Part 3

Chapter 19

An Interview with Lenin

The Second Congress of the Third International had come to an end.

The ideological position of the various delegates who had attended had become somewhat clearer.

There were some implacable elements; others, on the other hand, had come to make some concessions, little by little.

But—and this was a curious phenomenon—when the Congress adjourned, the majority of the delegates began to engage in furious activity.

There were some, among them Bombacci, a member of the Italian delegation who, during the Congress, missed three sessions for every one he attended, and who, once the Congress had come to an end, was witnessed to be constantly coming and going, tireless, busy, restless. He was constantly visiting the Committee of the International and holding secret meetings with it.

Serrati was just the opposite. While the Congress was in session, Serrati was the indispensable man, the obligatory orator at all meetings of any importance, the man who was consulted about everything, for every reason and with regard to all matters. Why the discrepancy?

The facts came out later, but this is not the place to present them.

Something similar took place in the other delegations.

But our surprise knew no limits when we saw how previously intransigent delegates would afterwards be all smiles and advising agreement and compromise.

Summonses were continually being sent to the delegates requesting that they visit the Committee. We must mention that our delegation and one other delegate never received any such summonses. And the delegates met with the Committee. We do not know what their meetings were about; but the defections from the camp of the intransigents were to be noted after each such meeting. At the last one, Lenin was in attendance.

Because the questions that were being discussed did not interest us and, besides, everything had already been arranged behind the scenes, and since we wanted to return to Spain as soon as we could, we took advantage of the opportunity to meet Lenin and then to say goodbye to him.

As they were translating his speech into English, and we saw him getting ready to depart, we approached him and caught up with him at the door of the cafeteria.

“When do you plan to leave?”, he asked us.

“Very soon. We only need to get some more information; once we get it, we will leave.”

“Stay a little longer.”

“No,” we told him. “We cannot extend our investigations without spending a lot more time, given the reports that we have. Our presence here a few more weeks will not be productive. And our comrades in Spain would be displeased with the delay.”

“Since you will be spending at least a few more days in Moscow,” he said, “wouldn’t it be nice for us to have a private conversation together?”

“We would be most pleased. We have not suggested such a thing because we did not want to bother you.”

“Not at all,” Lenin responded. “But since I am very busy and I may forget to notify you when I am free, would you call me next Tuesday on the telephone? On Tuesday I will let you know when we can get together to talk.”

The next day, Thursday, was the last day of the regular proceedings of the Congress, and there it was agreed to hold the closing session on the following Sunday at three in the afternoon at the Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater.

We spent Saturday and Sunday putting our notes in order. We also decided on our last investigative projects we were thinking of carrying out.

On Monday morning we devoted ourselves to organizing our notes from the last few sessions of the Congress, and we remained in the hotel.

At approximately eleven, the hotel commandant sent us an urgent summons to report to his office.

By means of the interpreter we were informed that Lenin had asked for us and had ordered that an automobile should be put at our disposal.

We did not expect this. We had hardly gathered together all our notes and notebooks scattered around on the work table, when the interpreter came to notify us that the car was waiting.

Accompanied by a military officer we left at once.

We entered the Kremlin by the door through which the delegates were usually admitted.

Once we got out of the car, the commander of the guard asked for our names, and after checking them against the names on the order brought by the military officer who accompanied us, he spoke with the latter in Russian and allowed us to enter.

Once we reached the first floor landing, we underwent the same procedure with another pair of soldiers.

We proceeded up the stairs.

At the second floor landing we were approached by a non-commissioned officer in command of a patrol of four soldiers, who asked us for our identification. However, because the way I pronounced my name did not seem to match the name on the order, or perhaps because it was routine procedure, he had to make a phone call to verify my identity.

Once he received confirmation of my identity over the phone, he allowed us to continue down the hall in the direction of Lenin’s office. In front of the door to his office, however, there was a table, with a registration book.

The officer who accompanied me approached the commandant and handed him the order he brought with him and then withdrew. His mission was complete.

The commandant once again asked us for our names and checked them against the order and then wrote them in the book on the table in front of him.

The whole ordeal was finally over; he rose from his chair and accompanied us to the door, which he opened and invited us to enter an office in which, in an atmosphere of profound silence but great activity, six typists were working.

After a few minutes in this anteroom we were led into Lenin’s study.

Lenin’s office was modestly furnished. Anything superfluous had been removed.

A large map of Russia; another smaller map depicting various other countries; a work table piled high with documents and papers; a few chairs; a few stools and armchairs. This was the furniture in his office.

Lenin appeared.

Smiling, he offered us his hand, which we shook with real feeling and we sat down face to face.

He was happy, cheerful, satisfied.

“Are you pleased with how we communists have treated you?”, he asked.

