Early Days of 1921

The military fronts have been liquidated; civil war is at an end. The country breathes a sigh of relief. The Entente has ceased to finance counterrevolution, but the blockade still continues. It is now generally realized that the hope of near revolution in Europe is visionary. The proletariat of the West, involved in a severe struggle with growing reaction at home, can give no aid to Russia. The Soviet Republic is thrown upon its own resources.

All thoughts are turned to economic reconstruction. Communist circles and the official press are agitated by the discussion of the role of the workers in the present situation. It is admitted that militarization of labor has failed. Far from proving productive, as had been claimed, its effects have been disorganizing and demoralizing. The new part to be assigned to the proletariat is the burning problem, but there is no unity of opinion among the leading Bolsheviki. Lenin contends that the unions are not prepared to manage the industries: their main mission is to serve as “schools of Communism,” with gradually increasing participation in the economic field. Zinoviev and his following side with Lenin and elaborate his views. But Trotsky dissents, insisting that the workers will for a long time to come be unfit to manage the industries. He demands a “labor front,” subject to the iron discipline of a military campaign. In opposition to this conception, the labor elements advocate the immediate democratization of industrial government. The exclusion of the unions from a decisive role in the economic life, they maintain, is the true cause of the deplorable situation. They are confident that the revolutionary proletariat, who has defeated all armed opposition, will also conquer the enemy on the economic field. But the workers must be given the opportunity: they will learn by doing.

Throughout the country rages the discussion, on the solution of which depends the economic future of the people.

Many of the Anarchists arrested in Kharkov on the eve of the suppressed Conference have been brought to Moscow. Some of them are in the Butirki; others are held incommunicado in the “inner jail” of the Cheka. Volin, A. Baron, and Lea, the wife of my friend Yossif the Emigrant, are among them. Yossif is reported dead. With the consent of the Kharkov authorities, accompanied by two friends, he had gone to the Makhno camp to aid in arranging the conditions of agreement. On the way all three disappeared⁠—killed, it is assumed, just as they entered a village that was being pogromed. There are rumors of Bolshevik responsibility for the tragedy, but I cannot believe them guilty of such treachery.

By the aid of Angelica Balabanova we intercede in behalf of the victims of the broken truce between the Soviet Government and Makhno. Almost all of them come within the Communist definition of ideini Anarchists (of ideas); and Lenin had assured me that the Party is cordially disposed toward them. The efforts of Angelica have secured for me an appointment with Latsis, head of the “Department of Secret Operations” of the Veh-Cheka, in charge of the cases. But calling at the agreed hour, I am informed that Latsis, aware of the purpose of my visit, had left orders not to admit me.

Still believing in the possibility of establishing more amicable relations between the Soviet Government and the Anarchists, I appealed to influential Communists. The great task of rebuilding the country, I urge, necessitates mutual understanding and cooperation. But my Bolshevik friends scorn the suggestion as Utopian, though some of them are willing to aid in the liberation of certain individuals by serving as their “guarantee.” At last I decide to address myself to Lenin. In a written communication I present to him the situation and set forth the reasons⁠—revolutionary, ethical, and utilitarian⁠—for the release of the politicals in the interests of the common cause.

In vain I await a reply. The prison doors remain closed. More arrests take place in various parts of the country.

⁠—Peter Kropotkin died on the 8th instant. Though not entirely unexpected, the news came to me as a great shock. I hastened from Petrograd to Dmitrov, where a number of personal friends of the dead man were already gathered. Almost the entire village accompanied the remains to the train bound for Moscow. Little children strewed the way with pine branches, and touching tribute was paid by the simple country folk to the man beloved in their midst.

The Soviet Government offered to take charge of the funeral, but the family of Kropotkin and his comrades have declined. They feel that Peter, who throughout his life denied the State, should not in death be insulted by its attentions. The Funeral Commission formed by the Moscow Anarchist organizations requested Lenin to permit the imprisoned comrades of the dead to attend the funeral of their friend and teacher. Lenin consented, and the Central Committee of the Party recommended to the Cheka the temporary release of the Anarchists. Delegated by the Commission to arrange the matter, I was given opportunity to visit the prisoners in the Butirki. Over a score of them gathered about me, pale, martyred faces, with eager eyes and palpitating interest in the life they are deprived of.

In the “inner jail” of the Cheka I was permitted to see A. Baron, the spokesman of the Anarchists imprisoned there. Accompanying me was Yartchuk, himself but recently released. “You’ll probably be with us again soon,” the magistrate remarked to him with a sardonic grimace.

Owing to the nationalization of all conveyances, printing facilities, and materials, the Commission has been compelled to apply to the Moscow Soviet to enable it to carry out the funeral program. After considerable delay, permission has been secured to issue a one-day, four-page in memoriam paper, but the authorities insist that the manuscripts⁠—though exclusively devoted to appreciations of Kropotkin as scholar, man, and Anarchist⁠—be submitted to censorship.

The Cheka refused to release the Anarchist prisoners without a guarantee of the Funeral Commission for their return. That guarantee secured, the Extraordinary Commission informed me that “upon examination it was found that there are no Anarchists that could be freed.” There followed an intensive exchange of “opinions” between the Moscow Soviet, in the person of Kamenev, its president, and the Cheka, which has finally resulted in the solemn promise to permit all the imprisoned Moscow Anarchists to attend the funeral.

In the Hall of Columns in the Union House the remains of Peter Kropotkin lie in state. A continuous procession of workers, students, and peasants passes before the bier to pay the last tribute to the dead. Outside a vast mass is waiting to accompany the remains to their resting place. All is in readiness; the requiem has been sung, the time set for starting has already passed. But the Anarchist prisoners have not come. Urgent inquiries at the Cheka elicit contradictory information: the collective guarantee of the Commission is not satisfactory, we are told⁠—the men refuse to attend the funeral⁠—they have already been released.

It is past noon. The funeral is delayed. It is apparent that the Cheka is sabotaging our agreement. We decide to protest by demonstratively removing the Government and Communist wreaths from the Hall. The threat of a public scandal quickly brings the authorities to terms, and within a quarter of an hour the seven prisoners of the “inner jail” arrive. We are assured that the Butirki Anarchists have been freed and will presently join us.50

The long procession slowly winds its way to the cemetery. The students, arms linked, form a living chain on both sides of the great multitude. The sun is bright upon the hard, glistening snow. Black Anarchist banners, interspersed with flashes of scarlet, flutter above like mournful arms of love.

A Kropotkin Museum is to be founded in memory of the great Anarchist scientist and teacher. The committee of Anarchist organizations in charge of the undertaking has requested Emma Goldman and myself to aid in its organization. Our further cooperation with the Museum of the Revolution has become impossible owing to the arbitrary attitude of the Ispart. Moreover, the Kropotkin work is of greater immediate importance and of stronger appeal to my sympathies. I have severed my connection with the Museum to accept the secretaryship of the Kropotkin Memorial Commission.