Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Russia in 1919 by Arthur Ransome

Part 1 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.2 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

This Etext prepared by Joseph Gallanar



On August 27, 1914, in London, I made this note in a
memorandum book: "Met Arthur Ransome at_____'s;
discussed a book on the Russian's relation to the war in the
light of psychological background--folklore." The book was
not written but the idea that instinctively came to him
pervades his every utterance on things Russian.

The versatile man who commands more than respect as the
biographer of Poe and Wilde; as the (translator of and
commentator on Remy de Gourmont; as a folklorist, has
shown himself to be consecrated to the truth. The document
that Mr. Ransome hurried out of Russia in the early days of
the Soviet government (printed in the New Republic and
then widely circulated as a pamphlet), was the first notable
appeal from a non-Russian to the American people for fair
play in a crisis understood then even less than now.

The British Who's Who--that Almanach de Gotha of
people who do things or choose their parents wisely--tells us
that Mr. Ransome's recreations are "walking, smoking, fairy
stories." It is, perhaps, his intimacy with the last named that
enables him to distinguish between myth and fact and that
makes his activity as an observer and recorder so valuable in
a day of bewilderment and betrayal.

B. W. H.


I am well aware that there is material in this book which will
be misused by fools both white and red. That is not my
fault. My object has been narrowly limited. I have tried by
means of a bald record of conversations and things seen, to
provide material for those who wish to know what is being
done and thought in Moscow at the present time, and
demand something more to go upon than secondhand
reports of wholly irrelevant atrocities committed by either
one side or the other, and often by neither one side nor the
other, but by irresponsible scoundrels who, in the natural
turmoil of the greatest convulsion in the history of our
civilization, escape temporarily here and there from any kind
of control.

The book is in no sense of the word propaganda. For
propaganda, for the defence or attack of the Communist
position, is needed a knowledge of economics, both from the
capitalist and socialist standpoints, to which I cannot
pretend. Very many times during the revolution it has
seemed to me a tragedy that no Englishman properly
equipped in this way was in Russia studying the gigantic
experiment which, as a country, we are allowing to pass
abused but not examined. I did my best. I got, I think I may
say, as near as any foreigner who was not a Communist
could get to what was going on. But I never lost the bitter
feeling that the opportunities of study which I made for
myself were wasted, because I could not hand them on to
some other Englishman, whose education and training would
have enabled him to make a better, a fuller use of them.
Nor would it have been difficult for such a man to get the
opportunities which were given to me when, by sheer
persistence in enquiry, I had overcome the hostility which I
at first encountered as the correspondent of a "bourgeois"
newspaper. Such a man could be in Russia now, for the
Communists do not regard war as we regard it. The
Germans would hardly have allowed an Allied Commission
to come to Berlin a year ago to investigate the nature and
working of the Autocracy. The Russians, on the other hand,
immediatelya greed to the suggestion of the Berne
Conference that they should admit a party of socialists, the
majority of whom, as they well knew, had already expressed
condemnation of them. Further, in agreeing to this, they
added that they would as willingly admit a committee of
enquiry sent by any of the "bourgeois" governments actually
at war with them.

I am sure that there will be many in England who will
understand much better than I the drudgery of the revolution
which is in this book very imperfectly suggested. I repeat
that it is not my fault that they must make do with the eyes
and ears of an ignorant observer. No doubt I have not asked
the questions they would have asked, and have thought
interesting and novel much which they would have taken for

The book has no particular form, other than that given it by
a more or less accurate adherence to chronology in setting
down things seen and heard. It is far too incomplete to
allow me to call it a Journal. I think I could have made it
twice as long without repetitions, and I am not at all sure that
in choosing in a hurry between this and that I did not
omit much which could with advantage be substituted for
what is here set down. There is nothing here of my talk with
the English soldier prisoners and nothing of my visit to the
officers confined in the Butyrka Gaol. There is nothing of
the plagues of typhus and influenza, or of the desperate
situation of a people thus visited and unable to procure from
abroad the simplest drugs which they cannot manufacture at
home or even the anaesthetics necessary for their wounded
on every frontier of their country. I forgot to describe the
ballet which I saw a few days before leaving. I have said
nothing of the talk I had with Eliava concerning the Russian
plans for the future of Turkestan. I could think of a score of
other omissions. Judging from what I have read since my
return from Russia, I imagine people will find my book very
poor in the matter of Terrors. There is nothing here of the
Red Terror, or of any of the Terrors on the other side. But
for its poverty in atrocities my book will be blamed only by
fanatics, since they alone desire proofs of past Terrors as
justification for new ones.

On reading my manuscript through, I find it quite
surprisingly dull. The one thing that I should have liked to
transmit through it seems somehow to have slipped away. I
should have liked to explain what was the appeal of the
revolution to men like Colonel Robins and myself, both of
us men far removed in origin and upbringing from the
revolutionary and socialist movements in our own countries.
Of course no one who was able, as we were able, to watch
the men of the revolution at close quarters could believe for
a moment that they were the mere paid agents of the very
power which more than all others represented the stronghold
they had set out to destroy. We had the knowledge of the
injustice being done to these men to urge us in their defence.
But there was more in it than that. There was the feeling,
from which we could never escape, of the creative effort of
the revolution. There was the thing that distinguishes the
creative from other artists, the living, vivifying expression of
something hitherto hidden in the consciousness of humanity.
If this book were to be an accurate record of my own
impressions, all the drudgery, gossip, quarrels, arguments,
events and experiences it contains would have to be set
against a background of that extraordinary vitality which
obstinately persists in Moscow even in these dark days of
discomfort, disillusion, pestilence, starvation and unwanted



To Petrograd
Petrograd to Moscow
First Days in Moscow
The Executive Committee on the Reply to the Prinkipo Proposal
Kamenev and the Moscow Soviet
An Ex--Capitalist
A Theorist of Revolution
Effects of Isolation
An Evening at the Opera
The Committee of State Constructions
The Executive Committee and the Terror
Notes of Conversations with Lenin
The Supreme Council of Public Economy
The Race with Ruin
A Play of Chekhov
The Centro--Textile
Modification in the Agrarian Programme
Foreign Trade and Munitions of War
The Proposed Delegation from Berne
The Executive Committee on the Rival Parties
Commissariat of Labour
A Bolshevik Fellow of the Royal Society
The Opposition
The Third International
Last Talk with Lenin
The Journey Out



On January 30 a party of four newspaper correspondents,
two Norwegians, a Swede and myself, left Stockholm to go
into Russia. We travelled with the members of the Soviet
Government's Legation, headed by Vorovsky and Litvinov,
who were going home after the breaking off of official
relations by Sweden. Some months earlier I had got leave
from the Bolsheviks to go into Russia to get further material
for my history of the revolution, but at the last moment there
was opposition and it seemed likely that I should be refused
permission. Fortunately, however, a copy of the Morning
Post reached Stockholm, containing a report of a lecture by
Mr. Lockhart in which he had said that as I had been out of
Russia for six months I had no right to speak of conditions
there. Armed with this I argued that it would be very
unfair if I were not allowed to come and see things for
myself. I had no further difficulties.

We crossed by boat to Abo, grinding our way through the
ice, and then travelled by rail to the Russian frontier, taking
several days over the journey owing to delays variously
explained by the Finnish authorities. We were told that the
Russian White Guards had planned an attack on the train.
Litvinov, half-smiling, wondered if they were purposely giving time
to the White Guards to organize such an attack. Several
nervous folk inclined to that opinion. But at Viborg we
were told that there were grave disorders in Petrograd and
that the Finns did not wish to fling us into the middle of a
scrimmage. Then someone obtained a newspaper and we
read a detailed account of what was happening. This
account was, as I learnt on my return, duly telegraphed to
England like much other news of a similar character. There
had been a serious revolt in Petrograd. The Semenovsky
regiment had gone over to the mutineers, who had seized the
town. The Government, however, had escaped to
Kronstadt, whence they were bombarding Petrograd with
naval guns.

This sounded fairly lively, but there was nothing to be done,
so we finished up the chess tournament we had begun on the
boat. An Esthonian won it, and I was second, by reason of
a lucky win over Litvinov, who is really a better player. By
Sunday night we reached Terijoki and on Monday moved
slowly to the frontier of Finland close to Bieloostrov. A
squad of Finnish soldiers was waiting, excluding everybody
from the station and seeing that no dangerous revolutionary
should break away on Finnish territory. There were no
horses, but three hand sledges were brought, and we piled
the luggage on them, and then set off to walk to the frontier
duly convoyed by the Finns. A Finnish lieutenant walked at
the head of the procession, chatting good-humouredly in
Swedish and German, much as a man might think it worth
while to be kind to a crowd of unfortunates just about to be
flung into a boiling cauldron. We walked a few hundred
yards along the line and then turned into a road deep in
snow through a little bare wood, and so down to the little
wooden bridge over the narrow frozen stream that
separates Finland from Russia. The bridge, not twenty yards
across, has a toll bar at each end, two sentry boxes and two
sentries. On the Russian side the bar was the familiar black
and white of the old Russian Empire, with a sentry box to
match. The Finns seemingly had not yet had time to paint
their bar and box.

