Alexander Shlyapnikov

On the Eve of 1917

4. Scandinavia and America

IN HELSINKI I found my old friends, comrades Wiik and Rovio. They were overjoyed at my safe return and displayed great interest in the work and state of affairs in Russia. The Central Committee of Finnish Social Democracy decided to hear a report, which I made with Rovio as interpreter. My conclusions on the inevitability of revolution in Russia in the near future greatly encouraged the Finnish comrades, who were under pressure from tsarist reaction.

There was no point in settling down for long in Helsinki: it was dangerous, as agents were very active. My friend Uskila was expected from Oulu, and he was to accompany me there. I did not have long to wait. Two days later, having said goodbye to my Finnish friends and agreed plans for further work on setting up communications and despatch of literature, I set out for Finland’s northern borders.

We got off at Kempele station and travelled on to Oulu by horse. Our caution proved not to be misplaced. My Finnish comrades had learnt through their contacts that I had been noted, and that an Okhrana man had arrived in Oulu from Petersburg. I decided to travel by horse direct to the Swedish frontier. Comrade Uskila found me a man who knew the route well. But he had no horse. At that time a horse cost 200–300 Finnish marks. My guide was most pleased about my decision to acquire one and had the idea of making a bit out of it by selling it for 700–800 marks on the Swedish side. So I had unintentionally succeeded in giving my escort an interest in the success of the trip. We decided to leave Oulu at night.

One February evening we headed into the polar north in a little peasant’s sledge. A snowstorm overtook us, but the horse proved to be very hardy and though getting bogged down in deep snowdrifts, we reached a farmstead where we spent the rest of the night. And then wonderfully mild weather set in. The rest of the journey, which took eight days, was pure relaxation and pleasure. We travelled mostly during the evenings, nights and mornings and rested during the afternoons with poor Finnish crofters. The latter lived remarkably poorly and engaged in woodcutting and related trades, being ruthlessly exploited by the landowners.

The north was blossoming in its majesty and beauty. Finding our way along disused roads, we ended up in a magical realm of virgin snows. Our little pony and sledge were hidden beneath the arched forest trackway, illuminated by the miraculous patterns of the Northern Lights. The snow-white paws of boughs overwhelmed by the blizzard bent down over us. As we went deeper into the far north the high forest disappeared; it gave way to dwarf birch woods and mossy swamps.

Peasants, and sometimes even Russian soldiers, would run across us along the way, but everything about us was so ordinary that nothing caught their eye. Now and again my driver pointed out distant fires of Finnish villages with his whip-handle. We travelled far to the east of Kemi. From Tornio, the frontier town, only dogs could be heard. My escort decided to head northwards twenty or thirty versts beyond Karunki to where he had a peasant acquaintance, whose farmstead stood not far from the Swedish border. We arrived there in the morning. We were received gladly and given a separate, tidy room. To my questions about crossing the frontier the landlord and landlady, who spoke only Finnish and Swedish, replied in sign language that it was possible. The driver too was content, as the demand for horses was great. Upon selling it he was supposed to refund me part of my expenses and pay my escorts over the border and also for the lodging, but he started complaining about the difficulties of the market for horses and so forth. The “economic” psychology of the muzhik overtook the renowned Finnish honour.

At dusk next day we set out. There were three of us: one carrying the trunk and the other with his hands free. We had to go on skis. Only as a child had I been familiar with the art of skating and sledging, but never on skis. In all forms of sliding, however, the main thing is to know how to keep your balance, and I put on the skis without a moment’s thought. A steep slope down to the plain started a couple of hundred paces farther on. I did not escape without a fall. The Finns moved lightly and swiftly but I in my heavy city overcoat found it hard going. I could scarcely keep up with them and was so engrossed that I did not notice the frontier markings. We admired the lighted gendarme post when already on the Swedish side. We walked into a small Swedish village and decided to drink some coffee to celebrate the safe crossing, as is the custom there. We found a well-meaning old peasant who had at one time lived in America and knew some English. He agreed to put us up and we got talking. I found out from both him and my escorts that all along the border from Tornio to Karunki there was contraband in’ goods, horses etc. In addition, German prisoners-of-war escaping from Russia would pass through. The border area as a whole had despite its apparent emptiness become quite busy. All my interlocutors were hostile towards the rulers of Russia and were evidently rendering all sorts of assistance to Finnish and Swedish activists.

Having settled up with our kind landlord and also with the guides, instructing them to obtain extra for escorting me from my driver, I went to the railway station. The train took me to Haparanda. There I found my cobbler collaborator and learnt from him about the misadventures of my good comrade “Voice in the Wilderness” and the reason for the halt in despatches. It turned out that in January “Voice in the Wilderness” had fallen into the hands of customs guards while ferrying literature over by night, and was handed over to the police. He had arrived one evening at the literature dump in Haparanda. Taking out about two poods of pamphlets and newspapers, he threw a white sheet over his shoulders and moved off through the snow to Tornio. On the way he noticed a customs guard on horseback and lay down flat in the snow with the parcels, covering himself with the sheet. The camouflage succeeded splendidly: the guard did not notice him, but the horse evidently took fright at the sheet rippling in the wind and shied. The guard then started to shoot towards the spot. “Voice in the Wilderness” had to declare himself. The guard sent him with all his goods to the lock-up at Tornio. The comrade lay there about two days and then, taking advantage of the guard’s negligence, escaped at night straight to Swedish Haparanda barefoot and in his underwear. The alarm was raised, agents and gendarmes rushed out, but it was already too late. To avoid becoming the victim of any treachery by the Swedish frontier police, “Voice in the Wilderness” travelled off to work deep inside Sweden, in the mines. There were mass searches in Tornio but our comrades managed to evade capture.

