My Disillusionment in Russia
GREAT preparations were being made by the Communists for the Third Congress of the Third International and the First Congress of the Red Trade Union International. A preliminary committee had been organized in the summer of 1920, while delegates from various countries were in Moscow. How much the Bolsheviki depended upon the First Congress of the Red Trade Union International was apparent from a remark of an old Communist. "We haven't the workers in the Third International," he said; "unless we succeed in welding together the proletariat of the world into the R. T. U. I., the Third International cannot last very long."
The Hôtel de Luxe, renovated the previous year, became the foreign guest house of the Third International and was put in festive attire. The delegates began to arrive in Moscow.
During my stay in Russia I came across three classes of visitors who came to "study the Revolution." The first category consisted of earnest idealists to whom the Bolsheviki were the symbol of the Revolution. Among them were many emigrants from America who had given up everything they possessed to return to the promised land. Most of these became bitterly disappointed after the first few months and sought to get out of Russia. Others, who did not come as Communists, joined the Communist Party for selfish reasons and did in Rome as the Romans do. There were also the Anarchist deportees who came not of their own choice. Most of them strained every effort to leave Russia after they realized the stupendous deception that had been imposed on the world.
In the second class were journalists, newspapermen, and some adventurers. They spent from two weeks to two months in Russia, usually in Petrograd or Moscow, as the guests of the Government and in charge of Bolshevik guides. Hardly any of them knew the language and they never got further than the surface of things. Yet many of them have presumed to write and lecture authoritatively about the Russian situation. I remember my astonishment when I read in a certain London daily that the teachings of Jesus were "being realized in Russia." A preposterous falsehood of which none but a charlatan could be guilty. Other writers were not much nearer the truth. If they were at all critical of the Bolsheviki they were so at the expense of the whole Russian people, whom they charged with being "crude, primitive savages, too illiterate to grasp the meaning of the Revolution." According to these writers it was the Russian people who imposed upon the Bolsheviki their despotic and cruel methods. It did not occur to those so-called investigators that the Revolution was made by those primitive and illiterate people, and not by the present rulers in the Kremlin. Surely they must have possessed some quality which enabled them to rise to revolutionary heights-a quality which, if properly directed, would have prevented the wreck and ruin of Russia. But that quality has persistently been overlooked by Bolshevik apologists who sacrifice all truth in their determination to find extenuating circumstances for the mess made by the Bolsheviki. A few wrote with understanding of the complex problems and with sympathy for the Russian people. But their voice was ineffectual in the popular craze that Bolshevism had become.
The third category-the majority of the visitors, delegates, and members of various commissions-infested Russia to become the agents of the ruling Party. These people had every opportunity to see things as they were, to get close to the Russian people, and to learn from them the whole terrible truth. But they preferred to side with the Government, to listen to its interpretation of causes and effects. Then they went forth to misrepresent and to lie deliberately in behalf of the Bolsheviki, as the Entente agents had lied and misrepresented the Russian Revolution.
Nor did the sincere Communists realize the disgrace of the situation-not even Angelica Balabanova. Yet she had good judgment of character and knew how to appraise the people who flocked to Russia. Her experience with Mrs. Clare Sheridan was characteristic. The lady had been smuggled into Russia before Moscow realized that she was the cousin of Winston Churchill. She was obsessed by the desire "to sculp" prominent Communists. She had also begged Angelica to sit for her. "Lenin, Trotsky, and other leaders are going to; aren't you?" she pleaded. Angelica, who hated sensationalism in any form, resented the presence in Russia of these superficial visitors. "I asked her," she afterward related, "if she would have thought of 'sculpting' Lenin three years ago when the English Government denounced him as a German spy. Lenin did not make the Revolution. The Russian people made it. I told this Mrs. Sheridan that she would do better to 'sculp' Russian workingmen and women who were the real heroes of the Revolution. I know she did not like what I said. But I don't care. I can't stand people to whom the Russian struggle is mere copy for poor imitations or cheap display."
Now the new delegates were beginning to arrive. They were royally welcomed and feted. They were taken to show schools, children's homes, colonies, and model factories. It was the traditional Potemkin villages that were shown the visitors. They were graciously received and "talked to" by Lenin and Trotsky, treated to theatres, concerts, ballets, excursions, and military parades. In short, nothing was left undone to put the delegates into a frame of mind favourable to the great plan that was to be revealed to them at the Red Trade Union and the Third International Congresses. There were also continuous private conferences where the delegates were subjected to a regular third degree, Lozovsky-prominent Bolshevik labour leader-and his retinue seeking to ascertain their attitude to the Third International, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and similar subjects. Here and there was a delegate who refused to divulge the instructions of his organization on the ground that he was pledged to report only to the Congress. But such naive people reckoned without their host. They soon found themselves ostracized and at the Congress they were given no opportunity to make themselves heard effectively.