The Finns lifted their toll bar, and the Finnish officers
leading our escort walked solemnly to the middle of the
bridge. Then the luggage was dumped there, while we stood
watching the trembling of the rickety little bridge under the
weight of our belongings, for we were all taking in with us as
much food as we decently could. We were none of us
allowed on the bridge until an officer and a few men had
come down to meet us on the Russian side. Only little Nina,
Vorovskv's daughter, about ten years old, chattering
Swedish with the Finns, got leave from them, and shyly, step
by step, went down the other side of the bridge and struck
up acquaintance with the soldier of the Red Army who stood
there, gun in hand, and obligingly bent to show her
the sign, set in his hat, of the crossed sickle and hammer
of the Peasants' and Workmen's Republic. At last the
Finnish lieutenant took the list of his prisoners and called out
the names "Vorovsky, wife and one bairn," looking
laughingly over his shoulder at Nina flirting with the sentry.
Then "Litvinov," and so on through all the Russians, about
thirty of them. We four visitors, Grimlund the Swede,
Puntervald and Stang, the Norwegians, and I, came last. At
last, after a general shout of farewell, and "Helse Finland"
from Nina, the Finns turned and went back into their
civilization, and we went forward into the new struggling
civilization of Russia. Crossing that bridge we passed from
one philosophy to another, from one extreme of the class
struggle to the other, from a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie
to a dictatorship of the proletariat.

The contrast was noticeable at once. On the Finnish side of
the frontier we had seen the grandiose new frontier station,
much larger than could possibly be needed, but quite a good
expression of the spirit of the new Finland. On the Russian
side we came to the same grey old wooden station known
to all passengers to and from Russia for polyglot profanity
and passport difficulties. There were no porters, which was
not surprising because there is barbed wire and an extremely
hostile sort of neutrality along the frontier and traffic across
has practically ceased. In the buffet, which was very cold,
no food could be bought. The long tables once laden with
caviare and other zakuski were bare. There was, however, a
samovar, and we bought tea at sixty kopecks a glass and
lumps of sugar at two roubles fifty each. We took our tea
into the inner passport room, where I think a stove must
have been burning the day before, and there made some sort
of a meal off some of Puntervald's Swedish hard-bread. It
is difficult to me to express the curious mixture of
depression and exhilaration that was given to the party by
this derelict starving station combined with the feeling that
we were no longer under guard but could do more or less as
we liked. It split the party into two factions, of which one
wept while the other sang. Madame Vorovsky, who had not
been in Russia since the first revolution, frankly wept, but
she wept still more in Moscow where she found that even
as the wife of a high official of the Government she enjoyed
no privileges which would save her from the hardships of
the population. But the younger members of the party,
together with Litvinov, found their spirits irrepressibly rising
in spite of having no dinner. They walked about the village,
played with the children, and sang, not revolutionary songs,
but just jolly songs, any songs that came into their heads.
When at last the train came to take us into Petrograd, and we
found that the carriages were unheated, somebody got out a
mandoline and we kept ourselves warm by dancing. At the
same time I was sorry for the five children who were with
us, knowing that a country simultaneously suffering war,
blockade and revolution is not a good place for childhood.
But they had caught the mood of their parents,
revolutionaries going home to their revolution, and trotted
excitedly up and down the carriage or anchored themselves
momentarily, first on one person's knee and then on

It was dusk when we reached Petrograd. The Finland
Station, of course, was nearly deserted, but here there
were four porters, who charged two hundred and fifty
roubles for shifting the luggage of the party from one end of
the platform to the other. We ourselves loaded it into the
motor lorry sent to meet us, as at Bieloostrov we had loaded
it into the van. There was a long time to wait while rooms
were being allotted to us in various hotels, and with several
others I walked outside the station to question people about
the mutiny and the bombardment of which we had heard in
Finland. Nobody knew anything about it. As soon as the
rooms were allotted and I knew that I had been lucky
enough to get one in the Astoria, I drove off across the
frozen river by the Liteini Bridge. The trams were running.
The town seemed absolutely quiet, and away down the river
I saw once again in the dark, which is never quite dark
because of the snow, the dim shape of the fortress, and
passed one by one the landmarks I had come to know so
well during the last six years-the Summer Garden, the
British Embassy, and the great Palace Square where I had
seen armoured cars flaunting about during the July rising,
soldiers camping during the hysterical days of the
Kornilov affair and, earlier, Kornilov himself reviewing the
Junkers. My mind went further back to the March
revolution, and saw once more the picket fire of the
revolutionaries at the corner that night when the remains of
the Tzar's Government were still frantically printing
proclamations ordering the people to go home, at the very
moment while they themselves were being besieged in the
Admiralty. Then it flung itself further back still, to the day
of the declaration of war, when I saw this same square filled
with people, while the Tzar came out for a moment on the
Palace balcony. By that time we were pulling up at the
Astoria and I had to turn my mind to something else.

The Astoria is now a bare barrack of a place, but
comparatively clean. During the war and the first part of the
revolution it was tenanted chiefly by officers, and owing to
the idiocy of a few of these at the time of the first revolution
in shooting at a perfectly friendly crowd of soldiers and
sailors, who came there at first with no other object than to
invite the officers to join them, the place was badly smashed
up in the resulting scrimmage. I remember with Major
Scale fixing up a paper announcing the fall of Bagdad either
the night this happened or perhaps the night before. People
rushed up to it, thinking it some news about the revolution,
and turned impatiently away. All the damage has been
repaired, but the red carpets have gone, perhaps to make
banners, and many of the electric lights were not burning,
probably because of the shortage in electricity. I got my
luggage upstairs to a very pleasant room on the fourth floor.
Every floor of that hotel had its memories for me. In this
room lived that brave reactionary officer who boasted that
he had made a raid on the Bolsheviks and showed little
Madame Kollontai's hat as a trophy. In this I used to listen
to Perceval Gibbon when he was talking about how to write
short stories and having influenza. There was the room
where Miss Beatty used to give tea to tired revolutionaries
and to still more tired enquirers into the nature of revolution
while she wrote the only book that has so far appeared
which gives anything like a true impresionist picture of those
unforgettable days.* [(*)"The Red Heart of Russia."] Close
by was the room where poor Denis Garstin used to talk
of the hunting he would have when the war should come to
an end.

I enquired for a meal, and found that no food was to be had
in the hotel, but they could supply hot water. Then, to get
an appetite for sleep, I went out for a short walk, though I
did not much like doing so with nothing but an English
passport, and with no papers to show that I had any right to
be there. I had, like the other foreigners, been promised
such papers but had not yet received them. I went round to
the Regina, which used to be one of the best hotels in the
town, but those of us who had rooms there were
complaining so bitterly that I did not stay with them, but
went off along the Moika to the Nevsky and so back to my
own hotel. The streets, like the hotel, were only half lit, and
hardly any of the houses had a lighted window. In the old
sheepskin coat I had worn on the front and in my high fur
hat, I felt like some ghost of the old regime visiting a town
long dead. The silence and emptiness of the streets
contributed to this effect. Still, the few people I met or
passed were talking cheerfully together and the rare
sledges and motors had comparatively good roads, the
streets being certainly better swept and cleaned than they
have been since the last winter of the Russian Empire.


Early in the morning I got tea, and a bread card on which I
was given a very small allowance of brown bread, noticeably
better in quality than the compound of clay and straw which
made me ill in Moscow last summer. Then I went to find
Litvinov, and set out with him to walk to the Smolni
institute, once a school for the daughters of the aristocracy,
then the headquarters of the Soviet, then the headquarters of
the Soviet Government, and finally, after the Government's
evacuation to Moscow, bequeathed to the Northern
Commune and the Petrograd Soviet. The town, in daylight,
seemed less deserted, though it was obvious that the
"unloading" of the Petrograd population, which was
unsuccessfully attempted during the Kerensky regime, had
been accomplished to a large extent. This has been partly
the result of famine and of the stoppage of factories,
which in its turn is due to the impossibility of bringing fuel
and raw material to Petrograd. A very large proportion of
Russian factory hands have not, as in other countries, lost
their connection with their native villages. There was always
a considerable annual migration backwards and forwards
between the villages and the town, and great numbers of
workmen have gone home, carrying with them the ideas of
the revolution. It should also be remembered that the bulk
of the earlier formed units of the Red Army is composed of
workmen from the towns who, except in the case of
peasants mobilized in districts which have experienced an
occupation by the counter-revolutionaries, are more
determined and better understand the need for discipline
than the men from the country.

The most noticeable thing in Petrograd to anyone returning
after six months' absence is the complete disappearance of
armed men. The town seems to have returned to a perfectly
peaceable condition in the sense that the need for
revolutionary patrols has gone. Soldiers walking about no
longer carry their rifles, and the picturesque figures of
the revolution who wore belts of machine-gun cartridges
slung about their persons have gone.

The second noticeable thing, especially in the Nevsky, which
was once crowded with people too fashionably dressed, is
the general lack of new clothes. I did not see anybody
wearing clothes that looked less than two years old, with the
exception of some officers and soldiers who are as well
equipped nowadays as at the beginning of the war.
Petrograd ladies were particularly fond of boots, and of
boots there is an extreme shortage. I saw one young woman
in a well-preserved, obviously costly fur coat, and beneath
it straw shoes with linen wrappings.

We had started rather late, so we took a train half-way up
the Nevsky. The tram conductors are still women. The
price of tickets has risen to a rouble, usually, I noticed, paid
in stamps. It used to be ten kopecks.

