Liberty to Brest-Litovsk


Chaos—Legends—House-Committees—Intellectuals Begging—
Soldiers from Rumania—Russians fighting Russians—Streets
—Drunken Pogroms—Robbers and Hunger—Murder of the Brothers Guenglezi—Sadism.

I AM nearing the end of my book, and I would like to give an idea, on general lines at least, of the ways of everyday life during the first four and a half months of the Bolshevist reign.  Towards the end of March I left Russia, but, according to the papers and to the descriptions of Russians who left after me, the chief features of everyday life remained the same, growing sharper only, harder to bear, as a deeper stream of blood flowed over my country.

In revolution, as in war, an enormous part has to be allotted to the incredible and fantastical—a part surpassing anything that our imagination is accustomed to suggest.  Events in prospect or in thrilling retrospect, people turning into heroes, leaders, or at least facile interpreters of popular will, the unexpected strength of some of them and the weakness of others, success and ruin, heroism and crime—everybody and everything moves along unexpected lines, adopts unaccustomed shapes which our reason is too slow to comprehend.

Thinking people become depressed and overburdened on realising the fact that revolution does not develop logically, but appears to contemporaries as a series of nonsensical and meaningless accidents.  From a distance only, when time has cooled and crystallised the revolutionary lava, it will be possible to evaluate and comprehend the dimensions of the eruption and the depth of the social fissures it has occasioned.  Meanwhile, when action is still developing, when history with maddening quickness is writing under our eyes its mysterious records, even learned scribes and philosophers in most cases lose their heads and prove too slow in their comprehension of the proper meaning of events.  Labouring under immense difficulties, thought is driving its way through a chaos resulting from the ruins of a shattered order of life, and faints for want of a guiding genius.  To this accidental disorder intentional disorder of speech was added.  The Socialists endeavoured to clothe the naked body of Russia in revolutionary phraseology.  The air grew thick with meaningless, and therefore especially intoxicating, dogmatical speechifying.  Reality quickly and mercilessly disclosed all the nonsense secreted in it, but a sort of mania of words went on developing, as if an invisible wizard had let loose amongst the people his magical formulae, bewitching the crowd by collective hypnosis, as those mediaeval legends relate which we were wont to read with sceptical smiles.

“ Peace to cottages, War to palaces ”;  but is a democratic peace possible when Trotsky himself says that “ an unfortunate peace ” has to be accepted from the German Generals, which by order from Kaiser William they will enforce upon Russia ?

“ Self-determination of peoples”;  but at the same time blood is flowing on the Don, in the Ukraine, in Esthonia, in every remote township, and Red troops disperse by the force of arms, not only the meeting of White Russians in Minsk, but also the meeting of Great Russians in Moscow.

All intellectuals are declared suspect, as “ servants of the bourgeoisie.”  At the same time a Bolshevist Commissary, having conquered the rich city of Kharkov (according to revolutionary terminology this was called “ moving the front from abroad into the interior ”), does not know how to proceed and sends to the official paper, Izvestia, the following nonsensical telegram :  “ Town all right.  Armoured car patrolling streets introduces quiet.  Capitalists will pay indemnity, otherwise we shall enforce payment.  Meantime necessary to support workers in mines, factories.  Employers fled, and we require technical specialists to take industry in our hands.”

Later on, similar despairing telegrams are sent by leaders of food-commandeering expeditions from villages, where they search for bread :  “ No poor peasants found in village.  All are rich exploiters.  They refuse bread, but require convocation of Constituent Assembly.”  The reading of such news every day made it clear that common sense vanishes in revolutionary times and, like the bourgeoisie, is deprived of its rights.  Logic had been dismissed along with the officials suspected of sabotage, and was declared “ Kornilovist ” and “ counter-revolutionary.”  It appeared that revolution, especially social revolution, had no enemy more hated than Thought—sincere and sober.  Truth became more and more suppressed, common sense experienced greater difficulties every day in clearing a way for itself through fogs and pits of revolutionary babble and reality.  And legends were whirling along, bewildering everybody, overflowing the land and concealing the true sense of events.

It was so already in March, but after November the fog grew still thicker.  Very few persons understood the strength and depth of the approaching Bolshevist danger.  An enormous majority of intellectuals frankly and haughtily despised the Bolsheviks as adventurers with no interest in the Fatherland.  Bolshevist theories were so evidently senseless, so impracticable and dogmatical.  The reputation of their leaders was so darkly blemished by their indiscriminate choice of means.  They falsified election results, quarrelled about expropriated money, made friends with the Tsarist secret police and with the German General-Staff.  The Press proclaimed this aloud, the papers published lists of provocateurs and spies serving on Bolshevist Committees.  Was it possible for such people to enjoy the confidence of the country ?  Of course not.  But precisely the impossible thing happened.  The masses believed, and helped the Bolsheviks to seize the power and overthrow the Provisional Government.  When power was seized, the Press of different shades of opinion continued shouting that this would not last long ;  that to-day or to-morrow the Bolsheviks would be overthrown.  And the Bolsheviks also considered themselves as caliphs for an hour, admitting this openly several times.  Their opponents, in the meanwhile, lived on hopes that the desired liberation would come from somewhere, that Bolshevism would dispel itself like smoke, like a bad dream.  In connection with these hopes all sorts of legends were circulating in the city.  People were saying that “ troops are marching from the front to reinstate the Provisional Government ” ;  that “ Kaledin was moving from the South, and the Cossacks were approaching Moscow.”  There was much talk about an armoured train that appeared not far from Petrograd.  The train had passed Novgorod, running towards Moscow.  Whom will the train support ?  Kerensky ?  Lenin ?  But it may be Germans have broken through already ?  No one knew anything, but for some reason everybody believed that help was coming, and that the Allies would play a prominent part in it.  The diplomatic representatives of the Entente were in Petrograd still.  The Ambassadors see and know everything.  Surely they will tell their Governments and their peoples ;  they will describe the burden under which Russia has fallen, the double burden of war and revolution.  And in the far-away but friendly West, cut off from Russia by German trenches and bayonets, they will understand there the horror of the situation, and surely they will come to help the Russians, to save them from Germans, and from Bolsheviks bound to the enemy by treacherous bonds.

