WHY this animus of the Allies against the Soviets? Why not regard Russia as a vast laboratory experiment?" someone once asked an American banker. "Why not let these visionaries try out their socialistic schemes? When their dream becomes a nightmare, when their Utopia collapses, you can point to it always as an example of the horrible failure of Socialism."
"Very good," was the reply, "but supposing it isn't a failure? Then where are we?"
Failure is what the Allies prayed for, and eager-eyed, they watched for Soviet collapse. But it did not come. It was precisely this that enraged the Allies. The Soviet was showing signs of success. It was creating not disorder, but order---not chaos, but organization. It was entrenching itself in the economic and military fields. In the cultural and diplomatic fields it was pressing forward. Everywhere it was consolidating its gains.
The Soviet stood straight across the pathway of the Imperialists. If it continued to grow in power their plans would be completely shattered. They could no longer hope for a free hand in the exploitation of the immense resources of Russia.(1)
So the crushing of the Soviet was decreed. Now, before it should become too strong and lusty, it must be smashed.
The Czecho-Slovaks were the instrument chosen to administer the death-blow. Unwittingly they were being groomed by their French officers for this job. Regiments of these seasoned troops were strategically strung out along the Trans-Siberian line. Vladivostok held 17,000 of them armed, fed, and transported hither by grace of the Soviets.
The French said that transports were coming to take them to the Western battle-front. Week after week it was announced that the boats were on the way. But no ships came. The French had never intended to ship the Czechs away. They intended to use them here in Siberia to smash the Soviet.
The Czechs were already restless, fretting with inaction. They had a deep hereditary hatred of the Austro-Germans. The French told them that there were tens of thousands of Austro-Germans in the Red Army. Adroitly playing upon their patriotism, the French pictured the Soviets as friends of the Austro-Germans, and enemies of the Czechs. So they engineered friction, and got them ready for the assault upon the Soviets. The methods of attack were adapted to the place.
Here in Vladivostok surprise was deemed essential. The plan was to get the Soviet off guard, and then spring a sudden coup. To do this the Soviets must be hoodwinked with a show of friendship. This business was delegated to the British. Dropping their hostile front, they assumed toward the Bolsheviks an attitude of amiability.
With frank, engaging air the Consul confessed to a former antagonism to the Soviets, and the backing of Semyonov. Now that the Soviet had proved its right to live, the British would lend their aid. To begin with, they would cooperate in the importation of machinery. Following this, on Friday afternoon, June 28th, 1918, two genial officials called to present their respects to Sukhanov, bringing the information that wireless messages received on H. M. S. Suffolk would be daily handed to the Soviet for publication in its papers.
The editors, particularly Jerome, were jubilant.
They came down to Russian Island, urging me to come up and celebrate the capitulation of the Allies. Good reason for their rapture! It had been a hard uphill pull, plodding thru the murk and the night.
Now suddenly the clouds break, and the sky shines blue.
Next morning at eight-thirty a thunderbolt comes out of the blue! It strikes Sukhanov, sitting in his Soviet office. It is an ultimatum in the name of the Czechs. It calls for the unconditional surrender of the Soviet. All offices are to be evacuated. All soldiers are to proceed to the High School field, and lay down their arms. The time limit is thirty minutes.
Sukhanov, rushing to Czech headquarters, begs for permission to call the Soviet together.
"Certainly, if you can do it in half an hour," coolly replies the Czech commander.
As Sukhanov turns to leave, he is placed under arrest.
All this goes on behind the scenes. The city remains in the dark. One or two commissars only have a hint of the tragedy now so imminent. On Svetlanskaya, near the Red Fleet Building, I meet Preminsky having his shoes blacked.
"Getting all shined up early in the morning," I say.
"Yes," he replies casually, lighting a cigarette. "In a few minutes I may be dangling from a lamppost, and I want to be as nice looking a corpse as possible." I stare at him wondering, quizzical.
"Our days are done for," he explained, still nonchalant and smiling, "The Czechs are taking over the city."
Even as he speaks the end of the street is filling with troops. So are the side-streets. In all quarters soldiers are moving, in boats from across the bay, in launches from the battleships. Down from the hill above and up from the piers below, like a dense fog the army of Interventionists rolls in upon the city. The open spaces are seething with soldiery, heavily armed, loaded with grenades, huge ominous-looking things. Enough explosives to pulverize the whole city!
The occupation proceeds swiftly, like clock-work, according to plan.
The Japanese seize the powder-magazine, the British the railroad station. The Americans throw a cordon around the consulate. The Chinese and others take up lesser points. The Czechs converge upon the Soviet building. They encircle it from all sides. With a loud "Hurrah,"---they rush forward, and go crashing thru the doors. The Red Flag of the Socialist Republic is pulled down, and the red, white and blue flag of autocracy is run up. Vladivostok passes into the hands of the Imperialists.
"The Soviet has fallen," a hoarse shout goes up in the street, and runs like wildfire thru the city. The patrons of the Olympia Café, rushing out into the street, burst into yells, flinging up their hats, cheering the Czechs. The Soviet and all its works is a cursed thing to them. It is fallen. But that is not enough. They would obliterate every trace of it.
Before them, wrought out in flower-beds edged with stone, is the design which spells SOVIET OF WORKMEN'S DEPUTIES. Vaulting the iron fence, they kick away the stones, stamp thru the flowers, plunging their hands deep into the soil in order to extirpate the last root and vestige of the odious symbol.
Their blood is up now. Their appetites are whetted. They want something animate to vent their rage upon.
Spying me in the throng, they raise a great hue and cry:
"Immigrant! Swine!" (Amerikanskaya Svoloch) they yell. "Kill him! Choke him! Hang him!" The mob of speculators converges on me, brandishing fists and cursing.
But the ring of men forming next to me makes no attempt to lay hands on me. Why, I wonder? They are partisans of the Soviet. Seeing my peril, they have wormed their way in between me and these would-be lynchers, forming a kind of protective pocket.
