"Go out among the forests and the people," said Bakunin.
"In the capitals the orators thunder and rage. But in the village is the silence of centuries."
We craved a taste of this silence. Three months we had heard the roar of Revolution. I was saturated with it: Yanishev was exhausted by it. His voice had failed thru incessant speaking and he had been ordered by the Bolshevik Party to take a ten days' respite. So we started out for the Volga basin bound for the little village of Spasskoye (Salvation), from which Yanishev had been driven out in 1907.
It was high noon one August day when we left the Moscow train and set out on the road leading across the fields. Sun-drenched in these last weeks of summer, the fields had turned into wide rolling seas of yellow grain, dotted here and there with islands of green. These were the tree-shaded peasant villages of the province of Vladimir. From a rise in the road we could count sixteen of them, each with its great white church capped with glistening domes. It was a holiday and the distant belfries were flooding the fields with music as the sun had flooded them with color.
After the cities this was to me a land of peace and quiet. But to Yanishev it was a land of poignant memories. After ten years of wandering the exile was returning home.
"In that village over there," he said, pointing to the west, "my father was a teacher. The people liked his teaching, but one day the gendarmes came, closed the school, and led him off. In that next village Vera lived. She was very pretty and very kind and she was my sweetheart. I was too bashful to tell her then, and now it is too late. She is in Siberia. In the woods yonder a few of us used to meet to talk about the revolution. One night the Cossacks came riding down on us. That bridge is where they killed Yegor, the bravest of our comrades."
It was not a happy home-coming for the exile. Every turn in the road started up some recollection. Handkerchief in hand Yanishev walked along, pretending that it was only perspiration he was wiping from his face.
As we came across the village green of Spasskoye we saw an old peasant in a bright blue smock, sitting on a bench before his hut. He shaded his eyes, puzzled by the appearance of these two dust-stained foreigners. Then in joyful recognition he cried "Mikhail Petrovich!" and throwing his arms around Yanishev, kissed him on both cheeks. Then he turned to me. I told him that my name was Albert.
"And your father's name?" he inquired gravely.
"David," I replied.
"Albert Davidovich (Albert, son of David), welcome to the home of Ivan Ivanov. We are poor, but may God give you his richest blessing."
Ivan Ivanov stood straight as an arrow, long-bearded, clear-eyed, hard-muscled. But it was not his strength of body, nor his warmth of feeling, nor his quaint formality of speech that struck me. It was his quiet dignity. It was the dignity of a natural object, a tree whose roots run deep into the soil. And it was indeed out of the soil of this mir that Ivan Ivanov for sixty years had drawn his sustenance, as had his fathers for generations. His little izba was made of logs, its deep thatched roof now green with weeds, its garden gay with flowers.
Ivan's wife, Tatyana, and daughter, Avdotia, having saluted us, brought a table from the house. On it they set a samovar, and lifting its top, placed eggs along the steaming sides. Ivan and his household made the sign of the cross and we sat down at the table.
"Of what we are rich in, we gladly give you," said Ivan, (Chem bogaty, ty ee rady).
The women brought in a big bowl of cabbage soup (shtckee), and for each person a wooden spoon.
Every one was supposed to dip his soup from the common bowl. Seeing this, I stood not upon the order of the dipping, but dipped at once. When the first bowl was empty, they brought a second, full of porridge (kasha). It was followed by a bowl of boiled raisins. Ivan presided at the samovar, dispensing tea, black bread and cucumbers. It was a special feast, for this was a special holiday in Spasskoye.
Even the crows seemed to be aware of it. Great flocks wheeling overhead threw swift cloud-shadows across the ground, or alighted on the church roof and covered it completely. The domes, all green or glistening gold, would in a minute be blackest jet.
I told Ivan that in America farmers killed crows because they ate the grain.
"Yes," said Ivan, "our crows eat the grain. But they eat the field-mice, too. And even if they are crows, they are like us and want to live."
Tatyana held a like attitude toward the flies that swarmed around the table. Descending on a piece of sugar they would turn it as black as the crow-covered church.
"Never mind the flies," said Tatyana. "Poor things, in a month or two they'll be dead, anyhow."
It was the Feast of Transfiguration, and from all the countryside around came the poor, the crippled and the aged. Again and again we heard the tapping of a cane and a plaintive voice asking alms radi Christa, for the Christ's sake.
Yanishev and I dropped a few copecks into the bags they thrust before them. The women followed with large pieces cut from the big black loaves, while Ivan solemnly deposited in each sack a great green cucumber. Cucumbers were scarce this year, so it was truly a gift of love. But whether we gave cucumbers or bread or copecks, back to each of us came the plaintive sing-song blessing of the beggar.
Even the roughest, poorest Russian peasant is moved to profound pity by the spectacle of human misery. His own life teaches him the meaning of pain and privation. But this does not dull his sympathy; it makes him the more sensitive to the sufferings of others.
To Ivan the city workingmen cooped up in their hot dusty streets were "poor fellows" (bedniakee); the criminals locked up in jails were "unfortunates" (neschastnenkie); while a group of war-prisoners, in Austrian uniforms cut him deepest of all. They seemed jolly enough as they came rollicking by, and I said so.
"But they are so far away from home," said Ivan. "How can they be happy?"
"Well," I said, "here am I, farther from home than they are, and I am happy."
"Yes," assented the others, "that is right."
"No," said Ivan Ivanov, "that is wrong. Albert Davidovich is here because he wanted to come. The prisoners are here because we made them come."
Naturally two foreigners sitting at the table of Ivan Ivanov made a sensation among the natives of Spasskoye. But the elders did not let their curiosity overcome their sense of the proprieties. Only a few children came down, and fixed their gaze upon us. I smiled at the children and they looked thunderstruck. Again I smiled, and three of them almost fell backwards. This seemed a peculiar reaction to my friendly overtures. At the third smile they cried, "Zolotiyeh zooby!" and clasping hands they ran away. Before I could grasp the meaning of this behavior they came rushing back with a score of recruits. In semi-circle they stood around the table with all their wistful eyes converged on me. There was nothing for me to do but smile again. "Yes, yes!" they cried. "Zolotiyeh zooby! He is the man with golden teeth!" This was why my smile had startled them. And what could be more marvelous than the arrival of a foreigner whose mouth grew golden teeth? Had I arrived in Spasskoye with a golden crown upon my head I could not have more deeply stirred the community than by wearing a golden crown upon my tooth. But this I learned on the morrow.
