IT was a black outlook for the White Guards hemmed inside the telephone station. But now comes this jubilant news that an armored car is hurrying to their rescue. They gaze intently down the street for the first glimpse of it.
As it comes swinging in from the Nevsky, they hail it with cheers. Like a great iron steed it lumbers along and stops before the barricades. Cheers again from the Whites. Ill-starred cheers! They do not know that they are cheering their end. They do not know that this is not their car; it has passed into the hands of the Reds. It is a Trojan horse, within whose armored belly are concealed the soldiers of the Revolution. It slews about until its muzzle is pointed thru the archway. Then suddenly it spouts a stream of lead as a garden hose spouts water. Screams now instead of cheers! Tumbling over boxes and one another, the officers, in one shrieking, tangled mass, go crashing thru the hallway and up the stairs.
Bolsheviks with one of the armored cars that quelled the White uprising. The cars were christened Proletariat, International, The Red Commune, Lenin, etc.
Fighting from doors and windows in the War of the Reds and the Whites. Despite the rat-tat-tat of the machine-guns, the theatres and market-places were crowded.
Poetic justice! Here where a few hours earlier these Counter-Revolutionists pressed their revolvers against the temples of the Revolution, the Revolution presses its machine guns against their temples.
At the top of the stairway the Whites disentangle themselves, not to make a stand, but to run better. Ten resolute men could have held this stairway against a thousand. But there are not ten men to do it. There is not one. There is only a panic-stricken pack, in the clutch of a fear that drains the blood from their faces, the reason from their brains. All courage gone. All prudence gone. Gone even the herd-instinct of unity in the face of common peril.
"Sauve qui peut," (let him save himself who can) becomes the cry of the older officers.
They fling away caps, belts and swords; insignia of honor now become badges of shame and death. They rip off shoulder straps, gold-braid and buttons. They plead for a workman's costume, a cloak, an overcoat-anything to disguise their rank. An officer coming upon a greasy blouse hanging on a peg becomes a maniac with joy. A captain finding the apron of a cook puts it on, plunges his arms in flour and already white from terror becomes the whitest White Guard in all Russia.
But for most of them there is no cover save the darkness of closets, booths and attic corners. Into these they crawl like hunted animals in collapse. To treachery against their enemies these officers now add treason to their allies. They had led the Yunkers into this trap. Now the trap is closing, and the officers abandon them.
First to rally their wits, the Yunkers begin to cry out, "Our officers! Where are our officers?" No answer to their cries. "Damn the cowards!" they shout. "They have deserted us."
Rage at this betrayal fuses the Yunkers together. Their best tactics would be to hold the stairway, but they shrink away from it. Red vengeance crouching at the foot fills them with dread. It will not let them move forward. They fall back into a thick walled room with a narrow entrance. There, like rats clustering in a hole, they wait the onrush of the Red tide that may come rising up the stairway, flooding the corridors, drowning them out.
To some of these young fellows, sprung from the middle-class, this is a doubly tragic ending. Death at the hands of peasants and workers with whom they have no quarrel! But, caught in this camp of the Counter-Revolution, they must share its doom. They know how richly they deserve it. This sense of guilt unnerves them. Their guns fall from their hands. They slink down on chairs and tables, moaning, their eyes fixed on the entrance thru which the Red tide is to come crashing in. They listen for the swirl of the first wave flinging itself on the stairway; hammering on the door.
Save their own hammering pulses there is not a sound.
There is another chamber of torture in this building. It holds Antonov, the Red sentries, and all captives bagged by the Whites during the day. They sit helpless, locked in their prison, while outside rages the battle sealing the fate of their Revolution, and their own fate. No one comes to tell them how the battle goes. Only thru the thick walls comes the muffled crackle of rifles, the crash of falling glass.
Now all these noises abruptly cease. What does it mean? The triumph of the Counter-Revolution? The Whites victorious? What next? The opening of the door? The firing-squad lining them up before a wall? Bandages tied round their eyes? The report of rifles? Their own death? The death of the Revolution? So they muse, heads sunk in hands, while the clock above the door pitilessly tells off the seconds. Each stroke may be the last. Awaiting that last, they sit straining to hear the tread of the firing-squad, coming down the corridor. But save for the ticking clock, not a sound.
Still another torture chamber, this one filled with women. It is the top floor, with hundreds of telephone girls huddled around the switch-boards. The eight-hour bombardment, the stampede of the officers, their frenzied cries for help, have shattered the nerves of these girls and their minds run wild. They run to wild stories of Bolshevik atrocities, the rape of the Women's Battalion, crimes imputed to these Red hordes swarming into the court-yard below.
In their fevered imagination they are already victims of a like brutality, writhing in the arms of these monsters. They break into tears. They write frantic little last farewells. They cling together in white-faced groups, listening for the first yells of the ruffians, the thumping of their boots along the hall. But there are no thumping boots---only their own thumping hearts.
The building becomes quiet as a tomb. It is not the quiet of the dead, but tense and vibrant, the silence of hundreds of living beings paralyzed with terror. The silence is contagious. It passes thru the walls and lays hold of the Red throngs outside. They in turn become still, stricken by the same paralysis of fear. They shrink away from the stairway lest it belch out clouds of gas, a fusillade of bombs. Hundreds outside in terror of the Whites within! Hundreds inside in terror of the Reds without! Thousands of human beings torturing each other.
Inside the building this ordeal by silence becomes unendurable. I, at least, can endure it no longer. For relief I run forward, not knowing where; anywhere to get away from the silence. Opening a side door by accident I catapult into the chamber filled with Yunkers. They jump as tho it is the crack of doom.
"American correspondent," they gasp. "O! Help us! Help us!"
"How can I?" I falter. "What shall I do?"
"Something---anything!" they implore. "Only save us."
Some one says, "Antonov." The others catch up the name, repeating it like an incantation. "Antonov. Yes, Antonov. Go to Antonov. Downstairs---Antonov. Quick, before it is too late---Antonov!" They point the way.
In a minute I make another headlong entrance before another astounded audience---the captive Reds and Antonov.
"You are all free. The officers have fled. The Yunkers surrender. They beg you to save them. Any terms. All they ask is their lives. Only hurry, hurry."
In a moment this prisoner Antonov awaiting death becomes the arbiter of death. The condemned is asked to be the judge. A startling change! But the face of this little, tired overworked Revolutionist did not change. If the thought of revenge flashed into his mind, it as quickly flashed out again. "So I am not to be a corpse but a commander," he said wanly. "Next thing is to see the Yunkers is it? Very well." He put on his hat and walked upstairs to the Yunkers.
"Antonov! Gospadeen Antonov! Commander Antonov! " they wailed. "Spare our lives. We know we are guilty. But we throw ourselves on the mercy of the Revolution."
Sorry ending to a gay adventure! In the morning sallying out to kill Bolsheviks and in the evening begging Bolsheviks for their own lives. Saying "Tovarish" as one might say "swine," then breathing it reverently as a term of honor.
