“I felt like Alice in Wonderland. I had swallowed a magic pill which had transformed things. Cooks and duchesses; ragged soldiers and resplendent generals; collarless workingmen and bewigged and begowned judges, had changed places.”
I. DAILY LIFE IN PETROGRAD
Dawn rose over the city. I waited for what it would unfold. Petrograd was in the throes of revolution. As I sped across Siberia, news of it reached me. At each station wild stories poured over the wire. The working class had risen. The extreme left of the Socialists, the Bolsheviks, had gained control.
I sat on the broad window-ledge of my hotel window, and gazed out at the silent snow-covered square. At seven, two hours before daybreak, the city began to stir. Great lines of people formed. Weary, ragged soldiers stood, in lines a block long, before tobacco shops; women with shawls about their heads and baskets on their arms appeared before provision stores. The trams began to move. They overflowed with people. Soldiers climbed to the car-roofs and sat there. Women and men struggled for a foothold on a car-step, and held on to one another.
At nine, when the sun came over the horizon, the city throbbed with life. Little processions of men and women passed arm-in-arm, under red flags, singing. There was the beat of drums and some Kronstadt sailors swung into sight. Everywhere there was movement and action, but without violence. People stopped to argue. Voices rose high, and arms waved wildly. It was a people intensely alive and intensely intelligent. Everyone had an opinion.
It was my first glimpse of Russia. My heart leaped up. These people had not been contaminated by proximity to German militarism. They were not cogs in a machine. In spite of suppression, they were not servile. They were alive and free. Every Russian I met could talk; even those who could not read or write could talk.
But life in Petrograd for a stranger was difficult. The hotels were bourgeoise and capitalistic. They received scant help from the working-class government. There was no heat in my room, and only one electric light. The food grew poorer day by day. Attempts to remedy defects by fees were useless. The waiter pushed back my tip proudly, and said, `We don't take tips now.' A sign in one restaurant read, ' Don't think you can insult a man because he is a waiter by giving him a tip.' I saw that the world had been turned upside down. The cooks and waiters had become the aristocrats; the lawyers, bankers, and professors were the riff-raff.
I shivered in my room, and added coat after coat. A cold—which I had contracted coming across Siberia—grew worse. But there was nothing to do but grin and bear it. The doctors had fled or were in hiding. It was only after a twenty-four hours' struggle that I secured a doctor, and when he arrived he could be of little assistance. The drug stores were closed; it was impossible to have a prescription put up. The chemists had gone on strike. They refused to work under the Bolsheviks. But in a week the government brought these recalcitrant to terms. It threatened to take over the stores unless the chemists did business as usual.
Life was a continual battle, as it always has been, between the people who have, and the people who have not. Only now it was the capitalists and the employers who were struggling for a foothold and the working class who were ruthlessly censoring, suppressing the press, and imprisoning. The first revolution was political, the second economic. In the second, the working people had risen. There were three things that they wanted—peace, bread, and land. The Provisional Government under Kerensky had given none of these things. Instead, war was continued and an offensive was planned. This was too much for the weary Russians. No one wanted to fight.
Besides, the Provisional Government failed to live up to its promises. It could not. It was torn between two factions, Left and Right. It never came to an agreement. The land remained undivided; the people went hungry.
Then the workers grew restless. They saw their dreams of peace, bread, and land no nearer. Silently they massed and one night, while the city slept, one government was wiped out and another took its place. It was done quietly. In the Winter Palace the ministers of the Provisional Government sat and debated. Outside, the Bolsheviks (workmen and soldiers) gathered. They barricaded the streets leading to the railway stations with barrels, wagons, and automobiles, and soldiers with bayonets guarded the barricades. Meanwhile the leaders of the Bolshevik movement assembled at Smolny Institute (formerly an aristocratic girls' school) and made it the new seat of government. Cannons were mounted about the Institute; then over the wires orders went to the soldiers in the streets.
