IT is the end of April, 1918. Kuntz and I are saying good-bye to the Red Commune of Petrograd. The snow-flakes are falling, the night descending. Stormy, hungry old city, but dear to us, with its thousand lights and shadows of the Revolution, for nearly every street and prospekt has staged some act in the colossal revolutionary drama.
The square we gaze upon from the steps of the Nicholas Station, has been sprinkled red by the first sacrifices of the Revolution, and we have helped to sprinkle it white with a shower of Soviet posters, flung from a plunging truck at midnight. It has rumbled beneath the tread of marching columns chanting their funeral hymn, bearing away their dead; and we have heard it ring with triumphant shouts proclaiming: "All Power to the Soviets." It has witnessed the rush of Cossack horses thru the ranks of workingmen, felling them to the cobbles. And it has seen the return of these workers, welded. together in the iron battalions of the proletariat---the invincible Red Army of Russia.
A multitude of memories bind us to the city. But steam is up in the engine of the Trans-Siberian Express, and it does not wait on sentiment. Every week it starts on its 6,000 mile journey to the Pacific, heeding only the clanging signal-bell, whether rung by order of the Czar or by order of the Bolsheviks. On the third stroke we climb aboard and are off on our long journey to the distant East.
What will this East unfold to us? Shall we find that the spirit of the revolutionary centres carries out far toward the circumference or not?
Already our fellow passengers are stretched out in their compartments, sipping tea and smoking cigarettes. In our car are about twenty landowners, speculators, war-profiteers, ex-officers in mufti, evicted officials, and three overpainted ladies----All members or retainers of the old privileged class.
Their ancient privileges are gone. But life still has its glamor. Even now, are they not engaged in the thrilling adventure known amongst their fellow-émigrés as "Escaping out of the bloody clutches of the Bolsheviks"? And before them, a few weeks hence, lies another thrilling adventure in the salons of Paris, London and Washington, recounting the terrors and perils of their escape.
That it was an escape de luxe in an International sleeper, with excellent beds, dining-car and porter inclusive, will be omitted from their tales. Other details will be inserted however---little figments about Bolshevik murders, rapes and robberies. Every émigré must have his atrocity. At all costs his escape must be harrowing and dramatic. Otherwise no thrill for the jaded palates of the western democracies.
Supplied with Bolshevik passports, stamped with a Bolshevik seal, these émigrés were driven to the station by Bolshevik cabmen; aided by Bolshevik porters they boarded this train, whose conductor, brakeman and engineer belonged to the Bolshevik faith. Riding now over a track tended by Bolshevik laborers, guarded by Bolshevik soldiers, guided by Bolshevik switchmen, and fed by Bolshevik waiters, they while away their hours in cursing these selfsame Bolsheviks as bandits and cutthroats. A curious spectacle! Damning, reviling, execrating the very ones upon whom they depend for food, shelter, travel---for the very breath they draw. For every member of this train-crew is a Bolshevik---all except the porter (provodnik).
He had the soul of a flunkey, and the creed of a monarchist. Tho of peasant origin, he was more Czaristic than the Czar himself. All the émigrés he still addressed as "my lords!" (barin).
"You see, my lords!" he said, "we dark people are a lazy, shiftless lot. Give us a bottle of vodka and we are happy. We don't need more freedom. We need a club over us to keep us at work. We need a Czar."
The émigrés were delighted with him. He was to them a perpetual source of comfort---a flaming light in the Bolshevik darkness.
"In this honest mujik," they declared, "you see the soul of the millions of Russian peasants, content to serve their master, to obey the church and love the Czar. True, a few have been misled by Bolshevik fantasies, but only a few. What have these millions of patient, plodding folks to do with that madness festering back there in Moscow and Petrograd?"
This seemed plausible. For out here it is hard even for us to sustain our interest in the Revolution at high pitch. Great concerns, political and personal, are dwarfed by the vastness of the panorama unfolding before our eyes on this, the longest railway journey in the world.
We pass over the wide stretching grain-fields of Central Russia, across the vast bridges spanning the broad rivers flowing north to the Arctic, thru the winding passes of the Urals, into the shadows of the giant virgin forest (taiga), almost unblazed by man, then out again upon the steppelands of Siberia.
Thru the day we watch on the horizon the peasant huts, huddled together for protection against wolves, and winds blowing from the frozen tundras; or take our places in the long lines that obtain hot water for tea from the tanks, buying bread and eggs and fish from the peasant women. At evening we watch the wood-burning locomotive flinging spark showers from its stack like a comet. Night after night we go to sleep with the wheels grinding beneath our car, and every morning we wake to see the track in two glistening ribbons of steel, still unrolling itself before the eastward plunging engine.
Slowly these immensities steal over us with mesmeric influence, creating the feeling the Russians call prostor, a sense of space and vastness. Under its spell things once mighty and imperative, become trivial and unimportant. Even the Revolution relaxes its grip upon us. May it not after all be a ferment confined to railwaymen and the industrial workers of the cities?
Back there the Revolution was an insistent fact, assailing us in eye and ear with banners and battle-cries, parades and assemblages. Out here on the Siberian steppes we see no evidence of it. We see woodsmen with axes, drivers with horses, women with baskets, a few soldiers with guns; but beyond a few tattered remnants of red flags flapping on poles there are no marks of the Revolution.
"Is the revolutionary spirit as frayed out as those faded flags?" we ask. "Are the émigrés right in summing up the aspirations of the Russian peasant as love and service to his master, his church and the Little Father? Is this after all 'Holy Russia'?"
In the midst of our ruminations---Crash! Bang! The brakes clutch the wheels, grinding and grating, sending a shiver thru the car and hurling us out of our seats. The train comes abruptly to a standstill.
Everybody stares out of the window, asking excitedly: "Washout? Cave-in? Bridge gone?" But nothing appears save the same sere, level steppeland with drifts of snow, relics of the winter.
Suddenly from behind a snow-bank a figure shoots up, waves a signal behind him, and comes running violently towards the train. From behind a copse another form darts out and follows after. From other snow-piles and bushes and from the far horizon, more and more figures keep emerging, until the whole plain is dotted with men racing headlong toward the train. Like the ground sown with dragon-teeth, in a trice these dead waste-lands spring to life, and teem with men in arms.
