From President to Prison/Chapter 13




IN Harbin I found life at the seething point. Many unions were organized, of which the largest and the most powerful, because of the culture and standing of its members, was the Railroad Union, composed of technical experts, administrative officials and workers of various classes. While these steps were being taken, I learned that agents of the political police had arrived from Europe and had organized the Union of the Russian Nation, as the leading members of which they appointed Captain Yerofeieff, one of the prominent local merchants and some priests. Some of the railway technical and administrative staff joined them.

For a month there were no revolutionary activities attempted, the attention of the unions being centred upon the instruction of their members in political and social questions and in constitutional and civil law.

Meanwhile great changes were taking place in the war area. The war was over and the army remained under the command of General Linievitch, encamped and awaiting evacuation at Ssupingkai, a station on the railway line about half-way between Moukden and Changchun. But the great trans-continental line across Siberia was in a very bad condition owing to the abnormal strains which had been put on it by the ceaseless transportation of soldiers and war materials. The natural shortage of cars, resulting from such uninterrupted use without sufficient time for repairs, was now aggravated by continued railway strikes west of the Urals, which held up the traffic so effectively that army evacuation trains would have been compelled to remain in the sidings at Siberian stations, where, with the inevitable shortage of food in sufficient quantities for such numbers of men, there would naturally have developed revolts, robberies and struggles. Owing to all these causes, General Linievitch was forced to retain the army in Ssupingkai and to make what slight progress he could by sending the men back in small groups by the regular trains.

The army had by this time, of course, learned about the peace which had been made at Portsmouth through the intervention of America's great President, Theodore Roosevelt, and was awaiting with impatience a speedy return to Russia. This delay in the evacuation angered and antagonized the soldiers to a degree which manifested itself in some regiments in the form of revolts that brought much trouble and concern to the High Command.

Though during these first weeks life in Harbin was comparatively quiet, we were not destined to remain passive witnesses to the great tragedy that was being enacted on the vast stage of Russia from the Austro-German frontier to the shores of the Pacific. On November 23, 1905, the Railroad Union in Harbin received a telegram from the Central League of Unions at Moscow, announcing that at one o'clock on the night of the 24th a general strike of all railway, postal and telegraph employees would begin, to support the demand for the abolition of the death penalty so lavishly dealt out by the specially instituted field tribunals in Poland and Finland and the demand for the suspension of martial law in Poland and in certain other parts of the Empire where, through this military control, the lives of the people were in the hands of the field tribunals.

On the day the telegram was received a large general meeting was held in the rooms of the Railway Club, at which the opening speech was delivered by one of the senior civil engineers of the Chinese Eastern Railway, Ignace Nowakowski, a Pole, who explained the significance of the protest of the Railroad Union and spoke of the crimes of the Government which forced the Russian nation and the peoples united with it, through being members of its body politic, to futile and bloody civil war. Spurred on by this spirited and powerful speech, the meeting decided to select and empower a general, guiding committee to take over the control and assume the administration of the Russian Far East. In the election of its members, which was participated in by the Europeans in Manchuria and by the representatives of Vladivostok and the other east Siberian towns which had been telegraphically informed regarding the developments Nowakowski and I were chosen and with us the following Poles:[1] W. Sass-Tisowski, M. Juszczynski, E. Ceglarski and A. Kozlowski. Among the Russians elected were the Assistant Director-General of the Chinese Eastern Railway, W. Lepeshinsky and the General Traffic Manager, K. von Dreyer. The total number on the Committee was fifty-six.

An hour after the general meeting adjourned, the Committee assembled for its initial meeting to select its executive board. It was then that I had conferred upon me an honour which carried in its train more of suffering and sacrifice than I should ever have cared to accept, had the delegates who expressed their confidence in my ability counted among them but one prophet who might have sketched for me the developments the coming two years had in store for the President of the Committee of Government of the Russian Far East.

My first official act was to despatch telegrams to the Commander-in-Chief, General Linievitch, to the chief in command of the administration in the rear of the armies, General N. J. Ivanoff, and to the Director-General of the Chinese Eastern Railway, General D. L. Horvat, announcing to them that the Committee had assumed administrative control of the whole life of the country, that it ordered the cessation of the passenger train service on the railway but that it directed an increase in the military trains in order that the soldiers might be rapidly transported to European Russia to defend the rights of the people and to oppose the criminal acts of the Government. Constructive activity began at once, and, in contrast to what was expected, everyone worked during this strange "strike" three or four times as hard as usual.

