Twenty Years in Underground Russia: Memoirs of a Rank-and-File Bolshevik
ON my return from exile I could not find either the Moscow or the Regional Party organizations to which to go. From the conversation I had with several comrades I gathered that we exiled ones had not the least conception of what had happened to our Party apparatus which had collapsed as a result of the years of oppressive police rule. Notwithstanding the few hopeful sparks of awakened enthusiasm among the workers in 1910, there was no planned or centralized Party work in Moscow. Individual groups were formed in the districts and in the Centre which attempted to reestablish the District and Moscow Committees, but these groups invariably failed, particularly when they attempted to restore the Moscow Committee. More or less systematic work was carried on in the Moscow trade unions because our people were on the Central Bureau. Comrade M. I. Frumkin who lived illegally in Moscow, under the name of Rubin, worked very energetically in the unions; but he too was soon arrested. Perhaps if I had gone to the districts and had got into my old harness of professional district worker, everything would have looked much brighter, but I could not do that because of a purely personal disability, I had a new-born child on my hands, a sick little boy, who unjustly had to pay for my restless life.
In the winter of 1911 Constantin Strievsky returned from exile in Ustug. We managed to find place for him as a worker at the electric station "1886", whose director was Gleb Krzhizhanovsky. Constantin was at first dumbfounded by the state of our Party organization. But he did not lose courage and energetically took to his work both at the electric station and outside of it. He collected the comrades who were scattered in the various enterprises and I helped in this work as much as my difficult circumstances permitted. Olga Afanasyevna Varontsova, and an old metal worker, Ivan Golubev, a good friend of mine in the Baku days in 1904 and in Moscow in 1910-06, were also in Moscow. These two comrades together with Comrades Arosev, Tikhomirov, the printer Borshchevski and Dugachev, formed a group to resuscitate the Moscow Committee. But towards the end of 19122, when things were going so smoothly that a city conference was called to elect the Moscow Committee, the entire group was arrested.
In the autumn of 1911 I went to the Shanyavsky University where it was not necessary to produce a diploma or a certificate of political good behaviour to enter. I was induced to do this by the illusion that I could systematize the fragments of knowledge I had gained by studying during the involuntary interruptions in my work by arrests and imprisonment. I wanted to make the best use of my legal position in order to get a proper education. On the other hand the Shanyavsky University was an excellent place for meeting comrades. But this illusion was soon dispelled.
Kizevetter's lectures on Russian history were purely bourgeois in character, the political economy taught by Manilov who praised the genius of bourgeois economists and threw stones at Marx at every opportunity, and the lectures of Visheslavtsev who spurned historical materialism and offered us some idealistic trash--this was not for us, all of it was alien to me and only irritated me. But the university had its merits. It was an excellent place for accomplishing all sorts of tasks to resuscitate the Moscow organization. Here a number of comrades, intellectuals as well as workers, found refuge. But even here we could not escape the interference of the provocateur.
It goes without saying that the omnipresent and omniscient secret police were not slow in penetrating the Shanyavsky University. I often made appointments with two famous provocateurs, Poskrebukhin and Romanov, of course I did not know they were provocateurs then, who would insist that there was no better place in the world to discuss Party matters than the halls of the Shanyavsky University. I had the misfortune to arrange a meeting between a very fine comrade who had fled from exile, Comrade Gvozdikov, and the provocateur Poskrebukhin. Poskrebukhin worked in the office of the Simonov Factory Sick Fund. I hoped to put Comrade Gvozdikov in touch with one or two Simonov workers. Soon after the meeting with Poskrebukhin, Comrade Gvozdikov went to St. Petersburg for a few days on a personal matter and was arrested in the street. After a short illness (inflammation of the kidneys) Comrade Gvozdikov died in the St. Petersburg prison. To this day I am not sure whether Comrade Gvozdikov's death was due to a chance meeting with a spy who knew him in St. Petersburg, or to my unwittingly having introduced him to the provocateur Poskrebukhin. Some time later I introduced Ivan Smirnov, who had also fled from exile, to Poskrebukhin. After a while Ivan was also arrested and sent back to Siberia. Towards the end of 1914, I introduced Comrade Soltz who had also fled from exile to Poskrebukhin. Naturally, Comrade Soltz did not last long in Moscow and was arrested shortly after his arrival. No one suspected Poskrebukhin. He pretended to be terribly distressed at these occurrences and would often remark that Moscow had become an unendurable place, that nothing could be arranged here, that everything became known to the secret police. Furthermore, these arrests occurred at different times and in such different circumstances that it was difficult to suspect the real instigators.
