My Disillusionment in Russia
OUR train was about to leave Moscow when we were surprised by an interesting visitor--Krasnoschekov, the president of the Far Eastern Republic, who had recently arrived in the capital from Siberia. He had heard of our presence in the city, but for some reason he could not locate us. Finally he met Alexander Berkman who invited him to the Museum car.
In appearance Krasnoschekov had changed tremendously since his Chicago days, when, known as Tobinson, he was superintendent of the Workers' Institute in that city. Then he was one of the many Russian emigrants on the West Side, active as organizer and lecturer in the Socialist movement. Now he looked a different man; his expression stern, the stamp of authority on him, he seemed even to have grown taller. But at heart he remained the same--simple and kind the Tobinson we had known in Chicago. We had only a short time at our disposal and our visitor employed it to give us an insight into the conditions in the Far East and the local form of government. It consisted of representatives of various political factions and "even Anarchists are with us," said Krasnoschekov; "thus, for instance, Shatov is Minister of Railways. We are independent in the East and there is free speech. Come over and try us, you will find a field for your work." He invited Alexander Berkman and myself to visit him in Chita and we assured him that we hoped to avail ourselves of the invitation at some future time. He seemed to have brought a different atmosphere and we were sorry to part so soon.
On the way from Petrograd to Moscow the Expedition had been busy putting its house in order. As already mentioned, the car consisted of six compartments, two of which were converted into a dining room and kitchen. They were of diminutive size, but we managed to make a presentable dining room of one, and the kitchen might have made many a housekeeper envy us. A large Russian samovar and all necessary copper and zinc pots and kettles were there, making a very effective appearance. We were especially proud of the decorative curtains on our car windows. The other compartments were used for office and sleeping quarters. I shared mine with our secretary, Miss A.T. Shakol.
Besides Alexander Berkman, appointed by the Museum as chairman and general manager, Shakol as secretary, and myself as treasurer and housekeeper, the Expedition consisted of three other members, including a young Communist, a student of the Petrograd University. En route we mapped out our plan of work, each member of the Expedition being assigned some particular branch of it. I was to gather data in the Departments of Education and Health, the Bureaus of Social Welfare and Labour Distribution, as well as in the organization known as Workers' and Peasants' Inspection. After the day's work all the members were to meet in the car to consider and classify the material collected during the day.
Our first stop was Kursk. Nothing of importance was collected there except a pair of kandai [iron handcuffs] which had been worn by a revolutionist in Schlusselburg. It was donated to us by a chance passer-by who, noticing the inscription on our car, "Extraordinary Commission of the Museum of the Revolution," became interested and called to pay us a visit. He proved to be an intellectual, a Tolstoian, the manager of a children's colony. He succeeded in maintaining the latter by giving the Soviet Government a certain amount of labour required of him: three days a week he taught in the Soviet schools of Kursk. The rest of his time he devoted to his little colony, or the "Children's Commune," as he affectionately called it. With the help of the children and some adults they raised the vegetables necessary for the support of the colony and made all the repairs of the place. He stated that he had not been directly interfered with by the Government, but that his work was considerably handicapped by discrimination against him as a pacifist and Tolstoian. He feared that because of it his place could not be continued much longer. There was no trading of any sort in Kursk at the time, and one had to depend for supplies on the local authorities. But discrimination and antagonism manifested themselves against independent initiative and effort. The Tolstoian, however, was determined to make a fight, spiritually speaking, for the life of his colony. He was planning to go to the centre, to Moscow, where he hoped to get support in favour of his commune.
The personality of the man, his eagerness to make himself useful, did not correspond with the information I had received from Communists about the intelligentsia, their indifference and unwillingness to help revolutionary Russia. I broached the subject to our visitor. He could only speak of the professional men and women of Kursk, his native city, but he assured us that he found most of them, and especially the teachers, eager to cooperate and even self-sacrificing. But they were the most neglected class, living in semi-starvation all the time. Like himself, they were exposed to general antagonism, even on the part of the children whose minds had been poisoned by agitation against the intelligentsia.
Kursk is a large industrial centre and I was interested in the fate of the workers there. We learned from our visitor that there had been repeated skirmishes between the workers and the Soviet authorities. A short time before our arrival a strike had broken out and soldiers were sent to quell it. The usual arrests followed and many workers were still in the Tcheka. This state of affairs, the Tolstoian thought, was due to general Communist incompetence rather than to any other cause. People were placed in responsible positions not because of their fitness but owing to their party membership. Political usefulness was the first consideration and it naturally resulted in general abuse of power and confusion. The Communist dogma that the end justifies all means was also doing much harm. It had thrown the door wide open to the worst human passions, and discredited the ideals of the Revolution. The Tolstoian spoke sadly, as one speaks of a hope cherished and loved, and lost.
The next morning our visitor donated to our collection the kandali he had worn for many years in prison. He hoped that we might return by way of Kursk so that we could pay a visit to some Tolstoian communes in the environs of the city. Not far from Yasnaya Polyana there lived an old peasant friend of Tolstoi, he told us. He had much valuable material that he might contribute to the Museum. Our visitor remained to the moment of our departure; he was starved for intellectual companionship and was loath to see us go.
Chapter 19: In Kharkov