A low voice whispers, "Head for the Red Fleet Building. Walk, don't run." Pushed and jostled by the crowd behind, I steer my course toward the Red Fleet Building. Opposite its portal I hear the word "Run!" I slip thru the door, and escape in its labyrinths, leaving my pursuers disputing with the Czechs below.
In the front of the building I find a third story window that overlooks the city. From this vantage point I can see and still be unseen. Up and down below me stretches Svetlanskaya, boiling now like a cauldron. This street, which twenty minutes earlier had been so placid in the shining morning sun, is now a riot of people and color and sound. Blue-jacketed Japs in white puttees, English marines with the Union Jack, khaki-clad Czechs, with green and white, marching and counter-marching, cut currents thru the eddying throng, each moment growing greater.
Thru the bourgeois quarters the glad tiding "The Soviet has fallen" spreads with magic swiftness. From boudoir, café, and parlor, in silks and smiles, they hasten forth to celebrate. Svetlanskaya becomes a grand promenade, brightly splashed with gay plumes and petticoats and parasols.
Some of the toilettes are elaborate. Fortunate ladies! Tipped off in advance they had time to adorn themselves. The officers, too, blossom out in full regalia---gold braid and epaulets, jangling spurs---and much saluting. They make escorts for the ladies, or form into marching squads. There are hundreds of them. One wonders how Vladivostok could have held so many.
And so many bourgeois! Well-kept, rotund gentlemen with avoirdupois enough to qualify as cartoons of themselves. They hail each other, faces beaming, clasping one another's hands, embracing and kissing, exclaiming "The Soviet is fallen" as tho it were an Easter greeting. Two big fat chinovniks, almost apoplectic with joy, try to fall upon one another's bosom, but their expansive abdomens are in the way. In their efforts to embrace, clutching at one another, they bid fair to burst themselves.
With incredible swiftness a complete change passes over this city of the proletarians. It becomes a city of the well-fed and well-groomed, their shining faces exultant, congratulating one another, praising God and the Allies, and cheering the Czechs.
Poor Czechs! These cheers embarrass and mortify them. Their heads hang in shame, meeting a Russian workingman. Some indeed refuse point-blank to go into this garroting of a workingman's government. None of them relish the job of crucifying other workmen to make a carnival for the bourgeoisie. And the bourgeoisie want more than a holiday with bands and streamers. They want a Roman holiday with blood and victims. They want vengeance and retribution on these workmen who have forgotten their station in life.
"Now, we will put them in their proper places," they exclaim. "We will put them on the lamp-posts. It's red these birds admire, is it? Very well, we shall give them all they want of their favorite color. We'll draw it from their veins!"
They urge the Czechs to violence. They want a part in it themselves. They point out the foremost workmen and denounce them. They know where the commissars are to be found, and lead the way into office and workshop.
Very busy also is a crew of rat-faced, swart-faced creatures-spies, provocators and pogromists of the old régime. Swarming out of their holes and now come into their own again, they seek by excesses against the Bolsheviks to ingratiate themselves with the bourgeoisie. Like weasels they penetrate everywhere, even into the building where I am.
Suddenly screams, curses, and the sound of pounding feet break out on the stairs above. Four men invading the party offices on the top-floor have laid hold of Zoya. Single-handed she resists them, fighting back every inch of the way. By twisting her arms, pummeling and pushing her, they drag her down into the street and march her off to prison.
Such scenes are repeated thruout the city. Commissars and workmen are busy at their tasks in office, shop and bank. The doors are flung open. They are pounced upon, and dragged out into the highway.
Thru the center of the highway a narrow lane is opened. Thru this channel, the captives, manacled or gripped by their captors, are prodded along by revolver-butt, and bayonet-point. Hoots, jeers and catcalls ring in their ears. Clenched fists are thrust in their faces. Some are spat upon and beaten by the mob which surges into the passageway blocking their progress.
An extra outburst of rage breaks on the head of the Commissar of Banks. He has touched them directly in their vital center---their pocket-nerve. They yell, and hoot, and would tear him limb from limb. A white flannelled gentleman, red-faced with fury, breaks thru the Czech guards, brandishing a revolver, grabs the commissar by his arms, and stalks on beside him, howling like an Indian.
One by one the commissars are shoved along this corridor of scowling faces, derisive and hate-contorted. Their own faces by contrast are strangely serene and calm. Some are pallid, but on the whole they are dauntless, almost debonair. They are alert, terribly interested in everything. These men have tasted life. They have run its gamut, from prison-dungeons to high affairs of state. So many adventures have been theirs. What new surprise lies before them around the turning? The most thrilling of all, perhaps the final one. If so, let it come. Death has little terror for them. Long ago when they gave themselves to the Revolution, that matter was disposed of. Then they put all they had, their lives included, into its keeping.
They were conscripts of the Revolution. When it called---they came. Where it sent them---they went. What it exacted---they performed, obedient, unquestioning. Under the Czar, the Revolution had called them to the task of agitators. Under the Soviet it drafted them to the post of commissars. At the call of the Revolution they had yielded up leisure, comfort, health, and found joy therein. Now they were being summoned to yield up their lives. In the supreme sacrifice might they not find the supreme joy?
All this was certainly written upon the face of Melnikov. Thru this thunderstorm of foes---hissing, roaring, and howling---he came smiling thru like a shaft of sunshine. Svetlanskaya means "The Lighted Way." Always for me it will be lit with the countenance of this workingman. About him there was something celestial, transcendent. Climbing up the hill, buffeted, jeered and spat upon, he was strangely like the figure of another Workingman, toiling thru another hostile multitude, up another hill ---long ago.
