Memoirs of a Revolutionary. Victor Serge

from Chapter 3.
On Second Congress of Comintern

The Third International had just been founded in Moscow (it was now March 1919) and had appointed Zinoviev as President of its Executive (the proposal was actually Lenin’s). The new Executive still possessed neither personnel nor offices. Although I was not a member of the Party, Zinoviev asked me to organize his administration. As my knowledge of Russian life was too limited, I was unwilling to assume such a responsibility by myself. After some days Zinoviev told me, ‘I’ve found an excellent man, you’ll get along with him really well. ...’; and so it turned out. It was thus that I came to know Vladmir Ossipovich Mazin who, prompted by the same motives as myself, had just joined the Party.

Through its severely practical centralization of power, and its repugnance towards individualism and celebrity, the Russian Revolution has left in obscurity at least as many first-rate men as it has made famous. Of all these great but still practically unknown figures, Mazin seems to me to be one of the most remarkable. One day, in an enormous room in the Smolny Institute, furnished solely with a table and two chairs, we met face to face, both of us rigged out rather absurdly. I still wore a large sheepskin hat which had been a present from a Cossack and a short, shabby overcoat, the garb of the Western unemployed. Mazin wore an old blue uniform with worn-out elbows; he had a three days’ growth of beard, his eyes were encircled by old-fashioned spectacles of white metal, his face was elongated, his brow lofty and his complexion pasty from starvation.

‘Well,’ he said to me, ‘so we’re the Executive of the new International. It’s really ridiculous!’ And upon that bare table we set about drawing rough sketches of seals, for a seal was required immediately for the President: the great seal of the World Revolution, no more, no less! We decided that the globe would be the emblem on it.

We were friends with the same points of concern, doubt, and confidence, spending any moments spared us from our grinding work in examining together the problems of authority, terror, centralization, Marxism, and heresy. We both had strong leanings towards heresy. I was beginning my initiation into Marxism. Mazin had arrived there through the path of personal experience in jail. With those convictions he combined an old-fashioned libertarian heart and an ascetic temperament.

At the height of the war the Second Congress of the Communist International was hastily summoned. I worked literally day and night to prepare for it since, thanks to my knowledge of languages and the Western world, I was practically the only person available to perform a whole host of duties. I met Lansbury and John Reed on their arrival. I hid a delegation of Hungarian Left Communists, who were in opposition to Bela Kun and in some kind of liaison with Rakovsky. We published the International’s periodical in four languages. We sent innumerable secret messages abroad by various adventurous routes. I translated Lenin’s messages, and also the book that Trotsky had just written in his military train, Terrorism and Communism, which emphasized the necessity for a long dictatorship ‘in the period of transition to socialism’, for several decades at least. Trotsky’s rigid ideas, with their schematism and voluntarism, disturbed me a little. Everything was scarce: staff, paper, ink, even bread, as well as facilities for communication. All we received in the way of foreign newspapers were a few copies bought in Helsinki by smugglers who crossed the front lines specially for the purpose. I paid them 100 roubles per copy. On occasions when one of their number had been killed they came to ask for extra money, at which we did not demur. In Moscow, organizational activity was proceeding at an equally feverish pace under the supervision of Angelica Balabanova and Bukharin.

I met Lenin when he came to Petrograd for the first session of the Congress. We had tea together in a small entertainment-room in the Smolny; Yevdokimov and Angel Pestaña, the delegate from the Spanish C.N.T., were with me when Lenin came in. He beamed, shaking the hands that were outstretched to him, passing from one salutation to the next. Yevdokimov and he embraced one another gaily, gazing straight into each other’s eyes, happy like over-grown children. Vladimir Ilyich was wearing one of his old jackets dating back to the emigration, perhaps brought back from Zurich; I saw it on him in all seasons. Practically bald, his cranium high and bulging, his forehead strong, he had commonplace features: an amazingly fresh and pink face, a little reddish beard, slightly jutting cheekbones, eyes horizontal but apparently slanted because of the laughter-lines, a grey-green gaze at people, and a surpassing air of geniality and cheerful malice.