Now from the farther end of the village came the strains of music. There was a chorus of young voices accompanied by the thrumming of the balalaika, the clanging of cymbals and the throbbing of a kind of tambourine (bouben). Clearer and nearer came the music, until suddenly around the corner of the church emerged the procession of players and singers. The girls were in the gay rich costumes of the peasants; the boys wore smocks of green and orange and brightest hue, belted by cords with tasseled ends. The boys played the instruments, while the girls sang in response to the precentor, a clean-looking, tousle-haired lad of seventeen, one of the last to be drafted to the front. In clear lusty voice, with abandon of emotion he sang an old folk-song, adding new verses of his own as he strode along. Later he wrote them down for me.
At the window a birch tree stands
Why have they taken me as a soldier?
From the trenches a lad steps out
Why, my darling, don't you meet me
Father, mother, dig a grave,
Three times they circled the village green. Then gathering on the grass before the church, they sang and danced till morning. The rush and joyous fling of the dancers, the colors of their costumes lit by the pine-torches, the laughter and snatches of song rising out of the dark, the young lovers with their caresses frank and unashamed, the church bell at intervals crashing like a great temple gong and the startled birds wheeling overhead, all combined to create an impression of primitive energy and beauty. It carried me back across the centuries to the days when the race was young, and men drew life and inspiration directly from the soil.
It was a dream world, an idyllic commune, bound together in a fellowship of toil and play and feasting. With its spell upon me I made my way to the izba, opened the door, and came suddenly face to face with the twentieth century again. It was in the person and words of Yanishev, Yanishev the artisan, the Socialist and the Internationalist. To the peasants ringed around him he was describing the America of today. It was not the usual story of the bitter experiences of the Russian in America, the story of slums and strikes and poverty that thousands of returning exiles have spread over Russia. Yanishev, with husky voice but face aglow, was telling the wonders of America. To peasants with houses one story high he pictured the houses of New York, forty, fifty and sixty stories high. To men who had never seen a shop larger than the blacksmith's, he told of great plants where a hundred trip hammers pounded night and day. From their serene Muscovite plain he took them to great cities with subway trains tearing up the night, Great White Ways flooded with pleasure-seekers, and clanging factories where millions surged in and out.
The villagers listened attentively. They were not overawed or wonder-struck. Yet we could not complain of any lack of appreciation.
"The Americans do wonderful things," said one old mujik, shaking our hands.
"Yes," agreed his companion, "they do things more wonderful than even the leshey (the wood spirit)."
But in their kindly comments we felt a certain reserve, as if they were trying to be polite to strangers. Next morning a conversation overheard by chance gave us their real opinion.
Ivan was speaking. "No wonder Albert and Mikhail are white-faced and tired. Think of being brought up in a country like that." And Tatyana said, "It's a hard life we live, but God knows it looks harder over there."
I glimpsed for the first time a truth that grew clearer as the months went by. The peasant has a mind of his own, which he uses to make judgments of his own. This is startling to the foreigner, to whom the Russian peasant is a shambling creature of the earth, immersed in the night of mediaevalism, chained by superstition, steeped in poverty. It is startling to discover that this peasant, unable to read or write, is able to think.
His thought is primal, elemental, with the stamp of the soil on it. It reflects the centuries of living on the far-stretching plains and steppes under the wide Russian sky and through the long winter. He brings a fresh untutored mind to bear upon all questions in a manner penetrating and often disconcerting. He challenges our long-held convictions. He revises our estimate of western civilization. It is not at all obvious to him that it is worth the price we pay for it. He is not mesmerized by machinery, efficiency, production. He asks, "What is it for? Does it make men happier? Does it make them more friendly?"
His conclusions are not always profound. Sometimes they are only naïve and curious. When the mir assembled on Monday morning the village Elder (starosta) politely extended to me the greetings of the village. He said apologetically that the children had brought home a report about my golden teeth, but that it did not seem reasonable, and they didn't know whether to believe it or not. There was nothing to do but demonstrate. I opened my mouth while the Elder peered long and intently into it and then gravely confirmed the report. Thereupon the seventy bearded patriarchs formed in line while I stood with mouth agape. Each gazed his fill and then moved along to give place to the next man until all the members of the mir had filed past my open mouth.
The paradoxes of Russia-the peasants, shrewd and superstitious, cruel and kind, communistic and individualistic, baffling to Tolstoy, irritating to Gorky. What will they make of the new Russia?
I had to explain that it is the custom of Americans to put cement and gold and silver in their crumbling teeth. One old man of eighty, whose fine clean teeth showed not the slightest need of dentistry, gave his opinion that Americans must eat food very strange and strong to work such havoc. Several said it might be all right for Americans to have golden teeth, but that it would never do for Russians, who were always drinking so much tea and such very hot tea that it would surely melt the gold. At this point Ivan Ivanov, who had been enjoying the prestige of harboring the unusual visitors, spoke up. He insisted that his tea was as hot as any in the village, and testified that he had drawn at least ten glasses for me, yet there had been no melting.
Abroad the term "American" is almost synonymous with "man of wealth." Gold on my eye-glasses and on my fountain pen convinced them that I must be a man of super-wealth. Yet I came to marvel at their lavish display of gold quite as much as they at mine. For this peasant village had gold in abundance, only it was not on the persons of the villagers. It was in their church. As one stepped thru the church doors there loomed up a beautiful reredos twenty or thirty feet high, covered with a glistening sheen of gold. At one time the villagers had raised ten thousand rubles to decorate this temple.