"My!Godl Look! Look!" exclaimed one of the painted ladies. "Guns! They carry guns!" The phantasies of her imagination have materialized. Here in flesh and blood are the Bolsheviks of her tales. They have become realities, carrying in their hands guns and grenades, and on their faces a most unpleasant look. The foremost runner checks his steps, cups his hands to his mouth and bellows out to us, "Windows down."
No one argues the point. Along the whole train the windows go banging down. So do the spirits of the émigrés, finding little cheer in the faces of these oncoming men. They are a harsh, determined lot. Many of them are grimy, nearly black. All of them have black looks for the train. By mien and gesture they clearly indicate that their weapons have a distinct bearing upon our case.
We have no inkling of our offense. We only know that some thunderbolt has stopped our train, and on all sides we face a cordon of violent-talking men. We catch wild words about "killing the bloody tyrant" and, as the face of the florid lady appears at the window, jeering cries of "Hey! Mrs. Rasputin!" She is certain that the ruffians are debating whether to take us out and murder us one by one, or destroy us en masse by burning or blowing up the train.
The suspense is racking. I volunteer to investigate the situation, and start to raise a window. When half way open, I gaze into the muzzle of a gun thrust up into my face. A big peasant at the other end of the gun growls, "Put the window down quick or I'll shoot." He looks as tho, he would shoot, but my year in Russia has taught me that he won't; that the peasant is uncivilized enough to retain an aversion to killing a human being. So I do not shut my window, but thrust my head out and address the big peasant as "Tovarish."
"Don't you tovarish me, you Counter-Revolutionist!" he snorted back. "You drinker of the people's blood! You monarchist, you Czarist!"
Such were the usual epithets bestowed upon the enemies of the Revolution. But I had never heard them rolled into one broadside and shot forth with such malice. Hastily I produced a Soviet credential vouching for me and bearing the signature of Chicherin. But reading was not this peasant's forte. The next man, a heavy set, scowling fellow, took it and scanned it critically.
"Forged!" was his instant verdict.
I passed out a credential signed by Trotzky. "Forged!" he repeated. I followed up with a document issued by the Bolshevik Railway Commissar. The same laconic comment "Forged!" Still obdurate, was he? As a climax I would play my trump card. I produced a letter signed by Nikolai Lenin. Not only his signature, but all the letter was written out in full by Lenin's own hand. My inquisitor scrutinized it intently, while I watched to see the magic name of Lenin transform the thunder-cloud on his face into a smile. I was certain that this would settle the matter. And it did. Not in my favor, however, but against me, as I discerned by the set of his jaw. I had overplayed myself in this matter of credentials.
In his mind my case was clear. Here is a plotter up to some deviltry against the Revolution. To ingratiate himself with the Bolsheviks, he displays a grand array of Soviet documents pretending to come from even Lenin himself. This marks him as no ordinary spy. We must act at once!
He carried my sheaf of papers over to a tall man dismounting from his horse. "That's Andrey Petrovich. He will know all about these papers," declared the big peasant who had run the muzzle of his gun into my face. "He just got back from Moscow. He knows all the Bolsheviks and how they write their names. He knows the Counter-Revolutionists, and all their tricks. Those devils can't fool Andrey Petrovich."
Kuntz and I sincerely prayed that Andrey Petrovich would prove as wise as his reputation. And happily for us he did. He did know the leaders of the Bolsheviks. He knew their signatures. In a few questions he tested our knowledge. Satisfied, he shook hands with us heartily, greeted us as tovarishe, invited us to come outside where he would ask us a hundred questions.
"But we have a hundred questions to ask you," we rejoined, opening up on him forthwith. "Where did all these men suddenly spring from? Why is this train held up? What do you mean by this display of arms?"
"One question at a time," he replied, laughing. "First: These men are miners from the great coal mines less than half a mile away, and peasants from the villages. Thousands more will be along directly. Second: We grabbed up these guns and grenades fifteen minutes ago, not for display but for immediate use. Third: We held up this Trans-Siberian Express to take off of it the Czar and the Royal Family."
"Czar and Royal Family! On this train? Here?" we shouted.
"We don't know that for sure," replied Andrey Petrovich, "all we know is that about twenty minutes ago came a telegram from Omsk saying: Release of Nicholas just effected by clique of officers. Probably escaping with staff on Express. Plan to set up Czardom at Irkutsk. Stop him dead or alive."
(So it was the Czar whom the crowd meant by "bloody tyrant" and the Czarina whom they were calling "Mrs. Rasputin!")
"We sent two men running to the villages and two to the mines, shouting the telegram," continued Andrey Petrovich. "Every man dropped his tools, snatched up his gun, and rushed for the train. A thousand here now, and they won't stop coming till night. You see how deeply we feel for our Czar! Only twenty minutes advance notice and we got this nice big reception party ready for him. He likes military displays. Well, here it is. Not in regulation style, but quite impressive, is it not?"
It was! Never have I seen such a beweaponed set of men. They were like moving arsenals. In their hands were missiles enough to blow a thousand Czars into eternity, and in their hearts and eyes vengeance enough to annihilate ten thousand.
But there seemed to be no Czar to annihilate.
"Just as I thought," Andrey Petrovich went on, "another ruse of the Counter-Revolution. That telegram is an act of provocators against the Soviet. They want it to demoralize the workings of the mines. And it will. Our men are too excited now to do anything more today. There will be other telegrams like this in the days to come. By crying out: 'The Czar is escaping, the Czar is escaping,' they think the men will get disgusted with false alarms. Then, when we have become careless they will try to slip the Czar through. But they don't know our men here. For a chance to get a pot-shot at the Czar they will turn out every day in the year."
The Reception Committee which held up our train expecting to take off the Czar, recovering from their disappointment.
A Siberian mother standing by the dead body of her Bolshevik son, killed fighting against the Restoration of the Czar.
The zest with which the searching party went thru the cars left no doubt as to their attitude towards the Little Father. They combed the train from end to end, opening trunks, ransacking beds, even shifting the logs on the engine tender to see if by chance His Imperial Majesty might be hidden in the woodpile.
There were two white-bearded old peasants who did a little investigating on their own account. They would run their guns up under a sleeper, ram their bayonets around and then withdraw them, shaking their heads sadly. The Czar of all the Russias they hoped to find riding the bumpers. Each time disappointed, they would hope for better luck at the next car and repeat the prodding. But there was no Czar, and so their bayonets did not puncture him.
