Saturday, November 30, 2013

Vorkuta Rebelion 1936

In 1936-37 unprecedented terror was raging all over the country. By day and by night revolutionary tribunals, “extraordinary threes” sentenced to death and the sentences were immediately fulfilled. Even in the time of savagely cruel Ivan Grozny with his oprichniks there was nothing of the kind. Every family was feeling horror and fear. Certainly, Stalin did his criminal vile deeds not alone, millions of “worshippers” and hundreds thousands of oprichniks were ready annihilate anybody and any number of victims according to his directions. But oprichniks also felt then blind fear: they already knew that their chief Yagoda was declared “enemy of people” and arrested. It was necessary quickly deliver from the former ‘liberalism’ in the concentration camps, the regime began quickly become tougher. They daily made “shmony” (searches) by day and by night . Shook up everything , in posting the sentries searched every prisoner, political prisoners were not allowed to correspond. For the least fault the prisoners were sent to “Bour” ( barrack of special regime) or to Brick works in Vorkuta. Brick works meant death. I knew about events in Vorkuta from Pasha Kunina, Vladimir Kossior’s wife, she was sent to Kochmes after the end of hunger-strike in Vorkuta. Pasha told me that a committee of prisoners was created, at the beginning it carried on talks with the camp administration on softening the regime and afterwards organized strikes and hunger-strikes. Vladimir Kossior, Victor Eltsin, Grigory Yakovin and Pasha Kunina were in the committee. Both strike and hunger-strike acquired mass-character and continued about 100 days. The prisoners held out very steady, the camp administration was evidently confused. The weakened hunger-strikers were fed by force: they were drawn on the stretchers to a medical unit and liquid food was led in through probe, those who resisted were tied. Some especially weakened strikers were taken to a medical unit in Usa station. Vorkuta administration continually got in touch with Moscow to get instructions concerning hunger- strikers. They received instruction, and promised hunger- strikers to comply with their demands. Then the prisoners stopped the hunger- strike. They recovered very slowiy, they could not work, most of them were lying on plank-beds. Their faces were deathly pale, they were very lean, their eyes were sunken, dull. When Pasha felt a little better, she was sent to a women camp Kochmes. When Pasha was telling all this she could hardly restrain from tears, her eyes were dreary, as if she foresaw something more terrible. Vladimir Kossior was taken to Moscow, as they told, for retrial of his case. Vladiir then, certainly, did not know that his two brothers, members of the party Central Committee, were already imprisoned, while they had always defended Stalin line, opposed supporters of Trotsky, Zinoviev and Bukharin. This fact was very typical, Stalin already began to do away with his supporters. Pasha did not know about it but intuitively did not believe that her husband was taken to Moscow for retrial of his case. Vladimir Kossior was an oppositionist long ago, he opposed not only Stalin, but sharply criticized Lenin at the X-th party congress, when the last offered very resolutely to struggle with all the opposition groups. When I only had a free minute, I tried to meet Pasha, although it was forbidden to enter the women’s barrack. I imperceptibly stole into the barrack, Pasha and I sat on a bench and spoke quietly. We had a lot of things to recollect.

I first met Pasha at the beginning of 1921 at the workers faculty of Moscow University, we were seating side by side at lessons. She was then 26-27 years old, her husband Vladimir Kossior was a member of presidium of the Central Professional Units and the editor-in-chief of the newspaper “Trud” (labor). Then he was one of the leaders of the workers’ opposition and was already beginning to suffer from repressions. Pasha acquainted me with Dina Belotserkovsky, who became my wife. They were close friends from young age, worked together in sewing workshop in Poushkin street in Kiev, in 1910 they entered the social-democratic movement, worked together in the underground, organized strikes. After the Civil war Dina and Pasha worked in Commissariat of public education, she fought to find a home for every child, organized professional schools and courses. When Dina and I lived in Moscow, and later, when it was possible, I often called on the 1-st House of Soviets, where Pasha’s family and her mother lived. Vladimir Kossior always shared the newest information of party congresses and struggle in Central Committee. Besides that, he always deeply analyzed the processes going on in the party and could anticipate the future, he earlier than others foretold that Stalin’s gang would gradually deal with all the popular leaders of the party and that all the differently minded people would go to jail. But he did not speak of mass massacre; he evidently did not suppose that matters would take such a turn.

