From President to Prison/Chapter 2
RUMBLINGS AND DISASTER
SOON after my visit to the fortress a proposal had been made to me that I organize at Harbin a central laboratory for the military area, where I was to work not only for the Chinese Eastern and the Ussuri railways, but directly for the General Staff of the army. My first and principal occupation was to be a thorough study of the supply of raw materials in the country, with the object of recommending and starting local manufacturing undertakings which would help to relieve the single, long line of railway from the transportation of similar products, and thus augment its powers for carrying troops and war munitions. It was palpably foolish to be transporting over from four to six thousand miles of railway these supplies and goods which could be produced locally, at a time when the military exigencies demanded an ever-increasing rail capacity for men and materials.
At the very outset there were important economic questions referred to me by the Headquarters Staff and by the administration of the Chinese Eastern Railway. To confirm my theoretical deductions I needed a laboratory and, therefore, had to make a flying trip to St. Petersburg to select and secure the necessary supplies and equipment.
I reached the capital just at the moment of the birth of the Revolution of 1905. As I was intimately familiar with all layers of society in this capital of the Tsars, where I had been in school and through the University, I soon had a close and accurate knowledge of what was developing. I had no doubt that a revolution was brewing, but a partial revolution, a restricted one, primarily initiated and activated by the liberal intelligentsia and secondarily supported by the socialistic groups, which profited by every national and political difficulty to agitate or to assist revolutionary movements.
The war disaster had proved the criminal negligence of the Government, which only maintained itself through the support of the secret police and the sternly disciplined army with the help of which it crushed all protests against incapable Ministers and provincial governors, who had been guilty of crimes or excesses that exasperated the people.
It is possible that this revolution, even without the participation and help of the hundred million of Russia's peasants, might have yielded some beneficial and lasting results, if it had not been for the secret police. This organization had its spies everywhere, many of whom simulated liberal ideas and thus worked themselves into the councils of the revolutionists, even at times assuming leadership and provoking encounters with the army that only entailed most severe repression on the part of the Government. During these encounters many revolutionists were killed, while the leaders in the movement were arrested by the police on identification by the spies. Then the tribunals, always handy tools of the despotic Government, sentenced them to death, to long years of banishment in Siberia or to prison.
In the Revolution of 1905 this activity of the political secret police, or okhrana,' was particularly effective. Two of its agents, Azeff and another, insinuated themselves into, and acquired great influence in, the revolutionary centres of the intelligentsia, while the orthodox priest Gapon attained similar influence and position among the working people. As the first two succeeded, without attracting suspicion to themselves, in delivering to the police the most dangerous revolutionary leaders among the educated classes, Gapon for his part so manipulated and shaped the whole course of the movement in St. Petersburg that he brought about an armed encounter that was predestined to failure.
Working in accord and conjunction with General Trepoff, the Commander of the forces of the capital, he organized and headed on January 9, 1905, a patriotic procession to the Place in front of the Tsar's Palace to petition their little Father.
I was in St. Petersburg at this time and was an eyewitness to a large part of the tragedy. Thousands of workers from the factories, students and members of the intelligentsia flowed through the streets, gradually forming themselves into columns which finally united in one immense procession, that advanced slowly and majestically along the great Nevsky Prospect, the principal street of the capital. At the very head of the procession was Gapon, robed in the full vestments of the Greek Church and bearing a golden cross in his hands. Following him were borne ikons of the Saints and pictures of the Tsar and Tsarina. The moving mass sang patriotic songs or chanted prayers, giving evidence of deep conviction and reverence and everywhere observing an impressive restraint and order.
As the great stream flowed along the Nevsky, it divided on reaching the cross streets of Morska and Admiralty and poured through them out upon Alexander Place, where through the freezing mist loomed the dark form of the Winter Palace of the Tsars. A paper was brandished in the hand of Gapon. It was the people's petition to the head of the Romanoffs, demanding that he call together representatives of the people to take part in the Government, basing their plea upon the assertion that only a constitutional form of government would be able to save the State from disaster in the war, from infamy and from dissolution.