That was one of the soothing legends.  Other legends, gloomy and fearful, were circulated about Germans, their influence, their presence in Petrograd, their power.  The armistice was not yet signed, but eyewitnesses were describing already how they had seen German officers in uniform or mufti.  Restaurants were named where Russian officers, indignant but impotent, had to meet with representatives of the enemy’s army.  The address was secretly passed round of the house where German officers had already been living for a long time.  Their names even were known.  The spikes of German helmets became conspicuous in the streets long before the arrival in Petrograd of the enemy’s delegation headed by the important dignitaries, Count Mirbach and Count Kaiserling.  The fact that their arrival was the result of an agreement with a band of adventurers, on whose invitation they came while all parties, all organised groups opposed peace and wanted to continue the war, gave a fantastical, stupefying effect to the authentic, real advent of living Germans to the capital, turning it into a sort of nightmare.  No one believed that the arrival of representatives of the Central Powers would bring grave obligations for the Russian people with it.  And truly it was difficult to believe such a thing while the Allied missions, still remaining in Petrograd, were meeting at their club at one end of the Millionnaya and the Germans at the other, in Palace Square.

The decrees and orders of the Soviet authorities seemed just as incredible and unreal.  They were published in the official papers.  All the other papers were obliged to publish these decrees in most conspicuous places.  Many of the decrees were placarded in the streets, nevertheless nobody considered them as having any significance ;  they were looked upon as silly jokes of wicked boys, but not as acts of the Government.  At first many people talked with the Bolsheviks as they would have spoken to riotous young hooligans.  At the same time the intellectuals, separated from one another, divided into parties, hypnotised by their own belief in the immutability of revolutionary dogmas, were impotent to oppose them.  It was like a nightmare in which robbers attack you and you find it impossible to move.

As to the masses, they were bewitched.  A part of them believed in a Bolshevist miracle, that Lenin and Trotsky would make everybody rich, and turn them all into gentlefolk.  Others did not believe it, but with a stupid, inert curiosity they looked on and waited to see what would be the end of it all.

Such inertia was especially astounding in cases of open attacks on the property of the people, as, for instance, the Bolshevist raids on the State Bank.  The Red Guard was continually descending upon the State Bank and recoiling from it again.  The Bolshevist Commissary was persuading and arresting the clerks.  The papers openly and harshly abused the Soviet of the People’s Commissaries, accusing them of highway robbery, of the desire to appropriate the property of the people.  Bank officials called on the citizens to defend themselves, while the citizens crowded the streets near the Bank and waited in perplexity to see what would be the end of the trouble.  Soldiers passed along, armed cars were driving about, the Red Guard marched past clumsily, clad in mufti, carrying all sorts of unnecessary armament, frowning as they remarked the unfriendly looks of the crowd.  Nevertheless, the Reds were conscious of belonging to a big organisation, coherent and decisive in action, and that gave them self-assurance, while their opponents were quite disorganised, and therefore inactive.  For this reason the Reds proved always stronger in action, although they were always beaten in controversy.  The defenders of Bolshevism, who instead of arguing went on repeating the same catchwords, “ counter-revolution,” “ supporters of the bourgeoisie,” “ saboteurs,” etc., were always left in the minority in debates.  During more than four months, while I was living under the Bolshevist regime, and was present at numerous meetings in the streets or elsewhere, I never saw the Bolsheviks victorious.  They organised their own meetings, attended by enormous, quite special crowds, and there they actually dominated.  Sometimes they forced an entrance into buildings where meetings were held by other people, occupied the platform, drove out the organisers, refused their opponents the right of speech, and then also they proved victorious.  But everywhere, when the crowd was not specially gathered by them beforehand, but congregated freely, when people could speak openly, the Bolsheviks were beaten by logic.  Their strength had nothing to do with logic, it consisted in the knowledge of how to capture by trickery the confidence of the masses, who do not live according to reason, but act upon the impulse of their senses.  Profiting by a temporary blindness of the masses, the Bolsheviks succeeded in organising a compact minority of supporters, and when the masses began to awaken from the hypnosis they were already fettered in chains ;  they were surrounded by bristling bayonets.

The simple-mindedness of the Russian intelligentsia, especially of its Socialist wing, prevented an immediate conception of what had happened.  With the same ingenuousness with which the Socialists, keeping in memory all the solemn resolutions of the Socialistic Congresses, awaited the support of the international proletariat, and hoped to obtain a democratic peace from Germany by the force not of arms, but of words, they supposed now that by Socialistic pressure it would be possible to bring to reason the dictators ambuscaded in the Smolny.

They were running about, creating committees, publishing declarations and proclamations, accusing, even threatening, without the slightest result.  Their comrades of yesterday, Lenin and Trotsky, turned their backs on them, cynically and openly.  And at the same time the average man, who with the pride of a new-born citizen had quite recently voted for a Cadet, a Social-Revolutionary, or a Social-Democrat, was passing through a really tragical experience.  Instead of the long-awaited liberty, a new and more humiliating slavery had come.  Public life was shattered to pieces.  Private life was becoming unbearable.  Nobody knew what to expect on the morrow.  Nobody’s life was safe, and no person could be sure of the safety of friends and relations.  Personal safety, the right to have a home, to work and to live, all the details of everyday life, presented a number of complex and tormenting problems.

After the coup d’etat of November every house had to be organised as an independent military and civilian unity.  In big Russian cities people live in flats, not in separate houses.  In an average building not less than from 200-300 persons are housed.  Already before the advent of the Bolsheviks, house-committees were elected in each building for the distribution of food, of rationcards, of bread, etc.  After the Bolshevist coup d’état the task of these committees became much more complex and wider.  First of all they had to organise for self-defence.  The militia, created after the destruction of the Tsarist police, was weak and imperfectly organised, and now the militiamen themselves had to hide from the Bolsheviks.  No protection existed for anything or anybody.  Any armed band could enter any house at any moment and rob it.  The people themselves had to provide for their own safety.