But something else they did puncture---the hoary old tradition about the deep, love and devotion of the Russian mujik to the Little Father. That pleasant myth could not survive the spectacle of these two devout, benign old peasants, plunging their bayonets into dark corners, and drawing them out again, aggrieved that on them were no fatal signs of the Little Father.
Andrey Petrovich was a man of resources. Having no Czar for his men, he used Kuntz and me as substitutes.
"It is a strange world, tovarishe, full of strange surprises," he said, addressing his comrades. "We came down here to get the greatest criminal in history. Not a man here but has known pain or misery thru the Czar. But instead of finding our worst enemy, we find here our best friends. This train, instead of carrying the ideas of our autocracy, is carrying the ideas of our Revolution---and carrying them to America. Long live the Revolution! Long live our American comrades!"
There was a riot of cheer-giving, hand-shaking and picture-taking and we were off again. But not for long. Again we were halted by a storming mass. And again and again. It was in vain to protest that the Czar was not aboard. Even the documents attesting this, they waved aside as counter-revolutionary forgeries. Each crowd must reassure itself thru its own search. Thus the fastest express upon the Trans-Siberian, became the slowest.
At Marinsk, the Commissar of Transport gave a new turn to events, by despatching this telegram:
"To all Soviets:
Kuntz and Williams, General Organizers of the Red Army, are on Train Two. I ask that representatives of the soviets meet with them for consultation.
The telegram was read to the crowds assembling at every station to meet the express. With their appetites and implements whetted for a Czar, suddenly two comrades were handed them. It called for a swift reversal of their emotions, but they did nobly. We rode into each station in a storm of greetings. The new detachments of the Red Army saluted, the commissars solemnly laid before us their problems, the throngs pushed forward to gaze upon us as military geniuses.
It was embarrassing, but illuminating. We got a glimpse of a new civilization in the making, the future in the act of being born. In one town the foundations had just been laid---the peasants marching over had joined the workers in one central Soviet. In another they had scarcely got to the foundations---the intelligentsia were all on strike. In many centres the new structure was well along, the Soviet schools were filled, the peasants were bringing the grain to market, the factories were turning out goods, as well as oratory. The exhibits, tho often crude and incomplete, testified to the release of real creative forces in the masses.
We pointed this out to the émigrés, but they were busy weaving fictions for the western democracies, and the facts irritated them. Some became sullen and suspicious, treating us as apostates and traitors to our class. Others fatuously returned to their usual themes: The golden days of Czardom, the "darkness" of the Russian masses, the sheer idiocy of the Bolsheviks.
THE émigrés on our train had many points of conflict. But on one point they agreed: the grave danger lying ahead of us in Cherm, the great penal colony of Siberia.
"Fifteen thousand convicts in Cherm," they said.
"Criminals of the worst stripe----thugs, thieves and murderers. The only way to deal with them is to put them in the mines and keep them there at the point of the gun. Even so, it is too much liberty for them. Every week there are scores of thefts and stabbings. Now most of these devils have been turned loose, and they have turned Bolshevik. It always was a hell-hole. What it is now God only knows."
It was a raw bleak morning on the first of May, when we rode into Cherm (Chermkhovo). A curtain of dust, blown up by a wind from the north, hung over the place. Curled up in our compartment half asleep, we woke to the cry, "They're coming! They're coming!" We peered thru the window. Far as we could see nothing was coming but a whirling cloud of dust. Then thru the dust we made out a glint of red, the gray of glittering steel, and vague, black masses moving forward.
Behind drawn curtains, the émigrés went frantically hiding jewels and money, or sat paralyzed with terror. Outside, the cinders crunched under the tread of the hob-nailed boots. In what mood "they" were coming, with what lust in their blood, what weapons in their hands, no one knew. We knew only that these were the dread convicts of Cherm, "murderers, thugs and thieves"---and they were heading for the parlor-cars.
Slowly they lurched along, the wind filling their eyes with dust and soot, and wrestling with a huge blood-red banner they carried. Then came a lull in the wind, dropping the dust screen and bringing to view a motley crew.
Their clothes were black from the mines and tied up with strings, their faces grim and grimy. Some were ox-like hulks of men. Some were gnarled and knotted, warped by a thousand gales. Here were the cannibal-convicts of Tolstoy, slant-browed and brutal-jawed. Here was Dostoievsky's "House of the Dead." With limping steps, cheeks slashed and eyes gouged out they came, marked by bullet, knife and mine disaster, some cursed by an evil birth. But few, if any, were weaklings.
By a long, gruelling process the weak had been killed off. These thousands were the survivors of tens of thousands, driven out on the gray highroad to Cherm. Thru sleet and snow, winter blast and summer blaze they had staggered along. Torture-chambers had racked their limbs. Gendarmes' sabers had cracked their skulls. Iron fetters had cut their flesh. Cossacks' whips had gashed their backs, and Cossacks' hoofs had pounded them to earth.
Like their bodies their souls, too, had been knouted. Like a blood-hound the law had hung on their trail, driving them into dungeons, driving them to this dismal outpost of Siberia, driving them off the face of the earth into its caverns, to strain like beasts, digging the coal in the dark, and handing it up to those who live in the light.
Now out of the mines they come marching up into the light. Guns in hand, flying red flags of revolt, they are loose in the highways, moving forward like a great herd, the incarnation of brute strength. In their path lie the warm, luxurious parlor-cars---another universe, a million miles removed. Now it is just a few inches away, within their grasp. Three minutes, and they could leave this train sacked from end to end as tho gutted by a cyclone. How sweet for once to glut themselves! And how easy! One swift lunge forward. One furious onset.
But their actions show neither haste nor frenzy. Stretching their banners on the ground they range themselves in a crescent, massed in the center, facing the train. Now we can scan those faces. Sullen, defiant, lined deep with hate, brutalized by toil. On all of them the ravages of vice and terror. In all of them an infinitude of pain and torment, the poignant sorrow of the world.
But in their eyes is a strange light---a look of exaltation. Or is it the glitter of revenge? A blow for a blow. The law has given them a thousand blows. Is it their turn now? Will they avenge the long years of bitterness?
A hand touches our shoulder. We turn to look into the faces of two burly miners. They tell us that they are the Commissars of Cherm. At the same time they signal the banner-bearers, and the red standards rise up before our eyes. On one in large letters is the old familiar slogan: Proletarians, arise! You have nothing to lose but your chains. On another: We stretch out our hands to the miners in all lands. Greetings to our comrades throughout the world.
