Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
Going to the People
(From “Memoirs of a Revolutionist”)

By Peter Kropotkin

(The Russian author and scientist, 1842–1921, who renounced the title of prince and spent many years in a dungeon for his faith, has here told his life story)
“IT is bitter, the bread that has been made by slaves,” our poet Nekrasoff wrote. The young generation actually refused to eat that bread, and to enjoy the riches that had been accumulated in their fathers’ houses by means of servile labor, whether the laborers were actual serfs or slaves of the present industrial system.  1
  All Russia read with astonishment, in the indictment which was produced at the court against Karakozoff and his friends, that these young men, owners of considerable fortunes, used to live three or four in the same room, never spending more than ten roubles (five dollars) apiece a month for all their needs, and giving at the same time their fortunes for co-operative associations, co-operative workshops (where they themselves worked), and the like. Five years later, thousands and thousands of the Russian youth—the best part of it—were doing the same. Their watch-word was, “V naród!” (To the people; be the people.) During the years 1860–65 in nearly every wealthy family a bitter struggle was going on between the fathers, who wanted to maintain the old traditions, and the sons and daughters, who defended their right to dispose of their life according to their own ideals. Young men left the military service, the counter and the shop, and flocked to the university towns. Girls, bred in the most aristocratic families, rushed penniless to St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Kieff, eager to learn a profession which would free them from the domestic yoke, and some day, perhaps, also from the possible yoke of a husband. After hard and bitter struggles, many of them won that personal freedom. Now they wanted to utilize it, not for their own personal enjoyment, but for carrying to the people the knowledge that had emancipated them.  2
  In every town of Russia, in every quarter of St. Petersburg, small groups were formed for self-improvement and self-education; the works of the philosophers, the writings of the economists, the researches of the young Russian historical school, were carefully read in these circles, and the reading was followed by endless discussions. The aim of all that reading and discussion was to solve the great question which rose before them: In what way could they be useful to the masses? Gradually, they came to the idea that the only way was to settle among the people and to live the people’s life. Young men went into the villages as doctors, doctors’ assistants, teachers, village scribes, even as agricultural laborers, blacksmiths, woodcutters, and so on, and tried to live there in closest contact with the peasants. Girls passed teachers’ examinations, learned midwifery or nursing, and went by the hundred into the villages, devoting themselves entirely to the poorest part of the population.…  3
  Here and there, small groups of propagandists had settled in towns and villages in various capacities. Blacksmiths’ shops and small farms had been started, and young men of the wealthier classes worked in the shops or on the farms, to be in daily contact with the toiling masses. At Moscow, a number of young girls, of rich families, who had studied at the Zurich university and had started a separate organization, went even so far as to enter cotton factories, where they worked from fourteen to sixteen hours a day, and lived in the factory barracks the miserable life of the Russian factory girls. It was a grand movement, in which, at the lowest estimate, from two to three thousand persons took an active part, while twice or thrice as many sympathizers and supporters helped the active vanguard in various ways. With a good half of that army our St. Petersburg circle was in regular correspondence—always, of course, in cipher.  4
  The literature which could be published in Russia under a rigorous censorship—the faintest hint of Socialism being prohibited—was soon found insufficient, and we started a printing office of our own abroad. Pamphlets for the workers and the peasants had to be written, and our small “literary committee,” of which I was a member, had its hands full of work. Serghei wrote a couple of such pamphlets—one in the Lammenais style, and another containing an exposition of Socialism in a fairy tale—and both had a wide circulation. The books and pamphlets which were printed abroad were smuggled into Russia by thousands, stored at certain spots, and sent out to the local circles, which distributed them amongst the peasants and the workers. All this required a vast organization as well as much traveling about, and a colossal correspondence, particularly for protecting our helpers and our bookstores from the police. We had special ciphers for different provincial circles, and often, after six or seven hours had been passed in discussing all details, the women, who did not trust to our accuracy in the cipher correspondence, spent all the night in covering sheets of paper with cabalistic figures and fractions.  5

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