THE JOURNEY to Tornio was pure relaxation. Early autumn is so beautiful among the lakes and forests, the gentle hills and plains. I got to the frontier just before dawn. On the instructions of the gendarme I crossed to the far side of the Tornio-ioki river, stayed the night there, leaving my things at the gendarme’s guard-post, and in the morning when passage over the border was permitted, accompanied by the good wishes and kind assistance of the gendarmes, walked across the long wooden bridge to the Swedish frontier settlement of Haparanda. At that time the railway had been laid only as far as Karunki, some thirty kilometres north of Haparanda. With the launching of hostilities in the west all contact with abroad began to be made across this border. In the towns along both sides of the frontier hotels had already appeared, but communications between Haparanda and Karunki were maintained by an enterprising motorist. The region was on a war footing, and assiduous agitation was being conducted in favour of Sweden’s entry into the war against Russia. The attitude towards myself, as a “Frenchman”, was trusting, but Russians were somewhat feared and suspected of being spies. Waiting for the train at the border, I spent several hours in the hotel chatting to some Swedish officers. They were engaged in strengthening their frontier against an expected Russian invasion. All the officers were ecstatic about the victories of the German forces. They were quite carried away by German tactics, weaponry and the general organization of their army. They had an extremely vague notion of Russia but had no doubts about the future defeat of her army.
The route from Karunki to Stockholm lay first through impassable, unpopulated marshland and forests and between mountains and ravines. Many troops were in the area, hastily building barracks. At Boden, a fortified region of northern Sweden, surveillance of passing foreigners had been mounted and they were not allowed to travel outside the town. Not far from the town there were mines. Along the line we passed many special wagons loaded with ore. It was all heading for Lulea, a Swedish port on the Gulf of Bothnia where it was loaded on to German vessels and sent to the blast furnaces. The industrial and underground workers in this district backed the left wing of the Swedish party, the “young socialists”. In many towns they had their own social-democratic newspapers and buildings which accommodated social clubs, canteens and workers’ organizations.
At Stockholm I was met by the emigrants I had known from Berlin, such as Kollontai and others. The large colony of Russian Mensheviks from Berlin had moved to Stockholm. They included Y. Larin (M. Lurie), the Levin brothers, Uritsky, Seydler and others. There were a few emigrants from Russia, but they were mainly soldiers and sailors from the Finland garrison who had fled following the celebrated Sveaborg rising of 1906. In Stockholm there was a common organization of Menshevik and Bolshevik social democrats, which had been joined by all the Russians who had moved out of the belligerent countries.
Among the Mensheviks the position of international socialism had been adopted by Kollontai, Uritsky and the printer N. Gordon (a Bundist). The emigrant workers were all on the side of the minority of Swedish social democracy and consequently joined the Stockholm group of Bolshevik social democrats. Immediately upon arrival in Sweden I set about carrying out my assignments. I established contact with the foreign section of the Central Committee, sent the reply to Vandervelde’s telegram on to the central organ, Sotsial-Demokrat, and wrote to Lenin and Zinoviev, briefing them on the state of affairs in Russia. I wrote up several reports which were included in our Sotsial-Demokrat and other newspapers abroad. I received information and directives for forwarding to Russia from the Central Committee. Parts of my letter to the Central Committee were published in the central organ in the form of reports on a number of issues.
The war caught us in a period of struggle. Mobilization was announced when proletarian blood had still not been washed off the streets. We greeted the declaration of war with secret hopes for the mighty power of German social democracy, from which we awaited the initiative for an active struggle against the war. The Russian press and refugees most kindly kept us informed on the course of the “negotiations” and the conduct of the Germans. Each report was more horrifying than the one before. It was unbelievable that the German social democrats could fall so low as to march hand in hand with Kaiserism ... even if in the name of the “struggle against Russian tsarism”. Such support the Russian revolution neither sought nor wished for. Throughout the city, and throughout Russia too, the news was spread about that Wilhelm was counting chiefly upon a Russian revolution. The behaviour of the Germans, or rather their betrayal of the international solidarity of workers, and the decision of the Stuttgart Congress and also the whole situation deprived us of the possibility of coming out actively against the war during the first week of mobilization.
Democracy reacted to the question of the war differently from the proletariat. The views of democracy were fairly accurately expressed by the Trudovik group. And this viewpoint was shared by certain “Marxist” intellectuals too. We, Petersburg workers, are all the while trying, and, despite the difficult conditions, succeeding in maintaining an internationalist standpoint. A nationalist approach to the question cannot find sympathy in our circles. We can think of one thing only: the necessity of a “government of the proletariat” and an authoritative voice against the war which might be able to break through the thick skull of German reformism.
Arrests are taking place over the struggle against the war. About a month ago a proclamation was put out with an appeal for an armed struggle against the war. Afterwards, eighty people were arrested. Some were accused of composing it. They are all in custody.
Sotsial-Demokrat, no. 33, 1/11/14.
The liquidationist intelligentsia have been strongly infected by jingo patriotic tendencies. Many of them did not wish to hear of any war. But at the very point when we were terrorized by the military machine they were the first to “adjust” to the demands of the hour and hold collections for benevolent societies jointly with the factory managements. But this was unsuccessful with workers. We on the Vyborg bank opposed this with a demand for state support for the families of those who had left for the war. We decided moreover to organize collections in aid of “war victims” having in mind aid for the families of comrades who had gone off to the war and aid for unemployed and convicts. But all this could be done only where we were able to take matters into our own hands and not surrender our resources to the “societies”. At certain works (Neva Mechanical, Neva Stearin, Obukhov and Semenov) there were percentage deductions. These are run by the management and workers. Beyond the Neva Gate money is going to the local orphanage which is a great shame. Thanks to the activity of our worker comrades the liquidationists are not having any success. Even bellicose-minded liquidationists quickly soften their tone when they run into their workers. The “liberation of the Slavs” is meeting very little success with workers. Many wish in secret for the victory of the French, British and Belgians but would be content with their own country’s defeat. It must be noted that the confused situation which is being thus further confused by all and sundry has had a very serious effect upon workers. Accounts and tales about German atrocities even if qualified are given a certain credit by workers as there used to be German foremen and engineers and others in many firms who enjoyed the reputation of boors. Chauvinism cannot be sensed in working-class circles and will not, I think, take root in spite of the “work” of the venal press. In the provinces the mood is less clearly defined but there is much grief and poverty. The war is tolerated but unpopular.
Sotsial-Demokrat, no. 35, 12/12/14.
I think you received my letters after the Petersburg barricades with the detailed description of the state of affairs. I shall not dwell on the individual peripeteia of that struggle which cost us some 1,000 arrests.
A few days or perhaps a week prior to the declaration of war all the guardsmen and other forces returned from their camps to Petersburg. We thought at first that this was for the “maintenance of order” but then we sensed the spectre of an approaching war. The majority of factories and plants were closed. The syndicate of industrialists had decided to punish us with a “nice little lock-out” until about 22 to 25 July. But the advent of mobilization prompted the government to demand that manufacturers reopen their plants to placate the workers and this was done from 16 and 17 July. Many workers were on the verge of dispersing to their homes on the outskirts and only learned of the start back some time later. Mobilization was announced on the night of Saturday 19th with the call to report to local police stations at 6 o’clock next morning. When we arrived at the factories we could see that at least forty per cent of the male workforce was absent. Without changing they went out into the streets of the Vyborg bank singing revolutionary songs and shouting: “Down with the war!” All the Bolshoi Sampsonievski Prospekt was overflowing with people who had left their work. There was the weeping of women and the wail of lamentation at the assembly points. Sometimes the voices of individual women shouted through their tears “Down!” but most just wept ...
The war had caught us organized workers unawares. On the very first day of mobilization a proclamation was hastily written and hectographed which said that the culprit for the war was the predatory politics of capitalism. It pointed out that the German, Austrian, French and British workers had always fought and are still fighting against the war into which Russian workers and peasants had been dragged by tsarism which had suffered a reverse in its Far Eastern adventure and wished to regain ground in the Near East. It pointed out that the Russian government was lying when it said it was marching to free the Slavs as, within its own country, it kept the people in complete slavery. The leaflet ended with an appeal for a struggle for the democratic republic and a declaration of war on the war. The leaflet was to have been printed but the equipment was seized.
During the first days after mobilization the centre of Petersburg was swamped with officially-inspired patriotic demonstrations against which we had to conduct a struggle by trying to turn them from “patriotic” to “red”. This involved a few clashes. At a time when the city had taken on the look of a military camp we could have undertaken something bold but we had no decisions from the organization for that. We would not of course have been sure of success as we could have been isolated, for all means of communication had been placed under military control and there was no contact with the rest of the country. And when later a Petersburg Committee leaflet came out with a call to stock arms and fight actively we found ourselves greatly weakened for any sort of political action because of the departure of the reservists. We keenly felt the impact of the wartime terror in the shape of the “state of war”. Reservists working in the metalworking industries have been released from military service in cases where they worked in enterprises fulfilling government contracts. That applied to nearly all Petersburg’s metallurgical and engineering industry. But this sector of the Petersburg working class was still under military conscription and so was governed by military regulations. Once they “adjusted” to the state of war the mood became more buoyant and people started to think and work towards resurrecting their ailing organizations. The German social democrats’ betrayal had at first a depressing effect upon the general mood. The fact was that although we had all been internationally-minded we did not have any opportunity to draw on any facts of the internationalism of workers in Austria and Germany in our propaganda. Their behaviour untied the hands of the diffident elements and the Russian opportunists and knocked the ground from under the feet of us Bolshevik workers.
The news of our Paris Bolsheviks going off in the army, the “cosy chats” by that old man of Geneva, Plekhanov, and the situation as a whole also casts quite a gloomy shadow across our heads.
The individual nationalists decided to “support” the government in the hope of obtaining perks or indulgences. The (bourgeois) Jews offered prayers for victory in the synagogues and in Petersburg marched with the Tsar’s portrait; they joined up as volunteers and, in Odessa, fell upon the necks of the Pelicanovites. All this is utterly repulsive and false. As before, the Jews are harassed and there has been no “appeal” from the Tsar to them.
All is also patriotic among the Armenians while among Ukrainians there is discontent over the “liberation” of Galicia. The Young Turks’ party had made a proposal to the Georgians to stay neutral in the event of Russia declaring war and promised autonomy for them and the Transcaucasian region in exchange but the Georgian social democrats declined to negotiate.
