Monday, October 5, 2015

Homage to Comrade Kamo

From: Chapter IV: The period of reaction.
Leon Trotsky: Stalin –An appraisal of the man and his influence (1940)

.... At ten forty-five in the morning on the twelfth of June [19071, in the Erivan Square of Tiflis, an exceptionally daring armed attack took place on a convoy of Cossacks that accompanied an equipage transporting a bag of money. The course of the operation was calculated with the precision of clockwork.

Several bombs of exceptional strength were thrown in a set rotation. There were numerous revolver shots. The bag of money (341,000 rubles) vanished with the revolutionists. Not a single one of the fighters was caught by the police. Three members of the convoy were left dead on the spot; about fifty persons were wounded, most of them slightly. The chief organizer of the enterprise, protected by an officer's uniform, sauntered about the square, observing all the movements of the convoy and of the fighters and at the same time, by means of clever remarks, keeping the public away from the scene of the pending attack, so that there would he no unnecessary victims. At a critical moment, when it might seem that alf was lost, the pseudo-officer took hold of the bag of money with amazing self possession and temporarily hid it in a couch belonging to the director of the observatory, the same one in which the youthful Koba had at one time worked as a bookkeeper. This leader was the Armenian fighter Petrosyan, who bore the alias Kamo .

Having come to Tiflis at the end of the preceding century, he fell into the hands of propagandists, among them Koba. Knowing almost no Russian, Petrosyan once asked Koba again: "Kamo [instead of komu, meaning: to whom ] shall I take this?" Koba began to laugh at him: "Hey, you—kamo, kamo! …" From that indelicate jest was born a revolutionary alias which became historical. So Kamo's widow, Medvedeva, tells us. She says nothing more about the relations of these two people. But she does tell about the touching attachment of Kamo for Lenin, whom he visited for the first time in 1906 in Finland. "That fearless fighter of limitless audacity and unbreakable will power," writes Krupskaya, "was at the same time an exceedingly sensitive person, somewhat naive, and a tender comrade. He was passionately attached to Ilyich, Krassin and Bogdanov … He made friends with my mother, told her about his aunt and about his sisters. Kamo often went from Finland to Petersburg, always taking his weapons with him, and each time, with special care, mother would tie his revolvers on his back." This is all the more remarkable because Krupskaya's mother was the widow of a Tsarist official and did not renounce religion until she was quite old.

Shortly before the Tiflis expropriation, Kamo again visited the staff in Finland. Medvedeva writes: "Disguised as an officer, Kamo went to Finland, called on Lenin, and with arms and explosives returned to Tiflis." The journey took place either on the eve of the London Congress or immediately after it. The bombs came from Krassin's laboratory. A chemist by education, Leonid, when still a student, dreamed of bombs the size of a nut. The year 1905 gave him an opportunity to extend his research in that direction. True, he never succeeded in making one of those ideal dimensions, but the laboratories under his supervision produced bombs of great devastating force. This was not the first time that the fighters tested them on a square in Tiflis.

After the expropriation Kamo appeared in Berlin. There he was arrested upon the denunciation of the provocateur Zhitomirsky, who occupied a prominent place in the foreign organization of the Bolsheviks. During the arrest the Prussian police seized his suitcase, in which presumably bombs and revolvers were discovered. According to the information of the Mensheviks (the investigation was conducted by the future diplomat Chicherin), Kamo's dynamite was intended for an attack on the banking house of Mendelssohn in Berlin. "That is not true," declares the well-informed Bolshevik Pyatnitsky, "the dynamite was prepared for the Caucasus." Let us leave the destination of the dynamite an open question. Kamo remained in a German prison more than a year and a half, continuously simulating violent insanity upon the advice of Krassin. As an incurable madman he was surrendered to Russia, and spent another year and a half in Metekh Castle in Tiflis, subjected to the most trying tests. Declared finally hopelessly insane, Kamo was transferred to a psychiatric hospital, from which he escaped. "After that, illegally, hiding in the hold of a ship, he went to Paris to have a talk with Ilyich." That was in 1911. Kamo suffered frightfully because of the split that occurred between Lenin on the one hand, Bogdanov and Krassin on the other. "He was ardently attached to all three," Krupskaya repeats. Then follows an idyll: Kamo asked that almonds be brought to him, sat in the kitchen, which was also the dining room, ate almonds, as in his native Caucasus, and related the story of the frightful years, told how he simulated madness and how he had tamed a swallow while in prison. "Ilyich listened to him, and he was poignantly sorry for this recklessly audacious man, who was childish and naive and warm-hearted and ready for the greatest exploits, and who after his escape did not know what exactly to do."
Again arrested in Russia, Kamo was condemned to death. The manifesto issued in 1913, on the occasion of the three hundredth anniversary of the Romanov dynasty, brought an unexpected commutation to lifelong hard labor in place of the gibbet. Four years later the February Revolution brought him unexpected liberation. The October Revolution brought power to the Bolsheviks. But it threw Kamo out of his rut. He was like a mighty fish flung out on the shore. During the civil war I tried to interest him in guerrilla warfare in the enemy's rear, but work on the battlefield was apparently not to his liking. Besides, the frightful years he had endured had not passed without taking their toll. Kamo was stifling. He had not risked his and other people's lives scores of times, in order to become a prosperous official. Kotè Tsintsadze, another legendary figure, died of tuberculosis in Stalin's exile. A similar end would undoubtedly have been Kamo's lot had he not been accidentally run over and killed by an automobile on one of the streets of Tiflis in the summer of 1922. Most likely a member of the new bureaucracy sat in that automobile. Kamo was wending his way through the darkness on a modest bicycle: he had not made a brilliant career. The very way he perished is symbolic.
Apropos of Kamo, Souvarine writes with unwarranted superciliousness about "the anachronistic mysticism" which is incompatible with the rationalism of the advanced countries. As a matter of fact, only a few traits of the revolutionary type, which is far from being no longer of any use in the countries of "Western civilization," had found a limited expression in Kamo. Insufficiency of the revolutionary spirit in the labor movement of Europe has already brought about the triumph of Fascism in a number of countries in which "anachronistic mysticism" —this is where the word is apt!—finds its most disgusting expression. The struggle against the iron tyranny of Fascism will undoubtedly bring out among the revolutionary fighters of the West all those traits which in Kamo so astonish the skeptical Philistine. In his "Iron Heel" Jack London foretold a whole epoch of American Kamos in the service of Socialism. The historical process is far more complex than a superficial rationalist would wish to believe it.

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