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uniform and I was to pose as the disguised British
admiral. Then, instead of stopping at Cronstadt,
we should steam past the fort and escape, under the
soviet flag and using soviet signals, to Finland. If
the captain smelt a rat a revolver would doubtless
quiet his olfactory nerve. But two days before the
event, the famous British naval raid on Cronstadt
was made and several Russian ships were sunk. My
friend was ordered there at once to assist in reorgani-
zation, and I — well, I failed to become an admiral.
The most exciting of these unsuccessful efforts
ended with shipwreck in a fishing boat in the gulf.
At a house where I was staying there had been a
search, the object of which was to discover the source
of allied intelligence, and I escaped by throwing a fit
(previously rehearsed in anticipation of an emergency)
which so terrified the searchers that they left me
alone. But I was forced subsequently to flee out of
the city and hide for some nights in a cemetery. Hav-
ing got wind of my difficulties, the British Govern-
ment sought to effect my rescue by sending U-boat
chasers nearly up to the mouth of the Neva to fetch
me away. These boats were able to run the gauntlet
of the Cronstadt forts at a speed of over 50 knots.
A message informed me of four nights on which a
chaser would come, and I was to arrange to meet
it at a certain point in the sea at a stipulated hour.
The difficulties were almost insurmountable, but
on the fourth night I succeeded, with a Russian mid-
shipman, in procuring a fishing boat and setting out
secretly from a secluded spot on the northern shore.
But the weather had been bad, a squall arose, our
boat was unwieldy and rode the waves badly. My


companion behaved heroically and it was due to his
superior seamanship that the boat remained afloat as
long as it did. It was finally completely overwhelmed,
sinking beneath us, and we had to swim ashore. The
rest of the night we spent in the woods, where we
were fired on by a patrol but eluded their vigilance by
scrambling into a scrubby bog and lying still till day-

Then one day my commander informed me that
he had orders to move our regiment to the front.
After a moment's consideration I asked if he would
be able to send some of his soldiers down in small de-
tachments, say of two or three, to which he replied,
"Possibly." This intelligence set me thinking very
hard. In a minute I leaned over to him and in a low
tone said something which set him, too, thinking very
hard. A smile gradually began to flicker round his
lips and he very slowly closed one eye and reopened it.

"All right," he said, "I will see to it that you are
duly 'killed'."

Thus it came to pass that on a Sunday evening
two or three days before the regiment left Petrograd
I set out with two companions, detailed off to join
an artillery brigade at a distant point of the Latvian
front near Dvinsk. The Baltic State of Latvia was
still at war with Soviet Russia. My companions
belonged to another regiment but were temporarily
transferred. They were both fellows of sterling worth
who had stood by me in many a scrape, and both wished
to desert and serve the Allies, but feared they might
be shot as Communists by the Whites. So I had
promised to take them with me when I went. One
was a giant over six feet high, a law student, prize


boxer, expert marksman, a Hercules and sportsman in
every sense and a boon companion on an adventure
such as ours. The other was a youth, cultured, gentle,
but intrepid, who luckily knew the strip of country
to which we were being sent.

The first night we travelled for eleven hours in
the lobby of a passenger car. The train was already
packed when we got on, people were sitting on the
buffers and roofs, but having some muscle between
us we took the steps by storm and held on tight.

I was the fortunate one on top. The lobby might
have contained four comfortably, but there were
already nine people in it, all with sacks and baggage.
About half an hour after the train started I succeeded
in forcing the door open sufficiently to squeeze half
in. My companions smashed the window and, to the
horror of those within, clambered through it and
wedged themselves downwards. Treating the thing,
in Russian style, as a huge joke, they soon overcame
the profanity of the opposition. Eventually I got
the other half of me through the door, it shut with
a slam, and we breathed again.