The Germans had offered Finland to Sweden and yet promised their services to the Finns tf they took a stand against Russia. But the congress of Finnish social democracy resolved to win improvements in Finland’s condition through joint efforts with the Russian revolutionary people and decided to fight against the sectional interests of a part of the Swedish bourgeoisie.
Sotsial-Demokrat, no. 35, 12/12/14.
I got in touch with the Swedish social democrats, who had at that time a single organizational apparatus despite the disagreements that were tearing it apart. I became acquainted with that marvellous comrade, Fredrik Strom, the party’s secretary and a member of the Upper Chamber and the leader of the young social democrats. We talked in a mixture of German and French. In a brief space of time I also got to know other leaders of the “young men”, as the left social democrats were called there: Zeth Höglund, the favourite of Swedish revolutionary social-democratic workers, the mayor of Stockholm, Carl Lindhagen, Karl Kilbom, the talented linguist Hans Scheld, and others. They were all very interested in the revolutionary movement in our country. My report that the majority of Russian social-democratic workers had taken an anti-militarist stance was greatly welcomed. They personally offered active participation in my work on communications with Russia.
The young Swedish social democrats were staunch anti-militarists. But their anti-militarist ideology contained a lot of bourgeois “pacifism”. The ultimate slogan of Scandinavian left social democrats was “lay down the weapons”, conscientious objection and other such Tolstoyisms. This stemmed partly from the situation of these extremely small countries, where (in Sweden in particular) the bourgeoisie were very militaristic. In that country especially, the army had clearly showed that it existed not so much to guard against invasion from the north as for domestic purposes.
With great curiosity I went to a meeting with Hjalmar Branting, the old leader of Scandinavian social democracy and an equally old opportunist of the Second International. I found him during a session of the party’s Central Committee. Tall, grey, with a kind but firm expression on his face and bushy eyebrows over deep-set intelligent eyes, he made a formidable impression. My official proposal to publish our Duma faction’s reply to Vandervelde’s telegram and to send it to other countries was put to the Central Committee that same day and approved. I made a formal report to their Central Committee on the situation in our country and the attitudes to the war of the different social classes. From our exchange of opinions it was easy to discern Branting’s own views on the recent events. Our negative attitude to the war and the rejection of any support whatsoever for the tsarist government’s war machine was “appreciated” by Branting, but he did not wish to appreciate or share our criticism of the parties of Germany, Austria and France which had betrayed international decisions and the whole spirit of socialist teaching. He adopted the standpoint of “defence”. He subordinated the theoretical approach towards wars in our time to questions of strategy. The one who was the first to fire, to cross a line called a frontier, was the offender and thus to blame for the war. Branting condemned the Germans for their conduct but at the same time he tried to “appreciate” their position, and readily accepted that the German social democrats were acting on the assumption of a threatened onslaught by tsarist forces. His position was a hopeless one, denying as it did any opportunity for the proletariat to act in concert yet providing the “diplomats” of socialism with “principles” for establishing the “culprit” of the war. In his own country, however, Branting waged an energetic struggle against the bourgeoisie’s Germanophilia and efforts to drag Sweden into the war. But this struggle was not founded on a fight against chauvinism itself but on the desire to rebuff Germanophile chauvinism and replace it with Francophilia. Despite our differences and my sharp criticism of the opportunists, we parted friends, and Branting promised all kinds of assistance for my work for Russia.
The activity of the leaders of the Scandinavian socialist parties in the remaining “neutral” countries (Holland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden) amounted to diplomatic mediation between the “sparring brothers”. They tried all ways of prevailing on their own governments to make official offers of peaceful mediation. However, the capitalists in the belligerent countries quickly let it be understood that they were in earnest until the utter rout of one or the other. Meanwhile, the neutral countries strove to exhibit their “neutrality” by avoiding upsetting either of the warring blocs. This common fear brought the small countries into a military and political alliance.
Thanks to the large number of businessmen and emigrants liable to conscription returning to Russia, communications with Petersburg were pretty fair. At first I managed to have letters sent direct, via passengers on the steamers plying between Stockholm and the Finnish ports of Turku and Rauma, but with the extension of hostilities and the onset of winter these means could not be used. Likewise tighter measures were being taken at the frontiers and passengers were thoroughly searched. All this had to be taken into account and secure communication lines found.
In my attempts to organize transport I made the acquaintance of leading figures in the Swedish trade unions. Sweden’s trade unions were organized on the model of the German and were akin to them in tactics. The trade-union movement was considerable and already had rich experience of combat. I got to know the chairman of their centre and some metalworkers, tanners and transport workers. The representative of the latter, Charles Lindley, a great admirer of the English transport workers’ union, gave me great help in organizing links with Finland. He was acquainted with fishermen and seamen along the entire Gulf of Bothnia and I managed to confirm the possibility of arranging transport by smuggling across the gulf, which could be done on quite a large scale providing that there was money. I reported this to the Petersburg Committee and the Duma faction, but received the sad news that they were not in a position to give the necessary sum of some 300 to 500 rubles a month. It was hard enough for them to send out money for my keep, and, having once sent me 100 rubles, the comrades recommended that I arrange all my own expenses. I could not even begin to think of finding work, as those first months of war had caused great unemployment in Sweden and the plants were operating only a few days per week. No opportunity presented itself of finding resources in the local emigrant community, although there were a lot of speculative racketeers there. Our party’s foreign-based Central Committee was too poor to allocate such a sum for this operation. In order to keep the work going I resorted to loans and sent back news only occasionally.
During the first days of November issue no. 33 of Sotsial-Demokrat came out, and we had to think about how to deliver it to Russia. For this I decided to make use of my cobbler acquaintances. In view of the searches at the border, people returning to Russia were refusing to carry anything compromising and we had to think about concealment. There were many methods: in trunks, book bindings, dresses, umbrellas, walking-sticks, footwear and so on. I fancied footwear. I gave my boots to a cobbler who had been specially recommended and worked in strict secrecy, and suggested that he cut hollows inside the heels and soles and fill them up with the thin issues of Sotsial-Demokrat. I broke them in so that they did not seem too newly mended. Into that first pair went a small number of copies which were sent by roundabout routes to Petrovsky in Petersburg. The cobbler comrade subsequently became so adept that he could tuck up to twenty copies away in each pair of shoes.
The appearance of our party’s printed organ with its leading articles defining the position of revolutionary social democracy on the war, and the spread of news from Russia and the Duma faction’s reply to Vandervelde’s telegram, published in the Scandinavian press, stirred up all the forces hostile to the Russian revolution. There were in the emigrant circles of Stockholm at that time some inveterate enemies of our party such as Messrs liquidators Larin (M. Lurie), the Organizing Committee’s representative and correspondent of Russkie Vedomosti, Levin (Dalin) and others. These men harboured a deep hatred towards me personally, even though I was not acquainted with them. All my reports on Russia and the news I had received direct from Petersburg were greeted by these people with an incomprehensible hostility. They, and Yuri Larin in particular, ran around the Swedish party comrades systematically undermining confidence in our party and our illegal organizations in Russia. But their endeavours were not crowned with success. The young social democrats soon realized with whom their interests lay and attached no importance to Larin’s intrigues. I was to be frequently amazed at the opportunism of this sick man. 
At the end of October 1914 the diehard opportunist, Troelstra, the leader of the Dutch social democrats, arrived in Stockholm. He had come with a special assignment doubtless entrusted to him by the German social democrats. This was to obtain agreement for the transfer of the International Socialist Bureau to Amsterdam, and also to clarify the vacillating sympathies of opportunist Scandinavian socialism about why the Germans had been right to “defend their fatherland”.
Troelstra had conveyed via the Swedish party his desire to meet me as representative of the RSDLP. I agreed. The meeting was held in a hotel, and the OC representative, Larin, had been informed; he arrived accompanied by Dalin, Kollontai and others came too. I gave him information about Russia and handed him our “Manifesto” and the letter to Vandervelde. Troelstra asked me to convey to him, in letter form, the attitude of Petersburg workers to the war and also an explanation as to why Russian revolutionaries were treating the current war differently from the Russo-Japanese War. I have preserved the rough draft of this letter, which runs as follows:
You ask me to write to you about what the Petersburg proletariat thinks about the German socialists’ view of the question of the “struggle against tsarism”. I must above all, dear comrades, state to you that the declaration of war caught us workers of Petersburg, Moscow, Riga, Baku and other industrial centres at a moment of active economic and political movement. A few days before there had been barricades in Petersburg. On mobilization day protesting masses of workers marched through the city with red banners as they escorted reservists to the assembly points. In those first days we Petersburg workers could not somehow believe in the possibility of war. We knew that on the other side of the frontier there were powerful cadres of organized workers who would neither permit nor allow themselves to be pushed into bloody clashes with each other. So how could anyone in the International doubt our readiness for self-sacrifice?
But sad news reached us. We saw the great German social democracy betraying socialism and international solidarity. Reports also reached us that the German General Staff was banking on winning its victory over the Russian forces with the aid of our revolution. We likewise knew that our former teachers (Kautsky and co.) had treacherously cloaked German imperialism in the toga of “liberator” of the Russian people. We knew too well the nature of this war to trust and enter into a deal with the bourgeois government of this or that country. Our government is also coming forward in the role of “liberator” of Slavdom while keeping its own multi-millioned people in ignorance and disenfranchised. But however dreadful the conditions of our life might be today with the complete absence of our press, our working class is, with the exception of certain individuals, as far from chauvinism as it is from trusting the Tsar’s government.
We are as deeply indignant at French “democracy’s” exchange of kisses with Russian tsarism as we are gladdened by the fact that away in a country cut off by the seas there is a section of the party of the British socialists which, amid the universal debauchery, has not forgotten the ABC of socialism but is fighting with every means against the greedy passions of British imperialism. You are surprised that “Russian society” and Russian revolutionaries have modified their attitude to the war now being waged by tsarism, and especially incomprehensible to you is the contradiction between the attitude of “Russian society” to the war against Japan against which it protested to a man and its attitude today when it is apparently wholly reassured by and reconciled with tsarism in this sorry world drama.