Shells began to burst over the Winter Palace. The patter of machine-guns and the thud, thud of bursting shells, broke the night's stillness. The State Bank, the telephone and telegraph stations, were quickly seized, and the small Cadet Corps guarding them overpowered. A thousand members of the Cadet Corps and the Woman's Battalion guarded the Winter Palace. In a few hours they were forced to surrender, and the ministers were seized and sent to imprisonment in the fortress of Peter and Paul.
At 3 A.M. Petrograd was in the hands of the Bolsheviks, and Leon Trotsky was presiding over the All-Russian Soviet—Congress of Workmen and Soldiers—at Smolny Institute, and addressing its members as follows: 'We are standing before an experiment unheard of in history, of creating a government with no other aim than the wants of the workingmen, peasants, and soldiers.'
Truly, Petrograd was no place to be ill in. The nights were the worst. As I lay in my bed and waited for the dawn, my nerves played me tricks. I could not sleep. There was no one to speak to, no one who spoke anything but Russian. If I rang, no one answered.. I lay and shivered, and waited for streetfighting to begin. When the machineguns opened fire, what should I do? If the soldiers entered to search or loot, would they spare me? How was I to explain that I was an American and a worker, not a capitalist?
Often I gazed from my window, and always I saw a great surging mass of people; and the more I looked the better I liked the people. They were so alive and eager. By this time I had made friends with the maid. I learned to say, 'Tavarish' (comrade). I would point to myself and say, 'Tavarish.' It always brought a smile and the most ready service.
I decided to give up the hotel and find a home in a working-class family. The decision was a wise one. The hotel was very expensive. In the apartment I went to, I had more heat, more food, and better care, for one-tenth of the money. From that time forth I never had any personal difficulty. The soldiers and workers took me into their midst without question. Often I was on the street until midnight, but no one molested me; I had only to smile and say, 'Amerikanski, Bolshevik, Tavarish,' to have a hundred hands stretched out in aid. I got caught in great crowds and was unafraid.
The average Russian has a dual personality—he is both a brute and an angel. But, if you expect him to be an angel, he will be one. Many foreigners experienced great hardship in Petrograd, and went home with wild stories; but much of the difficulty was of their own making. You don't wave a red rag at a bull if you want the bull to behave. And it isn't wise to wear a high silk hat, a fur coat, and a diamond ring, and swagger up to an unfed, ill-clothed Bolshevik and tell him he's a rascal.
Every day, on nearly every street-corner, a fur-coated gentleman and a soldier would be in hot argument. In the end it always got down to the same practical basis: —
Soldier: You are a capitalist.
Gentleman: You are a rascal.
Soldier: Capitalists are enemies of the people. All must be poor, all must be alike. Where did you get that fur coat?
Gentleman: None of your business.
Soldier: Yes, it is. It is our turn to have the fur coats, and we are going to have them.
Sometimes, on dark nights, the fur coat changed hands; but usually the soldier and gentleman merely parted in hot anger.
One night Jack Reed was held up and robbed. But he knew a few Russian words and explained that he was an American and a Socialist. Whereupon his possessions were promptly returned, his hand cordially shaken, and he was sent off rejoicing. Another night a woman was held up and robbed. She was a Russian, and explained pathetically that her home was far distant and she needed car-fare. Her appeal had effect. A rouble was returned to her, with the following instructions: 'If any soldiers start to rob you again, just tell them that Comrade So-and-so has already robbed you, but has left you a rouble to get home with.'
Daily I grew tougher. The buttons got pulled off my clothes and remained off. I ceased to feel that baths were a daily necessity. I grew thankful for coarse but nourishing food. There was plenty of tea, a fair amount of black bread, quantities of vegetables, — cabbages, beets, carrots, turnips, potatoes, — and coarse meat. There were no sweets or pastry, but sometimes we had butter, and usually four lumps of sugar a day. It was a case of survive if you can, and if you do you’ll grow strong.