While this little village was far removed from the currents of Europe and America, still there were marks of culture and civilization advancing from the West. There were cigarettes and Singer sewing-machines, men whose limbs had been shot off by machine-guns, and two boys from the factory-towns with store-clothes and celluloid collars---ugly contrasts to the smocks and kaftans of the village.
One night standing before a neighbor's hut we were startled to hear thru the curtains a soft and modulated voice asking "Parlez-vous Français?" It was a pretty peasant girl raised in the village but with all the airs and graces which belong to a girl raised in a court. She had served in a French household in Petrograd and had come home to give birth to her child.
Thus in varied ways the outside world was filtering into the village stirring it from the slumber of centuries. Stories of big cities and of lands across the seas came by way of prisoners and soldiers, traders and zemstvo men. It resulted in a strange miscellany of ideas about foreign lands---a curious compound of facts and fancies. One time a grotesque half-fact about America was brought home to me pointedly and in an embarrassing manner.
We were at the supper table and I was explaining that in my note-book I was writing down all the customs and habits of the Russians that struck me as strange and peculiar.
"For example," I said, "instead of having individual dishes you eat out of one great common bowl. That is a curious custom." "Yes," said Ivan. "I suppose we are a curious people."
"And that big stove! It takes up a third of the room. You bake bread in it. You sleep on top of it. You get inside and take a steam bath in it. You do everything with it and in a most peculiar manner." "Yes," nodded Ivan again, "I suppose we are a peculiar people."
I felt something step on my foot. I thought it was a dog but it proved to be a pig. "There!" I exclaimed. "That is the most peculiar custom of all. You let pigs and chickens walk right into your dining-room."
At this moment the baby in Avdotia's arms began kicking its feet up and down upon the table in baby fashion. Addressing the child, she said, "Here, baby! Take your feet off the table. Remember you are not in America." And turning to me she added courteously, "What peculiar customs you have there in America."
It was the day after the holiday, and the visitors from neighboring towns still tarried. There were games and dancing on the village green; and a band of children, having come into possession of an accordion, paraded solemnly about, singing the songs of yesterday, quaint little understudies of their elder brothers and sisters. An after-the-holiday lethargy lingered over most of the village. But not over the household of Ivan Ivanov. Everybody was busy there. Avdotia was twisting straw into bands to bind the sheaves. Tatyana was plaiting strips of bark and shaping them into sandals. Olga, Avdotia's elder child, was forcibly teaching the cat to drink tea. Ivan sharpened the scythes, and we all set out for the fields.
At this move the young people came out of the izbas. "Please don't go to the fields. Stay at home," they teased. As we proceeded they became quite serious. I asked why we should not go.
"If one family starts for the fields all the others follow," they said. "Then our holiday fun will be over. Please don't go!"
But the ripened harvest was calling. The sun was shining, and there was no telling how soon the rains would fall. So Ivan marched along, and when, fifteen minutes later, we reached a rise of ground, we looked back to see the paths dotted with black figures making for the fields. Like a beehive the village was sending out its workers to garner its food-stores for the oncoming winter. As we reached the rye-field Yanishev quoted from Nekrassov's national epic, Who Can Be Happy and Free in Russia?
"You full yellow cornfields!
"The peasants are gladdened
As each one turned to his task I joined in the work, fetching water, tying sheaves, swinging a scythe, watching the light-brown stalks come tumbling down. The scythe demands skill and practice. So the figure I cut and the swathe I cut were not heroic, nor did I add to the prestige of American reapers. Ivan was too polite to criticize my technique but I could see that it was inciting him to suppressed merriment. In his comment to Avdotia I picked up the Russian word for camel. I was indeed hunched over like a camel while Ivan Ivanov stood erect, handling his scythe like a master-craftsman. I turned upon Ivan and accused him of likening me to a camel. He was embarrassed. But when he saw that I was amused, and admitted my likeness to that humped creature, he laughed and laughed.
"Tatyana! Mikhail!" he roared. "Albert Davidovich says that when he cuts the grain he looks like a camel. Ho! ho! ho!" Two or three times after that he broke into sudden laughter. The camel must have helped him thru many weary wastes in the long winter.
Writers dwell upon the laziness of the Russian peasant. Watching the mujik lounging around market places and vodka-shops gives one that impression. But trying to keep up with the mujik in the fields very quickly takes it away. With the sun beating down on their heads and the dust rising from under their feet they mowed and raked and bound and stacked until the last straw had been gleaned from the field. Then they tramped back into the village.
Since our arrival the villagers had been asking Yanishev to make a speech. In the early evening there arrived a delegation beseeching him.
"Think of it," said Yanishev. "Ten years ago if these peasants had suspected that I was a Socialist they would have come to kill me. Now, knowing that I am a Bolshevik, they come begging me to talk. Things have gone a long, long way since then."
Yanishev was not a gifted man unless it be a gift to be deeply sensitive to the sorrows of the world. Tormented by the sufferings of others, he had chosen privation for himself. As an artisan in America he earned six dollars a day. Out of this he took enough for a cheap room and meals. With the rest he bought "literature" and carried it from door to door.
In the poor quarters of Boston, Detroit, Moscow and Marseilles, they still speak of Yanishev as the comrade who gave everything to the cause.
In Tokio a fellow-exile once found an excited coolie trying to drag Yanishev, protesting, into a rickshaw. "I just got in his rickshaw," Yanishev explained, "and he began pulling and sweating like a horse. I may be a fool, but I can't let a man work like a beast for me. So I paid him and got out. I'll never get into a rickshaw again."
Since his return to Russia he had travelled night and day addressing enormous crowds until his voice failed him and he could only whisper and gesture. He had come to his home village to recuperate. But even here the Revolution would not let him rest.
"Will Mikhail Petrovich give us a little speech?" the peasants pleaded. "Only a little speech."
Yanishev could not deny them. The committee drew a wagon out upon the village green and when the throng was thick around it, Yanishev mounted this rostrum and began telling the Bolshevik story of the Revolution, the War, and the Land.