It was not long after the despatch of the telegram before I had a visit from an aide-de-camp specially sent by General Linievitch, who told me it was his superior's conviction that only the Central Committee could prevent a revolt in the army and that General Linievitch had full trust in it and counted upon it to save a difficult situation. On the strength of this message we issued a proclamation to the army, explaining the present status of affairs in Russia and the duties of the soldier-citizens. Following this, quiet was gradually restored throughout the army and our influence grew daily, largely due to our expediting of the evacuation service, to our improvement of the food conditions for the detachments remaining in quarters and to our distinct bettering of both the medical service and the general treatment of the soldiers.

These successes of our Committee won the approval of the other committees working in the remaining large centres of the Far East and confirmed their acknowledgment of its leadership throughout the whole region. This brought under our control an immense area of eastern Siberia, stretching from the northern boundary of Manchuria to the Arctic Ocean and reaching eastward through the regions of the Amur and the lower Primorsk to the Korean frontier, as well as that part of Manchuria which lay north of the final battle line of the armies. The chief representatives of the former Russian authority in these regions also acknowledged our control, as was evidenced by the fact that General Linievitch asked our advice in all important matters and had my signature stand jointly with his on all the orders he issued for the army. General Horvat also acted as adviser to our Committee and accepted its authority, just as all the town and village administrations recognized our position and readily came under our supervising direction. Only General Ivanoff, though he did not openly protest, seemed to base his actions upon some esoteric knowledge of future events. We learned later that, while recognizing us and apparently working with us, this treacherous General had affiliations with the political police and with The Union of the Russian Nation, which had in contemplation the sowing of dissension in our Committee.

On the fifth day of our existence we received the first blow against our authority, when half of the Committee, made up of the representatives of the workers, left our body with the announcement that they did not wish to co-operate with the intelligentsia and that they would form a committee of their own. Failing in my attempts to arrive at an understanding with the leaders of this new organization, I could do nothing more than delimit strictly their sphere of activities, leaving to them the management of the life of the workshops and the stores of the railway, with the distinct understanding that they were in nowise to interfere with the operations of the Chief Committee. A locksmith from European Russia, one F. Ivanoff, was chosen chairman of this Workers' Committee. Colonel Zaremba, a Pole and the Chief of Police in Harbin, and his associate, Captain von Ziegler, a German, confidentially informed me that Ivanoff was a secret agent of the political police, had close relations with the Union of the Russian Nation and was put in his present place to start a civil war in the Far East, with the idea that he should induce the army to join in the struggle of the working masses against the intelligentsia and thus give the Government an excuse for sending a punitive expedition to the Far East to liquidate the revolution in the territory of the Manchurian army.

The plan was well laid with that subtle, Byzantine treachery which always characterized the Tsar's Government and which, in unchanged form, is equally characteristic of that of the Soviets. I saw quite distinctly the extent and seriousness of the danger before me; but I was young then and without experience, though I did possess one very useful quality for the president of a temporary government, into which the course of rapidly moving events metamorphosed our Committee. I was daring—and I profited simply and directly from my boldness.

Taking with me one of my associates in the Committee, a young official from the railway, named Vlasienko, I started off in my drosky, drawn by my beautiful white Arab, Nizam, as wise and reserved as Ben-Akiba, the Arabian philosopher, himself. Why did I choose Vlasienko? The reason was quite simple and clear: I had the intention of paying three calls where I should need, besides the ordinary visiting cards and smooth persuasive words, some positively convincing arguments. Vlasienko possessed such arguments. I had seen them once, when, during a stormy meeting of the Committee, at which a faction of the workers sought to make a disturbance, Vlasienko, when he could no longer listen with patience to the tedious and stupid protests the labour members were making, hammered the corner of the table with his fist with such emphasis that he broke it. It at once occurred to me that this man would be a very useful companion to convince anyone whom I was seeking to influence with the justice—or at least with the excellent backing—of my arguments. Vlasienko had formerly served as a sergeant in the Hussars at the Tsar's Court and was known for his phenomenal strength.

With this convincing companion I started out to pay my calls. First we went to Captain Yerofeieff. When he saw me, he was distinctly troubled, which gave him quite away. I informed him at once that I knew about his underground work as President of the Union of the Russian Nation and that I was acquainted also with his associates and his purposes in the dealings he was carrying on.

"I have come to make your acquaintance and to inform you of the consequences of your activities, as I do not wish to make these too disagreeable for you."

"What can threaten me?" he exclaimed rather haughtily.

