Kronstadt and Petrograd in 1917: the memoirs of Fyodor Raskolnikov

The cell assigned to me was on the ground floor of the huge No.2 Block of the Kresty Prison.

Next day, July 14, I was summoned for questioning. Waiting for me in a special room adjoining the prison governor’s office was Sokolov, an examining magistrate of the naval court, wearing a brilliant uniform jacket. He handed me a sheet of paper and, with an exaggerated politeness which made me recall the Tsar’s gendarmes, invited me to fill in this official form with my deposition.

When I had finished setting forth the role I had played in the July events, the naval examining magistrate gravely informed me that, under the old laws and also under the regulation newly introduced at the front, the crimes imputed to me made me liable to the death penalty.

“The law has no retroactive force,” I replied.

It was the case that at the time when the demonstration took place the death penalty had not yet been formally reintroduced: besides which, my activities were carried on at Kronstadt and in Petrograd, not at the front.

The examining magistrate spread his hands in perplexity. I guessed that the concept of ‘the front’ could be given the widest interpretation. Such elementary legal conceptions as ‘the retroactive force of a law’ existed only in peacetime; in an epoch of revolution they ceased to apply. I began to appreciate that in the ranks of the Provisional Government, drunk with victory and a thirst for revenge, there were not a few advocates of the sternest possible settlement of accounts with the Bolsheviks.

At the beginning of my stay in prison I was subjected to strict solitary confinement. My cell door was kept closed, and even for exercise I was taken out by myself, whereas the other comrades in solitary confinement were allowed to walk round together, which gave them the chance to hold small improvised meetings.

During one of my first exercise periods I spotted, through a basement grating, the familiar face of Comrade P.E. Dybenko. Ignoring the soldiers who were escorting me, and the prison warders too, l calmly stopped in my tracks and in the sight of all had a friendly chat with him. Nobody rebuked me: the revolution had already had a marked effect on prison life.

Comrade Dybenko told me, with his usual humour, about the vicissitudes of his arrest. He could not refrain from laughing as he described to me the unexpected misadventures of the fleet commander, Admiral Verderevsky, a staunch supporter of the Provisional Government. When the Admiral received the coded message from Dudorov for the ruthless sinking by submarines of any ships that might leave the harbour without authority, and head for Petrograd, he naturally passed it to Tsentrobalt, which notified all the ships, causing an unprecedented sensation. Verderevsky, who lacked the physical power to put this barbarous order into effect behind the back of Tsentrobalt, realised perfectly well that even in the highly improbable event that he did manage to carry out the order, he himself would pay for it with his life. It would of course be easy for a submarine to sink a ship or two, but it was quite unthinkable to plunge the Baltic Fleet into civil war, given the complete unanimity and indivisible solidarity of the sailor masses.

Proceeding from mere considerations of expediency and his personal helplessness, and not at all from any partiality towards the sailors’ elected institutions, Admiral Verderevsky, who, though organically hostile to Bolshevism, was intelligent and shrewd, chose the only proper line of action open to him, and communicated with Tsentrobalt.

The supreme naval authority, located beneath the Admiralty spire, was absolutely furious at the publication of this secret coded message which had been sent to the fleet commander as a service order, and the revelation of which evoked tremendous anger among the sailors, and exposed the vile, disgusting methods of struggle which the Provisional Government, stopping at nothing, had resolved to resort to. Lebedev, Dudorov and their henchmen saw in this act an illegal disclosure of military secrets. Verderevsky was charged with nothing less than treason, and, to everyone’s surprise, arrested.

However, not very long after this, the Admiral just as unexpectedly became ‘Caliph for an hour’ and went straight from behind bars to a comfortable chair in the Malachite Hall of the Winter Palace, as the last Navy Minister of the Provisional Government. The officer responsible for arresting him, Dudorov, found himself suddenly transferred to Japan, as naval attaché.

As I was returning to my cell, after my encounter with Dybenko, I met in the corridor a sailor from Aurora, Comrade Kurkov, and a member of Tsentrobalt named Izmailov. The latter had come to Petrograd on a minelayer, with a delegation from the Baltic Fleet to protest against the Provisional Government’s policy, but had been arrested and put in the Kresty prison. However they did not remain there long but were soon released, without any sequel. One day a large, dark eye appeared at my ‘peephole’ and I heard the familiar voice of Semyon Roshal: “Hello, Fedyal”. I learnt that when he heard that I had been arrested he had decided to give himself up. “After your arrest I thought it was pointless to remain in hiding,” Semyon explained. In the Kresty we were allowed to read newspapers, an important innovation as compared with the prisons under the old regime, which I had in my time had occasion to know pretty well. Every morning one of the comrades came to my cell with a huge stack of newspapers. I bought a copy of every paper published in Petrograd, even down to the yellow rag Zhivoye Slovo.

Comrade Roshal sometimes came to my cell to get from me those newspapers which he had not read. At that time the press was given over to a ferocious hounding of the Bolsheviks. Without restraint or shame the hacks of the bourgeois gutter rags hurled abuse not only at the Party but at particular Party members, not hesitating to use the vilest fabrications, such as the charge that Kamenev and Lunacharsky were provocateurs. A fair amount of this filth was unloaded on the Kronstadters, especially Roshal and me. On me personally these attacks made no impression at all. I merely laughed at the accusation of the seven deadly sins that was levelled at me. Nothing else was to be expected of our irreconcilable class enemies, and so I remained indifferent to whatever they said, however disgusting and insulting this might be in itself.

Roshal reacted differently. He felt very painfully every one of their filthy articles, every paragraph that imputed some dirty action to him. I remember that one loquacious fabrication by an idle reporter on Suvorin’s Vercherneye Vremya depressed him for a whole day. Long afterward he could not remember without irritation the monstrous distortion of his biography and the lying calumnies about his relatives. This morbid sensitivity resulted from Semyon’s whole nature. Beneath his fierce exterior, his tousled hair and challenging cap, was hidden a very tender romantic, who was a little naive, touchy and uncontrollably excitable about anything concerned with his Spartan integrity. Besides which, Roshal was a Jew, a Russian student without right of domicile, a citizen of a country whose history was adorned with bloody pogroms against the Jews and the disgraceful Beylis case [1]. In the frenzied hounding by Suvorin’s ‘bully-boys’, who had chosen his modest person as the target for their persecution of the Kronstadters, Semyon divined the rampant spirit of ‘true-Russian’ anti-Semitism.

One day soon after I entered prison my old mother came to visit me. Conversation with visitors took place, as under the old regime, through a double grating and in the presence of a warder. This man had some pleasant characteristics, including open sympathy with the prisoners, and to confirm his long-time closeness to political detainees he showed me one day a photo of Trotsky, taken in the lock-up in 1906, and bearing his autograph. “If that had been found on me under the old regime, you know what I would have risked,” said the benevolent warder, to show how brave he had been.

It cannot be said that he was zealous in the performance of his duties. During visits he often left the room, which considerably facilitated the passing over, in the form of long, narrow, rolled-up tubes, of the manuscripts I sent out for publication in our newspapers.

During one of her first visits I managed to whisper to my mother a request that she go to Trotsky and ask him to take on my defence in court.

On another occasion three Kronstadt sailors came to see me, led by Comrade Panyushkin. They brought bread, tinned goods and money which they had collected among the crews. This mark of attention on the part of my Kronstadt friends touched me deeply. Everything that they brought was most opportune. The money enabled me to purchase every day a complete set of the Petrograd newspapers, so that I kept up with current politics. The food was an extremely valuable supplement to the poor-quality prison fare. In this respect Kerensky’s regime differed somewhat from the prisons of Tsardom, where the prisoners had fed a little more agreeably. We were feeling in our stomachs, of course, the whole burden of the disorder in food supplies in 1917. For dinner we were given some nauseating slops made from rotten salt-beef. One small piece of this tainted meat floating in the soup left in the mouth a sour taste as of some mess just drawn from a cesspool. Often, if one dug into the soup, one discovered bits of bast, human hairs, small twigs and other undissolved fragments of organic and inorganic matter. To crown it all, this filthy liquid, the colour of soapy water, and called soup only through a misunderstanding, was very often slightly burnt, and then it became absolutely uneatable even for pigs – in whose situation we evidently found ourselves. On these occasions, squeamishly pursing one’s lips, one had at once to pour the burnt slops into one’s close-stool. As second course they always gave us gruel, known to the prisoners as ‘shrapnel’. The daily ration of bread was about three-quarters of a pound per person: Together with water, this constituted our principal nourishment. Bread was sometimes even left over, and then we readily shared it with the criminal prisoners, who came to us to ask, in a comradely way, for ‘a bit of bread’. The warders overlooked this illicit intercourse between prisoners. Apparent in all their behaviour was a notable degree of caution and even of fear in relation to the ‘politicals’. The February Revolution, which had overthrown the dignitaries of Tsardom, who then suddenly turned up in the Kresty, and which had put some of the ministerial portfolios into the hands of former exiles and prisoners, gave a great mental shock to the prison officers. One of them explained quite frankly the reason for the courtesy he showed to the Bolsheviks: “Here you are today, in prison, but tomorrow, perhaps, you will be ministers.”