In the house where we were living the men used to take turns in acting as guards.  Returning in the evening from some meeting I always found two sentinels on the landing, near the lift.  Their rifles were kept ready at hand.  One of the tenants, an officer of the line, thrice wounded, who had been awarded the Cross of St. George several times, commanded the house-guard.  He trained the others, teaching them the use of their rifles, and giving orders for duties.  Besides him there were two more officers ;  the rest were civil service officials, merchants, an engineer from the electric station, a factory-engineer, etc.  Mutual friendliness reigned throughout, and the general spirit was absolutely anti-Bolshevist.

In later days the house-committees got into great difficulties, because the Soviets tried to use them as organisations for collecting money and commodities, or, to be more exact, for raising contributions in accordance with the decree enforcing on the bourgeoisie the obligation to work.  Also, to deprive the committees of their middle-class character, representatives of the poorer classes were included, not by election, but by appointment of the Soviets, to realise even here the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat.  An ignorant soldier’s wife from the suburbs, without any knowledge of reading or writing, would appear suddenly as member of the committee of a building inhabited by intellectuals, and start ordering them about.

However, in the winter of 1917-1918, at the time of which I am writing, the house-committees were still autonomous to a certain degree.  Cases happened in large buildings, especially in co-operative houses, where tenants owned their flats, of committees engaging officers to guard the building and to act as house-porters.  Then the local Soviet interfered.  They could not allow “White Guards” to carry arms.  It savoured of “ counter-revolution.”  The officers had to be dismissed, and turned out to beg in the streets ;  the unguarded house was left an easy prey to robbers.

At the same time, in a neighbouring district the guard of officers was allowed to exist.  Such are the peculiar features of a regime of Soviets.  Each large or small Soviet applies its own rules of government.  In Petrograd, where the number of quarter Soviets corresponded to the number of former police quarters, in some parts of the city life was easier than in others.  The Sovdeps (Soviets of Deputies) of the quarter of Vyborg, Narva, Vasiliostrov, where Bolshevism was especially strong, acted ferociously, threatened, issued special regulations, ruined the intellectuals, together with all the institutions created by them, all the schools, boards of guardians, dining-rooms for the poor, educational clubs, etc.  And, on the opposite side of the street, within the borders of the territory of another Soviet, similar institutions succeeded somehow in protecting themselves and continued to exist.

On December the 27th all private banks and all their safes were seized.  Next day their nationalisation was announced by a decree, which evoked the same sceptical smiles as all similar decrees had done before.  As a matter of fact, this proved a death-blow not only to all the economical, but also to the political life of the country.  The blow in this case was much harder than in cases of destructive raids by separate commissaries.  All private persons and all enterprises as well were ruined.  The activity of political organisations was stopped.  Money proved to be indispensable to any organised activity ;  lack of money condemns most energetic persons to inaction.  By closing the banks the Bolsheviks totally paralysed their political opponents.  This is not properly understood by people who speak of the passiveness and inactivity of the Russians.  The Russian intellectuals, i.e. the leading part of the Russian people, who alone, thanks to their education, were prepared for organised political work and statecraft, got into such straits after the Bolshevist coup d’etat, as they had never experienced under the Tsarist regime.  And, notwithstanding all this, they went on struggling obstinately, counteracting every move of the Bolsheviks.  If, during the first period of the Russian Revolution, much absurdity was to be noted, much weakness, much inaction, and too much theoretical talk, the second period, which has not come to an end yet, and will continue until the inevitable downfall of the Bolsheviks, is remarkable for the undoubted heroism of the intellectuals.  I do not speak of the people at the top, of the aristocracy of brains, to which only a few comparatively belong, great writers, scientists, politicians, and statesmen.  I speak of the scores, the hundreds of thousands of people of different classes, ranks, and professions, united by a common love of books, a common thoughtfulness, of endeavouring to get a proper conception of their own actions, and of the general ways of life as well.  Those are the almost imperceptible workers, the small wheels that keep in motion the machinery of the State and of economic life.  These people showed a truly heroical resistance to Bolshevist violence.  Their patriotic feelings were offended by the ignominy of the Brest-Litovsk negotiations.  Arrests, murders, devastation, pogroms, the dispersal of municipal councils and of the Constituent Assembly, perpetual tampering with liberty and justice, created a general feeling of moral indignation.  The Revolution of March had presented the Russian citizens with the boon of liberty, and therefore all the heavier it was to bear the chains of Bolshevist slavery, and the harder it was to awaken from revolutionary dreams and to get again into the clutches of a tyranny, a hundred times worse than any tyranny of the Tsar.

The average Russian intellectual did not bow to the new master, he did not show that passiveness at all, of which we are so often accused by foreigners.  Risking his life and the safety of his family, he starved, but did not barter his conscience.  The civil officials went on strike.  The officers preferred to be voted out of the army, to remain in hiding, living under a false name, working with their hands to keep themselves alive, but they would not submit to the dissolute impudent authority of the “soldiers’” committees.  The officers organised associations of dockers, they worked on the railways, unloading cars of wood or corn.  Labourers looked suspiciously at these hard-working competitors.  During the Revolution workmen were assured of their right to address unlimited demands to their employers, whether private persons or the State itself, but they refused to accept any obligations for themselves.  Mostly because the Bolsheviks supported them, the workers obstinately refused to accept any system of piece-work, any minimum of output, anything, in general, that could act as a control over the productiveness of labour.  The officers were paid by the piece, and therefore they were regarded with suspicion.  Once they were found working too hard they were certainly counter-revolutionaries and White Guards.

The intellectuals went on, struggling, seeking to find an issue.  Societies for mutual help and working associations were organised.  Officers, barristers, schoolmasters, engineers got employment as house-porters, as messengers, opened repairing workshops for electric-lighting gear, carried on some petty trading on commission, trying in general to get hold of some sort of work.  Thousands of people passed through the societies for mutual help, whose object was, in fact, to transform into common labourers the intellectual workers, most valuable to Russia because of the fact that they were so few in number.  One had only to go out into one of the principal thoroughfares, the Nevsky in Petrograd, the Tverskaia in Moscow, to see that senseless waste of human energy.  Officers were breaking the ice, selling newspapers, cigarettes, chocolate.  A sailor or a soldier would approach them, negligently taking a handful of currency notes out of his pocket, and disdainfully smiling, would pay the officer-hawker.