Above all, dear comrade, I should tell you that the Russian socialists’ attitude of principle to the war has remained one and the same but the situation in our country has changed substantially. Above all we have lived through a revolutionary period in which the counter-revolutionary and cowardly nature of Russian liberalism clearly exposed itself. The Russo-Japanese War met with a negative response from the Russian bourgeoisie because Manchuria and the other Far Eastern territories had no interest for capital because of their remoteness and small populations and therefore that war was looked upon as a dynastic enterprise, an adventure by the Tsar’s camarilla which profiteered out of forests. The current war, though fought in the name of the liberty of Galicia, the French Republic and Belgian democracy, also has a dynastic interest for Russian tsarism but for the Russian landowners and capitalists it has an economic interest too. Tsarism is seeking salvation from approaching revolution in the idea of a “Greater Russia” while capitalism and landowner interests are seeking the passage through the Dardanelles and a revision of the trade agreement between Germany and Russia whose interests were sold off in 1904 by the diplomats of the Tsar to the benefit of German capitalism. It is only that which can really explain the “change” in so-called Russian society from which, however, the proletariat should be excluded.
The German socialists’ surprise that we are not rejoicing over their recently announced alliance with their government for a “holy war on Russian tsarism” is nothing but a hypocritical cover for their own betrayal of the International and socialism from the eyes of the masses.
We have always been glad to accept a helping hand from comrades in toil and ideas in our arduous struggle against tsarism but we have never demanded nor expected assistance to the Russian revolution from the part of German feudalism and Wilhelm II, the Russian Tsar’s reactionary counsellor and friend.
We do not renounce our struggle against Russian tsarism but in that struggle we are counting only upon our own forces.
We would ask the German social democrats not to send Wilhelm II with his 420-millimetre gun to our aid but to try to put this war material to use against their own feudal lords just as we hope to use ours against Russian tsarism.
The Finns, our brothers in toil, have also given a negative reply to all the ploys of Germany’s bellicose capitalism and take the same standpoint. The revolutionary proletariat of Russia, along with all the oppressed nationalities, hope to emerge victorious without doing deals with any government whatsoever.
With comradely greetings,
During our exchange of views it became clear that Troelstra was the prevalent type of social chauvinist, the Germanophile. He stressed the liberating role of German social democracy in relation to Russia. I refused to accept the liberating effect of 420-millimetre shells upon Russian workers and peasants. I recommended that these sophisticated appliances be set in action against their own landlords and bourgeoisie, for we had no need for such assistance. I asked him to convey the profound indignation of our workers, in Petersburg and elsewhere, at such a “liberating” provocation and also their greetings to Karl Liebknecht and the comrades standing by him.
Larin tried to prove that they, the Mensheviks, Trotskyites, Plekhanovites, Bundists and so on, were “quite the reverse” of the Bolsheviks. Here he told how a special committee had been formed in Warsaw made up of representatives of the Polish Socialist Party (left group), the Social Democracy of Poland and Lithuania (Warsaw opposition), and the Bund. The chief task of this organization was, in his words, “the struggle against Austrophile influences in Polish society”. In actual fact this inter-party council had been organized for an entirely different end. Our Polish comrades were far removed from the Russophile chauvinism ascribed to them by Larin. Their position was akin to ours, and they fought against militarism without respite. Larin’s own contribution could not have conformed better to the theory of “defence of the fatherland”. As a counterweight to my hostile attitude to the Scheidemannite Vorstand (the Central Committee of German Social Democracy), he asked for greetings to be conveyed to the Vorstand on behalf of Chkheidze’s Duma faction, along with assurances of their solidarity etc. Troelstra was unspeakably delighted at this and carefully noted it. The remaining Mensheviks were apparently a little aghast.
It was decided as a result of the meetings between the Scandinavian leaders and Troelstra to organize a congress of “socialists of the neutral countries” in December. The socialist parties of the “belligerent countries” received invitations to submit written reports. The American socialists also consented to participate in the congress, which was postponed until 17 January 1915 in order to have them present at the conference.
At the end of the autumn of 1914 certain Russian socialists began to be shadowed by the police. I was summoned to the police for a “pass”, as it was explained to me. I had observed local security police posts near the flat. Gatherings at the People’s House were similarly subject to surveillance. Reactionary newspapers, especially Germanophile ones and those published at the expense of the German Embassy, waged a campaign against Russian socialists, suspecting them of espionage and accusing them of plotting and so on. Comrade Kollontai, who had taken quite an active part in the work of the left social democrats and the women’s organizations, was subjected to the sneers of a reactionary Stockholm paper and was honoured by a special denunciation to the police. This was followed by her arrest, trial, imprisonment and deportation to Denmark. I had to be extra careful not to lose my right of residence and freedom of movement within Sweden. Over Kollontai’s case I had to seek the assistance of Branting. He seemed to be angry at this sacrifice to the Swedish police and kept repeating with visible dissatisfaction that she was to blame, for disregarding his advice not to get involved in Swedish political life. But the leftists reminded me that Kollontai’s deportation did not go against Branting’s own wishes. At that time I was discussing with him the possibility of moving the foreign section of the Central Committee to Stockholm. He had assured me that all Russian socialists who had not been accused of acts of terrorism could live freely in Sweden. The Kollontai incident did not square with this promise, but Branting added a new condition: newcomers “should not involve themselves in the local political struggle”.
On 23 November 1914 the congress of the Swedish party opened. I decided to deliver a message of greeting in which I could throw some light on the Russian revolutionary movement on the eve of the war and during it, and also set out the attitude of the organized proletariat to the war, I managed to do so in the following greeting:
I bring you greetings from the organized proletariat of Russia and its class organization, the RSDLP. I wish the Swedish social democratic party success in its work. At the present time of general decline when the bourgeoisie of nearly all Europe, both west and cast, is, under the guise of “national self-defence”, following a policy of armed conquest, we socialists must carry high our internationalist revolutionary red banner and not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the waves of reformism which has put its theory of the “union of classes” into practice in the present criminal war.
We Russian, and in particular Petersburg, workers have followed with great joy your struggle against the current that wished to drag the Swedish people into the world war and we are highly delighted that all the efforts made in that direction by the commercial travellers of militarism have suffered an utter fiasco in your friendly country.
Allow me to say a few words about our own workers’ movement which, Starting in 1912, has experienced a period of upsurge and has distinguished itself by an unusual growth of the strike movement and especially the growth of the so-called mass political strikes. To illustrate my point I shall give you some figures concerning our struggle.
In 1911 the total number of strikers in our extensive country had reached 105,000 while one year later, in 1912, it had risen to 1,070,000 of which 855,000 were accounted for by political strikes. In 1913 the strike movement was equally widespread: in the course of that year, 1,185,000 employees took part in strikes of which 821,000 were due to political strikes; moreover the official statistics of the Factories Inspectorate are incomplete as they do not cover small-scale industry and state-owned enterprises.
The ferocity and persecution of the authorities and organized capital could not break the solidarity of the Russian working class. The current year serves as a graphic example. This year the workers’ struggle sharpened to the extreme. All economic and trade-union conflicts turned quickly into a political movement on account of the government repression. Once again the working class proclaimed its readiness to fight for the republic, the Constituent Assembly and the eight-hour day.
In July the political struggle flared up with unusual vigour. The working class of Petersburg answered the government’s bloody provocation with a general strike that in Petersburg alone involved over 250,000 workers. In many areas the city’s streets were covered with barricades and workers’ blood was shed. By now the movement had spread to the rest of the country and took in the Baltic provinces, Poland, the Caucasus, Moscow and the south.
But at the very point that our struggle had reached this stage the monster of war advanced upon us. The bourgeoisie sounded the alarm: its fatherland, the fatherland of money-bag, was in danger. Soldiers in grey greatcoats, the sons of peasants and workers, headed for the frontiers.
In the days of the mobilization Petersburg workers downed tools and noisily protested against the war. Workers escorted their mobilized workmates to the assembly points singing revolutionary songs and carrying red banners and streamers.
We conscious workers had not believed in the possibility of a world war. We had turned our hope-filled eyes towards the west and our organized brothers: the Germans, French and Austrians. We had expected to find support there and hear a mighty summons to struggle against the bourgeoisie’s diabolical plot. But bitter reality brought us something else. The government press and bourgeois newspapers, and also fellow-countrymen fleeing from abroad, informed us of the betrayal committed by the leaders of the powerful German social democracy and later by many others who also looked on things “from the standpoint of national self-defence”.
But our social-democratic party has not been consumed by the universal conflagration for it has not forgotten the true causes of today’s war which the imperialist policies of the bourgeois governments of all countries have brought about. The Duma faction has given true expression to the organized proletariat by refusing to vote for the war budget and stressing its negative attitude to the war by leaving the chamber. Many local organizations have issued illegal leaflets on the war (Petersburg, Moscow, Riga, Warsaw, the Caucasus and so on).
Our party’s Central Committee and its central organ, Sotsial-Demokrat, have entered a fight against international opportunism and call proletarian revolutionary elements in all countries to this struggle in the name of the common interests of the proletariat worldwide.
In conclusion I wish the congress of our fraternal party successful work. Long live the Swedish proletariat and its class party, social democracy! Long live the International!
For fear of police persecution and upon the advice of the young social democrats, I wrote this speech out and one of them, comrade Scheld, translated it and read it out to the congress. The message caused a stormy clash between the two tendencies, a speech by Branting and Höglund’s protest. I quote here material on this from the congress minutes:
Branting takes the floor on a question over which he considers it essential to take a decision. He had just familiarized himself with the text of a greeting, originating from one of the Russian parties, where it speaks of a betrayal by the German party. The speaker points out that it does not befit the congress to express condemnation directed at other parties and considers it necessary that a motion of regret be formally moved with regard to the paragraph inserted in the greetings.
Höglund (Stockholm) considers it improper for the congress to adopt such a resolution, because within our own party there are also comrades who regard the Germans’ behaviour as a betrayal. Fie moves that congress does not pass judgement but contents itself with entering Branting’s statement in the minutes.
S. Vinberg (Stockholm) considers that we should state merely that the judgement expressed remains the responsibility of the Russians.
Branting repeats his demand and asserts that otherwise the misunderstanding will arise that delegates to congress are in sympathy with the aforementioned judgement.
The congress defeated Vinberg’s motion and accepted Branting’s by 54 votes to 50.