Next day we slept out on the grass at a junction
station. The second night's journey was to take us
to the destination mentioned on our order papers, and
in the course of it we had a curious experience. About
three in the morning we noticed that the train had been
shunted on to a siding, while muffled cries in the
stillness of the night showed that something unusual was
happening. One of my companions, who reconnoitred,
brought the most unwelcome intelligence that the train
was surrounded and was going to be searched. On the
previous day, while resting at the junction station,


we had been encountered by a shady individual clearly
belonging to the local Committee for Combating
Desertion, who questioned us repeatedly regarding
our duties and destination. The recollection of this
incident gave rise in our minds to a fear that we
might be the objects of the search, and this sus-
picion became intensified with all three of us to the
force of a terrible conviction when, after a second
reconnoitre, we learned that our car was the particu-
larly suspected one. We occupied with two other
men a half compartment at the end of a long second-
class coach, but conversation with our fellow travellers
failed to give us any clue as to their business. The
problem which faced us was, how to dispose of three
small packets we were carrying, containing maps,
documents, and personal papers of my own, all of
the most incriminating nature. The} 7 were concealed
in a bag of salt, through the sides of which the packets
slightly protruded. The bag of salt would most cer-
tainly be opened to see what was in it. Our first idea
was to throw it out of the window, but this could not
be done unobserved because our two unknown travelling
companions occupied the seats nearest the window.
So in the pitch darkness we thrust them, loose, under
the seat, where they would of course be discovered but
we would say desperately that they were not ours. This
was just done when the door opened and a man with a
candle put his head in and asked: "Where are you
all going?" It turned out that we were all leaving the
train at Rezhitsa. "Rezhitsa?" said the man with the
candle, "Good. Then at Rezhitsa we will put prisoners
in here."

I will not attempt to describe the hour of suspense


that followed. Calmly though my two friends resigned
themselves to what appeared to be an inevitable fate,
I was quite unable to follow their example. I, per'
sonally, might not be shot — not at once at any rate — •
but should more likely be held as a valuable hostage,
whom the Soviet Government would use to secure
concessions from the British. But my two faithful
companions would be shot like dogs against the first
wall, and though each of us was cognizant from the
outset of the risk, when the fatal moment came and
I knew there was absolutely nothing could save them
the bitterness of the realization was past belief.

Compartment by compartment the train was
searched. The subdued hubbub and commotion ac-
companying the turning out of passengers, the ex-
amination of their belongings, and the scrutiny of
seats, racks, and cushions, gradually approached our
end of the coach. From the other half of our com-
partment somebody was ejected and someone else
put in in his stead. A light gleamed through the
chink in the partition. We strained our ears to
catch the snatches of conversation. Though our
unknown travelling companions were invisible in the
darkness, I felt that they too were listening intently.
But nothing but muffled undertones came through
the partition. The train moved forward, the shuffling
in the corridors continuing. Then suddenly our door
was rudely slid open. Our hearts stood still. We
prepared to rise to receive the searchers. The same
man with the candle stood in the doorway. But
all he said on seeing us again was, "Ach — yes!" in a
peevish voice, and pushed the door to. We waited
in protracted suspense. Why did nobody come? The


whole train had been searched except for our half
compartment. There was silence now in the corridor
and only mutterings came through the partition.
The pallid dawn began to spread. We saw each other
in dim outline, five men in a row, sitting motionless
in silent, racking expectation. It was light when
we reached Rezhitsa. Impatiently we remained seated
while our two unknown companions moved out with
their things. We had to let them go first, before we
could recover the three packages slidden under the
seat. As if in a dream, we pushed out with the last
of the crowd, moved hastily along the platform, and
dived into the hustling mass of soldiers and peasant
men and women filling the waiting room. Here only
we spoke to each other. The same words came —
mechanically and drily, as if unreal: "They overlooked,

Then we laughed.