Only this was no "Via Dolorosa." It was a "Way of Triumph," with Melnikov coming up like a conqueror. His face was wreathed in smiles. His sparkling eyes were still more sparkling, his features more radiant than ever. A hoarse voice shouted "Scoundrel! Hang him!" Melnikov only smiled. A heavy fist struck him in the cheek. He smiled again. It was the smile of one lifted above the base passions of the mob, far beyond reach of its blows and jeers. It was a smile of pity for the haters. Could Melnikov have been aware of the power in that smile? The silent conquests it made that day in the hearts of his beholders? It was a magnet drawing the hesitant and wavering, into the camp of the Revolution. At the same time it was a sword, wreaking havoc in the camp of the Counter-Revolutionists.
They could not abide this smile of Melnikov and the laugh of Sukhanov. They were irritated and haunted by them. The bourgeoisie would have liked to strike these young men dead in the streets. But they did not dare do it---yet. The commissars were not killed but jailed.
The Allies for the present are against any wholesale massacre of the workers. They are anxious to make intervention appear in the guise of a crusade for democracy, welcomed by all the people. Not yet has it unmasked itself as stark Czaristic reaction. Vladivostok, in the Allied plan, is to be the foothold for the spring upon Siberia. They do not want that foothold too slippery with blood. In the hinterland, in the back regions of Siberia, peasants' and workers' blood may flow in torrents. But not in this seaport town, exposed before the eyes of the world. A few Red Guards and workers are shot down in their tracks. But there is no general blood-spilling. The suddenness of the onslaught, the overwhelming masses of troops, have smothered the Soviet.
At one point only did the Soviet forces have a chance to rally. That was near the water-front, the rendezvous of the gruzckiki, longshoremen, stevedores, coal-heavers, loaders of ships. They were of peasant origin, huge shaggy fellows, heavy muscled for their heavy work.
The intricate problems of state and politics they did not comprehend. But one simple fact they did comprehend. Whereas once they were slaves, now they were free! From the status of beasts they had been raised to the status of men. And they knew that the Soviet had done this.
Now they see the Soviet in peril. Rushing into the nearby Red Staff Building, they bolt and bar the doors, and barricade the windows, taking their posts, rifles in hand, ready for the assault. At all costs they will hold this ground for the Soviet.
The odds against them are one hundred to one. Two hundred freight-handlers pitted against twenty thousand seasoned troops. Revolvers against machine-guns. Rifles against cannon. But on the side of this garrison of gruzchiki is the flame of the Revolution. It has fired the spirits of these coal-heavers, outwardly so gross and sluggish. They grow fearless, swift, and daring. All afternoon the ring of steel and flame around them grows denser and closer. They watch it undaunted, refusing every call to capitulate. And as night begins to fall, their guns are still blazing from the windows.
In the shadows a Czech crawls close up, and hurls an incendiary bomb thru a window of the building, setting it afire. The citadel of the longshoremen threatens now to become a funeral-pyre.
Enveloped in flame and smoke they grope and stumble into the street, hands raised in surrender.
Some are slaughtered, some are clubbed into insensibility. The rest are marched away to prison.
Resistance is crushed. The Soviet is annihilated. The Allies congratulate themselves upon the success of the coup. The bourgeoisie are in transports of delight. Lights flame from the windows of the great houses and restaurants. From the cafés come snatches of song, and the throb of the orchestra. The merrymakers are laughing, dancing, cheering the Allied uniforms. From the churches breaks forth the clanging, chiming, pealing, booming music of the bells---the priests within offering up prayers for the Czar. From the decks of the battleships the bugles call across the waters of the bay. The city gives itself up to revelry and rejoicing.
But not in the workingmen's quarters. There is silence, broken only by the sobbing of women. Behind drawn curtains they are laying out their slain. From a nearby shed comes the sound of hammering. The men are joining rough planks together, making coffins for their comrade dead.
Intervention in Russia begins---the Allied armies crush the Vladivostok Soviet. The Stars and Stripes, the French Tricolor, the Union Jack, and the Rising Sun of Japan flying from the Czech Building.
The Red Funeral---the protest of the unarmed masses against Intervention. Coffins of longshoremen slain in defense of the Soviet carried through the streets on the way to the American Consulate.
IT was the Fourth of July--- I was standing on the Kitaiskaya looking down upon the holiday flags on the Brooklyn, the American battleship in Vladivostok Bay. Suddenly I heard a faraway sound. Listening, I caught the strains of the Revolutionary Hymn:
"With heart, heavy and sad we bring our dead,
Who shed their blood in the fight for freedom."
Looking up, I saw on the crest of the hill the first lines of some vast procession. It was the funeral of the gruzckiki (longshoremen) killed four days before in the siege of the, Red Staff Building.
To-day the people, rising out of their grief and terror, were coming forth to bury these defenders of the fallen Soviet. Out of the workmen's quarters they streamed, jamming the street, not from curb to curb, but from wall to wall. They came billowing over the hilltop by thousands until the whole long slope was choked with the dense, slow moving throng, keeping time to the funeral march of the revolutionists.
Up thru the gray and black mass of men and women ran two lines of white-bloused sailors of the Bolshevik fleet. Above their heads tossed a cloud of crimson standards with silvered cords and tassels. In the vanguard, four men carried a huge red banner with the words: "Long Live the Soviet of Workmen's and Peasants' Deputies! Hail to the International Brotherhood of the Toilers!"
A hundred girls in white, carrying green wreaths from forty-four unions of the city, formed a guard of honor for the dead gruzchiki. The coffins with the red paint still wet upon them, were borne upon the shoulders of their comrades. The music crashed out by the Red Fleet Band was lost in the volume of song that rose from the seventeen thousand singers.
Here was color and sound and motion. But there was something else, a something which compelled fear and awe. I had seen a score of the great processions of Petrograd and Moscow, peace and victory and protest and memorial parades, military and civilian, impressive as only Russians could make them.
But this was different.
From these defenseless poor, stripped of their arms, and with sorrowing songs bearing off their dead, there came a threat more menacing than that from the twelve-inch guns of the Allied Fleet, riding in the harbor below. It was impossible not to feel it. It was so simple, so spontaneous and so elemental. It came straight out of the heart of the people. It was the people, leaderless, isolated, beaten to earth, thrown upon its own resources, and yet, out of its grief, rising magnificently to take command of itself.