And there was one great joy about life in Russia. It was thrillingly interesting. You could not be bored. Every day the Bolsheviks issued some new decree. One day all titles were abolished; the next, judges and lawyers were eliminated. They and their knowledge were held to be useless. I confess to a wicked delight on that occasion. I am a lawyer, and I know how little justice there often is in the law.
But such deeds frightened the Monarchists and Cadets. They would come out from hiding and make a show of resistance, and then scurry back. For day by day the Bolsheviks grew in power. All the soldiers were Bolsheviks, and they had the bayonets.
In the midst of this passionate life the poor Bolshevik government had no easy task. It had let loose the brute force of Russia. It was the greedy brute who caused the trouble. He looted gayly and thoroughly, while the government struggled desperately to bring about order. And these looting episodes were seized on and magnified by the opposition, in order to discredit the Bolsheviks and spread terror.
My first experience of looting I shall never forget. I had been out to dinner. I had heard shooting at a distance, but had not realized what it meant. It was when I started to go home, about eleven, that the sound of bullets began to beat in on me. My way lay in the direction of the shooting. The fatal thud-thud grew almost unbearable. Then there came shouts and cries of distress. I confess that I was a coward. I was with an American correspondent and his wife, and I shamelessly begged them to see me home. I might be willing to die for a cause, but I did not want to be killed by a stray bullet.
With great difficulty we secured a sleigh. It was a wonderful night, bright with stars. The sled glided swiftly over the hard snow. It seemed impossible that men could be killing one another. Then a sleigh dashed past us. It evidently carried a wounded man, for he kept crying out, 'Help, comrade, help!' I shivered and held on to my companions. The shots had grown very loud. We could see soldiers running. Their guns had been taken from them. They were shouting and screaming. Our sleigh passed close by them, but they made no move toward us. My companions said something about going to see the excitement, but I wanted to get home and bury my head under the bedclothes.
In the morning I had more courage. Besides, the shooting had ceased. I walked from my house toward the Winter Palace. When I came within two squares, I saw bright red drops on the snow. At first I thought it was wine, but it was too red and thick for that; and there were splotches of red on some of the buildings, where a wounded man had been leaning. All over the road, and on the frozen Neva, were smashed bottles. I picked up a bottle. Its label bore the Tsar's coat of arms. It was a choice brand of Madeira.
When I reached the Winter Palace I found that it was guarded by a ragged crowd of factory boys in civilian clothes, carrying bayonets. They were some of the Red Guard. They at least were sober. Wine is hard to get in these days, and vodka unobtainable. Consequently the thirsty Russians grow desperate. That is what had happened the night before. Thirsty soldiers got into the wine-cellar and held an orgy; other soldiers came to drive them out, and remained to drink. Quarreling began. Kronstadt sailors and Red Guards arrived; the drunk and half-drunk refused to leave. Firing began. Tempers rose higher and higher, and a small battle ensued. In the end the hose of a fire-engine was turned on, all the bottles in the wine-cellar were smashed, and the place flooded. Three soldiers were drowned in the wine, and between twenty and thirty killed, and many wounded. But with daylight order came, and shame and repentance. The Russian is always very repentant. He may murder a man, but afterwards he will feed and clothe the man's child.
It was difficult in those swift-moving days to see clearly. It will take time to see the Russian Revolution in just proportions. But one thing grew apparent. That is that in a bloody revolution, where force is the basis, as in bloody war, everything fine gets pushed to the wall. Art, science, and social welfare vanish. The working class fought for power and became dictators. They ruled, not by the vote, but by force. They pulled existence down to the conditions of the poorest workingman. They failed to live up to their ideals of beauty, brotherhood, fair play, and freedom. A government by the people and for the people, inspired by ideals of brotherhood and freedom, is the only true foundation.
II. PRISON AND COURT-ROOM
I woke to find that judges and lawyers had been abolished. Over-night, legal learning and ancient precedents had been cast into the scrap-heap. It was refreshing to start with a clean slate. Russia was no longer bound by traditions. Still, humanity had not reformed overnight. There were people who would grab and lie and betray their fellows. What was to be done with them?
