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

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Bolshevism are liable often to meet with the reception
of a Cassandra. Unfortunately, I fear such an occur-
rence to be inevitable if no modifying foreign influence
is at hand in the country, and it will be fanned by old-
regimists the world over. It will be a disaster, because
Jews who have become assimilated into the Russian
nation may play a valuable part in the reconstruction
of the country. There are many who have already
played leading roles in Russia's democratic institutions,
such as the cooperative societies and land and town
unions, which the Bolsheviks have suppressed.


The higher orders of the party, whether Jew or
Russian, consist of the same little band of devotees,
a few hundred strong, who before the revolution were,
still are, and presumably ever will be the Bolshevist
party proper. They in their turn are subjected to
the rigid dictatorship of the central party committee,
which rules Russia absolutely through the medium of
the Council of People's Commissars.

As it became increasingly evident that the only
elements who of their own free will and in considerable
numbers would willingly join the party were "un-
desirables," while a large proportion even of those
workers who were coaxed into it were but indifferent
Communists, the tendency grew to make of the party
a closed corporation subject to merciless discipline,
the members of which though enjoying material
privileges should have no will of their own, while
undesirables should be deterred by the imposition
upon all members of arduous duties. Such is the
position in the capitals at the present time. The
"iron party discipline" is needed also for another
reason besides that of barring black sheep. With
demoralization, famine, and misery on the increase,
insubordinate whisperings and questions are arising,
even within the party, especially since the exacerbating
factor of war has disappeared. These questionings
are growing in force and affect the highest personages
in the state. Trotzky, for instance, no longer able to
satisfy his insatiable ambition, is showing an inclination
to branch out on a line all his own in opposition to the
moderate and compromising tendencies of Lenin. The
feud between them has been relieved temporarily by
assigning to Trotzky a dominant role in the promotion


of the world revolution while Lenin controls domestic
affairs. But the arrangement is necessarily temporary.
The characters of the two men, except under stress
of war, are as incompatible as their respective policies
of violence and moderation.

The number of Communists being relatively so in-
finitesimal, how is it that to-day on every public and
supposedly representative body there sits an over-
whelming and triumphant Communist majority? Let
me very briefly describe the election and a single
meeting of the Soviet of Petrograd whose sittings I

There are people who still ask: What exactly is a
"soviet"? — and the question is not unnatural considering
that the Bolsheviks have been at pains to persuade
the world that there is an indissoluble connection
between Soviet and Bolshevism. There is, however,
absolutely no essential association whatsoever between
the two ideas, and the connection that exists in the
popular mind in this and other countries is a totally
fallacious one. The Russian word soviet has two
meanings: "counsel" and "council." When you ask
advice you say, "Please give me soviet," or "can you
soviet me what to do?" Dentists have on their
notices: "Painless extractions. Soviet gratis." There
was a State Soviet (in the sense of "council") in the
constitution of the Tsar. It was the upper house,
corresponding to the Senate or the House of Lords.
It was a reactionary institution and resembled the
Bolshevist Soviets in that only certain sections of the
community had a voice in elections to it.


According to the original idea, even as propounded
at one time by the Bolsheviks, the political soviet or
council should be a representative body to which
all sections of the working community (whether of
hand or brain) should have an equal right to vote.
These Soviets should elect superior ones (borough,
county, provincial, etc. J, until a central soviet is con-
structed, electing in its turn a cabinet of People's
Commissars, responsible to a periodically convened
Congress. This system exists on paper at this day,
but its validity in working is completely nullified by the
simple process of preventing any but Communists
from entering the lowest soviet — the only one that
is in direct contact with the people. This restraint
is often effected by force, but the franchise law in any
case is limited and has the effect of disenfranchising
four out of every five peasants. A few non-Bolsheviks
none the less generally manage to get elected, although
at risk of gross molestation; but they are regarded
by the Communists as intruders and can exert no
influence in politics.