They stood listening while evening darkened into night. Then they brought torches, and Yanishev talked on. His voice grew husky. They brought him water, tea and kvass. His voice failed, and they waited patiently till it came back again. These peasants who had labored all day in the fields stood there late into the night, more eager to gather stores for their mind than they had been to gather food for their bodies. It was a symbolic sight, this torch of knowledge flaming in the darkness of the village---one of tens of thousands scattered over the Ukrainian steppes, the plains of Muscovy and the far stretches of Siberia. In hundreds of them that night torches were flaming and other Yanishevs were telling the story of the Revolution.
So much reverence and age-old longings in those eager faces pressing around the speaker. So much hunger in these questions rising out of the dark. Yanishev toiled on until he was utterly exhausted. Only when he could go no further did they reluctantly disperse. I listened to their comments. Were these "ignorant illiterate mujiks" ready to swallow this new doctrine, to be swayed by the passion of a propagandist?
"Mikhail Petrovich is a good man," they were saying. "We know that he has gone far and seen many things. What he believes may be good for some people, but we do not know whether it is good for us." Yanishev had poured out his soul, explaining, expounding the creed of Bolshevism---and not a single convert. Yanishev himself said so, as he dragged himself up into the hayloft where we had gone to escape from the stuffy cabin. One young, peasant, Fedossiev, seemed to divine the loneliness and spiritual emptiness of a preacher who gives his best and seemingly is rejected.
"It is all so new, Mikhail Petrovich," he said. "We are a slow people. We must have time to think it over and talk it over. Only today we reaped the grain in the fields; it was months and months ago that we sowed it in the ground."
I tried to add a reassuring word. "Never mind," whispered Yanishev, with the zealot's confidence in the ultimate triumph of his faith. "Of course, they will believe." He lay in collapse on the hay, his body trembling and coughing, but with serenity in his face.
I doubted. But Yanishev was right. Eight months later he made another speech on the village green. It was on invitation of the Communist Party of the village of Spasskoye. Fedossiev was chairman of the meeting.
Morning brought many peasants to the door with questions. Above all was the problem of the land. The Bolshevik solution at that time was, "Leave it to the local land committees. Let them take over the great estates and put them into the hands of the people." The peasants pointed out that this did not solve the land problem of Spasskoye, for here there were no crown or church or private domains.
"All the land around here already belongs to us," said the Elder. "It is too little, for God gives us many children. The Bolsheviks may be as good as Mikhail Petrovich says, they are, but if they take the government, can they make more land? No. Only God can do that. We want a government with money enough to send us to Siberia or to any place where there is land in plenty. Will the Bolsheviks do that?"
Yanishev explained the colonizing scheme, and then turned to the agricultural commune which the Bolsheviks were projecting for Russia. It was ultimately to change the mir into a cooperative large-scale farming enterprise. He pointed out the wastage of the present system in Spasskoye. Here, as usual, the land was divided into four sections. One was held for common pasturage. To make sure of a fair division of the good, the bad and the medium ground, each peasant was allotted a field in each of these respective sections. Yanishev pointed out the time lost in going from field to field. He showed the gain that would come if the fields, instead of being cut into checkerboards, were worked as a unit on a grand scale. He pictured the gang-plow and the harvester at work. Two of the peasants had seen their magic performances in another province and testified that for working they were regular "devils" (tcherti).
"And will America send them to us?" the peasants asked.
"For a while," Yanishev replied. "Then we shall build great shops and make them right here in Russia."
Again he took his hearers out of their quiet rural haunts into the roar and clamor of a great modern plant. And again there was that same uneasy reaction to his tale. They were more afraid than enamoured of modern industrialism. They wanted our wonderful machinery. But they thought it would be a dubious blessing if they must pay the price of seeing chimneys belching black smoke-clouds over their land of green and white. The peasants dread the idea of "being cooked in a factory boiler." Necessity goaded some of them into mines and mills, but since the Revolution they have gone flocking back to the land.
Besides their social questions, there were, many personal problems that confronted Yanishev. Should he recommend his political creed by compromising his personal convictions? For example, should he who had left the Greek Church, make the sign of the cross before and after meals. Yanishev decided against it and prepared himself for questions from Ivan Ivanov. But though the old peasant looked perplexed and his wife grieved when Yanishev omitted the ceremony, they never asked for explanations.
In Russia the customary salutation to the toiler in the fields is "God's help to you." (Bog v Pomoshch). Yanishev decided to use that greeting instead of the formal "Good morning." He also stood thru the long service for Fedossiev's baby. In Russian villages bells toll often for the death of a child.
"Many children God gives us," said the Elder. "And to keep bread in the mouths of those that live we must not neglect the fields." So the others went to their work while the priest and the parents, Yanishev and I, went to the church. Beside the mother stood her nine children. Each year she had borne a child and, ranged according to age, they formed a flight of steps with here and there a gap. That year the child had died. And now this year's child was dead. It was a tiny thing, no larger than the lily beside it, so small and fragile in its little blue coffin, with the massive walls and pillars of the church rising around it.
This village of Spasskoye was fortunate in its priest. He was a kind and sympathetic man, liked and trusted by the people. Tho called so often to say the children's mass, he was trying not to make it a thing of routine. Gently he lit the candles on the coffin, laid the cross on the baby's breast, and began the mass, filling the church with his resonant voice. Priest and deacon chanted the service, while father, mother and children crossed themselves and knelt and touched their foreheads to the floor. Opposite the priest Yanishev stood stolidly with half-bowed head.
They faced each other with the mystery of life and death between them; the one a priest of the Holy Orthodox church, the other a prophet of the Social Revolution; the one consecrating himself to making children happy and secure in the paradise beyond, the other devoting his life to making the earth secure and happy for living children.
I went with Yanishev upon many of his missionary journeys thru the Russian towns and cities. From the skilled artisans in the textile-center of Ivanovo, we ranged thru all ranks of the proletarians down to the slum of the thieves in Moscow, immortalized in Maxim Gorky's The Night Asylum. But always the thoughts of Yanishev were going back to the villages.