The majority of the delegates were more pliable. They learned quickly that pledges and responsibilities were considered bourgeois superstitions. To show their ultra-radicalism they quickly divested themselves of them. They became the echoes of Zinoviev, Lozovsky, and other leaders.
The American delegates to the Red Trade Union International were most conspicuous by their lack of personality. They accepted without question every proposition and suggestion of the Chair. The most flagrant intrigues and political machinations and brazen suppression of those who would not be cajoled or bullied into blind adherence found ready support by the American Communist crew and the aides they had brought with them.
The Bolsheviki know how to set the stage to produce an impression. In the staging of the two Congresses held in July, 1921, they outdid themselves. The background for the Congress of the Third International was the Kremlin. In the royal halls where once the all-powerful Romanovs had sat, the awed delegates hung with bated breath upon every word uttered by their pope, Lenin, and the other Grand Seigneurs of the Communist Church. On the eve of the Congress a great meeting was held in the big theatre to which only those whose passports had been approved by the All-Russian Tcheka were admitted. The streets leading to the theatre were turned into a veritable military camp.
Tchekists and soldiers on foot and on horseback created the proper atmosphere for the Communist conclave. At the meeting resolutions were passed extending fraternal greetings to "the revolutionists in capitalist prisons." At that very moment every Russian prison was filled with revolutionists but no greetings were sent to them. So all-pervading was Moscow hypnotism that not a single voice was raised to point out the farce of Bolshevik sympathy for political prisoners.
The Red Trade Union Congress was set on a less pretentious scale in the House of the Trade Unions. But no details were overlooked to get the proper effects. "Delegates" from Palestine and Korea-men who had not been out of Russia for years-delegates from the great industrial centres of Bokhara, Turkestan, and Adzerbeydzhan, packed the Congress to swell the Communist vote and help carry every Communist proposition. They were there to teach the workers of Europe and America how to reconstruct their respective countries and to establish Communism after the world revolution.
The plan perfected by Moscow during the year 1920-21, and which was a complete reversal of Communist principles and tactics, was very skilfully and subtly unrolled-by slow degrees-before the credulous delegates. The Red Trade Union International was to embrace all revolutionary and syndicalist organizations of the world, with Moscow as its Mecca and the Third International as its Prophet. All minor revolutionary labour organizations were to be dissolved and Communist units formed instead within the existing conservative trade union bodies. The very people who a year ago had issued the famous Bull of twenty-one points, they who had excommunicated every heretic unwilling to submit to the orders of the Holy See-the Third International-and who had applied every invective to labour in the 2nd and the 2 1/2 Internationals, were now making overtures to the most reactionary labour organizations and "resoluting" against the best efforts of the revolutionary pioneers in the Trade Union movement of every country.
Here again the American delegates proved themselves worthy of their hire. Most of them had sprung from the Industrial Workers of the World; had indeed arisen to "fame and glory" on the shoulders of that militant American labour body. Some of the delegates had valiantly escaped to safety, unselfishly preferring the Hotel de Luxe to Leavenworth Penitentiary, leaving their comrades behind in American prisons and their friends to refund the bonds they had heroically forfeited. While Industrial Workers continued to suffer persecution in capitalistic America, the renegade I. W. W.'s living in comfort and safety in Moscow maligned and attacked their former comrades and schemed to destroy their organization. Together with the Bolsheviki they were going to carry out the job begun by the American Vigilantes and the Ku Klux Klan to exterminate the I. W. W. Les extrêmes ce touchent.
While the Communists were passing eloquent resolutions of protest against the imprisonment of revolutionaries in foreign countries, the Anarchists in the Bolshevik prisons of Russia were being driven to desperation by their long imprisonment without opportunity for a hearing or trial. To force the hand of the Government the Anarchists incarcerated in the Taganka (Moscow) decided on a hunger strike to the death. The French, Spanish, and Italian Anarcho-syndicalists, when informed of the situation, promised to raise the question at an early session of the Labour Congress. Some, however, suggested that the Government be first approached on the matter. Thereupon a Delegate Committee was chosen, including the well-known English labour leader, Tom Mann, to call upon the Little Father in the Kremlin. The Committee visited Lenin. The latter refused to have the Anarchists released on the ground that "they were too dangerous," but the final result of the interview was a promise that they would be permitted to leave Russia; should they, however, return without permission, they would be shot. The next day Lenin's promise was substantiated by a letter of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, signed by Trotsky, reiterating what Lenin had said. Naturally the threat of shooting was omitted in the official letter.