In the Kremlin he still occupied a small apartment built for a palace servant. In the recent winter he, like everyone else, had had no heating. When he went to the barber’s he took his turn, thinking it unseemly for anyone to give way to him. An old housekeeper looked after his rooms and did his mending. He knew that he was the Party’s foremost brain and recently, in a grave situation, had used no threat worse than that of resigning from the Central Committee so as to appeal to the rank and file! He craved a tribune’s popularity, stamped with the seal of the masses’ approval, devoid of any show or ceremony. His manners and behaviour betrayed not the slightest inkling of any taste for authority; what showed through was only the urgency of the devoted technician who wants the work to be done, and done quickly and well. Also in evidence was his forthright resolve that the new institutions, weak though they might be to the point of a merely symbolic existence, must nevertheless be respected.

On that day, or perhaps the following one, he spoke for several hours at the first formal session of the Congress, under the white colonnade of the Tauride Palace. His report dealt with the historical situation consequent upon the Versailles Treaty. Quoting abundantly from Maynard Keynes, Lenin established the insolvency of a Europe carved up arbitrarily by victorious imperialisms, and the impossibility of any lengthy endurance by Germany of the burdens that had been so idiotically imposed upon her; he concluded that a new European revolution, which was destined also to involve the colonial peoples of Asia, must be inevitable.

He was neither a great orator nor a first-rate lecturer. He employed no rhetoric and sought no demagogical effects. His vocabulary was that of a newspaper-article, and his technique included diverse forms of repetition, all with the aim of a driving in ideas thoroughly, as one drives in a nail. He was never boring, on account of his mimic’s liveliness and the reasoned conviction which drove him. His customary gestures consisted of raising his hand to underline the importance of what he had said, and then bending towards the audience, smiling and earnest, his palms spread out in an act of demonstration: ‘It is obvious, isn’t it?’ Here was a man of a basic simplicity, talking to you honestly with the sole purpose of convincing you, appealing exclusively to your judgement, to facts and sheer necessity. ‘Facts have hard heads,’ he was fond of saying. He was the embodiment of plain common sense, so much so that he disappointed the French delegates, who were used to impressive Parliamentary joustings. ‘When you see Lenin at close quarters, he loses much of his glamour,’ I was told by one French deputy, an eloquent sceptic positively stuffed with witty epigrams.

The Comintern’s Second Congress took up the rest of its work in Moscow. The Congress staff and the foreign delegates lived in the Hotel Delovoy Dvor, centrally situated at the end of a wide boulevard, one side of which was lined by the white embattled rampart of Kitay-Gorod. Medieval gateways topped by an ancient turret formed the approach to the nearby Varvarka, where the first of the Romanovs had lived. From there we came out into the Kremlin, a city within a city, every entrance guarded by sentries who checked our passes. There, in the palaces of the old autocracy, in the midst of ancient Byzantine churches, lay the headquarters of the Revolution’s double arm, the Soviet Government and the International. The only city the foreign delegates never got to know (and their incuriosity in this respect disturbed me) was the real, living Moscow, with its starvation-rations, its arrests, its sordid prison-episodes, its backstage racketeering. Sumptuously fed amidst universal misery (although, it is true, too many rotten eggs turned up at meal-times), shepherded from museums to model nurseries, the representatives of international Socialism seemed to react like holiday-makers or tourists within our poor Republic, flayed and bleeding with the siege. I discovered a novel variety of insensitivity: Marxist insensitivity. Paul Levi, a leading figure in the German Communist Party, an athletic and self-confident figure, told me outright that ‘for a Marxist, the internal contradictions of the Russian Revolution were nothing to be surprised at’; this was doubtless true, except that he was using this general truth as a screen to shut away the sight of immediate fact, which has an importance all of its own. Most of the Marxist Left, now Bolshevized, adopted this complacent attitude. The words ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ functioned as a magical explanation for them, without it ever occurring to them to ask where this dictator of a proletariat was, what it thought, felt, and did.

