Through Bolshevik Russia/Chapter 2

CHAPTER II

Making Our Plans

THE individual has yet to be born who can be perfectly just. Even educated and cultured people find it difficult in any given set of circumstances not to exhibit their predilections; prejudice will be the last vice to disappear and toleration the last virtue to develop in any large number of human beings. The most that the members of the British Delegation would claim for themselves would be that each made a serious and honest attempt to prepare his, or her, mind for straight looking at, and hard thinking about, the great experiment with which we were soon to come to close quarters.

We knew we were going to a land radically different from all the European countries we had hitherto visited. We knew that serious and amazing things were alleged to have taken place there. Whilst we discounted most of the atrocity stories of the sensation-loving newspapers, we realised that, since war was not merely a game nor revolution a picnic, frightful things must have happened. We had very definite views of the main principles embodied in the various Communist manifestos which, from time to time, had mysteriously found their way into this country. But we were solid in our conviction that, whatever we found in Russia, good, bad or indifferent, it was the concern of the Russians themselves, and became our business only when it was sought to impose upon Great Britain the same things, without regard to the vital differences between the two countries.

On the beautiful sea-trip from Stockholm to Reval we discussed with one another the possibilities of our excursion. Our little Swedish ship hugged the coast of Finland to avoid the many thousands of mines said to be loose upon the waters between Sweden and Esthonia, and the loveliness of a myriad wooded islands amongst which we threaded our way absorbed the best part of our interest until the open sea was reached.

"I wonder if we shall be allowed perfect freedom of action," murmured one of our number. "What shall we do if we find ourselves a sort of Cook's tourist party or the Royal Family?"

One was quite sure that, although we might be the guests of the Government, we should be allowed to go where we liked and do what we pleased. Another thought we should see as little as the Royal Family sees when it takes an excursion amongst the people. A third welcomed the idea of a conducted party because of the language difficulty. A fourth expressed the view that we should ask for our passports and return home at once if we were placed under any kind of restraint. It was finally decided that we should wait and see!

After thirty hours of pleasant sailing, four only in the open sea, we entered the harbour at Reval in a half-moon, just in time to see the last rays of light from the setting sun make resplendent the gilded domes of the churches. Town and harbour appeared quaint and exquisite in the fading evening light, and the frank voices of the forty or fifty Esthonian Socialists who met us robbed the strangeness of its slight discomfort. These pleasant friends were representative of all the various Socialist sections in Reval—Left, Right and Centre; and whilst they turned cold looks on one another, they united in warmth of welcome to us. Before we left the town we had supped with the Right and dined with the Left and insisted on taking an indiscriminate pleasure with all at the concert which the great Chaliapine gave that same evening in the big public hall of the city.

In the Hotel Petrograd, in Reval, sits Gowkovsky, the Bolshevik representative, through whose competent hands pass all communications between Russia and the rest of Europe. He is a short man with brown beard and kind, shrewd eyes and very pleasant manner. He spread a royal banquet for us which included amongst its provisions the prohibited vodka, bidding us drink to the social revolution in a beverage which the Revolutionary Government, following the example of the Czar, has had the wisdom to forbid. The properties of this fiery drink must be of a very peculiar character, for one of the Delegates, who is not a total abstainer, has since commended the late Czar's ordinance abolishing the drink traffic and has publicly declared that the coming Revolution in Great Britain will have to be accompanied by the total prohibition of strong drink.

The absence of drinking-shops and of public drinking, and consequently of men and women the worse for liquor is a commendable feature of social life in Russia, and accounts for many good things, probably for the Revolution itself, almost certainly for the almost unvaried success of the Red armies. Of course there is wine in the country, sweet champagne, red Caucasian wines and the golden wines of Persia; but these are for the sick and are not accessible to ordinary folk. A doctor's certificate is necessary to secure them. Almost certainly there are illicit stills in the country districts, and speculators are able to get hold of spirituous liquors illegally; but it would be an entirely hopeless business for the ordinary man or woman to try to discover strong drink anywhere, or to buy the expensive light wines that here and there can be discovered amongst the bottles of raspberry vinegar and lemonade. And the attitude of the Government to the question of drinking is evidenced in the fact that if a railway worker is discovered drunk, having possessed himself illegally of vodka, he is promptly shot.

Having feasted and entertained us to good Russian music, admonished us and put our passports in order, the kind-hearted Gowkovsky packed us off to Petrograd in charge of half a dozen or more of his trusty henchmen. Several of these were Jews—clever, brainy, shrewd, dogmatic; excellent linguists, perfect interpreters.

