Part 2

Chapter 11

11

Policy relating to Food Supply

The ferocious struggles underway between the Russian Government and the peasants, due to the requisition policy of the former that has been so fully described in the bourgeois European press, which delights in reproducing the most insignificant details and which we viewed with a great deal of suspicion prior to our arrival in Russia, was a question that we wanted to get to the bottom of and to understand in detail, so that, upon our return, we would be able to disprove them, or else verify them, if it turned out that they were true.

Thus, we had no sooner crossed the frontier and made our first contact with the Bolsheviks, than we made frequent attempts to direct the conversation to this subject, and while we were not rewarded with any explicit clarifications in these conversations, they were not for that reason devoid of any usefulness, since they provided us with an introduction to the question.

But these simple introductions were not enough. The mission that sent us to Russia could not be satisfied with simple isolated suggestions. It required more; it required complete data that could serve as a basis for solid judgments.

The worldwide Press campaign against the Soviet regime attained the scale of an all-out attack.

The voice of reaction rose clamorously, deafeningly, stridently and with more or less certain proofs, with a huge stockpile of data and factual detail, and insistently confronted us with the accusations launched against the defenders of the Russian cause and drowned out our voices.

It was a necessity to counteract these effects. But an inescapable necessity. Love for the Revolution and the freedom of the Russian people, while indispensable elements for arriving at a fair judgment, could not be the only arguments marshaled against these accusations whose purpose is to distort the facts about the Revolution.

And if we broke through the blockade that surrounds Russia and crossed its frontier after so many hardships, it will be understood that we had not endured so many vicissitudes and overcome so many obstacles for the sole pleasure of being able to say: “We made it to Russia.” This would be an achievement, but we did not do it just out of personal vanity.

Our social activity and the experience that we have derived from it, along with the study of historical facts, has led us to a conclusion, one that we still hold; that without economic freedom, political or social freedom is a myth.

The pompous phrases, the moving oratorical style of polemical speeches, more or less democratic, the exuberant and declamatory speeches of man, are just so much fireworks, roman candles, and smoke, which dissipate if they are not accompanied by an economic improvement in the lives of the people. When man is no longer economically enslaved, no political servitude will be possible. When the bourgeoisie cannot lead the proletariat by his stomach, the ideas and actions of the proletariat will be suffused with freedom.

Because this is our standard for judgment, one can understand the attention we were obliged to devote during our stay in Russia to everything that had any relation with the economic liberation of the proletariat.

In the capitalist regime, the worker experiences hunger. Sometimes, entire peoples and regions have disappeared, decimated by this terrible scourge; but this is not because enough has not been produced to feed everyone. The phenomenon exists because the distribution of what is produced is arbitrary and cruel, because it bears the hallmarks of a Herodian massacre directed against the people. So how did the Bolsheviks proceed in Russia? Were they successful? We shall provide concrete evidence with regard to this question.

The March revolution first transferred power to the Cadets, and then to Kerensky, and did nothing to organize a more humane system than the one that had just permanently disappeared.

Russia’s economic situation at that time was still very difficult; hunger and the most atrocious privations had held sway over the people; the years of war, together with the difficult conditions which Russia had long endured, made a major contribution to the accumulation of hardships.

In Russia, of course, as in all the capitalist countries, those who suffered first and most intensely from the economic privations imposed by the war were the workers; for this same reason, the men who led the first revolution should have implemented a more equitable and more humane distribution of basic needs to the people. They did not do so and things remained the same in that regard.

During the period between March and October the situation got worse; it deteriorated to levels that were almost unprecedented. This grave situation, however, favored the Bolsheviks, and gave them the leeway to carry out their work. Their principle concern was with production.

But if the momentary situation did not pose grave dangers to the Bolsheviks, there was no doubt that they would have to face such dangers in the future.

The total disorganization of trade, the suppression of all the stores that formerly sold consumer goods—both large and small—the confiscation that the Government carried out for its own use of all the wealth produced and hoarded, gave it complete freedom of action on the road it had proposed to follow, and to create as many institutions as it thought would be necessary for the purpose of organizing distribution.

These advantages, that seemed so favorable, were seized upon by the Government, which immediately created the Commissariat of Food Supply, staffing it with tried and true communists and trusted Party members.

The first thing the Commissariat did was to fix the price of food products, since, although it was disorganized and timorous, free trade still existed.

The results of this decree could hardly have been more disastrous. Because the decree fixed the prices of goods far below the prices they were being sold for on the market, and because the decree also threatened anyone who refused to observe the price limits with harsh penalties, all the products disappeared from the market and in a few days their prices rose more than three hundred percent.

Threats, requisitions, imprisonments, and even executions: everything was tried; but always with negative results. The goods did not reappear, and those that were sold on the black market fetched astronomical prices.

In the meantime, the staff at the Commissariat of Food Supply was working feverishly. Reports accumulated. One statistical abstract followed another, and these were succeeded by others and yet more reports; but the situation of the people’s food supply did not improve. Speculation was rampant. You could not have bought a pin for the price fixed by the decree; instead, one could obtain anything for the black market price.

The peasant Soviets in the province of Moscow contacted the Commissariat of Food Supply and requested that it establish some order and normal activity in the relations of buying and selling or the exchange of products, between the city and the countryside.

Among the products that were affected by severe shortages was milk. It could not even be found for hospital patients.

This shortage was all the more striking insofar as Moscow had always enjoyed an abundance of milk, due to the enterprising spirit of an industrialist of the capitalist regime.

A wealthy and ambitious man, a few years before the revolution, had organized the purchase of milk in the neighboring villages.

Agreements were made with the peasants, according to which all the milk that was produced by their cows would be gathered, and then shipped in casks they owned, and distributed in numerous stores established in Moscow for this purpose.

The peasant Soviets requested that the Commissariat of Food Supply should respect this organizational arrangement, due to its good results, even if the entrepreneur who owned the company that operated the service was expropriated, as had indeed taken place already.

They also requested that the Commissariat of Food Supply should appoint one or more individuals to take over the expropriated company with full power to negotiate the price of milk with the peasant Soviets.

The Commissariat considered the request of the peasant Soviets, approved their proposal and promised to quickly comply with their requests.

The peasants went home satisfied, because they believed that the Commissariat would solve the problem.

Weeks and months passed; it was half a year before the Commissariat issued its official response, upholding the previous price decrees for milk products.

The Commissariat of Food Supply ruled in favor of maintaining the price of thirty rubles for a liter of milk, when the price on the free market was two hundred and fifty, and thus, while the Government could not supply the population with milk, the black market was overflowing with this product.

This example, cited as a broadly relevant case that shows how the Bolsheviks proceeded with regard to the problem of food supply, can be repeated for all other food products.

The uniformity, unilateral orders and the rigid mentality adopted for one question was also adopted for all the others. This explains the constant series of rectifications, which bordered on the incredible.

Once the statistics concerning the inhabitants were in the hands of Soviet Russia, it was hoped that there would be products to distribute. The Government’s first requisitions were soon used up, except for those that were rotting in the warehouses, awaiting the compilation of statistics, while the people went hungry.

Now that the State had become the sole purchaser of everything that was produced, it attempted to enforce its requisitions and price fixing, which the peasants evaded by every means at their disposal: leaving the lands untilled or farming only as much as was indispensable for their own families; armed resistance; executing and stoning to death the communists and the soldiers sent to requisition their products.

The first arrangement for the accumulation and distribution of products that the Commissariat of Food Supply established was surely one of the most extravagant and absurd systems one could imagine.

This is how they went about it.

Having acquired statistical knowledge of the amount of products—a purely approximate, rather than precise knowledge—produced by each province, the Commissariat established in each provincial capital one or more large warehouses for products. The Soviet of each village, town or hamlet of “isbahs” provided statistics reflecting what each cultivator had harvested, and the cumulative product, without leaving any part thereof for the farmer, was sent by the Soviet to the provincial warehouses.

Once all the products of the province were gathered in the provincial warehouse, those that were earmarked for each town or village, in accordance with the number of residents and the quantity, as set forth in the rationing system decreed in Moscow, that was assigned to each individual, were returned to the village or the town from where they originally came.

By means of this brilliant communist innovation, before a peasant can eat a kilo of beans harvested from his own crop, they had to be sent hundreds of kilometers, in accordance with the wise Bolshevik and Leninist decrees.

But since absurdity cannot long prevail, because reason resists its continuation, the protests of all the Russians who were not Commissars, or leaders, or dictators, caused the latter to see the error of their ways and to correct them.

The errors of Bolshevik political economy are legion. When history finally makes an account of them available, humanity will be shocked. If their purpose had been to make the situation worse, they could not have been more successful.

The centralization of all the distribution services produced incalculable damage and even more incalculable losses.

The peasants who saw the clumsiness of the State and its errors, due to the consequences and harm that they brought in their wake, organized violent resistance and refused to have any dealings with it.

They also demanded that the requisitioned products should be paid for with other products, since the Bolshevik money, due to the fact that it was produced without limit, was enormously depreciated.

“We do not refuse,” they said, “to produce as much as we can, but only that the delivery of our surplus products, after we reserve for our own use those we need, should be in exchange for what we need to live. What we refuse to do is to deliver the products in exchange for worthless paper money and to support the thousands of useless drones who lurk in the offices of the Government, and who are the ones who oppress us now and who enslave us, now that for each deputy we send to the Soviet, they have the right to send five.”

The Government’s attempt to fix prices was therefore completely ineffective. The seizure by the Government of everything that was produced, the requisitions and the threats, which were carried out all too often, did not improve the situation; to the contrary, they aggravated it.

The time came when the ration that the Government gave the people was reduced to one-quarter of what each individual needed to live, according to official data.

The whole situation was only made worse by the centralization of all the methods of distribution.

In Moscow all the census data for the whole population of Russia was centralized, where the individual ration was calculated. Therefore, the production statistics also had to be gathered in Moscow.

We therefore found that the system worked as follows. First: after each peasant harvests his crops, he sends them to the local warehouse—whether of a city, village, town or hamlet of “isbahs”--; second: once the products are in the warehouse, the local Soviet carries out an exact statistical survey of them, which must be transmitted to the provincial Soviet; third: the provincial Soviet sends all the statistics collected from all the localities under its jurisdiction to Moscow, to the Commissariat of Food Supply, so that they can be analyzed, the provincial exchange is established and a ration is fixed for each individual; fourth: the statistics are returned to each provincial Soviet; and fifth, the provincial Soviet will distribute the statistics to each local Soviet, so that the latter may proceed to distribute the products assigned to each category of the population.

Then there are the surplus products. The local Soviet sends them to the central provincial warehouse, which will distribute them in accordance with the orders it receives from the Commissariat of Food Supply in Moscow.

All these operations imply a waste of time and many sinecures: thousands of employees, who are, according to Lenin, “the most noxious plague that has attacked Bolshevism”.

The inconveniences of this centralization constituted the most formidable battering ram used against the Bolshevik’s economic policy, and the “new economic policy”, which was advocated by Lenin himself and implemented after our departure from Russia, is the most convincing proof of this.

Before we conclude this chapter, however, we would like to relate some facts that are certainly quite instructive. They shed light on the disastrous results of the centralization policy that was, and still is, so highly praised.

The province of Moscow is a major producer of potatoes. The harvests are usually very good. The hunger which seized hold of the population of Moscow, after the blockade cut off external supplies, was somewhat mitigated for a few months by the potato harvest.

Due to the fact that the Russian winters do not permit the sowing of crops in early spring, most of the legumes and root crops are of the kind that we call “late planting” crops in Spain, in other words, those that are harvested at the end of the summer.