I reminded Pasha that in 1928 she sent me a scarf, mittens and a fur cap to Butyrka jail and I had no chance to thank her. Pasha recollected that in 1921 I helped her to understand the depth of “Capital” by Marks. Once when everybody were sleeping in the barrack she asked me to sing in low voice arias of Varangian guest and Nadir which I sang in her flat long ago. She said that the arias reminds her of better days. Our meeting and talks stopped suddenly. It was severe winter, 40 degrees C. below zero. The whole concentration camp was agitated. Pasha Kunina was offered urgently to collect her things: she was escorted to Vorkuta. Why such a big escort, when they take a weak woman? We only knew that this escort do not carry to freedom. Pasha, pale and shivering, went out of the barrack with a bag in her hands, quilted jacket unfastened, the cap does not cover ears, and she was without mittens. It seems O. Ya. Sapozhnikova thrust warm mittens in her hands. Pasha sat into the sledge, her lips were trembling, her black eyes sparkled feverishly. Prisoners tightly surrounded the sledge, women were crying. When the escort tried to drive away the crowd, the women began to shout: “Barbarians, butchers, you should rather work in the coal pit, than to escort women!” Agitation rose, the guards were confused. I rushed to Pasha to tell good-bye but immediately received a violent stroke on the back with a butt. But I rushed to my old friend again, embraced and kissed her and I saw big tears streaming on her face. Pasha told: “Grisha, we see each other for the last time, I feel this is the end.” The horse moved, and the sledge with Pasha and two guards rolled to the Ussa river, the sledge with two other guards following them. We watched them for a long time, waved hands and caps. It remonded me of Surikov’s picture “Boyarynia Morozova”. But here a hereditary proletarian was carried who gave out all her conscious life to the struggle for freedom of working class in Russia. Whether a time comes when Russian artists will paint scenes of Soviet prisoners’ life? The scene of Pasha Kunina carried in the sledge to Vorkuta was engraved in my memory for all my life: Pasha dressed in quilted jacket, crying, two guards with rifles by her sides was not carried to monastery like boyarynia Morozova but to execution.

Two weeks later in the evening when we were already laying on the plank-beds the chief of the regime entered the barrack accompanied with two warders and ordered everybody to get up and form. First he enumerated 50 surnames of prisoners in Vorkuta camp and then read aloud the decision of Vorkuta “camp three”, where it was said that the enumerated prisoners were sentenced to death for sabotage, refusal from work and rebellion. During the whole month they called each day new 50 surnames and decision of execution. About two thousand people were named. I heard the names of dear Pasha Kunina, Victor Eltsin, Grisha and Mark Rubashkin, Feodor Dingelshtedt and many others, whom I knew very well before my arrest in 1934. They were excellent, pure people, romantics who gave their mental and physical powers to the struggle for better future of people. They were shot in icy cold tundra by representatives of this people, who fulfilled orders of the barbarian leader. All of us were shocked, many of us heard of death of relatives and friends. I could not sleep, could not fulfill my daily duties, that meant cutting down bread ration, which could lead to death. I made every effort to pull myself together. In one of the lists that were read I heard the names of Sasha Brazhenkov and Makar, they were sent to the camp for criminal cases. They helped a lot to political prisoners and saved me in very hard situations. They did not take part in the strike and hunger-strike but the camp administration decided to deal with them: they behaved too independently. Soon we got to know terrible details of Vorkuta tragedy from witnesses who escaped by some miracle. The barracks were surrounded by armed guards. The prisoners still weak after a prolonged hunger-strike, were put into chains, and led or carried under a big escort in the direction of Brick Works and there they were shot with machine-guns. The killed were not buried, the corpses left on the frozen earth were soon covered with snow but for a long time arms, legs and heads were seen. This terrible picture of unprecedented crime of bandit gang ruled by Kremlin barbarian I should name a kind of apotheosis of Bolshevic power in analogy with Vereschagin’s picture “Apotheosis of war”, where a big burial mound of human skulls is shown.

Trains with coal from Vorkuta and oil from Ukhta move on Pechora railway. Nobody of contemporaries realizes that those coal and oil are clots of blood of the whole generation of people who dreamed of free Russia, and they were killed only because of this dream and their remains were left in permafrost zone for good. And who will answer for these crimes? The main criminal is buried with honour near Kremlin wall as a “Leninist and hero of Russian revolution”. “Demons” by Dostoevsky are just babies in comparison with Kremlin cannibal of XX –th century. All the executions in Vorkuta, as well as executions before and after that were conducted according to personal directions of Stalin. GULAG, Vorkuta administration, Yagoda, Yezhov, Beria are only disgusting and criminal tentackles of the Kremlin dragon. At those far and terrible days I decided: if I get free, I would write about concentration camp and the main murderer, maniac- gensec. We cannot afford that the generations after us should not know about it. For many years criminals leaded by “the great helmsman” cannot be forgiven.