An hour later we were ensconced in a freight train
which was to take us the last ten miles to the location
of our artillery brigade. The train was almost empty
and the three of us had a box-car to ourselves. A
couple of miles before we reached our destination we
jumped off the moving train, and, dashing into the
woods, ran hard till we were sure there was no pursuit.
The younger of my companions knew the district
and conducted us to a cottage where we gave our-
selves out to be "Greens" — neither Reds nor Whites.
The nickname of "green guards" was applied to wide-
spread and irregular bands of deserters both from the
Red and White armies, and the epithet arose from
the fact that they bolted for the woods and hid in
great numbers in the fields and forests. The first


"Greens" were anti-Red, but a dose of White regime
served to make them equally anti-White, so that
at various times they might be found on either side
or none. It was easy for them to maintain a separate
roving existence, for the peasantry, seeing in them
the truest protagonists of peasant interests, fed,
supported, and aided them in every way. Under
leaders who maintained with them terms of camaraderie
it was not difficult to make disciplined forces out of
the unorganized Greens. Not far from the point
where we were, a band of Greens had turned out a
trainload of Reds at a wayside station and ordered
"all Communists and Jews" to "own up." They
were shown up readily enough by the other Red soldiers
and shot on the spot. The remainder were disarmed,
taken into the station, given a good feed, and then
told they might do as they liked — return to the Reds,
join the WTiites, or stay with the Greens — "which-
ever they preferred."

Our humble host fed us and lent us a cart in which
we drove toward evening to a point about two miles
east of Lake Luban, which then lay in the line of the
Latvian front. Here in the woods we climbed out
of the cart and the peasant drove home. The ground
round Lake Luban is very marshy, so there were but
few outposts. On the map it is marked as impassable
bog. When we got near the shore of the lake we
lay low till after dark and then started to walk round
it. It was a long way, for the lake is about sixteen
miles long and eight or ten across. To walk in the
woods was impossible, for they were full of trenches
and barbed wire and it was pitch-dark. So we waded
through the bog, at every step sinking half way up to


the knees and sometimes nearly waist-deep. It was
indeed a veritable slough of despond. After about
three hours, when I could scarcely drag one leg after
the other any farther through the mire, and drowning
began to seem a happy issue out of present tribulation,
we came upon a castaway fishing boat providentially
stranded amongst the rushes. It was a rickety old
thing, and it leaked dreadfully, but we found it would
hold us if one man bailed all the time. There were
no oars, so we cut boughs to use in their stead, and,
with nothing to guide us but the ever kindly stars,
pushed out over the dark and silent rush-grown waters
and rowed ourselves across to Latvia.

The romantic beauty of September dawn smiled
on a world made ugly only by wars and rumours of
wars. When the sun rose our frail bark was far out
in the middle of a fairy lake. The ripples, laughing
as they lapped, whispered secrets of a universe where
rancour, jealousies, and strife were never known.
Only away to the north the guns began ominously
booming. My companions were happy, and they
laughed and sang merrily as they punted and bailed.
But my heart was in the land I had left, a land of
sorrow, suffering, and despair; yet a land of contrasts,
of hidden genius, and of untold possibilities; where
barbarism and saintliness live side by side, and where
the only treasured law, now trampled underfoot,
is the unwritten one of human kindness. "Some
day," I meditated as I sat at the end of the boat and
worked my branch, "this people will come into their
own." And I, too, laughed as I listened to the story
of the rippling waters.



As I put pen to paper to write the concluding chapter
of this book the news is arriving of the affliction of
Russia with one of her periodical famine scourges,
an event which cannot fail to affect the country po-
litically as well as economically. Soviet organizations
are incompetent to cope with such a situation. For
the most pronounced effect both on the workers and
on the peasantry of the communistic experiment has
been to eliminate the stimulus to produce, and the
restoration of liberty of trading came too late to be
effective. A situation has arisen in which Russia must
make herself completely dependent for rescue upon
the countries against which her governors have
declared a ruthless political war.