"Hats off!" shouts the commissar. Awkwardly they bare their heads and stand, caps in hand. Then slowly begins the hymn of the International.
"Arise, ye prisoners of starvation!
Arise, ye wretched of the earth!
For justice thunders condemnation,
A better world's in birth.
No more tradition's chains shall bind you;
Arise, ye slaves! No more in thrall.
The world shall rise on new foundations.
You have been naught: you shall be all."
I have heard the streets of cities around the world, ringing to the "International," rising from massed columns of the marchers. I have heard rebel students send it floating thru college halls. I have heard the "International" on the voices of 2,000 Soviet delegates, blending with four military bands, go rolling thru the pillars of the Tauride Palace. But none of these singers looked the "wretched of the earth." They were the sympathizers or representatives of the wretched. These miner-convicts of Cherm were the wretched themselves, most wretched of all. Wretched in garments and looks, and even in voice.
With broken voices, and out of tune they sang, but in their singing one felt the pain and protest of the broken of all ages: the sigh of the captive, the moan of the galley-slave lashed to the oar, the groan of the serf stretched on the wheel, the cries from the cross, the stake and the gibbet, the anguish of myriads of the condemned, welling up out of the long reaches of the past.
These convicts were in apostolic succession to the suffering of the centuries. They were the excommunicate of society, mangled, crushed by its heavy hand, and hurled down into the darkness of this pit.
Now out of the pit rises this victory-hymn of the vanquished. Long bludgeoned into silence, they break into song---a song not of complaint, but of conquest. No longer are they social outcasts, but citizens. More than that---Makers of a New Society!
Their limbs are numb with cold. But their hearts are on fire. Harsh and rugged faces are touched with a sunrise glow. Dull eyes grow bright. Defiant ones grow soft. In them lies the transfiguring vision of the toilers of all nations bound together in one big fraternity---The International.
"Long live the International! Long live the American workers!" they shout. Then opening their ranks, they thrust forward one of their number. He is of giant stature, a veritable Jean Valjean of a man, with a Jean Valjean of a heart.
"In the name of the miners of Cherm," he says, "we greet the comrades on this train! In the old days how different it was! Day after day, trains rolled thru here, but we dared not come near them. Some of us did wrong, we know. But many of us were brutally wronged. Had there been justice, some of us would be on this train and some on this train would be in the mines.
"But most of the passengers didn't know there were any mines. In their warm beds, they didn't know that way down below were thousands of moles, digging coal to put heat in the cars and steam in the engine. They didn't know that hundreds of us were starved to death, flogged to death or killed by falling rock. If they did know, they didn't care. To them we were dregs and outcasts. To them we were nothing at all.
"Now we are everything! We have joined the International. We fall in today with the armies of labor in all lands. We are in the vanguard of them all. We, who were slaves, have been made freest of all.
"Not our freedom alone we want, comrades, but freedom for the workers thruout the world. Unless they, too, are free, we cannot keep the freedom we have to own the mines and run them ourselves.
"Already the greedy hands of the Imperialists of the world are reaching out across the seas. Only the hands of the workers of the world can tear those clutches from our throats."
The range and insight of the man's mind was amazing. So amazed was Kuntz that his own speech in reply faltered. My hold on Russian quite collapsed. Our part in this affair, we felt, was wan and pallid. But these miners did not feel so. They came into the breach with a cheer for the International, and another for the International Orchestra.
The "Orchestra" comprised four violins played by four prisoners of war; a Czech, a Hungarian, a German and an Austrian. Captured on the eastern front, from camp to camp they had been relayed along to these convict-mines in Siberia. Thousands of miles from home! Still farther in race and breeding from these Russian masses drawn from the soil. But caste and creed and race had fallen before the Revolution. To their convict miner comrades here in this dark hole they played, as in happier days they might have played at a music festival under the garden lights of Berlin or Budapest. The flaming passion in their veins crept into the strings of their violins and out into the heart-strings of their hearers.
The whole conclave---miners, musicians and visitors, Teutons, Slavs and Americans---became one. All barriers were down as the commissars came pressing up to greet us. One huge hulking fellow, with fists like pile-drivers, took our hands into his. Twice he tried to speak and twice he choked. Unable to put his sentiments of brotherhood into words he put it into a sudden terrific grip of his hands. I can feel that grip yet.
For the honor of Cherm he was anxious that its first public function should be conducted in proper fashion. Out of the past must have flashed the memory of some occasion where the program of the day included gifts as well as speeches. Disappearing for a time, he came running back with two sticks of dynamite---the gifts of Cherm to the two Americans. We demurred. He insisted. We pointed out that a chance collision and delegates might disappear together with dynamite---a total loss to the Internationale. The crowd laughed. Like a giant child he was hurt and puzzled. Then he laughed, too.
The second violinist, a blue-eyed lad from Vienna, was always laughing. Exile had not quenched his love of fun. In honor of the American visitors he insisted upon a Jazze-Americane. So he called it, but never before or since have I heard so weird a melody. He played with legs and arms as well as bow, dancing round, up and down to the great delight of the crowd.
Our love-feast at last was broken in upon by the clanging signal-bell. One more round of handclasps and we climbed aboard the train as the orchestra caught up the refrain:
It is the final conflict,
Let each stand in his place;
Shall be the human race.
There was no grace or outward splendor in this meeting. It was ugliness unrelieved---except for one thing: the presence of a tremendous vitality. It was a revelation of the drive of the Revolution. Even into this sub-cellar of civilization it had penetrated into these regions of the damned it had come like a trumpet-blast, bringing down the walls of their charnel-house. Out of it they had rushed, not with bloodshot eyes, slavering mouths and daggers drawn, but crying for truth and justice, with songs of solidarity upon their lips, and on their banners the watchwords of a new world.
All this was lost upon the émigrés. Not one ray of wonder did they let penetrate the armor of their class-interest. Their former fears gave way to sneers:
"There is Bolshevism for you! It makes statesmen out of jail-birds. Great sight, isn't it? Convicts, parading the streets instead of digging in the mines. That's what we get out of Revolution."
We pointed to other things that came out of Revolution---order, restraint and good-will. But the émigrés could not see. They would not see.
"That is for the moment," they laughed. "When the excitement is over they'll go back to stealing, drinking and killing." To these émigrés it was at best a passing ecstasy that would disappear with our disappearing train.