"A revolutionary judgment, sir; and, begging your pardon, a noose," I answered quietly. We parted with ceremonial politeness, and I left with him a final word:

"We do not jest, Captain. My visit to you is but the first act. I play the part of the angel Azrael. Good-bye."

Our visit to the second leader of the Black Hundred, the merchant Chistiakoff, was similar to the first. He received me and my advice very calmly and grunted, as we were leaving:

"We shall see."

"We shall certainly see," Vlasienko at once replied; "but this interview will be the last one between us."

The third visit proved more thrilling. We found the chairman of the Workers' Committee in his lodgings drinking with three companions. Bottles of vodka and sausage scraps littered the oilcloth-covered table. At our entrance they rose, breathing heavily, a condition that was probably due more to the alcohol than to their emotions.

"Mr. Ivanoff, you are an agent of the political police and you are seeking to start a civil war in the East, in which you hope to involve the army, to destroy the effects of all our work. I know all the facts and can give proof of them to the workers' tribunal. I give you three days in which to leave Manchuria, for ever, failing which you will be arrested and …"

I was not quite sure what to say, when Vlasienko, in his clear tenor voice, finished the sentence for me with the word:

"… hung!"

Ivanoff's eyes flashed, as he made a quick movement in the direction of the bed. But Vlasienko was quicker and snatched a big Nagan revolver from under the pillow. Then he calmly opened it, ejected the cartridges into the palm of his hand, slipped them into his pocket and quietly replaced the weapon with the apology:

"I beg your pardon."

Our host and his visitors exchanged significant glances. My hand stole quickly to the pocket of my coat where I was carrying my Browning, but Vlasienko assumed the role of quieting our adversaries. He bent down and raised a heavy wooden bench, doing it with such grace and giving such an impression of ease that the savagelooking quartette dropped their eyes and subsided.

"Well, then, I give you three days in which to make up your minds," I repeated, and, together with Vlasienko, left the den of this agent of the Tsar's Government, where under the stimulus of vodka, criminal plans, full of blood and treachery, were elaborated. On the following day I learned that the Workers' Committee—or, as it was called "The Little Committee"—were electing a new chairman, inasmuch as Ivanoff had disappeared. It was evident that, for the moment, my words and the arguments of Vlasienko had frightened him.

However, the newly chosen chairman did not succeed in calming or did not try to calm the mass of labourers, for many times during the succeeding days I was shown proclamations issued by the Little Committee, in which the soldiers and sailors were urged and incited "to murder all the officers, to divide all their equipment and to attack the towns where the hated intelligentsia and bourgeoisie lived."

Telegrams brought word that such proclamations as these made a very distinct impression upon the workers in many of the Siberian centres, especially Vladivostok, Habarovsk, Nikolaievsk on the Amur and Blagoveschensk, where the workers began developing riotous tendencies and breaking away from the control of our Central Committee. In Nikolaievsk wild gangs of the scum of mankind, composed very largely of fugitives from the prisons, who worked in the fishing industry at the mouth of the Amur, robbed the stores of their employers and burned their houses; in Blagoveschensk a crowd of drunken workers from the gold-mines attacked the bank in an effort to reach the concrete vaults where the gold ingots were kept; and General Linievitch wrote to me that the proclamations of the Harbin group were not without echoes in the army and that these echoes were invariably followed by harsh sentences in the military courts.

Conditions were such that our Committee suddenly found itself facing two distinct enemies, the first of which was coming from the west in the form of the penal detachments of the most reactionary Generals, Meller and Rennenkampf, whose aim was to throttle the revolutionary movement in Siberia. From the Urals to Transbaikalia the courts-martial sent hundreds of men to death on the gallows or by shooting. General Rennenkampf had already worked eastward through Transbaikalia and was nearing the Manchurian frontier.

Our second enemy was none other than the Little Committee, whose intention was to instigate a civil war and to destroy the morale of the army, so that it could not be effectively used in support of the revolution. This was the much more dangerous of the two, as we knew that anarchy would follow in the wake of its victory, an anarchy of the most terrible kind, inasmuch as it would be directed by the most wild, the most immoral and the most cruel of individuals, who were numerous in the Russian Far East.

The activities of this Little Committee were but the earnest of the deeds of Lenin and Trotzky, when these two, thirteen years later, put the power for the execution of their plans into the hands of proven criminals. However, we had yet heard and known nothing of Bolshevism, but we understood the whole danger of anarchy, to which the Little Committee of the unenlightened workers was being heedlessly driven by the promptings of the political police and of the Union of the Russian Nation.