Six months later I said good-bye to him at the Fourth Soviet Congress in Moscow. Clinging to his arm was a woman of seventy, very withered and bent. Yanishev introduced her reverently as his "teacher." Beyond the confines of Russia or outside the working-classes her name was quite unknown. But to the young rebels among the workers and peasants her name was everything. With them she had shared hardship, pain and prison. The long years of toil and hunger had left her white and feeble, an object inspiring pity until one saw her eyes. In them were still the fires which had kindled the spirits of scores of young men like Yanishev and sent them out as flaming apostles of the Social Revolution. For the Revolution she had given her life, but had hardly dared dream that she would see it.
Now it had come and she was sitting among her own, with hands clasped in the hand of her young disciple. True, industry was in ruin, the Germans were at the gates, and hunger and, cold walked thru the city, yet as she sat in the ancient Hall of Nobles, listening to Lenin, she was seeing the new day coming, bringing peace to all people and to her a chance to live on the land.
"We both came from the land and we both love it," she whispered to me. "And when the Revolution is complete Mikhail and I are going back to live in the villages." (1)
IN the summer of 1917 1 travelled far and wide thru Russia. From all sides rose the lamentation of a stricken people. I heard it in the textile mills of Ivanovo, the Fair grounds of Nijni and the market-squares of Kiev. It came to me from the holds of steamers on the Volga and at night from rafts and barges drifting down the Dnieper. The burden of the people's sorrow was the war, "The cursed war!"
Everywhere I saw the blight and wreckage of war. In the Ukraine I drove out over those rolling lands which made Gogol exclaim: "You steppes! O God! How lovely you are!" We stopped at a little village folded in the hills and about three hundred women, forty old men and boys and a score of crippled soldiers gathered round our zemstvo wagon. When I stood up to address them I asked: "How many ever heard of Washington?" One lad raised his hand. "How many have heard of Lincoln?" Three hands. "Kerensky?" About ninety. "Lenin?" Ninety again. "Tolstoi?" One hundred and fifty hands.
They enjoyed this, laughing together at the foreigner and his funny accent. Then a foolish blunder. I asked, "Who of you have lost someone in the war?" Nearly every hand went up, and a wail swept thru that laughing throng, like a winter wind moaning in the trees. Two old peasants fell against the wagon wheels sobbing, and shaking my platform. A lad ran out of the crowd, crying: "My brother---they killed my brother!" And the women., drawing their platoks to their eyes, or clasped in each other's arms, wept and wept, until I wondered where all the tears could come from. Who would have dreamed that behind those placid faces lay so much grief?
This was but one of the thousands of Russian villages which the war had stripped of every able-bodied man. It was one of countless villages to which the wounded came crawling back, crippled, eyeless, or armless. Millions never returned at all. They lay in that great grave, 1500 miles long stretching from the Black Sea to the Baltic---the Russian front against the Germans. There peasants with only clubs in their hands, driven up against the machine guns of the Germans, were mowed down en masse.
There were plenty of guns in Archangel. They had even been loaded on cars, and started for the front. But merchants who wanted those cars for their wares, slipped a few thousand rubles to the officials; so, ten miles out of Archangel, the munitions were dumped and the cars shunted back to be reloaded with champagnes, automobiles, and Parisian dresses.
Life was gay and dazzling in Petrograd and the big cities---big profits in this war business---but it was cold and bloody business for 12,000,000 soldiers driven into the trenches by order of the Czar.
And now under Kerensky there were still 12,000,000 under arms. They were conscripts, dragged from ploughs and workshops to have guns thrust in their hands. The ruling-class used every device to keep those weapons in the soldiers' hands. It waved the flag and screamed "Victory and glory." It organized Women's Battalions of Death crying "Shame on you men to let girls do your fighting." It placed machine-guns in the rear of rebelling regiments declaring certain death to those who retreated. But all to no avail.
In thousands the soldiers were throwing down their guns and streaming from the front. Like plagues of locusts they came, clogging railways, highways and waterways. They swarmed down on trains, packing roofs and platforms, clinging to car-steps like clusters of grapes, sometimes evicting passengers from their berths. A Y.M.C.A. man swears he saw this sign: "Tovarish Soldiers: Please do not throw passengers out of the window after the train is in motion." Perhaps an exaggeration. Put they did throw our suitcases out of the window.
It happened on a trip I made to Moscow with Alex Gumberg. Our compartment was crowded, and the Russians, having almost hermetically sealed door and window against the night air, went blissfully to sleep. The place, soon steaming like a Turkish bath, became unbearable. To let in a breath of air, I slid the door open, then joined the sleepers. In the morning I woke to a harsh surprise. Our suitcases were gone.
"Some tovarish robbers in uniform threw them out of the window and then jumped off the train," explained the old conductor. His consolation for our grief was that they had likewise stolen the baggage of an officer in the next compartment. We grieved not so much for the loss of our clothes as for the invaluable passports, notebooks and letters of introduction our bags contained.
Two weeks later we got another surprise---a summons from the station-master in Moscow. There was one of our suitcases forwarded to us by the robbers. It contained none of our clothes but all our documents and the officers' papers---not a single one was missing.
After all, considering the plight of the hordes of deserting soldiers that swept across the land, one wonders not at the number of thefts and excesses they committed but at the fewness of them. And if the tales of awful conditions in the trenches were true, the wonder is not that so many soldiers deserted but that so many still remained at the front.
I wanted to see conditions for myself. Many times I tried to get a pass to the front. At last in September I succeeded. With John Reed and Boris Reinstein, I started for the Riga Sector.
With us was a Russian priest, a big bearded fellow, gentle and amiable, but with a terrible thirst for tea and conversation. On the door of our compartment the guard slapped up a sign that said: "American Mission." Under this aegis we slept and ate as the train crept thru the autumn drizzle and the priest talked endlessly on about his soldiers.
"In the old text of the church prayers," he said, "God is called Czar of Heaven and the Virgin, Czarina. We've had to leave that out. The people won't have God insulted, they say. The priest prays for peace to all nations. Whereupon the soldiers cry out, 'Add "without annexations and indemnities"'. Then we pray for travellers, for the sick and the suffering. And the soldiers cry 'Pray also for the deserters'. The Revolution has made havoc with the Faith, yet the masses of soldiers are religious. Much can still be done in the name of the cross.
