Russia - Moscow To London
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
I LEFT MOSCOW on Saturday, February 28th, at midday. Accompanying mewere two British soldiers who were being released owing to ill-health. They had been placed in my charge by the Soviet, Government. We were a merry party on the platform. To see us off were the British chaplain and two or three other friends of the soldiers, my interpreter and guide, Comrade Rosenberg, and my colleague Griffin Barry, who looked very (Hs.
consolate and sorry for himself as he waved good-bye when the train started. Several officials were to travel with us to Petrograd on their way to Reval. We also had the company of Michael Farbman and Joe Fineberg. As on my way out, places had been reserved in an ordinary carriage in no way different from any other coach on the train. As usual a great crowd of people were in every compartment.
We had just settled down to make ourselves comfortable when the train stopped. We took no notice of this, as trains in Russia stop at all sorts of times and places for no apparent reason. However, this time there was a reason : something had gone wrong with our carriage which compelled the officials to ask us to get out. The coach was taken off, the brakes would not act. As there was no other coach available, the problem we had to face was how to find room for eight or nine persons in a train already over full, with people hanging on to buffers, steps of carriages, and also on the footplate and tender of the engine. A saloon coach, formerly used on the Siberian railway, with accommodation for six people, was part of the train. It already had six passengers, but we asked to go in and were allowed to do so, and travelled for twenty hours, fifteen of us in a saloon built for six. We had no cooking utensils for tea making, so once more got through by borrowing first the Samovar, then cups and knives. Unfortunately we could not borrow sleeping places, so when night came we loosened our clothes, wrapped ourselves in our coats and lay down on the floor with leather bags for our pillows.
None of us suffered much, except from stiffness. I caught cold, which is usual for me whenever I sleep in abnormal places, and I only tell this story to controvert the lying statement that great plans were made for my comfort and everything done to convince me that, as we say in East London, " everything in the garden's lovely " in Russia.
I stayed only a short time in Petrograd, meeting Zinovieff and a dozen other friends. I must tell of one first-class banquet I enjoyed. The occasion was my last night in Russia. An anarchist comrade who is helping Bill Shatoff in the work of organising the railways had just brought 45 trucks loaded with food into Petrograd. He asked me to supper, as he said, " to have a really nice meal.” Well, I arrived at the appointed time and found my meal was to consist of some bacon, butter, white bread and tea. This was the luxurious meal in my honour, and it was a luxurious meal for anyone in Russia, and enjoyed by us all, and the story of it is written down here to give the lie to the statement that commissars and their friends live on the fat of the land. Neither of these friends had seen such bacon, butter and cheese for months. I had—but even so, the white bread and boiled bacon was more delicious than anything I had tasted for over a month. I went, around Petrograd, looked at the churches, open spaces, most of all at the people, found the streets and everywhere else cleaner than in Moscow.
We left Petrograd at nine in the morning, reached the border at about 10:30, and found ourselves once more the guests of Commissar Kokko and his wife. We were obliged to wait for the Finns till nearly five, so again a jolly party foregathered in the tiny dining room of their cottage. Here I saw the one and only diamond ring during my stay in Russia. A young woman acting as adjutant was the wearer. She could speak a little French and English, so we were able to talk. The British soldiers enjoyed the hours of waiting and were able to understand a little how the Bolshevik army was managed. While we waited an alarm was raised that a few hundred yards away the Finns were attacking. It turned out the White Finns were only engaged attacking birds.
The same formalities took place crossing as had been gone through when I entered Russia, except that the Finnish officers resolutely re-fused to allow the British soldiers to cross. Very reluctantly I went over alone and was driven to Raijoki, where I telephoned to the Cornmander-in-Chief of the District and secured permission for my friends to join me. The three of us on meeting at once went to the refreshment room, where I am sure we injured our digestions mopping up tea with milk and lovely white rolls and butter. The rolls, being new, were, of course, very vice and very indigestible. I ought to mention that when I went up the bank of the river and left my friends, a group of about a score of my Red friends, led by Comrade Fineberg, gave me a cheer and shouted messages of greeting to British comrades. It was nice to hear in that country and under such conditions the familiar clarion greeting " Boots " and " Spurs* "
Our troubles began at Raijoki Station. I took rail tickets for Helsingfors Then suddenly an officer appeared in order to search us and our luggage. After this, the soldiers were told they must go to Terijoki for quarantine, but I could travel on. So once more we parted, I intending to see the British Minister at Helsingfors and get my friends out. A las for poor me ! I only got about twenty miles on the road when four bright looking youths appeared. They were fully armed and accompanied by an officious sort of officer person, who ordered me to alight. After some minutes, during which I tried to make a fuss, I got out, to be told that they were instructed to take me to quarantine. As is usual with the most Christian person as well as I with pagans like myself, my temper rose, and for some time I sat in a cloak-room refusing to move. I knew the quarantine station was a good mile and a half or so away and did not intend to walk. This at last dawned on my captors, and they produced a droshky, into which four of us and my bags tumbled, and off we went, arriving at the camp about twelve midnight.
In my life-time, I have done " time " for a political offence. I have travelled for eight weeks on an emigrant steamer, found myself housed in an emigrant's house in Brisbane, lived with a wife and family in the wilds of Queensland, as a young man worked amongst coal porters here at home ; but nowhere in all the world have I come across so filthy a hole as the so-called quarantine camp at Terijoki, Finland. The walls of the huts were covered with the dust and dirt of ages, the bed rugs and clothing had the appearance of not having been washed for a century, the sanitary arrangements were loathsome, and as for food, there was practically none. Inmates were expected to provide and cook for themselves. No pots, pans or utensils of any sort or kind were supplied. My soldier friends who had endured hardships under the Bolsheviks were now able to enjoy the luxury of prison treat-ment at the hands of a friendly government and, like me, they hated it. A person in this place without money would simply starve, not as in Russia because of shortage but for the very simple reason that the White Finns hate the Red Russians, and those interned are all suspected of being Reds.