I had my own corner in a particularly secluded corridor of the Shanyavsky University where from time to time I made appointments with George Romanov who afterwards turned out to be a provocateur. I had met George during my work on the Moscow Regional Committee, he would come to see me on Party business as the representative of the workers in the works of Kolomna. He kept me informed of all the latest news which he received from the Centre abroad, gave me fresh literature received from abroad, informed me of the conditions of the Ivanovo-Voznesensk organization and of other cities in the Moscow Region whenever he chanced to be there. Also he kept me informed about the affairs of the Duma fraction in St. Petersburg. I confess that it did seem strange to me that an insignificant and poorly educated fellow like George could occupy such a responsible position in the Party. But I reminded myself that he had attended the Party school in Capri, where most probably, he had studied a bit and become acquainted with our leaders, that he must have progressed intellectually a little during these last few years. Moreover, I was impressed by his indefatigable work during those times of depression. Neither Romanov nor Poskrebukhin were regular students at the University; but they attended periodical courses on co-operation, I believe, merely to have free entry into the place.
That winter I was destined to come upon another provocateur, the provocateur of provocateurs--Roman Malinovsky.
My brother came from abroad illegally with instructions from Lenin to send representatives from Moscow and from the Moscow region to the All-Russian Conference that was to be held in Prague. Malinovsky, was marked as a future candidate to the Fourth Duma, and my brother had strict instructions to get him to go to the conference.
My brother was introduced to Malinovsky at the Blumenthal Bacteriological Institute by the laboratory worker Idatvei Segal. All the time that my brother was in Moscow he stayed in our apartment on Bolshaya Ekaterinskaya Street during the day, and every night we sent him to a different place to sleep, because we feared a raid on our apartment at any moment. A few days after his introduction to Malinovsky my brother was arrested by detectives who were waiting for him to leave the house.
Although my brother did not say who he was at first (he had a letter in code in his pocket which he was sending abroad), and although he did not give our address, nevertheless a raid was immediately made on our rooms: a number of books, which seemed suspicious to the police, were taken away, and my husband and I were told that we were perfectly free to go wherever we pleased, but that the police would occupy our apartment for an indefinite time. When morning came we very cautiously went to warn everyone we could to avoid our apartment. As a result, during the twelve days that the watch continued, only one comrade came to our room, one whom we did not know in Moscow and therefore could not warn, a Comrade Sistrin who later died in the imperialist war. The trap laid by the police was a positive torture to us.
We trembled at every ring of the doorbell for fear that a comrade, some newcomer whom we had been unable to warn was coming to us. Once the postman brought a letter which I managed to snatch out of the hands of the detective posted at our door. The other two policemen were sitting in the room playing cards. I locked myself in my room to read the letter. It came from abroad and on the surface contained nothing but an ordinary greeting and an enquiry about my health, but I suspected that it was a secret letter written in invisible ink, dealing with urgent Party matters, otherwise it would not have been addressed to my house. I had nothing at hand with which to reveal the real contents of the letter, and the detective kept knocking at the door demanding that I give it to him. I could do nothing else than dip the letter into a pitcher of water and tear it into tiny bits, and then I opened the door. When I told the scared detective that I had destroyed the letter and pointed to the torn fragments, he became even more frightened and begged me not to say anything about it to his officer for fear of being punished for not having procured it.
Twice a day four secret police agents came to our cramped apartment, two of them in police uniform and two in civilian dress. They would seat themselves and begin to "guess" if anyone would come but as no one appeared, they soon began to get bored.
Besides ourselves the apartment was occupied by two girl students. Once a very richly dressed lady, a relative, came to visit one of them. The detectives detained her and would not let her go home until she had been identified. The lady wrung her hands in despair vowing that she was no common socialist, but owned a house in the Khamovniki district. One of the policemen ran to a telephone and when he learned that the lady really owned a house in Khamovniki, he was profuse in his apologies for the annoyance they had caused her. The detectives on duty in our rooms were evidently being bored to death by waiting for people who never came and one day one of them said to my husband, "You and I, Mr. Bobrovsky, are comrades in misfortune, you are sick and tired of us and we are just as tired of you. We won't regret it in the least when we are ordered to leave you."