It was vexing to look at them, one felt sad and ashamed.  And at the same time one pitied also the soldiers, very often one pitied them nearly as much as at the time when they were defenders, not destroyers.

While the freezing Christmas blizzards were whirling and howling in their mad career along the enormous Russian plain, covering roads, houses, villages, and rail ways with snow, troops of soldiers were tramping through Moscow, one after the other, like an endless greyish ribbon.  I do not know why, but generally they were to be seen late in the evening.  Carrying their heavy burdens of regulation sacks and bundles, wrapped in rags to save themselves somehow from the cruel gusts of wind that were driving in their faces big handfuls of prickly snow, their tired frozen feet tramping heavily in the snowdrifts, the soldiers passed from one railway terminus to another.  Trams were passing them, sometimes a lonely motor-car would run past, shots were heard now and then, the inevitable accompaniment of outdoor life in Moscow at that time, but the soldiers went tramping on, paying no attention to anybody, tired and still untiring, disconcerted and unabashed at the same time.  In the dim snowy mist, with a background of fantastical revolutionary life, these soldier figures seemed to be ghosts fleeting over from the far-away front, from the fields of death, to cast a look at the ancient Russian capital suddenly turned mad.

But at once when one approached and addressed one of them, the same well-known simple face of the real Russian peasant soldier showed from under the snow covered tall fur hat.  Despite their lassitude, they were quite ready to relate with their usual loquacity the story of their long weary journey.  They were the remnants of the Russian Army, who had to hold on to the end in Rumania.  They were living there far away, in a strange country, while confusing news and still more confusing tales were reported about the great trouble that was shattering to pieces their own motherland.  The soldiers listened to the news but kept on holding the front.  Then somebody told them that they had fought quite enough, that peace was concluded, and that they could go home.  The Rumanians did not want to let them go, and began disarming them.

“ Disagreeable things happened,” explained to me regretfully an elderly, bearded soldier, adding afterwards :  “ But, all the same, although they took away our arms, we were allowed to go.  Thanks to them for that.”

However they had to cut their way home to the native village through Russia, as if it were an enemy country.  Nobody seemed to be interested in the human dust into which the once orderly, well-organised army had been transformed.  Nobody cared for them.  The old commanders were either killed or dismissed and the new commanders were fighting the White Guards and had no time to spare for soldiers silly enough to drag on to the end with their military service.  No trains were prepared for them, no shelters, no meals.  They had to get everything themselves, to get it by force really.  Sometimes they stopped for several days at some railway station, already overcrowded with similar grey-coats awaiting an occasion to take a train by storm.  Not only was there no food, but there was not even hot water to make tea, without which a Russian feels very miserable.

Luckily the majority had taken from Rumania some bread for the journey, otherwise they would have died of hunger, but even so most of them were starving.  To get to Moscow they had to cover more than 2000 versts.  And many of them were travelling farther, to the Volga, to the North, to Siberia ;  thousands and thousands of versts had still to be covered.  The winter was very severe.  The frost was just as intense inside the unheated car as outside, as nearly all the windows were broken by soldiers also, who like impatient children were ready to break everything to get on board the train.

The trains, too, did not always take them to the places where they wanted to go.  Very often did the driver stop his engine :  it was impossible to go on, a battle was raging.  And bitter words were heard :

“ Russians are again fighting Russians.  Our people are smashing one another.”

They stopped there sometimes for a day or two listening to the shouting, not trying even to find out who was right and who was wrong.  It was not their business any more.  They had fought their own war to the finish.  It was time now to get home and resume the accustomed peasant’s life.

If the battle did not slow down the soldiers crowded around the driver and negotiated with him.  Sometimes they threatened, ordering him to proceed, to take them to some other place, to take them anywhere, but not to stop at the same place any longer.  The driver understood that there was no use arguing and discovered some detour, which would sometimes equal the whole length of England.  They passed through towns, of which they never dreamt before, they heard shooting again, they got under fire themselves, they stormed market-places and small townships when they were hungry, and went on dragging along across bleeding, lacerated Russia, choked by the nightmare of civil war.

Russia, although it was their own motherland, looked strange.  They themselves had suffered every possible suffering, on the front line they had gone through every danger of war.  But they suffered honestly and manfully, as other millions of similar patient and steady peasants had suffered during three years of war.  The enemy had destroyed and crippled them but he could not conquer them.  If the future of these people had depended upon Germany alone they would have returned, of course, as conquerors to the motherland, and Moscow would have welcomed them with triumphal cheers, music, banquets, and flowers.  But the organism of the State had broken down, the will to conquer had weakened, and here they came, therefore, these unfortunate soldiers, unwanted by anybody, forlorn and forgotten, freezing and starving, tramping along in the cold blizzard as if they were crossing a strange country.

It was hard and painful to look at these greyish, bent-down shadows, appearing, one after the other, out of the white curtain of snow, illuminated by the bluish light of the street lamps.  They seemed to feel, somehow, that they were paying for the common sin of Russia, and they did not think even of blaming anybody.  They simply told the short and broken tale of their trials.  I cannot say whether it was their starving appearance that appealed to me so much, or the fact that during their three or four weeks’ wanderings through the whole of Russia they had seen that happiness and quiet could not be found in any single corner of the land, that the martyred people were tossing about like madness, but I remember being especially impressed by the epic calm of these soldiers.  They did not accuse anybody and they never complained.  They went on saying only :  “ Bad things are happening. . . . Very bad things indeed. . . .”

The situation in Petrograd was worse than in Moscow, for the reason, perhaps, that there the enormous garrison, depraved by the Revolution, contaminated the arriving soldiers by its psychology, rightly qualified by Roditchev, the Constitutional-Democrat, as a psychology of revolted slaves, this qualification being repeated afterwards by Kerensky.  Very rarely did the soldiers tramp through Petrograd in a continuous stream as I saw them tramping through Moscow in January, but at the same time the Petrograd streets were always full of soldiers.  The city seemed to have been stormed by them.