And he really did treat us as though we were ministers sitting incognito in solitary confinement cells and wishing to remain unrecognised for the time being.

I remember that in 1912, in the pre-trial detention centre in Petersburg, exercise took place under the supervision of a certain Alexei Ivanovich. He was an old, experienced warder, with no less than 25 to 30 years’ service behind him. His chest was hung all over with large silver medals. With his thick beard and the service-cap which he always wore and never removed, he was the living embodiment of prison rigour. He never talked or joked with any of the prisoners. That would have been beneath his dignity, and, what was most important, a breach of the orders ‘from above’. No smile was ever seen on that old man’s lips. On rare occasions he expressed inward mirth merely by wrinkles that spread over his face. Not for nothing was he an object of great respect among warders beginning their prison career, who always addressed him by his first name and patronymic. After the revolution these majestic Alexei Ivanoviches, all these important, officially-dry, rude and inscrutable prison officers threw off their stiff icy masks and transformed themselves into affectionate Rosencrantzes and Guildensterns out of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

This difference in conduct was observable not only among the small fry but also among the higher staff of the prisons. Where they were concerned, however, standards of behaviour towards the prisoners were strictly governed by the fluctuations in the political atmosphere. Keeping their noses to the wind, these aristocrats of the prisons detected exactly which way that wind was blowing. When the chances of victory for the Bolsheviks increased, they became tender, giving us all sorts of indulgences, legal and illegal privileges; but as soon as it began to seem to them that the political situation favoured the Provisional Government, they at once withdrew all privileges, and we were made to feel, in our everyday prison life, the re-establishment of a strict regime.

The governor of the prison was an elderly Ensign, a ‘March SR’, who liked to boast of the revolutionary role he had played in the front garden of the Taurida Palace. From what he said it appeared that he was the chief leader and organiser of the February uprising. Boastful and smooth-tongued, he always seemed to us a morally dirty person. His crude and stupid bootlicking could not deceive anyone. The loathsomeness of the food, and, later, the cold in the damp, unheated cells which we experienced with the coming of the autumn frosts, were to a considerable extent his responsibility. Despite the ‘liberal’ regime he introduced from time to time, the whole prison hated him.

Sometime after July 20 they brought Comrade Trotsky to the Kresty. As soon as the rumour of his arrest spread through the prison I seized a convenient moment to visit him at his cell. He told me the details of his arrest. When he heard from my mother that I wanted him to defend me, he had readily agreed, and telephoned the Ministry of Justice. They replied that they had no objection, and took down his address. That same night the militia came to the address he had given, and arrested him. It was not possible to talk much through the door, and there were many interesting questions I wanted to ask, so I resorted to a stratagem. Taking advantage of my good relations with one of the kindlier, older warders, I arranged with him that during the morning exercise period, when the prisoners were slopping out, and loud noise and hurly-burly reigned in the block, but the higher authorities were still sweetly sleeping in their beds, he would let me into Comrade Trotsky’s cell for a quarter of an hour. The old warder kept his promise, and so, one morning, I suddenly appeared in Comrade Trotsky’s cell. The warder locked us in. During these fifteen minutes Comrade Trotsky managed to tell me what was going on outside.

The Mensheviks and SRs, who had become rabid, were continuing their frenzied hounding of the Bolsheviks. Arrests of our comrades were still taking place. But there was no depression in Party circles. On the contrary, everyone was looking ahead hopefully, reckoning that the repressions would only strengthen our Party’s popularity and, in the end, work to the advantage of the revolution. In the workers’ districts, too, no loss of heart was to be observed. Even those factories that had been politically colourless were beginning to gravitate towards us and passing resolutions of protest against the persecution of our leaders of the proletariat. Among the advanced section of the proletariat there was now a strong tendency in favour of arming the workers. The army units that had marched under our flag remained loyal to it and kept up their capacity to fight. Only the 1st Machinegun Regiment had suffered, being disarmed and disbanded.

In short, despite the harsh repression by the Government and the hounding by the social-traitors, neither among the workers nor among the soldiers was any disintegration observable.

Soon after this, a few releases began. The first to be discharged from the Kresty were Comrade Kurkov and Izmailov. This was good news, as a direct living link with the world outside, where, although Kerensky’s social-reaction was temporarily dominant, the rumbling of the revolutionary storm was resounding ever louder through the country. This was after all, the beautiful year 1917 and not the dead, stifling calm of cheerless Tsarist reaction. We all urgently wanted to get out soon, so as once more to join the active ranks of the working class.

L.B. Kamenev and A.V. Lunacharsky were imprisoned in No.1 Block of the Kresty. The two wings were so far apart that we never met. Only on one occasion, on a visiting day, did I manage to see Lev Borisovich. We rushed towards one another, embraced and kissed. It was a joyful meeting. Comrade Kamenev was waiting to see his wife, Olga Davidovna, through the double grating.

On another occasion I had to experience some disagreeable moments. As I was walking to my cell down a long, wide corridor, I encountered the traitor Miron Chernomazov. His outward appearance had not changed at all: the same grey-streaked black beard and great mass of curly hair, the same dark eyes. I had had the misfortune to know him when working on Pravda in 1913, when I had to bring him my manuscripts, as he was one of the editors of the paper. At the beginning of 1914, when L.B. Kamenev came back from abroad, he was removed from work on Pravda, but he continued his activity in the workers’ insurance movement. Rumours which had long been in circulation about his working for the Tsarist political police were fully confirmed after the February Revolution. Miron Chernomazov’s name was found on the list of provocateurs. In March 1917 he was arrested. The bourgeois press at once set up, a demagogic howl: “Editor of Pravda a provocateur.” It was made to look as though Chernomazov had been an editor of Pravda down to recent times and our Party had taken no steps to render him harmless...

When I now came upon Chernomazov in the prison corridor, our glances accidentally met. I was probably unable to hide my feeling of profound organic contempt, for the traitor became obviously embarrassed and averted his eyes in a cowardly and base way. This brief encounter with one of the dirtiest of the provocateurs left me for a long time with an after-taste of disgust.

On July 22 all the newspapers published a very lengthy communique which contained a great deal of revolting distortion of facts and compelled me to send the following statement to the procurator of the Petrograd high court: “The official communique published on July 22 over your name contains a number of factual inaccuracies and distortions concerning me:

“(1) Delegates from the 1st Machinegun Regiment came to Kronstadt on July 3 quite independently of me. When I learnt that, so as not to excite the masses, they had been temporarily detained in the premises of the Kronstadt Executive Committee, I approved this measure. I did not exchange a single word with them. [2] The first time I saw them was at the meeting in Anchor Square, to which I had been sent by the Kronstadt Executive Committee in order to oppose their call for an immediate move to Petrograd.

“(2) At this meeting, which took place in the evening of July 3, I not only did not call “for an armed action in Petrograd to overthrow the Provisional Government” but, on the contrary, did all I could to hold the Kronstadt comrades back from immediate action in Petrograd.

“In my speech I referred to the unreliability of the reports about the action by the army units in Petrograd, and mentioned the news I had just had over the telephone from Comrade Kamenev, [3] that even if the 1st Machine-Gun Regiment had taken to the streets, our Party comrades at the Taurida Palace were urging it to return to barracks in a peaceful and organised way. In conclusion I stressed that, in any case, what was involved was merely a peaceful demonstration and nothing more than that.

“It became clear to me at the meeting that we could do no more than postpone the action, that we lacked the power to prevent it. The most we could do was to give the movement the form of a peaceful, organised demonstration. “(3) I am not and never have been chairman of the Executive Committee: I am deputy chairman of the Kronstadt Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.

“(4) At the session of the Executive Committee held that evening and night, when the question of the action was discussed, I was not in the chair, either, but took a very active part in the debate, advocating a demonstration.

