On the Road. Two Days in Moscow.
We got out of bed a little late. Our plan to get up at seven in order to take a walk before departing for Moscow came to nought.
We did not know anyone, we could not speak the language, but we wanted to put ourselves in contact with the people. How? It will be understood that it was not easy for us since we lacked the indispensable means for its realization. But our eagerness was more than a match for this situation, or at least impelled us to attempt to overcome any obstacles.
Lacking the primary vehicle for information, the ability to speak the Russian language, we tried to compensate for this shortcoming as effectively as possible, and there was no better way to do this than to walk around in every neighborhood and mix with the people. To see, to feel, and to get first-hand impressions.
When we awoke and saw that our room was flooded with light, we realized that we had slept longer than we intended. We had indeed. It was nine o’clock.
We got out of bed determined to do as much as we could to compensate for sleeping late with more energetic activity in pursuit of our goal.
We dressed, went downstairs to eat breakfast, and when we were ready to leave for our walk, we received a notice from the Committee of the Third International that we should await further orders.
Somewhat annoyed, we resigned ourselves to waiting. What else could we have done? Maybe the Committee had something interesting in store for us, and first things first. “We shall make the best of what time we have,” we told ourselves.
We wasted the whole morning waiting for our orders. They did not arrive until noon, and as it turned out they were of no importance whatsoever. Their purpose was to notify us that the meeting of the Executive Committee would be held the next day and that we must attend, which we already knew.
We chatted for a while with Tom Rech, who was the bearer of the message from the Committee, waiting for lunch and our departure, since we were leaving for Moscow at two. We had foolishly wasted the entire morning.
The food we were served in the Hotel International, like the food we were served later at the “Delavoy Dvor” in Moscow, was an exceptional ration. In this respect as in all others, the delegates were the real aristocracy of the country. The poverty and hunger of the people contrasted with the treatment that we received. And how some of the delegates abused this advantage!
At one o’clock they came to tell us that the automobile was ready and waiting for us whenever we wanted to leave. Since we did not want to just hang around at the hotel, we chose to go to the station, and wait there for the train.
At the station we were witnesses to the same spectacle we saw the previous morning, upon our arrival in Petrograd.
All the trains, both those departing and those arriving, were full of bedraggled and miserable people who, with sacks, shawls, strips of cloth, baskets, bottles and other utensils, were coming to and leaving Petrograd, in search of the food that they could not find in their neighborhoods. The only difference between them was that those who were leaving Petrograd were not burdened with so much baggage as the ones arriving in Petrograd. The clothes and the shoes that they used in their transactions with the peasants did not take up as much space as the products for which they were exchanged, and that was why they carried more baggage on their return to Petrograd.
We were directed to the train that was to take us to Moscow, and we could observe that all of its cars were passenger cars, in a dilapidated condition, it is true, but at least they were passenger cars.
The sleeping car that we took from Reval was already coupled and ready to board.
We spent a couple minutes on the platform, but the heat, which was already stifling at that hour, made us decide to board the car. It should be borne in mind that, the clocks having been turned back three hours in order to save lighting costs, it was really only eleven o’clock in the morning, Europe time; which is why we said that the heat was already stifling.
The Russian countryside was monotonous and depressing. Forests and more forests; prairies and more prairies; always the same. Every now and then there was a lake or a stream and nothing else. The fir is the tree that is most abundant here. There were times when the train would go for miles and miles without seeing anything on either side of the tracks but the branches of trees. We were told that in the summer there are often forest fires in the forests along the train’s route. The locomotive boilers were fueled with wood, and even though the smokestack is covered with an iron grating, numerous burning brands and sparks emitted by the firebox fly out of the smokestack. The heat and the dry sticks and leaves do the rest. Thousands and thousands of trees burn on these occasions, and nothing can be done about it, since it is almost always necessary to fight the fire a long way from where it started.
From the windows of the train we also see the miserable ramshackle isbahs of the Russian peasants.
The big cities of Russia are small by comparison with the one hundred and thirty million inhabitants of the country.
There are only two cities with populations of more than one million inhabitants: the two capitals, Moscow and Petrograd. There are no more than forty cities with between one hundred thousand and one million inhabitants, and about the same number of cities with a population between twenty thousand and one hundred thousand inhabitants. The rest of the population is distributed among towns and villages. From the train we saw a series of collections of isbahs that comprise villages or small towns.