One might ask why the Bolsheviks, suppressing
all free Soviets, maintain the farce of elections at all,
since they cause a lot of bother. "Soviets," how-

ever, in some form or other, even fictitious, are in-
dispensable in order that the government may con-
tinue to call itself for propagandist purposes the
"Soviet" Government. If the soviet or freely elected
council system did work unshackled in Russia to-day,
Bolshevism would long ago have been abolished. In
fact one of the demands frequently put forward during
strikes is for a restoration, side by side with the
free cooperative societies, of the soviet system which


is now virtually suppressed. Paradoxical though it
be, Bolshevism is in reality the complete negation
of the soviet system. It is by no means impossible
that the downfall of the Communists may result in
a healthy effort to set the Soviets in some form at
work for the first time. If this book served no other
purpose than to impress this vitally important fact
upon the reader, I should feel I had not written in vain.

Whenever it is possible, that is, whenever no serious
opposition to a Communist candidate is expected,
the Bolsheviks allow an election to take its normal
course, except that the secret ballot has been almost
universally abolished. Before they rose to power
the secret ballot was a cardinal principle of the Bol-
shevist programme. The argument, so typical of Bol-
shevist reasoning, now put forward in justification
of its abolition, is that secret voting would be dis-
crepant in a proletarian republic that has become

For this reason, the number of Communists who
are elected without opposition is very considerable,
and, strangely enough, it is upon the bourgeoisie,
engaged in the multifarious clerical tasks of the over-
burdened bureaucratic administration, that the author-
ities are able to rely for least opposition. Employees
of the government offices mostly miss the elections
if they can, and if they cannot, acquiesce passively
in the appointment of Communists, knowing that
the proposal of opponents will lead, at the least, to
extreme unpleasantness. A partial explanation of
this docility and the general inability of the Russian
people to assert themselves is to be found in sheer
political inexperience, for the halcyon days of March,


1917, before the Bolsheviks returned, were the only
time they have known liberty. But at the elections
of that period there was little or no controversy, and
in any case political experience is not to be acquired
in the short space of a few weeks.

I will cite but one instance of election in a thoroughly
bourgeois institution. The return by the Marinsky
Opera of a Communist delegate to the Petrograd
Soviet was given prominence in the Bolshevist press,
and having at one time been connected with this
theatre I was interested to elucidate the circum-
stances. On the election day, of all the singers,
orchestra, chorus, and the large staff of scene-shifters,
mechanics, attendants, caretakers, etc., numbering
several hundred people, not half a dozen appeared.
So the election was postponed till another day, when
the Communist "cell," appointed to control the
election, brought in a complete outsider, whom they
"elected" as delegate from the theatre. The staff
were completely indifferent and unaware until after-
wards that any election had taken place!

Not to the passive bourgeoisie but to the active
workers do the Bolsheviks look for opposition in the
cities. It is to counteract and forcibly prevent non-
Bolshevist propaganda in the workshops that their
chief energies are devoted. The elections I am de-
scribing were noteworthy because they followed im-
mediately upon a fresh outburst of strikes, particularly
affecting the railwaymen and street-car workers. At
one of the tramway parks bombs had been thrown
killing one worker and wounding three Communists.

Only one meeting at each factory or other in-
stitution was permitted and the printed instructions


stated it must be controlled by Communists, who
were to put forward their candidates first. Every-
where where there had been disturbances guards were
introduced to maintain order during the meeting, and
spies of the Extraordinary Commission were sent to
note who, if anyone, raised their hand against the
Communist candidates. At the Obuhov works the
workers were told straight that any who voted against
the Communists would be dismissed without the
right of employment elsewhere. At the Putilov
works the election meeting was held without being
announced, so that scarcely any one was present.
Next day the Putilov men heard to their amazement
that they had unanimously elected some twenty
Communists to the soviet!