I was personally present at the congress and Branting considered it his duty to explain to me that his statement was necessitated by my direct raising of such an important question as the attitude towards the defence of the fatherland. I replied that was not just my own personal view, but the principled attitude of both our centre and the huge majority of Russia’s organized workers. He and I had, in the main, established “chivalrous relations” though. Branting had given me his address and would do small favours. With his help, I managed to obtain a passport from the French consul which was valid for transit to France, and so on.
During the congress of Swedish social democracy we received the report of the arrest of our Duma faction in Petersburg. This event made a deep impression on the delegates to the congress. A resolution of protest was carried. A wave of protest at tsarist barbarity swept across all Scandinavia. I found I had a portrait of comrade Petrovsky on me and it went the rounds of many Scandinavian social-democratic newspapers.
The deputies’ arrest greatly impeded our party’s contact with and information from Russia. I had, prior to this, managed to arrange the forwarding of brief commentaries on the international situation, information on the state of affairs in Scandinavia and the anticipated conference of socialist parties of the neutral countries and to send on several letters from Lenin and also some literature (Sotsial-Demokrat, nos. 33 and 34). But news from Russia was very hard to come by.
In the middle of November the Menshevik’s reply to Vandervelde’s telegram was received in Stockholm. The document was received by Larin, the OC’s representative, and was kept in strict secrecy, but I still managed to get hold of the actual original with amendments added in Larin’s hand. I quote it here in full:
To Minister Vandervelde of Belgium.
Your telegram reached us allowed through by the war censorship. We greet the Belgian proletariat and yourself, its representative. We know that you, like all the international proletariat, have vigorously opposed the war when it was being prepared by the ruling classes of the great powers. But the war began against the will of the proletariat. In this war your cause is the just cause of self-defence against all those dangers threatening democratic liberties and the liberation struggle of the proletariat emanating from the aggressive policy of Prussian Junkerdom. Irrespective of the asms which the great-power participants in the war are setting themselves, the objective course of events places in question the very existence of that citadel of modern militarism, which also stamps down the liberation struggle of the German proletariat with a heavy heel, namely, Prussian Junkerdom. We are profoundly convinced that along the road to its elimination the socialists of the countries compelled to take part in this war will come together with German social democracy, the glorious vanguard of the international proletariat [and assist it in the task of Germany’s political and social reconstruction]. But, unfortunately, Russia’s proletariat is not in the position that the proletariat of other countries at war with Prussian Junkerdom is in. It is faced with an incomparably more complex and contradictory task than its western comrades. The international situation is further complicated by the fact that in the present war against Prussian Junkerdom another reactionary force is taking part: the Russian government which, by reinforcing itself in the course of the war, may in certain conditions become the focus of all reactionary tendencies in world politics. This possible role for Russia in international relations is closely bound up with the nature of the regime that has undivided rule over us. But even at the present moment the proletariat of Russia is, as opposed to its western comrades, deprived of any chance of openly expressing its collective opinion and realizing its collective will: those few organizations that it had before the war have been closed down. The press has been wrecked. The prisons are over-flowing. This prevents social democracy in Russia from taking up the position that the socialists of Belgium, France and Britain have taken and accepting responsibility for the actions of the Russian government both before the country and before international socialism by taking active part in the war. But, in spite of the presence of these factors and bearing in mind the international importance of the all-European conflict as well as the active part of socialists of the advanced countries in it that gives us grounds for hoping that it will be resolved to the benefit of international socialism, we declare to you that in our activity in Russia we are not opposing the war. We do, however, consider that it is necessary to draw your attention here and now to the need for preparing vigorous opposition to the great powers’ policies of conquest being now planned and demanding in any annexation a preliminary plebiscite of the population of the territory to be annexed.
In the original, the passage in brackets has been crossed out by Larin and the words in italics written in. It was received in Stockholm on 15 November. Larin’s Germanophile sentiments could not tolerate the point about “aid” to Germany in the work of political and social transformation. He personally believed that such “aid” was already being objectively carried out by Germany in relation to all the countries at war with her. This correction had been apparently accepted by the foreign organ of the Organizing Committee, as it had been published by the “Larinite” editorial board.
The fruits of the information gathering activity of the OC’s representative, Larin, soon began to reveal themselves. Protests started coming in from Russia about the distortions of the truth permitted by one of the leaders of Scandinavian opportunism. Without realizing it, the latter found themselves in a tight spot. This was the case for Troelstra also, to whom Larin had reported in my presence: the Warsaw socialists sent him a disclaimer.
The persecution of Russians, and the police shadowing of myself personally, prompted me to leave Sweden temporarily. There had been a few more deportations after the sensationalized case of Alexandra Kollontai. Branting and Strom also found my temporary absence from Stockholm highly expedient. There were no permanent properly established links with Russia. We had to use the good offices of passing emigrants, and also Finnish comrades, for transporting the precious funds. Various commercial and manufacturing firms were running contraband traffic in both goods and personnel. Heading some of these establishments were Russian engineers glorying in their former social democracy, but these gentlemen were afraid of losing their cosy niches and did not wish to lift so much as a finger in the business of aid for revolutionary work in Russia.
Russian social (and other) patriots constantly repeated their dirty suspicions about the “German” money with which our literature was supposedly produced and our transport organized. In the war period a considerable portion of this work was carried through with my direct participation. No monies were received from Russia. Because of the small size of the Russian colony in Stockholm there was nowhere to obtain funds from. We had to cut work to a minimum and resort to loans. The Central Committee of the Swedish Social-Democratic Party loaned me 400 kroner, several comrades managed to rustle up the same amount, dribs and drabs came in from our Central Committee abroad, and this formed all the income for 1914 and the spring of 1915. With these funds we managed to sound out possibilities for sending people over and forwarding literature but not for making full use of the routes themselves. This was a huge disappointment for the party workers. The lack of funds brought me to despair and drove me to prospect in various fields but it was not even possible to find a job, never mind funds for such an unprofitable enterprise as revolutionary work in Russia.
In December I crossed to Copenhagen. The low cost of living there was striking. This had attracted a large number of profiteers of all nationalities, emigrants from Russia, wives of German bourgeois who had come over to recuperate, and deserters. Quite a few Russians worked at Parvus’s “Institute for the Study of the Social Consequences of the War”. Some had got jobs at the Russian Red Cross Society dealing with prisoner-of-war welfare. Copenhagen was teeming with spies and reporters from all countries. It was from here that all worldly gossip, fabrications and ballons d’essai originated during the war.
The Danish Social-Democratic Party was preparing for the international congress. Our foreign centre, jointly with the Swiss and Italian social-democratic parties, had declined to take part in the congress. I merely had to report this diplomatic concoction, brewed up by the Scandinavian opportunists.
In Denmark itself, a country of small peasants, socialism was devoid of even a trace of revolutionary spirit. The country was regarded as democratic even though it had a king, albeit one without “pretensions to power”. Denmark’s peninsular position gave its agriculture and livestock a favourable place in the market by affording cheap sea transport for exports to England and Germany. With the development of food shortages in the belligerent countries, the prices of these products rose to fabulous heights and Danish proprietors secured handsome returns.
On the eve of the war Danish workers and peasants were fighting for universal suffrage for women. At the elections the Social Democrats and the Radicals, who stood for giving women the vote, gained a majority in the Folketing. The Social-Democratic party received the largest number of seats in parliament and, in accordance with custom, ought to have formed the government, but they declined and the Radicals took the job. One of their tasks was to draft a new constitution, and the Social Democrats promised the liberals their “loyal support”. However, the slight reactionary majority in the Senate took advantage of the war to halt any debate on a new constitution. So the liberal government, supported by the socialist majority in parliament, submitted to the reactionary will and ceased their reforming work.
The government’s chief concern was to preserve peace, and in the interests of this the socialists made a “holy alliance” with their bourgeoisie. And of course they propped up the government by every means, voted for the war budget and so on. The trade unions were “happy” at the absence of conflict between labour and capital. This was not to be explained by a “happiness” reaching down into working-class quarters, for there was in no sense an improvement in living conditions. The war had produced colossal unemployment in this neutral country. Out of 120,400 organized workers, 13,900 were out of work. Aid for the unemployed was given by the unions and the state. Local authorities gave some assistance to unorganized workers directly, and subsidies to the unions.
The Danes claimed to observe their neutrality very strictly. The slightest expression of sympathy or anger over this or that act by the belligerents was equated with a violation of neutrality. This did not, however, prevent the capitalists from unloading their products on whoever, belligerent or not, would pay the highest price.
By the time I moved to Copenhagen, the Social Democrats’ support for the Radicals had developed into close collaboration. The Danish Social-Democratic Party was taking an active part in the cabinet. Stauning, the leader of Scandinavian social democracy, had joined the government. With him I had a totally unexpected experience, though one typical of the middle-class psychology of the Danish socialists. Stauning would invariably evade the questions I put to him and even avoid meeting me. This forced me to approach him “officially”, by a letter on our party’s headed paper. Now he could no longer back out and fixed a special meeting for me at the premises of the Central Committee. Here he stated to me that he was unable to express his opinion on the party’s attitude to the war, as that would mean a violation of neutrality: he would only be able to proclaim it when the war had ended. However, as a pupil of German social democracy and, like many others, an admirer of its organizational and tactical methods, Stauning supported it on the question of the war. For him an “attitude” to the war was equivalent to expressing sympathy with one of the warring alliances, which was impermissible for an advocate of neutrality. He would discuss the International as an organ of action only after the war. The International was, in his opinion, a peacetime instrument. At the moment of the greatest crisis for the working class, the International Workers’ League ceased activity and the “socialist leaders” contented themselves with fine hopes for the day to come after the crisis. Such specimens were no rarity in the socialist parties of every country.
I did obtain valuable information from citizen Stauning about the struggle over the International Socialist Bureau. The Germans were trying to use the Dutch to get the ISB into their own hands. But the socialists of the Entente held tightly on to the apparatus, not wishing to “hand it over” even to the “neutral” hands of the socialists of America.
The idea of an international congress enjoyed fairly wide currency. The first attempt was made by the Socialist Party of America. Stauning handed me a copy of a printed invitation with the seal of the “National Committee of the Socialist Party of America” and the following letter:
Chicago, United States,
I enclose with this letter an appeal for the convening of an extraordinary meeting of the International Socialist Congress devoted to the question of peace. This appeal comes from the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of America. It has been sent out because: (1) it maintains that an international assembly is absolutely essential in the current crisis; (2) it maintains that the International Bureau is unable to function because of the war in Belgium; (3) the United States is the only great nation not participating in the war.