The potato harvest in the province of Moscow in 1919 was a very large one. The residents of the city were pleased, because they were notified concerning this abundant harvest of potatoes by the news spread in the city by the peasants from the surrounding farmlands, and expected that the food distribution would fulfill their needs.

During the first two weeks of September of 1919, rumor had it that the potato warehouses of Moscow were crammed full of potatoes.

Everyone awaited the imminent beginning of the distribution of the potatoes. But the distribution never took place. The distribution did not take place because the very abundance of the harvest obliged the authorities to revise or prepare new rationing schedules.

The days passed by. The people were beset by hunger, a hunger that was all the more cruel since everyone knew about the existence of the huge potato harvest, and became impatient, fearing the worst. In the meantime, the Commissariat of Food Supply and the Council of the National Economy, with their centralized bureaucratism, were still working, compiling lists and reckoning numbers, submitting reports and calculations, as if they wanted to be complicit in what was going to happen.

And the people’s fears were realized. The climate put the finishing touches on the whole Bolshevik system of centralizing mathematics and scientificism, destroying in just a few hours the hopes that a million hungry people had with regard to that immense harvest of potatoes.

The frosts of the end of September, which are persistent in Russia and herald the first snows of the winter, destroyed all the potatoes in the warehouses. And this took place just when the Bolsheviks had announced they were almost finished with their statistical reports on the revised ration schedules.

And with the painful sadness that only hungry people with no means to satisfy their hunger can possess, the people of Moscow saw how thousands and thousands of kilos of frozen potatoes, unsuitable for human consumption, were thrown into the streets, shoveled into huge piles. Nothing was left to distribute to the people.

The wisdom and the delights of centralist political economy could not be more comforting.

Another interesting case, worthy of not being imitated, took place with regard to the Petrograd fishery, in the Neva River.

After the ice melts, when the temperature rises and people can fish in the Neva, the schools of small fish swarm there in such abundance that all one needs is a pole and a few hours on the shore in order to catch a few pounds of fish.

But the Bolshevik State, concerned that no one under its control should have to worry about getting enough food, devised a measure that would assure all the residents of Petrograd some Neva fish on their table. Was there not a king who wanted to put a chicken in the pot of each one of his subjects? Why shouldn’t a Bolshevik Government put a fried fish on the plate of every resident of Petrograd? Nothing could be more just.

The Government forced all the fishermen of Petrograd to join a trade union, and imposed upon them the obligation to sell all the fish they caught to the city’s Soviet. This measure was rounded out with the most absolute prohibition against anyone who was not a member of the Trade Union fishing in the river. Anyone who violated this regulation was threatened with severe penalties.

The professional fishermen, who were members of the Trade Union and to whom the monopoly of fishing in the Neva had been granted, were pleased, since they expected to be able to make a living on fishing.

But no one expected what actually took place. Along with the obligation to sell their catch to the city Soviet that was placed on the fishermen in exchange for conceding them their monopoly, the most absurd commercial theory made its appearance. The Petrograd Soviet fixed the price of fish, using the norm imposed with regard to the milk price rates as a model. It fixed the price at a much lower level than the fish were selling for on the open market and in the mutually adjusted sales.

The fishermen protested; they wanted to make the local Soviet see how inappropriate the price controls were. But the Soviet was not convinced by their arguments, and instead threatened them with severe penalties if they did not comply with the price controls. The result?

The fishermen refused to fish; they abandoned the entire enterprise; only a handful gave in. But since the catch brought in by these few fishermen, after subtracting the fish they were entitled to, could not even cover a quarter of what the population needed, and since the prohibition on unauthorized fishing was still in effect by virtue of the monopoly granted to the Trade Union, the people of Petrograd had to go hungry, forbidden to do so much as drop a line with a hook into the river.

Something similar took place with regard to the fishermen in Lake Ladoga.

They, too, were conceded a monopoly on fishing in the lake, after having been forced to join a trade union, and the Moscow Soviet bought all their fish, at the price set by the Soviet.

Because this price was so low that the sale of their catch failed to compensate them for their expenses and basic needs, the fishermen of Lake Ladoga refused to fish. But since the entire catch from Lake Ladoga is consumed in Moscow, and because the fishermen’s strike caused a shortage of fish in that city, the Soviet decreed their mobilization and issued an order to them to go back to work.

The measure could not have been less effective or more counterproductive. When a detachment of troops was sent to Lake Ladoga to force the fishermen to go back to work, the fishermen emigrated en masse, and of the several hundred fishermen who originally formed the Trade Union and made their living from fishing, only thirty were left.

But the most serious accusation that can be made against the errors of Bolshevik political economy and the violence and extortion to which it led, involves the story of a railroad worker in the province of Saratov.

The father of a numerous family, the rations he received were insufficient. Hunger, and with it, desperation, led him to an understandable resolution. He took the only pair of shoes he owned and departed for the countryside and exchanged them for a couple of kilos of flour.

Upon returning to his village, shoeless, but with a little flour that would placate the hunger of his family for a few days, he was detained and the flour was confiscated.

All his pleadings, all his supplications, and all his lamentations, broke against the barbarous official regulation.

In desperation, he went to the outskirts of the village and hanged himself from a tree.

Thousands of cases like this can be cited. If we have referred to this case in particular, we did not do so in order to pull on the heartstrings of the reader; we did so in order to give some idea of the profound tragedy that the people of Russia are suffering as a result of the misdeeds of their leaders.

And do not tell us that these disasters are attributable to the shortage of goods; this is a half-truth at best. We do not deny that there was a shortage of products in Russia; but we do claim that this shortage was in part caused by the clumsy and by all measures arbitrary economic policy pursued by the Bolsheviks.

We shall conclude by pointing out that all this information was provided to us by Victor Serge (Kibalchich), and was confirmed by other high level employees of the Soviet Government. We say this because the eloquence of our pro-Bolshevik elements, who are such prodigious fantasists, could very well be used to accuse us of pouring forth a series of calumnies to discredit the red dictators.

***

The requisitions, together with the existence of the Cheka, are the two blackest marks against Bolshevik policy.

We have hinted here and there in previous chapters concerning the resistance, sometimes passive and sometimes violent, with which the Russian peasant always opposed the requisition policy.

How many victims were there? We were unable, despite assiduous efforts, to acquire even an approximate idea. We saw graphs and tables dealing with the question. We possess photographs of villages and towns that were destroyed because they refused to hand over their products; but our reports go no further than this.

The requisitions are the logical consequence of the food supply policy implemented by the Bolsheviks.

When did they decree the requisitions? How were they carried out?

During the very first moments of the revolution, there was no reason for requisitions. The peasant, like the worker in the city, exchanged what he possessed and delivered everything, sometimes even what was indispensable for his survival. The instinct of solidarity in the people, in the great majority of them, produced magnificent results. But when official action intervened to regulate and control everything, the result was conflict.

By Government order free trade was suspended and products requisitioned for the purpose of statistical analysis; this paralyzed all trade, leading to poverty.

Since the official prohibition of free trade was absolute, any infraction was punished; but infractions were necessary because of the shortages that were getting worse every day.

Before banning free trade, the Government should have prepared the instrument that would replace free trade, and that would provide for the needs that were provided for by the market, because, whatever one may say against commercial thievery, one must acknowledge that it fulfills a need in the distributive machinery of products for modern populations.

But this did not happen. The Bolshevik Government, drunk on theory, but without any grasp of reality, suppressed free trade without having established the distributive institution that would replace it.

The immediate and most urgent consequence of this measure was the most absolute paralysis of everyday commerce, and its greatest impact was on the households of the workers.

It is true that the Government remembered to establish large warehouses for the distribution of products; but the effectiveness of these warehouses can only be gauged after the products are requisitioned, inventoried and brought to the warehouses.

This process had to take several days, and in the proletarian home, in Russia as in every other country, one lives day to day, and with the stores closed, the workers had nowhere to go to get provisions.

The first thing they did was to resort to the black market, and thus to engage in what the Bolsheviks called speculation, but which was an imperious necessity, in order to obtain what could not be obtained legally anywhere.

During this transition period the Cooperatives played a major role; but they were insufficient. How could they, numbering only a few dozen, supply a population of almost one million residents?

The exchange of products, one by one, and hand to hand, clandestine and burdensome, soon attained a formidable scale, and accustomed the peasants to the practice of usury, which was favored by having to carry on their business in secret.

After a few weeks, the Government purchasing and distribution warehouses opened, and the remedy proved worse than the disease, because the peasant, enticed by the fabulous profits to be made from the black market, did not want to sell their products to the Soviet for the price the Government fixed.

Then the requisitions began. The Bolsheviks thought they could fight fire with fire.

Insofar as the requisitions were restricted to the city, and were limited to the confiscation of all the products brought to the city for sale or to be stored or hoarded in secret caches, they did not have tragic consequences. These consequences came later.

In parallel with this Government policy of forced confiscation and requisition, the Government also implemented a program of price controls that were set by the Soviet of each municipality, in accordance with instructions received from Moscow.

The peasants, not wanting to comply with either decree, organized passive resistance. They did not deliver their products; they would rather hide them.

Then the Bolsheviks organized a Government offensive against the peasants.

They organized groups of individuals, or soldiers, under the command of trusted communists, which proceeded from one village to another requisitioning and confiscating everything.

The peasants shifted from passive to active resistance. They confronted the groups and military detachments responsible for the requisition orders. But they did not yet engage in violent conflict. The active resistance consisted in letting one part of their lands lie fallow, thus discharging their shared bitterness.

The Government responded with draconian measures, which led in many cases to the execution of the most stubborn resisters.

The result could not have been worse, because the peasants then shifted from active resistance without violence to active and violent resistance.

Elsewhere in this book we have already spoken of the means with which the peasants defended themselves, to which we make reference.

What did the Bolshevik Government do? What measures did it implement? How did it attempt to resolve such an extremely violent situation, brought to such an extreme by its own errors?

It proclaimed even more draconian and violent countermeasures and treated the peasant as an enemy of the people. It gave full powers to the commissions responsible for the requisitions, ordering them to seize everything without hesitation.

But it did not stop there: when it saw how powerless it was against the resistance of the peasants and that, in addition, the people responsible for the requisitions were withdrawing from the countryside in fear, it granted the requisition squads twenty-five percent of the confiscated products as a reward.

The effect was magical. Hunger accomplished what conscience refused to do. The requisitions were implemented mercilessly. Instead of playing the part of Government agents fulfilling a sacred mission, the requisition squads fell upon the villages like bands of conquerors devoted to pillage, greedy for spoils and wealth.

They confiscated everything; they took everything away; the seized everything. When there was nothing else to take, they even took the rations that were legally assigned to the families they were pillaging.

When, during our excursion on the Volga, we slipped away from our official guides and asked some peasants for details about the requisitions, they remained completely silent, but their eyes blazed with hatred and they clenched their fists threateningly.

The requisition teams paid so well that men with good jobs and high-level positions in other government departments resigned their positions and requested posting to the requisition teams.

During one of our trips, our train stopped alongside one of the trains carrying one of the requisition teams. Its commander was a medical doctor who gave up his practice and his clinic in order to accept this commission.

Since the two trains had to wait in the station for more than an hour, we were interested in getting detailed information about the team’s mission, and we went over to their car to ask them some questions.

We were received by the commander.

He responded to our questions by saying that requisition was necessary, because the peasant, imbued with petit bourgeois ideas, did not want to deliver his products to the Government, and instead wanted to sell them on the black market or to speculators in order to obtain enormous profits.