In the dark winter months of 1917-1918 the streets in Petrograd especially presented a most untoward appearance.  The snowfall that winter was unusually heavy, and as the snow was scarcely ever cleared away, nobody caring to keep the streets in order, enormous snowdrifts, in some places over a man’s height, accumulated in heaps along the pavement.  Paths were beaten through the snow by pedestrians, close to the houses, and along the road huge snow waves marked the route trodden by sledge-traffic ;  the half-starved horses climbed with difficulty over the snow-hills (hay was selling at about a rouble per pound), falling sometimes and dying from exhaustion.  Dead horses were left lying for several days not only in the by-streets, but even in the Nevsky.  And yet the streets were always crowded in daytime, and in the evenings as well.

Street lamps were few, and their light was dim.  People hurried along, trying not to look at one another.  The unrestrained, affable, effervescent sociability of the first days of the Revolution that transformed Petrograd into a continuous meeting was gone.  Ever-watchful and irritable animosity had taken its place now, overhanging the dimly-lit corridors of streets, tearing the people asunder, rendering everybody’s bereavements harder to bear.  How could one know where was the friend and where the enemy ?

Soldiers were moving about in crowds, with rifles and without them.  More soldiers came along, and still more again.  There were always so many soldiers about in the streets of Petrograd that civilians were swallowed up by their greyish tidal-wave ;  civilians hurried to hide themselves, to run away, to get into the shadow.

Petrograd was not only a centre for the numerous Petrograd garrison, not yet demobilised, which, together with the neighbouring detachments, consisted of two or three hundreds of thousands of soldiers, it was also a point of passage during the lengthy, arbitrary, and self-organised demobilisation of the enormous army occupying the north-western front.  Before the Revolution that army defended from enemy attacks the beautiful capital of the powerful Russian Empire ;  having been weakened now, demoralised, and having lost its senses, it rushed through Petrograd like an invading host, rolling farther and farther in its backwash, never taking heed of, or understanding anything, led by the one dominating tendency, to get home as quickly as possible.

The streets of Petrograd are crammed full of greycoated soldiers.  From time to time women are passing.  If unaccompanied and lonely they pass as close as possible to the houses, or along the snowy roadway by the side of the pavement, trying to look smaller, not to be remarked.  What business can a woman have in the half darkness of the evening in the unrecognisable streets of her native city, where the street lamps burn stingily and dimly, and shots are rattling merrily and loudly.

Tac—tac—tac. . . . Somewhere, very near, a rifle is talking.  The passers-by do not even stop.  It is not worth while.  They are used to it.  Some of them turn the head for a moment, while walking on, and listen, trying to ascertain whence comes the sound.

Soldiers pass in a group ;  they are laughing.

“ It must be near, in one of the by-streets.  Comrades have got to a wine-cellar and are working there now.”

They laugh quite in a friendly way, with a hint of envy perhaps.  Drunken pogroms in the city happened every day.  They started at the Winter Palace.  Enormous stores of old and valuable wine were kept there.  The wine was valued at the sum of 15 millions of roubles.  Measures were to be taken to defend the stores, to wall up the cellars, to save the wine, but soldiers got to know whence came the attractive smell of spirits, found their way to the place, and the trouble began.

Legends circulated in the city about the happenings in the Palace cellars.  Battles were raging, we were told, around the wine casks, drunken and sober soldiers alike were drowned in hogsheads, firemen pumping out a sea of wine overflowing the floors began drinking also, falling into the same pit when drunk.  The battle raged for several days under the walls of the late residence of the Tsar, shots were rattling all the time.  Sometimes the quick, business-like rattle of machine-guns was heard, as if somebody, trying to restore order, was leading a regular attack.  Then separate shots started again, as if a guerilla warfare was going on for the right of entrance to the kingdom of Bacchus, or perhaps for the possession of brandy or champagne, in which soldiers were trading at the time all about the city.  The prohibition of the sale of wine ordered by Nicholas II. remained still in force, and therefore the traffic in valuable wines was especially brisk.

The beginning of the drunken pogroms coincided precisely with the armistice.  It seemed as though the dark business, transacted in a Russian fortress which was constructed for the defence of the country but had been turned into a place of humiliation for Russia, had raised dismal, stormy waves in the soul of the people.  Intoxicated by lying or mad speeches, it thirsted anxiously for another drink more customary and even more intoxicating.  And day after day, week after week, the drunken savagery continued, overflowing the unhappy capital.

It started at the Tsar’s Palace ;  later on Grandducal cellars were searched, then the turn came of private houses, commercial stores, and all other places smelling of spirits.

The Smolny tried in vain to persuade, even to threaten.  There was nobody to execute the threats.  Red Guards took part in the drunken riots side by side with the soldiers.  Not all of them, of course ;  some of them disapproved, some even abused the rioters, but others sneered.  And there were some who believed in a fantastical explanation coming from the Smolny.

There were stories of drunken pogroms organised by Cadets to strengthen the anti-revolutionary movement.  At the meeting of the Petrograd Soviet on the 19th of December, the general secretary of the People’s Commissaries announced the discovery of a counter-revolutionary conspiracy for the robbing of wine-cellars in which the Constitutional Democratic party had taken part.

“ Dark forces are watching us,” said the Izvestia, “ they organised the revolt of Generals Kaledin, Kornilov, and others to drown the people’s Revolution in blood.  These dark forces are trying at the same time to create a state of anarchy and disorder in the country, in Krasnoe and Petrograd especially.  They lead ignorant and weak people to drunkenness and pogroms.”

In the Soviet of the People’s Commissaries hardly anybody believed that drunken pogroms were the result of the incitements of the Central Committee of the Cadet party, which consisted more of people suffering chiefly from an overdose of love of order than of people with an inclination for hooliganism.  But the Bolsheviks invented this legend about Cadet drunken pogroms because, at the moment, they thought it would profit them.  They had not the necessary force to stop the pogroms.