The Social-Democrats, by contrast, were notable for their critical spirit and for their incomprehension. Among the best of them (I am thinking of the Germans Daumig, Crispien, and Dittmann), their peaceful, bourgeoisified socialist humanism was so offended by the Revolution’s harsh climate that they were incapable of thinking straight.

[Arthur Crispien (1875-1946) and Wilhelm Dittmann (1874-1954) both opposed the ‘21 Conditions’ for affiliation to the Communist international, and broke with it after this Congress; Ernst Daumig (1866-1922), an experienced shock-fighter and underground worker, who had led the Revolutionary Shop Stewards’ movement in 1918, supported and joined the International at this juncture, but sided with Paul Levi after the latter’s expulsion from the Comintern in 1921.]

The anarchist delegates, with whom I held many discussions, had a healthy revulsion from ‘official truths’ and the trappings of power, and a passionate interest in actual life; but, as the adherents of an essentially emotional approach to theory, who were ignorant of political economy and had never faced the problem of power, they found it practically impossible to achieve any theoretical understanding of what was going on. They were excellent comrades, more or less at the stage of the romantic arguments for the ‘universal revolution’ that the libertarian artisans had managed to frame between 1848 and 1860, before the growth of modern industry and its proletariat. Among them were: Angel Pestaņa of the Barcelona C.N.T., a watchmaker and a brave popular leader, slender in build, with beautiful dark eyes and a small moustache of the same hue; Armando Borghi, of the Italian Unione Sindicale, with his fine face, bearded, young and Mazzini-like, and his fervent but velvety voice; Augustin Souchy, red-haired and with an old trooper’s face, the delegate from the Swedish and German syndicalists; Lepetit, a sturdy navvy from the French C.G.T. and Le Libertaire, merry but mistrustful and questioning, who suddenly swore that ‘in France the revolution would be made quite differently!’ Lenin was very anxious to have the support of ‘the best of the anarchists’.

To tell the truth, outside Russia and perhaps Bulgaria, there were no real Communists anywhere in the world. The old schools of revolution, and the younger generation that had emerged from the war, were both at an infinite distance from the Bolshevik mentality. The bulk of these men were symptomatic of obsolete movements which had been quite outrun by events, combining an abundance of good intentions with a scarcity of talent. The French Socialist Party was represented by Marcel Cachin and L.O. Frossard, both of them highly Parliamentary in their approach. Cachin was, as usual, sniffing out the direction of the prevailing wind. Ever mindful of his personal popularity, he was shifting to the Left, after having been a supporter of the ‘Sacred Union’ during the war and a backer, on behalf of the French Government, of Mussolini’s jingoist campaigns in Italy: this was in 1916. The Paris Committee of the Third International had sent Alfred Rosmer; he of the Ibsenesque surname was a syndicalist, a devoted internationalist, and an old personal friend of Trotsky. Beneath his half-smile Rosmer incarnated the qualities of vigilance, discretion, silence, and dedication. His colleague from the same Committee was Raymond Lefebvre, a tall sharp-featured young man who had carried stretchers at Verdun. A poet and novelist, he had just written his confession of faith as a man home from the trenches, in a luxuriantly poetic style. It was entitled Revolution or Death! He spoke for the survivors of a generation now lying buried in communal graves. We quickly became friends.

Of the Italians, I remember the veteran Lazzari, an upright old man whose feverish voice burned with an undying enthusiasm; Serrati’s bearded, myopic, and professorial face; Terracini, a young theoretician with a tall, ascetic forehead, who was fated to spend the best years of his life in jail, after giving the world a few pages of his keen intellect; Bordiga, exuberant and energetic, features blunt, hair thick, black and bristly, a man quivering under his encumbrance of ideas, experiences, and dark forecasts.’