In the early days of the Revolution there had been a great jail-delivery. Many thieves and murderers, as well as political offenders, were released. Every now and then a man was caught preying upon society. The Bolshevik mob had scant mercy for such a one. They had given him freedom, and this was his gratitude. The culprit should pay the price.
A member of the American Military Control in Petrograd told me of the following incident as one he had witnessed. A woman dashed into the street after a boy of fifteen. 'He's stolen my pocket-book; he's stolen my pocketbook!' she cried. A miserable shrieking urchin sped madly down the road in front of her. He was caught by passersby, and a crowd gathered. Blow upon blow fell upon the defenseless head. Childish shrieks of terror filled the air. The woman, appalled at what she had done, rushed back to the house. Again she made a desperate search, and suddenly in a dark corner she unearthed the missing pocket-book. Again she dashed into the street, waving her property and calling loudly her mistake. But it was too late: the childish cries were still; a beaten and lifeless body had just been hurled into the canal. Sick shame seized the mob. Rage surged in their hearts. Under the Tsar they had been mercilessly beaten and abused. Brute force had been their instructor. They turned on the woman and applied the only method they knew. They beat her to death and dropped her into the canal.
Dire deeds were said to go on behind the grim walls of the fortress of Peter and Paul. Here ministers and generals languished in cells formerly occupied by ardent revolutionists.
With a good deal of difficulty I secured permission to visit the fortress. My permit read for seven in the evening. I took with me a young woman as interpreter. The grim fortress is surrounded by a massive stone wall and stands on the bank of the Neva, opposite the Winter Palace. At the entrance soldiers were gathered about a campfire. Camp-fires burn all over Petrograd. Wherever soldiers stand on guard they build a fire for warmth. At night the burning logs make the city bright. It is like an armed camp.
In the firelight the great iron-studded wooden gate of Peter and Paul looked like the entrance to a mediæval castle. About the door, rough-looking soldiers, in long coats that came to their ankles, and shaggy fur hats, leaned on their bayonets. When I entered, and the massive gate clanged to, I felt indeed cut off from the world.
Through the darkness we made our way to the commandant's office. He was not in, but untidy-looking soldiers examined my pass. I must wait, they said. They eyed me curiously and spoke to my interpreter. After a little they grew friendly and invited me to have a glass of tea. They took me into the kitchen—a long, low-ceilinged room, with a great stove at one end. There were ten or a dozen soldiers. They smoked and talked incessantly, dropping cigarette-butts wherever they stood. They were dirty, ragged, and unshaven. We sat down at a long wooden table, with a steaming samovar between us. As I grew in favor, sugar, butter, and some eatable black bread were produced. This was a treat, indeed.
The soldiers were looking at me curiously. I was an American, and they wanted to know about America.
'Why has America gone to war?'
'Has President Wilson sold out to the capitalists?'
'Will there be a revolution in America?'
These were the questions poured upon me. Some of the men could not read or write, but their knowledge was extraordinary. It was plain that they had but little faith in American democracy. The belief that America has sold out is widespread. This is the work of German propaganda.
I tried to answer the questions. I tried to make them see America with my eyes. I explained that half our country is bourgeoise; that there is no working class which corresponds to the Russian workman; that even the unskilled American worker has something to lose; that, in consequence, there cannot be a revolution in America, such as has occurred in Russia.
They were keenly interested. The majority saw my point. They realized that changes in America are likely to come by evolution rather than by revolution. I told them that the President led rather than lagged behind the opinion of the majority; that he was more liberal and democratic than any president we had had, except Lincoln. But one man, an illiterate, was not to be convinced. There was only one remedy for inequalities. The working class must rise, whether they were a minority or a majority. The capitalists must be beheaded. He himself would like to behead them one by one. In the flickering light I seemed to see him pull out his knife and feel of it. But the other men were against such methods. They suppressed this firebrand. Their intelligence was marvelous. Many had never been to school, yet they knew about conditions in both America and Europe. Their conversation was not confined to wages and food, but dealt with world-politics.