Leaning out from the car steps we waved farewell to the hundreds of huge grimy hands waving farewell to us. Our eyes long clung to the scene. In the last glimpse we saw the men of Cherm with heads still bared to the cutting wind, the rhythmic rise and fall of the arms of "Jean Valjean," the red banner with "Greetings to our Comrades thruout the World," and a score of hands still stretched out towards the train. Then the scene faded away in the dust and distance.
Two years later Jo Redding came back to Detroit after working in Cherm and watching the Revolution working there. He reports its permanent effects. Thefts and murders were reduced almost to zero. Snarling animals became men. Tho just released from irons, they put themselves under the iron discipline of the Soviet armies. Lawless under the old law, they became the writers and defenders of a new law. Men who had so many wrongs of their own to brood over, now assumed the wrongs of the world. They had vast programs to release their energies upon, vast visions to light their minds.
To the rich and the privileged, to those who sit on roof-gardens or ride in parlor-cars, the Revolution is a thing of terror and horror. It is the Anti-Christ. But to the despised and disinherited, the Revolution is like the Messiah coming to "preach good tidings to the poor; to proclaim release of the captives and to set at liberty them that are bruised." No longer can Dostoievsky's convict mutter, "We are not alive, though we are living. We are not in our graves, though we are dead." In the House of the Dead, Revolution is Resurrection.
THE limits of the Revolution---what were they? We had seen this Revolution, loosed by the city-workers, drive deeper and deeper down, taking ever lower and lower strata of the people within its grip. When it laid hold of the convicts of Cherm it reached bottom. It could go no further vertically. How far could it reach horizontally? Would it prove the same power here in these far-flung outposts on the Pacific that it was back there upon the Atlantic? Would the Revolution show the same strong pulse beat in these extremities as it did in the heart of Russia?
In a world of Soviets we had moved across the great, slow, north-flowing rivers, the Urals, the taiga forests, and the steppes. Trainmen and miners had spoken of their Soviets, peasants and fishermen had greeted us with red banners in the name of theirs. We had conferred with the Soviet of Central Siberia and the Far East Soviet. This whole Amur district was dotted with Soviets. Now, as we stepped from the train at Vladivostok, we were to find a replica of the Soviet we had left at Petrograd, seven thousand miles away.
In six months the Soviet had struck its roots deep into the Russian soil, crowded out all rivals, resisted the shock of every attack, and now held undisputed sway from the Arctic Ocean on the north to the Black Sea on the south, from Narva looking upon the Atlantic all the way to Vladivostok here on its promontory looking into the Pacific.
Vladivostok is a city built on hills, with streets as steep as Alpine paths. But with an extra horse attached to the droshky's shafts, we rattled over the cobbles as swiftly as we did along the level wood-paved prospekts of Petrograd. The main highway, Svetlanskaya, lies folded up and down across the hills, flanked by the commercial houses of the French and English, the International Harvester, and the buildings of the new rulers of Russia---the Red Fleet, and the Soviet of Workmen's Deputies.
Massive fortresses frowned from all the hills around, but they were harmless as dove-cotes. In the first days of the war they had been dismantled, and the great guns shipped to the Eastern front. A defenseless city, into which extends a peculiar tongue of water called the Golden Horn. Here the Allied battleships, uninvited, rode at anchor. Their flags were a welcome sight to the fleeing émigrés at the end of the long Siberian journey. With a sigh of relief here they settled down. Soon, they believed, the Revolution would be over. Then they would return and take up their old life again in Russia.
The city was thronged with evicted landowners, dreaming of their estates, their retinue of servants and the idle feasting of bygone days; officers telling of the former discipline, when soldiers jumped into the gutter at their presence and stood rigid in salute while beaten in the face; speculators longing for the return of the good old times of war profiteering and patrioteering, to the tune of 50, 100 and 500 per cent. Gone are all those gilded fabulous fortunes. The Revolution wrecked them along with the arbitrary power of the officers and the dreams of the landowners.
As a port of exit, Vladivostok was full of Russian émigrés coming out. As a port of entry, it was full of Allied capitalists going in. It was a key to the El Dorado beyond. With its vast unexploited natural riches and labor power, Siberia was a loadstone drawing the agents of capital from around the world. From London and Tokio, from the Paris Bourse and Wall Street, they came flocking hither, lured by dazzling prospects.
But between them and the fisheries, gold-mines, and forests they found a big barrier. They found, the Soviet. The Russian workingman refused to be exploited by the Russian capitalist. At the same time he refused to allow his blood and sweat to be minted into bonanza dividends for the benefit of foreign bankers. The Soviet was the instrument of this refusal to all exploiters.
Meeting the same obstacles as the Russian bourgeoisie, the Allied exploiters had the same reaction. They lent a ready ear to the cursings and ravings of their Russian brethren, who saw the Soviet and its members as the very spawn of hell.
It was in this circle that the Allied consuls, officers, Y.M.C.A. and Intelligence men largely lived, moved and had their being. They rarely got outside of it. They were in revolutionary Russia, but out of touch with the Revolution. And quite naturally. Peasants and workers knew little French or English or how to dress well or order dinner.
Not that Allied society was without "information." Their Russian bourgeois friends and their own prejudices gave it to them. Very direct and dogmatic, it passed current in phrases like:
"The Soviet is made up mainly of ex-criminals."
"Four-fifths of the Bolsheviks are Jews."
"These Revolutionists are just ordinary robbers."
"The Red Armies are mercenary and will run at the first shot of a gun."
"The dark, ignorant masses are swayed by their leaders, and their leaders are corrupt."
"The Czar may have had his faults, but Russia needs an iron hand."
"The Soviet is tottering, and will not last longer than two weeks at the outside."
The most cursory investigation would reveal the falsehood of these phrases. One needed but to parrot them, however, to be acclaimed a man of deep insight.
The man who could add, "I don't give a damn what others say about Lenin and Trotzky, I know they are German agents," was hailed as a fellow of spirit, a true soldier of democracy.
There were some honest seekers after light. The genial commander of the Asiatic Squadron was indiscreet enough to invite me to dinner on his flagship the Brooklyn. The American Consul also tried hard to break thru the circle of lies. Awaiting word from Washington, however, he withheld visé to my passport. So I was marooned for seven weeks in Vladivostok.
As I grew more and more outspoken in my sympathies with the workers and peasants, the bourgeoisie grew ever more hostile towards me. Thrown now into close contact with the Soviet I had opportunity to observe and sharp its work, and to count many of its members as my friends.