“(5) The resolution of the Executive Committee on participation in the demonstration was signed by me as deputy chairman of the Soviet, and circulated to the units in the name of the Executive Committee, but certainly not in the name of the commander of naval forces, who was not privy to this demonstration.

“(6) In the morning of July 4, units of the garrison which assembled in Anchor Square already definitely intended to take action, and there was no need for me, or for Comrade Roshal, to make any ‘speech calling for armed action’. My task consisted merely in explaining to the many thousands gathered in the Square the meaning and purpose of our action. I explained circumstantially that, in accordance with the decision of the Kronstadt Executive Committee, we were going out with as our exclusive aim a peaceful demonstration to express our common political desire that power be transferred to the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. Arms would be carried only in order to demonstrate our armed strength, to make graphically apparent the immense number of bayonets that stood behind our opinion that power should be handed over to the people.

“These weapons could also serve as means of self-defence in the event of a possible attack by the dark forces. I pointed out, there and then, what harm would be caused by the first shot fired, which always causes general panic. I ordered the comrades not to fire a single shot, and, so as to prevent any accidents occurring, proposed that all the comrades carry their rifles unloaded.

“(7) It is absolutely untrue that ‘the leaders of this action were Raskolnikov and Roshal’. The Kronstadt Executive Committee, followed by the meeting in Anchor Square early in morning of July 4, elected a special organisational commission of ten men to provide overall leadership of the peaceful demonstration. However, the overwhelming majority of the members of this commission asked me, for the sake of unity of comma to assume the principal leadership of the entire demonstration.

“I agreed. Consequently, as I was, defector, the one and only leader, full responsibility for the leadership of the armed action of the Kronstadters must be borne by me alone.

“Comrade Roshal played no greater role in this demonstration than that of any other participant, and therefore all responsibility attributed to Comrade Roshal must be shifted from him to me.

“(8) The official communique speaks of attempts by the Kronstadters to arrest ministers, but it fails to mention that Comrade Trotsky and I took part in the releasing of V. M. Chernov.

“(9) In the concluding section of the official communique, after listing eleven names, including my own, reference is made to our ‘previous agreement together’.

“Only one thing can be said about this. Comrades Lenin, Zinoviev and Kollontai are well-known to me as being honourable and experienced fighters for the cause of the revolution whose absolute irreproachability I do not doubt for a moment. Party work has obliged me to maintain very close and direct relations with them. But Helfand-Parvu, Furstenberg-Hanecki, Kozlovsky and Sumenson are quite unknown to me. Not one of them have I ever even seen and with none of them have I had any communication.

“Our work as leaders of the demonstration, like that of Comrades Lenin, Zinoviev and Kollontai, has been farfetchedly linked with Parvus and his business associates, upon whom I do not wish to cast any shade, but with whom it is quite impossible to link me, since no such link has ever existed.

“(10) I have never entered into any agreements with agents of ‘enemy’ or ‘allied’ states, nor will I enter into such agreements in the future.

“(11) I have not received money for propaganda or for any other purpose from any foreign states or from any private persons. My only source of income is my Sub-Lieutenant’s pay – 272 roubles a month.

“(12) I never called upon anyone ‘immediately to refuse to take part in military operations’. On the contrary, I always and everywhere insisted that this robber imperialist war can be ended only in an organised way, and certainly not by sticking one’s bayonet in the ground.

“(13) I did not take part in an armed uprising on July 3-5, if only for the simple reason that no such armed uprising took place.

“(14) I have not had and I do not have anything to do with any wilful giving up of positions on any front whatsoever. In general, all these statements made in the last part of the communique are without any connection with the preceding part, are utterly unfounded, and are more reminiscent of an article by Alexinsky than of an official document.

“My participation in the preparation and leadership of the peaceful armed demonstration on July 4 I honestly set forth in the statement I gave to the military-and-naval examining magistrate, Lieutenant-Colonel Sokolov, but, unfortunately, the compiler of the official communique has not bothered to make use of this statement.

“Do not refuse, Citizen Procurator, to convey this explanation of mine to the press.

“Vyborg-Side Solitary-Confinement Prison (Kresty), July 22, 1917. Sub-Lieutenant llyin (Raskolnikov).”

At the same time I sent the Procurator a statement concerning another matter:

“In the evening of July 13, when Ensign Remnev and I were taken, as prisoners, to the headquarters of Petrograd Military District, a certain person wearing a leather jacket and officer’s cap, who later turned out to be a technician from tube factory named Vasily Grigorevich Balabinsky, said to in a loud voice: “How is it they haven’t killed you yet? You should have been shot on the way here.” These words, an utter mockery of the prisoners, were spoken in a deliberately low voice, evidently so as to incite against us the soldiers who were standing nearby.

“Fortunately, however, these words met with no sympathetic response from the soldiers. Citizen Balabinsky then added boastfully: “With my own hands I’ve killed thirty-two Bolsheviks.”

“I request you, Citizen Procurator, acting on the foregoing information, to prosecute Citizen Balabinsky.

“Sub-Lieutenant Ilyin (Raskolnikov).”

Soon after this a hunger-strike began in the prison. The reason was that no charge had been brought against a number of the prisoners, in spite of the long time that had passed since they were arrested. A demand was also put forward for greater freedom in our life within the prison.

The decision to start the hunger-strike was taken by the comrades who were allowed to exercise together in the yard, Trotsky, Roshal and I, being kept isolated in our special cell were unable to break through the ring the prison placed round each of us, and so could not take part in good time in the discussion of this matter, but were confronted with the accomplished fact of a hunger-strike which had been declared.

When we heard about it we said that a decision taken without our participation could not be regarded as binding upon us.

Our view was based on our general view of hunger-strikes as an expression of impotent despair, to be resorted to only in extreme cases, when all other means had been exhausted and nothing was left but to appeal to the world outside the prison.

We had too serious an attitude to hunger-strikes, too much respect for this self-sacrificing method of struggle, to treat it as a weapon of ordinary protest, especially as the political situation beyond the prison walls was not at all such as to inspire despair. At that time, that is, in August 1917, our Party was already having to restrain the worker masses, and was not at all calling on them for premature actions such as badly-thought-out prison demonstrations.

The trouble was that the ‘politicals’ of 1917 were very different from the old underground workers who formed the main element among the political prisoners of the period of absolutism.

Whereas in those days before the February Revolution the prisons were filled with staunch, convinced revolutionaries, most of whom were theoretically educated, after the July days the Kresty prison was packed with youngsters. A considerable percentage were there as a result of casual arrests – people senselessly grabbed off the street, accidentally detained on the first denunciation by some volunteer agent, to whom a carelessly dropped word often seemed sufficient proof of Bolshevism.

Even the Party element among the prisoners consisted mostly of young sprigs who had sprung up under the beneficial showers of the Bolshevik agitation which our Party had successfully developed since the first day of the February Revolution.

Comrade Trotsky declared that he would not join in the hunger-strike. Roshal and I, after expressing our view that this demonstration was inexpedient in the given circumstances, nevertheless joined in out of solidarity.

On the first day of the hunger-strike the influence of these casual fellow-travellers for whom participation in it was not a matter of life and death, made itself very clearly felt, and strike lasted only one day: but even in that short period ‘comrades’ were found who, after declaring that they were hunger-strikers, tucked in on the sly to their prison dinner, a good appetite. Given the presence among us of such an unreliable element, of course, our strike ran the risk of becoming a mere scandal. Old Party workers were risking their lives while others, less steadfast, though formally adhering to hunger-strike, were stealthily stuffing themselves with the plentiful leftovers from the plates of their striking comrades.

That same evening this unpleasant crisis solved itself. Hunger-strike by the political prisoners in the Kresty had made an impression ‘in influential circles’. By order from on high the doors of our cells were opened. We all assembled in one of cells on the first floor to discuss the situation which had been created. Present amongst others were representatives of ‘politicals’ held in No.1 Block, including the Left-SRs Usti and Proshyan. On behalf of the prison governor we were told that, next day, the Minister of Justice, A.S. Zarudny, would come to the prison to negotiate regarding the demands we put forward.

As lightly as the decision had been taken to start the hunger strike, so now it was decided to end it forthwith. During discussion that preceded the voting, two opposed positions became defined: one, defended by Comrade Trotsky, Roshal and me, in favour of winding up the strike, and the other defended by V.A. Antonov-Ovseyenko, in favour of carrying through to the end.

Following our discussion, a delegation was elected to negotiate with the Minister, consisting of Antonov-Ovseyen Ustinov and me.

Next day we were summoned to the office of the prison governor, where we were awaited by A.S. Zarudny, a Trudo barrister, who had recently taken over from Pereverzev, who had gone much too far and had fallen into disgrace over our case.

