DURING my ninety days in the United States
old friends and new, including people I had never met before,
spoke much of my years in exile. It seemed incredible to them
that I had been able to withstand the vicissitudes of banishment
and come back unbroken in health and spirit and with my ideal
unmarred. I confess I was deeply moved by their generous tribute.
But also I was embarrassed, not because I suffer from false modesty
or believe that kind things should be said about people only after
their death, but rather because the plight of hosts of political
exiles scattered over Europe is so tragic that my struggle to
survive was hardly worth mentioning.
The lot of political refugees, even prior
to the war, was never free from stress and poverty. But they could
at least find asylum in a number of countries. France, Belgium,
Switzerland were open to them. Scandinavia and the Netherlands
received them kindly. Even the United States was hospitable enough
to admit some refugees. The real haven, however, was England,
where political rebels from all despotic lands were made welcome.
The world carnage put an end to the golden
era when a Bakunin and a Herzen, a Marx and a Kropotkin, a Malatesta
and a Lenin, Vera Sazulich, Louise Michel, and all the others
could come and go without hindrance. In those days who cared about
passports or visas? Who worried about one particular spot on earth?
The whole world was one's country. One place was as good as another
where one could continue one's work for the liberation of one's
autocratic native land. Not in their wildest dreams did it occur
to these revolutionaries that the time might come when the world
would be turned into a huge penitentiary, or that political conditions
might become more despotic and inhuman than during the worst period
of the Czars. The war for democracy and the advent of the left
and right dictatorships destroyed whatever freedom of movement
political refugees had formerly enjoyed. Tens of thousands of
men, women, and children have been turned into modern Ahasueruses,
forced to roam the earth, admitted nowhere. If they are fortunate
enough to find asylum, it is nearly always for a short period
only; they are always exposed to annoyance and chicanery, and
their lives made a veritable hell.
For a time expatriated Russians were given
some protection by means of the Nansen, or League of Nations,
passport. Most countries were supposed to recognize that scrap
of paper, though few did, least of all when politically tainted
individuals applied for admission. Still, the Nansen passport
was better than nothing at all. Now this too has been abolished,
and Russian refugees are entirely outside the law. Terrible as
was the Czarist time, it was yet possible to bribe one's way across
frontiers. That is possible no longer, not because border police
have suddenly become honest, but because every country is afraid
of the bolshevik or the fascist germ and keeps the frontier hermetically
sealed, even against those who hate every form of dictatorship.
I have already stated that political exiles
are sometimes lucky enough to find an abode, but that by no means
includes the right to work. Anything they do to eke out a wretched
existence, such as lessons, translations, or any kind of physical
labor, must be done furtively. Should they be caught, it would
again mean the wearisome round of seeking another country. Politicals
are constantly at the beck and call of the authorities. It is
almost a daily occurrence for them to be pounced upon suddenly
at an early morning hour, dragged out of bed, taken to the police
station, and then expelled. It is not necessary to be guilty of
any offense, such as participation in the internal political affairs
of the country whose hospitality they have accepted.
A friend of mine is a case in point. He
was expelled from a certain country merely for editing a small
bulletin in English in order to raise funds for the Russian political
prisoners. After we succeeded in bringing him back, he was three
times ordered to leave, and when he was finaly allowed to remain,
it was on condition that he apply for a renewal of the permit
every three months. For days and weeks he had to camp at the police
station and waste time and health running from department to department.
While waiting for the renewal he could not leave the city of his
domicile. Every new place he might want to visit implied new registration,
and as he was left without a single document while his renewal
was pending, he could nowhere be registered. In other words, my
friend was virtually a prisoner in one city until the renewal
was granted. Few there are who could have survived such treatment.
But my friend had been steeled in American prisons for sixteen
years, and his had always been an indomitable will. Yet even he
had almost come to the end of his endurance when the three months'
renewal period was extended to six.
However, these miseries are by no means
the only tragedies in the present plight of most political refugees.
There are many more that try their souls and turn their lives
into hideous nightmares. No matter how great their suffering in
pre-war times, they had their faith and their work to give them
an outlet. They lived, dreamed, and labored incessantly for the
liberation of their native lands. They could arouse public opinion
in their place of refuge against the tyranny and oppression practiced
in their country, and they were able to help their comrades in
prison with large funds contributed by the workers and liberal
elements in other parts of the world. They could even ship guns
and ammunition into Czarist Russia, despotic Italy, and Spain.
These were certainly inspiring and sustaining factors. Not less
so was the solidarity that existed among the politicals of different
schools. Whatever their theoretical differences, there was mutual
respect and confidence among them. And in times of important issues
they worked together, not in a make-believe but in a real united
Nothing of that is left. All political movements
are at each other's throats--more bitter, vindictive, and downright
savage against each other than they are against their common enemies.
The most unpardonable offender in this respect is the so-called
Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. Not only is it keeping up
a process of extermination of all political opponents in and outside
its territory, but it is also engaged in wholesale character assassination.
Men and women with a heroic record of revolutionary activity,
persons who have consecrated themselves to their ideals, who went
through untold sufferings under the Romanovs, are maligned, misrepresented,
dubbed with vile names, and hounded without mercy. It is certainly
no coincidence that my friend was expelled for a bulletin designed
to raise money for the Russian politicals.