First among these was Constantin Sukhanov. When the March Revolution broke out, he was a student of Natural History in the University of Petrograd. He hastened back to Vladivostok, a Menshevik. After the Kornilov adventure he became a Bolshevik, and an ardent one. He was small in stature, but great in energy. Night and day he toiled, snatching an occasional wink of sleep in a small room above the Soviet, ready at a moment's notice to spring to the saddle or the typewriter.
While his face was habitually drawn tight in lines of thought, he would often explode in a contagious burst of laughter. His speech was terse, on occasion flaming. But a bare fire-brand would never have done in such a powder-magazine as Vladivostok. By skill and tact he pulled the Soviet out of many ugly positions, into which its enemies had jockeyed it.
Respected by everybody, even by his bitter political opponents, Sukhanov was chosen President of the Soviet. He was thus the tip of the spearhead that the Bolshevik movement thrust out into the Pacific and the eastern world. He found himself, at 24, facing tasks that would have taxed the resources of a veteran diplomat.
But statecraft was in his blood. His father was a functionary of the old régime, charged with the arrest of Revolutionists. Among those he had found plotting against the Czar were his own daughter, and this son Constantin. Constantin was arrested. Bitter and cynical, the father had faced his son across the table of the tribunal.
It was by grace of his Imperial Majesty, Czar Nicholas II, that the elder Sukhanov had sat in the magistrate's place, with the white, blue and red flag of the autocracy behind the dais. When we arrived in Vladivostok the red flag of the Revolution had replaced it. Yet we found a Sukhanov sitting in the judgment seat. This time it was the son, Constantin, now President of the Vladivostok Soviet by grace of their Republican Majesties, the worker, peasant, and sailor citizens of the Russian Soviet Republic.
Curious reversal of the Revolution! just as the younger Sukhanov had been caught conspiring against the rule of the Czar, now Sukhanov, the elder, was found plotting against the rule of the Soviet. Once more across the tribunal the two men faced each other: father against son, Counter-Revolutionist against Revolutionist, Monarchist against Socialist. But this time the son was the judge, the father the culprit. Once only was Constantin Sukhanov derelict in his revolutionary duties. He refused to imprison his father!
Sukhanov's constant aide was the student Sebertsev. There were also three girl-students (kursists), Zoya, Tanya and Zoya, respectively, secretaries of the Bolshevik Party, the Finance Department, and the Soviet organ, "The Peasant and Worker"; and respectively daughters of an officer, a priest and a merchant. Their bourgeois life they entirely renounced. They became one with the proletarians. With proletarian incomes they thought in proletarian terms. They lived like proletarians. Their home now was two bare rooms which they called "the Commune." For beds they bad soldier-cots, straw-pallets laid on planks instead of springs.
These students fitted the picture of the Russian student of tradition. One night, when the strain of trying to talk in the Russian language was tying my tongue and brain into knots, Sebertsev said: "We have all been to the university, we can talk in Latin!" But how many American college graduates can read even the Latin on their diplomas? These Russian students not only talked Latin, but submitted Latin verses for my approval. I made a strategic retreat upon Russian!
Outside of these students the members of the Vladivostok Soviet were workingmen---mechanics, longshoremen, railwaymen, etc. But they were Russian workingmen; while using the hammer, the sickle and axe, they had used their brains. For this the heavy hand of the Czar had fallen on them. Some had been jailed, others driven out as wanderers over the earth.
From exile they returned at the call of the Revolution. Utkin and Jordan came back from Australia, speaking English; Antonov from Naples, speaking Italian. Melnikov, Nikeferov and Preminsky emerged from their prison-cells speaking French. This trio had turned their jail into a university. They had specialized in mathematics, and now were experts in calculus, plotting graphs as well as they had plotted revolution.
Seven years they were bound together in jail. Now they were free, each to go his own way. But the long hard years had forged around their hearts ties more binding than the iron chains around their limbs. They were together in death, and now in life they could not be divided. In mind, however, they were much divided, expounding their rival creeds to each other with terrific energy. Yet, however wide afield they went in theory, in action they were a unit. Melnikov's party did not then support the Soviet, but his two comrades did. So he followed them into the service of the Soviet, as Commissar of Post and Telegraph.
In the soul of Melnikov had been waged some big battle, which put furrows deep in his face, and left deep in his eyes the marks of pain. But in that face victory and a great serenity were written. His eyes sparkled, and a smile always flickered on his lips. When things grew blacker he smiled the more.
Little help the Soviet got from the intelligentsia. They declared a boycott against the Soviet until the workingmen should completely change their program. In open meeting they proclaimed a policy of sabotage.
Bitter and sarcastic was the retort shot back by a miner: "You pride yourselves on your knowledge and skill! But where did you get it? From us. At the price of our sweat and blood. In school and university you sat at your desks while we slaved in the dark of the mines and the smoke of the mills. Now we ask you to help us. And you say to us: 'Give up your program and take our program: then we will help you.' And we say to you: 'We will not give up our program. We shall get along without you.'"
Supreme audacity in these workingmen, tyros in government, taking over the administration of a territory large as France and rich as India, beset by hordes of scheming imperialists, challenged by a thousand tasks!
THE Vladivostok Soviet had taken power without shedding a drop of blood. That was easy. But the task now facing it was hard---terribly hard and complex.
The first problem to grapple with was the economic. The dislocation of industry thru war and Revolution, the homecoming of the soldiers., and the employers' lockouts, filled the streets with the workless. The Soviet saw the menace of these idle hands and started to open the factories. The management was placed in the hands of the workingmen themselves, and credit was furnished by the Soviet.
The leaders voluntarily limited their own wages. By decree of the Central Russian Soviet the maximum salary of any Soviet official was fixed at 500 rubles a month. The Vladivostok commissars , pointing out the lower cost of living in the Far East, scaled theirs down to 300 rubles a month. After this, when anyone felt the itching desire for a fatter pay-envelope, he was liable to be asked: "Do you want more pay than Lenin or Sukhanov?" This was unanswerable.
As soon as the workmen found the factories in their hands there came a change in their morale. Under Kerensky the tendency was to elect lenient foremen. Under their own government, the Soviet, they elected foremen who put discipline into the shop and raised production. The first time I met Krasnoschekov, the head of the Far East Soviet, he was pessimistic.
