrote a big novel of which he read some chapters to me during a visit. The leading circles of the soviet representation in Berlin made several honest attempts to get this gifted man back into the fold. When this failed the G.P.U. began to take an interest in him. He was visited by a techkist who tried to gain his confidence and then to get access to his papers, but Orlov turned him out. One day when this absolutely healthy man, strong a lion, was digging in his garden he collapsed and died of “heart failure” .... That is at any rate how his wife described to us his sudden death. But this happened a few years later.
When Orlov and I were still working together at the Trading Delegation it had been decided that a voluminous report about the work of that institution was to be published. They would have been very glad to impose upon us rebels the responsibility for all the fairy-tales which were inserted in this report to cover the many things that required hushing up. First of all we received the material of the finance department to work it up. We subjected the data to a critical analysis and made some curious discoveries. For instance, they wished to make out that during the many months of the rapidly growing inflation in Germany in all their currency operations with large sums they had had neither made gains nor losses. And what enormous gains must have accrued alone from the operations with the wage sums! We stated our considerations to the administration right to their faces, and declined to have anything further to do with their peculiar report. But this report was to cost the poor Russian people thousands of gold marks. Parts of it were printed, withdrawn, altered, printed anew – I have never seen the end of this report and am unaware whether, in spite of the high expenditure on printing, it has ever seen the light of day.
In Sweden a commission of the Russian railways had been working for some time. Now this commission had been dissolved and the majority of its employees had been sent to Berlin. It became known that this commission when liquidating its affairs in Sweden had divided between themselves a considerable sum of State funds in Swedish krona that “had been left over"! At the same moment while state funds were so liberally given away large collections were instituted in Berlin for the benefit of the Russian peasants hit by the famine. Hundreds of undernourished Berlin children of working class families full of enthusiasm gave their pocket money and all the pennies that uncles and aunts had given them for sweets. This contrast had taken root in our consciousness and increased our indignation when the matter came up for discussion in the bureau of the nucleus. A committee of investigation of three members was appointed under my chairmanship. We found that the real culprit in that affair was a high Communist official who had himself got the lion’s share since the money had been divided in ratio to salary. The guilt of the other Communists on the staff consisted merely in their accepting the sums given to them by their chiefs. When this had been established in the investigation but before the committee had adopted a decision, Krestinsky approached me one day before a meeting in the Embassy.
“How fares the Swedish matter?” he asked me, “what do you intend to do?”
“The real culprit is – “, I replied, “he must be dealt with. We must make it impossible for him to get a similar post in the future.”
“I should not advise such a course,” Krestinsky said earnestly. “He has strong support in Moscow. It would lead to a hard struggle and you might bring down upon yourself the revenge of those powers who stand behind him.”
“And what would you suggest?”
“Look through the list of those involved,” he said, “this one has the protection of that one, the next will be upheld by another, so we come to old Ivan Ivanovitch. If you decide on a rebuke for him the matter is settled. It is true, his friend Stutchka (the leader of the Lettish Communist Party and president of the Supreme Court) will scold violently but there will be no consequences.”
“What,” I exclaimed angrily, “Ivan Ivanovitch is an old revolutionary and took an active part in the Revolution of 1905. His only guilt is that he has not found the courage to reject the few krona they gave him as, of course, would have been his duty. And do you seriously propose that we make this man a scapegoat because the real culprits have a clique behind them in Moscow and he has not? Certainly I shall not be a party to such villainy! We shall take action against the guilty, let the devil and his grandmother spread their wings over him.
“I have made no suggestions,” the sly diplomat Krestinsky retreated “I only wished to inform you how things are. I am sorry to see you wasting your energy over such little matters. It is best to overlook such small injustices or there will be no energy left for bigger matters.”
“You are right when you say that it is not possible to take up every case of a small injustice and fight it through,” I replied, “unfortunately that is so, for there are too many of them! However, anyone who would agree to cover up such injustices out of cowardice is stepping on to the downward moral slope, he is no longer capable of fighting against injustice on a larger scale.”
Krestinsky shook his head. “I wish instead of using a sledgehammer on every occasion you would bring your diplomatic abilities into play. Just consider. Here we have that Varga. You see that he is an empty head. Maybe others see that too. But on the stock exchange of the Comintern he fetches a high price. Leave him in peace. What if he writes rubbish! Why should you always slash him? You cannot knock down a brickwall with your head.”
I laughed. “I know that in the Soviet State all adventurers are now sacrosanct. But I cannot change myself. Whenever I come up against such a dog, I have kicked him long before I have had time to think about it.”
“That may be so. But whenever you encounter difficulties in the Trading Delegation better come to me at once, let us then try the diplomatic way.”
A Russian aeroplane brought to Germany the “opposition” worker Miasnikov, a native of the Ural district. This old Bolshevik had been for a long time one of the keenest supporters of the “Workers’ Opposition.” But he went much further in his opposition than this group, he was much more imbued with Syndicalism and he demanded freedom of opinion not only within the Party but for the proletariat as a whole. His correspondence with Lenin in which he had frankly expressed his ideas was well known. He was a first-class organiser and had a particularly strong personality having a great attraction for Russian workers. He had many adherents even in the Tcheka itself. I had made his acquaintance in 1920 in Siberia, I respected, him as a thoroughly honest fellow but could not help seeing that there was a terrific muddle in his head. Miasnikov was a broad-shouldered man of medium size with iron muscles and tons of energy – as a boxer he might have attained world championship. This man was a problem to the regime. Neither corruptible nor vain, a self-sacrificing fanatic, he was capable of rushing headlong into an idea whether right or wrong, and he would not give it up even if he were to be torn into pieces. In consequence of the “favourable experiences” as regards the effect of Europe on “rebels” in our case the leading circles in Moscow hit upon the idea of sending certain opposition members of the Party abroad for a tine. As soon as Miasnikov reached Berlin he was sent to the Trading Delegation which was instructed to find him a job. It appeared however that every head of a department was afraid to employ him lest he might himself be suspected of opposition sympathies. Finally Miasnikov landed in the goods-receiving department. He came to see me and we had a long talk in which we convinced each other that our views differed radically. But he found plenty of followers. As receiving official he could travel about the country and notwithstanding his very limited knowledge of the German language German opposition-Communist groups grew up like mushrooms on his trail. Full of enthusiasm these at once proceeded to publish and distribute Miasnikov’s manifesto both in Russian and in German. At a sitting of the bureau of the nucleus, Stalin’s trusty, the Armenian Beksadian, then head of a department and second vice-chairman of the Trading Delegation, brought up Miasnikov’s activity for consideration.
“Even amongst the members of our nucleus Miasnikov has followers,” Beksadian complained. “I have a list of the most active and. I think something must be done. I therefore suggest that we mobilise to-night a few active Communists, I have some definite comrades in view, then go into the rooms of Miasnikov and his friends, we bind these and search their rooms for documents. Should one or other of them get a hiding in the process it won’t do any harm.”
I looked round. Some sat in embarrassed silence. But others seemed to favour the idea, the face of the councillor of the Embassy Ustinov was beaming. Krestinsky sat observant in his corner. I rose to speak:
“If Beksadian and his men are so scared by Miasnikov’s ideas one can only laugh. But if that makes them turn bandits the matter assumes a more serious aspect. Don’t forget, we are here not on Soviet territory, and in Germany there exists such a thing as law. If you, Beksadian, should attempt to organise a gang in Berlin, to search houses and use violence against people who are making use of their right to read and to think, then this is a matter that is bound to have consequences, consequences not only for you, but for Soviet-Russia. I assure you, if you do such a thing you will not remain in Berlin another day. That would not be so bad. As to the Trading Delegation, I don’t worry so much either. But the diplomatic consequences – Russia has few friends, the German Republic is one of them. However weak the German Government may be at the moment, it could not gloss over such a thing. These are arguments which you may perhaps understand. At all events I herewith declare that I shall not permit this bureau, an organisation of which I am a member, to sink down to the level of banditism. And I tell you I shall know how to prevent it, even should I be compelled to come out publicly.”
“What,” cried Beksadian, “comrade Petroff wants to play the dictator here and use threats! That is a flagrant breach of Party discipline, I fail to understand how you all can listen to that quietly! I shall complain in Moscow.”
“Complain to God himself if you please should you be able to telephone to him through that rosary you always twist between your fingers,” I retorted. “Or you may raise the matter at a full meeting of the nucleus and propose they should recall me from the bureau for opposing banditism.”