"But the Imperialists tried to do too much with it. 'On with the war!' they cried. 'On with the war, until we plant the cross glittering over the dome of Saint Sophia's in Constantinople.' And the soldiers replied: 'Yes! But before we plant the cross on Saint Sophia's, thousands of crosses will be planted on our graves. We don't want Constantinople. We want to go home. We don't want other people to take our land away from us. Neither will we fight to take other people's land away from them.'"
But even if they had the will to fight, what could they fight with? At Wenden, the old city of the Teutonic Knights, we were set down in the midst of an army in ruins. Out of a gray sky the rain poured down, turning roads into rivers, and the soldiers' hearts into lead. Out of the trenches gaunt skeletons rose up to stare at us. We saw famine-stricken men falling on fields of turnips to devour them raw. We saw men walking barefoot in the stubbled fields, summer uniforms arriving at the beginning of winter, horses dropping dead in mud up to their bellies. Above the lines brazenly hovered the armored planes of the enemy watching every move. There were no air-craft guns, no food, no clothes. And to crown all, no faith in their superiors.
Because their officers and government would or could do nothing for them the soldiers were doing things for themselves. On all sides, even in trenches and gun-positions, new Soviets were springing up. Here in Wenden there were three---(Is-ko-sol, Isko-lat, Is-ko-strel).
We were guests of the last, the Soviet of Lettish Sharp-Shooters, the most literate, the most valiant, the most revolutionary of all. For protection against the German planes, they convened in a tree-screened valley, ten thousand brown uniforms blending with the autumn tinted leaves. Even with the threat above them, every mention of Kerensky's name drew gales of laughter, every mention of peace thunders of applause.
"We are not cowards or traitors," declared the spokesmen. "But we refuse to fight until we know what we are fighting for. We are told this is a war for democracy. We do not believe it. We believe the Allies are land-grabbers like the Germans. Let them show that they are not. Let them declare their peace terms. Let them publish the secret-treaties. Let the Provisional Government show it is not hand in glove with the Imperialists. Then we will lay down our lives in battle to the last man."
This was the root of the debacle of the great Russian armies. Not primarily that they had nothing to fight with but that they felt they had nothing to fight for.
Backed by the workingmen the soldiers were determined that the war should stop.
The bourgeoisie backed by the Allies and the General Staff were equally determined that the war should go on. Continuing the war would give three things to the bourgeoisie: (1) It would continue to give them enormous profits out of army contracts. (2) In case of victory it would give them, as their share in the loot, the Straits and Constantinople. (3) It would give them a chance of staving off the ever more insistent demands of the masses for land and factories.
They were following the wisdom of Catherine the Great who said: "The way to save our empire from the encroachment of the people is to engage in war and thus substitute national passions for social aspirations." Now the social aspirations of the Russian masses were endangering the bourgeois empires of land and capital. But if the war could go on, the day of reckoning with the masses would be postponed. The energies absorbed in carrying on the war could not be used in carrying on the Revolution. "On with the war to a victorious end!" became the rallying cry of the bourgeoisie.
But the Kerensky government no longer could control the soldiers. They no longer responded to the eloquence of this romantic man of words. The bourgeoisie set out to find a Man of the Sword. . . . "Russia must have a strong man who will tolerate no revolutionary nonsense, but who will rule with an iron hand," they said. "Let us have a Dictator."
For their Man on Horseback they picked the Cossack General, Kornilov. At the conference in Moscow he had won the hearts of the bourgeoisie by calling for a policy of blood and iron. On his own initiative he had introduced capital punishment in the army. With machine guns he had destroyed battalions of refractory soldiers and placed their stiffened corpses in rows along the fences. He declared that only drastic medicine of this kind could cure the ills of Russia.
On September 9, Kornilov issued a proclamation declaring: "Our great country is dying. Under pressure of the Bolshevik majority in the Soviet, the Kerensky government is acting in complete accord with the plans of the German General Staff. Let all who believe in God and the temples pray to the Lord to manifest the miracle of saving our native land."
He drew 70,000 picked troops from the front. Many of them were Mohammedans---his Turkoman bodyguard, his Tartar horsemen and Circassian mountaineers. On the hilts of their swords the officers swore that when Petrograd was taken, the atheist Socialists would be forced to finish building the great mosque or be shot. With aeroplanes, British armored cars and the blood-thirsty Savage Division, he advanced on Petrograd in the name of God and Allah.
But he did not take it.
In the name of the Soviets and the Revolution the masses rose as one man to the defense of the capital. Kornilov was declared a traitor and an outlaw. Arsenals were opened and guns put in the hands of the workingmen. Red Guards patrolled the streets, trenches were dug, barricades hastily erected. Moslem Socialists rode into the Savage Division and in the name of Marx and Mohammed exhorted the mountaineers not to advance against the Revolution.
Their pleas and arguments prevailed. The forces of Kornilov melted away and the "Dictator" was captured without firing a single shot. The bourgeoisie were depressed as the White Hope of the Counter-Revolution went down so easily before the blows of the Revolution.
The proletarians were correspondingly elated. They saw the strength and unity of their forces.
They felt anew the solidarity binding together all sections of the toiling masses. Trench and factory acclaimed one another. Soldiers and workingmen paid special tribute to the sailors for the big part they played in this affair.
WHEN the news of Kornilov's advance on Petrograd was flashed to Kronstadt and the Baltic fleet, it aroused the sailors like a thunderbolt. From their ships and island. citadel they came pouring out in tens of thousands and bivouacked on the Field of Mars. They stood guard at all the nerve centres of the city, the railways and the Winter Palace. With the big sailor Dybenko leading, they drove headlong into the midst of Kornilov's soldiers exhorting them not to advance. They put the fear of the Revolution into the hearts of the Whites and the fire and zest of the Revolution into the blood of their fellow Reds.