"For every word I say to the bourgeoisie against their sabotage," he said, "I say ten to the workingmen against their slackness. But I believe a change is coming."
When I saw him the end of June, 1918, he was in happy mood. The change had come. Six factories, he said, were producing more than ever before.
In the so-called "American Works," the wheels, frames and brakes of cars, shipped from the United States, were assembled, and the cars sent out over the Trans-Siberian Railway. These shops had been hotbeds of trouble, one disturbance following on the heels of another. The 6,000 workmen on the payroll had been turning out but 18 cars a day. The Soviet Committee closed the plant and reorganized the shops, reducing the force to 1,800 men. In the underframe section, instead of 1,400 there were now 350; but by means of short-cuts introduced by the workers themselves, the output of that department was increased. Altogether, the 1,800 men on the new payroll were now turning out 12 cars a day---an efficiency increase of more than 100 per cent per man.
One day I was standing with Sukhanov on the hills overlooking the shops. He was listening to the clank of cranes, and the stamp of trip-hammers ringing up from the valley.
"That seems to be sweet music to your ears," I said.
"Yes," he replied, "the old Revolutionists used to make a noise with bombs. This is the noise of the new Revolutionists, hammering out the new social order."
The strongest ally of the Soviet was the Union of Miners. It organized the unemployed into little Soviets of 50 and 100, equipped them, and sent them out to the mines along the great Amur. These enterprises were highly successful. Each man was panning out from 50 to 100 rubles of gold a day. The question of pay arose. One of the miners unearthed the slogan: "To every man the full product of his labors." It at once achieved tremendous popularity with the miners, who declared their loyalty to this basic Socialist principle. Nothing, they said, could induce them to depart from it.
The Soviet held a different view. There was a deadlock. Instead of using the historic method of settling the dispute by bombs and troops, the workingmen fought it out on the floor of the Soviet. The miners capitulated to the logic of the Soviet. Their wages were fixed at 15 rubles per day, with a bonus for extra production. In a short time twenty-six poods (there are 36 pounds in a pood) of gold were accumulated at headquarters. Against this reserve the Soviet issued paper money. The seal was a sickle and a hammer, and the design showed a peasant and a worker clasping hands, with the riches of the Far East streaming out over the world.
The Soviet fell heir to a white elephant in the shape of the "Military Port." This was a huge plant built for military and naval purposes---a monument to the inefficiency of the old régime. It had carried on its payroll as fine a line of grafting officials and favorites as ever decorated an establishment of the Czar. The barnacles on the ships of the Volunteer Fleet were a consequence of those on the payroll. The Soviet immediately scraped off these eminent barnacles, but retained the old manager as chief technician. The proletarians recognized the necessity of experts and not finding them in their own ranks, they were ready to pay big salaries for them. The working-class set out to buy brains just as the capitalists had always done.
The Committee shifted the production of the Military Port to implements of peace. They introduced a system of strict accounting. This showed that the new plows and rakes were being produced at higher cost than the same articles could be imported from abroad. They then set to work to change the machinery and speed it up. Machines and ships were brought in for repairs. When a contract was not completed at the end of the eight-hour day, the foreman would state the condition of the work and the extra hours required. The men, taking new pride in fast work, often voted to stick by the job, even if it took all night. With this went a vote of increase of pay to the foreman.
Under the old administration most of the workers lived from one to three hours' journey from the factory. The Committee started the building of new workers' quarters. Numerous devices were introduced to save time and energy. The long line of employes, waiting in turn to receive their pay envelopes, was abolished by appointing one man to receive the pay for every two hundred.
Unfortunately among the men elected was one who could resist everything but temptation. Having received the two hundred pay envelopes, he started out to distribute them. Then he thought better of it. No one knows how it happened. Some of the men said that some bourgeois devil must have whispered into the ears of this weak comrade, and driven from his mind all thought of his family, his shop, and the Revolution. At any rate he was found later beside some empty vodka bottles with his pockets empty, too. When he recovered from his happiness he was brought before the Shop Committee and charged with breach of revolutionary honor and treason to the Military Port.
The Grand Session of the Revolutionary Tribunal was held in the main shop, with 150 men on the jury. The verdict was "Guilty!" The jury was asked to vote on one of the three following sentences: (1) Summary dismissal. (2) Dismissal, with wages to his wife and children continued. (3) Pardon and reinstatement.
Proposition number two was carried, thus attaching a definite stigma to the culprit's dereliction, but at the same time saving his family from hardship. This did not bring back the money to the unfortunate two hundred, so the fifteen hundred voted to divide among themselves the loss of the two hundred.
In their new experiments the workingmen made many costly blunders. But their verdict upon the Soviet as a whole was that it had made good. Toward the mistakes of the Soviet they took the same attitude a man takes toward his own mistakes---a very lenient one.
Out of their experience the workers gained confidence. They found that they could organize industry; they found they could increase production, and with the Soviet daily entrenching itself in the economic field they began to fell a sense of elation. They would have been still more elated had it not been for their enemies, constantly launching fresh attacks against the Soviet.
As soon as the shops were running well, the men would have to drop tools and take up rifles; the railroads, instead of carrying food and implements, had to carry ammunition and troops. The workmen, instead of strengthening the new institutions, had to rally to defend the ground on which they stood.
Raids were continually directed against the frontiers of the workingmen's republic. As soon as the enemy broke thru the cry went up "The Socialist Fatherland is in danger!" Into every village and factory hurried the call to arms. Each formed its little detachment, and along the roads and trails they marched up into the Manchurian Mountains, singing revolutionary hymns, and folk songs of the village. Poorly equipped and poorly fed, they advanced to pit themselves against a merciless, well-equipped foe. Just as Americans today cherish the memory of the tattered barefoot troops of Washington, who left their blood-stained prints on the snows of Valley Forge, so in the future Russians will thrill to the story of those first ragged groups of Red Guards who, at the call of danger, grasped their guns and went forth to the defense of the Soviet Republic.
Beside the Red Guards were rising the units of the new Red Army. It was an International Army. All peoples were represented, including platoons of Czechs and Koreans. Around the camp-fire the Koreans would say: "We will fight for you now, for your liberty: some day you will fight with us against Japan for our liberty." Among the officers were the Czech Captain Murovsky, Lenin's nephew Popov, and Abramov, who had served two years with the British.
