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Seven stories from the Russian civil wars by Red Navy leader Raskolnikov. They include the tale of his capture and imprisonment by the British, and of his subsequent seizure of Enzeli, the last British garrison on the Caspian Sea. Together with his Kronstadt and Petrograd in 1917, this book re-establishes Raskolnikov as a vivid and authentic chronicler of the October Revolution.

Written: 1918
First Published: 1934, as Raskazy Michmana Il’ina by “Sovetskaia Literatura”, Moscow
Source: New Park Publications Ltd., London, 1982; Now owned by Index Books, London
Translated/Annotated: Brian Pearce, for New Park Publication Ltd.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters & Robert Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License


F.F. Raskolnikov, 1892-1939 (biographical note)

Translator’s Note

The Tale of a Lost Day

The Fate of the Black Sea Fleet

Men in Matting

A Prisoner of the British

The Taking of Enzeli


Fraternisation: A Story

Open Letter to Stalin

F.F. Raskolnikov


Fyodor Fyodorovich Ilyin (known to history as ‘Raskolnikov’) was born in 1892 at Bolshaya Okhta, near St Petersburg. He was the illegitimate son of an Orthodox priest. (Priests of the Orthodox Church have to be married, but are not allowed to re-marry; Raskolnikov’s father was a widower.) He was, sent to the Prince of Oldenburg’s boarding school for deprived children when he was eight years old. His father died when he was fifteen. In 1909 he entered the Economics Department of the St Petersburg Polytechnical Institute. His mother had a hard struggle to keep him and his young brother Alexander, but in consideration of the family’s difficulties the board of professors exempted him from tuition fees for several terms.

It was at the Polytechnical Institute (where Struve was one of his teachers) that Raskolnikov read Plekhanov’s writings, and went on to discover those of Marx and Engels. At the end of 1910 he joined the RSDLP and began to work on the legal Bolshevik paper Zveda under the guidance of K.S. Yeremeyev, while he was still a student. (V. M. Molotov was one of his comrades in the Bolshevik students’ group at the Polytechnical Institute.)

When Pravda began, in 1912, Raskolnikov—Ilyin’s ‘party name’—was one of its original team, working as editorial secretary. After only one month, though, he was arrested and sentenced to three years’ exile in Archangel province. His mother managed. to get this sentence changed to banishment from Russia, and he set out for Paris. Before he had got far into Germany, however, he was arrested as a Russian spy and sent back. Soon after crossing the border into Russia he fell ill and was taken to a sanatorium. In February 1913 he benefited from the amnesty proclaimed by the Tsar in celebration of the tercentenary of the Romanov dynasty, and so reacquired the right to reside in St Petersburg. He resumed his work for Pravda, until it was suppressed at the beginning of the World War.

Called up to the armed forces, he chose the Navy and became a cadet. During his years of training he went on two cruises in Far Eastern waters, visiting Japan and Korea. As described in his book Kronstadt and Petrograd (New Park Publications May 1982), the February Revolution found him sitting his final examinations for commissioned rank. His activities during 1917 are related in that book.

In January 1918 it was to Raskolnikov that Lenin assigned the task of reading to the Constituent Assembly the announcement that the Bolshevik fraction was withdrawing therefrom, in the episode recounted in the first of these Tales. Soon after this he was made Deputy Commissar for Naval Affairs. We have a record of the impression he made at this time on naval colleagues who did not share his political views. D.N. Fedotov, a former officer of the Imperial Russian Navy, tells us in his autobiography, Survival Through War and Revolution, that Captain Behrens, the acting Chief of Naval Staff, said to him that Raskolnikov ‘was a decent fellow who did his best and was trying to supplement his lack of knowledge in naval matters by a great deal of reading and discussion with specialists’. Later, Fedotov met Raskolnikov, and says of him: ‘I liked Raskolnikov personally: he impressed me as a frank, intellectually honest man.’

During the particularly difficult period when the danger from German imperialism was still strong, Raskolnikov was sent by Lenin on a secret mission to Novorossiisk, to arrange for the scuttling of the Black Sea Fleet, so as to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Germans (see page 16). Speaking about this affair on June 28, 1918, Lenin said to a conference of trade unions and factory committees in Moscow: ‘Let me tell you that the man who was operating there was Comrade Raskolnikov, whom the Moscow and Petrograd workers know very well because of the agitation and Party work he has carried on.’ In July he was sent to the front against the Czechoslovaks, as a member of the Revolutionary War Council of that front. In August he was appointed commander of the Volga Flotilla, which assisted in the recapture of Kazan in September and chased the enemy flotilla up the River Kama and into the River Byelaya, eventually forcing it to take refuge in Ufa. For these operations Raskolnikov was awarded the Order of the Red Banner, and he was made a member of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic, with special responsibility for naval affairs.

