title
macrohistory.com

(CIVIL WAR, LENIN and RISE of STALIN – continued)

home | 1901-WW2 Index

CIVIL WAR, LENIN and RISE of STALIN (5 of 10)

previous | next

A deported Emma Goldman describes Lenin's Russia

From Russian-ruled Lithuania, Emma Goldman, in 1885 at the age of sixteen, arrived in New York with her sister. She was a voracious reader of books and strong-willed, having resisted her orthodox Jewish father's authoritarianism. She was a "free thinker" with compassion for ordinary people. In 1886, after the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, she accepted the political philosophy of anarchism and became a speaker who attracted thousands. In 1917 she was sentenced to two years in jail for conspiring to "induce persons not to register" for the government's new military draft. She was released from prison in late 1919, during the first Red Scare in the U.S., and at the age of 46, with hundreds of others, she was deported to Russia.

She arrived in Petrograd on a cold January day but she was to write that "spring was in our hearts." A celebrity, she received special attention. But she wrote that she had "not come to Russia to teach." She had come "to learn."

Emma Goldman, circa 1910

Emma Goldman (Wikimedia Commons)

In her book, My Two Years in Russia, she described Petrograd in early 1920:

[Petrograd] was almost in ruins, as if a hurricane had swept over it. The houses looked like broken old tombs upon neglected and forgotten cemeteries. The streets were dirty and deserted; all life had gone from them. The population of Petrograd before the war was almost two million; in 1920 it had dwindled to five hundred thousand. The people walked about like living corpses; the shortage of food and fuel was slowly sapping the city; grim death was clutching at its heart.

At a town meeting she found soldiers holding their guns at attention. She was on the platform with others overlooking the people in the packed hall. "Starved and wretched they looked." They sang the "Internationale." After the last speaker the meeting was thrown open to discussion. A non-conforming socialist (Menshevik) asked for the floor. There were shouts of "Traitor!" and "Counter-Revolutionist!" from the audience and from the platform. Returning home with her host, Sergei Zorin, Petrograd's Communist Party First Secretary, defended the reaction to the Menshevik. "Free speech," he said, "is a bourgeois superstition. During a revolutionary period there can be no free speech."

Goldman observed a shortage of food and fuel. The Soviet government had closed houses of prostitution and was trying to drive prostitutes off the streets. Goldman wrote "that hunger and cold was driving them back again," and that Bolshevik soldiers were employing them. This and the economic hardship, Goldman was told, was because of the blockade by those wanting to destroy the Revolution.

Goldman found in Petrograd a thriving black market with the Bolshevik police, the Cheka, taking a cut. She wrote of a "scarcity of food and three years of starvation" as having turned most people into grafters and theft as inevitable. "The Bolsheviki are trying to suppress it with an iron hand," she wrote. "How can they be blamed? But try as I might I could not silence my doubts."

In Moscow

Goldman journeyed to Moscow and was amazed by "the sight of busy crowds, cabbies, and porters." In her book she described the streets as "alive with men, women, and children. Almost everybody carried a bundle, or dragged a loaded sleigh." She noticed "...scores of men dressed in leather suits with guns in their belts." They were the Cheka (an acronym for All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage). Unlike in Petrograd, in Moscow the Cheka "seemed everywhere." But people paid them little mind. People in the street appeared preoccupied, "pushing and knocking against everyone else."

Repeatedly I saw women or children fall from exhaustion without any one stopping to lend assistance. People stared at me when I would bend over the heap on the slippery pavement or gather up the bundles that had fallen into the street.

Goldman described hearing the opinion that the Bolsheviks were their new master, the barin, and that "the barin has everything, white bread, clothing, even chocolate, while we have nothing." Eating among the Bolshevik elite she noticed that the kitchen staff were poorly paid and "were not given the same food served to us." She wrote that the kitchen staff "resented" it.

She wondered how the Bolsheviks, who were only a small minority, could maintain themselves in power. The Russian masses, she was told were exhausted by hunger and cowed by terrorism, that there was little organized opposition in Bolshevik ruled areas but that people had lost faith in all parties and ideas. She wrote of peasant uprisings in various parts of Russia and constant strikes in Moscow, Petrograd, and other industrial centers. And she added that "censorship was so rigid," common people knew little about these events.

