Source: The Call, 15 July 1920, p. 7 (1,628 words)
Transcribed: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
It is a strange irony of fate that nearly every Russian who has been thrown into jail or persecuted by the British Government since the Bolshevik Revolution has within a very short time of his release more than revenged himself upon his persecutors. During my four years in prison it was my privilege to come into personal and intimate touch with most of the. Russians who were arrested by our Government and brought to Brixton. One of the most prominent and distinguished men the British Government threw into jail was our good comrade Chicherin, who had the novel experience of being appointed Ambassador while in prison. The sensation and excitement this caused among Chicherin’s fellow-prisoners was indescribable; our comrade was carried shoulder high, through the prison amidst tremendous scenes of enthusiasm. Prison warders came rushing on the scene thinking a mutiny had broken out. A few weeks later Chicherin was deported back to Russia and was immediately appointed the Soviet Foreign Secretary. This ex-British jail-bird will soon be sitting at the same table as an equal (and superior) of Lloyd George and Lord Curzon in the peace negotiations with Russia. Among others that honoured our company in Brixton Prison was our friend and comrade Litvinov, whose distinguished services to the Socialist Republic are too well known for me to reiterate, whilst I was for over a year a companion of Peter Petroff at the Islington internment camp.
I met many other Russian revolutionists who have done valuable service to the cause since their return, much too numerous to mention by name. But one among them stands out so prominently in the magnificence of his deeds that I venture to think that his exploits have done more to break the morale of the British Government than any single action of the Soviet Government.
It was at the end of January, 1919, that I was sentenced by the visiting magistrates to one month’s solitary confinement for attempting again to escape from custody (three months after the event, and long after the armistice, by the special order of the Home Office). As a consequence, I had to exercise (twice daily) in another part of the prison. It was while doing my punishment that I saw two Russian naval prisoners who were exercised in a small circle in one of the prison yards. I soon discovered that they were Bolshevik prisoners who had been captured during a scrap with British warships in the Baltic Sea. As I had to exercise near them, I managed to speak to them when the warder was not looking, of course. My first words to them were in Russian (having learnt a few words), dobra-je-utra-taverish (phonetic spelling), meaning in English, good morning, comrades. The shorter of the two, prisoners at once replied to my salute and started speaking in Russian. He soon discovered the limits of my Russian vocabulary, and addressed me in French which I understand a littler better. What we could not do in French we did with a,mixture of German and English. It was some days before I could convince our Russian comrade that I was a Socialist and not a spy and that I, like himself, was a political victim of the British Government. He then told me that his name was Raskolnikoff, that he was a Bolshevik Admiral, and had been captured by the British Navy. For a month we met twice daily and usually managed to have a chat (sometimes for a long time when we had a friendly officer), and we carried on a constant correspondence. I then learnt of the real condition of affairs in Russia and the magnificent work our comrades were doing. I was able secretly to supply him with the “Call” and other Socialist literature and to communicate with some of his friends in London, who sent him money and other necessaries. Raskolnikoff and his lieutenant were, kept in separate cells in which they were locked up for 22 hours out of 24. They were not permitted to communicate with anyone outside or inside the prison. The enthusiasm of our comrades was different to anything I had experienced in the British Socialist movement and I must frankly say I was delighted that I was doing a month’s punishment.
Now I think I must explain why I have headed this article, “From Brixton Jail to Enzeli.” Recently in, English translation of an article which appeared in the Russian paper “Izvestia,” June 18th, 1920, was shown to me by a Russian comrade, and to my surprise and delight I found that the most effective and disconcerting military exploit of the Bolshevik forces against the British Government was led by my prison companion, Raskolnikoff. It is now admitted that this master stroke has done as much as anything to bring our Imperialist masters to their senses.
Well done Raskolnikoff and your gallant comrades! Who said “Labour cannot govern”?
Comrade Raskolnikoff, Commander of the Caspian Red Fleet, who has just returned to Baku, reports the following details of the capture of Enzeli by the valiant Red sailors In the grey of the morning of May 18th, about 4 o’clock, local time, when the entire population was still in bed, we approached Enzeli and began a bombardment by 130 millimetre guns, aiming not at Enzeli itself but at Kasian, where the British had concentrated all their staffs and detachments. The British did not in the least expect our arrival. At first, after the revolution in Baku, they were rather alarmed, but afterwards they evidently decided that we would not dare to attack them. The fact that on the seashore there were no guards whatsoever may be taken as evidence of their utter carelessness and negligence. Yet the day previous the Commander of the 36th Indian Infantry Division had come to Enzeli in order to take over the command of all the infantry troops situated there. Simultaneously with the bombardment of Enzeli we made a demonstration by destroyers, somewhat to the west of Resht, whither the British immediately sent their cavalry.
At the same time to the east of Enzeli, about eight or ten miles from the town, we disembarked troops who barred to the British the road to Enzeli and thus got them into a trap. At first the British attempted to offer resistance and sent against us two lines of sharpshooters, but after a few volleys from our naval guns a confusion set in among the British troops and they withdrew, so that we were able to come still nearer to Kasian. The British casualties in this scrap were ten killed, while ours were one killed and three wounded. Having realised their helplessness, the British sent to us, parlementaires in the person of the local British Consul and the chief of the British reconnoitring party, Captain Cratchley. On boarding our destroyer, “Carl Liebknecht,” Cratchley expressed great surprise and said in amazement, “But you have got a real warship!” In the course of the conversation I declared to the British representatives that I demanded the immediate surrender of Enzeli in view of the fact that there were in the port ships and war material which belonged to Russia. As to the further fate of Enzeli, that question, I said, was to be settled diplomatically between Moscow and London. I added in this connection that I was acting at that moment on my own initiative without any instruction from Moscow, regarding that step as necessary for securing the safety of the Caspian Fleet, for which I was responsible. My ultimatum was transmitted by wireless to General Champagne; who replied that he was wiring my demands to Teheran and asking for the decision of the Persian Government, in whose interests he was acting. He added that he would be able to give a reply in two hours if by that time he received the necessary instructions from Teheran. Otherwise he would ask for an extension of the truce.
After sometime it became clear that the wire to Teheran was working badly, and it therefore became necessary to prolong the truce up to 8 p.m. All that time Captain Cratchley remained with me on board, and in the morning the Governor of Enzeli also arrived on his own initiative. He declared that he had come to welcome the Russian Red Fleet on behalf of Persia, and agreed to evacuate Enzeli. When this question was finally settled I demanded that the British troops, in return for a free passage out of the town, should give us a formal promise to restore all property seized by them which belonged to the Denikin Fleet and was now in the port of Enzeli. General Champagne also agreed without murmur to this dishonourable condition, transmitted the required formal promise, and left as a hostage, Captain Storey. Indeed, a short time afterwards we were given back 14 gunlocks which were brought and unloaded by Indian Sepoys.
The temper of the Indian troops and of the British was far from bellicose. They literally started running up the road when we opened them a free passage to Resht—the thorns along the hedges scratching their bare knees as they ran. As the British officers had previously tried to frighten them by the Bolshevik bogy, the Indian soldiers, the Gourkhas and the Sepoys, were agreeably surprised when Bolsheviks spared them their lives. On the whole I possess information showing that the British troops, and in particular the Indian detachments, are in full demoralisation, and one may be sure that they will not make war against us, particularly now when they have satisfied themselves that the Bolsheviks are not brutes.