An amusing discussion followed. Every speaker swore at Miasnikov, but none dared to take sides clearly for or against Beksadian’s proposal. They felt themselves between the devil and the deep sea. Krestinsky, confident that I would prevent the scandal, suggested suspending the sitting since tea was waiting, in an adjoining room. During the tea interval there were whispering groups in every corner. Behind the argument “it is now impossible – Petroff would be quite capable of going to the press” the brave were hiding their own opposition to the act of madness proposed by the frenzied Armenian Beksadian. Afterwards the proposal was rejected. However, Beksadian’s diplomatic career was in no way injured by this affair. He became later on Stalin’s ambassador in Finland and Hungary.
But the unfortunate Miasnikov fared worse. In order to put a stop to his political activity and enforce his return to Russia his family who had been left there were arrested. He was to return in order to obtain their release; but he demanded a guarantee that he would not be arrested immediately on entering Russia. Krestingky was empowered to give him such an undertaking officially on behalf of the Soviet Government. Thereupon Miasnikov departed, but the Soviet state broke its word – Miasnikov was arrested at the very frontier while his family were not released. In prison a letter of repentance was demanded of him, Miasnikov declined but he was terribly ill-treated. Though the torture he underwent had all but broken his exceedingly strong body he succeeded finally in escaping to Persia. Fearlessly he continued his political activity abroad. His is not the only case in which the Soviet Government has broken its solemnly given word of honour.
When we had been only a few months in Berlin Irma and I met Martov in the street. It was a cordial meeting brushing aside the years of political estrangement and he invited us to visit him. Thus it happened that we visited Martov one evening in his room in a small street near Nollendorf-Platz. An unforgettable evening! We discussed the problems of the Russian Revolution in all spheres, exchanged our hopes and fears and discovered many points of mutual agreement in our outlook. Martov was a man who one could not know without respecting and loving him. His unbiased and keen understanding, his deep, serious analysis of prevailing tendencies, but above all his absolute sincerity- in appraising both friend and foe bore witness of a deeply human and great mind, such as is so rarely to be found among leading politicians in any camp. That the various works of this eminent publicist, spread as they are in a number of journals over decades, which so remarkably illuminate the history of his time have not yet been collected is a great loss. Martov’s health was then already seriously undermined. The fact that this man, undoubtedly one of the greatest sons of Russia, had to live here in exile was a terrible indictment of the regime now in process of stabilisation in Russia. When we took leave on this evening we hoped to meet Martov again soon. But fate decided otherwise. Martov fell ill and had to go to a nursing home; there ended this noble life dedicated to the people and to Liberty. A deep grief seized my heart when the sad news reached me; seldom has the passing away of any man affected me so much. I thought any Russian Socialist, whatever his party allegiance, must share this feelings. At Martov’s funeral at the Berlin crematorium a large number of Russian and German Socialists gathered. Victor Tchernov, too, the leader of the Right Social-revolutionaries spoke with deep emotion. Amongst the mourners I noticed Turov, Beksadian and other old Bolsheviks; it gave me some satisfaction that these had also come to pay the last tribute to this noble revolutionary. In my estimation that redeemed many of their sins and I told them so. How shocked was I when I then found that these creatures had come not as mourners; that they had dared to stand beside this coffin as common spies. That I succeeded in refraining from spitting into their faces, makes me marvel even now. Almost overcome with loathing Irma and I turned away from them.
Communist dignitaries passing through Berlin were usually invited to give a report on conditions and developments at home to the nucleus or at least to the bureau. Thus we were kept informed from first-hand sources and were well up to date on all economic, political and cultural trends of development as well as on the internal party strife. We knew that all remnants of democracy in the Party had vanished, that even the secretaries of the more important nuclei were being appointed from above, that anyone who made critical remarks was being threatened, and we had learned that the close friendship between the general secretary of the Party, Stalin and the head of the Tcheka, Dserzhinsky was not unconnected with these developments.
The President of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Georgian Soviet Republic, Iliava had come to Berlin. We requested him to give us a report on the events in Georgia then greatly exciting the minds of the inner circles of the Party. He gave us an extremely honest and clear account making our hair stand on end; however he could not be induced to mention the names of those responsible. To-day it is common knowledge that, those responsible were Stalin, Dzerzinsky, and Ordzhonikidze, and that Lenin in a letter to the Politbureau in connection with this affair had demanded the expulsion of Ordzhonikidze from the Party. Iliava’s later imprisonment may well be regarded as an act of Stalin’s revenge that had been kept in cold storage over a long time. For Iliava had honestly and fearlessly stood by the Georgian people. What made the most repugnant impression on me was not even the mass shootings so much as the acts of wanton cruelty against the innocent citizens committed solely for the “enjoyment” of those brutes. To shoot down a supposed enemy without any trial is bad enough but to cut off with the axe on a chopping block an old man’s long beard simply because he happens to be a priest – he whose indignation is not roused ty such acts, has in fact ceased to be a human being.
From April 1923 Lenin was ill again and the intrigues and manoeuvres for the attainment of predominant influence in Party, state and International grew ever more violent among the leading caucus. Neither of his four nearest lieutenants – Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev, – possessed anything akin to Lenin’s political farsightedness, breadth of view or flexibility, theoretical knowledge and practical experience; and none of them approached Lenin’s popularity.
Trotsky was certainly the most prominent personality among the four. The great part he had played in the Revolution itself, his merits in the defence of the Revolution as organiser of the Red Army, his great abilities as a speaker and journalist – all this placed him above his three rivals. But he had not sprung from the closely knitted circle of Old Bolsheviks, and apart from that his bombastic manners and a certain narrow sectarian outlook tended to limit his influence in the Party. And – he was by no means a master of intrigue.
Zinoviev who out of the rivals came next to Trotsky was also a brilliant speaker and, in addition, a clever demagogue. But having been used for decades to follow Lenin unhesitatingly he had got unused to thinking and acting independently and felt a strong need of leaning on someone.
Kamenev, who had not been born a hero, was capable only of playing the second fiddle. Under these conditions it would have been his natural role to act as a support to either to his friend Zinoviev or his brother-in-law Trotsky.
Stalin had been a dark horse in Lenin’s stable who could well be entrusted with tasks that did not leave hands clean. He had neither great merit in the past nor political intuition; he possessed no theoretical knowledge worth mentioning and stood generally on a pretty low cultural level. Spite and treachery were the main features of his character. Among the leading caucus Stalin was the only one who did not possess experience of foreign countries. But he had far-reaching ambitious plans, a strong hand, and was not hampered by moral considerations and scruples. As a wire-puller he was endowed with a dexterity such as few of his contemporaries had attained, and with a truly Asiatic cunning.
Stalin always impressed me as a shadow thrown by Lenin. When one came to visit Lenin, or on leaving Lenin’s study one might well perceive a dark figure twirling his moustache sliding out of a dark side door – Stalin. If Lenin’s maxim was that the end justifies the means, with Stalin, these means so very much in need of being justified, had become an end in themselves.
Stalin acted on a pre-conceived plan. It would be quite wrong to think that he was actuated by a yearning to force through in defiance of all opposition a definite political line of whose wisdom he was convinced, as may be said of Lenin. Stalin was driven wholly by his lust for power. The political line was a secondary consideration; he would change it remorselessly should such a change further his personal aims. As general secretary of the Party Stalin held all the threads in his hand. He succeeded in establishing his tools in key positions in every sphere. When Lenin perceived this and raised the alarm so-to-say on his death bed, it was already too late.
Zinoviev and Kamenev did not understand the signs of the time. They probably despised Stalin too much to recognise in time the menace Stalin represented. Consequently they supported him at first against Trotsky. Together with him they formed a triumvirate, and the similarly short-sighted leading strata of Bolsheviks followed them.
The struggle developed.
Under pressure of these developments Trotsky, in spite of his autocratic outlook saw himself compelled to assume the role of the champion of democracy within the Party. However, it was now too late even for that. The Party had long ceased to be the wielder of the dictatorship. Power had shifted to a narrower circle: the Central Committee and the thin strata of leading Bolshevik administrators around it. These concentrated in their hands both political and economic power.
In the press as well as at Party meetings the question of Democracy within the Party was eagerly discussed. Democracy was the keynote – but it must have limits and the question was where those limits should be drawn. This was a strategic question, and each one wished to see it answered in a manner most in accordance with the interests of his own group or clique and the similarly short-sighted leading strata of Bolsheviks followed them.
In our Berlin nucleus too this problem excited the minds. While the youth, who here at least still got a chance of expressing themselves, stood for wide democracy within the Party, the “responsibles” evaded any clear expression of opinion. I took the opportunity of stating clearly that even the most far-reaching democracy within the Party could not satisfy me. “Liberty is a thing that cannot be easily divided,” I would declare. “When the non-Party worker cannot speak his mind freely, elect unhampered men in whom he has confidence, then the members of the Party cannot retain these rights either; they just slip from them. The circle of those who are free and share in the responsibility is narrowing down and thus becomes a privileged caste.” The higher officials shook their heads; those who had high posts to lose or wished to attain such – showed their disapproval, but my attitude caused hardly any surprise. This strange fellow does not strive after anything for himself, otherwise he would not talk like that, they thought, and some of them said so in private conversation. The official argument against my deductions was: such views have their place in the European parties and, in our country, had in the early days of the Revolution. Now we are burdened with the responsibility for the government of the country and can no longer indulge in that.