“And how do the peasants receive you?”, we asked.

“The way you would expect. They receive us with hostility. Whenever they can they impede and obstruct our efforts. They are opposed to any requisition of their possessions.”

“And how do you go about carrying out the requisitions? Who do you approach first?”

“We are assigned the place or places we are to work at in advance.”

“Once we arrive, we immediately demand that the Soviet Committee of the village meet with us; we ask the Committee to identify the farmers who have refused to comply with their scheduled delivery of their products; and we ask where the products are hidden and approximately in what quantity.”

“When we have a detailed list of the malefactors, we proceed with a squad of Red Army soldiers, whose support we request from the nearest army post, to the place where our work must be carried out, and we go from house to house demanding the delivery of the hidden products.”

“And if they refuse to turn them over?”

“We arrest the suspect; we bring him to the local Soviet and put him in jail.”

“And if he still resists? And if, despite arrest and imprisonment, he persists in refusing to deliver the products, what do you do then?”

“We search his house, the places where we suspect he has concealed the goods and which we have been informed are suspected to be his hiding places, until we find them. There are cases when the peasant, after a few hours in jail, voluntarily confesses where the products are hidden.”

“Do you have any rights to a commission or reward in the form of a portion of the products that you discover?”

“If the peasant, upon being asked for the first time to deliver the products, does so voluntarily, no; but if he refuses and our investigation uncovers them, then we get twenty-five percent of the proceeds.”

“So in that case you have a major interest in discovering the hiding places?”

“You would assume so, although we have even more of an interest in carrying out the mandate and orders of the Government.”

“And how is it,” we objected, “that you, being a medical doctor, and in view of the shortage of doctors at the battlefront for treating wounded soldiers, have preferred this disagreeable task instead of your chosen profession?”

“We all do our part for the victory of communism and to fight the counterrevolution. And this job requires intelligent men who support communist policy.”

“Of course. But there are many men who support communist policy, and some of them are very intelligent, who would be glad to perform this task, without drawing on those who are needed at the battlefront, such as doctors, for example, and who cannot be replaced because of the qualifications of their profession.”

“The Party can be served in many ways,” he responded.

“And you,” we continued, “were you sent here by the Government, by some provincial Soviet, or did you apply for the job?”

“I voluntarily requested this posting.”

“And why didn’t you request posting to the front, to Poland, where the Red Army is fighting in defense of the Revolution?”

“It’s none of your business,” he responded somewhat gruffly.

The arrival of a communist from our entourage put an end to our dialogue, which was interesting in so many respects, revealing the why and the wherefore of many things.

Upon the request of this communist we were shown the quantity of requisitioned products, which was by no means small, and he also told us about the quantity that was to go to the requisition team as their reward. This, too, was not inconsiderable.

These products, which were supposed to be sent to Moscow and placed at the disposal of the Commissariat of Food Supply, had already been shipped from one place to another for many days, following the circuitous course and zigzags of the requisition team. Before reaching its destination, it was quite possible that half of it would be lost in transit. Hunger played its part; corruption did the rest.

Chapter 12

12

At the Department of Rail Transport

It had been made clear to us, through various channels, that one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of the normal flow of economic life was the disorganized transport system, so we decided to visit the Department of Rail Transport.

“The Kerensky Government,” we were told immediately, “did nothing to address the problems that were getting worse every day. While that man was in Power, as was the case with regard to all other problems, he left no trace of anything that is worth mentioning. Caught in a web of commitments he made to the European Foreign Offices, he could not get rid of the diplomats and wasted time trying to secure agreements and make deals, instead of using it to carry out the work that the extraordinarily difficult circumstances required.”

“The transport problem in Russia, a country of vast distances, goes back to time immemorial. It was, so to speak, the problem behind all other problems. Along with the age-old problem of the land, one must also take into consideration, as a problem that affects all the others, the problem of transport.”

“Taking this already existing condition into account and adding the burden of the war, which disrupted the already diminished organization and reduced all the materiel of the rail system to a deplorable condition, one may easily get some idea of the extremely serious situation of Russia, a country that is dependent on imports for this kind of industrial product.”

“Only one final blow was needed to disorganize everything, making the situation even more terrible and precarious.”

“During the last months of Czarism, the chaos on the rails was so bad that neither men nor munitions could be sent to the front with the necessary regularity. Sometimes the soldiers had to march for hundreds of kilometers in order to open up some space on the congested rail lines.”

“The first revolution in March, with the disorder, the uncertainty and the provisional measures that accompany every new situation, disorganized the small part of the rail transport system that had until then escaped the initial confusion.”

“Kerensky’s Government, which, instead of attending to the transport problem, just folded its arms and only thought about resolving the political situation, caused what was until then a temporary state of confusion to become a chronic condition.”

“With the rail system in this condition, almost entirely disorganized, its equipment in deplorable condition and without any means to replace it, the October revolution, our revolution, came along and delivered the coup de grâce to what little remained of a functioning rail network.”

“One of the first decrees of the Council of Peoples Commissars, as you know, was to confer a legal and juridically sound form, that is, a definitive character, upon the proposal that was just elaborated by the All-Russian Congress of Peasant Soviets held at the end of July 1917, relating to the distribution of the land.”

“The effects of this decree had an enormous impact at the front. The armies abandoned the trenches en masse, throwing their guns away, or turning them on their leaders and commanding officers who tried to stop them from deserting, and took the trains by assault. What took place at the front was indescribable.”

“Everything was resolved by brutality, bullying, violence and brawls. These multitudes, leaderless, spurred on by their anxiety not to miss out on the land distributions and to get home as soon as possible, respected no law.”

“Might made right. The strongest, the fists that were quickest to strike, or the boldest, imposed their law.”

“There were many cases where the soldiers would rush onto a train, grab those who were already seated in a passenger car, and throw them out the window so they could take their seats. The demobilized soldiers took the trains by assault, broke the windows and tore the doors off their hinges to improvise seats. In the cars the soldiers piled on top of one another until they touched the roof. They even constructed scaffolding on the sides of the trains, on the flatbed cars, on the roofs and on the locomotives, upon which they traveled all crowded together.”

“The cars and the many locomotives that broke down had to be abandoned, and the soldiers had to push them off the rails and go on foot to the next station, where they continued their journey by repeating the same violent scenes.”

“When the soldiers that Czarism sent to the front had returned by means of this procedure, it was calculated that one quarter of the railroad materiel was completely broken down, another quarter was still in service but not operating at full efficiency, and the rest could only be utilized at the cost of expensive and difficult repairs.”

“At that time,” they continued, “this Department was formed and we assumed responsibility for transport.”

“When Krassin was named President of the Council of Railroad Administration, the workers went on strike, which lasted for a month and a half, a worthy finishing touch to the disorders that had prevailed since the beginning of the war. The strike affected all personnel, workers, office employees and administrative staff without exception, aggravating the situation even more.”

“In January 1918 the reorganization of the rail system began by dismissing all the high level employees and administrative staff and appointing the Extraordinary Commissions responsible for surveillance over the labor of the directors and administrators of the various rail networks.”

“An enormous effort was dedicated to the organization of these Extraordinary Commissions,” our informant continued. “Within a short period of time there was one in every station and one traveled on every train, under whose jurisdiction and command all the railroad employees without exception worked.”

“During the period of time that elapsed between the October revolution and the reorganization of the transport system, some very strange things took place. For example, each station only sold tickets for the next station on the line, and that one only sold tickets for the one after that. The traveler had to buy a ticket in each station if he wanted to continue on his journey. The money collected from ticket sales was shared among the employees.”

“With the reorganization this state of affairs came to an end and normal service began to be reestablished.”

“We also undertook, insofar as circumstances permitted, the repair of the salvageable materiel. The repairs proceeded at a slow pace, of course; this was due to a number of causes, among which the lack of raw materials, tools and skilled workers, were the most important.”

“Then we introduced a division of functions in the rail system, creating a technical school, which anyone who sought employment on the rail network had to attend for six months. We also created a political section, responsible for organizing the technical schools and carrying out communist propaganda among the rail workers.”

“A Central Railroad Committee was formed to serve as an intermediary between the various sections of the Railroad workers Trade Union and the Department of Rail Transport.”

“A working plan was established for the repair of the locomotives and rolling stock and in order to build new rail cars and locomotives which, according to our calculations, would allow for the normalization of rail service and bring the railroad network’s performance up to the pre-war level by 1925.”

“Incentives were introduced in the repair workshops, granting quadruple rations to the worker who doubled the production quota. If, on the other hand, he fell short of the quota, the Factory Committee of the workshop was authorized to reduce his ration by one-half. The machinists also received bonuses for working more efficiently or for working longer hours.”

“The minimum quota of each worker was established by reference to pre-war statistics, and railroad employment was militarized; the workers who were mobilized for railroad labor were subject to military jurisdiction and were tried by military tribunals.”

“A study was undertaken to standardize the production models for locomotives and passenger cars.”

“Trade union membership was compulsory,” we were told, “and two percent of every railroad worker’s monthly wage was deducted for financing the Trade Union.”

***

The information we were provided by the Department of Rail Transport was corroborated by our interviews with individuals. But since further consideration can shed light on a new facet of the problem, we feel obliged to review some points that were already mentioned in passing.

The rail strike that was declared to overthrow the Bolsheviks was promoted by the Social Revolutionaries, since they had many supporters among the railroad personnel. And while it is true that the Bolsheviks broke the strike, they could not prevent the formation of a powerful opposition to their centralist and dictatorial methods.

The immediate cause of the strike was a government decree that could not have been more absurd.

Because the Bolsheviks were the most powerful supporters of the capitalist method of the most absolute division of labor, they sought to implement this principle with regard to the allocation of the available railroad materiel.

They compiled the most complete set of statistics possible and divided the materiel for transport into two principle categories, which were in turn subdivided into three categories each. In the first category were included all the military transports: men and equipment. In the second, which was subdivided into two subcategories, were commodities of a general description and travelers. Each category was to be allocated the materiel earmarked for it, with the express condition that no military train was to transport commodities or civilian travelers, and that no civilian train was to transport soldiers or military equipment.

The result of this decree was disastrous.

It was often the case that a military train would depart from Moscow for Odessa or some other destination completely empty, due to the fact that no military detachments were scheduled for transport to Odessa, while commodities or travelers destined for Odessa would be waiting for another train that was not available because of a lack of means of transportation. And the opposite also took place, where soldiers and military equipment would be waiting at a station, but could not take the civilian train because of the infallible decrees of the Bolsheviks.

It often happened that commodities or passengers would be waiting at the station, while the trains were traveling hundreds of kilometers without any cargo at all, but going to the destinations of the commodities and passengers waiting at the stations; this was because the trains were not assigned to the commodity or civilian passenger category in the station, but to another category, for which no one had any information about what station this category was located at. It was necessary for the Rail Workers Trade Union to bring this absurd situation to the attention of the Council of Peoples Commissars, presided over by Lenin. Only then was the decree rescinded.

The rail workers arose in opposition again, this time to the creation of the Central Committee that was supposed to serve as an intermediary between the Trade Union and the Department of Rail Transport.

At first the rail workers thought that the organization of the Central Committee was in response to their desire to abolish the Department or the Commissariat of Transport; but once they saw that both these institutions continued to exist, the rail workers submitted their demand that both should be abolished, claiming that the Trade Union alone was capable of organizing the transport system, in direct contact with the Commissariat of Labor or the Council of National Economy. This demand was elaborated and approved at a National Congress of the Rail Workers Trade Union. The Council of Peoples Commissars rejected the rail workers’ demand. But the rail workers did not give up.