[Of these Italian delegates, Giacinto Serrati (1872-1926), a Socialist Party leader, hesitated for a time over the break with the ‘reformists’ demanded by the ‘21 Conditions’, but later joined the Communist Party. Constantino Lazzari ( 1857-1927) was similarly inclined, but stayed with the Socialist Party. Umberto Terracini (1895-) became a leading Communist, was imprisoned by Mussolini from 1926 to 1943, and after the Liberation was President of the National Assembly (1947); now Chairman of the Communist group in the Senate, occupying an ‘orthodox’ position in the post-1956 internal debates on Stalinism. Amadeo Bordiga (1889-1970) was for a few years the main leader of Italian Communism, but was eventually displaced by the more pliant Togliatti, and went into the libertarian and sectarian wilderness.]

There was Angelica Balabanova, a slender woman whose delicate, already motherly face was framed in a double braid of black hair. An air of extreme gracefulness compassed her about. Perpetually active, she still hoped for an International that was unconfined, open-hearted, and rather romantic. Rosa Luxemburg’s lawyer, Paul Levi, represented the German Communists; Daumig, Crispien, Dittmann, and another represented Germany’s Independent Social-Democratic Party, four likeable, rather helpless middlemen, good beer-drinkers, one could be sure, and conscientious officials in stodgy, established working-class organizations. It was obvious at first glance that here were no insurgent souls. Of the British, I met only Gallacher, who looked like a stocky prize-fighter. From the United States came Fraina, later to fall under grave suspicion, and John Reed, the eye-witness of the 1917 Bolshevik uprising, whose book on the Revolution was already considered authoritative.

[Louis Fraina (1894-1953) broke with the Comintern in late 1922; the ‘grave suspicion’ Serge mentions could refer either to a much-inflated story of embezzlement or to an earlier charge of being a police-spy, of which he was cleared at the time. After his break with Communism, Fraina made a reputation as an economist under the name of Lewis Corey, but still suffered for his past under McCarthy’s witch-hunt.]

I had met Reed in Petrograd, whence we had organized his clandestine departure through Finland: the Finns had been sorely tempted to finish him off and had confined him for a while in a death-trap of a jail. He had just visited some small townships in the Moscow outskirts, and reported what he had seen: a ghost-country where only famine was real. He was amazed that Soviet production continued despite everything. Reed was tall, forceful, and matter-of-fact, with a cool idealism and a lively intelligence tinged by humour. Once again I saw Rakovsky, the head of the Soviet Government in a Ukraine that was now prey to hundreds of roving bands: White, Nationalist, Black (or anarchist), Green, and Red. Bearded and dressed in a soldier’s worn uniform, he broke into perfect French while he was on the rostrum.

From Bulgaria Kolarov arrived, huge and somewhat pot-bellied, whose noble and commanding face bore the stamp of assurance: he blurted out a promise to the Congress that he would take power at home as soon as the International asked him!

[Vasil Kolarov (1877-1950): became a leading Comintern emissary to West European parties, Secretary to the Comintern Executive (1922-4), and Prime Minister of Bulgaria after Dimitrov’s death in 1949.]

From Holland there came Wijnkoop, among others: dark-bearded and long-jawed, apparently aggressive, but destined as it turned out to a career of limitless servility.

[David Wijnkoop (1876-1941): Dutch ‘Tribunist’ (one of the founders of the left-wing paper De Tribune, 1907), then Left Social-Democrat and Communist. Tried to set up an abortive semi-autonomous Communist centre in Amsterdam (1920); formed an opposition outside the party 1926-1931; then returned to orthodoxy.]

From India, by way of Mexico, we had the pockmarked Manabendra Nath Roy: very tall, very handsome, very dark, with very wavy hair, he was accompanied by a statuesque Anglo-Saxon woman who appeared to be naked beneath her flimsy dress.

[Serge is not altogether accurate on Roy’s career. For example, Roy was expelled in 1929 as the result of his support for the Brandler group in Germany, and never again achieved any prominence in the Indian Communist Party. He did, however, think highly of Stalin even in later years. Roy died in 1954, editor by then of his magazine The Radical Humanist. The ‘unpleasant suspicions’ mentioned by Serge probably arose from Roy’s campaigning for Indian independence on German subsidies.]