The Communists are between the devil and the
deep sea. To say "Russia first" is equivalent to
abandoning hope of the world revolution, for Russia
can only be restored by capitalistic and bourgeois
enterprise. But neither does the prospect of refusing
all truck with capitalists, preserving Russia in the
position of world-revolutionary citadel, offer any
but feeble hopes of world-revolutionary success. For
the gulf between "the party" and the Russian people,
or as Lenin has recently expressed it in a letter to
a friend in France,* "the gulf between the governors

♦Published in the New York Times, August 24, 1921.



and the governed," is growing ever wider. Many
Communists show signs of weakening faith. Bour-
geois tendencies, as Lenin observes, "are gnawing
more and more at the heart of the party." Lastly
and most terrible, the proletarians of the West, upon
whom the Bolsheviks from their earliest moments
based all their hopes, show no sign whatever of ful-
filling the constantly reiterated Bolshevist prediction
that they would rise in their millions and save the
only true proletarian government from destruction.
Alas, there is but one way to bridge the gulf dividing
the party from the people. It is for Russian Com-
munists to cease to be first Communists and then
Russians, and to become Russians and nothing else.
To expect this of the Third International, however, is
hopeless. Its adherents possess none of the greatness
of their master, who, despite subsequent casuistic
tortuosities, has demonstrated the ability, so rarely
possessed by modern politicians, honestly and frankly
to confess that the policy he had inaugurated was to-
tally wrong. The creation of the Third International
was perhaps inevitable, embodying as it does the
essentials of the Bolshevist creed, but it was a fatal
step. If the present administration lays any claim
to be a Russian government, then the Third Inter-
national is its enemy. Even in June, 1921, at the
very time when the Soviet Government was con-
sidering its appeal to western philanthropy, the Third
International was proclaiming its insistence on an
immediate world revolution and discussing the most
effective methods of promoting and exploiting the
war which Trotzky declared to be inevitable between
Great Britain and France, and Great Britain and the


United States! But there are Communists who are will-
ing to put Russia first, overshadowed though they often
be by the International; and the extent to which the
existing organized administration may be utilized to
assist in the alleviation of suffering and a bloodless
transition to sane government depends upon the
degree in which Communist leaders unequivocally
repudiate Bolshevist theories and become the nearest
things possible to patriots.

There are many reasons why, in the event of a
modification of regime, the retention of some organized
machine, even that established by the Communists,
is desirable. In the first place there is no alternative
ready to supplant it. Secondly, the soviet system
has existed hitherto only in name, the Bolsheviks
have never permitted it to function, and there is no
evidence to prove that such a system of popular councils
properly elected would be a bad basis for at least a
temporary system of administration. Thirdly, Bol-
shevist invitations to non-Bolshevist experts to function
on administrative bodies, especially in the capitals,
began as I have already pointed out at an early date.
For one reason or other, sometimes under compulsion,
sometimes voluntarily, many of these invitations have
been accepted. Jealously supervised by the Com-
munist party, experts who are anything but Com-
munists hold important posts in government de-
partments. They will obviously be better versed
in the exigencies of the internal situation than out-
siders. To sweep away the entire apparatus means
to sweep away such men and women with it, which
would be disastrous. It is only the purely political
organizations — the entire paraphernalia of the Third


International and its department of propaganda, for
instance, and, of course, the Extraordinary Com-
mission — that must be consigned bag and baggage
to the rubbish heap.

I have always emphasized the part silently and
self-sacrificingly played by a considerable section of
the intellectual class who have never fled from Russia
to harbours of safety, but remained to bear on their
backs, together with the mass of the people, the brunt
of adversity and affliction. These are the great
heroes of the revolution, though their names may
never be known. They will be found among teachers,
doctors, nurses, matrons, leaders of the former co-
operative societies, and so forth, whose one aim has
been to save whatever they could from wreckage or
political vitiation. Subjected at first to varying
degrees of molestation and insult, they stuck it through
despite all, and have never let pass an opportunity
to alleviate distress. Their unselfish labours have
restored even some of the soviet departments, par-
ticularly such as are completely non-political in char-
acter, to a state of considerable efficiency. This is
no indication of devotion to Bolshevism, but rather
of devotion to the people despite Bolshevism. I
believe the number of such disinterested individuals
to be much larger than is generally supposed and it
is to them that we must turn to learn the innermost
desires and needs of the masses.