In the district where I was living the Jewish agi-
tator of whom I have spoken was entrusted with
the conduct of a much-advertised house-to-house
campaign to impress the workers and especially their
wives with the virtues of the Communists. The recep-
tion he received was by no means universally cordial
and the ultimate triumph of the Communists was
to him a matter of considerable relief. It goes without
saying, this was the only kind of canvassing. All
non-Communist parties being denounced as counter-
revolutionary, the entire populace, except for a few
intrepid individuals, who courageously proclaimed
their adherence to non-Bolshevist socialist parties,
sheltered behind the title of "non-partisan," and hav-
ing no programme to put forward but anti-Communist,
put none forward at all. To put one forward was
impossible anyway, for the printing press, the right
of free speech, and the right to use firearms (which


played a great part) were confined exclusively to Com-

But at this particular election the Bolsheviks forgot
the women workers, who turned out to be unexpectedly
obstreperous. In one factory on the Vasili Island
where mostly women were employed, the Communists
were swept off the platform and the women held their
own meeting, electing eight non-partisan members.
In several smaller workshops the Communists suffered
unexpected defeat, perhaps because all the available
arms were concentrated in the larger factories, and
the ultimate outcome of the elections, though the
Communists of course were in the majority, was a
reduction of their majority from 90 to 82 per cent.

On the opening day of the Soviet, armed with the
mandate of a guest from my regiment, I made my
way to the famous Tauride Palace, now called "Palace
of Uritzky," the seat of the former Duma. I pictured
to myself, as I entered the building, the memorable
days and nights of March, 1917. There was no
such enthusiasm now as there had been then. No,
there was war, war between a Party and the People.
Machine guns fixed on motor-cycles were posted
threateningly outside the porch and a company of
Reds defended the entrance.

The meeting was scheduled for 5 o'clock, so knowing
soviet practices I strolled in about quarter to six,
counting on still having lime on my hands before there
would be anything doing. Speaking of unpunctuality,
I remember an occasion in 1918 when I had to make
a statement to the Samara soviet on some work I
was engaged in. I wished to secure a hall for a pub-
lic lecture on science by an American professor. I


received an official invitation to appear at the soviet
at 5 p. m. to explain my object in detail. I attended
punctually. At 5:30 the first deputy strolled in and,
seeing no one there, asked me when the sitting would

"I was invited for 5 o'clock," I replied.

"Yes," he said, "five o'clock — that's right," and
strolled out again. At 6 three or four workmen were
lounging about, chatting or doing nothing to pass
the time.

"Do you always start so unpunctually?" I asked
one of them.

"If you have lived so long in Russia," was the
good-natured retort, "you ought to know us by now."
At 7 everybody was in evidence except the chairman.
That dignitary appeared at 7:15 with the apology
that he had "stopped to chat with a comrade in the

J. L "


To-day's soviet meeting at Petrograd, scheduled
for 5, began at 9, but there were extenuating circum-
stances. The still -discontented workmen had been
invited during the day to listen to Zinoviev who
strove to pacify them by conceding their furlough,
which on account of the war had been cancelled. The
soviet deputies wandered up and down the lobbies and
corridors, while the workmen streamed out talking
heatedly or with looks of gloom on their faces.

The hall within the palace has been altered with
improvements. The wall behind the tribune where
the portrait of the Tsar used to hang has been re-
moved and a deep alcove made seating over 100
people, where the executive committee and special
guests sit. The executive committee numbers 40


people and constitutes a sort of cabinet, doing all
the legislation. Its members are always Communists.
The soviet proper never takes part in legislation. By
its character, and especially by the manner in which
its sittings are held, it is impossible that it should.
The number of deputies is over 1,300, an unwieldy
body in which discussion is difficult in any case, but
to make it completely impossible numerous guests
are invited from other organizations of a Communist
character. By this means the audience is doubled.
And one must still add the chauffeurs, street-car con-
ductors, and general servants of the building who
also find their way in. Everybody takes part in the
voting, no discrimination being made between members
and bidden or unbidden guests.

At nine all was ready for the soviet to open. By
sitting three at a desk there were seats for about 2,000
people. The others stood at the back or swarmed into
the balcony. Sailors were very conspicuous. The
day was warm and the air was stifling. Around the
walls hung notices: "You are requested not to smoke."
In spite of this, half way through the meeting the
room was full of smoke. Together with others I
doffed my coat and, removing my belt, pulled up
my shirt and flapped it up and down by way of venti-
lation. Performed en gros this operation was hardly
conducive to the purification of the atmosphere.