“Very much,” we answered. “You have taken care at all times to look after our needs and have been most solicitous and we have been most grateful. If this was not so, if our discretion has with regard to one matter or another exceeded the limit of what was appropriate, we ask your forgiveness.”

“Not at all. From the very first, we have had the best impressions. It does not matter that you do not share our views, or that you are not one of us. We know that you have maintained your principled disagreement at all times apart from any improper indiscretions in view of the seriousness that is called for.”

Following a brief pause, he then added:

“Let us cut to the chase. Can you expand on some of the details of the report that you presented to the Third International, on the situation of the various political and social forces in Spain?”

I provided him with the details he asked for and then he said:

“So, you will continue to reject the dictatorship of the proletariat, centralization and the need to form a Communist Party in Spain in order to carry out the revolution.”

“We shall remain true to our opinions, our positions and our principles.”

“You have not been convinced by Russia’s accomplishments?”

“What I have seen in Russia, what I have observed in Russia, and the conclusions that we have drawn from the whole situation verify our opinions.”

“We have not concealed from you the fact that, when we came here from Paris, we were continuously plagued by one doubt in particular. Faced with the unknown, with conjectures and with doubtful information, we often asked ourselves this question: Are we anarchists mistaken with respect to the most fundamental tenets of our doctrine? And I will not conceal from you the fear with which we perceived the approaching moment when we might have to deny those ideas that we advocated with such passion and that formed what little intellectual heritage our lives possessed. One does not painlessly renounce the ideas that have been so dear to us, if you give the question some honest thought. To do so would be to tear a page from the history of our lives. Such amputations are always painful. But what we have seen and observed in Russia have confirmed and fortified our convictions.”

“So you still believe that the dictatorship of the proletariat is not necessary? How do you think the bourgeoisie can be destroyed? You do not think it can be done without a revolution!”

“By no means. The bourgeoisie will not allow themselves to be expropriated without a fight. They will confront the attacks of the people with the most implacable resistance, and a revolution is inevitable. It will be more or less violent; this depends on the resistance offered by the bourgeoisie; but a bloody revolution is inevitable.”

“However, the difference between the Bolshevik approach and our approach becomes clear at that juncture.”

“The revolution is an act of force. This is undeniable. But the revolution is not the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

“Dictatorship is the imposition of rule, of authority, on the part of some people, whether few or many, who run everything as they see fit, in their own name or that of the collectivity, against others, who must obey without they right of appeal, on pain of punishments and violence that are carried out by persons who are authorized to do so at the command of others, with indisputable authority.”

“That is not revolution. The revolution is the people in arms, who, tired of enduring injustice, of being deprived of their rights, of exploitation that denies them the right to live, protest against this situation; they take up arms, spill into the streets and impose by the force of numbers the social organization that they believe to be the most just. This certainly implies violence; but there is no dictatorship.”

“It is of course possible, by way of an arbitrary and captious argument, with a certain ingenious subtlety, to unite these two extremes: revolution and dictatorship. But the truth and the reality, which are hidden behind the value and the content of each of these two concepts, instantly demonstrates for us the artificiality of such reasoning and the weakness of such argumentation.”

“To make our position more clear, that is, more explicit, we can synthesize it in the following manner: the Revolution is the cause; the dictatorship can be the effect of this cause. To confuse the one with the other does not seem to be such an easy thing to me, when it is not the result of premeditated imposition from above.”

“But is the revolution not an imposition? Does it not compel the bourgeoisie to abandon their class privileges?”

“It is true that the revolution is an imposition; but the revolutionary action of the people is not a dictatorship. And if you want to split hairs over the specific meaning of every word and every concept, in order to draw conclusions that support any thesis whatsoever, I will tell you that the people will not ‘compel the abandonment of the privileges of the bourgeoisie’, but that the people ‘expropriates the bourgeoisie’, which is not the same thing.”

“When one ‘compels’, this implies that there was a preexisting agreement, that there was a command, by means of which orders are given, and when orders are given, there is a dictate; but when the people ‘expropriates’, there is neither a command, nor an order, nor a previously existing agreement. This expropriation has a clear revolutionary value. The other methods do not.”

“But I believe that it is of no use to split hairs over concepts.”

“Speaking, therefore, of general concepts, we believe, now more than ever, that the dictatorship of the proletariat, the organization or the constitution of a class Government—the seizure of Power, to dictate laws to those who dictated them yesterday—is not an indispensable feature of a revolution that has a social character, which is the kind that is demanded by our times. It is enough to expropriate the bourgeoisie and arm the people in order to achieve this end.”

“As for the defense of the Revolution and its conquests, it is the very succession of events that has transpired in Russia which shows how the people know how to defend themselves, going so far as to sacrifice their own lives.”

