The Shadow of the Gloomy East/Chapter 23
The Last of the Mohicans
THE most prominent figure in the history of the Great Revolution in Russia was Admiral A. W. Kolchak, a man whose name has become familiar in Western Europe and America. By calling him the most prominent figure I do not mean to say that he was a man of genius. Not at all!
I was very near to the Siberian Government, and I knew Kolchak well. My opinion of him can be stated concisely: he was an excellent admiral, but a very poor politician, a man possessing all the characteristics of the misty and hesitating Russian nature.
How is it then that he undertook the heavy task of creating the Republic of Siberia, and afterwards of attempting the liberation of the whole of Russia from her Bolshevik autocrats?
I remember well the time when the Siberian Government was looking for a leader, whose name should resound through the whole world.
The name of the Grand Duke Nicolai Nicolaievich was put forward, but the Duke refused the honour; the late Minister for Foreign Affairs, M. Sazonov, was invited, but he likewise refused. For a time General Horvat, who ran his own "government" round the Eastern Chinese railway, was mentioned and dropped. There were no men in Siberia suitable for such high and difficult tasks. Just at that time there arrived in Omsk, the residence of the Siberian Government, one of the former members of the Duma, S. W. Wostrolin. He started an agitation on behalf of Admiral Kolchak Thanks to him the Admiral first became the Minister of War, and later the head of the Siberian Government.
I remember when, after taking the oath before the Senate, the Admiral entered the hall where a banquet was held in his honour, he said in his grave tone:
"A moment ago I signed my death sentence!"
His vision was fulfilled in less than a year and a half.
From the very first he had to struggle against overwhelming odds. There were not enough men to go round. Siberia never had a numerous educated class, and the refugees from Russia were mostly traders and bankers who were on their way to the countries with a stable exchange, Japan and America. Thus all those entirely unknown, young, inexperienced, and party-ridden Ministers: Michaylov, Gine, Telberg, Pietrov, and Gudkov, with the "Prime Minister," the provincial banker Wologodski—an old gambler and profligate—at their head, were unable to direct the politics and the life of the country in a clearly defined direction. Everything went wrong, without any plan and purpose, while the Government drifted with the current till it was landed In the Omsk prison, where the Prosecutor of the Soviet Republic scoffed at them, saying:
"I should demand the death penalty for them if they were a little more capable."
And it cannot be denied that the original plan, the one for which Kolchak stood, to organise a powerful Siberia as an independent republic, to enter into negotiations with foreign Powers, and to defend the western frontiers in the Ural Mountains, was perfectly sound.
But soon there began struggles to change this plan, started by a group of monarchist refugees who had arrived from the Volga, and comprised Prince Krapotkin, the millionaire merchant Sterladkin, and the lawyer Zardetsky. They were joined by the Cossacks with their hetman, General Ivanov-Rinov. The opposite camp, consisting of the social-revolutionaries, were opposed to the idea of creating a great and indivisible Russia, and the election of a monarch, desired by the Krapotkin group. The social-revolutionaries insisted on strengthening Siberia, and on making a bid for gaining the sympathies of the peasantry in support of the Government.
In the ensuing struggles the monarchists had recourse to terrorism. Some of the more prominent of the social-revolutionaries were murdered; when members of the Constituent Assembly, which was suppressed by the Bolsheviks, arrived with Avksentyev at their head, they were accused of treachery against the army, imprisoned, and banished beyond the frontiers of Siberia.
The social-revolutionaries started a powerful agitation among the peasants, and Siberia became the scene of a revolution of its own.
The dissolution of the Russian groups reached its climax when Kolchak fell ultimately under the influence of Krapotkin and his group, and began the war against the Bolsheviks by a march on Moscow. The peasants refused to supply recruits and mutinied; the workmen struck work and formed their own fighting organisation in preparation of an uprising; and Bolshevik agents worked incessantly in this dense atmosphere.
The armies were permeated with the revolutionary spirit, and offered but feeble support to the Government of Siberia. A further source of weakness were the intrigues of the Russian officers of the General Staff against the foreign troops, particularly against General Hayda, the Commander of the Czechoslovaks. The Czech Commissioner in Tomsk openly delivered revolutionary speeches of a strong Bolshevik flavour.
The atmosphere was heavily loaded, and had it not been for the Polish division, the rising of the peasants would certainly have broken out much sooner than after Kokhak's flight to the East.
At Kolchak's Court and in Government circles people behaved just as they had done at the Imperial Court in Tsarskoye Selo.
The Commander-in-Chief, General Diederlchs, and his wife were engrossed in Christian and unchristian mysticism. During the day services were held according to the Church ritual, while at night occult mysteries were a passion.
All decisions were taken only after consultations with "spirits" and media. The Zardetsky group was particularly active round Kolchak. Mediumistic and occult seances were arranged, sorcery performances, even shamanism was not neglected when some Mongolian Ostyak from the shores of the Arctic Ocean arrived and enacted his comedies. About the middle of 1919, two officers, who alleged to have come from Deniken, joined this group. One was Captain Timofeyev, and the other Captain Matkowski.