The route had to be rebuilt from scratch. This fortunately proved feasible. Some twenty versts off Tornio in the Gulf of Bothnia is the little island of Seskarö where lived comrade Löteberg, whom I knew through the chairman of the Swedish Transport Workers’ Union. From there it was possible to ski over the ice to Kemi, where comrades took on this hazardous job. Despatches were once again moving and I set off for Stockholm. There comrades Bukharin, Pyatakov and others were awaiting me. The documents and my reports on the state of affairs in Russia formed the topic of lengthy discussions. I sent off my reports to our central organ, Sotsial-Demokrat, My communications on the state of affairs in Russia went round a considerable proportion of the socialist press in Scandinavia. Branting was most interested and surprised that Russian workers were displaying so little concern for the fate of their fatherland and their allies’ fatherlands; but he did not conceal his admiration for their heroism and tried to interpret our attitude to the war as a result of the barbaric policy of tsarism.

Among the Party Exiles

During my stay in Russia major disagreements had developed among our foreign group of party workers. The former Kommunist editorial board had fallen apart over the national question. As always in conditions of exile, these disagreements sowed such hostility that by the time of my arrival relations between our comrades in Switzerland (V.I. Lenin, G. Zinoviev and others) on the one hand and those living in Sweden (comrades N.I. Bukharin, G. Pyatakov and others) were extremely strained. Contacts with and work for Russia were the first to suffer, and these for me counted above all else. I had imagined that you could keep your own opinion on this or that point of our programme and fight for its adoption, but I could not see the need for animosity and least of all for damaging the workers’ cause itself with such animosity. This phenomenon is, however, endemic in our intelligentsia, which is so doctrinaire in defence of its “principles” that it will even abandon the work in hand.

I found myself getting drawn into these disputes as a sort of buffer, attempting to reconcile the parties in order to prevent the publication of collections of articles for Russia being delayed simply because of the utterances that had arisen. For a good two months I pursued a ’’conciliator” line but was compelled to abandon it as the parties started to exhibit pettiness. Kommunist was replaced by Sbornik Sotsiala-Demokrata.

In the Stockholm group working on the despatch of literature to Russia, one worker, Bogrovsky, proved unworthy of the trust placed in him and had come into contact with a suspicious group of Estonians and in particular one Keskula, receiving money from him “for party purposes”, giving him receipts on the headed paper of the Central Committee of the RSDLP that I had left him and using my stamp of representative of the Central Committee of the RSDLP in French. This was discovered accidentally by Bukharin. Bogrovsky was expelled from the party and the Swedish comrades were informed about him. Bukharin conducted investigations and stumbled upon the trail of an organization of provocateurs which was aiming to ensnare Russian revolutionaries and Swedish young socialists. Keskula proved to be an agent of the German General Staff. Also an agent was his friend who was in charge of one of the sections of the Russian Insurance Society in Stockholm. Apparently the investigation by Bukharin and Pyatakov so perturbed the Swedish police that the arrest and deportation of Bukharin (who was living on the passport of Moshe Dolgolevsky) and Pyatakov followed almost immediately. These were justified by our comrades’ “participation” in the congress of the Swedish socialist youth. Actually they attended the congress only as visitors. I was there too, but the police did not find out about me.

Police terror in Sweden had reached a remarkable level. Russians were being deported upon the slightest suspicion, and I stopped in Christiania as a precaution. From Christiania I got in touch with Branting over the arrest of my comrades, making at the same time some enquiries about the firmness of Sweden’s neutrality.

These arrests caused panic not only among Russian exiles but also among Swedish young socialists. Proceedings for “high treason” were instituted against Höglund and others. Searches were made of many leading figures and the newspaper Stormklockan. The police assiduously sought out the contacts between young socialists and Russian revolutionaries. This led to us destroying part of our literature, but some was confiscated. The secret service of the German General Staff represented us Russian revolutionaries, the opponents of war, as agents of the Russian General Staff. The opportunist socialists likewise looked upon us with malice for our work among the young social democrats. But to the government we were all dangerous, and they tried all ways to get rid of us. Following Bukharin yet another of our people, the printer and Bundist, Gordon, was deported. Many of us were placed under surveillance and mail subjected to inspection.

Soon afterwards the whole Stockholm group, comrades Bukharin, Pyatakov and Kollontai, moved to Christiania. At first the police got worried, but after the intervention of Norwegian social democracy they left us all in peace. Here too comrades took a cautious part in the literature of the youth movement, but despair prevailed in the Russian work. The letters from the editorial board of the central organ became more and more shattering, and dreams of embarking on publications with the participation of Bukharin and Pyatakov had to be abandoned.

Relations with the Norwegian social democrats were as before good, but it was hard to expect any assistance from them for Russian work. All these Scandinavian socialists were, notwithstanding their verbal internationalism, little interested in other countries. They would listen eagerly to the unusual things about the lives of Russian revolutionaries and conspicuously publish sensational reports from Russia and that was it. Beyond that their help did not go.

In Norway, at Christiania, I met an internationalist Socialist-Revolutionary, Pierre Orage (Aleksandrovich), who had come via Murmansk from the Siberian taiga. Abroad he established contact with Chernov and other leftists. He arranged the supply of literature against the war, which at his request and for information I sent off to Russia together with our own. In the summer of 1916 comrade Aleksandrovich used my contacts to get to Russia.

A Trip to America

The material about the conditions of Jews in Russia during the war which I had brought from Petersburg greatly interested Stockholm Jews and they offered to purchase it, but I did not want to sell it as I was afraid that it would fall into the hands of agents of the German General Staff for their own strategic ends. So I demanded that the Jews donate money for a publishing house which I proposed to create with my comrades, but they prevaricated as they wanted to acquire the material outright.

Money for transport had dried up; our foreign centre was itself poor and I was counting principally upon my own resources. Not wanting to abandon work in Russia or to vegetate in the inactivity of exile, I decided to take the material on the Jews to America and hand it over to one of the Jewish socialist societies.

After lengthy correspondence with the Central Committee’s foreign group, I obtained their consent and a small sum of money for the trip. At the end of June I set out on the Norwegian vessel Kristianiafjord. I had a third-class berth in a stuffy cabin below decks, but secret documents were looked after by a comrade in the engine-room. I had no legal passport so I decided to get by with my membership card of the British trade union, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, and an old French passport. The difficult part of the passage was the British blockade and military control.