“The servitude of the people is maintained by the economic dominance of the bourgeoisie. Deprive the bourgeoisie of the means of exercising this dominance, and the servitude of the people will come to an end. Entrust the organization of labor and the distribution of products over to the trade unions and you will see how the bourgeoisie will not dare to lift a finger. That is our personal view, born from what we have observed here, in Moscow and in Russia.”

“I see that there is no way to convince you. So, you will not accept centralization and discipline?”

“The results of your centralization clearly display its failure in the political and economic fields. Based on the reports we have gathered in the various Commissariats, the conclusions we have drawn concerning political and administrative centralization are diametrically opposed to those drawn by your Party. Bolshevism claims—so we have deduced from the speeches made at the Congress—that the political and economic difficulties encountered in Russia are the result of a lack of centralization and discipline, and calls for more discipline and more centralization.”

“We are of the contrary opinion.”

“The more centralization and discipline that you impose, the greater the difficulties and the harder they will be to overcome.”

“Wrong; you are mistaken, Pestaña.”

“Possibly, although we do not think so. Only time will tell. Of course, in times like these, such a conclusion is painful! But no other conclusion is possible.”

“Anyway, and without spending any more time than is absolutely necessary on these theoretical questions, we have to think that we live to subvert the capitalist regime, and this cannot be achieved unless we make the revolution.”

“That is the most important thing. And although the situation is not the same in every country, and avoiding or correcting the errors we have committed, what is essential now is to make the revolution in the other countries. Emancipate the proletariat from the bourgeois dictatorship.”

“And with respect to this question: how would you characterize the delegates who have attended the Congress, as revolutionaries?”

“Would you like an honest answer?”

“That is why I asked you.”

“OK. Even if by telling you this it will cause you to be somewhat disappointed, or make you think that I am a poor judge of men, my assessment of the majority of the delegates that attended the Congress is that they are a deplorable lot.”

“Except for a few rare individuals, all of them have a bourgeois mentality. Some because they are social climbers, and others because that is how they were raised and educated.”

“And what is the basis of such an unfavorable judgment? It cannot be based on what they said at the Congress!”

“Not exclusively; but I base my judgment on the contradiction between the speeches they made at the Congress and their everyday lives in the hotel. The little things they do every day tell you more about men than all their words and speeches. From what they do, rather from what they say, that is how you can get to really know people.”

“Many grains of sand make the mountain. The mountain does not make the grains of sand. The infinite series of small things that we do day after day are a better demonstration than anything else of what really lies at the bottom of every one of us.”

“How, Lenin, can you expect us to believe in the revolutionary, altruistic and emancipatory sentiments of many of these delegates, when in their everyday lives they carry on, more or less, just like perfect bourgeoisie?”

“They grumble and complain that the portions of food they get are small and the cooking mediocre, forgetting that we foreign delegates are privileged with regard to our meals, forgetting the most important thing: that millions of men, women, children and old people are going without, not to speak of the extras, but of what is strictly indispensable.”

“How can one believe in the altruism of these delegates, who bring unfortunate starving women to the hotel to eat, in exchange for sex, or give presents to the women who serve us at the hotel in order to take advantage of them?”

“What right do these delegates have to speak of fraternity, when they insult, humiliate and threaten the male servants in the hotel, because they were not always instantly on hand to satisfy the delegates’ most trivial whims? They consider the men and women of the people to be servants, nursemaids, lackeys, forgetting that some of them may have suffered wounds and risked their lives in defense of the revolution. What good did it do them?”

“Every night, just as if they were tourists in capitalist countries, they put their shoes outside their doors for the ‘comrade’ servant of the hotel to clean and polish them. You have to laugh at the ‘revolutionary’ mindset of these delegates!”

“And the haughtiness, the snootiness and the contempt with which they treat anyone who is not influential in the Government or the Committee of the Third International is irritating and exasperating. It makes you think about how these individuals will act if tomorrow the revolution were to occur in their home countries and if they were the ones to be giving the orders from a position of Power.”

“The speeches they made at the Congress do not matter! That they should speak of fraternity, of companionship and comradery, and then act like slave-masters, is simply ridiculous, when it is not vile and detestable.”

“And, finally, these lucrative backroom deals that we have become aware of and which have sickened us with the sight of so many defections; this continuous coming and going with their hands out and putting a price on their support, smacks of the most abject skullduggery and the most disgraceful riff-raff. This is all so vile, disgusting and shameful, it is as if a mother were to sell her daughter to satisfy the caprice of the most abominable and foul persons.”

“Why should we believe in the revolutionary spirit and the seriousness of such people?”

“Because they want the revolution in their respective countries? Of course they do; but they want it to take place without endangering their sacrosanct persons and for the exclusive benefit of their own base appetites.”