White troops moving forward in Siberia. In the attempt to strangle the Soviets a steel ring of bayonets, thousands of versts long, was thrown around Russia.
One of the terrible Red Guards.
I spent several days with this band of 700 peasants fighting against the Whites
"For Land and Freedom."
In discipline the Red troops were inferior to the regular national armies. But they had an élan which the others lacked. I talked much with these peasants and workers, who for weeks had been lying out on the rain-drenched hillsides.
"Who made you come, and what keeps you here?" I asked.
"Well---millions of us dark people had to go out and die for the government of the Czar in the old days," they replied. "Surely we should be cowards if we didn't go out and fight for a government that is all our own!
There were certain gentlemen who didn't have this view of the Soviet. Quite the opposite. They wanted the Russian peasants and workers to have a very different sort of government. In fact they themselves claimed to be the one true and only government of Russia.
In grandiose phraseology they laid claim to sovereignty over the territory extending from the Golden Horn of the Far East to the Finnish Bay in the West, and from the White Sea in the north to the Black Sea on the south. While these gentlemen were not very modest, they were most discreet. They did not set foot upon any of their vast domains. Had they ventured to do so they would have been locked up as common criminals, by the government really functioning---the Soviet.
From the safe confines of Manchuria they issued their glowing manifestos. There all the conspiracies against the Soviet were hatched. After the defeat of Kaledin, the Counter-Revolutionists, egged on by foreign capital, put their hopes in the Cossack Semyonov. Under him were organized regiments of Hun-Huz bandits, Japanese mercenaries, and monarchists rounded up from ports down along the Chinese coast.
Semyonov declared that with an iron fist he was going to drive decency and common sense into the Bolsheviks. He announced his objective as the Urals, 4,000 miles away, then a descent upon the Muscovite plain, with Petrograd opening its gates, and the whole countryside rising up to welcome him.
Raising his standards amid great plaudits from the bourgeoisie, he crossed over into the Siberian border twice, and twice came hurtling back again. The people did rise up to meet him. Not with flowers, however, but with guns and axes and pitchforks.
The Vladivostok workers helped in this defeat of Semyonov. After five weeks they came back bronzed, tattered and foot-sore. But they came back victors. The working-class turned out to acclaim their fellow-proletarians in arms. There were flowers, speeches and a triumphal march thru the city. This victory put great elation in their hearts. But not in the hearts of the bourgeois and Allied onlookers. It was evident that in the military field the Soviet was growing stronger.
In the realm of culture the creative force of the Revolution succeeded in establishing a People's University, three workmen's theatres and two daily papers. The Peasant and Worker was the official Soviet organ. It featured an English department edited by Jerome Lifschiz, a young Russian-American. The Red Banner, the Communist Party organ, carried long academic articles. Neither was a masterpiece of journalism, but both were voices of the inarticulate masses, reaching out for the things of the mind and spirit.
While the Revolution was primarily a drive for land, and bread, and peace, it was more than that. I remember a session of the Vladivostok Soviet, when one of the Right was making a furious attack upon the Soviet, scoring the cutting down of food rations:
"The Bolsheviks promised you lots of things, but they didn't give them to you, did they? They promised you bread, but where is it? Where is the bread that . . . ?" The words of the speaker were drowned in a storm of whistles and hisses.
Man does not live by bread alone. Neither does the Soviet live by satisfying merely the hunger of the stomach, but the hunger of the spirit.
All men crave fellowship. "For fellowship is heaven, and lack of it is hell," said John Ball to the English peasants in the fourteenth century. The Soviet was like a great family in which the lowest man was made to feel his human worth.
All men crave power. In the Soviet, workingmen felt the joy of being arbiters of their own destiny, masters over a vast domain. A workingman is like any other human being. Having tasted power he is loth to let it go.
All men crave adventure. In the Soviet men embarked upon a supreme adventure---the quest for a new society based on justice, the building of the world anew.
All men have a spiritual passion. It needs only to be aroused. The Revolution stirred up even the dull, complacent peasant. It gave him the impulse to read and write. One day an old mujik appeared in the Children's School.
"Children, these hands cannot write," he said, holding them up, toil-worn and calloused, "they cannot write because the only thing the Czar wanted them for was to plough." As the tears flowed down his cheeks he said, "But you, the children of a new Russia, you can learn to write. Oh, that I might begin again as a child in our new Russia! "
The workingmen had captured the ship of state. Now they had to steer it along a labyrinthine channel, thru uncharted waters, the Allies constantly striving to sink it on the rocks.
Rebuffed by the Allied consuls, the Soviet turned to China with overtures of friendship. The Chinese had been so atrociously treated by the Czar that they could not understand any Russian government addressing them in a kindly manner. They thought it was a new species of trickery. But the Soviet backed its fair words with fair deeds. Chinese citizens were placed upon the same footing as other foreigners. Chinese boats were allowed to ply upon the rivers. The Chinese began to feel that a Russian government looked upon them not as an inferior race, to be cursed and bled, but as human beings. They sent their emissaries to the Red Army, saying:
"We know that we have no right to allow the cut-throats and adventurers of Semyonov to mobilize upon our territory. We know that the Allies have no right to make us put an embargo against you. We want our foodstuffs to go to Russian workmen and peasants."
A general conference was held in June at the frontier in Grodekovo. The Chinese were greeted in their own language by Tunganogi, a daring brilliant lad of 21, the incarnation of the spirit of young, revolutionary Russia. The delegates of these two races, representing one-third of the population of the globe, sat down together, to work out the problem of living together in peace and co-operation.
It was not a Versailles Conference of old men cooped up in a gilded chamber: crafty, suspicious, duelling with words and phrases. These were young men, open-minded and open-hearted, meeting under the open sky in brotherhood. Yet it was not a welter of emotion in which reality was lost. They faced the issues squarely: the danger of swamping Russia with a yellow tide, the lower standard of coolie labor, etc. But it was all done frankly, generously, fraternally. As Krasnoschekov, chairman of the Russian delegation, said:
"The Chinese and Russian masses are true children of Nature, uncorrupted by the vices of Western civilization, unversed in diplomatic deceit and intrigue."
Yet, on this very day, while delegates from these two great child races were reaching out to one another in an effort for mutual understanding, the foreign diplomats---behind their backs---in Harbin and Vladivostok, were plotting to hurl these two peoples at each other's throats. They were planning to use Chinese troops in a raid upon Siberia, and to smash the Soviets.
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