It was a good time for the voyage. The sea from Christiania to Bergen, a passage of about twenty-four hours, was calm and the weather sunny. The steamship rounded the beautiful southern part of mountainous Norway. Here and there you could see snowy peaks in the distance and on the rocky shores fishing settlements with all the conquests of technology: telephones, postal service and electricity supply.

Among the passengers were many businessmen. There were also Russian officials and technicians travelling to America in connection with war contracts and ladies of all nations off to see the husbands who were profiteering from the war. This clientèle was luxuriously established in the first- and second-class cabins. The third class had a few hundred passengers going out to “try their fortune”, various nationalities, chiefly Scandinavians. There were some Russian Jews fleeing from London and conscription, and the wives of some Russians who had settled in the “New World”. It was a happy trip: a band would often be playing on deck, and young people quickly got to know each other and danced gaily.

There was a twenty-four-hour call at Bergen and then the ship headed down the fjord into the Atlantic. There was an obligatory call at a northern British port, Kirkwall. Tugs armed with high-velocity guns came out to meet us. They acted as escorts through the minefields and brought the ship into a natural harbour on whose shores spread the small but ancient town. Many vessels large and small, flying the flags of all the Scandinavian states, lay in the bay. Many had been lying there for months, suffering all sorts of ordeals from the rapacious British. All this was cloaked in the interests of the war.

Fortunately for us the inspection of the ship did not last long. We third-classers were not bothered at all and after about twelve hours’ moorage we sailed on.

As we sailed northwards the ocean became more menacing. A cold wind blew, and sunny days gave way to bad weather. Only off the shores of America did we again feel the summer. Once within sight of the lighthouses and pilot boats on the New York roads the passengers milled on to the now warm decks, waiting to see the shores of that legendary land.

We took on a pilot and later, upon entering the harbour, there was a stop for a superficial medical examination right there on deck. They looked at our eyes and hands. We entered the harbour before sunset and the ship docked. They let the first- and second-class passengers off without any special checks. But the third class were left to the next day. Ahead of them was a trip to the “Island of Tears” for the interrogation and examination of poor emigrants. It was hard luck on the sick and people with no property, acquaintances or relatives in the country. They would not be allowed in that “land of the free”, and at best would be quickly sent back; there were cases of a month’s forced detention.

Our big ten-thousand-ton ship seemed tiny among the gigantic installations of the port of New York. The heat was unbearable. It was impossible to remain in the cabins even at night, and the passengers went up on deck. By sunset the harbour was like an oven breathing fire.

In the morning after breakfast disembarkation of third-class passengers commenced. Tickets were given up and we went down to a quayside shed where scruffy bags were set out ready for the customs officers. After the examination, embarkation on a small steamer and a trip to the “Island of Tears”. The half-hour voyage through the harbour among the steel and stone monsters had an oppressive effect. Finally we disembarked and passed one by one through the medical examination. The suspect ones were singled out and the healthy ones allowed on without delay. We found ourselves in a huge hall set about with benches for visitors and desks for the officials. Questioning: Where’re you from? Where’re you going? Have you funds? My trade as a turner proved sufficient. This was adequate grounds for immediate entry and I was given a permit. I walked along a long grilled corridor, reminiscent of a menagerie. On the other side of the grilles were the public, apparently awaiting their families and friends. Again on to a steamer, but now to the very centre of New York. I reached my friends’ flat on the overhead railway.

The Russian colony in the city was enormous. Two daily papers were published (including a social-democratic one in Russian) and several other papers in Yiddish and other languages. In New York periodicals and magazines were published in all the languages of the world. I made the acquaintance of the colony and its representatives. All the Russian socialists were grouped around the newspaper Novy Mir. The leader of this group was Dr Ingerman, a Menshevik. He was also in charge of Novy Mir itself although the former Bolshevik, N. Nakoryakov, living under the name of Ellert, was the editor. Among the paper’s permanent staff were Volodarsky, Lisovsky, Voskov, Zorin, Melnichansky and Menson, who was in charge of the technical side and acted as compositor. The printshop had two typesetting machines in slum premises. The paper was quite poor materially.

I made several reports on the situation in Russia and Europe and on the attitude to the war, which provoked major arguments among the Novy Mir socialists. Ingerman defended the European opportunists, but this defence did not encounter sympathy among workers’ exile groups. A small group of Bolsheviks headed by comrade Minkin-Menson was formed and, relying on vacillating exiles like Volodarsky, Melnichansky, Zorin and others, campaigned for the removal of Ingerman and his friends from the leadership of the newspaper and the group. But the other side was not asleep and waged a struggle in the American style, introducing personal and sensational issues, hysteria and abuse.

Victory nevertheless went to our bloc; but it could not be carried through to the end as the Bolsheviks had insufficient competent party and newspaper workers.

With regard to my own business, I learnt that I had not chosen altogether the most propitious time to arrive. All the rich Jewish community had gone off for the summer to their country homes or were touring America. However, without losing hope, I established contacts. I was introduced to the editor of a Jewish socialist paper Vorwärts who agreed to use some of the material, but he was an ardent Germanophile and I was most reluctant to pass the material to him. I also met some Jewish scholars who undertook to find a publisher. My condition was: pass the material to any Jewish organization for the latter to publish in English and other languages. There were quite a few private speculators about, but I did not have any dealings with them. However, my scholars so dragged things out that I had to chase them up. July passed, August, and still they were “discussing” it. I was demanding money for revolutionary work in Russia, setting a minimum price of 500 dollars (carriage out of Russia, the passage to America and the return to Russia), but stating that I wanted more. But they referred to the absence of rich representatives of their society and agreed to give 500 dollars from their own pockets. Time was precious, so I took the 500 dollars to get back to Russia more quickly. Living and the journey had cost about half that amount, so the rest could go towards revolutionary work in Russia.

In the two months of my stay in New York I had time to acquaint myself only superficially with the life of that monstrous city, resembling a huge workshop. American life is steeped in hardheadedness about business. The whole American way of life is coloured by an extreme selfishness. Everyone lives only to get rich quick or to dream of doing so.