During the whole of December and a part of January strange figures appeared on one or the other street in Petrograd, congregating near some house ;  they appeared and vanished, to reappear again.  A crowd collected gradually on the spot, looking on and listening.  Such things generally happened in the evenings when freezing, wintry darkness was settling down in the streets.  People stood about as if they were waiting for something to happen, as if they were feeling that the struggle had begun there already.  They were gazing into a by-road, a dark, narrow gorge, at the bottom of which they could see grey-coated soldiers moving slowly about.  Perhaps the Soviet authorities had sent them ?  They were keeping order maybe, protecting ignorant and weak people from the temptation of wine ?  Then, in this case, why in the half darkness were shots heard from that place, and growls at times as if there in the snow, in the dim, greenish light of street lamps, a beast was prowling about ?

We are not wandering about in a forest.  A city raises its walls all around, a city that quite recently was gorgeously arrayed and proud of itself.  The outward, envelope of culture is still there, preserved somehow.  There are the lofty buildings, the electric lights.  The ominous face of Rasputin is still looking down from a cinematograph poster.  Darkened trams are still crawling along slowly like dreaming ghosts completing the ghostly appearance of the dismal street.

There are the shots again !  A scream is heard ;  a groaning figure runs out of the by-road and vanishes quickly round the turning.  A wounded man, perhaps.  The crowd looks at the runaway with cold and hostile curiosity.  Some time, long ago in the far-away spring days of March, when all Petrograd was living in the streets and the people were intoxicated by another wine, the wine of newborn liberty, they looked at one another with childish and happy trustfulness.  It was a foolish mood to yield to, perhaps.  The happiness may have been due to a blinding feeling of groundless optimism, but if life should be deprived of the moments of personal or collective pathos, what would be left of it ?

The glowing sparks of great happiness, of a closeness of human beings to one another, such as was never experienced before, are extinguished.  Animosity and distrust have again disrupted the compound, locking up the individual in his cell of personal emotions.  Again man is a wolf to another man.  Civil war has covered Russia with blood-stains, glowing red fumes of blood are rolling along, rising higher up, threatening to stifle, to kill, to blot out everything.

People are gloomily looking at one another.  Each pair of eyes is suspiciously asking of others :

“ Who are you ?  What evil are you going to inflict upon me ?  What evil deed are you hurrying to ?  How shall I protect myself from you ? ”

Having asked the questions, they turn away hurriedly.  They hide themselves as if they were afraid of having said too much.  Courage gets weaker every day, and gloomy, evil fear is getting hold of the people.

The most abject, the most humiliating of all fears, is the fear of man by man, because there is no beast in existence more merciless, more insatiable in its rage than man.

One seeks to get away quickly from the distrustful unkind crowd, to lock oneself up in one’s own corner, between four walls, not to see, not to hear, not to know whither the sneering demons of anarchy are pushing Russia.

It was not the feeling of self-preservation alone that kept indoors the inhabitants of Petrograd, Moscow, and other cities.  As the surrounding dangers increased in numbers the fear of danger grew blunter in many people.  This sounds like bravado, but life was really getting so terrible that it was not worth while to be afraid, especially because there was no issue left ;  one could not go away.  A cowardly soldier can run away even from the front line if he considers desertion less terrible than the enemy, but civil war, like a fire in the plains, covers the whole space at once and it is difficult to run away from it.

This is the reason of the growth of a special psychology, when people try to pretend that they are living as usual.  They go to the theatres, they visit one another to take tea together, even in the evenings despite robbery going on in the streets as it went on, in the highways in olden times.  In Moscow people were careful in the evenings to go about in crowds, armed, if possible, because malefactors, sometimes in civilian dress, sometimes in military uniform, stopped the passers-by and stripped them of their clothes.  Sometimes they took off only fur coats or boots, sometimes also other clothing, and then they allowed the victims to go home in the frost nearly naked.  My fur coat was never taken from me, although I walked about at any hour of day or night and often went out alone ;  but several of my acquaintances were robbed in the streets.

Raids were also organised on clubs and theatres.  Suddenly during a performance or a card party armed men would appear at all the exits ordering :  “Hands up ! ”  Robbery started at once.  Money, rings, watches, jewels were taken away.  Then the robbers commanded “Nobody to move for ten minutes.”  And people did not move, waiting for the robbers to get into their motor-cars and drive away.

And on the morrow crowds collected again in the same theatre or the same club, as if nothing had happened there the night before.

Such carelessness is to be explained partly by a strong desire to forget, and partly by the fact that generally nothing more happened than robbery, pure and simple.  Street murders were comparatively rare, although murders could be committed just as easily as robberies, without any risk of punishment.  This does not mean that no murders were committed.

In January 1918, 135 murders were committed in Petrograd, but for the same month 15,600 house robberies were recorded, and such a disproportion between robberies and murders shows that some restraining principles were still alive in the human soul.

However, there existed a certain category of people to whom summary justice was meted out at once, and with beastly cruelty :  the so-called profiteers and speculators.  Every time when some one was suspected of hoarding food or speculating in food-stuffs, the crowd lost its equilibrium.  It happened sometimes that a woman selling a few pounds of bread in the street would be thrown into the river and drowned.  How dared she extort such a price !  Bag-men, i.e. people smuggling provisions into the city, were thrown under railway trains, although without these provisions hunger would have been felt more keenly.  The same crowds robbed the provision trains afterwards, and even shooting did not disperse them at once.  In the winter of 1917-18 famine had already shown its claws and had begun to strangle the population of big cities, Petrograd and Moscow especially.  They had not then reached the degree of famished numbness which later crept over all the town dwellers in Northern Russia, but talk about food, and unexpressed longings for food, and dreams about it, especially, were already becoming a sort of obsession.

In February we held a small meeting at the editorial office of the Rech.  We were talking, as usual, about the mysterious negotiations of Brest, about Germans, about the Allies, and what they were thinking, and whether we could succeed without their support.  The same endless Russian argumentation was going on, when suddenly one of the editors said :

“ I am hungry, you know.”

Other people present looked at one another smiling sadly and shrugging their shoulders.

“ Hungry ?  Well, I am always hungry myself.”

“ I also. . . .”