"Tovarish Antonov," they implored, "give us your word as a Bolshevik, a true Bolshevik. Give us your word for our safety."
"My word," said Antonov. "I give it."
"They may not take your word, Tovarish Antonov," muttered one poor wretch. "They may kill us anyhow."
"If they kill you," assured Antonov, "they must first kill me."
"But we don't want to be killed," whimpered the poor fellow.
Antonov, could not conceal his contempt. Turning into the hall, he started down the stairs. To the taut nerves every step sounded like the detonation of a gun.
The Red throng outside heard the steps and raised their rifles expecting a fusillade. And then this surprise! Antonov, their own leader,
"Nash! Nash!" (Ours! Ours!) acclaimed a hundred voices. "Antonov! Long live Antonov!" rose from another hundred throats. The shout raised in the courtyard was caught up in the street and the crowd surged forward crying, "The officers, Antonov? Where are the officers and the Yunkers?"
"Done for," announced Antonov. "Their arms are down."
Like the bursting of a dam came the roar from a thousand throats. Yells of triumph and howls of rage proclaiming "Death to the officers! Death to the Yunkers!
Good reason for the Whites to tremble! At the mercy of those to whom they had forfeited all claims for mercy. Not by fighting, but by fighting foully they had roused this volcano of wrath. In the eyes of these soldiers and workmen the Whites were murderers of the Red comrades, assassinators of the Revolution, miscreants to be exterminated like vermin. Fear only had kept the Reds from plunging up the stairway. Now all cause for caution was gone. The infuriated men stormed forward filling the night with their cries, "Wipe out the butchers! Kill the White Devils! Kill every one of them!"
A torch here and there in the blackness lit up the bearded faces of peasants, soldier-faces, the faces of city artisans grimed and thin, and in the front rank the open, alert countenances of the big sailors from the Baltic fleet. On all of them, in flashing eyes, and clenched jaws vengeance was written, the terrible vengeance of the long-suffering. Pressed from the rear, the mass lunged forward against the stairway where Antonov stood, calm and impassive, but looking so frail and helpless before this avalanche of men.
Raising his hand and voice, Antonov cried out, "Tovariske, you cannot kill them. The Yunkers have surrendered. They are our prisoners."
The throng was stunned. Then in a hoarse cry of resentment it found its voice. "No! No! They are not our prisoners," it protested. "They are dead men."
"They have given up their arms," continued Antonov. "I have given them their lives."
"You may give them their lives. We don't. We give them the bayonet!" bawled a big peasant turning to the crowd for approval.
"The bayonet! Yes, we give them the bayonet!" they howled in a blast of approbation.
Antonov faced the tornado. Drawing a big revolver, he waved it aloft, crying out, "I have given the Yunkers my word for their safety. You understand! I will back my word with this."
The crowd gasped. This was incredible.
"What's this? What do you mean?" they demanded.
Antonov, Commander of the Red Guards,
who held back the revolutionary mob until it came to its senses.
Clutching his revolver, finger on the trigger, Antonov repeated his warning: "I promised them their lives. I will back that promise with this."
"Traitor! Renegade!" a hundred voices thundered at him. "Defender of the White Guards!" a big sailor flung in his face. "You want to save the rascals. But you can't. We'll kill them."
"The first man who lays his hands on a prisoner I will kill him on the spot!" Antonov spoke slowly, with emphasis on each word. "You understand! I will shoot him dead!"
"Shoot us?" queried the affronted sailors.
"Shoot us! Shoot us!" bellowed the whole indignant mob.
For it was just that---a mob, with all the vehement passions of the mob. A mob with every primitive instinct inflamed and ascendant: cruel, brutal, lusting for blood. In it flamed the savagery of the wolf, the ferocity of the tiger. A huge beast drawn out of the jungles of the city, stirred up by these White hunters, wounded, and bleeding from its wounds, all day exasperated and tormented, at last, in a paroxysm of joy and rage it was about to pounce upon its tormentors and tear them to pieces. At this moment this little man stepped between it and its prey! To me the most emotional thing in the whole revolution is this little man standing in that stairway, so unemotionally looking that mob in the eye; rather, in its thousand glaring eyes. There was pallor in his face, but no tremor in his limbs. And no quaver in his voice, as he said again slowly and solemnly, "The first man who tries to kill a Yunker, I will kill him."
The sheer audacity, the impudence of it took their breath away.
"What do you mean?" they yelled. "To save these officers, Counter-Revolutionists, you kill us workmen-Revolutionists?"
"Revolutionists!" retorted Antonov, derisively. "Revolutionists! Where do I see Revolutionists here? You dare call yourselves Revolutionists? You, who think of killing helpless men and prisoners! " His taunt went home. The crowd winced as tho struck by a whip.
"Listen!" he went on. "Do you know what you are doing? Do you realize where this madness leads? When you kill a captive White Guard you are not killing the Counter-Revolution, you are killing the Revolution. For this Revolution I gave twenty years of my life in exile and in prison. Do you think that I, a Revolutionist, will stand by and watch Revolutionists crucify the Revolution?"
"But if they had us there would be no quarter," bellowed a peasant, "they would kill us."
"True, they would kill us," answered Antonov. "What of that? They are not Revolutionists. They belong to the old order, to the Czar and the knout, to murder and death. But we belong to the Revolution. And the Revolution means something better. It means liberty and life for all. That's why you give it your life and blood. But you must give it more. You must give it your reason. Above the satisfaction of your passions you must put service to the Revolution. For the triumph of the Revolution you have been brave. Now, for the honor of the Revolution be merciful. You love the Revolution. I only ask you not to kill the thing you love."
He was aflame, his face incandescent, his arms and voice imploring. His whole being, focussing itself in that last appeal, left him exhausted.
"Speak to them, comrade!" he entreated.
Four weeks earlier I had spoken to these sailors from the turret of their battleship The Republic. As I stepped to the front they recognized me.
"The American tovarish," they shouted.
Loudly and fervently I spoke about the Revolution, about the battle waged thruout Russia for land and freedom, about their own betrayal by the White Guards and the justice in their wrath. But the eyes of the world turned to them as the fighting vanguard of the Social Revolution. Would they take the old bloody path of retaliation or blaze the way to a nobler code? They had shown themselves daring for the preservation of the Revolution. Would they show themselves magnanimous for its glory?
It was an effective speech at the outset. But not because of its content. The recitation of the Lord's Prayer or Webster's Oration would have been almost as effective. Not one in a hundred understood what I was saying. For I spoke in English.
But these words---strange and foreign---crackling out in the dark held them and made them pause---precisely what Antonov was working for----that this hurricane of passion might subside a little, to gain time for another impulse to get the upper hand.
