Notes on Interviews with Mr. C. and Mr. D., February 13, 1919.
MR. C. and Mr. D. were interviewed this morning in the Foreign Office. They both left Petrograd on the 17th January. Mr. C. was manager of a big firm in Petrograd, and was in prison three and a half months.
In the cities the cry of the Bolsheviks has been "the proletariat against the bourgeoisie," though as most of the big capitalists got away, it has really been the oppression of the de-bourgeoisie and the intelligent workmen by the dregs of the population.
1. The Villages.
In the villages poverty committees, composed of peasants without land and of hooligans returned from the towns, have been set against the peasant proprietor. Local government has been handed over to these poverty committees, and they take from the peasant proprietor his produce, implements, and live-stock, retaining what they need themselves and forwarding the remainder to the towns. The peasant will not give grain to the Bolsheviks because he hates them, and hopes by this means to destroy them eventually. He is armed and united. It is for this reason that armed requisitioning companies are sent out everywhere from Petrograd and Moscow to help the poverty committees to take the grain from the peasant, and every day all over Russia such fights for grain are fought to a finish till either the peasants or the requisitioning party are wiped out. During my stay in prison I met and talked to dozens of peasant proprietors arrested on the charge of counter-revolution. In my escape across the frontier I slept in two peasants' cabins, and although they were living under the worst conditions, so poor that fourteen people lived and slept in a cabin a few yards square, they cursed the Bolsheviks with tears in their eyes. One of the latest decrees only allows a peasant to have one cow and one horse for every five members of his family. The peasant proprietors, who probably will one day be the strongest party in the future Russia, are anti-Bolshevik to a man.
2. Red Army.
No more satisfied are the soldiers. In fact the only troops the Bolsheviks can trust are the Lettish, Chinese, and a few battalions of sailors. They give them 250 roubles a month, all found, together with presents of gold watches and chains requisitioned from the bourgeoisie. Newly conscripted troops are not given rifles in Petrograd, except a few in each regiment for the purposes of instruction. They are only handed out to them at the front. For any military offence there is only one punishment―death. Executions are done mostly by the Chinese. If a regiment retreats against orders machine-guns are turned on them, and if the commissar of the regiment cannot thus hold his men he is shot. All the soldiers I spoke to, even those acting as our guards at the prison, cursed their fate at being compelled to serve, the only alternative being death from hunger or execution as deserters. Nearly all openly expressed the hope that the British would soon come and put an end to it all.
The position of the workmen is no better. At first the eight-hour day with high minimum wages greatly pleased them, but as time went on they found that owing to increased cost of living, they were little, if any, better off. Their wages were increased, but a vicious circle was soon set up on which their wage increases were utterly unable to keep up with the high cost of living. Reduction of output further increased the cost. At the Petrograd wagon works the pre-Bolshevik cost of passenger cars was 16,000 to 17,000 roubles ; it is now 100,000 to 120,000. At Government works, where the Bolsheviks would be most likely to expect support, intense dissatisfaction exists. An official warning was issued to the workmen of the Putilof works through the official newspaper, stating that during a period of several weeks fires, explosions, and break-downs had regularly occurred, which could only be put down to traitors to the cause, who, when caught, would be shot.
The position of the bourgeoisie defies all description. All who employ labour down to a servant girl, or an errand boy, or anyone whose wants are provided for ahead, that is, all who do not live from hand to mouth, are considered under Bolshevism as bourgeoisie. All newspapers except the Bolshevik ones have been closed, and their plant and property confiscated. New decrees by the dozen are printed daily in the press, no other notification being given. Non-observance of any decree means confiscation of all property. All Government securities have been annulled and all others confiscated. Safe deposits have been opened, and all gold and silver articles confiscated. All plants and factories have been nationalised, as also the cinemas and theatres. This nationalisation or municipalisation means to the unhappy owner confiscation, since no payment is ever made. Payments by the banks from current or deposit accounts have been stopped. It is forbidden to sell furniture or to move it from one house to another without permission. Persons living in houses containing more rooms than they have members of their families have poor families billeted in the other rooms, the furniture in these rooms remaining for the use of the families billeted there. Hundreds of houses have been requisitioned for official or semi-official use, and thousands of unhappy residents have been turned out on the streets at an hour's notice with permission to take with them only the clothes they stood in, together with one change of linen. Houses are controlled by a poverty committee, composed of the poorest residents of the house. These committees have the right to take and distribute amongst themselves from the occupiers of the flats all furniture they consider in excess. They also act as Bolshevik agents, giving information as to movements. A special tax was levied on all house property amounting practically to the full value of the same. Failure to pay in fourteen days resulted in municipalisation of property. All owners and managers of works, offices, and shops, as well as members of the leisured classes, have been called up for compulsory labour, first for the burial of cholera and typhus victims, and later for cleaning the streets, &c. All goods lying at the custom house warehouses have been seized and first mortgaged to the Government Bank for 100,000,000 roubles. Any fortunate owner of these goods, which were not finally confiscated, had the possibility of obtaining them on payment of the mortgage. All furniture and furs stored away have been confiscated. All hotels, restaurants, provision shops, and most other shops, are now closed after having had their stocks and inventories confiscated. Just before we left a new tax was brought out, the extraordinary Revolutionary Tax. In the Government newspapers there were printed daily lists of people, street by street, district by district, with the amount they must pay into the Government bank within fourteen days on pain of confiscation of all property. The amounts, I noticed, ranged from 2,000 roubles to 15,000,000. It is impossible to imagine how these sums can be paid.
5. Food Question.
The food question in Petrograd has gone from bad to worse. Elaborate food cards are given out each month covering all kinds of products, but for months past nothing has been given out on them except bread, which has for the last few weeks consisted of unmilled oats. There are now only three categories of food cards, the first being for heavy workers, the second for workers, and the third for non-workers. The last time bread was given out the daily allowance on card one was half-a-pound, on card two quarter-pound, and on card three one-eight pound. Hundreds of people are dying weekly from hunger, which first causes acute swelling of the features. Many have managed to get away, so that the present population is probably not more than 600,000. Wholesale starvation has only been prevented by the large, illicit trade done in provisions by what are known as sack-men, who travel by rail or road from the village with food in sacks. Butter is now 80 roubles a pound ; beef 25 roubles ; pork 50 roubles ; black bread 25 roubles ; and eggs 5 roubles each. Dog- meat costs 5 roubles a pound, and horse-meat 18 roubles. Houses with central heating are no longer heated owing to lack of coal. The amount of wood that formerly cost 7 roubles, now costs 450, and only enough can be obtained for one room. Restaurants have all been confiscated and turned into communal kitchens, where the sole menu lately has been soup consisting of water with a few potatoes in it, and a herring.
6. Oppression of Socialist Parties.
The political parties which have been most oppressed by the Bolsheviks are the Socialists, Social Democrats, and Social Revolutionaries. Owing to bribery and corruption―those notorious evils of the old régime which are now multiplied under Bolshevism―capitalists were able to get their money from the banks and their securities from safe deposits, and managed to get away. On the other hand, many members of Liberal and Socialist parties who have worked all their time for the revolution, have been arrested or shot by the Bolsheviks. In prison I met a Social Democrat who had been imprisoned for eleven years in Schlusselberg Fortress as a political offender. Released at the beginning of the Revolution he was within eighteen months imprisoned by the Bolsheviks as a counter-revolutionary.
7. How do the Bolsheviks Continue to hold Power?
They continue to hold power by a system of terrorism and tyranny that has never before been heard of. This is centred at Gorokovaya 2, under the title of the Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Speculation, and Sabotage. Originally under the direction of Yourelski, it confined its operations to dealing with offences under these headings, but after his death it came out frankly as an instrument of the Red Terror, and since then its operations make the history of the French Reign of Terror, or the Spanish Inquisition, appear mild by comparison. People were arrested wholesale, not merely on individual orders on information received from spies, but literally wholesale―people arrested in the streets, theatres, cafe′s, every day in hundreds, and conveyed to Gorokovaya 2. There their names and other details were entered up, and next day in parties of a hundred or so marched to one or another of the prisons, whilst their unhappy relations stood for hours and days in queues endeavouring to learn what had become of them. They were kept in prison two, three, or four months without any examination or accusation being made. Then some were accused and shot, fined, or all property confiscated. Others were allowed to be ransomed by their friends, and others released without any explanation. No trial was given. The accusation and examination were made together, and the examiner was generally an ex-workman, or even criminal. Examination was made in private. Sentence was confirmed by a member of the Commission, and that is the only trial anyone ever received at Gorokovaya 2. The climax was reached after the murder of Uritsky―attack on the British Embassy, and the Lockhart affair, where hundreds of people were arrested in various parts of the town, mostly officers, who were shot and thrown into the river, bound and thrown into the river, or bound, put into barges, and the barges sunk, all without even the formality of being taken to Gorokovaya 2. I was in prison from the 19th September to the 25th December, and I could pretty well fill a book with my experiences, but I will merely give a translation of an article printed in a Bolshevik paper, the "Northern Commune," No. 170, dated the 4th December,1918 :―
"It is impossible to continue silent. It has constantly been brought to the knowledge of the Viborg Soviet (Petrograd) of the terrible state of affairs existing in the city prisons. That people all the time are dying there of hunger ; that people are detained six and eight months without examination, and that in many cases it is impossible to learn why they have been arrested, owing to officials being changed, departments closed, and documents lost. In order to confirm, or otherwise, these rumours, the Soviet decided to send on the 3rd November a commission consisting of the President of the Soviet, the district medical officer, and district military commissar, to visit and report on the 'Crest' prison. Comrades! What they saw and what they heard from the imprisoned is impossible to describe. Not only were all rumours confirmed, but conditions were actually found much worse than had been stated. I was pained and ashamed. I myself was imprisoned under Tsardom in that same prison. Then all was clean, and prisoners had clean linen twice a month. Now, not only are prisoners left without clean linen, but many are even without blankets, and, as in the past, for a trifling offence they are placed in solitary confinement in cold, dark cells. But the most terrible sights we saw were in the sick bays. Comrades, there we saw living dead who hardly had strength enough to whisper their complaints that they were dying of hunger. In one word, amongst the sick a corpse had lain for several hours, whose neighbour managed to murmur, ‘of hunger he died, and soon of hunger we shall all die.' Comrades, amongst them are many who are quite young, who wish to live and see the sunshine. If we really possess a workmen's government such things should not be."
8. Bolshevik Plans for World Revolution.
Bolshevism in Russia offers to our civilisation no less a menace than did Prussianism, and until it is as ruthlessly destroyed we may expect trouble, strikes, revolutions everywhere. The German military party are undoubtedly working hand in hand with Russian Bolsheviks with the idea of spreading Bolshevism ultimately to England, by which time they hope to have got over it themselves, and to be in a position to take advantage of our troubles. For Bolshevik propaganda unlimited funds are available. No other country can give their secret service such a free hand, and the result is that their agents are to be found where least expected.