At every station gangs of children surround the train, begging or trying to sell things; milk, apples or other kinds of fruit, for which they would not accept money in exchange. If you give them rubles they tell you that they do not want them; they want a scarf, or sugar or salt. Especially salt. Their happiness knew no limit when they got some salt. We also saw numerous women working on repairing the tracks. They constituted the majority of the work gangs on the tracks. We saw many on the boxcars shoveling ballast, dirty and disheveled.
At some stations we could observe the cause of the difficulties that afflicted rail transport in Russia. In the switchyards of some stations, you can see hundreds of boxcars and dozens of locomotives that were out of service, which, because they could no longer be repaired, had to be mothballed. It is here that one may observe the criminal and inhuman consequences of the blockade.
Almost all the materials needed for the repair of the Russian rail network were imported from other countries before the revolution. Once the blockade was established, it was not possible to find substitutes for these materials, and the authorities had no choice but to reduce rail transport service due to the lack of the necessary rolling stock.
We were also able to observe the influence exercised on the Russian people by religious ideas.
In many stations there were altars or small chapels adorned with icons, and most people made the sign of the cross three times when passing by one of the icons. This scene was repeated with great frequency in Moscow and the interior of Russia; but since we hardly ever saw it in Petrograd it struck us all the more forcefully.
Another peculiarity of Russian customs is that in every station, no matter how small, there is a pot of hot water, almost boiling, which is zealously tended by an employee of the station. From these pots the travelers obtain the water to make their tea.
Because there are no mountains in the provinces of central Russia, the water is not very good to drink during the summer, and in the winter it freezes due to the cold; hence the popularity of tea. And so that the traveler may prepare his tea in comfort, every station has hot water, which is distributed gratis.
In the afternoon the comrade in charge of the diplomatic mail, the same person who had accompanied us from Reval, notified us that Zinoviev wanted to speak with us.
We were shocked. We did not know that Zinoviev was on the train.
We had noticed, however, that at the end of the train a special car had been added, which no one ever boarded or left, except four soldiers who, with fixed bayonets, were posted near the four doors to the car once the train stopped in a station and would allow no one to approach the car they guarded. We just assumed that they were the escort for the train. Only later did we realize that this was Zinoviev’s special car.
Because we wanted to meet him and shake his hand, we did not delay. We immediately walked to his car, and were astonished at what we saw.
More than just a train car, this seemed to be the luxurious boudoir of a wealthy celebrity.
It had three compartments: one, which served as a conference room and dining car, sumptuously appointed, with furniture that was plain but of the best quality; another, which served as an office, with its writing desk, its bookcase and its comfortable bed; and a third that housed the kitchen.
“It is one of the items confiscated by the Soviet Government,” Zinoviev told us, when he saw us staring at the furniture. “In Russia, during the times of the Czars, it was fashionable for the great dukes, princes and major landowners to travel in private coaches. They enjoyed the same kind of comfort when they traveled on the navigable waterways. On the Volga, which I like to visit, there are dozens of luxury steamboats.”
“This car has been placed at my disposal by the Government, in my capacity as the current president of the Third International and a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party. It once belonged to a Grand Duke, who has on several occasions made vain appeals to have it returned to him. Neither this car, nor any other, will be returned to their previous owners. They are the property of the State and the State will use them for its purposes.”
He continued, changing the subject:
“I have summoned you here to have a little conversation and to invite you to dine with me. I have already given the cook the order to prepare dinner for all of us. For now, we shall have tea.”
Because a complete account of our exchange with Zinoviev must be reserved for a subsequent chapter, we shall limit ourselves to a brief summary.
Zinoviev asked us for reports on the social and political movements of the respective countries of the delegates who were present. We spoke about what we believed to be relevant and correct, and he told us about Russia, his personal enthusiasm for the Revolution, what the Party had accomplished in the Revolution and the work that it still hoped to carry out. Finally, he sang the praises of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, without which the revolution is impossible in any country.
Communism, especially the Bolshevik variety, according to Zinoviev, was the magic talisman, the open sesame, the panacea that must confer happiness upon mankind.
I ventured to object that I did not understand just what kind of communism was established in Russia, since, in my view, communism was only possible as a realization of the formula, “To each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities”, and that, furthermore, I thought that, in a communist regime, wage labor, not to speak of wage differentials, is incompatible with what I understood by communism.
“The fact that there are thirty-four wage categories, and that State officials work six hours, while the legal working day in the factories is eight hours, do not seem to me to be communist practices,” I added.