Short and stooped, with a pointed grey beard and the venerable bearing of an ‘honourable’ liberal from the ‘Literary Society’ and Russkoye Bogatstvo, [4] Zarudny received us rather coolly.

We put the prisoners’ demands before him. Plucking nervously at his beard, he listened to us with emotion, and when Trotsky’s name was mentioned, he finally lost all self-control, raised his voice, and almost shrieked, in an old man’s broken falsetto: “I know Trotsky. I was his defence counsel in the trial of the first Soviet of Workers’ Deputies.”

It was obvious that now Zarudny – son of the Imperial authority on jurisprudence and intimate henchman of Alexander II – had become the jailer and hangman of the only consistent revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks, it was highly disagreeable to him to recall, against his will, the best page in his life, when he was not an enemy of the proletarian revolution but the defender of members of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, when these were put in the dock by the ‘constitutional’ monarchy.

Altogether, A.S. Zarudny made a most painful impression on us. In his moments of excitement a tone like that of a General, though hidden behind the fig-leaf of outward democratism, showed itself in the worst old-regime style. However, this ostentatious, cheap democratism of his made it easy for him to charm all the prison staff. “Well, now, he’s a Minister, yet he shook us by the hand,” the dumbfounded warders were saying afterwards.

Leaving behind him a fragrance of parliamentary politeness, the Minister departed, having given us only vague promises. As before, no document stating the charge against them was supplied to many comrades who had already been in custody for over a month. But the modest measure of freedom to get together within the prison which we had won was consolidated and strengthened. Thenceforth the doors of our cells were locked only at night, remaining open throughout the day for the closest and liveliest comradely discussions. That was the only real achievement of the hunger-strike.

In itself, the Minister’s visit gave us nothing. But all the more serious were the political conclusions we could draw from the fact that he had come to us in such a hurry. We saw in this one more symptom of the increasing weakness of the Provisional Government, which had lost its footing to such an extent that it took fright at the mere report of a hunger-strike in the Kresty. And yet, if the Provisional Government had had a stronger backbone, it could easily have imposed its will on the political prisoners in the Kresty and forced us into complete surrender. The basic condition for success – heroic morale, unlimited readiness for self-sacrifice – was lacking among the youngsters who made up the majority of the prison’s inmates at that time: that must frankly be admitted. The liberal-bourgeois and pseudo-socialist Council of Ministers granted concessions without having taken the trouble to calculate forces and estimate chances. The most superficial acquaintance with the fortuitous composition and state of feeling of the arrested rank-and-file (who were mostly soldiers of peasant origin) would certainly have soothed the upset nerves of the Provisional rulers so far as the outcome of the prison demonstration was concerned. But all’s well that ends well. On the whole we emerged with honour from that risky hunger-strike, encouraged by our first, partial success. After all, the principle of ‘solitary’ confinement had been breached.

During our daily, now legalised meetings, ardent disputes flared up, most commonly about the prospects of the revolution. There were no pessimists among us. All of us, without exception, believed in the victory of the proletarian cause. Our differences were concentrated only on the question of the of development of the revolution.

Among us there were impatient ‘storm petrels’ who considered that the Party had made a mistake during the July Days in declining to attempt an insurrection. In the course of discussion we who fully approved of the line of the Central Committee said that, in those days of general confusion and disarray in the camp of our foes, it would indeed have been easy to get power, but very difficult to hold on to it. Any such attempt would have been an adventure, foredoomed to failure. Government we set up would have been overthrown by comparatively backward front-line soldiers, among whom here and there, especially in the Cossack regiments, the discipline of the fist still ruled. The working class and garrison of Petrograd would have been subjected to a monstrous bloodletting that would have weakened the proletarian revolution a long time to come. Along with an abundance of starry-eyed liberal idealism the Provisional Government had no shortage of those blood thirsty Cavaignacs and volunteers for bonecrushers who usually accompany a regime of lawyers’ eloquence, democratic swindling and hysterical phrasemongering. “We must first of all get the majority of the working people on our side,” we said, “and only then overthrow the Provisional Government.”

But our opponents objected that there was no need to win sympathy of the majority, that it was quite sufficient for an energetic minority of the revolutionary vanguard to seize power and make a revolution off its own bat, acting in the interest the working class. In this political conception I detected without difficulty the familiar notes of the theory of P.N. Tkac and his Nabat (The Tocsin) in the 1870s. This ideology defended with particular stubbornness by Comrade Sakha on account of which I nicknamed him ‘the Blanquist’.

Relatively young but already bald, with a wrinkled face and lively, bright eyes, the wartime Ensign Sakharov served in 1st Reserve Battalion, and enjoyed immense popularity amongst the soldiers of his unit. It was he who, in the July days, brought his numerous battalion on to the streets and led it from Okht to the Taurida Palace. When the reaction began he was ‘removed’, sent to the Kresty, and associated with our case, appearing on that list of accused in which the place of honour was given to Comrade Lenin.

Sakharov was a fine comrade and a splendid man, but where matters of theory were concerned he was obviously lame.

The criminals were let out for exercise along with us. There were all sorts there, from German spies to young offenders who dreamt, like Robinson Crusoe, of escaping.

One day, when I was sitting on a bench in the prison yard, I was approached by a young man, apparently a worker, who began complaining about the unbearable moral torment caused him by his confinement in prison. Supposing him to be some unstable and faint-hearted comrade, I showed sympathy and was already cheering him up when I thought first to ask the perfectly natural question: “What were you arrested for?”

‘My name was on the list of provocateurs,’ my talkative companion replied.

I hastened to get away from this police agent who was languishing for lack of occupation.

After exercise we dispersed again to our cells, which were left open all-day long. Only late in the evening did we press the bell-push and ask for our doors to be locked till next morning “You don’t want to go out any more?” the warder would ask politely, and with a hollow echo the key would be turned in the rusty lock of the heavy door, which seemed as though covered with armour-plating.

With the establishment of the ‘open doors’ regime our cells became so many Jacobin Clubs. Moving in a noisy crowd from one cell to another we argued, played chess or read the newspapers together. In short, we devoted ourselves to what the Germans call ‘Theorie und Tee’ (‘Theory and tea’).

Comrade Trotsky was the exception. He led a reclusive life in prison, quitting his cell only for exercise, which he never refused to take.

Experienced Tsarist investigators, burning with desire to distinguish themselves and win favour from the new regime, made every effort, using their well-known professional methods, to fabricate forged material for use against us and create a new ‘Beylis case’ on a very big scale. The only difference was that we were accused not of using Christian blood but of using German money...This is to be explained not so much by the difference between the political regimes as by the difference between the purposes of the accusation: in the Beylis case it was the Jewish people who were in the dock, while in our trial it was the Bolshevik Party that was destined for immolation. In the one case there was a festival-orgy of anti-Semitism, in the other one of anti-Bolshevism. Nevertheless, the two cases were essentially similar. In both of them methods of falsified, pogromist justice were frankly applied, with the approval of the highest authorities. In both cases the ruling class (under Tsardom the landed nobility, under the Provisional Government the bourgeoisie) tried too crudely, in pursuit of its class interests, to turn the scales of ‘justice’ into a scaffold. In both cases the setting-up of pompous trials, directed against the Jews and against the Bolsheviks, collapsed in scandal and shame. The end of the era of Russian parliamentarism was accompanied by the end, forever, of experiments in sensational Dreyfus-type trials:

The identification of Bolsheviks with German agents infuriated us. This slander came over us in the stone box of our prison like a wave of asphyxiating gas. We saw in the flood of filth which the bourgeoisie was pouring on our heads one of those campaigns which our home-grown liberals had borrowed from their ‘democratic’ allies, especially from France, where the plutocracy had reigned for decades, and where a venal press was unleashed, like a pack of hounds, upon the fresh scent of Dreyfus, Jaures or the Communists. Our trial, considered as a grand deluding of public opinion, marked the transition from the petty, almost amateur work of Ryech or Birzhevka to the mass production of poisonous newspaper lies and large-scale capitalist machinations on the basis of broad ‘freedom of the press and ‘publicity’. Freed by the February Revolution from petty Tsarist regulations governing the sphere of speculation profiteering, the youthful and victorious Russian bourgeois was getting ready to skim all it could off the sea of blood that had been shed. Our Party had dared to obstruct this process and so down on its head came the whole apparatus of bourgeois press, determined that it would now for the first time operate on a grand scale, with a sweep and an audacity hitherto unheard-of in the history of Russian journalism. All the intellectual prejudices were cast aside, all the good works and approaches inherited by our liberals from the epoch of lofty intelligentsia ‘enthusiasm’, from Lavrov and Mikhailovsky and even – O romantic past! – from Herzen and Belinsky. The conscientiously sensitive tone of the so-called ‘heroic’ of Russian journalism proved inappropriate to these post-July weeks, when the bourgeoisie was ready to defend against the proletariat the milliards it had made out of the war. It was necessary to write in such a way as to bring the heralds of Third International to the gallows in the shortest possible time and without any after-effects. The convict’s patch of treason fastened on them, plastered with lumps of filth from every side and showered with a rain of shameful charges, Lenin and his friends were to be condemned beneath the thunder of scandalous ‘exposures’ and crushed even before the biased investigation had sorted out the case against them and succeeded checking the false evidence about receiving German money. The bourgeois press took upon itself the roles of examining magistrate and judge. It produced mythical witnesses, published answers and ‘testimony’ from them that were unprecedented in their mendacity, itself manufactured the documents needed by the prosecution and, treating these as absolutely convincing, all but demanded the immediate execution of the traitors as German spies. The campaign was waged with skill and vigour, with American audacity, and if it failed, that was not at all the fault of the counterfeiters to whom the bourgeoisie had entrusted the conduct and defence of its case, the protection of its sacred property. The bourgeois journalists had nothing to reproach themselves with, they honestly did their duty by their master, capital: they tore in pieces and dragged through the mud the names and reputations of those who stood in its way. Alas, the Russian people scorned these refined forms of political struggle. The Russian workers and peasants proved to be unconvinced by these skilful methods of hounding by the press. The liberal gentlemen forgot that class consciousness finds its leaders instinctively, despite the most unbridled calumny that aims at political assassination. To the flood of judicial lies, to the jabs with paper darts, the proletariat replied with a mighty blow that swept from the earth the whole complex structure of petty shopkeepers aspiring to be dictators. The great revolutionary upsurge which rolled like the ninth wave over the whole country in October 1917 wiped away without trace the verbal filth with which they had striven for three months to blot out the Communist Party.

As Trotsky led a reclusive life in prison, nobody got closer than a certain distance to his inner world. Roshal, however, was the embodiment of sociability, permanently the protagonist in all our discussions, leader of the caravans that moved from cell to cell.

Besides current political events, the actual course of which we guessed from the newspapers and other information that reached the prison, Semyon was greatly interested in the history of the revolutionary movement of the working class in Russia and in the West. While in the Kresty he read with enthusiasm Aulard’s Political History of the French Revolution. [5] This wordy and out-of-date book found a very wide circle of readers in the prison, and travelled ceaselessly from one cell to another. Semyon began while in prison to write his memoir about his activity at Kronstadt in the period between February and July 1917. But he managed to complete only the introduction, explaining the role of Kronstadt in the Russia revolution and the reasons why it had played this historic role. Many hours of prison life were relieved by games of chess, of which Semyon was very fond. His spiritual forces always flourished in living struggle, and he was an outstanding strategist on the chessboard. Sometimes rare breezes of sympathy broke through to us in our confinement. Somebody sent some flowers: over this Semyon racked his brains, losing himself romantic conjectures.

One day Sima and I were called to the Superintendent office, where we found a young woman waiting to see us, the representative of some sort of organisation like a political Red Cross.

Introducing herself as the Anarchist Yekaterina Smirnova she handed over to us a whole stack of black bread. She had tried to meet us the previous day, but had not obtained permission. The secret of the mysterious flowers was revealed. One of the first questions Smirnova put to us concerned provisions: “Wouldn’t you like some oranges? I could bring you some.” “Why not?” we replied. “When one’s in prison, every gift is welcome.”

“But we you see, have some very special oranges,” said Smirnova, mysteriously, gazing at me with her light, almost colourless eyes.

There could be no doubt but that she meant bombs.

However, since we were not preparing to escape, we naturally had no need of her black oranges. We had to thank her and decline the politely-offered fruit. Smirnova was sincerely grieved. In her eyes this offer was quite natural, and our refusal incomprehensible.

During the first revolution, in 1905, when she was still in a senior form of a high school in some provincial town, and belonged to the SR Party, she was attracted to terrorism. Her childish hand gripping a revolver, Katya Smirnova fired at the local Governor. The fact that she was under age saved her: the death sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life. The best years of her youth were spent moving about the prisons of Siberia. The grandmother of the counter-revolution, Yekaterina Breshko-Breshkovskaya, who was in those days still called ‘the grandmother of the revolution’, took an interest in the girl and gave her support. In the tenth year of Smirnova’s life in penal servitude the February Revolution broke out and, along with tens of thousands of other prisoners and exiles, the young terrorist returned to freedom. Together with ‘Grandmother’ she came from Siberia to Petrograd. Here, observing the treacherous role being played by the SRs, she began gradually to draw away from them, and was soon wholly in the camp of the Anarchists. Later on, when she had become a Communist, she took part in the civil war.

This sensitive, not quite balanced young woman rendered us great services while we were in prison, leading a life of endless monotony. She was one of our means of communication with the outside world, and brought in to us what she was able to observe of new developments in politics. To the energy and enterprise of the small organisation which Smirnova represented the political prisoners in the Kresty, who then consisted almost entirely of Bolsheviks, were indebted for an improvement in their food. They often sent us provisions that were highly valued in prison conditions – bread, butter, tinned goods and fruit.

Smirnova told us that the resources of her ‘Red Cross’ organisation were drawn mainly from voluntary contributions regularly collected during lectures at the Modern Circus and other workers’ meetings.

We also received through Smirnova some spiritual nourishment – only a modest amount, to be sure. At my request she brought me Burtsev’s historical journal Byloye (The Past), which had resumed publication. That day, in one of our cells, the comrades listened with close attention to a reading of Lukashevich’s article on how the assassination of Alex III was prepared. For many of them, who knew little history of the revolutionary movement, the role played by organisation by Comrade Lenin’s brother, Alexander Ulyanov, came as an unexpected discovery.

One fine day they transferred from No.1 Block to ours Lieutenant Khaustov and Ensign Sievers. Both were well-known by name for their activity in the Military Organisation 12th Army and in editing the excellent newspaper Okopnaya Pravda (Trench Truth), a popular front-line publication for the soldier masses.

Naturally, we became acquainted. Khaustov and Sievers, who were close friends, united by their joint work, were far from similar in character. The only thing they had in common was their fervent and boundless devotion to the revolution and their ardent enthusiastic temperament, which often led into utter selflessness, into a state of revolutionary ecstasy. They were both, in the fullest sense, romantics of the revolution.

From his appearance Khaustov could be taken to be about thirty. Concentrated, always deep in thought, he seemed at first to be colder and more melancholy than Sievers. This impression was strengthened by his distinctive way of speaking. He spoke very slowly, as though carefully weighing every word.

His was one of those natures behind whose reserve and rationality one feels the presence of an inextinguishable inner flame. In a soft and quiet voice he would expound his thoughts, which could not be denied the quality of complete logicality.

But Comrade Khaustov’s ideology was not distinguished by theoretical clarity. What predominated in it was an instinctive rebelliousness that bordered on Anarchism. The influence of Marxism never showed itself in his speeches. The revolution had come upon him unexpectedly, when his world-outlook was still unformed. But his theoretical weakness was to some extent compensated for by the boldness and radicalism of his practical conclusions. A natural revolutionary by temperament, Khaustov was always on the Left wing. It was not arguments worked out in the study but an instinctive feeling of the rightness of their cause that led Khaustov, who was basically a non-Party officer, to work closely with the Bolsheviks. And, in fact, no irreconcilable differences arose between us in our practical work.

Comrade Sievers was already a Bolshevik at this time. Young – not much more than twenty – and cleanshaven, with a bright hectic flush on his cheeks, he knew his way around considerably better than Khaustov did where questions of programme and tactics was concerned. Later on he was able to prove his devotion to the Party and the revolution through heroic participation in the civil war and a valiant death in battle with the White-Guard Cossacks on the Southern Front.

Comrade Sievers was all impulse and striving. He spoke quickly and jerkily, choking on his words in his excitement, losing his train of thought and getting distracted in a pile-up of long clauses. What triumphed in him was revolutionary zeal, which, however, did not prevent him from being sounder and more thorough in his judgments than his friend Khaustov. If, for example, some demonstration was mooted in the prison, one could prophesy with confidence that Khaustov would, as a matter of principle, cast his vote in favour, whereas Sievers decided every question in accordance with circumstances.