On the 26 June 1922 in Berlin the German foreign minister Rathenau had been murdered by Fascists. A frenzy of wrath seized the German people, a monster demonstration showed the feeling of the Berlin masses. It was the first demonstration in which I participated in Berlin. Though the protest was against the cowardly murder of a liberal minister the demonstration bore a definite proletarian character. The working class put down its foot and demanded that a halt be called at last to reaction and its murder gangs. Now an opportunity was offered to the Social-democratic leaders to make good what they had left undone through “fear of Bolshevism” in 1918, to break the backbone of reaction, to strengthen the Republic and thereby to extend their influence in the proletariat at the cost of that of the Communists. But the Social-democrats proved a dismal failure.
It is true, in the first days after the murder of Rathenau it seemed as if something was about to be done. After the leader of the Left wing of the Centre Party, Dr. Wirth had declared in his famous speech in the Reichstag: “The enemy stands on the Right!” the administration had found the courage to carry through a few searches in the houses of some well-known nationalist putschists. Then the action dwindled down into the passing of the notorious “Law for the protection of the Republic” whose administration was turned by reactionary judges into a weapon not against the real enemies of the Republic but almost exclusively against the Left.
Reaction triumphed. Its next attacks – attempts to murder prominent parliamentarians and publicists of the Left – failed to rouse serious resistance. The reactionary press scoffed and sneered at the weakness of the Government, at the helplessness of the parties of the Left. In November 1922 the reaction felt sufficiently strong to overthrow the Wirth cabinet and to put into office as Reich-chancellor their nominee, the director of the Hamburg-America Line, Cuno. This reactionary merchant could not boast of any political experience, he was not a Member of the Reichstag – his appointment was a blow to the young parliamentary regime.
When Cuno was to announce his programme I went to the Reichstag. There he stood, this unfortunate being, and read in the unaccustomed surroundings, stuttering and inarticulate like a backward schoolboy, the declaration of his Government. Only four short year had passed since the breakdown of Kaiserism and already the forces of the junker-industrialist reaction had become consolidated to such an extent that they could allow themselves this new edition of the Kaiser’s equally incapable Reich-chancellor Michaelis! My heart ached. If August Bebel could hear that, he would turn in his grave I thought. During an interval I went up to Loebe.
“Well, what do you think of our new Chancellor?” Loebe asked me.
“You have indeed picked up from the street a glorious fellow and propped him up here as your chancellor,” I said. “If they had at least taught him to read. But how is such a thing possible? The fellow is not an M.P. at all, he does not even possess the confidence of sixty thousand Germans.”
“According to our Constitution this is not required,” Loebe remarked apologetically.
“Then you German Social Democrats may really be proud of your Constitution,” I replied bitingly, “in England that would not be possible.”
It was obvious that Germany was in for serious internal strife.
In January 1923 the French and Belgians countered the new “vigorous” foreign policy of the Cuno Cabinet by occupying the Ruhr district. On the 11 January French and Belgian troops marched in and the situation grew very serious. Hard times were in store for the German workers. The Ruhr magnates Krupp and Stinnes, Thyssen and Voegler and all the rest of then knew how to suck honey even from this thistle. The entire burden of the patriotic counter-action, the so-called “passive resistance” lay on the shoulders of the workers, meanwhile the big capitalists who were conspiring behind the scenes with French generals for the abolition of the eight-hour-day in the occupied territory were given by the Reich Government all sorts of credits, subsidies, and compensations. In Bavaria the reactionary State-Government spread its protecting wings over the armed gangs of the counter-revolution and accorded an asylum to all reactionary law-breakers. The attempt to put a stop to inflation that had been undertaken in January broke down in April. Again the mark depreciated rapidly, first from week to week, then from day to day. The food prices kept pace with the inflation, only the wages could not rise at the same tempo. An indescribable mass misery engulfed the country. Not only the proletariat was a prey to dire need, the entire economic life of the country was shaken and chaos spread. The savings of the middle classes melted away in the inflation, one enterprise after the other went bankrupt, the small traders were hit hardest, but the peasants too were involved in large numbers. Meanwhile the large concerns were growing in value and proportion and in power over State and citizens.
This political hullabaloo multiplied the political menaces facing the Republic was in Moscow mistaken for a revolutionary situation. The Soviet officials and journalists in Berlin who knew better no longer dared in their reports to tell the truth if it was likely to displease “the centre” as that might have led to their recall. So they would report what Moscow wished to hear.
In Moscow the question of an imminent or distant German Revolution played a prominent part in the struggles between the four candidates for the inheritance of Lenin who was absent from active work from April 1923. Trotsky held fast to the belief in the reality of his wish-dream of a revolutionary situation in Germany. Consequently Stalin had to take up the opposite view though he had no arguments for the time being.
One day in summer 1923 N. Podvoisky, the former chief of the Supreme Military Inspection appeared in Berlin. He came to see us and enquired how Irma and I were appraising the situation. I was blissfully ignorant of the violent quarrels about the German situation raging within the leading caucus in Moscow. So I just laughed about the idea of an already existing revolutionary situation and ridiculed the foreign news service of the Soviet press. Podvoisky listened with the greatest interest to my and Irma’s descriptions and arguments and he requested me to work out a memorandum, better still a series of memoranda, for the Central Committee of the Party for internal publication for the benefit of the responsible workers. I agreed, expounded my very unorthodox ideas on the situation in Germany in writing and handed this to Podvoisky. I described therein the terrible misery prevailing, which at the moment did not stimulate revolutionary feeling but, on the contrary was paralysing the masses and which might, at most, bring about outbreaks of despair. I pointed to the weakness of the German Communist Party and emphasised its estrangement from the masses of the workers organised in Trade Unions; and I gave an analysis of the balance of power within the German Republic. Thus I arrived at the conclusion that the seriously threatened Republic must be protected, that any weakening of Social Democracy would mean a weakening of the Republic, and that an attempted revolutionary action would, under existing conditions, only benefit the counter-revolution. What has become of this memorandum I do not know. Since it was not published I never sent a second one. Later on I learned that the sly Stalin had picked out such arguments as suited his case but had never allowed the memorandum to go further. In a letter addressed to Zinoviev and Bukharin, later on published by the Trotskyites, Stalin appropriated some of my statements almost verbally. “Should the Communists to-day seize power in Germany, they would come down with a crash – this in the best case. But they might just as well be thrown back and smashed”; I had written. This Stalin repeated, but my criticism of the policy of the Comintern which was to weaken the Social Democratic Party and the Republic he took good care to suppress.
The summer of 1923 brought about peculiar developments in the international Communist movement. The ever closer friendship between the reactionary Reichswehr generals and the Soviet Government had most astonishing consequences. The Franco-Russian antagonism was particularly keen at the time – consequently the Communist parties as organs of Soviet foreign policy had everywhere to support the counter-measures of the German nationalists in the Ruhr district, and to try there to undermine the influence of the German Social Democrats by the use of nationalist slogans. It was the first time that Communists and Nazis were harnessed together to the same cart – a spectacle to which the world was soon to get accustomed.
One of the most obnoxious individuals of the secret murder gangs of the Nazis, the ex-student and “Balticum” bandit Albert Leo Schlageter had been arrested on the 15 March 1923 in the Ruhr district while committing a terrorist act against a French railway train. After a thorough investigation by the French Court where he and his fellow-prisoners had been allowed the services of three German lawyers, he had been sentenced to death. The proceedings in Court in this case had revealed the detestable features of the “nationalist” mercenaries of the first years after the war. If a death sentence in troubled times can be justified at all, the shooting of Schlageter on the 26 May 1923 was justifiable. And precisely this elimination of a murderer of Bolsheviks from the Baltic Provinces induced the secretary of the Communist International, Karl Radek in his “famous” Schlageter-speech to offer to the German nationalists an offensive and defensive alliance against France!
His proffered hand was accepted. On the 2 August 1923 the Berlin workers would hardly trust their eyes – the Rote Fahne, central organ of the Communist Party of Germany published an article by the German nationalist leader Count Ernst Reventlow! This champion of unrestricted submarine warfare discussed in the Communist organ the possibility of collaboration between “Voelkische” (forerunners of the Nazis) and Communists, since “Radek’s Schlageter speech had proclaimed a new strategy .... for the Communists in Germany.” As a quid pro quo Reventlow promised his new Communist allies that his friends, on attaining, victory, would forego “the chaining of the workers on the model of Mussolini.”