In July Trotzky had hailed them as "Pride and Flower of the Revolutionary Forces!" When they had been damned on all sides for some brash deeds at Kronstadt he had said: "Yes, but when a counter-revolutionary general tries to throw a noose around the neck of the Revolution, the Cadets will grease the rope with soap, while the sailors will come to fight and die with us together!"
So it proved in this adventure of Kornilov. And it was always so. All over Russia I had met these blue-bloused men with the roll of the sea in their carriage and the tang of the salt winds in their blood. Everywhere they went expounding the doctrines of Socialism. I had heard them in forum and market-places stirring the sluggish to action. I had seen them in remote villages starting the flow of food to the cities. Later when the Yunkers rose against the Soviets I was to see these sailors heading the storming party that rushed the telephone-station and dug the Yunkers from their nests. Always they were first to sense danger to the Revolution, always first to hurry to its rescue.
The Revolution was precious to the Russian sailor because it meant deliverance from the past. That past was a nightmare. The old Russian naval officers came exclusively from the privileged caste. The count against them was that they imposed, not a rigid discipline, but one that was arbitrary and personal. The weal of a sailor was at the mercy of the whims, jealousies and insane rage of petty officers whom he despised. He was treated like a dog and humiliated by signs that read: "For Dogs and Sailors."
Like the soldier's, the sailor's replies to his superior were limited to the three phrases: "Quite so" (tak tockno) "No indeed" (nekak niet) ','Glad to try my best" (rad staratsa), with the salutation, "Your nobility." Any added remark might bring him a blow in the face. The most trivial offense met with the most severe penalty. In four years 2527 men were executed, sent to the penitentiary or to hard labor. All done in the name of the Czar. Now the Czars were gone; their very names were being blotted out. The ships were being re-christened with names fitting the new republican order.
Obliterating the Past. Colossal statue of Czar Alexander III being dismantled after the Soviet came into power. Note the workman at extreme top fixing rope on the crown.
"How are the mighty fallen!" Children gazing into the bronze head from the dismantled statue of Czar Alexander III.
By this ceremony the Emperor Paul the First became The Republic. The Emperor Alexander II emerged from its baptism of paint as the Dawn of Liberty. Here was revolution enough to make these ancient autocrats turn in their graves. But it was even harder on the living Czar and his son. The Czarevitch was renamed the Citizen, while Nicholas II came forth as the good ship Comrade. Comrade! This ex-Czar, now living in exile in Tobolsk, knew that the meanest coal-heaver was now a "Comrade."
The new names appeared in gold on the jaunty ribboned caps of the sailors. And the sailors appeared everywhere as missionaries of Liberty, Comradeship and the Republic.
To make these changes in the names of the ships was very easy. Yet they were not mere surface changes, but symbolized a change in reality. They were the outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual fact---the democratization of a great fleet.
In September I had my first contact with the sailor at home. It was at Helsingfors where the Baltic fleet stood as a barricade on the water-road to Petrograd. Tied up to the dock was the Polar Star, the yacht of the former Czar. Our guide, an old ex-officer, pointed out a strip of yellow wood that ran around the ship.
"That moulding is of best mahogany," he whispered to us. "It cost twenty-five thousand rubles, but these damned Bolsheviks are too lazy now to keep it polished, so they painted it yellow. In my day a sailor was a sailor; he knew that his job was to scrub and polish, and he tended to his job. If he didn't we knocked him down. But the devil is loose among them now. Think of it! On this very yacht belonging to the Czar himself, ordinary seamen sit about making laws for managing the ships, the fleet and the country. And they don't stop there. They talk about managing the world. Internationalism and democracy they call it, but I call it downright treason and insanity."
There in brief was the issue between the old régime and the new. In the old order, discipline and control were superimposed from above; in the new, they proceeded from the men themselves. The old was a fleet of officers, the new a fleet of sailors. In the change a new set of values had been created. Now the polishing of the sailor's wits upon democracy and internationalism had higher rating than polishing the brass and mahogany.
The second index of the temper of the new fleet came to us as we climbed the gangway of the Polar Star, where Rasputin and his associates once had their fling. Here Bessie Beatty, the American correspondent, was gravely informed that the presence of her sex upon the ships was taboo---it was one of the new rules of the Soviet of Sailors. The captain was polite, much adorned with gold braid, but very helpless.
"I can do nothing at all," he explained dolefully. "Everything is in the hands of the 'Committee'."
"But she has come ten thousand versts to see the fleet."
"Well, we can see what the Committee says," he answered.
The messenger came back with a special dispensation from the Committee and we were on our way again. Everywhere members of the crew would challenge the presence of a woman in our party, politely capitulating, however, as the captain explained, "By special permit of the Committee."
This Central Committee of the Baltic Sea, or, as it was familiarly known, the Centrobalt, sat in the great cabin de luxe. It was simply a Soviet of the ships. Each contingent of 1,000 sailors had a representative in the committee, which consisted of 65 members, 45 of whom were Bolsheviks. There were four general departments: Administrative, Political, War and Marine, transacting all the affairs of the fleet. The captain had one of the former princes' suites, but from the great cabin he was debarred. Happily my credentials were an open sesame to the committee and the cabin.
The irony of history! Here in these chairs a few months ago lolled a mediaeval autocrat with his ladies and his lackeys. Now big bronzed seamen sat in them, hammering out problems of the most advanced Socialism. The cabin had been cleared for action. The piano and many decorations had been placed in a museum. The tables and lounges were covered with brown canvas burlap. The grand salon was now a workshop. Here hard at work were ordinary seamen suddenly turned legislators, directors and clerks. They were a bit awkward in their new role, but they clung to it with desperate earnestness, sixteen hours a day. For they were dreamers gripped by an idea, the drive and scope of which appear in the following address:
The Russian democracy in the person of the representatives of the Baltic Fleet sends warm greetings to the proletariat of all countries and hearty thanks for the greetings from our brothers in America.
Comrade Williams is the first swallow come flying across to us on the cold waves of the Baltic Sea, which now for over three years has been dyed by the blood of the sons of one family, the International.
