Our Reception, the Opening Day of the Congress, Meetings and More Festivals
Now we are in Petrograd.
The platforms at the station are packed with people. All the communists of Petrograd, with the Soviet in the forefront, are here.
In addition, the precautions taken and the mania to surround everything with military guards and perfect organization hindered the flow of traffic and people.
All the official and semi-official bodies sent a delegation, which all added up to several hundred people narrowly enclosed in the confines of the station.
The delegations to the Congress were slowly organized for leaving the station.
The full Committee of the Third International took the lead. Following them, the various communist personalities; then, the delegates, and lastly, all the banners of the city’s organizations.
Ah! We also had a band to accompany us; our parade had hardly been put in order when it struck up “The Internationale”.
But all of this had to be done on the open platforms, while the light rain had drenched our clothing. The truth is that the whole business was not so much pleasant and interesting as it was an accumulation of apotheosistic and regimented foolishness.
Once the delegates’ parade had started and had arrived at the square in front of the station, the spectacle that greeted our eyes was even more ridiculous and grotesque.
On both sides of the station; surrounded by ranks of “men and soldiers”, were all the little boys and girls of the Petrograd schools, with wreaths and bouquets of flowers in their hands, soaked to the bone, since they had been waiting there for more than two hours.
Periodically, when their teachers gave them the signal, these little creatures shouted, “Hurrah for the Third International!”.
Behind the children were lines of thousands of workers from the factories, standing quietly under military discipline. The workers were brought here under the command of their managers and their Factory Committees.
The parade formed by these children and adults, mixed together in a common denominator of innocence, and whose members had stood in the rain for two hours under the orders of their superiors, marched from the station to the Smolny Palace, the official headquarters of the Committee of the Third International in Petrograd.
It was a heart-rending sight: the little children with their clothing sticking to their skeletal bodies, the rain dripping from their pale and gaunt cheeks, holding the festive bouquets in their hands and shouting their regimented ‘Hurrahs’ on command.
The trolleys, like most of the private and public buildings along the route of the parade, were covered with red flags and bunting, with inscriptions referring to the Third International and the unity of all the proletarians of the world.
Along with the ranks of the children and adult marchers, with the slowness and hesitancy caused by the progress of the numerous delegates, under the implacable rain, we silently approached Smolny.
The gardens around the Smolny Palace were invaded by the public.
The shouts and the “Hurrahs for the Third International” hardly stopped for a second. The bands, playing “The Internationale”, completed the picture.
Apart from their orchestrated shouting, the faces in the crowd appeared to be impenetrable masks. Except for the enthusiastic communists, who were distinguished by the activity and the cheerfulness they displayed, one hardly heard any other word or even a whisper.
That was when the moral violence that, for the immense majority, led to their presence in that place became apparent.
Entering Smolny and taking our places in the great theater on its first floor, where lunch was awaiting our arrival, proved to be no easy matter. The hundreds of people who lined the hallways impeded our progress.
The great theater presented a dazzling spectacle.
Red flags and bunting, artistically arranged, conferred an attractive look to the majestic appeal of the theater.
Long lines of tables, covered with white tablecloths and with numerous place settings, awaited us.
At the end of the room, in the middle of the theatre, a stage stood, from which the speakers, who were already designated, were to address the Congress.
Getting to one of the tables proved to be no easy matter.
The place settings numbered no more than about five hundred, while the number of guests approached two thousand.
Finally, after some crowding and disturbances, we were seated.
During the lunch, which was splendid and abundant—if you kept in mind the hunger endured by the population of Petrograd, which could not even find bread—each delegate was given a red ribbon, the insignia of the Soviets, and a silver medal, engraved in relief with a design referring to the Congress and displaying its date.
When the time for the speeches had arrived, Zinoviev began with the keynote speech; he was followed by Serrati, representing Italy; Paul Levi, representing Germany, and so on, with each speaker from each country represented at the Congress.
When we were all ready to leave for the Tauride Palace, which once housed the old Czarist Duma, where the opening session of the Congress was to be held, a prolonged, loud, indescribable ovation made us look towards the stage.
Lenin had just appeared.
It was the second time we had seen him since our visit to the Kremlin. His sudden, instantaneous, almost magical appearance—which was all the more surprising considering that he had not traveled in either of the two trains and that we thought he was in Moscow—impressed all of us who were not already inured to the brilliant manipulations with regard to which the Bolsheviks were true masters.
Once the applause had ceased, which was crowned with three ‘Hurrahs’, Lenin took the podium to say briefly that we should walk to the Tauride Palace, where the Opening Session of the Congress would begin as soon as all the delegates had arrived.
The march to the Tauride Palace was just as tedious and as impressive as the one from the station to Smolny.
The rain was falling again and the route was lined with children and men who had to stand there until the end in order to shout their obligatory and usual ‘hurrahs’.
Entering the old meeting hall of the Duma proved to be an undertaking of epic proportions. Hundreds of people crowded the hallways and lobbies trying to get seats in the public galleries.
The delegates, who were recognized and allowed to pass all the checkpoints due to their red ribbons, required the assistance of the soldiers to make way for their passage to the meeting hall.
The atmosphere was stifling. Although the day had been a rainy one, the heat never let up. A heat imbued with humidity, one that was all the more terrible on that occasion due to the enormous number of people in the hall.
At each delegate’s place at table were arranged all the various items that were being given to them for the Congress.
There was a briefcase emblazoned with the Congress logo and date, pads of paper for taking notes, pencils and a bound volume of the journal, The International.