For while this was a mob, it was a revolutionary mob. Deep-rooted in the hearts of at least half this workman-soldier crowd was one powerful abiding loyalty---the Revolution. The word was a fetich. Their dreams and hopes and longings were all woven around "The Revolution." They were its servants. It was their master.
True, at this moment another master held them, displacing every idea of the Revolution. Revenge was in the saddle, recklessly lashing the mob along. But this was temporary. The permanent allegiance of their lives was to the Revolution. Given the chance it would rise up, expel the usurper, assert its authority, and again control its followers. Antonov did not stand alone against a multitude. In that mob, there were a thousand Antonovs, sharing with him the same high zeal for the Revolution. Antonov was just one unit of that mob, flesh of its flesh, spirit of its spirit, sharing its antagonism to the Yunkers, and officers, aflame with its same hot passions.
Antonov happened to be first of this mob to rein in his passions, the first in whose consciousness the Revolution replaced revenge. The change made in his heart by concept of the Revolution would likewise be wrought in the hearts of the soldiers and workers. This Antonov knew. By repeating the magic word "Revolution" he sought to bring them to their revolutionary selves; he sought to evoke revolutionary order out of chaos. And he did.
Before our eyes we saw again the ancient miracle of the Word---the stilling of the tempest. The howling and the raging died away, save for here and there an angry voice still persisting. But as Woskov interpreted my words, and Antonov spoke again, these centres of dissent subsided. Chastened and in a receptive mood, these soldiers and sailors were substituting for their own will to revenge the will of the Revolution. Only let them understand that will.
"What is it, Antonov?" they cried. "What do you want us to do?"
"To treat the Yunkers as prisoners of war," said Antonov. "To carry out the terms of surrender. I have pledged these Yunkers their lives. I ask you to back my pledge with yours."
The mob became a Soviet. A sailor spoke; then two soldiers and a workingman. The vote was taken by show of hands. A hundred battle-stained hands went up, and another hundred until nearly a thousand hands were lifted. A thousand clenched fists threatening death to the officers now raised in an open handed promise of life.
At this juncture arrived a delegation from the Petrograd Duma commissioned "to liquidate the civil strife with the shedding of as little blood as possible." But the Revolution was liquidating its own affairs without the shedding of any blood at all. It ignored these gentlemen, and detailed a squad to enter the building and bring the White Guards down. First came the Yunkers, and then the officers, ferreted out of their hiding places, one of them dragged out by his heels. Hustled out upon the elevated stone steps, they stood blinking in the torch-light, facing the muzzles of a thousand guns, the scorn of a thousand hearts, the grilling of a thousand pairs of eyes.
There were a few jeers, cries of "Assassins of the Revolution!" and then silence---the solemn silence of a court. For this was a court---the tribunal of the disinherited. The oppressed sitting in judgment on their oppressors. The new order passing sentence upon the old. The grand assizes of the Revolution.
"Guilty! All guilty!" was the verdict. Guilty as enemies of the Revolution. Guilty as retainers of the Czar and the exploiting classes. Guilty as violators of the Red Cross and the laws of war. Guilty on all counts as traitors to the workers of Russia, and to the workers of the world.
The wretched prisoners in the dock shrank before the blast and bowed their heads. Some of them would have found it easier to stand up to a volley from the guns. But the guns were there to guard them.
Five sailors shouldering rifles took their stand at the foot of the steps. Antonov seized the hand of an officer and placed it in the hand of a sailor.
"Number one," he said. "A helpless, disarmed prisoner. His life is in your hands. Guard it for the honor of the Revolution." The squad encircled the prisoner and marched thru the archway.
With a like formula the next prisoner was handed over, and the next, and the next; each one entrusted to a detachment of four or five. "The end of the rubbish," muttered an old peasant as the last officer was delivered to his escort, and the procession filed out into the Morskaya.
Near the Winter Palace infuriated mobs fell upon the Yunkers and tore them from the hands of their convoys. But the revolutionary sailors, charging the mobs, rescued the prisoners and brought them safely to the prison Fortress of Peter and Paul.
The Revolution was not everywhere powerful enough to check the savage passions of the mobs. Not always was it on time to allay the primitive blood-lusts. Unoffending citizens were assaulted by hooligans. In out-of-the-way places (half-savages, calling themselves Red Guards, committed heinous crimes. At the front General Dukhonin was dragged from his carriage and torn to pieces despite the protesting commissars. Even in Petrograd some Yunkers were clubbed to death by the storming crowds; others were pitched headlong into the Neva.
The attitude of the revolutionary working-classes toward human life, however, is not reflected in these mad, sporadic deeds of the hot-blooded and the irresponsible, but in one of the first laws the Soviet made as it entered into power.
As the ruling-class the workers were now in a position to take vengeance on their former exploiters and executioners. When I saw them rise up and take the government in their own hands, and at the same time take in their grasp those who had lashed them, jailed them and betrayed them, I feared a savage outburst of revenge.
I knew that thousands of the workmen now in authority had been sent with clanking chains across the snows of Siberia. I had seen them pallid and tottering from long years in those coffins for the living---the stone sacks of Schlusselburg. I had seen the deep scars cut in their backs by the Cossacks' nagaika and I recalled the words of Lincoln: "If for every drop of blood drawn by the lash another shall be drawn by the sword, the judgments of the Lord are pure and righteous altogether."
A course of instruction in history and economics for those seeking admission into the Communist (Bolshevik) Party.
But there was no dreadful blood-bath. On the contrary, the idea of reprisals seemed to have no hold on the minds of the workers. On November 30 the Soviet passed the decree declaring the Abolition of Capital Punishment. This was not merely a humanitarian gesture. The workers turned to their enemies not only to guarantee their lives but in many cases to grant them freedom.
Many sinister figures of the old régime had been incarcerated by Kerensky in the bastion of the Peter-Paul Fortress. There we met Biletzky, the chief of the Czar's Secret Service who in his day had railroaded countless victims into these dungeons. Now the old grizzled rat was getting a taste of his own medicine. Here also was the ex-War Minister Sukhomlinov, whose intrigue with the Germans had sent tens of thousands of Russian soldiers to death in the trenches. These two arch-villains received us with the most engaging manners, proclaiming their innocence and protesting against their "inhuman persecution."
"But the Bolsheviks are more human than Kerensky," they said. "They give us the newspapers."
We visited also the ministers of the fallen Provisional Government in their cells and found them taking their misfortunes with good grace. Tereschenko, handsome as ever, received us sitting cross-legged on his cot, smoking a cigarette.
"This is not the life de luxe," he said in faultless English. "But the commandant is not to blame. Suddenly he had to provide for hundreds of extra prisoners and no extra rations. So we are hungry. But we get the same as the Red Guards; tho they scowl at us they share their bread with us."
The young Yunkers we found recounting their telephone-station adventures, opening packages from friends or stretched out on mattresses playing cards.
A few days later these Yunkers were released . A second time they were paroled and a second time they broke faith with their liberators---they went South and joined the White Guard armies mobilizing against the Bolsheviks.