In addition to these two foes we had ever before us the possibility of a third being developed, if our powers of accomplishment relaxed or if circumstances should go badly against us. This was the army. If the evacuation, which we were now superintending, were for any reason to be held up, the army would throw itself upon us, and then, in a flood of blood, the Central Committee, the workers and the town population would be drowned, while even the army itself would be largely destroyed by the want of food, after anarchy had cut off its regular supplies and its possibilities of transport to the more settled parts of western Siberia.

Events thus compelled us to become the defenders of law and order throughout the whole East, this order which the Tsar's authorities and the High Command of the army could not now maintain. We had consequently to fight on three fronts to fulfill our task, which exacted from us unbounded energy, fearless decision and well-elaborated plans.

We began our active struggle in fighting General Rennenkampf, whose trail through Siberia to the eastern borders of Transbaikalia was piteously marked by the bodies of the revolutionaries, upon whom he had visited his cruelties. In telegrams broadcasted throughout the East he threatened the Central Committee with dire punishment, describing it as a "revolutionary government" that could expect no leniency. At this, indignation and panic spread through the Far East. Not only the Little Committee but some of my associates in the central body became panicky and recommended the blowing up of railway bridges to check Rennenkampf's advance after he should cross the Manchurian frontier. As these demands grew in insistency, I asked General Linievitch to endeavour to avert the catastrophe by stopping Rennenkampf. Linievitch properly sensed the impending disaster and issued orders that the approaching penal detachment was to turn back from Transbaikalia. This came as a distinct blow to the opposing forces, as the officers of the cruel General had already begun their investigations and the preparation of a list of revolutionary leaders, who were to be summoned before the military courts and, by natural consequence, shot. On this list it turned out that my name stood, contrary, alas, to all alphabetic precedence, in the first place.

The question led to a lively correspondence between General Linievitch and General Rennenkampf, who was operating under specially conferred powers. No one was prepared to foretell the outcome of it all, when a very unexpected event wrought a peculiar and entirely unanticipated solution. The son of a railway official, who had been shot by order of Rennenkampf, threw a bomb at the latter's car. Although the General happened at the moment not to be in the car and therefore escaped injury, he sensed through this act the element of personal danger and consequently acquiesced in the demand of Linievitch that he return to European Russia, thus relieving our Committee of the danger that was threatening us on the west.

The next battle in our struggle was that with the Little Committee, which was making ever-increasing use of anarchistic methods and was having its forces augmented by particularly efficient individuals smuggled through to it by the political police and with officers from the Rennenkampf detachment. Besides, under the mask of socialism, some of the members of the fighting detachments of the Union of the Russian Nation coming from the west began to join the organization, which confirmed the information coming to us that the Little Committee had started to organize a fighting detachment to fall upon the intelligentsia and bourgeoisie, who were maintaining the State and social order in the Russian Far East.

It was very difficult for us to know how to reach these members and adherents of the Little Committee, who were maddened by their ideas of revolt against the social order. A way out was found by the versatile Nowakowski, an austere, white-haired man, who commanded the respect of all with whom he came in contact. Among the workers on the railway there were many Polish labourers, who had originally been brought to the East by the Polish engineers who constructed the Chinese Eastern Railway. In addition to these the railway employees counted a large number of non-Russian labourers, chiefly Letts, Germans, Italians and Chinese. All of the European element in this body of workers, as a result of their cultural training, were the natural opponents of anarchy and refused to give their support to this feature in the working programme of the Little Committee. The wise Nowakowski, profiting by this condition of affairs, called together the non-Russian Europeans among the labourers and through them set up a strong opposition in the ranks of the Little Committee's partisans. At the same time we sought to influence the Chinese labourers and the smaller groups of western Europeans through the medium of the Chinese officials and of the representatives of the other states. In this effort we succeeded sufficiently to see the board of the Little Committee, which was composed entirely of anarchists, lose a great many of its supporting helpers and followers, and to give us the hope that in the next election we should be able to influence the voting enough to introduce some more loyal members into the board itself.

When the difficulties from this quarter had been overcome it seemed as though our chief danger had disappeared; but we had hardly time to take any satisfaction from our apparent progress before a new enemy was revealed right in the midst of our own organization. Unexpected conflicts developed between our republican, monarchist and socialist members and made us feel that the mechanism of our organization had been spoiled. It was only subsequently I learned that our enemies had invaded our very stronghold and had worked up an opposition. In spite of this, however, we continued all our regular activities, with the sole difference that we had great difficulty in carrying through our programme in the face of quarrels, intrigues and a veritable flood of critical oratory, which were the means employed by the opposition to discredit and weaken the Committee's authority. To give birth to the most insignificant regulation necessitated an excruciating labour of speeches, propositions and counter-propositions; and, as the Committee now numbered sixty-three members, this process in the "little parliament," as I dubbed it, consumed entirely too much time. A mass of important matters were held in abeyance by these filibustering methods. I realized fully our danger and clearly saw what it would mean if the direction of the civic life of the Far East should slip from our hands and events should be allowed to follow their chaotic course.