We did not know that in Mexico he had been the target of some unpleasant suspicions; he was fated to become the guiding spirit of the tiny Indian Communist Party, to spend several years in prison, to start activity again, to slander the Opposition with nonsensical insults, to be expelled himself, and then to return to grace — but this was all in the distant future. The Russians led the dance, and their superiority was so obvious that this was quite legitimate. The only figure in Western Socialism that was capable of equalling them, or even perhaps of surpassing them so far as intelligence and the spirit of freedom were concerned, was Rosa Luxemburg, and she had been battered to death with a revolver-butt in January 1919 by German officers. Apart from Lenin, the Russians consisted of Zinoviev, Bukharin, Rakovsky (who, though Rumanian by origin, was as much Russified as he was Frenchified), and Karl Radek, recently released from a Berlin prison in which he had courted death and where Leo Jogiches had been murdered at his side.

Trotsky, if he indeed came to the Congress, must have made only rare appearances, for I do not remember having seen him there. He was principally occupied with the state of the fronts, and the Polish front was still ablaze.

[Leo Jogiches (Tyszko) (1867-1919): founder of Polish Social-Democracy and later of German Communism; during the war organized the first Spartakus group along with Karl Liebknecht; after the assassination of Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg continued revolutionary activity and was murdered in prison in March 1919.]

The work of the Congress centred upon three issues, and also a fourth which, though even more important, was not touched upon in open session. Lenin was bending every effort to convince the ‘Left Communists’ — Dutch, German, or (like Bordiga) Italian — of the necessity for compromise and participation in electoral and Parliamentary politics; he warned of the danger of their becoming revolutionary sects. In his discussion of the ‘national and colonial question’, Lenin emphasized the possibility, and even necessity, of inspiring Soviet-type revolutions in the Asiatic colonial countries. The experience of Russian Turkestan, seemed to lend support to his arguments. He was aiming primarily at India and China; he thought that the blow must be directed to these countries in order to weaken British imperialism, which then appeared as the inveterate foe of the Soviet Republic. The Russians had no further hopes for the traditional Socialist parties of Europe. They judged that the only possible course was to work for splits that would break with the old reformist and Parliamentary leaderships, thereby creating new parties, disciplined and controlled by the Executive in Moscow, which would proceed efficiently to the conquest of power.

Serrati raised serious objections to the Bolshevik tactic of support for the colonial nationalist movements, demonstrating the reactionary and disturbing elements in these movements which might emerge in the future. It was naturally out of the question to listen to him. Bordiga opposed Lenin on questions of organization and general perspective. Without daring to say so, he was afraid of the influence of the Soviet State on the Communist Parties, and the temptations of compromise, demagogy, and corruption. Above all, he did not believe that a peasant Russia was capable of guiding the international working-class movement. Beyond doubt, his was one of the most penetrating intellects at the Congress, but only a very tiny group supported him.

The Congress made ready for the splitting of the French Party (at Tours) and the Italian Party (at Leghorn) by laying down twenty-one stringent conditions for the affiliates of the International, or rather twenty-two: the twenty-second, which is not at all well known, excluded Freemasons. The fourth problem was not on the agenda and no trace of it will ever be found in the published accounts; but I saw it discussed with considerable heat by Lenin, in a gathering of foreign delegates in a small room just off the grand, gold-panelled hall of the Imperial Palace. A throne had been bundled away here, and next to this useless piece of furniture a map of the Polish front was displayed on the wall. The rattle of typewriters filled the air. Lenin, jacketed, briefcase under arm, delegates and typists all round him, was giving his views on the march of Tukhachevsky’s army on Warsaw. He was in excellent spirits, and confident of victory. Karl Radek, thin, monkey-like, sardonic and droll, hitched up his oversize trousers (which were always slipping down over his hips), and added, ‘We shall be ripping up the Versailles Treaty with our bayonets!’

