We’re receiving no books from Russia. But literature is the most nation-specific of the arts. Music, painting, scientific discoveries – all this represents an Esperanto of sorts for the whole world.
Here, in this foreign land, only literature can transform the sharp pain of estrangement into a sweet melancholic yearning. And now the first sampler of the creative output of the Russian military detachment in France – that newly sprung, idiosyncratic people – has been released.
Let us not gripe about the book’s shortcomings, about the flaws in its versification, about its many awkward turns of phrase, about the banality of its ideas... Its virtues are of greater significance. Its tireless contemplations of the motherland, its quintessentially Russian dreaminess and the melodiousness of its verse are what render this book precious and dear to me. As a poet, Alekseev isn’t set apart by the acuteness of his emotional states. In his work they’re immediately transmuted into images in which he himself takes passionate delight, while occasionally compelling others to delight in them as well.
It’s all the same. It’s disgusting to write. The newspapers are utter lies. Moscow is gunned down and submitted to the Bolsheviks. The capitals have been seized by the enemy - and barbaric - troops. There’s nowhere to run. There is no homeland.
Our commissar Vershinin and Zhorzheliani returned from Sevastopol and told us a few things, including the fact that the Winter Palace has been half destroyed and looted, with the chambers of my beloved Nicky and Alika particularly afflicted by the latter – what infamy! See more
Those brutes ripped Serov’s magnificent portrait of Nicky from its frame and threw it out of the window, and when some boy picked it up, wishing to salvage it, the scoundrels snatched the canvas from his hands and ripped it to shreds.
There is currently no government to speak of. We’re like a ship sailing through stormy waters without aim or direction. Kerensky has vanished and Bolsheviks have got their paws on everything.
Rodin is dead. He was one of my oldest and most respected friends. I ferried him from London to Paris just eight days before the war. “Goodbye, and I shall see you on Wednesday at the countess’” – these were his last words at the Gare du Nord. See more
I knew even then that I wouldn’t see him again, because we’d read the Austrian ultimatum in the newspapers. Aboard the steamer he slept in an armchair on the deck. Passengers who recognised him looked on at him with reverence. As we stood leaning on the railings, Dover now behind us, I asked him if he was hungry. “No,” he replied, “I don’t get hungry when I’m outside in nature – nature nourishes me.”
The situation is now hopeless, as the Bolsheviks are masters in the north and at Moscow; and though Kaledin holds the south, there is no chance of his making headway in the north.
The cavalry left today, tomorrow one hundred infantry soldiers will leave. Life is all the more terrible in the countryside, and there is nowhere else to go.
In front of Smolny, one day, I saw a ragged regiment just come from the trenches. The soldiers were drawn up before the great gates, thin and grey-faced, looking up at the building as if God were in it. Some pointed out the Imperial eagles over the door, laughing…. See more
Red Guards came to mount guard. All the soldiers turned to look, curiously, as if they had heard of them but never seen them. They laughed good-naturedly and pressed out of line to slap the Red Guards on the back, with half-joking, half-admiring remarks….
For the bourgeoisie, freedom of the press meant freedom for the rich to publish and for the capitalists to control the newspapers, a practice which in all countries, including even the freest, produced a corrupt press. See more
For the workers’ and peasants’ government, freedom of the press means liberation of the press from capitalist oppression, and public ownership of paper mills and printing presses; equal right for public groups of a certain size (say, numbering 10,000) to a fair share of newsprint stocks and a corresponding quantity of printers’ labour.
As a first step towards this goal, which is bound up with the working people’s liberation from capitalist oppression, the Provisional Workers’ and Peasants’ Government has appointed a Commission of Inquiry to look into the ties between capital and periodicals, the sources of their funds and revenues, the list of their donors, covers for their deficits, and every other aspect of the newspaper business in general. Concealment of books, accounts or any other documents from the Commission of Inquiry, or the giving of any evidence known to be false shall be punishable by a revolutionary court.
All newspaper owners, shareholders, and all members of their staffs shall be under the obligation to immediately submit written reports and information on the said questions to the Commission of Inquiry, probing the ties between capital and the press, and its dependence on capital, at Smolny Institute, Petrograd.