At the opposite end of the Place some battalions of the Guards were drawn up ready for action. The crowd, peaceably minded, was taken back by the display of force and remained silent, while Gapon led a little group of citizens toward the Palace to request the guard to present the petition of the people to the Tsar. Suddenly and without warning the soldiers loosed a volley over the heads of the crowd, so that the bullets began whistling through the frozen, snow-covered branches of Alexander Park and resounding dully against the houses and on the magnificent colonnade and marble faqade of St. Isaac's Cathedral. The idealistic leaders of the movement had, of course, no notion that General Trepoff in his secret order to the garrison had written:
"Do not spare cartridges on the 9th of January."
The crowd broke and made for safety; but with those in the rear of the moving mass still pressing forward in ignorance of what was happening in the Place, it compressed at first into a great vortex of human beings, mad with fear, and in imminent danger of having life crushed out. Then, seized with panic, it scattered in all directions and many of its units, without arms and without any real knowledge of what they were doing, ran, howling with fear, right upon the soldiers. The sabres of the officers flashed and volley after volley began to tear the heavy frozen air, actually filled with the clouds of vapour that rose from the great mass of citizens, who had come to present their appeal to their Father, the Tsar.
The snow was decked with the red flowers of blood and spotted everywhere with the dark bodies of the killed and the wounded, many of the latter, as they tried to rise, being knocked down and trampled to death by the merciless fear of their fleeing companions.
The shooting lasted for a considerable time, ending only when the two streets which had poured their human streams upon the Square were empty and still. The Place before the Palace of the Tsar, this Tsar who began all his manifests with the words: "My beloved people," presented a sad and terrible appearance. Heaps of bodies lay everywhere, among them not only men but women and children as well, who had also come to petition their adored monarch for the happiness and honour of the country.
At the opposite end of the Place, General Trepoff made a speech to his faithful battalions, thanking them in the name of their ruler for the service they had performed, while the crowds of intelligentsia, students and workers, frightened, bewildered and each moment more excited, broke up into little groups and dispersed into the different parts of the city.
On the evening of this fateful day barricades were constructed in the streets of St. Petersburg, and during the whole night and through the two following days the scattered and irregular shooting of the revolutionists answered the loud volleys of the soldiers of the Guard. All factory hands went on strike; the street cars, the railways, the post and even some of the Government offices did not function.
But no one saw Gapon anywhere on the barricades. He disappeared without a trace, and only later did it leak out that he was a paid agent of the secret police and as such had brought the Revolution to a disastrous head in this incredible manner. After his treacherous acts the ranks of the idealistic revolutionaries were rapidly depleted by the gallows, by the activities of the penal detachments under Generals Min, Rennenkampf and Trepoff and by the sentences of the Russian tribunals, prostrating justice before subservience to the orders of the Government authorities, which peopled Siberia and the prisons with these new victims of the crimes and violence of the Tsar's Government.
Gapon, however, did not escape real justice. The revolutionists ran him to earth, seized him and hung him in a solitary house in the outskirts of the little town of Terioki in Finland. Engineer Rutenberg was his executioner.
The news of the massacre of the peaceable petitioners by the Guard of the Tsar spread over all the great immense spaces of Russia, reaching Poland, Pamir and the Pacific. The indignation and despair of the intelligent layers of society had no limits. The peasants, however, remained indifferent. Following the January massacre, the scum of the Russian towns took a vigorous part in the movement against the revolutionary centres of activity, receiving from the police money and orders to destroy the "hydra of revolution." In many of the towns and cities murders of cultured people and of non-Russian citizens began to occur. This scum of mankind, schooled by the horrors of the Russian prisons, under the pay and protection of the secret police killed with impunity those who were considered dangerous for the Government of the White Tsar, Nicholas II, just as in later years they slew the enemies of the Government of the Red Tsars, Lenin and Trotzky, robbed people and destroyed whole sections of towns that were inhabited by Poles, Tartars, Armenians and Jews. It was the period of the pogroms of terrible memory. "Pogrom" is the Russian word for "thunder"—and those who lived through it will long remember this period when there rolled through the land the thunder that gave over to former prisoners and criminals whole towns of those marked for persecution to the plunder of these men with the silent permission of the local authorities and of the Central Government. Under such lashes the demands for a constitution and for the removal of criminals from high posts in the Government increased in volume and extent.
