A Great Festival and Banquet
The Bolsheviks proposed to entertain us in grand style. They wanted to make our stay in Russia as pleasant as possible. They filled our leisure moments with amusements; perhaps in order to divert our attention from the constant reminders of misery one saw throughout Russia.
As for the food that, as we have already pointed out, was abundant and extraordinary, and as for the exceptional conditions in which we traveled, our hosts took innumerable precautions and lavished attention and care on us wherever we went.
We enjoyed all kinds of petit-bourgeois favors and distinctions. One night at the theater we saw how one of the spectators was removed from his seat so that a delegate could be seated. Everywhere we went, there were parties, rejoicing and banquets in our honor. Dramatically staged receptions, military displays, rallies, banquets and celebrations of every kind were not spared in honoring the foreign delegations. One could not but be touched and flattered by all the attention.
Did we need all that display of superfluity and pompous vanity? Had we traveled to Russia in order to be toasted and entertained, or had we traveled there to express our support for the people who made the revolution, to suffer with them, to endear ourselves to them and to fortify our resolve by the sight of their sufferings and their misery?
Were we just so many tourists who were enjoying the splendors and the sumptuous entertainments that a revolutionary Government could offer us, or were we the spokesmen of a cry of sympathy escaping from the breasts of millions of men who shout their curses against injustice and turn their eyes towards the country that is burning with the flame of social regeneration?
Did they seek, with their post-revolutionary spectacles, with these new Weddings of Camacho el Rico, to overwhelm the sound of the cries of so much pain, so that their echo would not reach us?
We did not hear them. What is certain is that they sought to separate us from reality with all the festivity.
The parties, banquets, marches, rallies and other celebrations with which we were received in the cities of the Volga and the grandiose and imposing display staged on July 20 in Petrograd, would be eclipsed by what they were preparing for us now. Did the Bolsheviks want to make us feel the scale of their power or of the sympathy (?) felt for us by the people of Moscow?
The time had come to “shoot the moon” and they certainly did a good job of it.
Among the preparations for the great festival that they were organizing, the most “épatante” was the huge stage constructed in the center of Red Square.
Almost adjacent to the wall of the Kremlin, leaving only the space occupied by the tombs of the communists buried there, they built an imitation of a mountain made out of wood.
At the center of this mountain was the stage, in the form of a square tower covered with a figured cloth.
On the two sides of this central stage, they built two lower stages of a greater size, each of which could hold hundreds of spectators. The delegates occupied the two front rows of these lower stages and various Government officials occupied the other rows of seats.
The festival consisted of an Exposition of war materiel, artillery, machine guns, tents, camps and the accommodations of the General Staff, all set up in pavilions that were built for the occasion. Not a single tool of labor or a single agricultural machine was anywhere in sight.
A great parade of the entire Moscow garrison and a rally and parade of all the workers of Moscow completed the program.
The festival took place on Tuesday, July 27.
The parade began at the Theater Square. From there, the soldiers and workers marched towards Red Square, and entered the latter by the street that lies between the famous Chapel of the Iberian Virgin and the walls of the Kremlin. Once they departed the Theater Square, all the participants in the parade marched in military formation, even the workers.
The parade crossed in front of the Stages and continued towards the Holy Door of the Kremlin, where they began to disperse.
In front of the stages we occupied, there were four bands that took turns constantly playing marches and “street songs”. At the same time a tethered balloon was raised next to the Holy Door, while two airplanes flew over the Plaza, dropping communist literature.
We need not mention that Red Square was sealed off by the military, and that no one could get near it or the stages except for delegates or the special guests.
The parade began at eleven in the morning, ending at four in the afternoon. During the parade we had to remain on the stages in the asphyxiating heat.
The bands never stopped playing and the parade proceeded with a mathematical precision.
First the troops in twenty-five groups, headed by the General Staff and ending with the mounted Militia Regiment.