To be sure the Mussolinis and Hitlers are
guilty of the same crime. They and their propaganda machines mow
down every political opponent in their way. They also have added
character assassination to the butchery of their victims. Human
sensibilities have become dulled since the war. If the suffering
of the German and Austrian refugees had failed to rekindle the
dying embers of sympathy, one would have had to lose all faith
in mankind. The generous response to their need is indeed the
only ray of light on the black social horizon.
The Anarchists and Anarcho-Syndicalists
have, of course, been forgotten. Or is it ignorance that causes
the deadly silence about their plight? Do not the protesters against
German atrocities know that Anarchists also are in Göring's dreadful
concentration camps, subject to the brutalities of the Storm Troop
barbarians, and that some of them have undergone more heinous
punishment than most of the other Nazi victims? For instance,
Erich Mühsam. Poet and social rebel, he paid his toll to the German
Republic after the Bavarian uprising. He was sentenced to fifteen
years in prison, of which he served five. On his release he immediately
threw himself into the work of showing the inhuman conditions
in the prisons under the Socialist and republican government.
Being a Jew and an Anarchist and having a revolutionary past,
Erich Mühsam was among the first to be dragged off by the SA gangsters.
He was repeatedly slugged and beaten, his teeth were knocked out,
his hair and beard pulled, and the swastika cut on his skull with
a penknife. After his death in July, announced by the Nazis a
"suicide," his widow was shown his tortured body, with
the back of the skull crushed as if it had been dragged on the
ground, and with unmistakable signs of strangulation.
Indifference to Mühsam's martyrdom is a
sign of the sectarianism and bigotry in liberal and radical ranks
today. But what I really want to stress is this: the barbarity
of fascism and Nazism is being condemned and fought by the persons
who have remained perfectly indifferent to the Golgotha of the
Russian politicals. And not only indifferent; they actually justify
the barbarities of the Russian dictatorship as inevitable. All
these good people are under the spell of the Soviet myth. They
lack awareness of the inconsistency and absurdity of their protesting
against brutalities in capitalist countries when they are condoning
the same brutalities in the Soviet Republic. A recent appeal of
the International Workingmen's Association gives a heart-breaking
picture of the condition of Anarchists and Anarcho-Syndicalists
in Stalin's stronghold. Renewed arrests in Odessa, Tomsk, Archangel,
and other parts of Russia have taken place. No charge whatever
is made against the victims. Without hearing or trial they have
been sent away by the "administrative process." Those
whose sentences, some as high as ten years, have expired, have
again been sent to isolated parts; there is no hope of liberation
during the much-praised Communist experiment.
One of the tragic cases is that of Nicholai
Rogdayeve, an Anarchist for years and an ardent fighter for the
emancipation of the Russian people. During the reign of the Romanovs,
Rogdayeve knew all the agonies meted out to politicals--prison,
exile, and katorga. After the March revolution Rogdayeve
came back to freedom and new activities. With hundreds of others
of every political shade he worked untiringly--teaching, writing,
speaking, and organizing the workers. He continued his labors
for a time after the October revolution. Then the Bolshevik persecution
began. Though Rogdayeve was well known and loved by everyone,
including even Communists, he did not escape the crushing hand
of the GPU. Arrest, exile, and all the other tortures the Russian
politicals are made to suffer undermined his health. His giant
body was gradually broken by tuberculosis which he had contracted
as a result of his treatment. He died a few months ago. What was
the offense of Rogdayeve and hundreds of others? It was their
steadfast adherence to their ideals, to their faith in the Russian
revolution and the Russian masses. For that undying faith they
went through a thousand purgatories; many of them, like Rogdayeve,
were slowly done to death. Thus, Katherine Breshkovsky, at the
age of ninety and blind, has just ended her days in an alien land.
Maria Spiridonova, broken in health, if not in spirit, may not
go abroad to seek a cure from scurvy developed in the inner Cheka
prison; Stalin's sleep might be marred were she at large. And
Angelica Balabonov, what about her? Not even the henchmen of Stalin
have dared to charge her with having made common cause with the
enemies of the revolution. In 1917 she returned from Italy to
Russia, joined the Communist Party, and dedicated herself to the
Russian Revolution. But eventually, when she realized the intrigue
and the corruption in the Third International, when she could
no longer accept the ethics of the GPU, she left Russia and the
Communist Party. Ever since, Angelica Balabonov has been used
as a target for villainous attacks and denunciations from Moscow
and its satellites abroad. This and years of malnutrition have
left her ill and stranded.
The Russian refugees are not the only rebels
whose dream of a new world has been shattered. Enrico Malatesta,
Anarchist, rebel, and one of the sweetest personalities in the
revolutionary ranks, was also not spared the agony of the advent
of fascism. Out of his great mind and his loving heart he had
given lavishly over a period of sixty years to free the Italian
workers and peasants. The realization of his dream was all but
within reach when the riffraff of Mussolini spread like a plague
over Italy, destroying everything so painfully built up by men
like Malatesta, Fabri, and the other great Italian revolutionists.
Bitter indeed must have been the last days of Malatesta.
Within the last year and a half hosts of
Austrian and German rebels have been added to the list of radicals
from Russia, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Jugoslavia, and
other lesser countries. All these lands have become the graveyard
of revolutionary and libertarian ideals. Few countries are left
where one can still hold on to life. Indeed, nothing that the
holocaust and its aftermath have brought to humanity can compare
with the cruel plight of the political refugees. Yet undying are
their faith and their hope in the masses. No shadow of doubt obscures
their belief that the workers will wake up from their leaden sleep,
that they will once more take up the battle for liberty and well-being.
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