Probably in no other civilized land are there so many illiterates. But even the Russians who cannot read or write can think and talk.
By this time the commandant arrived, and I was led forth on my tour of inspection. The massiveness of the old fortress was impressive. The walls were several feet thick. No sound could penetrate them. The corridors were like vaults. Here one was buried alive.
My request to interview the prisoners was instantly granted. I was ushered into a cell, and the Bolshevik guard withdrew. It was a room twelve by fourteen feet in size, with a high ceiling. There was one little window far up in the wall. It was impossible to see from it, and in the daytime it gave scant light. There was a stone floor, and the walls had been whitewashed. It looked clean, but cold. There was the damp chilly atmosphere of a prison. But the one electric light shone brightly. It stood on a table by the iron bedstead. The only other furniture was a chair.
The occupant of this cell was the former Minister of Finance, a man about fifty, with gray hair and beard. He courteously offered me the chair and sat on the bed. Again I had the sensation of a topsy-turvy world. Workingmen with fixed bayonets stood at the door, while a learned Minister of Finance meekly sat on his prison-bed and talked to me. He was studying an English grammar, for he could not speak English. We talked together in French. He accepted his lot philosophically. He did not complain of conditions. He and the others, he said, were treated as political offenders. They could have food from the outside, and letters and visits from their families, and might read and write as much as they liked.
'It's the psychology of the place that is terrible,' he said, as he rose and paced the floor.' We can't tell what will happen. Each moment may be the last. Personally, I am not afraid. I don't think they’ll hurt me. But the others are afraid. Every hour they fear a massacre. I do not dare tell my wife this. I tell her we are all right. But it is a frightful strain.'
I visited other cells. I talked with a Social Democrat, a man who has fought for Russian freedom and is a well-known economist. He bitterly denounced the Bolsheviks.
'Go back to America and tell them what is happening here. Tell American Socialists that the Bolsheviks are imprisoning their fellow Socialists. Nine times I was imprisoned under the old regime, and since the Revolution I have been imprisoned ten times. There is little to choose. Both Tsar and Bolsheviks are dictators. There is no democracy.'
After this outburst he began to pace the floor restlessly. His eyes had a haunted look. His words were those of the Minister of Finance.
'It's the uncertainty that's so terrible. Personally, I'm not afraid. They don't dare hurt me. But the others—they are afraid. They are going to pieces. Every day they expect to be lined up and shot. It is unbearable.'
In each cell it was the same. There was the queer restlessness, then the fatal sentence.
'It isn't for myself I fear, it's for the others. They are afraid.'
The distrust of the prisoners bred distrust in the keepers. Slowly each side was being dragged to disaster.
In addition to the single cells there were two large dormitories. In these were imprisoned army officers. I was shown these rooms. The men were smoking and playing cards. Here the tension was less. Companionship had eased the strain. In one room a Russian general rose and addressed me. He spoke in French.
'Well, madame,' he said, 'what do you think of Russia? What do you think of a country that imprisons its officers? I don't suppose America does that sort of thing?'
The men crowded around to hear my answer.
'No,' I said, smiling. 'Still, America does imprison people. It imprisons men who refuse to fight.'
At this there was a delighted laugh, and the general continued: 'Here, you see, it's the other way. We are imprisoned for fighting. There should be an exchange of prisoners.'
Even the Bolsheviks saw the joke and joined in the laugh. Certainly it was a topsy-turvy world.
As we turned to go, my interpreter spoke to a guard. He had been rude, had pushed the generals aside and slammed the door.
'I hope,' she said, 'you are good to the prisoners. Remember your own prison days and what it was like.'
The man hung his head. He was like an overgrown child. 'I do forget,' he said, 'and I grow ugly.'
In that little incident lay the whole story. Power breeds tyrants. No man should have arbitrary control of his fellows. As long as there was belief in retaliation and punishment life would be ugly.