The Russian proletariat will strive, up to its last breath, to unite everybody under the red banner of the International. When starting the Revolution, we did not have in view a Political Revolution alone. The task of all true fighters for freedom is the making of a Social Revolution. For this the advance guard of the Revolution, in the person of the sailors of the Russian Fleet, and the workmen, will fight to the end.
The flame of the Russian Revolution, we are sure, will spread over the world and light a fire in the hearts of the workers of all lands, and we shall obtain support in our struggle for a speedy general peace.
The free Baltic Fleet impatiently awaits the moment when it can go to America and relate there all that Russia suffered under the yoke of Czarism, and what it is feeling now when the banner of the struggle for the freedom of peoples is unfurled.
The Central Committee of the Baltic Fleet, Fourth Convention.
On this table where in good will and amity they had written this address to me, these sailors dipped their pens in vitriol and wrote another. It was addressed to their Commander-in-Chief, Kerensky. He was unable to explain his part in the Kornilov mix-up and had just made an offensive reference to the sailors. They returned the compliment in this wise:
We demand the immediate removal from the Government of the "Socialist" political adventurer, Kerensky, who is ruining the great Revolution by his shameless political blackmail in behalf of the bourgeoisie.
To you, Kerensky, traitor to the Revolution, we send our curses. When our comrades are drowning in the Gulf of Riga, and when all of us, as one man, stand ready to lay down our lives for freedom, ready to die in open fight on the sea or on the barricades, you strive to destroy the forces of the fleet. To you we send our maledictions....
This day, however, the men were in festive mood. They were happy over a big fund just raised for their soldier comrades on the Riga front, and now were playing host to their first foreign comrade. The Secretary of the Committee escorted me on the pilot-boat to his battleship, the Republic. The entire crew was on deck cheering our approach across the waters. After an official welcome there were loud demands for a speech. My knowledge of Russian was very meagre then, and my interpreter knew but little English. I had to fall back on the current revolutionary phrases. But the mere reiteration of the new battle cries had power to charm these new disciples of Socialism. The sounding of these slogans in my foreign accent drew an outburst of applause that echoed like a salvo from all the ship's batteries.
It was in these waters that the historic meeting between the Kaiser and the Czar had been staged. The applause could not have been more thunderous (certainly not so spontaneous) than when, as an American Internationalist, I shook hands with Averishkin, the Russian Internationalist, on the bridge of this battleship off the coast of Finland.
After our love-feast on deck we retired to the quarters of the ship's committee. I was plied with innumerable questions about the American navy, ranging from "Do American navy officers reflect solely the viewpoint of the upper classes?" to "Are American battleships kept as clean as this one of ours?" As we talked, eggs and steak were brought to me, while each member of the committee was served with a large plate of potatoes. I commented on the difference in the dishes.
"Yours is officer's fare, ours is sailor's," they explained.
"Then why did you make a revolution?" I asked banteringly.
They laughed and said, "The Revolution has given us what we wanted most---freedom. We are masters of our ships. We are masters of our own lives. We have our own courts. We can have shore-leave when not on duty. Off duty we have the right to wear civilian clothes. We do not demand everything of the Revolution."
The world-wide rise of the workers, however, is based on their desire, not solely for the first necessities of life, but for a larger part in its amenities. Driving through Helsingfors one night we missed the usual bands of sailors rolling down the streets. Suddenly we were brought sharply up before a building with façade and dimensions of a great modern hotel. We entered and were guided by the music to the dining-hall. There, in a room set with palms and glistening with mirrors and silver, sat the diners, listening to Chopin and Tchaikovsky, interspersed with occasional ragtime from the American conductor. It was a hotel of the first class, but instead of the usual clientele of a big hotel-bankers, speculators, politicians, adventurers and ornate ladies---it was crowded with bronzed seamen of the war fleet of the Russian Republic, who had commandeered the entire building. Thru its curtained halls now streamed a procession of laughing, jesting, arguing sailors in their suits of blue.
Outside in big letters was the sign "Sailors' Club" with its motto, "A welcome to all the sailors of the world." It opened with ten thousand dues-paying members, ninety per cent of whom were literate. The club boasted a much-used magazine room, the nucleus of a library, and an excellent illustrated weekly, The Seaman (Moryak).
They had founded, too, a "University," with courses ranging from the most elementary to the most advanced. In the committee on curriculum I blunderingly asked the chairman from what university he came.
"No university, no school," he replied regretfully. "I come from the dark people, but I am a revolutionist. We did away with the Czar, but a worse enemy is ignorance. We shall do away with that. That is the only way to get a democratic fleet. Now we have a democratic machine, but most of our officers have not the democratic spirit. We must train our officers out of the ranks." In his courses he had enlisted professors from the university, men from the scientific societies and some officers.
"THE ILLITERATE IS A BLIND MAN: EVERYWHERE PITFALLS AND MISFORTUNES AWAIT HIM."---SOVIET POSTER TO ENCOURAGE EDUCATION.
How did all this new discipline and comfort affect the fleet? Opinions differed. Many officers said that in destroying the old discipline the technical efficiency was lowered. Others said that considering its ordeal by war and revolution the fleet was in good trim. As the test of its moral efficiency, they pointed to the battle of the Monsund Isles. Outnumbered by the Germans, and out-distanced in speed and gun-range, these revolutionary sailors had fought a brilliant engagement with the enemy. All admitted that their fighting morale was superb.
There was no doubt of the enthusiasm of the sailors for their fleet. They had a feeling of communal ownership in it. When the pilot-boat carried me away from the Republic, Averishkin with a gesture that took in all the gray ships riding in the bay, exclaimed, "Our fleet! Our fleet! We shall make it the best fleet in the world. May it always fight for justice!" Then, as if looking thru the gray mists which hung above the water and beyond the red mists of the world war, he added, "Until we make the Social Revolution and the end of all wars."
In Russia this Social Revolution was coming on apace and these men of the fleet were shortly to be in the vortex of it.
1. Appendix III. The Burial of Yanishev.
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