In December 1918 he set off on a destroyer of the Baltic Fleet, on a reconnaissance mission from Kronstadt to Reval (Tallinn). He was captured by the British naval force operating in those waters and taken to London, where he was at first housed in Brixton Prison. In May 1919, however, after the conditions of British servicemen held in Moscow had been improved, he was allowed to live in a hotel in Gower Street and to receive money from Russia via the Danish Legation. He bought clothes in Oxford Street, and visited the British Museum, the Zoo and Covent Garden, where he heard a performance of Tosca. He also visited the headquarters of the British Socialist Party in Drury Lane. Meanwhile Larissa Reisner, who was then Raskolnikov’s wife, was agitating strongly for him to be exchanged for the British servicemen in Soviet hands, and after less than a fortnight this was arranged. At the Russo-Finnish border at Byeloostrov he was exchanged for Major Goldsmith, of the British military mission in Caucasia, and some other British servicemen. (See ‘A prisoner of the British’ in this volume.)

On his return to Russia Raskolnikov was given command of the Volga-Caspian Flotilla, which successfully fought the Whites near Tsaritsyn and Astrakhan, and brought oil from Guriev which was badly needed by Soviet Russia. In May 1920, after the establishment Soviet power in Baku, he carried out a naval raid on the Iranian port of Enzeli, where some ships of the Whites’ Caspian flotilla had taken refuge under the protection of a small British-Indian force. Raskolnikov captured the ships and obliged the British commander, who had been taken completely by surprise, to submit to a capitulation which seriously impaired Britain’s prestige in Iran and neighbouring countries. (’The Taking of Enzeli’ in this volume.)

Awarded a second Order of the Red Banner for his achievements in the Caspian region, Raskolnikov was now brought back to the Gulf of Finland, as commander of the Baltic Fleet. With the end of the civil war, however, he was transferred to the sphere of diplomacy, his first appointment being Ambassador to Afghanistan. Aided by his wife, the beautiful and talented Larissa Reisner (who subsequently left him for Radek), Raskolnikov enjoyed great success in Kabul, and was decorated by the King. Indeed, he was so successful that one of the demands of the ‘Curzon Note’ in 1923 was that he be recalled from Afghanistan, on the grounds that he was working against British interests there.

It was largely on the basis of his experiences in Kabul that Raskolnikov wrote the article about the background of the 1928-29 civil war in Afghanistan which appeared in Labour Monthly in 1929 and was reproduced in Labour Review in 1980.

On his return to Moscow, Raskolnikov worked for some years in the Eastern Department of the Communist International, under the pseudonym ‘Petrov’. He also wrote and did editorial work for the journals Molodaya Gvardya (The Young Guard) and Krasnaya Nov (Red Virgin Soil). Then, in 1930, he was returned to the diplomatic sphere, serving as Soviet representative in Estonia, Denmark and, from 1934, in Bulgaria.

In July 1937 Raskolnikov was summoned to return to Moscow. There was considerable delay in his carrying out this order, owing to the absence of anyone to whom he could hand over his responsibilities in Sofia, both the First and the Second Secretaries having already been recalled and not yet replaced. At last, in April 1938, Raskolnikov set off for Moscow, but before he had crossed the Soviet frontier he read in the foreign press an announcement that he had been dismissed from his post: in this announcement he was not given the normal prefix ‘Comrade’. . . He decided not to return until he had managed to clarify his position, and called first on Litvinovin Geneva and then on the Soviet Ambassador in Paris, Suritz. He was assured that no harm would come to him in the USSR, but knowing what had happened to other Soviet diplomats who had been recalled to Moscow (such as his friends Karakhan and Antonov-Ovseyenko), Raskolnikov still hesitated. Ilya Ehrenburg mentions in his memoirs a visit from him in Paris, apparently in May 1939. ‘I had known some "deserters"—Besedovsky, Dmitrievsky—but they had been renegades, men with an uneasy conscience. Raskolnikov was not in the least like them’—and he adds, characteristically: ‘I felt that he

was mentally unbalanced.’ A writer in the Paris émigré paper Vorozhdenie of September 11939 reported a conversation he had had with Raskolnikov about this time in which the latter said that Stalin was killing off the old Bolsheviks precisely because of their loyalty to the Party: ’He is the traitor, not any of his victims.’

On July 17 1939 the Supreme Court of the USSR declared Raskolnikov an outlaw, on the grounds that he had deserted his post, gone over to the camp of the enemies of the people and refused to return to the USSR. He replied by writing a statement of the facts -’How they made me an "enemy of the people",’ dated July 22 -which was published in the Paris émigré paper Poslednya Novosti, on July 26. According to Vouothdenie of September 29 a play by Raskolnikov about Robespierre was being performed ‘not long ago’ in Paris, but was ‘hastily removed from the repertoire’ when his outlawry became known.