At the National Congress of Rail Workers, held in 1919, the opposition to all the Bolshevik decrees was so powerful that the abolition of the Central Committee and of the Department of Transport was debated and approved by an overwhelming majority of the votes cast, which, as one would expect, caused great consternation among the members of the Political Committee of the Communist Party.

The Political Committee met in emergency session, called upon all the communists who were delegates to the Congress of the Rail Workers Trade Union and ordered them to present a resolution to the Congress on the following day that demanded the revocation of the previous resolution concerning the suppression of the Central Committee and the Department of Transport. It also put pressure on the non-party delegates, and the original resolution was rescinded, but not without the communist delegates themselves feeling the depressing effects of their success that was obtained at such a high cost.

Once the rail workers delegates realized that any resolutions they passed against the wishes of the Party Committee would be annulled, they shelved all debate on the subject and rapidly brought the Congress to an end with the election of the National Committee of the Trade Union.

But even this election led to dissatisfaction.

The Communist Party proposed that the Committee should be composed of twenty individuals and that, if possible, all of them should be loyal communists.

In an attempt to avoid totally knuckling under to the Party, the election resulted in a Committee composed of ten communists and ten non-communists. In this way the rail workers sought to obstruct the Bolshevik dictatorship.

This composition of the Committee led to the result that was desired by the rail workers: no decree was enforceable, because it was blocked once it came up for a vote in the Trade Union Committee.

The invariable outcome of every vote on Bolshevik decrees was a deadlock.

Threats and appeals, requests and insinuations, the Bolsheviks used every method to force the rail workers to do their will; but nothing worked.

In view of their failure, they resorted to a despotic act: they dissolved the National Committee of the Rail Workers Trade Union and nominated an Extraordinary Commission answerable to the Party—made up of loyal communists—to replace it, which was obliged as a matter of Party discipline to submit to all the Party’s demands.

We must emphasize that the rail workers’ opposition was directed against neither the reorganization of rail transport nor was it directed in any way against collective interests or the revolution.

What they opposed, what they wanted and why they fought, was to prevent the collective personality of the Trade Union from being nullified between the Central Committee and the Department of Rail Transport. They wanted everything related to rail transport to be the responsibility of the Trade Union and also sought the elimination of all those useless institutions that, besides having become the nurseries of bureaucrats and sinecures, served no other purpose than to complicate the operations of the railroads.

As for the Extraordinary Commissions, they were granted absolute powers, and everything was under their jurisdiction. They constituted a kind of police force with executive powers.

In the stations, the Extraordinary Commissions capriciously issued and revoked orders. Since every complaint against their abuses had to pass through their hands before being submitted to higher authorities, we need not mention that none of these complaints ever reached their ultimate destination.

They arrested and imprisoned anyone they wanted, and their accusations were enough to condemn both railroad employees and travelers to months in prison.

Furthermore, they became so numerous that not even during the times of Czarism, when the railroads were operated by various individual companies, did the number of administrative employees who did not perform any useful services on the railroads ever approach the number of those who were engaged on the Extraordinary Commissions.

In the stations the Extraordinary Commissions were responsible for surveillance, enforcing compliance with official regulations, to make sure that there were no disturbances of public order and to register the complaints of the travelers.

The Commissions that traveled on the trains, since they did not check the passengers’ tickets or perform any other useful service, were only responsible for escorting the trains.

As a result, whereas passenger coaches were scarce, and passenger trains were composed almost entirely of boxcars, an exception was always made for the passenger car reserved for the Extraordinary Commission, who never had to travel in a boxcar, and occupied the only passenger car on the train.

And they traveled in comfort. It did not matter if the train was crammed full of passengers, or that some had to be left behind for lack of space. No one was allowed entry to the compartment of the train reserved for the Extraordinary Commission except for authorized persons, influential individuals or people who were friends of a member of the Commission. Only favoritism permitted one to acquire a seat on the car reserved for the Extraordinary Commission.

And we are speaking from experience.

Chapter 13

13

At the Commissariat of Labor

The Commissariat of Labor was located on the top floor of a large department store in Chinatown, confiscated, like so many other buildings, by the Bolsheviks.

We were introduced by our “cicerone” and interpreter to the comrade commissar who, already informed of our impending visit, gave us a warm reception.

We must start by saying that, in order not to mislead anyone who reads this chapter with the hope of learning the great lessons that one might expect to learn from a regime that calls itself communist, the information provided by the Commissariat of Labor revealed nothing new. Almost all, not to say all, of the information they provided us that was of any interest, was already known by us. That having been said, we shall resume our account.

We received a very dubious impression of the usefulness or importance of the role assigned to the Commissariat of Labor.

We believe, and we shall express it without any euphemisms, that it was an institution whose purpose was secondary. This impression would soon be fully confirmed.

With regard to the basic issues of labor, its intervention was limited at best, and non-existent at worst.

The rail transport question was outside the purview of the Commissariat. The same was true of Agriculture. Its activity was restricted to industrial labor properly speaking. Even in that domain, however, its action, as a principal or exclusive element, was extremely restricted by the scope of action reserved by the activities or functions of the Council of National Economy.

Not only was the mission that should have been performed by the Commissariat of Labor thus circumscribed and diluted among various institutions; its powers must be further qualified by subtracting the influence of the General Confederation of Labor and the Third International.

Many of the questions that affected the Trade Unions and labor were addressed, debated and resolved in principle, without the Commissariat of Labor ever playing any role at all.

It is true that, afterwards, in order to confer upon such decisions a legal patina, the rubber stamp and acquiescence of the Commissariat of Labor was required; but its seal of approval was only sought long after the issue in question was a total fait accompli.

This is why our visit was such a brief one; they only provided us with statistics, which we shall not recount due to their purely internal, ephemeral or circumstantial interest.

As a general rule, these statistics provided the unemployment figures for various times of the year; their rise or fall; subsidies granted to the unemployed and the elderly; occupational accidents and other similar things.

Among the information they gave us, our attention was drawn to the fact that, although there was a recognized retirement age, it was necessary to obtain a detailed medical report that proves the applicant’s complete disability, or else the Commissariat of Labor would assign the elderly person to some other kind of work that was compatible with his degree of disability as set forth on the medical report.

Taking advantage of our visit, we thought we would clarify a doubtful issue. We had in our possession a copy of the Labor Code—a draconian and brutal Code, which imposes duties on the workers but grants them no rights in return—and we wanted to know what contributions were made in its elaboration by the Trade Unions and what role the Commissariat played in its framing.

It seemed incredible, and it still does, that a Commissariat whose duty was to defend the interests of the workers and which proclaims that it is run by the workers, would have subscribed to such a Code.

The more information we obtained about this issue, the more we were compelled to draw the conclusion that we had already assumed: the Russian Labor Code was the work of the Communist Party and its elements, which includes the Commissariat.

When they spoke to us about the “dictatorship of the proletariat” in order to justify the unjustifiable and we had the famous Russian Labor Code before our eyes, we were put into the difficult position of having to ask whether all the Russian proletarians, or their representatives, were crazy for having approved of that document. In no country with a capitalist regime was there such a rigid law that was so contrary to the interests of the working class.

Anyone who undertakes to translate this Code will be providing Spanish-speaking workers with the most damning case against the Bolshevik regime.

The Bolsheviks, who are ordinarily so assiduous in disseminating their literature and their politics, clam up and have nothing to say about their economic literature and economic legislation. They interpret Marx according to their tastes.

The warriors of historical materialism, the drum-beaters of the class struggle who reduce all the aspirations of the people to the chemical processes of the stomach, those who say that it is their vocation to redeem the people from their economic dependence, and exercise the proletarian dictatorship in order to achieve this, inexplicably remain silent concerning the greater part of their regulations on compulsory labor.

Their propaganda says nothing about the famous Labor Code; they have also silenced everything that refers to the militarization of labor; it would seem that they feel that none of these things concern the world proletariat. To us, on the other hand, it seems to be of the utmost concern to the world proletariat. Even more importantly, we believe that the heart of the revolution is revealed in this domain, in the laws and decrees that guarantee and assure the full freedom of the workers; in the way labor is organized; in the social structure that renders the exploitation of man by man and the subjection of one class by another impossible.

What, after all, is the real situation of the Russian worker in the face of Bolshevik legislation and, consequently, of the militarization of labor? The situation of a slave, that of a man upon whom duties are imposed without being granted any rights. It is true that these duties are disguised with the paradox of being imposed for his benefit and in his name; but the reality is more unpleasant than the Bolshevik hair-splitting and fantasies, once the deception is unmasked and the decoy is revealed for what it is.

Dictatorship of the proletariat? Let us see.

Once the worker has been enrolled in the section of his trade in the Labor Center, he is entirely at the disposal of the Ministry of Labor.

If, due to real or fictitious necessities, since the worker is entitled to no explanations, the Ministry decides that he must be transferred to work in Odessa, although he normally lives in Moscow, and has his family in Moscow, the worker must go without any right to appeal the order he has received.

He is a worker mobilized in the name of the dictatorship of the proletariat, for which reason the latter can dispose of him at its whim.

If, once the worker has arrived in Odessa, the Ministry decides that he must go to work in Tobolsk, or any other Siberian town, he must depart immediately, on the day and at the time the Ministry indicates.

Under these conditions the worker is a mechanical toy in the hands of the Communist Party. The latter can do with him what it will, when it wants and in any way that it wants.

We thoroughly discussed this problem in our conversation with the comrade Commissar of Labor. And when we told him that we thought that the militarization of labor was absurd and arbitrary, and that even if one had to admit that on certain occasions and for certain trades it was necessary, it was a cruel system, he replied that without it the victory of the revolution would have been impossible, since so many workers had refused to work in one or another trade, and preferred to work in a different one, which caused an imbalance in the national economy.

We admitted he had a case; but we rejected the premises upon which his case was constructed. We said that it seemed to be a more rational procedure to convince the specialized worker or workers in a trade who are required in another location other than their hometown, that their attendance elsewhere was necessary and that they should go there to work, although temporarily. But we did not understand why a general and rigorous measure should be applied.

“In that way the Government, which must be the sole authorized agent for organizing the political and economic life of the country in the name of the Revolution, has more freedom to run things, and need not provide any explanations. In such a case,” he claimed, “it needs the most blind, the most complete and absolute obedience to all the decrees of the workers State. If it had to follow the procedure you suggested, it would never be able to achieve this result.”

“That may be true,” we objected, “but the worker would have more freedom, he would feel like he was playing a more active role in the consolidation of the revolution, he would take a more active part in it, since his participation would be requested rather than imposed, he would not be compelled to provide it.”

“In dangerous situations,” we claimed, “it would be a rare case, indeed one could consider it abnormal, for an individual to refuse to cooperate in the labor of popular liberation, which would also be, after all, his own liberation.”

“Did you perhaps forget,” he responded, “that the counterrevolution is constantly on the offensive; that the expropriated bourgeoisie is engaged in conspiracies on a daily basis to return to the past; that all the forces opposed to the dictatorship are united in their opposition to the Communist Party and that the Party has to confront them with all the means at its disposal?”

“So, then,” we replied, “the militarization of labor, instead of an economic measure for organizing the life of the country, is a political measure directed against the political parties or sectors that do not accept the communist points of view?”

“Oh, no! Not at all. The militarization of labor affects everyone, and everyone must submit to it. The communists in the Party just like everyone else. There are no exceptions.”