With like acts of treachery thousands of Whites repaid the Bolsheviks for their clemency. Over his own signature General Krasnov solemnly promised not to raise his hand against the Bolsheviks, and was released. Promptly he. appeared in the Urals at the head of a Cossack army destroying the Soviets. Burtsev was liberated from Peter-Paul prison by order of the Bolsheviks. Straightway he joined the Counter-Revolutionists in Paris and became editor of a scurrilous anti-Bolshevik sheet. Thousands, who thus went forth to freedom by mercy of the Bolsheviks, were to come back later with invading armies to kill their liberators without ruth or mercy.
Surveying battalions of comrades slaughtered by the very men whom the Bolsheviks had freed, Trotzky said: "The chief crime of which we were guilty in those first days of the Revolution was excessive kindliness."
Sardonic words! But the verdict of history will be that the Russian Revolution---vastly more fundamental than the great upheaval in France in 1789---was no saturnalia of revenge. It was to all intents a "bloodless revolution."
Take the most exaggerated estimates of the shootings in Petrograd, the three days' battle in Moscow, the street-fighting in Kiev and Irkutsk, and the peasants' outbreaks in the provinces. Add up the casualties and divide it into Russia's population---not the 3,000,000 involved in the American Revolution, nor the 23,000,000 of the French Revolution, but the 160,000,000 of the Russian Revolution. The figures will show that in the four months it took the Soviet to establish and consolidate its power---from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the White Sea on the north to the Black Sea on the south----less than one in 3,000 Russians were killed.
Sanguinary enough to be sure!
But look at it in the perspective of history. Rightly or wrongly, when the fulfillment of the national destiny of America demanded that we cut out the cancer of slavery, vast property rights were confiscated, and in doing this we did not stop until we had killed one in every 300 people. Rightly or wrongly, the peasants and workers feel it essential to cut out of Russia the cancer of Czarism, landlordism, and capitalism. Such a deep-seated and malign disease called for a major surgical operation. Yet it was performed with comparatively little letting of blood. For, like children, the nature of a great folk is to forgive and forget---not to retaliate. And vindictiveness is alien to the spirit of working-people. In those early days they strove hard to conduct a civil war in a civil manner.
In a large measure they succeeded. The death-toll of both Whites and Reds together was not equal to the casualties in a single big battle of the World War.
"But the Red Terror!" someone interjects. That was to come later when the Allied armies were to come to Russia, and under their protecting wing the Czarists and Black Hundreds were to loose upon peasants and workers the White Terror of the Counter-Revolution---a hideous orgy of butchery and lust in which helpless women and children were to be massacred in droves.
Then in defense the workers, goaded to desperation, were to strike back with the Red Terror of the Revolution. Then capital punishment was to be restored and the White conspirators were to feel the swift chastising hand of the Revolution.
There are furious charges and counter charges about Red and White Terrors. Out of the controversy four facts emerge and may be stated here.
The Red Terror was a distinctly later phase of the Revolution. It was a defensive measure, a direct reply to the White Terror of the Counter-Revolution. Both in number and fiendishness the outrages of the Reds pale before the atrocities committed by the Whites.(1) Had not the Allies intervened in Russia and again stirred up civil war against the Soviets, in all probability there would have been no Red Terror and the Revolution would have continued as it began---practically a "bloodless revolution."
UPSTARTS, adventurers, impostors!
Thus the bourgeoisie stigmatized the Bolsheviks, or sneered with Shatsky, "How can such dogs, such canaille run a government!"
The idea that the Red régime would last longer than a few hours or a few days was a joke. Again and again we were told, "The hangings will begin tomorrow." But many tomorrows passed and no Bolsheviks dangled from the lamp-posts. The bourgeoisie became alarmed as the Soviet showed no sign of falling. "It is necessary to do battle and pull it down," read the appeal of the Council of the Republic. "It is the enemy of the people and the Revolution."
The City Duma became the center for all forces mobilizing against the Soviets. It was swarming with generals, priests, intelligentsia, chinovniks, speculators, Knights of Saint George, Boy Scouts, French and British officers, White Guards and Cadets. Out of these elements was organized the "Committee of Salvation"---the General Staff of the Counter-Revolution.
"All of Russia is represented here," boasted the old Mayor Schreider. And so it was. "All Russia" ---all except her peasants and workers, her soldiers and sailors. Coming here from proletarian Smolny was like entering another world, the world of the well-fed and well-dressed. From here the ancient order of privilege and power struck against the new order set up by the working class. From here the bourgeoisie engineered its campaign against the Soviet, using every means to discredit, cripple and destroy it.
By one stroke the bourgeoisie sought to bring the Soviet to its knees. It proclaimed a general strike in all departments of the new government. In some ministries the white-collared workers walked out in a body. In the Foreign Office 600 officials listened to Trotzky's appeal for translators of the Peace Decree, then resigned. A big strike-chest collected from the banks and business houses corrupted the minor officials and even part of the working-class. For a time postmen refused to deliver Soviet mail, the telegraph would not despatch Soviet messages, railways would not carry troops, the telephone girls left the switchboards, huge buildings were deserted---no one was left to light the fires.(2)
The reply of the Bolsheviks to this general strike was to declare the positions and pension rights of all strikers forfeit if they did not return at once. At the same time they set to work recruiting new staffs out of their own ranks. Men in smocks and overalls occupied the vacated offices. Soldiers pored over books and figures, tongues sticking out of their mouths from the unaccustomed mental strain. Big sailors laboriously picked out keys on the typewriter with one finger. Workingmen at the switchboards in the telephone station clumsily plugged in and out while irate subscribers screamed curses and threats at them over the wires. They were pitifully heavy-handed and slow. But they were in dead earnest, and day by day their speed was increasing. Day by day the old employes came drifting back, and in the end the strike of the bourgeoisie was broken.
Sabotage was the second weapon used against the Soviets. In factories managers hid vital parts of machinery, falsified accounts, destroyed plans and formulas and, under cover of night, shipped away lead and flour to Germany. Officials misdirected freight, destroyed good food under the pretext of its being unfit for use, tied everything up in loops of red tape.
The Bolsheviks answered with a "Warning to all Saboteurs and Provocateurs, who have wormed their way into Soviet Institutions." At the same time the walls of the city were placarded with this poster addressed To all HONEST CITIZENS:
Under this threat, those speculating in the hunger of the masses took to cover. Later on, the Extraordinary Commission (Cheka) was created to deal with these offenders, and other enemies of the new Soviet order.
In classes where there was no enmity against the Soviet, the bourgeoisie fomented it. The sufferings of millions of cripples, orphans and wounded was made acute by closing down the Department of Public Welfare. Hospitals and asylums became foodless and fireless. Delegations on crutches and starving mothers, babies in arms, besieged the new Commissar, Madame Kollontai. But she was helpless. The safes were locked, and the officials had made off with the keys. The former Minister, Countess Panina, had made off with the funds.