New York City is situated on a peninsula washed by the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean, divided by a canal and a river into several parts, and with well-planned main streets stretching the length of the peninsula and transecting it. In the southern part works, offices and warehouses are concentrated while in the northern part are the dwellings of the best-paid section of factory and office workers. In the morning all trams and underground overhead railway traffic heads southwards in force, but in the evening uptown to the north. Every day hundreds of thousands of people rush back and forth from one end of the city to the other. The New York worker dresses smartly and lives and eats considerably better than his European counterpart.

During my brief interlude in New York I observed two strikes: one by tramway employees, the other on the buses. The action was led by the trade unions. The employers mobilized strikebreakers and the republican and even democratic authorities provided police to protect the “right to work”. The working population declared a boycott of the trams and those operating them. The strikers took to photographing the strikebreakers, clashes occurred, the police took the strikebreakers’ side and fired on the strikers. The sympathies of the working population, including even the children, were on the side of the striking workers and strikebreakers who drove their trams through working-class districts had a hard time. Little boys smeared the rails with soap and pelted the scab drivers with stones, while the adults threw them out of their cabs. The police fired in the air, waiting for reinforcements; a scuffle would take place. Disputes between labour and capital in America are bellicose. Scabs, spies and provocateurs from all kinds of Pinkerton-type bureaux join in on the employers’ side. It is rare that a major strike passes off without provocations, arrests of union leaders and some bloodshed.

In New York I made the acquaintance of the editor of the social-democratic newspaper The New York People’s News, published in German for German-speaking social democrats, I gave them a piece on the revolutionary movement in Russia. The comrades took an internationalist position within the left wing of the American Socialist Party, which was thoroughly opportunist.

America had not yet been drawn into the war and was preserving its neutrality by fulfilling contracts for the Franco-British-Russian coalition. The gold from war contracts flowed bountifully into the pockets of American businessmen. The newspapers were conducting a persistent campaign for America’s entry, but Wilson confined himself to peacemaking for the moment. Even at that time, however, it was clear to everyone who wanted to see that American capitalists were preparing for war. They were cleverly working on so-called “public opinion”, fostering militarist sentiment and preparing for conscription. Churches, demonstrations, newspapers, parliament, the Stars and Stripes, theatres, schools, cinemas, were all used to preach the defence of the “American homeland” and to demand the formation of an army and navy.

Although old immigrants from other countries were little concerned at the fate of the “American homeland”, the generation that had grown up in America, those of pre-school age included, responded vigorously to this chauvinist ballyhoo. In one working-class district I saw an American window display, Downfall of a Nation, which showed the invasion by unnamed enemies, the destruction of cities and other such horrors, and children would always greet the American flag with wild enthusiasm.

American organized capital kept firm control of the people. It also knew how to buy off the labour leaders. The president of the American Federation of Labor, Samuel Gompers, regarded himself as a friend of Wilson and was his accomplice in hoodwinking the workers.

The corruption of workers’ representatives by bribery and other means had become a regular employers’ tactic and did enormous damage to the workers’ cause.

However alluring my comrades’ proposal for me to remain in America and get to know its working-class life, I overcame all temptation and made preparations for my departure. Again a passport was required. As I had already used all my papers I had to reapply to the local consulate. There a clerk advised me to obtain a reference from a religious community, against which the consulate would be obliged to issue me a passport for the journey to Russia. The difficulty was that I was not a member of any of the communities and had no contacts with priests. But I presumed that in America priests also would above all be “businessmen”, and I banked on the dollar doing its job. My supposition was justified. For two dollars the clergyman gave me a reference. I affixed a picture to it, handed it in at the consulate and arranged to collect the passport at the quayside when the ship sailed.

The New York comrades arranged a small send-off, and on 14 September 1916 I left the shores of America on the Danish vessel United States. The comrades asked me to send some party friends to America who could direct the work and the newspaper, and gave me money for the purpose.

This time I had a second-class ticket and was registered on the passenger list as a journalist. It was stuffy in the cabin and I could hear the noise of the engines. I complained, and was given an individual cabin in the first class. My isolation was most convenient, as I was carrying articles and letters from various American comrades and had quite a few documents on me which might attract the interest of the British police. I managed to hide them in the cabin.

About eight days later we were back in Kirkwall. A stern reception awaited us there. The ship was held for forty-eight hours and a personal search made of all passengers. Women travelling to Germany were searched especially rigorously. I still managed to get through without being searched, while my membership card for the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, of which I was a member, served as a passport, since my Russian passport had been “forgotten” at the consulate.

We were all very relieved to get beyond the British blockade. Twenty-four hours later the coast of Norway appeared, and after another twenty-four hours we were at Christiania, having spent two whole weeks from New York. My friends were no longer in Christiania (Bukharin was living in Copenhagen), and I continued to Denmark on the same ship. I stopped several days in Copenhagen to contact the foreign centre of the Central Committee and agree plans about work in Russia. And there too I found my old Russian pals.

Return from America

There were many Russians in Copenhagen that autumn. Here were gathered all the wartime speculators and marauders. They were mostly speculating in food and German manufactures (dyestuffs, medicines, office materials etc.). A layer of wealthy “goulashers” appeared, a peculiar variety of speculator in “military” tinned food who knew how to dispose of it in Germany. “Socialists” did not hang back from war profits either. Parvus, a German socialist well known in Russia in his day, had already made more than a million and had begun to finance and establish businesses. Some Russian social democrats had no qualms about profiteering in pencils, medicines and other such trifles required by the Russian and Scandinavian markets. Some paid for this with deportation from Denmark, but the change of domicile did not hinder business. It was generally a nasty scene.

Already many comrades had gathered in the Russian social-democratic circle. At a meeting in the autumn of 1916 I met the liquidators, Sazonov-Rozanov, Piletsky and Dalin; the Nashe Slovo people, Chudnovsky, Uritsky and Zurabov; and Bukharin, Gordon and others from the Bolsheviks.