The hunger strikers in the Taganka accepted the conditions of deportation. They had for years fought and bled for the Revolution and now they were compelled to become Ahasueruses in foreign lands or suffer slow mental and physical death in Bolshevik dungeons. The Moscow Anarchist groups chose Alexander Berkman and A. Shapiro as their representatives on the Delegates' Committee to arrange with the Government the conditions of the release and deportation of the imprisoned Anarchists.
In view of this settlement of the matter the intention of a public protest at the Congress was abandoned by the delegates. Great was their amazement when, just before the close of the Congress, Bukharin-in the name of the Central Committee of the Communist Party-launched into a scurrilous attack on the Anarchists. Some of the foreign delegates, outraged by the dishonourable proceeding, demanded an opportunity to reply. That demand was finally granted to a representative of the French delegation after Chairman Lozovsky had exhausted every demagogic trick in a vain attempt to silence the dissenters.
At no time during the protracted negotiations on behalf of the imprisoned Anarchists and the last disgraceful proceedings at the Red Trade Union Congress did the American Communist delegates make a protest. Loudly they had shouted for political amnesty in America, but not a word had they to say in favour of the liberation of the politicals in Russia. One of the group, approached on behalf of the hunger strikers, exclaimed: "What are a few lives or even a few hundred of them as against the Revolution!" To such Communist minds the Revolution had no bearing on justice and humanity.
In the face of abject want, with men, women, and children hungrily watching the white bread baked for the Luxe Hotel in its adjoining bakery, one of the American fraternal delegates wrote to a publication at home that "the workers in Russia control the industries and are directing the affairs of the country; they get everything free and need no money." This noble delegate lived in the palatial home of the former Sugar King of Russia and enjoyed also the hospitality of the Luxe. He indeed needed no money. But he knew that the workers lacked even the basic necessities and that without money they were as helpless in Russia as in any other country, the week's payok not being sufficient for two days' existence. Another delegate published glowing accounts dwelling on the absence of prostitution and crime in Moscow. At the same time the Tcheka was daily executing hold-up-men, and on the Tverskaya and the Pushkin Boulevard, near the Luxe Hotel, street women mobbed the delegates with their attentions. Their best customers were the very delegates who waxed so enthusiastic about the wonders of the Bolshevik régime.
The Bolsheviki realized the value of such champions and appreciated their services. They sent them forth into the world generously equipped in every sense, to perpetuate the monstrous delusion that the Bolsheviki and the Revolution are identical and that the workers have come into their own "under the proletarian dictatorship." Woe to those who dare to tear the mask from the lying face. In Russia they are put against the wall, exiled to slow death in famine districts, or banished from the country. In Europe and America such heretics are dragged through the mire and morally lynched. Everywhere the unscrupulous tools of the great disintegrator, the Third International, spread distrust and hatred in labour and radical ranks. Formerly ideals and integrity were the impulse to revolutionary activity. Social movements were founded upon the inner needs of each country. They were maintained and supported by the interest and zeal of the workers themselves. Now all this is condemned as worthless. Instead the golden rain of Moscow is depended on to produce a rich crop of Communist organizations and publications. Even uprisings may be organized to deceive and mislead the people as to the quality and strength of the Communist Party. In reality, everything is built on a foundation that crumbles to pieces the moment Moscow withdraws its financial support.
During the two Congresses held in July, 1921, the friends and comrades of Maria Spiridonova circulated a manifesto which had been sent by them to the Central Committee of the Communist Party and to the main representatives of the Government, calling attention to the condition of Spiridonova and demanding her release for the purpose of adequate medical treatment and care.
A prominent foreign woman delegate to the Third Congress of the Communist International was approached. She promised to see Trotsky, and later it was reported that he had said that Spiridonova was "still too dangerous to be liberated." It was only after accounts of her condition had appeared in the European Socialist press that she was released, on condition that she return to prison on her recovery. Her friends in whose care she is at present face the alternative of letting Spiridonova die or turning her over to the Tcheka.
Chapter 30: Education and Culture