Under the pressing necessity of these unfavourable developments I decided to stage a coup d'etat and, after consultation with some of my older and more experienced associates, especially Nowakowski, Lepeshinsky and von Dreyer, I accused the Committee at its next sitting, in the presence of the electors, of paralysing obstruction, following this with the announcement that the body as a whole was from that moment dissolved and only five of its leading members retained in a new Executive Committee to control and administer certain features of the social and public life in the Far East. Following quickly upon this radical move, there came to us expressions of confidence from the foreign population of Harbin and Vladivostok. Naturally we had made for ourselves new enemies but, at the same time, we had restored our ability to act quickly and effectually.

General Linievitch also expressed his approval of this turn of events, but General Ivanoff, who was sympathetic with the aims of The Union of the Russian Nation, began to agitate openly against us, fostering antagonism in the Little Committee and in the reactionary groups, while bombarding St. Petersburg with continuous telegrams urging the necessity of dismissing General Linievitch and of arresting our Committee of Five. Following these activities, we were obliged to inform General Ivanoff that his actions had occasioned such indignation that the Five could not be held responsible if his life were attempted by terrorists, as we knew that Vlasienko, referred to above as a very active former member of the Central Committee, had collected a group of daring individuals, who only awaited an opportunity to shoot down the reactionary Generals Nadaroff, Batianoff and himself, as well as all the agents of the political police with Fiedorenko, the Colonel of Gendarmes, at their head. The leaders of the local Harbin police, Colonel Zaremba and Captain von Ziegler, together with the Chief of Police at Vladivostok, gave their assistance in ferreting out these agents, so that, through our knowledge of their personnel, we effectively held this group in check and prevented them from making any active or concerted move. General Ivanoff was thoroughly frightened and remained guarded in his house.

Meanwhile, we also paid marked attention to the conditions in the army, which had been demoralized by the Little Committee and the reactionary groups through the numerous proclamations, calling upon the soldiers to murder their officers, rob the houses of the civil population and revenge themselves upon the ruling Five. We found a means of fighting this danger in the psychology of the soldiers left in Manchuria. We knew that these men had only one wish, to return to Russia as quickly as possible. Profiting by this, we issued a proclamation asking the soldiers' confidence in the Five, inasmuch as its sole aim was to maintain calm and normal life in the Far East to enable it to evacuate the army as rapidly as possible under the best conditions of transport and maintenance that could be secured. We spent considerable sums of money, giving extra pay to workers engaged in the rapid construction of warm cars for the soldiers and in providing food supplies at the larger stations. We controlled the administration at the front and convinced the Commander-in-Chief of the necessity of summoning before the tribunals such officers and officials as were dishonest in their handling of army matters. Most important of all, we increased the number of evacuation trains. In this manner the danger threatening us from the army was not only overcome but was turned into an asset; for in addition to the soldiers passing Harbin on their way home voicing their enthusiasm for the work of our Committee, General Linievitch also received from St. Petersburg commendation for the excellent organization of the new evacuation movement.

Once more calm reigned in the Far East. We knew that in Russia and in Siberia the Revolution had been strangled and that the leaders of the temporary governments had been shot or hung. Only our Five still possessed full power and freedom of action. Seeing clearly the futility of continuing, we decided to dissolve our organization and return to our former occupations. It was a source of no little satisfaction to us when General Linievitch, on being informed of our intention, asked me not to carry through our plans for dissolution, as he feared the tactless rule of the gendarmerie that would immediately follow, new outbursts of indignation, disorders in the army and the chances of a new disaster.

"Continue your work," he urged. "I hold myself responsible for it, as I consider it absolutely necessary."

Under this impetus we continued functioning, even though we saw standing out clearly before us the spectre of the revenge of the Tsar's Government, a spectre of no uncertain appearance.


  1. For a clear exposition of the reasons for Polish participation in the Revolution of 1905, see the Russian edition of L'Histoire Politique de l'Europe Contemporaine, vol. ii, pp. 522-524, by Charles Seignobos, Professeur de la Faculté des Lettres de l'Université de Paris.