“Naturally, we are not saying that, within the communist parties and among their supporters, whom these delegates represent, there are not hundreds of individuals of good faith, willing to make sacrifices and worthy of all respect and consideration. These stand apart. Our criticisms are only applicable on an individual level and are directed at the delegates who have attended the Congress.”

“This is our opinion, expressed sincerely.”

“I agree, Pestaña, I agree … although I think your judgments are somewhat exaggerated.”

As he spoke these words, Lenin rose from his chair. Our interview had come to an end. Perhaps we had overstayed our welcome; but it would have constituted an indiscretion on our part to end a conversation without knowing just how much of his time he was willing to grant us.

Before we took our leave of Lenin he asked us if we would be coming to Russia for the next Congress.

“Try to come, and bring some of your friends. Come and study on the terrain of our accomplishments. By then the situation will have improved, and maybe you will be able to reach conclusions that are closer to ours than the ones you have today.”

“Will you write something about what you have seen and what you really think of us?”

“Quite possibly,” we responded.

“If you do, do not forget to send it to me. I would be very pleased to receive it and to read it.”

We shook his hand cordially and left.

After this conversation we felt a profound sympathy and an unlimited respect for Lenin.

We did not share his ideas, nor do we share them today; but all our friends with whom we have spoken concerning him, when we refer personally to Lenin, know that we preserve for him the consideration and the respect that we believe he deserves.

A few days after this conversation with Lenin we were at Sasha Kropotkin’s house, and by chance her father was there. It was the day that he went to Moscow to interview Lenin, in an attempt to intervene on behalf of the cooperators who were under threat of a death sentence.

The purpose of our visit was to inform Sasha concerning a request we submitted to Lenin during our meeting with him.

Because of Sasha’s contacts in London, and also because of her extensive knowledge of the subject, Lunacharsky, the People’s Commissar who was also quite experienced in the same subject, delegated her for a mission to the English capital to buy educational materials for Russia’s schools.

Once the Council of People’s Commissars approved the proposal, the Cheka was asked to provide the necessary passports, and the Cheka refused to do so.

No matter how many requests they received to hand them over, they refused. There was no way to overcome this opposition.

A few days before our visit to Lenin, the Cheka had just refused the third request for the passports. Sasha, who knew that we were scheduled to have an interview with Lenin, proposed to us that we should make it a point to stress how important it was for the Cheka to release the passports. Lenin’s response could not have been more favorable: he assured me that Sasha’s passport would be delivered.

Not only Kropotkin, but also his companion and his daughter, asked us about our overall impression of our interview with Lenin and our opinion of Lenin’s views with respect to the course of events.

“Personally,” we said, “we received a very good impression. As for what Lenin thinks about the course of events, he thinks like a man who has been wrong and is sincerely trying to find a way out of a bad situation. If he makes the right decision, then all is well; if not, then the revolution will falter and decline.”

That is more or less what we could deduce on the sorrowful basis of one of its manifestations.

Chapter 20


The Return to Spain

The Congress of the Third International had come to an end.

The Committee’s activities were absorbed by the organization of the Congress of the Asian peoples that was being prepared by the Third International for September 13 in Baku, and the orders that were being given to the delegates who were now departing for the other countries of Europe and America.

The disorder was almost universal.

The twenty-one conditions imposed by Moscow on the socialist parties that sought to become members of the Third International and the communists who had not already unconditionally submitted, demanded from them an internal effort that would come to replace their externally directed work, which was previously predominant.

A group of delegates to the Congress, including the entire Italian delegation and the ill-fated French comrades Vergeat and Lepetit and the communist Lefebre, among others, had departed for a trip to the Ukraine—which we did not join because we could not spare the time from our investigations—and we were waiting for them to return.

We had previously agreed with Vergeat and Lepetit that they would provide me with reports and documentation of their trip and that they would deliver them to me when they returned to Moscow.

The intervening days were a little monotonous and boring. Everyone was looking out for themselves, and the wait for interpreters or some kind of permit often seemed endless, so the hours passed very slowly, and no one knew what to do to fill them.

We submitted requests for passports, and after two days we were notified that our requests were approved. But first we had to go to the headquarters of the Cheka, so that the Chekist police could photograph us. This photograph was absolutely indispensable for avoiding any interruptions on our journey.

We felt humiliated. Our instinctive sense of revulsion towards the Cheka increased from that moment. But we were to undergo an even greater indignity as a result of the attitude of the Bolshevik delegates who not only thought this regulation was just but even praised it. The moral character of these creatures nauseated us.

The appearance on the scene of a new face diverted us from these preoccupations and made us forget the incident of the anthropometric police dossier. We were working in the hotel room when someone loudly announced himself at the door.

We told the visitor to enter and a person whom we did not know appeared in the doorway.

Without any introductions, without saying who he was, or even giving us his name or what he was doing here, and employing a ridiculous and arrogant tone, he asked in correct Castilian Spanish:

“So, have you changed your minds?”