The dissolution of the Soviet., instead of plunging the people into inactive grief and dissipating their forces, begot a strange, unifying spirit. Seventeen thousand separate souls were welded into one. Seventeen thousand people, singing in unison, found themselves thinking in unison. With a common mass will and mass consciousness, they formulated their decisions from their class standpoint---the determined standpoint of the revolutionary proletariat.
The Czechs came, offering a guard of honor. "Ne noozhno!" (It is not necessary!) the people replied. "You killed our comrades. Forty to one you fought against them. They died for the Soviet and we are proud of them. We thank you, but we cannot let the guns which shot them down guard them in their death!"
"But there may be danger for you in this city," said the authorities.
"Never mind," they answered. "We, too, are not afraid of death. And what better way to die than beside the bodies of our comrades!"
Some bourgeois societies came, presenting memorial wreaths.
"Ne noozhno," (it is not necessary), the people answered. "Our comrades died in a struggle against the bourgeoisie. They died fighting cleanly. We must keep their memory clean. We thank you, but we dare not lay your wreaths upon their coffins."
The procession poured down the Aleutskaya Hill, filled the large open space at the bottom, and faced up toward the British Consulate. Nearby, on the left, was a work car with a tower for repairing electric wires. Whether it was there by design or accident I do not know. Presently it was to serve as a speaker's rostrum.
The band played a solemn dirge. The men bared their heads. The women bowed. The music ceased and there was a silence. The band played a second time. Again there was the bowing and baring of heads and again the long silence. And yet there was no speaker. It was like a huge Quaker meeting in the open air. And just as a sermon has no place in Russian public worship, so here a speech was not essential to this act of public devotion. But should some one from the people feel the impulse to speak there was the platform awaiting him. It was as if in the pause the people were generating a voice.
At last out of the crowd one came and climbed upon the high platform. He had not the gift of oratory but his frequent iteration, "They died for us. They died for us," touched others to utterance.
First came a peasant, bronzed and bearded and in peasant costume. He said: "All my life has been one of toil and fear. . . . Pain and torture and killing without end we had in the dark days of the Czar. Then the morning of the Revolution came and these terrors passed away. Workingmen and peasants were very happy and I was happy too. But suddenly in the midst of our rejoicing came this blow. Once more all is night around us. We can not believe it; but here before our eyes, dead and cold, lie our brothers and comrades who fought for the Soviet. And in the north other comrades are falling before the guns. We listen and strain to hear the sound of the peasants and workers of other lands coming to the rescue. But it is in vain. All we can hear is the sound of the guns in the north." As he finished, against the blue sky appeared a figure in white. A woman had climbed upon the platform. At the behest of the crowd she began to speak:
"All thru the past we women have seen our men led off to the wars while we wept at home. Those who ruled told us that it was right and for our glory. Those wars were far away and we did not understand. But our men here were killed before our eyes.. This we can understand. And we understand that in it there was neither right nor glory. No, it was a cruel, heartless wrong and every child born of the mothers of the working-class shall hear the story of this wrong."
Most eloquent of all was a lad of seventeen, the secretary of a league of young Socialists. "We were students and artists and such kind of people. We held ourselves aloof from the Soviet," he said. "It seemed to us foolish for workmen to govern without the wisdom of the wise. But now we know that you were right and we were wrong. From now on we shall stand with you. What you do we will do. We pledge our tongues and pens to make known the wrongs that you have suffered the length and breadth of Russia and thruout the world."
Suddenly the word went thru the throng that Constantin Sukhanov had been paroled until five o'clock and that he was coming with counsels of peace and moderation.
While some were affirming his coming and others were denying it, he himself appeared. He was quickly passed along upon the shoulders of the sailors. In a storm of cheers he climbed the ladder and came out upon the platform-top, smiling. . . .
Twice his eyes swept across that field of upturned faces filled with trust and love, awaiting the words of their young leader.
As if to avert the flood of tragedy and pathos that beat suddenly upon him from every side, he turned his head away. His eyes fell for the first time upon the red coffins of the men who had been slain in defense of his Soviet. That was too much. A shudder passed thru his frame, he threw up his hands, staggered, and would have fallen headlong into the crowd, but a friend caught him. With both hands pressed to his face, Sukhanov, in the arms of his comrades, sobbed like a child. We could see his breath come and go and the tears raining down his cheeks. The Russians are little given to tears. But that day seventeen thousand Russians sobbed with their young leader on the public square of Vladivostok.
Sukhanov knew that many tears were an indulgence , and that he had a big and serious task to perform. Fifty feet behind him was the British Consulate, and fifty rods before him were the waters of the Golden Horn with the frowning guns of the Allied Fleet. He wrenched himself away from his grief and gathering himself together began his message. With an ever mounting passion of earnestness he spoke, Closing with words destined to become the rallying cry for the workers in Vladivostok and the Far East:---
"Here, before the Red Staff Building where our comrade gruzchiki were slain, we swear by these red coffins that hold them, by their wives and children that weep for them, by the red banners which float over them, that the Soviet for which they died shall be the thing for which we live, or, if need be, like them die. Henceforth the return of the Soviet shall be the goal of all our sacrifice and devotion.
To that end we shall fight with every means. The bayonets have been wrested from our hands, but when the day comes and we have no guns, we shall fight with sticks and clubs, and when these are gone, then with our bare fists and bodies. Now it is for us to fight only with our minds and spirits. Let us make them hard and strong and unyielding. The Soviet is dead. Long live the Soviet!"
The crowd caught up the closing words in a tremendous demonstration, mingled with the strains of the "International." Then that haunting "Funeral Hymn of the Revolution" at once so plaintive and triumphant:
"You fell in the fatal fight
For the liberty of the people, for the honor of the people.
You gave up your lives and everything dear to you.
The time will come when your surrendered life will count.