A few days later I visited the Revolutionary Tribunal. I wanted to see how law without law-books and precedents was administered. The palace of the Grand Duke Nicolas Nicolaivitch had been turned into a court house. It is a massive white stone building on the bank of the Neva, near the fortress of Peter and Paul. In the old days it was gay with music and laughter. A broad marble staircase; covered with a red velvet carpet, led to the ball-room. That room was resplendent in silk hangings, a gold frieze, and a gorgeous chandelier. It had a brightly polished inlaid wooden floor. Many gay little slippers had whirled across it. Now it was covered with the mark of muddy feet. Dust, ashes, and cigarette-butts lay everywhere. The red velvet carpet had been pulled awry. The elaborate furniture was piled up in corners. Streams of workingmen and soldiers moved in and out. An excited crowd was arguing in the corridors. The court-room was empty. The judges had retired, angry, and refused to sit again that day. The story I got was as follows: —
A man named Branson, a member of the ancient Duma, and the secretary of a league for the defense of the Constituent Assembly, had been on trial. The court-room was filled with his friends and sympathizers. When Branson entered, he was given an ovation. The President of the tribunal called for order, but the applause and cheers continued. Then the President ordered the room cleared. Whereupon indignant cries arose. 'This is not a tribunal, it is a chamber of torture. We will not leave except at the point of the bayonet.'
Again the President called upon the soldiers to empty the hall. Slowly they moved forward, with fixed bayonets, but the public did not stir. The soldiers withdrew into a corner. A workingman sprang to his feet and heaped sarcasm upon the tribunal. The President threatened expulsion, but the man merely cried out, 'Shoot me down; you cannot put me out otherwise.' The President ordered the man ejected, but he slipped in among the spectators and took a seat. From this vantage-ground he again hurled out his taunt: 'Shoot me down; you cannot take me otherwise.' The public sided with the man. It was impossible to reach him without violence. The patience of the court was exhausted. In hot anger the President and tribunal left. By this time the soldiers were angry, and expelled the crowd with no gentle hand.
At this point I arrived. There would be no further sitting that day, so I left; but in a few days I returned. This time I had a permit, and my interpreter.
The court was to open at two. We climbed the dirty marble staircase. The air was foul and full of smoke. Across one end of the ball-room was a long wooden table covered with a red cloth. This was the judges' bench. In front were rows of wooden benches for the spectators. On one side of the judges' bench were other seats, for the prisoners, lawyers, and witnesses. There was no order or cleanliness.
Two o'clock came and went; then three, then four, then five. If Germany attempts to systematize Russia, she will have her hands full. A Russian is never on time. At six o'clock the seven judges filed in. They were all workingmen. They had been elected by the All-Russian Soviet, the Congress of Workingmen and Soldiers. Not one of them could boast of a clean collar. The President wore a dingy business suit. One man's shirt was so dirty that it was impossible to distinguish the color. He was collarless.
No one rose to greet the court. A group of Junkers were to be tried, among them a man named Pouriskevitch, a general in the Tsar's army, one upon the tribunal. of the men who had aided in the assassination of Rasputin. Pouriskevitch is a Monarchist to the backbone, and hated by the working class. He and his companions were accused of forming an organization which was to seize the government and restore the monarchy.
The room was packed. The trial had brought from hiding a number of titled and wealthy people. Most of the women wore Red Cross costumes. This was to hide their elegance. But one family, a mother and several daughters and some relatives, appeared in all their finery. They wore rings and diamond brooches and displayed expensive furs. They crowded on the bench beside me. There was not room for them all, so one of the daughters turned to me. She spoke in German (the language of the Russian court): 'Will you move to the back of the room. We want this bench. One of the prisoners is a relative.'