The Bolshevik reply to this and similar acts was not the guillotine but the Revolutionary Tribunal. Behind a long semi-circular table in the music room of the Palace of the Grand Duke Nicholas sat the seven judges---two soldiers, two workmen, two peasants and the President, Jukov.
The first prisoner was the Countess Panina. The defense recited at length her golden deeds and charities. The young workman prosecutor Naumov replied:
"Comrades: All this is true. The woman has a good heart. But she is all wrong. She has helped the people out of her riches. But where did her riches come from? Out of the exploited people. She tried to do good with her schools, her nurses and her soup-kitchens. But if the people had the money she received out of their blood and sweat, we could have our own schools, our own nurses and our own soup-kitchens. And we could have them the way we want them, not the way she thinks we ought to have them. Her good deeds can not excuse her taking funds from the Ministry."
The verdict was guilty. She was sent to prison until the money was returned, then liberated to public censure! In the beginning light sentences like this were the order of the day. But as the class conflict grew more and more bitter the penalties imposed by the Revolutionary Tribunal grew more severe.
Money is the life-blood of all governments, and all financial institutions were in the hands of the bourgeoisie. To the City Duma and the "Committee of Salvation" the banks privately paid over fifty million rubles---to the Soviets not a single ruble. All their pleas and papers were unavailing. The bourgeoisie found great mirth in the spectacle of the Government of All-Russia going to the banks cap in hand begging for funds and not getting any.
Then one morning the Bolsheviks came to the banks guns in hand. They took the funds. Then they took the banks. By the decree for Nationalization of Banks, these centres of financial power passed into the hands of the working-class.
In their efforts to befuddle the brains of the masses the bourgeoisie saw an ally in alcohol. The city was mined with wine cellars more dangerous than powder magazines. This alcohol in the veins of the populace meant chaos in the life of the city. With this aim the cellars were opened and the mob invited in to help themselves. Bottles in hand the drunks would emerge from the cellars to fall sprawling on the snow, or rove thru the streets, shooting and looting.
To these pogroms the Bolsheviks replied with machine-guns, pouring lead into the bottles---there was no time to break them all by hand. They destroyed three million rubles' worth of vintage in the vaults of the Winter Palace, some of it there for a century. The liquor passed out of the cellars, not thru the throats of the Czar and his retainers, but thru a hose attached to a fire-engine pumping into the canals. A frightful loss. The Bolsheviks deeply regretted it, for they needed funds. But they needed order more.
"Citizens," they declared, "no violation of revolutionary order! No thefts nor brigandage! Following the example of the Paris Commune, we will destroy any looter or instigator of disorder." To meet this crisis this placard was posted:
If liquor might not poison the minds of the people, there was the press. The lie-factories ground out their daily grist of papers and posters telling of the imminent fall of the Bolsheviks; of Lenin's flight to Finland with thirty millions of gold and platinum stolen from the State Bank; of the massacres of women and children by the Reds; of German officers in command at Smolny.
The Bolsheviks replied to this by the suspension of all organs "appealing to open revolt or inciting to crime."
"The wealthy classes," they declared, "holding the lion's share of the public press seek to befuddle the brains and consciences of the people with a stream of slander and lies. . . . If the first Revolution, which overthrew the monarchy, had the right to suppress the monarchist press, then this Revolution, which has overthrown the bourgeoisie, has the right to suppress the bourgeois press."
The opposition press, however, was not wholly suppressed. Papers suspended one day came out the next under a new name. Speech became Free Speech. The Day appeared as Night, then In The Dark Night, Midnight, Two A.M. and so on. In picture and verse Satire went on merrily and mercilessly lampooning the Bolsheviks. The American Committee on Public Information carried on its propaganda unhindered, publishing the words of Samuel Gompers under the headline "Socialists Support the War." But the Bolshevik measures were effective enough to prevent wholesale lying to the masses.
The Czar had used the priests of the Greek Orthodox Church as his spiritual police making "Religion the opiate of the people." With threats of hell and promises of heaven the masses had been bludgeoned into submission to autocracy. Now the church was called to perform the same function for the bourgeoisie. By solemn proclamation the Bolsheviks were excommunicated from all its rites and services.
The Bolsheviks made no direct assault upon religion, but separated Church from State. The flow of government funds into the ecclesiastical coffers was stopped. Marriage was declared a civil institution. The monastic lands were confiscated. Parts of monasteries were turned into hospitals.
The Patriarch thundered his protests against these sacrileges but with little effect. The devotion of the masses to the Holy Church proved to be almost as mythical as their devotion to the Czar. They looked at the Church Decree giving them hell if they sided with the Bolsheviks. Then they looked at the Bolshevik Decree giving them land and factories.
"If we must choose," some said, "we choose the Bolsheviks." Others chose the Church. Many merely muttered "Neechevo" (it doesn't matter much), and walked in the church procession on one day and in the Bolshevik parade on the next.
The cities were the stronghold of the Bolsheviks. The bourgeoisie sought to play the country against them.
"Look!" they said to the peasants, "The cities work but eight hours a day, why should you work sixteen? Why deliver your grain to the cities when you get nothing in return?"(3) The old Executive Committee of the Peasants' Soviet flatly refused to recognize the new government at Smolny.
Over their heads, however, the Bolsheviks called a new congress of peasants. Here the old guard with Chernov made furious assaults upon the Bolsheviks. But two stubborn facts could not be downed. First: The Bolsheviks had given the peasants land-not promises. Second: The Bolsheviks were now inviting the peasants to participate in the new government.
After days of stormy debate an agreement was concluded. The peasants streamed out into the night lit with torches, the band of the Pavlovsky Regiment crashed into the Marseillaise, workmen rushed in upon the peasants clasping them in their arms and kissing them. Behind the huge peasant Soviet banner with its inscription: "Long Live the Union of the Toiling Masses," the procession passed thru the snow-covered streets to Smolny. Here the formal "wedding" of the peasants with the soldiers and workers was consummated. In exaltation an old mujik cried out, "I came here not walking on the ground but flying thru the air." The new government became in reality a Soviet of Workmen, Soldier and Peasant Deputies.
"IN ORDER TO HAVE MORE, IT IS NECESSARY TO PRODUCE MORE. IN ORDER TO PRODUCE MORE, IT IS NECESSARY TO KNOW MORE."
In their efforts to break the Soviets the bourgeoisie struck out right and left---as far left as the Anarchists. Hundreds of officers and monarchists filtered into the anarchist organizations and under the black flag became anarchists of deed.
They entered hotels and at revolver-point "requisitioned" the pocket-books of the guests. In Moscow they "nationalized" thirty-four palaces by dumping the inmates into the streets. They found the American Red Cross automobile of Colonel Robbins standing by a curb and "socialized" it by jumping in and driving off. They justified everything by saying: "We are the real revolutionists---more radical than the Bolsheviks."