On the tenth day I went to the secret police headquarters to demand to know when this was going to end. I spoke to Captain Ivanov who said: "You ridicule the seeming lack of purpose in laying a trap in your apartment. Perhaps you think we do not know that you warned everybody and that we are sitting and wondering at your secluded life? During ten days nobody (except Sistrin) Fame to your house. You and I should understand each other: you are an old revolutionary and I am an experienced police officer. We are not waiting for those whom you have warned, but for those whom you have not been able to warn; we are waiting for someone from abroad, or someone from exile who will be sure to drop in on you."
To my announcement that we would leave our present quarters and go to a hotel, the police officer replied:
"You need not go to the trouble, because we will follow you to the hotel." I expressed my indignation as strongly as I could and went away. But in a few days the trap was withdrawn. Shortly afterwards I was permitted to see my brother in the prison cell, and he whispered to me that his first cross-examination proved that the letter had not been deciphered properly and the police could not make a case of that matter. But the examination also showed that the authorities knew too much. "Something is wrong in Moscow, someone is playing the traitor," my brother said.
Even after the trap was withdrawn our apartment and we ourselves were watched quite openly. In the summer the arrival of Nicholas II was expected in Moscow and the authorities wanted to clear the city of all unreliable elements. Moscow was "cleared" of me. The police came to me and ordered me to leave the city during the tsar's visit.
I went to the town of Alexin in the Tula province, and returned in the autumn. I was allowed to remain in Moscow without interference and I continued my studies at the Shanyavsky University. There all our Party people used to gather. We used the Students' Mutual Aid Society to the board of which I had been elected, as a screen for our activities.
At this time I became acquainted with Ilya Tsivtsivadze under curious circumstances. I had been watching this student for a long time and sensed that he was one of us, a Bolshevik. So I decided to ask him to collect money for a legal bolshevik paper. When I proposed this to him, Tsivtsivadze laughingly answered that he had been observing me for some time and had also wanted to ask my help for the same object because he was also busy collecting money for the paper.
The need for a legal bolshevik paper was great in Moscow, particularly after the Lena shootings when a number of protest strikes broke out in the bigger factories. The St. Petersburg paper, Star (Zvezda) and later the Truth (Pravda) were avidly read, but the business of issuing a Moscow daily took a long time. Only in August 1913, principally due to the efforts of the late Nikolai Yakovlev, did we succeed in issuing a daily Bolshevik paper Our Way (Nash Put) in Moscow.
At the end of 1912 or the beginning of 1913 I got in contact with the Lefortovo district where Comrade Lomov and his assistant Vera Karavaikova, whom I knew from Ivanovo-Voznesensk, worked. Things were beginning to develop in this district and I remember that we planned to establish our own plant for printing leaflets, but nothing came of it. The most active Party worker in Lefortovo was the well-known Moscow Comrade Marakushev, who turned out to be a provocateur. This was provocateur Number Four. In general Moscow broke the record for provocateurs. During all these years a curse seemed to hang over Moscow. All the comrades who started work to restore the Moscow Committee inevitably got entangled with one of these provocateurs.
After the closing down of our daily paper Our Way an editorial staff was organized for our future weekly. It consisted of Ivan Skvortsov, Valerian Yakhontov and Vassily Lossev. These comrades proposed that I edit the workers' correspondence column and establish contacts with the factories through my personal acquaintances in the districts.
Early in the spring of 1914, Malinovsky came to Moscow to see me on urgent business. I arranged to meet him in the vegetarian restaurant in Gazetny street. When we sat down at a table in a secluded corner and ordered lunch. Malinovsky, to my astonishment, began to talk in a loud voice about the revival of spirits among the St. Petersburg workers and said sneeringly that we in Moscow were afraid of our own shadows. I thought that this was rather tactless of Malinovsky and that while he was taking advantage of his immunity as a deputy--he had been elected to the Duma by that time--he was drawing the attention of the people in the dining room to me, a very "unimmune" person, and thus placing me in a very awkward position.
The urgent business proved to be the statement that he, Malinovsky, intended to publish a weekly paper in which I was to edit the labour news column. Moreover, he was to be the official publisher, taking advantage of the fact that he was a deputy in the Duma, and that I was to be the business manager in Moscow. I agreed to this and we went to a lawyer to draw up the necessary power of attorney for me. The title of the paper was to be Rabochy Trud.