Goldman observed that eager people from the US came to render service to the revolution. Most of them were skilled workers, mechanics – men Russia needed badly. But the Soviet bureaucracy was inept at placing them. Goldman wrote:

Some had tried independently to secure jobs, but they could accomplish very little. Moreover, those who found employment were soon made to feel that the Russian workers resented the eagerness and intensity of their brothers from America. "Wait till you have starved as long as we," they would say, "wait till you have tasted the blessings of Commissarship, and we will see if you are still so eager." In every way the deportees were discouraged and their enthusiasm dampened.

More on economic bureaucracy, she wrote:

Thus to get a pound of nails one had to file applications in about ten or fifteen bureaus; to secure some bed linen or ordinary dishes one wasted days. Everywhere in the offices crowds of Government employees stood about smoking cigarettes, awaiting the hour when the tedious task of the day would be over. My co-workers of the War Prisoners' Bureau fumed at the irritating and unnecessary delays, but to no purpose. They threatened with the cheka, with the concentration camp, even with raztrel (shooting). The latter was the most favourite argument. Whenever any difficulty arose one immediately heard raztreliat -- to be shot.

On an attitude she found among Party members she wrote:

On a certain occasion, when I passed criticism on the brutal way delicate women were driven into the streets to shovel snow, insisting that even if they had belonged to the bourgeoisie they were human, and that physical fitness should be taken into consideration, a Communist said to me: "You should be ashamed of yourself; you, an old revolutionist, and yet so sentimental." In short, I had come to see that the Bolsheviki were social puritans who sincerely believed that they alone were ordained to save mankind. My relations with the Bolsheviki became more strained, my attitude toward the Revolution as I found it more critical.

Meeting Lenin

Goldman was driven by limousine past the walls of the kremlin for an interview with the Bolshevik leader, Lenin. She asked him about fellow anarchists that she had learned were in prison and about a lack of press freedom. "Free speech," responded Lenin, "is, of course, a bourgeois notion." He added,

There can be no free speech in a revolutionary period. We have the peasantry against us because we can give them nothing in return for their bread. We will have them on our side when we have something to exchange. Then you can have all the free speech you want – but not now.

She asked Lenin why he had not raised his voice to correct what she thought were evils existing under the Bolsheviks. Lenin described Russia as being attacked by the Imperialists and spoke of Russian women and children dying from the effects of the blockade. The concern of the Bolshevik government at this point, said Lenin, was to survive, to maintain itself in power.

Lenin asked her when the revolution would occur in America. She wrote that she "...had been asked the question repeatedly before," but I was astounded to hear it from Lenin. "It seemed incredible," she wrote, "that a man of his information should know so little "

Ideology and the New Economic Policy

In March 1921, into Goldman's second year in Russia, sailors at the Kronstadt naval base at Petrograd rebelled. Their rebellion moved Lenin to begin what was called the New Economic Policy. Capitalism, he said, must come to the revolution's aid and added that he would destroy it later.

Goldman described the "New Economic Policy" as a shock to most Communists, struggling as they were with ideology.

They saw in it a reversal of everything that their Party had been proclaiming – a reversal of Communism itself. In protest some of the oldest members of the Party, men who had faced danger and persecution under the old regime while Lenin and Trotsky lived abroad in safety, left the Communist Party embittered and disappointed.

According to Goldman, Lenin's Communist Party began clearing the Party of "doubtful" elements. Lenin's reply to the opponents of the New Economic Policy, according to Goldman, was "Only fools can believe that Communism is possible in Russia now."

Goldman was one of those who did not accept Lenin's view. She wrote that "the centralized political State was Lenin's deity, that Lenin "was willing to sacrifice both the Revolution and the country, or at least part of the latter, in order to realize his political scheme with what was left of Russia."

Emma Goldman leaves Russia

Emma Goldman left Russia in December 1921 for Britain. Her book My Two years in Russia was published by Doubleday as two books: My Disillusionment in Russia, in 1923; and My Further Disillusionment in Russia, in 1924.

In 1925 she married an elderly Welsh miner, and with a British passport she was able to travel to France and Canada. In 1934 she was allowed to give a lecture tour in the States. She died in Toronto in 1940 approaching the age of 71. She is buried in Chicago.

Sources

Copyright © 2008-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.