The time is near when tyranny falls, the people arise, great and free.
Farewell, brothers, you chose a noble path,
At your grave we swear to fight, for freedom and the people's happiness."
A resolution was read proclaiming the restoration of the Soviet, the objective of all the future struggles of the revolutionary proletariat and peasants of the Far East. At the call for the vote seventeen thousand hands shot into the air. They were the hands which had built the cars and paved the streets, forged the iron, held the plough, and swung the hammer. All kinds of hands they were: the big, rough hands of the old gruzckiki, the artisans', deft and sinewy, the knotted hands of the peasants, thick with callouses, and thousands of the frailer, whiter hands of the working women. By these hands the riches of the Far East had been wrought. They were no different from the scarred, stained hands of labor anywhere in all the world. Except in this regard: for a time they had held the power. The Government had been within their grasp. Four days ago it had been wrested from their grasp, but the feel of it was still within their hands---these hands raised now in solemn pledge to take that power again.
A sailor striding down from the hilltop pushed thru the crowd and climbed upon the platform.
"Comrades!" he cried joyously, "we are not alone. I ask you to look away to the flags flying over there on the American battleship. You cannot see them down there where you stand. But they are there. No, comrades, we are not alone today in our grief. The Americans understand and they are with us!"
It was a mistake, of course. This was July the Fourth. Those flags had been hung out in celebration of our Day of Independence. But the crowd did not know that. To them it was like the sudden. touch of a friend's hand upon a lonely traveler in a foreign land.
With enthusiasm they caught up the cry of the sailor: "The Americans are with us!" And the vast conclave of workers lifting up their coffins, wreaths and banners were once more in motion. They were going to the cemetery, but not directly. Tired as they were from long standing in the sun, they made a wide detour to reach the street that runs up the steep hill to the American Consulate. Then straight up the sharp slope they toiled in a cloud of dust, still singing as they marched, until they came before the Stars and Stripes floating from the flagstaff. And there they stopped and laid the coffins of their dead beneath the flag of America.
They stretched out their hands, crying, "Speak to us a word!" They sent delegates within to implore that word. On the day the great Republic of the West celebrated its independence, the poor and disinherited of Russia came asking sympathy and understanding in the struggle for their independence.
Afterward, I heard a Bolshevik leader bitterly resentful at this "compromise with revolutionary honor and integrity."
"How stupid of them," he said. "How inane of them! Have we not told them that all countries are alike---all imperialists? Was this not repeated to them over and over again by their leaders?"
Truly it had been. But with this demonstration of the Fourth of July the leaders had little to do. They were in prison. The affair was in the hands of, the people themselves. And, however cynical many leaders were about the professions of America, the people were not so. In the hour of their affliction, these simple trusting folk, makers of the new Social Democracy of the East, came stretching forth their hands to the old Political Democracy of the West.
They knew that President Wilson had given his assurance of help and loyalty to the "people of Russia." They reasoned: "We, the workers and peasants, the great majority here in Vladivostok, are we not the people? Today in our trouble we come to claim the promised help. Our enemies have taken away our Soviet. They have killed our comrades. We are alone and in distress and you alone of all the nations of the earth can understand." No finer tribute could they offer than to come thus, bringing their dead, with the faith that out of America would come compassion and understanding. America, their only friend and refuge.
But America did not understand. The American people did not even hear a word about it. These Russian folk do not know that the American people never heard about it. All they know is that a few weeks after that appeal came the landing of the American troops. They united with Japanese troops, marching into Siberia, shooting down peasants and workers.
And now these Russian folk say to one another: "How stupid we were to stand there in the heat and the dust stretching out our hands like beggars!"
THE Bolsheviks will be crushed like egg shells," said the wisemen as the Allies started into Siberia. The idea of serious Soviet resistance was ridiculed. The Czar's government, then Kerensky's, had tumbled like a house of cards. Why should not the Soviet government go the same way?
The American Major Thacher has pointed out, why not: The Czar's power was based on his armies; it was only necessary to disintegrate these armies and the Czar fell. The Kerensky government rested in the cabinet; it was only necessary to surround his ministers in the Winter Palace and Kerensky fell. The Soviet government, however, was rooted in thousands of local Soviets---an organism made up of countless cells; to destroy the Soviet government, every one of these separate organizations must be destroyed. And they did not relish destruction.
As the alarm was sounded thru the Far East the peasants and workers rallied against the invaders. They fought fiercely, yielding ground only inch by inch. In the two cities north of Vladivostok the Soviets had been established without the killing of a single person. In overthrowing these Soviets thousands were now killed, and not only the hospitals, but sheds and warehouses were filled with the wounded. Instead of an easy "military promenade thru Siberia" the Interventionists faced a hard bloody conflict.
The Vladivostok bourgeoisie were amazed at the stubborn resistance, Then enraged they turned on all partisans of the Soviet in fury.
I had no hankering for martyrdom. So I avoided the main street and went out in disguise or under cover of night. I was an outcast. But that did not grieve me. I was concerned for the manuscript of my book on Russia. It was in the Soviet building---now headquarters of the new White government.
I decided that the only way to get it was to walk brazenly into the enemy's camp and ask for it. I did so and fell straight into the hands of the new Secret Service Chief.
"I've been looking for you. Thank you for coming," he said with mock politeness. "You will stay with us." I was a prisoner of the Counter-Revolution.
Fortunately among the Americans was an old classmate of mine, Fred Goodsell. He negotiated in my behalf and secured my release---but not my manuscript.
Now I ventured to return to my lodgings. Some spy observing my arrival must have telephoned the Whites. I was busy arranging my papers when an automobile whirled up. Six White Guards jumped out, rushed into the room, and shoving their revolvers into my face, began yelling, "We've got you now, we've got you."
"But I've already been arrested and released," I protested.
"We're not going to arrest you, you damned swine. We're going to kill you," they shouted.
Sudden noise outside again. Another motor-car dashed up. Bang! Another crash at the door! A captain and four more men with rifles careened into the room. They were Czechs declaring they had orders for my arrest.