I remembered the first from the Russo-Japanese War, and I did my best to frustrate his schemes at Omsk. As a young officer in Charbin, he, with his detachment, attacked a peaceful Chinese village, robbed and killed off the richer inhabitants, and decamped with the booty. He was court-martialled, deprived of his commission, and sentenced to five years' imprisonment.
It was the same Tiniofeyev who arrived in Omsk as captain, with many high decorations adorning his breast.
The two came with letters of introduction, but their real mission was very different from what it purported to be. They gave it out to be occultists able to summon the soul of some hero who fell during the war with Bonaparte. The hero spirit was supposed to work miracles, to compose poems in Hindu, and to foretell the future. Soon the new-comers started their practices.
The auguries were of the most wonderful kind. Kolchak was promised victory and triumph in Moscow, almost the throne of the Romanovs. But on the sly, and with great secrecy, Timofeyev whispered into the ears of one or the other of the people unfriendly to the monarchist group and to himself that it would be wiser to leave as danger was imminent.
In this way Timofeyev got rid of several people whom he or Krapotkin disliked.
I remember one night in the house of the lawyer Zardetsky. I was invited as a "representative of science."
In a semi-dark room gathered a number of people, among whom were several foreigners. In one corner was a table behind which Timofeyev, pale and excited, was seated in a deep chair. All of a sudden he rose and again sank in the chair, as if exhausted. He opened wide his big grey eyes and started to speak with his penetrating voice of the glorious future of Siberia, of the victorious war, and the speedy advent of a famous and powerful monarch.
When the door leading from the neighbouring room opened and Zardetsky entered, the prophet exclaimed:
"And lo! there comes the great and glorious one, who will give Russia peace, glory, and an Emperor!" …
This time the doors were flung wide open, and Kolchak entered the room. The lights were put on, while he stood with his always austere face and glowIng eyes, as if somewhat amazed.
"What bluff!" whispered one of the foreign agents seated beside me.
Several other mystifications were enacted by the Cossack monarchists.
In June 1919 the rumour spread wildly that the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich had arrived in Siberia—the one who was expected to become the future Tsar of Russia. It was alleged that the Cossacks were sheltering him in a secluded village. The news quickly spread all over Siberia. One of Kolchak's Ministers went on a mission of inquiry. He really found in the indicated village a man who bore a marked resemblance to Grand Duke Michael, but the mystification was so obvious that even the Cossacks gave up the hopeless propaganda.
A much more serious affair was the appearance, somewhere in the Altay Mountains in Siberia, of the youthful heir apparent, Alexy, alleged to have been saved by some devoted men.
It was a youth amazingly like the Grand Duke, even in the minutest details, having command of several foreign languages, and extremely amiable. He described with convincing veracity and tenderness the scene of parting from his adored parents, and his adventures during the perilous flight from Yekaterinburg through the Urals and the Kirghiz country Into the Altay Mountains.
Everybody was amazed and at a less what to do.
The young man knew all the Court dignitaries, generals, and officials, called them by their names, knew them by sight, and knew even their most intimate characteristics.
By pure accident there arrived in Omsk one of the former ladies-in-waiting of the Empress, Madame Sapoznikova, who was invited as an expert to take a hand in this matter. Within a few days she was able to prove that the Siberian Government was confronted by an impostor.
Soon afterwards the young man confessed it himself, but he would not say who was at the back of this imposture, and what was the name of his own family, which undoubtedly belonged to the aristocracy. He did say, however, that he was employed as a telegraphist In a little Siberian townlet, Barnaul.
While the inquiry was proceeding the young man disappeared from the Siberian capital, and all searches remained without result.
It was a very mysterious personality, which will certainly appear again on the troubled waves of perishing Russia.
A short time after the disappearance of the false Alexy, there passed through Siberia, without stopping at Omsk, the most popular and sympathetic of the Tsar's daughters—the Grand Duchess Tatyana. It was said that she married a humble officer whom she nursed during the war in the Tsarkoye Selo hospital, and who saved her from Bolshevik prison in Tobolsk before the removal of the Imperial prisoners to Yekaterinburg, by substituting for her a devoted girl.
The Grand Duchess visited, on her way, the hospitals situated near the railway stations, and distributed her own and the Empress-Mother's photographs.
The mysterious couple went to the East, remained for a time in Japan, and were said to have gone to the States.
All these personalities were proved on inquiry to have had relations with the monarchist party in Siberia; it may be that those relations extended even further to the die-hard monarchists of the Markov group in Berlin and the Dumbadse group in Yokohama.
For the monarchists refuse to understand that times have changed, and that their programmes are a hopeless anachronism. They still work feverishly for their political aims in all the capitals of the world, poor dreamers whom reality has long ago thrown on to the blood-stained scrapheap of history.