Radek replied two weeks later also in the Rote Fahne in three long articles. Behind the scenes there started those shameful negotiations for the establishment of a united front of the Communist International and the extreme German nationalists, in which Radek and Froehlich on one side and Count Reventlow on the other were playing a part, not as private persons but as duly accredited representatives of their respective organisations.
In his articles Radek tried to build a bridge between the discontented petty-bourgeois elements of Germany pauperised in the inflation who had been carried away by the anti-semitic nationalist ideology and could not now find their bearings, on the one hand, and the Communist section of the German proletariat, on the other hand. For this purpose he tried to convince the extreme German nationalists that only a German people unified on a revolutionary basis whose leaders would not need to fear the arms in the German workers’ hands, and that would be able to count on the support of Soviet Russia could liberate itself from the shackles of slavery imposed at Versailles: “The German people .... is surrounded by enemies .... disarmed,” he wrote. “A seventy-million-people cannot be destroyed, when the will to defence seizes large masses. France, it is true, has enough divisions .... but has neither the means to feed Germany nor ..... to maintain herself should she attempt the impossible task of keeping in subjugation seventy million people .... The second chance is the Anglo-French antagonism .... This provides an important factor for the German war of liberation but only .... when the German people itself becomes a factor of power, an active virile mass .... which, organised as an army, can take up arms or .... which forms a volcano under the feet of the enemy. The third factor of the German rising and liberation is Soviet-Russia .... The fourth foreign-political condition of a victory of the German Revolution is its political effect throughout the world. The Allies will hate it, but they will fear it more than the present Germany .... The German Revolution is the pre-requisite of the liberation of the German people.” Thus under the auspices of the Comintern the ideology was created that later on – in 1931 – led to what may be regarded as a defensive-offensive alliance between Communists and Nazis, not any longer against France but against German Social-democracy and the German Republic. A good foundation for the Stalin-Hitler pact of 1939!
Meanwhile things in Germany grew from bad to worse. On the 12 August 1923 the Cuno Government had resigned, overthrown by a general strike of the Berlin workers. Stresemann headed a new cabinet which included four Social Democratic ministers who prepared energetic measures to cope with the inflation. However, while the Social Democratic Finance Minister Hilferding took those measures which enabled his successor to introduce on the 16 November 1923 the “rentenmark” and thus a stabilised currency, inflation was for the time being still on the increase at an ever more rapid pace. On the 20 October the old mark was so depreciated that one dollar was the equivalent to 12 milliard marks – soon people were counting in billions: At the moment of stabilisation the new “rentenmark” was valued at one billion paper-marks. However, before the stabilisation for which the people was yearning could be carried through the proletariat suffered another serious defeat. The capitalist parties, who desired to shift the burden of the cost of stabilisation on to the shoulders of the workers while taking for themselves the credit for the stabilisation prepared by Hilferding, forced Hilferding’s resignation, the abolition of the eight-hour day, and compelled the Social Democrats to consent to the Ermaechtigungsgesetz” (law giving the Government emergency powers) of the 13 October 1923. Thus the economic dictatorship of big business was established.
During these critical weeks political events followed in rapid succession. The Bavarian counter-revolution grew ever more impudent. At the end of September the Bavarian Government had declared martial law and had put at the helm the strongest man of South-German reaction, von Kahr, appointing him as “State-commissar.” Thereupon the Reich-Government proclaimed martial law throughout the Reich establishing a kind of military dictatorship in order to bring von Kahr under the authority of general von Seeckt. But the commander of the Reichswehr in Bavaria, general von Lossow refused to obey orders from Berlin and placed himself at the disposal of von Kahr who had meanwhile mobilised all Fascist gangsters available in Bavaria. Instead of taking measures against the Bavarian counter-revolution the Social Democratic Reich. President Ebert and the Reich Government sent troops under the command of general Mueller to Saxony and Thuringia where constitutionally elected Social Democratic-Communist coalition governments were in power acting strictly within the law. The Reichswehr, unreliable against reactionary rebels here obeyed eagerly. The constitutional Zeigner Government in Saxony was turned out on the 29 October 1923 to be replaced by a military dictatorship; the Government of Thuringia shared its fate. The various nationalist gangs of adventurers who had been favoured by the authorities in Bavaria suddenly attempted under the leadership of Hitler and Ludendorf, a melodramatic putsch in the Munich “Buergerbrasu” (a beer cellar) where some beer glasses were the sole casualties. But Kahr could not take a joke; he sent the police, and the bellicose beer cellar heroes with Hitler at the head were given free quarters in a Bavarian prison for a couple of months accompanied by the Homeric laughter of all Germany. Munich and Berlin had reached an understanding and Kahr no longer required the gangsters.
During these turbulent weeks the Communist Party played a peculiar role. In Moscow Trotsky and Stalin quarrelled violently until finally Radek was sent to Germany.
At the Soviet Embassy in Berlin we had a meeting where Brandler, the obedient leader of the German Communist Party was to explain to us the situation and the policy of the German Communists. I could hardly believe my ears. This man who talked with such childish scoffing of the really pretty strong enemy – could that be the responsible leader of a Party that was about to seize power in the State by revolutionary means? But here he was standing in front of us and declaring: “Oh these adversaries – if only we really start they won’t march, they will be afraid of catching a cold.” In spite of this confident belief in victory they did not make any really serious preparations for the expected struggle. “Hundertschaften” (detachments of one hundred) had been formed secretly, forerunners of the quasi-military organisation “Rotor Frontkaempfer-Bund,” these were being armed on the expense of the Russian Government insofar as the money was not embezzled by those German Communists entrusted with buying arms. These “Hundertschaften” were kept on the alert, a “tcheka” was formed for the purpose of murdering traitors, there was constant talk of the imminent signal to start the revolution, but in reality they were left in suspense until they were demoralised completely because the General Staff of the World Revolution failed them.
At last the insurrection had been fixed for the 23 October 1923. What induced the Communist Executive to call it off at the last moment I do not know. Anyhow couriers of the Party were sent from Berlin to the four corners of Germany to countermand the previous orders. Misfortune willed it that the courier sent to Hamburg left his train at a station to get a cup of coffee at the buffet, overstayed his time and was left behind. The consequence was that on the following morning at Hamburg without any support from the working masses throughout the Reich a Communist insurrection occurred which was of course quickly suppressed in spite of all the heroism shown by the Communist workers of Hamburg left to fight the battle alone.
Then the Executive of the K.P.D. (German Communist Party) had a brain wave that was to make all further fighting unnecessary. Since the Government was now, in the inflation, living on the printing press it must surely be possible, they argued, to paralyse the Government by the simple expedient of a printers’ strike! Unfortunately for these great strategists of revolution the “revolutionary” printers’ strike envisaged by them for the 25 October was prohibited by the military authorities now almighty under martial law – so ended this newly invented patent “revolution.”
I must confess that I found it difficult to take these German Communist leaders seriously. It is true since the summer the situation had undergone a radical change. Now it had really become necessary to count with the eventuality that the workers might be compelled to oppose by force of arms the counter-revolution that was growing stronger every day. But this could not have been achieved by the Communist Party alone with its mere 218,000 members without the millions of organised Social Democrats and Trade Unionists. There were still Social Democratic ministers in the Reich Government; in Prussia and in the Berlin police the Social Democrats were the masters. Under these circumstances an armed offensive of the Communists alone was bound to lead to a fratricidal war between the two working class parties which would have left the road clear for the forces of reaction. And Karl Radek who had only recently tried to establish a united front with the extreme nationalists was the proper man indeed to be sent by the Comintern as a champion of the cause of the German workers!
The German Communist Party could at that time not boast of an efficient military organisation. They had not yet mastered the technique of establishing secret arms dumps and at times their functionaries were at a loss where to hide their arms. Once, faced with such a problem they hit upon the idea of placing several large boxes of arms in the Berlin building of the Russian Trading Delegation. The heads of this institution apparently had not been consulted on the matter and the Russian manager, an honest Communist, was on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand he did not wish to endanger his German comrades, on the other he could not accept the responsibility for allowing an arms dump in the Soviet Trading Delegation. He asked my advice. I had a talk with the most sensible of the German Communists employed by the Trading Delegation, explained to them what was at stake, that international complications and great damage to Soviet Russia might ensue and demanded the immediate removal of the arms. This had its effect. A few days later the manager told me with great satisfaction that he was rid of his burden. These boxes of arms remained at most a week in the store rooms of the Trading Delegation. But as the ratio of police spies amongst the Communist membership was considerable even then, rumours soon arose about huge stores of arms in the Trading Delegation, and these rumours were eagerly seized upon by the press, German and foreign alike. The various Fascist gangs threatened, they would attack the Trading Delegation; for some time we got police protection then we were officially supplied with arms for the self-defence of the Trading Delegation. We arranged a nightly guard until things quietened down.