The armoured car which used to stand at the entrance of
Smolni has disappeared and been replaced by a horrible
statue of Karl Marx, who stands, thick and heavy, on a stout
pedestal, holding behind him an enormous top-hat like
the muzzle of an eighteen-inch gun. The only signs of
preparations for defence that remain are the pair of light
field guns which, rather the worse for weather, still stand
under the pillars of the portico which they would probably
shake to pieces if ever they should be fired. Inside the
routine was as it used to be, and when I turned down the
passage to get my permit to go upstairs, I could hardly
believe that I had been away for so long. The place is
emptier than it was. There is not the same eager crowd of
country delegates pressing up and down the corridors and
collecting literature from the stalls that I used to see in the
old days when the serious little workman from the Viborg
side stood guard over Trotsky's door, and from the alcove
with its window looking down into the great hall, the endless
noise of debate rose from the Petrograd Soviet that met

Litvinov invited me to have dinner with the Petrograd
Commissars, which I was very glad to do, partly because I
was hungry and partly because I thought it would be better
to meet Zinoviev thus than in any other manner,
remembering how sourly he had looked upon me earlier
in the revolution. Zinoviev is a Jew, with a lot of hair, a
round smooth face, and a very abrupt manner. He was
against the November Revolution, but when it had been
accomplished returned to his old allegiance to Lenin and,
becoming President of the Northern Commune, remained in
Petrograd when the Government moved to Moscow. He is
neither an original thinker nor a good orator except in
debate, in answering opposition, which he does with extreme
skill. His nerve was badly shaken by the murders of his
friends Volodarsky and Uritzky last year, and he is said to
have lost his head after the attack on Lenin, to whom he is
extremely devoted. I have heard many Communists attribute
to this fact the excesses which followed that event in
Petrograd. I have never noticed anything that would make
me consider him pro-German, though of course he is
pro-Marx. He has, however, a decided prejudice against the
English. He was among the Communists who put
difficulties in my way as a "bourgeois journalist" in the
earlier days of the revolution, and I had heard that he had
expressed suspicion and disapproval of Radek's intimacy
with me.

I was amused to see his face when he came in and saw me
sitting at the table. Litvinov introduced me to him, very
tactfully telling him of Lockhart's attack upon me,
whereupon he became quite decently friendly, and said that
if I could stay a few days in Petrograd on my way back from
Moscow he would see that I had access to the historical
material I wanted, about the doings of the Petrograd Soviet
during the time I had been away. I told him I was surprised
to find him here and not at Kronstadt, and asked about the
mutiny and the treachery of the Semenovsky regiment.
There was a shout of laughter, and Pozern explained that
there was no Semenovsky regiment in existence, and that the
manufacturers of the story, every word of which was a lie,
had no doubt tried to give realism to it by putting in the
name of the regiment which had taken a chief part in putting
down the Moscow insurrection of fourteen years ago.
Pozern, a thin, bearded man, with glasses, was sitting at the
other end of the table, as Military Commissar of the
Northern Commune.

Dinner in Smolni was the same informal affair that it
was in the old days, only with much less to eat. The
Commissars, men and women, came in from their work,
took their places, fed and went back to work again, Zinoviev
in particular staying only a few minutes. The meal was
extremely simple, soup with shreds of horseflesh in it, very
good indeed, followed by a little kasha together with small
slabs of some sort of white stuff of no particular consistency
or taste. Then tea and a lump of sugar. The conversation
was mostly about the chances of peace, and Litvinov's rather
pessimistic reports were heard with disappointment. Just as
I had finished, Vorovsky, Madame Vorovsky and little Nina,
together with the two Norwegians and the Swede, came in.
I learnt that about half the party were going on to Moscow
that night and, deciding to go with them, hurried off to the


There was, of course, a dreadful scrimmage about getting
away. Several people were not ready at the last minute.
Only one motor was obtainable for nine persons with their
light luggage, and a motor lorry for the heavy things. I
chose to travel on the lorry with the luggage and had a fine
bumpity drive to the station, reminding me of similar though
livelier experiences in the earlier days of the revolution when
lorries were used for the transport of machine guns, red
guards, orators, enthusiasts of all kinds, and any stray
persons who happened to clamber on.

At the Nikolai Station we found perfect order until we got
into our wagon, an old third-class wagon, in which a
certain number of places which one of the party had
reserved had been occupied by people who had no right
to be there. Even this difficulty was smoothed out in a
manner that would have been impossible a year
or even six months ago.

The wagon was divided by a door in the middle. There
were open coup=82s and side seats which became plank beds
when necessary. We slept in three tiers on the bare boards.
I had a very decent place on the second tier, and, by a bit of
good luck, the topmost bench over my head was occupied
only by luggage, which gave me room to climb up there and
sit more or less upright under the roof with my legs dangling
above the general tumult of mothers, babies, and Bolsheviks
below. At each station at which the train stopped there was
a general procession backwards and forwards through the
wagon. Everybody who had a kettle or a coffee-pot or a tin
can, or even an empty meat tin, crowded through the
carriage and out to get boiling water. I had nothing but a
couple of thermos flasks, but with these I joined the others.
>From every carriage on the train people poured out and
hurried to the taps. No one controlled the taps but, with the
instinct for co-operation for which Russians are remarkable,
people formed themselves automatically into queues, and by
the time the train started again everybody was back in his
place and ready for a general tea-drinking. This
performance was repeated again and again throughout the
night. People dozed off to sleep, woke up, drank more
tea, and joined in the various conversations that went on
in different parts of the carriage. Up aloft, I
listened first to one and then to another. Some were
grumbling at the price of food. Others were puzzling why
other nations insisted on being at war with them. One man
said he was a co-operator who had come by roundabout
ways from Archangel, and describing the discontent there,
told a story which I give as an illustration of the sort of thing
that is being said in Russia by non-Bolsheviks. This man,
in spite of the presence of many Communists in the carriage,
did not disguise his hostility to their theories and practice,
and none the less told this story. He said that some of
the Russian troops in the Archangel district refused to go
to the front. Their commanders, unable to compel them,
resigned and were replaced by others who, since the men persisted
in refusal, appealed for help. The barracks, so he said, were
then surrounded by American troops, and the Russians, who
had refused to go to the front to fire on other Russians, were
given the choice, either that every tenth man should be shot,
or that they should give up their ringleaders. The
ringleaders, twelve in number, were given up, were made to
dig their own graves, and shot. The whole story may well
be Archangel gossip. If so, as a specimen of such gossip, it
is not without significance. In another part of the carriage
an argument on the true nature of selfishness caused some
heat because the disputants insisted on drawing their
illustrations from each other's conduct. Then there was the
diversion of a swearing match at a wayside station between
the conductor and some one who tried to get into this
carriage and should have got into another. Both were fluent
and imaginative swearers, and even the man from Archangel
stopped talking to listen to them. One, I remember, prayed
vehemently that the other's hand might fly off, and the other,
not to be outdone, retorted with a similar prayer with regard
to the former's head. In England the dispute, which became
very fierce indeed, would have ended in assault, but here
it ended in nothing but the collection on the platform of a
small crowd of experts in bad language who applauded
verbal hits with impartiality and enthusiasm.

At last I tried to sleep, but the atmosphere in the carriage, of
smoke, babies, stale clothes, and the peculiar smell of the
Russian peasantry which no one who has known it can
forget, made sleep impossible. But I travelled fairly
comfortably, resolutely shutting my ears to the talk, thinking
of fishing in England, and shifting from one bone to another
as each ached in turn from contact with the plank on which I


It was a rare cold day when I struggled through the crowd
out of the station in Moscow, and began fighting with the
sledge-drivers who asked a hundred roubles to take me to
the Metropole. I remembered coming here a year ago with
Colonel Robins, when we made ten roubles a limit for the
journey and often travelled for eight. To-day, after heated
bargaining, I got carried with no luggage but a typewriter for
fifty roubles. The streets were white with deep snow, less
well cleaned than the Petrograd streets of this year but better
cleaned than the Moscow streets of last year. The tramways
were running. There seemed to be at least as many sledges
as usual, and the horses were in slightly better condition than
last summer when they were scarcely able to drag
themselves along. I asked the reason of the improvement,
and the driver told me the horses]26]were now rationed like
human beings, and all got a small allowance of oats. There
were crowds of people about, but the numbers of closed
shops were very depressing. I did not then know that this
was due to the nationalization of trade and a sort of general
stock-taking, the object of which was to prevent
profiteering in manufactured goods, etc., of which there
were not enough to go round. Before I left many shops
were being reopened as national concerns, like our own
National Kitchens. Thus, one would see over a shop the
inscription, "The 5th Boot Store of the Moscow Soviet" or
"The 3rd Clothing Store of the Moscow Soviet" or "The
11th Book Shop." It had been found that speculators
bought, for example, half a dozen overcoats, and sold them
to the highest bidders, thus giving the rich an advantage over
the poor. Now if a man needs a new suit he has to go in his
rags to his House Committee, and satisfy them that he really
needs a new suit for himself. He is then given the right to
buy a suit. In this way an attempt is made to prevent
speculation and to ensure a more or less equitable
distribution of the inadequate stocks. My greatest surprise
was given me by the Metropole itself, because the old
wounds of the revolution, which were left unhealed all last
summer, the shell-holes and bullet splashes which marked it
when I was here before, have been repaired.

