My Disillusionment in Russia
A FEW days before our Expedition started for the Ukraine the opportunity presented itself to pay another visit to Peter Kropotkin. I was delighted at the chance to see the dear old man under more favourable conditions than I had seen in March. I expected at least that we would not be handicapped by the presence of newspaper men as we were on the previous occasion.
On my first visit, in snow-clad March I arrived at the Kropotkin cottage late in the evening. The place looked deserted and desolate. But now it was summer time. The country was fresh and fragrant; the garden at the back of the house, clad in green, smiled cheerfully, the golden rays of the sun spreading warmth and light. Peter, who was having his afternoon nap, could not be seen, but Sofya Grigorievna, his wife, was there to greet us. We had brought some provisions given to Sasha Kropotkin for her father, and several baskets of things sent by an Anarchist group. While we were unpacking those treasures Peter Alekseyevitch surprised us. He seemed a changed man: the summer had wrought a miracle in him. He appeared healthier, stronger, more alive than when I had last seen him. He immediately took us to the vegetable garden which was almost entirely Sofya's own work and served as the main support of the family. Peter was very proud of it. "What do you say to this!" he exclaimed; "all Sofya's labour. And see this new species of lettuce"--pointing at a huge head. He looked young; he was almost gay, his conversation sparkling. His power of observation, his keen sense of humour and generous humanity were so refreshing, he made one forget the misery of Russia, one's own conflicts and doubts, and the cruel reality of life.
After dinner we gathered in Peter's study--a small room containing an ordinary table for a desk, a narrow cot, a wash-stand, and shelves of books. I could not help making a mental comparison between this simple, cramped study of Kropotkin and the gorgeous quarters of Radek and Zinoviev. Peter was interested to know my impressions since he saw me last. I related to him how confused and harassed I was, how everything seemed to crumble beneath my feet. I told him that I had come to doubt almost everything, even the Revolution itself. I could not reconcile the ghastly reality with what the Revolution had meant to me when I came to Russia. Were the conditions I found inevitable--the callous indifference to human life, the terrorism, the waste and agony of it all? Of course, I knew revolutions could not be made with kid gloves. It is a stern necessity involving violence and destruction, a difficult and terrible process. But what I had found in Russia was utterly unlike revolutionary conditions, so fundamentally unlike as to be a caricature.
Peter listened attentively; then he said: "There is no reason whatever to lose faith. I consider the Russian Revolution even greater than the French, for it has struck deeper into the soul of Russia, into the hearts and minds of the Russian people. Time alone can demonstrate its full scope and depth. What you see to-day is only the surface, conditions artificially created by a governing class. You see a small political party which by its false theories, blunders, and inefficiency has demonstrated how revolutions must not be made." It was unfortunate--Kropotkin continued--that so many of the Anarchists in Russia and the masses outside of Russia had been carried away by the ultra-revolutionary pretenses of the Bolsheviki. In the great upheaval it was forgotten that the Communists are a political party firmly adhering to the idea of a centralized State, and that as such they were bound to misdirect the course of the Revolution. The Bolsheviki were the Jesuits of the Socialist Church: they believed in the Jesuitic motto that the end justifies the means. Their end being political power, they hesitate at nothing. The means, however, have paralysed the energies of the masses and have terrorized the people. Yet without the people, without the direct participation of the masses in the reconstruction of the country, nothing essential could be accomplished. The Bolsheviki had been carried to the top by the high tide of the Revolution. Once in power they began to stem the tide. They have been trying to eliminate and suppress the cultural forces of the country not entirely in agreement with their ideas and methods. They destroyed the cooperatives which were of utmost importance to the life of Russia, the great link between the country and the city. They created a bureaucracy and officialdom which surpasses even that of the old regime. In the village where he lived, in little Dmitrov, there were more Bolshevik officials than ever existed there during the reign of the Romanovs. All those people were living off the masses. They were parasites on the social body, and Dmitrov was only a small example of what was going on throughout Russia. It was not the fault of any particular individuals: rather was it the State they had created, which discredits every revolutionary ideal, stifles all initiative, and sets a premium on incompetence and waste. It should also not be forgotten, Kropotkin emphasized, that the blockade and the continuous attacks on the Revolution by the interventionists had helped to strengthen the power of the Communist regime. Intervention and blockade were bleeding Russia to death, and were preventing the people from understanding the real nature of the Bolshevik regime.
Discussing the activities and role of the Anarchists in the Revolution, Kropotkin said: "We Anarchists have talked much of revolutions, but few of us have been prepared for the actual work to be done during the process. I have indicated some things in this relation in my 'Conquest of Bread.' Pouget and Pataud have also sketched a line of action in their work on 'How to Accomplish the Social Revolution."' Kropotkin thought that the Anarchists had not given sufficient consideration to the fundamental elements of the social revolution. The real facts in a revolutionary process do not consist so much in the actual fighting--that is, merely the destructive phase necessary to clear the way for constructive effort. The basic factor in a revolution is the organization of the economic life of the country. The Russian Revolution had proved conclusively that we must prepare thoroughly for that. Everything else is of minor importance. He had come to think that syndicalism was likely to furnish what Russia most lacked: the channel through which the industrial and economic reconstruction of the country may flow. He referred to Anarcho-syndicalism. That and the cooperatives would save other countries some of the blunders and suffering Russia was going through.
I left Dmitrov much comforted by the warmth and light which the beautiful personality of Peter Kropotkin radiated; and I was much encouraged by what I had heard from him. I returned to Moscow to help with the completion of the preparations for our journey. At last, on July 15, 1920, our car was coupled to a train bound for the Ukraine.
Chapter 18: En Route