This assembly should be held in Washington (USA), The Hague or Copenhagen.
Desirous of receiving your vote for one or other venue and receiving by telegram to our Bureau.
Should you choose Washington, the American Socialist Party will undertake to meet travelling and any other expenses on the basis of five delegates per country having twenty votes and the others pro rata with a minimum of two per country.
The American socialists’ wish to see an international conference in their country did not, however, meet with sympathy in the Scandinavian countries. The voyage to America would occupy too much time and would put the party leaders too far from contact with the situation in Europe. The majority of the neutrals therefore declined the invitation.
By 17 January 1915 the following representatives to the International Socialist Conference had arrived in Copenhagen: Branting and Strom from Sweden; Knudsen from Norway; Troelstra and another, an editor, whose name I have lost, from Holland; and Stauning from Denmark. Other countries refused to take part. The conference sessions took place behind closed doors. There were no deep differences between those assembled. Only two lines of “sympathies” clashed: the Germanophiles, Troelstra and Stauning, against Branting, the Francophile and Knudsen, the Anglophile. It was not hard to reach agreement with such differences.
At roughly the same time another conference was taking place in London, with the socialists of the Entente countries, France, Britain and Belgium and some representatives of Russia taking part. This conference attempted to find consolation in the International’s past, recognized the struggle between the two imperialisms but took the imperialism which was “on the defensive” under their protection. German imperialism, having “assaulted” Belgium and France, had placed these socialists on the side of “their” capitalists. The best forces of the Second International were being directed to “the defence of the fatherland”. The representatives of the Entente socialist parties had joined bourgeois cabinets and harnessed themselves to the chariot of war. (An exception was the Italian Socialist Party which, from the first days of the war, had taken up a resolute struggle against it and all who “recognized” this war.) The resolutions of the London conference were distributed by the governments of the Entente countries.
All the reactionaries, rogues and profiteers making fortunes out of human slaughter had gambled on the reputations and public activity of the leaders of the Second International, who had accepted the war on behalf of their governments. The socialists of the German coalition countries did not lag behind their “rival brothers” in inciting their peoples to the “defence” of the fatherland and the mutual destruction of the proletariat. Chauvinism celebrated a victory on all fronts. The capitalists could be proud of such socialists.
After the Scandinavian socialist conference I headed once again for Stockholm. There I met some new arrivals from Russia who passed me some bits of information which I forwarded to our central organ, Sotstal-Demokrat. I set about reinforcing the working group of Bolsheviks in Stockholm and training several proletarians in the conspiratorial work of smuggling literature, etc. The Petersburgers had displayed no initiative in organizing communications. My activity in this direction ran into obstacles through lack of funds. Smuggling could be managed at great expense, but I had no money and not a hope of obtaining any. We had to improvise. This was far from satisfactory, especially when with some 500 rubles a month I could have showered our working-class organizations in Russia with literature and maintained a regular monthly contact with every corner of the country. But such a trifling sum could not be managed, so there matters rested.
In February a strange gentleman came to me in Stockholm who introduced himself as a former Bolshevik, Finn-Epotaevsky. Larin, whom he had dropped in to see, had informed him of my work. The Petersburgers had, in his words, “been frank” with him about me and he had come along to “persuade” me of the mistaken nature of our tactics. He was a fervent patriot, a contributor to Yordansky’s Sovremenny Mir, believed in the inevitability of Russia’s victory, etc. His persistence and boastfulness were limitless, I was very glad when he left. All his references to commissions received from various Petersburgers proved to be false. From later meetings with comrades, I established that they never passed any assignments to the Finn.
At the very start of my work in Stockholm I got to know many Finnish, Estonian and Zionist party workers who had been engaged in revolutionary work in Russia but who now in those bloody days maintained a rather odd orientation towards the German General Staff. One man named Kesküla, who turned up from Switzerland with all the appearances of an Estonian social democrat, offered to supply funds, arms and everything necessary for revolutionary work in Russia. All this was offered in such ways and through such individuals that their origin might have seemed reliable. However, being always wary, I managed to establish that behind these figures lay a strategic manoeuvre by militarism. All such offers were always turned down by my comrades or myself. I firmly instructed the comrades I was leaving behind for the work of smuggling literature, the secretary of our Bolshevik group in Stockholm, Bogrovsky, and others, not to accept funds from anyone other than Swedish party organizations.
On this visit I managed to establish that the Russian political police had agents in Stockholm. Our organizations and certain individuals were placed under observation. There was evidence of mail being tampered with, and this suggested that the Swedish police, despite its national predisposition against Russia, was assisting the Okhrana. Branting had to be made aware of this, and he questioned the Minister of the Interior, but naturally received an assurance that the “official” police was not itself involved, although he could not vouch for private investigation bureaux. I was summoned to the local police station to register as an alien. This was a simple formality that in no way inhibited my residence in Sweden.
Having sorted things out with the group, I decided to move on to Christiania (Oslo) where there was less police intrigue and living was considerably cheaper, which was of great importance to me as my funds were coming to an end. I imagined that I might find a job in a Norwegian engineering works more quickly. I found Ibsen’s land clad in its luxuriant winter attire. Wooded hills, sprinkled with snow, sparkled under the rays of the March sun. The lightly covered trees in the woods and forests looked like a kingdom of snowy columns studded with icicles gleaming in the sun. An endless, all-absorbing stillness spread everywhere. Christiania, the capital of Norway, hemmed in by hills and strewn out along the shore of an ice-free fjord, overflows into the plain and its outskirts ascend the hillsides. From one of those hills, Holmenkollen, an enchanting view of the city opens up at night-time. Millions of tiny electric lights twinkle like stars in the nocturnal distance, merging with the Milky Way, thinning out towards the foot of the mountains, disappearing into the expanse and blending into the stars of the night. It seemed as if that part of the night sky which is hidden from our eyes by the horizon might be visible from that mountain.
The Norwegian comrades received me with kindness. Of all the Central Committee only one, Videns, the editor of Social-Demokraten, the party’s central organ, knew foreign languages. The Norwegian Social-Democratic Party was somewhat more left than its Scandinavian sisters. On the war the Central Committee held an internationalist position and upheld the neutrality of the country, but often wavered towards Anglophilia. The “young” social democrats were in solidarity with their Swedish counterparts. They too had their own organ, Klassekampen, which followed a line of revolutionary struggle against the war, but it too veered towards pacifism with its slogan of “lay down the weapons”.
My search for work did not yield the desired results. Industry was in the grip of the war crisis and at the beginning of 1915 it was only just starting to recover. Ignorance of Norwegian was also a hindrance. I had to consider what to do next. The idea occurred to me of a trip to England for work. I had previously managed to obtain a “foreign” passport from the French consul in Stockholm and, not without some difficulty, I succeeded in getting the consent of our party’s foreign centre. I obtained some money for the journey and all that was needed was the agreement of the British consul. My well-meaning manner and numerous testimonials from French factories swung him rapidly in my favour and, collecting the appropriate fee from me, he stamped a visa in my French passport. I also took with me my personal Russian passport of 1907, a red one, in case of need, and set out at the beginning of April.
Communications with England during the war were maintained by steamer from Bergen to Newcastle, with the risk of touching off mines, encountering German submarines and warships and so on. But these hazards and difficulties only increased the price of passenger tickets and cargo rates, and provided additional profits for the shipping line.
The route to Bergen by rail is regarded as one of the most beautiful in northern Europe. The iron ribbon of the railway track twists through the mountains and gorges, passes along lakesides and deep precipices, dives into the ground and ascends into the realm of perpetual snows. Every year thousands of tourists come to pay tribute to these beauties of Norway.
The small but extremely lively port of Bergen shelters at the foot of the mountains on the shores of the Bergenfjord, an inlet of the Atlantic. Shipping movements were considerable in spite of the war but the whole life of the port, and especially sailings for foreign ports, lay under the strict control of the British.
Mail and passengers were transported in rather small, uncomfortable steamers with a displacement of under 2,000 tons. Passenger embarkation took place under supervision and a personal appearance before an official specially authorized by the British to check the passports was required, in addition to the visa in the passport. Here the interrogation and examination of the departing passenger was conducted, and if the latter appeared suspicious he would be refused access to the vessel. I safely passed this check.
The vessel’s departure had been veiled in some secrecy. As we neared the English coast passengers were forbidden to go up on deck. The approaches to the Tyne had been mined and passengers sat in their cabins all the way up river to Newcastle. After forty hours’ passage from Bergen, the steamer docked at the quay in Newcastle.
After a brief passport and luggage examination there was free exit to the city. I made for the railway station and, among the numerous stairways, entrance and exits, found a train to London; twenty minutes or so later the train set out smoothly on its journey, without any of that special commotion of noise and bells customary in our country. The coaches were first and third class only, built for comfort and designed for easy boarding and alighting. Every compartment had its own door opening directly on to the platform. The coaches glided along without noise or jolting. The tracks had been so aligned so that the danger of travelling at speed was reduced to nil. All the way there was cleanliness, comfort and an absence of excited crowds. In a few hours I arrived in London.
I had been in London several times before the war. I had worked at an aerodrome in Hendon and walked around out of work, and had closely studied the ancient, soot-covered capital of Great Britain. The war could not yet be sensed in the streets of London. Only at nighttime did London not shine with lights as before: the street-lamps had been covered so that they only cast light downwards in a hardly noticeable patch. But large numbers of soldiers were in evidence everywhere.
I looked up an old friend, “Daddy” Harrison, Litvinov. Through his good offices I moved into the flat of an old exile and at once set about job-hunting. In the morning I would get a Daily Chronicle, where vacancies were advertised. I wrote off to my old job at Hendon, In response to one advert for turners I headed for a car plant at Wembley, a branch of the Italian firm of Fiat. There I met the Swiss manager who spoke French, several Italian fitters and one Englishman who spoke French. The offer of my skills was accepted and I started work the next day. After a test I got a bench as a first turner at a day-rate of one shilling an hour. For the first few days I travelled back to the flat in London, but that took two hours each day and my new workmates found a furnished room in the same area for only eighteen shillings a week with meals. The working hours came to fifty-two and a half a week, five days of nine and a half hours and five on Saturdays. Work was easy-going. The English workers worked well but without rushing, and they did not like to be chased. My relations with everyone were excellent from the very first days. All the workers learned that I was a revolutionary and an opponent of the war, and we often had simple arguments over the benches, sometimes with the participation of an interpreter. The men were mostly members of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. Before the war it was very difficult for a foreigner to get into this union, for the leaders of the British trade unions were great nationalists and, although the unions had formally joined international trade-union organizations, their participation in congress decisions was highly platonic.
