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.

Posted By

Alias Recluse
Jun 2 2012 19:51


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