I had been in court four hours. I had sat in my seat the whole time, to hold it. I looked up at the young woman and shook my head. She reddened with anger. Her insolence was intolerable. She seemed to have forgotten that there had been a revolution. She planted herself half on me and half on the bench. She was very beautiful, but her body was as hard and rigid as her face. I found my temper mounting. I understood the rage of the Bolshevik at the insolence of the autocracy. I drove my elbow with a vicious dig into the young woman. She grew furious, but she no longer had power to order me to a dungeon. She removed herself from my lap, but squeezed in close. I could make no impression and gave it up.
By this time even the aisles were full. Two cooks had come up from the kitchen. Their arms were bare and they were hot and greasy. Two chairs were brought for them by the soldiers. I sat between the duchesses and the cooks. Of the two, the cooks had the better manners.
Then there was a great craning of necks. There was a sound of tramping feet. The prisoners were being led in. In they came, between two rows of Bolshevik soldiers. They were in full regimentals. Their uniforms were covered with gold braid, and they wore a great array of medals. They even had spurs on their shining leather boots. They laughed and joked like schoolboys. The soldiers who guarded them were ragged and dirty. No two had uniforms alike. Some wore caps and others fur hats. Nothing matched. One or two had their feet bound in rags. They looked like the soldiery of a comic opera. They ranged themselves along the wall and leaned on their bayonets. The whole scene was comic.
Again I felt like Alice in Wonderland. I had swallowed a magic pill which had transformed things. Cooks and duchesses; ragged soldiers and resplendent generals; collarless workingmen and bewigged and begowned judges, had changed places. Even the gaudy ballroom, by a wave of the magic wand, had become a dirty human meeting-hall.
Laughter surged to my lips, but something in the faces of the judges checked it. The eyes of the soldiers were stern. The family next me was making signs to their Junker officer. They jested and laughed. They ridiculed the proceedings. The Junker officer lay back in his chair and stretched his feet out in front of him and grinned. Contempt for the court was in every act and look.
But now the trial had begun. Pouriskevitch had retained an eminent lawyer as his defender. A gray-bearded man in a handsome frock coat stepped forward. He had all the pomp and formality of bygone days. He was over-obsequious to the judges. Each wave of his hand was an insult.
He bowed low and addressed the tribunal. 'Most reverent and honorable sirs,' he began.
The prisoners giggled. A smile went around the court-room. But the tribunal listened with wide-open, serious eyes. They struggled to comprehend the learned legal arguments. A puzzled frown crept over their faces. They consulted one another, but the lawyer's eloquent speech flowed on.
'I am sure,' he said, 'that this great and honorable tribunal wishes to be just; that the learned gentlemen on the bench have no thought but justice.'
The biting sarcasm failed to touch the tribunal. They listened with childlike earnestness. It was pathetic and magnificent.
But early in the case there came an interruption. Among the prisoners was a man who was not a Junker. He had been indicted with the group of Monarchists, but he was in reality a Socialist. This man's lawyer, also a Socialist, now rose. He used no blandishments. He upbraided the tribunal. He declared that it was an outrage that his client, a prominent Socialist, should be classed and tried with the despicable Monarchist Pouriskevitch.
It was as if a bomb had exploded. The court-room was in an uproar. Pouriskevitch, red and angry, was on his feet. 'How dare a common Socialist consider it an insult to be tried with me. I am a general and a noble.'
It was funny and tragic. One half the court-room glared at the other half. The judges were bewildered. In the end they ordered the Socialist lawyer from the room. They had ignored or failed to comprehend the insults of the eminent counsel, but they understood the taunts of the Socialist. Then the tribunal consulted together. At last the President rose and announced that the court would retire, to consider whether the prisoners should be tried together or separately.
It was eight o'clock. I was faint for want of food. The tribunal might not return for hours, and then it might sit until three in the morning. I decided to leave. As I pushed my way out, I realized again the intense emotional atmosphere of the fortress. Faces were flushed and eyes angry. Hot, eager talk spurted up. There was the same battle of class against class, the same hatred, the same desire on the part of each to dominate. Only the judges had been serene. They were pitiful and great in their simplicity, their struggle to understand, their attempt to be fair.