We were stupefied by this intrusion. Who was this person, who, in an imperious and authoritarian tone of voice, had the audacity to come in here and interrogate us right to our faces?

In more correct, although less Bolshevik language, we answered without giving any appearance of having been cowed by his rude manners.

“What!”, he said, shocked at our reply. “After what you have seen in Russia, the grandiose spectacle of the revolution, the ineffable achievements of the communists and the dictatorship of the proletariat, and you still think the same way you did before?”

“Just the same as before,” we responded calmly. “Exactly, after having seen all these things and for that very reason, we still think like we did before; I am more convinced of the correctness of my ideas than ever.”

“Then you have seen nothing of the revolution?”

“I have certainly seen the work of the revolution better than you have,” I replied.

“Before you leave Russia I want to have an interview with you, in the presence of the Committee of the Third International, because I am Merino Gracia, the delegate of the Spanish Communist Party.”

“Ah!”, we responded. “You are Merino Gracia?”

“Yes!”, he answered. “I am Merino Gracia!”

“We have no objection to attending this meeting; all we ask is that it should take place as soon as possible. We leave it up to you to make the arrangements.”

The meeting could not be held, because Merino Gracia left the next day for the Baku Congress. And thus ended this picturesque incident.

During those days we once again devoted ourselves passionately to the tasks required to reach an agreement with the organization of the Red Trade Union International.

The arrival in Moscow of comrade Borghi, the delegate of the “Unione Sindicale Italiana”, who would try to turn us againsty D’Aragona, the representative of the “Confederatione Generale del Lavoro”, and the departure of Lozovsky for London, who was then replaced by Tomsky, a more intelligent and more tolerant man, caused us to once again get involved in organizational work, forgetting all those little irritations of those unexpected encounters and the monotony of the passage of time.

These meetings became more tempestuous. They were tempestuous without any real cause. A Tempest in a teapot.

Borghi, who, as we said, had just arrived, demanded the support of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, due to the fact that it was the organization that was most closely related to the organization he represented, for the admission of the Unione Syndicale Italiana, and also its opposition to the admission of the Confederatione Generale del Lavoro, represented by D’Aragona, an eminently reformist organization, for even its secretary, D’Aragona, was a member of a national league for disabled Italian war veterans, of which the King of Italy was also a member. An extremism of which the Bolsheviks were not uninformed.

Borghi’s mission managed to both make the time pass more slowly and arouse passionate debate.

For our part, we accepted his demand, and at one of the sessions of the organizational Commission we submitted a proposal to that effect.

Tomsky’s surprise knew no limits. He marshaled all his cleverness in an effort to make us withdraw our proposal.

Our refusal exasperated him. He said that it was impossible. The Confederatione Generale del Lavoro could not be excluded.

When we showed him documentation that proved that this organization, besides the fact that its secretary belonged to the same organization whose president was the King of Italy, was also still a member, although D’Aragona had said it was not so, of the Amsterdam Trade Union International, thus demonstrating unacceptable duplicity, he proposed to postpone the debate until the following day, in order to consult the Committee of the Russian central organization.

After having accepted his proposal, we continued to debate the points on the agenda.

Once the next day’s session began, we re-submitted our proposal, but Tomsky passionately opposed it, and no matter how many reasons we provided showing how contradictory their position was, we were rebuffed systematically by him and the other delegates.

The time came when we thought our role in forming the Red Trade Union International had come to an end, because the votes in favor of our proposal and those against it were always equal and neither side would be convinced of the other’s arguments, and there was no way to reach an agreement.

We then requested to adjourn the debate in order to reach an agreement with Borghi and to see if there was some way to salvage the situation. Once the session was adjourned, we met with Borghi. As a result of our consultation, we agreed to withdraw our proposal to exclude the Italian Confederatione Generale del Lavoro, on the condition that the Union Sindicale would be admitted as a member in equal standing in the deliberations of the Committee and in the future International Congress that was being prepared, and supplemented this proposal with a declaration to the following effect: “The organizational Commission of the Red Trade Union International views with sympathy the openly revolutionary attitude and the spirit of class struggle that the Unione Sindicale Italiana has propagated among the Italian workers.”

Tomsky replied that he accepted the first part of the proposal, but not the second, because, although in a somewhat indirect manner, he ruled against a vote of censure against the Confederatione Generale del Lavoro.

We tried to make him understand that it was not our intention to merely condemn the Confederatione Generale del Lavoro; but rather to encourage the Italian proletarians who were members of the Confederatione to emulate those who were members of the Unione Sindicale. But he was not convinced.

Firmly entrenched in our position, because we believed it was logical, we rejected all attempts to get us to withdraw our proposal.