The Bolsheviks delivered an ultimatum to the genuine Anarchists to clean house. At the same time they raided the "Anarchist" centers and found great stores of provisions, jewelry and machine-guns fresh from Germany. They restored the stolen property to the owners and arrested all reactionaries masquerading as ultra-revolutionists.
For help the bourgeoisie turned to their former enemies---the Germans. Again and again they told us that next week we would see the German armies marching into Moscow.
The Bolsheviks had then no Red Armies to oppose the Germans, no batteries of guns. But they had batteries of linotypes; and printing-presses, which sprayed the German ranks with the deadly shrapnel of propaganda. In the Torch and the People's Peace, in all languages, flamed the appeal to the German soldiers to use their guns---not to destroy the workingmen's republic in Russia, but to set up a workingmen's republic in Germany.
In the Soviet offices John Reed and I made up an illustrated sheet. Picture No. 1 showed the German Embassy in Petrograd, a big banner on its front. Underneath this picture these sentences:
See the great banner. It is the word of a famous German. Was it Bismarck? Was it Hindenburg? No. It is the call of the immortal Karl Marx to international brotherhood---"Proletarians of all lands, unite!"
This is not merely a pretty decoration of the German Embassy. In all seriousness the Russians have raised this banner, and to you Germans they hurl back the same words that your Karl Marx gave to the whole world seventy years ago.
At last a real proletarian republic has been founded. But this republic cannot be secure until the workers of all lands conquer the power of government.
The Russian peasants, workers and soldiers will soon send a socialist as ambassador to Berlin. When will Germany send an internationalist Socialist to this building of the German embassy in Petrograd ?
Picture No. 3 showed a soldier prying the Russian Imperial eagles off a palace, the crowd below burning them. Underneath these words:
On the roof of a palace, a soldier is tearing down the hateful emblem of autocracy. Below the crowd is burning the eagles. The soldier in the crowd is explaining that the overthrow of autocracy is only the first step in the march of social revolution.
It is easy to overthrow autocracy. Autocracy rests on nothing but the blind submission of soldiers. The Russian soldiers merely opened their eyes and autocracy disappeared.
These pictures, papers and leaflets were flung up into the air to be blown by favorable winds into the German trenches. They were dropped from aeroplanes and smuggled across in shoes and boxes and on prisoners returning to Germany.
All this disintegrated the German armies and made for revolution. General Hoffman said: "It was Lenin and the Bolsheviks that broke our morale and gave us defeat and the revolution you now see ruining us." Probably the propaganda was not so effective as this. But it did prevent the German troops from coming to overwhelm the Soviet. The Russian bourgeoisie began scheming for intervention by the Allies.
On January 18, 1918, at the height of the struggle between the classes the Constituent Assembly convened. It reflected an earlier phase of the Revolution---a viewpoint now discarded. It was elected from antiquated lists---lists in which one Soviet Party---the Left Socialist Revolutionists, did not appear as a party at all. The masses were indifferent to this institution coming like a ghost out of the past. But the bourgeoisie loudly acclaimed it. In reality the bourgeoisie had no zeal for the Constituent Assembly and for months had done everything to postpone or kill it. How often had I heard them say: "The Constituent Assembly---we spit upon it." Now it was their last hope, the last screen behind which they could operate, they became its ardent champions.
For the opening day a big demonstration was organized. About 15,000 officers, chinovniks and intelligentsia paraded thru the streets. Fur-clad ladies of leisure arrayed in scarlet colors, old monarchists carrying banners of red, large-bellied landlords lustily singing "We starved and bled in the people's cause" all tried their best to look like a revolutionary procession. But only the songs and banners were red. The marchers were largely White Guards and Black Hundreds---scarcely a peasant or worker. The masses stood aside and greeted the paraders, with jeers or contemptuous silence.
The Constituent Assembly came too late. It was still-born. In the swift pace of Revolution the allegiance of the revolutionary masses had passed wholly to the Soviet. For the Soviet they had marched 500,000 strong and they were ready, not only to march for it, but to fight and die for it. The Soviet was precious to the working-classes because it was their own institution, born in their own class and admirably fitted to realize their own ends.
Every dominant class fashions, the kind of state-apparatus that will best secure its power, thru which it can govern in its own interests. When kings and nobles were in power the state-apparatus thru which they functioned was the Autocracy, the Bureaucracy. When the bourgeois-capitalist classes rose to power in the 18th century they scrapped this old state-apparatus and created a new one adapted to their purposes---the Parliament, Congress.
In like manner the working-classes rising to power in Russia brought with them their own state-apparatus---the Soviet. They had tried and tested it in thousands of local Soviets. They were familiar with its workings. It was part of their daily experience. Thru it they had achieved the desires of their hearts---land, factories, and the proffers of peace. They had marched to victory with it. They had made it the government of Russia.
And now this belated Constituent Assembly refused to recognize the Soviet as the government of Russia. It refused to accept the Soviets' Declaration of the Rights of the Working and Exploited Peoples---"the Magna Charta of the Russian Revolution."(4) It was as if the French Revolution refused to accept the Declaration of the Rights of Man.
Accordingly it was dissolved. In the morning of January 19, 1918, the sailor guards said they were sleepy and that the remaining delegates must stop talking and go home. Thus after one session the Constituent Assembly expired, making a great furor in the Western world, but in the life of Russia hardly a ripple. It had no hold on the people. By the manner of its dying it showed that it had no right to live.
The chief mourners for the Constituent Assembly were the bourgeoisie. It was their last hope. Now, it was gone their rage against the Revolution and all its works was implacable. This was quite natural. The Revolution was a catastrophe to them. It declared: "If a man does not work, neither shall he eat." "No one shall have cake until everybody has bread." It dynamited the whole basis of their lives. It took the great estates away from the landlords, the gilt-edged jobs away from the office-holders, the control of banks and factories away from the capitalists. Nobody likes to have things taken away from him. No leisure class gracefully steps down from the roof-garden and goes to work. No-privileged class voluntarily resigns any of its privileges. No class steeped in tradition discards the old and gladly embraces the new.
There are of course exceptions to this rule---in Russia some striking ones. The old Czarist general, Nikolayev, declared himself a Bolshevik and took command in the Red Army. Later captured by the Whites at Yamburg he was called upon to deny his faith. He refused. He was tortured---a red star burned upon his breast. Still he refused to recant. He was led to the scaffold and a noose placed around his neck.
"I die a Bolshevik. Long live the Soviet," he cried as he was swung out into space.
There were others like him---men whose hearts had been touched by the teachings of Tolstoy and the long line of Russian humanitarians, men who saw the iniquity of the old order and the justice of the new.