On January 10th I walked from my hotel to the Nevsky Prospect. Crowds of people thronged the sidewalks. Though there was a distinct feeling of restlessness and agitation in the air, nothing gave indication of any reason for, or expectation of, trouble. I was even surprised that so few policemen were in the streets—an unusual thing in the capital. While pondering over this, I was just arriving at the Catholic Church of St. Catherine, when I noticed the people in front of me stop suddenly for a moment and then in panic scatter and run to the other sidewalk or start down the middle of the street with shouts and cries. Even yet I did not understand what it was all about until, a little way up the Prospect, I saw a line of soldiers hurrying out to form a double rank across the street from house to house. The next thing I knew, two volleys came ringing down the Prospect. Without a sound a woman dressed in mourning twisted into a ball and lay still on the ground; a man with bulging and startled eyes ran past me, pressing his bleeding head with his hands; and a schoolboy with his books limped into a side street, crying with pain. Only a few steps in front of me a little girl with a basket swayed and fell on her back. Rolls scattered out of her basket. To this day I remember seeing one of them roll into a little pool of blood on the pavement and stick there.
When I regained conscious control of myself, which had been momentarily lost through the shock of the volleys and the cries of the wounded, I found myself alone on the sidewalk. Though the shooting had temporarily ceased, I flattened myself against the nearest house and began my retreat. Soon I had rounded the corner and was for the moment safe. From the hiding-place which I had found and in which I waited immediate developments, I heard new volleys that were being fired from the tower of the City Hall and in the neighbourhood of the Anichkoff Palace. A little later the Nevsky Prospect looked deserted and dead. Then the police appeared, quickly removed the bodies of the slain and covered the pools of blood with yellow sand, while patrols took up their stations at the corners of the streets. From time to time shots were heard and the shrieking bullets wailed their dirge off in the direction of the monument of Alexander III. In this drastic manner the authorities checked all traffic on the great artery of the capital and with such lessons taught the public not to congregate.
Thirteen years later, in this same capital, with its name changed to Petrograd, I was again witness during the Revolutionary terror in 1917 and 1918 to similar scenes. In the same manner soldiers suddenly appeared and shot down the people, but with only this difference, that during the rule of the Tsar such a thing occurred only once, while during Bolshevik days it occurred so frequently that people became quite accustomed to it. When leaving the house, one would ask:
"Can one use the Nevsky Prospect to-day? Are they shooting?"
"Of course they are," was the answer frequently received. "But you can pass, because to-day they are shooting along the left side of the street only, so that you can travel on the right."
This was, is and surely will continue to be for a long time still the manner of the authorities in dealing with the people, whom they have always regarded merely as cattle without rights and accustomed to most monstrous measures of repression. Watchwords have changed but the system of government has remained the same. It is illegality and violence. The Russians learned this terrible method, as they groaned for three hundred years under the yoke of the descendants of Jenghiz Khan, these Tartar conquerors who held a bloody hand over the immense state whose bournes they did not rightly know.
During the early period of the outbreak in St. Petersburg my business compelled me to go to Warsaw for a few days. The Revolution reached here very soon.