I secured a seat at the back whence I could see
everything. My neighbour was a woman, a dishevelled
little creature who seemed much embarrassed at her
surroundings. Every time any one rose to speak
she asked me who it was. While we waited for pro-
ceedings to begin she confided, in answer to my ques-


tion, that she was a guest, like myself. "I signed
on recently as a 'sympathizer'," she said.

Suddenly there was a burst of applause. A well-
known figure with bushy hair and Jewish features
entered and strolled nonchalantly up to the tribune.
"That is Zinoviev," I said to my neighbour, but she
knew Zinoviev.

A bell rang and silence ensued.

"I pronounce the Fourth Petrograd Soviet open,"
said a tall man in clothes of military cut who stood
at the right of the president's chair. "That is Evdoki-
mov, the secretary," I said to my companion, to which
she replied profoundly, "Ah!"

An orchestra stationed in one corner of the hall struck
up the "Internationale." Everyone rose. Another or-
chestra up in the balcony also struck up the "Inter-
nationale," but two beats later and failed to catch up.
You listened and sang with the one you were nearest to.

"At the instance of the Communist party," pro-
ceeded Evdokimov in a clear voice, "I propose the
following members to be elected to the executive
committee." He read out forty names, all Commun-
ists. "Those in favour raise hands." A sea of hands
rose. "Who is against?" To the general excitement
a number of hands were raised — an unheard-of event
for many a month. "Accepted by large majority,"
exclaimed the secretary.

"The Communist party," he continued, "proposes
the following to be elected to the presidium." He
read the names of seven Communists, including his
own. About half a dozen hands were raised against
this proposal, to the general amusement.

"The Communist party proposes comrade Zinoviev


to be president of the soviet," proceeded the secretary
in heightened tones. There was a storm of applause.
One single hand was raised in opposition and was
greeted with hilarious laughter. Zinoviev advanced
to the presidential chair and the orchestras struck
up the "Internationale." The election of the ex-
ecutive committee, the presidium, and the president
had occupied less than five minute .

Opening his speech with a reference to the recent
elections, Zinoviev exulted in the fact that of the 1,390
members a thousand were fully qualified members of
the Communist party whilst many others were candi-
dates. "We were convinced," he exclaimed, "that
the working class of Red Petrograd would remain
true to itself and return only the best representatives
to the soviet, and we were not mistaken." After
defining the tasks of the new soviet as the defence
and provisioning of the city he spoke of the strikes,
which he attributed to agents of the Allies and to the
Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries. It was
perhaps not such a bad thing, he said in effect, that
some rascal Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries
had got into the soviet, for it would be the easier
to catch them if they were on the side of the counter-
revolutionaries. Continuing, he praised the Red army
and the Baltic fleet and concluded, as usual, with a
prediction of early revolution in western Europe.
"Comrades," he cried, "the tyrannous governments
of the west are on the eve of their fall. The bourgeois
despots are doomed. The workers are rising in their
millions to sweep them away. They are looking to
us, to the Red proletariat, to lead them to victory.
Long live the Communist International!"


He ended amidst tremendous cheering. During
his speech the "Internationale" was played three
times and at its conclusion twice more.

Then Zinoviev proposed a novel motion. He in-
vited discussion. There was a distinct tendency
in view of the increase of the non-partisan element
in the soviet to invite the latter's cooperation — under
strict control, of course, of the Communists. The
permission of discussion, however, was easy to under-
stand when the next speaker announced by the president
declared himself to be an ex-Menshevik now converted
to Communism. His harangue was short and ended
with a panegyric of the Bolshevist leaders. He was
followed by an anarchist, who was inarticulate, but
who roundly denounced the "thieves of the food
department." His speech was punctuated by furious
howls and whistling, particularly on the part of the
sailors. None the less he introduced an anti-Com-
munist resolution which was scarcely audible and for
which a few hands were raised. Zinoviev repeatedly
called for order but looked pleased enough at the
disturbance. The anarchist sat down amidst a storm
of laughter and booing. Zinoviev then closed the