Next day we met in the vegetarian restaurant again and later Malinovsky took me to a warehouse that formerly belonged to Nash Put where a large quantity of paper still remained. The sight of these huge rolls of paper took my breath away. Being a typical underground Party worker I could not help thinking what a splendid thing it would be if we had had at least one of these rolls for our secret printshop. Then Malinovsky read me quite a lecture on how to take care of the paper, how to remove the furniture from the editorial office of Nash Put to our new offices so that no one could discover the connection between that paper and our new Rabochy Trud, etc.
It took us three months before we could find a person to act as "responsible" editor, that is to say, a person who would pay the fines or to go to prison in the event of the authorities prosecuting the paper. By this time Malinovsky had resigned from the Duma which of course caused a great sensation in the Party. Finally, we got the editorial staff together. The editorial staff consisted of Comrades Skvortsov, Yakhontov and Lossev. As a precaution, only one of the comrades worked at the office. Finally we got out the first issue of the paper. But even before the first issue appeared, as soon as the news of the proposed publication got about, many factory workers came to us bringing us interesting items of news about what was going on in their factories. These comrades told us that there was a marked revival among the masses of the workers and expressed impatience at the slowness with which our Moscow Committee was developing its work.
The first issue came out on June 14, 1914, that is, several weeks before the outbreak of the imperialist war. Hence, I think it of interest to quote a passage from the leading article in the first issue written by Comrade Skvortsov explaining the aims and objects of the paper. In this article Comrade Skvortsov wrote:
"As far as international relationships are concerned our paper will always ruthlessly expose the policy of fomenting national hatred which brings huge profits to small groups in society, imposes a heavy burden of taxation upon the people, increases militarism, dissipates the productive forces of the country, retards economic development and creates the danger of shedding the blood of the people. As against the national hatred instigated and fanned by selfish groups, Rabochy Trud will advocate the international solidarity of labour."
"As far as international relationships are conflooded with greetings from workers in numerous factories all over the town. There was no doubt about the wide sympathy with which the appearance of our paper was greeted among the masses of workers. So great was the need felt for a workers' paper in Moscow that even the dirty work of Malinovsky could not mar the joy its appearance roused among the workers.
Of course, the paper did not escape the attentions of the tsarist censorship. And when the police attempted to confiscate the subsequent issues interesting things happened. According to the law we had to send two copies of each issue to the censor before the bulk of the copies were distributed. But before sending the two copies to the censors the printers themselves would take bundles of the paper out of the office and hand them to waiting comrades who would immediately get them distributed, so that even if the police did decide to suppress an issue large numbers of copies would get around nevertheless. On publishing day the office would be crowded with workers coming to get supplies for their factories.
I forget exactly how many issues we managed to get out before the paper was suppressed, I think there were six. But I vividly remember the last day of our paper's existence. The page proofs of the last issue were already made up and some slight corrections had to be made. I went to the printshop to do this. There I found Poskrebukhin sitting with the manager of the office discussing some business or other. Suddenly a police officer entered and glancing at Poskrebukhin, turned to the manager and in formal tones announced that the governor of Moscow had issued an order to suppress the paper, and that printing must stop immediately. When the officer left I rose to go into the editorial office to rescue some of the material and addresses. I was particularly anxious to get hold of the manuscript of articles written by Comrade Skvortsov because I had promised him that none of his manuscripts would fall into the hands of the police as he had very peculiar handwriting which could easily be traced to him. But Poskrebukhin detained me and offered to go himself as he was much quicker than I. Evidently he calculated that the police had already entered the editorial office and that if I were to go there I would be arrested: for his own purposes he wanted me to remain at liberty for some time yet. I allowed myself to be persuaded and went home instead.
When I left the printshop I was immediately followed by detectives. To get rid of them I decided to go home by a roundabout way, but try as I might I could not shake them off and finally decided that it really made no difference, because in any case by the arrangement with Malinovsky, I was the registered manager of the paper and the police knew my address. I felt so depressed and weary that I merely telephoned Comrades Skvortsov and Yakhontov arranging to meet them next day to discuss our future plans.
But this next day proved a momentous day in history--it was the date of the declaration of the World War.