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Red dusk and the morrow; adventures and investigations in red Russia online

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the shells falling over the trenches on the outskirts of
the town I thought of the wretches lying in them, hating
the war, hating their leaders, and merely waiting till
nightfall to creep out of the city. Though it was said that
Grodno was defended by some of the best Red regiments
the retreat was precipitate. But a day or two later
near Lida they unexpectedly turned and gave battle.
Trotzky was, or had recently been in that sector, and
had ordered that ruthless measures be taken to stay the
flight. One Polish division was suddenly attacked by
five Red divisions. Four of the latter were beaten, but
the last, the 21st, continued to fight with savage fury.
Three times they bore down in massed formation. It
came to a hand-to-hand fight in which the Poles were
hard pressed. But after the third attack, which for-
tunately for the Poles was weaker, an entirely unfore-
seen and incomprehensible event occurred. The sol-
diers of the 21st Soviet division killed every one of their
commissars and Communists and came over to the
Poles in a body with their guns!


It would seem at such times as if conscious human
intelligence were completely numbed. Impelled by
despair, people act like automatons, regardless of dan-
ger, knowing that worse things await them (and espe-
cially their kith and kin) if they are detected in at-
tempted disloyalty. People may, by terror, be made
to fight desperately for a thing they do not believe in,
but there comes after all a breaking point.

The organs of terror in the army are Special Depart-
ments of the Extraordinary Commission, and Revolu-
tionary Tribunals. The methods of the Extraordinary
Commission have been described. In the army to
which my regiment belonged the order for the for-
mation of revolutionary tribunals stated that they
" are to be established in each brigade area, to consist of
three members, and to carry out on the spot verdicts of
insubordination, refusal to fight, flight or desertion by
complete units, such as sections, platoons, companies,
etc." Sentences (to death inclusively) were to be
executed immediately. Verdicts might also be condi-
tional, that is, guilty units might be granted an oppor-
tunity to restore confidence in themselves by heroic
conduct and thus secure a reversal of the verdict. At
the same time, " separate specially reliable units are to
be formed of individuals selected from steady units,
whose duty will be to suppress all insubordination.
These selected units will also execute the sentences of

Desertion from the Red army is not difficult, but if
one lives in or near a town one's relatives pay. Deser-
tion, as what the Bolsheviks call a "mass-phenomenon/*


is combated by special Commissions for Combating
Desertion, established in every town and large village
and at frontier points. The mere abundance of these
commissions is indicative of the prevalence of desertion.
Their agents hang about the outskirts of towns, at cross-
roads, frontier stations, etc., prodding truckloads of
hay or looking under railroad cars. If the identity of
a deserter is established but he cannot be ferreted out,
the property of his relatives is confiscated and they are
liable to be arrested unless they expose him or until
he returns voluntarily.

The peasantry sometimes try to organize desertion.
Pickets are posted to give warning of the approach of
punitive detachments. In Ukrainia, where the peasants
show more vigour and capacity for self-defence against
the Communists than in the north, villagers organize
themselves into armed bands led by sub-officers of the
old army and effectively hold the punitive detachments
at bay for considerable periods.

The mobilization of peasants is at times so difficult a
procedure that when a regiment has been gathered it is
often sent down to the front in sealed cars. Arms are
rarely distributed until the moment to enter the fray,
when a machine gun is placed behind the raw troops,
and they are warned that they have the option either of
advancing or being fired on from the rear. At the same
time provincial districts are cautioned that every village
in which a single deserter is discovered will be burned
to the ground. However, though several such orders
have been published, I do not know of a case in which
the threat has been put into execution.

Mobilization of town-workers is naturally easier, but
here also subterfuge has sometimes to be resorted to.


In Petrograd I witnessed what was announced to be a
"trial" mobilization; that is, the workers were assured
that they were not going to the front and that the trial
was only to be practice for an emergency. The result was
that the prospective recruits, glad of an extra holiday
plus the additional bread ration issued on such occasions,
turned up in force (all, of course, in civilian clothes)
and the trial mobilization was a great success. A por-
tion of the recruits were taken to the Nicholas Station
and told they were going out of town to manoeuvre. Im-
agine their feelings when they discovered that they were
locked into the cars, promptly despatched to the front,
and (still in civilian clothes) thrust straight into the
firing line!

Every Red army man is supposed to have taken the
following oath;

I, a member of a labouring people and citizen of the
Soviet Republic, assume the name of warrior of the
Workers' and Peasants' Army. Before the labouring
classes of Russia and of the whole world I pledge my-
self to bear this title with honour, conscientiously to
study the science of war, and as the apple of my eye
defend civil and military property from spoliation and
pillage. I pledge myself strictly and unswervingly to
observe revolutionary discipline and perform unhesi-
tatingly all orders of the commanders appointed by
the Workers' and Peasants' Government. I pledge
myself to refrain and to restrain my comrades from
any action that may stain and lower the dignity of a
citizen of the Soviet Republic, and to direct my best
efforts to the sole object of the emancipation of all
workers. I pledge myself at the first call of the
Workers' and Peasant"' Government to defend the


Soviet Republic from all dangers and assault on tins
part of her foes, and to spare neither my energies nor
life in the struggle for the Russian Soviet Republic,
for the cause of Socialism and the fraternity of peoples.
If with evil intent I infringe this my solemn oath may
my lot be universal contempt and may I fall a victim
to the ruthless arm of revolutionary law.
Very few Red army men have any recollection of hav-
ing taken this oath, which is reserved for officers or for
propagandist purposes. If it is taken by the common
soldiers at all it is read out to whole battalions at a time
and they are told when to raise their hands.

The method of administering justice followed by the
Revolutionary Tribunals is primitive. The judges are
guided by no rules, instructions, or laws, but solely by
what is known as "revolutionary conscience." The
fact that the judges are often illiterate does not affect
the performance of their functions, for since none but
ardent Communists are admitted to these posts, their
revolutionary consciences are ipso facio bound always
to be clear.

The malpractices of these courts reached such a pitch
that late in 1920 the Bolsheviks, after abolishing all
jurisprudence at the universities, were actually combing
out from the ranks of the army all such as had technical
knowledge of Tsarist law, offering them posts as legal
"specialists," as had already been done with military,
industrial, and agricultural experts.

The Bolsheviks discriminate minutely between their
regiments, which are classed as reliable, semi-reliable,
and doubtful. The backbone of the army is composed
of regiments which consist purely of convinced Com-
munists. These units, called by such names as the


"Iron Regiment," the "Death Regiment," the "Trot-
zky Regiment," etc., have acted up to their names and
fight with desperate ferocity. Reliance is also placed
in non-Russian regiments, Lettish, Bashkir, Chinese
troops, etc., though their numbers are not large. The
total number of Communists being exceedingly small,
they are divided up and distributed amongst the re-
maining regiments in little groups called "cells." The
size of a cell averages about 10 per cent, of the regiment.
It is this political organization of the Red army for pur-
poses of propaganda and political control which is its
most interesting feature, distinguishing it from all other
armies. Isolated as the soldiers are from their homes,
unhabituated in many cases by nearly seven years of
war from normal occupations, and provisioned visibly
better than civilians, it is felt that under military condi-
tions the peasant will be most susceptible to Communist

The system of political control is as follows. Side
by side with the hierarchy of military commanders there
exists a corresponding hierarchy of members of the
Communist party, small numerically, but endowed with
far-reaching powers of supervision. These branches of
the Communist party extend tentacularly to the small-
est unit of the army, and not a single soldier is exempt
from the omnipresent Communist eye. The responsible
Communist official in a regiment is called the Commis-
sar, the others are called "political workers," and con-
stitute the "cell." In my own unit, numbering nearly
200 men, there were never more than half a dozen Com-
munists or "political workers," and they were regarded
with hatred and disgust by the others. Their chief duty
obviously was to eavesdrop and report suspicious re-


marks, but their efforts were crowned with no great
success because the commissar, to whom the Commun-
ists reported, was a sham Communist himself and a
personal friend of my commander.

In other regiments in Petrograd with which I was in
touch it was different. I particularly remember one
commissar, formerly a locksmith by trade. He had
had an elementary education and was distinguished by
a strange combination of three marked traits: he was
an ardent Communist, he was conspicuously honest,
and he was an inveterate toper. I will refer to him as
comrade Morozov. Knowing that drunkenness was
scheduled as a "crime unworthy of a Communist,"
Morozov tried to cure himself of it, a feat which should
not have been difficult considering that vodka has been
almost unobtainable ever since the Tsar prohibited its
production and sale at the beginning of the Great War.
But Morozov nevertheless fell to vodka every time there
was a chance. On the occasion of the wedding of a
friend of his who was a speculator (and a genuine specu-
lator) in foodstuffs, he invited two or three regimental
companions, one of whom I knew well, to the feast.
Although Petrograd was starving, there was such an
abundance of good things at this repast and such a
variety of wines and spirits, extracted from cellars
known only to superior "speculators" who supplied
important people like commissars, that it lasted not
only one night, but was continued on the morrow.
Morozov disappeared from his regiment for three whole
days and would undoubtedly have lost his post and, in
the event of the full truth leaking out, have been shot,
had not his friends sworn he had had an accident.

Yet Morozov could not have been bribed by money,


and would have conscientiously exposed any "specula-
tor" he found in his regiment. He was thoroughly
contrite after the episode of the marriage-feast. But it
was not the wanton waste of foodstuffs that stirred his
conscience, nor his connivance and participation in the
revels of a "speculator," but the fact that he had failed
in his duty to his regiment and had only saved his skin
by dissembling. His sense of fairness was remarkable
for a Communist. At the elections to the Petrograd
Soviet to which he was a candidate for his regiment, he
not only permitted but positively insisted that the vot-
ing be by secret ballot — the only case of secret voting
that I heard of. The result was that he was genuinely
elected by a large majority, for apart from this quite
unusual fairness he was fond of his soldiers and conse-
quently popular. His intelligence was rudimentary and
may be described as crudely locksmithian. An eddy
of fortune had swept him to his present pinnacle of
power, and judging others by himself he imagined the
soviet regime was doing for everyone what it had done
for him. Possessing no little heart but very little
mind, he found considerable difficulty in reconciling the
ruthless attitude of the Communists toward the people
with his own more warm-hearted inclinations, but the
usual Jesuitical argument served to still any inner ques-
tionings — namely, that since the Communists alone were
right, all dissentients must be "enemies of the State"
and he was in duty bound to treat them as such.

During the six or eight weeks that I had the oppor-
tunity to study the figure of Morozov after his appoint-
ment as regimental commissar, a perceptible change
came over him. He grew suspicious and less frank and
outspoken. Though he would scarcely have been able


to formulate his thoughts in words, it was clear that the
severity with which any criticism, even by Communists,
of political commands from above was deprecated, and
the rigid enforcement within and without the party of
iron discipline, differed greatly from the prospect of
proletarian brotherhood which he had pictured to him-
self. At the same time he could not escape from these
shackles except by becoming an "enemy of the State,"
and, like all Communists, he finally attributed the non-
realization of his dreams to the insidious machinations
of the scapegoats designated by his superiors, namely,
to the non-Bolshevist Socialists, the Mensheviks and
Socialist-Revolutionaries, who must be exterminated

Morozov's responsibilities, like those of all commis-
sars, were heavy. Though in purely military affairs
he was subordinate to the regimental commander, he
none the less was made responsible for the latter's
loyalty and answered equally with him for discipline
in the ranks; besides which the responsibility for all
political propaganda (regarded by the Government as
of paramount importance) and even for accuracy of army
service rested upon him. A regimental commissar's
responsibilities are, in fact, so great that he can rarely
guarantee his own security without having recourse to
spying provocation, and "experimental denunciation."

Even Morozov had to resort to questionable strategy
of this nature to forestall possible treachery in others for
which he would have been held responsible. Having
been informed by a member of his "cell" that the con-
duct of a junior officer gave rise to misgivings, he had a
purely fictitious concrete charge drawn up for no other
reason than to see how the officer would react when it


was brought against him. It was found, as was not
unnatural, that the original complaint of the "political
worker" was due to sheer spite, and that nothing had
been further from the mind of the young officer, who was
of a mild disposition, than to conspire against the all-
powerful commissar. Anonymous written denuncia-
tions of individuals, charging them with counter-
revolutionary activities, are of frequent occurrence,
and commissars, terrified for their own safety, prefer
to err at the cost of the wrongly accused rather than risk
their own positions through leniency or over-scrupulous
attention to justice.

There is an intermediate grade between a "cell"
leader and a commissar, known as a political guide.
The latter has not the authority of a commissar but re-
presents a stepping stone to that dignity. Political
guides have duties of investigation and control, but their
chief task is to rope in the largest possible number of
neophytes to the Communist party. The whole power
of the Bolshevist government is founded on the dili-
gence, zeal, and — it must be added — unscrupulousness
of these various Communist officials. All sorts of in-
structions and propaganda pamphlets and leaflets are
received by the "cells" in enormous quantities, and
they have to see that such literature is distributed in
the ranks and amongst the local population. It is
read but little, for the soldiers and peasants are sick of
the constant repetition of worn-out propagandist phra-
seology. It was hoped originally that by the never-
ending repetition of the words "vampires," "bourgeois,"
"class-struggle," "blood-sucking capitalists and im-
perialists," and so forth, some at least of the ideas pre-
sented would sink into the listeners' minds and be taken


for good coinage. But the results are almost negligible.
It says much for the latent intelligence of the Russian
peasant and worker that in spite of it all the member-
ship of "the party" is no more than some half million,
half of whom would be anything but Communists if
they could. Propagandist leaflets are used principally
for wrapping herrings up in and making cigarettes of,
for mahorka (the pepper-like tobacco beloved of the
Russian soldier) is still issued in small quantities.

The only aspect of the above propaganda in which
positive results have been obtained is the rousing of
hatred and revenge for everything "bourgeois." The
word bourgeois is as foreign to the Russian language
as it is to the English, and the average Russian soldier's
conception of "bourgeois" is simply everything that is
above his understanding. But by cleverly associating
the idea of "bourgeois" with that of opulence and
landed possessions, Bolshevist agitators have made
great play with it.

Yet even this has cut less deep than might have been
expected, considering the effort expended. Propaganda
on a wide scale is possible only in the towns and the
army, and the army is after all but a very small percent-
age of the whole peasantry. The vast majority of the
peasants are home in their villages, and Bolshevist
propaganda and administration reach no farther than
a limited area bordering either side of Russia's sparse
network of railways.

Every Communist organization throughout Russia
has to present periodical reports to headquarters on the
progress of its labours. It goes without saying that,
fearful of strict censure, such reports are invariably
drawn up in the most favourable light possible. Pal*-


ticularly is this the case in the army. If the member-
ship of a "cell" does not increase, the supervising com-
missar or political guide will be asked the reason why.
He will be publicly hauled over the coals for lack of
energy, and unless his labours fructify he is liable to be
lowered to an inferior post. Thus it is in the interest of
Communist officials to coax, cajole, or even compel sol-
diers to enter the ranks of the party. The statistics
supplied are compiled at headquarters and summaries
are published. It is according to these statistics that
the membership of the Communist party is a little
more than half a million, out of the 120 or 130 million
inhabitants of Soviet Russia.

Another feature of the Red army which is worthy of
note is the group of organizations known as "Cultural-
Enlightenment Committees," which are entrusted with
the work of entertaining and "enlightening" the sol-
diers. Being partly of an educational character the
collaboration of non-Communists on these committees
is indispensable, though rigid Communist control ren-
ders free participation by intellectuals impossible.
There is also a lack of books. A department at head-
quarters in which Maxim Gorky is interested deals
with the publication of scientific and literary works, but
compared with the deluge of propagandist literature the
work of his department is nil. The cultural-enlighten-
ment committees arrange lectures on scientific subjects,
dramatic performances, concerts, and cinema shows.
The entertainments consist chiefly in the staging of
"proletarian" plays, written to the order of the depart-
ment of propaganda. From the artistic standpoint


these plays are exceedingly bad — unmitigated Bolshe-
vist atrocities — but their strong point is that they
represent the class-struggle in a vivid and lurid light.
As no one would go to see them alone, other plays,
usually farces, or musical items are thrown in by way of
attraction. Propagandist speeches by Lenin, Trotzky,
Zinoviev and others, reproduced on gramophones, are
sometimes reeled off in the intervals. Schools of
reading and writing are attached to some cultural-
enlightenment committees.

In my regiment we had no cultural-enlightenment
committee. Not existing for purposes of control they
were not so universal as the "cells," but depended to
some extent for their establishment upon the enterprise
of the commissar. Living, however, mostly in Petro-
grad, I came in touch through friends with other regi-
ments than my own, and attended several entertain-
ments got up by cultural-enlightenment committees,
until I knew the propagandist speeches, which were
always the same, almost by heart. Let me describe
just one such meeting. It was in the regiment of which
Morozov was commissar. At this particular meeting
I was to have functioned as amateur accompanist and
should have done so if one of the singers, from a Petro-
grad theatre, had not unexpectedly brought a profes-
sional with her.*

The organizer of this entertainment, though he played

*In such company I was regarded as an invalid, suffering in body and
mind from the ill-treatment received at the hands of a capitalistic govern-
ment. The story ran that I was l>orn in one of the Russian border provinces,
but that my father, a musician, had been expelled from Russia for political
reasons when I was still young. My family had led a nomadic existence in
England, Australia, and America. The outbreak of the war found me in
England, where I was imprisoned and suffered cruel treatment for refusal to


but little part in the performance, deserves a word of
mention. As a sailor, of about 20 years of age, he dif-
fered greatly from his fellows. He was not ill-favoured
in looks, unintelligent but upright, and occupied the
post of chairman of the Poor Committee of a house
where I was an habitual visitor. I will refer to him as
Comrade Rykov. Like Morozov, Rykov had had only
an elementary education and knew nothing of history,
geography, or literature. History for him dated from
Karl Marx, whom he was taught to regard rather as the
Israelites did Moses; while his conception of geography
was confined to a division of the world's surface into
Red and un-Red. Soviet Russia was Red, capitalistic
countries (of which he believed there were very few)
were White; and "white" was an adjective no less
odious than "bourgeois." But Rykov's instincts were
none the less good and it was with a genuine desire to
better the lot of the proletariat that he had drifted into
" the party." Under the Tsarist regime he had suffered
maltreatment. He had seen his comrades bullied and
aggrieved. The first months of the revolution had
been too tempestuous, especially for the sailors, and the
forces at issue too complex, for a man of Rykov's stamp
to comprehend the causes underlying the failure of the
Provisional Government. To him the Soviet Govern-
ment personified the Revolution itself. A few catch-
phrases, such as "dictatorship of the proletariat,"

fight. Bad food, brutality, and hungerstriking had reduced me physically
and mentally, and after the revolution I was deported as an undesirable alien
to my native land. The story was a plausible one and went down very well.
It accounted for mannerisms and any deficiency in speech. It also relieved
me of the necessity of participation in discussions, but I took care that it
should be known that there burned within me an undying hatred of the
malicious government at whose hands I had suffered wrong.


"tyranny of the bourgeoisie," "robber-capitalism,"
"Soviet emancipation"' completely dominated his mind
and it seemed to him indisputably just that the defini-
tion of these terms should be left absolutely to the
great ones who had conceived them. Thus Rykov, like
most Communists, was utterly blind to inconsistencies.
The discussion by the highest powers of policy, espe-

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Online LibraryPaul DukesRed dusk and the morrow; adventures and investigations in red Russia → online text (page 17 of 22)