I asked the works union representative to admit me as a union member and presented my subscription cards from unions in other countries. The comrade went down to his branch at Chiswick and explained when he came back that my “knowledge of the trade and work practices” entitled me to join the union. He proposed that I turn up at a meeting the following Saturday for my final acceptance. The union rented several rooms in a local restaurant. About fifty comrades were in their seats waiting for the meeting to open. A few novices were awaiting the rites of acceptance. The meeting was declared open and the chairman announced the wish of the new comrades to join the union. The first candidate was myself. Our shop representative stated that I knew my job and the work rules well, and that I would observe the union ruling on the minimum wage. The chairman added that I had already been for many years a member of unions in France and Germany, but they had still to acquaint me with the obligations of a new member. All the new entrants gathered round the table and the chairman opened a small booklet to read out the “rules” on the obligations, duties and rights of union members. After this solemn ceremony the novices became fully-fledged members. This atmosphere of solemn initiation and secrecy was redolent of the good old days of “camaraderie”, when apprentice craftsmen formed their clandestine associations against the master craftsmen.
Within the British proletariat, which was organized into socialist parties – namely the British Socialist Party and the Independent Labour Party – and into trade unions also, the war had given rise to the same attitudes and the same splits as in other countries. The Independent Labour Party’s most popular leader, Keir Hardie, who was familiar to us in Russia as an “opportunist”, proved to have been a vehement and a serious opponent of the British war party. He died at the beginning of the war gloriously as an anti-war fighter, and the loss Was keenly felt by British workers. Another leader, known in Russia as Britain’s “only marxist”, the aristocrat Hyndman, had become an inveterate nationalist and chauvinist. Some Russian comrades who had had dealings with him back in the 1905–8 period referred to him as a two-faced politico. Comrade Martins, a social democrat and exiled engineer who was working in Britain, had information that Hyndman was a shareholder and director of a machine-gun and rifle manufacturers. Thus his “warlike” disposition was justified by some “warlike” income.
Widespread anti-war activity was carried out by the ILP. In addition to its parliamentary statements this party expended great energy outside parliament. At the very beginning it issued a “manifesto” on its attitude to the war in which it set out its pacifist anti-militarist stance, without being able to give so much as a clue to a practical way out of the new situation for workers.
The party’s weekly paper Labour Leader carried constant pacifist slogans against the war. The party’s publishers put out several dozen books, pamphlets and booklets against the war, in which the blame for the slaughter was placed on the British government. Especially valuable was the book Secret Diplomacy, which exposed a whole number of Anglo-French machinations against Germany. The bourgeois press slandered the ILP over this book, accusing them of selling themselves to the Germans and so on. The government seized the journal and pamphlets and ordered the printers not to handle them, but that did not stop the ILP from further work. They also organized public meetings. The police tried everything to break them up, mobilizing hooligans and planting agents to shout down the speakers and disrupt the meetings in other ways.
The activity of the British Socialist Party was less conspicuous. It did, however, issue quite a few leaflets calling for a struggle against patriotic chauvinism. Both parties searched for all sorts of ways to organize international contacts.
With the help of comrade Litvinov, one of the oldest exiles, I made the acquaintance of an MP, the independent socialist, Anderson. He familiarized me with the parliamentary struggle conducted by their party and their work as a whole. This comrade showed great interest in revolutionary work in Russia and asked me to write an article for them outlining the current situation in our country. English trade unionists, although in a considerable number of cases only their chiefs, took the side of the government on the question of the war. The Trades Union Congress had published a manifesto of lackeyish content beneath which were the signatures of several unions. A happy exception was the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. Among metalworkers there was no such “drunken” nationalism. But while working at the plant and mingling in the pub and the union I was greatly struck by the low level of political awareness of even the English metalworkers’ organizers. When I came into the shop following May Day, when I had stayed away from work, several workmates came over to see whether I had been sick, as they had missed me at work. I explained that I did not go to work on May Day. Some of the youngsters were quite amazed and starting asking questions about the meaning of May Day. Yet these workers were living and working at the very centre of Britain’s labour movement – London!
The number of Russian exiles in London had grown considerably during the war. Many had come from Belgium. Pressure put on all Russians of call-up age by the French government had prompted many to leave France also. The exile community had fragmented into a number of party groupings, with their siège at the Karl Marx People’s Club in Charlotte Street. The non-party Herzen Circle was also based there.
Our party organization required a report from me on the state of affairs in Russia. The gathering listened with great interest to my accounts of the Petersburgers’ summer demonstrations and the first months of the war. I had to repeat the report several times at other meetings of national sections.
Living near London I was able to observe at first hand every day, from the newspapers and the mood of the inhabitants, the skill of the British bourgeoisie in manipulating society. By forming a land army the British bourgeoisie had successfully exploited its purported “unpreparedness” for the war. It was this same “unpreparedness” that had enabled Lloyd George to make capital out of the British government’s “peaceful nature”. The press sought to make use of raids by Zeppelins, aircraft and ships on Britain’s coastline to inflame hatred for the Germans and in that they succeeded. The strike movement had weakened considerably, thanks to the policy of “alliance” carried out by the trade-union chiefs. This was also helped by the conciliatory attitude of both the government and manufacturers, who had prospered on large profits. But in the summer of 1915 I happened to be witness to a number of strikes (on the trams, etc.) and to take part myself in demands for pay increases. The employer agreed to raise the Wages of all workers by the penny an hour demanded by the workers. I had, prior to this, managed to win a personal rise of a penny so that my daily wage was now one shilling and two pence an hour. Thanks to the low cost of living in England I was very soon able to bring some order back into my clothing and to re-equip myself with underwear, which had got pretty tatty during my illegal travels. I also started to give thought to procuring funds for my return to Russia and illegal work over there. I fulfilled a request from the Russian and English comrades to write an article on the situation in Russia. I received a request from America too. I made copies on a typewriter, giving one to the comrades for the English and sending one each to Norway, Switzerland and America. The effect of the despatch was wholly unexpected. I was placed under observation as a spy, and a British secret police agent came to visit my landlady in order to get to know me a bit better.
One day when I came in from work, the landlady asked me to come downstairs to the sitting-room where a young man was waiting for me. The landlady furtively introduced us and then hastily shut the door and left us alone. Before me was an Englishman, a tall chap, intellectual-looking and smartly dressed. He began with apologies and frankly stated that he had received an assignment of a quite unusual nature from his superiors: to trail me and elucidate my character, because of some article I had written. He was most interested in this article, two copies of which had been intercepted by the military censorship on their way to Switzerland and Norway. “The copy for America had got through. He had obtained only an excerpt from the article, and realized that it was directed against the tsar and the war. I confirmed that this was the case. I asked, is the British government undertaking the defence of the tsar? The sleuth winced and said that he did not think so, but in half-an-hour’s conversation tried to inspire me with trust in the British government. I protested about the interception of my manuscripts, demanding their return or an official notification of the reason for their seizure. The sleuth replied that under the Defence of the Realm Act, the military censorship had the right to seize mail without any explanation. I applied to the Post Office for compensation for the undelivered manuscripts, but when I was back in Sweden I received notification from the Post Office that the manuscripts had been impounded.
In Wembley I got to know comrade I.K. Martins, who lived there under police surveillance as a “German”. Comrade Martins had been born in Russia of German parentage, had taken part in the revolutionary movement and for this had been deported to Germany, where he had served two years as a soldier and then left for England. There he had worked on various inventions for the “combat tasks” of the Russian revolution. He had been working as a draughtsman in an engine works. In the summer of 1915 some of the firm’s office-workers started a campaign against him as a “German” and the manager, to prove that he was not unpatriotic, agreed to sack him. Comrade Martins, with his wife and child, remained out of work, amidst the hostility of the middle-class patriots of the area. Only comrades from the Russian colony kept contact with him. Thanks to their trouble and his half-Russian extraction, comrade Martins managed to get himself out of Britain to New York.
In London I met the former party agitator and journalist, Stanislav Sokolov (Volsky). He was struggling to learn the lessons of the war, but was patriotically inclined. It was very sad to see a valuable organizer leaving the revolutionary path. I argued with him for a long while in order to try to shake off his social patriotism and went on a trip with him to Brighton.
There were many other organizers and journalists in London: Kerzhentsev, who was working somewhere “for defence”; Kapuskas with the Lithuanians; Berzin and Peters with the Letts; Chicherin, who had broken with the liquidators, and Petrov, who had become a Bolshevik in the British Socialist Party. Among the liquidators were Maisky and others.
In midsummer we had news that comrade Bukharin and his wife were on their way from Switzerland through France and Britain. On the day of his arrival in London, comrade Litvinov and I went to the station to meet him. I had not previously met Bukharin and did not know him by sight. Nor did Litvinov. However, we assumed that we would find them and meet somehow. The station was packed with soldiers leaving and their families seeing them off. Hundreds of passengers emerged from a train that had just pulled in. But none of them were “they”, the “Russians”. But then at last came a couple of vacant-looking Russians looking around in all directions. We decided that these must be the Bukharins. We went up and greeted them. The comrades were most surprised that we could distinguish them from among thousands of passengers, but the secret was simple: we could tell them by their wandering gazes, absent-minded expressions and the small bundles under their arms. We took them to our suburb of Wembley and lodged them with comrade Martins. Bukharin was travelling on the passport of a Jew, M.L. Dolgolevsky, and had as a result of this suffered a great deal of offence from French and English anti-Semites. I sent a number of assignments to Russia with N.M. Bukharina. The comrades underwent quite a few ordeals on the way but still reached Stockholm safely and N.M. reached Russia too.