Khaustov’s outward melancholy coldness hid his revolutionary impatience, whereas Sievers for all his outward and inward ebullience preserved inviolably a living spring of thought, cold-blooded good sense and Marxist calculation, the actual relation of actual forces.

Among the soldiers of the Petrograd garrison who had be thrown into prison after the July days it was the representatives of the 1st Machinegun Regiment who were outstandingly revolutionary-minded. Especially typical of them were Ilyinsky and Kazakov. Absolutely conscious and intelligent, a member of the Petrograd ‘Voyenka’, Comrade Ilyinsky had been, before joining the Army, a typesetter in a printing-press, and had become a Party member already in the period of illegality. His authentically proletarian origin showed itself in his approach to every question. He considered every proposal in a practical way and was not in a hurry to express his opinion – which when given, was always characterised by cogency and good sense. Comrade Kazakov, on the other hand, was a young member of the Party, who had joined our ranks after the February Revolution. A tall, ungainly lad, in his spiritual make-up he was a typical countryman, with all the peasant unreasoning, instinctive fears and easily aroused panickiness. When Kornilov’s action took place, or when an examining magistrate came to the prison to interrogate someone, he was filled with fear, and looked for calamity and disaster from every quarter. While the representative of petty-bourgeois intellectual radicalism, Khaustov, constituted the Left wing, the machine-gunner Kazakov, who expressed the aspirations of the petty-bourgeois peasantry, always embodied in his opinion the most moderate and cautious sentiments.

Besides the Petrograd and Kronstadt leaders of the July action, and representatives of the front in the shape of Sievers and Khaustov, we had among us a prominent member of our organisation at Peterhof, Comrade Zhernovetsky, teacher by profession and an old Party member, a soldier from the Peterhof garrison named Tolkachev, and Comrade Medvedev, [6] a soldier in the 176th Reserve Regiment who was a close assistant to Comrade Levenson in the work at Krasnoye Selo.

Finally, apart from the Kronstadters, the Navy was represented by two other sailors, Lyubitsky and Kanunnikov. Lyubitsky, an intellectual, became a sailor after the revolution and, knowing nothing about service at sea, was posted to the 2nd Baltic Depot. In his political convictions he belonged with the internationalists. A young man with a clean-shaven, actor’s face and with long black hair that usually hung over his brow, he was as a rule frowning and discontented, and by nature morose and unsociable. Kanunnikov, a sailor from Respublika, was a complete contrast to him. A cheerful, sprightly lad, straightforward but not without a shrewd mother-wit, he was always in a good humour. Prison sometimes got him down and he would often sigh for freedom. Kanunnikov was arrested in the street near the Finland station, when, after the July days, he had come in from Helsingfors bringing bales of the Bolshevik newspaper Volna to sell retail in Petrograd. The drive against the Bolsheviks which was then beginning made him a victim of the campaign of repression –especially as he did not think of concealing his membership of the Bolsheviks. Kanunnikov and Lyubitsky volunteered to deliver newspapers to the cells, and when later on a small shop was opened in one of the unoccupied cells to serve our needs (supplying mainly tinned goods) Kanunnikov undertook the running of this ‘co-operative’.

Thus, the Baltic Fleet was represented pretty comprehensively in the prison, in the shape of the two Kronstadters, Roshal and me, a large number of men from Helsingfors (Antonov-Ovseyenko, Dybenko, Kanunnikov, Ustinov and Proshyan) and a few from Petrograd (Kurkov, Lyubitsky and others). With such an exceptionally complete selection of representatives of all the local organisations of the Petrograd area we could at any moment have held, in one of cells of the Kresty, a good provincial conference, with delegates even from the army and the navy.

Of the alien element mention must be made of the Ukrainian Stepakovsky and millionaire Weinberg. Stepakovsky, a young man of bourgeois aspect, had lived for a long time in Switzerland, where he helped bring out a Ukrainian journal in French, entitled L’Ukraine. Supplied with a visa by the diplomatic representative of the Provisional Government, he had entered Russia only to find himself inhospitably arrested at the first after the frontier. He attributed his arrest to the separate activity he had carried on abroad, and was especially annoyed about the provocational way he had been granted a visa which turned out to be really an order for his arrest.

Stepakovsky spoke with enthusiasm about the Ukrainian activist Skoropys-Ioltukovsky, for whom we felt no esteem at all, however Pereverzev’s Department of Public Prosecutions might try to link us with him. We felt suspicious of Stepakovsky, and tried to keep our dealings with this ‘Ukrainian activist’, suspected of being a German spy, within my carefully defined limits.

The millionaire Weinberg, a short, lively bourgeois of indeterminate age and belonging to the nouveau-riche type, having grown wealthy during the war, embellished his cell with multicoloured carpets and made himself a sort of cosy den. To complete the illusion of homeliness he walked about in slippers and a soft coat all day, and brewed cocoa from morning till night. Although not stupid by nature, he led a purely vegetable sort of life, not caring in the least to develop his mind. Weinberg had been imprisoned on account of some speculative activities about which he preferred not to talk. Displaying pretended sympathy with the Bolshevik cause, he even promised that, in the event of his release, he would dedicate part of his capital to our Party’s use. However, despite his generous projects of benefaction, he did not manage to win any confidence among us. Every time we briefly met him we kept very carefully on the alert. In a still worse situation, bordering on a boycott, was Oskar Blum, who, like Stepakovsky, had been arrested at the frontier, when he returned from Stockholm. We suspected him of being a provocateur. All the same, he took part in our meetings and voiced his views in long, literarily-rounded periods which seemed to come from the pages of some German university textbook of philosophy. We all held aloof from him and hardly ever encountered him except at infrequent meetings. He did not stay long in the Kresty, but was soon released.

Our case was proceeding. One day I was called in again for interrogation. Downstairs I was met by the examining magistrate for especially important cases, one Stsepura, a man with an absolutely frog-like face. It turned out that my case had been transferred from the naval court to the civilian prosecutor’s department and linked with the cases of Lenin, Zinoviev, Trotsky, Kollontai, Hanecki, Kozlovsky and others. By way of introduction Stsepura, a brisk, talkative person, told me with pride about his career in the service. Before the revolution he had been examining magistrate for especially important criminal cases somewhere in the Western Territory. [7] He admitted quite frankly that he had never had occasion before to deal with political cases. He asked me to make a statement about my role in the affair of July 3-5. I replied that I had already supplied an exhaustive account to the examining magistrate of the naval court, two days after my arrest. However, apparently having no confidence that he could obtain the material through inter-departmental communications, the civilian examining magistrate wished to obtain a second statement from me. In his presence I again composed a literary exercise on the subject: ‘July 3-5’. About a month later I was again summoned for interrogation, and asked to make a supplementary statement. On this occasion, I was confronted with the note which I had sent to Helsingfors on July 5 by the member of Tsentrobalt, Vanyushin. This note consisted of a request that they send to Petrograd, just to be on the safe side, a warship of small displacement, such as a minelayer or a gun boat. I was extremely astonished that this secret document sent by a reliable comrade, should have fallen into the hands the prosecutor’s department...

At last, on September 1, after dinner, all of us who were associated in the one case, namely, Roshal, Kolobushkin, Bogdatyev, Sakharov, Trotsky and Polyakevich, were called to the prison office to be informed of the material which had been ‘obtained’ by the preliminary investigation.

We sat down on bentwood chairs and a shabby, worn-out sofa. Some examining magistrate I did not know – he behaved as though he were Alexandrov himself [8] – took his place at a desk on which lay a big pile of uniformly-bound books of large format, bearing an inscription neatly written on the government label: ‘Case of Lenin, Zinoviev and others’. The examining magistrate picked up one of the volumes of this ‘complete collected works’ of the anti-Bolshevik legal liars, and started to read in a loud voice the testimony of Ensign Yermolenko. We had to endure an account, burdened with superfluous details, of this man’s life at the front and in captivity, of his entry into the service of the German General Staff, of his despatch to Russia as a German agent, and, finally, of the instructions allegedly received by him to maintain relations and links with Lenin.

Yermolenko’s entire testimony revealed the incredibly base personality of a repentant spy. While it was being read we interjected from time to time some ironical comments. But when the impassive voice of the examining magistrate came to speak the name, so dear to us, of Comrade Lenin, our self-control vanished and, being unable to restrain our anger in face of this barefaced falsity, declared that we refused to go on listening to such lying and base testimony. A record was at once made of our refusal to continue with the reading of the material from the investigation. I said that I wished to have nothing to do with the examining magistrate, and even refused to sign the record. Loudly and sharply voicing our protest against the ‘justice’ of the Provisional Government, we left the room and dispersed to our cells.