Litvinov had given me a letter to Karakhan of the
Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, asking him to help me in
getting a room. I found him at the Metropole, still smoking
as it were the cigar of six months ago. Karakhan, a
handsome Armenian, elegantly bearded and moustached,
once irreverently described by Radek as "a donkey of
classical beauty," who has consistently used such influence
as he has in favour of moderation and agreement with the
Allies, greeted me very cordially, and told me that the
foreign visitors were to be housed in the Kremlin. I told him
I should much prefer to live in an hotel in the ordinary way,
and he at once set about getting a room for me. This was no
easy business, though he obtained an authorization from
Sverdlov, president of the executive committee, for me to
live where I wished, in the Metropole or the National, which
are mostly reserved for Soviet delegates, officials and
members of the Executive Committee. Both were full, and
he finally got me a room in the old Loskutnaya Hotel, now
the Red Fleet, partially reserved for sailor delegates and
members of the Naval College.

Rooms are distributed on much the same plan as clothes.
Housing is considered a State monopoly, and a general
census of housing accommodation has taken place. In every
district there are housing committees to whom people
wanting rooms apply. They work on the rough and ready
theory that until every man has one room no one has a right
to two. An Englishman acting as manager of works near
Moscow told me that part of his house had been allotted to
workers in his factory, who, however, were living with him
amicably, and had, I think, allowed him to choose which
rooms he should concede. This plan has, of course, proved
very hard on house-owners, and in some cases the new
tenants have made a horrible mess of the houses, as might,
indeed, have been expected, seeing that they had previously
been of those who had suffered directly from the
decivilizing influences of overcrowding. After talking for
some time we went round the corner to the Commissariat
for Foreign Affairs, where we found Chicherin who, I
thought, had aged a good deal and was (though this was
perhaps his manner) less cordial than Karakhan. He asked
about England, and I told him Litvinov knew more about
that than I, since he had been there more recently. He asked
what I thought would be the effect of his Note with detailed
terms published that day. I told him that Litvinov, in an
interview which I had telegraphed, had mentioned somewhat
similar terms some time before, and that personally I
doubted whether the Allies would at present come to any
agreement with the Soviet Government, but that, if the
Soviet Government lasted, my personal opinion was that the
commercial isolation of so vast a country as Russia could
hardly be prolonged indefinitely on that account alone. (For
the general attitude to that Note, see page 44.)

I then met Voznesensky (Left Social Revolutionary), of the
Oriental Department, bursting with criticism of the
Bolshevik attitude towards his party. He secured a ticket for
me to get dinner in the Metropole. This ticket I had to
surrender when I got a room in the National. The dinner
consisted of a plate of soup, and a very small portion of
something else. There are National Kitchens in different
parts of the town supplying similar meals. Glasses of weak
tea were sold at 30 kopecks each, without sugar. My sister
had sent me a small bottle of saccharine just before I left
Stockholm, and it was pathetic to see the childish delight
with which some of my friends drank glasses of sweetened

>From the Metropole I went to the Red Fleet to get my room
fixed up. Six months ago there were comparatively clean
rooms here, but the sailors have demoralized the hotel and
its filth is indescribable. There was no heating and very little
light. A samovar left after the departure of the last visitor
was standing on the table, together with some dirty
curl-papers and other rubbish. I got the waiter to clean up
more or less, and ordered a new samovar. He could not
supply spoon, knife, or fork, and only with great difficulty
was persuaded to lend me glasses.

The telephone, however, was working, and after tea I got
into touch with Madame Radek, who had moved from the
Metropole into the Kremlin. I had not yet got a pass to the
Kremlin, so she arranged to meet me and get a pass for me
from the Commandant. I walked through the snow to the
white gate at the end of the bridge which leads over the
garden up a steep incline to the Kremlin. Here a fire of logs
was burning, and three soldiers were sitting around it.
Madame Radek was waiting for me, warming her hands at
the fire, and we went together into the citadel of the

A meeting of the People's Commissars was going on in the
Kremlin, and on an open space under the ancient churches
were a number of motors black on the snow. We turned to
the right down the Dvortzovaya street, between the old
Cavalier House and the Potyeshny Palace, and went in
through a door under the archway that crosses the road, and
up some dark flights of stairs to a part of the building that
used, I think, to be called the Pleasure Palace. Here, in a
wonderful old room, hung with Gobelins tapestries
absolutely undamaged by the revolution, and furnished with
carved chairs, we found the most incongruous figure of
the old Swiss internationalist, Karl Moor, who talked with
affection of Keir Hardie and of Hyndman, "in the days
when he was a socialist," and was disappointed to find that I
knew so little about them. Madame Radek asked, of course,
for the latest news of Radek, and I told her that I had read in
the Stockholm papers that he had gone to Brunswick, and
was said to be living in the palace there.* [(*)It was not
till later that we learned he had returned to Berlin, been
arrested, and put in prison.] She feared he might have been
in Bremen when that town was taken by the Government
troops, and did not believe he would ever get back to Russia.
She asked me, did I not feel already (as indeed I did) the
enormous difference which the last six months had made in
strengthening the revolution. I asked after old
acquaintances, and learnt that Pyatakov, who, when I last
saw him, was praying that the Allies should give him
machine rifles to use against the Germans in the Ukraine,
had been the first President of the Ukrainian Soviet
Republic, but had since been replaced by Rakovsky. It had
been found that the views of the Pyatakov government
were further left than those of its supporters, and so
Pyatakov had given way to Rakovsky who was better able to
conduct a more moderate policy. The Republic had been
proclaimed in Kharkov, but at that time Kiev was still in the
hands of the Directorate.

That night my room in the Red Fleet was so cold that I went
to bed in a sheepskin coat under rugs and all possible
bedclothes with a mattress on the top. Even so I slept very

The next day I spent in vain wrestlings to get a better room.
Walking about the town I found it dotted with revolutionary
sculptures, some very bad, others interesting, all done in
some haste and set up for the celebrations of the anniversary
of the revolution last November. The painters also had been
turned loose to do what they could with the hoardings, and
though the weather had damaged many of their pictures,
enough was left to show what an extraordinary carnival that
had been. Where a hoarding ran along the front of a house
being repaired the painters had used the whole of it as a vast
canvas on which they had painted huge symbolic pictures
of the revolution. A whole block in the Tverskaya was so
decorated. Best, I think, were the row of wooden booths
almost opposite the Hotel National in the Okhotnia Ryadi.
These had been painted by the futurists or kindred artists,
and made a really delightful effect, their bright colours and
naif patterns seeming so natural to Moscow that I found
myself wondering how it was that they had never been so
painted before. They used to be a uniform dull yellow.
Now, in clear primary colours, blue, red, yellow, with rough
flower designs, on white and chequered back-grounds, with
the masses of snow in the road before them, and
bright-kerchiefed women and peasants in ruddy sheepskin coats
passing by, they seemed less like futurist paintings than like
some traditional survival, linking new Moscow with the
Middle Ages. It is perhaps interesting to note that certain
staid purists in the Moscow Soviet raised a protest while I
was there against the license given to the futurists to spread
themselves about the town, and demanded that the art of the
revolution should be more comprehensible and less violent.
These criticisms, however, did not apply to the row of
booths which were a pleasure to me every time I passed

In the evening I went to see Reinstein in the National.
Reinstein is a little old grandfather, a member of the
American Socialist Labour Party, who was tireless in helping
the Americans last year, and is a prodigy of knowledge
about the revolution. He must be nearly seventy, never
misses a meeting of the Moscow Soviet or the Executive
Committee, gets up at seven in the morning, and goes from
one end of Moscow to the other to lecture to the young men
in training as officers for the Soviet Army, more or less
controls the English soldier war prisoners, about whose
Bolshevism he is extremely pessimistic, and enjoys an
official position as head of the quite futile department which
prints hundred-weight upon hundred-weight of
propaganda in English, none of which by any chance ever
reaches these shores. He was terribly disappointed that I had
brought no American papers with me. He complained of
the lack of transport, a complaint which I think I must have
heard at least three times a day from different people the
whole time I was in Moscow. Politically, he thought, the
position could not be better, though economically it was very
bad. When they had corn, as it were, in sight, they could
not get it to the towns for lack of locomotives. These
economic difficulties were bound to react sooner or later on
the political position.

He talked about the English prisoners. The men are brought
to Moscow, where they are given special passports and are
allowed to go anywhere they like about the town without
convoy of any kind. I asked about the officers, and he said
that they were in prison but given everything possible, a
member of the International Red Cross, who worked with
the Americans when they were here, visiting them regularly
and taking in parcels for them. He told me that on hearing
in Moscow that some sort of fraternization was going on on
the Archangel front, he had hurried off there with two
prisoners, one English and one American. With some
difficulty a meeting was arranged. Two officers and a
sergeant from the Allied side and Reinstein and these two
prisoners from the Russian, met on a bridge midway
between the opposing lines. The conversation seemed
to have been mostly an argument about working-class
conditions in America, together with reasons why the Allies
should go home and leave Russia alone. Finally the Allied
representatives (I fancy Americans) asked Reinstein to come
with them to Archangel and state his case, promising him
safe conduct there and back. By this time two Russians had
joined the group, and one of them offered his back as a
desk, on which a safe-conduct for Reinstein was written.
Reinstein, who showed me the safe-conduct, doubted its
validity, and said that anyhow he could not have used it
without instructions from Moscow. When it grew dusk they
prepared to separate. The officers said to the prisoners,
"What? Aren't you coming back with us?" The two shook
their heads decidedly, and said, "No, thank you."