When all was perfectly quiet again and no one thought any longer of arms, a detachment of police appeared one day at the Trading Delegation, surrounded the building and in spite of all protests carried out a search in a most brutal manner. Locks were forced open, tables broken, all was thrown pell-mell, commercial papers were seized. I had been at the Embassy and returned unaware of the raid when the vandalism of the Prussian police had reached its climax. I grasped the seriousness of this incident and, in view of the sensational lies of a section of the press, I spoke to Loebe about it who, as usual, was trying to get at the real facts. He was very interested, asked many questions and it was his statement in the Reichstag-Commission where he referred to me as an eye-witness that prevented this incident developing into a serious conflict between Soviet-Russia and the German Republic. Months later Turov who had just returned from Moscow came to me to express the “thanks of the fatherland.” I was very amused about this, taking it for a joke since I had not been aware of Loebe’s statement in the Reichstag-Commission nor of his reference to me. My amusement grew when I understood that Turov’s expression of thanks was meant seriously, nay, that he acted on official instructions. I had done nothing more than tell Loebe the truth, describe to him what I had seen, Loebe believed me – if that contributed to avoiding a conflict there was really nothing deserving any thanks. However, Irma and I were generally in the habit of telling Loebe the truth, and it would happen that he referred to critical remarks of ours concerning the position in the Soviet Union when he addressed meetings. Thus it came about that only a few months later there were serious complaints against us raised in the Russian Communist Party because of our “friendship with Social Democrats.” Truth is good only when serves the interests of the Soviet Government.
In January 1924 Lenin died. The news fell upon us, indeed on the whole Berlin Soviet colony, as a heavy blow. The Embassy arranged an impressive official memorial meeting. For the next issue of our journal I wrote a long article in memory of Lenin in which I said:
“We who, like Lenin, uphold Marxist philosophy, know that the course of history cannot be moulded at will by individuals however great their genius. But every great epoch of human development produces great man who concentrate in themselves as in a burning glass the feelings and strivings of their time, crystallising them and giving them vivid expression. Only insofar as they embody the ideals and aspirations of the broad masses of the people that lifts them up, can they rise to the height of reformers of social condition. Lenin was such a banner-bearer of the will of the uprising working people. His great mind gave to their ideals and their frequently only nebulously perceived aspirations precise expression. His iron will forged what the fighting masses of the people bore in their minds. An attempt to sketch the life and work of Lenin even in outline would require the writing of a history of the revolutionary movement of the last three or four decades. Lenin, the eminent statesman, founder of the Soviet Union is generally known; Lenin, the revolutionary working class leader lives in the hearts of the toiling masses of all countries; but Lenin the scholar, the great economist and prominent author is known only to those who have themselves tried to penetrate deeper into the economic and social problems of our time.”
Having appraised Lenin’s scientific and literary activity I continued:
“In spite of his iron will and uncompromising character Lenin revealed himself an extremely flexible tactician who knew well where increased pressure ought to be applied and where it was essential to make concessions. With an iron broom the remnants of Feudalism were swept away; an entirely new political and economic system sprang up. Lenin had no illusions as to the possibility of an immediate introduction of Socialism. In 1918 he proved in a series of articles that in Russia state-capitalism would mean a tremendous stride forward on the road to Socialism.”
Lenin’s death soon made itself only too much felt in the Party. For, Lenin’s greatness had revealed itself in that he had the courage to honestly admit mistakes made and then turn the wheel about. In this the great Lenin differed from the small infallibles Trotsky, Zinoviev and Stalin. Just on the eve of his second and last illness it had seemed as if he was about to strike and tear the fine web on which Stalin was spinning and weaving in night and mist. Death had held up this stroke. Now there was no pilot left who had both courage and strength enough to alter the course of the ship – full steam ahead it glided forward on the course recognised as false.
The nucleus had decided to commence courses on revolutionary history and history of the Russian Communist Party. I had been entrusted with this work and succeeded in getting a decision carried so that attendance of these courses should not, as originally intended, be made compulsory for all Russian Communists in Berlin.
Consequently I gathered a class of sixty to a hundred people who really wanted to work. We commenced with the Decabrists (about 1825) and after many months of intensive work cane up to our time. Using the literature I recommended my pupils work independently and themselves gave short lectures on evenings set aside for this purpose. Our heated debates on problems of the past created often a genuine historic atmosphere. The ambassador Krestinsky, himself an old Bolshevik familiar with the Party’s history from his own experience, generally participated in our evenings. And soon non-party employees of the Embassy and the Trading Delegation asked for admittance; however, that might have prevented frank expression of opinion and was therefore granted only in exceptional cases. Even so, difficulties arose at times with high officials who were but a short time in the Party, who had never been accustomed to critical analysis and were apt to regard the latest pamphlet as the truest gospel. For, that was the time when the systematic falsification of history came into fashion in Moscow. This process of falsification has now finally succeeded in painting black white and white black, many victims have bled because the attempt was made to clear those who knew better out of the way. One evening when we were ploughing through the Revolution of 1905 I asked two students to read papers they had written. One of these mentioned the fact that in 1905 the Bolsheviks had at first been opposed to the Soviets. One of the post-revolutionary Communists who had risen to the position of departmental chief considered it his duty to protest against this “counter-revolutionary slander.” I allowed the debate to take its normal course for a while, then I asked the angry official on what material he based his view. Proudly he produced a pamphlet from his pocket to which he was indebted for all he knew about the period in question. “This is one of those latest falsifications of history,” I said earnestly, “be on your guard against these pseudo-histories written by ignorant people for ignorant people. The Bolshevik Party does not need to hide mistakes of the past, as it is, its past is so much better than the present. Anyhow,” I added turning to the follower of this super-modern conception of history, “armed with such inadequate knowledge one cannot in these courses come forth with such a pathetic defence of injured innocence. Historic truth must prevail.”
On another occasion a splendid young Georgian got into hot water. Just as we had done at Saratov when the Tcheka was called out against us so now we arranged a debate with opposing roles. The young Georgian had been allotted the part of a Narodnik (Socialist populist); as the born orator he was he had performed his part so well that I had to declare the Marxists opposing him defeated. Amongst our students there were a married couple of tchekists, Yershov and Zubkova. They denounced the unfortunate Georgian to the Central-Control-Commission for “populist deviations” I had some difficulty explaining the circumstances to the Central-Control Commission and protecting the humorous artist from disagreeable consequences,
Within the Berlin Soviet colony some of the big noises of the Trading Delegation desired to play the part of a privileged caste. In view of the economic dependence of the majority of the Soviet citizens in Berlin on this small group of high officials nobody dared to stand up to them. One of the very worst amongst them was Beksadian, a member of the bureau of the nucleus. For some time this went on unchallenged, then they became so impudent that they tried, by making use of the Party machine, to get rid of an inconvenient employee because he could see through their intrigues. This was the young Communist B. With the aid of their non-party boon-companions they tried to trump up a case against the innocent B. in order to secure his expulsion from the Party and his recall to Russia. The bureau of the nucleus had to deal with the matter, the cautious Krestinsky was afraid to burn his fingers, a Party Court liras appointed under my chairmanship. It was as clear as daylight that a decent humble member of the Party was to be swallowed by a hydra whom everybody feared. What was at stake for the accused, a citizen of a democratic country can hardly imagine. His expulsion from the Party would have meant for him, his wife and child too let us recall, unemployment and boycott, perhaps their being left without a roof over their heads. The net was cunningly woven and seemed untearable. The proceedings before the Party Court dragged on. We met at the Embassy and heard quite a number of witnesses; at times clashes occurred. The entire Soviet colony caught the excitement. I had the sympathy of the “mass,” even their enthusiastic support in my passionate attempts to disentangle the threads, but the privileged clique were spitting fire. The questioning of the higher officials had sometimes a touch of the dramatic. They exhibited a degree of insolence one would hardly have considered possible towards a Party Court. When I put some searching questions to him, Beksadian screamed: “With your rotten democratism of which you are making almost a fetish you are dragging the whole administration of the Trading Delegation through the mud and destroying all discipline.” But I did not lose my temper and enforced proper replies to my questions. Soon the accusers were turned into accused. The higher officials of the Embassy would appear as listeners. The decision finally passed by the Court was, if names are deleted, something to this effect:
“Having considered all the circumstances of this affair the Party Court has come to the conclusion that the accused is not guilty in any way. But the Court has found that a group of responsible administrators with the aid of a non-member of the Party with whom they associated in nightly orgies have made the attempt to ruin a humble member of the Party who openly disapproved of their behaviour which appeared to discredit the Party. Against these administrators the Party Court pronounces a severe reprimand. In bringing this decision to the notice of the nucleus we draw the members’ attention to the need of taking measures for the improvement of the Party life of the Berlin Soviet-Communists.”