On October 2 the judicial authorities repeated their attempt to acquaint us with the materials of the preliminary investigation. Evidently by way of precaution, only two of us were summoned this time –Comrade Roshal and me. But this second attempt ended as unsuccessfully as the first, and I was impelled to appeal to the public opinion of the working class, in the following letter:

“On the methods used in investigating the ‘case’ of the Bolsheviks.

“Dear Comrades:

“Today, October 2, an examining magistrate working under Alexandrov’s direction made a second attempt to acquaint Comrade Roshal and me with the completed material from the investigation of the ‘case’ of the Bolsheviks – material which fills (what a joke!) twenty-one volumes.

“The reading of the material having begun this time from the other end, we soon had to break off our studies, being angered to the depths of our souls. We were finally convinced that the crudely one-sided and falsifying method used in the deposition by the repentant spy, the scoundrel Yermolenko, was not an isolated accident.

“On the contrary this method of deliberately ignoring the contradictions and inadequacies in testimony constitutes the general rule, the calculated system of the entire investigation which is destined to immortalise the name, already well enough known, of Mr Alexandrov.

“When interrogating witnesses Mr Alexandrov deliberately refrained from subjecting the most interesting parts of their testimony to the most obviously-arising questions. An outsider might suppose that Mr Alexandrov was a young, inexperienced servant of Themis at the outset of his career. Alas, though, Mr Alexandrov is an old examining magistrate, rich in experience. Already several years ago in the accursed time of Tsardom, Mr Alexandrov’s name was branded in connection with forgeries used in evidence, even in the columns of the moderate Cadet newspaper Ryech, along with the name of another notable rogue in the Tsarist judiciary, examining magistrate Lyzhin.

“For example, certain witnesses who were prisoners in Germany made statements of this order: “Rumours circulated to the effect that Lenin had visited the concentration camps to agitate there in favour of separation of the Ukraine’; ‘I heard that, while travelling through Germany to Russia, Lenin left his carriage and made speeches supporting the conclusion of a separate peace.

“When he obtained answers like this, containing unattributed references to third persons, the investigator should have asked: ‘Witness, from whom did you hear this?’ And when that question was answered, he should at once have recorded the answer, even if the witness said he had forgotten. It is obvious that if the original source of a piece of information, the eyewitness of an event, cannot be found, then the entire testimony of a witness who refers to unproved rumours is not worth a damn.

“Either Mr Alexandrov deliberately refrained from asking questions about the ultimate source of these rumours, or he received answers that did not suit the prosecution, and so destroyed the entire value of these testimonies. “One witness, Staff-Captain Shishkin, said that, when he was a prisoner, he heard one day that Zinoviev had come to his camp and said: ‘All Germans are our friends and all Frenchmen and Englishmen our enemies.’ But this witness inadvertently blundered. He kept saying that he had himself observed the arrival of ‘the old man Zinoviev’. Yet everyone who knows anything at all about Comrade Zinoviev can testify that nobody, with the best will in the world, could call him an ‘old man’, since he is only 33.

“Another source used to ‘convict’ Comrade Lenin of serving German imperialism is a document bearing the fanciful title ‘Report by the chief of the counter-espionage department of the General Staff concerning Lenin’s party.’

“This apology for an ‘important’ document is really something quite unimaginable. It gives a list, compiled from counter-espionage agents’ reports, of ‘German agents’ who are members of ‘Lenin’s party’. In this remarkable list we find the following names: ‘Georgy Zinoviev, Pavel Lunacharsky, Nikolai Lenin, Viktor Chernov, Mark Natanson and others.’

“This list which has been introduced into our case is really a masterpiece. The counter-espionage service which, coming to Mr Alexandrov’s aid in order, along with him, to set the scene for political trials, has undertaken the moral assassination of prominent revolutionaries, has done its work so badly that it has not even given correctly the names of the political leaders who are to be mortally discredited.

“It is well-known that Comrade Zinoviev has never called himself Georgy: his real name is Yevsi Aronovich, and his Party name Grigory. Comrade Lunacharsky’s name is Anatoly Vasilyevich. The names of Chernov and Natanson are given correctly – but they, so far as is known, have never belonged to ‘Lenin’s party’. And, of course, it is as clear as day to everyone that none of the politicians in this list has ever been a ‘German agent’.

“This is the inimitable way the ‘republican’ counter-espionage service works, absorbing such a lot of public money. These are the sort of illiterate, utterly fantastical, muddled documents that are adduced as constituting ‘incontrovertible’ evidence.

“All that remains is to await impatiently the coming of the court that will do justice to the creators of this scandalous, unprecedented case, and to the whole of the ‘renovated’ and ‘republican’ judiciary.

“Raskolnikov, Vyborg-Side Solitary Confinement Prison (‘Kresty’), October 2, 1917.”

In conclusion I must say something about how the political life that was stormily seething all over Russia in those days was reflected in our everyday life in prison.

The main difference between our conditions and solitary confinement as it had been under the old regime was that we were not isolated from the outside world, but could always keep up with the political events, experiencing them no less keenly than our comrades who were free. As is well-known, news from outside penetrated the Tsarist prisons rarely and only by accident. Newspapers were not allowed at all, and only back numbers of magazines. The gendarme who was present at meetings with visitors made sure that conversations did not get on to political subjects.

During the revolution, in Kerensky’s prison, we learned in a thousand ways, from newspapers and from relatives, friends and comrades who visited us, all the political news right down to the tiniest details and the secret resolutions of the Central Committee. We were able to observe attentively the speed with which the Party and the working class were recovering from the defeat they had suffered.

We felt acutely, through the thick walls of our prison, all the growing influence of our Party. The mass resolutions demanding our release which constantly appeared in the columns of Pravda, Rabochy (The Worker), Rabochy i Soldat (Worker and Soldier) and Rahochy Put (Workers’ Way) filled us with joy, as echoing the sympathy of an ever-growing number of persons who thought as we did. Our morale, which in general was not coloured by either gloom or pessimism, was raised still higher by the news of the Sixth Party Congress. We saw in this a symptom of the revival and unification of the forces of our vital Party. And this congress did indeed see the formal unification of the Mezhrayontsy with the Bolsheviks. [9] The Sixth Congress laid down quite correctly the tactics of the struggle for power, and drew sound conclusions from the setback suffered in the July events, showing with irrefutable clarity that there was no way forward without armed overthrow of the Provisional Government. This congress at once set a firm course towards the October Revolution. Together with the basic aim of winning Soviet power it posed the task, conditioned by this aim, of winning the Soviets for the Bolsheviks.

The Party congress picked up the challenge thrown down by the bourgeoisie. Sentence of death was passed on the Provisional Government and war to the end declared against the Mensheviks and SRs. We, in our accursed Kresty, ardently welcomed the decisions the Party had taken with such straightforward consistency and unbending boldness.

When the theatrical ‘State Conference’ opened in Moscow [10] we followed all the speeches and debates with interest. Even from our prison one could not fail to notice the split that divided that gathering: on the one hand, Kornilov, Kaledin and the whole of the bourgeoisie in power, seething with hatred against the so-called ‘democracy’ and, on the other – that same democracy. It was impossible not to see in this a foreboding of the Kornilov adventure: the impression created could not be effaced even by the ceremonial handshake between Tsereteli and Bublikov, [11] which struck us as laughable. The next event which agitated us in prison was the capture of Riga by the Germans. I remember that the news of this reached us while we were at exercise. The criminal prisoners reacted to it with unconcealed gloating. “If the Germans take Petrograd we shall be set free,” they said, quite uninhibitedly.

We estimated this military defeat in a different way. As internationalists and convinced opponents of the war, we had no reason to rejoice in victories won by either coalition. Our efforts were directed towards transforming the imperialist war into civil war in all countries. But the Russian bourgeoisie looked on us as stooges of the Germans. We had no doubt that the fall of Riga would be blamed on the Bolsheviks, [12] to whom every philistine in those days ascribed responsibility for the notorious disintegration of the army. We foresaw that the next setback at the front would serve as the starting-point for renewed onslaught of baiting and calumny against our long-suffering Party. Furthermore, the capture of Riga by the Germans deprived the revolution of one more piece of territory. Consequently we were angry with the ignorant criminals who openly rejoiced in the victory won by the army of German imperialism.