I learnt that some one was leaving the National next day to
go to Kharkov, so that I should probably be able to get a
room. After drinking tea with Reinstein till pretty late, I
went home, burrowed into a mountain of all sorts of clothes,
and slept a little.

In the morning I succeeded in making out my claim to
the room at the National, which turned out to be a very
pleasant one, next door to the kitchen and therefore quite
decently warm. I wasted a lot of time getting my stuff
across. Transport from one hotel to the other, though the
distance is not a hundred yards, cost forty roubles. I got
things straightened out, bought some books, and prepared a
list of the material needed and the people I wanted to see.

The room was perfectly clean. The chamber-maid
who came in to tidy up quite evidently took
a pride in doing her work properly, and protested against
my throwing matches on the floor. She said she had been in
the hotel since it was opened. I asked her how she liked the
new regime. She replied that there was not enough to eat,
but that she felt freer.

In the afternoon I went downstairs to the main kitchens of
the hotel, where there is a permanent supply of hot water.
One enormous kitchen is set apart for the use of people
living in the hotel. Here I found a crowd of people, all using
different parts of the huge stove. There was an old
grey-haired Cossack, with a scarlet tunic under his black,
wide-skirted, narrow-waisted coat, decorated in the
Cossack fashion with ornamental cartridges. He was
warming his soup, side by side with a little Jewess making
potato-cakes. A spectacled elderly member of the
Executive Committee was busy doing something with a little
bit of meat. Two little girls were boiling potatoes in old tin
cans. In another room set apart for washing a sturdy little
long-haired revolutionary was cleaning a shirt. A woman
with her hair done up in a blue handkerchief was very
carefully ironing a blouse. Another was busy stewing sheets,
or something of that kind, in a big cauldron. And all the
time people from all parts of the hotel were coming with
their pitchers and pans, from fine copper kettles to
disreputable empty meat tins, to fetch hot water for tea. At
the other side of the corridor was a sort of counter in front
of a long window opening into yet another kitchen. Here
there was a row of people waiting with their own saucepans
and plates, getting their dinner allowances of soup and meat
in exchange for tickets. I was told that people thought they
got slightly more if they took their food in this way
straight from the kitchen to their own rooms instead of being
served in the restaurant. But I watched closely, and decided
it was only superstition. Besides, I had not got a saucepan.

On paying for my room at the beginning of the week I was
given a card with the days of the week printed along its
edge. This card gave me the right to buy one dinner daily,
and when I bought it that day of the week was snipped off
the card so that I could not buy another. The meal consisted
of a plate of very good soup, together with a second course
of a scrap of meat or fish. The price of the meal varied
between five and seven roubles.

One could obtain this meal any time between two and seven.
Living hungrily through the morning, at two o'clock I used to
experience definite relief in the knowledge that now at any
moment I could have my meal. Feeling in this way less
hungry, I used then to postpone it hour by hour, and actually
dined about five or six o'clock. Thinking that I might indeed
have been specially favoured I made investigations, and
found that the dinners supplied at the public feeding
houses (the equivalent of our national kitchens) were of
precisely the same size and character, any difference
between the meals depending not on the food but on the

A kind of rough and ready co-operative system also
obtained. One day there was a notice on the stairs that those
who wanted could get one pot of jam apiece by applying to
the provisioning committee of the hotel. I got a pot of jam
in this way, and on a later occasion a small quantity of
Ukrainian sausage.

Besides the food obtainable on cards it was possible to buy,
at ruinous prices, food from speculators, and an idea of the
difference in the prices may be obtained from the following
examples: Bread is one rouble 20 kopecks per pound by
card and 15 to 20 roubles per pound from the speculators.
Sugar is 12 roubles per pound by card, and never less than
50 roubles per pound in the open market. It is obvious that
abolition of the card system would mean that the rich would
have enough and the poor nothing. Various methods have
been tried in the effort to get rid of speculators whose
high profits naturally decrease the willingness of the villages
to sell bread at less abnormal rates. But as a Communist
said to me, "There is only one way to get rid of speculation,
and that is to supply enough on the card system. When
People can buy all they want at 1 rouble 20 they are not
going to pay an extra 14 roubles for the encouragement of
speculators." "And when will you be able to do that?" I
asked. "As soon as the war ends, and we can use our
transport for peaceful purposes."

There can be no question about the starvation of Moscow.
On the third day after my arrival in Moscow I saw a man
driving a sledge laden with, I think, horseflesh, mostly
bones, probably dead sledge horses. As he drove a black
crowd of crows followed the sledge and perched on it,
tearing greedily at the meat. He beat at them continually
with his whip, but they were so famished that they took no
notice whatever. The starving crows used even to force
their way through the small ventilators of the windows in my
hotel to pick up any scraps they could find inside. The
pigeons, which formerly crowded the streets,
utterly undismayed by the traffic, confident in the
security given by their supposed connection with religion,
have completely disappeared.

Nor can there be any question about the cold. I resented my
own sufferings less when I found that the State Departments
were no better off than other folk. Even in the Kremlin I
found the Keeper of the Archives sitting at work in an old
sheepskin coat and felt boots, rising now and then to beat
vitality into his freezing hands like a London cabman of old


February 10th.

It will be remembered that a proposal was made by the
Peace Conference that the various de facto governments of
Russia should meet on an island in the Bosphorus to discuss
matters, an armistice being arranged meanwhile. No direct
invitation was sent to the Soviet Government. After
attempting to obtain particulars through the editor of a
French socialist paper, Chicherin on February 4th sent a
long note to the Allies. The note was not at first considered
with great favour in Russia, although it was approved by the
opposition parties on the right, the Mensheviks even going
so far as to say that in sending such a note, the Bolsheviks
were acting in the interest of the whole of the Russian
people. The opposition on the left complained
that it was a betrayal of the revolution into the
hands of the Entente, and there were many Bolsheviks
who said openly that they thought it went a little
too far in the way of concession. On February 10th, the
Executive Committee met to consider the international

Before proceeding to an account of that meeting, it will be
well to make a short summary of the note in question.
Chicherin, after referring to the fact that no invitation had
been addressed to them and that the absence of a reply from
them was being treated as the rejection of a proposal they
had never received, said that in spite of its more and more
favourable position, the Russian Soviet Government
considered a cessation of hostilities so desirable that it was
ready immediately to begin negotiations, and, as it had more
than once declared, to secure agreement "even at the cost of
serious concessions in so far as these should not threaten the
development of the Republic." "Taking into consideration
that the enemies against whom it has to struggle borrow their
strength of resistance exclusively from the help shown them
by the powers of the Entente, and that therefore these
powers are the only actual enemy of the Russian Soviet
Government, the latter addresses itself precisely to the
powers of the Entente, setting out the points on which it
considers such concessions possible with a view to the
ending of every kind of conflict with the aforesaid powers."
There follows a list of the concessions they are prepared to
make. The first of these is recognition of their debts, the
interest on which, "in view of Russia's difficult financial
position and her unsatisfactory credit," they propose to
guarantee in raw materials. Then, "in view of the interest
continually expressed by foreign capital in the question of
the exploitation for its advantage of the natural resources of
Russia, the Soviet Government is ready to give to subjects of
the powers of the Entente mineral, timber and other
concessions, to be defined in detail, on condition that the
economic and social structure of Soviet Russia shall not be
touched by the internal arrangements of these concessions."
The last point is that which roused most opposition. It
expresses a willingness to negotiate even concerning such
annexations, hidden or open, as the Allies may have in
mind. The words used are "The Russian Soviet
Government has not the intention of excluding at all costs
consideration of the question of annexations, etc. . . ." Then,
"by annexations must be understood the retention on this or
that part of the territory of what was the Russian Empire,
not including Poland and Finland, of armed forces of the
Entente or of such forces as are maintained by the
governments of the Entente or enjoy their financial, military,
technical or other support." There follows a statement that
the extent of the concessions will depend on the military
position. Chicherin proceeds to give a rather optimistic
account of the external and internal situation. Finally he
touches on the question of propaganda. "The Russian
Soviet Government, while pointing out that it cannot limit
the freedom of the revolutionary press, declares its
readiness, in case of necessity to include in the general
agreement with the powers of the Entente the obligation not
to interfere in their internal affairs." The note ends thus:
"On the foregoing bases the Russian Soviet Government is ready
immediately to begin negotiations either on Prinkipo island
or in any other place whatsoever with all the powers of the
Entente together or with separate powers of their number,
or with any Russian political groupings whatsoever,
according to the wishes of the powers of the Entente.
The Russian Soviet Government begs the powers of the
Entente immediately to inform it whither to send
its representatives, and precisely when and by what route."
This note was dated February 4th, and was sent out by wireless.