After Vorkuta tragedy a lot of NKVD (later KGB) workers drove through Kochmes to Vorkuta. They were to substitute for those who carried out the cruel massacres: the main criminal decided to get rid of executioners and witnesses of Vorkuta crimes.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Machno - extract from memoirs

Our group of convicts was standing near the jail gates for about an hour. Suddenly an iron bar banged, the gates opened, and we were led into an insatiable throat of the stone monster. More than one generation of revolutionaries were led through these gates. My wife (she is older than I) told me later, that she had been imprisoned there in 1912 for taking part in a demonstration on the occasion of the execution on the Lena river. Our group was separated into smaller units, one of them was taken away immediately. Women were left on the first floor, and a small group, including me, was led upstairs to the second floor, where we were dressed in striped clothes, each of us was given a pair of underwear and a round cap resembling those that academicians were wearing. We were distributed to cells. I was pushed into a stone cell with a narrow bar of window, overlooking deserted Pollevaya street. Soon I learned that our cell was ment to prisoners sentenced to death, which fact left little hope. Our cell contained 18 prisoners, and the next one contained more than hundred. The chief of the jail was some Belokoz, he remained here from prerevolutionary time; my wife, who had been in the jail before the revolution, still remembers him. In two cells rather mixed groups of prisoners were collected: social revolutionaries (S.R.’s), anarchists, bolsheviks, members of Boond, zionists, makhnoists, a counterfeiter and just people that took part in actions against government. The largest group were peasants from Novomoskovsk, who were charged of participation in the rebel against Denikin. The peasants in our cell were considered instigators, the rest were scattered about the jail. The makhnoists in our cell were born in Goulyay-Polle or in the surroundings of this center of Makhno movement. All of them were men of Makhno units. One of the prisoners, a man of delicate appearance with a very intelligent face, with a high forehead and a small beard was sitting in a corner and did not take part in conversations. Brodsky, the prisoner, arrested for fabrication of false money, especially, marks, told me that the silent man was a brother of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the head of V.Tch.C. There was also a left social revolutionary that totally denied the participation of “S.R.’s” in the attempt on Lenin’s life, as well as in the murder of Volodarsky and Uritsky. Contrary to general opinion he claimed that S.R.’s were principally against individual terror. At the same time he condemned Maria Spiridonova, the leader of left S.R.’s, accusing her in political carreerism because of her taking part in bolsheviks’ government. One of the makhnoists in our cell, Moskalenko, a clever and educated man, a convinced anarchist, who had been imprisoned for many years in tzarist jales, disproved in a peculiar way Marx’s theory of economical factor in historical process. He said: “According to Marx, the working masses only want to eat, consequently, the history is advanced only by hungry people. And only landlords and capitalists are to blame for their starving conditions. Really, - he continued, - the working people suffer first of all from the state: bureaucracy, army and police.” On his opinion, the politics is the decisive force of social development, and in politics it is first of all necessary to struggle with those, who hold tight to their personal interests. Moskalenko thought that Lenin in his statements pursued only gaining his personal power, thinking little of freedom for people. In those faraway times I did not agree with such opinions, though already in 1921 when Lenin became the head of the government and the defeat of the workers’ oppositions, expressing the interests of the advanced workers, was going on, I started to meditate on the position that anarchist Moskalenko had expressed in jail. One of the young makhnoists Grigory Karetnikov, a relative of well-known at that time ataman Karetnikov, a nearest associate of Nestor Makhno, described in detail the life of N. Machno. I reproduce the story that he told me in jail cell, precisely enough. Ataman Nestor Ivanovitch Makhno was born in a poor peasant family in Goulyay Polle, Alexandrovsk region, near Yekaterinoslav. In his early years he became a orphan, was a beggar, often slept in hay stacks and stables. In summer he worked as a farm hand, in autumn and winter helped a blacksmith for food and shelter. He learned to read and write on his own, liked to read adventure novels very much. In 1905 he joined a terrorist group. They set on fire landlords estates and even killed provocateur agents and especially cruel policemen. Makhno was sentenced to penal servitude. There he became intimate with anarchists, especially with Volin, a Jew. The February revolution set Makhno free and he returned to his homeland. Makhno was elected to worker-peasant council in Goulyay-Polle, he made violent massacre of land lords, and turned over their land to poor peasants. He was a great authority in his homeland and in all the Ukraine. When Yekaterinoslav region was occupied with Germans, Makhno created partisan groups of the most brave fellows and stroke painful blows on the Germans. German Headquarters estimated the ataman’s head at million roubles, but nobody betrayed him. Makhno had to escape to Moscow, where he renewed his connections with anarchists. He returned again to his homeland with an anarchist group and created a large detachment of peasants, faught with German invadors and hetman Skoropadsky troops. Exactly then Makhno developed a peculiar tactics of fight and used famous