Minutes and sentence of the Party Court were of course sent in to the Central-Control-Commission in whose eyes the involving of a non-party man against a Party-member constituted a particularly vile crime. But the career of Stalin’s faithful shield-bearer Beksadian has not been affected even by this affair.
In the Trading Delegation there existed a secret fund from which important specialists would receive certain payments supplementary to their salaries. When the bureau of the nucleus learned that some Communists in high positions were also fed from this fund we brought the matter up at a meeting of the nucleus and carried through a decision prohibiting Communists from accepting secret supplements to their salary. This caused great dissatisfaction amongst those concerned. Several of them were piling up debts. Some nine months had passed after that decision when I once went to the manager requesting an advance payment of hundred marks on account of my salary.
“You do not need that, comrade Petroff,” he said smiling mysteriously, “just wait till the evening, you are growing rich.”
“Then you must know my affairs better than I do,” I replied amazed, “I have no fairy godmother, have not been gambling in any lottery and really cannot imagine how a windfall should come to me.”
But he would not say more and I regarded the whole thing as a joke. In the evening there was a meeting of the bureau. The secretary read a proposal of the Trading Delegation supported by Krassin requesting the sanction of the bureau that twelve responsible Communists named on an attached list in view of their valuable work were to receive a remuneration amounting to an additional fifty per cent of their salaries and this to be retrospective for the past nine months. When the list was read out my name was also on it. Indignant I jumped up. “Before we discuss the matter further I demand that my name be deleted from the list” I said. Then the fight started. It appeared that I was the only one present to whom this plan came as a surprise. After my name had been deleted on my insistence the proposal was accepted with all votes against mine. But in the minutes I gave a declaration explaining my reasons for voting against being included, and when in Moscow they were looking through the minutes they decided thereupon to overrule the bureau’s decision. Of course the eleven members named in the list had meanwhile received their additional fifty per cent for about a year. Thus I had my principle and they had their money.
The chairman of the Trading Delegation, Stomoniakoff had one day conceived the humane plan of sacking all German Communists with a few exceptions. All these office boys, young clerks and transport workers with their open eyes and critical minds were a most inconvenient element. The gentlemen at the top had always to be careful not to show their weaknesses, not to be caught in some action “inimical to Party interests.” Those Communists who possessed special qualifications and experiences, who held higher posts, and who were really loyal to their principles were still more inconvenient; to replace these by reactionaries or indifferent ones might have been very agreeable. The “Betriebsrat” was powerless. The bureau of the Russian nucleus had to deal with this matter. We received the list of those to be dismissed; and I enquired through the Betriebsrat about every one of them. It appeared that really honest and efficient employees were to be replaced by persons of rather doubtful qualifications. One case particularly annoyed us: a capable employee of the transport department with fifteen years experience was to be replaced by a man whose sole experience in the realm of transport, consisted in that he had helped as a “volunteer” in one of the gangs in the Baltic Provinces in “transporting” Bolsheviks to another world. That was the limit! Another big fight ensued. Finally we demanded, invoking Party discipline, Stomoniakoff should appear before the Bureau and justify every single dismissal. He preferred to give in and practically all notices were withdrawn.
The Russian Embassy frequently put on “beer-evenings” to which I was invited. In the large, brilliantly lit up rooms refreshment bars were put up abundantly loaded with all sorts of delicacies. Cigars, cigarettes, expensive wines were lavishly supplied; tea, coffee, cake, caviar sandwiches, cold roast goose stood in appetising array. Here would meet diplomats, politicians, M.P.s, publicists of all parties and trends ranging from the Communists to reactionaries of the extreme Right. Besides statesmen and representatives of official Germany, editors of newspapers of world reputation and decent correspondents, this feeding place would attract also all sorts of international press reptiles and adventurers. It was interesting to observe this motley crew. There sat at the same extra-territorial table, the Communist Koennen, at the moment “wanted” by the police, and the vice-police-president who “wanted” him. Elsewhere I noticed the councillor of the Embassy Ustinov in the process of drinking the health of the reactionary daily Taegliche Rundschau with a group of politicians of the Right. In a corner surrounded by some keenly discussing Communists there stood the little Meierovitch, paymaster of the Comintern, overlooking the gathering with his characteristic conspicuously secretive look over the top of his glasses. At the opposite end of the hall the Social Democratic ex-finance-minister Hilferding was engaged in a friendly conversation with a foreign correspondent. “They all come to us,” Krestinsky said to me, “only that Hermann Mueller – we cannot attract him! All our overtures fail.” A Scandinavian journalist greeted me. “Other embassies also have such receptions,” he remarked, “but such good food, such abundance of wine and cigars are to be found only in the Soviet-Embassy.” I happened to hear an interesting conversation. The departmental chief Rosovsky from the Trading Delegation addressed an English press correspondent:
“Your much boasted liberty is not worth much,” he smiled, “just now one of our comrades of the Daily Worker” has been sentenced to several months imprisonment.”
“I deprecate the sentence,” the Englishman replied, “but you see, he had published an appeal to the soldiers. What would happen in Russia if anybody were to call upon the Red Army to disobey orders?”
“The Red Army?” Rosovsky cried indignantly, “we would shoot him without any fuss.”
“Well after all, things are then not quite so bad in our country” the English correspondent said amiably.
“Surely, you cannot compare that,” Rosovsky flared up, “in England that is a capitalist government.”
It was interesting to me to see to what extent the Soviet Government had already at that juncture managed to influence the European press. In the Embassy as well as in the Trading Delegation the matter was being looked into. Apart from newspapers who received remunerative advertisements or simply regular subsidies – sixty thousand marks was regarded as inadequate by a paper of world repute in a case that came to my knowledge – there were subservient journalists who managed to insert in otherwise respectable journals articles pleasing the Soviet Government in questions that mattered but critical where it did not hurt. Particularly “pro-Soviet” was the right-liberal Ullstein press trust. In the Vossische Zeitung for instance there sat certain journalists who would manage to submit every article concerning Soviet Russia to the censorship of the Embassy. Considerable sums were spent to prevent the acceptance of articles from the pen of persons “in disfavour.” It would happen that a newspaper when no agreement on the price could be reached would threaten to bring to the notice of the public such attempts against the liberty of the press: When I once succeeded in obtaining an insight into the list of reptiles I was speechless – was there really no clean spot in the world’s press apart from the German Social Democratic press?! I felt sick.
In January 1925 preparations were made to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Revolution of 1905. At the meeting in celebration of the event to take place in the Embassy a presidium was to be elected consisting of old revolutionaries who had played an active part in the Revolution of 1905. When I glanced through the list I noticed beside my name that of the chairman of the Trading Delegation, Stomoniakoff. “What?” I exclaimed, “Stomoniakoff? What next I wonder! It seems you are muddling up the Russian Revolution with services to the Bulgarian general staff rendered behind the front.” I demanded that his name be struck off. Someone said that he had heard that Stomoniakoff in 1905 as a student abroad was said to have had connections of some sort with a revolutionary group of some kind. After Lenin’s death there commenced in Russia the scandalous practice that persons who had climbed up the ladder in State service got a faked pedigree precisely as in the old times newly knighted capitalist sharks were buying feudal family pictures. Nowadays this is being done more efficiently. From the past life of killed Party veterans whose self-written autobiographical notes are kept in the archives of the Party suitable parts are being selected and assigned to Stalin’s loyal followers. Stalin’s own biography is growing in this manner from publication to publication. At that time, however, I made a big row about it and threatened to expose the fraud in public. Consequently no veterans’ presidium was elected. None the less the celebration of the anniversary of the Revolution which was combined with the commemoration of Lenin’s death just a year before, was very impressive.
After endless conflicts Irma and I had given up the editorship of our journal Aus der Volkswirtschaft and had begun to write a big work on the economic development of the Soviet Union. We had not quite realised the magnitude and difficulty of this task, how difficult the obtaining of every single figure would be, what difficulties had to be overcome in order to work out comparisons in view of the frequent re-division of the country into new districts and also on account of the slipshod methods of work of Russian statistics then still in its infancy. Without the friendly aid of the diplomatic couriers and of our friends in Russia who placed at our disposal every rare publication, managed to trace such and obtain them for us from a variety of libraries and institutions in Russia, we should have never succeeded in accomplishing this work. Even so it took us more than eighteen months, working, twelve or more hours per day, to write our book Die wirtschaftliche Entwicklung der Soviet-Union.