Most of the bound volumes of The International were in English or German. There were hardly any French editions.
Zinoviev opened Congress proceedings with a speech welcoming the delegates, and saluting all those imprisoned and persecuted throughout the world by capitalist and bourgeois governments, and expressed his wish that the Third Congress of the Third International might be held in Berlin, Vienna, Sofia, Paris or London, once the detested capitalist regime has been overthrown and communism and the dictatorship of the proletariat have been established.
Only those delegates who had been previously designated by the Committee took an active part in this opening session. It ended with a speech in Russian by Lenin, which was not immediately translated into any other language due to the lateness of the hour.
In what used to be the old bakery and salon-café of the Duma, we were served a meal fit for a king, if one keeps in mind the situation in Russia at that time.
Once dinner was over, we departed for a plaza in one of the neighborhoods of the capital, a location that was designated for the inauguration, with our attendance, of some monuments commemorating the revolution.
Once this ceremony was over, we turned towards the center of the city and Ouritsky Square, previously the Winter Square, to attend a vast meeting of the International, for which purpose a stage was built in front of the main doors of the Winter Palace.
The crowd in the square must have numbered many thousands of people, and because the stage had been built next to the façade of the Palace, one could immediately see that most of the people in the crowd would not be able to hear the speakers.
This inconvenience was alleviated somewhat by improvised stages on automobiles that were placed at the other ends of the square.
When the meeting ended we went to the Palace of Labor, and in one of its halls we were served dinner, and afterwards took advantage of the occasion to discretely explore the building and visit the different departments and offices located there.
Among the new institutions we encountered was the Rhythmic and Declamatory Club. There, students were taught rhythmic and expressionistic dance, and dramatic speech.
“We had a considerable number of pupils at first,” one of the teachers told us, “but the number declined with each passing day. Not because their enthusiasm waned, or because of a lack of love for the rhythmic and declamatory arts; it is economic need, the need to obtain the indispensable basics of survival, which reduced the number of students.”
“Here in the circle,” she continued, “each student who attends receives a ration of food; but one ration is not enough to live on, especially for those of our students who have families or someone to take care of, which is often the case. We hope, however, that the situation will improve and that our students will be able to create a real generation of eminent artists.”
At the lower end of the hall where we dined a stand had been set up, on which a band accompanied our dinner with a selected suite of tunes, beginning and ending with “The Internationale”, which most of the delegates and the other persons present sang along with word for word and which everyone listened to while standing up. The hard-core communists stood at attention with the military salute.
During the intermissions, several Russian folk dances were performed which gave us a vivid impression of the country’s folk dance tradition. I need not mention that all of us were pleased, some by the novelty of the spectacle, and all of us by the skill with which the dances were performed.
I was told that the couple that had performed the dances, a husband and wife, hailing from one of the provinces of central Russia, was considered to be the best folk dance duo in the entire country.
The dinner came to an end and we went to the site where the former Stock Exchange was located, in front of which we were to witness a nighttime spectacle of great virtuosity that represented an allegorical depiction of the struggle of the workers against capitalism.
The theatrical performance took place on the plaza in front of the Stock Exchange building, which is quite large, and on the broad stone steps that led to it.
The performance was composed of several scenes.
In the first one sees the working class mired in the most abject slavery, while the patricians and aristocrats amuse themselves and pursue pleasure. Then one sees the proletariat engage in revolts against its rulers to overcome its enslaved condition, which are defeated and harshly repressed.
In other scenes, the proletariat is now presented as semi-industrial, with its guilds, in open rebellion against the decrees of the kings and feudal lords. The remaining scenes depict the organization of the social democratic parties, the workers organizations, the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, and culminating at last with the period prior to the European war.
When the war is declared in this scene, hundreds of figures appear, who imitate—since the spectacle was a mime—the intellectuals—in this case the leaders of the Second International—and then these intellectuals are confronted with the subsequent cry of War against War! and the call to respond to the war with a generalized insurrection. Because no one listened to them, the rebels became discouraged, and fell into the arms of capitalism which, victorious and smug, turned them into cannon-fodder. Then the Bolsheviks appear, awakening the people and leading them into struggle, and they lead the communist revolution to victory.
The spectacle ended with an apotheosis, in which hundreds of performers took part. The red star appeared in the sky and was guided in its descent towards the people by the Bolsheviks, a dawning sign of redemption.
The entire spectacle took place under bright floodlights.
The performance, which had been attended by thousands of people, ended around two in the morning.
In our automobiles we were brought to the station, since there was a shortage of housing in the neighborhood, so we slept in our sleeping cars on the train.
We were told before going to bed that an excursion to Kronstadt would probably be organized for us on the next day, but it never took place.
We spent almost the entire morning of the next day at the station. From one moment to another contradictory orders about what we were supposed to do would arrive.
Around noon we received a message that we would definitely return to Moscow at two in the afternoon.
Our return to Moscow was more peaceful than our trip to Petrograd. No Soviet commissions; no speeches or rallies, and, above all, not even once did we hear “The Internationale”, and that was certainly something!
I shall not end this account without mentioning that during our entire stay in Petrograd, starting on the twentieth, all the flags of the Trade Unions, Cooperatives, Clubs, and official and semi-official institutions, with tens of thousands of people, continuously accompanied us; not voluntarily, however, but by special decree of the city’s Soviets.
All the factories, workshops, construction sites, offices and other workplaces stopped work and their workers, like the children in all the schools, were led, guided by their Factory Committees and their teachers, to attend the arrival of the foreign delegates and to serve as an escort on our walks around the city.