machine-gun carts. Simulating peasant weddings and burials, Makhno penetrated on machine-gun carts into positions of German forces and hetman Skoropadsky units, swiftly moved in the rear of Denikin army, seizing arms and ammunition. In all the towns, which even for a short time surrendered to Makhno units, all the prisoners were realesed from jails, irrespective of their political views. Karetnikov continued his story. “Our countryman managed to form several large detachments, which were headed by atamans Schous, my relative Karetnikov, Marchenko, Vasilevsky, Kourilenko and others.” My neighbour spoke with delight of organization talent of his ataman, compared him with haydamaks’ (Ukrainian Cossacks) leaders Gonta and Karmelouk. Karetnikov thought that only Makhno sincerely wanted to give the land to the peasants. He spoke also of gathering of Makhno units and representatives of 72 small Ukrainian regions. There several important decisions were accepted, including organization of “communes without authority”. All of Makhno’s groups were formally united into a separate brigade under the leadership of Makhno, subordinate to Soviet Zadneprovsky battalion under the command of famous Dybenko, one of the leaders of October revolution. Later I got to know that responsible messengers from Moscow repeatedly visited Makhno, including Kalinin, Manuilsky, Karl Radeck. They tried to arrange somehow cooperation of Makhno’s groups with Red Army, but without success. I listened to Karetnikov with great interest, I was fascinated with the biography of modern Stepan Razin. Seeing my interest to the personality of Makhno, Karetnikov gave many interesting facts, testifying that Nestor Makhno undoubtedly was a very outstanding person of our unfortunate epoch. The military tactics of Makhno could arise exactly in the period of civil war. Native wit of the peasant leader perplexed experienced military men. The units of Makhno with their machine-gun carts smashed regiments and divisions under the command of experienced military specialists. At the end of August the Makhnoists from our cell were called to meet their relatives, who brought them luxurious parcels from the country. They came back with sacks full of Ukrainian lurd, fried geese, cucumbers and tomatos, melons, apples and Ukrainian bread. The lads laid out all of the food on beautifully embroidered towels and invited all the cellmates to share a meal with them. One of them found a note, skilfully shoved under the skin of fried goose. It told that soon the ataman would enter the town with his men and release all of the prisoners from jail. One night, when all of us were lying on the floor, we heard remote peals. We thought that thunderstorm was beginning. Brodsky told me that somebody stroke a hollow iron barrel in the jail yard. Makhnoists slept soundly. A lamp glimmerd above the cell door, I heard snorring of the guardian in the corridor. I crawled noiselessly to the narow bar of the window, overlooking Polevaya Street. I peered into the darkness, suddenly a lightning flashed, followed by a crash. No doubt, it was a cannon fire. Hearing steps in the corridor, I quickly lay on the floor and did not move. Soon I heard machine-gun bursts. Morning came. The next cell, the largest in the jail, was unusually quiet. Suddenly the keys jingled, the heavy door of our cell opened. A group of guardians entered, in front of them in a black great coat was the chief of the jail Belokoz, known for his ferocity. He ordered everybody to lie down and announced. “For the least violation of jail regime, for loud talks we will shoot up”. We lay quietly on the stone floor, I heard the thump of my heart. We were not led out to wash, only allowed to carry out close-stool. When Brodsky and I were carrying close-stool, we were escorted with increased convoy. At night two anarchists were taken away from our cell, one of them shouted, “Good bye, brothers, they are leading us to execution.” Soon we heard shots from the prison yard. At night nobody slept, each one said last farewell to his life in his thoughts. Suddenly something banged deafeningly in the jail yard, we could hear hum of a great mass of people and sounds: “Hurrah! Brothers, come out to freedom! The town is in the hands of ataman Makhno!” In the corridor there was hum and song, it was anarchist hymn: “Down with shameful and slavish love, we will drown the people’s grief in blood…” In some cell the prisoners began to sing Marcelleze. We began to beat on the cell door, it seemed to us that we could be forgotten. But already near our cell somebody shouted: “Move away from the door!” After several violent strokes with a hammer from the corridor the door came off its hinges. We rushed into the corridor with a cry, ran off downstairs, mingled with the crowd of released prisoners from other cells, and continuing to shout we ran out into the jail yard. It was pouring. But we, coming out of Yekaterinoslav Bastilia, suffered little from it. The rain seemed to us a delight, we felt refreshed after our cells, soaked with rotten and stinking air of close-stool and the breath of the doomed ones. For the first time in my life I felt so deeply the spirit of freedom. When the croud of people in striped clothes came out of the prison gates to the square, all of them saw an extraordinary picture. In the huge space between two jales hundreds of machine-gun carts stood with handsome and well-fed horses, harnessed to them. There were machine-guns on all the carts, makhnoists were seated near them, dressed in leather jackets and raincoats above them. The makhnoists met each group of prisoners that was running out of the prison gates with shouts: “Long live freedom, long live anarchy, down with casemates!” They gave a loaf of bread and a sausage to each one of the released prisoners. We heard that Belokoz, the chief of the jail, who did not manage to make off, was thrown down from the roof.