“I know that you are an anarchist,” he said, laughing, “and that, for that reason, you are somewhat imbued with petit-bourgeois ideas; but you will see, you will see almost as soon as you have some experience with our methods, how you will be immersed in the practice of real communism.”
“In addition, the practice of communism,” he continued, “cannot be carried out on such a vast scale. Everything for the State, nothing for the individual. The State confiscates everything, it seizes everything and puts everything to use for the benefit of the community, which in this case is the entire country. The country, or more properly, each individual, must blindly collaborate under the strictest discipline for the benefit of the State and in the way and the form that the State commands. Because all the benefits of this collaboration accrue to the State, the latter then shares these benefits in accordance with the importance of the service performed by each person. This is the real communism, not the one propagated by the anarchists.”
“I do not understand,” I replied. “It seems to me that this has nothing to do with communism. At the most it is the collectivism that the Belgian socialist Vandervelde advocates in one of his books. Here there is an employer: the State; and a proletariat: the people. And if the worker has to work for any kind of pay, and if the surplus of what he produces cannot be distributed as he wishes, or be used in accordance with voluntary mutual contracts, and if the worker must accept them in the form that State wishes to deliver them to him, there is no communism; there is nothing but a more or less radical collectivism. That is all. As long as there are classes, social distinctions or categories, communism is not possible. And here there are, if not classes, at least categories, from the very moment that wages are not equal and each worker occupies the category that the Factory Committee assigns to him.”
“You will be convinced,” he responded, “that you are mistaken.” And then the conversation moved on to another subject.
It was getting late and dinner was served.
Once the dinner was over, we spoke a little more, although this time about trivial matters, and then retired to our car.
We went to bed and slept until the train was close to Moscow. Four automobiles were awaiting us at the station, which took us to the hotel, the “Delavoy Dvor”, which had just been renovated in anticipation of the arrival of the delegates to the Second Congress of the Third International.
A little later we left the hotel and went to the offices of the former German Embassy in Moscow, the official headquarters of the Communist International, where the meeting of the Executive was to be held.
I will not relate a detailed account of all the incidents or the sessions of the Congress, since I have already done so in a pamphlet, which I published in my capacity as a delegate to the Congress under the title, “Considerations and Judgments Concerning the Third International”.
First, however, I would like to provide a summary of an interview I had with Drizo, or Lozovsky, as he is known by both names.
On the day following our arrival in Moscow, June 30th, in accordance with plans we made on the previous day, after the end of the meeting of the Executive of the Communist International, we had an interview with Lozovsky, a real journalistic type of interview, that was to prove most useful in our subsequent conduct during our visit to Russia.
It is a documented historical fact that the organization of Trade Unions in Russia arose after the movement of 1905. After having drowned the movement in blood, which was on the verge of overthrowing the Czarist regime, the nobility and the bourgeoisie recognized the necessity of conceding a margin of freedom to the aspirations of the people, and on the margins of this freedom so conceded, the first trade union organizations were born.
When we say that they were conceded a margin of freedom, we do not mean to say that they were allowed to develop freely, or with any normal degree of freedom; what we mean to do is to provide a general picture of the very beginning of a concession which the bloodbath had exacted from Czarism, already mortally wounded, and the reforms the people extracted from the temporary lull in the repression.
The reaction that followed the bloody events of 1905 was extremely cruel; but if the political parties that had intervened in the movement were decimated by the repression, so was the regime that exercised the repression.
The bourgeoisie and the nobility were convinced that it was much more practical to open up a safety valve for the growing unrest and protest on the part of the working class, than to oppose with systematic violence the discontent which indisputably existed among the population, and therefore tolerated the formation of workers associations for the purpose of pursuing class-based economic reforms.
The growth of the trade unions was so rapid and the trade unions were so firmly entrenched, that the Government, no longer daring to withdraw what it had conceded, created an organization of spies and agents provocateurs, which allowed it, under the aegis of false movements and always-anonymous denunciations, to carry out mass arrests, with which it achieved two goals: it neutralized the most energetic and capable workers by sending them to Siberia or to the gallows, and it temporarily broke up the organizations, which was necessary so that the bourgeoisie could get some breathing space and regroup.
The Russian political parties wanted their members to join the trade union organizations and take advantage of them for propaganda purposes, in the belief that the Government would assist them in this operation; but they soon realized that this was not possible. They discovered that not only could they not take advantage of the margin of toleration without serious risk to themselves, but that their best militants were being exposed to the wrath of a power that was as barbarous as it was dissolute. From that time forward, the political parties went their separate ways and the Trade Unions were free of their influence. Some still maintained relations with one or another party; but all their activities were carried out in a separate sphere.