The organizers of our party work in the London colony took seriously my search for funds for the return to Russia and to regularize illegal transport and communications. Comrade Litvinov found it possible to liquidate the circle and group assets and to allot about £50 from that to me for my work. In August I was ready to leave Britain, but this required certain formalities. My foreign passport was valid only for passage to Paris and was not good for the return. So I decided to use my old red 1907 passport, issued to me by the town elder of Murom. I put my photograph in it and went off to the Russian consulate. My “genuine” Russian physiognomy provoked no suspicions, and a stamp was placed in my passport for the exit from Britain to Russia. With this document it would now be easy to buy a ticket and get on the steamer. However, I only used this passport once, for the exit from Britain. Although the visa had been granted for through travel to Russia I did not use it, considering such a journey unwise.
I said goodbye to the comrades left behind who were envious of my journey, and set out on the pleasant route through the fields and towns to Newcastle. I was already at the quayside on the evening of the same day. Embarkation had not yet commenced; the passengers were waiting in the baggage shed. Among the travellers were many Russians, including some prisoners-of-war who had escaped from Germany through Holland. The British military control appeared to be checking the passengers’ documents. I had to put myself out over the prisoners-of-war, as their consular escort had disappeared and they were getting upset not knowing the language. I got them sorted out. The British customs officers and emigration control examined the luggage and wallets of departing passengers without any hurry, swapping jokes. There was no talk about the war: the rising food prices were of greatest concern. Starting up a conversation in French with one of them who was closely acquainted with the industry of the area, the conditions of the workers and so on, I learnt that the night before there had been a Zeppelin raid not far off which had demolished several buildings in a village. My things were not examined, thanks to this conversation, and I got on to the steamer considerably sooner than the others.
The steamer quietly sailed at midnight. The passengers sat in their cabins. In the morning we were allowed to go up on deck, as by then we were far from Britain’s shores. Everyone was living in fear of meeting a mine or a submarine. The crew explained to the passengers which cabins had to embark in which lifeboat in an emergency. Any dark object floating ahead of the vessel, any pole sticking out of the water or any puff of smoke on the skyline aroused anxiety. The steamer sailed slowly, not making more than nine or ten knots. The sea seemed to be populated by evil-doers watching over their victims from behind each wave-crest.
I got talking to the Russian soldiers who had escaped from captivity. They were all NCOs; they spoke with pride of the rigours of escape. In London some prince of the Romanov family had presented them with wrist-watches, but they were so bad that some of the “presents” were already broken. We chatted about the war. The travails they had undergone made them hostile to Germans. I began to interest them in the aims of the war. It was clear that people were already thinking about, and they said that Russia had gone in to support France. I gave them our literature to read and explained the true nature of the war. I did this unobtrusively and only in so far as the people interested wanted to talk. That removed any mistrust and we parted friends upon arrival in Norway, exchanging addresses as we said goodbye.
In Christiania I met Alexandra Kollontai, who was now actively assisting the Bolshevik party work: she was helping organize communications. In the Christiania district a “League of Russian Workers” had been formed, which was something like a political club. And what a funny thing: as soon as an organization of Russians is formed there at once begins the squabbling, the intrigues and other such “politics”. I had a lot of trouble escaping the persistence of the intriguers and the idleness and stupidity of the different “parties” who wanted to involve me as a referee.
Communications with Russia had weakened and transport had come to a stop during my absence. But this time I considered that things could be remedied, as there was money. I decided to use the available funds to investigate all the routes that could serve for transport, and to send as much illegal literature as possible over the frontier, establishing several dumps near the Finnish-Swedish and Norwegian-Russian borders from where our party organizations in Russia could easily obtain all the necessary literature and through which they could transmit news, correspondence and reports back to our foreign centre and central organ.
I found out which routes had been used by our revolutionary organizations in the heyday of the underground from 1900 to 1905. Many of these routes lay in the war zones on the borders of Austria and Germany. Only Finland remained. The difficulties were enormous, as all the frontiers were closely guarded on either side. The summer routes from the north of Norway to Arkhangelsk seemed attractive. It was known that out on the remote shores of the Arctic Ocean the inhabitants along the border between Russia and Norway had good neighbourly relations among themselves, and Russian fishermen and small traders quite often passed in and out of Norwegian ports, coming down as far as Narvik and Trondheitn. Russians in small flat-bottomed boats would put in at Vardø, a small town on an island off the north coast of Norway. Between the Murman coast (Kola and Alexandrovsk) and the Norwegian ports of Vardø, Kirkenes and Vadsø, there was a passenger and mail steamer service. Some Russian steamers maintained a regular service to Vardø. It was very tempting to make use of these routes for transport.
I left Christiania for Stockholm. There I found mountains of literature and also comrade Bukharin and the newly-arrived G. Pyatakov and E.B. Bosch. The party group had increased substantially. Comrades Bukharin and Pyatakov had got to know all the leaders of the Swedish left social democrats and were taking an active part in their work, though refraining from public appearances. They wrote articles for the periodical Kommunist and leaflets for Russia. I acquainted them with my plans for putting communications and literature on a sound footing and the preparations for my own journey. The comrades approved my proposals and offered their full assistance. They had moved from Switzerland to Stockholm solely because of the proximity to Russia, and to help in establishing revolutionary work there. I now felt a lot stronger knowing that once I had got back to Russia there would be people on the border who could deal with communications requirements.
I picked up the issues of Sotsial-Demokrat that had accumulated in Stockholm and sent them off to the Finnish frontier. Through my acquaintance with social democrats in the northern region of Sweden, and also the unions of seamen and river boatmen, I made many contacts in Lulea and Haparanda. Through Lulea, literature and people could be sent to Oulu by Finnish and Swedish fishermen. From Haparanda and its environs there were many routes into Finland. The most preferable and quickest would have been the ferry to Tornio and from there direct by rail to Petersburg. But this was the most difficult as it lay under the scrutiny of gendarmes, counter-intelligence, frontier patrols and customs guards. I nevertheless sought to make use of this route and strike up acquaintances. In Haparanda I was familiar with a social democrat, a small shopkeeper in the footwear trade, and he had many acquaintances among the Finns on the far side of the frontier. He had made contact with a Finnish social-democratic group in Tornio and found one worker comrade there: his name, translated, was “Voice in the Wilderness”. I got to know several others but could not communicate as they spoke only Finnish and Swedish. Comrade “Voice in the Wilderness” took on the transport job and, through an interpreter, listened to my suggestions with enthusiasm. He was excited at the task of outwitting the gendarmes and servants of the tsar. He had already dreamed of organizing a special telephone link across the frontier and of setting up a special literature ferry across the Tornio-ioki in a hermetically-sealed container. You felt that this man would do the job with great zeal. I left all the literature with him at the shop-cum-flat, asking him to think it all over and prepare a route by mid-October. Having finished in this corner of the country, I set off through the extreme north of Sweden to Norway, to the shores of the Arctic Ocean and the island town of Vardø.
Just before my departure from Haparanda I met a familiar face. We got talking and I recalled that we had met before at the home of N.D. Sokolov, who had introduced him to me as a Polish social democrat. His name was Kozlovsky, a barrister. He was travelling to Copenhagen and then back to Petersburg. I used him to tell the Petersburgers via N.D. Sokolov that I would be sending literature and that, for their part, they should apply themselves to its receipt. Kozlovsky was reluctant to talk about his own business, but it was obvious that his journey had nothing to do with the work of the Polish social democracy.
I travelled back to Boden and there changed to a train for Narvik. The railway northwards passes through forests and then desolate plains and as we drew closer to the Norwegian frontier it changed to hilly and then mountainous country. A considerable section of the line was electrified. Narvik is built on the mountainous shore of a fjord, and its inhabitants are engaged in fisheries and shipping. There was a social-democratic newspaper and a very strong party organization in the town. Often in the north of Norway socialists ended up controlling local authorities. From Narvik a long sea passage lay before me, first on a small steamer as far Lødingen but then I would have to pick up a steamer from Bergen to Kirkenes. It was the beginning of September and the north was looking autumnal. It kept raining. Ragged storm clouds often swept the sky and yet the voyage was most interesting in the powerful beauty of the north, along the fantastic twists of the fjords, now crushed by the mountains hanging over the water and now receding far back in gentle slopes behind broad pools of water. The small steamer, packed with passengers and cargo, also took the mail. Every so often it would put into a village landing stage to be greeted by the waiting crowds. At Lødingen I changed to a relatively large steamer and as we progressed northwards past Tromsø and Hammerfest, nature became more stark and off the North Cape took on a severe and majestic aspect. No longer was any forest or greenery in evidence. Black and grey cliffs looked down on all sides. A squally wind with light rain completed the picture. After several days’ passage through the fjords and the Arctic Ocean the steamer docked at Vardø.
This small town is built on a little island of sand and stone and has some three thousand inhabitants occupied principally in fishing. There I found a social-democratic newspaper, Finnmarken (the name of this region of Norway). One of the party workers, Osman Norgaard, spoke Russian and showed me a dump of our literature left behind in 1906 and 1907. There were about ten thousand pamphlets: anthologies of revolutionary songs, pamphlets on the tax question, and the newspaper Pomor and other leaflets for the State Duma elections.
It was possible to send literature and people this way but the route was a long one: to Arkhangelsk or the Murman railway in summer but in winter to the latter only, or else by ski and reindeer over the polar wastes. Crossing the frontier here was easy; the difficulties started further on. The route might serve as a “reserve” in case of obstacles on the Finnish-Swedish border. Comrade Norgaard nevertheless took on the task of making contacts with the crews of Russian vessels. We sorted the literature out, but because many of the pamphlets were out-of-date we decided to leave them at Vardø with comrade Norgaard.
The majority of the working population of this town were socialists, and the fishermen’s votes at elections were cast for the Social-Democratic Party. There was also a trade union, a library and a cinema. The town, as compared with Russian ones, was well equipped, and there was electric lighting and main water supply.
Each day in the hotel dining-room I would meet the Russian consul and the British consular representative. Every meeting would be accompanied by an acrimonious dispute about the war. Well, obviously, the official representatives thought as their governments wished them to and the Russian official was deeply shocked by my distrust of his government: my anti-patriotism quite likely provided him with the topic for a denunciation.