"But we have already arrested him," said the Whites.
"No," insisted the Czechs. "We're going to take him."
"But we've got him," persisted the Whites.
It was quite thrilling to find myself a person of such sinister importance. My gratification over it was tempered a bit by the sight of the bayonets. There were too many of them---too much readiness to use them. Instead of a captive I might soon be a corpse. Happily the Czech captain had a sense of humor.
"Your wishes in the matter?" he said turning to me with a deep bow. "Whose prisoner do you prefer to be?"
"Your prisoner---the Czechs," I replied.
With magnificent noblesse oblige he turned to the Whites. "Gentlemen, he is yours," he declared magnanimously.
He appeased his own soldiers by letting them loose on my papers (they were afterwards delivered to the American Consul).
The Whites hustled me into their automobile and thru the city where a few days earlier I had ridden as a guest of the Soviet, I rode now ringed with bayonets and with two revolvers pressed against my ribs---a prisoner of the Whites.
White headquarters was surrounded by an excited bourgeois mob watching the round up of Reds and hailing each victim with catcalls and cries of "give him the rope." I was pushed thru the jeering crowd into the building and by great good luck straight into the arms of Squersky, a former acquaintance. He motioned me not to recognize him and in due time secured my release. This time I came out with a document which read: "Citizens---You are requested not to arrest the American Williams."
But there was little protection in this paper, for black hatred against the Soviet grew from day to day. I had the feeling of a hunted animal and in ten days lost as many pounds. "At any moment you may lose your life," said the American Vice-Consul. "Two parties have sworn to shoot you down at sight."
"I am anxious to leave but I have no money to leave with," I told him. He could see my perplexity, but he could not see that it was any concern of his.
The workingmen heard of my plight and came to my rescue. They were in hard straits but they raised a thousand rubles. The men in jail smuggled out another thousand. Now I was ready to go. But the Japanese Consul refused to visé my passport. He confronted me with a list of my crimes, chief among which were articles against intervention that I had published in the Soviet papers. The Tokio Foreign Office did not like these articles. It had cabled that in no circumstances was my presence to be allowed to pollute the sacred soil of Japan. The Chinese, however, gave me a visé and I booked on a coasting-steamer bound for Shanghai.
My last night was spent with tovarishe in a hiding-place in the hills. The Soviet had not been destroyed. It had gone underground. In the secret retreat the leaders yet uncaptured, gathered to plan and organize. In farewell they sang for me the hymn of the English Transport Workers, taught them by Jerome:
"Hold the fort for we are coming!
Union men be strong;
Side by side we battle onward,
Victory will come."
With these words ringing in my ears on July 11, I sailed past the Allied battleships and out into the Pacific. I stewed in Shanghai a month before I could get passage for America. At last I got it and eight weeks after I left the Golden Horn of the Far East I sighted the Golden Gate of California.
As our steamer swung to anchor in San Francisco harbor a launch ran alongside and officers in naval uniform climbed aboard. They were members of the American Naval Intelligence sent out to welcome me to the homeland. No prodigal, returning from long rioting in a far country, could have had a warmer reception. Their solicitude for my welfare was most embarrassing. They overwhelmed me with attention, insisted on escorting me to their quarters and tending to all details of my baggage. They assured me of their profound interest in all Soviet affairs and to prove it relieved me of every pamphlet, document and note-book. Their appetite for Russian literature was insatiable. Lest one scrap of it should escape them they looked into my wallet, shoes, hat-band, even the lining of my coat. Likewise they looked into my pedigree, my past and my future. Then they passed me on to other authorities who looked into my ideas.
"Now you are a Socialist, Mr. Williams," said one of my inquisitors. "You are also an Anarchist, aren't you?"
I denied the charge.
"Well, what other beliefs do you hold?"
"Altruism, optimism and pragmatism," I told him.
He duly recorded them in his note-book. More strange and dangerous Russian doctrines being imported into America!
After three days of pleasant camaraderie, I was sent on to Washington.
IT was not the revolutionists who made the Russian Revolution. This in spite of hosts of revolutionists---who tried their best to make it. For a century gifted men and women of Russia had been agitated over the cruel oppression of the people. So they became agitators. Into the villages, the shops and the slums they went crying:
"Shake to earth your chains like dew,
Which in sleep have fallen on you.
Ye are many, they are few."
But the people did not rise. They did not even seem to hear. Then came that supreme agitator---Hunger. Hunger, rising out of economic collapse and war, goaded the sluggish masses into action. Moving out against the old worm-eaten structure they brought it down. Elemental impersonal forces did what human agencies found impossible.
The revolutionists, however, had their part. They did not make the Revolution. But they made the Revolution a success. By their efforts they had prepared a body of men and women with minds trained to see facts, with a program to fit the facts and with fighting energy to drive it thru. There were a million of them---perhaps more, possibly less. The important thing is not their number, but the fact that they were organized to act as receivers of the bankrupt, old order, as a salvage-corps of the Revolution.
At the core of this were the Communists. H. G. Wells says, "In the vast disorganization an emergency government supported by a disciplined party of perhaps 150,000 adherents---the Communist Party---took control. . . . It suppressed brigandage, established a sort of order and security in the exhausted towns and set up a crude rationing system, the only possible government . . . the only idea, the only solidarity."
For four years the Communists have had control of Russia. What are the fruits of their stewardship?
"Repressions, tyranny, violence," cry the enemies. "They have abolished free speech, free press, free assembly. They have imposed drastic military conscription and compulsory labor. They have been incompetent in government, inefficient in industry. They have subordinated the Soviets to the Communist Party. They have lowered their Communist ideals, changed and shifted their program and compromised with the capitalists."
Some of these charges are exaggerated. Many can be explained. But they cannot all be explained away. Friends of the Soviet grieve over them. Their enemies have summoned the world to shudder and protest against them.