A little later, we were to discover that Tukhachevsky was complaining about the exhaustion of his troops and the lengthening of his lines of communication; that Trotsky considered the offensive to be too rushed and risky in those circumstances; that Lenin had forced the attack to a certain extent by sending Rakovsky and Smilga as political commissars to accompany Tukhachevsky; and that it would, despite everything, probably have succeeded if Stalin and Budyenny had provided support instead of marching on Lvov to assure themselves of a personal victory.

Defeat came at Warsaw, quite suddenly, just at the moment when the fall of the Polish capital was actually being announced. Apart from some students and a very few workers, the peasantry and proletariat of Poland had not welcomed the Red Army. I remained convinced that the Russians had made a psychological error by including Dzerzhinsky, the man of the Terror, side by side with Marchlewski on the Revolutionary Committee that was to govern Poland. I declared that, far from firing the popular enthusiasm, the name of Dzerzhinsky would freeze it altogether. That is just what happened. Once more, the westward expansion of the revolution had failed. There was no alternative for the Bolsheviks but to turn east.

Hastily, the Congress of the Oppressed Nationalities of the East was convened at Baku. As soon as the Comintern Congress was over, Zinoviev, Radek, Rosmer, John Reed, and Bela Kun went off to Baku in a special train, whose defence (since they were to pass through perilous country) and command were entrusted to Yakov Blumkin, a friend of mine. I shall say more of Blumkin later, apropos of his frightful death. At Baku, Enver Pasha put in a sensational appearance. A whole hall full of Orientals broke into shouts, with scimitars and yataghans brandished aloft: ‘Death to imperialism!’ All the same, genuine understanding with the Islamic world, swept as it was by its own national and religious aspirations, was still difficult. Enver Pasha aimed at the creation of an Islamic state in Central Asia; he was to be killed in a battle against the Red cavalry two years later. Returning home from this remarkable trip, John Reed took a great bite out of a water-melon he had bought in a picturesque Daghestan market. As a result he died, from typhoid.

The Moscow Congress is associated for me with more than one such loss. Before I write of these deaths, I would like to say more of the circumstances of the time. My own experience was probably unique, since in this period I maintained a staunch openness in my approach, being in daily contact with official circles, ordinary folk and the Revolution’s persecuted dissenters. Throughout the Petrograd celebrations, I was concerned with the fate of Voline, though some friends and myself had managed to save his life for the time being. Voline, whose real name was Boris Eichenbaum, was a working-class intellectual who had been one of the founders of the 1905 St. Petersburg Soviet. He had returned from America in 1917 to lead the Russian anarchist movement. He had joined Makhno’s ‘Ukrainian Army of Insurgent Peasants’, fought the Whites, resisted the Reds, and tried to organize a free peasants’ federation in the region of Gulyai-Polye. After he had caught typhus, he was captured by the Red Army in the course of a Black retreat. We were afraid that he might be shot out of hand. We succeeded in preventing this extremity by dispatching a Petrograd comrade straight to the spot; he had the prisoner transferred to Moscow. Now I had no sure news of him: I was at the time, together with the Comintern delegates, watching the performance of an authentic Soviet mysteryplay in the court inside the old Exchange. We saw the Paris Commune raise its red banners, then perish; we saw Jaures assassinated, and the audience cried out in grief; we saw, at last, the joyful and victorious Revolution in triumph over the world.

In Moscow, I learned that Lenin and Kamenev had promised to see that Voline, now in a Cheka prison, would not die. Here we were with our discussions in the Imperial halls of the Kremlin, white this model revolutionary was in a cell awaiting an uncertain end.

After I left the Kremlin I would visit another dissident, this time a Marxist, whose honesty and brilliance were of the first order: Yuri Ossipovich Martov, co-founder, with Plekhanov and Lenin, of Russian Social-Democracy, and the leader of Menshevism. He was campaigning for working-class democracy, denouncing the excesses of the Cheka and the Lenin-Trotsky ‘mania for authority’. He kept saying, ‘Just as though Socialism could be instituted by decree, and by shooting people in cellars!’ Lenin, who was fond of him, protected him against the Cheka, though he quailed before Martov’s sharp criticism. When I saw Martov he was living on the brink of utter destitution in a little room. He struck me at the very first glance as being aware of his absolute incompatibility with the. Bolsheviks, although like them he was a Marxist, highly cultured, uncompromising and exceedingly brave. Puny, ailing, and limping a little, he had a slightly asymmetrical face, a high forehead, a mild and subtle gaze behind his spectacles, a fine mouth, a straggly beard and an expression of gentle intelligence. Here was a man of scruple and scholarship, lacking the tough and robust revolutionary will that sweeps obstacles aside. His criticisms were apposite, but his general solutions verged on the Utopian. ‘Unless it returns to democracy, the Revolution is lost’: but how return to democracy and what sort of democracy? All the same I felt it to be quite unforgivable that a man of this calibre should be put into a position where it was impossible for him to give the Revolution the whole wealth available in his thinking. ‘You’ll see, you’ll see,’ he would tell me, ‘Free co-operation with the Bolsheviks is never possible.’

Just after I had returned to Petrograd, along with Raymond Lefebvre, Lepetit, Vergeat (a French syndicalist), and Sasha Tubin, a frightful drama took place there, which confirmed Martov’s worst fears. I will summarize what happened, though the affair was shrouded in obscurity. The recently founded Finnish Communist Party emerged resentful and divided from a bloody defeat in 1918. Of its leaders, I knew Sirola and Kuusinen, who did not seem particularly competent and had indeed acknowledged the commission of many errors. I had just published a little book by Kuusinen on the whole business; he was a timid little man, circumspect and industrious. An opposition had been formed within the Party, in revulsion from the old Parliamentary leadership which had been responsible for the defeat and which nowadays adhered to the Communist International. A Party Congress at Petrograd resulted in an oppositional majority against the Central Committee, which was supported by Zinoviev. The Comintern President had the Congress proceedings stopped. One evening a little later, some young Finnish students at a military school went along to a Central Committee meeting and shot the eight members present. The Press printed shameless lies blaming the assassination on the Whites. The accused openly justified their action, accusing the Central Committee of treason, and demanded to be sent to the front. A committee of three including Rosmer and the Bulgarian Shablin was set up by the International to examine the affair; I doubt if it ever met. The case was tried later in secret session by the Moscow revolutionary tribunal, Krylenko being the prosecutor. Its upshot was in some ways reasonable, in others monstrous. The guilty ones were formally condemned, but authorized to go off to the front (I do not know what actually happened to them). However, the leader of the Opposition, Voyto Eloranta, who was considered as ‘politically responsible’, was first condemned to a period of imprisonment, and then, in 1921, shot.

Travelling with Raymond Lefebvre, Lepetit, and Vergeat was a late friend of mine whom I had never actually met, Sasha Tubin. During my confinement in France he had given me patient assistance in keeping up my clandestine mail. Now while we were passing through Petrograd, I saw him, itching to go and obsessed by sombre forebodings. The four set off from Murmansk, on a difficult route over the Arctic Sea which was designed to break the naval blockade. Our International Relations Section had worked out this perilous itinerary: embark in a fishing-boat, sail well past the tip of the Finnish coast. and land at Vardoe in Norway, on ground that was free and safe. The four started on this route. In a hurry to attend a C.G.T. congress, they set out on a day of stormy weather, and disappeared at sea. Possibly they were engulfed in the storm, or perhaps a Finnish motor-boat intercepted them and mowed them down; I knew that in Petrograd spies had trailed our every step. Every day for a fortnight Zinoviev asked me, with mounting anxiety, ‘Have you any news of the French comrades?’ Around this disaster unworthy legends were to grow: they are all lies. (This would be in August or September, 1920.)