* * *
From the Nicolai Palace I went to the apartment of Maxim Gorky. A few days before, I had been there and had met the mother of Tereschenko and the wife of Konavello. Tereschenko and Konavello were two of the ministers imprisoned in Peter and Paul. This mother and wife were tortured by anxiety. In their dilemma they turned to Maxim Gorky. He was the one intellectual who had not deserted the Bolsheviks. He was doing the big thing. He criticized, condemned, but tried to help. Each day his paper, Novia Jizm, laid bare the faults of the Bolshevik government. Hourly he was in danger of arrest. But his stand made his home the refuge of the oppressed. Workingmen and countesses came to him for aid.
* * *
Marie Andrievna, Gorky's companion for twenty years, and in all but legal formality his wife, made a charming hostess. It was she who cheered the distressed women and invited them to tea. It was she who promised to visit the imprisoned men. It was she who told Gorky of Konavello's rheumatism. When Gorky heard this, he went to the telephone. Over the wire he arranged to have his doctor visit the sick man. Tears of gladness and gratitude were in the women's eyes when they left.
When I reached Maxim Gorky's, after my day in court, I was tired and spent, but they listened to my story with interest. Then Marie Andrievna told me of her day. She had been to Peter and Paul. She had seen the imprisoned men. She had found Konavello very ill. The prisoners had been through a fiery ordeal. In a moment of rashness Konavello had written to a friend denouncing the Bolshevik government and declaring that Russia was being delivered over to Germany. This letter came into the hands of the soldiers on guard. They were enraged. They cast Konavello into a dungeon, a dark cell in the basement, where the walls reeked with moisture. When the other prisoners heard of Konavello's plight, they took counsel together. It was agreed that Konavello was too ill to survive such treatment. They decided to make a protest. Ministers, generals, and other political prisoners resolved to go on a hunger strike. They were not going to be outdone by militant suffragettes.
The ministers and generals proved effective hunger-strikers. The soldiers grew worried, then enraged. They led the little community out into the yard and lined them up against the wall. 'We shoot, unless you suspend your strike,' was the ultimatum.
But light came to three Kronstadt sailors. They suddenly stepped forward. 'What we are doing is wrong,' they said. 'It's against all principles of brotherhood. These men shall not be shot, except over our dead bodies.'
Their courage won the day. The angel in the Russian soldier rose to the surface. The prisoners were sent back to their cells, and Konavello was released from the dungeon.
'But,' said Marie Andrievna when she had finished, 'another time it may not turn out that way. My heart sickens when I think of the future.'
Since my return to America I have read that two of the ministers in Peter and Paul have been put to death. One, I believe, was the Minister of Finance. The night-guard entered the cells and stabbed the men. It was not an act of the Soviet government, but a deed of that wild, revengeful force which has been let loose in Russia. The pity of it! For the Russian has infinite possibilities. He is angel as well as brute. He can be dominated by high ideals as well as by low. But the Soviet government has not the time to teach ideals. In its desperate struggle to survive, in its fight for equality, it uses autocratic methods.
Only the voice of Gorky rises above the maelstrom, pleading for moderation, for patience, for fine methods as well as fine principles—pleading for spiritual regeneration as well as economic equality. These are his words as they appeared one morning in his paper, Novia Jizm: —
'The question is, is the Revolution bringing spiritual regeneration? Is it making people more honest, more sincere? Or is man's life as cheap as before? Are the new officials as rude as the old? Are the old brutalities still in existence? Is there the same cruel treatment of prisoners? Does not bribery remain? Is it not true that only physical force has changed hands, and that there has been no new spiritual realization? What is the meaning of life? It should be the development of spiritual realization, the development of all our capacities for good.
'The time is not ripe for this. We must first take things over by force. That is the answer I get. But there is no poison more dangerous than power over others. This we must not forget, or the poison will poison us. We shall become worse cannibals than those against whom we have fought all our lives. It must be a revolution of the heart and brain, but not of the bayonet.'