There then approached the tribune a business-like
looking little man, rather stout, round-shouldered,
and with a black moustache. "This is Badaev, com-
missar of feed," I said to my neighbour. Sitting
in front c:: us were two young soldiers who seemed
to treat the general proceedings with undue levity.
When the plump Badaev mounted the tribune they
nudged each other and one of them said, referring to
the graded categories into which the populace is


divided for purposes of provisioning: "Look! what
a tub! Ask him what food category he belongs to" —
at which little pleasantry they both giggled convul-
sively for several minutes.

Badaev spoke well but with no oratorical cunning.
He said the food situation was deplorable, that
speculation was rife, and mentioned decrees which
should rectify defects. Badaev could hardly be called
a logician. Though the soup was bad, he said in
effect, the Communist provisioning apparatus would
be the most perfect in the world. He admitted abuses
in the communal kitchens. Communists, he ac-
knowledged regretfully, were as bad as the others.
"You must elect controllers for the eating-houses,"
he said, "but you must never let them stay long in
one job. They have a knack of chumming up with
the cook, so you must always keep them moving."

There were several other speakers who all sang the
praises of the Communist party and the good judgment
of the electorate. At first attentive, after midnight
the audience became languid. Periodically the "Inter-
nationale" was played. Toward the end many
people lolled over the desks with their heads on their
arms. Like schoolchildren, they were not allowed
to leave before the end except upon some valid pre-

At last the "Internationale" was played for the
very last time while the men did up their loosened
belts and donned their coats. The audience streamed
out into the cool summer air. My head ached vio-
lently. I walked along to the quay of the Neva.
The river was superb. The sky-line of the summer
night was tinged with delicate pink, blue, and green.


I looked at the water and leaning over the parapet
laid my throbbing temples against the cold stone.

A militiaman touched my arm. "Who are you?"
he demanded.

"I come from the soviet."

"Your mandate?"

I showed it. "I am going home," I added.

He was not a rough -looking fellow. I had a strange
impulse to exclaim bitterly: "Comrade, tell me, how
long will this revolution last?" But what was the
good? Though everybody asks it, this is the one
question nobody can answer.

My path lay along the beautiful river. The stream
flowed fast — faster than I walked. It seemed to me
to be getting ever faster. It was like the Revolution —
this river — flowing with an inexorable, ever swifter,
endless tide. To my fevered fancy it became a roaring
torrent tearing all before it, like the rapids of Niagara;
not, however, like those, snowy white, but Red, Red,



Flight from the prison of "Soviet" Russia was as
difficult a matter for me as for any Russian anxious
to elude pursuit and escape unobserved. Several
designs failed before I met with success. According
to one of these I was to be put across the Finnish fron-
tier secretly, but officially, by the Bolshevist author-
ities as a foreign propagandist, for which I was fitted
by my knowledge of foreign languages. I was already
in possession of several bushels of literature in half a
dozen tongues which were to be delivered at a secret
address in Finland. Fighting, however, unexpectedly
broke out on the Finnish frontier, the regiment through
which the arrangements were being made moved, and
the plan was held up indefinitely. Before it could
be renewed I had left Petrograd.

Another scheme was devised by a friend of mine,
occupying a prominent position at the Admiralty, at
the time when the British fleet was operating in the
gulf of Finland. On a certain day a tug was to be
placed at the disposal of this officer for certain work
near Cronstadt. The plan he invented was to tell
the captain of the tug that he had been instructed to
coiivey to the shores of Finland a British admiral
who had secretly visited Petrograd to confer with the
Bolsheviks. At midnight the tug would be alongside
the quay. My friend was to fit me out in sailor's

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Online LibraryPaul DukesRed dusk and the morrow; adventures and investigations in red Russia → online text (page 20 of 22)