One of the facts we marked very soon in our adventurous career was the large number of Jews who occupy positions of trust and influence in the Revolutionary Administration. We remarked upon it to the Jews themselves. We were informed that only two of the seventeen People's Commissars were Jews, but that very considerable numbers indeed were employed in administrative posts, both nationally and locally, and by the Extraordinary Commission. As the membership and activity of large numbers of Jews is a feature of continental Socialist societies, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, it is worth considering for a moment why this should be so. And in view of the deplorable tendency all over Europe towards Anti-Semitism, it is an obligation upon everybody to try sympathetically to understand the character and point of view of the Jew in Europe.

He forms, in the first place, a very large part of the population of all the great cities and smaller towns of Central Europe and Russia. He is, generally speaking, the best-educated part of the population where educational facilities have been open to him. The boycott of ages and the cruelties of centuries have sharpened his wits, developed his cunning, forced his energies into less desirable channels, and caused him to regard the men outside his race as his enemies against whom he must take care continuously to defend and protect himself. The Jewish mind is hard, logical and dogmatic. The Jew's temperament is artistic but his training is utilitarian. He is passionately interested in theory and will try to carry out his favourite one at all costs, given the power. Having no country of his own, where he does not love the country of his adoption he is more than usually international in his viewpoint and regards race before nation, and both, less than his theory of mankind. He has great powers of organisation. I speak of him as I have known him and admired him in half the countries of Europe and the United States of America.

Over a plastic, passive people like the typical indolent Russian he was bound to have enormous power and influence. Said one of the best-known Jewish leaders in Russia to me when I had gently complained of too much discipline and too little freedom:

"But the Russian people are like children. They are not educated. They know nothing. They have been accustomed for centuries to slavery and dictation. Would you have us allow them to destroy themselves by their own incapacity and inexperience? Would you give a vote to each of those millions of ignorant peasants? It would be like putting a knife into the hands of a baby."

How familiar it all sounded to me, as reminiscences of the Woman Suffrage fight in England came to my mind, and I recalled the fact that this baby and carving-knife argument was one of the pet excuses for denying women their freedom.

None the less is it true that the Russian people in the main are unaccustomed to freedom, and by their nature and temperament are proper material for the exercise of power by the educated, dominating Jew. It would not be fair, however, to neglect to say that of those persons who spoke to me privately in condemnation of the Bolsheviki, a very considerable number, if not the majority, were also Jews. One is driven to the conclusion that it is the activity and strength of his mind, and not necessarily a proclivity for Bolshevist theory which is chiefly responsible for the commanding position of the Jew in the political affairs of Europe in general and of Russia in particular.

Another Jew, a fair-haired, blue-eyed Jew from the United States, met us on the Russian frontier, and offered us greetings in the name of the Soviet Republic. He was an interesting personality, whose history as a leader of strikes in America he unfolded to us on the journey from the frontier to Petrograd. He had a special train waiting for us, gaily decorated with red bunting, fervent mottoes, and the green branches of trees. The train was attended by a number of Red Guards and Bashkir cavalrymen in gorgeous purple uniforms, with wonderful cloaks and long swords. From Reval to Narwa we had been just a plain, ordinary Cook's Tourist Party. From the Russian frontier to the end of our visit we were the Royal Family!

Perhaps the most thrilling and dramatic note was struck by the fixture of a big red flag on the frontier. The sight of it was altogether too much for some of our more ardent spirits. They burst rapturously into song, first "The Internationalé" and then "The Red Flag," the favourite song of Socialists in Great Britain.

The people's flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead.
And ere the lips grew stiff and cold,
Their heart's blood dyed its every fold.

Then raise the scarlet standard high.
Within its shade we'll live or die;
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the Red Flag flying here.

At last we were about to enter the country where the Red Flag had become the national emblem, and was flying over every public building in the cities of Russia. The thought thrilled like new wine.

Half-way to Petrograd deputations from Trade Unions and Soviets came into the train and made complimentary speeches in a half-bashful manner, to which suitable responses were made. What a pleasant modest set of fellows they were, with big, blue innocent eyes and reluctant unobtrusive manner. We liked them immensely. We liked the plain people of Russia wherever we met them. At Petrograd itself a large company met us although it was three o'clock in the morning, and we were told that gigantic crowds had loitered about the station all the day in expectation of our coming and in the hope of getting a glimpse at the English strangers. We were at once motored to the quarters which had been prepared for us, the palace of a Russian princess, and there, at four o'clock in the morning, we sat down to a simple but sufficient meal and received our welcome from the Trade Union officials who were to be our hosts during our stay.

We were behind the "iron curtain" at last!