Lack of activity oppressed Bukharin, and I suggested he travel to America for party work. N.I. agreed and found himself a companion, Chudnovsky. Some thought had to be given to travel arrangements: and this was fairly complicated as the British blockade was becoming stricter. Bukharin was the type of impractical Russian intellectual for whom I had to think out every detail of the trip. Before his departure he thought of “legalizing” himself in Denmark and going to America not as Moshe Dolgolevsky but under his own name; but before confirming the possibility of legalization he had already booked a ticket to America in his own name. All his legalization moves failed: Stauning, the socialist minister, could not and would not help with it.

Nikolai Ivanovich had to remain Moshe, but this complicated his passage. The steamship office had already been paid the money and the name of Bukharin was by now familiar; they knew his face there. I again had to devise ways of getting out of an absurd situation. The trouble about cancelling the steamship booking in Bukharin’s name was one of money; and anyway there were no spare places left. I decided to take Nikolai Ivanovich as far as Christiania and embark him there as Moshe Dolgolevsky. I would ask the steamship office for Bukharin’s reservation to be forwarded to Dolgolevsky in Christiania, since “Bukharin” had supposedly cancelled it. This worked. Chudnovsky embarked at Copenhagen, while “Dolgolevsky” was to embark at Christiania. But our route there lay through Sweden, entry into which was barred to him on pain of a six-month stay in prison.

We decided to go by steamer to avoid arrest. We bought tickets and made straight for the vessel with our luggage and escorts. It turned out to be small tub laden with foodstuffs, and the sea was running high. It emerged that the steamer would be calling at other towns and settlements with prolonged stops and would not reach Christiania in under forty-eight hours. The voyage would not be cosy; tossing about on the waves would not be much fun and a lot of precious time would be wasted, so I started to think about how to get rid of the ticket and go by rail. I asked the captain whether we weren’t running a risk of being caught by the Germans aboard that old steamboat. He stated that such occurrences did happen, and that he could provide no guarantees that it wouldn’t happen to us. I gradually brought N.I. around to travelling by rail; I proposed that he became my brother for the time being and travel via Helsingør and Hälsingborg whence the trip across the Öresund takes only a few minutes. N.I. agreed, and we were left with the job of working out how to ditch the steamboat. I went to the office and asked the manager: are you able to guarantee us against seizure by the Germans? Well, of course, the manager got cross and could give us no guarantee. Then I asked him to help unload our things and exchange our tickets for train tickets. He kindly agreed, and a couple of hours later we were already on our way. We crossed safely over the the Swedish side, caught a quick glimpse of some sleuths, got into a carriage and a few minutes later moved off. In the morning we were in Christiania, where we awaited the arrival of the ocean liner. A couple of days later I saw comrades Bukharin and Chudnovsky off on their “conquest of America”, then I made for Stockholm, intending to set off for Russia as soon as possible.

During my absence from Sweden work on the despatch of literature had completely fizzled out. Contacts were kept up, but the comrades in charge of this work had no money. It was essential to get moving as much literature as possible immediately so that it could cross the frontier as I travelled. More than ten poods were sent to Tornio and Karunki, presupposing arrangements for ferrying it over in various places.

I had meetings with all the comrades from the Swedish left social democrats: Höglund, Strom, Kilbom and others. In this period an event of enormous importance took place in the Swedish party: a split occurred. The young or “left” social democrats left the united party and founded their own central organ and party Central Committee.

Branting took advantage of his position to criticize and slander the “youth”. The bourgeois press welcomed the critical onslaughts of the old central organ Social-Demokraten. But probably because of this criticism, the young social-democratic organization grew and tore the Swedish proletariat out of opportunism’s embraces.

My meetings with Branting were of a purely working nature. Bearing in mind the military situation in the north and the variety of fortifications and garrisons in the frontier zone, I would notify him of my journeys on the frontier and about my work. This was necessary in the event of any misunderstanding at the border, suspicion of espionage or my arrest. We agreed that I could inform the local authorities into whose hands I might fall that Branting knew about my trip; and upon receiving some communication about my misadventure he would contact the appropriate minister. But I managed things so carefully that during many trips around border villages I did not once attract the attention of the authorities.

Haparanda, the border town of Sweden, was at that time a centre for espionage and snooping. Native Finns and Germans who had lived in Russia and Finland before the war, British, French and Russian and other intelligence agents and counter-intelligence agents were regulars at the hotels and restaurants, in barbers’ shops and other public places. Every word travelling in or out of Russia was seized and conveyed to the right quarter.

But in Haparanda a secret Finnish “activist” meeting-point had been organized. It has a well-equipped passport office that supplied its supporters and German agents with the relevant papers conforming to wartime requirements. They had their own ferry for people, literature and arms. The organization was amply fitted out. I had managed to obtain information about this from my Swedish acquaintances living on the border, whom I had to deal with over organization and transport.

Military espionage was likewise making excellent use of the “sympathies” of various varieties of socialist who had turned into supporters of either the Entente or the Central Powers. German espionage had found agents from among the socialists of the small nationalities like the Estonians and Finns. One Danish socialist journalist, Kruse, made a trip to Russia on unspecified business, hovering around our exiles to obtain from them personal contacts in Russia. Then he would turn up in Russia to meet social democrats, purportedly bringing assignments from organizations or individuals abroad. His link with the German spy Kesküla was quickly discovered and the exiled comrades threw him out of their circles.

We had to be most careful and alert to any dirty dealings from the military: provocation and espionage. The disintegration of the socialist circles and their division into every conceivable “orientation” created a cover for sheer graft and the passage of certain members of the intelligentsia into the service of the bourgeoisie, with the appearance of serving an idea.

When I set out for the Swedish frontier, I took an interpreter, a worker who had a good command of Swedish, the exile A. Khavkin. En route we called at Lulea, and met local social democrats to obtain a few contacts at the far end of the Swedish-Finnish frontier. From there we set off for Haparanda.