Poland, ruthlessly partitioned one hundred and fifty years ago by Russia, Austria and Prussia, suffered most in Warsaw because of the violence of the St. Petersburg overlordship. The reflection of this was often seen in the European Press, where violent comment and protests were made against the pogroms or wholesale massacres of the Jews. Yet no one raised his voice against the continuing martyrdom of Poland. From time to time the secret police in the Warsaw fortress hung or shot hundreds of Poles who dared to raise their voices in protest against the lawlessness of the Russian authorities, these men who closed the churches and Polish schools, forbade under pain of imprisonment the use of the mother tongue, persecuted Polish writers, scholars, the Press and educated people generally and sent whole crowds of Poles under that fatal escort to banishment in Siberia.
When the news of this Revolution of 1905 reached Warsaw, many Poles immediately joined in the demand for a constitution, adding to it a petition for the autonomy of Poland. Terror was the Russian answer—arrest, imprisonment, banishment to Siberia and the death sentence for thousands of the Polish nation. When three Poles assembled, the police called it "a crowd of revolutionists" and shot at them. Loud talk or a peal of laughter was considered a revolutionary symptom and sufficient grounds for punishment.
On my arrival in Warsaw I went to stay in the Hotel Bristol in Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street I went out about eleven o'clock the first morning and found that the usually gay and animated city wore a strange appearance. Shops, restaurants and cafés were closed; no street cars were moving, but the thoroughfares were thronged with people. It was as if the whole population were out of doors, moving up and down in silence and seemingly peaceable.
Suddenly from the direction of the Zamek, the old Palace of the Polish Kings, resounded cries and the thud of horses' hoofs. I turned and caught the stirring, foreboding sight of a detachment of hussars in battle formation, coming at full gallop down the street. The curved sabres glistened in the cold air, while the breath of the horses and men seemed to frame the group in a cloud of steam. The horsemen galloped along the sidewalks, crushing some and riding others off into the street. Above it all the sharp blows with the flat of the sabres and the awful curses of the soldiers were heard. When the whole crowd had been driven to the middle of the Krakowskie Przedmiescie, a second detachment of cavalry swung in from a back street and fell on the public with drawn sabres. People ran everywhere, climbed lamp-posts, rushed from one side of the street to the other, were jostled and trampled by the horses and beaten by the soldiers.
I could not disentangle myself from the mass, which surrounded me and surged madly in one direction or another in its frantic efforts to escape the horsemen. Suddenly, as if something had unlocked the crowd, it dispersed so quickly that I had no time to choose whither I should fly; for there at but a short distance away I saw a galloping hussar riding down on me with sabre raised.
"He will strike me," I thought quickly, and hate raised in the depth of my soul. My hand went quickly to my pocket, reaching for my Browning.
"I will not let him strike me," something exclaimed within me and seemed to calm me at once. A moment more and the soldier would have been upon me. Already I had drawn my revolver, when suddenly the cavalryman's mount slid and fell on the slippery pavement, crushing its rider. To the left and right I saw galloping soldiers; but soon the street was emptied, so that I could cross quietly over and turn into a side way.
Such a scene has often been enacted in Warsaw, bent as it was under the yoke of Russia; yet we did not publish our tortures to the world, for we had faith in our destiny, were strong and hoped for the day of our revenge—that revenge which came in 1920 when we checked and defeated the Red Army in the heart of our own land and bought with our blood the rebirth of a free Polish State.
The waves of the Revolution of 1905 rolled farther and farther out over southern and eastern Russia. When in the south the courageous, liberty-loving people of the Caucasus rose and far to the east the Mongolian tribes held in armed subjection to Russia began to federate and organize themselves, a group of officials near the throne sensed the gravity of the situation and counselled the Tsar to grant a constitutional government to Russia. But the Tsar, listening to the advice of the extreme monarchists, refused his support of the constitutionalists and answered them by dismissing the over-liberal courtiers.
This attitude of the Court persisted until Count S. J. Witte, disliked by the Tsar but possessing a very great influence among officials and people alike, made use of it in the interests of the movement toward a more liberal constitutional form of government.
In those unhappy months of 1904 and 1905 two cataclysms overwhelmed Russia—one in the guise of the ever onward-marching Japanese Army; the other, the Revolution which profoundly shook the foundations of the State.