Nonetheless, under the conditions of this separation that circumstances imposed on them with such irresistible force, the Trade Unions did not disappear, and extended their influence and their range of action, although gradually.
The declaration of war put the Russian Trade Unions, just like those of the other belligerent powers, in a tight situation; but later, unlike what happened in the other belligerent nations, the Russian Trade Unions managed to respond and created a powerful force. The political and economic decomposition of the country, which was the basis of the crucial weakness of Czarism, led to a vast growth in the power of the Trade Unions.
And Lozovsky had nothing to say about this stage of the growth of the Russian Trade Unions.
We do not want to distort the message of the president of the Russian General Confederation of Labor, and we shall follow our notes as faithfully as possible in presenting our summary of our conversation with him.
“Right after the March revolution, the first revolution,” he told us, “the Trade Unions grew at a shocking rate, and although they did so in a way that was different than the way they challenged the Czarist regime, they relentlessly pressured the Kerensky government to give full satisfaction to the demands of the people.”
“There was a time when it seemed that Kerensky was going to yield to the growing wave of organized mass unrest; but overwhelmed by the demands made by the foreign embassies, instead of leaning towards the popular cause, he joined the liberal bourgeoisie and the ‘cadets’ who represented them.”
“Then the Trade Unions, on their own initiative, led an aggressive movement against the government and the bourgeoisie, demanding an end to the war and an improved supply of the necessary means of life.”
“This movement, which began immediately after the first revolution and lasted until May, finally led to an impasse and a counterattack, and the bourgeoisie, which wanted revenge, began to engage in an endless series of lockouts and arbitrary decrees that in themselves caused the working class to react more violently than before.”
“I will present some snapshots of this vast struggle.”
“The workers, riding the wave of the events that would be generalized a few months later, began to take possession of the factories, putting into practice a procedure that had cost many years of imprisonment and many deportations to Siberia in the times of Czarism.”
“When the workers in a factory were not happy with the foreman, director or boss of their factory, and wanted to get rid of him, they proceeded in the following manner, which, I repeat, was already an old custom in Russia:”
“Each worker remained at his workplace, as if nothing had happened, and only set a guard at the door. When the first glimpse of the person they wanted to get rid of was announced, an alert was sounded, and everyone gets ready to act, but no one moves from their work stations or stops working.”
“When the victim had crossed the threshold of the factory, at a previously-agreed-upon signal all the workers advanced upon and surround him, forming a circle from which he cannot escape. Then a worker notifies him of the proposals of the workers, and if he voluntarily agrees to them, nothing happens; but if he resists, if he does not abide by their wishes, one of the workers gets a wheelbarrow, and they put the victim in it, and take him out of the factory, and when they get to the middle of the street they dump the wheelbarrow and there is our man covered in mud, everyone laughing at and making fun of him. Dirty, surrounded and embarrassed, he has to leave, because if he tried to go back to the factory his next ordeal would be worse. Something much more serious could happen to him.”
“Scenes like this took place on a daily basis in the streets of Petrograd and at the gates of the factories.”
“The workers’ unrest grew by leaps and bounds; Kerensky’s measures against the people and the imprisonment orders against the workers who evicted their bosses from their factories, only encouraged the workers and the Trade Unions of Petrograd and Moscow, and one could say that it was these elements that were the most direct impetus for the movement of the second revolution.”
“According to your account, the participation of the Trade Unions in the second revolution was quite significant,” I interjected.
“Without a doubt. And I can affirm that the Trade Unions were the spirit of the revolution.”
“And how did they perform afterwards?”
“Generally quite well, with certain exceptions.”
“The Trade Unions set themselves to work trying to organize labor and production, although they soon discovered that they could not do so. The corporativist spirit weighed more heavily in the scales of their decisions than did the interests of the collectivity.”
“So, for example, there is the case of the workers of the Provodnik factory who possessed naphtha (a motor fuel) in abundance. Since there was a shortage of naphtha to fuel the generators for the trolleys, a request was sent to Provodnik for some naphtha, which was categorically refused.”
“And what did the other workers do when informed of this refusal?”, I asked him.
“All the workers of the factory were invited to attend a meeting at the Labor Center, and there they were told that if they did not surrender some of their naphtha so that the trolleys could operate, they would be boycotted and would not be allowed to travel on the trolleys.”