When I am tempted to join the wailers and the mud-slingers my mind goes back to a conversation on the docks of Vladivostok in June, 1918. Colonel Robins, of the American Red Cross, was talking to Constantin Sukhanov, President of the Soviet.
"If no help comes from the Allies, how long can the Soviet last?"
Sukhanov shook his head ruefully.
"Six weeks?" queried Robins.
"It will be hard to hold on longer," said Sukhanov.
Robins turned to me with the same question. I, too, was dubious about the outlook.
We were sympathizers. We knew the might and the vitality of the Soviet. But we saw also the tremendous obstacles it confronted. And the odds seemed against it.
In the first place the Soviet faced the same conditions that had overwhelmed the Czar and Kerensky governments, i. e., the dislocation of industry, the paralysis of transport, the hunger and misery of the masses.
In the second place the Soviet had to cope with a hundred new obstacles---desertion of the intelligentsia, strike of the old officials, sabotage of the technicians, excommunication by the church, the blockade by the Allies. It was cut off from the grain fields of the Ukraine, the oil fields of Baku, the coal mines of the Don, the cotton of Turkestan---fuel and food reserves were gone. "Now," said their enemies, "the bony hand of hunger will clutch the people by their throat and bring them to their senses." To prevent supply trains reaching the cities, agents of the imperialists dynamited the railway bridges and put emery into the locomotive bearings.
Here were troubles enough to break the strongest souls. But still more were coming. The capitalist press of the world was mobilized against the Bolsheviks. They were pictured as "hirelings of the Kaiser," "red-eyed fanatics," "cold-blooded assassins," "long bearded ruffians running amuck by day, carousing in the Kremlin at night," "profaners of art and culture," "despoilers of women." As a crowning infamy the "Decree for the Nationalization of Women," was forged and broadcasted thru the world. The public was called upon to transfer their hate from the Huns to the Bolsheviks.
While abroad hatred against the Bolsheviks as the new "enemies of civilization" mounted from day to day, these selfsame Bolsheviks were straining brains and sinews to rescue civilization in Russia from total collapse. Watching them at their heartbreaking, back-breaking tasks, Ransome wrote:
"No one contends that the Bolsheviks are angels. I only ask that men shall look thru the fog of libel that surrounds them and see the ideal for which these young men, are struggling in the only way in which they can struggle. If they fail they will fail with clean shields and clean hearts, having striven for an ideal which will live beyond them. Even if they fail, they will none the less have written a page more daring than any other I can remember in the story of the human race. . . . When in after years men read that page they will judge your country and my country by the help or hindrance they gave to the writing of it."
This appeal was in vain.
As the monarchists of Europe combined to crush the idea loosed on the world by the French Revolution, so the capitalists of Europe and America combined to crush the idea loosed on the world by the Russian Revolution. To these famished, frozen, typhus-stricken Russians sailed no ships of good will laden with books, tools, teachers and engineers but grim ships of war and transports laden with troops and officers, guns and poison-gas. Landings were made at strategic points on the coast of Russia. Monarchists, landlords and Black Hundreds flocked to these rallying centers. New White armies were conscripted, drilled and equipped with hundreds of millions of dollars of supplies. The Interventionists started their drive on Moscow, seeking to plunge the sword into the heart of the Revolution.
Out of the East rolled the hordes of Kolchak following the trail of the Czechs across Siberia. Out of the West struck the armies of Finland, the Letts and Lithuanians. Down from the forests and snowfields of the North moved the British, French and Americans. Up from the seaports of the South plunged the tanks, aeroplanes and Death Battalions of Denikin. From all points of the compass they came. Out of the Esthonian marshes---Yudenich. Out of Poland---the veteran legions of Peltura. Out of Crimea---the cavalry of Baron Wrangel.
A million-bayonetted ring of steel closed in upon the Revolution. The Revolution staggered under the blows rained upon it, but its heart was undaunted. If it must die---it would die fighting.
Once more in the war weary villages and destitute towns throbbed the drums beating the call to arms. Once more the worn-out lathes and looms were ordered to produce uniforms and rifles. Once more the crippled railways were freighted with soldiers and cannon. Out of the almost exhausted resources of Russia the Revolution armed, uniformed and officered 5,000,000 men and the Red Armies took the field.
Only 400 miles from Moscow they hurled themselves against Kolchak and pushed his panic-stricken forces back the 4,000 miles they had advanced across Siberia. In the pine forests of the North, clad in uniforms of white, sliding thru the snow on skis, they met the Allies and pushed them back on Archangel, forcing them to ship for home across the waters of the White Sea. They stopped the headlong rush of Denikin at Tula, the smithy of Russia, "in whose red fires the red steel is welded into the bayonets of the invincible Red Army." Driven back to the Black Sea shores he escaped on a British cruiser.
Budenny's Cavalry racing day and night across the Ukrainian steppes flung themselves suddenly on the Polish flanks, turned the victorious advance of the legionaries into a disastrous retreat and harried them up to the gates of Warsaw. Wrangel was beaten and bottled up in the Crimea, and while the shock troops of the Soviet hurled themselves against his concrete forts, the main Red Army hurried across the frozen Sea of Azov and the Baron fled to Turkey. In the outskirts of Petrograd, under its very domes, Yudenich was cut to pieces, the armies of the Baltic States were beaten back behind their borders, and the Whites annihilated in Siberia. The Revolution triumphed all around the circle.
The Counter-Revolutionists were broken not only by the heavy battalions of the Soviet, but by the Idea incarnated in these armies of the Revolution.
They were armies with banners, red banners emblazoned with the watchwords of a new world. They advanced into battle singing the songs of justice and fraternity. They treated their captured enemies as misguided brothers. They fed them, bound up their wounds and sent them back to tell in their own ranks stories of Bolshevik hospitality. They bombarded the Allied Camp with questions:
"Why did you come to Russia, Allied Soldiers?" "Why should workmen of France and England murder their fellow-workers of Russia?" "Do you want to destroy our Workmen's Republic?" "Do you want to restore the Czar?" "You are fighting for the bond holders of France, the land grabbers of England, the imperialists of America. Why shed blood for them?" "Why don't you go home?"(2)
Red soldiers rose up to shout these questions across the trenches. Red sentries with hands uplifted rushed forward crying them out. Red aeroplanes dropped them circling down from the skies.