“ I too. . . ”

And then we began talking at once about our editorial affairs, as if ashamed of this outburst.  The man who started the hunger talk was a journalist with well-known name, still earning plenty of money as the paper continued to appear, although at intervals.1

Not only the middle class and the intellectuals were starving, the whole population of the city was undergoing the same ordeal, except the privileged Soviet officials.  It was so difficult to get bread, the food control institutions organised by the Soviets were so helpless that the big works and factories tried themselves to organise the feeding of their people.  In January 1918 the big engineering Kolomna works constructed an armoured train, hired a military escort, armed the escort with rifles and machine-guns, and having entrained this peculiar military expedition, sent it to the South, into the Ukraine, to get corn.  The corn was duly found there and bought at a much higher price than the prices fixed by the Soviets.  Twenty-five cars were loaded and started on their way back.  Returning, the train had to break through the barriers of different governments and Soviets that had then already partitioned Russia.  At some places they paid to pass, at others they had to shoot.  Sometimes they had to negotiate and surrender a part of their spoils to the starving population, sometimes they made their way through by force.  Several cars had to be abandoned on the way, but nevertheless plenty of corn was safely brought home.

With every consecutive month of the Bolshevist regime famine and anarchy are growing, and trade and manufacture are decaying steadily, and as a result mutual animosity and irritation are also growing.  They are manifested most strongly in the action of the Bolsheviks themselves, who have made of violence and murder the mainstay of their power.  Human life has lost all its value.

It was so already from the first days of the installation of the so-called Soviet republic.  The shooting of military cadets and officers had turned into wholesale massacres at such places for instance as Sebastopol, Simferopol, Kiev, Vyborg, Cronstadt, etc.  This happened at the time when Trotsky and his comrades were openly talking of the guillotine, but terror was not proclaimed yet as a system of government.  That did not prevent the Bolsheviks murdering anybody, anywhere, without trial, or any other vestige of justice.

The Red Army men murdered openly in the streets the people who did not happen to please them.  Murders were committed in prisons, in private houses, in barracks—anywhere, and people could murder anybody they liked.  There was no punishment for killing a human being, as there is no punishment for killing a mouse.

Once, in March 1918, about 11 o’clock in the night, I was returning home from one of these tedious, ineffective meetings held for no practical reason whatever by members of the dissolved municipal council, to indulge in quite futile argument on the best manner of fighting the Bolsheviks.  One could not well refrain from attending these secret meetings because of the fact that, notwithstanding their absolute impotence, they provoked great alarm at the Bolshevist headquarters in Smolny.  Each time the municipal councillors were expecting to be raided by the Red Guards, when everybody would be arrested and prosecuted.  One felt it a duty to share with the rest the danger of being transferred to the cellars of Smolny, where all arrested persons were interned, but it was very hard to sit through the meetings.  The disjunction of Democratic forces, primarily pushed to the fore by the Revolution, was too evident, and it was not clear who would come to take their place ?  We all knew for sure that the Bolsheviks would vanish sooner or later.  But who would take their place ?

Two friends were seeing me home, who had also taken part in the meeting.  We were finding our way with difficulty through snowdrifts, along gloomy streets, weird and deserted.  We had just arrived at the entrance of my house when we heard the rattle of rifle fire.  It was the sound of volleys quite near to us.  The young porteress opened the door, put her head carefully out, and looked outside.

“ It seems to come from beyond that house,” she said, pointing with a scared look at a house separating us from the Neva.

“ No, it must be nearer,” remarked one of my friends calmly.  “ It seems to come from my street.”

The shooting continued.  I invited my friends to come in and wait till it stopped.  They refused.

“ It makes no difference.  They will stop here and begin at another place.  We are sleepy.”

I did not insist.  We had got accustomed to the constant firing.  Who knew when any one of us would stop a stray bullet ?  Some days afterwards we got to know what was the matter in this particular case.  One of the departments of the Union of Towns was working for the prisoners of war.  The department used to send parcels to Germany for the Russian prisoners—tobacco, underwear, lard, bread, and tea.  Some rogue suggested the idea to a band of soldiers of robbing the stores, of robbing in fact the starving Russian prisoners.  For several days the premises of the Union of Towns were consecutively invaded by Red Guards, soldiers, and representatives of the local Soviet.  They broke open the boxes, carried the things away, spoiling and destroying as much as they stole, like Germans in a stormed village.  And this was done in Petrograd, quite openly, under the eyes of those who called themselves the People’s Government.  The men at the head of the Union of Towns telephoned to the Smolny demanding that the interests of the prisoners of war should be protected, but nothing was done and the stores were totally devastated.

One of those robber-bands, consisting of soldiers, were storming Millionnaya Street, where the Stores had their premises, when a party of young people were sitting around the tea-table.  It was a farewell party arranged in honour of the brothers Guenglezy, who were going to France with their parents.  The father was a teacher at a secondary school in the neighbourhood of Petrograd.  The young brothers had joined the French Army as officers and were in a hurry to get away from Petrograd as the Germans were already approaching the city.

The Red Guards arrested all of them, as indubitable members of the White Guard, and took them to the Smolny.  Next morning the young girls were set free, but their companions, three Russians and three Frenchmen, were taken during the night to the icebound Neva and shot on the ice.  As a matter of fact they were not only shot but slowly and cruelly murdered.  Two of the bodies were found quite disfigured and with evident vestiges of tortures.  The eldest of the murdered young men was aged twenty-four, the youngest eighteen.

Papers were still appearing at the time.  They published all the details.  Letters of the bereaved father were published, demanding why his sons had perished, suffering in such a terrible manner when they did not even take any part in politics ?  The People’s Commissaries considered it worth while to declare publicly that they had nothing to do with the murder, but the murderers were never discovered, they were never named even.  Neither were the murderers of Shingarev and Kokoshkin punished, although they were known.  Together with the six students a seventh person was shot, whose identity could not be established.  Evidently he was included quite accidentally in the massacre.

The number of such accidental and non-accidental victims was practically limitless, both in the cities and in the provinces.  The same paper that published the letter of M. Guenglezy, senior, published also the order instituting an inquiry into the execution by shooting of the “ big speculator and counter-revolutionary ” Apter, by the Soviet of the Petrograd quarter.  The Soviet authorities explained simultaneously that those “criminals alone who are caught red-handed may be shot at sight, but not the persons kept under arrest by the Regional Soviet.”  Such legal subtleties were not easily learned by the Red gendarmes.  Once a person is arrested, he or she is certainly a counter-revolutionary, and a counter-revolutionary can be killed, and there you are.

There was an official communique, published on the same page of the paper,2 stating that at the other end of the city, in the Rozhdestvensky Soviet, in whose district the brothers Guenglezy and their friends were murdered, the following question was asked by the Social-Democrats of the Mensheviks section :

“ In the night of the 2nd-3rd of March, in the courtyard of the house N. 11 Kirillovskaia Street, several volleys were fired.  Some time after this, five dead bodies were carried out of the house.  They were heaped on a sledge and taken away.  In the house N. 11 a military unit is barracked.  Has the Executive Committee any knowledge of this case ?  And if not, what measures are to be taken ? ”

A member of the Rozhdestvensky Soviet explained that five soldiers were arrested that night because they were preparing to commit a robbery in a shop.  When caught, it was ascertained that all of them were drunk.  They were shot in the street at sight.

The questioner was not content with the reply ;  he explained quite correctly that they were speaking about different bodies.  The men mentioned by him were killed in the courtyard.  Evidently five more men were shot the same night in the same Rozhdestvensky distric.3

All this happened in the quarter where I was living.  My friends and I heard the shooting in the night, but Heaven only knows with which of the murders the shooting was related.  We did not know what was happening, but even if we knew, if the bloody deed were committed under our eyes, we should have been powerless to stop the criminals and prevent the crime.

Perhaps they did not consider themselves as criminals, but as avengers, justified in what they were doing.  They were told, of course, that the bourgeois and their servants were enemies of the people.

Social discontent, existing in every country, was made more acute by the propaganda of class war which, relentless and unimpeded, went on from the first days of the Revolution.  The Bolsheviks had set all passions astir, they started civil war, preaching the destruction of the bourgeoisie together with the intellectuals, as one of the best means of creating a paradise on earth.  The impunity of murderers added a special perversity to the crime, which the Bolsheviks increased by glorifying as a most gallant deed the destruction of the bourgeois and any other enemies of Bolshevism.  Animosity between human beings forms an inseparable part of Bolshevist ideology.  And as the masses were already irritated, apart from that, by disorder and impoverishment, there was no difficulty in stirring up their evil instincts and inducing them to commit dark deeds.

The more so because the example was given from the top.  The crowd considered the Soviets as chiefs who at any rate were now the masters.  And most malicious, partly criminal elements congregated around the Soviets.  They formed the new governing Class, unfettered by law, tradition, public opinion, or bonds of connection with the people to whom they were absolute strangers.  They could arrest, rob, assault, murder as much as they liked, with perfect impunity.  And their own crimes had gradually killed the soul of these people and their conscience.  They suffer from moral insanity.  One has only to read the descriptions of massacres of officers, of the wholesale murder of the Romanov family, of the crushing of revolts in towns and villages, to see that human sufferings do not arouse any longer a feeling of pity in the souls of the Bolsheviks and their servants, and do not even raise in them any healthy aversion.  Without fear or disgust they go on committing murders and atrocities.

The lust of sadism, with which the actions of the Bolshevist leaders are marked, is undoubtedly contaminating a part of the population.

However, despite all these acts of madness, despite the flood of blood covering the Russian land, it would be a very great injustice to accuse the Russian People as a whole of all these crimes.  The guilty party are the leaders and instigators, the doctrine is guilty, which is based upon the naked beastly fight for material welfare alone, upon the absolute negation of the value of human personality, which is deprived of the spark of God-like, Christian love of man for man that the best intellects during many centuries have tried to hand on from generation to generation.  Trotsky, Lenin, Zinoniev, Radek, Parvus, Kolontay, all these people cannot give the crowd more than they have got themselves.  And precisely the moral principle is lacking in them which is the cement binding together human society.  Detestation of falsehood, love of truth, consideration for the human personality, pity and conscience, all qualities, in fact, that are the essentials of true humanity, are lacking in these people, and the teaching they are propounding does not bind them by any moral imperatives.  Therefore do they carry with them death and decay.

If their immorality should penetrate to the core of the masses, Russia would be definitely turned into a desert, inhabited by savage beasts.  But I am sure that the people have still preserved a sort of moral restraint.  The conscience of the people is not dead yet.  The desire to build up a human life, a life of justice, of order, is still conserved.

Notwithstanding the lack of any restraint, or any prohibitions by the police and the authorities, wholesale burglaries and wholesale destruction of the intellectuals began only after the Bolsheviks had systematically started the thing themselves.  And even then they had to perpetrate these abominable deeds with the help of hired alien criminals and executioners, Hungarians, Chinese, and Letts.

Evidently Russians were unfit for such a sordid business.

1 The Rech was suppressed later, as were all the other papers.  One of people present at the meeting, Feigelson, an experienced and honest reporter, very well known to all intellectual Petrograd, did actually die from starvation.  Most of his co-editors had left Petrograd, but he could not leave, having just enough money to send his family away.  One had to pay big bribes for the right to get out of the city.  He could have arranged matters in a simpler way selling his journalistic experience to the Bolsheviks, who would have employed him quite willingly, but the old journalist did not like to barter his conscience.  He was found dead in an empty flat.  The medical statement was :  “ Death from starvation.”

2 I quote from the Constitutional Democratic paper, Nash Viek, of the 9th of March 1918.  I have tried to take all my data and quotations from the Socialist Press, not because it is more trustworthy, I would not say that, but as I had to speak mostly about Socialists, I preferred to rely upon their own sources.  In March, however, in Petrograd, all the papers were suppressed except Nash Viek and Nasha Zhizn.

3 This did not close the list of murders reported in that issue of the paper.  Reports were also published of atrocities in Sebastopol and Kiev, neither was it some extraordinary special issue.  Every day when we get the papers we read in them reports and descriptions of murders and other crimes.