We laughed at this statement and said, “Well done”.

“We would like to know,” we said, “what is the official position of the Commissariat of Labor with regard to Trotsky’s proposal to organize production in Russia by utilizing the military form of organization.”

According to reports that had come to our attention, Trotsky proposed to divide Russia into ten military regions, within which labor would also be included. Under this system, the soldier and the worker would be subject to the same organization, although naturally performing different roles.

“We are completely in agreement with it if the Party should grant its approval.”

“Then the Commissariat of Labor, in its multiple and varied activities, follows the line laid down by the Communist Party. And just as in the case of the General Confederation of Labor, the worker cannot, in the regime of his dictatorship, do what he will, but only what the Party wills. This entire business seems somewhat paradoxical to us.”

“Because you have not lived in Russia, you are unaware of the fact that here the Communist organization and the Communist Party are one and the same. I myself,” said the Commissar of Labor, “although I am a member of the Party, was not appointed to my position in this Commissariat by the Party, but by the General Confederation of Labor.”

“When this Commissariat was created, the Party asked the Trade Union organization to assume responsibility for appointing the individual who should run it, and in its name and representing it I am here.”

“Which is all the more reason why these decrees concerning labor seem so strange to us.”

“The militarization of labor, the Labor Code and all the other measures implemented to organize production, and which we consider to be contrary to the collective interests of the workers—we do not think they would have been undertaken if there was freedom of choice. But since it is this freedom that seems to us to be lacking, we assume all the rest follows from it.”

“We are going through difficult circumstances and cannot grant this freedom of choice to which you refer.”

“But,” we objected, “by violating the will of the workers, you will not be able to harmonize their aspirations with the work of the Government, and even much less so with the spirit of the revolution. The effects of this policy of violent compulsion will be negative.”

“To each act of moral or physical violence committed by the Government against the proletariat, imposing laws in whose preparation and adoption the proletariat did not participate, the proletariat will respond with a greater degree of passive resistance, when it is not violent resistance, and the divorce between the Communist Power and the worker will become more acute with each passing day.”

“No; because our policy will prevail.”

We made our exit. Our disillusionment had no limits. We left convinced of the uselessness of the institution that we had just visited.

Chapter 14

14

“Communist Saturdays”

During one of the intermissions between sessions of the Congress, while one of Zinoviev’s speeches was being translated, we asked Lozovsky about what we perceived to be a lack of enthusiasm for the communist regime among the people, and even more their lack of enthusiasm for the imposed organization of labor.

We supported our argument with the data from the charts that were displayed there, in the main hall where the Congress was being held and in the hallways that led to it. There were industries in which production had declined by sixty percent. We found this confusing.

It is true that this decline was explained by the migration of the workers, who did not want to remain in the factories. Life in the countryside was easier and less impoverished; so they emigrated to the countryside. But, even taking this factor into account, with respect to production as a whole, when one scrutinized the details—provided by the ubiquitous charts—one saw that the quantity of production or output per individual had also declined. Why?

We could only see one cause: the lack of enthusiasm, the absence of a sense of mutual understanding and voluntary agreement between the people and their rulers. And it was natural for us to arrive at this opinion.

Lozovsky, who was already familiar with our natural reservations concerning Bolshevik rationales, wanted to completely dispel our suspicions, and told us about the “Communist Saturdays”.

“Communist Saturdays” had only recently been organized. And even if the enthusiasm of its early stages had not completely disappeared, the communists themselves, due to statistical evidence that we shall publish at a later date, recognized that the program’s progress fell short of their expectations.

During our discussion with Lozovsky it occurred to him that the delegates should have an opportunity to see the results of the “Communist Saturday”.

The “Communist Saturday” was ultimately nothing more than the performance of voluntary labor without any compensation.

With the “English work week” in effect in Russia, it was thought advisable to take advantage of Saturday afternoon by attempting to interest the worker in some voluntary labor.

We accepted the proposal to see the “Communist Saturday” in operation, and since we also wanted to know just how much the workers generally were interested in increasing the output of a production system that was supposed to directly benefit them, we went to visit some workshops and factories where the “Communist Saturday” was in progress.

Somewhat suspicious with regard to any information we obtained through official channels, after everything we had seen, we wanted to know whether the disinterestedness, self-sacrifice and enthusiasm that we were told was exhibited by all the workers for the “Communist Saturday” was indeed the case.

Having become accustomed to noticing a marked divorce between the government decrees and the people who were supposed to abide by them, and since we were told that the establishment of “Communist Saturdays” was not an official government act, but a popular initiative, we thought that for once we would finally discover a point of agreement between those who ruled and those who had to obey.

Therefore, after the end of a session of the Congress, one Saturday morning, in the automobiles previously put at our disposal, we departed to visit a metal workshop.

We visited various departments of the workshop, and then we asked some questions.

Two hundred fifty workers normally worked in this workshop, but only seventy-five volunteered for “Communist Saturday”.

The output per worker on “Communist Saturdays”, compared to the output on normal workdays, was twenty-five percent higher on average.

We were shown the charts exhibiting these production statistics which, according to the manager of the workshops, precisely supported his claims.

On the following Saturday another visit was organized, this time to some docks where lumber was being unloaded from barges moored on the shores of the Moscow River.

Here, too, we were given an enthusiastic account of the “Communist Saturdays”. Persons who during the other days of the week contrived to avoid working, and sold things on the black market or did other things of that kind, worked with zeal on the “Communist Saturdays”. As proof, we were shown four or five persons who were working. It is true that these persons were registered at the Labor Center as unemployed, and always managed to find a way to remain in that status.

The enthusiasm of many of the foreign delegates to the Congress, after these tours, knew no bounds. The most pompous and emphatic adjectives were not enough to describe the enthusiasm of those who, charmed by the delights of the communist regime and the dictatorship of the proletariat, not only worked the forty-eight hours of the normal working week to increase production, but also devoted up to four hours of their Saturday afternoons, on their days off.

Any objections to this picture were considered heretical, and when faced with the enthusiasm of those who did not work but ate—instilled by those who hardly ate at all but worked—there was no other remedy except silence, if one did not want to be treated as an enemy of the revolution, or viewed as someone who could not understand the profound lesson that these things taught us.

It would have been a vain enterprise to attempt, even with so much information at our disposal, to make them understand the miserable reality of all this enthusiasm, for not even ten percent of the workers participated in “Communist Saturdays”, which proves their ineffectiveness. The Party comrades, riding the wave of their enthusiasm, did not want to understand anything.

Instead, we were the ones, with our objections, who saw and understood nothing. And even if they were to accept our argument concerning the insignificant number of workers who participated in “Communist Saturdays”, they would still support it—a concession that we were obliged to make—because it was still such a beautiful thing.

If participation in Communist Saturday, if working without pay for four hours, were to be the result of a freely accepted and absolutely disinterested initiative, who would deny that it was a satisfactory and sufficient demonstration of the mutual interpenetration of the workers and the Bolshevik government? Because we did not believe this to be true, we always had our doubts about the Communist Saturdays, and in discussions on this question we expressed these doubts.

We did not enjoy official favor, now that the officiousness of the guides that were always put at our disposal by the Third International had failed to prevent us from interviewing unofficial sources, and we asked questions we thought were relevant and important, without tedious prepared testimonies and pre-established formal presentations.

The initiative to introduce “Communist Saturdays” originated at a meeting of the Party in Moscow and had Lenin’s support. So it was not a popular initiative. But to avoid giving the impression that it was a Government program, the Party sought out some loyal communists and told them, off the record, that they were to propose in the factories where they worked that each worker should participate in “Communist Saturdays”, as if it was their own spontaneous and voluntary idea.

The Factory Committees in these factories, which had already been notified about the proposal, although they pretended they had not been notified in advance, gave their passionate support to the proposal and appealed to the workers of their factories and workshops to participate in the program.

The workers who were real communists, those who suffered all the setbacks of the regime without wanting to be commissars or anything like that, the workers who, not wanting honors, were always ready to make sacrifices for the party and the revolution, accepted the proposal with enthusiasm, with joy, with pleasure, desirous of helping the cause. But the rest of the workers rejected the proposal and the few of them who participated did so out of self-interest.

The Bolshevik Government, seeking to get the workers and the people in general interested in the initiative and to get the “Communist Saturdays” off to a good start, lavished praise upon it, devoted laudatory articles to it in newspapers and made long speeches about it.

A great deal of ink was used up, but production hardly increased at all.

Faced with the negative result of the program, since only communists, rather than everyone, had participated in these Saturdays, the Government resorted to another, more practical procedure: it distributed food and clothing to those who attended the “Communist Saturdays”. And this did make some difference; not much, however.

The Government distributed one pound of bread, or half a pound, depending on what was available; sometimes flour, or else a dried, salted fish. These bonuses attracted many workers. This was natural. A pound of bread was worth, in terms of rubles, a month’s wages.

But when they saw that the distributions were not continued, and that on one Saturday, after finishing work, they had to walk home without the promised bonus, they began to desert, and the number of workers enrolled in “Communist Saturdays” declined considerably.

For us, this was just one more vanished illusion; one more disenchantment to add to all those we had been experiencing on a daily basis.

The claims made by Lozovsky and his minions were inconsistent and incompatible with observed facts, because they were either based on the naïve confidence of an absolute faith in Bolsheviks policy or else resulted from their intention to make us swallow anything they told us.

Chapter 15

15

Propaganda Trains and Ships

One of the organizations that was most highly praised by the communists of our acquaintance, concerning which they spoke with almost religious fervor and to which they attributed almost miraculous virtues, was the institution devoted to propaganda.

“This organization,” they told us, “will sooner or later (although we hope it may be sooner) penetrate the hearts of the masses, the amorphous masses without ideals, with the almost divine breath of Communism.”

“This is why our Party will be strong and indestructible; it will make the great Russian people understand the meaning of the revolution; it will rid them of the pernicious influences of the past, showing them the wide road to the future.”

“We have done much in the schools,” they told us, “but we have hardly even begun. Besides, the school is only the initiation. The children attend school to complete their education and become men; for the adult this is not possible. Once he gets to know the basics, he has to leave school.”

“Society needs his productive force and therefore cannot allow him to devote his time exclusively to study.”

“And while we have, with the schools, opened up to the adult the broad horizons that the old regime had systematically closed to him to keep him in ignorance, we cannot abandon him when we have only begun to teach him how to negotiate the ways of life.”

“We pin our hopes on these organizations. We expect great results from them.”

“Since your arrival in Russia you are sure to have noticed at one station or another the propaganda trains, the trains that are reserved for bringing the voice of communism to the countryside.”

“They are magnificent instruments of popular education. The impression they produce in the peasant, with his naïve soul that is however thirsty for knowledge, defies description. You must see for yourselves to really get a sense of it; mingle with the peasants when they come to admire these trains. Behold the admiration that shows on their faces as they contemplate the symbolism of the painted images on the canvas that covers the train! And see how they understand it!”

“You will have to visit one of these trains; unfortunately, however, there are none in Moscow at the present time. In any event, it would not be easy to visit one here, because they almost never stop for more than a few hours, just long enough to load the communist literature they have to distribute on their itinerary.”

“It would be interesting, very interesting. If you visit one, it will give you a most pleasant impression.”

***

We first saw a propaganda train at the Petrograd station the day we arrived in Petrograd.

As we were boarding our train, we noticed another train had stopped on a sidetrack, and that its cars were covered with canvas that was painted with symbolic figures accompanied by Russian words.

We did not take a closer look at this train due to a lack of time; but we did make some inquiries about it. They told us it was one of the propaganda trains.