I end this chapter in the aftermath of the Second Congress of the International in the September and October Of 1920. I have the feeling that this point marked a kind of boundary for us. The failure of the attack on Warsaw meant the defeat of the Russian Revolution in Central Europe, although no one saw it as such. At home, new dangers were waxing and we were on the road to catastrophes of which we had only a faint foreboding. (By ‘we’, I mean the shrewdest comrades; the majority of the Party was already blindly dependent on the schematism of official thinking.) From October onwards significant events, fated to pass unnoticed in the country at large, were to gather with the gentleness of a massing avalanche. I began to feel, acutely I am bound to say, this sense of a danger from inside, a danger within ourselves, in the very temper and character of victorious Bolshevism. I was continually racked by the contrast between the stated theory and the reality, by the growth of intolerance and servility among many officials and their drive towards privilege. I remember a conversation I had with the People’s Commissar for Food, Tsiuriupa, a man with a splendid white beard and candid eyes. I had brought some French and Spanish comrades to him so that he could explain for our benefit the Soviet system of rationing and supply. He showed us beautifully-drawn diagrams from which the ghastly famine and the immense black market had vanished without trace.

‘What about the black market?’ I asked him.

‘It is of no importance at all,’ the old man replied. No doubt he was sincere, but he was a prisoner of his scheme, a captive within offices whose occupants had obviously all primed him with lies. I was astounded. So this was how Zinoviev could believe in the imminence of proletarian revolution in Western Europe. Was this perhaps how Lenin could believe in the prospects of insurrection among the Eastern peoples? The wonderful lucidity of these great Marxists was beginning to be fuddled with a theoretical intoxication bordering on delusion; and they began to be enclosed within all the tricks and tomfooleries of servility. At meetings on the Petrograd front, I saw Zinoviev blush and bow his head in embarrassment at the imbecile flattery thrown in his face by young military careerists in their fresh shiny leather outfits. One of them kept shouting, ‘We will win because we are under the command of our glorious leader, Comrade Zinoviev!’ A comrade who was a former convict had a sumptuously coloured cover designed by one of the greatest Russian artists, which was intended to adorn one of Zinoviev’s pamphlets. The artist and the ex-convict had combined to produce a masterpiece of obsequiousness, in which Zinoviev’s Roman profile stood out like a proconsul in a cameo bordered by emblems. They brought it to the President of the International, who thanked them cordially and, as soon as they were gone, called me to his side.

‘It is the height of bad taste’, Zinoviev told me in embarrassment, ‘but I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. Have a very small number printed, and get a very simple cover designed instead.’

On another day he showed me a letter from Lenin which touched on the new bureaucracy, calling them ‘all that Soviet riff-raff’. This atmosphere was often sharpened, because of the perpetuation of the Terror, by an element of intolerable inhumanity.

A notable saying of Lenin kept rising in my mind: ‘It is a terrible misfortune that the honour of beginning the first Socialist revolution should have befallen the most backward people in Europe.’ (I quote from memory; Lenin said it on several occasions.) Nevertheless, within the current situation of Europe, bloodstained, devastated, and in profound stupor, Bolshevism was, in my eyes, tremendously and visibly right. It marked a new point of departure in history.

World capitalism, after its first suicidal war, was now clearly incapable either of organizing a positive peace, or (what was equally evident) of deploying its fantastic technical progress to increase the prosperity, liberty, safety, and dignity of mankind. The Revolution was therefore right, as against capitalism; and we saw that the spectre of future war would raise a question-mark over the existence of civilization itself, unless the social system of Europe was speedily transformed. The fearful Jacobinism of the Russian Revolution seemed to me to be quite unavoidable; as was the institution of a new revolutionary State, now in the process of disowning all its early promises. In this I saw an immense danger: the State seemed to me to be properly a weapon of war, not a means of organizing production. Over all our achievements there hung a death-sentence; since for all of us, for our ideals, for the new justice that was proclaimed, for our new collective economy, still in its infancy, defeat would have brought a peremptory death and after that, who knows what? I thought of the Revolution as a tremendous sacrifice that was required for the future’s sake; and nothing seemed to me more essential than to sustain, or rescue, the spirit of liberty within it.

In penning the above lines, I am no more than recapitulating my own writings of that period.