Once again we were bogged down in our continuing labors and endless debates. We asked Tomsky for another postponement of the deliberations in order to reach an agreement with the representatives of the Russian labor organization, and the session was suspended until the following day so that Tomsky could consult with his organization.

When we met again the next day, Tomsky proclaimed that in the name of the revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat the Russian Communist Party could not accept our proposal, and therefore appealed to us to withdraw it.

We were baffled by Tomsky’s declarations, for we could not understand what the revolution or the dictatorship of the proletariat had to do with a proposal that sought no more than to express sympathy for an organization, without condemning or expressing scorn for any other organizations.

We attempted to engage Tomsky in a debate about his position, but it was useless. He made it clear to us that either we withdraw our proposal or else the organizational Commission would bring its activities to an end.

Now it was our turn, faced with this ultimatum, to ask for an adjournment of the deliberations for a few minutes so we could decide what to do.

With Borghi, who attended, as one would expect, all the deliberations of the Commission, we withdrew to the hallway and engaged in a short exchange of views, for the situation had become grave. Our dilemma was as follows: either yield, or break with the Red Trade Union International. Which of the two propositions must we decide to carry out? We opted for the former. We gave in. It seemed to be the most logical thing to do.

Once the debate resumed we took the floor and withdrew our proposal, but not before having expressed our dissatisfaction with the interference of the Russian Communist Party in the deliberations of the Commission. We said that the will of the delegates had been subjected to coercion so they would impose upon us a mistaken position, and that if we, the representatives of the Spanish and Italian organizations, submitted, it was not because of this coercion, which we reject, but so as to not render the tasks of the Commission fruitless and to preserve the unity of the proletariat, although we foresaw that in the future, should this interference continue, it would become very difficult to preserve that unity.

Once this incident had concluded, we continued to debate the other questions.

Another one of the issues that created uproar, and led to violent debates, concerned the text of the official announcement of the International Congress of the Red Trade Union International.

The communists proposed that all the Federations and executive bodies that had joined the Amsterdam International must be excluded, and that the trade unions that belonged to these organizations and wanted to attend should be invited instead. But conditions were placed on the exclusion of the Federations. This seemed too complicated to us and we rejected it.

We proposed that a straightforward appeal should be made to all the local, regional or even national trade union organizations, whether they were based on industries or embraced all the trades or industries in a particular locality, that wanted to attend, with the sole restriction, in order to prevent any untoward surprises, that the right to vote at the Congress would be denied or the numbers of votes allowed would be restricted, for all those organizations which really belonged to the Amsterdam International.

At first this proposal did not meet with approval. It was said that our proposal would open the door to endless troubles and the possible invasion and dominance of reformist elements.

It was furthermore suggested to us that the invitation to attend the Congress should stipulate that all those organizations that attend must accept in advance the dictatorship of the proletariat. We rejected this, too, and we proposed that such an obligation should be discarded. We maintained that, in order to attract to the future Congress as many workers organizations as possible, so that it would really be a universal Congress of trade union organizations, it was necessary to reject all dogmatism and all compulsion a priori.

Finally, after long deliberations, it was agreed not to mention the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Congress’s appeal, and to invite all those revolutionary trade union organizations that engage in the class struggle that wanted to attend to come to the opening Congress.

The debates were quite arduous; and although on the surface we emerged from them united, our moral unity was almost completely shattered, more than one would have thought necessary.

Any objection to the dictatorship of the proletariat and to the subjection of the Trade Unions to the Communist Party drew the ire of the Bolsheviks and led to heated and interminable debates.

However, after many compromises and agreements, concessions and deals, we managed to set forth the general outlines of the appeal to attend the next Conference of the Red Trade Union International, which was supposed to take place in Holland or Italy, but which could only be held in Russia because neither of these country’s governments would allow it to be held in their countries.

Once this issue was resolved, we definitively made our exit.

* * *

The most interesting aspect of this final stage of our visit to Russia was life in the Hotel.

Each day saw some more people leave. In the hallways one no longer noticed the hustle and bustle of fifteen days before. Some new faces came to occupy the recently vacated rooms; but they did not really compensate for the agitation and constant motion of the recent past.

We noticed that the economic situation of Russia was rapidly deteriorating.

Not only had the ration they provided us in the Hotel been reduced, one meal being entirely eliminated and the quantity and quality of the others diminished, but every day brought new orders.

First they gave us some vouchers that we had to hand over at every meal. This was meant to subject us to a rigorous control over the number of rations that were distributed, but the results were not very good.

Then they gave us some sheets of coupons. At each meal one of the coupons had to be cut off the sheet and handed to the Hotel’s chief of the distribution of the food supply. This did not work very well either, because they took the coupons away from us and gave us some other coupons that looked the same, and were only differentiated by having different numbers stamped on them.

The white bread had totally disappeared from the table. And the black bread that replaced it was of the worst quality and doled out in very small portions.