A few days later, in Moscow, we were able to inspect one up close, and were struck particularly by the symbolism of its painted figures and the bright colors in which they were painted.

These trains were composed of various numbers of cars. Some had four, others five, and yet others six. The one we saw in Moscow had six cars. It was one of the largest and best equipped.

The personnel who traveled in this train, both those who were involved in the propaganda function and the railroad employees, lived a life in common in the passenger coaches. They were well supplied with food and other needs; they were also supplied with a considerable quantity of communist propaganda leaflets and books for distribution, crisscrossing the immense spaces of Russia in every direction.

Both sides of the car along its entire length were covered with the symbolic painted figures. On some, although not all, the canvas sheets covered the whole side of the car from top to bottom, and sometimes extended a meter higher than the roof of the car.

The painted scenes depicted various themes that referred to the different causes of the class struggle.

There were pictures of groups of workers in aggressive and threatening postures confronting other groups of people who represented the bourgeoisie.

There was no lack of scenes that depicted the victory of the revolution in which, on the piles of rubble that remained of the old world, a worker stood with the red flag and the Soviet insignia, waving the flag and calling upon the workers of the world to revolt.

One scene depicted the industrial workers, shaking hands with and embracing the muzhiks, representing the fraternity of the workers and the peasants under the Soviet flag and insignia and Communist Power.

All of these scenes were painted with backgrounds of vivid and bright colors, rife with symbolism, cubism and impressionism.

The propaganda methods of the Bolshevik propaganda train were as simple as they were effective.

Having arrived at some locality, the peasants were invited to attend the Conferences and events organized by the Propaganda Commission on the train.

Communist literature was distributed to those who attended.

The local Soviet was responsible for publicizing the event and making sure the peasants of the village attended.

We toured the interior of the train and spoke with the propagandists, and saw one of the steamships used for propaganda purposes among the towns on the Volga.

In one of the towns we visited, one of these steamships docked and we went to take a look at it.

The hold of the ship had been converted into a common area and dining hall for the ship’s crew and the propaganda team, and an auditorium for plays and meetings.

Conferences, meetings, lectures, courses in scientific Marxism and motion picture shows were held on the ship, all of which, as one would assume, was carried out within the framework of the purest Marxist orthodoxy.

We spoke with the leader of the propaganda team, and asked him regarding some details of the team’s work.

He told us of the enthusiasm with which the peasants and the workers greeted the arrival of the propaganda ship.

“But what they most admire,” he said, “are the cinema shows, since these give them a more flexible sensation of the reality and the materiality of things than literature.”

“They are eager to learn and to ask questions. All their questions have the impertinence of a child’s questions. They are constantly asking questions, without pause or rest, in their insatiable zeal to find out about everything.”

“They happily accept the literature; although at this point we cannot really say if they read the literature with the same enthusiasm that they display when they listen to speeches or watch the images on the screen.”

“As for the sessions we devote to films, our auditorium is always, without exceptions, filled with spectators. And what is most interesting is the fact that they follow the progress of the episodes with the simplicity and earnest attention of a child.”

“This attention can be explained,” we were told, “by the fact that under the old regime, spectacles of this kind were hardly ever staged in the rural areas. For the Russian peasant this is the vision of a new world, one that he could not even have imagined in his ignorance.”

“The films we show,” he added, in response to our inquiries, “represent all the episodes of the revolutionary struggle against the white armies and the former bourgeoisie. We thus impress the peasant, and this works in favor of communist policy, while it weakens our enemies. We want to penetrate to the deepest corner of the peasant’s soul, and rid him of his prejudices and errors by leading him towards Marxist communism.”

“We are convinced that this is a task that will take a long time and a great deal of patience and perseverance; but we have devoted a great deal of effort to achieve this goal and we are ready to devote even more. We will do whatever is necessary to help bring about the definitive victory of our ideas.”

“We regret,” he continued, “that we do not have enough time to allow you to get a closer look and see for yourselves regarding the truth of our claims. If we could schedule a cinema show for tonight you would see the crowds of spectators and the interest and attention shown by the audience in the scenes portrayed.”

“Before the films are shown to the people they first have to pass through censorship by the Party,” he answered in response to our question. “Since the production of these films is paid for by the State, one must assume that only content that the State authorizes can be produced.”

“All the films consist of communist propaganda. To produce films of any other kind would be a serious mistake at this time. The struggle we must wage against the enemies of Soviet Russia does not allow for any relaxation or weakness. We need a strong hand to impose communism, and we need severity to prevent deviations.”

We left. Our curiosity was satisfied. We cast one more look at the sides of the steamship, covered in symbolic images and exhortations to the class struggle.

The Bolsheviks want to make the muzhiks understand Marxist dogma not by means of study and the intellect, but by means of the faculty of sight and emotional excitement. The method utilized to achieve this goal could not be more appropriate. Will they succeed? That is the enigma.

Chapter 16

16

At the Central Office of Cooperatives

Our visit to the Central Office of Cooperative was arranged at the last minute.

The notes and summaries we managed to jot down during our visit were not written in the notebooks we usually used for this purpose, but on loose sheets of paper; we misplaced these sheets after our arrest in Italy, while we were on our way back from Russia, and we were unable to locate them after our release from prison.

***

Having crossed the threshold of the Central Office of Cooperatives we walked down a hallway. Then we climbed some stairs, walked through some very quiet rooms and called out announcing our presence as we had at the front door, with the same result. The building appeared to be uninhabited. Silence everywhere. No building superintendant, no soldier, no employee to greet us.

Finally, after having called out to announce ourselves several times, we heard a faint voice emanating from a nearby room, inviting us to come in.

We were received by a very old man; and, after we told him why we were there, he replied that there was little he could tell us.

“The Cooperatives actually no longer exist,” he began to tell us. “The Bolshevik Government, adding one more blunder to all the mistakes it had already made, nationalized all the Cooperatives. With these decrees the Cooperatives were transformed into simple stores for the distribution of the products requisitioned or bought by Bolshevik delegates in the provinces. This is why I say that I have nothing of any interest to tell you.”

Because we persisted in our appeals for information, brought up the fact that we were foreigners and delegates to the Congress, and pointed out to him how knowledge of the magnitude and extent of the Russian Cooperative movement would be of great interest to the Cooperators of the countries we represented at the Congress, he finally agreed to provide us with the details we sought.

“Cooperation in Russia,” he told us, “as a class organization with a social and political content, dates back to 1905. Before that time, the cooperative movement existed in our country, but without any particular political tendency. The purpose of that early cooperative movement, which we call primitive cooperation, was purely and exclusively economic and embraced a wide array of political tendencies.”

“The ‘Mir’ and the ‘Artel’ are the most well-known variants. The former has a manifestly communist aspect, while the latter is of a collectivist nature.”

“In most of the ‘Mirs’ labor, like the distribution of the products of labor, was carried out in common, while in the ‘Artel’, each member received a share corresponding to the labor he contributes. So many hours of labor correspond to such a quantity of products. That is its principle.”

“The ‘Mirs’ and the ‘Artels’ generally operate in different areas, as the ‘Artel’ is usually formed for manufacture, while the ‘Mir’ prevails in the labors of the countryside, the cultivation of the soil, and associated trades.”

“This differentiation can be easily explained.”

“In our country, due to the long winter, during which the peasant cannot work the land, he generally spends his time making wooden objects that he then sells in the local town’s market.”

“The competition between the vendors of these wooden objects was what led to the creation of the ‘Artels’.”

“Because the peasants cannot work together as a result of their dispersion across the endless Russian steppes, they embraced the collectivist system, that is, one according to which each worker receives the proceeds corresponding to the number of objects he brought to market.”

“This same reason, the endless winters and the short springs and autumns—which hardly last a couple of weeks each—causes the labor of cultivating the land, sowing, weeding, fertilizing and harvesting, to require more activity and therefore a more intense accumulation of effort. This is why labor in common is preferred for this aspect of agriculture.”

“But, I repeat, all these institutions, ‘Mirs’ and ‘Artels’, operated for the individual interests of each member, without any connection to others, with a few exceptions.”

“In 1905, the movement began to flow in other channels.”

“The influence of social ideals, which had enjoyed a certain wave of support in Russia as a result of the movement that took place during that year, did not fail to have an impact within the ‘Mirs’ and the ‘Artels’.”

“Little by little, this influence led to the creation of Cooperatives for production and consumption.”

“Many of the new Consumer Cooperatives were almost exclusively supplied with products manufactured or grown by the ‘Mirs’ and the ‘Artels’, and the latter institutions often sent all their products to various Consumer Cooperatives.”

“This Cooperative movement was so popular that, here in Moscow, at the beginning of the war, there was one Consumers Cooperative that provided a retail outlet for more than one hundred producers cooperatives, or ‘Mirs’ and ‘Artels’.”

“And that Consumers Cooperative was not the only one. I could cite numerous other examples.”

“There was a considerable number of cooperatives at that time.”

“In 1914, there were some four million cooperators in all of Russia. Since then, and until the recent Soviet decree that resulted in the incorporation of the cooperatives into the Bolsheviks’ nationalization scheme, the number of cooperators had increased enormously. It was estimated at eleven million.”

“But it was not just by the number of cooperators that one can gauge the influence and extent that cooperation had attained in Russia; such a view would lead one astray. Its influence is best measured by the services that it performed for its members and for the State itself. It is our belief that the latter, the services the Cooperative movement performed for the Government, are what led to the recent decision to nationalize the Cooperatives.”

“More than once, faced with terrible supply bottlenecks and shortages for its own institutions—the Army and other organizations—the Council of Peoples Commissars requested help from the Cooperatives, which fully complied.”

“The powerlessness of the Government and the Soviet institutions to achieve their purposes, contrasted with the diligence, the energy and the competence demonstrated by the Cooperatives, which gained nothing from these deliveries and, left to their own initiative, solved problems that could not be solved by means of confiscation, seizure, or even by shootings.”

“The Government, stirred into action by these realities, which were so superior to its economic conceptions and centralized and authoritarian organizations, reflected that, the quickest and most effective way to escape its predicament and to make the Bolshevik economic institutions function was to make these cooperative institutions, which had previously been autonomous and independent, into Government and Party institutions, since their experience and abilities would pull the Bolsheviks’ chestnuts out of the fire. Their mistake could not have been more obvious.”

“The Cooperatives, which were flourishing just a little while ago, are withering away now as if a wintry gale had passed over them.”

“Only a few months were needed to finish this work of destruction.”

“Today, it can be said that the Cooperatives no longer exist. All those people who devoted so much to their growth and development have left them; each Cooperative is now under the leadership of a loyal communist appointed to that position, a man beholden to the Party, although he may be incompetent to perform his responsibilities; audited and subject to the jurisdiction of the Council of National Economy; the Cooperatives are now forbidden to do business with individuals or even with their own members; obliged to get their supplies from the State stores, the former members of the Cooperatives have lost all right to participate in the operation of their Cooperatives … of the original ideal that the Cooperative once represented, nothing remains in the Russian Cooperatives, since they are, I repeat, nothing but extensions of the producers’ stores of the Soviet State.”

“Reduced, therefore, to impotence, the cooperators have nonetheless refused to abandon the ideal to which they had devoted their lives. The day will come, and we do not think it will take very long, when all of this will change. And if we cannot use the old cooperatives, since they can hardly be used any more, we will create new ones so we can pursue our ideal of redemption and mutual aid among the people. All that will remain of our present bitterness will be a painful memory that will encourage us—you may be sure of it—to persevere with more enthusiasm in our labors.”

There was such an undercurrent of pain in his words that we left him without asking any more questions. We did not want to make him undergo the painful experience of reliving any more such memories.

Chapter 17

17

Other Visits

Our desire to compile as many reports as we would need to form as accurate a judgment as possible about the real situation in Russia constantly drove us to go wherever we thought we could pursue this goal.

One dear person, to whom we are indebted for precious reports, and who accompanied us more than once on our visits, told us about the Sukharevka.

We left for the Sukharevka a few days later. Since we did not go to ask any questions, or to make any inquiries, but to look; since it was the eyes that had to make their report, we preferred to go alone in order not to miss any details.

The Sukharevka of Moscow is a kind of Boulevard, without any trees, and very wide.

During the times of the Czars, the Sukharevka was the site of a daily market similar to the Encantes of Barcelona or the Rastro of Madrid. It was the market for the old and the picturesque.

Given the nature of this market, the Bolsheviks left it alone, and proclaimed no decrees against it.

Trade was persecuted both wholesale and retail; stores were closed and any persons who took part in commercial transactions were severely punished; there was only one place where every kind of commerce, as long as it was lawful, was tolerated: the Sukharevka.

The importance that this market acquired was considerable. Its transformation was rapid, and the various goods and objects that were now being sold there were unlike any that ever were brought there during the previous era.

Alongside a used pair of shoes, a diamond or pearl is exhibited that is worth millions of rubles.

Just like the pair of pants with holes in the knees, displayed next to a fur coat for which a fabulous sum of money was asked.

In a pile of old boots and used shoes, one may admire an elegant pair of Louis XV riding boots.

Everything was bought and sold there. Just as many people came to sell as to buy.

There were displays of hats, cookware and eating utensils; for a few hundred rubles they would sell us a slice of meat, or a piece of fish and a slice of bread. And the requests of the buyers were continuous. They could hardly be satisfied by the vendors.

They also sold milk, at 75 rubles per bottle. The price varied according to the quantity.

They sold fresh and aged meat. Passing by one of the people who sold meat was sometimes a veritable torment.

White bread and black bread. Apples, pears; beans of every kind; perfumes and soaps of greater or lesser scent. Everything was sold and everything was subject to trade.

The violence and brutality of the Cheka had no effect on the imperious necessity of making a living.

The raids of the hated police were very frequent at the market, although they were more often occasioned by the desire of the police to loot and pillage than to enforce any official decrees. On the day following the raid, and often merely a few hours afterwards, the market of the Sukharevka resumes its traffic as if nothing had happened.

And passage through that market was no easy matter. At certain times and places it became extremely difficult. The crowd must have numbered in the thousands.

The sight of some of the things offered for sale made us recall how ineffective the government was, with its centralization and confiscations.

Thus, for example, during a visit we made a few days before to a Maternity Ward, we heard how the director and the women responsible for the babies lacked bottles for feeding them milk, while at the Sukharevka we saw huge stacks of baby bottles.

Needles, pins, thread and buttons were rarely distributed by the Government, because it did not have them; at the Sukharevka, however, they were abundant. And so was everything else.

The official decrees against individual trade could be harsh and cruel; but even harsher and crueler was the need to live. The Sukharevka proved this quite well.

Sometimes the people arrested by the Cheka during its raids on the Sukharevka are shot after being condemned for speculation. One would think that these shootings would have sowed terror and panic and that this extra-legal market would be temporarily shut down. Not at all.

Those who are wracked by hunger or driven by greed return to their posts. They assume that what happened to their colleague who was shot could also happen to them; but hunger, looming terrible and threatening over them, drives them once again to the market. To live, they have to do it; and it has to be done despite the Cheka and the shootings.

***

We also paid a visit to the Cheka. We had heard people speak of the Museum created by the famous and much-feared police, and we wanted to see it. We were ready to find out about everything—why not acquaint ourselves with the great achievements claimed by that famous institution of revolutionary security?

Because that is what the Cheka was: the police of the Communist Party and the domain of the executioners working for the Extraordinary Commission presided over by the current Commissar of the Interior, comrade Dzerzhinsky.

For ordinary crimes and public safety functions, there were patrols of soldiers. The Cheka’s mission was to seek out counterrevolutionaries, serve as guards for the Commissars and carry out the death sentences that the Revolutionary Tribunal dictated. This mission was a dreary and hateful one; but the Bolsheviks could not do without it.

The admiration for the Cheka was such that, on more than one occasion we were overtaken by awe for these praises.

If one were to believe some communists, without the Cheka the revolution would have been defeated, and Russia handed over to the insatiable voracity of the counterrevolutionary hordes.

So how could we pass up an opportunity to visit the Museum of such an institution that was both useful and revolutionary?

Upon our arrival at the building housing the offices of the Cheka, a woman, with the demeanor of an important person and a certain look of superiority, began to interrogate us.

Once she verified our identities as delegates to the Congress of the Third International, whose status in Russia can be compared to the status of Ambassadors in capitalist countries, she asked for our forgiveness and cleared us for entering the building.

In addition to the official interpreter who accompanied us, we were assigned a Cheka employee as a guide, who held a high-level position in the Museum.

On the first floor we entered a hall where objects were displayed.

The hall was not a large one, nor were there many objects on display. The museum nonetheless revealed the cruelty of the struggle waged between the various anti-Bolshevik groups and the Bolsheviks.

The first thing we saw was a black flag, partially burned, torn and full of bullet holes. In a glass display case, there were revolvers, grenades, and bladed weapons blackened by fire.

We inquired about the origin of these artifacts.

“They are,” we were told, “the weapons that were found with some burnt bodies in a house occupied by anarchists, after their bomb attack against the Bolsheviks on Leontyevsky Street.”

“When the identities of the authors of the bomb attack on Leontyevsky Street, which cost the lives of fourteen communists and wounded more than thirty, were discovered, their safe house was located, and because they responded to orders to surrender by shooting at the agents of the Cheka, the Cheka set fire to the house in an attempt to compel them to surrender. The black flag you see here is the banner of the group that carried out the bomb attack and which was waving on the balcony of the building.”

They showed us the jacket that Kolchak was wearing when he was shot after his defeat in Siberia.

We saw flags and standards taken from the counterrevolutionary armies and the political groups or gangs which, at one time or another, took up arms against the Government.

They called our attention to some primitive-looking weapons, among which we saw some kind of pistol constructed from parts scavenged from a Mauser rifle.

There were rough spears, long poles with one or two metal spikes at the end. There were other poles, shorter ones, which instead of spikes had a chain and a steel ball in a hexagonal shape on the end.

A blow from one of these maces would have been fatal or would have at least caused serious injury.

Bladed weapons of all kinds and shapes, and a display of instruments whose sole purpose was to kill or injure people.

In response to our questions, we were told that all these weapons had been seized during skirmishes with the detachments of soldiers responsible for violent requisitions of the peasants’ produce.

Because the people had been disarmed by Government decree, the peasants confronted the soldiers with makeshift weapons and defensive tactics.

Then we were shown some photographs. Here we saw proof of the horrors of Bolshevik economic policy.

Groups of dead Red Army soldiers, their bodies mutilated by the muzhiks. Sometimes, after having been stoned and mutilated, they were burned. Their killings were driven by hatred and vengeance.

Together with the photographs of the dead Red Army soldiers, we saw other photographs of villages that had been laid waste by soldiers sent to carry out reprisals after having machine-gunned all their inhabitants. Men, women, children and old people; all were killed. The procedure was efficient and … practical.

The soldiers arrived. One unit of machine gun troops surrounded the village; they opened fire and continued firing until fire had consumed everything.

A trial? A verdict against the possible authors of the soldiers’ deaths? Why? They were counterrevolutionaries. They all had to be exterminated. Genghis Khan would have laughed from his grave.

One note of useless cruelty, of a refinement of primitive Tartar barbarism, was shown to us in the form of a pair of gloves made from the skin of the hand of a Red Army soldier taken prisoner by Kolchak. Nothing reveals the barbarism of this admiral better than this wrinkled skin with the fingernails still attached; it gave us cold shivers of horror.

If his other cruelties and tortures were not enough to execrate the memory of Admiral Kolchak, the protégé of the English, who are so civilized, and of the Americans, who are such lovers of “Freedom”, the sight of this skin torn from the living hand of a Red Soldier would be enough to cover him with opprobrium and shame.

Sickened by this sight we left the Cheka Museum; and the memory of what we left behind there haunted us for several days.

All the horror of civil war, with its cruelties and its tortures, with its hatred and its vengeance, with its zeal for annihilating the enemy, was encapsulated in that exhibition.

No doubt ashamed of its own work, the party terror was hidden in the shadows of the hall we just left. That was where it belonged.

***

Ferocious diatribes were spoken, written and disseminated against the Russian Cheka; veritable atrocities were attributed to it. The most vehement protests of the Russian people had been raised against this institution. It was in no way inferior to any of the police forces of Europe or the entire world with respect to the terrorist system it had elaborated.

It wielded absolute power. Above the will of Lenin and the Council of Peoples Commissars, the all-powerful will of the Cheka always prevailed.

Responsible to no one for its actions, it was answerable only to the Extraordinary Commission, and the latter was exempt from any control by the Communist Party; its activity controlled by the will of one man, with full powers and absolute independence, one can easily deduce what the Cheka represented in Russia.

The Cheka was almost entirely constructed on the basis of elements of the Czarist political police; it acts on the pretext of alleged or real counterrevolutionary activities; its members are paid very well, and enjoy perquisites and privileges that are sometimes superior to those enjoyed by the leader of the Government. The Cheka actually vetoed requests of the leader of the Government on the pretext of his personal security. The Cheka could do everything; it was everything.

As proof of the privileges enjoyed by its members, we shall cite the following example.

Upon returning to our Hotel after our visit to the Sukharevka market, we were thirsty and found nothing to drink.

We took a walk and spoke to the owner of a small restaurant, in which a spirituous fruit flavored beverage was sold.

We entered, ordered the fruit drink and we were served; we paid 700 rubles and left.

We later inquired as to the reason why that restaurant had not been closed. It was owned by one of the leaders of the Cheka in Moscow.

The prohibition of all private commerce did not apply to that high personage. At his restaurant things were bought and sold, despite all the decrees that had been and will be issued.

We do not want to engage in recounting the many abuses imputed to the Cheka that we were told about. These alone would fill many pages; there will surely be no lack of people who will undertake this task.

But while we are discussing this topic, we can affirm that the abuses that it has been accused of have even been admitted by the Bolsheviks.

Everyone knows how much they like to compile statistics and charts that depict the results of their work.

The Cheka, no less than the other institutions, also has its statistical book and its charts. Such are the many horrors that it relates, that the Council of Peoples Commissars ordered that it be withdrawn from circulation during the very month of its publication, threatening anyone who had a copy and did not surrender it with severe penalties.

This fact is more damning of the Cheka than any other argument.

Chapter 18

18

A Visit with Kropotkin

Kropotkin’s views on the Russian revolution were unknown in Europe at the time of our visit.

The silence maintained by the master generated various interpretations. For some, it was the sign of conformity and support for the Bolshevik regime; for others, his attitude towards the events that had unfolded in Russia was the only logical and legitimate one.

Was it not natural for us to try to find out what he was thinking, now that we had the opportunity?

Apart from this circumstance, which was certainly very tempting, there was also the personal, intimate and very special satisfaction of having a chance to meet him, to speak with him, to make his acquaintance, for just a few minutes. We went to listen to the words of one of the most vigorous and respected minds of Europe and the world.

Our desire to meet Kropotkin was facilitated by our friend and comrade Souchy, a delegate of the German syndicalists, who was in Russia for the purpose of study and gathering information. Souchy introduced us to Sasha Kropotkin, the daughter of Peter Kropotkin, who lived on Leontyevsky Street.

Through the intercession of Souchy and Sasha, we paid a visit to Sasha and arranged to see Kropotkin in Dimitrov.

We cannot recall whether it was a Sunday at the end of July or at the beginning of August when we left early in the morning to see Kropotkin.

The station was far away; we brought along some packages of food that the comrades of the Anarchist Club had given us for Kropotkin at the last minute before our departure.

We found a car and for five thousand rubles the driver took us to the station.

At the station we had to stand in line to get our tickets. Some people, who occupied the first places in line, had been waiting since the day before. They had spent the night in the station. If we had to stand in line it was most likely that we would not leave until evening.

Sasha told us to approach the Extraordinary Commission of the station and tell them that we were delegates to the Congress of the Third International so that we could leave on the next train.

We had always hated to make use of such privileges and only did so in really exceptional cases.

But we went to see the president of the Commission. All of this trouble could have been avoided if we had requested a travel pass to Dimitrov while we were at the Hotel, but we wanted to dispense with official sanction in the interest of operating with more freedom. As it turned out, as shall be seen, it did not work out that way, although in the end the result was the same.

No sooner had we presented our credentials as delegates to the president of the Extraordinary Commission, than we were given tickets. In addition, we were given seats in the coach of the Extraordinary Commission.

Once the train was underway, we ventured to converse with some of the other passengers, using Sasha as an interpreter.

Our first interlocutor was a soldier, who spoke to us with enthusiasm about the almost messianic mission the Red Army had to fulfill. According to him, the ranks of the Army were being filled with the best possible troops; if it would be provided with the best modern weaponry and thus equipped, under the flag of the red star and under the motto of death to the bourgeoisie!, the Red Army would help to establish communism throughout the entire world. He was possessed, a mystic, a fanatic of an idea that he neither understood nor was even conversant with, but which is instilled in him by other reasons, subjective reasons, without value.

It made us sad to listen to that dialectic of the bulletin of the Red Army, which thus influenced and deranged virgin minds that did not have any kind of ideas at all.

His prophecies, his assertions about the imminent and irresistible march of the Red Army across the world, saluted and greeted by the applause and the rejoicing of the conquered peoples, and the apotheosis with which the peoples would receive it, seemed to be more like the Apocalypse than the reasoning of a person with even one speck of common sense.

This conversation soon came to an end. We did not want to follow the neophyte communist on his triumphal march across the world, much less while traveling on a train that could hardly go faster than twenty kilometers per hour.

Examining the other passengers, we focused on a soldier who was wearing a woman’s “necklace”. It was a gold chain with pearls, with a diamond in the center. This bauble was undoubtedly the product of pillage.

The soldier was the son of some humble villagers, from a village near Dimitrov where we were scheduled to make a short stop.

The very ease with which he wore the necklace proved that he knew neither the use nor the value of the jewelry he was wearing.

The sixty versts that separated Moscow from Dimitrov, seemed to multiply fantastically, since we had already spent more than three hours on the train and still had not set foot on the ground.

The passengers were constantly moving from one car to the other. Everyone was looking for more comfortable seats, in vain.

Since Dimitrov was the last station on the line we were traveling, the numerous passengers had quickly lined up to exit the train before it even stopped.

Always guided by Sasha, we took a street or alley that led to the center of the town; but before we reached the town center, we turned right and began going uphill.

After having walked about forty steps, we turned to the left and came upon a street that passed between gardens, in the middle of which were what looked like Swiss Chalets.

Halfway up the street, Sasha pointed out a door and said, “We have arrived. Since papa does not know what day you were coming to see him, he is not here to receive us. But that does not matter. We will take him by surprise and he will be all the more pleased.” And so we entered.

We walked through a spacious garden, lush with greenery, towards a small Chalet in the middle, and when we had gone a few steps, Sasha’s mother came to greet us.

Mother and daughter tenderly embraced.

After the compulsory introductions, Kropotkin’s inseparable companion, who had become a gardener to help meet the needs of survival, firmly shook our hands, showing her lively satisfaction with our visit.

While Peter’s companion and I exchanged a few words, Sasha entered the house and greeted her father and announced our arrival.

He quickly appeared, framed against the doorway, the great figure of the master.

He was somewhat gaunt, and reflected on his face was an ironic grimace impressed by his moral suffering.

In the presence of this world-renowned figure, whose white beard gave him a somewhat apostolic look, we were profoundly moved.

While Kropotkin’s companion prepared chairs for us to sit on the broad porch of the house, Peter came to us and firmly embraced us. We were overcome by emotion.

We were face to face with one of the most powerful intellects of European thought, and the full sense of our insignificance made us feel like little children.

Kropotkin, who was quite familiar with the Spanish anarchist and syndicalist movement, asked us to fill him in on the latest news.

We spoke at length, explaining in detail the intense activity of the anarchist movement during the last five years, carefully avoiding any mention of its position on the war.

Sasha had carefully coached us in advance. The heart attacks to which Kropotkin was prone were triggered when he became engaged in heated debates. And since any mention of his position on the war would force us into a heated debate, the best thing to do was to avoid any mention of it. And although Peter did refer to the question, we managed to avoid any serious discussion on the issue by merely saying that we had adopted a different position because we thought that it was more in accord with our approach to anarchism.

We spent the whole day in the company of the Kropotkin family, who devoted all their attention and interest to us.

We returned to Moscow that night.

Twice more we visited Kropotkin; once in Dimitrov, where we went to see him again, and once in Moscow, at Sasha’s house.

He had traveled to Moscow, despite all the difficulties and hardships of the journey, in order to visit Lenin and speak with him. But Lenin did not want to see him. On the pretext of pressing business, he did not want to set aside a few minutes to listen to him. While it is true that Lenin sent his personal secretary to see what Peter wanted, it was nonetheless a haughty insult to refuse to see the man who was going to request that Lenin not allow a horrible crime to take place. It was not carried out thanks to Kropotkin’s intervention.

The crime involved the death penalty that the Soviet Tribunal was seeking to enforce against ten cooperative members who were denounced by an agent of the Cheka as counterrevolutionary conspirators.

This Cheka agent had fantasized a wicked terrorist plot where there was nothing but the mild protest of a few discontented individuals.

From what Kropotkin told us, we understood that the accused, who faced a possible death sentence, were having a friendly conversation in their local social center. One subject led to another, and finally the conversation came around to politics, and someone ventured to suggest, which was agreed with by the others, that a conspiracy of all those who are discontented with the Bolshevik regime would be necessary in order to destroy that regime.

These words reached the ears of the Cheka agent and he transmitted them to the Extraordinary Commission, which ordered the arrest and trial of the ten individuals.

When Peter found out about what happened, and he discovered that they were going to be tried and that the Soviet prosecutor was seeking to impose the death penalty, he sought an audience with Lenin in order to tell him that “the shooting of those ten men would be the greatest shame, the blackest stain that Bolshevism has ever incurred”.

And he was successful. They were spared the death penalty; but not the ten years in prison to which each of the men was condemned.

Concerning the topics of our discussions with Kropotkin, I have omitted a great deal in order to assure the quality of these pages, but I would like to state that they were very interesting.

The concept of revolution that we owe to Kropotkin was very rich in insights and lessons for everyone, but especially for us anarchists.

The complexity of the Russian revolutionary movement is crystallized in its most eminent intellect, its most sincere and truthful interpreter.

It is so unfortunate that Kropotkin had not lived a few more years, so that his thought could have been distilled in a few more pages!

He did not have much to say about the Bolsheviks. He considered them to be consummate Babeufistes. For him, Lenin and his theories, like the communism of Karl Marx and all the Marxists, were nothing but Babeuf’s theories dressed up with a few fashionable expressions.

One day he asked us if we would write about Russia after we returned to Spain.

“If you write a book about Russia, call it Comment on fait pas une revolution [“How Not to Make a Revolution”]. Because every critique directed against the Bolsheviks and their interpretation of the revolution must aim precisely at proving that it is not possible to make a revolution by adopting their systems and premises.”

Anxious to discover what questions he was most interested in at the moment, he responded to our questions as follows:

“Fearing that the Bolsheviks would neutralize anything I could write about the revolution, I wrote nothing about it; I stopped taking notes. We are also too close to the events and to its people for the thinker to avoid being excessively influenced by one or the other. This is the principle reason for my abstention.”

“But in order to make some use of my time, I wrote on ethics, for reading a page of Bakunin gave me the idea of doing this, and it is to this project that I have devoted my hours and my days; but the work has proved most burdensome for me.”

“The lack of contact with the intellectual world outside Russia and the difficulties caused by the regime and by my health have accumulated, so that I cannot work as much as I should, and it is only by means of extraordinary efforts that I can achieve what I have set out to do.”

We asked about his financial situation, which was not very comfortable. He managed to survive, not only on the ration assigned to him by the Commissariat of Food Supply (the intellectual’s ration), but also from what was sent to him by comrades from all over Russia.

“I don’t live well,” he told us, “but even so I consider myself fortunate. Millions of Russians are much worse off than me.”

“Don’t you want to go to England or some other country?”

“Passionately,” he replied.

“Why don’t you submit an emigration request to the Council of People’s Commissars?”

“Because I don’t want to get a negative answer from the Cheka, from that shameful blot that will dishonor the Bolshevik regime, the master and mistress of the actions of all the Russians.”

“Only those who have the favor of the Cheka, even if they were miserable bandits under the Czarist regime, can obtain a permit to emigrate.”

“I prefer to die in Russia, to waste away in this inactivity, to endure hunger and cold, rather than submit to the commands of that institution.”

***

It was time to leave.

The samovar, with its potbellied shape rising above the table shooting steam towards the ceiling, cast a small shadow between us.

The day came to an end. The evening added a note of sadness to Kropotkin’s words. Did it presage his approaching death?

The previous winter had been very cruel for Kropotkin. Without firewood, almost without light and food, the privations had scourged his constitution, which had also been undermined by his advanced age.

What was about to happen would be even more cruel.

Russia’s economic situation was becoming more serious and worse every day. Take heed, Kropotkin!

The generosity of the comrades, the solidarity and support they gave by sending him what they could, was the barometer that signaled a notable decline.

The packets of food became less frequent. Sometimes they were accompanied by apologetic letters. “We would have sent these little gifts sooner,” they would say, “but we could not. If you only knew, Peter, the hardships we had to go through to feed ourselves in this little one-horse town!....”

With such words those generous comrades would ask forgiveness, lost in some little village in the immense spaces of Russia, for not being able to give him more effective assistance, and they mention the privations they have had to undergo in order to fulfill an elementary duty of solidarity.

When we were getting ready to return to Moscow, we shook hands firmly; we embraced and received his fraternal kiss.

“Give my regards,” he told us, “to all the anarchists of Spain, of whom I have such fond memories. Look,” he added, displaying a beautiful gold watch, “I don’t know if you will remember….”

“Yes, we will remember,” we interjected.

“Tell them that I still have it. That I will never forget this beautiful memento of the Spanish anarchists, thanks to the initiative of the comrades of La Coruña.”

“The inscription on its inside cover [“From the anarchists of La Coruña, to Peter Kropotkin, on the occasion of his silver wedding anniversary”] will always be a pleasant reminder of the Spanish comrades.”