However, while we sat submerged in our economic research and forgetting the world over our statistical calculations our enemies, whose number was growing, did not remain inactive. We were then living with our two little children in the Berlin suburb of Lichterfelde. One evening when I was returning hone by the Wannseebahn after a strenuous debate in our courses and was pleased to find an empty compartment three men enterer one after the other and soon started a conversation. Though I was reading they were trying obtrusively to draw me into their general talk. One of them behaved as if he was slightly intoxicated, but I got the impression this was merely part of a game and that the trio belonged together. Two of them had taken up places on either side of the door. They seemed to expect I would alight at the station Lichterfelde West. However, when we reached the station Botanischer Garten I waited until the train had stopped properly, jumped up and opened the door with a rapid movement taking them by surprise. They were not quick enough to prevent this; one of then who stretched out his hand to prevent me when I already stood in the open doorway got a well-aimed blow and out I was. The station was not empty, some people were still returning from theatres. The whole incident had surprised me; I had not expected anything of the kind, yet from the behaviour and the talk of the trio I felt sure that the matter had a political background. Of what character that might be I could not guess. Paying no further heed I walked away. Suddenly I became aware that one of my three fellow-travellers was following me. When he came near, I before walking into the lonely shady avenues of this half rural garden suburb, turned upon my pursuer, my hand in my pocket. “May accompany you a little?” he said taken aback and apparently unable to find anything more sensible than this question put as if I had been a girl. Some pedestrians stopped, curious to watch the incident. “Accompany me?” I called aloud. “Get out of my way if you value your bones. March on there, in that direction!” I pointed to the left while my own way took me to the right. My hand left the pocket, something metallic was glittering in it in the dim light of the street lamp, what it was the intruder could not distinguish. He turned on his heels and followed my order in rapid strides. The observant passengers who knew me by sight were very amused to see the big fellow run away scared by my latch-key. Without further adventures I got home.
A few days later a lady whom I knew called upon me. She was a writer of Left tendencies who was unaware of this incident.
“Mr. Petroff, I have come to warn you,” she said. “From a reliable source which I am not at liberty to disclose I have accidentally learned that you are being shadowed. Violence is not excluded.”
“But who should bother to shadow me?” I asked. “I am at present not at all active politically. Irma and I are busy working on our book, harmless economic research, we have almost forgotten the world over it.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “However that may be, the matter is serious. Be on your guard.”
“Who do you think is behind this?” I asked. “The Prussian authorities?”
“Surely not,” she smiled, “Russians.
“No. Russians personally hostile to you who are employing a private detective-bureau.”
More I could not get from her. But we now took the matter seriously. Irma and I held a war-council. Should we apply to the police? We could not make up our minds to do that. We were still too deeply steeped in Soviet ideology. “Let us take the bull by the horns,” I suggested finally, “let us go and complain to the G.P.U.” We went to the Soviet Embassy. In a building in the backyard the G.P.U. had its quarters. We asked to see the chief and related to him the incident in the railway compartment and the warning I had received. After all, I was still a member of the Bureau of the Communist nucleus. The G.P.U. chief took the matter very seriously.
“Russians who are not White-Guardists are working through a German detective-bureau against an old member of the Party?” he exclaimed. “That is a serious matter which must be investigated.
Something, will have to be done. This does not emanate from the German police. We always know what they are doing or discussing
He may have read on my face that I was not inclined to take this boast at its face value. With a cunning smile he took out a document.
“Do you notice the date? Report of a sitting held this very morning at the Polizei-Praesidium. Strictly secret. Yet we have got it.” He laughed merrily. Returning to business he said: “First of all we must find out who is shadowing you. The quickest way might be if you lose a suitable document. Something that cannot compromise you yet is of sufficient interest. We shall be on the lookout. There exists here a kind of stock exchange for that kind of thing. Within forty-eight hours the document is sure to be offered there. Whence it came can then be established without great difficulty. Give us time to think the matter over. Meanwhile we shall watch whether you are being shadowed.” He called two of his men from another room and instructed then to find out whether and by whom we were shadowed.
When we afterwards discussed the matter among ourselves, Irma said:
“Well, what’ do you think now?”
“The devil knows whether they are not themselves involved in the matter,” I replied.
“I have believed from the outset that we were going to complain about the devil to Beelzebub,” She remarked. “Yet, if they were so hostile to us they would hardly boast about their secret connections with police headquarters.”
“Perhaps just in order to make us feel sure,” I said, “though it seems more likely that they themselves were not acting against us, but that they are well aware what high Soviet dignitaries are involved in the matter. None the less, it was useful, for they have now a certain responsibility.”
“And what about the document to be lost?” Irma asked, “isn’t that mere provocation?”
“Surely you don’t imagine I would agree to such tricks? But it can do no harm to see what they propose.”
When, as arranged, we called again a few days later the document plan had been dropped. We found the G.P.U. chief much less talkative, but he promised to accord us protection.
We required a new nurse for our children. On the recommendation of the same lady from whom we had received the warning, and who had, as we established much later, meanwhile come into close relations to the G.P.U., we went to the “Vereingebildeter Hausangestellter” who had an agency for such purposes. Soon a young lady applied for the job. She gave the impression of being an extremely intelligent person, seemed to have read a great deal on education and psychology but although the wages we offered satisfied her we feared that our simple household might not please her.
“I expect you have been used to elegant houses,” Irma said after some conversation, “in our house everything is very simple. We live for our work and the household matters but little. During the day a splendid woman comes and takes care of it. You would have only the children to look after, but of course we must be sure that so far as they are concerned we could absolutely rely on you.”
“The simple way of life would not worry me,” the young lady replied, “I do like your modern method of education. I think I should feel quite happy.”
“Are you sure?” Irma asked with a smile, “a previous young lady who lived with us for a long time always complained that we were awfully tedious people talking of nothing but politics and statistics.”
“If that does not scare you, let us try it,” I suggested.
She accepted. The young lady proved extremely efficient. “You have made a good choice,” said our housekeeper. Our landlady, an experienced first-class housewife shook her head dubiously and said nothing. “Is the young girl not sufficiently democratic for her?” I asked Irma afterwards. On the morning of the third day we woke up to find the drawer of our writing table forced open – the young lady had vanished. A number of Russian notes, documents and letters that had been kept in the drawer were gone. An attempt to follow up the traces of Fraeulein “Senta Hascher” backwards showed that she had been living in an expensive hotel while she was seeking the humble job of a children’s nurse. More we could not find out about this mysterious lady. But who our enemies were was now perfectly clear.
In the spring of 1925 there was another general cleansing in the Russian Communist Party. A “Cleansing Commission” led by Reuseman and old Felix Cohn arrived in Berlin. After our usual meetings about the courses I was invited to an informal tea-evening in the Embassy where the members of the commission, a few selected Russian Communists and some German Communist leaders were present. In this friendly atmosphere an informal exchange of opinions on the situation in Germany and on problems of foreign policy took place. Felix Cohn was a well-known old revolutionary of the Polish movement. I was therefore amazed at the servile attitude shown by him even in private conversation towards the Central Committee and particularly to Stalin. It annoyed me to see how all Russians stood up on their hind legs like trained poodles in front of this commission. So I took up one of Cohn’s super-loyal remarks and said to him: “I had you in my mind as a revolutionary wolf, now I find but a tame lamb.” But the old man did not bear me a grudge. “The Petroffs are made this way,” he said to the secretary of the nucleus, “for them no authority exists. Unflinchingly they go their own way. They are known for that in Moscow; that cannot be helped.” Reuseman made a very different impression on me. This sly demagogue had nothing revolutionary in his make-up. The tall clumsy figure with his womanish beardless face was repugnant to me, he somehow made me think of a hangman. In a conversation I once referred to him as “Stalin’s eunuch” ... a nickname enjoyed by many though few dared to repeat it. Reuseman had his secret instructions from Stalin; the two other servile members of the commission were mere ornaments. It was obvious Reuseman would carry out his instructions even should he have to walk over corpses. When Krestinsky introduced us, Reuseman greeted me very cordially; in the ensuing conversation he said:
“So you have now concentrated entirely on scientific work? I am told that you are engaged in deep economic research and besides you are turning the members of your courses into professors. How can you do this at such a time? A man like you who is capable of beating drums and rousing the masses!”
I laughed. “I feel very happy in my work. At the moment drums have no attraction for me,” I replied dryly.
“One feels at once the Western-European influence,” Reusaman retorted.
