On Soviet Soil

⁠—Late in the afternoon yesterday we touched the soil of Soviet Russia.

Driven out from the United States like criminals, we were received at Beloostrov with open arms. The revolutionary hymn, played by the military Red Band, greeted us as we crossed the frontier. The hurrahs of the red-capped soldiers, mixed with the cheers of the deportees, echoed through the woods, rolling into the distance like a challenge of joy and defiance. With bared head I stood in the presence of the visible symbols of the Revolution Triumphant.

A feeling of solemnity, of awe overwhelmed me. Thus my pious old forefathers must have felt on first entering the Holy of Holies. A strong desire was upon me to kneel down and kiss the ground⁠—the ground consecrated by the lifeblood of generations of suffering and martyrdom, consecrated anew by the revolutionists of my own day. Never before, not even at the first caress of freedom on that glorious May day, 1906⁠—after fourteen years in the Pennsylvania prison⁠—had I been stirred so profoundly. I longed to embrace humanity, to lay my heart at its feet, to give my life a thousand times to the service of the Social Revolution.

It was the most sublime day of my life.

At Beloostrov a mass meeting was held to welcome us. The large hall was filled with soldiers and peasants come to greet their comrades from America. They looked at us with large, wondering eyes, and asked many strange questions. “Are the workers starving in America?⁠—Is the revolution about to break out? How soon shall we get help for Russia?”

The crowded place was heavy with the human smell and the fumes of tobacco. There was much pushing and jostling, and loud shouting in rough border speech. Darkness had fallen, but the hall remained unlit. I felt a peculiar sensation in being swayed here and there by the noisy human billows, without being able to distinguish any faces. Then the voices and the motion ceased. My eyes turned toward the platform. It was lit by a few tallow candles, and in their dim light I could make out the figures of several women clad in black. They looked like nuns just out of the cloister, their countenances severe, forbidding. Then one of them stepped to the edge of the platform.

Tovarishi,” she began, and the significant word vibrated through my whole being with the intensity of the speaker’s ardor. She spoke passionately, vehemently, with a note of bitter defiance at the antagonistic world at large. She told of the high heroism of the revolutionary people, of their sacrifices and struggles, of the great work still to be done in Russia. She castigated the crimes of counterrevolutionists, the Allied invasion and murderous blockade. In fiery words she forecast the approach of the great world revolution, which is to destroy capitalism and the bourgeoisie throughout Europe and America, as Russia has done, and give the earth and the fullness thereof into the hands of the international proletariat.

Tumultuously the audience applauded. I felt the atmosphere charged with the spirit of revolutionary struggle, symbolic of the titanic war of two worlds⁠—the new breaking violent path for itself amid the confusion and chaos of conflicting passions. I was conscious of a world in the making, of the all-uprooting Social Revolution in action, and myself in the midst of it.

Zorin followed the woman in black, welcoming the arrivals in the name of Soviet Russia, and bespeaking their cooperation in the work of the Revolution. Then several of the deportees appeared on the rostrum. They were deeply moved by the wonderful reception, they said, and filled with admiration for the great Russian people, the first to throw off the yoke of capitalism and establish liberty and brotherhood upon the earth.

I was stirred to the depths of my being, too profoundly for words. Presently I became aware of people nudging me and whispering, “Speak, Berkman, speak! Answer him!” I had become absorbed in my emotion and did not listen to the man on the platform. I looked up. Bianki was speaking, the young Russian of Italian descent. I stood aghast as his words slowly carried comprehension to my mind. “We Anarchists,” he was saying, “are willing to work with the Bolsheviki if they will treat us right. But I warn you that we won’t stand for suppression. If you attempt it, it will mean war between us.”

I jumped on the platform. “Let not this great hour be debased by unworthy thoughts,” I cried. “From now on we are all one⁠—one in the sacred work of the Revolution, one in its defense, one in our common aim for the freedom and welfare of the people. Socialists or Anarchists⁠—our theoretical differences are left behind. We are all revolutionists now, and shoulder to shoulder we’ll stand, together to fight and to work for the liberating Revolution. Comrades, heroes of the great revolutionary struggles of Russia, in the name of the American deportees I greet you. In their name I say to you: We’ve come to learn, not to teach. To learn and to help!”

The deportees applauded, other speeches followed, and soon the unpleasant Bianki incident was forgotten. Amid great enthusiasm the meeting closed late in the evening, the whole audience joining in the singing of “The Internationale.”

On the way to the station, where a train was waiting to take us to Petrograd, a large box of American crackers fell off the sleigh. The accompanying soldiers hungrily pounced upon it, but when told that the provisions were for the children of Petrograd, they immediately returned the box to us. “Quite right,” they said, “the little ones need it most.”

Another ovation awaited us in Petrograd, followed by a demonstration to the Tauride Palace and a large meeting. Then we marched to the Smolny, where the deportees were quartered for the night.