As for quarantine, there was none. The last comers were mixed with the first in fact, the place was a disease factory.
The morning following my arrival, I wired an angry protest to the British Minister at Helsingfors, and sent similar messages to the Finnish Foreign Minister and my Finnish Socialist comrades. In addition, I tried to wire to Lloyd George and the Daily Herald, but these telegrams were not despatched.
To say I was alarmed is only to say the bare truth. I was expecting to get the very diseases from which the authorities were pretending to protect me and others. In addition, every time I moved, an armed soldier—a mere youth —accompanied me. And as I know how thoroughly hated I was by reactionary Finns and White Russians, I expected every day to be shot or otherwise put away by accident.
To people who travel in Scandinavia, vapour or steam baths are taken as a matter of course. I was ordered to take one in a sort of stable house about ten minutes' walk from the hut in which was detained. For some days my throat had been giving me trouble, so T jibbed at a vapour bath with a ten minutes' walk to follow. Two fully armed soldiers, a nurse, and a matron appeared and tried to coerce me but obstinacy won, and for a day or two I was left alone.
On the third day a delegation from singfors appeared representing the British Army, the British Consul and the Red Crow. After a wrangle, I was removed to what is called, for want of a better name, a hospital, accompanied by my two soldier friends. Here things were slightly better. At least our food was served on plates and we had mugs out of which to drink. But dirt, cobwebs, etc., were visible in this place also. The bath was attached to the house, so in I went—to find myself in an atmosphere something like a steam laundry when the steam has escaped. Once inside, I discovered that it was usual to be accompanied by an aged woman whose business it is to scrub the backs of the bathers and assist generally in removing dirt. So naturally did this woman offer her assistance that I almost succumbed to her endeavours to persuade me to allow her to carry out her duties. But being born in England and consequently unduly modest, it was impossible to bring myself to allow her to do the job. When I left the bath, I had to run the gauntlet of a laughing good-natured group of women, to whom the story of my conduct had no doubt been told.
This incident shows how natural the relationships between men and women are in these countries. I am certain if I told in England that such things happen in Russia, many people ignorant of the fact that it is a custom in Finland and other Scandinavian countries will at once cry out about the immorality and vice of the Bolsheviks.
After five days and six nights at the disease factory we were set free. f parted with my soldier friends, who travelled alone from Terijoki to Copenhagen. I went on to Helsingfors and was once more royally received. I met the Socialists and Communist members of the Diet, addressed a great demonstration on behalf of peace with Russia, spoke at a big brotherhood meeting under the chairmanship of Pastor Sirenius, met many official and unofficial friends, and at last packed up for Stockholm, where I met Comrades Strom and Wallenius, and some paper merchants with whom I was able to do business. The Swedish comrades gave a supper party in my honour, and, as at Helingsfors, gave interviews and wrote articles for the Press. In Copenhagen I met Litvinoff and found him still in difficulties with the British authorities. I also met a group of Single Tax friends, who met me at a supper given by Mr. and Mrs. Bjornen.
The treatment of Litvinoff, Litvinoff Russian Ambassador by the British authorities will be remembered for all tinte as one of the most mean and despicable incidents in a long campaign of vilification . It would appear as if the British Foreign Office, acting in league with the jingoes of France, are determined to sabotage every attempt which is made either for trade or peace. One diplomat explained matters to me thus : " The Allied Governments have no moral relationships with the Russian Government. We are only negotiating on a material basis." What exactly he intended to convey is not for me to determine ; it is obvious, though, if words mean anything, that Britain was willing to trade but not willing to make peace.
Litvinoff and his colleagues long for peace, but they desire a just peace as between equals. If the Allies persist in thinking of Lenin, Litvinoff and others as scoundrels and thieves, then no peace is possible. Litvinoff may have broken diplomatic conventions while in London : that is the worst that can be charged against him ; but so also have a score and more of Allied representatives in Russia. It is time a halt was called to these grotesque personalities and Europe started with a clean slate. I saw enough of the workings of diplomacy in Copenhagen to realise that if the British workers understood the dirty game of make--believe which men, quite honourable in other walks of life, play as diplomats, they would rise up and sweep the whole Foreign Office away, with all its traditional hypocrisy and humbug.
Will it be believed that in Copenhagen, after James O'Grady's return, no one was left who had any power either to speak or write to Litvinoff on behalf of the British Government? The charge d'affaires could only communicate in an unofficial manner through unofficial channels. The consequence of all this was gross misunderstanding and delay in handling the negotiations for trade.
It will be of interest to many people to know that Litvinoff, this much abused man, is a homely, kindly man living with his wife and two babies in Copenhagen. He gives eighteen hours a day to the service of his country, takes no leisure or pleasure, finding his whole satisfaction in life by serving his country to the very fullest extent, of his powers.
I arrived home on Friday, March 19th having been out of England exactly nine weeks. My recieption at Harwich by members of the local Labour Party and in London at Liverpool Street was most cordial and enthusiastic. I can never forget the fact that a great crowd of those with whom I have lived and toiled, lost time and money to welcome me back. May we all go forward together as a united body continuing to work for the coming day when co-operation will be the law of life.