>From the moment when the note appeared in the
newspapers of February 5th, it had been the main subject of
conversation. Every point in it was criticized and
counter-criticized, but even its critics, though anxious to preserve
their criticism as a basis for political action afterwards, were
desperately anxious that it should meet with a reply. No one
in Moscow at that time could have the slightest misgiving
about the warlike tendencies of the revolution. The
overwhelming mass of the people and of the revolutionary
leaders want peace, and only continued warfare forced upon
them could turn their desire for peace into desperate,
resentful aggression. Everywhere I heard the same story:
"We cannot get things straight while we have to fight all the
time." They would not admit it, I am sure, but few of the
Soviet leaders who have now for eighteen months been
wrestling with the difficulties of European Russia have not
acquired, as it were in spite of themselves, a national,
domestic point of view. They are thinking less about world
revolution than about getting bread to Moscow, or
increasing the output of textiles, or building river
power-stations to free the northern industrial district from
its dependence on the distant coal-fields. I was
consequently anxious to hear what the Executive Committee
would have to say, knowing that there I should listen to
some expression of the theoretical standpoint from which
my hard-working friends had been drawn away by interests
nearer home.

The Executive Committee met as usual in the big hall of the
Hotel Metropole, and it met as usual very late. The sitting
was to begin at seven, and, foolishly thinking that Russians
might have changed their nature in the last six months, I was
punctual and found the hall nearly empty, because a
party meeting of the Communists in the room next door was
not finished. The hall looked just as it used to look, with a
red banner over the presidium and another at the opposite
end, both inscribed "The All Russian Executive Committee,"
"Proletariat of all lands, unite," and so on. As the room
gradually filled, I met many acquaintances.

Old Professor Pokrovsky came in, blinking through his
spectacles, bent a little, in a very old coat, with a small black
fur hat, his hands clasped together, just as, so I have been
told, he walked unhappily to and fro in the fortress at Brest
during the second period of the negotiations. I did not think
he would recognize me, but he came up at once, and
reminded me of the packing of the archives at the time when
it seemed likely that the Germans would take Petrograd. He
told me of a mass of material they are publishing about the
origin of the war. He said that England came out of it best
of anybody, but that France and Russia showed in a very
bad light.

Just then, Demian Bledny rolled in, fatter than he used to be
(admirers from the country send him food) with a round
face, shrewd laughing eyes, and cynical mouth, a typical
peasant, and the poet of the revolution. He was passably
shaved, his little yellow moustache was trimmed, he was
wearing new leather breeches, and seemed altogether a more
prosperous poet than the untidy ruffian I first met about a
year or more ago before his satirical poems in Pravda and
other revolutionary papers had reached the heights of
popularity to which they have since attained. In the old days
before the revolution in Petrograd he used to send his poems
to the revolutionary papers. A few were published and
scandalized the more austere and serious-minded
revolutionaries, who held a meeting to decide
whether any more were to be printed. Since the
revolution, he has rapidly come into his own, and is now a
sort of licensed jester, flagellating Communists and
non-Communists alike. Even in this assembly
he had about him a little of the manner of
Robert Burns in Edinburgh society. He told me
with expansive glee that they had printed two
hundred and fifty thousand of his last book, that the whole
edition was sold in two weeks, and that he had had his
portrait painted by a real artist. It is actually true that of his
eighteen different works, only two are obtainable today.

Madame Radek, who last year showed a genius for the
making of sandwiches with chopped leeks, and did good
work for Russia as head of the Committee for dealing with
Russian war prisoners, came and sat down beside me, and
complained bitterly that the authorities wanted to turn her
out of the grand ducal apartments in the Kremlin and make
them into a historical museum to illustrate the manner of life
of the Romanovs. She said she was sure that was simply an
excuse and that the real reason was that Madame Trotsky
did not like her having a better furnished room than her
own. It seems that the Trotskys, when they moved into the
Kremlin, chose a lodging extremely modest in comparison
with the gorgeous place where I had found Madame Radek.

All this time the room was filling, as the party meeting ended
and the members of the Executive Committee came in to
take their places. I was asking Litvinov whether he was
going to speak, when a little hairy energetic man came up
and with great delight showed us the new matches
invented in the Soviet laboratories. Russia is short of
match-wood, and without paraffin. Besides which I think I am
right in saying that the bulk of the matches used in the north
came from factories in Finland. In these new Bolshevik
matches neither wood nor paraffin is used. Waste paper is a
substitute for one, and the grease that is left after cleaning
wool is a substitute for the other. The little man, Berg,
secretary of the Presidium of the Council of Public
Economy, gave me a packet of his matches. They are like
the matches in a folding cover that used to be common in
Paris. You break off a match before striking it. They strike
and burn better than any matches I have ever bought in
Russia, and I do not see why they should not be made in
England, where we have to import all the materials of which
ordinary matches are made. I told Berg I should try to
patent them and so turn myself into a capitalist. Another
Communist, who was listening, laughed, and said that most
fortunes were founded in just such a fraudulent way.

Then there was Steklov of the Izvestia, Madame
Kollontai, and a lot of other people whose
names I do not remember. Little Bucharin, the editor of
Pravda and one of the most interesting talkers in Moscow,
who is ready to discuss any philosophy you like, from
Berkeley and Locke down to Bergson and William James,
trotted up and shook hands. Suddenly a most unexpected
figure limped through the door. This was the lame Eliava of
the Vologda Soviet, who came up in great surprise at seeing
me again, and reminded me how Radek and I, hungry from
Moscow, astonished the hotel of the Golden Anchor by
eating fifteen eggs apiece, when we came to Vologda last
summer (I acted as translator during Radek's conversations
with the American Ambassador and Mr. Lindley). Eliava is
a fine, honest fellow, and had a very difficult time in
Vologda where the large colony of foreign embassies and
missions naturally became the centre of disaffection in a
district which at the time was full of inflammable material. I
remember when we parted from him, Radek said to me that
he hardly thought he would see him alive again. He told me
he had left Vologda some three months ago and was now
going to Turkestan. He did not disguise the resentment
he felt towards M. Noulens (the French Ambassador) who,
he thought, had stood in the way of agreement last year, but
said that he had nothing whatever to say against Lindley.

At last there was a little stir in the raised presidium, and the
meeting began. When I saw the lean, long-haired Avanesov
take his place as secretary, and Sverdlov, the president, lean
forward a little, ring his bell, and announce that the meeting
was open and that "Comrade Chicherin has the word," I
could hardly believe that I had been away six months.

Chicherin's speech took the form of a general report on the
international situation. He spoke a little more clearly than he
was used to do, but even so I had to walk round to a place
close under the tribune before I could hear him. He
sketched the history of the various steps the Soviet
Government has taken in trying to secure peace, even
including such minor "peace offensives" as Litvinov's
personal telegram to President Wilson. He then weighed, in
no very hopeful spirit, the possibilities of this last Note to all
the Allies having any serious result. He estimated the
opposing tendencies for and against war with Russia in each
of the principal countries concerned. The growth of
revolutionary feeling abroad made imperialistic governments
even more aggressive towards the Workers' and Peasants'
Republic than they would otherwise be. It was now making
their intervention difficult, but no more. It was impossible to
say that the collapse of Imperialism had gone so far that it
had lost its teeth. Chicherin speaks as if he were a dead man
or a ventriloquist's lay figure. And indeed he is half-dead.
He has never learnt the art of releasing himself from
drudgery by handing it over to his subordinates. He is
permanently tired out. You feel it is almost cruel to say
"Good morning" to him when you meet him, because of the
appeal to be left alone that comes unconsciously into his
eyes. Partly in order to avoid people, partly because he is
himself accustomed to work at night, his section of the
foreign office keeps extraordinary hours, is not to be found
till about five in the afternoon and works till four in the
morning. The actual material of his report was interesting,
but there was nothing in its manner to rouse enthusiasm
of any kind. The audience listened with attention, but only
woke into real animation when with a shout of laughter it
heard an address sent to Cl=82menceau by the emigr=82
financiers, aristocrats and bankrupt politicians of the Russian
colony in Stockholm, protesting against any sort of
agreement with the Bolsheviks.

Bucharin followed Chicherin. A little eager figure in his
neat brown clothes (bought, I think, while visiting Berlin as a
member of the Economic Commission), he at least makes
himself clearly heard, though his voice has a funny tendency
to breaking. He compared the present situation with the
situation before Brest. He had himself (as I well remember)
been with Radek, one of the most violent opponents of the
Brest peace, and he now admitted that at that time Lenin had
been right and he wrong. The position was now different,
because whereas then imperialism was split into two camps
fighting each other, it now showed signs of uniting its forces.
He regarded the League of Nations as a sort of capitalist
syndicate, and said that the difference in the French and
American attitude towards the League depended upon
the position of French and American capital. Capital in
France was so weak, that she could at best be only a small
shareholder. Capital in America was in a very advantageous
position. America therefore wanted a huge All-European
syndicate in which each state would have a certain number
of shares. America, having the greatest number of shares,
would be able to exploit all the other nations. This is a fixed
idea of Bucharin's, and he has lost no opportunity of putting
out this theory of the League of Nations since the middle of
last summer. As for Chicherin's Note, he said it had at least
great historical interest on account of the language it used,
which was very different from the hypocritical language of
ordinary diplomacy. Here were no phrases about noble
motives, but a plain recognition of the facts of the case.
"Tell us what you want," it says, "and we are ready to buy
you off, in order to avoid armed conflict." Even if the Allies
gave no answer the Note would still have served a useful
purpose and would be a landmark in history.