“Did they comply?”
“What else could they do? Who could resist coercion on this scale, when there is a threat to the whole population?”
“So, it was moral coercion on the part of the other workers that made them surrender the naphtha.”
“There was no other way to force them to do so. Today, the whole affair would have been handled differently.”
“What is most interesting to me,” I replied, “is the confirmation of my assessment that the intervention of the Trade Unions in the revolutionary movement was important.”
“Of that you may be sure. Just as you may be sure that now, after the revolution, absolute harmony prevails between the General Confederation of Labor and the Communist Party. We work in common accord and following the platform of the party for the establishment of communism and the consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat. We proceed in absolute agreement with respect to these two factors. Party discipline imposes this duty, and we must submit to it.”
Our conversation had to come to an end, since Lozovsky was so busy with his responsibilities, and we said goodbye.
“One more thing,” he said to me, “do you want to join an excursion on the Volga that has been organized for the delegates? It will be very interesting! Since the Congress does not open until the fifteenth of next month, we will have enough time to penetrate into the heart of Russia, where you will be able to come into closer contact with the revolution. There are already more than twenty people signed up. All delegates.”
“We would also like to invite you to take part in a meeting that is being held tomorrow at one of the military camps on the outskirts of Moscow. We hope you do not let us down.”
“You can count on me to attend.”
I attended the meeting at the military camp the next morning. It was not at all to my liking, being an unrepentant anti-militarist, to contribute to militarist propaganda, but it gave me a chance to see the organization of a military base up close, so I took advantage of the opportunity.
We were received with all military honors.
The soldiers in the camp were drawn up according to their units, and among the ranks of the soldiers we walked to a pavilion occupied by the comrade commanding officer.
We were served with tea and then engaged in some conversation. The Extraordinary Commission of the camp, composed of men who were Party members, and whose mission was to spread communist propaganda among the soldiers, was placed at our disposal to ask them about anything we wanted to know.
So we started to ask them some questions.
“The discipline is very strict. Without it we would not have been able to organize the Army. It was necessary to reinstate the death penalty and the most severe punishments, in order to prevent mass desertion. And not only is the soldier who deserts from the army punished, but the village or the town where he takes refuge, if it does not denounce him, must pay a heavy fine for concealing him.”
“The soldiers in the army read a great deal. If a soldier has a book that is almost disgusting, dog-eared and stained, he will nonetheless save it as if it were a precious jewel, an object of incalculable worth.”
“They prefer literature. Also, the communist literature of the Party is widely circulated; but literature is preferred.”
“Among the sciences, astronomy is favored, according to our calculations, by forty-five percent of the readers, a figure that is not approached by any other scientific discipline.”
“As for the study of foreign languages, there is no language that comes close to Esperanto with regard to popularity, as it is studied by sixty percent of the students. We may say that, up until this point, it is the preferred language.”
“The number of illiterates is declining significantly, and here we are approaching a situation where it is within our reach to reduce the number to zero. For now, when a soldier arrives who does not know how to read and write, the first thing we do is send him to the camp school. If he demonstrates a willingness to work hard and a desire to learn, he is immediately granted the enjoyment of normal treatment in the camp; if not, he is relegated to the most arduous fatigue duties in order to awaken in him the desire for learning. Not as a punishment, but as a corrective. And this procedure gives good results. We also can say that the cases where this is necessary are not numerous.”
“We are always holding meetings. At least two or three times a week. Now, when we proceed to the place where you will have to speak, you will see the tribunal from which they are ordinarily addressed. Today we have omitted that stage so that you may speak.”
The man who seemed to be “in charge”, since every Commission has a chief, invited us to proclaim, wherever we went in the future, that the Red Army was organized and prepared to bring the revolution to every country. And that his desire was to be able someday to embrace in a town in central Europe one delegate of each one of the Red Armies formed in each country, since it was not possible to embrace every single soldier.
An officer notified the commander and the Commission that the troops were ready and waiting.
We went to the place where the meeting was to be held.
Along the way we passed in front of the ordinary tribunal, from which the orators ordinarily addressed the soldiers.
It was a platform of two square meters, mounted on four posts, about three meters high, with a ladder on the side for access. The four posts were fixed on a kind of wooden chassis with four wheels, which allowed it to be moved.
The scene of the meeting was a spacious parade ground in which, all along the outer boundaries, were gathered all the forces of the camp. We occupied the center. And, from there, we spoke, in French, which was then translated into Russian by comrade Lozovsky.