But these were exceptions. As a class the Russian bourgeoisie looked at the Revolution with horror and hate. Their only thought was to kill it. Blinded with vengeance they cast aside all codes of honor, chivalry and patriotism. They cried for foreign bayonets to strike it down. Every weapon was sanctified---even assassination. The civilized veneer dropped away. The primitive fang and claw appeared. Men of parts and culture became Savages
THE conduct of the Russian upper-classes in their efforts to regain the power of the State shows nothing new or unusual in history. The unprecedented thing is the determination of the Russian working-class to hold that power. They clung to their course with dogged tenacity, meeting thrust with counter-thrust, striking back blow for blow, steel for iron. They developed unexampled discipline and solidarity.(5)
It is said that the rank and file were held in line by the iron will of their leaders, that their resolution was just the reflex of the resolution of the men above. The opposite is nearer the truth.
It was the leaders who were irresolute. Three Bolshevik Commissars left their posts at a critical moment. Five others (Zinoviev, Kamanev, Milyutin, Nogin, Rykov) tendered their resignation to the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. Lunacharsky, believing all the tales of Moscow's destruction, cried out, "My cup is full. I am unable to endure this horror. It is impossible to work under the pressure of thoughts that drive me mad. I can bear no more. I resign."
"Shame upon these men of little faith, who hesitate and doubt, capitulating to the cries of the bourgeoisie," cried Lenin. "Look at the masses. In them there is not a shadow of hesitation." The names of the deserters were pilloried thru Russia. Before the blast of indignation from the proletarians, the commissars scurried back to their posts never to waver again.
But they could never quite shake off the haunting fear of defeat. Even Lenin was not immune. "Ten days more and we shall have lived seventy days---as long is the Paris Commune," he exclaimed, surprised at so far escaping disaster. At times the leaders saw their venture ending in certain death.
"We did our best," said Peters dolefully one day, "but it is all over for us shortly."
"Perhaps tomorrow," said Pokrovsky, "we shall get a sleep---a long one."
These forebodings never assailed the minds of the Bolshevik rank and file. They drove ahead in full confidence and assurance, infusing their leaders above with fresh courage and determination, and inspiring the broad masses below with the will to victory.
To what extent did these masses support the new government set up by the Bolsheviks? How wide a following did the Revolution find in the people? The People's Business (Dielo Narodo) said: "A revolution is a rising of all the people. But what have we here? A handful of poor fools deceived by Lenin and Trotzky."
True, the membership of the Bolshevik Party was a "handful" among the great populations of Russia ---not more than one or two per cent. If that was all, the new government might well be stigmatized as "the tyranny of an infinitesimal fraction over the great majority." But one fact must be borne in mind, viz.: Bolshevik sentiment is not to be gauged by the Bolshevik Party. For every Bolshevik in the official Bolshevik Party there were 30 to 50 Bolsheviks in the general population.
The high standard of admission, the hard duties, and drastic discipline of the Bolshevik Party, made the masses unwilling to join it. But they voted for it.(6)
In the elections to the Constituent Assembly in Northern and Central Russia, Bolsheviks got 55 per cent. of the vote---not 1 or 2 per cent. In Petrograd the Bolsheviks and their allies, the Left Socialist-Revolutionists, received 576,000 votes---more than the 17 other parties combined.
It is said that there are three grades of lies: "Lies, damned lies and statistics." Revolutionary statistics are particularly unreliable. For in time of revolution public opinion moves like a tidal wave. The people vote one way today. A few weeks hence they will vote quite differently.
When the Constituent Assembly was elected in November, 1917, about one-third were for the Bolsheviks (including their allies, the Left Socialist-Revolutionists). When the Constituent Assembly convened in January, 1918, possibly two-thirds were for the Bolsheviks. In the few weeks' interim the Bolshevik ideas swept from the cities into the villages, and out into the provinces. The peasants, finding that the Soviet Land Decree had actually given them the land, rallied behind the Bolshevik banners in millions.
A fair estimate of the growth of Bolshevik adherents in the adult population would go like this:
|March 1917||at the fall of the Czar||
|July 1917||after the armed demonstration||
|November 1917||Constituent Assembly election (official returns)||
|January 1918||3rd Congress of Soviets representing||
The Bolsheviks had not merely numbers but all the strategic positions. The big cities were Bolshevik---so were the railwaymen, the miners, the workers in basic industries. And the bayonets were overwhelmingly on their side. The Bolsheviks had the mandate of the essential forces of Russia to carry on the Revolution in the Bolshevik way.
It is a grave error to minimize the following the Bolsheviks had in the masses. It is an equally grave error to say that these masses were all zealots of the Revolution, all filled with a high and holy enthusiasm. On the contrary great numbers were quite indifferent. The Revolution was only "skin-deep."
One winter morning I set out in a sleigh with Charles Kuntz, a New Jersey farmer and philosopher, who had come to Russia for a scientific study of the Revolution. On finding that we were Americans, our driver, a lad of fifteen, was all excitement.
"Oh, Americans!" he exclaimed. "Tell me did Buffalobill and Jessejams really live?"
We said, "Yes" and at once leaped to glory in the eyes of our driver. The exploits of these Western daredevils he knew by heart. Now this great joy-he was driving two countrymen of his heroes. He gazed long at us in big blue-eyed admiration while we tried hard to look like Buffalo Bill and Jesse James themselves.
"Oh! Ho!" he shouted. "I'll show you how to drive." He loosed the reins, cried "B-r-r" to his horse and with a jerk struck out into a break-neck gallop, the sleigh bounding over the ice-hummocks like a stage-coach on a Rocky Mountain road. Shouting with delight, he stood up in his box, cracking his whip, the sleigh slewing fearfully from side to side while Kuntz and I clung desperately to our seats and begged him to stop.
We told him that Buffalo Bill at his best never did better---but not to do it again. He plied us with incessant questions about the West while we tried to get him to talk about Russia. But in vain. The Russian Revolution was in eclipse. The deeds done in his books with glaring paper covers were so much more blood-stirring and important than those done in the streets of Petrograd.
Not all indifference to the Revolution was so picturesque. The energies of multitudes were absorbed by routine, and the sheet details of finding food and clothes. Others sordidly saw in the Revolution their chance for loot and laziness. They had toiled like slaves, now they would loaf like lords. The Revolution meant to them not freedom for work but freedom from work. They lounged all day on the corners, their sole contribution to the new order being to spit the husks of sun-flower seeds on the pavement. Soldiers became "State boarders," doing nothing in return for the food, clothes and lodging they got from the government. The nights they spent in card playing, their days in sleeping. Instead of drilling they became hawkers peddling rubbers, cigarettes and gew-gaws in the streets.
There was venal criminal indifference, too, to the interests of the Revolution. In positions deserted by the intelligentsia, adventurers and careerists saw their chance for plunder and glory. When John Reed and I visited the Petrograd Prefect of Police he flung his arms around, us, crying: "Welcome, dear comrades. I will commandeer for you the best apartments in the city. We must sing the Marseillaise together. Ah! Our Magnificent Revolution," he exclaimed ecstatically. There was no doubt about his inspiration. The sources of it stood in a dozen bottles on the table. Under their influence he grew eloquent:
"Danton and Marat ruled Paris in the French Revolution. Their names have gone down in history.! rule Petrograd today. My name shall go down in history." Short-lived glory! Next day he was jailed for accepting a bribe.