Towards the end of August it was learnt that Raskolnikov had tried to throw himself out of the window of his hotel room in Grasse, in the South of France, but had been restrained by his wife and hotel staff, and was now in a mental hospital. Interviewed by Poslednya Novosti (August 28), another diplomatic ‘defector’, A.G. Barmin, formerly the Soviet chargé d’affaires in Athens, mentioned that he had received a letter from Raskolnikov in late July, asking for advice about how to obtain an international passport. The writer had mentioned that he intended to come to Paris in September and take up literary work. There was nothing in the letter, Barmin said, to suggest mental instability. The interviewer noted that, according to a report, a newspaper had been found in Raskolnikov’s hotel room in which passages referring to the German-Soviet Pact were marked. (His ‘Open Letter to Stalin’ is dated a few days before that event.)

Raskolnikov died in a delirium in a nursing-home in Nice on September 23, 1939. Barmin wrote, in his One Who Survived: ‘in the opinion of friends, poisoned’.

As Raskolnikov says in his ‘Open Letter’, he had never belonged to any opposition grouping in the Bolshevik Party. True, in the tradeunion discussion of 1920-1921 he had sided with Trotsky, but under Stalin he was, outwardly at least, a loyal Stalinist. Indeed, in 1924 he published in Krasnaya Nov a sharply critical review of Trotsky’s Lessons of October—in which, however, it is apparent that what Raskolnikov most resented was the criticism of Kamenev and Zinoviev, ‘Lenin’s closest colleagues’ and his own friends. In 1927 he criticised Trotsky’s politics in a pamphlet on The Outcome of the Seventh Enlarged Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International. But his attitude remained free from rancour: Pierre Naville recalls that when, in 1927, he and Gerard Rosenthal, dissident French Communists, spoke at a meeting in Moscow and praised Trotsky, they were approached by Raskolnikov in a spirit of friendly curiosity. All accounts of Raskolnikov by those who knew him agree that his many good qualities never included a head for theory. Until 1937 he does not appear to have been the object of any particular criticism from the Party centre, unless we so categorise the review published in Krasnaya Letopis (Red Annals) in 1933, of a book of reminiscences Raskolnikov had brought out two years previously. This review, signed by some of his old Kronstadt comrades—P. Smirnov, D. Kondakov, A. Lyubovich, S. Entin and others—complained that he had not properly shown the role played in 1917 by the Party organisation at Kronstadt, but gave readers the impression that everything was done by himself and Semyon Roshal.

During the wave of ‘rehabilitations’ that followed the TwentySecond Party Congress (1961), Raskolnikov was one of those who posthumously benefited from the momentarily changed political climate. Books and articles were published about him, and a commission was set up by the Soviet Writers’ Union to arrange for publication of Raskolnikov’s ‘literary heritage’. His widow brought his diary to Russia, and Roy Medvedev quotes a passage from this, about Stalin, in Let History Judge. But there was strong resistance in some circles to extending ‘rehabilitation’ to a man who had, after all, ‘defected’, one who was, in Soviet language, a ‘non-returner’. After the fall of Khrushchev, late in 1964, Raskolnikov again became officially non-existent: he had been, so to speak, dc-rehabilitated.

Brian Pearce

Translator’s Note

This book is a sequel to Kronstadt and Petrograd in 1917. Of the seven items, six are accounts of episodes in the author’s own life. The first describes the meeting of the Constituent Assembly, to which Raskolnikov was a deputy, on January 5 (18) 1918. The second deals with the scuttling of the Black Sea Fleet in June 1918, ordered by Lenin so that these ships should not fall into the Kaiser’s hands, and organised by Raskolnikov. The subject of the third is an exploit of the Red Flotilla on the river Kama, a tributary of the Volga, in October 1918, when a boatload of Bolshevik prisoners were rescued from captivity in the White Guards’ rear. The fourth talc recounts Raskolnikov’s capture by the British in the Gulf of Finland in December 1918, his subsequent imprisonment in London in Brixton jail, and his release in exchange for British prisoners. In the fifth item we are taken to the Caspian Sea in May 1920, when a combined operation led by R.askolnikov resulted not only in the recovery of some ships which had been carried off by the Whites to an Iranian port but also in a serious blow to British prestige in the Middle East. These items are in chronological order, but the sixth goes back before the 1917 revolution, to the year 1912, and tells the story of the arrest and imprisonment, in what was then still Petersburg, of the 20-year old Raskolnikov, as a result of his political activities. The book concludes with a piece of fiction, presumably based on an incident the author had read or heard about—an attempt at fraternisation between Russian and Austrian soldiers at Easter 1917.

Published originally in 1934, the book was reissued in 1936, with some changes, and omission of the last two items. Thereafter it was withdrawn from official circulation until 1964, when, during the author’s brief ‘rehabilitation’, an abridged version was published, along with Kronstadt and Peirograd in 1917, in a book entitled At Action Stations.

Those changes between the editions which seem to be of more than stylistic importance, or made merely for the sake of shortening the text, have been indicated in footnotes.

Brian Pearce