The Commission spent some days on the perusal of all minutes and reports of the nucleus and of the autobiographical notes which every member had to hand in. Of course from the building in the backyard they would be supplied with some more material of a less official character. Then the joint meetings with the Bureau of the nucleus began. At the same time the first victims were called before the Commission. Each Communist was heard separately. The Commission questioned him closely as to his origin, past, present activity, mode of life and how he spent his hours of leisure, about his political views and finally put him through a kind of examination to ascertain his political knowledge. The type of question put in this examination did little credit to the political understanding and pedagogical sense of the Commission. When was the eighth or ninth Party Congress? was a favourite question. My pupils came to me in their anxiety for some last-minute coaching. Irma gave them a piece of advice: “If you add eleven to the number the post-revolutionary Party Congresses you have the year. The ninth was in 1920.” At the following joint meeting, I told the Commission with all severity what I thought of their method of examination. It was rather a lively meeting:
“With your silly questions you are making the whole-institution of cleansing appear ridiculous. Every thief and corrupt official can learn by heart when a Party Congress was or what problems it discussed. Why don’t you ask what colour of tie Lenin wore at this or that Party Congress? It reminds me of the “hour of instruction” in the tsarist army! It will be just the honest and intelligent who refuse to learn by heart your ridiculous ‘politagramota’ (primer of ‘political grammar’) who will fail. Your selection will be a selection of the worst. In your hands cleansing is turned into a farce.” I was furious.
Cohn replied: “Of you we never expected anything but biting criticism. Yet you ought to support us in this matter. If theoretical knowledge is not essential for a member of the Party, why then do you spend so much time and energy on your courses?”
“In my courses memories are not being crammed, there Marxist thinking is being taught. I should like to put your commission through an examination in Marxist theory – not one of you could pass, that is evident from the nature of your questions.”
Beksadian jumped up. “There you have Petroff, his true self! From his boundless criticism nothing and nobody is exempt. Do you now understand why the administration of the Trading Delegation has such a hard time?”
The debate grew more and more heated. Reuseman sat silent taking it all in. Suddenly he rose, flung out his long arms and cried: “Tell us then, comrade Petroff, what criterion should we apply? I am waiting with intense curiosity for your answer!”
“Surely, that is simple enough,” I replied earnestly. “How did we act in the old days, in the illegal movement? Did we then ask whether our people remembered names and dates? No. We asked: Is the man honest? Convinced? From what motives did he come to us? How would he behave if he were to fall into the hands of the enemy? Will he then bear the movement in mind or will he think solely of saving his own skin? There you have the criterion by which Communists are to be judged.”
However, the Commission had its own criteria. When the expulsions pronounced by it became known one was stunned. There was, for instance, a diplomatic courier, an honest fellow, a tailor by profession, who after 1905 had been living in exile and working in various European countries. As a result he mastered five languages. In the eyes of the Commission his linguistic achievements classified him as an “intellectual” – out with him! In the Soviet bookshop “Kniga” the Commission had come across a Communist employee in charge of the fiction department. “Amongst your many books here you have not a single volume by Marx or Lenin,” Reuseran thundered. “These are in another department,” the young girl apologised, we keep only novels and stories.” Expelled! The Councillor of the Embassy Jakubovitch, later on Ambassador in Norway, got a “reprimand” with a warning because he could not reply to some of the ridiculous questions at his examination. Yet the most scandalous case which clearly revealed the secret background of this game was that of Mrs. Sachs. Mrs. Sachs had been in the old times of the illegal movement an unselfish well tried helper of her brother Zinoviev whom she adored. Now she was in the Berlin Embassy in charge of domestic affairs, looking after the management of kitchen, laundry and so forth. She attended our courses working with keen interest. In the personal life of this self-sacrificing mother who dedicated herself entirely to the upbringing of her only boy no fault could be found even with magnifying glass. So the Commission put to her in the examination particularly difficult questions from the realm of the agrarian problem. Her replies apparently did not satisfy the great scholars; the Commission pronounced a “reprimand with a warning” and gave the unfortunate woman three months to study the agrarian question and pass a second examination, failure involving expulsion from the Party! This was the first warning, we had in Berlin that Stalin had commenced intrigues against Zinoviev. Stalin spun out his revenge on his rival Zinoviev over twelve years. Today Zinoviev is dead, having been shot by Stalin, and his nephew, Mrs. Sachs’s only child, who had grown up a capable technical engineer, is languishing in prison where he has been put together with Trotsky’s sole surviving son.
All these expulsions and reprimands were first brought to our knowledge at a joint meeting of the Commission and the Bureau of the nucleus. I did not keep back my criticism. The Commission was cornered to such an extent that they could find no arguments in reply to my slashing criticism.
“Since you have no arguments to justify your decisions I should like to know whether you are prepared to reconsider the cases I have mentioned?” I enquired.
“No,” replied Reuseman, “according to our instructions our decisions are final for the present; they may be annulled or altered only by the Central Control Commission in Moscow itself. In such cases we shall raise no objections.
“Then I wish to know whether in your instructions it is prescribed what percentage of the Berlin membership should be expelled or reprimand? Have you attained that percentage?”
Great embarrassment. “What do you know about our instructions which we are not empowered to reveal?”
“Your decisions and those of similar commissions in various places in Russia reveal the system!” I cried. “These cleansings introduced by Lenin as a means of eliminating decadent bureaucrats and job-hunters who have crept in are being used by the present Central Committee of the Party as a means to impose a still more severe discipline. Good comrades are expelled and afterwards re-admitted so as to keep all in terror and break their characters! A Party that resorts to such methods of discipline has ceased to be a revolutionary party, is degraded to a party of slaves and is sailing on to the rocks.”
“Take that down verbatim,” Reuseman called out to his secretary amid the uproar created by Beksadian and his friends in view of my “attack on the Party.” The diplomatic Krestinsky tried to save the situation by interrupting the meeting and inviting us all to the next room where supper had been served.
Irma and I, after careful consideration, had come to the conclusion that membership in. the Party was no longer bearable for us. Neither for the internal nor foreign policy of Soviet Russia, nor for the machinations abroad of the Comintern did we desire to bear any share of responsibility. The internal development of the Party showed us that there was no more hope of a change for the better. But we had not yet written our letter of resignation, had not fixed the day since I was still engaged in a severe struggle to help rehabilitate the innocent victims of the Commission.
A few days later there was a meeting of the entire nucleus. After my statement in the Bureau, Reuseman, Felix Cohn, Beksadian and the like had taken great pains to make themselves amiable to me in the hope of pacifying me. On our arrival Irma and I were greeted by them with a great show of cordiality and before the meeting began Reuseman requested me to participate in the discussion. Then Reuseman delivered a long speech on measures for the improvement of Russian Party life abroad, finally he read out the decisions of the Commission. These included some that had not been made known previously to the Bureau of the nucleus, such as the expulsion of Goldstein, head of the concessions department. Irma and I were reprimanded for our “friendly relations with Social Democrats” because we had been in correspondence with our friend Loebe on the scandalous behaviour of that very Goldstein.
“That knocks the bottom out of the cask,” Irma whispered to me, “come.” We rose and pointedly left the meeting. At home we sat down at once wrote our letter of resignation and sent it straight to
Moscow to the Central Committee of the Party without mentioning this to any one in Berlin. Invitations to Party meetings of all kinds I left unanswered. Krestinsky had to go to Moscow to some conference. Before he left Berlin we went to see him and informed him that we had written to the general secretary of the Central Committee, Stalin, asking that he strike off our names from the list of members of the Party. Krestinsky expressed his sincere regret about our decision and tried to find out whether some compromise might not be reached. But we left him in no doubt that our decision was final.
In Moscow our letter of resignation had the effect of a bomb. At first they expected that we would rush over with flying banners to the Social Democrats and start a violent campaign. Since we had no skeleton in the cupboard that could be dragged out against us they hit in Moscow on a marvellous idea: they called together the one time Bolshevik exiles in England and got these – Litvinov, Peters, Kerzhentsev, and Pestkovsky – to sign a declaration to the effect that it was not true that Irma and I had been active in the British Labour movement before and during the war. With typical new-Bolshevist love of truth these soldiers of Stalin signed – we were almost choked by fits of laughter when this was communicated to us. However, since we remained inactive no further use was made of this document. Weeks passed while Stalin and his caucus could not make up their minds what was to be done. Our resignation had been kept secret for the time being; finally they decided post factum to “expel” us for our “strong hostility to the Party” as exhibited in our letter of resignation. Truly Stalinist logic! When the secretary of the nucleus handed us this document we explained to him laughing that it was not possible to shoot a dead man, to deport one who has escaped, or to expel a member who has resigned.
Later on there was no lack of efforts to induce us to withdraw our letter of resignation. The ambassador Krestinsky, the new chair of the Trading Delegation Begge and the leader of the Russian Trade Unions Tomsky tried hard on various occasions to persuade us, but we remained adamant. A burden was taken off our soul! We felt again free human beings.