My old friend, the master cobbler, had during the war turned into a staid entrepreneur and property owner, now wealthy from his shoe business and with his own house. His views had also undergone a certain modification. In his arguments he was becoming more respectable and approved of the right-wing stand. He no longer exhibited any special interest in my work and he was obviously afraid of being compromised in the eyes of the authorities and his customers. But that did not hurt me, as there were enough comrades prepared to help on the Swedish border. Part of the literature was sent over to Seskarö, the island in the Gulf of Bothnia, to comrade Löteberg. Another part we took with us in a wooden trunk to an address given by the editors of Norskenflyammen, at a hamlet some fifty kilometres north along the frontier from Haparanda.

Not far from the railway station we found a small farmstead and its young owner. He welcomed us in arid, after reading the letter from the comrades in Lulea, agreed to help us. I decided, with the comrade’s help, to make for Russia from there, and later to have literature sent by the same route. The farmer asked for two days to set up and prepare the route. A particular nuisance was the Tornio river, which was resisting the mild frosts and had frozen only in one or two places. We had brought some refreshment and plied our new acquaintance with it. Having settled upon a route, he went off to scout.

A couple of days later the farmer returned and joyfully announced that all was ready. He had found a route and a horse that would get us away. My main requirement was to be taken to Oulu. If one person could not do this he must hand me over to another driver so that I would not have to look for horses myself. I promised to pay one mark for each kilometre’s travel and could pay more if necessary. But the Finns rarely exploited this.

We decided to set out at midnight. It was the second half of October 1916. I changed into clothes appropriate to a Finn, took a bag for the journey, underwear and literature and said farewell. We went cautiously across the fields to the river, often stumbling into holes. The Arctic night was not dark, and although the sky was covered with light clouds you could still see a long way over the snow. We crossed the river well apart from each other holding on to the ends of a long rope, as my guide did not trust the ice. We walked along the river for a long time. Finally we reached the bank; a track ran alongside through the snow. My guide pointed out that the track had been trodden by the frontier guards and gendarmes. We walked on under the cover of reeds and thickets and came out on to the main road to Tornio. After walking along it for a couple of kilometres we headed for a solitary farmhouse and roused the owner. As we rested, a horse was harnessed and off I was taken. Where and to whom I no longer cared, trusting entirely to the Finn’s prudence and honesty.

The Return to Russia

We did not drive far along the paved road but turned off down a cart-track in an easterly direction. There was a little snow and the sledge leapt over the hummocks and dipped into the hollows, tiring out the horse. By dinner-time we had reached the farmhouse and stayed with a business-like Finn. The farm was on the forest fringe and had many outbuildings and much livestock. The lads were out shooting hare around the house. They did not know any languages other than Finnish and we had to pass the time in silence. We were treated to coffee, milk and something recalling our Russian yoghurt but a lot thicker.

A few hours later we set out but now with a different driver. I did not ask which road it was – I wouldn’t have been understood, but I could see that they knew where they were to go. The road ran through a wood and was little used. The Finns had obviously selected the most secluded routes on purpose. From the border onwards I had not met a single horse or pedestrian. This driver did not take me far but stopped at a farm too. The building was old but sturdy; and while the forest was not far away, ploughed land lay all around. I could not understand how in the far north it could yield a crop. The householder welcomed us in cordially in Swedish and explained using his fingers that he had been expecting me for two days. That rather surprised me, but as I did not command sufficient vocabulary could not enquire how he had been informed. He took us into a log house. The interior reminded me of our own peasant homesteads. The same large living area with the huge stove, benches around the walls and clothing, horse-harnesses and other tackle hanging on the wall. But in some farmhouses there would be another section which was clean and where you would find bentwood chairs, a sewing-machine, a mirror and even a gramophone or accordion. The Finns are great coffee-lovers as we Russians are tea-lovers; so everywhere I would be treated to some, but I preferred bread and milk as I wanted to have some nourishment.

We left the farm at about six in the evening. It was comfortable to relax in a good sleigh after the ruts of the previous track. The driver did not ask where he had to go but followed his own route avoiding the main roads. We drove over the weak ice of a rivulet, sparsely Vegetated rough land and cart-tracks. It began to grow dark. The autumn night was quickly coming on. Lights appeared in the distance; that was the little town of Rovaniemi twinkling. We kept straight towards it. The closer the lights twinkled, the clearer became the muffled noise of a river. It was very dark, there was a little snow but the clever horse knew the way and cautiously descended the steep bank as it made towards the sound of the water. After it had gone a couple of hundred paces the horse snorted and stopped. The distance was sinister and black. The driver got off and walked on ahead. I soon heard his whip-handle striking the water. The ice did not stretch the full width of the river. He shouted once and then again, evidently calling for a boat. An answer was heard out of the distant gloom. With a sign my guide told me to alight. The approaching splash of oars was soon audible and in a few minutes the bow of a large boat came up on to the ice beside us. One of the men got out and stayed with the horse while the farmer came with me to the other bank. A few minutes later the boat had crossed the noisy river and pulled into a landing-stage.

We walked up the bank and came out into a small street. We went into a large house, where a few people were sitting at a table. Conversation was palely lit by a paraffin lamp. They all turned towards us: the farmer was obviously talking about me. I was given a chair and they watched in anticipation and discussed among themselves. A young man arrived, dressed in town clothes, and put some questions to me in Finnish and Swedish. I replied in Swedish that I could speak and understand only Russian, French, German and English and knew no other languages. Then he asked me in German for the password; another approached me and flicked back his jacket lapel to reveal a badge. I said I hadn’t a password or a badge. My words when translated stunned them all and I was questioned: where was I going? How had I got there? And who was I? I quickly gathered that I had landed myself on the premises of some organization that seemed to me conspiratorial in nature. Thousands of possibilities flashed through my mind but two were most likely: I had landed either among German spies or Finnish revolutionaries by courtesy of the bourgeoisie – the so-called “activists”. I decided, however, not to manifest any of my suspicions. To the questions I replied that I was a Russian revolutionary, a member of the RSDLP and my name was Belenin. I was travelling to Russia on party business and I had arranged drivers and the route through a Swedish comrade on the frontier. “I hope that this will not go beyond the people present here and that I shall not be sent to the police,” I added.