Then came the workers of all the districts of Moscow. In order of appearance, they were: the districts of Khamovniki, Zamoskvarechye, and Red Presnia, those of the Municipal District of Sokolniki and Rogosjko-Simonovsky. The last were those from Baumanskaya.
The beginning of the “procession”—as the program called it—was heralded by an artillery salvo.
We estimated that more than three hundred thousand persons passed before us.
The attendance of the workers from all the factories, workshops and offices of Moscow in the parade was compulsory, by Government decree.
The decree was published in Pravda and Izvestia on the day before the parade.
At nine in the morning, all the workers from all the factories, workshops and offices were obliged to go to their usual places of work.
After a roll call and inspection, they were led, under the surveillance of the Committees of each factory or workshop, to the staging site for the start of the parade.
Each group of workers gathered at the location set aside for their district, and waited for their turn to join the parade.
Failure to attend the parade was punished by suspension of rations for eight days.
Even so, the organizers of the parade were not sure that the people would attend despite the threat, and adopted another expedient. They distributed clothing.
Some received a shirt; others, pants; some shoes; and there were some who were lucky enough to obtain two articles of clothing in the distribution.
This procedure was more likely to compel the attendance of those who did not want to attend than any other device.
Failure to attend the parade, besides resulting in the forfeit of the workers rations, also entailed missing out on the clothing distribution that would take place. A serious consequence under the circumstances.
Several battalions of the Petrograd garrison also participated in the parade and rally. They arrived the night before in four special trains.
The organization of the parade was in many other respects an enormous task.
The spacious plaza and the gardens in front of the Great Theater of Moscow and the old Hotel Metropole were overflowing with workers and soldiers.
Each group, depending on whether they came from the factory or the barracks, went to the place they were assigned with their comrades from their neighborhood or the military unit.
The first ranks began to arrive very early in the morning. Out of curiosity we went to the staging site and asked some of the people who were there who spoke French, how long they had been there.
“Some groups,” we were told, “especially the soldiers, who are scheduled to march first, have been here since seven in the morning.”
The looks on the faces of that crowd of people jammed together there was truly moving, since one could see that the great majority of them were forced to be there, compelled, against their will, in violation of their consciences.
It will suffice to say that they saw us and recognized that we were foreigners as well as the delegates in whose honor the festival was being held, for which reason they beheld us with a certain scorn that was not unmixed with curiosity.
Soon, however, the shouts and orders of the presidents of the Factory Committees or of the commanders of the column made them forget us, and we were asked what we were doing there.
Since it was a beautiful morning, we had an enchanting view of the whole crowd all decked out in flags and standards with the green of the gardens at the bottom and the façade of the Great Theater as backdrop.
The continuous and uninterrupted flow of men arriving in the square made it difficult to focus much of our attention on details because we wanted to take in the whole spectacle.
However, perhaps due to the very fact that so many thousands of persons were crowded into the square, we did not fail to acquire a general impression of their faces and demeanor.
Those closest to us, who were wearing the new shirts they had received the day before, were wearing frayed pants covered with multi-colored patches.
Others, wearing their new pants, were almost barefoot and their elbows poked out of the holes in their sleeves.
There were also some men who were either less fortunate with regard to the distribution of articles of clothing, and so had neither new shirt nor new pants, or else they were saving the clothing they received for one of their relatives or close friends who had greater need of it.
As the day passed and new contingents augmented those that had arrived earlier, it became impossible for the curious and the spectators to walk around the square.
In our eagerness to see everything, since we could not ask any questions of the members of the crowd, we were constantly walking from one side of the square to the other, and once found ourselves pinned between two groups, and had to almost force our way out.
When the crowd made it impossible to freely circulate in the square, we chose to return to the stage. The parade was almost over. We had to take our places as spectators of honor, first class, that were reserved for us.
The parade passed by in ranks ten men across, in military goosestep, rigidly marching, in perfect formation, the men turning their heads slightly towards the stages as they passed before them.
In addition to the monotony and the unpleasantness of the parade, one must also add the deafening noise of the airplanes and the clashing of the cymbals of the bands that never stopped playing.