Moreover we frankly suspected General Kornilov of having deliberately counted on and prepared for the surrender of Riga – which suspicion was soon to receive indirect confirmation in the Kornilov adventure. [96]

The Tsarist general, who had from the first days of the revolution pursued his own reactionary aims, advanced his deceived troops against the working class and the garrison of the rebellious capital. We learnt of Kornilov’s action from the newspapers. The anger we felt was very great, and with it went anxious concern for the fate of the revolution. It was then that awareness of our physical constraint became unbearable, since this was preventing us from taking an active, direct part in the defence of the cause which gave meaning to the life of every one of us. We seethed with indignation against the Provisional Government, which in those anxious days when the fate of the Republic was at stake, when a real Black-Hundred danger, clothed in general’s stripes and with restoration in its pocket, was advancing on Petrograd, continued to leave Bolsheviks to rot in the Kresty. The confused, indecisive actions taken by the Provisional Government against the furious, counter-revolutionary oprichnik evoked unanimous condemnation by the Party cell located in the Kresty.

At that time we still did not know about the involvement of Kerensky himself in Kornilov’s plot against the revolution. This emerged only some days later.

But now we began to breathe a little more easily: the workers had taken up arms. We followed feverishly the process of forming the young Red Guard, and literally totted up the number of rifles concentrated in the hands of the proletariat. All our hopes were focused on the fighting power of the working class of Petrograd.

The arming of the workers seemed to us to be exceptionally important, not only as the means for crushing Kornilov’s mutiny but also in a wider sense: in this spontaneous self-arming one could not fail to see the embryo of the mass military organisation of the workers – the Red Guard, which, we considered, must ensure that it remained in existence so as to prepare the forthcoming, historically inevitable battle for the proletarian revolution. We thought it quite right that our Party went into action against Kornilov, developing colossal energy the like of which was to be seen again only in the wealth of events of the October Revolution and the civil war.

But it was not from the newspapers alone that we learnt of the development of the Kornilov saga. We observed careful preparations for an approaching defence going on around us.

An armoured car entered the yard of the Kresty and took up a position under our windows. The machine-gunners often lay on the roof of their vehicle when resting and then readily conversed with the inmates of the prison. Patrols both inside and outside the prison were strengthened, and some Cossacks appeared. Cossack officers paced up and down in the yard as though at home there.

The reactionary Kornilov movement ended as suddenly as it had begun. One day the pages of the newspapers which arrived in the morning, smelling of fresh printers’ ink, told us of the break-up of the Savage Division [13] when it had barely reached Pavlovsk, and of the suicide of General Krymov, the commander of the forces that had been sent against Petrograd.

The ‘Kornilov days’ constituted a Rubicon after which our Party grew so strong that it was soon able to put on the agenda the decisive proletarian attack. The Party’s standing among the workers increased with fantastic speed. The very word ‘Bolshevik’, which after the July days had been a swear-word, was now transformed into a synonym for an honest revolutionary, the only dependable friend of the workers and peasants. Our Party’s growing influence was not slow in producing its effect on prison life. The comparative ‘freedoms’ won by the hunger-strike, which had been taken away from us bit by bit, were restored to us all at once during the ‘Kornilov days’. The regime of open doors and freedom of meeting again became a feature of our everyday vegetation in prison. The prison governor, a typical chameleon who sniffed the way the wind was blowing, assumed the mask of a solicitous friend defending our interests, almost our protector. The criminals contrived to exploit the impetuous rise in our stock, and succeeded in escaping from the prison under our cover. One day, after their bath, when they were being taken through the yard to their block, at an agreed signal they started running as fast as they could towards the gates. The sentries barred their way. “We’re politicals, we’re Bolsheviks,” the prisoners shouted with one voice. The guards silently stood aside. About twenty criminals got through the gates successfully, under their Bolshevik signboard. Nobody chased after them. Only the prison governor, when he heard about the escape, ran out into the street, brandishing in martial fashion his revolver, which was attached to his leather belt by a long, twisted cord, like a policeman’s. To save his honour and clear his conscience he fired a few shots down the embankment, after which, vexedly fingering his large, protruding moustaches, he went back into his office.

Our Party’s bridgehead grew steadily bigger. Soon we were transformed from a solid minority in the Soviets into the ruling majority. The cadres of our supporters all over Russia now numbered several tens of thousands. The ideas of Bolshevism had penetrated the remotest places.

The Provisional Government, committing mistake after mistake and crime after crime, lost its last adherents to both Left and Right. Never having possessed ties with the masses, it became ever more isolated in the Malachite Hall of the Winter Palace, soon to be its grave. The worker and soldier masses ground their teeth when they spoke of the Provisional Government. The military-monarchist clique forsook it immediately after Kerensky’s treacherous conduct in first inciting and then betraying Kornilov’s march on Petrograd. Only the bourgeoisie, which saw in Kerensky an hysterical, whining and verbose expression of itself, supported him fully.

At last the process of broadening and deepening the revolution reached the point of forcible overthrow of the government. Immediate revolution, not putting off for a moment the overthrow of the bourgeois Provisional Government, and with it the entire rule of capital, became an urgent task, as unavoidable as fate. The proximity of a proletarian rising in Russia, as prologue to the world socialist revolution, became the subject of all our discussions in prison. It was amazing how correctly, fully in step with what was happening outside, we in the Kresty perceived the problems of tactics and made up our minds about them. If there was something we did not know, we managed to fill that gap by our instinctive flair. And, generally speaking, our conclusions always agreed with the corresponding decisions of the Party centres.

Even behind prison bars, in a stuffy, stagnant cell, we felt instinctively that the superficial calm that outwardly seemed to prevail presaged an approaching storm, and that somewhere deep down in the Party underground they were counting and concentrating their forces.


1. The mutilated body of a 12-year old Christian boy was found in a wood near Kiev in 1911. In 1913 M. M. Beylis (1874-1934), a Jew, was tried on a charge of ritual murder ('the blood-libel') and found not guilty. In 1926 he published, in America, The Story of My Sufferings. Bernard Malamud’s novel The Fixer is based on the Beylis case.

2. Raskolnikov did not tell the truth here, if we are to believe the account of his conversation with the delegates from the 1st Machine-Gun Regiment given on pages 141-143 above.

3. Again, Raskolnikov made a point, in his account of his speech on pages 147-148 above, of the fact that he withheld from the audience the news he had received from Kamenev.

4. Russkoye Bogatstvo (‘Russia’s Wealth’) was a liberal-populist journal published between 1876 and 1918.

5. Aulard’s book was published in 1901. His hero was Danton. Mathiez had already at this time begun to challenge Aulard’s interpretation, with his own ‘pro-Robespierre’ version of the story.

6. Subsequently, in 1920, he was sentenced to be shot by the Revolutionary Military Tribunal of the Volga-Caspian Flotilla.

7. The ‘Western Territory’ embraced the provinces of Vilna, Kovno, Grodno, Minsk, Mogilev, Vitebsk, Podolsk, Volhynia and Kiev.

8. Alexandrov was a senior examining magistrate to whom especially important cases were entrusted. In the English translation of Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution the phrase “an investigator into the especially important affair of Alexandrov” (Vol.II, p.100) is one of the absurdities which abound in that translation.

9. The ‘Mezhrayontsy’ (Inter-District Group) called themselves the ‘United Internationalist Social-Democrats’. The group existed in Petrograd only, and in July 1917, when they merged with the Bolshevik Party, had about 4,000 members. The leading figure in the group was Trotsky.

10. Between August 12 and 15 (old style) a conference was held in Moscow to which the Provisional Government had invited “all the influential political, social and economic forces in the country”. At this conference speeches attacking the Soviets were made by General Kornilov and by the Don Cossacks’ Ataman Kaledin.

11. A.A. Bublikov was a railway magnate, and his public handshake with Tsereteli was supposed to signalise the reconciliation of capital and labour.

12. An account of the circumstances of the fall of Riga is given by Woytinsky, who was the Government’s Commissar for the Northern Front, in his autobiography Stormy Passage (1961), pp. 338-347.

13. See G. Katkov, The Kornilov Affair (1980).

14. The so-called ‘Savage Division’ was a cavalry division of volunteers from the (mainly Moslem) peoples of the Caucasus, who were exempt from conscription. The Bolshevik Party mobilised a delegation of Moslem notables who visited the advancing troops and explained that they had been misled as to the real situation in Petrograd. Pavlovsk, known for a time as Slutsk (in honour of Vera Slutskaya, who was killed near there in October 1917), has now reverted to its original name.