My Bolsheviki

My tailor has made me two suits since the Russian Revolution: one last autumn, and one this spring. When I was fitted for the heavier cloth, Kerensky was still swaying in the precarious saddle. By the time I needed something thinner, Brest-Litovsk had intervened.

They are all Russian Jews, you see, though the proprietor has a German name and probably comes from the Baltic provinces. So German-Jewish does he look that, what with his name and his phlegmatic efficiency, I had never suspected him of Russian origin. But he told me this winter that he had been three years in the Russian army, and that the graft was sickening. The fitters might always have been anything that was not Western Europe.

It began with a headline in a newspaper which my mother had brought in to read as she sat waiting for my skirt — the heavy one — to be hung. The wild-eyed, bushy-haired little fitter, with the deft fingers, exclaimed. ‘Kitten’s ear’ was nothing to him for the moment.

I took the paper, and read out the headlines. Then, while he pinned and basted and patted, his sibilant excitement welled over. He was a pot too full, set on a fire too hot.

‘We have had a wonderful revolution ! ’ he declared.

I agreed: up to that time, it had some claim to be called so. He was hard on the Tsar, I remember, — which did not surprise me, — and said he must be tried by due process of law: otherwise the other countries would not respect Russia — not if they failed to try a traitor; not if they just weakly let him go to finish his days in England or Spain.

I expressed — as one did, in those days — hope of Kerensky, fear of the Bolsheviki; and the bushy-haired, stunted child of Russia looked into my face and told me gently that the Bolsheviki did not wish to kill anyone. The Bolsheviki were mild souls, with a pure thirst for the pure fountains of justice and mercy.

‘And Kerensky?’ I asked.

A baffling smile appeared, too old for his face. ‘ Oh, Kerensky is a good man.’

I might have known then where my fitter stood politically; for it was the tone in which we speak of harmless objectionables. When I consulted the German-Jewish-seeming proprietor later about some detail, I finished with a query about Kerensky.

The same smile, the same intonation: ‘Oh, Kerensky is a good man.’ But his eyes were not wild, nor was his calm shaken; and as I went out, I wondered if he were not perhaps the Socialist who ‘had two pigs.’

I had another fitter for my spring suit; a somewhat more educated type, more documented and doctrinaire. He could quote, he could cite, he was a man who read; he wore — as he should — spectacles. I remembered the lama’s letter in Kim: ‘Education is greatest blessing if of best sorts. Otherwise no earthly use’; and decided that, if I were by way of being a Romanoff, I would rather be attacked by Bushy-Hair than tried by Spectacles. In Bushy-Hair’s pack of emotions there might be a torn bit of what Anglo-Saxons call ‘sportsmanship’; but I am sure that Spectacles keeps no such rags in his outfit. Spectacles is a thoroughgoing Humanitarian.

Yet by this time Spectacles was excited, too. (None of them, in other years, has ever been excited.) A very easy transition from some remark about clothes in war-time led straight to Lenin and Trotzky. I let him talk — had it not been the point of my petulance that no one could put her mind on finicking sartorial detail just now? And one by one the Bolshevik arguments rolled out. Emotion was there, but with a difference. Bushy-Hair was a child of nature; Spectacles was the child of the Soap-Box. I listened, checking the points off mentally, while he ripped an erring collar from its support. The treachery of the Ukraine; the faithlessness of Germany; the helplessness of Lenin and Trotzky before German methods; the certitude that the German army could not be beaten, but that the German people would rise and compel their rulers to make a just peace; the refusal to believe in any monarchy, even Italy; the deep distrust of Japan; and, along with the stolid statement that any revolution carried inevitably its horrors and atrocities with it, the calm counter-assurance that Lenin and Trotzky were not responsible, and never countenanced such excesses. I was fascinated by so detailed a rehearsal of the Bolshevik creed. I might have been reading Arthur Ransome’s despatches from Petrograd or an article in the New Republic.

It was up to me to make some comment on this doctrinaire confusion, and at last I did. Then the fury of the Bolshevik turned upon me — not upon me, personally, but upon my deplorable ignorance. It was almost a wail; this might, for a moment, have been BushyHair, not Spectacles.

‘Your papers do not tell you the truth about Russia — about Lenin, about Trotzky. They told you that Kerensky left his wife and eloped with an actress — they want to discredit the whole Revolution.’

’And that Lenin is in German pay,’ I insinuated.

‘Lenin in German pay! Oh, your papers! I could give you papers to read, and books — I have books that tell the truth. Lenin’s brother was hanged, his sister was crucified. He is a martyr! I know Russia; I know these people; I know. The Allies will not let the truth about the Revolution be printed; they suppress it, they distort it.’ (His English was excellent.) ‘Of course I will not read your papers, that tell only what the Allies wish to have said. The only one ’ — and his face grew livid here with emotion — ‘who understands, who sympathizes, who sees what Russia is trying to do, is our President. He is the only one!' And there was an echo, in that poignant cry, of ’Eli, eli, lama sabachthani.’ In that moment, Spectacles was a man, not a humanitarian. Bushy-Hair was the froth; but I had seen, for an instant, the dregs stirred.

At our next encounter, that afternoon, Spectacles was all fitter. Not a word of anything but length and shape and correctness of line. Perhaps the Socialistwho-has-Two-Pigs had overheard and cautioned.

Hardly significant enough to report, I fancy people may think. But that poignant cry out of the dim depth of Bolshevism gave me pause, and I wondered. For Spectacles, believe me, has, properly speaking, no individuality; he is the very type of creature who has no meaning until he is multiplied by millions; who has no political consciousness except the consciousness of his class; whose voice is the simple echo of the mass-meetings of his kind. He was born to express, never himself, but a group. ‘ He is the only one who understands! ’ If that is the cry of Spectacles, you may be sure that it is the cry of thousands. It is a nice psychologic question whether there could be a single Bolshevik; whether Bolshevism is not a mob-conviction, something that no single creature can feel in isolation. But in any case Spectacles — take my word for it — speaks for more than himself: he is a voice that needs the concurrence of vast numbers to become articulate and audible. He is not, intellectually speaking, Spectacles: he is One of Them. And it may be that crowds of American Bolsheviki feel in that way about ‘our President.’ Which, if so, is as fortunate as anything could well be. For before they can reject Lenin and Trotzky, they must pin their faith to someone else. Perhaps they will eventually learn something about the other things that President Wilson understands.

When my suit came home, I laughed very gently to myself. It did quite well enough for war-time, but it had not the perfect fit of the winter clothes. Was Bushy-Hair a better fitter than Spectacles? I tried to remember. No, I think not. When the winter suit was made, you see, Kerensky was still in power. That very little wrinkle near the arm when I bend forward — hardly worth mentioning — I shall have to lay to Lenin and Trotzky.