Litvinov followed Bucharin. A solid, jolly, round man, with
his peaked grey fur hat on his head, rounder than ever in
fur-collared, thick coat, his eye-glasses slipping from his
nose as he got up, his grey muffler hanging from his neck,
he hurried to the tribune. Taking off his things and leaving
them on a chair below, he stepped up into the tribune with
his hair all rumpled, a look of extreme seriousness on his
face, and spoke with a voice whose capacity and strength
astonished me who had not heard him speak in public
before. He spoke very well, with more sequence than
Bucharin, and much vitality, and gave his summary of the
position abroad. He said (and Lenin expressed the same
view to me afterwards) that the hostility of different
countries to Soviet Russia varied in direct proportion to their
fear of revolution at home. Thus France, whose capital had
suffered most in the war and was weakest, was the most
uncompromising, while America, whose capital was in a
good position, was ready for agreement. England, with
rather less confidence, he thought was ready to follow
America. Need of raw material was the motive tending
towards agreement with Russia. Fear that the mere
existence of a Labour Government anywhere in the
world strengthens the revolutionary movement elsewhere,
was the motive for the desire to wipe out the Soviet at all
cost. Chicherin's note, he thought, would emphasize the
difference between these opposing views and would tend to
make impossible an alliance of the capitalists against Russia.

Finally, Kamenev, now President of the Moscow Soviet,
spoke, objecting to Bucharin's comparison of the peace now
sought with that of Brest Litovsk. Then everything was in a
state of experiment and untried. Now it was clear to the
world that the unity of Russia could be achieved only under
the Soviets. The powers opposed to them could not but
recognize this fact. Some parts of Russia (Ukraine) had
during the last fifteen months experienced every kind of
government, from the Soviets, the dictatorship of the
proletariat, to the dictatorship of foreign invaders and the
dictatorship of a General of the old regime, and they had
after all returned to the Soviets. Western European
imperialists must realize that the only Government in Russia
which rested on the popular masses was the Government
of the Soviets and no other. Even the paper of the
Mensheviks, commenting on Chicherin's note, had declared
that by this step the Soviet Government had shown that it
was actually a national Government acting in the interests of
the nation. He further read a statement by Right Social
Revolutionaries (delegates of that group, members of the
Constituent Assembly, were in the gallery) to the effect that
they were prepared to help the Soviet Government as the
only Government in Russia that was fighting against a
dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

Finally, the Committee unanimously passed a resolution
approving every step taken in trying to obtain peace, and at
the same time "sending a fraternal greeting to the Red Army
of workers and peasants engaged in ensuring the
independence of Soviet Russia." The meeting then turned to
talk of other things.

I left, rather miserable to think how little I had foreseen
when Soviet Russia was compelled last year to sign an
oppressive peace with Germany, that the time would
come when they would be trying to buy peace from
ourselves. As I went out I saw another unhappy figure,
unhappy for quite different reasons. Angelica Balabanova,
after dreaming all her life of socialism in the most fervent
Utopian spirit, had come at last to Russia to find that a
socialist state was faced with difficulties at least as real as
those which confront other states, that in the battle there was
little sentiment and much cynicism, and that dreams worked
out in terms of humanity in the face of the opposition of the
whole of the rest of the world are not easily recognized by
their dreamers. Poor little Balabanova, less than five feet
high, in a black coat that reached to her feet but did not
make her look any taller, was wandering about like a lost and
dejected spirit. Not so, she was thinking, should socialists
deal with their enemies. Somehow, but not so. Had the
silver trumpets blown seven times in vain, and was it really
necessary to set to work and, stone by stone, with bleeding
hands, level the walls of Jericho?

There was snow falling as I walked home. Two workmen,
arguing, were walking in front of me. "If only it were not
for the hunger," said one. "But will that ever change?" said
the other.


February 11th.

Litvinov has been unlucky in his room in the Metropole. It
is small, dark and dirty, and colder than mine. He was
feeling ill and his chest was hurting him, perhaps because of
his speech last night; but while I was there Kamenev rang
him up on the telephone, told him he had a car below, and
would he come at once to the Moscow Soviet to speak on
the international situation! Litvinov tried to excuse himself,
but it was no use, and he said to me that if I wanted to see
Kamenev I had better come along. We found Kamenev in
the hall, and after a few minutes in a little Ford car we were
at the Moscow Soviet. The Soviet meets in the small lecture
theatre of the old Polytechnic. When we arrived, a party
meeting was going on, and Kamenev, Litvinov, and I went
behind the stage to a little empty room, where we were
joined by a member of the Soviet whose name I forget.

It was Kamenev's first talk with Litvinov after his return, and
I think they forgot that I was there. Kamenev asked Litvinov
what he meant to do, and Litvinov told him he wished to
establish a special department of control to receive all
complaints, to examine into the efficiency of different
commissariats, to get rid of parallelism, etc., and, in fact, to
be the most unpopular department in Moscow. Kamenev
laughed. "You need not think you are the first to have that
idea. Every returning envoy without exception has the same.
Coming back from abroad they notice more than we do the
inefficiencies here, and at once think they will set everything
right. Rakovsky sat here for months dreaming of nothing
else. Joffe was the same when he came back from that tidy
Berlin. Now you; and when Vorovsky comes (Vorovsky
was still in Petrograd) I am ready to wager that he too has a
scheme for general control waiting in his pocket. The thing
cannot be done. The only way is, when something
obviously needs doing, to put in some one we can trust to
get it done. Soap is hard to get. Good. Establish a
commission and soap instantly disappears. But put in one
man to see that soap is forthcoming, and somehow or other
we get it."

"Where is the soap industry concentrated?"

"There are good factories, well equipped, here, but they are
not working, partly for lack of material and partly, perhaps,
because some crazy fool imagined that to take an inventory
you must bring everything to a standstill."

Litvinov asked him what he thought of the position as a
whole. He said good, if only transport could be improved;
but before the public of Moscow could feel an appreciable
improvement it would be necessary that a hundred wagons
of foodstuffs should be coming in daily. At present there
are seldom more than twenty. I asked Kamenev about the
schools, and he explained that one of their difficulties was
due to the militarism forced upon them by external attacks.
He explained that the new Red Army soldiers, being mostly
workmen, are accustomed to a higher standard of comfort
than the old army soldiers, who were mostly peasants. They
objected to the planks which served as beds in the old,
abominable, over-crowded and unhealthy barracks.
Trotsky, looking everywhere for places to put his darlings,
found nothing more suitable than the schools; and, in
Kamenev's words, "We have to fight hard for every school."
Another difficulty, he said, was the lack of school books.
Histories, for example, written under the censorship and in
accordance with the principles of the old regime, were now
useless, and new ones were not ready, apart from the
difficulty of getting paper and of printing. A lot, however,
was being done. There was no need for a single child in
Moscow to go hungry. 150,000 to 180,000 children got free
meals daily in the schools. Over 10,000 pairs of felt boots
had been given to children who needed them. The number
of libraries had enormously increased. Physically workmen
lived in far worse conditions than in 1912, but as far as their
spiritual welfare was concerned there could be no
comparison. Places like the famous Yar restaurant,
where once the rich went to amuse themselves with
orgies of feeding and drinking and flirting
with gypsies, were now made into working men's clubs
and theatres, where every working man had a right to go.
As for the demand for literature from the provinces, it was
far beyond the utmost efforts of the presses and the paper
stores to supply.

When the party meeting ended, we went back to the lecture
room where the members of the Soviet had already settled
themselves in their places. I was struck at once by the
absence of the general public which in the old days used to
crowd the galleries to overflowing. The political excitement
of the revolution has passed, and today there were no more
spectators than are usually to be found in the gallery of the
House of Commons. The character of the Soviet itself had
not changed. Practically every man sitting on the benches
was obviously a workman and keenly intent on what was
being said. Litvinov practically repeated his speech of last
night, making it, however, a little more demagogic in
character, pointing out that after the Allied victory, the only
corner of the world not dominated by Allied capital was
Soviet Russia.

The Soviet passed a resolution expressing
"firm confidence that the Soviet Government will
succeed in getting peace and so in opening a wide road to
the construction of a proletarian state." A note was passed
up to Kamenev who, glancing at it, announced that the
newly elected representative of the Chinese workmen in
Moscow wished to speak. This was Chitaya Kuni, a solid
little Chinaman with a big head, in black leather coat and
breeches. I had often seen him before, and wondered who
he was. He was received with great cordiality and made a
quiet, rather shy speech in which he told them he was
learning from them how to introduce socialism in China, and
more compliments of the same sort. Reinstein replied,
telling how at an American labour congress some years back
the Americans shut the door in the face of a representative
of a union of foreign workmen. "Such," he said, "was the
feeling in America at the time when Gompers was supreme,
but that time has passed." Still, as I listened to Reinstein, I
wondered in how many other countries besides Russia, a
representative of foreign labour would be thus welcomed.
The reason has probably little to do with the
good-heartedness of the Russians. Owing to the
general unification of wages Mr. Kuni could not
represent the competition of cheap labour. I talked to the
Chinaman afterwards. He is president of the Chinese
Soviet. He told me they had just about a thousand Chinese
workmen in Moscow, and therefore had a right to
representation in the government of the town. I asked about
the Chinese in the Red Army, and he said there were two or
three thousand, not more.


February 13th.

I drank tea with an old acquaintance from the provinces, a
Russian who, before the revolution, owned a leather-bag
factory which worked in close connection with his uncle's
tannery. He gave me a short history of events at home. The
uncle had started with small capital, and during the war had
made enough to buy outright the tannery in which he had
had shares. The story of his adventures since the October
revolution is a very good illustration of the rough and ready
way in which theory gets translated into practice. I am
writing it, as nearly as possible, as it was told by the nephew.