The sugar for our tea was also eliminated. They gave us some caramels to sweeten our tea.

The distribution of tobacco and cigarettes, which had previously been a daily routine, now took place on only every other day. The smokers were angry and discontented.

Even so, our situation was enviable.

I think that, besides the commissars and a few other personalities, we were the best-fed people in all of Russia.

We need not mention that the automobiles had completely disappeared, much to the satisfaction of some of us, who were sick of the abuses we had witnessed.

We made an arrangement with Vergeat and Lepetit that, because of the lack of time, since they, too, wanted to return to France as soon as possible, we would exchange our reports and documentation in Paris. The tragic death of these comrades on the North Sea prevented this exchange from taking place.

When we secured our passports, we left Moscow on September 5 and, after arriving in Petrograd on the 6th, we left that same night for Reval with Borghi.

After having spent seventy days in Russia, in the country of the revolution, we returned to the capitalist world.

During the few hours we spent in Petrograd, we were surprised to meet two Spaniards: one a Catalan, and the other a Valencian.

The Catalan was a cook; he was in the service of Zinoviev, the leader of the Third International, at the beginning of the revolution. The Valencian was a pastry chef and confectioner. The two of them, during the times of Czarism, had occupied important posts in the best hotels of Petrograd, Moscow and other Russian cities. They had saved a few thousand rubles and deposited the money in a Bank to keep it safe. When the revolution confiscated Bank deposits and assets, the cook and the pastry chef were left without a penny to their names, which led them to curse the revolution and all revolutionaries. But when we asked them if they wanted to return to Spain, they replied that they did not.

“This will all change,” they said, “and when it does there will be a shortage of people with our job skills, and since we know the country and its customs we will be able to recover what the revolution confiscated from us. And besides,” they added, “the worst of it is over and we want to see it through to the end.”

We bid them farewell until they return to Spain as “capitalists”.

Finally, on morning of the 7th of September, we once again crossed the border between Russia and Estonia.

We left behind us, in spite of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, the Cheka and the arbitrary acts and persecutions carried out by the Bolsheviks, the seeds of a new world, the glow of a brilliant social dawning. The greatest effort ever made by any people for their liberation.

It does not matter that the insane fanaticism of a party has blighted this effort; the people have made it, and this is the most important thing for those of us who have always had faith in the people.

Chapter 21



There is still a great deal we have left unsaid.

We have nonetheless attempted to relate what we considered to be of the most interest for understanding Soviet Russia and the Party that rules it.

Were we to have included everything else we saw, and discussed it in general terms rather than in detail, we would have needed many more pages. To discuss it all in detail would have required another volume.

The disorganization caused by Bolshevik organization alone would have required whole chapters.

The fact that, in order to obtain the services of an interpreter when we needed one we either had to submit a request to the Third International or else go to three or four departments, will give the reader some idea of the extremely complicated Bolshevik organization.

But there is more: the division of functions was so meticulously observed that even people who worked in the same department and carried out functions that were completely mutually interdependent, could not explain exactly what their function was or its necessary and possible ramifications.

Even the organization of the Congress of the Third International itself, which was attended by a total of less than one hundred foreign delegates, required the labor and the constant attention of dozens of employees for almost three months, and when the Congress began everything or almost everything had to be improvised.

The mere fact that the Bolsheviks, installed in Power and the absolute rulers over all, only provided us with one interpreter to translate every language, will give you an idea of the nature of Bolshevik organization.

People coming and going; employees constantly bustling about and receiving orders from someone; yes, a great deal of motion; but nothing but motion. The practical, the positive, the real, which would have quickly brought the labors, the deliberations and the resolutions of the Congress to fruition; that was another matter entirely.

One month for the sessions of the Congress alone. Thirty days of deliberations; the fact that we met three times on some days, will give an idea of what could be done. We could barely follow through on a half dozen of them, however.

And that was the style of the proceedings at all levels. If the Soviet institutions had been organized for the express purpose of wasting time, it would have been hard to fulfill this goal more completely.

In this case, as in all similar ones, the intuition of the people and necessity overcame these deficiencies and torpors, always discovering the quickest and most suitable solution. Nowhere has there been such a contrast between the vitality and the activity of the people, on both an individual and collective level, with the sluggishness and laziness of government institutions, as was exemplified by what we saw in Russia. The case of the Cooperatives that we discussed above, along with many other such cases we could adduce, serve as testimony and proof of what we say.

Even official declarations corroborate our assertions.

In the hallways leading to the Throne Room, where the sessions of the Congress were held, there were posters with graphics showing comparisons between the minimum amount of food needed to keep a person alive and the amount that was officially rationed to each person. There could not be a more unfortunate comparison.

The official ration was equal to twenty-five percent of the individual’s minimum daily requirement. The balance, or the remaining seventy-five percent, had to be obtained despite all the official obstacles, hindrances and impediments. Did the people succeed in making up the difference? Not all of it; but they did manage to get a large part of it.

These same posters speak to us of the fact that the individual manages to obtain 50% of his minimum daily requirements by relying on his own resources. The other 25% is deemed to be impossible to find, and it was this lack that plunged the people into misery and pauperism.

The reality, then, was quite unfavorable for the Bolshevik State. It was absolute master and ruler of all; the only buyer and the only seller; in its hands were the means of circulation and exchange of products of an entire country, and yet it was incapable of providing each individual with more than 25% of what he needed, while the individual, despite having to navigate his way through all the obstacles the State erected to impede his efforts, nonetheless managed to procure with his own resources twice what the State gave him—is this lesson about the incapacity of the State not much more convincing than all the fantasies concocted in Bolshevik literature in its defense?

But why follow such a road!

And please note that it never occurred to us, for the purposes of adducing yet more evidence of the State’s failure to organize social life, to use the scenes of horror and misery we witnessed, or the degradation of the people due to the effects of poverty, as an argument.

We shall only mention in passing that in this minor treatment of State incapacity, we do not restrict its scope to the Bolshevik State; we apply it to all of them, because all of them have provided the most obvious proofs of their incapacity.

We have seen in Red Square, in Moscow, at the very doors of the Kremlin, dozens of people, including women and children, sleeping on the hard ground, when we went home to sleep after a day attending the Congress.

We also saw, one Sunday evening, a man pass by dressed in suit that was in reasonably good shape, but his feet were bare, no shoes at all, he had no shirt, and wore no hat. These clothes were no doubt all that he had left, and he wore them on Sunday to take his walk.

And why mention the women who had shoes but no stockings, or went about with nothing on their legs, because a woman who had stockings considered herself fortunate, or those who had cut their hair short because they could not comb it, for a lack of the most basic instruments to do so?

And the women who sold themselves for a meal, after having gone days and days from one government office to another, in search of a job, but without finding one?

And the half-dressed men? Or those who improvised suits from mismatched remnants of clothing, serving as visible denunciations of poverty and scarcity, with all their cruel consequences?

Why speak of the children of eight, nine, twelve or fifteen years of age, who sought in the black market and illegal trade what the official institutions could not provide them?

Are the Bolsheviks, the Russian rulers, the men who hold Power in the name of the working class and of the suffering people, solely responsible for these miseries? With the same frankness with which we reject and combat their political procedures, and the sophistries they utilized to seize and stay in Power, we likewise refuse to make them responsible for all the evils that afflict the Russian people. They are responsible for part of them, yes, the smallest part, we must make this clear in advance.

The material responsibility for all the misery we witnessed in the seventy days we spent in Russia, fall as an insult, a stigma and a terrible accusation, on the European bourgeoisie and governments. They are responsible, most responsible by far.

Without the blockade, without the Cordon Sanitaire, without the guards that the Entente posted at the gates of the countries on Russia’s borders, these miseries would have been on a much reduced scale; the Russian people would have been capable of a much more effective degree of self-defense and would not have come to such extremities as they suffered.

The Bolsheviks must be absolved of this sin. They already have on their consciences as socialists and as actors in the drama of the dawning of a new world, enough faults, without also burdening them with ones they did not commit, those for which they cannot be held responsible.

If each person is only held accountable for the faults that he has himself committed, in this case we must blame, because the blame is theirs, the European governments, and hold them responsible for this immense crime against humanity committed in Russia.

In this particular case, the Bolsheviks can mount the tribunal as accusers, rather than step into the dock as the accused, and act as judges rather than as criminals, and play the role of victims rather than perpetrators. For once we have to begrudge them the right to this belligerence. They have good reason.

We have fulfilled the mission we set out to undertake.

Dispassionately, without sarcasm or insults, we have related what we saw during our stay in Russia.

Whoever reads our account without any prejudices or preconceived notions of any kind, with the desire to understand rather than to judge, will do us the justice of acknowledging that, in our exposition of the facts, we have mixed the smallest possible quantity of partiality and we have conformed to the standard that we set forth at the beginning: to neither criticize nor to condemn; we are merely relating what we saw. And we believe that we have complied with this rule.

That is why, to conclude our narrative, we shall make a promise; if the public likes our work, we shall write a second part that we shall entitle: “Seventy Days in Russia—What I Think.”

Just as we restricted ourselves to narration in the first part, we shall criticize and pass judgments of what we saw, according to our opinions, in the second. The labor of making an objective accounting would thus be followed by that of critique.

So, then, if our labors are complemented by such a culmination, we shall feel satisfied; if not, we shall regret it, but that is all.

Angel Pestaña
August 1924