They listened to it all, interpreted, discussed and then announced that they would make a search of my belongings. I offered them my bag with my things and literature and the pockets of my clothes.

They looked for marks on my underwear and on my outer clothing as well. But everything on me was foreign and they attached no importance to the newspapers and pamphlets. Anyway, nothing suspicious had evidently been found on me and I re-packed everything. The Finn who spoke German offered to look after me. We left the mysterious house and went to another, smaller and fairly new one. He stated that this was his quarters. A few more questions were asked there about what Finns I knew. Out of caution I named two or three know to me only as Sejm deputies. My interlocutor proved to be an engineer who worked at a local sawmill. The conversation moved on to the war. The engineer was on Germany’s side on this question. He wished for her victory and expected good fortune from this for Finland too. I did not have enough German to enter into a long argument; but I did express my conviction that the Finnish people would gain their freedom only through the overthrow of tsarism. The orientation towards Germany was only to replace one yoke by another. Finland’s whole fate was tied up with the success of the revolutionary struggle of the working class in Russia and not with the victory of one or other of the coalitions.

The lady of the house treated us to coffee. I learnt from the engineer that I was free and he explained his original behaviour by the fact that they were wary of espionage. I asked him to find me a horse with the stipulation that driver would take me to Oulu, transferring me to another only with the clear understanding that I was to be driven to Oulu. The engineer called his landlord, who agreed to accompany me with his horse for some twenty kilometres. After midnight we reached a farmstead which evidently served as a post and coaching station. I was given a little room.

In the morning a young man came to me and introduced himself as a student. He spoke Russian well and had learnt of my exploits from the driver. I chatted for a long while with him about world affairs. He also proved to be supporter of the German orientation, though he called himself a Finnish revolutionary and democrat. He reacted contemptuously to mention of Finnish social democracy as he did not regard it as revolutionary.

I also learnt from him that a considerable section of Finnish student youth and intellectuals had declared war on the Russian government. Some of them had gone off to Germany to fight for Finland’s liberation; others like himself had stayed on to organize a Finnish army out of young peasant volunteers and veterans of the former Finnish army. According to the student they were well organized and had agents and clandestine quarters throughout Finland. They obtained weapons from Sweden. They had fixed up a special route, in winter by sledge and in summer by motorbikes and bicycles, from the Swedish border to Vyborg. This route was used for transport, people and mail. According to him, they were particularly well organized in the north – the region where we then were.

During my stay at the farm various people came to see him who seemed like teachers. They showed their badges, gave the password and got their instructions from him. He informed me that he was the zone chief and showed me a map of Oulu province on which the routes and locations of their agents were pencilled in. I was involuntarily taken aback by such a rash exhibition of their whole organization, and my chance activist acquaintance spent the whole day rubbing the markings off the map.

We spent the whole day at the inn without going out. I was advised not to leave as the Finnish police were patrolling the roads. The next day he offered to accompany me for two days as he needed to make a tour of his district and our routes coincided.

The following day we set out on the road early in the morning. I was really glad that I had a fellow-traveller and interpreter. We arrived at a coaching station in the evening where we were allotted two rooms and given a good supper. My companion said he had had a report from his people that Finnish police and Russian gendarmerie were at large in the vicinity of our lodgings. When we went to bed he warned me that should the police swoop on the hotel he would fire. He laid out revolvers beside himself for the night and bolted the door.

The police did not disturb our sleep, however, and we set off again. As we progressed southwards the snow became less. By nightfall we had reached a small settlement and stopped at the log cabin of an old Finn, a soldier. The soldier was a great patriot – he retained his old uniform and worked with the activists.

From individual conversations and passing encounters I was becoming convinced that some cunning hand was skilfully exploiting the noblest sentiments and revolutionary moods of Finnish youth: the hand of robber imperialism. I tried by every means to prove the incorrectness of the path that the activists had embarked on. My remark to the student that they were working not for the good of the Finnish people but in the interests of German imperialism worried him.

I learnt that after finishing university he had gone to work at the customs house at Beloostrov. During the war he had been in Vyborg and in Petersburg also, where he had acquaintances in the household of Prince Oldenburg’s family. It was clear that their secret service stretched right into the tsar’s court. He dreamt of forming units in the north which could start then and there an armed struggle against the supporters of the tsarist regime in Finland.

The morning following the night at the soldier’s house we parted. He persuaded the soldier to take me to a particular spot and hand me over to someone else who would transfer me to the next and so on right to Oulu. The soldier fulfilled his mission punctiliously and handed me over to another man before dinner. The latter in his turn took me to a hamlet on the bank of the river Ii Yeki. The landlord was not in at the house that this driver had brought me to. I thought he would arrive and so I waited an hour and then another, but no one appeared. I asked the landlady in sign language when we would be going to Oulu, and in reply she gave me a newspaper and pointed to the railway timetable. It turned out that not far away, in all some twelve kilometres, there was the railway station of Ii Yeki from where she recommended that I leave for Oulu. But this did not enter my plans, as I did not carry the documents necessary for rail travel.

Having waited till about four o’clock in the afternoon, I decided to leave the shack and find a horse myself. I took my hag, bade farewell to the landlady and made off through the village. At the exit I met a group of peasants by a log hut. I enquired whether any of them spoke Russian. One put himself forward but he understood very little and badly too. I asked whether he was agreeable to taking me as far as Oulu. He was surprised at my wish and advised me to go by train as it would be cheaper and quicker. Seeing that I was getting nowhere I asked where the road to the station was and headed that way.