The allied troops pondered over these queries and were shaken. Their morale broke down. They fought half-heartedly. They mutinied. The Whites, in tens of thousands---whole battalions and ambulance corps---came over to the Revolution. One after another the armies of the Counter-Revolution crumpled up or melted away like snow in a Russian spring. The great steel cordon tightening around the Revolution was smashed to bits.
The Revolution was triumphant. The Soviets were saved. But with what appalling sacrifices!
"For three years," says Lenin, "our whole energy was devoted to the tasks of war." The wealth of the nation was poured into the army. Fields were untilled, machines untended. Lack of fuel shut down the factories. Green wood under the boilers ruined the locomotives. The retreating armies tore up railway tracks, blew up bridges and depots and fired the grain fields and the villages. The Poles not only destroyed the water-works and electric-station of Kiev, but in sheer malice dynamited the Cathedral of St. Vladimir.
"THE RED ARMY HAS CRUSHED THE WHITE GUARD PARASITES---YUDENICH, DENIKIN, KOLCHAK.---COMRADES I FIGHT NOW AGAINST INFECTION! ANNIHILATE THE TYPHUS-BEARING LOUSE!" ---SOVIET HEALTH POSTER.
The Counter-Revolutionists turned their retreat into an orgy of destruction. With torch and dynamite they laid waste the land leaving behind a black wake of ruins and ashes.
A host of other evils came out of the war---drastic censorship, arbitrary arrests, drum-head court-martials. The high handed measures charged against the Communists were to a large extent measures of war---none the less they were casualties to the ideals of the Revolution.
Then the human casualties! The death toll at the front was large. The death lists from the hospitals were appalling. Medicines, gauze and surgical instruments could not come thru the blockade. So limbs were amputated without anesthetics. Wounds were bandaged with newspapers. Gangrene and blood poisoning, typhus and cholera swept thru the armies unchecked.
The Revolution could have sustained the further loss in man-power---for Russia is vast. But it could not afford the loss in brain-power and soul-power, the wholesale massacre of its directing energizing spirits---the Communists. It was these Communists who bore the brunt of the fighting. They were formed into shock battalions. They were rushed into gaps to stiffen the wavering lines. Captured they were always killed. In the three years' war half the young Communists of Russia were slaughtered.
A mere recital of casualties means nothing, for statistics are only unemotional symbols. Let the reader recall the young men he has met in the pages of this book. They were at once dreamers and hard workers, idealists and stern realists--the flower of the Revolution, the incarnation of its dynamic spirit. It seems incredible for the Revolution to go on without them. But it does go on. For they are dead. Nearly everyone in this book is now in his grave. Here is the way some of them died:
Volodarsky---assassinated in the general plot to kill all Soviet leaders.
Neibut---executed on the Kolchak Front.
Yanishev---bayonetted by a White Guard on the Wrangel Front.
Woskov---died of typhus on the Denikin Front.
Tunganogi---shot at his desk by White Guards.
Utkin---dragged from motor car and shot.
Sukhanov---led into the woods in the early morning and clubbed to death with rifle butts.
Melnikov---taken out of prison, shot and bludgeoned.
"They were tortured, they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were set wandering in deserts and in mountains, in caves and in dens of the earth."
It was a cold selective killing of the keymen of the revolution, a massacre of its future builders. An incalculable loss to Russia---for these were men who could withstand the corruption of office and the poison of power. Men who could live as valorously as they died.
They went to their death in order that the Revolution might live. And it does live. Tho crippled and compromised, out of the long ordeal of famine, pestilence, blockade and war, the Russian Revolution emerges victorious.
Is the Revolution worth these sacrifices? These are its assured results:
One. It has destroyed root and branch the State apparatus of Czarism.
Two. It has transferred the great estates of the crown, the landlords and the monastic orders into the hands of the people.
Three. It has nationalized the basic industries and begun the electrification of Russia. It has fenced off Russia from the unlimited exploitation of free booting capitalists.
Four. It has brought into the Soviets 1,000,000 workers and peasants and given them direct experience in government. It has organized 8,000,000 workers into trade unions. It has taught 40,000,000 peasants to read and write. It has opened the doors of tens of thousands of new schools, libraries and theatres and roused the masses to the wonders of science and art.
Five. It has broken the spell of the past over a great people. Their potential forces have become kinetic. Their fatalistic: "It was so, and it will be so," is changed to "It was so, but it will not be so."
Six. It has assured self-determination to a score of subject races formerly held in vassalage to the Russian Empire. It has given them free hand to develop their own language, literature and institutions. Persia, China, Afghanistan and other backward countries---that is "countries with great natural resources and small navies"---it has treated as equals.
Seven. It has not paid lip-service to "open diplomacy," but has made it a reality. "It has swept the secret treaties into the ash-barrel of history."
Eight. It has pioneered the way to a new society and made invaluable laboratory experiments in Socialism on a colossal scale. It has quickened the faith and increased the morale of the working-classes of the world in their battle for the new social order.
The wise men rise up to point out that these results might have been obtained in a better way. Likewise the Reformation, the Independence of America, the Abolition of Slavery might have been achieved in a more gracious, less violent manner. But history did not move that way. And only the foolish quarrel with history.
1. "What we are witnessing now in Russia is the opening of a great struggle for her immeasurable raw materials."---Russia, the magazine of Anglo-Russian finance, May, 1918.
"In the city events are shaping more and more towards an international suzerainty over Russia modelled on the British plan in Egypt. Such an event would transform Russian bonds into the cream of the international market."---London Financial News, November, 1918.
2. Appendix IV. A Bolshevik Circular for British Soldiers.
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