During the first revolution, that is from March till October
1917, he fought hard against the workmen, and was one
of the founders of a Soviet of factory owners, the object of
which was to defeat the efforts of the workers' Soviets.*
[(*)By agreeing upon lock-outs,etc.] This, of course,
was smashed by the October Revolution, and "Uncle, after
being forced, as a property owner, to pay considerable
contributions, watched the newspapers closely, realized that
after the nationalization of the banks resistance was
hopeless, and resigned himself to do what he could, not to
lose his factory altogether."

He called together all the workmen, and proposed that they
should form an artel or co-operative society
and take the factory into their own hands, each man
contributing a thousand roubles towards the capital with
which to run it. Of course the workmen had
not got a thousand roubles apiece, "so uncle offered to pay it
in for them, on the understanding that they would eventually
pay him back." This was illegal, but the little town was a
long way from the centre of things, and it seemed a good
way out of the difficulty. He did not expect to get it back,
but he hoped in this way to keep control of the tannery,
which he wished to develop, having a paternal interest in it.

Things worked very well. They elected a committee of
control. "Uncle was elected president, I was elected
vice-president, and there were three workmen. We are
working on those lines to this day. They give uncle 1,500
roubles a month, me a thousand, and the bookkeeper a
thousand. The only difficulty is that the men will treat uncle
as the owner, and this may mean trouble if things go wrong.
Uncle is for ever telling them, It's your factory, don't call
me Master,' and they reply, 'Yes, it's our factory all right, but
you are still Master, and that must be.'"

Trouble came fast enough, with the tax levied on the
propertied classes. "Uncle," very wisely, had ceased to be a
property owner. He had given up his house to the factory,
and been allotted rooms in it, as president of the factory
Soviet. He was therefore really unable to pay when the
people from the District Soviet came to tell him that he had
been assessed to pay a tax of sixty thousand roubles. He
explained the position. The nephew was also present and
joined in the argument, whereupon the tax-collectors
consulted a bit of paper and retorted, "A tax of twenty
thousand has been assessed on you too. Be so good as to
put your coat on."

That meant arrest, and the nephew said he had five
thousand roubles and would pay that, but could pay no
more. Would that do?

"Very well," said the tax-collector, "fetch it."

The nephew fetched it.

"And now put your coat on."

"But you said it would be all right if I paid the five

"That's the only way to deal with people like you. We
recognize that your case is hard, and we dare say that you
will get off. But the Soviet has told us to collect the whole
tax or the people who refuse to pay it, and they have
decreed that if we came back without one or the other, we
shall go to prison ourselves. You can hardly expect us to go
and sit in prison out of pity for you. So on with your coat
and come along."

They went, and at the militia headquarters were shut into a
room with barred windows where they were presently joined
by most of the other rich men of the town, all in a rare state
of indignation, and some of them very angry with "Uncle,"
for taking things so quietly. "Uncle was worrying about
nothing in the world but the tannery and the
leather-works which he was afraid might get into
difficulties now that both he and I were under lock and key."

The plutocracy of the town being thus gathered in the little
room at the militia-house, their wives came, timorously at first, and
chattered through the windows. My informant, being
unmarried, sent word to two or three of his friends, in order
that he might not be the only one without some one to talk
with outside. The noise was something prodigious, and the
head of the militia finally ran out into the street and arrested
one of the women, but was so discomfited when she
removed her shawl and he recognized her as his hostess at a
house where he had been billeted as a soldier that he
hurriedly let her go. The extraordinary parliament between
the rich men of the town and their wives and friends, like a
crowd of hoodie crows, chattering outside the window,
continued until dark.

Next day the workmen from the tannery came to the
militia-house and explained that "Uncle" had really
ceased to be a member of the propertied classes,
that he was necessary to them as president of their soviet,
and that they were willing to secure his release by
paying half of the tax demanded from him out
of the factory funds. Uncle got together thirty
thousand, the factory contributed another thirty, and he was
freed, being given a certificate that he had ceased to be an
exploiter or a property owner, and would in future be
subject only to such taxes as might be levied on the working
population. The nephew was also freed, on the grounds that
he was wanted at the leather-works.

I asked him how things were going on. He said, "Fairly
well, only uncle keeps worrying because the men still call
him 'Master.' Otherwise, he is very happy because he has
persuaded the workmen to set aside a large proportion of the
profits for developing the business and building a new wing
to the tannery."

"Do the men work?"

"Well," he said, "we thought that when the factory was in
their own hands they would work better, but we do not think
they do so, not noticeably, anyhow."

"Do they work worse?"

"No, that is not noticeable either."

I tried to get at his political views. Last summer he had
told me that the Soviet Government could not last more than
another two or three months. He was then looking forward
to its downfall. Now he did not like it any better, but he was
very much afraid of war being brought into Russia, or rather
of the further disorders which war would cause. He took a
queer sort of pride in the way in which the territory of the
Russian republic was gradually resuming its old frontiers.
"In the old days no one ever thought the Red Army would
come to anything," he said. "You can't expect much from
the Government, but it does keep order, and I can do my
work and rub along all right." It was quite funny to hear him
in one breath grumbling at the revolution and in the next
anxiously asking whether I did not think they had weathered
the storm, so that there would be no more disorders.

Knowing that in some country places there had been
appalling excesses, I asked him how the Red Terror that
followed the attempt on the life of Lenin had shown itself in
their district. He laughed.

"We got off very cheaply," he said. "This is what
happened. A certain rich merchant's widow had a fine
house, with enormous stores of all kinds of things, fine
knives and forks, and too many of everything. For instance,
she had twenty-two samovars of all sizes and sorts. Typical
merchant's house, so many tablecloths that they could not
use them all if they lived to be a hundred. Well, one fine
day, early last summer, she was told that her house was
wanted and that she must clear out. For two days she ran
hither and thither trying to get out of giving it up. Then she
saw it was no good, and piled all those things, samovars and
knives and forks and dinner services and tablecloths and
overcoats (there were over a dozen fur overcoats) in the
garrets which she closed and sealed, and got the president of
the Soviet to come and put his seal also. In the end things
were so friendly that he even put a sentinel there to see that
the seal should not be broken. Then came the news from
Petrograd and Moscow about the Red terror, and the Soviet,
after holding a meeting and deciding that it ought to do
something, and being on too good terms with all of us to do
anything very bad, suddenly remembered poor Maria
Nicolaevna's garrets. They broke the seals and tumbled out
all the kitchen things, knives, forks, plates, furniture, the
twenty-two samovars and the overcoats, took them in carts
to the Soviet and declared them national property. National
property! And a week or two later there was a wedding of a
daughter of one of the members of the Soviet, and somehow
or other the knives and forks were on the table, and as for
samovars, there were enough to make tea for a hundreds."


February 13th.

After yesterday's talk with a capitalist victim of the
revolution, I am glad for the sake of contrast to set beside it
a talk with one of the revolution's chief theorists. The
leather-worker illustrated the revolution as it affects an
individual. The revolutionary theorist was quite incapable of
even considering his own or any other individual interests
and thought only in terms of enormous movements in which
the experiences of an individual had only the significance of
the adventures of one ant among a myriad. Bucharin,
member of the old economic mission to Berlin, violent
opponent of the Brest peace, editor of Pravda, author of
many books on economics and revolution, indefatigable
theorist, found me drinking tea at a table in the Metropole.

I had just bought a copy of a magazine which contained
a map of the world, in which most of Europe was coloured
red or pink for actual or potential revolution. I showed it to
Bucharin and said, "You cannot be surprised that people
abroad talk of you as of the new Imperialists."

Bucharin took the map and looked at it.

"Idiotism, rank idiotism!" he said. "At the same time," he
added, "I do think we have entered upon a period of
revolution which may last fifty years before the revolution is
at last victorious in all Europe and finally in all the world."

Now, I have a stock theory which I am used to set before
revolutionaries of all kinds, nearly always with interesting
results. (See p.118.) I tried it on Bucharin. I said:-

"You people are always saying that there will be revolution
in England. Has it not occurred to you that England is a
factory and not a granary, so that in the event of revolution
we should be immediately cut off from all food supplies.
According to your own theories, English capital would unite
with American in ensuring that within six weeks the
revolution had nothing to eat. England is not a country like
Russia where you can feed yourselves somehow or other
by simply walking to where there is food. Six weeks would
see starvation and reaction in England. I am inclined to
think that a revolution in England would do Russia more
harm than good."

Bucharin laughed. "You old counter-revolutionary!"
he said. "That would be all true, but you must look
further. You are right in one thing. If the
revolution spreads in Europe, America will cut off food
supplies. But by that time we shall be getting food from

"And is the poor Siberian railway to feed Russia, Germany,
and England?"

"Before then Pichon and his friends will have gone. There
will be France to feed too. But you must not forget that
there are the cornfields of Hungary and Roumania. Once
civil war ends in Europe, Europe can feed herself. With
English and German engineering assistance we shall soon
turn Russia into an effective grain supply for all the working
men's republics of the Continent. But even then the task will
be only beginning. The moment there is revolution in
England, the English colonies will throw themselves
eagerly into the arms of America. Then will come
America's turn, and, finally, it is quite likely that we shall all
have to combine to overthrow the last stronghold of

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest