British Consul Nash kindly entertained Colonel and Madame Frank and myself, and generally helped me in the organisation of this end of my campaign. He did not think much of my objective, but he helped all the same.
I held my first meeting in the repairing shop at Irkutsk at 3 P.M., March 4. It was a big crowd of working men and women. The Russian women work on the railways in such employments as carriage and wagon cleaners, snow and ice shovellers, and even repairing gangs on different sections of the line have a sprinkling of the fair sex.
This audience listened to an explanation of the rise of the trade union movement in England with the greatest attention. The large majority accepted the proposition I tried to expound, that no question could be settled by the disputants merely killing each other off; but there were present about half a dozen members of the International World Workers, slouch-hatted, unshaven, and exactly true to type as seen at meetings in East London, Liverpool or Glasgow. These were not workmen employed on the railway; one kept a barber’s shop, one was a teacher, one a Russian doctor, and one a Russian solicitor; but they were the officials of the only form of union that exists in Russian Siberia, a revolutionary circle composed of the very worst elements in the towns, bound together by one common purpose, the spoliation and assassination of every decent man, whether bourgeois or workman, who refuses to support a policy of anarchy. These five or six determined ruffians formed a kind of Blood Brotherhood, and behind a veil of anonymity issued mandates to, and in the name of, the Russian workmen, which, backed up by a system of murderous terrorism, the workmen were powerless to resist. It was quite a usual thing to find each morning dead men of all classes in the streets who had been murdered during the night by members of these circles. There was no system of law or police; every vestige of justice was uprooted, and these crimes went unpunished. The irony of it was that these acts were avowedly done in the interest of progress and reform and in the sacred name of Labour!
The Irkutsk Circle asked questions which were not calculated to elicit a single fact connected with labour, either in Russia or England, but were just the usual clap-trap monkey business, such as:
“Why should we be satisfied with half, when we have the bourgeoisie down and can take all?”
“Why should we allow law to be re-established, which was always used by the few to rob the many?”
“Surely it is less unjust to allow the many to continue to rob the few?”
“In destroying the landlord and capitalist are not the Russian proletariat merely taking back its own property?”
“Is it not a fact that the more systematically and effectively we annihilate the bourgeois and landlord class, and all the institutions belonging to them, the easier it will be to erect the new order?”