Another romantic buccaneer in some way received an appointment as military commissar. His self-importance mounted with every verst that took him away from Moscow. He sent word to a local Soviet that his coming would be announced by the booming of a cannon and the delegates were forthwith to assemble. Revolver in hand he strode upon the platform and in stentorian voice read his commission to the astounded auditors, punctuating each sentence by firing a bullet into the ceiling. There was short shrift for such adventurers.
But for the broad masses the Bolsheviks had infinite tolerance. They knew that the state had stupefied their brains , the church had deformed their consciences, famine had racked their bodies, alcohol had soddened their spirits. They had been exhausted by years of war and perverted by centuries of cruelty and deceit. For these masses the Bolsheviks had patience---and education.
"Whatever other expenses are cut down," the Bolsheviks declared, "the expenditures on public instruction must stay high. A generous budget for education is the honor and glory of every people. Our first aim must be the struggle against ignorance."
Everywhere schools were opened---even in palaces, barracks and factories.. Over them was blazoned the legend "Children are the hope of the world" (Detye nadezkde meera). Into them marched millions of children, some of them forty and sixty years of age---old babas and grey-bearded peasants. A whole nation was learning to read and write.
Alongside the revolutionary proclamations and bills for the opera, appeared on the boardings biographies of great men, screeds on health and art and science. Workmen's theatres, libraries and lecture-courses sprang up on all sides. Doors to culture hitherto tight-closed to the masses were unlocked. Peasants and workers flocked into the museums and galleries.
The Bolsheviks aimed not only at better brains but better bodies. To this end many decrees were issued, such as the eight-hour law. The right of every child to be well-born was proclaimed. The stigma of illegitimacy was removed. Each industry was to provide one maternity bed for each two hundred workwomen. For eight weeks before and eight weeks after childbirth the mother was exempted from work. A Palace of Motherhood was established in different centers. The children instead of the wealthy were given the first claim upon such "luxuries" as milk and fruit. By the housing law the rich man lost his right to ten or twenty rooms or as many dwellings. On the other hand a dozen families gained for the first time the right to fresh air, light and decent dwellings. Not only was their health better, but they gained in self-respect and dignity. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, basing itself on the multitudes, sought to nourish multitudes of sound, clean bodies, brains and consciences. The Bolsheviks were working for the future.
Having destroyed the main foundations of the old bourgeois order, they now faced the infinitely more trying task---the construction of a new order. They had to build it anew in every department, to build it from the bottom up, to build it out of the ruins of the past, to build it while beset and bedevilled on every side.
No one can exaggerate the magnitude of the task of reorganizing a new society. Some of the obstacles I glimpsed in one department---the military. Trotzky had just flung into the face of General von Hoffman his: "You are writing with the sword on the bodies of living nations" and had refused to sign the First Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The Germans then started a sudden drive on Petrograd. I joined the Red Guards for the defense of the city. Hearing this, Lenin suggested that I form a foreign detachment. Pravda printed our "call" in such English type as they could muster. (See reproduction of this on right.)
About sixty men joined the detachment. Amongst them was Charles Kuntz, heretofore a Tolstoyan with scruples against killing even a chicken. Now that the Revolution was in peril, he threw over his pacifism and took up a gun. A tremendous change, to convert a fifty year old philosopher into a soldier. In target practise his rifle would get tangled in his beard, but once his bullet hit the bull's-eye and his eyes glistened with joy.
We were a motley crowd and our fighting-strength really amounted to little. But the spirit of it had a good moral effect upon the Russians. It gave them the feeling that they were not utterly alone. And on a tiny scale it gave us an insight into the difficulties the Bolsheviks must struggle with on a colossal scale. We saw the thousand obstacles that must be overcome before any organization could function.
British and French agents on the one hand, and German agents on the other, tried to worm their way into our detachment. The Whites tried to get hold of it for counter-revolutionary purposes. Provocators stirred up jealousy and dissent. After we got the men, it was almost impossible to get the equipment. Military stores were in a hopeless tangle. Rifles in one place, bullets in another; telephones, barbed-wire and sappers' tools in one vast jumble; and officers trying their best to make it more jumbled. When the sabotagers, were removed, raw incompetent men took their places. We entrained two miles below Petrograd and, after a horrible ordeal in a box-car, we got up to find ourselves four miles on the other side of the city. We had lost six miles during the night and were stalled in a yard full of cursing troops, trains, broken-down engines. Exasperated commissars were shoving papers and fists into the faces of railway officers, who were frantically protesting they could do nothing.
This was a reflex of the chaos that prevailed all over Russia. To bring order out of it seemed a sheer impossibility. Yet the impossibility was being accomplished. In the welter of confusion was rising the great Red Army destined to amaze the world by its organization, discipline and effectiveness. And not only in the realm of war but in the cultural and economic fields were appearing the results of the powerful directing spirit begotten of the Revolution.
Always there were tremendous latent energies in the Russian masses. But they had never found expression. They had been locked up by the grim jailer---Autocracy. The Revolution came as their releaser, and with the pent-up fury of centuries they burst forth and smashed the old bourgeois order to pieces.
We had seen the Revolution unloose the tremendous powers of the people for destructive ends. Now we were seeing the Revolution evoke their creative powers and direct them to constructive ends. "Order. Work. Discipline." are the new watchwords of the Revolution.
But is this new spirit being born only in these great centres? Or is a like process at work out in the provinces and the vast populations of Russia. Presently we are to find out for ourselves. After nearly a year in the midst of the Revolution Kuntz and I are going home. Our eyes are turned to the East---toward America. Our journey is to take us thru the two continents over which Russia spreads herself, across 6,000 miles of Trans-Siberian Railway to the Pacific.
1. Appendix II "The Train of Death" from the American Red Cross Magazine.
2. Appendix, p. 304.
3. Appendix, p. 310. Soviet appeal to Peasants: "Dear Brothers."
4. Appendix VI, p. 297.
5. Appendix, p. 302: "To All Workers of Petrograd."
6. Socialist voters are always 10 to 50 times as numerous as Socialist Party members. New York in 1920 had 12,000 Socialist Party members. This election showed 176,000 Socialist Party voters. In Vladivostok in 1918, the Bolshevik Party members were 300. In the June election there were 12,000 Bolshevik Party voters. This election was held under Allied auspices with the Bolshevik papers suppressed and their leaders imprisoned, yet more citizens voted for the Bolsheviks than for the other 16 parties combined. Yet propagandists for the Czarists Kolchak and Denikin---like John Spargo---tried to focus all attention on the membership, which is utterly misleading.
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