I will cite in this connection a single instance.
There was formed just previous to the Great War
an organization known as the League for the Pro-
tection of Children, which combined a number of
philanthropic institutions and waged war on juvenile


criminality. As a private non-State and bourgeois in-
stitution its activities were suppressed by the Bolshe-
viks, who sought to concentrate all children's welfare
work in Bolshevist establishments, the atmosphere of
which was political and the objects propagandist. The
state of these establishments varies, some being main-
tained by special effort in a condition of relative cleanli-
ness, but the majority, according to the published state-
ments of the Bolsheviks, falling into a condition of
desperate insanitation and neglect. In any case,
toward the close of 1920, the Bolsheviks were con-
strained, in view of ever-increasing juvenile depravity
and demoralization, to appeal to the remnants of the
despised bourgeois League for the Protection of Chil-
dren to investigate the condition of the children of the
capitals and suggest means for their reclamation. The
report submitted by the League was appalling in the
extreme. I am unable to say whether the recommen-
dations suggested were accepted by the rulers, but the
significance lies in the fact that, notwithstanding per-
secution, the League has contrived to maintain some
form of underground existence through the worst years
of oppression, and its leaders are at hand, the moment
political freedom is reestablished, to recommence the
work of rescuing the children or to advise those who
enter the country from abroad with that benevolent

The fact that the Russian people, unled, unorganized,
and coerced, are growing indifferent to politics, but
that the better and educated elements amongst them
are throwing themselves into any and every work,
economic or humanitarian, that may stave off complete
disaster, leads to the supposition that if any healthy


influence from outside, in the form of economic or
philanthropic aid, is introduced into Russia, it
will rally round it corresponding forces within
the country and strengthen them. This indeed has
always been the most forceful argument in favour
of entering into relations with Bolshevist Russia.
The fact that warring against the Red regime has
greatly fortified its power is now a universally recog-
nized fact; and this has resulted not because the Red
armies, as such, were invincible, but because the
politics of the Reds' opponents were selfish and con-
fused, their minds seemed askew, and their failure
to propose a workable alternative to Bolshevism
served to intensify the nausea which overcomes the
Russian intellectual in Petrograd and Moscow when-
ever he is drawn into the hated region of party poli-
tics. So great indeed is the aversion of the bourgeois
intellectual for politics that he may have to be pushed
back into it, but he must first be strengthened physically
and the country aided economically.

Whether the intervention should be of an economic
or philanthropic character was a year ago a secondary
question. The Bolshevist regime being based almost
entirely on abnormalities, it needed but the establish-
ment of any organization on normal lines for the
latter ultimately to supersede the former. Now,
however, the intervention must needs be humanitarian.
Soviet Russia has resembled a closed room in which
some foul disease was developing, and which other
occupants of the house in the interests of self-protection
tightly closed and barred lest infection leak out. But
infection has constanty leaked out, and if it has been
virulent it is only because the longer and tighter the


room was barred, the fouler became the air within!
This was not the way to purify the chamber, whose
use everyone recognized as indispensable. We must
unbolt the doors, unbar the windows, and force in
the light and air we believe in. Then, the occupants
being tended and the chamber thoroughly cleansed, it
will once again become habitable.

Is it too late to accomplish this vast humanitarian
task? Is the disaster so great that the maximum of
the world's effort will be merely a palliative? Time
will show. But if the Russian dilemma has not
outgrown the world's ability to solve it, Russia must
for years to come be primarily a humanitarian prob-
lem, to be approached from the humanitarian stand-

There are many who fear that even now the faction
of the Third International will surely seek to ex-
ploit the magnanimity of other countries to its own
political advantage. Of course it will ! The ideals of
that institution dictate that the appeal to western
philanthropy shall conceal a dagger such as was
secreted behind the olive branch to western cap-

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Online LibraryPaul DukesRed dusk and the morrow; adventures and investigations in red Russia → online text (page 21 of 22)