I did not know why but it was obvious that I intrigued the peasants. Two of the group followed behind me at a distance. I sensed that I had come under observation, but I decided that boldness and confidence would destroy all suspicions. There was no other way out for me. About two hours later I had reached the station. To approach it you had to cross a railway bridge over the river Ii Yeki; there was a footway for horses and people. The bridge was guarded both above and below by sentries. There was no room for dithering now. I set off towards the station. It turned out that I had arrived too early. There were not many people about and there were no gendarmes on the station. It started to get dark and the lamps were lit. The station began to fill up. I bought a ticket and learnt from the booking clerk that an express was due first which stopped only at Oulu but that after it came a local train calling at all stations. This was the one I needed. It would be dangerous to travel by the express as a check of the documents which I did not have would be made at Oulu. With the local train I would be able to get off a stop earlier and go on to the town on foot. While waiting for the train to arrive I decided to familiarize myself with the station’s layout. All round was forest. The entrance to the station waiting rooms was from the platform only. A few minutes before the arrival of the first train a soldier with a rifle appeared. From his shoulder-tabs I could tell that he was from the counter-intelligence branch. He went into the station. I walked round the station and, concealing myself on the fire-escape set against the roof, started to watch the soldier. He began to check passports. The two peasants who had been following me were in the hall. I decided not to show myself when the express arrived and not to catch the soldier’s eye at all. The express arrived and noisy passengers rushed out to the buffet. The officers and gendarmes travelling on the train appeared. The station sprang quickly to life. A whistle and it just as quickly emptied.

A little while later the local train was due to arrive I went up closer to the station. The soldier was walking up and down the platform, noticed and started to observe me. He was watching attentively and was trying as he passed to edge nearer. I felt that things were not so bright but I decided to wait and see what was to follow. He finally made an about turn and made towards me. As he came over, he addressed a question to me in Finnish: where was I going? I replied in Russian that I was going to Oulu. He was surprised at my knowledge of the language and started asking where I had learnt Russian to which I replied, again in Russian, “in Petersburg” overlooking the fact that by then it had been renamed “Petrograd”. In the end of course this warrior demanded my passport and requested me to go into the waiting room. We went into the first-class one – it was empty. I did not look as if I did not have a passport but rummaged through my pockets and bag, but of course could not find it. I stated that I had forgotten it at a flat only ten kilometres away. As a local resident I did not require a passport anyway. This however did appear somewhat implausible to a representative of the counter-intelligence service and the soldier declared me under arrest and requested me to follow him into the third-class waiting room. There were many people in there. It would have been easy to call someone to his aid and so I decided not to leave the first-class one. A determination to escape quickly crystallized in my mind. Seeing my obstinacy the soldier opened the door into the third-class, stuck his head through and started to call someone, but I had quietly pushed open the outside door of the first-class, slipped smartly out on to the platform, ran round the station, leapt over a fence and hid myself in the darkness of the forest. At that very moment the train I had been waiting for arrived. The officer had evidently decided that I had hidden on the train, but by then I was already running through the forest.

When I came out of the forest I did not know in which direction it was best to go. The sky was overcast and it was impossible to determine directions by it. I strayed into the forest to examine which side of the trees were overgrown with moss from the cold northern gusts; but it was hard to establish in the dark. I decided to lie down for a while in a culvert under the track and wait for the train to pass. If it passed by in my direction then my path was certain. But if it did not, I would have to go back in the other direction. I had to wait a long while. They were obviously searching the train for me. But then at last I heard a whistle. A few minutes later two shining eyes started to gleam in the distance and the train rushed past in the same direction that I was walking in. I had found my escape route and became so overjoyed that I wanted to make the forest expanses resound with song.

It was some seventy kilometres to Oulu along winding roads. Assuming the possibility of a hot pursuit I decided to keep walking all night without a halt. I set out along the railway trackside. There was little snow and the frost was very light. It was uncomfortable to walk in Finnish boots without soles. I was tortured by thirst after the running, and hunger set in. It had been twenty-four hours since I had had anything to eat apart from being “treated” to Finnish coffee. I decided to knock on the door of a trackmen’s hut in the hope of buying bread and milk but the trackmen, tired after a hard day’s work, slept through my appeals. Tortured by hunger and thirst I crawled into barns and storehouses but found nothing, so I quenched my thirst and hunger with snow.

Behind Haukipudas station my way was blocked by a bridge. Going across it past the sentries at midnight was risky and I started to look for other ways. I went along paths, through back gardens, past and over outbuildings and finally ran across a main road of sorts. Where the road forked I took the branch that veered back towards the railway. This road brought me to a big river, the same one that the bridge went over. By the bank there lay ferry boats. There was a broad unfrozen stretch along the bank but beyond was a solid sheet of ice. I decided to wait until morning to find a boatman, and for the moment to settle down in some barn. I found a straw store where I slumped down till daybreak, when I went down to the ferryman’s hut. A light was already twinkling inside. People were getting up. An old man replied to my request about how to cross by pointing to his feet, i.e. you could walk across. I asked him to show me the way and the old man took me down to the river, threw a board across the unfrozen strip and went across it to the firm ice. When we had crossed to the other bank he indicated the Oulu road, and he was most pleased with the mark I gave him for the crossing.

A warm day set in. The snow was melting, my boots swelled with water and their pointed toes curled upwards. It was very hard to walk and fatigue began to take over. I avoided encounters along the way, hiding in the forest at the sight of groups of people, riders and carts. At one small hamlet I found a shop, and bought some buns and apples.

It was only at two in the afternoon that I reached the offices of the Oulu social-democratic newspaper, after being on the road from eight o’clock in the evening of the day before. I found my acquaintances in the editorial offices in good spirits and after sitting down for a couple of hours while they found me some suitable lodgings I was no longer in any state to walk. My legs had become heavy and my toes were covered in blood blisters. The comrades decided to hide me outside the town on a farm with some social democrats for a couple of days.

Only after five days could I control my legs freely and relatively painlessly. We then decided to travel on. Comrade Uskila found a document to which my photograph had to be stuck and a local photographer produced a print as a matter of urgency and destroyed the negative,

I reached Helsinki safely. I found Wiik, Rovio and the other comrades. Rovio obtained a Finnish passport for me and a few days later I set off for Petersburg. The train was full of military personnel and bourgeois. We passed safely through Beloostrov: I was back in Petersburg by the latter half of October.

Last updated on 21.7.2011