Having found out all that was necessary and made arrangements with comrade Norgaard, I set out on the return journey. In Stockholm I prepared for my journey to Russia, and wrote to the foreign section of the Central Committee, comrades Lenin, Zinoviev and Krupskaya. I mapped out a plan of work and a plan of communications and methods of transport. The three newcomers, Bukharin, Bosch and Pyatakov, undertook to maintain links over the routes established. To myself fell the major organizational task. Among my jobs was the formation of an all-Russian centre that could permanently direct the work there; I also had to regularize contacts with abroad and literature supply. Agreement was reached on all questions with Lenin, Zinoviev, Krupskaya, Bukharin, Bosch and Pyatakov. The long-awaited Kommunist, nos. 1–2, and thirteen issues of Sotsial-Demokrat had come out by the time I left and the delivery of this literature to Russia would give an enormous boost to the work.
In the second half of October 1915 I said goodbye to my Stockholm friends and headed for Haparanda. I had sent several poods of literature there in advance. Swedish and Finnish comrades were waiting for me, they had succeeded in establishing communication with Helsinki and forwarding literature there from Kemi in parcels by rail using the railwaymen: it went directly to one of the stations on the line from Viipuri to Beloostrov (Terijoki, I believe). My blue-eyed comrade, “Voice in the Wilderness”, was to send it over the frontier. To make things easier he had got on friendly terms with the frontier gendarmes. My comrades had devised a plan to get me across, and one evening we went to try it out.
Haparanda and Tornio are separated by the frontier, the river. A precarious wooden bridge some 350 sazhens long had been built across one arm of the Tornio river. In the middle of it was a toll-booth: the bridge was open from eight in the morning to eight at night.
A sentry stood at the Swedish end of the bridge while at the Russian end, some eighty paces away, there was a fence and a guard-post by a wicket gate; to the left were some Finnish farm buildings. My comrades’ plan consisted in my crossing the bridge accompanied by “Voice in the Wilderness”; when we had passed over the water, we would use the darkness to jump off and run or hide under the bridge. The plan was risky and we decided to conduct a rehearsal. We set out on our way in the evening, a few minutes before the frontier closed. We had barely started to approach the Russian side when the gendarmes, hearing the creaking of our steps, made for the gate and scanned the bridge. There was nothing to do but turn back, as it would have been unwise to jump down before their very eyes. We tried this three times over, wasting three evenings without success. My friends were demoralized. They had not anticipated such vigilance from the Russian gendarmes, and started to seek new routes through the outlying areas.
I took a room at the Grand Hotel on the very top floor from whose window the bridge and part of the town of Tornio on the far bank were visible. Sitting many hours at the window I could study the tracks and the river-bank with its odd huts and buildings. I began to prepare a plan. It would be aided by the onset of winter weather, when the fields became covered with snow and the river with thin ice. Continuing snowfalls and frost would be necessary for its success. The latter was not long in coming but the snow stopped, the sky cleared and a huge moon commanded the scene, lighting the snow-sprinkled trees, fields and rooftops with silver,
The moonlight was a nuisance: but I could not wait any longer as there were secret police and spies from all countries in Haparanda. I acquainted comrade “Voice in the Wilderness” with my plan and proposed that he wait for me that evening from eight o’clock onwards beneath a red barn not far from the guard-post. The barn stood on high stones so that you could not only lie but even sit under it. The hand baggage and literature had all been ferried over to Tornio by the indefatigable “Voice in the Wilderness”, and he had also arranged lodgings for me there.
I set out for the bridge just before eight, got past the Swedish sentry, who was looking aside indifferently, and approached the booth that stood in the middle of the bridge. The toll-collector was inside it. Under cover of the booth I got down under the bridge very quietly. The ice was very weak and I had to cling to the framework that supported the spans. The moon shone generously, and I had to seek shelter in the shadows of some high struts. I took a sharp look around and waited for the frontier to close. The occasional steps of a pedestrian sounded above me. At long last everything became quiet. A small red light was lit at the gate on the Russian side. This meant that the frontier had been closed. I attempted to move forward cautiously along the dark side. But the ice was still so weak that as soon as I let go of the framework it started to crack treacherously. I located a slightly smoother patch, pushed myself off from the strut with all my might, slid as if on skates to the next one and paused momentarily. My hearing grew sharper and my eyesight more acute. The Russian bank was nearby. The slightest unusual sound and my enterprise would be doomed. I could see a gendarme walking beyond the fence to put out the electric light at the hut entrance and then go in himself. There they were, the whole lot of them; sitting in the guard-post and now and again glancing out of the window at the moonlit surroundings. Another skate, and so on right to the bank. It was quiet in the village; only the dogs were barking on either side of the border. The moon rose high, completely removing all the shadows. The bridge began to curve down to the ground, so I could not walk but started crawling. Finally a hundred paces away were the gendarmes and further off to the left was the little red barn on its stone supports. Lying down, I tried to spot the enemies but failed, so I made a dash towards the old barn. There “Voice in the Wilderness” met me, joyfully shaking my hand and then taking me to the town. We cut through the back yards to the main street. All around it was deserted and frosty. We found the house where a comrade, a Finnish social democrat who worked in the tailoring trade, lived. The family was a big one but the house was orderly. We were welcomed most cordially, but the landlord and landlady did not speak Russian, so there was time for reflection.
The first step had been successful. What lay ahead? My “Voice in the Wilderness” was cheerful, and confident of a happy outcome. That same day he had been to Kemi. There too were comrades who were taking an active part in getting me through. They had a flat ready and had planned out my journey- By evening the next day I had been dressed in a worker’s suit, my pockets crammed with apples, given a local passport and escorted by two comrades to the station. My erstwhile hosts wished me every success. We crossed the river by ferry, and at the station we found a mixed train going as far as Oulu. A gendarme examined the passport, and the train set out slowly on its way. Three or four hours later we were in Kemi. There we were met, but caution led one of them to take me by roundabout routes to my resting place. Soldiers were stationed in the town, and there were secret agents and counter-intelligence at the station. We found our way to the flat and there I was given a separate room. The hosts were very sorry not to know foreign languages because then they could have chatted to me. The attitude of them all was touching and comradely.
From Kemi to Oulu the journey was the responsibility of an organizer of local social-democratic work. The courageous, frank nature of this comrade won me over. Here I no longer had any doubts but felt sure that I would arrive safely. The following day we were on our way. Without travelling right into Oulu, where there was a -gendarme check, we jumped off and walked some six versts along forest paths and the main road into the city. We crossed a bridge over a torrent and reached the offices of the Oulu social-democratic daily paper. In the editorial room I was welcomed by the organ’s chief editor, the deputy for this constituency, and others. I was offered a room by comrade Uskila, the deputy editor. That same evening we went out in a small comradely company to a restaurant and took a private room, where my aides for the journey and my Oulu friends drank a toast to my happy journey and I made a brief report on the state of affairs abroad and the different viewpoints on the war. The comrades were in agreement with me on everything, but warned that the parliamentary majority and the majority of the Central Committee members of Finnish social democracy tended towards opportunism, while the petty-bourgeois and intellectual circles were infected with Germanophilia.
Many thousands of Finns and Swedes had gone to Germany to fight on the eastern frontiers for the “liberation” of Finland. The Social Democratic Party had to exert efforts to counter Germanophilia and so-called “activism”, i.e. co-operation with the German General Staff against Russia. The situation was complicated by the increase in reactionary pressure from the Russian government. Several weeks before my arrival there were arrests and raids throughout Finland, mainly in connection with the activists, who had set up a fairly stable organization. They had special escape routes for German prisoners-of-war and an espionage network in the Russian army. The Finnish activists received large stocks of arms and supplies for their members, Conducting agitation for an armed assault on Russian barracks, fortifications, dumps, etc. This agitation, however, met opposition from the social democrats and did not find advocates in the mass of workers or among the torppari, and instances of armed attacks were isolated.
From Oulu to Helsinki two people undertook to escort me: my travelling companion from Kemi, comrade Adam Ljakonen, and comrade Uskila,
While they were preparing the journey and sorting out the formalities, I spent two marvellous days among kind warm-hearted comrades, looked round the city and tried to adjust myself to future illegal life in Russia. I came to an arrangement with the people in Oulu about transport of literature and the ferrying of people and information. They agreed to help. Everything was at last ready and we set off. At the station they pointed out by an agreed sign all the Russian spies and plainclothes gendarmes. My physiognomy did not arouse curiosity, and I got into the carriage unnoticed by anyone. Comrade Uskila spoke German, so we could communicate with each other. The three of us occupied a compartment and we reached Helsinki in every comfort and without any special alarms.
The comrades stopped at a hotel but lodged me at the People’s House, the building of the Central Committee of the Finnish Social Democratic Party, in a room belonging to the Swedish section of Finnish social democracy. Here I made the acquaintance of several members of the Central Committee and also some trade unionists. I looked up the deputy, Persinen, whom I had got to know in Berlin, and comrade Rovio, a Finnish metalworker who was very familiar with Petersburg party workers. With his assistance I found a Russian worker who for some money surrendered his passport, which would be necessary for me to cross through Beloostrov, and I also got to know the city and its party organization.
My constant companion and guardian throughout Helsinki was comrade Wiik, a social-democratic deputy in the Sejm, the editor of a Swedish-language social-democratic newspaper and keeper of the party archives. With him I went round all the Helsinki co-operatives, the huge dairies and bakeries whose equipment was the last word in technology. The People’s House was the pride of the Helsinki organizations and in fact would have done credit to any West European capital. The workers’ movement in Finland was clamped down in a military vice. Troops were deployed throughout the country, though it was chiefly sailors who were posted in Helsinki. Revolutionary work among them was conducted wholly by Russian organizations, for ignorance of the language and fear of provocations prevented the Finnish social democrats from carrying out propaganda among Russian soldiers.
It was odd to see a city with such working-class amenities only a few hours’ travelling time from the capital of the tsarist bashi-bazouks. Reaction’s hatred for this little country, doggedly defending its independence from the tsarist authorities, was quite understandable. However, as the situation developed, it became harder for Finland to maintain its freedom and the fate of that country was tied inevitably to the revolutionary movement in our country. The revolutionary social democrats of Finland were already attempting to approach their policy from this angle, but things did not yet go beyond the services rendered in transport and ferrying people over the frontier.
Before my departure I made arrangements with comrade Wiik for the despatch of literature and exchanged codes and addresses.
1. In 1917 Larin joined the Bolshevik Party and became one of its chief spokesmen on economic affairs. – Ed.
Last updated on 21.7.2011