For each section of twenty rows of marchers who passed by, the first two or three rows shouted, when they came abreast of the central stage: Hurrah for the Third International! We were convinced that this was one more fraud, and that they did not shout these Hurrahs voluntarily.
Amidst the materiel of war that was on display, we came to the end of the area where the pavilions of the Exposition had been erected, and everything was made clear.
At the entrance to Red Square there was an officer of the Red Army, who had previously been an officer in the army of the Czars, whose job was to review the parade one more time before it entered the square.
He informed the various groups of men regarding which rows were to shout their mandatory shouts and “hurrahs”.
We witnessed this and were overcome by a great wave of sadness.
The farce that was being put on there could not have been more undignified or more disgraceful.
These poor men dragged there by force, to give the impression that the people were cheering for us! And then, even to be given their orders about what they were supposed to shout for us.
Once the parade was over, some delegates were taken to the airfield, where an air show was held in our honor.
It was indeed an unfortunate occasion. Because one of the airplane’s steering flaps was broken, the pilot made an awkward emergency landing and crashed the plane into one of the stages that had been constructed for the delegates.
Seated in the first row of the stage was one of the delegates who had just arrived in Moscow a few days before, a member of the Swedish delegation. One of the blades from the plane’s propeller struck him in the head and shattered his skull. He died that night in the hospital.
As a result of the accident and as a gesture of mourning for the delegate the festival was suspended.
Although we had been invited to the air show we did not want to go. Based on what we had already seen that afternoon, we had no illusions about playing our parts in any more of the festivities.
We preferred, instead of going to the airfield, to take a walk around Moscow, and to try to gauge the residents’ impressions of the day’s activities. We were interested in finding out what the people thought about the parade and about us.
We confess that we have nothing to report with regard to this question. Not being able to speak Russian, we were unable to acquire first-hand information; which is the real information.
It was hard to ask questions, and even harder to get any responses. Since they knew that we were foreigners and delegates besides, their lips were sealed, guarding their secrets like the tombs of the pharaohs.
We gave up and went back to the hotel.
That evening we attended the banquet. Although we were personally opposed to going, we went anyways.
What I had seen that day put me in a bad mood. However, I yielded to the insistent pleas of our ill-fated Parisian comrades Petit and Vergeat. The three of us went, not from any eagerness to attend the banquet, but so that we would have something else to report.
The banquet was held in the old Palace of the nobility of Moscow.
In the central hall, and on four rows of tables, which took up a great deal of space, we saw numerous place settings.
The foreign delegates, in whose honor the banquet was being held, numbered about one hundred, and counting the Russians there were more than two thousand persons present in the Hall.
The banquet could not have been more splendid. We were served soup, fish, meat and white bread, all in abundance.
We were also served a fruit-flavored spirituous beverage, coffee and tobacco.
During the banquet, a band played versions of various songs, without forgetting three or four renditions of “The Internationale”.
A chorus, and the famous Chaliapin sang beautifully.
While the delegates, who had eaten dinner at the hotel, dined sumptuously, the musicians and the singers had not eaten, nor did they have any hope of eating. The people of Moscow went without the most basic things.
In order to make this display possible, all the children of Moscow had to go without their daily bread ration. And we were under the dictatorship of the proletariat! How could we forget!
The day after the parade and the banquet, Lozovsky, who was not unaware of how we felt, asked us about our opinion of the previous day’s festivities:
“It should never have happened,” we responded. “And if you want the working people of Moscow to render sympathetic homage to the foreign delegates, it would have been preferable to schedule a rally for next Sunday, and then to have a parade with those that attend.”
“No one would come,” he responded.
“Good,” we said. “Then we would know how things really stand, rather than having gone through what seemed to be a great occasion, but was really just a comedy, at which we were ridiculous spectators.”
“You are always the same!”, Lozovsky said. “You have very strange ideas, comrade Pestaña.”
And he made a hasty exit after saying these last words.